Sunday, December 6, 2009

A New Book

Everything has changed. At nearly 47 years of age, I stand on the precipice of the future and realize that the dreams of my youth have been made irrelevant by life and technology. Things are changing so quickly and I’m adapting with the speed of a slug – mired in salt.

One problem with the rapidly changing world is no one realizes how much it is changing. We whir along and change without even thinking about it. I realize that hardly anyone reads what I write on this blog, but I think nothing of the fact that I sit here on a Sunday morning in slippers, typing and in a moment my thoughts will be accessible to anyone who cares to listen. This is were you get humility, because no one is really listening. We are all too busy talking and worrying about ourselves to give anyone else much thought.

Writing Dream: Be published. When I was thirteen, being a published author was the holy grail of all I wanted. Instead of pursuing writing, I ended up in the law, but I’ve clung to this dream of being published. Publication brings about serendipity. Your words get out there and you have no idea who will actually connect with them. My wife gets to put up with me because she was published. So all seems right with the world, my dream to be published is still alive and kicking.

Wrong – sort of. The infrastructure of the past and the machinery of publication still spits out books. Every Sunday in the New York Times I can read reviews of the latest and greatest. I’ve developed a fondness and attachment to particular authors, living and dead, reading almost everything that they write – Philip Roth, Paul Auster, Bret Easton Ellis, Dostoyevsky, Kafka, Saul Bellow, Douglas Coupland, Chuck Palahniuk – the list goes on and on. I read them, connect and think I want to be like one of those guys. (Yes, honey, I realize that they are all white males and about half of them are Jewish, but I still read women authors, too. You being my favorite woman author and so much more than just a friend.)

I realize why I have no friends to speak of – my friends are authors and their books. Being friends with an author is easy. They don’t ask of anything other than you spring for the price of the book. In fact they tend to hate creepy stalkers and emails, so they prefer it if you put their book on the shelf and leave them alone. If you are busy and ignore them, they don’t care, as long as you keep reading.

Publication always felt to me like the one sure way to obtain immortality. A book bound with your name on it could speak after you were dead. Now, it is possible to literally speak after you are dead with recorded voice and video. Nearly any aspect of our lives can be reduced to digital format and “published” for the future. The philosophical implications of the ease of publishing are seemingly endless with one of the biggest questions being does the urge or desire to publish one’s life interfere with living one’s life?

Author’s by nature must be at least a little exhibitionistic and simultaneously reclusive, J.D. Salinger any one? They flash us with their words, not their presence. And they want us to look at the words, but they love the barrier the book and word creates between themselves as people and the reader.

I know because it is that desire for connection, understanding and dialogue that has compelled me throughout my life to want to write. I want to talk to my friends the authors and the social structure is such that I talk to them by putting out my work for others to read. My value in the conversation is determined by the audience I develop, not by what I say. I want to be published because I don’t want to violate the social norms of author-hood.

And yet, the world is changing. I can see it, feel it and realize it and the dream is fading with every Google search I commit or every “friend” I add on Facebook. There are better ways now to connect with the authors, the friends of my life than books. Publication was all about access, public knowledge and public acceptance. Access to text has gone from extremely difficult to instantaneous and easy. My original desire to be published was so that others could have access to my words. Technology has eliminated that need.

The problem has shifted from access to letting the public know and care about what I write. The previous social milieu of books was a sub-genre of the celebrity culture, a culture where our heroes walked on Olympus, dropping words like lightening on us mere mortals. The digital age is crumbling Olympus and words are flying everywhere. The old guard remains fortified by publishing houses and Barnes and Noble, but the attack on them is relentless and continuing unabated.

Carnegie Libraries, public libraries, law libraries and school libraries are fading into the digital abyss. Why go to the library, when I can find any book at home on my laptop or Kindle? When an entire library of a University is digitized by Google, why pay all that money and take up all that space? It doesn’t make sense and cities and schools will stop doing it.

