About Joan Didion: “On Keeping a Notebook”

Approximate Reading Time: 3 minutes

Book jacket of re-issued essay collection, first published in 1969.


Having myself always been an inveterate notebook keeper, but with no substantive knowledge of the habits of other notebook keepers, whom I’ve known in a meaningful way since I was in college, I have no idea why others do so. Or, consequently, what they take notes of, how they take them, of what they consist rhetorically, or why they think they keep a notebook in the first place. This is not true of Joan Didion.

There’s this essay (which I am sure I read back when it was published in the late 1960s, but of which I have no recollection) from the redoubtable Ms. Didion. What’s clear are two things, one not very important, because it’s personal, and the other which seems to point to maybe a significant insight.

The unimportant thing is, it’s clear that Joan Didion and I have different feelings on the subject, and different motivations. It’s not as clear that she is solid on recognizing that maybe her natural note-taking instincts are not universal ones.

The more important thing is what seems to emerge, from her generalized thoughts about the specific kinds of notes Joan Didion takes and why she thinks she takes them (because there’s not much here demonstrating the content of specific notes; and what there is, as she indicates is true even for her, is that sometimes notes can be so vague as to require massive reconstruction as to the factual underpinnings, the actual event that may have inspired taking a note, and the probative value in other contexts, like a deposition, of the documentation). What seems to emerge, specifically for me, is that maybe there is the foundation of some kind of taxonomy here.

Maybe, I’m thinking, there are those of us more subconsciously led by an urge eventually (and only speculatively and provisionally) to be writers of what has come to be called creative nonfiction. And there are those equally internally disposed, but with different objectives in mind, if only vaguely and possibly wholly inchoate, to write what is called fiction. I’ll only interject here, as some are coming to believe (and why would we expect otherwise in this age of things becoming indeterminate and not so distinct, or, if you prefer the term, queer – presumably as opposed to definitive, precise, replicable, evidentiary, and “normal”): as if there really is a difference ultimately (and that qualification is _so_ important) between creative nonfiction and fiction.

Why did I write it down? In order to remember, of course, but exactly what was it I wanted to remember? How much of it actually happened? Did any of it? Why do I keep a notebook at all? It is easy to deceive oneself on all those scores. The impulse to write things down is a peculiarly compulsive one, inexplicable to those who do not share it, useful only accidentally, only secondarily, in the way that any compulsion tries to justify itself. I suppose that it begins or does not begin in the cradle. …


Keepers of private notebooks are a different breed altogether, lonely and resistant rearrangers of things, anxious malcontents, children afflicted apparently at birth with some presentiment of loss. …


So the point of my keeping a notebook has never been, nor is it now, to have an accurate factual record of what I have been doing or thinking. That would be a different impulse entirely, an instinct for reality which I sometimes envy but do not possess.

I would tell you what I do, but I am not Joan Didion, who had ample reason I surmise in retrospect even then to believe that there were people who cared to know, separate and apart from what issued from those notes she kept.

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I’m Not Walter Benjamin, but Neither is He.

Approximate Reading Time: 5 minutes

still looking for permission to write after all these years

Walter Benjamin passport photo

Passport photo [courtesy Walter Benjamin Archiv, Berlin.]

I’m too long in the tooth, which ones I have left, to be coming to these realizations, but I do have to keep reminding myself of certain things. Whenever I feel doubts and uncertainty, which is not a fugitive condition, but a constant presence it seems, it’s always in comparison to the known existence, that is, known to me, of any number of figures in history and the present time—figures I have no particular reason to which to compare myself, suffering as they do so much greater familiarity, if not fame, among a so much greater number of people.

However, what I have always *not* borne in mind, and more recently, having realized for the first time previously and not that long ago, but long enough, that it was so, I remember that in most instances (Mozart is a standout, except possibly in those difficult years when he labored in utter obscurity before he turned six) neither were any of them, I hope, at least not to themselves. When Walter Benjamin wrote or spoke I have no doubt he did so because of the particular ferment of his feelings about having something to say. It’s a condition, variously and infinitely variably experienced no doubt, that any creator, whether thinker, writer, artist, composer, to name just a few, has to be referring to in answering the question, “Why do you create?” The answer virtually invariably is, “because I have to.”

