Taking The Time to Tell You I’m Taking Some Time

Taking The Time to Tell You I’m Taking Some Time

Some writers plan out all their blog posts well in advance, creating a schedule of topics. The calendar might include a month’s worth or more of diverse subjects with which they can engage, inform, and entertain subscribers. 

And then there’s me.

I’m only half-serious. While I’ve been known to fly by the seat of my pants, I’ve done a bit of both. Truth be told, I get a little bored if I have a schedule already mapped out. I know the minute I sit down, I’ll be hemmed in by a pre-planned topic.

 

An Obvious Pattern

This week’s post (and the past few weeks) is seat-of-my-pants—mainly because I’ve noticed a pattern in the blog this year.

In April, I wrote a post called Closed for Maintenance: Me. The following month featured an entry entitled You Deserve a Break Today. (Wasn’t that a McDonald’s commercial in the 80s?) That post was as much about how I need a break as you and everyone else do.

In my 4th of July post, I mentioned the “staycation” my wife and I took that weekend. And Labor Day was about…taking the day off.

See the pattern?

 

Temporary Time Off

So it was with great trepidation that I sat down today to write the following words:

I’m taking a little break.

I know I have subscribers. Some have even asked me for the link to subscribe to this blog. But the bottom line is that I work as a writer for a living, and I don’t have advertisers. This blog is free for you, dear reader, and free for me, too. I don’t get paid to do it.

All this to say that I’m backing off from my weekly commitment to new posts. I’m taking a little time off with my wife soon, and I don’t plan to post during that time. Yes, it will be a real vacation, not a working one.

As always, thanks for stopping by. And if you come by in a week or a month, and don’t see anything new, have no fear. In the words of the immortal Arnold Schwarzenegger, “I’ll be back.”

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From Pandemic to Endemic to…?

From Pandemic to Endemic to…?

It’s funny how a blog like this can serve as sort of a substitute for a journal. Not “ha ha” funny, mind you. But “strange” funny for sure.

All the way back in December 2021, I wrote a post called The Scary Weekend I Thought I Had COVIDI’d met up with a friend and the following day, sneezed around 20-30 times—not a normal event for me, I must hasten to add.

Nine months later, I’d nearly forgotten all about it. I have to credit human nature with that: it’s much easier to recall pleasurable memories than distressing ones. Hence mankind’s inevitable love for “the good old days.”

 

Uninformed At Present

Sadly, that post noted the figure of some 787,000 Americans who had died of COVID by then. Today, the death toll stands at 1.05 million here, 6.5 million worldwide. 

I presume those figures represent all variants, from alpha to omega. Quite frankly, I’ve long since tapped out of the news. My mental health is much more important to me than staying “informed” about all the latest disasters.

So today’s post is entitled From Pandemic to Endemic to…? The reason is that I truly don’t know what the hell is going on. There. I said it.

Meanwhile, I’m still living like a hermit, other than seeing my lovely wife daily and going out to visit my mother.

Anyone want to update me? Feel free to do so in the comments. And as always, thanks for reading!

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Radio, Radio

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Labor Day 2022

Labor Day 2022

To all my working friends, and those of you who worked hard until you retired: I’m taking the day off, and hope you are too.

Meanwhile, keep an eye out for this quarter’s newsletter, appearing in your inbox tomorrow. If you’re not signed up, get it here.

Happy Labor Day!

 

Blatant Self-Promotion Post

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Proust in the Artificial Intelligence Era

Proust in the Artificial Intelligence Era

Let’s consider this week’s post as part two to last week’s part one, When Will the Robot Overlords Replace Us? I know I’ve been thinking, talking, and writing about this a lot lately. Today, though, I have a different spin—one which both surprised and amused me.

Last week I wrote a bit about the horrendous Grammarly, a “cloud-based typing assistant” (insert stifled guffaw here) that I have to use for some of my freelance work. In between that post and today’s, I’ve been reading, or re-reading Proust.

