While working on a writing project, I had to create a transcript of a 1998 interview that Charlie Rose had with Bruce Springsteen. This is an answer he gives in the 60 minute interview, about the central idea in his writing: work.
My music, because of what I wrote about, always had political implications. I suppose that came up originally out of my home life, my experience growing up, and my relationship with my father. And trying to understand the concept of work, and how work plays a central role in your life. I had two real, very different examples. My mother’s relation to work was very joyous. Very happy. It provided the entire family with stability. What she gained from it was an entire mode of behavior. You get up in the morning, at a certain time. You prepare yourself. You get yourself ready to go to a job. You walk down the street and you’re there at a particular time of the day. And you interact with your co-workers. And that’s a big part of your social life, your work life, and your place in the world. You’re doing something that has a purpose. There’s a reason you’re there besides just feeding your family. You’re a part of the social fabric. You’re what’s holding the world together. You’re what’s holding the town together, that’s holding your family together. I always remember that she walked with tremendous pride and strength, enormous strength, and it gave such great comfort, such great great comfort to a child. That makes sense. I understand that.
My dad had a different experience. Work was involved with pain. He lost his hearing when he worked in a plastics factory. Lost a lot of his hearing. He struggled to find work and go to work. The regulation of behavior that work provides wasn’t a big part of his life, and that was painful for everybody involved.
That’s essential. That’s central to the way that we live and think about ourselves, and who we are, and the place we live in. And so I saw both sides of it. I saw what happens when that’s not present there is pain, and there is anger. And deep, deep … it’s a destructive force. You wither away. You waste away. You don’t know where you’re going or who you are, and you take that out on the people that you care about. And that’s something you don’t want to do. But it happens.
So that’s what I wrote about. That was really really important. It’s the single thing that I’ve written about, my entire life, that fundamental idea. The importance of that idea in society. The cost of not providing that for … whether it’s for people to be able to take care of their families, to have productive jobs. The debasement of ourselves, in not having a society where that’s provided to all our citizens.
It all grew from there. It grew from my experience, and my trying to sort out my experience. I didn’t grow up in a political household. I didn’t have some particular ideology, or be a political person from where I came from, but I needed and wanted to write about those things because they were essential. A lot of my music has grown out of that place over the years.
I’m writing a book about being a successful adventurer (more about that in the coming weeks), based on my Appalachian Trail thru-hike 20 years ago. Part of the research has been to look back at journal entries and letters that I wrote at the time. Sometimes it’s inspiring reading, and other times sad. Here’s a few paragraphs that’s a little bit of both.
11 May 1990 — Got to get to Damascus, VA to see a doctor about a possible foot infection. I do know one thing, the foot hurts like hell and I can’t walk with a shoe on my left foot. I’ve walked a few miles (about 8-9 miles) with a flip-flop on my left foot and a boot on my right …
When I was walking yesterday and decided the pain was too much to walk with my boot on, I was seriously depressed. I knew it was more than a blister, but didn’t know what it was — except that it hurt like nothing I’ve felt on the trail.
But after putting on the flip-flop and getting over the fact that I would finish the Trail despite the problem, I felt really pumped. For a while I thought, “oh, no, this is it,” but remembered the vow I made to myself, which was that I would finish the trail no matter what — only a serious broken leg would stop me. So, remembering my personal vow got me pumped again; “I’m going to finish, even if it is with a flip-flop and a boot.”
I can’t describe how good I feel about my attitude and fortitude in the face of this situation. I will finish, not despite of the foot problem, but because of it; the problem and my adapting to the situation has given me greater powers. That’s one thing about getting depressed out here is good for — becoming stronger. No one is by your side to comfort you — unless you talk to fellow hikers — you’ve got to find a way out of the depression yourself, or else just quit. Probably three or four times I’ve been really down, then found my way out, only to become stronger. When I’m back in the real world I’ll be an animal — nothing can stop me after finishing the Trail.
After all, what’s harder than testing both mind and body seven days a week, for four and a half months? I got a ride from an older gentleman in Erwin, TN and he asked, “How’s the work going?” Nobody has ever expressed walking the Trail that way who has never walked the Trail themselves. I thought, “how’s the work going” was great, because it is work, for me at least. I like the fact that I’m working out here. Certainly I’ve never been tested as hard.
