A dig through the clutter

There is a moment when you look around the mess and say, “OK, enough!” Except when it happens several times a day, you get fatigued. “OK, enough,” and then what? This, that, and the other thing. Here we go, heave ho, here we go, heave ho …

What did I write to myself the 10-20 previous times I threw up my hands and said, “No more clutter!”? Ya gotta wonder. My hero Ray Bradbury just smiled and said, “Look, all my stuff is within reach, what shall I write about next?” Maybe I should try that.

Here is a metal office organizer that says THE MILWAUKEE JOURNAL (414) 271-6000. The Journal has not been the Journal in lo these 26 years since April 1995, and such office trinkets nowadays are made of plastic in China, so this thing probably counts as an antique. I forget how it came into my possession; the Journal may even have been the Journal when it did. I have no grand memories of it, I just am reluctant to part with it.

Underneath it are seven books I bought at a Friends of the Library sale in September, tossed into a “$3 bag sale” bag, more or less on impulse:

Hometown Legend by Jerry B. Jenkins, prolific writer of the Left Behind series. He has written more than 200 books, so I think I picked it up to see how prolific writing is done.

Liberty, a book by Garrison Keillor I’d never heard of, with a title I don’t often associate with folks of the “left” stripe anymore.

Dear God! What is Happening to Us? Halting Eons of Manipulation. The back cover blurb begins, “Internally and externally, things have never felt so crazy. Sometimes it feels like everything is coming apart.” Sounds like a contemporary analysis; the crazy thing is it’s dated 2003.

 First Things First by Stephen R. Covey and two co-authors — subtitle “To live, to love, to learn, to leave a legacy.” I opened the book at random and found a section titled “The Main Thing is To Keep The Main Thing The Main Thing.” Can I get an amen?

How to Get Your Point Across in 30 Seconds or Less by Milo O. Frank. It’s a short book but will still take more than 30 seconds to read.

How to Write What You Want and Sell What You Write. Every wannabe writer’s wildest dream summarized in a book title. It says “Speedy Press” under the title, and I can’t tell if that’s the author’s name or the publishing house.

Change by Design: How design thinking transforms organizations and inspires innovation, by Tim Brown. The cover design recalls Good to Great by Jim Collins, which was a good book.

Obviously at the sale that day, my mind was unsettled — self-improvement, taking life by the horns, get up and go — or, dare I say, cluttered.

And here these books sat, in a pile, moved from one spot to another in the great clutter for more than two months. At least today I looked at them and remembered why I tossed them into a bag,

Think if everyone who read books like these acted on their suggestions. How more amazing the world could be!

W.B.’s Book Report: Several Short Sentences About Writing

If you’ve been reading this blog since Thursday, a thought may have occurred to you:

“I wonder if he’s been reading Several Short Sentences About Writing.”

It’s a little book, written by Verlyn Klinkenborg, about the power and purpose of sentences.

Click on the cover for the link.

One way he makes his point is by making virtually every sentence its own paragraph.

You see, if you’d read the book, why these last several blog posts might give you that thought.

Any written work is a chain of linked sentences.

The better the sentences, and the stronger the links, the better the work is.

The concept is so simple, it seems obvious once you hear it.

And yet, it takes Klinkenborg’s little book to cement the idea.

That’s why it’s among the most illuminating books about writing I’ve ever encountered.

No, I’m not going to make every sentence its own paragraph from this day forward.

I do have to say the book has made me want to be more aware, and more intentional, about each and every sentence.

As long as that doesn’t tie me in knots, it’s a great attitude adjustment.

I can’t recommend Several Short Sentences About Writing too strenuously. It’s that good.

What darkness?

© Sasinparaksa | Dreamstime.com

It’s all in our minds, you know.

This world, this existence, this life, is all so breathtakingly beautiful that we are overcome.

And so, we find ways to reduce the enormity.

We glaze our eyes over. 

We divert our attention.

We fuss among ourselves.

We deliberately seek ugliness, and darkness, and what hurts.

And so, we miss the obvious.

This is obviously a huge, beautiful world in a universe of infinite and unspeakable grandeur.

Our minds can scarcely drink it all in, so we try to make the universe smaller.

We try to make it less grand.

We focus on the imperfections.

We focus on the petty differences.

When we lift our eyes, however, we know the meaning of awe.

It is too much, until it is just enough.

Then, and only then, do we see.

Life is not a small, churlish thing.

Life is a big, wide adventure full of wonder, that is to say, wonderful.

The more we wonder, the more we live.

The more we live, the more we chase the dark away.

Light bright lights along the path, the better to heal the darkness.

Melody

I went for a walk and came upon a stone chapel in the woods. 

