I much prefer two spaces after a sentence. Why that new idiotic single spaced rule came about I have no idea, nor why people think it makes them a better writer when all it means is they still couldn’t write their way out of a paper bag but they do so with one less space after a period. There isn’t a single punctuation or spacing rule that improves writing, period, double spaced. If you want to be a writer quit worrying about punctuation or grammar rules or proper spelling. You can learn that later. First learn to write. And you don’t learn to write obsessing over which rules are in vogue at the moment. You learn to write by putting your thoughts into sentences that other people will like to read.
I hate language rules. I fucking hate them.
You know, I graduated high school with a summa cum laude in English. I’d forgotten all about that for thirty years till I found the certificate in some of mom’s papers, like I’d left it somewhere and quickly suppressed the memory. But I remembered being called into the English office and wondering what the fuck I could’ve done to get in trouble in the English department and there were all these nice teachers looking at me. They told me I’d been awarded the summa cum laude in English. I had no idea what summa cum laude meant. They told me. I must have looked confused because to be honest I hated English classes. I despised the grammar rules and the old poetry. I only took the goddamn things because they were easy, I could bullshit anything on an essay test and never do any of the homework. I think I took every one they had. I just had to show up, write the occasional essay and ace the class. It was that easy. If you’re kind of a natural at writing you learn that trick quick. I was an autodidact anyway, voraciously reading big, thick, dense books I’d get at the public library and studying my beloved set of the Encyclopedia Britannica, which I still have, actually. I was reading the histories my dad would get from the Book of the Month Club when I was still in grade school, some of which I also still have. I read all three volumes of Bruce Catton’s Pulitzer winning Army of the Potomac trilogy while in fifth grade, pronouncing Potomac like Fotomat. I’d nearly drowned in the damn thing back in first grade and I still couldn’t pronounce it. And here they were seven grades later still trying to teach me grammar as if language were built on rules like the Ten Commandments and all you have to do is memorize them. Yeah, right. I’d be damned if I wasted my adolescence with their silly assed grammar instruction. I never told them that, though. I was always very nice. Pleasant, even. So they give me a fucking award on my way out the door.
I don’t follow any fucking rules. I just make use of the capabilities English has built into it, and has had long before grammarians existed. If we can verb and noun nouns and verbs, it’s silly not to. I just assume everything my English teachers taught me was wrong and have a ball writing. Otherwise I don’t really give a damn about what people think. If they can read it and understand it, it’s English. If they don’t like it they can read something else. The world is full of words, there’s plenty for everybody.
My writing philosophy has long been that you should get your chops to the point where you could write one hell of an accounting story, but don’t, because who the hell wants to write an accounting story.
Been slowly getting the brain used to writing more, to see if I can be a writer again without spazzing and all that. It’s the only thing I know how to do, after all. So I push it a little at a time. I used to be the macho epileptic guy, the machoest even, just pushing myself to the max because that is what gnarly epileptic writers do. Seizure? Fuck it. Let’s drink cup after cup of coffee and write all nite and see what happens. And it happened….those long long paragraphs full of crazy rhythms and swirling roller coaster narratives. The grooviest shit. But they took their toll. This new excruciatingly dull mellow epileptic lifestyle is not big on gnarliness. It’s more goat yoga and being nice. Neither of which I will actually do, but whatever. Anyway, that explains the occasional verbosity on Facebook. It’s not that I like any of you. Well, OK, maybe a little. Maybe a lot even, some of you. Most of you. All of you. Whatever. But I’m not gonna go all Facebook soft and cuddly. Leave a punk rock jazz critic a little pride, sheesh. To quote Lee Ving—well, maybe not. Nor Miles. This is a family website. Fuck.
I knew I was tired last night when I saw a beautiful photo on Facebook of a young Loretta Lynn, her guitar across her lap, reading the paper. Darling picture. But some guy was commenting on and on about how he felt so betrayed and heartbroken that she was a Trump supporter. It was jarring, Loretta fresh as a mountain daisy and here’s some whiny little nothing of a fuck complaining about her backwoods politics. Shut the fuck up, I said poetically, and leave the politics be for a minute and just dig Loretta Lynn. I was tired, the little editor in my head had clocked out hours before and so I posted that comment. Boom. Then I added how much I couldn’t stand you little keyboard warrior fucks whose notion of the Resistance was whining on Facebook and giggling at Alec Baldwin’s Trump impressions on SNL. Boom. Well, not boom. I hesitated before tapping the enter button. I mean I really like the lady who posted the photo and maybe the whiny guy was her boss or something and besides, I was being a tad on the extremely rude side. I get that way sometimes. Perhaps you’ve noticed. Words, you know, they can hurt but sometimes they are so much fun you forget that you are directing them at ordinary mortals and not other people who write words like they breathe air. So I deleted that comment without posting, backspacing the letters out of existence into nothing, like those thoughts that pop into your head just for a second and disappear never to be remembered again unless you write about them the next day. I think the moral of this story is that when we start insulting whiny little fucks just for being whiny little fucks then the terrorists have already won. No, that moral was two presidents ago. I don’t know what the moral of this story is. Though at the time I was too tired to care anyway. Instead, I pushed the keyboard away, fell asleep on the couch and woke, hours later, to the sound of Sonny Rollins, but I already wrote about that.
