Showing posts with label Writing. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Writing. Show all posts

Thursday, May 21, 2020


A labor of love over many years Explaining It to Someone: Learning From the Arts has been published and is available from Amazon in paperback at $18.95.  For those more digitally inclined, there is also a $3.99 Kindle edition.
The book’s very detailed Table of Contents serves as an index to the hundreds of writers, playwrights, songwriters, musicians, and performances that are described or reviewed.

The book began with the writing of this blog itself.  As a publisher, I have always been interested in good writing and meaningful reading but never imagined that I would have the creative juices to write myself, in particular the freedom from self censorship.  A writer’s life is not private, even if writing only fiction.  This blog was a liberating factor as it offered a platform for the discipline needed to write. 

I was particularly influenced by a book I read long before, Brenda Ueland’s, If You Want to Write; A Book about Art, Independence and Spirit, first published in 1938.  She threw down the gauntlet for me: “At last I understood that writing was about this: an impulse to share with other people a feeling of truth that I myself had. Not to preach to them, but to give it to them if they cared to hear it. If they did not – fine. They did not need to listen. That was all right too…. You should work from now on until you die, with real love and imagination and intelligence, at your writing or whatever work it is that you care about. If you do that, out of the mountains that you write some mole hills will be published…. But if nothing is ever published at all and you never make a cent, just the same it will be good that you have worked.”

I emphasize the last few words as they encapsulate my life.  To me it was not good enough to be the passive recipient of the cultural advantages I had in my life.  I felt compelled to share them, analyze them, say what they meant to me, and convey my unabashed exhilaration.

What I cover in Explaining It to Someone is eclectic to be sure.  It’s easier in many ways to deal with the works of a single writer.  Most of the work is related by the tether of my life experiences.  And, this is what distinguishes it from other works of criticism; I often relate it to personal experiences and the times.  These are times we all share.

When I read James Salter’s All That Is several years ago, the seeds of my (now) two published books were planted.  I ruminated over Salter’s epigram from this, his final novel, written thirty years after his last published work:

There comes a time when you
realize that everything is a dream
and only those things preserved in writing
have any possibility of being real

This made such an impression on me that I adopted his epigram for Explaining It to Someone as well. Yes, I said to myself, it is all well and good that I write this blog, but as a publisher, with deep roots in print editions, the digital world seems ephemeral.  Not that I have illusions that by appearing in print my writings magically become long-lived.  But they were NOT a dream, they ARE real and it is GOOD that I have worked.  It seemed inevitable that this volume, in particular, find its way to print (although editing concessions were made, and a Kindle edition exists as well).  
Although it is a companion work to my previously published Waiting for Someone to Explain It: The Rise of Contempt and Decline of Sense, it stands on its own.   Waiting for Someone is all things political and economics, borne out of frustration and disillusion, while Explaining It to Someone was written with passion about the arts.

It is ironic that I have chosen the non-traditional publishing route.  I did not see the commercial prospects of successfully landing this with a trade publisher or even a small press.  And I did not want constraints as to length, organization and content.  The irony about using the Amazon publishing platform is at one time during my publishing days, I dealt with Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon when he was on his way up in the mid 1990’s (or perhaps I should say, up, up, and away!).

Little did I know that 25 years later they would become my publishing platform and Bezos the richest man in the world; unthinkable, and just over the last third of my life.

Using their platform and making your book professional requires either learning publishing software or hiring an intermediary to generate the two files that are necessary, one for on demand physical books and the other for the Kindle.  (Again, another irony not lost on me is a 1984 issue of Publishers’ Weekly carried an article on my vision for printing on demand).  I could learn the software, many people do, and if I was younger and wanted to spend precious time, that would have been my preferred route.  Instead I hired a company that specializes in the conversion process, BooknookBiz.  They have been very professional and I have a nice relationship with the owner, “Hitch.”  I enjoy our banter back and forth, her up to date digital knowledge vs. my circa 1960 -1970 production knowledge, the days when I was a “production guy.”

They initially estimated the present book would set out to 714 7 x 10” pages, way, way too large for me.  That’s when my antiquated production knowledge was brought to bear on the problem, resulting in an acceptable compromise, still a large book, 516 pages 6 x 9” and densely set, but readable. This relationship was reminiscent of the time when I handled printing and binding vendors, mostly in Ann Arbor, Michigan.  Gone, gone are those days, but the memory lingers on.

