Monday, September 7, 2015

And Now What Happens Next...

I hit this blog so infrequently these days that I'm a bit ashamed. I do love to write, and here's my personal outlet, but as most of you know, I'm writing a book, and after a few concentrated hours doing that, well, I don't want to write anything.

However two weeks ago, I surprised myself by finishing the first draft. What that means, for those of you who don't have the exquisite joy of making the world's largest jigsaw puzzle out of the world's tiniest pieces (which is an apt way to describe the finding and stringing together all these facts) is that, to employ yet another metaphor, I've built the house, know where all the rooms went and built them there, the floors and ceilings are done, but now I need to do some decoration and landscaping so someone will want to live there. Ideally, this book will be both filled with facts and as readable as a novel. I have models for this but I'm loath to name them because I'm sure that I'll fall far short of them. But you will enjoy it.

It was an odd experience. There was a point when everything I was doing changed and I got a lot more into each chapter, and more entertainingly, than I had before. One of the things I have to do now is to go back to the beginning and start working with that mindset, as well as attending to this list of omissions and elisions: can you believe I neglected to mention Wanda Jackson? Neither can I. Please, nobody tell her; I'll make it good in the rewrite.

It also took nearly a year, a year of waking up, eating breakfast, drinking coffee while reading the news and the Well, and then attacking the stack of books, CD booklets, charts, and miscellanea, sometimes consulting three of them so I could write four words. I'd write for between 60 and 90 minutes most days, checking yesterday's work as a way of getting ready for today's, hoping that the opening I'd given myself to hint at the next bit of the narrative was sufficient to keep it going. At night, I'd read books related to the work, some excellent (Elijah Wald's Dylan Goes Electric!), some dull, and at least one, an authorized biography of Jerry Lee Lewis, disgraceful. Once a week, if I could, I'd take a day off and take care of errands, swabbing the decks, changing the oil, or just plain doing nothing. The only other interruption to the routine was having to do a couple of Fresh Air pieces, both writing and recording them. The recording day would be a day off, since it was usually around noon and on the UT campus. But most of the rest of the time I was writing.

And, as such a routine usually does, it brought me to the end of the first bit of the labor. But I'm not quite ready to get to the second part because my brain's filled up with what went before. So tomorrow morning I'm going to get into my car and start driving. My goal is Clovis, New Mexico, best known as the headquarters of Nor-Va-Jak Studios, Norman Petty's recording operation, where a generation of Panhandle stars -- Buddy Holly most notably -- recorded. The next morning I'll drive a few more hours and be in Santa Fe, staying until I've checked out the Saturday morning farmers' market, and then turning around and arriving back here in Austin on Sunday. I will do nothing music-related, and try to wipe my brain clear so that when I look at what I've accomplished so far next Tuesday morning, I'll be able to get to work with the concentration and energy I've had over the last year. After that, I hope, I'll hand it in and pray that the publisher likes it. I think they will. You will, too.

* * *

Meanwhile, I seem to have lived through my second summer in the new Austin without killing anyone, although there were times I was sorely tempted, and times I was the one in danger: people who drive those behemoth truck/car monsters don't seem much interested in other drivers, and had I been T-boned by the Volvo SUV going 40 mph in the supermarket parking lot the other day, I wouldn't be typing this. Or I wouldn't be driving to Santa Fe because I wouldn't have a car. 

The worst fatalities of the summer here were all plants: that happy picture of green sprouts emerging from the potting soil on my deck didn't last long. More rain came and one day -- really: it all happened on one day -- they all wilted, turned brown, and died. The basil and oregano followed shortly thereafter. That relentless heat isn't so good for plants, nor is the huge amount of rain we experienced anything their DNA is programmed to respond to. I'll try again, although with the chiles or not I can't say, when I get back. The forecast is for cooler temperatures. 

But if the plant life suffered, the animal life did not. Most spectacularly, a very large toad began to guard my back door at night, positioning himself under the light so that handy snacks came his way without his having to exert much effort. 

The Guardian
It's hard to assess scale on a picture like this, but he's about the size of a softball. He enlists a couple of underlings in his dinner party, too: there's a very small gecko who hangs around and doubtless knocks bugs off the wall, and a fast brown anole who does likewise. When I find a tree roach in the house, I go all curling and start sweeping it towards one of the doors. The back door critters get the ones that I throw out from there, although I have no idea if toads eat tree roaches. 

Out the front door are more critters: another brown anole lives by the front door, sort of under the jamb, and I was shocked, surprised, and very happy to welcome a new critter I'd never seen before living on the tree out there: an arboreal Texas Spiny Lizard, a full foot long. 

Photo from Wikipedia. My guy won't stand sill long enough to photograph.
It's pretty wonderful knowing that these -- and, no doubt, other -- critters are out there in the yard, and I purposely didn't have the back yard mowed this summer, because I know that the low ground cover gives habitat not only to these lizards, but to a wide variety of insects that serve as food for them and the birds who visit the yard. Since what I do is sit at this desk and look out at them, it's ensuring myself the free entertainment that comes with the house. And something new I've noticed has been that every now and again a bright green feather falls from the sky. I've been told there are flocks of monk parrots in Austin but that they tend to be so high in the trees one rarely sees them. I'd like to have one of those rare moments because besides liking lizards, I'm a big psittacophile, and sort of like being dive-bombed by the parrot mobs in Barcelona. Those aren't as shy as these here are: they're very visible, and very in your face. 

