At the start of my last post–“Mostly for Fun”–I said the one to follow would take a “serious look” at just where I am now when it came to having entered the Brave New World of multi-faceted digital communication—or blogging. However, I had so much fun with “Mostly for Fun” that I think I may try to mix “solemnity” with playfulness again: something I believe I have been attempting to do throughout my entire adult life.
First off, I’d like to report on two events, occasions I mentioned in “Coming Attractions” and “Coming Attractions Revisited”–one of which turned out well, another that didn’t take place at all.
Saturday night, August 24, Vocalist Jaqui Hope, bassist Heath Proskin, and I (on piano and reading) gave a performance of “The Best of The Inherited Heart: An American Memoir and New Poems and Prose Set to Music,” our third “book launch” event for the new book I have out—you guessed it: The Inherited Heart: An American Memoir. The show was presented in the auditorium–a 100-seat comfortable venue—at the Museum of Monterey, and it went well. My friend David “Catfish” Hall initiated a standing ovation at the close, after Jaqui sang our signature song, “What a Wonderful World”–and he also took photos I’ll show now. Thanks Catfish, for both standing ovation and photos.
It was a busy weekend for music on the Monterey Peninsula. Monterey County Weekly asked “Best Music Weekend Ever?” and answered with, “The Historic First City Festival and West End make for an unprecedented few days of entertainment,” so we were competing with thirty-four pop-rock bands at the inaugural First City Festival held at the Monterey Fairgrounds and a 12th annual West End (Sand City) event that featured eighteen bands, including The Suborbitals, with which bassist Heath Proskin had performed that afternoon before our show—so, all groups considered, I feel we did OK with the turn out we had: an “intimate,” but attentive audience–appreciative by all I observed and accounts I received after. Our performance was filmed by John Mount and should be available on YouTube shortly. Thanks John!
Jaqui Hope sang a song I’ve just written, based on a poem that will appear in december magazine (appropriately enough, in December 2013). The song is “My Fingers Refuse to Sleep,” and Jaqui offered a splendid, perfect, beautiful “rendering” of words and music—to the point where I feel that song is truly her own now—and we have hopes and plans for it that I will post in the future in the “Upcoming Events” section of this blog.
The event that didn’t occur is one for which I provided a schedule in the last “Upcoming Events” post: “Poetry Box #80 William Minor, Part 1″ (produced by Joanna Martin and co-sponsored by Poetry Santa Cruz). This filmed version of the program we presented at Old Capitol Books in Monterey was slated to be shown and streamed each Tuesday at 8:30 throughout August, but when I went to look for it last night (CTV: Community Television of Santa Cruz), I was surprised to discover a reading by Joanna herself from her new Hummingbird Press book, Where Stars Begin (my wife Betty and I had attended the actual event at Cabrillo College). It was great to hear Joanna read again (she writes wonderful, fully engaging poetry–and reads handsomely!), although I feel I may have let those of you who follow this blog down–“Nothing promised that is not performed”–by way of “false advertising.” In that initial post I did say that CTV was undergoing “changes” (“streaming” is now at work again, for those of us outside the Santa Cruz county area)–and I will need to wait until better informed about future programs before I post info on (if and) when “Poetry Box #80 William Minor, Part 1” might appear. Sorry if I let anyone astray on that score!
As for where I am just now with blogging in general … I’m pleased! I feel as if I have survived and passed the test on an apprenticeship for which no diploma is awarded, although I like to imagine one sitting on the wall in my studio above my computer now–containing elegant Gothic inscription, of course, and signed by a host of approving luminaries in the blogging trade, ho ho. I feel that now I can sit back and relax and just enjoy making “posts” the way I enjoy making music (that world I never want to come out of once I’m “in it”). For someone seventy-seven years of age (and that’s where I am!), setting up a blog has been a genuine adventure–one I’d like to share with all of you who, I know, may be having a similar experience.
Although I still don’t drive an automobile, nor own a cell or “smart” phone, I’m not a total stranger to the Brave New World of digital self-presentation (I have a website–http://www.bminor.org/–and YouTube videos posted), but learning (through trial and error–mostly error!) a wealth of new means, and terms to go with them (ICT, RSS subscribers, the “Comments” box and the “Follow” button, SEO and SERP, YouTube alongside text, “Dashboard tools,” widgets, themes, tags, geotagging, turning genuine friends into official “Followers,” etc.) has been a “trip.” So much so that Patricia Hamilton–who published The Inherited Heart: An American Memoir at her Park Place Publications, and has assisted the apprenticeship immensely, along with my two sons, Steve and Tim–and I decided to use the experience as some of the subject matter for the blog: the story of what it’s been like for someone my age (or anyone of any age!) to learn and attempt to make use of all this fine new “stuff.”
