Dear Author-dude, Dog here. I read your previous article on "Whither the Physical
". Not bad. However, allow me to take time out from managing the local goose population up at the park for a minute to respond.
First of all, some never have had the dusty fond memories you talk about. A vinyl LP? What in the world do you speak of? Are those the things in the back room you never take out anymore but which we can't get rid of?
Second, I will 'second' your comment on new books. I love pulling down your copies of books and opening them before you do. Some are great reads. Others are better as chew toys. By the way, the youngest dog is clever enough to chew on the part of the book facing away from you on the shelf, so you won't see the damage when she puts the book back. Sometimes we don't give her enough credit.
Third, an adult observation here that I noticed while up watching some late night television. Does an e-cigarette count as something physical? I was thinking we could put it in a category of 'false physical'. It certainly isn't the same as smoking a cigar with your friend on the back deck after a long day at work, you on your computer, me with the local flora and fauna. And then, I hate to bring it up, but love: is that physical anymore? Seems to me all this computer stuff for, um, love...well, enough said there. Us dogs, we could never properly check out someone new without using our nose you know. And give me a good stranger's leg to hump in the living room so that I can embarrass you, I'll take that anyday over the computer stuff.
Lastly, it's this whole thing of how people do things now. Look, I go out a lot, as far as you let me within the jail that is the fenced-in yard, that is. I get exercise and I see the sun within your attempt at a miniature nature preserve, minus the nature. My nose is to the ground learning about the world, nonetheless. Learning about what that sneak squirrel is up to, or if padfoot rabbit's been out and about in the yard. You humans...all the world's at your fingertips, sure, catalogued for you nicely in an amage. So you stay inside. Not only do you lose out on cataloging things differently from first-hand experience, but you get issues with eye strain, back pains, and lack of exercise. You ought to be taking me out on walks more often to discover the world first-hand, so you can get gum stuck on the bottom of your shoe, or I can eat the gum you don't step on, as if anyone is outside enough to spit gum out on the sidewalk anymore. Now THERE'S a lost physical pleasure. The point is, you can catalog that in better writing from real-world experience. I'll be happy to lend my witty tongue to the process.
Just a dog's take on things physical versus things made of bits and bytes. You should have brought this up for the book
, you know. Dog signing off for now. Work calls.
Growing up, there were simple pleasures you could have. Opening the cardboard sleeve to a new album, and putting the vinyl LP on the turntable, lifting the arm with the needle in it over the album, and starting the music. Listening to the music the first time often involved "kicking back" with the sleeve in hand, hopefully one that opened to pictures and lyrics.
Or having a new book in hand, and feeling the spine bend for the first time, along with the weight of the book in your hand. Seeing crisp words on a page that had texture. Some pages were smooth, others had an almost cotton feel to them. One could quickly flip through pages at will.
There was also the pleasure of getting pictures back from the photo developer lab, and grasping a picture, passing multiple pictures around, and being able to hold up the negative to the light. Matte or glossy used to be the big decision!
Of course, all of these activities entailed the physical act of entering the real world, to a real store, and interacting with a clerk. Often there was a craft to it, such as bookbinding, a craft disappearing. (For a recent article on this: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/louise-mccready/bookbinding_b_2778477.html?utm_hp_ref=books
Today, it's done electronically, and there are benefits. Instant gratification. Portability. No waste from packaging. No clutter in the house. It's a brave new (non-physical) world.
Dog here. Or Canis Lupus Familiaris
for those able to pronounce a few syllables from the language of lovers.
I really loved doing an interview with Rolando Garcia on his blog
. That was a lot of fun! Rolando treated me like the equal that I am, even though I had to ride in the family car over rather than in a stretch limousine as I had requested. Almost called PETA on that one, but, you know, it's hard to make these paws dial a cell phone. Rolando had a nice cushion set up which allowed me to be at eye-level with the distinguished and mustachioed gentleman of letters, and he had a nice blend of coffee to drink and a few pastries to eat. I don't get pastries much at home, in the name of some health kick I am supposed to appreciate. It doesn't make sense to me, especially as we share cigars and beer, despite said health concern. At any rate, Author Ullom/Jotter (I wish the guy would settle on one name, since he pushes one name on me relentlessly) was gracious enough to let me have my say without interruption. After the interview, Jotter and I sat on the back deck of our house, smoking a Montecristo cigar, a Dominican slow-burning affair with a lot of flavor, and we poured a nice Belgian Ale.
