Elusive Music

At a record store in Burlington I heard some music so incredible I had to ask one of the guys up front, "Who is this?!" I said it with some desperation because I couldn't believe what I was hearing it was so good.

"It's this guy," the kid said, holding up this album.


I was about to say, I'll take it, when he said, "it's this crazy rare thing. This record goes for hundreds of dollars. It's crazy good, isn't it?"

I said that it was and noted the artist and title — Fitz Gore & The Talismen's Soundnitia — in my phone so I could find the music later. It's the twenty-first century. Everything's available online.

Except, not so much.

Of Fitz Gore & The Talismen there is all too little available, damn it. There's this magnificence and he does a great version of Horace Silver's Song For My Father (from which Steely Dan lifted the hook for "Rikki Don't Lose That Number"). If that's not enough to make you want the album, we are hearing different things. I want that album bad! But it just isn't there.

This is disappointing but I also like that there is something so great in the world but not available to me. I can dream about it but not have it immediately. I need more of that in the world. More of less. Yeah, that sounds almost as good as Fitz Gore & The Talismen.

Still, if I find Soundnitia in a record bin for anything less than $150, I'll probably buy it on the spot. Less is good, but Fitz Gore is even better.

Rules For Tools - Wendell Berry

I'm thinking again about tools as I read of Apple and Samsung releasing new products. I spent an hour this afternoon typing on a 1938 Corona Sterling which is still the most beautiful and wondrous machine I've ever seen. All this has me thinking of Wendell Berry's rules for new tools which, rather than summarizing, I quote here in full:

  1. The new tool should be cheaper than the one it replaces.
  2. It should be at least as small in scale as the one it replaces.
  3. It should do work that is clearly and demonstrably better than the one it replaces.
  4. It should use less energy than the one it replaces.
  5. If possible, it should use some form of solar energy, such as that of the body.
  6. It should be repairable by a person of ordinary intelligence, provided that he or she has the necessary tools.
  7. It should be purchasable and repairable as near to home as possible.
  8. It should come from a small, privately-owned shop or store that will take it back for maintenance or repair.
  9. It should not replace or disrupt anything good that already exists, and this includes family and community relationships.

If I live my life by those rules, I'm living well.

Talking Mostly To Myself

I often worry that it seems I'm preaching here. That or trying to prove how wonderful I am. Preaching turns me off to Twitter and people being wonderful is reason enough to leave Facebook. These aren't things I want to be doing in my writing so sometimes I end posts by saying I'm mostly telling myself whatever the post was about. One way I learn is by repeating things to myself until I believe.

Many times I recount experiences I've had or that someone else described to me. This doesn't mean I'm perfect (ha!) or the other person is some kind of guru. It's just that I found whatever happened interesting and want to share. It's that way with phones this week.

I'm reading Cal Newport's Digital Minimalism which is good. I would say it's great, but I've read a lot on this subject before. I imagine it would be an eye-opener for anyone who hasn't been thinking about distractions and focus as much as I have. Reading the book does have me changing things on my phone and the ways in which I use (or don't use) it.

Last night I set the phone to go grey-scale and block all notifications and calls from 8 pm until 7 am. I also set time limits (through an Android app called Digital Wellbeing. I'm trying to make my smartphone dumb and uninteresting. The effects so far have been encouraging.

According to Digital Wellbeing, I use my phone for about an hour and a quarter each day. That's a start but is still disconcerting because I'm losing over an hour to it every day. That's time I could write, enjoy my family, walk, or run. I'd like to get phone use down to half an hour or so. I'll keep at it.

I'm also leaving the phone at home when I go out with family. They each have phones should we need them, but not having mine keeps me from looking at it and in the midst of my loves. Why check email when I've got my daughters and wife right there? I mean, duh.

I'm an amateur at this and there's no telling how long I'll stay with it. The master is: my friend Jerry. I emailed him about getting together at the Carrier Dome for a basketball game. I included a link to a map and told him if he had trouble finding where to park, he could give me a call. He became my hero by saying:

"Much obliged for the map, which I'll use. I don't carry a phone, so hooking-up will be clunky." (emphasis mine)

He did have trouble parking but asked people and got where he needed to be. Watching the first half, I scanned the seats and there he was. At halftime I walked around to where he was coming up the aisle. There was nothing clunky about our embrace. We talked for fifteen minutes and neither of us looked at our phones. We were too busy being together.

Again, I'm writing this down so I remember that a phone is just a tool, not the centerpiece of my living. Do with that information as you will.

Inconvenience & Intention

"...intention trumps convenience" (53)
"...the inconvenience might prove useful." (65)
— Cal Newport, Digital Minimalism

I'm typing this in Writer: The Internet Typewriter, a distraction free editor that requires me to remember codes to set formatting and hyperlinking when I post these things to the blog. It's wildly inconvenient compared to the ease of Microsoft Word or Google Docs, but I use it anyway. Part of the motivation is that it is distraction free. I'm typing plain text onto a blank canvas. There are no menus, there is no grammar check, there isn't any good sharing system (though the guy who develops it may add that last "feature"). It's just a way to put words on the screen the same way a typewriter puts words on paper. The only difference is that I can use backspace, delete, copy, paste, and undo. That Writer is distraction free is the big draw for most users. I'm more into the inconvenience.

Using something intentionally inconvenient sounds like lunacy. Maybe it can be, but in this case it puts the focus on intention and in that way the inconvenience proves very useful indeed. Because I can't format anything in this editor and since I have to remember markdown codes and symbols in order to have things format correctly on the blog, I am much more intentional about the writing and about prioritizing clarity over anything else. There is work that can be done without such focus but writing as well as I can demands it. Convenience too often subverts that kind of focus.

I only have a minute left to write. The ziti is about to come out of the oven. I took some time with that too. Boiled pasta, grated cheese, made some sauce, mixed and poured all that in a baking dish. I could have grabbed some already made from Wegmans but I like the inconvenience. It's useful and tastes pretty damn good.