The Sounds of Writing

Connecting sound with writing is probably not immediately obvious. Intense mental struggles over finding the right words, getting in the right mood, feigning determination to free oneself from writer’s block…all those connections come forth easily, but the sounds of writing? Except for occasional screams of anguish from the struggle of the process, the influence of sound is not usually noticed.

Photo by Gary. All rights reserved.

One of my daily reads, moleskinerie, has an article today on The Sound of Paper. After reading that, I realized that a writer not only deals constantly with sound during the process, but some of these audile distractions can be like comfort foods to someone under the weather. I find it somewhat relaxing to write to the steady cadence of my fountain pen scratching across paper, much more so than the staccati fits of keyboards keys that seem to resist my true intentions. During particularly intense writing sessions, the sound of my breathing strangely blends with the pen scratches to merge into a strange symbiotic relationship. At times that mini-symphony is distracting enough to lose the purpose of the moment.

Since I spend a good deal of time writing at places like Starbucks (admittedly more for their wifi connection than their burnt coffee, but the maple oat scones are killer…), ambient white sound seems to help me write as well. For whatever reason, the music, rustle of patron’s papers, mixed conversations that blend into a rhythmic track, and the occasional sounds from behind the counter all combine to provide a rich background upon which I seem to be able to focus and concentrate. Can’t quite explain it, except to say that it works well for me when writing blog entries and other light works (business writing works well there too, but then, that’s autopilot writing). The scant few times I work on the novel, however, I seem to need a more perfect quiet that’s harder to find. Maybe I feel that serious writing requires structure, whereas more conversational work evolves nicely under the coziness of a blanket of masking sounds.

I have a dream to travel and write, but more specifically, to write a major piece solely in coffee shops/caf

Delicate Dilemmas

What would late winter be without my perennial cold? Ya, I habba bad cold and it’s not much fun, as usual. I think I’m at the top of the cycle, so things should be improving. Wouldn’t be so bad, except that the s.o. (significant other) has been laid up with a bad back for a few weeks now, so I’ve been doing the domestic goddess thing (domestic part for sure, goddess is arguable…).

While I’m used to doing all those things from my days as a bachelor, I wasn’t quite ready for the clothes washing routine she uses for her “delicates.” Hey, I’m a guy…you have soap, clothes, and a washer…how difficult can this be? You toss ’em in, dump some soap, turn a few knobs, and the clothes come out looking reasonably the same color as they went in (I confess to wearing my share of grayed underwear in the past, but I digress…). Now when I wash her delicates, not only are there “dark” delicates and “light” delicates but each has special soap, and special procedures. Not willing to incur her wrath if I screw something up, I made her stand there while I sorted and filled the washer. But the real fun begins in the dryer cycle. As a guy, you have wet clothes and a dryer and some buttons. How hard is this? Nooo, we have pre-fluffing, timed air fluff cycles, delicate cycles, ten minutes partial dryings, etc….but only for this but not that, then hang these up on specific hangers, but “don’t dry the pantyhose and make sure you hang things up inside out.” Sheesh. Had no idea women’s clothes required the exactness of gene therapy. Maybe the military should have enlisted domestic goddesses to oversee their intelligence efforts. No doubt they’d leave no stone unturned.

All in all, though, I can’t really complain. Guys have exacting procedures for things they do and care about, so why not compulsive behavior for taking care of delicate dainties? I’m sure the extra care makes them last longer, although if this keeps up I wonder if it will have the same effect on our relationship! As with all things, time has a way of healing and our routine should (hopefully) be back to normal in a few weeks and I’ll be free of these perplexing delicate dilemmas. In the meantime, I need to find yet another box of Kleenex and the dryer just dinged, so I have to go and hang something up…inside out, most likely.

Rights of the Many

Pro-smoking’s bastion has a new crack. The Government of Ireland has decreed no smoking in workplaces and, gasp, that includes the almost 10,000 pubs that are a home away from home for many Irish. A pint and a cigarette will disappear from the sights to see touring the Emerald Isle (the first one has always been on my list, and the second one only as something to avoid if possible). No doubt pub owners will create outdoor terraces for smoking patrons, so totally avoiding smoke won’t go away. You’ll still have to run a fog gauntlet for the sweet reward of a smoke-free interior. But it’s a step in the right direction.

Is this a portend of good news from the rest of Europe? It appears so. Anti-smoking laws, already strong in the U.S., continue to gain footholds in areas formerly havens for smokers. Most regulations cite health reasons and the rising health-care cost a country endures treating its aging smokers, and there seems to be a groundswell of grass roots support for cleaner air wherever possible.

For years I’ve sought out smoke-free restaurants, etc., where possible. I don’t deny smokers their rights to smoke, just advocate isolation so they can all congregate in one place and enjoy the maximum benefit of that nasty habit. To be fair, we should be creating areas in restaurants for overeaters as well, so they can gorge amidst others who indulge in same fashion. And for that matter, let’s isolate all the tables with screaming kids…or better yet, create adult-only restaurants. You have to admit that last one would increase the odds of a pleasant evening at your local bistro.