Suddenly, my desire to be published seems silly. Throw out a book into the enormous and never shrinking, constantly expanding digital slush pile. Within my lifetime it appears that most, if not all books ever published will be available digitally. No single person can ever attempt to read or comprehend all that material. The Renaissance Man or Woman has been killed by a tidal wave of text and information.

With the publication of a book, there was always the possibility that someone would stumble upon it at a much future date. Publication was about social recognition and a stamp of approval from the society that there was at least some merit to the words. The pesky one and zero that digitized everything changed that – the one and the zero don’t discriminate, they accept all comers. I’m laughing a little bit this morning when I think back to the dismay I used to get walking into Barnes and Noble and wondering how even if I managed to get a copy of my book on the shelf would it ever get read, there were so many choices. I had no clue. It is a million, possibly a billion times worse than I ever imagined. (Translation technology is improving at such a rate that it is going to be easier than ever to translate books between languages, so for us English writers, the competition is about to jump by about 4-5 billion more potential authors.)

So I’ve dreamed a new dream. I haven’t always followed through on adapting to rapidly changing things, but I still have the same desire to be published, but I’m going to do it for a new digital age.

1. First I’m going to take a page out of Facebook and look for friends for my writing and friends for me. This is the replication of my own author focused friendships I’ve developed over the years.

2. I’m going take a page out of Blogger and Word Press and use the ease of publication and search to create a digital persona for myself that will hopefully stick around for awhile after I’m gone.

3. I’m going to take a page out of Google and include everything and make my digital persona searchable.

4. I’m going to take a page from the publishing industry and provide human editorial control over the content. Having everything is cool, but time consuming for a reader. Editorial control allows for different layers of friends from the mere acquaintance to the best friend that knows everything about you.

5. I’m going to take a page out of cloud computing and move my information, writing and digital persona out of my laptop and office and on to the cloud of the new Olympus, a digitally replicating and growing Colossus of new information. It is out of that Colossus’ Chaos that a new world is being created.

6. I am going to take a page out of my upbringing and look for integrity in my digital persona, so that it matches up completely with the flesh and blood version. Those who know me will wonder how this is even conceivable given the numerous facets of my identity, but I’m becoming more convinced that privacy, especially as an author, is a rapidly dying concept. Creating an integrated digital persona is the only method to eliminate privacy concerns. We are all celebrities now.

So far my new book is only six pages of infinite length or at least the length of a lifetime.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

In Memorium: Steven Bendinelli

I had a client in April of 2008 who had to file a Chapter 13 bankruptcy due to various bills that included medical bills. At the time of filing, he did have medical insurance. However, he subsequently was laid off and subjected to the horrors of COBRA and no insurance. At the age of 37, less than two years after filing bankruptcy, Steven Bendinelli passed away.

We publish the names of our terrorist victims and mourn the loss as a society. We do not mourn or publish the names in the media of those people who die because they lacked health insurance. We leave the mourning and anger to the deceased's immediate family.

I'd known Steven and his family for many years since coming to Ogden and they are great people. I have the highest regard for them. I met a friend of the family today and learned what had happened to Steven.

He had been unemployed. He had no insurance. He got a cold. He didn't want to go to the doctor because he didn't have any money and he didn't have any income. His father went to visit him and no one answered the door. The cold had progressed, possibly to pneumonia and Steven had passed away.

There remain some uncertainties about exactly how he passed away, but one thing appears to be certain-- Steven Bendinelli died because he didn't have access to health care.

Health care should not be left to markets. If it is, experience shows that the free market kills. Health care should be the concern of society as a whole. I challenge anyone to show me how any other belief is in the slightest way moral.

To Steven's family, I give my deepest regrets in their time of sorrow and my own apology, that I couldn't do more to relieve that financial pressure.

Monday, November 23, 2009

On Focus

I mentioned in my earlier post that I needed to focus.

Life tears us in numerous directions and I find myself trying to look at ten different things at once. My focus is distracted.

Monday morning is a new day at work and struggling through the day trying to solve problem after problem distracts, but doesn't focus.