Nothing else has to be said by the likes of me to validate the common wisdom that there’s plenty of stuff that gets done “because it has to” that will never see much of the light of day. A glimpse here and there kindly given by dear ones and friends. The accidental glance by roving interested parties. The demi-perusal by the flaneurs of our culture, always looking for what’s new and engaging—not to mention the hordes who are looking, always looking, merely for something to stave off the lurking beasts of boredom and ennui.

Let’s say Walter Benjamin sat down to write, well, name your pick of what he wrote, and I’ll pick, almost arbitrarily (I just spent a whole four minutes looking it up) an essay, considered one of his more seminal, entitled, tellingly, “The Author as Producer.” However, let me say, I am more interested in his mere writing of it, not, at this time, precisely in what he wrote. It was originally a lecture to a body in Paris, typical of the 30s, called The Institute for the Study of Fascism. He gave it in 1934 when, admittedly, he had already gained some notice and attention for his efforts at assiduous and repeated and frequent publication. That he was interested in gaining a permanent position on the faculty of any institution in Europe, but none was to be given for a variety of reasons, not the least of which was the unhappy coincidence in time of his roots producing him when the tide of European anti-Semitism was at increasing flow. However, his prolific outpouring and industrious inquiries were into all manner of what we now call cultural studies, when it was not merely pure philosophy dressed in some vernacular raiment. Neither here nor there in the end. He had to look, to inquire, to think, and finally to write and to speak.

He may have had intimations of the greatness of mind with which he was blessed, and then, as far as I know, he may not. Only Benjamin scholars and biographers would know, or maybe someday will know if they don’t. But if I had to guess, I would guess he suffered in his own way the same doubts and suspicions of self that many of us—I’ll speak, however, only for myself. What I’m driving at, to arrive, finally, at what I’m talking about here, is the matter of allowing himself the permission to continue, to plug, to, in that expression with great currency that to me has grown from being mildly humorous to being loathesome, “power through.”

He never stopped. That is, he didn’t, until he famously did stop, literally, killing himself at the frontier with Spain, in 1940, mid-route on what would likely have been a successful escape from Nazi Europe to the United States. We don’t know why, as far as I know. He had somehow bridged that murky body of water between the living if unconscious need to go forward and the dark shores of hopeless despair. However, I prefer to concentrate on his legacy, and take account of what he wrote in the simple facet of not having stopped himself from writing it because of any other sort of misgivings—if anything they validate the idea there is value in life, and repudiate, or at least turn away from the notion of existential futility and lack of meaning. What we will almost certainly never know if he had in mind specifically the prospect of not being allowed to do what he so clearly was compelled to do.

So, I try to inspire myself by bearing in mind, more and more consciously (until, I hope, it become an unconscious part of me, some species of belief), that I am as free to say what I think and to imagine it has worth of some kind, for me for a start, or why bother, and for others, because there is no sense in imagining that there is no value in anything unshared.

Whatever is done with, and finally thought of, whatever I create, especially whatever I write, is not for me to say, even with the vagaries of testamentary dictates on my part. It’s not within my power, even with the collective acceptance of the constraints of the law and the wishes of the departed, to control whether anything that I assume regularly, day to day, if not minute to minute, to be mine and to be disposed of or preserved as I see fit, will continue in a similar or better state of preservation after I’m gone. Writers have dictated that their work summarily be destroyed on their death (in many instances, already knowing in their lives they have gone unsung and unpublished) and have had these last wishes defied—to our benefit and pleasure. And writers have struggled for recognition, or let recognition and the necessary effort to attain it (as a general rule) go unattended in their lives, only to have their deaths herald an era of widespread if not universal exposure of their work, accompanied with great acclaim and even broader dissemination.

My thoughts are not about longevity or perpetuation, but about the legitimacy of my efforts now, today, and tomorrow, especially if I am inclined to make invidious comparisons—accurate or not is immaterial—with the work of others I admire who I know quite well did, at the time, expect or foresee exposure to a wider audience and studied appreciation. They may have wished for it, hoped for it, despaired over the lack of it, but it never kept them from carrying on, writing and continuing to write.