Rights issues are always touchy, since you can’t enact legislation of any kind today that doesn’t infringe on someone’s rights. In a day and age when criminals often are accorded more “rights” than victims, it’s little surprise that we have become a blind society in terms of true right and wrong. Last week’s news included the airline pilot asking Christians aboard his flight to identify themselves and witness for Christ among the heathens. Whose rights were violate here and whose were protected? Who gave the Christians this sacrosanct right to proselytize? And did the non-Christians have equal time for their beliefs?

In a perfect world, everyone has rights and potential to enjoy them. Sorry, but this ain’t a perfect world, and not likely to ever rise to that level. In our dog-eat-dog world (apologies to dogs for ignoring *their* rights…) it’s the loudest and richest that usual prevail. But occasionally, such as in this trend to wards controlling public smoking, common sense wins.

Finding Time

“This time like all times is a very good one if we but know what to do with it.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

Photo by Gary. All rights reserved.

How does one find time…it is lost? In a manner of speaking, yes…but more accurately, time is spent like any other commodity. Question is, what value do you get for your expenditure? The adage about “saving time” is a misnomer. We cannot save time, but only spend it, and our only choice is whether to spend time wisely or foolishly. And unlike a lot of things in life, there is no second chance. Time is a one-pitch turn at the plate.

The art of spending time wisely is a concept that’s either mellowing to a fine taste in my mind’s parking lot, or molding like too-old leftove”rs long forgotten in the fridge…I cannot always tell which one it is. Mellowing occurs when I occasionally turn the thought over, so the seasoning is evenly applied. Molding, unfortunately, is the more typical chemicalization that happens, largely because…well, I run out of time to pay attention to that particular thought! Time appears to be linear in nature, but requires more of a circular approach to management. The roundness happens because we have to add the additional resources of other thoughts, time-management tools, or other people hijacked to help our pursuit to invest time wisely. Regardless of how well you plan, you can still end up with empty pockets habited by that imp called “foolish” who somehow managed to sneak in and change things.

There is no answer in these words I write, in case you were pacifying me by reading along in hopes of gaining some insight into time’s dilemma. I can only add that for me, planning helps push me closer to the wise side of time, but that’s no guarantee of the outcome. I need a lot of mid-course corrections to have any hope of a positive outcome. I have been thinking about the time I spend answering inquiries on the Movable Type forum (a lot of time), and now realize this effort drifts me irrevocably to the foolish side of time. I feel good helping others, but it’s been for the detriment of other pursuits. While I’ll still poke my virtual head in there now and then, I think it’s time to limit my participation there and refocus on other demands.

“Time is the coin of your life. It is the only coin you have, and only you can determine how it will be spent. Be careful lest you let other people spend it for you.” – Carl Sandburg

Greeting the Morning Dimly

I confess to being a night owl, or at least I used to prefer staying up late and sleeping in. As father time’s influence deepens, I still stay up late and inexplicably rise at hours I would have formerly considered cause for questioning my sanity, i.e., 5 a.m. This week my son’s usual ride to high school is in the shop, so Dad here has to play bus Mom, and that means leaving the house by 6:30 or so. In the past, that would have included a lot of moaning, whining, and stumbling about for car keys. Now I’m already up, showered, and finished with the morning paper.

Don’t get me wrong, I love the quiet and stillness of early morning, especially the chance for some inner reflection and maybe even a little journaling before the intellectual pollution of the day begins in earnest, as it does every day on my commute to work. Part of me would enjoy shifting my work day to begin and end earlier. I had a friend long ago who worked a 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. shift as a systems analyst (before it was popular to do so). I thought he was crazy getting up that early but was always jealous that he had 2-3 hours after work to run errands while stores were still open.

I used to respond to this new insanity by starting with a hearty breakfast followed by some serious time wrapped in a blanket cuddled in my reading chair for a dreamy post-breakfast nap (don’t laugh, benefits of napping are real). THAT was pure decadence, something I thought inaccessible for the hoi-polloi. Lately though, I’m finding I don’t luxuriate with sleep as much as I spend the time catching up with online reading. Nap time has become laptop time.

As we age the common belief is that our bodies will need less sleep. I can’t tell whether I’ve reached that stage or it’s the affect of my new coffee addiction that’s fueling the expansion of my waking hours. Whatever the reason, I intend to try and make the most of it and and at least catch up on my musings here, if nothing else. Besides, if the muse fails me I can always doze off in a blissful post-breakfast stupor.


This wonderful Japanese phrase translates to mean the instant a chick pecks on the inside shell while its mother pecks on the outside and the shell cracks, and new life emerges. The author Jane Yolen in her insightful book “Take Joy: A Book for Writers” connects this phrase to what happens to a writer: a story idea physical taps inside our minds, we answer with intent to write, and a story emerges as the two come together.

If you want to read an uplifting, “feel good” book about writing performed for the joy of the process, then pick up Yolen’s book and cancel the evening’s appointments. There are so many wonderful thoughts, anecdotes, quotable quotes in this thin paperback that I’d spoil it for you if I mentioned to many of them, but here’s one that puts things in perspective:

“I contend it’s not the writing that makes writers miserable. It is the emphasis on publication.”

We all struggle with hypchondriac-like symptoms: the process, the rejections, writer’s block, you name it. Writers at times seem more intent on defining ways not to put words on the paper as they are in producing daily word counts. But at least, with Yolen’s advice, one can turn the process into something joyful.