Focus comes from concentration. While I have the capability to concentrate, I'm plagued by a nagging feeling that I'm focused on the wrong thing. A feeling usually described as "forgetting something."

Focus by its nature is exclusionary. You can't be focused and scattered. You can't pay attention to something else. In a writing practice, the words demand the attention. In family life, the children demand the attention. At work, the client.

Focus requires creating priorities. A requirement for obtaining and maintaining focus is creating priorities. If something comes along to distract (Internet anyone?), then you have to ignore it to maintain focus and that means you prioritize your attention.

Focus brings clarity. I focus for clarity. If you don't have focus, things are blurry. I never tire of seeing things more clearly, more precisely and more deeply.

Friday, November 20, 2009

On the Brain

I've always had an abiding curiosity for how the grey matter in my skull operates. Two recent books, Talent is Overrated and The Talent Code, deal with how humans, and brains in particular, develop talents. The current scientific consensus is that myelin is an insulating coating that covers the neurons and facilitates any human skill or activity. The more myelin in an area, the more skilled.

My curiosity into the workings of the brain has turned into something of an obsession after my oldest daughter suffered a head injury in the fall of 2005. It is hard to believe that it occurred just over four years ago. I've learned about neuroplasticity, seizure disorders and the long and short term implications of a traumatic brain injury.

The recent books on talent are just the most recent step in this exploration. How do you create myelin? How do you develop skills that you want to have or that may have been lost due to an accident in the extreme or simply through complacency?

The answer appears to have a current consensus in the scientific community that resonates with my personal experience: deliberate or focused practice creates skill. Basically, hard work. The hard work does require focus on the particular task at hand, however. Just working hard won't do it, you have to focus and learn from repeated mistakes. Without the mistakes, no myelin gets produced, you are just using an already well-paved neuronal highway.

I know my wife and children have had to put up with me deliberately practicing to be a good husband and father. I make lots of mistakes while I parent. One of the hardest skills that I struggle with is letting my children deliberately practice in their own lives. This means letting them struggle and learn through their own mistakes and that is the only way to build the myelin and build the skills that will help them when I'm not available.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

On Deliberation

I'm completely sick of the commentary that is running rampant in the news media about President Obama's deliberation on what to do in Afghanistan. When did the act of acting deliberately and with thought lose credence?

Bad things can happen if you act too quickly without considering the long term implications of your actions. The more important the decision, the more important the deliberation. If you are talking matters of life and death, deliberation becomes even more important.

Every day I talk to people who are in serious financial straits. They have agonized and suffered over what they should do until they finally feel they have no choice and they come and talk to me to see if I can help. No one looks at their own personal financial situation without a significant amount of thought and deliberation as to what they should do.

Why do so many begrudge the Commander in Chief for taking a deliberate approach to making the right decisions about whether to put soldier's lives in jeopardy.

I think there should be an addendum to all the yellow magnetic ribbons:

Sunday, November 8, 2009

On Writing, Deliberate Practice and Renaissance Excellence

I've been reading Geoff Colvin's book Talent is Overrated and I was struck by a couple of points, particularly in regards to blogging and writing. As someone who has had a lifelong ambition to write, I found Colvin's book to be both inspiring and despairing.

The one sentence summary of the book is as follows: Talent means little compared to ten years of deliberate hard practice if you want to achieve greatness.

Inspiring because it means I have to work hard -- despairing because it looks like I've got about nine years and eleven months to go on my writing goal. I went back and discovered that in the past I've done a little over 350 blog posts on various sites, not to mention comments and discussions on-line and the reams of digital paper that I've filled up on my computer.

The other inspiring aspect of Colvin's book was I realized the huge amount of room I have for progression and improvement. Much of what was suggested I already knew, but it is always nice to get a booster shot for reinforcement.

One of the least discussed aspects of blogging is the ability for blogging to act as a method for writing practice. As you can see there have only been about 17 posts on this blog, so my other posting forays have been spread out over numerous sites and different times. I'm particularly interested in developing a writing style that invokes engagement with the audience whether through duration of reading or through direct response and comments. Stat counters feed the feedback loop with their mountains of data on where the audience comes from, how long they stay and how they leave.