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A Reading

Approximate Reading Time: 4 minutes


It is now over four years ago that I was asked to contribute a poem to a forthcoming book. I’ve talked about the book here and in other places. The book is Books that Cook: The Making of a Literary Meal and is, essentially, a carefully edited anthology of writings in an array of genres, fiction and non-fiction, poetry and prose, and all on the subject of food. The book is arranged by its co-editors, Melissa Goldthwaite and Jennifer Cognard-Black, in a form that is roughly analogous to come amalgam of food related textual categories: a menu, a recipe, a history. Each section, related to a part of the meal, starter, main dish, etc. and in the sequence in which a meal proceeds is preceded by a selection from a cookbook of renown, dating back to the Colonial period in American history to the present. As the literary “meal” progresses we also are introduced to the evolution of the particular form of food writing dedicated to books focused on cookery.

I was approached to contribute by Melissa as we spoke by phone. I was, at the time, ensconced in the hotel in Hadley, Massachusetts which was my temporary weekly home for at least one night, predominately a Tuesday, prior to conducting the seminar I taught once a week, in the afternoon, to students of Amherst College. By staying overnight, I was spared the round trip, could enjoy a dinner out in town, and I was available for office hours Wednesday mornings, before returning to Cambridge.

To the best of my recollection, during this particular week, my sojourn had been extended involuntarily because of inclement weather. I left early, as snow was predicted, and so I stayed Monday night, in anticipation of the storm. Sure enough, for Ground Hog Day, that Wednesday, over two and a half feet of snow had fallen, and I was socked in. Perfect conditions for composing a poem.

What Melissa told me was that she and her colleague had come to the conclusion that they needed a poem in the section of the book otherwise devoted to eggs, with a lovely selection of prose, both fiction and essays on the subject. Most of the rest of the book showed an even balance of genres. They had as yet to find a suitable poem about eggs that also satisfied the other criterion for pieces selected for this specialized anthology. It seems every piece in the book incorporated, by hook or by crook, as an integral part of the narrative, or appropriately appended by way of illustration or amplification, a recipe for an actual dish or beverage that could be safely ingested.

I was immediately inspired, and I asked if the subject I had in mind was suitable. It took a day to produce a presentable draft. Melissa, being the inestimable editor (and excellent poet in her own right) that she is, made some suggested emendations, which I immediately adopted, or adapted, without demur. The version that appears in the book is the one we agreed could not likely be improved upon.

It has proven to be a popular piece in readings from the book I’ve been privileged to join since the book was published last summer. I have appeared with a group, variously composed, of my fellow contributors, in readings in Washington, DC (see an account of the reading in Washington, the first one that launched the book, here on the blog: The Reading in DC), New York City, here in Merion Station, just outside Philadelphia, in Philadelphia proper at one of my favorite of the small number of independent booksellers left here in the birthplace of the Declaration of Independence, and my final appearance at the homebase of Jennifer, the co-editor, who is a Professor of English at St. Mary’s College in Maryland.

It was at this last reading that I was astonished (and delighted) to be told by one of the students in the audience afterwards, as our admirers stood patiently in line as we signed copies of the full text, that she found my voice to be quite “melodious.” Not a word I would ever have used to describe my own instrument, though I will admit to reading well, when in the right mood, I nevertheless, as graciously as I could, accepted the compliment, and thanked my admirer.

It has occurred to me since, as there will be no further opportunities for me to read (though one or two further readings are scheduled, well into this coming summer) this might be a good time for a first appearance by me, in audio form, to complement my appearance for the first time in this beautiful volume as a poetry contributor in a published anthology.

You can decide on the qualities of the reading for yourself. I am satisfied with the result, though I’m sure I would not designate it either as melodious or particularly harmonious, being a solo effort. Any defects in the recording are mine, as I served as my own engineer.

I hope you enjoy it.

Making the Perfect Fried Egg Sandwich

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The Reading

Approximate Reading Time: 9 minutes

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Saturday of this past weekend was a banner day for the household. The book tour for MG’s latest opus (co-edited with her collaborator on this and other projects) began, auspiciously enough, at one of the destinations on everyone’s short list of great independent bookstores: Politics and Prose, in Washington DC. Setting aside the universal plight of all independent bookstores—how to stay viable and profitable in a world of online discount selling—we can take comfort that the strongest and most appealing of these stores, and Politics and Prose is one of them, seem to thrive. Sometime, in another post, I may end up musing on the qualities of these stores that allow them to survive where they are beaten every time on price, the factor that seems to trump all others in the book buyer’s decision process.

