Where I Am Now–Revisited

I promised a fresh look at, or re-take (reassessment) of “Where I Am Now” with regard to Bill’s Blog, but I thought I might wait until I had acquired 1000 “views” on the blog before I did so—which I recently did (1,050 in fact)! So it’s time to celebrate still being at blogging—and still enjoying it!

Ironically (and irony seems to be a staple in my life), looking back at my initial intention or purpose in starting a blog seven month ago, I will have to admit–or confess–that not much of what I originally hoped to achieve has happened, but a large number of “side-effects” (as in those ads where “side-effects” take up 80% of TV commercial time? Ho ho) or “substitute” effects have taken place (Freud regarded both art and religion as “substitute gratification”–for you know what), genuine sources of satisfaction I had not anticipated when I began. These unexpected rewards confirm what I have long suspected: “I learn by going where I have to go” (Theodore Roethke, “The Waking”) or John Lennon’s astute observation that “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.”

When I started Bill’s Blog on July 20, 2013, I posted a piece called “Sound Check/Getting Started,” and that’s exactly what it was. At age seventy-seven, I was a complete novice when it came to “social media” or digital self-presentation. At the time, I hoped to make the blog as “accessible, congenial, comfortable” as I could, and I would like to think I have made good on that score, even if a few of the others fell short. Because I had a new book out, The Inherited Heart: An American Memoir, a book I had worked on for six years, I stated that I hoped to call attention to its existence—and also tell the “story” of what it was like for someone seventy-seven years of age (someone who seemed to have exhausted the traditional means of “self-presentation”) to comprehend, assimilate, and embrace the Brave New World we’ve ALL become a part of, regardless of age. I suspected (rightly, I still think) that there were plenty of folks “out there” of my generation who had undertaken this adventure, and I hoped we might “share” our thoughts on the situation–or as they say in medicine and auto repair, our mutual “condition.”

Just for kicks, I think I’ll have some fun here with a small “photo essay” on the various stages of my life as an “author”:

Bill Skipping Rope Hawaii  Stafford and Me  Bill and Betts Russian Trip

Bill in San Miquel  Bill Giving Reading  Signing books MJF With Tiger and Em in Manchester  Signing Books Works  Bill at Expo2

From top to bottom: Skipping rope for joy in Hawaii, after first national publication (Carolyn Kizer took poem, “The Weekend,” for Poetry Northwest, 1964); with Bill Stafford in Wisconsin, 1968; Skinny! Wife Betty and I set for trip to Moscow, 1990 (wrote Unzipped Souls: A Jazz Journey Through the Soviet Union); working on comic novel, Trek: Lips, Sunny, Pecker and Me, 1976 (not published until 31 years later!); giving a poetry reading (can’t remember where), 1982; signing copies of Monterey Jazz Festival: Forty Legendary Years, with photographer Bill Wishner, 1997; on book tour for Jazz Journeys to Japan: The Heart Within, with Tiger Okoshi, his wife Akiko, and my sister Emily in Manchester, New Hampshire, 2005; signing copies of The Inherited Heart: An American Memoir, 2012; Pacific Grove Expo, at table for Park Place Publications, 2013.

The book I hoped to “plug” was published in January, 2013, and did well at the start. The first “book launch” party we had (and more in a moment about the way I approached this event) drew a standing room only crowd, and I sold, and signed, more than a few copies, but it would appear, now, that The Inherited Heart has subsided into a period of winter hibernation from which I hope it will awaken (I’ve been listening lots to Tom Waits’ hopeful song, “You Can Never Hold Back Spring”)—that some sort of resurrection or revival just might take place.