Theodore Roethke wrote “I learn by going where I have to go,” and I have long subscribed to his view—to the point of finding myself on occasion faced with horrendous but eventually amusing circumstance. After I’d spent a session with Patricia, learning how to set up links, tags, and arrange a meaningful sequence for “categories,” I thought I’d test my wings on my own, at home. I’m still getting used to the fact that–as I did when I studied Japanese—a blog actually reads backwards. Your first post, which I thought of as I might the “Preface” of a book, ends up at the bottom of the barrel, so to speak; and the latest post is alive and thrives on “top,” as if it were a “Preface,” not the outcome of previous posts. Because one of my early offerings—a pitch for The Inherited Heart: An American Memoir (“Bill Has a New Book Out!”)—had receded to the end (or beginning!) of my blog, I thought I should move it up “front” again. Attempting to do so on my own, I substituted a fresh scanning of the book’s cover, blocking out the old in blue (but inadvertently blocking out the entire potential post) and then preceded to “trash” (rather than just “cut” and replace the first cover) it all. I was left with no evidence or mention whatsoever of The Inherited Heart, anywhere—yet getting word out about the book had been one of my reasons for starting a blog in the first place! Fortunately, I was able to retrieve what I’d written and place it where I wished (up front)—and I felt good because I’d done so on my own. I didn’t want to confess the idiotic action that brought me to that point to anyone, although knowing that word shall go no further than this blog (ho ho), I will tell YOU!
“[We] learn by going where [we] have to go.” And as so many of us know, that going can be rough on occasion.
I have, since that time, taken other steps, such as acquiring an Author Profile on Goodreads–http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/1185527.William_Minor –where I now have nine “friends,” five “fans,” nine reviews, and five star ratings for seven of my books—so that too feels good! I’ve acquired “Followers” (subscribers) for the blog, and received a few “Comments” so far, so we are making headway, little by little, moment by moment, stage by stage. I’ve also learned to make use of frequent good advice on WordPress.com News, and started a list of blogs I follow. That’s rewarding in many ways, one of which, unexpectedly, is running across an acquaintance or two from the past. Some time ago, I attended a writers conference (NonfictionNow) at the University of Iowa (where I also played piano for a University of Nebraska Press reception), and during a “memoir” session on the risk of writing about one’s relatives, I mentioned a problem I’d run across while working on a book: Unzipped Souls: A Jazz Journey Through the Soviet Union. When I’d finished far more than half the manuscript, faithfully reporting totally honest and fully open views of people I’d interviewed (using their “real” names), the “coup” of 1991 took place, and I found myself sitting (sweating!) in front of a TV set for three straight days and nights, knowing that if the hard line “Bad Guys” came back into power again and Boris Yeltsin lost out, I’d have to scrap everything I’d written—the entire book.
Waiting for an elevator after this session, a woman I did not know came up to me and said she’d found the question I’d raised (What does a writer do in a situation as extreme as the one I’d found myself in?) interesting, and we started a grand conversation on having to consider, as an American nonfiction writer, the seemingly small or even petty predicament of hurt feelings on the part of a family member or friend, as opposed, in other countries (such as the former Soviet Union) to writing something that might cost them their lives! Later, I attended a dinner with a friend and the speaker, after dinner, was an exceptional poet named Mary Ruefle, who gave an excellent talk on nonfiction writing and poetry. She was, of course, the same woman who had “accosted” me outside the elevator—and now, several years later and by way of a blog, I’ve “run into” her again, having accessed “Harriet: The Blog” (www.poetryfoundation.org/harriet) –and there was Mary Ruefle again, engaged in a Kenyon Review (interlocutor Andrew David King) “Epiphanic Interview.” What a fortunate find—as much of “blogging” does seem to impart.
In a previous post (the “Bill Has a New Book Out” post—the one I “upgraded”), I said that the digital age has been characterized as “impersonal,” but that, looking back at the point I was at then, I realized just how much actual human (not virtual) help I’d received from friends and family members throughout my “conversion” to the Brave New World of digital self-presentation and online interaction; realized how smoothly “hands on” or “homegrown” or “leg work” activity (such as playing musical gigs to promote a book!) can be combined with State of the Art technical support. And I feel that’s even more true now than it was then—when I was just getting started.
So what’s next? I recently sent out a “communal email letter” (something I’ve not done since a CD of mine, Love Letters of Lynchburg, came out in 2010—see the “Music to Match the Words” July 26 post) to folks I think of as “The Delectable Mountains” (a phrase e.e. cummings borrowed, in The Enormous Room, to describe people he felt were “the most interesting and pure people he had ever met”), in my case friends I’ve lost touch with or whose own email letters I have yet to respond to. In that letter I said that, because The Inherited Heart: An American Memoir relates directly to activities popular or engaging in our era, such as exploring genealogy and writing memoir, I’d now like to “reach out” to individuals and organizations involved in such, and “discuss” (online) some of the concerns and issues I ran into (such as: once you’ve discovered who your ancestors are, how do you go about making them come alive again?). Two of the means to do so for me have been the book itself and readings accompanied by music.
