May days

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This is a repost from ESCHORAMA newsletter: creations from Jim’s workbench.

Time for another monthly check-in. Life feels different since completing my vaccination regimen. Changes to routine are rumbling like tremors underfoot, though it is hard to distinguish them from the big change that always comes at this time—the end of the academic year. Priorities shuffle. Time yawns open. Time to build, fix, tidy, and grow again.

This year particularly is tinged with mixed feelings. It was like no other, what with the teaching and zooming and living at home all the time. It feels now as if the quarantine era has concluded, and I will be back in a three-dimensional classroom come fall, at least part of the time. I think I will miss the days of having to dress presentably from the waist up only, and the coziness of my “Zoom nook.” On the other hand, aren’t we all sick of Zoom? There surely will be a good side to being around people again. I need to relearn how to do that! 

Goodbye Vinyl Essence / Hello Song Tripping 

The headline news this month pertains to podcasting. I decided to retire the old Vinyl Essence podcast, which I’ve done off and on for around ten years. A few reasons forced the decision. For one, the mission changed. It used to be a celebration and championing of vinyl records, and I shared many many tracks ripped straight from vinyl. That template morphed into a more ecumenical approach to records. My CD’s have become just as cherished as my vinyl. It felt awkward to be playing digital tracks under the banner of Vinyl Essence. Another reason had to do with technology. The wordpress site that gave access to the shows, which are archived on another web server, no longer works as smoothly as it should. The tech details are boring and not worth sharing. I got tired of the workarounds and with no means to officially license the ripped songs, the podcast was never going to pass legal muster, and chances of reaching a broader audience were limited. For a long time, I’ve wanted to utilize the convenience of a streaming platform to share music on a podcast and have it all be kosher. 

Thanks for the memories Vinyl Essence. We had a good run, 127 shows in all. (If you’re interested in accessing the show archives, let me know, and I’ll send you a link.)

A couple weeks ago, I discovered a new way to podcast. Anchor.fm supports a Music + Talk podcast format, with music tracks selectable from the vast Spotify archive. The only catch (a significant one) is that the podcast is exclusive to Spotify, and you must use the desktop app or mobile app to access it. Spotify users with free accounts only get 30 second clips of the songs dropped into the podcast, but paid Spotify subscribers get it all.

Despite the limitations, the prospect of combining music and commentary appealed to me, so I spent mid May developing the concept for a new podcast. 

Get on the bus and go for a song trip 

The Song Tripping podcast’s concept is simple. We spin records and talk about them. It’s a mixture of commentary, interpretation, and personal tie-ins to the music.

I invited Ken Pobo to join the fun, and he graciously agreed to cohost it. Ken was a frequent contributor to the old Vinyl Essence shows, and he’s got plenty of experience DJ’ing the show Obscure Oldies on the Widener Widecast radio network. He has an enormous record collection and a broad knowledge of the genres he loves.  

In our first show (called Starting Gun) you’ll hear some backstory about the troubles I encountered coming up with a name for the damn thing. Song Tripping was the final result.https://open.spotify.com/embed/episode/0medN3CyhU1sR2ltuekpem

It’s short and descriptive, hopefully catchy. Each show plays a batch of songs and takes a trip with them. The name surely was inspired by Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, Tom Wolfe’s creative nonfiction tour de force about Ken Kesey and The Merry Pranksters, which I finished a few weeks back. (Awesome read, by the way.) I also had the Beatles songs “Day Tripper,” “Long and Winding Road” and “Tomorrow Never Knows” in mind.

We aim to make the podcast fun, trippy, and eclectic. This first trip is all about “beginnings.” I hope you find it worthy of your listening attention. Remember, you must be on the Spotify app to hear it. If you like it, please Follow/Subscribe on Spotify so you won’t miss new shows. 

English Suite podcast updates 

Over at the English Suite, I completed three podcasts in May. It has been a busy month!

I interviewed Dr. Jessica Guzman, advisor of Widener Ink, the campus literary print journal, and editor Ciana Bowers, about their revival of the magazine after Covid shut it down in 2020. 

Next, I did a recap show about the many events on campus related to National Poetry Month. There’s also a feature on Widener faculty poets (including yours truly) who shared readings of work they performed at one of the events in April. 

Finally, I completed the edits on a show that Matthew Lomas (Widener class of 2021) produced. He asked some alumni about the evolution of their writing life since graduation. Is there life after college for English majors? You bet!

Sprucing up the place

As the semester wound down, I took time to do some much needed digital upkeep, archiving and reorganizing files, and setting up my writing environment to be more streamlined. I’ve decided to go “all in” on Scrivener, using it both on the PC laptop and the iMac. I needed to upgrade the iMac from Yosemite to High Sierra in order the get the latest version of Scrivener working on the Mac, a process that put the fear of bricking my computer into me. Thankfully, miraculously, the OS did not suffer a mortal wound, and I’m writing semi-regularly again.

When I wasn’t fiddling with machines, I was painting window sills and figuring out what to do about our aging tin roof, leaky soffit, and shabby cedar siding on the back of the house (the carpenter bees and woodpeckers just love it).

House stuff. Outdoor activity. It’s what you do in May.

That’s all the news I have for this month. I hope to post a little more frequently to substack now that I’m on summer break, with updates on writing, music, and podcasting projects. Until next time, be well!


Thanks for reading. Please consider sharing eschorama newsletter with a friend if you think they would like it.

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Fiddling while Rome burns

music

Modestly adventuresome tales of record collecting

When the world gets me down, I often turn to my stereo for solace. Needless to say, the lasers and needles have been getting quite the workout this season.