At the suggestion of friends I attempted some wild or, for me, perhaps rash moves. I’d started out the blog by admitting that I loved a statement I found attributed to Saint Francis of Assisi: “I wish to be known all over Europe for my humility.” I wrote that throughout my time as a writer and musician, I’d tried to harbor a similar inclination, a sort of quiet pride in what I’d done. But I decided to “man up” (as they say), to no longer hide my light beneath the proverbial (Biblical) bushel, so I sent a copy of the book, and a “spin-off” from it, a CD called Love Letters of Lynchburg, to Garrison Keillor (whom friends had been telling me for years I resembled!) and to Alan Cheuse (whom I knew) of “All Things Considered” at NPR. I received a favorable reply from the latter, but no further recognition from either source. I’d thought of the book and CD as “companions.” The latter came about when I received a commission from the Historic Sandusky Foundation in Virginia to write a script for two voices, based on letters my great-grandfather’s first cousin’s son, Charles Minor Blackford, had exchanged with his remarkable wife Susan throughout the Civil War, letters to which I added an original score of music. When I was well into the blog, I came up with the bright idea of sending a letter to thirteen genealogical societies in Michigan and Virginia (where most of the family history in the book—which was considerable—took place), inviting members to engage in online (or otherwise) dialogue with me regarding the daunting task of turning family history into “living presence,” making one’s ancestors come alive again. But I was no more successful in this venture. I did not receive a single reply out of thirteen attempts to “interact.”

The blog was, however, collecting a few “Comments” (mostly from friends) and I began to accumulate “visits” from countries other than the United States: the United Kingdom, Canada, France, Australia, India, Japan, Germany, and Singapore (more than just a few “views” from these places); Indonesia, Poland, Spain, Argentina, Sweden, Romania, Belgium, Italy, Finland, Norway, Philippines, Netherlands, Switzerland, United Arab Emirates, Hong Kong, Georgia, Taiwan, Malaysia,  Oman, Austria, the Russian Federation, Denmark, Estonia, Cyprus, Zimbabwe, New Zealand, Czech Republic, Albania, Greece and Mexico. My wife Betty and I had lived in Greece for nearly a year (on sabbatical leave), traveled 4000 kilometers in the former Soviet Union (out of which I got the book: Unzipped Souls: A Jazz Journey Through the Soviet Union, Temple University Press, 1995), and throughout Japan (out of which I got another book: Jazz Journeys to Japan: The Heart Within, University of Michigan Press, 2004). I once even got labeled a “pioneer” in the universe of jazz writing (Kevin Whitehead, a writer I respected highly, wrote, in his book New Dutch Swing, “Outside of S. Frederick Starr or Bill Minor, who’ve written about jazz in Russia, no American has written extensively about a foreign jazz scene”)– so I was pleased to see so many people taking a look at what I’d posted on the blog, whatever their reasons for checking out the site.

I was disappointed, of course, when it came to response (or the lack of it) to The Inherited Heart: An American Memoir itself—even though I had called attention to its existence, and accessibility (directly, from amazon.com: http://www.amazon.com/Inherited-Heart-American-Memoir/dp/1935530712/ref=sr_1_1s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1393464882&sr=1-1&keywords=The+Inherited+Heart%3A+An+American+Memoir), as best I could. A couple of “well known” writers I’d sent a copy to wrote back saying they’d received it (one liked the title of the book very much), but I never received any indication of its having been read by them, or even family members and relatives (aside from two) I’d hoped might take an interest in six years spent uncovering our mutual history. I tried, again, to call attention to the book: “Bill Has a New Book Out!” (July 22), “More Than Just Leftovers” (July 26), “Where I Am Now” (August 29) and “More Jazz” (December 18)—but to little avail.

Ironically (again!), the best luck I had proved not to be through “digital marketing,” but good old-fashioned leg work, taking the “product” out on the road and giving readings accompanied by music, so that an actual audience could hear what the book was all about and decide, on the spot, whether they wished to buy it and find out more. I’ve been a professional musician for longer than I’ve been a writer (I started at age 16), so I put together a fine “troupe” consisting of a bass player I’d worked with (played with) for years, Heath Proskin, and a vocalist, Jaqui Hope,who was also an actor (so we could also offer some portions of the “spin-off” CD, Love Letters of Lynchburg). In addition to readings with musical backing, we performed standards (such as “The Nearness of You” or “It’s Only a Paper Moon”) associated with the era depicted in the book—my adolescent years in the late 40s and early 50s—and people really dug these “shows.” We gave three, one of which, at the Museum of Monterey in Monterey, California, was filmed by John Mount and posted on YouTube, another at Old Capitol Books in Monterey was shown on Joanna Martin’s “Poetry Box” TV show in Santa Cruz .

