Ways Of Hearing, Damon Krukowski

A quick book deserves at least a quick post. Damon Krukowski's brief Ways Of Hearing is the companion to the podcast of the same name which I should get around to hearing. But here's the thing: I don't like sitting still for podcasts. I'll sit and read, but for a podcast I need a commute or other ride and, for better and worse, I have none. If I could get my podcasts on paper, that would be just ducky.

As to the matter of the book ("Words, words, words."), it begins this way:

The first record I made was all analog. It wasn't a choice — that's just how it was done in the 80s. My friends and I lived in an all-analog world. There were no computers in our lives.

And it ends like this: (Spoilers! No, not really.)

...my aim has been to call attention to aspects of sound we may not always think about. You might say, I've been trying to highlight different parts of the noise around us.

And that's because it's my hope that by listening to a wider swath of noise, we might discover more about what is meaningful signal for each of us. And how we might best share those signals with one another.

Between all that is a discussion of how digital eliminates all that analog noise and strips much of the experience of living from the world. If you remember using an old phone, probably hung on the wall of your kitchen, you'll grok this easily. Recall how on that old phone you never wondered if someone was still on the line. You heard their dog's bark, music playing on their radio, a truck passing their open window, and maybe their breathing (especially if it was a late-night call was to your love).

Now switch to your iPhone or Android. None of that noise comes through because it was decided that we only want the signal. Noise was all filtered out such that at the slightest pause in conversation, we wonder, is anyone still there?

Noise is necessary. Noise is good. It's part of what appeals about records. It's why a handwritten note beats the hell out of an email. It's why we go out to dinner with friends. In the noise is humanity. The real world is analog noise much more than it is digital signal.

At that dinner party with friends, you're paying attention to the friend speaking to you. All the other conversations at the table and across the restaurant are noise. You've chosen to focus, to make this one person the signal in all that noise.

Then your wife, husband, daughter, or son, catches your eye. Their signal rises to the top of your attention, the rest becomes noise. That person you love leans in and says something low, a signal only for you, a joke the two of you share. You smile. More signal chosen amidst all the noise. Even when you turn to some other signal, the noise of love permeates your spectacular analog world.

That's the way I want to go about hearing.

Oh, and Krukowski's previous book The New Analog is perhaps even better. The guy is brilliant. Go get 'em.

Albums & Empty Boxes

As I've said before, listening to a record doesn't sound better than streaming, but I listen better and enjoy the experience much more. This is why I was disappointed when the new Brad Mehldau record I had ordered wasn't in the box from the record company. It's the thought that counts, but a box of packing material and a packing invoice isn't much of a thought. I so wanted to listen to that album.

I could have streamed it, but no.

Mehldau is a jazz artist and those folks, more often than not, know how to write liner notes. A good evening is listening to a record while reading the sleeve, learning who played what on each track, and getting some of the story behind the music. Sure, some of this is online, but on the computer I'm likely to check email, Twitter, or, God help me, the news, all of which wrecks the listening. Holding an album make the music that much better, makes it more interesting.

Streaming is like listening to the radio, something I've long avoided because when I want to hear Supertramp's "The Logical Song" or Pat Metheny's "As Falls Wichita, So Falls Wichita Falls" the radio sticks me with the Thompson Twins' "Hold Me Now" and Foreigner's "I Want To Know What Love Is." I'm often depressed, but that's suicidal. This is why I bought a tape player in middle school, a turntable in high school, and a CD player in college so I could play what I wanted to hear. Actually, I bought none of those. They were generous gifts from my parents. Thanks Mom and Dad.

I bought my own turntable this time and have given up tapes and all but a few CDs in the car. I also use my streaming service. It's convenient and sounds clean, but it isn't in any way romantic. It's not a whole experience the way it is listening to a record, reading the album cover and sleeve, and focusing only on the music.

I can't wait until the record company ships the album. This time I'll open the box nervous of more emptiness but hoping to be filled up by what's inside.