Since high school, I’ve been collecting records on vinyl and CD, and I like to keep an eye on the rapidly shifting landscape in the recorded music industry. What’s new this tumultuous year? The trends are interesting. The RIAA has issued its mid year revenue stats for 2020. Overall revenues are up 5.6%. Streaming music revenue continues to dominate with 85% market share (and revenue growth of 12%). People are streaming more than ever. Digital download music, however, continues its downward trend (6% market share). 

I’m most interested in the state of physical products, good old LP’s and CD’s—what impact has Covid19 had on them in the first half of the year?

Read more….

Memories of the Baroque Period

creative writing, fiction, nature

Over at my substack newsletter, I have a new short story up called “Memories of the Baroque Period.” Here’s the first few paragraphs:

In pontoon boats, the tourists leave Page, Arizona and head up Lake Powell, past slot canyons, buttes and far off mesas. To the east rises Navajo Mountain, like a benevolent yet all powerful god. They dock the boat and walk across the planks to the shore, then snake through a narrow canyon, rounding bends deeper into what is feeling like a rock cathedral. Then they see it. Behold the rainbow rock bridge, gateway to the Navajo holy realms. Although no tongue is there to give voice to sacredness, they feel it. A hush descends on warm beams of sunshine. 

For reasons he can’t fathom, he suddenly thinks of Baroque architecture. Perhaps because it is so antithetical to this place, worn by time into smoothness and raw, energetic grandeur. This is nothing like Venice, he thinks, with its ornaments and opulence, the walls with slotted windows, the domes and spires arising from the mist. This is nothing like that. Then he sees there could be some fundamental connection between the places. Rainbow bridge and Navaho Mountain seem haunted by ghosts of a nation mostly missing in action, lost to time. And parts of Venice linger too, forgotten by all, like the ghosts who haunt the asylum on Poveglia island, where shadows linger over the plague pits, and dark, nameless fish lurk in forbidden canals. 

Can memory be written into a place? Until Lake Powell and the rainbow bridge, he wasn’t sure. Now he thinks maybe so. The atmosphere is at once thick with longing for history, yet utterly barren and forgetful, as if the clear sky and air have no need for paltry sediments of time past. Something tangible is here, persisting, but the language can’t be deciphered. 

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Angels of Discipline

creative writing, work, writing

On keeping a writing journal

Most any book on writing, any writing class or workshop you will attend, will advise you to keep a journal for observations, inspirations, memories, dreams, fantasies, ideas, and plans. A journal is the place where creativity spawns.

When I was 11, I must have made it known to my family that I wanted to be a writer, because Christmas day 1975 I got my first writing journal. It was called The Nothing Book. A paperback of blank pages to fill. Hundreds of thousands of copies were sold in hardcover and paperback. I envy the person who came up with this bestselling concept. Maybe they knew the guy who came up with The Pet Rock, which came out in 1975, too.

My entries were sporadic, embarrassing kid stuff and adolescent ramblings. Honestly, those blank pages were too blank. I didn’t know how to fill them. I wondered if I had anything to say. The act of putting something inside those pages felt too momentous and intimidating. The Nothing Book petered out by the time I got to college and lurked in a shoebox until I rediscovered it this summer. I’m writing in it again. It’s cool seeing one page end in 1983 and the next pick up in 2020.

After The Nothing Book, I moved to spiral bound notebooks, beginning with my high school senior year creative writing class notebook. They contain diary entries and reflections, draft poems, songs, stories, and essay fragments. This continued into college and beyond into adulthood. I didn’t have a method, though. The notebooks were scattershot and loosely dated. As I waddled into my middle years, the journaling spread even more chaotically across multiple paper notebooks—a disorganized amalgam of lecture notes, book notes, to-do lists, feverish rants, manifestos, ideas. Like rampant suburban development, notebook sprawl was becoming a real problem.

I thought technology would solve it. I explored the world of digital journaling, tried desktop applications and private posts on Internet blogs, which oozed into public blogs. I feel like I’ve tried and outlived most of them: blogger, Livejournal, Typepad, WordPress, Posterous, tumblr. Technology only made the sprawl worse.

If Marie Kondo were to assess my cluttered, half-assed attempts to keep journals, she would have a heart attack. What a total f*cking mess.

Read more….

the eschorama newsletter

art, books, creative writing, fiction, history, literature, music, philosophy, podcast, poetry, reviews, spoken word, writing

In May I started writing a newsletter about my creative life at substack.com. It contains essays, creative nonfiction pieces, short stories, poems, songs, reviews of books and music, podcast announcements, and talk about the craft of writing and creativity in general. I’ll use this blog to announce new issues, which come out every 7 to 10 days.

If you like what you see there, sign up to receive new issues by email. Go to eschorama.substack.com

Thanks for checking it out.

All is not well in the groves of academe

economy, education, work

There is sobering news in higher education. It did not start with the Covid19 crisis, but that is certainly the flashpoint in what appears to be the early stages of a collapse. We are seeing more and more evidence of furloughs, layoffs, non-renewals of contracts, mergers, and outright shuttering of some colleges. Choose your metaphor–house of cards, demolition derby, imploding sky scraper–it is a film that will surely make you wince.

For a while now, the winds have not been favorable. Declining pools of first year students due to demographic realities, the student debt debacle, obscene tuition hikes–all have indicated that the higher ed biz was overripe. Now the fruit is dropping off the trees, and it looks like the branches have rotted through. The Chronicle of Higher Education is tracking the damage. You can even input news from your own college. For those of you who work in higher-ed, I hope you survive the cuts. For those about to be cut, brace yourself for a career change. A lot of these jobs aren’t coming back, I’m afraid.