You can now order Waking the Dead in Real Time and read about my other books in-progress at www.davidblistein.com. Check it out!
Waking the Dead in Real Time w/ Ken Burns →
Ken Burns and I have published a signed limited-edition 48pp. monograph that features excerpts from my book in progress Real Time. There are modern-day encounters with Jezebel, Minamoto no Yoritomo (first Shogun), Chopin, & Harriet Tubman; plus an original essay by Ken on his roots as a documentary filmmaker. You can order at this link.
"Go Look It Up."
Writing Aside #25. “Go Look It Up” was the closest thing we had to a mantra in our ‘60s academic family. Unabridged dictionaries (Webster’s 3rd and then the Oxford) were the closest things we had to sacred texts. And encyclopedias were frowned upon because they weren’t “original source material.” I’m six weeks into rewriting a manuscript that, while fiction of sorts, includes quite a bit...
The Places I've Writt'n.
Writing Aside #24. Every writer with a romantic synapse in his/her brain, can picture himself sitting at a café on the Left Bank, drinking an espresso, au lait or Calvados, writing words that are so existentially self-referential that delusions of Sartre and Remarque can’t help but dance in your head. I sat in a café on the Left Bank once, but I didn’t write anything. It felt like...
Writing Aside #22. About five years ago, during a particularly manic phase of my life, we built a big labyrinth behind our house, using only branches and the occasional log. After I laid out each of the 11 basic circles, Wendy would build them up and gently point out minor errors in my design—like how a curve should go behind a particular tree instead in front, or that my idea of true north was...
Spinning. With Girls.
Writing Aside #21. In the old days, all a writer had to do to stay in shape was drink scotch and smoke non-filter cigarettes. Oh, maybe you’d play a little tennis, golf, or croquet. Or go hunting in Africa. But times change. Ever since I gave up smoking 20 years ago, I’ve played tennis, racquetball, and squash; done some fierce aerobics; and cycled several thousand miles. At the beginning, it was...
Meditating, Creating, & Fetching.
Writing Aside #20. I like the idea of meditating in the morning. In fact, I did it every day for about 20 years. For some people, it’s a gentle way to make the transition from the chaos of dreams to the illusion of structure. But, for me, it’s like telling a dog that just woke up to lie down again. Got to let that puppy out to run around for a while. After one hit of caffeine and a distracted...
Writing Aside #19. Pockets are a problem. Whoever came up with the idea back in the 18th century was doing way too much snuff. And probably going through nicotine withdrawal because some “ruffian” had ripped off the pouch with his snuff box, hanging from his belt. Pockets are especially a problem for writers. Because, in addition to keys, loose change, wallet, cell phone, and...
Influences & Inspirations
Writing Aside #18. Since my father’s sources were often obscure, I didn’t realize as a child that most of his “lines in the script” weren’t original. Which, I suppose, makes him an early “Tumblr.” A misspelling that, no matter how intentional, would have made him wince. Elmer—a rather odd moniker for a Jewish kid from Pawtucket, Rhode Island—taught Shakespeare at Brown University for almost...
Don’t get your mental exercise by jumping to conclusions.– Elmer Blistein (1920-1993)
Writing Aside #16. Over the last few days. I’ve walked down a few dark alleys, seen my share of phantasms, and even managed to have a minor encounter with an authority figure whose language and point of view I didn’t share.* Fortunately, although I’m as wary of lions, tigers, and bears as the next person, as I get older, these things don’t scare me all that much. (I mean Zen Buddhists, in...
Writing Aside #14. I’m in a foreign city. I know where I want to go. I have a map. But it has no relation to the street signs. I go in circles. Try to avoid crowds. Promising side streets turn into dead ends. The distractions are endless. I need food. I need wine. I need coffee. I need all of the above and more. Maybe it’s not writer’s block we have. We just get lost. For one...
How Did I Get Here?
Writing Aside #13. A few years ago, I traveled across country in a VW van—which is, I admit, my generation’s version of a religious pilgrimage. During that trip I listened in fits and starts to Susan Orlean’s travel stories. I felt I’d found a friend on that razor’s edge of outer loneliness and inner familiarity you feel when you find yourself in a Talking Heads song. Deeply displaced,...
Writing Aside #12. With the exception of Emily Dickinson—and even she went to Philadelphia—travel is another thing many writers do when they aren’t writing. Location, of course, plays a starring, or at least supporting role, in countless novels about traveling. From Caesar’s Gaul to Jack Kerouac’s America, it’s hard to imagine how there’d be any there there, if there’d been no there...
