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.

Four Objects, Three Pages

On the desk are four objects and three pages trying to teach me things I struggle to learn. I'm slow and stubborn but keep going. One hopes I'll get there eventually. Where? I'm not sure, but I seem headed toward something.

The first two objects are library books, (Frederic Gros's A Philosophy Of Walking and Wendell Berry's The World Ending Fire. Both are good though neither has me glued to the pages. I want to keep reading but also have the cursed urge to finish them. This pushes me to think past the books and miss out on the experience of reading them. It's just that there are so many other books I want to read. The trouble is, no matter how much I might wish otherwise, I can't finish either book in the next hour. At best (or worst), I'll finish both this week. Four more library books wait on the shelf and at least one will likely be due before I get to it. Opportunity lost! Or something like that.

The next object is a composition book that has failed me as a writers notebook. I used to use these all the time, but the paper is terrible and the covers are made too thin. They are still inexpensive but have grown cheap. I'd retire it but forty blank pages remain and I'm unwilling to waste them. It's not that I'm stuck with the notebook so much as sticking with it to the end which won't come for weeks.

The fourth object is a Uniball Jetstream ballpoint pen. I have a box of them but don't especially enjoy them, but can't stand wasting them. I doubt I'll go through the whole box any time soon, but I've committed to writing this one pen dry. I'm curious how long such a pen lasts but mostly trying to teach myself that I can finish most anything if I keep going. I started the pen with yesterday's morning pages and have written most everything with it. I'll likely be a couple weeks writing it dry. Sigh.

All of this not finishing is discouraging. I want to be done and get where I'm going. These objects are trying to teach me the mistake of such thinking but it's the three pages of paper that are my best teachers. They are this morning's pages, ninety-three lines written in about forty minutes and kept on my desk as a reminder to write this idea, roughed out in them, that some things can't be dispatched in only a few minutes, hours, or even days. But those pages one, two, three aren't the real lesson for me. The lesson is that they aren't pages one, two and three but are instead pages 5,362 through 5,364 since I began this daily practice in 2014.

I began with the idea to write three pages that morning. That's all I could control then. The rest had to wait for the next morning and the next. Had I begun hoping only to reach page 5,364, that would have been foolish and weird. I still have no end number in mind. I let 5,000 pages pass without much notice and will likely do the same at 10,000. If I go twenty years, I'll fill 21,918 pages. At thirty years, it will be 32,877 pages in all. But there's no gain in aiming for those things. It's the process of doing that matters. Just keep going.

I'll finish my books, fill the notebook, write the pen dry. Then there will be more books to read, another notebook to fill, and always more ink. None of it will get done today. I'll have to live with that. Maybe I'll learn from it too.

Dreyer's English, Benjamin Dreyer

A few days ago I wrote about having no guru, master, or teacher. I was wrong. I don't attend a specific school, but teachers, masters, and gurus are all free at the public library and Benjamin Dreyer filled those roles for me as I read, enjoyed, learned, and laughed through Dreyer's English, a book I recommend to every writer and reader as well as pretty much anyone who enjoys smart, funny people talking about interesting things. My wife tired of me laughing and reading sections to her, but she often tires of me and who can blame her?

Just about everyone has written about this book by now and what more can I say about it? My first thought when considering writing about it was this: don't. It has all been said by wiser and stupider (page 263, #22) people than I. Still, deciding not to write out of the fear of repeating what has already been said is the height of cowardice. But now that I'm here, what do I have to say other than that Dreyer is funny and made me smarter?


There is a section in which he describes working with Richard Russo on Straight Man, my favorite book and the funniest I know, followed closely by Russo's Nobody's Fool and Jess Walter's The Financial Lives Of The Poets. All of those make me stop and laugh out loud, not just smile and keep reading. That Straight Man still has this effect on me after at least half a dozen readings testifies either to its hilarity or my simplicity. I'd like to think it's the former. I'm sure that's what all us simple people hope.

(I liked the section enough to type "Hello," He Smiled: The Richard Russo Story in full, a time-consuming process far more useful than it might seem.)

Dreyer's English had me laughing at least as often as any of those and just as hard. This from a guide to clarity and style, though it's important to note that it is, as advertised on the cover, An Utterly Correct Guide to Clarity and Style (emphasis mine). Well, in that case.

I can't cherry-pick things to quote here. There are too many. Get the book from your library. If you're a writer, buy a copy — I suspect I will — and within a few pages you'll understand. It's good right from the get-go and it stays good.

The footnotes are especially funny though, no laughing matter, my eyes skate right over the tiny asterisks. There's a terrible word to pronounce, but I looked it up so as not to write asterices or some other atrocious mistake that sounded Latin and highfallutin (page 137). I'm not utterly correct, but hope springs eternal for my education, edification, and whatever word begins with e and ends in tion that would round off that triple.

Of course the problem with having read such a book and especially with writing about it, is that I'm imagining all that might be made better about this post were I to better pay attention to all Dreyer has told me. That and if I could pull of jokes as he has. Perhaps I just need a few footnotes, but alas, no.

That's enough out of me. Go read him. Buy the book from the link above and make me a rich man, yubby dibby dibby dibby dibby dibby dibby dum. Or something like that.

Two Books

My project isn't unusual. It's to figure myself out, to find out who I am and who I might become, to plot a path into some future. You know, the usual. One way I do all this is to read books.

Last week, on the advice of someone I respect, I began reading This Is Marketing by Seth Godin, a guy I've not read before but about whom I was vaguely suspicious. He seemed a guru with too many slick answers, but I was willing to give him a shot.

I tried to see what the book had to teach me, but I've taken the bookmark from between pages eighty-six and eighty-seven and placed it into a new book, Handmade: Creative Focus In The Age Of Distraction by Gary Rogowski. Though the bookmark is only between pages twelve and thirteen I feel better already. Rogowski talks of sawdust, Robert M. Pirsig, learning, and hiking. It's as though I can touch each thing to which he is referring.

In eighty-six pages, Seth Godin gave me two things to touch. Two. I kept waiting for more than platitudes. Maybe I'm just not familiar enough with marketing to get the book. Then again, I'm not much of a woodworker and Rogowski already has me in his hands. He keeps talking plainly and telling stories. He doesn't seem all that concerned about persuading me. He's convinced and that's enough.

I wanted to learn from Godin and maybe I have. Moving the bookmark from his to Rogowski's book tells me a lot. I'm not sure just yet what all of that might be, but I'm getting a strong, strong feeling that might just be some kind of understanding.