Saturday, October 6, 2007


is the name of the new Springsteen album, and though I'm only three cuts into it I can already tell you that it's a must-have CD. With the E Street Band in fine form, Springsteen making the most of what's left of his voice, great lyrics, and an amazing wall of sound paced by Max Weinberg's drumming and punctuated at perfect intervals by Clarence Clemons' soaring sax, it's wonderful. Check it out.

Friday, October 5, 2007

Why so many writers don't want to discuss works in progress

Last night's entry prompts an obvious question from friends, family, and acquaintances of writers: if talking about your writing is so tempting, why don't you discuss it with me? Most of those people, as well, believe it or not, as almost total strangers, would be happy to discuss works in progress with writers, to offer their inputs, to make available their services for proofreading or story development, and so on.

So why don't more writers take up people on these offers?

The answer is simple but harsh: we don't want their input. In fact, in many cases, we not only don't want it, it has the potential to infuriate us. If it's bad input, it's distracting and a time waster, because now you have to explain why it's bad. If it's good input, at certain moments it can be quite useful, but at others it can be devastating, because sometimes all that keeps a writer going is the belief that if he or she can just hold together a bit longer the fragile world web in his or her head, it can make it onto the screen/paper/whatever. An idea that points out a flaw can trash that whole world.

Now, with a complete draft in hand, that same idea might force a major rewrite, but it's now a useful idea, one that you're applying to something real--a manuscript--to create a better draft. It's no longer a nuclear bomb headed at the ethereal creation in your mind. (Put differently, critiques may be useful and important, but timing matters.)

As best I can tell, the union of all of these behaviors means that writers are frequently unfair and even unbearable on the topic of their work to those closest to them. I try hard not to be that way, but I know I sometimes (often?) am. I've seen a lot of artists of all sorts use their art as an excuse to be assholes, and I don't believe in that excuse at all; no one has a right to be a jerk. Of course, all of us sometimes are.

If nothing else, maybe these two entries will help explain some of the behaviors of writers--and remind those of us who are writers to keep trying not to put our friends in these difficult positions.

Why writers so often talk about their work

I'm acutely aware that many writers will at inappropriate times blurt out comments about a work in progress or a recently finished work; I'm one of those writers. I try to control it, but it does happen. I fear that it comes across as egotistical, and I know it is often, as I said, inappropriate to the discussion at hand.

So, I thought I'd explain why we do that: we're constantly living in multiple worlds, and sometimes the barriers between the two break down.

I know "living" sounds too strong, and in one sense it is: I never confuse the worlds I create with the real one. I live in the real world; I create other worlds. That said, my mind spends major parts of its waking (and often sleeping) hours in the worlds and the stories I'm writing. I don't see how to write well without doing that. Sometimes, the sheer amount of mental energy you put into a story is enough to make it top of mind--and thus sometimes tip of the tongue.

Leakage goes the other way, of course; the real world influences all our fiction. Why, the things I could point out in my fiction and that of many friends...but that would be telling, and you know I'd never do that.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Old-fashioned work traits still matter

If you start reading articles about getting a job in computer technology, you might quickly conclude that most of the jobs have gone offshore and that even if you find someone hiring here, all that matters is your experience. Both of those conclusions would be false.

The U.S. is in the midst of a growing shortage of skilled computer technology workers, so jobs are increasingly plentiful. Great jobs are probably as hard to find now as they ever were, but they're also probably no harder. It's not a seller's market, but it is a marketplace full of opportunities.

Experience does matter, as does training, but so do several old-fashioned work traits: having a great attitude, being willing to work hard, being aggressive enough to be willing to try any assignment, not finding any job to be below you, being loyal, and being smart.

I write this as someone at a company that's now beginning to look for a few good people, but the opinion is not just mine; I hear it all the time from hiring managers at a wide variety of companies.

The work world has certainly changed a great deal, but the value of these traits persists.

Make MPG the new MPH

Americans love competitions. Americans also love cars. The two passions have combined to yield countless car-related contests, from actual races to detailing battles to endless conversations, usually but not always among men, about how fast each person's car can go from zero to sixty miles an hour.

As Bill and I were discussing recently, if we want to encourage gas savings, one of the things we should do is try to shift the culture to focusing on MPG instead of MPH. So, for example, every car, but especially the hybrids, should receive a more standard and more reliable MPG rating. Cars with great ratings should broadcast them, ideally in real time, on rear and front displays. If you're considering speeding around the car in front of you, you'll also be able to compare its mileage to yours and decide if instead of speeding you'd rather have the smug satisfaction of being more fuel efficient, a goal you can achieve by maintaining your current pace.

Many Prius owners are already playing a version of this game in their quest for a full tank rated at or over 50 MPG. Toyota and all the other auto makers should encourage these contests by making models with Lithium-Ion batteries, a technology that would cost more but yield vastly better mileage. The technology doesn't have to pay off in gas savings as long as it pays off in coolness.

Adding models with better and better mileage would also increase hybrid sales, as well-off owners of current models succumbed to their lust for the more fuel-efficient older ones.

It could work.

Monday, October 1, 2007

Two music facts

Fact one: The Beatles are the greatest rock band of all time. If you don't know this already, then learn it now. For range, album quality, effect on culture, suite of hits that charted number one, you name it; the Beatles rule.

Fact two: Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band are in the top five greatest rock bands of all time. Your list of candidates for the remaining positions in the two, three, four, and five slots is up to you, but that this band belongs is not open to discussion.

And, the new album appears tomorrow (today as you read this)! I'm psyched.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Tokyo food-fight 2007: Robuchon kicks Ducasse's butt

While in Tokyo, we did what any sensible foodies would do: we ate at the restaurants of two famous French chefs. The first dinner was at Joel Robuchon's Atelier, his approachable, bistro-style establishment on the second floor of one of the shopping buildings adjacent to our hotel in Roppongi Hills. The second was at Alain Ducasse's Beige, a fancy place perched on the tenth floor of the Chanel building in the pricey Ginza district.

The Beige dinner cost more than twice as much as the one at Atelier and featured a setting that merged the themes of its name with the designs of Chanel (yes, the staff wore custom Chanel designs).

Robuchon's Atelier delivered far and away the better meal. Robuchon's dishes featured more inventive mixes of ingredients, better presentation, and, most importantly, better taste.

Both meals were, of course, extremely good, way past normal restaurant fare--as they should be, given the chefs, the settings, and the prices.

But Robuchon won going away.

If you're in Tokyo and you want great French food, head to Atelier.

Across the Universe

Tonight, we ate Indian at a nice local restaurant, Azitra, where a sitar player was providing background music. We then went to see Julie Taymor's film, Across the Universe.

I liked it a great deal. I liked its heart, its brash, bold approach, and, of course, the Beatles' music. Evan Rachel Wood was, from my perspective, good enough but no more, but the other leads were all wonderful I recommend the film.

I didn't find it flawless. Far from it. At least in my opinion, it quite often tried too hard, pounded its messages too long, and screamed too loudly "look at how clever I am!"

In the end, though, none of that matters. It has heart, and its heart carries the day.

Go see it.


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