Writing With My Lips…

Transitions:  Hand To Mouth…

I’m typing an essay once again.  It feels good.  It’s been a while…

I’m currently looking through the window from seat 9A on Southwest Airlines flight 1045 with service to Denver and Charleston.  I’m stopping in Denver.  It’s been nearly a year since I’ve flown and almost as long since I have typed an essay, though I have written nearly 30 in the past 12-months. It was last May when I began dictating most of my essays, blogs, and social media posts into my smartphone, rather than type them on my laptop.

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The process was frustrating at first, but that frustration didn’t last long.  The learning curve was quick, and adjustments came daily.  Voice-activated technology has come a long way.  Within a matter of weeks, I was writing daily, by speaking essays into my phone and doing so seamlessly.

Speak Slowly And Clearly, Please…

In the age of the answering machines and later with voice mail, my father’s message was loud, distinct, and always the same…

“This is Al Cohen.  Please speak slowly and clearly at the tone…”

That was his voice message from 1975 until the time of his death in 2013.  In writing this, I realize that message is the memory I most associate with my father.  To hear it, one felt a responsibility to speak slowly and clearly.  Those two lessons, learned from my father’s answering machine when I was a kid, ensured a smooth transition from typing my thoughts to dictating them. Even from the grave my father is telling me what to do, but it works so I’m grateful.

  • Speak slowly
  • Speak clearly
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Diego: A purebred North Korean Shepard…

In most of my dictations, background noise and other voices notwithstanding, if I speak slowly and clearly, my smartphone lives up to its name.  That said, proofreading before posting or publishing is more important than ever.  Words like our can turn into are and been can turn into men easily.  My smartphone makes little distinction between do and dew, though better recognizing context has been a part of every software revision.  Also, shizzle can easily turn into drizzle, though that one doesn’t come up often.

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While the lion sleeps tonight…

Probably the most important lesson I have learned in this transition, is the lesson of decorum – of when to type and when to speak.  Writing from my laptop has always been restricted to the location of my laptop – my bed, my desk, my front porch, and my sofa. These are places of absolute privacy.  By talking into my phone, I can now write just about anywhere – the park, the coffee shop, waiting in my car while my mother shops, and even in a fast-moving jet headed to Denver – or maybe not.  In a crowd like this, I prefer typing, which is what brought this essay on.

When I took seat 9A this morning, with service to Denver and Charleston, I began talking into my phone — an essay on another topic.  The woman in the seat next to me began to stare. I immediately realized it would be inappropriate to dictate an essay in such close proximity and this essay, on talking rather than typing, was suddenly born.

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With Ease Comes Guilt, Always…

There has been an inescapable guilt though – the guilt of a thousand Jewish mothers, that I still use term writing when speaking is how my essays come about.

“What are doing, Son…?” my mother asked when she saw me talking to the center of my hand one day.

Me:  I’m writing an essay….

“Oh” she said, “writing.  I see…” She rolled her eyes as she turned away.  I had just lied to my mother.  I was speaking an essay, not writing one.

Let’s say this essay goes viral and ends up in the hands of a well-connected editor or publisher.  He sees the fruit in my wisdom and the art in my imagination and offers me the opportunity to write for a broader platform; would I be a writer or a speaker…?

If asked about my craft, I can’t imagine telling a person beside me in a café that I’m speaking an essay or worse yet, that I’m speaking my first novel.  So, I feel guilty in calling myself a writer since I have always viewed writing as an action of the hands.  But that extends the question further – since typing onto a keyboard has been the mechanism for most writers, going back many decades, has anyone using a keyboard truly been a writer…?  I ask myself again, is writing an action of the hands or of the head…?

I’d like to introduce you to a fine typist, Mr. Norman Mailer – that just doesn’t seem to flow as sweetly.

The Future…

My track record predicting the future isn’t that good. I can scarcely predict the past.  I can say with certainty though, that dictating my thoughts into my phone is far more efficient than typing them into my laptop – this essay notwithstanding.  Going forward, a majority of my writing will continue to be done via my lips and will be dependent on the ever-improving voice-activated technology.