The manuscript for this book went through three different editing passes before it was even submitted for conversion, and a major organizational effort (many thanks to my wife, Ann for her enduring help and insight).  In some respects it has the characteristics of a reference book because of the detailed table of contents. The more challenging post conversion issues were with the Kindle edition’s content page hyperlinks “landing” on the right spot in the 245,000 word text.

This might be the last book I write or the penultimate one, as I am thinking more about fiction and memoir perhaps in a couple of years if time and health are good to me, problematic given age and the pandemic, the latter being the stuff of dystopian science fiction only a few months ago. 

What I have to say in this book will be the formative foundation of any I might tackle in the future.  Indeed, most of the writers and musical artists I cover in Explaining It to Someone; Learning From the Arts are my teachers and I am their grateful and humble student.

Friday, March 13, 2020

Dark Ages Descending

This is for readers who regularly visit this blog, an explanation why my theatre reviews will cease, hopefully only for a while, and my writing in general will be curtailed.  I hope this is merely an “intermission.”  COVID-19 is the reason.  My wife and I have decided to begin immediate social distancing, and this includes the activities I’ll go as far to say defines our very existence.

Since writing a draft of this entry, everything is being appropriately cancelled anyhow. We love all things cultural, but these are extensive social activities and until this pandemic gets under control, we and presumably many of you, are staying in place, nearly hostages of our home.  It means not going to NYC, where my heart is, and the area our two sons and daughter-in-law live.  It looks almost certain we will miss celebrating our 50th wedding anniversary there with family and attending the 50th anniversary of Sondheim’s Company, one of my favorite shows.  It opened on our wedding day.  Our “kids” surprised us with tickets for that very day.  But compared to sacrifices other families will be forced to make, and some with serious economic consequences as well, it is something we accept.

Regional theatres will be cancelling their productions. They are particularly vulnerable and those of us who have subscriptions, and we have several, will be asked to donate them back to the theatre rather than asking for a refund. They need our support to survive and if you care about the future of the performing arts, it would be wise to donate and not refund.

More than three years ago, when I was writing more about the serious deficiencies in Donald Trump’s experience and psychological nature to handle the responsibilities of the Presidency, I said (Feb. 16, 2017) “I merely thought [his] behavior ‘crazy making’ but it may be more -- preparation for almost anything, totalitarian rule by the Plutocracy, religious wars, the demolition of the Republic, a nuclear winter, or all rolled up into the Trumpocalypse….Instinctively, even if we survive we all know this will not end well.  I hope I am very wrong, and that the next four years will be bigly amazing, devoid of losers, with tremendous, terrific winners, but I fear it’s not gonna happen, zero percent.”

As long as he was riding on the coattails of international agreements made over decades before, and had the rising economic prosperity that was already underway before he became President, my secret hope was we might stagger to the finish line of November 2020, no matter what he does. But he was ill prepared to handle a truly national Black Swan emergency. 

His failures relating to COVID-19 have again exposed him as a worthless incompetent, now with very serious consequences. His Oval Office speech was incoherent and lacked what we needed to hear: how the Federal government was going to provide massive support for our medical infrastructure, and the resources needed to ramp up immediate testing, more ICU beds and ventilators, protection for our medical personnel, as well as concrete guidelines for social distancing in the midst of this crisis.

As he said when this crisis was first gaining attention, he didn’t want that cruise ship off the west coast to dock because the COVID-19 “numbers would go up,” the implication that it makes HIM look bad.  If there ever was a case for impeachment it is this:  his failure to take this seriously, listen to the experts, and take actions to protect the American people, all of which is an egregious breach of his Presidential responsibilities.  So, instead of a “nuclear winter” we have a COVID-19 winter ahead.

The thrust of his speech was to build a figurative wall across the Atlantic that will somehow protect us from Europe. This virus is not only already here, but is probably many-fold pervasive than reported.  Ironically, while he was talking about keeping people out of the country from those areas (and even that was unclear), a JetBlue plane was landing from NYC at Palm Beach Airport (his and my airport too), with an elderly man who had just tested positive for COVID-19 and after feeling ill during the flight a medical emergency was declared.  After landing he and his wife were deplaned, while the other 100 passengers were delayed for 2-3 hours as I guess officials were wondering what to do.  Refuel it and make it circle as a cruise ship? In the absence of guidelines, they released all the passengers into the general population and advised them to contact local health officials if they felt ill.  We know symptoms may not manifest themselves for weeks, so all these passengers are now free to mingle throughout our area with no self quarantining or monitoring?   This is how such a virus spreads like wild fire.