The book that was the focus of the event is an anthology of food writing, a collection born of a mutual interest on the part of the co-editors long since to teach this genre, drawing from a growing library and history of such works. Several years ago, in tandem, but on separate campuses, they offered what turned out to be very popular courses. One editor, whose expertise skews toward fiction, and scholarly inquiry into the nineteenth century novel in English, taught a curriculum that demonstrated a similar predisposition. Jennifer Cognard-Black is Professor of English at St. Mary’s College of Maryland, an institution whose constituents, all and sundry, seem reflexively to add to the name, “the public honors college,” is a respected, if small, liberal arts college that is actually part of the State of Maryland system of higher education institutions. Hence it operates at the fiscal discretion of the Governor and the Maryland Senate and House of Delegates. All of which is by way of seeing that there’s an analogy here, between the plight of the independent bookstore, and the plight of the small college of liberal arts—also a struggling breed, except for quality institutions like St. Mary’s, which holds its own, with far smaller budgets, though at far less cost to its students, with its peer institutions, far better funded, more prestigious, and highly competitive in their selectivity.

One co-editor, Melissa Goldthwaite [full disclosure: she’s my wife], is a Professor of English, at St. Joseph’s University, a specialist in Rhetoric and Composition, and Creative Writing. St. Joseph’s is one of a whole network of Jesuit-affiliated institutions of higher learning throughout the country. The aims of the education have, still, at their core a dedication to providing a solid liberal arts education. I say still, because the challenge for any U.S. institution of higher education today is how to continue to instill not only a love for learning and an understanding that a broadly based education steeped in the cultural history of the world, with some requisite skills in analyzing the relevance and meaning of the substance of that history.

The impediment confronted on many campuses, regardless of how you categorize the institution, and not strictly an antithetical stumbling block, but in seeming counterpoise, is the acquisition of credentials through the study of more marketable subject matter. Strictly speaking, and increasingly, this means courses in business, or marketing, or economics—or any of the broadening array of sub-disciplines—that constitute a more practical species of specialized skill sets. It’s well and good to be able to suss out meaning that appeals to the heart and the mind in a poem; it’s another thing altogether to understand the arcane relations between columns of numbers in a balance sheet and what they might augur for the continued prosperity of an enterprise.

Smarter dispassionate heads struggle to prevail in the argument that these are not antithetical capabilities. Indeed, the subject areas in the classic curriculum collectively still referred to as the humanities provide a foundation in discovering a successful way of coping with life in the real world. Not every argument is won by the humanists. There has been a progressive retrenchment in traditional curricula and it’s likely at least three decades, if not longer, that colleges and universities have introduced, in a first wave, new departments and areas of specialization: women’s studies, gender studies, and targeted ethnicities, including African-American and Latino studies, being prime examples.

More recently, and in tandem with rising tuition costs on almost all campuses around the country (rising at rates that far exceed the rate of increase in almost any other critical economic marker), the entire industry, for that is, alas, what it has come to resemble, of higher education, has added courses of study that are directly and unambiguously platforms into seeking and achieving paying jobs within highly defined areas of specialization, in technology, finance, and entertainment. In ways that test the elasticity of meaning of a word that originally sustained little ambiguity given its roots, I mean the humanities, the new designers of academic missions and the supportive educational infrastructure argue—usually by way of mere lip service—that being human endeavors, the new subjects and courses are merely latter-day manifestations of this classic epistemology. Others, in a sense less cynical, say that the study of the humanities per se, with no qualification or abridgment of the standard meaning of the term, have become at best a luxury, and at worst a useless anachronism.

There is one constant, however, and not paradoxically. If anything, the importance of the ability to communicate, especially verbally, has never been more of a manifest value. Which brings me back to the substance of the spanking new Goldthwaite/Cognard-Black opus. In food writing, I suggest, there is a rare amalgam, a blend of the two still viable contemporaneous disciplines: effective communication (dare I say, at the apex of its expressive qualities, attaining to literary worth?) and the subject of food in every conceivable aspect. The latter has long since been monetized in the still major media channels of radio, television, the Internet, and that strange space coextensive of the World Wide Web, proprietary social media. Food has become competitive sport, obsession, confessional, practical, salvational, healing, spiritual, and technological.