Morning Pages Are Analog

"Morning Pages are three pages of longhand, stream of consciousness writing, done first thing in the morning." — Julia Cameron

Seven words into her description of Morning Pages, Julia Cameron says that they are done longhand. Pen and paper. There are many reasons, but the most important is the most primal: writing with pen on paper is as close to natural as writing can be. Writing by hand is simple, close to the bone (literally), and the way we first learned to write. (That last may have changed in recent years I'm sorry to say.) Morning Pages are on the desk, receiving ink from a pen held in the hand which is moved by the mind. The action is immediate, permanent, personal, tactile, private, individual, and traditional. Remember that tradition doesn't mean that something is just old but is so tried and true that it is passed down through the ages. I've been through at least ten different word processing programs and at least double that many file formats (some of which are no longer readable by any machine I can access), but the paper and pen I use could have come from my childhood or my father's childhood or his father's and so on down the line.

Morning Pages are analog and that facilitates connecting with the stream of words that flow within us but which is too often blocked by embarrassment, worry, or inconvenience. The fewer things mediating between thinking and writing, the better. If I have to boot my computer, if I need access to electricity and the internet, if I'm unsure the machine is saving my files, then I have that too much between myself and writing. If instead, I have a stack of blank pages waiting near my desk and a pen on hand, I'm ready to write Morning Pages.

There is plenty to say about what pen to use. Mine is a Lamy 2000 fountain pen with a medium nib that I fill with Noodler's blue ink. That wasn't the pen I used my first day of Morning Pages, but I got there eventually. Choose a good, fast pen that feels great in your hand. Don't spend money on one. You have a pen already. Use that and go from there.

As for paper, again, start with what you have. I write on used paper. I print lines onto the back of used sheets and it works well for me. I suggest that you choose paper that allows for 750-1,000 words of writing over three pages. That feels like just enough.

Simple tools. That's all you need. Keep electricity and the network out of it. Do this personally, privately, maybe even secretly and keep the process completely analog. Get back to basics and you stand a better chance of getting back to yourself and into your own words.

Be open to all the ways in which you might do your best work. THat may begin on the computer. I started there too. Eventually, the necessity of going analog impressed itself upon me and I moved into that because it showed me things I couldn't learn on a computer. Find your way and accept that it will change over time. My way is analog and that's what I suggest to you. Now go make your own choices.

Morning Pages: How To Begin

Morning Pages, an idea introduced to me by Buster Benson's 750words.com, are my daily writing habit. Maybe they might become yours.

First, decide to write. Today. Not tomorrow. Now gather your materials.

You need three blank pages. I prefer loose pages to a notebook for reasons I'll make clear later. You need a pen, not a pencil. Pen does other things for you. Again, I'll explain all that later, but for now, get your pen, get your pages. (And if you absolutely must use a pencil, go ahead.) Put yourself in a place of solitude for an hour, maybe more. I write in my basement nook of an office. If you must have coffee or tea, prepare it. Put on music if you like.

I found my method, tools, and space over time, but started with pen, paper, a table and a chair. I began first thing in the morning and didn't move on until I had finished three pages. I concentrated only on filling those pages.

What you write almost doesn't matter. Just write three pages with the words only you can create. (While infinite monkeys at infinite typewriters will eventually write Hamlet, we're short a few monkeys and so have to do the writing ourselves.)

Begin with whatever thought crosses your mind. "I'm tired" or "It's 5:03 in the morning" or "In the dream..." and go from there. Don't plan topics in advance at first. Don't do assignments. Write for yourself. Do not show your pages to anyone.

Sit or stand at your desk. Write today's date and a page number on each of the three blank pages. Begin on the first line of page one and keep going. Don't erase. Don't make it pretty. Don't worry. Just write until the last line of page three. You don't have to get to the end of the last line, but you have to reach that last line with at least one word. When you do, you're done for the morning.

This is how it begins.

Tomorrow, you'll do it all again.