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The Journal of Possible Things Posts

Books

I learned to read when I was three years old.

My mother tells a story about this. She got a call from the pre-school teacher one morning. “You son is pretending to read to the class,” the teacher said,

“Is he pretending, or…” Mom said.

There was a pause. “No…he’s actually reading to them.” She sounded surprised.

I don’t remember this.  My earliest memory is sitting next to my mother on our brown couch with sunlight behind us, reading a copy of the Little Golden Books version of Winnie-The-Pooh.

People talk about their formative experiences, and I consider this the most formative of all. For literally as long as I can remember, I have loved to spend my time with a nose in a book. Family lore tells of how intense my concentration was as a kid, that I would get so absorbed in a book that my mother would have to shake me to get my attention.

The happiest memory of my childhood was after I got my library card. I would go to the library over the summer and check out five to twelve books at a time. Then I’d go home and lay in the hammock on the screened in porch, reading one book after another without taking a break.

This was pure bliss.

My parents owned a small mobile home at Atwood Lake which served as a summer getaway. After I got over complaining about having to go (Lawn mowing. There was always lawn mowing to be done.) I would climb the big tree in the front yard, nestled in the sturdy branches; I would lose myself in a book.

Books shaped my career. My first job was as a page at the local library. In high school, I worked for Waldenbooks and B. Dalton over different summers. After college I worked at Booksellers, then Borders, and eventually Bookstacks Unlimited, which was my gateway to programming. Ten years later, I wrote the code for Podiobooks.com.

While I never stopped reading, the further I got into my career, the harder it was to lose myself in the words. Too many pressures. While I believe that escapism through text is a good thing, I start to read in a bizarre mechanical fashion, devouring books but rarely retaining them. This was particularly true during periods of high stress. I didn’t have the mental awareness to realized what I was doing, retreating from everything for some quiet, but feeling so guilty about taking the time that I would drive myself to finish quickly. For a bibliophile, this is a sort of hell.

Recently, I spent a little time in therapy because I found I was having difficulty feeling joy or pleasure. Despite all the goodness that had come my way (good job, good kids, good new marriage), I couldn’t feel that joyful sense you get in your chest when surrounded by the people you love. I took some time, and with the help of my therapist, stumbled on Carl Jung’s story. When he was having similar issues, he looked back to his childhood to see what he loved to do. In his case, this was building little castles out of stones. He decided to do this very thing as an adult, creating a connection between the frustrated, overspent adult and boundless joy of his childhood self.

For me, this took me back to books. Time set aside to read and enjoy free of guilt or external concerns. It’s become a practice now. It’s something I schedule, that I look forward to and that I am loathed to give up. Most importantly, it forces me to slow down and disconnect so that I can truly recharge.

After about a month of this, I felt myself start to feel joy and gratitude again. It was like a reservoir filling inside me. Books helped me remove a space inside and fill it with light.

These days, I am never without a book or my Kindle. I have a catch-and-release policy with most physical books, donating them after I read them, and I make good use of my public library. I connect with the words and stories as often as I can.

Books have shaped my life. I would not be who I am today without them.

 

Q&A

Why’ve you been so quiet?

Curation. I didn’t have anything worthwhile to say, so I didn’t say anything.

And now you do?

Guess we’ll find out.

Are you still doing the Minimalism thing? 

Yep, but I stopped writing about it because I felt like I was mimicking people and regurgitating information that was already out there. Happy to talk about it if people want to hear it, but I look it as more of a personal thing than Being Part of A Movement.

How have you been filling your time?

When not working, I spend time with my kids and my wife. My wife (Catherine) and I love to make things, so cooking and home projects take up a good deal of our time and help us deal with the stress of living in this modern age. Full list activities in the last year would be: gardening, cooking, brewing beer, roasting coffee, and home fermenting. Trying to get back into a hiking routine as well.

Did you see that Podiobooks has changed?