More irony! One of the YouTube videos, a song Jaqui sang for which I wrote both words and music (“My Fingers Refuse to Sleep”: https://www.youtube.com/watchv=RLqjmDeiz2s&list=UUmsUUneDzClTnUJeBaOPPhQ), appeared (as the poem the lyrics came from) in a revival of the excellent literary journal, december, and has gathered  266 “hits”—an outcome I had not anticipated at all: the music topping the appeal of the book for which it was to be subordinate, a publicist! It became readily apparent that folks, for some strange reason (ho ho), would rather go out and listen to a woman who looks and sings like an angel (an immediate emotional experience) than sit at home and read a 476 page book on adolescence and family history!

Consequently, I switched the emphasis of Bill’s Blog and started to post accounts of and reflection on … music—since music seems to be at the heart of my life just now. I also “signed on” at Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/william.minor.56?ref=br_rs&fref=browse_search)   along with Goodreads, Google+, and LinkedIn, thus expanding my “social media” turf. When I started the blog, I had serious reservations about asking genuine long-term friends to become official “Friends” or “Followers.” I had always regarded friendship as a sacred matter (even more so than “Art”), a condition that came about naturally, spontaneously, and often accidentally, but once set in motion, a state that should span a lifetime. However, the transition aboard the blog turned out to be relatively painless, and in the long run both quite natural and spontaneous. I had avoided Facebook for the same reason, regarding it as a “venue” on which people seemed to collect friends rather than cherish them—but the further I got into it (and the other social media venues), the more I discovered I was wrong: that I thoroughly enjoyed the possibilities offered, especially with regard to interacting with people I’d been out of touch with for some time, and with writers, musicians, and visual artists I’d never met, but whose work I had admired for some time.

To make it clear that I intended to avoid pitfalls (I’d only heard about, before I “came aboard”), I posted a disclaimer on Facebook, saying that when I joined the social networking website, my wife Betty and I decided I should not employ it as a means of divulging family secrets or personal matters such as culinary preferences, birthdays, the number of grandkids we have (just four, but they’re all over 20 years of age), rapid (or rabid) aging, medical treatments or procedures, home improvements, the acquisition or demise of pets, civic service, low politics or high finance, Selfies, et cetera—but agreed that I should stick to “artistic” activiities, my own and those of friends and acquaintances.

I wasn’t making fun of anybody (except perhaps myself!), just having “fun” with what a seventy-seven year old might encounter if she or he attempts to hold on to some long-established “principles” while at the same time finding oneself succumbing to just about every temptation the new “medium” affords—such as dallying in highly “personal matters” or even “family secrets.”

It’s all a balancing act, it seems, and when I turned back to work on the “Going Solo” book manuscript, I discovered that Bill’s Blog had provided opportunities to experiment with various styles of writing (and “content” I might not otherwise go near), and on Facebook, practicing short sentences (or just phrases!) and truly having “fun” with photos (when it came to filling out the prescribed “Timeline” format), plus posting some of my own art work and YouTube videos (I’d also posted some of these on the blog). I found that my work on “Going Solo” was more focused now. I could hone in on what I truly wished to say (and avoid most distractions)–the result of “practice’ (as I would practice on the piano) on Facebook and Bill’s Blog (although I even regarded some of what I was doing in the latter as not just “secondary,” but perhaps my best ever writing—and possibly even a book in itself!).

O Brave New World indeed! Not everyone “out there” agreed. A former editor wrote, “Here’s another Facebook tip, Bill. It’s an acronym, TLTR, which means ‘Too Long to Read.’ My experience is that people move pretty quickly through their FB feeds, and benefit more from short, concise posts than your usual epics. Just sayin’ …” It amazes me, but does not really surprise me, that when imaginative people with genuine foresight invent a new practice such as Facebook (or blogging—although I don’t really see the “personal essay” style which blogging invites as anything all that “new”), the followers, or disciples, tend to adopt a fully orthodox, or dogmatic, view of just how the invention should be employed. They embrace it as a “religion,” and on highly restrictive terms imposed by the unfolding history of the new discovery itself, rather than adapt and make use of it on terms of their own.

