Friday assembly

…Sounds like I’m in school. Okay, maybe not this one either. But here we go!

What I’m reading: Joyland by Stephen King. Another (quasi-)carnival tale, of murder, ghosts, and the shine. Just happened to dig into it, and I really enjoyed it. It wasn’t the longest Stephen King novel by any stretch of the imagination, but it wasn’t the shortest either. All in all, however, it flowed quickly and kept me engaged to see what would happen next.

What I’m listening to: Longform’s interview with Rolf Potts. When I went looking for the first interview I heard, I found a collection of interviews over at Rolf Potts’s website.

What I’m spending my time with: The AFI 100. They’ve been on my list for a while, and I’m checking them off. So far I’m fifteen films in. I’m planning on getting them all watched by the end of the year.

Other things of interest:

  • It’s fall! (Here in Florida that means it’s in the 80s… most of the time.) Here’s a recipe for slow cooker mulled cider. It’s delicious, and you can spike it per the recipe. I find brandy works well also. The last recipe I used also suggested 1 qtr. cup of maple syrup.
  • Minimalism is overrated. This article from the Wall Street Journal mentions moving past the fear of overindulging in buying.
  • AltNYC Opera’s in-development production of The Halloween Tree. Synopsis and excerpts from workshop included in the link. After reading Something Wicked &  Halloween Tree, I did a good amount of Bradbury investigating and discovered this.
  • I was introduced to this financial blog – Our Next Life. Not just about budgeting, but long-term travel and early retirement.

The first books of Autumn

September 2019

Books Bought:

  • Coldheart Canyon – Clive Barker
  • The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test – Tom Wolfe
  • Dooms Day Book – Connie Willis
  • The Best Plays of 2000-2001 – Edited by Jeffrey Eric Jenkins
  • The Photographer’s Handbook – John Hedgecoe
  • Holidays on Ice – David Sedaris
  • Four Metaphysical Poets: An anthology of poetry by Donne, Herbert, Marvell, and Vaughn – Richard Willmott
  • HTML & CSS: design and build websites – Jon Duckett
  • Japanese Ghost Stories – Lafcadio Hearn

Books Read:

  • Tools of Titans – Tim Ferriss (unfinished)
  • Something Wicked This Way Comes – Ray Bradbury
  • The Halloween Tree – Ray Bradbury
  • From the Dust Returned – Ray Bradbury
  • Draft No. 4 – John McPhee
  • Book of Sketches – Jack Kerouac (unfinished)
  • Letting Go: The Pathway of Surrender – David R. Hawkins, M.D., Ph.D. (unfinished)
  • Vagabonding: An Uncommon Guide to the Art of Long-Term World Travel – Rolf Potts

To start, I went very lean on purchasing books this month. But, Michael, there are nine books on the list! And, we know from reading these posts, you don’t always remember all the books you purchased!

True enough. However, the first eight books were picked up for a grand total of $3 (well, $2.60, and I told the woman to keep the forty cents). I perused two libraries this month, and purchased books from their Friends of the Library book sale. Three paperbacks for a dollar, and no more than $0.50 each on the others. I had planned on not buying any more, but books bring me great joy, as does shopping for and reading them.

Ghost Stories was an impulse buy, but purchased with rewards so no money was switching hands. It was a lean month for me in general, with not a lot of money coming in from gigs or otherwise. On lean months, I try and not overindulge. But I’m also a compulsive book shopper…

Anyway, that more or less explains the purchases. Dooms Day Book looked familiar to me. Rather, the author did. Connie Willis. I looked on the inner flap, but couldn’t see why I knew the name. After returning home, I saw in a stack of books Blackout, by Connie Willis. A sci-fi book with time travel and historical themes, both Blackout and Dooms Day Book explore similar adventures.

A few of the others I picked up as text books – Photographer’s HandbookBest PlaysMetaphysical Poets, and HTML & CSS. I didn’t want to add many narrative books to my stack – I have a large stack of to-reads. But books that I could flip through and study as I needed – something I didn’t need to read cover-to-cover – that was easy enough to justify.

In the reworking of my website, the web design book was a nice find, especially only at a dime.

In the reading column, I’ve mentioned before that I took a deep dive this month into Ray Bradbury. This was spurred on my a dream in which a dark carnival came to town, so I listened to Something Wicked This Way Comes on audiobook. Then I checked out Halloween Tree (audiobook) and From the Dust Returned.

I noticed in these books that Bradbury has a way of using descriptive language that is metaphorical and highly symbolic, utilizing long sentence chains to expound upon the descriptors.

Once, as a boy, sneaking the cool grottoes behind a motion picture theatre screen, on his way to a free seat, he had glanced up and there towering and flooding the haunted dark seen a women’s face as he had never seen it since, of such size and beauty built of milk-bone and moon-flesh, at to freeze him there alone behind the stage, shadowed by the motion of her lips, the bird-wing flicker of her eyes, the snow-pale- death-shimmering illumination from her cheeks.”

“They went down the steps in single file and with each step down the dark got darker and with each step down the silence grew more silent and with each step down the night became deep as a well and very black indeed and with each step down the shadows waited and seemed to lean from walls and with each step down strange things seemed to smile at them from the long cave which waited below.”

At times this language presents a unique challenge – following along the metaphorical rabbit hole and trying to keep up. The way in which Bradbury’s mind worked must have been nothing short of magical. And that’s why I go to books – for the magic they contain.