"You were certainly confident in your answers." Jotter observed to me, idly holding the cigar in his right hand and watching the smoke curl up.
"When you have the intellect of a 12-year old Dachshund brain as I do, there's no reason not to be," I replied.
Nodding, Jotter looked at me. "You never mentioned before your love of Groucho Marx."
"How can anyone not love the guy? You know my favorite quote?" I asked Jotter, who shook his head. "One morning I shot an elephant in my pajamas. How he got into my
pajamas I'll never know." We chuckled at that, with me flashing my pearly whites in that winsome way that has gotten me, well, zero dates. I continued, "I've often thought of letting my pajamas accidentally stay on the deck overnight, to see if that pesky squirrel or padfoot rabbit will put them on so I can take some action and use the joke with the other dogs."
Jotter reminded me that I don't have pajamas. What a killjoy. I am going to set up a pajama fund to rectify this terrible situation. In the meantime, be sure to enjoy the interview at http://phantomimic.weebly.com/2/post/2013/02/interview-with-dog.html
When today's youth grow up to be 40 or 50 years old, and hear a song from their youth, what will the memories triggered by the song be?
Very often when I hear a song today from my youth, I can clearly remember an activity or person associated with that song. They are usually fun activities, fond memories. I was lucky growing up. There was no war that would draft me. My area was not ravaged by crime, although race relations were sometimes iffy. At the time of my growing up there were extracurricular activities, but Little League baseball stayed local. There were no travelling teams. You could go out for after school sports, or play in band, but it wasn't a thing that took up your weekends for half the year or more. I also had a job at the local library but it was limited.
As a youth, I had time to dream. I had time to ride my bike to the park and find guys to play frisbee with. I had time to walk to friend's houses and put on a recently discovered group, and we would lean back, and listen to the whole album together. We had to make up our rules for the interactions and activities we were in. A pickup game at the park was officiated by ourselves. New games with better rules were always tried out. We always had music going, in a car stereo, a home stereo, or in our heads.
In talking with a friend about her teenager, who is involved in a lot of activities and seems to not have time to 'unplug', I thought of some of the youth I saw come through the scout troop my boys were involved in. These kids would go to school, go to some sports or drama practice, come to scouts, and then go home to do homework. They had no downtime, much less time to sit and eat a meal. (They sometimes came to scouts with a fast food meal in hand.) Co-workers have children who are always away on weekends on some organized event. They will no doubt be successful people with many skills and fond memories of activities.
I wonder, however, whether kids today get time to dream. Whether they get time to sit back with new music and enter a new world, or read a book and enter a new world. What creatively will come from these kids so driven, but so regulated and organized by some group? To top it off, I wonder if when they hear a song from their youth, years from now, they will remember riding a bus to some event, or will they recall laying in the sun in a park, or driving a car around the lighthouse drive at night, dreaming and talking of different, better worlds?
(Note: I do realize that not all kids have the LUXURY of either dreaming or of being in organized activities. That would be another discussion altogether.)
Photo by friend S. S. and used by permission.
in lasting lace curtains,
silent sleep to afflict us,
cast against us, white sleet
in our squinting eyes.
a dark winter sky disgorging
cover for brooding elders
watching our slow-motion progress
on the plains below,
their breath the ice of forgotten Northern witch-realms,
their touch leaving white fingerprints
on our moods.
to cover what we cannot see,
the Walker in the Wind,
face cast down against stinging ice drops,
our own thoughts wrapped in his
downcast snowblind eyes
shut tight for the cold,
bare footprints quickly erased by a swirl,
by deliberate wind
in the winter landscape of our cruelty.
In the end, the peace of a thousand fallen Princes
Victory forgotten but for the play
of a young hooded child, tentative red mittens
in the white depth of it all.
as a beautiful cleansing,
a virgin white
on the sexless arms of sleeping trees,
a frozen baptism
if we but become
the Walker, ourselves.
so we no longer do,
so in a month or two
the sun can rise.