Allow me to explain. I want to say I originally read Swann’s Way about 2.5 million years ago, as I already own a worn paperback copy. But did I? Or do I just remember Diane Chambers on Cheers waxing eloquent about “Proust and his madeleines?” Whatever the case—and yes, I have pretty much completely forgotten entire books I read over 30 years ago—I’ve been plowing through Swann’s Way as a prelude to reading all of Remembrance of Things Past. The second volume, Within a Budding Grove, is already on deck.

 

Proustian, Jungian, or…Something Else?

The inevitable clash between modern technical-related writing and classic literature seems to get wider as I delve into Proust’s world. And I’ve had something else on my mind, possibly related to Proust but not necessarily so. It’s something I don’t even know how to discuss, much less define.

Oxford defines “Proustian” as “relating to or characteristic of the French writer Marcel Proust or his works, particularly with reference to the recovery of the lost past and the stimulation of unconscious memory.” This typically involves sensory phenomena, such as when the taste of a tiny piece of a cake calls up a whole range of memories and associations.

There’s something very Jungian about all this to me, and that’s what I can’t get my hands (or brain) around. Like Proust and innumerable other writers, I’ve had dreams and associations that don’t seem to mean anything in particular, yet call up a strong emotional response. Some remain vague, as if the veil has yet to be lifted.

That’s where I am today: a brief image, like a still from a video clip, of a carriage flying down a dirt road, all sepia-toned and with autumn leaves swirling past it. Did I dream it more than once? Is it meant to conjure up something else, or even find a place in a future project of mine?

I have no idea.

 

These Smart Bots

But oh, yes: I promised something surprising and amusing here, didn’t I? Not only my straining to recall something vague and mysterious, as-yet-understood.

Here it is. Just for fun, I decided to use the above mentioned Grammarly app to “edit” some Proust, and some Faulkner, for good measure. After all, a modern “editing” bot would surely object to 900-word sentences with a ton of commas, right?

I copied and pasted a massive Proust sentence into it…and yes, Faulkner’s longest sentence, around 1,200 words.

And the result? No problem! Both sentences scored nearly 100%, with high ratings for clarity, correctness, engagement…in short, Grammarly was obviously programmed to recognize great literature and not suggest corrections. Pretty smart, these bots.

And now, I’m off to ponder the great mystery of the carriage and the autumn leaves swirling past it. Happy Monday.

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When Will the Robot Overlords Replace Us?

I’ve been writing about machine learning and artificial intelligence quite a bit lately for work. Evidently, you can now use AI to organize all your files, create marketing and advertising, and perform repetitive accounting tasks.

Oh, by the way: you can also use it to create “sales bots,” “customer service bots,” and, of course, “content bots.”

In other words, companies now look to save money by using AI for sales, customer service, marketing, advertising…in short, all the “service” jobs that keep the good ol’ USA economy going.

 

The Blog Bot

Before you panic, don’t worry: the blog you’re reading right now will NEVER be written by a robot, a computer, or any other dystopian high-tech alternative. For better or worse, this old-school writer will continue to crank out free blog posts week in and week out, and no AI blogger robot will get its grubby little metal hands on it. 

If I’m starting to sound paranoid to you, let me assure you, I’m not. I got an ad, on my own Instagram feed, for some product or app that creates blog copy—using artificial intelligence! Why hire another pesky, high-maintenance, coffee-swilling writer when you can just have a bot do it all for you? No more paychecks for those little snobs.

 

Editing for Dummies 

Whilst contemplating the dystopian future for literature already on the horizon, I also got into using one of the worst technologies I’ve ever had the misfortune to encounter: Grammarly, a self-described “cloud-based typing assistant.” (And here I’m reminded of Robin Williams imitating Truman Capote: “That’s not writing, it’s just typing.”) 

One of my wonderful clients now has all writers run their “content” through Grammarly. So I’m faced with the task of editing a very poor editor, one which would no doubt object to my use of the word “very.” I’m not kidding: about 40% of Grammarly’s “corrections” are wrong, at least in my experience. Although some suggestions tighten text slightly, overall it’s a massive time suck.

There’s a weird trend in modern writing that makes it harder and harder for educated, highly-experienced writers to do our jobs. Part of it is the lack of attention span brought on by technology; the other is the strange notion that numerous parts of speech should no longer be used at all. Here are a few aspects of said trend:

1) Adverbs are bad. All of them. Never use an adverb.