Some books I just opened and read for inspiration. Book of SketchesTools of TitansLetting Go, and Vagabonding. Potts’s book I’ve read twice before. Once in 2003, and again in 2016. I think I first learned of it from an interview on NPR. I couldn’t find that interview online, but here is a collection of interviews Mr. Potts has done over the years.

I didn’t fully understand my wanderlust in 2003. In 2016, fresh off a breakup and contemplating future life choices, I decided I would travel to Europe. I thought it would be three months, but instead expedited the trip by shortening it – one month in Europe, and I’d leave in three weeks. The first thing I did was take Vagabonding off the shelf and give it another read.

This dogeared copy has copious notes, highlights, underlining, and scribbling in it. Tucked away in its folds are recipes, airline itineraries, shopping lists, phone numbers, and fortune cookie fortunes. And as I prepare (mentally, practically, and financially) for the next adventure, it will no doubt receive new bits of scribbles and other scree.

Kerouac’s Book of Sketches influenced my style of journaling, perhaps more so in 2017 when I first picked up a copy, but even still.

“7 Feb ’17
Sitting in the car at church.
Early, which is unusual for me.
I stopped at the library, after
my first workout in weeks.
I love the shelves upon shelves
of books.
I don’t know what it is about
them.
Walking through the aisles, I’m excited
at one I’ve read.
Look at some I’ve never heard
of.
Try to pronounce names, places.
Ideas roll over me at the sheer
volume of pages,
Waiting to be held. Read.”

That was the day I found Book of Sketches. That’s when I started writing in my small Moleskine using a more poetic flow, rather than straight prose. My other journals still see me writing in normal patterns. When I remember to write in them.

I committed to more reading this month, and did better than I had the previous month. I also wanted to write more, and read John McPhee’s essays on writing contained in Draft No. 4. When it comes to writing, I’m of two minds – the first being akin to Just Do It. When Stephen King was asked what of pencil he used to write, his response was, “Blackwing 602 #2 pencil, longhand”. (You can read a full page on writing advice over at Seth Godin’s blog.) Because Mr. King shows up every morning at the same time, writes, and then calls it a day. He has a routine, and that’s where he has built his writing practice.

At the same time, knowing about other’s routines and their processes for writing is both interesting, and occasionally helpful. Like how Rolf Potts in Vagabonding describes his take on reading Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People for the first time: “…a charming mix of common sense (“be a good listener”), good advice (“show respect for the other man’s opinions”), and antique notions (“don’t forget how profoundly women are interested in clothes”).

Writers and their habits are similar – sometimes you can come away with good advice for your own work. Other times, it won’t apply to you. So, no, the type of pencil Stephen King uses doesn’t matter to me. However I did like learning that Neil Gaiman used a fountain pen to write in his journal. As a matter of fact, now that I’ve written with fountain pen for a few months, I can’t imagine going back. (I am trying not to deep dive down the fountain pen rabbit hole. A friend of mine has, and I don’t know when I’ll see him again.)

Back to McPhee, his communicating of his process is straight-forward and highly informative. Ben Yagoda, of The Wall Street Journal, burbs the book by saying, “Draft No. 4 belongs on the short shelf of essential books about the craft.”

What works for me is McPhee’s storytelling:

“Robert Gottlieb replaced William Shawn as the editor of The New Yorker in 1987. If eccentricity was a criterion for the job, Bob was qualified. At one point, he had a toaster in his office that erupted two slices of plastic toast every hour on the hour.”

In my hunting for a quote to put here, I chose the opening lines of the essay Editors & Publisher. I then proceeded to read the next eleven pages, simply because I couldn’t seem to make myself stop reading. This will be one that I come to again and again over the years.

The books I re-read comprise a short list. In my last home they had their own shelf. Currently I don’t have the room for that, but hopefully my next house will be brimming with bookshelf space.

That list is:

  • Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere
  • Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book
  • Roger Zelazny’s A Night in the Lonesome October
  • William R. Forstchen’s Arena
  • Rolf Potts’s Vagabonding 
  • Seth Godin’s The Icarus Deception
  • Timothy Ferriss’s The Four-Hour Work-Week
  • And now – John McPhee’s Draft No. 4

A return to Vagabonding pt. 1

I feel I’ve written on this book once or twice before. It’s one that’s been with me for a while. In fact, my bedroom’s bookshelf has only the books I really want to read or ones that I want close to me. Rolf Potts’s Vagabonding is one of three books that I’ve had since the early 2000s. The other two are Lao-Tau’s Tao Teh Ching (Shambhala Publications’ John C.H. Wu translation) and Acupuncture: A Comprehensive Text (Shanghai College of Traditional Medicine; translated and edited by John O’Connor and Dan Bensky).

The text on Acupuncture was a loan from a former teacher of mine – my earliest mentor, you might say. One day I will track him down again and return the book, with a comprehensive apology for having it as long as I’ve had.

So saying that Vagabonding is near and dear to me falls somewhat short of the mark.

I’ve done two extended trips in Europe, one in ’16 and one in ’17. Last year it was a short trip to Costa Rica, and then this year, of course, was Alaska. But I think I’ve accepted that long term travel is more appealing to me than a regular vacation. It’s significantly more immersive, and, in my opinion, more fulfilling.

And recently I realized that it’s once again time to revisiting Mr. Potts. So I pulled a heavily-used, loved paperback off the shelf and opened again to the first pages.

Vagabonding – n.    (1) The act of leaving behind the orderly world to travel independently for an extended period of time.   (2) A privately meaningful manner of travel that emphasizes creativity, adventure, awareness, simplicity, discovery, independence, realism, self-reliance, and the growth of the spirit.     (3) A deliberate way of living that makes freedom to travel possible.