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Tesla. A very good girl…

In taking it all in though, I wonder if mind-activated software isn’t around the corner.  If so, will I be thinking my essays and possibly thinking a novel before I die…?  How efficient might that technology be…?  And how about the editing process be…?  Will there be an algorithm so efficient that it will know drizzle from shizzle before I ever think it…?  I hope so.  It could be a big time saver…  Jhciacb

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The Cutting Room Floor…

My oldest client is 93. She spent much of her retirement traveling the United States, Canada, Europe, and New Zealand in an Airstream trailer. It’s easy to maintain conversations with her while she exercises, because I can always default to her experiences living on the road for so many years.

She’ll often tell me of experiences she had during that phase of her life which she hadn’t told me previously. I’ve suggested to her multiple times that she write a book about those experiences. Of course at 93, it’s not likely that she’ll write a book. Her experiences on the road and the wisdom gained from them, will be left only to the memories of people she’s had conversations with.

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That got me thinking about how the cutting room floor of wisdom and experience must be as large as the universe, and expanding just as quickly. That is, most human wisdom is left to the ether of our memories.

One-hundred billion people have ever lived. Approximately 130-million books have ever been published. Though it’s hard to ascertain for certain, the number of published authors across all possible formats is probably somewhere between 25 and 60-million people. If my math skills serve me well, that’s a whole lot of unpreserved wisdom, thought, experience, and creative expression.

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Contemplating that, I got to thinking that when that day comes when the last human being takes his or her final breath, most human experience will have been left on the cutting room floor. And that, THAT is why I write, why I write daily, and why I embed my thoughts into digital formats — so there will be some record, not only that I existed, but that I thought, that I had ideas, and that those thoughts and ideas will not end up on the cutting room floor, whether they mattered or not… Jhciacb

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Come Correct…

I write between 300-1,000 words every morning, usually before 5:00am. My typing accuracy is roughly 90%. This means every sentence and ½, I need to make a spelling or grammar correction.

That’s when my first real decisions of each day begin.

I subscribe to the mindset of correcting my errors as I identify them, rather than after the completion of my work.

The genius that is spellcheck underscores my misspelled words in red. I’m usually 2-3 words down the road when I identify a spelling error. I am then forced into the following decision…

Do I place my finger on the touchpad and glide it back to scene of
the spelling error, then tap down on the touchpad to reclaim my word…? This action is easy, but often I over shoot the word I’m aiming for, and must repeat it.

Do I use the arrow keys which are more measured, and therefore more accurate, but require more effort…?

Or, do I use the backspace key…? The backspace key is the most proximate to my fingertips, but in using it, I wipe out any words which sit between the location where I identify the mistake, and the mistake itself. Doing this can mean retyping as many as 3-4 words.

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This choice, between the touchpad, the arrow keys, or the backspace key, is one I make roughly 15 times every 300 words. It’s a choice I make on the fly, and there is no consistency with it – never. On a given morning, I will use all three options.

I don’t know why I can’t default to just one of these correction methods. Seems like I lack loyalty here. This haunts me. However, with so many other things haunting my mind, and doing so all day long, I’ll suggest that maybe, in using them all, I’m just being a fair man, and giving each option equal time. Fair man indeed… Jhciacb

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One Now, One Later, And One On Down The Road…

The Gift That Keeps On Giving…

When I was 13 years old, the book Pumping Iron was given to me by my mother.  The book’s impact was immediate, and steered me in a direction in which I had no control; a lifetime of bodybuilding.  Bodybuilding morphed into fitness, which ultimately led to a career.  The book that Charles Gaines and George Butler assembled in 1974 was the foundation for my passionate life of exercise.  In a more subtle way, and over a long period of time, Pumping Iron also gave me the foundations for a couple other passions.  More on those later.

Though I opened that book daily and was obsessed by its pictures, I would not actually read Pumping Iron for nearly 5 years after it was given to me.  Since I struggled with reading, I selected only brief passages, and only on occasion.  Who needed words, when George Butler’s black and white photos told a story I was so hungry to see…?

