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Tuesday, Mar. 8, 2005 - 1:04 a.m.

A personal rededication

Wow. I've been negligent lately. Two weeks! That may be a record. I didn't realize it was that long. It's been a slew of things, various other endeavors and projects that have taken up my time and, on some occassions, sapped my will to sit down and write out a well-crafted, glorious piece of prose. I didn't want to post for posting's sake, to throw something up and then try to come back to it. But with the Xbox and the TV and the other web surfing and DVDs taking up my time, I just couldn't get myself into a zone to sit down and devote myself to writing.

It's a shame, too, because it's something I love to do. I love it as much if not more than the diversions that have been pulling me away. But my level of interest in my pastimes fluctuates. In organizing some photos yesterday, I realized that I barely shot anything with my film SLR from August to January. Then I went nuts in Central Park and shot about 10 rolls' worth of film and digital shots. So it's the writing that took a back seat for a while.

On Wednesday, I was inspired to come back strong, but then Thursday got away from me. It was Wednesday that Casey and I went to Lincoln Center for the American Songbook series. Our program was entitled "McSweeney's vs. They Might Be Giants," featuring three writers reading their works and the Brooklyn-based band performing in between and in one case, during the recitations. It was a jazzed up 21st Century poetry slam.

The venue was the Allen Room at the Jazz at Lincoln Center facility, which, to paraphrase the night's M.C., has encroached upon the beautiful shopping mall of the Time Warner Center. (I am not the only one who failed to catch his name.) But the Allen Room offers what must be the best view of any public space that no one knows about in the city.

Floor-to-ceiling windows that must have risen 30 feet formed the backdrop behind the stage, an animated curtain providing an accent to the words and music that filled the room during the performance. Those seated in the center must have had a view straight down 59th St., the red tail lights receding down the right side of the street, heading toward the bridge at the East River; the white headlights advancing on the left. Closer to us, in the foreground, the road split at Columbus Circle, the headlights of the oncoming cars veering off to the right to head north up Central Park West or curving around the circle to head downtown. From where I sat, the white lights of cars I could no longer see, those nearly directly below us, danced on the windows, arcing as if fireflies flitting about on a summer night, disappearing behind the backs of the speakers as they stood at the podium.

The lineup of storytellers was arranged as I might have set it were it my decision. Following introductions and opening comments, They Might Be Giants led off with "Bangs," followed by David Rakoff pinch hitting in place of Dave Eggers a last-minute cancellation with a story about a Buddhist retreat led by Steven Segal. The band returned to play in Ben Karlin, a producer and lead writer on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, with the program's theme music. Karlin read from his journal entries from the past 14 months, bringing Stephen Colbert out to help with a reading from America: The Book. Ben's entries were both funny and reflective, many commenting on the political scene as the dates drew closer to election day last November. They were essays in themselves, something I try to do every now and then with this journal something I've gotten away from but, as I said, am trying to rekindle, starting now.

The last reader was Sarah Vowell, who read her brilliantly entertaining and educational piece on the history of "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" (Sarah's segment is Act Two, beginning at the 21:56 mark with Ira Glass' introduction). Last week, it was John and John of TMBG who provided the initial renderings of "The Battle Hymn of the Republic," and the Julliard Choral Union offering the full-on arrangements.

I haven't searched yet for any interviews or discussions in which she explains the genesis of the essay, but I can imagine it might have started simply while watching the memorial service from the National Cathedral from her New York City home on September 14, 2001. I love that that a story both poignant and amusing can begin with a brief thought stemming from one solitary moment within a grander presentation. It may be that the birth of this piece is not at all like that; maybe Sarah had been mulling it in one form or another for months. But every great work of art, particularly literary, begins with a single thought and grows from there.

It was the writing of Ben and Sarah, in particular, that inspired me, that gave me that familiar feeling not felt in quite some time of wishing desperately that I had been the one to write what I've just heard. Not until later, when TMBG returned, did I become contemplative. Watching John Linnell grinning behind the microphone as he sang the lyrics of one utterly ridiculous song or another either "Older" or perhaps "Birdhouse In Your Soul" I was struck by just how much he was clearly enjoying himself. Everyone who appeared on stage that night the writers, the musicians was there because he or she had found a way to truly love what they do. This is the good life. There are so many ways to make a living that more of us should be doing what makes us happy, what makes us want to get up in the morning and start the day, to work. We should work to live, not live to work.

I wish I were the kind of person who could have faith in his abilities Wait, that's not accurate. Have blind faith in his abilities, have confidence in self-motivation, to be able to leave what I'm doing now and make a living writing the way I want to, about the things that matter to me, that I truly care about doing what I want to do. But it's not just me now, which is great, and I like the things I have and I'm able to get and to do with the money I earn from the job I do have. I like going out to dinners or ordering lunch at the office; I like spending money on Xbox games or cable TV or DVDs or nine rolls of film of orange gates.

Someday, I truly believe, I will be able to do that. I will have a job in which I can call myself a writer more than an editor. Perhaps that's why I'm not in a terrible rush or feeling a crushing panic that I have to do something about it now. That may be a passive, lazy way of attaining one's goal, but my hesitation is not unlike that which stems from the fear of diving into the river without knowing just how deep it is or whether there's a rock four feet below the surface.

I'll take it step-by-step then, keeping my eyes open for a new opportunity and continuing with those that have come up in recent weeks, the other projects that have arisen in the blogosphere and the world of fantasy baseball. And I'll try to look at my daily life more in the way that I suppose Ben Karlin and Sarah Vowell view their own surroundings with the idea that a new joke or story may one day develop from just about anything that passes through our mind throughout the day.

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