* * *

In other news, I went to get my blood pressure medications renewed last week and was asked to submit to another blood test because my lipids were "high." I was actually glad to get in to see the doctor because she was leaving on vacation on Monday for a week, so she wasn't around when the chirpy receptionist called me on Monday and said I'd been "diagnosed with diabetes," that I'd have to make lifestyle and diet changes and I should "look up diabetes diet on the Internet." This, I suppose, is how medicine is done in the U.S., and a major reason why I'd rather be elsewhere for medical emergencies: my doctors in Berlin and Montpellier would be livid at such casual, off-hand treatment of a patient. 

So I got yet another pill to take twice daily, and I gather I should cut back on my carbohydrates, but I have so little data to go on that I have no idea if I'm pre-diabetic (as are many people my age) or in full-blown diabetes, where bread is death and so is pasta. I suspect the former, and I intend to get some straight facts and figures before I do anything too radical. And yes, I'd love to exercise, which really wasn't an issue in Europe, since one had to walk places to get things, and, in France, when I realized I'd reached the end of my working day, I'd often just go out and start walking around town. I also had two mile-long hikes per week when I went to the market, and walked to the supermarket every day. You take your life in your hands here, though, where there are no sidewalks and the automotive giants careen down small roads in defiance of the speed limit. Also, years ago, I was warned never to exercise when the temperature was over 91º F (just over 32º C) because it could cause heart damage. I suppose when it cools down a bit I'll drive myself over to the Greenbelt or other appropriate area and find a walking circuit I can take, but the absurdity of driving myself to and from exercise isn't lost on me. But I do like walking: going over the same walk day after day keeps your powers of observation sharp, and so it's good for my business. Among other things. 

* * *

I'm still ambivalent about having made this return to the U.S., and now that the media's ginned up the Presidential horserace again, even more so. There's a part of me that doesn't want to know that people like Mike Huckabee and Ted Cruz and the like exist, let alone have people who follow them and believe what they believe. The plutocrats in the extractive industries are trying to buy the election (and may well succeed thanks to low-information voters and the general depressed intellectual level of the electorate), and what damage they aren't doing is being done by Our Digital Overlords and the so-called "sharing economy," which looks like serfdom to me. A few weeks ago, the New York Times ran a review of a gallery show of political posters, and this was one of the featured images:

This is dated 1935, and, although it doesn't mention some of the of the issues of our moment (I think the 5-day week woman is meant to be black, so she sort of counts), like police militarization, women's heath care, and minorities being stripped of their voting rights, it's breathtaking to see how many of these issues have been nearly eroded away (right to organize, collective bargaining) or are under assault (Social Security) or whose abolition is seriously being discussed (child labor, higher wages, which at the moment means raising the minimum). 80 years, and the battles won and then the victory snatched away. 

Fortunately, the discussion of democratic socialism has entered the picture, and the media ignoring Bernie Sanders to the extent it does is helping that discussion spread. I don't expect to see it instituted in this country in my lifetime, or, really, ever, but if you'd like to get informed so you can contribute to the conversation I recommend the late Tony Judt's Ill Fares The Land, which my friend Nikki was handing out like candy at Halloween a couple of years ago, and which shows the positives and negatives of the American and European approaches. I realize that most Americans aren't interested in how they do things elsewhere, or else we'd have had functioning health care before I turned ten, but there are a few, and a lot of them read this blog. 

So happy Labor Day, even if the idiocracy is trying to tell us this is yet another military holiday or it should be abolished in favor of a holiday on 9/11 -- or even though the rest of the world celebrates it on May 1. Stay strong, I'll try to do the same, and maybe we'll have tiny victories to celebrate in the near future. 


  1. ed,
    lovely to read what you are up to. keep it up. and your doctor is usless.
    just read about the new "van zandt" hotel in Austin. I think I have finally hit that never go back to Austin wall.
    love dawn

  2. I'm looking forward to my signed copy, Ed (I'll pay, don't worry). Great to read something from you after all this time.

  3. Glad to finally see a new post from you and to hear how far you've come with the book. I can really relate to your attitude toward the new Austin and to the US medical business. I recently had an Austin pizza delivery driver brag to me that he had hit a University of Texas student with his vehicle. When the student rightly berated the driver for not watching where he was going, the (Donald Trump-like) driver said, "You weigh 125 pounds and I (meaning his vehicle) weight 2000! You're the one who needs to watch where you're going!" The fact that he said this with pride somehow sums up how horrible Americans have become. He even mocked the student's injury, which he claimed was faked.

  4. I don't go to Austin for "the city". I go for the music, both to give and receive.

    Marvelous post, Ed, thanks. So much good stuff in one package!

  5. Congrats on your completed first draft. Living in downtown Austin (W7th & San Antonio) I get the sense that the action has cooled down in the last 2 years. For example, the Belmont scene apparently has vanished. There is a very good novel, Mule, by Tony d'Sousa (with a weak ending though) set in Austin in 2008. Attendance at SXSW this year (March) was way down the last 2 years compared to the recent past.


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