I would spend the next few years of my life putting all my eggs in one basket, and clutching that basket.  Lifting weights was the first discipline I would wholly commit to.  If nothing else, from Pumping Iron, which led to pumping iron, I learned that I had discipline.  In time it became clear that I was not so genetically gifted nor so determined, that competitive bodybuilding would be my dominion.

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My Future’s So Dark…

Elsewhere in my life, I was less disciplined.  By the time I was in my late teens I was a high school dropout with a bodybuilding habit, no skills, and no apparent future.  The US military would be my only hope.  To be considered for the military, I would have to take my GED.  Being dyslexic, I was fearful that my struggles with reading would inhibit this process.  To this point, I had never read a book of any kind from cover to cover.

So with a workout-like discipline, I chose to read an hour per day – no matter what, hoping my reading would improve.  I selected Pumping Iron to read first because I had an interest in its content.  If any book could help pry me from the pictures and place me into the words, this was going to be it.  A funny thing happened on the way to The End…

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Reading Pumping Iron was a chore.  I kept at it, because I believed my future depended on becoming a better reader.   Despite my struggles, there were occasional passages which kept me coming back for more – like a good golf shot on an otherwise fruitless outing.  Charles Gaines crafted phrases that suited my imagination.  Writing of the bodybuilder Pierre Van den Steen, Gaines wrote,

“The little Belgian whose chest looks carved from ice.”

Of Arnold Schwarzenegger performing incline bench presses, Gaines wrote,

“His biceps looked like two grapefruit sliding on greased tracks.”

Reading was a challenge, but images like those provided a sufficient reward.  I completed the book, and felt that my reading actually had improved along the way.  I would read more books prior to taking my GED, but none painted pictures the way that the words of Charles Gaines did.

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It was some lucky combination of intuitive guessing and my improved reading ability which got me through my GED.  I would go on to serve in the US Coast Guard.  It was during my time in the Coast Guard when I began to write creatively.  With Charles Gaines’ descriptive phrase still bubbling under my psyche, I felt like I had something to say, and was somewhat confident in my ability.  This would be a short lived discipline though, as my writing time was a lesser priority than my exercise time.  I would not write again creatively for another decade.

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Workouts And Words…

My pre-dawn workouts, originally inspired by Pumping Iron, were once the most important part of my day.  Those workouts now take place later in the day or in the evening, and though they are still important, writing is what does it for me now.  Eventually writing took priority over lifting.  For nearly 15 years now, I have been writing for one hour every morning, almost without exception, with workout-like discipline.

I like it when the words of others paint pictures in my head.  I also enjoy using words to paint pictures of my own.  Words, in that sense, are the most malleable medium we can use as form of creative expression.  As I sip coffee in bed, with my mammal at my hip, and my 17” window to the world on my lap, I attempt to craft sentences like Charles Gaines did in Pumping Iron, knowing all the while that I am to Charles Gaines’ writing as I also am to Arnold Schwarzenegger’s physique – much less than, but I still have fun.

Walks And Wonder…

Oh, and there’s been one other influence Pumping Iron has had on me, which I have only now come to realize and appreciate…

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Each morning, after I’m done with my writing session I walk through town with my dog.  As Stroodle takes in the smells of the day, I have come to appreciate how well this town sets up in black & white.  George Butler shot all the pictures for Pumping Iron with a Leicaflex SL2, and those photographs were nothing less than artistic.

I’m just a chimp with smartphone, and do nothing which I would consider artistic, but I have fun with it, as I have fun with writing and lifting, and that my friends explains all the picture above which have almost nothing to do with this story.  Be well…  rc

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Reading, Riting, and Roy…

“I write not to get money, but for pleasure.”

Isaak Walton, from The Compleat Angler 1653

The gift of words…

Of all the gifts inherent to me, the one I am most appreciative of is creativity.  Though I seek a creative path with most of my affairs, my primary creative outlet is writing essays.  I see each essay as a kind of performance.  The beauty for me is that I am under no scrutiny when I perform.  I am free to make mistakes, change directions, retool, stop and start again, or throw it away without anyone but me ever knowing about it.

