The notebook

In a perfect world, I’d have the One True iPhone app that would somehow take any of my stray ideas and easily catalog them in one place, that would let me collect all of these random thoughts and later develop them into sketches that got inserted into stories.  That app would have to use something more rapid-fire than the existing iPhone keyboard – a bluetooth keyboard I could always keep with me?  A way to do speech-to-text and also catalog photos I took?  Some way to beam text from any of the 19 computers I use during the day into the one repository?  Does this finally give me a good excuse to buy an iPad?  I don’t know.  Until then, there’s paper.  And for the last fifteen or so years since I became a writer, I’ve been amassing a lot of paper in a few different formats.

I used to use spiral notebooks, 8.5×11, college rule, and every night, I’d fill up a page or two with the doings of the day, the various things that happened, the pieces that stuck out and needed to be captured.  This was good in that I dumped out things and captured them in amber, but I also kept my writing going in some sense.  It’s no substitute for sitting down in front of an emacs buffer and hacking out a couple thousand words, but it keeps the wheels spinning.  Now I’ve got a few dozen of these sitting in my bookcase and in my storage unit, and at some point, I might do something with them.  (Wish there was an easy and cheap way to scan them all in, but I hate my current scanner, and it also stopped working when I got the new laptop.)  This method pretty much stopped a few years ago – I think I still have the same notebook I started in 2006, and it’s not going to ever get filled at this rate.  This online journal and the need to write other stuff has pretty much killed that whole thing.

But I still need to keep notes.  And I’ve been using those moleskine notebooks, although I still don’t know how the hell you actually say moleskine, and the first time I have to say it aloud to another human being, I’m going to look like a genius.  There’s also some worry about the fact that I might look like a hipster doofus, carrying around one of these things.  But I don’t live in Brooklyn, so it’s no big deal.  And my new laptop bag (which I already hate, after my last trip, and I really need to get another one) has a pocket on the front which is the perfect size for two moleskine books and a pen.  So I’ve been filling one up lately, and I think since I started a new one in mid-July, it’s maybe half-full already.

So I was in Denver, and I got this small routine going where I’d get up early, go down to the restaurant in the hotel, and eat breakfast outside, while enjoying the cool Denver morning prelude to the afternoon heat.  And I’d eat my eggs and toast and fruit, and pick at my iPhone and the email a bit, and pick at the notebook a bit, maybe write down part of a weird dream or an idea for a story.  And then after breakfast, I’d go sit down in the hotel lobby with my netbook and crack out a thousand or two words.

After the first day of this, I realized my notebook was missing.  I freaked the fuck out, of course.  Did I put my name in it?  My number?  Was it downstairs in the lobby?  Would it turn up, or would someone just think “oh, cool” and pocket it, tearing out a month of golden entries and destroying my work forever?

But my greastest fear was, if the book does turn up, will someone start reading it?  Because here’s the thing: my notes are so god damned random and bizarre, any sane human reading them would think they found the unfinished manifesto of a deranged serial killer.  Like, if you open this notebook and turn to the first page, there’s this rough idea about Evel Kneviel carrying around an iPad that contains scans of all of his xrays from his various motorcycle crash injuries.  No idea what anyone would think about any of this.  Luckily, my handwriting is so horrible, it would be difficult for anyone to pick up on anything within the book.  But still, losing that would be a huge, huge deal.

Luckily, I went back to the front desk, and someone turned it in.  Crisis averted.  Now I can continue pouring raw thoughts into the pages.  I’m still not sure what the process will be for doing anything meaningful with the notes on the other side.  Like, maybe I will fill the whole thing up, then sit down with emacs open and transcribe the pages into a buffer, and then later try to tag up or expand each of the little nodes of thought and let it go from there.  Or maybe I should find some place that will scan all of this crap into a useable digital format, although I’m sure it would cost a buck a page, and the book would have to leave my hands, which makes me bunchy.  And evernote times a thousand could not figure out my handwriting, so I still have to read it and type it.  More research to do there.

Side note: I have been going through old entries here and titling them.  There are almost a thousand entries total, going back to 1997, and maybe a couple hundred of them are titled.  The old pre-wordpress system I used up until last year did not have a title field, and so everything I imported had a blank title.  I’ve been wanting to add titles to everything, because there’s a cool plugin that shows you a bunch of random entries, but it shows them by title, so you can’t click on most of them.  As I’ve been doing this, which is a huge pain in the ass, I’ve been doing some very minor cleanup and tagging, and there were a couple of entries I deleted.  No major self-censorship trip, I just nipped the entries that were one sentence and said stuff like “I just changed the site – tell me if there are any problems” or whatever else.