“The girls in New York City they all march for women’s lib/And Better Homes and Gardens shows the modern way to live/And the pill may change the world tomorrow but meanwhile today/Here in Topeka the flies are a buzzin’, the dog is a barkin’ and the floor needs a scrubbin'”
Some people write poems, I write paragraphs. This occurred to me a couple days ago, and how Facebook and smart phones have made paragraphs the ideal length since it matches both screen size and attention span. So I write pretty paragraphs. People ask me why I don’t write a book. But what is a book but hundreds of paragraphs? I’ve already written hundreds of paragraphs. Thousands. Zillions. I spend my nights in indented servitude, writing paragraphs.
Weird time to be a writer. There’s writing everywhere, a deluge of words, and it’s all free. But in the beginning, when writing was brand new and Iraq was Sumeria, dotted with city states and kings and gods and zigurrats, there were perhaps a few hundred of us, etching sentences into clay in cuneiform, “woven” an ancient scribe wrote, “intricately like a net”. Almost no one could read then, and fewer wrote, and it took years to master their craft; writers were a specialist caste, powerful, feted, privileged. Imagine that. Kings would utter commands, scribes made them real. Now we writers plug away on Facebook between pictures of cats. Lo, how the mighty have fallen.
Yet beneath this very post, in the programming, is the work of coders. I open the source page and see their work, the thousands and thousands of characters, letters and numbers and slashes woven intricately like a net. Few now can read it, and fewer write it, and like the ancient scribes, mastering their craft takes years. I can’t imagine any of them see the irony–they, hunched over in their cubicles, are the scribes now, and if not feted or privileged, they at least make a living. My words are just keystrokes, their code makes them real.
When I was young and buff and gorgeous and 22, I declined an offer from a beautiful blonde acquaintance to appear in porn movies. True story. I think her name was Monica, and she was icy and tall and leggy and serious and a production assistant in the San Fernando Valley. Her studio offered $200 per movie (about $700 today) she said, with the promise of lots of work. The money was tempting, but I had my heart set on being a writer. Besides, you could make a lot more than a lousy $200 (about $700 today) writing an article.
That was the punch line, actually. Too bad it’s not a joke.
There’s a storm somewhere off Baja, and the air over L.A. is damp and listless and hot, and everywhere is the sound of overheated air conditioners and little else; people, pets, even the birds are still, no chatter, nothing. Words linger, form little phrases that string themselves out into long, lazy sentences full of conjunctions and commas that seem to wander nowhere in particular until stumbling onto a period. Remind me not to use such long sentences in a heat wave. When it’s humid, think like Hemingway. Short sentences. Drunk.
Ya know, I spent so much time reminiscing about George Davison in ye olde daze that I completely forgot to mention something I had only discovered about him via Facebook. George was a talented writer. I’m not talking music here, I already talked about that, but language. You can see that almost immediately in someone on Facebook (or in emails or tweets even) because they can spin little stories even if they’re ony a couple sentences long. When he was on the farm you could see the farm, when he was in Santa Barbara could see the streets, and the trees, and feel the sun. You don’t even have to describe it, a reader fills all the background in if you say the right words. Which he did. Towards the end his stuff got very, very dark…he told us some awful things and warned us he was going to tell more. I was glad he didn’t. Maybe he had second thoughts, maybe the drugs kicked in, I dunno, but it spared us an evil side–we all have those, I certainly do–but I don’t recall ever seeing his on display before. Not even in his most punk rock moments in the early days. Those dark stories he forewarned of us were stories that didn’t really need telling, I guess. Cancer was a world we all might face sometime, but no use letting us in on it now. If it happens–and it will, to some of us–it happens. Worry about that when it comes.
I remember how much I admired his skill with language, his flare for words, and I told him so. He was surprised, I think, most natural writers never even think of themselves as such. They just write naturally. I figured as he recovered we would see endless threads of George stories. It would be part of the recovery process. When I heard he’d finally slipped away I felt cheated that he never had the chance to spill like that, to pour it out in that breezy style of his. I didn’t say anything because, well, it was a selfish reaction and would have been just one more thing for you all to be sad about. But it’s been bugging me. So I said it here.
I don’t think there are that many natural writers. It’s a rare thing still. Writing is new, only a couple thousand years old, and it comes far less easy to people than music which is probably a hundred times as old at least. And when I spy someone with talent there’s a bond, like we’re in on a secret most people don’t know anything about. And I always hate to see them go, because when somebody goes they take a zillion stories with them, and we’ll never know what they would have been. And crazy George, like all the rest of us crazies, would have had some stories to tell.