If I have completed an essay, and thrown it out to be read by an audience of dozens, it’s because I feel I have done my best with it.  If read by even a few, I feel validated even when criticized.  I understand that not everyone will be interested in what I have to share, while others may have interest but not agree with my message.  If a few people find value in my thoughts, that’s great, but I would write anyway.

I am not a professional writer.  I am a hobbyist who, like most hobbyists, would rather spend time working at my craft than at my job.  At this point, I feel that I am a capable amateur.  Not world class, but a better writer than many who are professionals.  I enjoy my job as a fitness trainer, and also see that as a creative outlet, it’s just that writing is a necessary compulsion for me.  One benefit of my day job is that it affords me the time to write.

I can write a 1,000-word essay in less than an hour, and do so with relative ease.  In fact, if I begin taking too long on an essay, I’m usually overthinking it.  When this happens, I will put it aside or just throw it away.  My creative side wants my words to flow, not be forced or hurried into place.

If the truth be told, I could not write a lick if not for modern word processing software.  My mind is too disorganized to write in longhand, and in linear fashion.  That I can cut, paste, backspace, and try different paragraphs in different places serves my dyslexic brain well.  If words are the color pallet of my creativity, editing options are my brush.

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My writer’s den…

Listen up…

Here’s the irony; I read at less than an 8th grade level.  Though writing essays is easy for me, reading one takes work – because I have to see all the words at once.  Reading a book is an outright chore.  I don’t enjoy reading.  I do read on occasion.  Most of what I physically read are online articles, columns, and blogs.  A friend or client might hand me a book.  When this happens, I make every attempt to read it even if I do struggle with the process.  It’s important to me to honor a gift from another, even if it is a book.  Honestly though, I remember very little of what I read.  I listen to books.  I listen to books every day of my life.

My comprehension when listening is greater than when I read, probably because when I listen to books I’m active.  I don’t just sit and listen to books.  I listen to books while I clean, while I organize, and when I exercise.  I listen to Kurt Vonnegut when I deadlift, and Stephen Hawking when I bench press.  I believe the activity with my body frees my brain up to absorb information better than if I just sat and listened.

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My “reading” room…

There are times when I will buy a hardcopy of a book I am listening to.  If I find a life-changing value with it, I will read portions of it concurrently – not as I am actually listening to the book, but in the same time frame.  This allows me to use a highlighter on certain passages of the hard copy which I can easily find and review later.

The books which interest me most are on science and the humanities.  I don’t listen to much fiction – there is enough of that already in my head.  There’s something about a book being spoken into my mind, especially when done by a good narrator – it’s as though the voice of God is projecting it to me, or the voice of an authority figure anyway.

My library and my shame…

With my listening done digitally, my book shelf is my phone.  I know for my literary-minded friends this is near sacrilege – to not have a wall or a room full of books.  My entire library fits in my pocket.  I like that it is always with me.  I wonder if my more literate friends ever feel sad that they leave their library behind as they walk out of their home each day.

The collection of my own writings is even less soulful.  I don’t save hard copies or even digital copies of what I write.  After I complete an essay and post it to my blog, I delete the Word document from my laptop.  All the thoughts I am so compelled to forge and to share, I trust to the gods of Google and WordPress, that anyone who might be interested in them will be able to find them, stored on a server in some unknown location with trillions of other data bits until the end of time.

That I write with the aid of technology feels good.  I enjoy the process, and am proud of the way I create my essays from my laptop.  People seem to be very accepting of this.  That I depend on technology for my learning, in place of reading, doesn’t sit as well in my head.  I feel guilty, often ashamed that I can’t read that well, and that opening a book intimidates me.  However, my biology conspired against me ever becoming a good reader.  My eyes play tricks with words, and no amount of practice makes this better.  In the scope of reading and writing, this is just who I am.

Whether they are printed on parchment or sent to straight to silicon, words are the primary messengers of all of our ideas.  Words allow us to share so much.  For my part, the words I send out each week are a message in a digital bottle.  I never know where they will wash up, but I am always hopeful they will be read by someone.  Be well…  rc

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If you are not already a subscriber, please scroll up and do so.  Tell your friends about me — about what happens when I push the STOP button on the blender in my head.  Oh, and there’s this from The Golden Grass.  Enjoy…