A young man was playing a guitar, and people were sitting on the floor and up in the balcony, smiling and drifting to the music.

It was a song of peace and reaching out in the darkness. 

It was a song of hope and people finally getting together. 

The song reached across space and time. 

The song echoed against the stone walls and reverberated through the years.

And years went by, oh, how the years went by, and the chapel was abandoned and the woods reclaimed the site. 

Still, the song resonates through the branches and is absorbed in the ivies.

The echo settles behind my eyes and between my temples, until only the peace remains. 

I discard the quotidian worries and hum a now-ancient tune.

Anthem

There is such beauty in the world, such innocence, so much that is miraculous.

It’s almost, I don’t know, criminal that we focus on anything but.

We log onto social media spoiling for a fight, daring the rest of the world to offend us.

We fill the airwaves with the latest reports of humanity’s inhumanity.

“Be afraid. Be very afraid. If the sky is not falling today, then the forecast is grim for the weekend.”

Why not seek out peace? Why not see the yearning for comfort in the eyes of the people who disagree with us but, in the end, are just as human as our own families?

I can be as outraged as the next person. After all, we’re being ruled by people who think Nineteen Eighty-Four has a happy ending. “He loved Big Brother,” after all. Isn’t that the goal?

I would rather learn from one puppy how to love chasing leaves in the wind, than teach a thousand sheep how to toe the line.

Go follow the puppy. 

It’s a secret project, OOoooooooHhhhhh

The other day I wrote about how I wish I could start a habit of writing fiction every day, and I tossed in an aside to the effect of “That gives me another idea, but I’m going to hold that in abeyance until the idea is more fully formed.” Today I am still not going to say what the idea is, but it is indeed forming a little more fully.

I have recently rediscovered that when I announce I’m going to do something, something quirky triggers in my mind and refuses to follow through with the announcement. It’s annoying and frustrating — it only happens when it’s a personal project, not a day-job commitment — but it’s real enough that if I follow through with this idea, the product will become known when it appears on the scene, and I will not be announcing it beyond aggravating hints like this one.

This seems to be the only way I can succeed at my creative projects. I can announce that I will write and release a novel next spring about a dinosaur rising from beneath the sea — remember? That was in 2015 and you still haven’t seen that novel. But last year I did not announce I had committed to writing a blog post every day until close to a month had passed and I was announcing something that was now obvious. My last four new books — How to Play a Blue Guitar, Gladness is Infectious, 24 flashes and Full — basically just appeared without advance fanfare. That seems to be how I complete projects: by not talking about them until they’re done.

And so my cool idea, if I go through with it, is just going to appear one of these days. Under my current thinking, you should check around New Year’s to see if anything interesting has begun with my name attached. Maybe I’ll make an announcement a week or two ahead of time if it’s clear I have enough momentum that the quirk in my brain couldn’t stop the project even if I wanted it to.

But most likely you’ll see something on Jan. 1 — or I’ll post a link to it from here — and you can say, “Oh, that must be that idea he had in November come to fruition.” And the rest will be history, or not.

Listening at 78 revolutions per minute

Among my treasures is a 78 rpm record of “Wake Up Little Susie,” the Everly Brothers hit from 1957, on Cadence Records. I’ve seen 78s from as late as 1960 or 1963 offered on eBay (most notably early Beatles songs), but the prices go so high and my interest is mostly just curiosity, so I’ve never actually seen or owned one.

The latest I’m aware of is a limited-edition novelty pressing of “Mr. Bojangles,” the 1970 Nitty Gritty Dirt Band hit.

Legend has it that 78 revolutions per minute became the standard because that was the rotation of the inexpensive motor used in the original record-playing prototypes. I don’t know why later turntables went 45 rpm and 33.3 rpm, but I wonder if it has to do with the fun fact that 45 + 33 equals 78 – can turntables manage all three speeds for some simple, mechanical reason?

My generation was introduced to 78 rpm records because little children’s records were produced at that speed for a very long time, usually on yellow vinyl with names like Peter Pan Records. One day I found my dad’s stash of big band records from the 1930s and ’40s, and it was Benny Goodman’s “Sing Sing Sing” that taught me 78s could be 12 inches wide as well as 10.

One of my greatest childhood shames was accidentally breaking Dad’s copy of “Powerhouse” by Raymond Scott. I was mortified; Dad took it in stride. It was a lesson in forgiveness that I later applied when my cat shredded my copy of Daredevil #1. 

The shellac 78s got scratchy a lot faster than the vinyl of latter years, and the sound reproduction can be vastly cleaned up digitally, but I’ve always been charmed by the swiftly spinning sounds from studios as long ago as a century or more.

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