One thing I liked about wearing the flip-flop (that is, if there is anything to like about it) is that I changed to confront the challenge in front of me; the Trail wasn’t going to become any easier just because I was hurt. I had to adapt to the situation and do the best I could with limited resources. I didn’t beat the Trail, but I worked with what it gave me.
Right now I’m writing my first book that I plan on publishing for eReaders like Kindle and Nook. And it’s a lot harder than I thought. Writing isn’t the trouble — I think my writing is okay — the problem is how much I don’t know. During the writing process I discover something new every day.
Part of the process of writing, as espoused by William Zinsser in his book, Writing to Learn, is learning as we write. That even though we may know the topic, have done the research, we’re still learning as we write. We’re making connections and discovery during the act of writing.
And if you add to the mix more reading about a topic while you’re writing? It just might make you’re ear drums pop.
Given just the “known unknowns” (a favorite Rumsfeld double speak), here’s what’s missing today:
- I don’t know how to study other writers without becoming overly self critical of my work.
- I don’t know how to write powerful sentences that don’t sound like writing.
- I don’t know to physically do the job of writing. Sciatic nerve issues have been giving me a dead left leg.
- I didn’t know that self discipline wouldn’t be enough to keep me off the Internet when trying to craft sentences.
- I don’t know what I’ll write tomorrow — which is kind of scary — but I will write and it’ll be okay. There are always revisions.
What don’t you know today?
Oh, why this photo: I don’t know! I searched on Flickr for Creative Commons photos using the phrase “what I don’t know” and this photo appeared. The mysterious, confident smiles made me happy.
I’ve been working with Steve Freedman, owner of Amherst Wines & Spirits, for more than a year now. Some of the things we’ve accomplished are create a new Web site (using the content management system,Â TypoLight), set-up an email list using Mailchimp, and offer Web communication consultation.
Helping people learn new Web technologies to communicate with their customers or audience is satisfying, especially when it’s someone like Steve who’s interested in expanding his skills. I asked Steve to answer a few questions about our work Â together.
Hi, Steve. First, can you describe a bit about how Amherst Wine & Spirits was (or was not) using the Web for business, a year ago?
There was a static web site, basically just a “home page” which introduced the store. I could not put anything else on it.
We’ve been working together for a year now. What do think have been the most useful technological advances you’ve made?
The web site is a much more useful source of information than in the past. The mid-month email is terrific, resulting in more sales while also being measurable in terms of viewing. You set me up with terrific (and free) software to make this happen.
For me, one of the most satisfying aspects of working with you has been teaching you to do Web communication yourself. I get a kick out of walking into the store and hearing you tell me about the latest task you complete without a problem, whether it be updating the Web site or sending out the email newsletter. Can you describe a little bit about this experience from your perspective?
Computer stuff does not come easily to me. You have been patient in teaching me how to dramatically improve my electronic newsletter as well as uploading content to my web site. It has not been without incident – sometimes I trip up – but now I can usually do all the things I consider important by myself. I’m most comfortable when I do not need to depend on someone else to do my web stuff for me, and you have helped to get me there.
So, Steve, in terms of Web communication with your customers, do you have anything new planned for the new year? Can you share any plans Amherst Wines might have?
My next project will be uploading graphic material – photos and wine labels I can get from the web – to my web site and online newsletter.
I‘m sure you’ve heard of Hugh Hefner. And you might have even heard of Jason Kottke, who’s been blogging since pretty much the beginning of blogging in 1998. Did you know that Hefner and Kottke have something in common? (This is totally safe for work, trust me.)
I’ve been reading Jason Kottke’s blog since 2000. It’s evolved quite a bit since then, but in a certain respect I’ve always thought of his blog as a scrapbook of a mans’ walk through culture, which reflects his tastes, values, and passions. Most of the blog is not about Jason’s life — especially the posts from the last few years — though what he publishes is a personal editorial decision, so I think we can assume that those decisions say something about him.
That’s why I think Kottke.org is certainly a scrapbook (of a sort) that chronicles Jason’s experience with “the liberal arts,” as much as it is about the liberal arts themselves. After all, the blog is not comprehensive of the liberal arts; it’s representative of the liberal arts Jason finds compelling. If you read through Jason’s interviews (links below), Jason says that he tries not personally editorialize or advocate for certain points of view on his blog — he wants to be “neutral” — but by curating the content, he is expressing his interests in his scrapbook.