Given the huge amount of information and entertainment competing for our precious time, developing a writing persona and style that attracts an audience seems to be the most critical.

After reading Colvin's book I wonder if I shouldn't take my writing practice and devote it to concepts of bankruptcy and personal finance, since I've got more than ten plus years in legal practice and countless hours of talking to people about how money and debt is ravaging their lives. If nothing else, it would help my legal career -- if not my writing.

I've always wished I could be a Renaissance man with excellence brimming from everything that I touch, but the realm of knowledge has expanded so rapidly that there is no chance I'm going to be excellent in relativistic physics, quantum mechanics, molecular biology, evolutionary biology, 17th Century French Literature, 20th Century Japanese literature of Abe, Murakami and Mishima, criminal law, constitutional law, history, computer science, philosophy, politics, business management or even current events. I don't even have time to work out properly, let alone become a master of the intellectual universe. No one has that kind of time. All we are left with is varying degrees of ignorance and a fairly poor concept of epistemology. It seems at 46, going on 47, that I need to focus.

Which brings me to my lovely and beautiful wife. She has resisted Colvin's ideas as I've tried to discuss them with her. She has a strong sense of innate talent dictating how well people perform at certain tasks -- for her, painting and writing specifically, since those are her passions. I would definitely describe my wife as a talented painter and writer, but that is not what separates her from the thousands of painters and writers that are also "talented."

If Colvin's book inspired me, I've been living with an inspiration. I've never seen anyone work as hard and deliberately on writing as my wife. I'm not sure where she is on the whole ten years of hard practice before achieving world class excellence and 'overnight' success, but I can tell she is close. She has seven or eight books completed and the last one she has just finished is her best yet. I hope you all get to read Away from Eden soon and if I don't get lost in my quest for being a 21st Century Renaissance man, look for my novel in about ten years.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

The World's Best Health Care -- If You Can Make It

I was reading Nicholas Kristoff in the New York Times this morning on my Kindle (I love my Kindle by the way) and I was struck by something that really rang true for me because it mirrored what I see everyday in my office.

Kristoff wrote, "Moreover, there is one American health statistic that is strikingly above average: life expectancy for Americans who have already reached the age of 65. At that point, they can expect to live longer than the average in industrialized countries. "

Yes, America has the best health care if you can make it to age 65, you just have to hang on until retirement and then you have universal health care. As I said in my earlier post, as a bankruptcy attorney I am the current national health care plan. I realized that there was an important caveat. I don't file bankruptcy for people over 65 for medical bills -- lost income, yes, medical bills, no. This is because American citizens over the age of 65 have the best health care system in the world.

Maybe we should figure out how to extend that system to everyone else.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Some Thoughts On Health Care

I must admit that I'm frustrated by the nature of the health care debate. I have some extremely strong feelings about what should be done, but the debate slants violently toward minutiae and arguments over how each party should label the public option.

I rather enjoyed Alan Grayson on the floor of the house:

Yet, the problem with his comments were they were simply taken as partisan.

The debate has lapsed into partisan squabbling when more care should be taken at how the debate is framed. I would start any health care debate with this question:

Should people have a right to health care if they are suffering from an illness or injury?

In the law under certain circumstances, people are given the right to legal representation because our belief structure as a society requires it. Do we think that people should have the right to health care? Any discussion should begin at that point. The reason that this should be the starting point is that if the answer is "Yes" then you have to figure out how to make it happen. It is certainly ironic that as a society we feel it is imperative to provide health care to the very individuals whose actions have landed them in jail and separated themselves from free society, yet those of us who are free are given no such protection. My gut tells me that most people are decent and would not deny health care to those in need.

Everyday I see a parade of individuals brought to financial ruin by our "health care system." I see the pain and despair. I ask them to look at their bankruptcy attorney and I ask them,
"Do you know what I am?"