When a person I much admire and respect, Bob Danziger (http://www.brandenburg300.com/), posted a Comment on the blog, in favor of a YouTube video I’d posted, and did so in a very insightful and complete manner, I responded by saying that, out of respect for him, I could not just reply, “Cool, Dude, thanks,” in the “new” prescribed (glib? cute? cryptic?) manner—so I wrote about a possibility I believe in: “Blog Baroque” entries, in which you can truly stretch out and say all that you wish to say—and if the attention span of the “audience” ain’t up to it, so be it! Selah! In a “Comment” response, a good friend, Julie Graham (http://juliecgraham.com/), put it best: “I love the term Blog Baroque and will share it with my other fellow bloggers (with all credit to you, of course!) And why not? In the age of texting and one paragraph blog posts, aren’t people craving yet the more in depth entry? Don’t people miss the richness and insight that a few more paragraphs with a few more adjectives afford the brain, always hungry for more information, more description? I think Blog Baroque could actually be the style we are all looking for – -not quite a feast (as a first person essay might be) but a true meal, instead of the ‘snack-size’ contemporary blog. Which of course, leaves one satisfied, but not nourished … I am happy to learn, thorough these ‘pages,’ about Robert Danziger. You are right: what better use of the social media we all find ourselves ever more involved with, then to share our interests – and hope to enlighten other writers, musicians and artists about other not-to-be-overlooked writers, musicians and artists.”

I’ve used the word “irony” several times in this post, and one last irony, in what I hope is a fully honest account of my conversion to social media, is: confessing there’s still something “in me” that’s reluctant and still longs for sweet (and sour but sacred) anonymity, for  privacy, even in public performance—maintaining self-respect, although required to “hustle” a bit in a world that often seems made up of nothing but hustle. I’d like to retain some measure of dignity—and above all, humor—while attempting to “sell” what one feels is worth offering to the world, and do so without “selling out.”

I recently read an editorial by Micah Zenko called “Real Experts Don’t Tweet,” in which he defends a statement he made (one which occasioned objections): “The smartest folks I know in just about any academic or policy field, don’t tweet, blog, or actively appear in the media.” Zenko’s own research is based on first-person interviews, but over time, he has discovered that the “most-informed and thoughtful people—from whom I learn about foreign policy or national security issues’’ are private individuals, who are “totally unknown to the general public.” These “wise people” have their own reasons for not being more fully engaged (disclosure might be “legally perilous,” or because “commentary can be misperceived in 140 characters”—Twitter). Zenko acknowledges that–“depressing news”–most policy outcomes “are not drawn by expertise,” and he finds what he calls the “expertise blackout” a loss “for all of us.” I agree, but …

A portion of me shares a reluctance to go fully “public,” based on awareness that one may never be appropriately or adequately “received,” and based on history (that nightmare from which James Joyce said he wished to “awaken”) and what I’ve perceived in my own lifetime. Two blog posts ago I offered a portion of the Preface from the book project (“Going Solo”) I’ve been at work on lately, and here’s what it said:

“It took a man, a poet (who would become a hero of mine), Archilochus of Paros (680-C.-645 BC) to invent ‘personality,’ but his discovery was less like what we know today (an individual wrapped up only in herself or himself, someone ‘exclusively subjective’), but a person who is able, in Werner Jaeger’s [Paideia: The Ideals of Greek Culture] words, to ‘express the objective world and its laws through his own personality … to represent them in himself … Personality, for the Greeks, gains its liberty and its consciousness of selfhood not by abandoning itself to subjective thought and feeling, but by making itself an objective thing; and, as it realizes that it is a separate world opposed to the external laws, it discovers its own inner laws’  … Archilochus transferred the battle of man against tyche (destiny) from the heroic world to the world of daily life … he sees himself as a hero, acting and suffering with epic dignity and passion … it was Archilochus who first formulated the idea that a man could be free only in a life chosen by himself.”

Amen again. So I will continue to choose what I post on this blog (and Facebook, Goodreads, Google+, and LinkedIn). It IS a balancing act: juggling publicity and privacy, individuality and “playing the game” well enough so that “the public” will recognize what you’re saying (and hopefully read it all, ho ho). So I have embraced blogging (and other social media opportunities), and the love affair has been good so far, and may even get better (I hope), if I can keep something Pascal said in mind (“All that is made perfect by progress perishes also by progress.”), realize that there’s far more to life than accumulating “Likes” (the risk that, as in baseball, “stats” may get mistaken for the game itself); and if I can continue to laugh on those mornings when I turn on my computer and discover that my e-mail In Box is gorged with 1500 pieces of Spam: Pfizer, Fox News, US Finance Daily, Pure Garcinia Cambogia Extract, or the 30 or so Russian women who wish to marry me sight unseen because I have translated Russian poems.

