Electric Nags

I finally gave up my flip phone a month ago.  It was a kind of sad decision for me. I really didn’t want a smart phone but everyone else had moved on.  Contrary to what some people believe, I try not to pile on the eccentricities.  What could I do? the old flip phone had sticky buttons making it almost impossible to dial numbers and when I opened it the screen was occasionally dim. The smart phones are not much more expensive now, so I figured I’d cave in and get one.

I lasted about three days in full smartphone mode. Every few seconds there would be a notification from social media sites, a text message,  or a nagging green owl. None of it was pressing, and none really required my attention.  And yet my time kept slipping away. In all of my phone time I didn’t really talk to anyone.

So I turned it off, and, for that matter, I turned my notifications off. In my flip phone days my phone was off maybe a third of the time, and now it is off more than half.  I really only turn it on to text my friends which I do more than I like to admit.

I’m not sure what it is that I am always supposed to be plugged in for. If you send me a work email at 2:00 am on Saturday, expect a reply on Monday morning.  If it is pressing life or death, I will get back to you soon, if not, live your life, I’ll be living mine.

We often hear that the convenience of cell phones is ruining our lives, but it isn’t really a convenience at all — it’s a hassle. It’s one more gadget that breaks down the separation between home and work, and between sleeping and not sleeping.  I’d rather just do what I want to while I am doing it.  The owl can go nag somebody else.

Don’t be Like Me If You Can Help It

 NOTE: this was first published on my old blog June 5th, 2016

Back in ’09 I submitted a story to a fancy-pants magazine. I remember how angry and frustrated I was when the story was rejected. I fumed about it for days.

The other day I was looking for another old email and found the rejection, which ended   “I appreciate your interest in {name of magazine} and hope that you will keep me in mind for future submissions.”

The email was actually not a form-letter but a nice little note mentioning some of the peculiarities of what I had written. It was clearly an encouragement to submit more, although I never did. I may never have read it in its entirety till now. Now the venerable old rag, like many a venerable old rag is out of business and I have wasted the opportunity. At another time, I could have been excused on the foolishness of my youth, but I was 31.

I missed out on 9¢ a word, a big audience, and being published in a legendary magazine, all because I couldn’t get passed the “I’m sorry” that began the message. I hear people advise each other to “not take rejection personally,” but I’m not sure that many people are better at it than I am.

So today I will give you no advice except to hope  that we all become a little more rational as we get older.



NOTE: This is an unrevised entry from my old blog from August 5th, 2016

I don’t usually write gratis (out of principle this is one of my jobs) and I don’t usually write fast enough for commission, but I made an exception this week. I saw an open call for ‘drabbles,’  which are little hundred-word stories.  Collections of them are surprisingly common, this particular one had a Hallowe’en theme. So I gave it a try. It seemed like a challenge. It took nine seconds to write and another eleven to edit.  My home internet connection is a little slow so it took about fifteen seconds to send the submission by email.

I like the little story that I came up with, but I am not fond of the form. When laid out in textbooks the drabble looks as weird and arbitrary as the sonnet. But it isn’t — because the sonnet is not a set of arbitrary rules — poetic forms are made for the ear (and that mid-century America Literary critics couldn’t hear shows no problem with the sonnet, or any other form, but a problem with tin-eared critics).

Waltzes have value because when we hear them we have a background in waltzes, we know the dance.

The same is true with poetic forms. The cultural baggage is an aspect of the aesthetics and the meaning.  Whoever is experiencing the art provides  part of the meaning by knowing other things in the form. No one (or no one In-the-Know at least) has to count the beats to know the waltz, and no one has to count the lines to know the sonnet. They are just part of the world we live in.

The drabble, however, is just an arbitrary bit, it doesn’t have any distinction resulting from rhythm or repetition.  So a reader wouldn’t know what it is without counting the words, and there isn’t any reason  why a story with 100 words would differ in anyway from a story with 102.

Art has to have restraint, but the restraint has to have meaning for the both the one who experiences and the one who creates.  Which is to say you ought to know that you are reading a drabble, while you read the drabble, but there is nothing inherent in the drabble that would let you know this.



Perhaps I shouldn’t be too hard on the drabble. I like what I wrote. I have read some by others that I liked. Maybe the discipline of word-counting is good practice.  And, if one is reading a book of drabbles, one is likely to acquire a drabblish sensibility.  The form does have a meaning in the context of an anthology, if not on its own.

And, reservations aside, I do look forward to seeing the other pieces by the other contributors, when the book is published.  And when it is I’ll post a link so that you may judge for yourself.

The Proof Is in the Proofs

My book, Priceless Treasures and Ghastly,  is almost ready to print.  On three occasions I have assured my editor that I was ready to go to press, and then rewritten something.  It probably isn’t something that I should do — the more changes that I make the more likely it is that I will introduce typos that will  be uncaught, or delete things by accident.  But I owe you, my public, the best that I can manage and I will deliver it.

As a child I remember being appalled that Tolkien made so many changes to The Hobbit while it was being printed that the printers had to break the plates and do it all over again.  This, by the way, was the first edition of 1937, not the revised 1951 version that we read.

I do think that what I have now is as good as it can be, but I think that I put off pressing ‘send’ a few more hours and look it over one last time.