Inevitably the answer is "No."

I tell them, "I'm the national health care plan."

When a bankruptcy attorney is your national health care plan, something is seriously wrong with a system that should be providing necessary care to those in need.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Some Old Words

I wrote this in July of 2001, almost eight years ago. As I'm finally plugging away at my novel that has languished in my digital storage for years, I thought my old musings on digital writing and publishing were as relevant and disheartening as it was back at the turn of the millenium.

July 7, 2001
The Problems with Being a Reader/Writer in a Digital Age
The printing press isn’t that old. From a global historical perspective, Gutenburg barely got the Bible published. In 500 years, we’ve gone from typesetting to word processing. Even 20 years ago, most writers still plucked away on typewriters. I didn’t use a computer to type my school papers until law school in the mid-1980s. Now, my writing has proliferated as much as the technology. Any rant, any rave, any errant thought can be captured and held. Storage space is small for words and the editing is easy. No need to discard the old drafts or maintain stacks of paper. Old habits die hard and paper is still strewn all over my offices, but the stacks in files in my word processor alone, boggles the mind. I’ve authored thousands of pages and I have yet to fill a CD.
1. Publishing has lost its mystique.
Nothing can be as overwhelming or disconcerting as stepping into a Barnes and Noble and strolling through the mass marketed isles, understanding that on my desk at home is an even more voluminous warehouse of books on the web site, ranked, critiqued and ready for my shopping cart. The volumes, the pages, the sheer mass conjures thousands of individuals at word processors, sitting at desks, pecking or scrawling their thoughts, their stories, their recipes, their how-tos, their histories and their life stories to be processed and consumed.
The entire process seems not unlike farming. The farmer toils and produces food, growing each year out of the land, as massive machinery, picks and harvests the grain only to start the process over next year. The writers have become consumables, not unlike food. We stuff our heads and return to renew our feast another day as cranial hunger ensues. For over a hundred years, this has been done through the newspapers, mass produced, read and discarded. No lasting art from the paper. The proliferation of web zines, the ease of self-publishing with a computer and laser printer, takes the cost of publishing and puts it into the hands of those to whom it might otherwise have been inaccessible. Anyone can publish. Anyone can see their words in print.
Twenty years ago, being a published writer was a Holy Grail that at times seemed unattainable. Even now, the rejection slip stories are proliferated and propounded. The only reason people don’t get published today is if they have a rejection fetish and enjoy the rejection. The difference between being successful and making a living writing and publishing is vast.
For a case in point, I look at a poet whose workshop I attended in Salt Lake. Apparently, she is highly regarded and well thought of in academic circles. I purchased a book she had published on her philosophy of art. The thing that amazed me was the length of her personal bibliography contained in that book – 14 pages of books, essays, journal articles, published poems, video recordings, sound recordings, interviews and biographical/critical studies. She has a fourteen page bibliography and until I signed up for the workshop, I’d never even heard of her. I thought of my own bibliography – non-existent. I thought of all the writers with longer and shorter bibliographies that I’ve never even heard of or thought about.
Maybe this is where the food analogy falls apart. Books are worse than food. They may become dated, lacking those illusive literary qualities of universality and verisimilitude. Unless they are burned or the hard drive crashes or the CD scratches, the written word becomes the perpetual consumable. We can eat and eat and never be filled and the thing we consume still exists. This gives rise to the ubiquitous discount book shelf. Super Buy blue stickers. 50% Off or More. Prices as Marked. The book, having lost its economic efficiency, can still be consumed by the deal and word hungry. I used to yearn for literary recognition. Now, I yearn to one day find my book on a discount book shelf.
There are no used food stores. What happens when one consumes a book already consumed by another? My house, my office could be used book stores. I have more books than I’ll ever read that I own and I still buy more. I am not a library. I am not wealthy. I think I could start at one end of my personal library and never read it all in a lifetime. What does that mean to a writer? I’ve eve bought the books and the author may not be able to get me to read it. The task seems insurmountable – a triathalon of biking up Everest, swimming the Atlantic and running across a continent. How or why in the multitude of voices, will anyone bother to hear what I have to say? Why is what I say important in comparison to the words that have gone before me? Am I just looking for a flash, a moment in time, where for a second I become consumed, rather than ignored?
2. Too much information, so little time.
Filter. The only option at our disposal is to filter. The problem is that in this ocean of
