Fill the unforgiving minute

how to get it done

“If you can’t be great, then there’s no sense in ever playing music again, Sal.”

— Eddie Wilson, creative genius, in Eddie & The Cruisers

Is Eddie right? If you fail over and over to produce great work, you may as well quit? (That is not what he said, but it’s the underlying premise.)

No, Eddie’s wrong, as you might expect me to say given my devotion to Bradbury, whose mantra is attached to my desktop: “You only fail if you stop writing.”

Creating art of any kind is about the art – you can strive to be great, but there’s plenty of sense in making music whether you can or can’t be great.

For one thing, there is no “can’t” (sorry, Emmanuel). Everyone has the ability to make something great, if they work at it long and hard enough.

In the quiet of morning, before the daily maelstrom, everything seems possible. Then it all hits, and the day goes by, and at the end what was possible didn’t happen.

But every so often, something does happen – an idea, a conversation, something seen or heard or read – and the possibilities don’t feel so out of reach.

“If only” is a constant distraction: If only this or that would happen, if only there was the time or the money, or another “if only.” Until one day it becomes clear: If it’s going to happen, it has to be without the “if onlys.” The lottery isn’t going to be won, and the other pieces won’t magically fall into place – there will be no lucky breaks, only earned ones.

So step forward, do the work and make it happen. Do it, and then, “you’ll be a man, my son.”

“If you can fill the unforgiving minute with sixty seconds worth of distance run,” then it’s possible. Do, until it’s great.



If, by Rudyard Kipling


I still like old stuff

what'll i do

As I contemplate reviving my old podcast Uncle Warren’s Attic, I’m thinking of using a standard introduction that riffs off a piece I wrote many years ago:

I like old stuff.

The aroma of old paper and long-dried ink.

The scratches and pops that accompany a long beloved and cherished recording.

The pain-staking, jerky movement of models animated by stop-motion photography.

The expressive pantomime of an actor before microphones were invented.

The mind images painted by the actor who has only a microphone.

The earliest efforts to combine the two forms of film, silent and talkie.

The analog before the digital.

The carving of David from the stone using only hand tools.

Communicating over the miles with only paper and ink and willing couriers.

The power of words and the urgency to convey messages over the miles – over the years: We know 1535 better than we know 1286 because we learned how to leverage and preserve words better.

Paper has, so far, outlasted pixels. Vinyl has outlasted magnetic tape and the tracks of compact disc. Electronic devices preserve with great efficiency and searchability but then become obsolete. The old records have survived a century; the old books have survived for centuries.

The words and voices and songs of the long dead are still alive, and not just in the memories of the living – their words and music survive the next generation and the generation after that.

Life as a fantasy

winter sunset through the windshield

“Life, to the believer OR the agnostic, is a pretty wonderful affair. I mean wonderful in the sense of true wonder, awful in the sense of awe, stressing the IM in impossible. It is truly a miracle that we are here at all, to sleep, to rise, to down quick breakfasts and run for trains and be on time or late, as Fate decides.”

— Ray Bradbury, from the Introduction to Timeless Stories for Today and Tomorrow

July 1, 1951

Before you throw that old book into the trash …

classic trash

Click this link to discover an article that should be required reading for everyone who loves literature.

It’s also for everyone who asks to ban The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn because Huck uses the “N-word” to describe his friend Jim, for everyone who refuses to enjoy old movies or read any book more than 10 minutes old because the ancient artist’s point of view is abhorrent seen through our modern eyes.

It’s as if we imagine an old book to be a time machine that brings the writer to us. We buy a book and take it home, and the writer appears before us, asking to be admitted into our company. If we find that the writer’s views are ethnocentric or sexist or racist, we reject the application, and we bar his or her entry into the present.

As the student had put it, I don’t want anyone like that in my house.

I think we’d all be better readers if we realized that it isn’t the writer who’s the time traveler. It’s the reader. When we pick up an old novel, we’re not bringing the novelist into our world and deciding whether he or she is enlightened enough to belong here; we’re journeying into the novelist’s world and taking a look around.

The difference in perspective, the clarification of who exactly is doing the traveling, might lead to a different kind of reading experience.

Please, for your own sake, read the article.

Autumn of Liberty


For many years I wanted to be Paul Harvey when I grew up. I may grow up one of these days.

Paul Harvey was the last and greatest of the great radio news commentators. In a world of radio news blocks defined in seconds, he maintained a 15-minute weekday newscast into the 21st century.

“Paul Harvey News & Comment” encouraged, enlightened and entertained millions every day for decades.

I’m reading a book I found in a used bookstore many years ago, a book that’s out of print … partly because it was published in 1954 and many of its references were familiar in 1954 and not so much now.

And partly because 65 years later, many of its references are all too familiar.

It’s called Autumn of Liberty. By Paul Harvey. Continue reading →

The Second Best Time

the second best time

“The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.” — Chinese proverb

The best time to write a novel was 40 years ago. The second best time is now.

The best time to apologize to your friend was right after it happened. The second best time is now.

The best time to switch careers was when you were X years old. The second best is now.

Fear not that you missed the best time to do anything worthwhile, because the second best time is right here and now.

The wanting to live forever

moostafah and friend

Writers are afraid to die, so they scrawl messages to the future that they hope will survive their mortal bodies.

“Here I am!” the messages scream, or at least, “Here I was!”

Everyone has something to say. Writers have ego enough to write it down for posterity.

You never know when something you write in 2019 will be useful to someone in 2061.

My Year of Finishing

2018 is over

The turning of a calendar is arbitrary and perhaps an odd time to be making assessments, although there is no bad time to take stock and decide whether everything is on track and moving along on plan. For that matter, birthdays work for this purpose, too, the passing of a year being complete with a full journey around the sun measured and filed away.

Being born on the first day of spring, more or less, has its advantages, as I have always had three-quarters of a year to prepare for the coldest and harshest time of the journey through the cycle of seasons. Or is my assessment that winter is the most unpleasant time simply my perception because of when I was born? Do December babies love winter? Do we always love our first season the most? Have I just solved Ray Bradbury’s love of late summer and fall – Ray, who was born Aug. 22?

Last year I resolved to write a short story a week, a la Bradbury, an exercise that survived perhaps 10 weeks. It did result in Chapter One of what I consider my best idea in a while, the Comfort & Joy Detective Agency, although even that has stalled after that one chapter like so many of my projects. I have struggled with stick-to-it-iveness, which is why my journals have become my most successful writing project: I have done some scribbling almost every morning for almost four years now, contemplating goals and issues and navels, tossing out fragments of story and imagery.

Some of those fragments and observations have appeared here, some of them have been transcribed into still-unfinished projects. Here’s one from New Year’s Eve, this past Monday:

“You’re finished,” she said. “So celebrate.”

“That sounds so final,” he said nervously. “Like I’m finished, so it’s time to die. I want to call this new year My Year of Finishing, but to me that makes it sound like ‘this will be the day that I die’ or something.”

“Can I point something out?” she said. “The man who wrote the song with the refrain, ‘This will be the day that I die,’ lived to write the song. Last I looked, he was still alive almost 50 years on.”

“Oh yeah,” he said, now sheepish. “OK, then: 2019 will be My Year of Finishing.”