I would love to know what’s going to happen to Hugh Hefner’s scrapbook after he passes. Have you heard of this thing? Hefner has amassed about 2,000 volumes, dating back to high school, into a scrapbook of his life. Of course, his life really hasn’t been his life for some time; in part, because of his chosen profession, his life is a history of post-1950s censorship battles, socio-sexual developments, and race relations. Through the 1960s and 70s, Hefner and Playboy were part of (Hefner might say center to) a conversation about morality and sexuality in the United States.
Here’s one example of how the Hefner scrapbook is more than a personal journal. In an interview with Brigitte Berman, director of the documentaryÂ Hugh Hefner: Playboy, Activist and Rebel, she relates one thing she found surprising in the scrapbook:
So Hef’s into scrapbooking?
He still does them. One of things I loved was the one about the Big Bunny–the big personal plane he has with the bunny logo on the tail. Hollywood friends asked him if they could use the Big Bunny to rescue Vietnamese orphans during the war.There are these incredible photographs of the bunny girls caring for these orphans on the plane.
The scrapbook has been a passion for Hefner since before World War II (even using Twitter updates here and here to let us know when he’s working on it), and I think because of that the scrapbook will be made public after he’s finished working on it (the day he dies, I would imagine). It’ll probably be given to a library or other public archive, and probably digitized for researchers.
That’s the key difference between the Kottke and Hefner project: one is readily public, the other is not (though Hefner has given access to researchers and filmmakers in the past). Despite this, I think they’re both scrapbookers at heart, collecting their interests and passions into compendium of entries. Both reflect their life experiences. Kottke is pointing us towards things that might interest us now; Hefner is collecting points in history that will interest us later.
- Interview with Jason Kottke on Think Big
- Interview with Jason Kottke by Rebecca Blood
- Interview with Jason Kottke on Spark (CBC Radio)
- William F Buckley interviews Hugh Hefner in 1966 (part 1 and part 2)
Watching 60 Minutes last night, the first story was a report from Haiti. The people who’ve responded to this disaster are steely eyed; considering the scale of devastation, the doctors wanted to only put their heads down and work.
One bit of the story, that a doctor wanted the reporter to see, was how dead bodies were being gathered with a bucket loader, and dumped into a truck that was being brought to a mass grave. Grizzly stuff.
It struck me then: would the people of the United States be able to stomach seeing piles of people, like garbage at dump, gathered up using construction equipment? It must be a tough job, having to drive that bucket loader around, picking up your countrymen.
It’s not like the Haitians and rescue workers want to treat human remains like this; because of public health concerns, there’s not much choice. They can’t leave rotting bodies in the open, and there aren’t people available to individually identify remains and burry them. For the sake of the health of the survivors, the diseased remains need to be disposed of.
What’s your thought? After a disaster like in Haiti, could you watch your neighbors being picket up and disposed of with construction equipment?
Have you noticed that if you show a bit of aptitude at either web design or computers in general, most people will just assume that you’re on call 24/7 for every one of their questions? These people never take into consideration whether you might actually like to get compensated for your work, even if it’s just through barter or trade. Lately I’m feeling like an ATM machine, I get so many withdrawals but very few deposits.
This morning I received an email from someone I hardly know asking how to rid of his computer of virus’. I wanted to tell him to first drop the computer on his foot, break the foot, get the insurance money, PAY ME, then I’ll tell you what to do!
There are hundreds of articles like “how to get people to work for free“, but hell, somebody give me advice on how to stop this!! Everybody is looking for computer and design labor, and there are trains full of people who are skinflints, but nobody with 2 nickles to pay my fee!
Pay the monkey! Pay the monkey! He’ll dance all night long!
UPDATE:Â Another thing that’s astonishing are the number of people who ask you for free help or advice, then never say “thank you”.Â That’s happened three times just this week . Are you telling me that in addition to not paying me, you’re going to be rude to me?
MORE UPDATES: Why would anybody send me a link in an email with no explanation? I thought the purpose of the link was to trigger action on my part (more free labor, of course), but it wasn’t. It was only a friendly email to make me aware of a flash mp3 player that I’ve known about for two years. Here’s a good rule the thumb: unless it’s some particularly tasty, free porn, do. not. ever. send me a link without explanation.