February 17: Busy, like the old days

Today was busy like the old days. Things rapidly came together with a new client and I had to do a phone interview and write a follow-up memo. It doesn’t sound very time consuming (it is). It also doesn’t sound especially interesting but, again, it is. Many of our clients are desperately ill. I describe myself as the tip of the arrow since I’m often the first one to really get to know a new client and their history, as well as their family.

Much of what I do is about sizing up the client in a lot of different ways. Sometimes, as it was today, it’s about getting a sense of the client’s vitality, especially his memory and mental sharpness. The client has faced a terminal diagnosis and has undergone a very risky surgical procedure with chemotherapy to follow. It is not an easy time in the life of the client or the family. The first time I spoke to this client (after his diagnosis but before his surgery) he sounded fantastic. Rather than sounding anything like a typical 80 year old he sounded 60…maybe even younger. I knew that 4 weeks after his surgery he would sound like a completely different person, and he did. But, he’s a tough guy and shows no inclination to going gentle in to this or any good night. He’s an easy guy to root for.

Recapitulating a long phone call like that is tricky. It’s a memo that’s likely to be read in haste even though it was written with great care. That’s just the way things work in this business; the best of efforts are not always appreciated for what they are, yet it’s still critical that one’s best effort is put forward. This being anything but my first rodeo, I am Ok with all of that. I sleep well knowing we’re on the right side of the cases we pursue and that there’s not a long line of people who can do what I do in quite the way I do it. All of my work today was done in no more than 3 hours but it felt much longer and took a good deal of starch out of me. There’s no getting used to speaking to the very ill shortly after a diagnosis. Feeling like an interloper or an opportunist is easy. Finding a way to always be regarded as a positive force during a very negative time for both the client and the family is an art. I’m not perfect at it, but I’m better than most, or at least I think I am.

I’ve been warned about leaving out the writing soundtrack in my posts. Sometimes I need a soundtrack but occasionally all I can stand are the clicking sound of my laptop’s keys. There’s no real formula to it though I have to say I have a much lower tolerance to audible distractions than I used to. Anyway, tonight’s soundtrack is drowning out the keyboard clicks and that’s a good thing. I’m listening to Empty Hearted Town from Warren Zevon’s posthumous (2007) record, Preludes: Rare and Unreleased Recordings. There are 16 tracks here. Some are a marginal versions of marginal songs but the track I mentioned and Tule’s Blues and Studebaker, among a handful of others, make the collection more than worthwhile. Anyway, thanks for listening.

February 17: Busy, like the old days

January 24: A little COVID in the family

I was surprised to learn that one of my siblings managed to get COVID. It was the second incident for that branch of the family. An earlier incident ended up costing a family elder his life.


Most distressing, for me anyway, was the motivating event; a college football game. I can’t be bothered to watch college football on TV so the idea of getting on a plane and flying to a reddish state and then going to a mask-free, virus-friendly bash at a hotel bar strikes me as more than a little reckless, especially considering my sibling and significant other don’t even drink.

It’s all about COVID fatigue, I suppose, but it still strikes me as immensely foolish. And, if I were one or both of the children of my sibling I would be ashamed to have been involved in exposing my parents to such a threat.

I think the root of the behavior is attributable to two things. The first, as I mentioned, is the COVID fatigue that we’re all suffering from. The second must be a belief that an infection suffered by a healthy, double-vaxed and boosted adult probably wouldn’t be too bad. And, mercifully, it wasn’t. But, it could have been.

Yesterday I mentioned that we went to a concert last Saturday night. It was a public event and it was indoors so the threat of COVID was not zero. That said, the staff at the venue not only checked identification and vaccination status but they also made sure all attendees were wearing N95 masks. If an audience member wasn’t, they were given one to wear. In all, the concert felt as safe as the walk to and from the venue. I hope that it was.

My sibling who got COVID was quick to tell me about needing to get back to living and to enjoying life. Also mentioned was the fact that the trip offered the opportunity to spend two extra days with an adult child. But, something about that line of reasoning struck me as more than a little off. The luxury of going to a football game in another state was suddenly put (conversationally) onto the back burner but I’m not at all sure it started out there. Had the real motivation been to visit their child they certainly could have done so with the hotel bash or being two of the tens of thousands in attendance at the enclosed football stadium.

