Update: twice a week

twice a week

I have been fooling around with this blog again, now that my energy is coming back, and have decided that two blogs a week (Sunday and Thursday) are perfectly sufficient for now – for myself (to make myself feel productive) and for all of you readers (so that you don’t have to read too much of my drivel).




Now and then there will be a special post – like this one – but they will almost always be short or topical or informational or seasonally-oriented.




How’s that for a deal?




Happy Christmas from your sleepy little friend . . . .


Originality, or the lack of it


I write one of these blog entries every day. (Well, not literally. I write three or four at a time, and I publish them online so that one appears every day.)

I’ve been keeping it up for almost three years. A page (more or less) a day, for three years. Yikes!

I do not limit myself. I write about politics, and movie reviews, and personal reminiscences. Sometimes I just ruminate. I write about botany and astronomy. I write about whatever comes to mind.

But am I creating anything? I don’t know.

I have turned out reams of stuff. Is any of it new? Or valuable? Or worthwhile?

Or original?

Apollonia, my colleague and nemesis, reminds me constantly that my conversation is nothing but quotations. I quote “Seinfeld.” I quote “The Simpsons.” I quote Woody Allen movies, and Walt Whitman, and Tolstoy, and J. K. Rowling.

Which makes me wonder: is every sentence I write an unconscious quote from something else? Am I always echoing some forgotten source?

This is the curse of a retentive memory. I don’t call it a “good” memory; it’s been a headache more often than not. I can’t forget things. I remember irrelevant details. I remember stupid song lyrics, and unimportant movie dialogue, and sometimes even the tone of voice in which the dialogue was delivered.

So probably I will never write a word that’s truly original.

Ah well. I manage to stay pretty jolly.

(That last line is a quote, by the way. Ten dollars to the first reader who can tell me where it’s from!)

The Kerouac commandments

Kerouac’s rules for writing

There is a website called brainpickings.org, which posts all kinds of interesting things: book recommendations, repostings, quotations.

Sometimes they recopy the advice of great writers. Usually, sadly, the advice is crap.

The following is a list the Beat author Jack Kerouac (supposedly) wrote and tacked to the wall of Allen Ginsberg’s hotel room in 1954, a year before Ginsburg’s most famous poem, “Howl,” was published.

Take this list for what it’s worth. I think, for a change, it has a few worthwhile items on it.



  1. Scribbled secret notebooks, and wild typewritten pages, for yr own joy
  2. Submissive to everything, open, listening
  3. Try never get drunk outside yr own house
  4. Be in love with yr life
  5. Something that you feel will find its own form
  6. Be crazy dumbsaint of the mind
  7. Blow as deep as you want to blow
  8. Write what you want bottomless from bottom of the mind
  9. The unspeakable visions of the individual
  10. No time for poetry but exactly what is
  11. Visionary tics shivering in the chest
  12. In tranced fixation dreaming upon object before you
  13. Remove literary, grammatical and syntactical inhibition
  14. Like Proust be an old teahead of time
  15. Telling the true story of the world in interior monolog
  16. The jewel center of interest is the eye within the eye
  17. Write in recollection and amazement for yourself
  18. Work from pithy middle eye out, swimming in language sea
  19. Accept loss forever
  20. Believe in the holy contour of life
  21. Struggle to sketch the flow that already exists intact in mind
  22. Dont think of words when you stop but to see picture better
  23. Keep track of every day the date emblazoned in yr morning
  24. No fear or shame in the dignity of yr experience, language & knowledge
  26. Write for the world to read and see yr exact pictures of it
  27. Bookmovie is the movie in words, the visual American form
  28. In praise of Character in the Bleak inhuman Loneliness
  29. Composing wild, undisciplined, pure, coming in from under, crazier the better
  30. You’re a Genius all the time
  31. Writer-Director of Earthly movies Sponsored & Angeled in Heaven

For me – stupid aging me – “Accept loss forever” and “Like Proust be an old teahead of time” are the two most immediate dicta here.

Also #25, which is a blank. I choose to believe it means: “Insert your own truism here.”

Although I am crazy about “You’re a Genius all the time.”

Becoming a writer

becoming a writer

Sometimes I ask myself: What do I want to be when I grow up? And the answer is always: I want to be a writer.

Writers are great. They lounge around in smoking jackets and smoke and drink, and somehow – magically – they produce poetry and prose and dramas. And then they smoke and drink some more.

Who doesn’t want that kind of life?

When I was younger, I wrote and wrote. I wrote bad short stories and abortive novels and really atrocious poetry. Worse: I got a few things published in small (very small) publications when I was in my twenties, which convinced me that it was only a matter of time. Smoking jacket, here I come!