words, to borrow a tired metaphor, the reader is adrift. My personal reading style could be described as the synchronicity of the accidental encounter. I read something. It leads me down a path. I follow it, finding others along the way. I drift, apparently baseless, reading vociferously and indiscriminately.
The great promise of the information age is that all our information will be filtered. We will receive only those items we wish to receive. We can make ourselves myopic by choice or multi-optic. I can write a piece on reading and writing in the digital age and it can be directed to those who wish to read it, by an expressed preference. If I can generate an audience, will send them an email every time I publish a new book. I can subscribe to email lists that effect my own interests. On top of the bombardment of books and paper, I receive electronic missives at a rate that could eliminate my entire need for books at all. I could simply spend my time reading what is sent to me on my computer.
The question is how do you select what you read – obviously, if you have reached this point in the article, you have read this far. Case in point – why have you chosen to read this article? The answer is complicated, but lies rooted in the answer to two deeper questions: Why do I read? and Why do I write? If this was a flow chart, these two questions could be followed back to the initial question of all questions – Why?
Certainly it may be overkill to suggest that metaphysics lies at the heart of reading a magazine article. Yet, the choice of what to do with the precious commodity of life, is inherently tied in with the desire to write. The writer realizes that the written word, if preserved (thus the appeal of the ‘published’ author), is a perpetual consumable. The perpetual motion machine of interacting in the world. Even when the machine of a body dies, the perpetual motion machine of words carries on.
The more eccentric and outrageous science fiction fantasies discuss the potential to download our thoughts and mind into the computer. We scoff. We realize the absurdity of capturing the entire consciousness in a machine – or at least the incredible complexity of such a task. Yet, I sit in my apartment on a Saturday morning, not dressed, a computer on my lap, pouring my thoughts in as fast as my fingers can act as a conduit to the screen, so that this moment or at least a portion of this moment is preserved to be consumed and consumed again by an audience. The life seems not to come from simply saving the thoughts on the hard drive, but by having that hard drive accessed by other conscious beings. My thoughts in your head give me a sense of immortality. Every writer must at some time fantasize and hope that the body of work is discovered after they are dead. I want to be discovered while I am alive. I want to connect with other human beings. This becomes the answer for me to the two questions and ultimately to the Why? question. I write to connect with other people. I read to connect with other people. I live to connect with other people.
If this is the purpose, then why not just converse? Why not just hang out with my friends and family? As a basic answer, the need to connect is broader. I need to connect with like minded souls. I need to connect on my own selfish terms. Some compulsion spurs me to create art. Art is a connection that is deeper than simply conversing. Art reaches at the deeper issues in life. Art gets into the depths that daily life seems to miss. Art speaks to a spot that seems often ignored. We have trained ourselves to see the artistic only when we are reading, looking at art, watching film or engaging in some aesthetic activity. To connect on that level, we must play on that stage. Art is a conveyor of emotion. We speak of an emotional connection, yet we experience the connection in a poetic image or a story.
3. Lack of direction in our information choices.
Where do we look for art? Academics can kill the artistic impulse. Capitalism can kill
the artistic impulse. The exceptions are obvious. Academics occasionally out of all the dryness and banality, create amazing artistic creations. Capitalism and consumerism similarly have produced out of the over-dramatized and highly sentimentalized dross, sparkling gems of artistic expression. Even in the fledgling artists and fledgling publications, much is highly lacking. and amatuerish, yet the novice creates great art. The percentages, if they were kept, I have a feeling would be remarkably consistent. The percentage of junk versus the percentage of brilliance is probably quite consistent.
To some extent, when I write, I always want to tap into the brilliance, the amazing force of creating great art. However, in a discussion of art, its purpose and the nature of being a reader and a writer, I do not intend this to be great art. I intend this to be a jumping off point for discussion, a more direct appeal to the community created by writing – to discuss and illuminate what we mean when we say we find something great. The discussion becomes critical in the sensory overload of the digital era. Time needs to be spent, simply to determine where or what is deserving of our time.
I abhor at times the pure chance system of what I read. At other times it takes me wonderful places that I would have never gone. I have become wishy washy, lacking any absolutes. I learn of history and influences and the web becomes a convoluted mixture, folding in on itself and folding out, lacking and filled at the same time. It is a very personalized mixture of knowledge and it is unique from anyone else’s.

