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notes about taking notes

Only a writer perhaps will understand what this means: last night, as I watched a documentary, Monterey Pop, I got up, scrabbled around for paper, and started taking notes.

I used to take notes all the time, because I was an essay writer. Everything that happened could lead to an essay, so the neurons were firing constantly. What’s the story here? What does it mean? Throughout the nineties, partially because as a single mother and teacher my time was limited, I produced a stream of short personal essays: 24 in the Globe in ten years and nearly as many written and read for the CBC, plus other newspapers and a few magazines. One year, I had six essays in the Globe and a friend said, “I enjoy reading your column.” Finally, I published a compilation called Back Page Stories – my first book. 

And then the Globe stopped paying even a measly $100 for half a page of work, and a producer at CBC’s Fresh Air told me my writing was “not edgy enough” for the program. I started focussing on books. A mentor talked once about the breath in writing needed for a sprint and for a marathon. I hadn’t the breath for both sprints and marathons.

But recently, as I struggle to get my latest marathon Loose Woman into the world, I finally took heed: very often when nonfiction books are published, it says at the back, “Excerpts from this book appeared in – …” with a list of magazines in print or online. Even if you’re working on a book, it’s a good idea to get excerpts out there as you write. So that’s my new plan: essays and excerpts. Sprints. A job in itself, not just the writing, but figuring out what should go where – unlike in the nineties, there are now hundreds of online places. So –  which? 

I don’t have much to say about Monterey Pop – one observation, that the young audience was absorbed in the music, focussed on the stage with eyes and ears rather than taking pictures or filming or scrolling, because there were no @#$# cellphones in 1967. How did we survive, communicate, photograph, check in obsessively with each other? One thing was clear: we really listened to the music. 

Also, that the film is a paean to the talented sixties icons who died so young: Jimi, Janis, Keith Moon, Otis Redding, Mama Cass – even Brian Jones there in the audience. Who knew it was so dangerous to be a rock star? And what was with the smashing and burning of guitars? It looks ridiculous – infantile – now.

But those observations do not an essay make. Though can I point out that even this post is a kind of essay about essay-writing? That even as I was jotting notes last night, wondering about an essay, I realized it could be a blog post. In some ways, I just realized, I’ve never stopped writing essays. 

Yesterday was lovely and bright; Ruth and I had a long masked walkabout in the ‘hood. Today is dark, wet, and drear. But there is work to be done, not to mention The Crown on Netflix. (Have I mentioned The Queen’s Gambit? Just the most fun, and the last five minutes spectacular. No pat clichéd ending here. Marvellous.) My cold is nearly gone. Never have I been so glad to have a mere cold. As another friend used to say, It’s all good. 

Here’s today’s only mention of the orange blowhole, still trying to smash the planet:

And here’s what I’m contemplating for my living room, if it’s possible, which it may not be. A perfect inspiration for note-taking.



2 Responses to “notes about taking notes”

  1. theresa says:

    Like you, I write regular blog posts and some of them, it seems to me, are brief essays. Some aren't — the ones that are more newsy. But it's almost as though what was once common in other media– radio, newspapers, etc. — have found a new place to roost; our blogs have become commonplace books of a sort. I've noticed that a few journals or magazines, online and print, say that they won't consider previously published material (this is nothing new), even that which has appeared in a blog post (this is new-ish). And like you, I've been posting for a long time, since 2011, I think. So it would take an interested person considerable time and effort to sift through the posts and read the ones that are truly essays. I've thought about gathering some of them together — but then what?

    And isn't it true that the nature of concerts has changed? The nature of being an audience member. The nature of remembering what one saw and heard. Now I see really terrible YouTubes of segments of concerts, sound warbly and footage shaky. I guess it's what it is to be old(er)!

    As I drive John down the Coast to appointments, I keep forgetting to put more cds in the car. So it's been Emmylou and Rodney, The Traveling Kind. And it's almost an anthem for the old kind of music, the old kind of listening.

    We don't all die young to save our spark
    From the ravages of time
    But the first and last to leave their mark
    Someday become the traveling kind

    In the wind are names of poets past
    Some were friends of yours and mine
    And to those unsung, we lift our glass
    May their songs become the traveling kind

  2. beth says:

    So there you go, Theresa – once again, you've just written a beautiful essay! A friend told me he marvels that somehow my blog posts always have an ending, which is of course one of the key parts of essay writing – landing the end. Now I need to shift that work sideways to getting things out there and published, which you've been doing and are doing right now, with your book of essays. But when inexperienced writers talk about needing to find their voice – there's nothing like blog posts for voice.

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About Beth

I began keeping a journal at the age of nine. Nearly fifty years later, I started this online journal, sharing reflections, reviews, updates, and the occasional secret.

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