Books that Cook: The Making of A Literary Meal is, frankly, not an exponent of all these salient if divergent methods of inquiry into the subject. The editors being who they are, and with a more singular mission in their noble day jobs as pedagogues and mentors to would-be writers, have chosen not a more conservative course of activity, so much as a classic one. And on the Saturday, just passed, in question, seven of us read from our work, including the co-editors who were also contributors: Cognard-Black wrote a short story specifically for this volume, and Goldthwaite included one of her excellent poems. The other five of us, including myself (with a poem, commissioned for the volume, “How to Make the Perfect Fried Egg Sandwich”), and two other poets, an essayist, and memoir author.

We didn’t exactly wear our academic credentials on our sleeves—for one thing it was a very hot, beyond sultry, Washington DC day, and the majority of us were in short sleeves, if there were sleeves at all to our garments. In fact, to some greater or lesser extent each of us, as well as all the other writers in the book, were or are published authors. Our bona fides preceded us. The only criterion the works selected had to meet, aside from manifestly having food as a major theme, motif, or subject, was that each include a bona fide executable recipe within the text.

The publisher bankrolled a generous adjunct to the gathering, especially generous to the attendees who met no other criterion of admission than to show up, in the form of a smorgasbord of sample tastings of five of the recipes featured. In short, they paid a caterer to prepare and provide small, but ample, tastes of two kinds of cake, a vegetable soup, and a beverage, a punch. Anecdotally, I’d say, from the amount consumed and the overheard comments of approbation, the crowd was pleased.

The audience settled in, many of them with tiny cups of soup, sipped with even tinier spoons, and the reading began with a greeting from our merchant host, which, courtesy again of the publisher had provided stacks of volumes for purchase, and a traditional signing after we had all performed. We read in turn, taking from five to ten minutes each. Some of the readers bolstered the rendering of their contributions as published with yet more works of theirs along the same lines. In an hour, we were done. There were few questions, all asked with that earnestness that characterizes self-consciously literary crowds. And then the queue formed.

I was surprised to see that several folks bought multiple copies, each receiving a requested and different personalized greeting. The book is not costly, and I did not inquire as to any discounts, but three copies, let us say, which at least one generous soul had purchased, plus the local sales tax ate up most of a hundred dollar bill. I was further surprised to be asked myself to sign several copies, and I easily fought the temptation to disabuse the pilgrim of the likely value of my scrawl in any conceivable future.

I will admit personally to a certain sense of a kind of temporary dissociation. I for sure knew where I was, but I also wished I weren’t. I loathe crowds of strangers of any size. They intimidate me, and put me on guard. When it came time to read, I stood up, and didn’t quite entirely put aside my usual sense of confidence (bolstered by a rehearsal the day before at home, before my editor and our pooch, who both listened raptly as I easily gave a flowing reading of my free verse) as I hugged the podium and barely glanced at the equally rapt crowd. As I read, with the same well-paced cadences I’m sure in retrospect, all I could hear was a tremulousness in my voice, which I certainly felt. By all accounts that reading was as free of defect as the run-through, though it had seemed interminable to me. Barely noticing the applause, which had justifiably greeted each of the other readers, I regained my seat, as the sense of otherness enveloped me again.

Other than the pride in my wife’s accomplishment (and I was one of very few, present or not, with any acquaintance with the trials the editors together had undergone in seeing the book through its long gestation) my memory of the afternoon is hazy. It was, undoubtedly, a success, which I knew, having seen the number of copies the store had rung up. For all that, this was, I admit, my first opportunity to participate in a reading of this sort, from the other side of the lectern. Seeking no prior indoctrination, and even knowing my antipathy for crowds of strangers, I was interested to take in as much as I might perceive. For all the sales of the book that day (and to date, as it enjoys its inaugural weeks on sale nationally), the publisher had shipped what proved to be a significant surplus, no doubt in an established protocol of cautious optimism and preparedness. I happened to be at the check out at the front of the store, as the staff prepared for the next event, hard on the heels of our own. I admit as well, I cannot step into a well-stocked bookstore without spending some money (and I bested the outlay of the hundred dollar lady, with quite a much larger sum in a fit of spreading the wealth—I should disclose that my own copy of Books that Cook had arrived weeks ago at home, gratis). As I paid for my second purchase of the day, for another book, another audio CD, and a Lamy rollerball pen I couldn’t resist, I watched as two of the staff members, expertly stuffed what was left of an unsold pile of volumes of the literary feast into two sizable cartons, festooned with labels that looked familiar from a shipment long ago of my one published volume—probably the same production house. They had those cartons packed and sealed and ready for shipment back, all in the time it took to swipe my card and for me to sign the check.