But then I discovered that writing is hard work. Also, a little talent doesn’t hurt, and I began to wonder if I had any talent at all.

I have a friend who is a real writer, with several books (real books!) to his credit. He does not generally wear a smoking jacket. He works at a regular job, and has a family. He writes when he can: late at night, during odd moments in the day. But he never really stops.

Aha! I thought. I can do that, at least! I may not have any talent, but I have a huge amount of stubborn perseverance!

So I began this blog in 2010: one page a day. I have never missed a day yet. I’m a writer at last! Who needs a publisher? I can publish myself! I can edit myself! I can write about any damn thing I please, no matter how silly or irrelevant!

And here we are. I’m still producing the blog, a page a day, silent and grim as death.

I must be a writer by now, right?


Here’s Frank O’Hara’s “Autobiographia Literaria”:



When I was a child
I played by myself in a
corner of the schoolyard
all alone.

I hated dolls and I
hated games, animals were
not friendly and birds
flew away.

If anyone was looking
for me I hid behind a
tree and cried out “I am
an orphan.”

And here I am, the
center of all beauty!
writing these poems!

Lynda Barry

I just picked up a book by Lynda Barry, one of my favorite graphic novelists / illustrators / authors. She has published lots of books in which she narrates and illustrates her childhood. They are brilliantly funny, sometimes sad, and always memorable.

Nowadays Ms. Barry tours the country doing a creativity seminar called “Writing the Unthinkable.” She gets people writing and drawing by coaxing them, and urging them, to remember what it was like to be a kid with a pencil or a crayon. Just color. Just write. Just scribble. Don’t worry too much about the result.

The book I picked up, “Picture This,” is a collaboration between Ms. Barry and her husband Kevin Kawula. It’s about creativity, and writing, and drawing. It features strange characters like “the nearsighted monkey” and “the dear chicken,” as well as some of her older creations like Cousin Marlys. It’s full of collage and watercolor. It’s a feast. I was reading it on the University shuttle the other night, turning page after page, and I realized that the student sitting next to me was reading it along with me. That should tell you something.

Anyway: one of the points she makes in this book is that you just need to keep the pen (or brush, or the cursor, or whatever) moving, in contact with the paper. You need to feel that contact. Make spirals. Draw ballerinas. Write nonsense.

Keep moving forward.

Some of it might be terrible.

Some of it might be wonderful.

Keep filling those notebook pages, kids.

Mr. Williams writes a novel


A few years ago, while up in the Berkshires, Partner and I went to Mass MOCA, a huge spectacular modern-art museum hidden in the hills of western Massachusetts. I was browsing the gift shop, and I came across a book called “No Plot? No Problem!



I skimmed the blurbs and the first few pages, and I bought it on the spot.



You see, there’s this group of people – determined to be writers, as aren’t we all? – who resolve to write a novel in a single month (usually November).



The book contains detailed instructions and a lot of tips, some of which are actually valuable. Here’s the most important: Just write! Stop worrying about what you’re writing and just write!



The idea was irresistible. Within days – while still on the vacation, in fact – I went out and bought a nice fresh clean notebook, and began writing.



The first novel (“novel,” in terms of this program, is a fictional narrative of at least 50,000 words) took me a little more than two months; the second took a little less.



It’s great fun. More than that, it’s very fulfilling, and it tells you a lot about yourself.



Haven’t we all promised ourselves that We Will Write A Novel Someday? Well, now I’ve written a couple. The apartment is fairly littered with them now. (I think, counting a couple of abortive things I spawned in my college days, my total is up to four. And I’m only fifty-four years old! I have lots more time!) And I will tell you, if you’ve never done it: it’s a wonderful feeling.



Now: go back and read what you’ve written.



Surprisingly, for me, this was not completely painful. Sections of them are actually bearable, and sometimes funny and / or interesting. I’m not bad with dialogue. I’m good with brief asides, and small glimpses of backstories.




However: I can’t structure a plot. I can’t make things happen. I know what I want the ending to be: generally I want everything to be okay, and everyone to be happy. But once you’ve thrown everybody in the story off-balance – what do you do?



So Speed Novel #1 has two huge craters in it: the main character’s backstory, which I was never tough enough to elaborate completely, and the actual conclusion, which required something to happen – and I couldn’t quite figure out what.



Speed Novel #2 – which I actually wrote almost by accident – is much more coherent. But it has a ridiculous premise.



Those are pretty serious flaws.






Maybe by the time I’m seventy, I’ll have written something worth reading . . .



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