There have been some famous writing communities. For fantasy lovers, The Inklings was an important group that featured JRR Tolkien, CS Lewis, Charles Williams, Owen Barfield, and others. They traded manuscripts, often in college settings or sometimes in pubs, they read aloud and offered suggestions and support. Would we have seen some of the books without this group? The Once and Future King, The Screwtape Letters, and others...they may have seen the light of day, but certainly the books became better for the experience the community provided.
Likewise, the Black Mountain poets got a boost from meeting and trading ideas, both at the school and then in continuing relationships afterwards. The great experiments in poetry and leaps into new forms were certainly boosted by this group being a community. To read the correspondence of this group is sometimes to learn how to write. Charles Olson's Projective Verse would become a bit of a manifesto for this group and others.
Today some of us have different communities. Sometimes manuscripts are traded, suggestions made, certainly encouragement is offered. Around the internet today, writers have found each other and continue to help each other. Without such a community such as I found a couple years ago, I would not have proceeded as far as I have, which is to date but one small book. It was the encouragement and examples of others that helped me, however, to this small achievement, which, as any procrastinating and independent author would know, is the largest achievement we c
"You want skates?" I repeated Dog's request back to him, not sure I had heard him right. I would have cleaned out my ears for effect, but I had gloves on.
Dog, his dark brown miniature Dachshund frame shivering a bit in the cold, blew out cigar smoke as cool as a, well, cat, as we balanced ourselves on the deck. It was covered in a sheet of ice due to last night's rain which froze as everyone slept. "Sure do. I want a pair of skates. You can see why after finally coming out here and seeing what I have to put up with to just go to the bathroom. See? This deck is like a skating rink. I need skates to traverse from the house to the ramp and stairs."
Shaking my head, "But how would you actually get down the ramp to the yard, then?"
Dog smiled, his teeth reflecting a garish orange glow from the ember at the end of his cigar. "That would be the fun part. With skates, I'd just slide down that ramp, land in the snow at the bottom. You could take videos and post them on the internet."
"What's so funny?" Dog seemed a bit put off by my laughter.
"Sorry, I'm not mocking you, but the sight of you sliding down a ramp, cigar clenched in your teeth, on ice skates, with your long ears flying behind you...well, that WOULD be quite the sight! Even better if we found some goggles for you to wear."
Dog blew more cigar smoke out. "So you agree? You'll get skates for me?"
Placing my cigar in my mouth, I put my hand out. Dog grinned, the winter light sparkling in his dark eyes, and he spat in hisshook my hand. "Remember, I need four skates." We had a deal.
Read more adventures of Dog, the philosopher of life and daring swashbuckler, in Cigars with Dog - Conversations and Tall Tails.
A couple of articles lately make me question what the future of the book entails and how it's disappearance as a physical thing will impact a community? The last remaining chain bookstore seems to be on its way out, "The Wrong Goodbye of Barnes and Noble
", and libraries across the nation are facing cuts in hours, staff, and budgets
My first job was in a library, in a kind of neat stone building, gray and stately, the way downtown buildings used to be built. It overlooked the shore of Lake Michigan, and provided a great lunch hour, in the downtown of a small city. Nothing could fill the head of a young aspiring writer like being around books for the day, punctuated by being outside for an hour in the sun with the sound of waves to incubate ideas.
As I write this I checked out that library's online site. I noticed that they are only open on Saturday from 11 am to 4 pm., and only open until 8 pm Monday through Thursday. Greatly reduced hours, and as people work longer, it makes it more difficult to get there in time. I am not a hopeless romantic, and I know fewer people go there, so this is not unexpected. Still, as I reflect, I remember the library, when I worked there as a page, as a place of community. Many people were regulars and had favorite tables or booths. It was very busy. It was a great place to browse for books, and to do research. In a sign of the times, however, it's opening web-page now offers advice on how to use Facebook.
