I’m a fervent enthusiast of audio media, from old radio drama to modern radio drama and audiobooks of all stripes, and despite being a voracious reader of tattered paper books in my youth (and still, though more on digital readers lately), I’m increasingly of the opinion that, in contrast to the nostalgic claims that books are the grand tradition of literacy and stories told aloud on tape/disc/data are the brash upstart, oral storytelling is innate to humans (obviously with allowances to be made for reasons of hearing/neurodivergence) and has been for a hundred thousand years, while books available on scale to the masses are more or less a mostly post-20th century phenomenon.Continue reading A voice, telling a tale
Snow days, birthdays, and other holidays and observances are special days for me, and on special days, I like to make special breakfasts, usually including my favorite breakfast dish in the whole entire universe (scrapple being a very, very close second) — daisy eggs.
They’re a bit of work, but make the rest of the day seem like something more than it might be, another chance to be here—all here, all now, just me and my breakfast against the forces of gloom in the world.
The tail end of COVID in my region means my social life can go back to being casual but sophisticated dinner parties, rollicking house concerts, nights at the bijou, and playful country drives in ridiculous old French cars, but even more, it means I can start edging towards the exit of the various manipulative, cynical, and life-diminishing social media platforms we’ve all depended on for the past year.
Here’s to a return to real life—surprisingly, I’ve come to miss it.
[2022 update: Alas, the antivax/antimaskers kept us in it for a while longer, with the Omicron variant heating up and set (supposedly) to peak this month. Still, we have vaccines, quick tests, and smart people to hang out with on small scales while the rest of the crowd gets their act together.]
I’ve been catching up on my composite novels after realizing, some time back, that the reason I wasn’t writing a book wasn’t that I’m not inherently a writer as much as my natural rhythm and flow for writing came to me from my adoration of books that I never understood to be composite novels, or story cycles. So I read Winesburg, Ohio and The Martian Chronicles and The Women of Brewster Place without ever realizing that this is, in fact, the style that I would eventually write in without intending to do so. With hindsight, it’s nice to explore others in the form for examples of how to best adjust the machinery of stories and start stringing together the great fluttering belts linking things all together into a coherent whole in which the parts, too, are complete.
In the same way, my longtime love of Jean Shepherd, transmitted to me via my father’s focused delivery of fifth-generation bootlegs of his old radio show, in which he worked in the mode of sequential and interlinked narratives coming together to build epic serial adventures in Hammond, Indiana, has fed much of my stage work, where I mix and mutate and exchange stories on the fly, always open to swapping narratives in the possibility that that juxtaposition will open up a little window on something in the story I’d never noticed.
“When are you going to write that book?” I’m asked, and I have, really, though in the form of hundreds and hundreds of stories written over the past twenty-five years, but I wasted too much time thinking I was meant to write like we think novelists should write, following a single character through a single narrative, from beginning to end, unfolding over hundreds of pages to an expected or unexpected denouement.
I don’t know early on that my stories work that way, but as I’ve been listening to more and more podcasts, and thinking of how the best among them work much like those books made of other stories, and those serial narratives I’ve heard on old radio from before I was born, all floating on the same river, all following the same current to the same place, and I think maybe the revival of my own long, slumbering podcast should start where the book I’ve been writing would have started, and visit the same places.
When I was small, back in Scaggsville, when I’d wake up too early, while the world was still blue and cool and suspended, waiting for the day to catch up with all of the things around me, I’d slip out onto our front porch in my footie pajamas and stand there on the cracked concrete of our porch, listening. The whole world made a noise back then, a sort of distant singing note that hung in the air, as delicate as a flock of birds all heading in the same direction, and I thought, in some way, that it was the sound of the world turning on its axis.
I’d later realize that it was only the sound of the nearby interstate, and of all the tractor-trailers on their way from somewhere to somewhere else, just tires roaring on the then-new pavement of I-95 and filtered through trees and air and humidity until it became a chorus under everything, just like my congenital tinnitus, always there, everywhere.
I would forever be mistaken about things, and learn.
This is a way to be in the world.
© 2018 Joe Belknap Wall