2) Adjectives are almost as bad as adverbs. Use only if you have a gun to your head. Elmore Leonard said so.

3) “Passive voice” is unacceptable. Therefore, the words “is,” “was,” “are,” and “were” must all be eradicated from your writing.

You might be surprised to learn that I object to this horseshit. Though who knows? Maybe Charles Dickens should have had an editor revise “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” Get some action verbs in there! Bash, crunch, or crash those times! I’ve got it: “The times crashed like waves upon the shores of consciousness.”

I suppose it reads like the cranky old guy when I write this sort of thing. I get it. But if your writing job gets eliminated in favor of a robot next week, or next month, don’t say I didn’t warn you.

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Music, Music, Music, and “I Could Write a Book”

Music, Music, Music, and “I Could Write a Book”

I woke up thinking about Turkish drummers.

It didn’t take longI don’t know much about Turkish drummers.

—Bruce Cockburn

Music has always been a big part of my life. Maybe not everyone who reads this blog knows that, but anyone who knows me does. From the time I was a child, I listened to the radio, to records, and to tapes I’d made. As soon as I was old enough, I started going to shows. I did that for over 40 years, until hearing damage from an acoustic trauma made me realize my concert days were probably over and my protecting-my-ears days had come unannounced to replace them.

So it’s no surprise if I wake up thinking about music on any given day. But today was different. Today I woke up thinking in a logical, almost strategic way about my history with music, from pop to jazz. Almost as if I were going to write a book about it.

I’m not.

 

Music, Music, Music

Before I looked it up today, I didn’t know Teresa Brewer had a hit in 1949 with (Put Another Nickel In) Music! Music! Music! Somehow that song is ingrained in my head, and it’s not even my style. Maybe I got it from a kids’ show or a TV commercial.

My early leanings were as much about Jim Croce and Jim Stafford as Elton John. Pop ruled the airways, but much of it was also rock. This teen got into Kiss (my first concert at 13), Aerosmith, and Van Halen in the late 70s, an era when Van Halen actually came across the FM dial on pop stations. Hard to fathom today.

Women began to dominate the scene almost as much as men, at least in my mind. Blondie was punk, then cool new wave, then pop, and Pat Benatar rocked the Billboard Top 40. Joan Jett loved rock ‘n’ roll, and we loved her. Those women were sexier than all get-out. To a teenage boy, they were Amazons, larger than life.

 

I Could Write a Book

The other half of today’s title, “I could write a book,” comes from conversations I’ve had over the last year. This past weekend, I explained to a friend of mine how annoying it is for professional writers when non-writers (a.k.a., civilians) say, “I’m going to write a book someday.”

In fact, virtually every variation on that is like the proverbial fingernails on a blackboard to a working writer.

Other examples:

  1. “I think I’d like to write a book.”
  2. “You know, I could write a book.”
  3. “People always tell me, Your life would make a good book.”

Okay, you get the idea. If you’re not a writer, but you’ve said this crap to a writer, here’s what they thought.

  1. “No, you wouldn’t.”
  2. “If you could, you would have done it by now.”
  3. Everyone thinks their life would make a good book.”

We’re just too polite to say it.

For years my mother told me she was going to write a memoir. She also said she was going to start walking when it got warm enough…or cool enough…or…. Both were equally annoying to hear.

What’s funny is that when I told my friend how annoying it is, he immediately said, “I’ve had people tell me my life would make a good book.”

In my head, I went, “What did I just say?”

Out of my mouth came the usual: “Uh huh.”

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holidays

Books: Great Holiday Gifts, or The Greatest Holiday Gifts?

I saw a cartoon the other day that features a character who's starting to sing, "It's beginning to look a lot like..." A second character quickly and quietly puts the first character down, saying, "Shh. Sleep now." Dark stuff, right? But hey, these are dark times—in...

Book Fair Time Coming September 17th

Most of my blog posts are related in one way or another to the business of being an author - expanding your author platform, improving your book marketing, and so on - and not strictly self-promotional. However, every once in a while, I've got a radio interview or...