Category: Technology

Paper Trails

A few days ago Harper Collins published an anthology of The Doors frontman Jim Morrison’s writing. The bulk of this near 600 page tome of poetry, lyrics, transcripts and more comes from the 28 (now privately held) notebooks Jim left behind after his death. Imagine if Jim instead saved his work on a computer and no one could access it because they didn’t know the password or the hard drive crashed. Paper can burn but it can’t crash.

Some time ago two universities in Texas, Texas State and Uni of Texas at Austin, acquired the papers of my two favourite novelists Cormac McCarthy and Don DeLillo. McCarthy’s papers amount to 96 boxes and DeLillo’s 157 boxes. I was curious how either man was convinced to part with their work but then I thought if a university asked me if they could collect my work for preservation and research I would probably oblige. Maybe they would take better care of those papers and notebooks than me?

So what kind of trail am I leaving? I backup my work on clouds but how secure are they? I also think perhaps the more my work stays in the disembodied realm of a computer the more, in a sense, the trail becomes lost to me.

Next time I’ll think twice before I feed the paper shredder.


A couple of years ago I bought a used copy of Masaoka Shiki’s selected poems from Amazon and found a dedication on the front page in pen to a previous owner. In pen. At first I was annoyed because, according to Amazon’s standards, the book was in ‘very good’ condition but I think what really irked me was that the book didn’t feel like my own any more even though I bought it used. As long as there are no traces of their passage I can ignore that other people have owned the book, but once I spot something I can’t erase (like an asterisk in pen) I feel it spoils the book, though not necessarily the knowledge within.

I can’t bring myself to scribble or doodle in a book (even lightly with a pencil) and I guess that’s because the perfection of the book is somehow more important to me than my potential learning. I remember I once owned a hardback copy of Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations by Loeb Classical Library. It was a beautiful book. One day I got a smudge on one of the pages and, to this day, it still bothers me. Yet I also own What Do You Say After You Say Hello? by the late psychiatrist Eric Berne and that copy is dog-eared, underlined and falling apart. But I’m not bothered, and I think that’s because it’s a mass market paperback. Ew.

My argument for not writing in books is that I could change my mind and, if I do, then I’ve got to rub it all out. But do I have to rub them out? In Brain Pickings Maria Popova quotes Mortimer Adler in How to Read a Book and he says, “Full ownership of a book only comes when you have made it a part of yourself, and the best way to make yourself a part of it -which comes to the same thing- is to write in it.” I also love Sam Anderson’s quote that marginalia was a way to “fully enter a text, to collaborate with it, to mingle with the author on some primary textual plane.”

In ‘The Marginal Obsession with Marginalia’ Robert McCrum asks “What happens to marginalia in the age of the Kindle?” There are trade-offs for sure. My problem vanishes but for some the essence of marginalia is lost. McCrum says it “feels all wrong: something about having to call up a menu and type a note on the keypad, with its stud-like plastic buttons, makes the whole process seems forced and contrived. Marginalia are supposed to be spontaneous and fluent.” Me, I’m not so fussy.

What’s Your Reading Diet?

Henry Rollins.

“If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write.”

Stephen King, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft

When Henry Rollins listens to music he hasn’t heard before he calls that protein listening. When he listens to familiar bands he calls that carbohydrate listening. We eat carbs for energy and protein for muscle mass but how, in the context of reading, can this analogy apply to us as writers?

The first thing I do each morning after I get out of bed is check my Google feed (notice how we use the word feed). It’s more compulsive than nourishing and I’m not going to be well fed by a half-baked article on Keanu Reeves’ new haircut but it’s information nevertheless. That said, I don’t think information alone makes one thing a carb and another protein.

I think what really distinguishes carbs from protein in the context of reading is the quality of the writing and the quality of my attention. Clickbait like tabloid gossip is garbage though I still click on them the same way I might treat myself to a Toblerone or Terry’s Chocolate Orange on occasion. Who doesn’t want to see how Keanu is doing these days? If I read for information it’s carbs but if I read for learning it’s protein. Sometimes the two are indistinguishable and I just read something because I like it.

As for my attention its quality differs from day to day as with anyone’s, but I’ve found it easier to sustain it with books (the physical kind) because a book can’t multi-task. A book can only be a book unlike the Kindle app on my phone where the temptation to switch over to YouTube or Google is always there. Still, I enjoy them both.

So, what are you eating?

The Paradox of Love

Viktor Frankl and his second wife, Eleonore Schwindt.

We all know it: dating is hard. On the one hand it clears any ambiguity: you both know why you’re there; but on the other hand it raises the stakes, because you both know why you’re there. But online dating is a different story. I can’t account for all the possible reasons why online dating is especially hard but I think one significant reason is that every dating app is in the business of dating, not love. They provide a platform for people to meet but how useful is that platform if every aspect of its design from its colours to the way people show interest (i.e. swiping) is only to keep me on the app and ultimately pay for upgrades? It’s all counterintuitive.

Sometime this past summer I remembered a quote I found on Wikipedia years ago by Viktor Frankl, an Austrian psychiatrist and Auschwitz survivor:

[…] happiness cannot be pursued; it must ensue, and it only does so as the unintended side-effect of one’s personal dedication to a cause greater than oneself[.]

– Viktor Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning

As with happiness, so with love, I think. It sneaks up on us. The wave of a hand. The way someone calls our name to say goodbye, and they really mean it. Who knows what summons love?

A swipe right?