When it comes to “notoriety,” I hope to keep Osip Mandelstam’s words in mind (“No, I was no one’s contemporary-ever./That would have been above my station./How I loathe that other with my name./He certainly never was me.” (translation by Clarence Brown and W. S. Merwin), and Thomas Mann’s : “To long to be allowed to live the life of simple feeling, to rest sweetly and passively in feeling alone, without compulsion to act and achieve … there is a way of being an artist that goes so deep and is so much a matter of origins and destinies that no longing seems to it sweeter and more worth knowing than longing after the bliss of the commonplace … love of the human, the living and usual. It is the source of all warmth, goodness, and humor.” I hope and pray that social media IS a genuine meaningful “revolution,” and not just a passing fad like all those VHS movies my wife and I accumulated for our old age, or the 10 inch vinyl jazz recordings I no longer play.

The hype and hoopla of the past (about which I once complained) now seems quite innocent compared to that of the Overkill present, and our ongoing national disease (more irony!), the Self-Help craze that has reached epidemic proportions–rather than allow solid instinct and good sense to tell us what to do, or good Buddhist awareness that “If you can’t find it for yourself, who will ever find it for you? … It will be harder to let people go when necessary if you depend on them for your sense of worth … Keep as silent as a broken gong,” and just being deeply honest with yourself about your self. Or again, in Thomas Mann’s words: an occasional healthy awareness that your life is “habitually steady, simple, concentrated, and contemplative,” and  that “you belong to yourself.”

Any joking (or levity) aside, I’ll close with an account of two very fine things that could not have occurred without social media. I’d lost touch with Anthony Brown, an amazing drummer, director and arranger with the Asian American Orchestra, someone I wrote about in Jazz Journeys to Japan: The Heart Within. When we were “reconnected” by way of Facebook and LinkedIn, Anthony wrote asking if I’d be willing to serve on a panel, in Osaka, Japan, on International Jazz Day (a day that is celebrated all over the world). I wrote back, saying I hadn’t been back to Japan since 1998, and the thought of International Jazz Day being honored and celebrated there was “tanoshii” [delightful], but that my heart sank when I saw the date, April 30—because I’ll be in Virginia then, as part of a performance of Love Letters of Lynchburg on April 29 (in Lynchburg) for the National Civil War Chaplains Museum (another wondrous invitation that came about largely by way of reconnection through social media—and more about this event in a subsequent blog post.).

It’s a shame to pass up Osaka, but a joy to be asked to perform in Virginia—so I can’t complain! I also posted news, on Facebook, about a project I’d worked on: providing copy for twenty-eight handsome shelters on the Monterey Jazz Festival/Monterey-Salinas Transit JAZZ BUS lines, which feature bright orange vehicles decorated with lively designs, each shelter providing historical photos, my copy (on Festival highlights), and music (when you make a smart phone connection with a bar code) from the year represented —all while you wait for your bus!

MST-Bus-1 Bill at JAZZ BUS Shelter JAZZ-Shelter

I’ve recently been re-hired to provide copy for 24 more shelters, and I reported on that and a masterful national award winning TV ad by Phil Wellman, Festival graphic designer, which can be found at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Mk9IhA9g7Ek. When I posted this news on Facebook I received nearly instantaneous responses from 26 people—in praise of the project!

So Where Am I Now with blogging? Probably just where I should be: enjoying it for what it is or can be, no longer infused with or motivated by the desire to sell books (but still hoping to sell a few, ho ho). My biggest goal now–is writing well (Dorothy Parker’s “best revenge”), and doing so on my own terms, while acknowledging the “gift” of the amazing range of means to do so available to a serious (and humorous!) writer today. In my next post, I’ll try–under the “about” and “Upcoming Attractions” sections of Bill’s Blog–to outline just where I hope to go (and “learn by going”) from here.