Look, I was among those who questioned the authority of the city, state and county and government generally to limit access to religious services. And, I wondered about mask mandates, especially among the fully vaccinated. But, that said, I have tried hard not to be foolish. My sibling spoke of a kind of fatalism but what if my sibling and significant other were among the 30% who are asymptomatic? Their decision could have easily ended up putting other people they know and care about in harm’s way.

I simply cannot understand a mindset that would willingly and needlessly endanger the life of a stranger, let alone a loved one. And, if it’s a question of enjoying life, I already do. No once-in-a-century pandemic is going to take that away from me. So, this whole family misadventure is troubling and more than a little sad for me. I, like all of us, wish for better days and I trust for the ability to make good decisions while we endure the challenges of the days we’re living.

It’s not always going to be easy but I think it’s worth the effort.

Tonight’s writing soundtrack is Blue Moon Night from Eliza Gilkyson’s 2011 record, Roses at the End of Time. I took me a very long time to find Gilkyson but I’m glad that I finally did. She is one of the very finest singer / songwriter’s of the folk genre I’ve heard. Her songs go way beyond folk, though, and I’ve had fun listening to records like this from 2011 and even things from way back in the 90s. It’s interesting to hear her evolution as a singer and writer of songs. But, through all the years her work shows a rare kind of warmth, humor and musicality.

Thanks, as always, for reading.

January 24: A little COVID in the family

January 14: Talk about coincidences

Yesterday I got this comment on my blog:

“Hi Paul…… I certainly have fond memories of when we worked together with Roger M. While I find your daily invasions annoying… I can’t stop …your writing is addictive…you have turned me onto a few great artists as well… All the best my friend!”

The writer was a friend and business associate of mine from way back when. How far is way back? I’m pretty sure the last time we were in the same room year year began with the number 19.

Yup, way back when.

Bobby was in town, after CES I think, and we went out to share a couple cocktails after dinner since he was staying somewhere in Pasadena. At some point he made a comment about how little green there was in SoCal. Having spent my share of time in the midwest and a little on the east coast I knew he was right. But still, what he said took me back a little. Not enough green?

Winter is not exactly SoCal’s colorful season. A few weeks or so from now this canyon may have some color to it, if we luck out with rainfall. It was a fascinating coincidence for me to hike this gray canyon the same day that I heard from Bobby and recalled his comment about our lack of green.

Even in relatively wet years the green comes quickly and leaves even faster. It’s just something we get used to. Who knows? Maybe we treasure the little bits of green we get all the more?

I can remember being on this fire road only a few weeks earlier. The short season grasses were as green as rye and flooded onto the fire road itself. By late February, when this photo was taken, those grasses were already well into retreat. At least the oak leaves bring a little green to the scene.

We’re off to Sacramento this weekend. I think they’ve been getting some rain and I know the Sierra snowpack is off to a good start. Still, I’m not looking forward to seeing much in the way of green.

Maybe someday I’ll get back to upstate New York and Bobby can show me what green really looks like. I would enjoy that but mostly I would enjoy the chance to spend time with him. I miss Bobby and all the other good guys from the high end game. Those were interesting days and the good guys, like Bobby, were some of the best guys ever.

By the way, even though I’m on vacation for a few days, the blog is not. I’ll be writing on my iPhone (always a joy) so my posts won’t be long but since there are 365 days this year I’m writing 365 posts.

Plus, how could I miss out on a chance to annoy an old friend?

Wait, I almost forgot about today’s writing soundtrack. It’s the 2020 release of Brian & Roger Eno’s Mixing Colours. It’s gratifying that folks like the Eno brothers can still create this kind of atmospheric music with such freshness and style after all these years.

January 14: Talk about coincidences

January 10: The reward for writing a novel

Oh sure, you might get rich. You may be another Stephen King or J.K. Rowling but before you are you will to do some of the most hateful work imaginable, and I don’t mean you’ll write your novel.

No, you will edit and proof your novel and you will hate the process, as we all do.

Today I excised 49 scene headings. While I did I made sure their removal didn’t make the overall line flow get screwy. It did in many instances but overall the process was less onerous than I anticipated. And, less onerous is always a big win when it comes to this kind of thing.

