Dear Reader

Dear Reader,

Who are you? Where are you? When are you? Are you in a different country, of a future century, on another planet? Or are you just me?

Not many people read this blog; so you, Dear Reader, are probably me.

Dear Reader, what brought you here? How could you have found this particular spec in so large a dustball? What exceedingly unlikely series of events conspired together to land you on this bit of flotsam in the never-ending deluge of information? Statistically speaking, Dear Reader, it’s impossible that you’re anyone but me.

Dear Reader, why would you be interested, even fleetingly, in something I’ve written? Could my words really touch you? I’m no expert or celebrity or brainiac. I haven’t authored a Nobel Prize-winning blog post. Every thought that scrolls through my consciousness is possibly grossly in error. Do I know anything at all of interest to anyone? Or are you only reading this, Dear Reader, because you wrote it?

Is it really possible I could launch these words out into the infinity of time and space and someone staring back into the void could catch them as they float by? Could my writing–though far from extraordinary, and riddled with errors, and sometimes hard to follow, and limited in perspective, and self-absorbed, and flawed in a thousand other ways–could this blighted writing of mine reach just one person? If it could reach just one person, I think that would be enough. Could that person be you, Dear Reader? Perhaps you and I, Dear Reader, are more similar than the expanse between our chairs suggests. Perhaps we have some point of connection, some shared experience, some common ground that can bridge the gap between our blinking screens. Maybe we are more alike than different. Maybe we are the same. Like, literally the same person.

If this writing means something to you, Dear Reader, that is enough.

The five-handed man

I abandoned my wrist watch when I first acquired a cell phone so many eons ago. A watch seemed a superfluous piece of jewelry when I had a networked atomic clock in my pocket. But recently the changing technological landscape of my pants has caused me to reconsider, dust off an old habit, and strap an analog timepiece to the intersection of my hand and forearm.

When this unusual gizmo first appeared on my person I received a few questions: “What smartwatch did you get?” “Is that a fitness tracker?” It’s as dumb as they come, I informed my interlocutors, and the only health data it tracks is the steady passage of time. Unlike my Internet-enabled cellular smart pocket watch, it never redirects my attention from a simple question–-Is it lunchtime? Is it happy hour somewhere?–into a never-ending drip of curiosities, one leading inevitably to the next, and more than a sad hour lost.

There was a time some years ago–at least I think there was–when the majority of people had smartphones but these glass rectangles had not yet reshaped us. Boredom was still a word people understood. You could have a conversation without interruption. But it’s hard to picture the scene, to place the time. Soon we learned to reach for our phones in response to real boredom, and in short order the pause between words in a sentence felt like boredom, and in the boredom the urge to check up on the lastest what-have-you became irresistible.

It might not be so bad if the smartphone was just a single-purpose entertainment appliance, picked up disinterestedly like Golf magazine in a dentist’s office, instead of an essential communications tool, notepad, personal assistant, radio, calendar, step tracker, stopwatch and level, or if the sum of human knowledge known as the Internet wasn’t also the greatest rabbit hole ever created. But combine the world’s most versatile tool with the world’s greatest timesuck, and you have reduced to zero the barrier between the good intention of finally straightening out that shelf in the guest bedroom and lost in the distraction dimension.

Should I smash my smartphone to bits, flee to the forest, build a house from timber I fell myself, raise goats and chickens, and otherwise delight in a pre-industrial paradise? I guess I’ll admit that’s probably an overreaction to the arrival of email messaging in my denim. Short of that? It won’t solve all my problems, but I’m slapping three more hands onto my arm, and thus making the twenty-five times a day I check the clock invulnerable to the draw of the distractosphere. Now to solve my leveling issues.

Strings

The guitar bested me the first time around. It seemed so innocent a thing on the music store shelf, but at home the discordant wooden torture apparatus required me to twist my fingers into balloon animals and press the fleshy nubs into cheese slicers, and it didn’t even make music. In my frustration I launched upon myself a deluge of doubt, self-criticism and defeatism so thorough that I never touched the thing again. I really didn’t know how to be bad at something. That was fifteen years ago.