Writing Aside #11. There’s an Egyptian myth that Thoth was bragging to Ra he was teaching humans to write. Ra laughed at him, explaining he was destroying human memory in the process. * * * * * I always figured if you had writer’s block, it just meant you had nothing to say. You should probably have a beer, pickaxe some...
Writing Aside #10. When I ran a small ad agency, my two biggest management challenges were temperature and music. Clients could be difficult; writers and designers could be creatively blocked; and suppliers could be late; but, eventually, we were always able to deal with those crises. The battles over temperature and music were chronic and insoluble. First, temperature (we’ll get to music...
The rules are simple. Take your work, but never yourself, seriously. Pour in the...– Chuck Jones (Animator of Bugs Bunny, Road Runner, etc.)
Writing Aside #9. The two most important Bar Mitzvah gifts I received were a Smith Corona Electric typewriter and a touch-typing course that consisted of several 33-rpm records and a manual. “A,” the record would say. “A” “A” “A” “A”… I could have obeyed its commands all day. And, for many days I did; until I could type 30, 40, and eventually 70-80 words a minute. But...
I Talk to Myself…
Writing Aside #8: Voice Recorders. In the spirit of the subject matter I am, against all my better literary judgment, posting this exactly how I dictated it. Just imagine a [sic] around the whole thing. …I think most writers do. After all, who else could fully appreciate the raw, half-baked ideas that run rampant through our brains waiting for someone to make sense out of them. More importantly,...
Writing Aside #7. The story sounds apocryphal but probably happens all the time: A doctor and a writer go to their child’s kindergarten open house. All of the kids have to introduce their parents and say what they do for a living. Their daughter says: “This is my mom…she’s a doctor. And this is my dad…he makes tea.” I make tea first thing every morning. Then again after the...
When gods become weapons and women become coin, everyone suffers.– Jezebel (9th C. B.C.)
‘A simple shift of the heart is far more difficult than a journey into...– Roald Amundsen (Arctic Explorer & First to Reach South Pole) 1872-1928.
Talismans, Muses, and Ben.
Writing Aside #6. Most writers are “fetishists.” In the traditional sense of the word—before it was ravaged by sexual innuendo. In other words, we believe that certain, seemingly insentient, objects have the magical power to inspire us—or, at least give us something to talk to while we’re waiting for inspiration. Unlike the cigarettes we used to smoke, the pens we still chew on, the yo-yo’s...
Writing Aside #5. One of the greatest failings of my writing career is notebooks. (Another is not knowing whether to use “is” or “are” in that sentence.) I’ve used everything from small pads that I lose almost immediately, to bound journal things with built-in bookmarks that seem too elegant to ravage with my impatient scrawl. Notebooks with pockets, dividers, and even strips of ribbon to...
Your forgiveness is usually a selfish act. Because you expect something in...– Harriet Tubman (1820-1913)
Un miracle d’un homme est la question de fait pour un autre. (One...– Godfrey de Bouillon (1060-1100 A.D.)
Happy Birthday. It’s not easy being the friend of a writer—having to walk that fine line between encouragement and occasionally brutal honesty. My best friend and I have been reading, criticizing, laughing, and rolling our eyes at each other’s words for almost 40 years. Happy birthday, Kenny (from Wendy, too). Here (November, 1972) we’re talking about girls…
Writing Aside #3. When Wendy was in kindergarten, her mother had a “teacher conference.” The woman said her only concern was that, “Wendy stares out the window a lot.” Her mother, an artist, was very pleased to hear that. Sunrise from our back porch. Sunrise from our front porch. South window stare. One time, a friend asked what I like best about our house. I said...
Writing Aside #2. Out west they have a lot of space and, in many places, it’s real dry. So instead of dealing with garages, storage sheds, barns, and basements, they just pick any old out-of-the-way spot and start piling up baling wire, fence posts, old plumbing fixtures, electrical components, and every car part known to man or woman. I have a friend who never throws anything out. She calls...
Writing Aside #1. I know there are a lot of books about the writing process. But it’s actually easier than it looks. You just take what’s going on up here and try to get it to flow out of your fingers onto a screen or paper. And go back and forth like that until you feel like there’s some kind of synergy between what was up there and what’s down there. Since, I’m juggling five...
As I continue to explore the slings and arrows of outrageous Tumblr, I’m keeping my ongoing blog about manic depression: David’s Inferno. Fortunately, it’s neither as manic nor depressive as the title would make you think. Meanwhile, Real Time has a description of the book I’ve been working on since the beginning of time. It includes an excerpt in which I’m...