Not much has changed, with the possiblity that things have gotten worse for the publishing industry and the choices have exploded exponentially.

Words -- it is all just words.

Sunday, January 11, 2009


I wonder, "Where is the thought?" "Where is the contemplation?"

I’ve had so many ideas, so many thoughts I wanted to write about and I’ve ended up with one sentence deletion after another. Ideas and concepts bombard me so rapidly that I don’t have time to process them or even create something meaningful out of them. So I’m attempting to create meaning out of the madness.

I look at people. I try to imagine their lives – work, eating, television, Internet, family and social connections and stress. I fail.

Last night, I attended a birthday party of one of JulieAnn’s friends from high school. It was a party, a celebration. I really didn’t know anyone there very well. All of the party accouterments were present, including a live band, shrimp and cocktail weenies (of the human and pork vanities) and rumor had it a comedian was going to come and perform later. I mourned me inability to simply relax into the frivolity. I couldn’t do it. I had nothing to say. I had nothing to contribute to the party euphoria.

This is when I lapsed into trying to figure out the people I was observing. I had the same thing happen to me the night before at an Italian restaurant, Zucca, near our house. My thoughts on the human condition intruded on my ability to enjoy the Margherita pizza, as I marveled at the sociality of my fellow humans.

I’ve never been much of a social animal, preferring to remain on the outside looking in, but I also crave to belong and be part of the crowd. I would like to be able to lose myself at a rock concert, banging my head in time with the moshing masses. I would like to immerse myself in the birthday party, dance and sing and speak of what? What were people talking about? I’m inarticulate and unable to speak the language of Party.

Music seems to be a mechanism for forming these communities and music hasn’t effected me much since my adolescence. Heavy metal gives me a little teen testosterone memory, but the music of parties baffles me – you can’t communicate over the noise. Karaoke baffles me. I can’t connect without words. The music that moves me is often in the words (ala Leonard Cohen), more than the rhythm, beat or melody. My I-pod is filled with spoken words, not music, an Apple aberration.

I want to connect to people. I want a society, a group to which I belong, but I don’t. I ache for a community like the Beats (Kerouac, Ginsberg, Corso, Snyder) or the literary cliques in Paris in the 20s (Joyce, Hemingway, Sylvia Beach’s Shakespeare & Co.) or 30s (Miller and Nin) or D.H. Lawrence, Ansel Adams and Georgia O’Keefe in New Mexico.

Technology seems to offer an opportunity for such connections, but then I go back to my gaze at the crowd at the party and at the restaurant. There is a small likelihood I’ll connect at any level with those crowds through technology. In fact sprinkling my blog post with references to Apple, Microsoft and Amazon is more likely to get me a connection that anything I might write in a blog post, but I’ll be connecting with a computer, analyzing what I write for marketing purposes.

Yet, I hope. I feel connected reading. Books have always been the connective tissue joining me to the outside world. Occasionally, I’ve had the thrill of being connected by my writing and a reader who acknowledged the connection. The connection of words is the language I understand. I don’t understand the language of rock concerts or parties. I’d rather batter an idea with someone than smack at a pinata. I struggle with the banter of social websites, but crave legitimate debate and discussion.

I’m going to go to my Facebook page now. When it asks me what I’m doing, I’m going to tell it I’m thinking.