Still on the mad push to 1000 entries.  I wish I knew how many words that was – I’m sure there is a wordpress hack or plugin to figure that out, but I’m too busy to find it, and this Call of Duty game won’t play itself.


The pain of weekly updates

I was digging around old journal entries, and it bothers me that I now write in here once a week, at best, and back in 1997, I wrote longer entries on a daily basis. I’ve been thinking about this because the end of the year is approaching, and I have to do the annual firedrill of moving the old entries and creating a directory and index for the new, and due to the antiquated system I use to do this, it’s always a pain in the ass. (Yes, I know, I should install WordPress. And you should go fuck yourself.)

Anyway, the weekly update bothers me because it emphasizes that from Monday morning to Friday evening, I basically have to write off that time, and that period isn’t part of my life. When I get home from work, I no longer write or do anything or live – I eat a meal, spend an hour or two with Sarah, then go to bed. I can’t write books a day a week, and I don’t want to add some extra activity to my life that will distract me even more and make me feel like my weeks are even shorter than the 48 hours currently alloted. It’s hard enough to not think about work for 48 hours, and maybe get a movie and a single update into this thing during that time. I seriously think I should quit my job with no notice and become a dishwasher, or start heavily drinking, or maybe both. (Especially if the restaurant where I was a dishwasher gave me a discount on liquor.)

I finished reading the Jonathan Ames book I Love You More Than You Know, which wasn’t bad – more articles. The themes start to repeat themselves: the son, the alcoholism, the trannies, the parents, the self-deprecation. I think Marie mentioned in the comments a couple of weeks ago about his lack of shame being a reason not to like him. And I think it’s a double-edged sword – a lack of shame can cause you to confess some really hilarious stuff that works out into a good story. But it can also cause you to be really annoying and redundant. Bukowski had the same lack of shame, and it’s no secret that Ames was a big fan of his work, and largely followed the same formula Buk did in his early days of writing columns for Open City. Or maybe having to write a weekly column leads you into the same trap, I dunno. But Bukowski’s parents were horrible, and beat the shit out of him. He escaped them into a world of alcoholism and skid-row slumhouses, instead of asking dad for a handout every week and an open invitation to move back in his old room when things didn’t work out. I appreciate the brutal honesty schtick, but it might be more interesting if his parents didn’t foster it, but rather turned against him because of it. Ditto for the son. Some of the stories are good, but the extremeness of them is diluted because you know he’s going to escape back to a comfy family life, and there are no real consequences.

That said, I didn’t find out until just last night that Ames was a visiting professor at IU from 2000-2001. That really spent my mind spinning, wondering if he was at Bullwinkle’s a lot, or the main library, or what. That’s about when Summer Rain came out, a time when I had Bloomington on my mind something fierce. Weird.

Speaking of Bukowski, I started reading Edward Bunker’s Education of a Felon. It’s interesting sofar – Bunker was a career criminal in California, from his youth, up until his twenties, when he did a stretch in San Quentin. (He’s actually the youngest prisoner that ever did time there.) He was smart but uneducated, and slowly started reading books and writing letters and articles, and got to the point where he sold a book while in prison. He went straight then, and focused on writing. EoaF is a biography, a story of his youth. It reminds me a lot of Bukowski’s Ham on Rye. Bunker was 13 years his junior, but the stories of the pre-fake-Hollywood tinseltown, the streetcars and farm fields where there are now condos, all tie in with Bukowski’s imagery of his hometown. Of course, Bunker’s stories descended into youth wards, county jails, hard time, heavy crime, drug dealing, and bank robberies. Some of the machismo is similar, and it made me wonder if Bukowsi ever ran into him in later years.

A better comparison is the Jack Black book You Can’t Win. No, it isn’t the Jack Black that was in King Kong and Nacho Libre. It was a penname for a criminal turned writer in the 1920s, the same conversion as Bunker’s, but a decade before he was born. Black’s book showed the childhood swindling, and on to the criminal arts. With a bit of humor and a good sense of detail, he shows you the crime, then shows you why it’s impossible to pull it off without someone snitching and getting your ass thrown behind bars. It reminded me in some ways to Neal Cassidy’s The First Third, which is coincidental, in that William S. Burroughs loved You Can’t Win, and if you’re a fan of WSB, you’ll see where he gets some of his dry wit.

The one bad thing about this Edward Bunker book is that it’s very small type, set in very narrow rows, and the book is wide. With his long sentences, I’m constantly finding my eyes get to the end of the line, return to the left, and then wander up or down a line or six, making it impossible to read at speed. I really hate when books are laid out like this. I’d seriously pay the extra dollar if a bit more margin or spacing added an extra 50 pages to the length.

Something something something else here, I can’t think of how to end this, so something something something.