All in all, and nevertheless, I am sure it was a good day for NYU Press, and Politics and Prose, and the co-editors. Later that same weekend, a check on Amazon of how the book was selling showed it had, for what it appears was a shining moment, achieved “best-seller” status, making it to the “Top 100” in three different sub-categories. I have no doubt with our next reading, scheduled for New York City, the home turf of the publisher, at a rare book library on campus, it will attain a few more moments of fame, and once again, even a few grains, like scattered salt crystals, will reach me.

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The book is available on-line, here http://www.amazon.com/Books-That-Cook-Making-Literary/dp/1479830216/ref=pd_rhf_ee_p_img_1, and here http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/books-that-cook-jennifer-cognard-black/1119220500?ean=9781479830213. And, of course, at your local independent bookstore. I know where I’d go.

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The Dangers of Exposing Yourself

Approximate Reading Time: 5 minutes

I’m not speaking of the current trending topic on everything from Huffington Post to Ars Technica—which is the hack that resulted in the release of hundreds of photos of celebrities, mainly movie stars, who made the dubious decision of taking nude selfies with their mobile devices.

I doubt anyone, but an incredibly tiny number of select individuals, would care to see me in a similar state, were I stupid enough to deploy my iPhone so stupidly, and I am not worried about that kind of exposure in all events.

I am talking far more prosaically and, yes, boringly about presenting one’s self, or at least a reasonable persona here on the Internet in the form of blog posts, Facebook news items, email blasts, etc.

Over the years—I’ve been on networked computer-based media since 1982, long before the Internet—I’ve had my share of ways to communicate with the great faceless multitude populating the ether. I’ve had a blog (a still relatively new Web-based phenomenon; it is, after all, a neologism/contraction of Web-log, though it’s always been more in the way of a personal journal than a log, per se) for over ten years in one form or another. Sometimes, as is still true, it’s in several forms.

There are two things that are the hardest to deal with for me personally in terms of my Web presence in this form.

First, there’s the problem of getting readers, that is, regular readers who frequent the pages of the blog, and might even look forward to a new post. What I have to say, I am long since aware, if not always from the get-go, is an acquired taste. And in one of those catch-22 contexts that we seem to create for ourselves, I am of the Groucho school that would just as soon not belong to a club that would have me as a member. The corollary to this famous conundrum is that I am ill-disposed to impose myself on others, even if I know them, and yet, seemingly contradictorily, all right, in direct contradiction, I truly do crave an audience… but a self-selecting one. That is, I only want to be present in the lives of people who actually are interested, in this case, in what I have to say and the way I say it. And, I should add, who go out of their way to seek it out.

Every writer confronts the problem of answering the question of for whom they are writing. As for me, not a problem (so it’s not one of the two problems I mentioned). I write for myself, just as I learned long since not to try to satisfy anyone but myself with my cooking (about which I am equally serious; I love to write, and I love to eat). Whoever comes along for the ride because they think the quality is there, so much the better for me. However, cooking is easier. I can invite two to four friends over for a dinner party with me and my spouse, and I don’t worry about imposing. I know I’m a good cook, and no one will be judging me. I have known people to be eager at the prospect of an invitation (or at least to feign excitement).

Writing somehow is different. For one thing, the context is not that intimate or personal, unless you are the sole recipient of a letter or email. As soon as you “publish” whatever it is, that “it” is viewed differently than a nice plate of braised halibut with vegetables on a mound of farro, with some savory pan juices.

With regard to writing, part of it is, as in that old joke, everyone’s a critic. One way or another almost every single one of us was schooled at some point in how to use the language. Somehow this renders almost every single one of us an expert on the most effective ways to manipulate the parts of speech; regardless of how poorly in fact we learned to do so ourselves. And it’s not so much that we can’t help ourselves from judging—that’s ok, we’re all entitled to the feelings the world evokes—what it is, is that we can’t help but voice our opinion. I’m not shy. If I wanted it, I’d ask. So, the civilized thing is wait for me to ask.