Trump’s address did nothing to ameliorate this crisis.  He may even have exacerbated it as he mumbled meaningless measures from the teleprompter.  He likes to use the stock market as a barometer of his “winning.” How’s that going, Mr. President?

Meanwhile, back in the fall I had explained that my I was working on a second book which although derivative from my blog would be highly edited and focused.  This has been slowly and painstakingly moving forward although in the shadow of COVID-19 everything seems pretty meaningless.  But this is the culmination of a my work for decades, so I feel compelled to follow through, and now I will turn to it more full time.  Hopefully, by the time it is published, probably spring or summer, this crisis will be a fading memory (doubtful) and we will all be able to return to a semblance of our former BC (Before C-19) lives.

I have a final title, ISBN and a nearly final structure: Explaining It to Someone: Learning From the Arts ISBN: 978-0-578-65465-2.  It is much larger than my prior work.  Here is a tentative blurb:

“This is a companion work to “Waiting for Someone to Explain It: The Rise of Contempt and the Decline of Sense” (Lacunae Musing, 2019) which focused on the political and economic landscape at the beginning of the 21st century.  While I was writing about those issues, I was also writing about what I was personally experiencing in my cultural life, particularly the literature, music, and theatre of the same period.  If I was seeking “answers” in my previous work from politicians or economists, perhaps better clues can be found in the works of some of our most creative people.  I think of them as our greatest philosophers.

Unlike most other works of literary or theatrical examination, this one is clearly idiosyncratic.  The works covered are tied together by the unique thread of my own life and times.  Sometimes I wonder whether I chose these works, or whether they chose me. Hundreds of dramatic and literary works are reviewed, along with impressions of musical performances and composers, mostly focused on the genres of The Great American Songbook and Jazz.

Together, these give a unique view of our times as well as a much needed respite from the economic and political morass we find ourselves in at the beginning of the 21st century.”

So while my blog will be relatively quiet, this is what I’m working on.  I’m hoping to resume my theatre work when and if the coast is clear.  I also hope anyone who reads this stays safe and avoids this virus.

Thursday, September 19, 2019

Alternative Use of Time

To those who read my blog regularly, an explanation of why I am no longer averaging at least an entry per week.  I’ll call it the alternative use of time, not to mention the summer is filled with travel and other distractions and upon returning to our home, an increasing number of health issues which must be addressed.  I used to see one doctor.  Now my primary care physician is the quarterback for a number of specialists.  Aging, it’s not for the faint of heart.

But most of my writing time is currently focused on a follow up to my book, Waiting for Someone to Explain It.  This second volume is also very challenging, not to mention time consuming as I try to work on it almost every day.  Still, it will take months, maybe up to a year, to complete.

When I approach such a project, my first instinct is to write a draft of an introduction.  This helps me focus on content, organization, and what I actually hope to accomplish.  I even have a working title, Explaining it to Someone.  Of course as I get deeper into it, everything I now envision might totally change, title included.  But I think by writing this explanation about the diminished blog output, makes me more committed to trying to get this done. 

This does not mean the blog will go quiet as I’ll still be writing theatre reviews and articles and maybe an occasional review of a book, but certainly less on personal and political subjects.  I’ve come to feel that sharing too much personal information has indeed become a dangerous habit.  I don’t regret writing what I have on that topic in the past, but in the future I intend to tread carefully. 

Likewise, I’m fairly disgusted by politics, the omnipresence of Trump, our “leaders” lack of action on gun control, healthcare, just to name two major ones.  Probably when the Presidential primaries heat up, I’ll have something to say.

We have also misused technology for amusement, convenience, and weaponry and elected leaders who thoughtlessly borrow against the future to preserve their power in the present.  Culture wars and racial and ethnic conflicts abound, just as they have since the beginning of time, but now are in hyper mode thanks to the immediacy of information and disinformation.