Psychosomatic water consumption, journals

I think I’m sick. Either that or I’m drinking ten glasses of water an hour because of some psychosomatic disorder, but I’ll probably stick with sick. It will be a nice weekend to do little, though. Too bad I have four new books that will get here after the weekend. I should time the Amazon purchases a bit better.

So I’ve been keeping a paper journal since 1993, and after a few odd-sized books, I finally settled on the Mead 120-page college rule 3-subject spiral notebook. I have about twenty of them filled with scribbling from years ago. I have been working on one at a slower rate, since life has changed and my routine has changed and I spend more of my time recapping my day and my thoughts with a person rather than with a page. My current one was started in January of 2005, and it’s just finishing. In comparison, I have one from June to December of 1996, same number of pages, all written front to back. Okay, I was more depressed then, but I’m also depressed at not writing that much.

So, I’m down to the last two pages in the 2005-2006 model, and it’s time to buy a new one. I went to the drug store next to work, and… they don’t have them. I went to two more stores, plus an Office Depot – no dice. They have heavy-duty, dayglo color, 18-pocket, super laminated, dinosaur and robot-themed, extra pages in the front and back with maps of the US and multiplication table notebooks. Not the regular, two-armed two-legged ones I have been able to find at every damn drug store from sea to shining sea over the last decade and a half. I looked on Amazon, and found that I could order them in cases of 24, or just one for $2.99 plus $5.99 shipping and it would take two weeks. And oh, every notebook on the market now has microperforated pages. Easy to tear out when you hand in your algebra homework. Easy to tear out on accident when you’re in bed writing. Easy to tear out when you even look at it on the shelf ten years from now. I’m certain the microperforation was pushed through by some legislative act of a California-based concerned parent group that are worried that children are going to tear out nonperforated sprial notebook pages and tear off the perforated edges and use it to choke themselves or possibly manufacture methamphetamines. I JUST WANT A GOD DAMNED NOTEBOOK, NOT A FASHION ACCESSORY!!!!

(I just found them tonight at the Rite-Aid by our house, though. $1.99 each. Only red or green, though. I bought three. That should last me until 2021 at my current rate of decay.)

I did a bunch of the zine layout tonight, while a marathon of “That 70s Show” ran in the background. Sarah is on her way home from a meeting in Chicago. I guess there were delays involving O’Hare, if you can believe that. I think I laid out 110 pages, and I have maybe 30 or so more in the hopper. I think my email and posting a week ago asking for more stuff actually just pulled in a lot of shorter bits. I really need some quality, 5000-word stories. I was thinking about posting to the Bukowski group on LiveJournal, but that would get me inundated with horrible poetry. If all else fails, I will just pad the thing with a bunch of my own short stories, and it will be a Jon Konrath reader that happens to have a couple of other stories in it.

I’m reading the Neil Peart (Rush drummer) book about when he went on a bike tour in Africa in 1988. It’s an interesting description of the people and problems, but it’s also a lot about his own problems with the people he toured with. I wouldn’t mind seeing a country like that, although I don’t know if I could ride my bike down the road and back these days with this knee. I’d also be afraid of eating pretty much everything one could find in Cameroon, unless I packed about five pounds of Immodium tablets in my saddlebags. Still, it would be pretty damn interesting, especially with a digital camera, and a couple of the aforementioned notebooks. His book is also interesting because he talks about how you see a country so much more on a bike. It’s funny to me, because when I was a kid and riding all the time, I was listening to his music, and seeing Indiana in a much different sense than I would in a car.

OK, too tired to keep messing with this…


Moleskine, GnR

I finally picked up one of those Moleskine notebooks this weekend, after looking for one locally for a few weeks, and finally running into a stash at a Barnes and Noble. I don’t know why I’ve regressed to the point where I think the right paper and the right pen will make the right words come out or something. I went through this in like ’94 when I was first trying to get started writing, where I thought an expensive fountain pen or a cool little booklet would make the words come faster or something. I’ve since learned that a Mead 3-subject spiral and a Bic pen stolen from work will do the job just the same. If anything, they’re cheaper and you don’t have to worry about the fact that most “journal” journals have margins and bindings and fucked-up lining that means you’ll burn through $20 of fancy-pants journal in the time it takes to fill a third of a college rule 8.5×11.

But I bought one anyway, thinking it would be a good place for the occasional piece of paragraph, since I’m currently using mini-legal pads and post-its and a lot of other shit. It’s not as easy to carry a spiral and write on it in the train. It works well if you get a seat, but writing a note or two when standing is a bitch. And since the days of depressingly writing for pages at two in the morning when alone in bed seem to have passed, I feel a need to make up for the words in other spaces in the day. And as far as Moleskine is concerned, it’s the nicest little journal I’ve seen. There’s some back-story about how Celine and Hemingway and Van Gogh used the same notebooks. I’ve since read that the history is bullshit, and the company basically started making the books like five years ago, but it’s the same kind of little book you’d expect Kerouac or Burroughs to be slinging around in a front pocket, so it has a certain appeal there.