My next task was to create the front matter. This was relatively painless since I have decided not to have a foreword and a dedication in Cottonwood…just more stuff to write and edit, don’t you know. Really, though, I simply don’t have anyone in mind for the dedications beyond myself for being silly enough to launch into this book so soon after my first novel was up for sale. Those 49 scene heading were used to help me stay aware of where I was in the book relative to its sequencing and also when it came to editing and being aware of my proximity to other elements of the plot. They were replaced by four sections entitled I Spring, II Summer, III Fall & IV Winter. I can’t really tell you why other than the nature of the story causes it to move through the four seasons almost exactly. That was not by design, but it works or at least I think it does.

The only lesson here is to plan as much as possible and then be willing to abandon your plans as your book demands. The moment you worship the what you plan to do it over what the story and your characters need all of you are doomed. Plan away, by all means. Figure out systems that make your project make sense and seem manageable. Just be ready to be flexible because you surely will have to be if your loyalty remains where it belongs.

Today and tonight’s writing soundtrack is Olivia Chaney’s The Longest River from 2015. You’ll note the last two evenings have found me listening to two vocalists, last night Tim Curry and Chaney tonight. I can explain it like this. I wasn’t really writing yesterday or today. I was editing and that process seems to shift my brain’s gears in a way that makes it possible to divide my attention to the words Chaney sings in Loose Change without losing my sense of what I’m trying to accomplish. Also, vocals do their part to keep me company while I’me doing something that’s even more lonely than writing creatively. Anyway, Chaney has a lovely voice and the arrangements are very elegant. Some of the tracks on The Longest River are among the most beautiful I’ve ever heard.

Thanks for reading. See you tomorrow.

January 10: The reward for writing a novel

January 9: Booing the tenor

I read an interview of Pavarotti many years ago. In it, he told stories of his youth in Modena. One of the best was about the joy he got from sitting in the back row of the opera house just for the opportunity to boo the tenor. He said it didn’t matter whether the tenor was any good or not he and his friends simply liked booing him.

It’s a little strange but not all that unexpected. The tenor is the hero of every opera so how could a budding star like Pavarotti resist the urge to take the guy down a notch? Apparently, he couldn’t. Me? I try to resist the temptation to take anyone down just for the warped joy of doing it. I keep the words of one of my own heroes taped to the side of my monitor.

Teddy Roosevelt said, “It’s not the critic who counts…”

So, I do try to refrain from criticism for the sake of criticism. When I do criticize I hope I do it in the process of learning from what I regard as the mistakes of another. The Power of the Dog was an interesting movie to watch so I admit to a discomfiture at what is fundamentally a western being directed by a Kiwi. Worse, while the story was set in Montana the movie didn’t appear to be shot there. If it was, the director made it appear that it was shot somewhere else.


What got me about the movie, and even later when I read the book by Thomas Savage, was how I was left feeling a little bit empty. There is simply too little of the malevolent brother Phil Burbank for the audience (and the reader) to chew on. You sat there hoping, yearning almost, to learn why he was the way he was but you never have the chance to find out.

In The Lost Daughter we are again left to bathe in tepid waters of ambiguity. Why is Leda such a bad mother? What is the foundation of her self-professed selfishness? Why, in the end, does she make the ostensibly bad family seem not so bad especially compared to her? What drove her to become who she was? Of course, some might thinks that ambiguity is a kind of freedom that’s bestowed on a thoughtful and imaginative audience, but I’m not so sure. If I have the time I may be moved to read the novel by Elena Ferrante. It’s hard to imagine writing such a potentially interesting character in a way that ends up blanching away the intrigue the character could bring to an audience. That’s why I want to read the book. Quite simply, novelists have time to make their case at their leisure. That’s a luxury few directors enjoy. Still, I’m left with the feeling Maggie Gyllenhaal could have gone on shooting and cutting forever and still never gotten to the essence of the story or its characters. If she failed where the author of the book succeeded another director should have been entrusted to the task of bringing the book to the screen. Too bad you can only watch the movies they made rather than the ones they didn’t.

It is, again, 11:48 and I still suck at getting my journal done during the day.

You’re forgiven for having never heard of tonight’s writing soundtrack. It’s Tim Curry’s 1978 Read My Lips. I gave up on finding a decent replacement LP since I tend to recall it was a lousy pressing anyway. The record finally got remastered and reissued and Amazon has it (like they have everything else). Let’s just say that it’s stylistically diverse and that Curry has a very interesting way with a song. I liked it in 1978 and I still like it today. I believe it was the last LP I ever bought from the long-gone but not forgotten Adam’s Apple in downtown Van Nuys.

January 9: Booing the tenor