Browsing for books is a favorite past-time of mine, and I browsed more than libraries. I have loved bookstores my whole life. The physical feel of a book, the browsing of a few pages, the feel and smell of the place selling...more than books, it was a place. A destination, and a means to build your own collection. A hope that one day your children would browse the same classics that made your imagination soar. Sometimes getting a gift card to a bookstore was more fun than getting a book itself, for it allowed for a discovery, time to go and search and find something unexpected. To be around people with similar interests.
I know some will have quibbles with the reductions of chain bookstores, since Barnes and Noble, like other large chains, has been responsible for undercutting the independent bookstore. I do agree that it was not a good thing that many independent stores didn't make it due to the chains. Still, with many Barnes and Nobles closing, so many communities now will be without a book store. Combine that with no library. Yes, we get some creative solutions, such as "birdhouse libraries
". It doesn't, however, see to be a replacement.
Ultimately, I wonder what is the impact on publishing, and on books? If there is an impact there, is it an impact on authors, too? It will impact how we perceive "the business" and "the craft". On the larger community, the one we live in, the impact is probably greater. So I wonder: What is the impact on us when the only community around books that we will have is online? The article on Barnes and Noble makes a link between physical books driving ebook sales. So I am unsure that the answer of the online community is the only answer we need.
Some people wake up early to do it.
Others have a cigarette, or a cup of coffee, or keep a journal about it.
What's your habit?
I'm talking about writing habits...due to coming across an article on daily routines of famous writers
. Ray Bradbury, Jack Kerouac, Joan Didion, William Gibson and others are covered in this article. The habits they have range from having a drink, or lighting a candle, to writing in a notebook every day. There are some great insights into the minds, habits, and personalities of some of the great writers. One even says he doesn't schedule the writing, the writing schedules him. Another talks about what I sometimes consider an obstacle: "internet ablutions."
I know a young writer who goes to a cafe to write. Others write before work, or after the rest of the world goes to sleep. I don't have any one habit, myself, but my favorite is mocha coffee in the morning, or music late at night.
Anyone else have habits? Do they help? What's the oddest habit you know of?
What is writing? What is in it? What is the spirit of the thing? Sometimes it is fun. An escape that we need. Sometimes it is serious, an exploration of an issue that we must face. The genius of the best writing is when it is both.
Denise Levertov talks of the poets in the Northwest, who write with a dimension that takes in not just "the appearance of phenomena, but the presence of spirit WITHIN the phenomena." ("Some Affinities of Content", 1991) To give an example of this, she quotes a poem by Sam Hamill, Black Marth Eclogue
. Part of this poem, about a heron, I will quote here:
"He stands in the black marsh
more monument than bird, a wizened prophet
returned from a vanished mythology.
He watches the hearts of things." This is such an outstanding poem, and displays perfectly the spirit of the bird, as well as the bird itself - an ephemeral meaning behind eye and feather - without interposing the viewer. The scene has a spiritualism all of its own, a proto-spiritualism. The heron, a large bird, is presented as a prophet of old, and all sorts of imagery and meaning is brought to bear. With that meaning, confronting a prophet of the past, we move in our minds. We get an escape from the city life we face, an escape from the stresses of honking cars, work deadlines, and bills due, into a scene of peace, of myth, of something older and wiser than us. Through that, we can inject our issues. That issue may strike each of us differently. The art has drawn us in. For some it could be, "Where should we be? What should we be seeking?"
An example not from nature, but still of this phenomenon and the spirit within, is in a poem by Barbara Alfaro, The Rocking Chair, from First Kiss (2012). Here, the literal spirit of a boy is present, but it's the deeper spirit of loss, of hanging on, that moves this. The opening is quoted here:
"In the nursery the ghost of a boy stands
on a rocking chair, holding its back.
A miniature prisoner of wood,
he is looking through its slats."
We look through the slats of such good poems and writing, and find our own spirits, our own issues, and our escapes. We may or may not have suffered the loss of a child, but all of us have lost, and hung on. Who has not been a miniature prisoner at some point in their lives? Or looked through our own slats? Hopefully, we read and write ourselves to go on, to be better, to find the spirit of an event, a place, a bird, or a rocking chair not yet thrown away. Then, we find the spirit of a thing, and perhaps, maybe, of ourselves.