I haven’t been able to do much writing lately, because it’s too god damned hot to even think, let alone think of plot and characters and textures and everything else. I’m still sitting on 104,000+ words of nostalgia that covers my time in Bloomington, but I can’t get nostalgic enough to really start carving that shit up to get it from good to great. I thought about posting a story or ten here, and maybe I will, but first I need to keep cleaning.

I was listening to Guns N’ Roses – Appetite For Destruction – on the way home from work today. I don’t know why, although I’m pretty sick of all 20 Gigs I have on my iPod and I’m too lazy to go buy some more new albums and rip them, because I don’t even know what I’d buy, let alone where I’d store them if I bought them. And that made me think about how strange it was that back then, I listened to this album like every day for about six months, and pretty much memorized it, and I did that with a lot of albums, and now, I can barely find an album I want to listen to all the way through twice. I wonder if music was better then, or if it was some kind of chemical-hormone thing in my brain that made me more receptive to music, or what.

I remember hearing about GnR during the summer of ’88, when I was in the Catskills. My dad’s girlfriend had a couple of nephews that were vacationing there at the same time as us, who were these typical Italian Long Island types, not total all-out guidos, but very machismo and partied a lot and everything. And once or twice, they talked about getting buzzed and staying up late and listening to Guns N’ Roses, but they weren’t like metalheads or anything; most of the time they listened to club dance music or whatever. So I assumed that GnR was some kind of stupid Poison/Bon Jovi bullshit, and went back to my Megadeth or whatever.

Then that fall, before “Sweet Child” and all of that hit the charts, I think Tom Sample, who had gone off to college in Goshen, told me I had to check out the album, and that it was more metal than Cinderella or whatever. I bought the tape from work – I worked at Wards then, and they sold a handful of tapes and CDs in the stereo department, and I would have bought my groceries and tap water there if they sold it, just to get the damn 10% employee discount.

I listened to that album constantly, or at least as much as I could between spins of the new Metallica – …And Justice For All. My first take was that I liked how a band could be so firmly seated between pop like Aerosmith or Motley Crue and still have almost as much of an edge as more “extreme” metal like Judas Priest or Alice Cooper. In a sense, it was almost crossover, but between glam and thrash. It was a lot dirtier and banal than the lipstick bands, with a certain amount of kick-ass edge, but it was still marketable enough to play it on U-93 or MTV. It was also real AOR in the old sense of the definition – Album Oriented Rock. (And it’s sad that I can’t type AOR without first typing AOL and then backspacing… fuck!) It’s amazing how many times I could start it at “Welcome to the Jungle” and 53 minutes and 26 seconds later, find myself at the end of “Rocket Queen”.

Of course, by the time the fall semester progressed, almost everyone loved Guns ‘N Roses, including all of the jock types at my high school. “Sweet Child O’ Mine” got played at dances, and “Paradise City” was blasting out of every mommy-and-daddy-purchased 5.0 Mustang GT in the school parking lot. I got a little sick of the radio songs, and found myself fast-forwarding to “It’s So Easy” after putting in side A of the tape. I zipped around the popular stuff for a while, then gave up on the album to spend more time working on that new Metallica opus, or whatever new tape of the week I was digesting.

Going back to the album now, I still hate the radio songs, and I think that sums up the main problem with a band like this. Because face it, if W. Axl bit it in a horrible car accident today, the news networks would be playing a five-second clip from “Sweet Child”, not the infinitely cooler “Rocket Queen”, or something more obscure and Stonesy like “Locomotive” or “Double Talkin’ Jive” from their double album. But those are the kind of tracks I love, the kind of bluesy, textured songs with depressing lyrics where Rose goes from the screechy catcalls to the lower, gravely lyrics that show the holes in his soul, topped off by the wailing guitar that Slash always delivered. When I was still using MiniDiscs, I had an 80-minute blank filled with my custom all-time, all-star G’NR album. I cherry picked the best of the Use Your Illusions, and fed in the top stuff from Appetite, and it was exactly 79:54, but I wanted both versions of “Don’t Cry”, so I had to settle for the eerie alternate lyric one and call it a day.

Actually, I’ve found myself listening to Buckethead’s Population Override a lot lately. It’s also solo guitar-god stuff, but this album is less goofy set pieces and whatever, and more Satriani-style compositions. It’s actually really good to write to, and it’s on right now. And hey, he played in Guns N’ Roses, too, on that abortion of a world tour a few years ago.

OK, time for a cold shower.