Otherwise, I’ve always tried to offer my writing with a simple proviso. If you don’t like it, don’t read it.

Having gotten all that out of the way, yet again—one of my faults is repeating myself, well short of perseveration—I will simply say, please help me solve that first problem. If you are a subscriber to Per Diem and you haven’t already signed up for the feed here at 1 Standard Deviation, please do so. Scroll back up to the top of the page (though there should also be a nifty little arrow icon pointing up in the lower right of the screen; if you click on that, it will zoom you to to the top). And on the left-hand side, at the top of the sidebar, you should see a small blank window to enter your preferred email for receiving notification of a new post here. Type it in, and wait for the verification email, which should appear in less than a minute, and click on the link and you’re done.

Now, the second problem is of a different sort altogether. Perusing the blog posts here on 1 Standard Deviation, you will see that even the small number of new posts since the inauguration of this site have elicited some comments. I love comments… feedback of a constructive sort of any kind, but comments are easy. If you liked it, please tell me. If you have a cavil or a counterpoint observation, I’d love to hear it, and so would the other readers.

The problem, though, is not getting comments, they come in due course. The problem is that any new blog is like freshly killed game on the savanna. It attracts all sorts of predatory beasts that roam the jungle, in this case, the jungle known as the Internet.

In slightly more than a month, this new blog, with all of five or six posts, has already attracted a special kind of spam. These are comments sent to any one of these random posts (and as I have now migrated another 130 posts from Per Diem to this site, there’s that much more to target) that really are not from people with a genuine, substantive thing to say because they actually read the post. Their posts are thinly disguised mechanisms to get the unsuspecting to click through to their websites. Most of these sites offer merchandise or services that really no one wants… or at least would not seek them out as a resource. Some are worse than that, being hacks that lure the unsuspecting to sites that will surreptitiously install malware on an unprotected computer or mobile device (though I think few people read my verbose posts on a smart phone; at least I hope not).

In a little more than 40 days, this little site has attracted 500 spurious comments, all of which have been virtually automatically purged and destroyed. I have software installed to capture this crap, and furthermore every comment is moderated, so it must pass not only through an automatic filter, but a human filter as well. More often than not, I respond to real comments and remarks from real people. As for the rest, it’s trashed. But it eats up precious time to manage this part of the endeavor, time I could be spending writing even lengthier posts for you to enjoy, especially if you’ve subscribed.

Thank you for your attention, and thank you in advance for subscribing to the feed. Bon appétit.

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Ten Squared and counting.

Approximate Reading Time: 2 minutes

“1 Standard Deviation” is not only my new (and newest) blog. It is also to be the new home of all previous blog entries on what was my usual writing post, a blog called Per Diem. Though, to the relief of everyone, not least of all myself, it did not live up to its name in a literal way. The blog entries there, as my regular readers, my loyal friends and subscribers long since learned, made up in the volume of words what they lacked in regularity of appearance. In a good week, sometimes essays appeared three days in a row. But that was a rare occurrence. I tried, at least, to concentrate the quality of rarity in the quality of the writing itself.

For three days now (it’s a tedious technical process) I have been importing the Per Diem blog entries to this blog as their new repository. There are now 100 essays, jibes, quips, and observations lifted without alteration to these virtual pages.

If you look on the home page of “1 Standard Deviation,” down there in the left hand column you will see, arranged by month and year, the growing library of vintage Dinin.

If you are or were a subscriber to Per Diem, you might consider subscribing here. The place to do so is just a little further down on the left. Per Diem, as a blog, will be removed from its present location after I have given the web crawlers and spiders to find these essays once again and index them, so people searching on their favorite engines for doing so will find them in their new home. Though hardly pressing, this is as much a cost saving measure as it is an esthetic (the old site was getting a little old, along with my face) and a marketing decision (the cleaner, more accessible design I hope points to some cleaner more accessible content to come, in many forms).

If you have a favorite piece or two of mine that you always mean to look up and read again (or perhaps, more likely, you’ve simply forgotten, as I have, the surprising pleasures—yes, I do surprise myself, as any writer should be able to do—of certain passages or even whole pieces; now’s your chance to re-discover a lost favorite or two).


I hope in the next day or so to have transferred all the contents of Per Diem to this site, going back to 2002…

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