I did, and I’m glad to see it evolving. I was pleased with the work the new team did to relaunch the site a few years ago, and I’m looking forward to seeing where it goes now that it is part of Scribl. I’ve spoken with Evo, and he’s happy, so I’m happy.

I’ll admit…it’s strange knowing that none of the code I’ve written exists anywhere on the Internet anymore. Dust in the wind, dude. All our code is dust in the wind.

Are you going to start a new podcast?

Not unless something is so awesome that I cannot deny it. My years in podcasting were fun, and I cherish the fact that I still speak to many of the friends I made during that period.  I feel like there’s a vibrant ecosystem of great content out there, and I don’t have very much to add at this time. I’d prefer to wrestle with the words on the page for now. I’ve been putting off making a practice of writing for decades. I’m changing that now.

Why are you getting back to writing now?

I like to make things. I love words. Making things out of words is one of the things that makes me the happiest. I’ve had issues with it for years, issues stemming from a lack of confidence and a brutal inner edit excellent at muzzling me. Recently, I married a woman who is supportive of my writing, and that frees me of the guilt I’ve felt for year

The big change is that  I married a woman who is supportive of my writing, and that frees me of the guilt I’ve felt for years about stealing time from my family to pursue my own creative work. That makes all the difference in the world.

Do you take requests?

You mean…like…would I write about something if someone asked?

Yeah. 

Sure. it would depend on the subject, but sure. Drop me a line. Writing prompts always welcome.

Is it easy to get back into the flow of writing every day?

No. This is hard. I couldn’t think of anything to write this morning so I’m doing a Q&A with myself. But I’m making words flow. That’s the goal, and today I met it.

Rocks

When I was in high school, I had a pretty select group of friends. We were all musically talented and active in choir, band, and/or drama. We were all honor students. And we were all bored.

Brunswick in the summer always smelled like mown grass, hot asphalt, and old cigarettes. When I was growing up there, there wasn’t a whole lot to do. The big thrill was driving to Parmatown Mall…once you had a car. More often than not, my friends and I would either convene in James’ basement for gaming or at Jason’s house for…shenanigans.

Jason’s house boasted a central location, parents who were willing to put up with our bullshit, the Tahitian room (more on this in a later post), and the rocks.

If you followed the sidewalk next to Jason’s house until it ended at the field, and then hiked up the hill about a quarter mile, you’d find a path through the trees and underbrush that led to a collection of large stones deposited there by some ancient glacier. The stones ringed a central flat space, perfect for a fire. This became our personal Stonehenge, where we’d gather and celebrate the sacraments of Midwestern youth: illicit beer, smokes, and big talk. More often than not, one of us brought a guitar. There’d be songs and stories; nothing organized, nothing formal. Just shootin’ the shit, the way you do when you’re young and you’ve got all the time in the world and nothing to fill it. Eventually, we’d tire or the mosquitoes would drive us out, we’d head back to the house, then wander home.

The rocks were necessary. The ritual of them brought us together, made us vulnerable, gave us strength. Tony would eventually immortalize them in a song. They were worth singing about.

I’m not sure what teenagers do these days with their friends. My kids seem to see their friends outside of school rarely. I wonder what they’ll talk about as their rocks. I don’t know how to create strong memories digitally…I’m of that generation who needs to move through the physical world to build meaning. The more I watch them, the more I respect the experiences of my youth, not enough to try to recreate them but to hold them close to me to keep those flames alive as I become an older man who doesn’t always connect with the culture that surrounds me.

The rocks still loom large in my mind. When I moved back from Los Angeles, I made a point of trying to find them. They are gone now; a housing development stands where they once stood. Worse, I’ve lost that cassette tape with Tony’s song on it. Immortal means something different at 17 than it does at 46. Somewhere in between, vulnerability to time is no longer a choice; it’s a fact.

“And today’s for sale
And it’s all you can afford
By your own admission
Well, the whole thing’s got you bored
And the Lord uses the good ones
The bad ones use the Lord…”

Let’s Get The Show On The Road, Michael Stanley Band