When I started this website 15 years ago, it was a casual thing. I’d jot down whatever came to mind and stick it up here, sometimes posting several times a day.
It was similar to the way I used to run Lookout magazine when it was a handful of typewritten, stapled-together sheets. Editing and proofreading were not things I gave much thought to, partly because finding a mistake often meant having to type a whole page over, partly because I thought sloppy spontaneity made my work more “creative” and “punk.”
Computers put an end to that sort of lazy fun. Being able to cut, paste, and delete with a couple of keystrokes made it harder to come up with excuses for embarrassing typos or tragically constructed paragraphs. My writing got noticeably better, but there was an unanticipated side effect.
Once I began sounding like someone who might know what he was talking about rather than a nihilistic clown or an angry, ranting sociopath, readers started to take me more seriously. That in turn caused me to take myself more seriously. In moderation that’s not a bad thing. Unfortunately, moderation had never been my strong suit. Or any suit at all, to be honest.
During those same years I re-enrolled at Berkeley to finish my degree, and in addition to publishing Lookout, had to churn out academic assignments at the rate of one or two a week. That, combined with a larger-than-average vocabulary that I seldom hesitated to show off, soon had me sounding like a bomb-throwing professor on a skateboard.
“Why don’t you write for the New York Times instead of that silly little magazine of yours,” family members asked in apparent seriousness. I’d smilingly remind them that it wasn’t that simple, while smugly assuring myself that I was morally if not professionally superior to publications of that ilk. Delusional? Sure, but it beat having to contend with a stream of rejection letters.
Since that time, I’ve written a couple million words (I could use computer technology to come up with a more precise figure, but I don’t care that much, and doubt you do either), including four books (two published), a couple hundred columns for Maximum Rocknroll, Punk Planet, and several other magazines, and, of course, Lookout.
Much of that happened before the internet made it not just possible but downright inviting for any idiot to spew limitless amounts of verbiage into the ether. Whether this marked, as some maintain, an epoch-changing event equivalent to Gutenberg’s printing press, or, as others hold, the death of intellect and decency, I was quick to embrace the new technology.
Strangely enough, though, the easier it became to communicate my views, the harder it was to actually do so. Once again it goes back to the notion of people taking what you say seriously. Online comment sections fill up rapidly because everyone expects them to contain a boundless barrage of garbled gobbledygook.
But when there’s a possibility – even if only an imaginary one – that what you say might have an actual impact, you start weighing your words more carefully. So carefully that it often dissolves into an exasperated, “What do I know anyway?” followed by a flick through the channels to see if there’s anything new on Netflix.
It’s an interesting time to be alive – to put it mildly – and not always in a bad way. But it feels like the more that’s going on, the less – if you don’t count the occasional Facebook and Twitter outbursts – I have to say about it.
I blame my friend Joshua. When larrylivermore.com was the aesthetic equivalent of a blank sheet, I wrote far more. Then Joshua generously volunteered to create a fancier, more attractive website for me, and I fell victim to the illusion that because my articles looked more impressive, they must be more important. That meant they needed far more in-depth consideration before I could dream of displaying them to the public.
So I now have in my files 50 or 100 half-completed or barely started stories on topics like China, health care, religion, Greenland, Hawaii, space exploration, Brexit, crime, individualism vs. collectivism, energy use and climate change, and … ok, I can see your eyes glazing over from here, so I’ll stop.
I have another excuse: one of the features Joshua added to my website was the ability to adorn each article with a “featured image” that set the tone for what I was writing about. Looks great, but now that it’s no longer feasible or wise to “borrow” random art off the internet, I often wind up convincing myself there’s no point in finishing an article until I have an appropriate picture to illustrate it.
But at last, perhaps, a breakthrough: while engaging in one of my rare bouts of dish-washing, it popped into my head that I didn’t have to write only about important things, and that since I graduated from school a long time ago, I didn’t have to worry about being graded, either. What’s more, I’ve accumulated about 16,000 photos in my various wanderings, and many of them are rather good, whether or not they have anything to do with anything.
So my new plan, one which has taken only a week to put into effect, is to write as much as I can about anything that comes to mind. I even have a photo, taken from the window next to the sink where I achieved this insight, that’s at least semi-pertinent.
Writing is one of the few things I know how to do well, and it feels weird when I don’t do it. It’s also one of the main ways I have of communicating with the world now that my plans for becoming a rock star or football player have been put on more or less permanent hold.
Not to be morbid – it really isn’t; just realistic – I’ve reached an age where it’s wise to say what I have to say sooner rather than later. I try not to harbor illusions that the world will suffer grievously if it doesn’t get a few more books, articles, or polemics out of me, but by the same token, my mind and my fingers still work well enough that it seems a shame not to put them to use.
I’m currently several years behind schedule on my next memoir, the third and final in the series that started with Spy Rock Memories, and even more so on the novel that’s meant to follow it. Whether they will ever materialize… well, I have a feeling they will, but no guarantees. I’m a similar number of years behind on some long-promised stories about my travels around the world and what, if anything, I’ve learned from them.
I’ve also got a ton of stories – as anyone who regularly spends time with me will attest – about the bizarre and hair-raising situations I’ve managed to find myself in during more than half a century of bumping around the margins of society.
Will any of this happen? Talk is cheap, and internet posts only slightly less so, but just in case it doesn’t, I have some other news: I have somehow managed to become part of a Ph.D. dissertation, and a young Italian grad student has been digitizing nearly everything I’ve ever written and published, along with a lot of photos and rare recordings. Unless he comes to his senses, most of this material will be online and available to the public sometime in the coming year.
I just had an evil thought: knowing that my past work will soon be widely available could serve as yet another excuse for not doing anything now. But hopefully not.
Oh, and one more fact you may not have known about my life in the present tense: for the past three and a half years I’ve been assiduously studying Chinese. I’ve now reached the point where I can hold actual conversations with pre-schoolers (I know, because I discussed the ducks on the lake with a four-year-old in Nanjing). Progress, not perfection, right?