I’m now drafting another “communal email letter” I hope to send to individual organizations or societies devoted to family history and writing about it. I believe I know this potential audience for the blog so well I feel I can overhear their conversations with one another, discussing matters important to me as well: issues that arise when one takes an active interest in family history, in getting it right and then finding a means to preserve it. I would love to start, to carry on, a dialogue or conversation focused on mutual interests and concerns, a forum for shared insight and knowledge, seeking the highest level of “interconnectivity,” exchanging information on digital devices and platforms we may have found to make what we each hope to accomplish take place successfully.
I said at the start of this post that I’d try to mix “serious” concerns with playfulness, and the tone may be running the risk of turning somewhat “solemn” just now–so, staying with the subject, I’d like to offer some family history photos I included in an 18-page Photo Gallery in The Inherited Heart: An American Memoir, accompanied by captions I had some “fun” writing:
My paternal grandfather, Launcelot Minor, at age sixteen, a member of the Rockbridge Artillery. He was shot and thought dead at Cumberland Church (two days before Appomattox), but survived to “manufacture” my father at age fifty-seven … next to him: Uncle Cabell, medical doctor, author, poet, visual artist—a dandy who seemed to wear a suit, vest and tie in the most rural surroundings, always, except when manufacturing White Mule in his hidden still.
My paternal grandfather, known as “The Colonel,” a war hero when not yet eighteen but someone who never rose above the rank of Private, here chatting with Confederate buddies in later life. Next to him: Charles Minor Blackford’s (author of Letters from Lee’s Army) remarkable wife, Susan Leigh Colston Blackford, who, when Charles returned from the war and resumed his law practice, assembled his letters, her own, and her father-in-law’s diaries as Memoirs of Life In and Out of the Army of Virginia During the War Between the States.
My mother’s relative, Charles Christopher Trowbridge, topographer, master of several Native American dialects, translator of Indian tales, elected mayor of Detroit at age twenty-six, in 1834, the year the city was “visited by a cholera epidemic” … next to him: William Henry Gail, M.D., my maternal great-grandfather, first lieutenant and assistant surgeon in the 18th N.Y.V. Cavalry—stationed in Louisiana, served on the Red River Expedition and was then placed in charge of Charity Hospital, Department of the Gulf … and: my great-grandfather Gail’s family in East Aurora, New York—my grandfather, Clarence Wallace Gail, perched on a rail to the right of the others, looking much like a young “poet” filled with wanderlust, compared to them.
My mother, age twenty, with Aunt Day (actually her cousin and chaperone) on the beach at Coney Island. Aunt Day befriended Mark Twain in Bermuda and passed Twain’s Eve’s Diary and a portion of his handwriting (a manuscript page) on to me by way of my mother … and: me seated on a sailboat that belonged to one of my mother’s brother Bill Gail’s former fraternity brothers, on which we “jammed” (clarinet and snare drum) when we took a trip throughout western and northern Michigan in 1952, just before my senior year in high school. Dig the shoes– white bucks!
Apart from extensive research (and photographs!) required for The Inherited Heart: An American Memoir and the Love Letters of Lynchburg CD, I conducted sixty-five interviews (and transcribed them by hand!) with musicians, presenters, jazz journalists and fans when I wrote another book, Monterey Jazz Festival: Forty Legendary Years (Angel City Press, 1997; I was also hired by Warner Bros. as script-writer for a film documentary with the same name), and I undertook extensive interviews for two other books on jazz: Unzipped Souls: A Jazz Journey Through the Soviet Union (Temple University Press) and Jazz Journeys to Japan: The Heart Within (University of Michigan Press). While teaching at Monterey Peninsula College, I was faculty adviser for an ARA Living Centers Stepping Out project, assisting students in assembling a book of oral history interviews with nursing home residents.
Because of this activity, I would like very much to initiate an online dialogue with those interested in such matters as conducting oral history interviews, turning them into books or other written work, and finding further means (such as music) to make our families from the past come alive in the present, and to preserve the stories of family members who are still alive.
A friend who took a look at my blog did comment that “it felt like a guy who writes books rather than blogs,” but that’s exactly what I’ve been for fifty years–until now! He referred me to articles by writers attempting to make a distinction between “books” and “blogs,” but I noticed that many of these writers had been blogging for years, were just now undertaking a book, and were finding the latter task far more demanding. As a musician I couldn’t help but think of a time when, playing with a folk-rock group called The Salty Dogs in the late 60s, I began to notice that, gradually, a number of young musicians (one of whom told us he was simply using the rest of our group as a “stepping stone to the Ed Sullivan Show”) were moving well beyond three-chord tunes into the jazz joys of the Cycle of Fifths, Sus and Phrygian chords, notes added to three-note voicings, tritone substitution, et cetera.
Whichever way the traffic flows, my entry into the universe of blogging has been exciting–a genuine adventure–and I’m ready for whatever may come next. I hope it entails genuine interaction. You know where to find me–right here: Bill’s Blog– and I hope to find you, wherever you are.