All my young adult life I focused on my strengths and avoided my weaknesses. I believed you either had talent or you didn’t. If you picked up a digit-crippling noise box and it felt like Nightmare on Finger Street–well, sorry Bud, you just don’t have what it takes. So why bother? But in my thirties a passion for ping pong drew me out of my strengths and into my weaknesses. I was obsessed with the sport, and that propelled me through the initial discomfort of being really, really, really bad at something. I discovered the delight of seeing improvement over time, of the moment you realize an action that once seemed impossible is now automatic.

Ping pong got the ball rolling. I began to timidly try new things, then boldly. My world expanded. When you push yourself out of your comfort zone, the zone of comfort expands. And not just in the new territory, but also in adjacent territory. What once seemed out of reach is now there for the expanding into. Which brings me back to guitar.

I picked up an acoustic widowmaker last week and pressed my silky-smooth nose-pickers into the assassin’s wires, and I loved it. I’ve practiced a little each day. Just two basic chords. My fingers are no better off than a chicken’s fingers, but each day the positions come quicker and the sounds get better. When I strum out a not-half-bad chord, it feels wonderful. I can make noise. That is deeply satisfying. Today I know how to be bad at something.

An improbable streak of sixty-eight days

For the last 68 days I’ve written a minimum of 1,000 words per day.

The second draft needed to be a major revision, but I wasn’t making much progress in the endlessly-revisable sandbox of Microsoft Word. To free myself of perfectionism, I put pen to paper. I began writing page one and kept going until I completed the last chapter on Sunday.

I still need to type up about a month of journal pages, fill in a few gaps, cut a few things, and reorganize, but the end is in sight.

As a special thanks, our gift to you

I’m pleased to report that the second draft is about half done. As a marker of this milestone, I share with you a synopsis (subject to change, as always) of the sort that might appear on the back of a book:

“A man can get fixated on a thing far beyond its value or the bounds of reason,” so begins Kurt’s narrative.

Kurt has a job. No one does any work, only the occasional pretend call to a nonexistent customer and the logging of a fictional sale. But it pays the bills, and he’s lucky to have it. Meanwhile he has discovered a letter trapped in a used paperback. The idea of delivering it to its intended recipient, Danielle, feels to him like a heroic act. But the only link he has to her is the man who denies being named Rudolph, a man known to each of his associates by a different name. The man is a slippery thing to hold, and the tighter Kurt grasps, the more things slip. And when his idle coworkers become manpower in his quest, things become even less sane.

Credit and thanks goes to Ross for helping identify the rough spots in the draft of this.

A familiar story: perfectionism, inactivity, and movement

My process for the first draft, if you remember, was designed to suppress my perfectionist tendencies. But when I finished that draft in November and began the second (without those safeguards) the beast of perfectionism reared its head. I revised and rewrote and revised the first chapter until just short of my own premature death, and it was exhilarating! But the euphoria ended with the second chapter.

What did wonders for a week had soon fizzled out, and perfectionism became paralysis. Trapped by a single problematic idea with no clear answer, I did nothing. The holidays came and went. January and February zipped by. A long period of agonizing about my inactivity was followed by an even longer period of not thinking about it at all.

Then in March one morning, without any prelude of intent, I awoke with an idea for the novel and renewed purpose. Since then I’ve worked steadily, mostly firming up the foundational elements of the story, which is why you haven’t noticed much movement on the old thermometer over there. It’s just not the kind of progress the old progress meter is good at measuring (it has its blind spots), but progress has been made. I swear.

That foundational business behind me, along with a certain redesigning of my second draft processes, I’ve begun what will surely be a highly productive cycle. Expect noticeable progress in the coming weeks. The kind the progress bar will show.