Today is the last day of February. That also means I have written a post here every day this month. I wanted to see if I could post that often. It meant that most of the posts were short. It also meant that most were essentially first drafts, but I’m satisfied that I met my goal. Mostly, I was trying to find a way to force myself to write every day. I think it’s a good exercise for me. If people read the posts and enjoyed them, that’s a nice bonus.

I picked February because I thought it gave me plenty to write about, not because it’s the shortest month. It has my birthday (and for the record, it was just a head cold, 40 doesn’t feel like a head cold), Lincoln’s Birthday, Valentines Day, Presidents Day and Black History Month, all of which I wrote about. It also has Washington’s Birthday and Groundhogs Day, but I didn’t get to those. Nor did I talk about the perfect square it made on the calendar. Maybe I’ll try again next year.

It was fun and I hope everyone has a happy March.

Writer’s Block

One of my jobs is at a community college as a writing tutor. It’s mostly a fun job, but about once a week I will get a student whose problem is, “I don’t know how to start.” What the students are describing is writer’s block. Luckily, writer’s block is not a problem I’ve experienced. But that made it harder to help the students. I would tell them that it doesn’t matter how they start, just write. I would add that they’ll be making changes anyway, so just get the ideas down on paper. I still think those are good ideas, but they never really worked for the blocked students. It took me a while to realize that writer’s block is really a form of stage fright.

Once I realized what the problem really was I became much more helpful. I stopped trying to help them with the writing and just started talking to them. I’ll ask them questions about the assignment, the readings, the class, anything to get them talking. After they talk for a while, they say something related to the assignment. At that point I interrupt and say, “Write that down.” I’ve found that if I can get them to compose verbally, they lose their fear. Once the fear’s gone, they are unblocked.

It does make me wonder why people find writing to be so scary. Nothing bad is going to happen. It doesn’t even hurt. Maybe it’s a holdover from when literacy was rare. People still think there’s something magical about writing. There’s a power there that they’re afraid to touch. Whatever the reason, it’s too bad. People should save their fear for scary things rather than wasting it on writing.


This is just a little experiment to see how to punctuate a quote within a quote within a quote within a quote and still have it be readable.  If anyone reads it, let me know what you think (about the punctuation):


Gene sidled into the writing center and saw Kerri. He approached her and said, “What’s the skinny? It seems you’ve started a game of telephone – purple monkey dishwasher.”

Kerri responded, “Shut up! You’re full of it! I di’int start nothin’!”

“Well, then explain this,” Gene said. “Last Monday, I sees Erik in the writing center, and I says to him, I says, ‘What’s up Daddy-O?’ and he says, ‘Prithee sit. I have a tale that will peak your curiosity, methinks.’ So I sit and he says, ‘On the eve of the new moon, Lady Jen approached me in a state of excitement. |What, praytell, has you so agitated?| I inquired. |I have strange and wonderful news about Sydney.| |Well, then, tell me your tale.| She began, |Last Thursday morn, my bosom friend, Kerri, and I were strolling among the good people of Hartford. It was a lovely morning, full of sunshine and promise. As we approached the gleaming exterior of Capital Community College, Kerri announced, _Ya know what I heard about Syd? She’s, like, all famous and junk._ _Indeed?_ I inquired. _Fo’ sho’,_ Kerri answered. _Ya know that song Sid’s Ahead? That’s about Sydney._Well, you can imagine I was surprised for I neither knew the song in question, nor did I know that Sydney was the subject of a song!|  ‘Zounds!’ I exclaimed, ‘That is strange and wonderful.’  ‘You’re pullin’ my leg’ I says to Erik.  ‘Unless you mean that it’s |strange and wonderful| that Jenny K. believed such a baldfaced lie.’  ‘That peculiarity is indeed the reason for my wonder.'”

Is Chuck Klosterman Still Relevant?

First off, I’d like to apologize to Chuck Klosterman.  This post isn’t really about him.  He is just representative of something I wanted to talk about.  That is the fact that people never seem to talk about what they claim to be talking about.  And I think the constant talk about relevance is a relevant example.  Is Van Halen still relevant?  How about Madonna?  Is she relevant?  Were they ever relevant? (If you haven’t guessed yet, one of my goals here is to use the word relevant so many times that it becomes a meaningless, strange, irrelevant noise people make.  Relevant, relevant, relevant, relevant.)

Relevance is the ultimate relative term.  Nothing is ever absolutely relevant.  The existence (or non-existence) of the Higgs Boson is pretty darned relevant to particle physicists, but not so relevant to most of the rest of us.  2+2=4 is awfully relevant to first graders practicing their arithmetic, but not so relevant to appreciating the genius of Mississippi John Hurt.  In other words, if something is important to you, it is relevant to you.  If something is pertinent to a conversation or argument, it is relevant to that conversation or argument.  So the short answer to the title of this piece is probably.  He is a published author, and people buy his stuff, so he is probably relevant to them.  And there might be a Mrs. Klosterman or some baby Klostermans who find him relevant.

Now, with all this talk of relevance, you’re probably thinking that I’m guilty of not talking about what I claim to be talking about.  That would be far too meta and postmodern for me.  That’s not my style; not relevant to the way I approach things.  My little diversion into relevance was just to illustrate the way this happens.  When Chuck Klosterman is supposed to be talking about music, he instead often writes about relevance, fashion, nostalgia, business, anything but music.  He, like way too many other authors, fails to stay relevant to his own topic.

A couple of weeks ago, he wrote a review of Van Halen’s new album, “A Different Kind of Truth”.  Reading the review, you find out that he had fun at a Van Halen show a few weeks ago, he loves old Van Halen, he doesn’t really like the new album (although it is good enough, it just doesn’t move him), and that David Lee Roth “gets a lifetime pass.”  He only makes a few passing references to the actual music.  It’s “loose, effortlessly heavy,”  which is nice, but since it’s not coupled with a description of any kind I have no idea if it is Metallica or Led Zeppelin, Nirvana or Anthrax (or maybe even Stryper or Poison).  It doesn’t sound as good as records did in 1976.  Again, no description, so I don’t know if this means just simply digital vs. analog or if it’s other kinds of problems like too much bass, the vocals are too out front, or some other issue.  Eddy’s tone is not as good as it used to be, although it is still good.  I did learn that Chuck Klosterman thinks Eddy’s guitar tone is, “the most jarringly singular post-Hendrix guitar tone anyone has ever produced,” but, again, I have no idea if it’s bright or dark or piercing or fuzzy.  The only real description we get in the whole piece is that the album is, “just overstuffed with notes.”

(As an aside, he says, “Wolfie Van Halen gets an “A” and Alex Van Halen gets an “A-,” but only because we’re grading on a curve and AVH has never performed poorly on any song I’ve ever heard,” but he never even says what Wolfie and Alex do on the record.)

So, I supposedly read a review of the new Van Halen album and I’m left having no idea what the new Van Halen album sounds like or if I might want to buy it.  Instead I learned that Chuck Klosterman is a big Van Halen fan from his youth and that, odds are, nothing will ever live up to the albums he loved as a kid.  That’s nice, but not what I thought I was reading, not really relevant to anyone other than Chuck Klosterman.  Again, I’m picking on Chuck Klosterman, but you’ll find this problem in all kinds of writing by all kinds of people.  Hopefully, by calling attention to it, we can get people to stay relevant to their own topics.