As I age, I’m either seeing things more clearly or more negatively, or maybe they are one and the same.  The misanthropic needle scale seems to be tipping more and more to the red zone.  

At a dinner the other night, I jealously listened to a friend describe her reading life, blowing through one book after another, and when asked what I am currently reading it dawned on me that I am no longer capable of reading for pleasure as I am always looking for answers, trying to figure life out while I have that brief privilege in time being one of the more than 100 billion human beings who have had their flickering moments before me.

Waiting for Someone to Explain It is a collection of writings culled from my blog, which attempts to fathom the economic and political morass happening at the beginning of the 21st century.  While I was writing about those increasingly threatening issues, the blog also became a repository for family history, something I imagined I was leaving for posterity, and also a place where I could report on and analyze my cultural life, particularly the literature, music, and theatre I experienced during the same period.

In a sense, while asking political and economic questions, those entries focused on my reading and theatre experiences were providing some of the answers.  Why?  In “fiction” artists deal with human conflict and nescience on a granular and abstract level.  What I hope emerges from this new volume is just one person’s reporting on contemporary theatre and literature, works chosen as they seem to point the way to understanding the world we live in.

This will not merely be a collection of blog entries.  They are going to be edited and organized in such a way to serve as a reference work to more than a hundred plays and literary works.

I hope this is a sufficient explanation of my “alternative use of time,” the most precious commodity we have, not realizing it when we are younger.

Meanwhile, enjoy William O Ewing III’s “Lunchtime At The Car Shop” a painting we saw at a local exhibit months ago which seems appropriate for this moment….

Thursday, April 25, 2019

‘Waiting for Someone to Explain It’ Now Published

Having written this blog for some dozen years, by the end of last year I felt it was time to make it less of “a job” and more focused on things I enjoy rather than those I obsess over.  That meant less political and current affairs commenting (although I’ll never say never to those subjects in the future).  The present political and economic landscape invites day to day commentary, but I’ve decided to resist it to preserve my sanity.  It is truly a case of existential dread and exhaustion.

Nonetheless, I also decided to mostly exit those subjects by making a declarative statement in the form of a book based on the extensive entries from the past.  Therefore, Waiting for Someone to Explain It; The Rise of Contempt and Decline of Sense (North Palm Beach, Lacunae Musing, 2019),348 Pages, $13.95 is now available in paperback from Amazon and their extensive distribution network. 

The irony of selecting Amazon KDP as my publishing platform hasn’t been lost on me as when I was a publisher I dealt with Amazon in its infancy and now it deals with me in my dotage. 

It is also ironic that it should be published the same week as the Mueller Report which to some extent provides some of the answers I’ve been “waiting for.”  Yet Trump is as much a symptom as a cause. The book reveals the deep roots of our cultural civil war and the intransigence of political polarization, and one person’s quest to come to terms with them. 

It argues that we’ve become inured to the outrageous and accommodative of the absurd.  It points to a deep vein of anti-intellectualism in this country, questioning the veracity of climate change, championing the “right” to open carry weapons, and leading to the worship of false idols: 24 x 7 streaming entertainment.  We’ve become a nation needing immediate gratification, no matter what the societal consequences of borrowing against the future or becoming somnambulists in front of liquid crystal display screens.

Who could have imagined the rise of Donald Trump to the presidency of the United States?  As his candidacy ramped up, so did my commentary, all encapsulated in “Waiting.”

The book documents the election of such an unsuitable candidate, who has proved to be worse than feared, a “crazy maker” a gas-lighter of reality, a believer in his own mendacity.  These issues populate the entries.  As Eric Hoffer said in his classic The True Believer (1951), “We lie the loudest when we lie to ourselves.”  During the period I sought out other expert journalists, psychologists, bloggers, economists, and even novelists in an attempt to understand.

The publicity release at the end of this entry explains the title and more about the rationale.  It is not simply a collection of entries from the blog.  There is a narrative tying things together and the entries themselves have been edited to minimize redundancies and present them better in print. 

As an ex-publisher it’s also been a labor of love, to write a book, even participate in its design, bringing me back to my start in publishing in 1964 as a production assistant.  So much has changed since then in the industry.  For me, the publication was as much about the journey. I think of it as an act of professional closure as well as a cry for the kind of democracy our forefathers envisioned.