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Tuesday, October 12, 2004

You Don't Call, You Don't Write

I sent my proposal for my radio show to Public Radio International (PRI) on February 10, 2004. Since I sent it by 2-day Priority Mail, there's a pretty good chance that they received it on February 12, 2004. By the testimony of their website, their goal is to "respond to each proposal within two months of receipt." So far, in my case anyway, they are off by a factor of four.

Now, I'm more than happy to wait as long as it takes them to make their decision, but I have to tell you that the acid in my stomach has started percolating to a Latin rhythm. It's like waiting to hear whether or not you've won the lottery, but they just haven't gotten around to picking the last number yet. This is something I walk around with, wearing it like a lead-lined necktie. I wish I didn't, but I have to. And as much as I try to tell myself that each day brings me one day closer to hearing, the strain of having spent eight months in anticipation is quite tiring.

Now, don't get me wrong. I like PRI. I think we could have a beautiful partnership and that, together, we could make a nice dollar. I am not withdrawing my proposal or even beginning to think about considering withdrawing it. I'm just impatient to get the deal done and the contracts signed. There's much to be done and a good thing to be brought into the broadcast world. Let's just do it!

And I'd tell you about the shambles that has become of the schedule I did on Microsoft Project, but it's just too difficult to think about. No, no (sniff), I'm fine. That's just a fiber of asbestos in my eye. And I always get misty on anniversaries.


Robert G. Margolis said...


Anticipation? Tell me about it. I hate even to wait for the ketchup to come out of the bottle. Sometimes I think "within two months of receipt" means "two months" in the scale of geologic time. Which reminds me to hope aloud here that the U.S. postal service didn't find your package suspicious and decide to route it through their Identical Acronyms Department. If they did, your proposal may have been sent instead to the PRI, Mexico's former "official", hegemonic political party (you and I wouldn't be invited) or to the Paleontological Research Institution. If so, this may explain the acid-producing, stomach churning delay you've experienced: either of these PRI's may be trying to figure out how it is they have radio programming and never knew about it before receiving your proposal.

I know you've done much work already, and have much more you want to do, on the series that's released the ants of anticipation in your writer's pants, but, reading the recent pieces you've presented here, it occurred to me that your take on history could become a series, or, if not a series, then your take on a specific event, or topic (technology, the typewriter) could be an occasional direction to write in.

Of course, I know, ideas like this, on the fly, are easy, but, for what little it's probably not worth, if I were Mr./Mrs./Ms. Program Development at PRI, I'd see seeds here that I'd want to plant and grow out of your fingers, through your typewriter, into people's ears.

Did you know, by the way, that Jack, in "Jack and the Beanstalk", traded his cow away for those beans because he was told they'd grow within two months of when he planted them? I mention this just in case you receive an offer from PRI that involves climbing up into the sky.

Len said...


Fortunately, I took the precaution of actually calling the program manager at PRI when a response was only a month overdue and was assured that they had received it and that it was still "in the works." They may have farmed out consideration of it to either or both of the groups you mentioned, just out of a sense of camaraderie, something along the lines of my theory that everyone named Leonard should try to stick together.

I'm flattered by and grateful for your suggestion. It's going now into the Atomic Pressure Cooker. We'll see what comes out.

Actually, now that I'm thinking about it, there is one set of episodes I haven't gotten to yet that is a satire of current electoral politics. And then in the second series (should I be fortunate enough to get there) one of the storylines will be set in ancient Rome and another in Ancient Egypt. Then there's also a short story I wrote years ago that's about a Neaderthal who's having a midlife crisis. That's definitely in line for adaptation. Ah, history! Where would we be without it?

Robert G. Margolis said...


Well, all Leonards SHOULD stick together. Leonard Cohen, for example, look how well he's stuck together. Went from drunkard to gender-free, and lived to write a poem about it ("The Drunkard Becomes Gender-Free" published, with some other poems, on the Leonard Cohen Files website). I sometimes sing this poem, as a blues, to myself, while I'm waiting for the bus into town. Anyway, thanks to Leonard Cohen, and to Leonard Alfred Schneider, I'm in solidarity with all artists formerly, presently, or futurily known as Leonard. President Leonard--the sequel to Milligan and the Goons' "Foiled by President Fred"? Why not?

Glad you and the 'seeds', refered to in me previous post, took to each other. I'm an old hand at giving out ideas I'm too lazy to do anything about myself. The more interesting they are, the more potential they have the lazier I get. The best ones are so good I don't even bother to think them.

I think developing episodes, or single pieces, around, say, the manual typewriter, or around, say, the invention of the internal combustion engine, or the cotton gin, or even not complete inventions but some component of later inventions which folks don't even give a second's thought to, but whose consequences have been enormous and pervasive in all our lives, that sort of paying attention, in a radio comedy mode, has, it seems to me, great unexplored possibilities.

Speaking of which, I keep waiting for the further possibilities in two Firesign Theatre pieces to be taken seriously and developed: "Temporarily Humboldt County" and "Pass The Indian, Please" (revised, "incomprehensible" to NPR executive version). You and your manual typewriter could be on to something, Len, though I'm too lazy to think through and spell out here what it is.

Len said...

My best friend's father was named Leonard Cohen, so that's who I always think of first when I hear that name, not the well known Canadian poet and folk singer. I will check out that poem when I have a chance.

The theme of how people interact with technology is a central one with me. I've been trying to figure out how to write something that has to do with people and the Internet, a very strange phenomenon. The manual typewriter makes a small appearance in the first episode of "Plant Your Wagon," but doing something more extensive is an interesting thought.

Since I often meditate on these ideas for decades, it might take a while, but I'll get there.

Len said...

I tried posting a comment earlier, but it has disappeared somewhere into the mists of cyberspace. ("In cyberspace, no one can hear your post scream.") This, again, is not a problem that we used to have back in the olden days. Maybe that post will appear, perhaps not. Perhaps it is a kind of digital Flying Dutchman, condemned to wander eternally.

I'd repost it, but I forgot what I said. However, in thinking further on the subject of manual typewriters and radio broadcasting, I've decided to use that as the subject of my next major post, which should be written either tonight or tomorrow.

Robert G. Margolis said...


People and the Internet, a strange phenomenon, indeed, almost as strange as people themselves. Allow me, for a paragraph or two, to think along, aloud, with you, in my lazy, no-intention-of-doing-anything about it way. You might begin where the strangeness itself begins, with the 'invention' of the internet, which was, first, a military project, if I'm correct and not making that up. Then: how did it 'get out', who first thought to make it public, something to commercialize and capitalize on?

The strangest strangeness might be found right at the beginning, with those who, knowingly or unknowingly, provided the basis for the Internet to become integral to, indispensible to society, culture, economy. Were they (are they still) just making it up as they go along, relying on people's insatiable attraction for convenience, speed, the thrill of a bigger and better mouse trap? That earliest period, where the yeast first ferments the culture, so to speak, that's where I'd look for the strange to instruct.

And then, too, what has the Internet become since, in our society, globally, in individual lives, how is it used, for what purposes? It'd be interesting and instructive to get a take on the Internet from persons belonging to pre-modern cultures, who still live on the margin of modernity, at least in their values, perceptions, and inner life, and who sometimes can more deliberately examine technologies we find ourselves having to use before we've even understood them or formulated a personal response.

In Bob Dylan's "Chronicles", volume one, he recalls walking, with Dave Van Ronk's wife, past a hardware store, on 8th Avenue in NYC, which had an electric can opener on display int he window, and her saying what a stupid thing, an electric can opener, who would want to use a thing like that? That's the strangeness I'm talking about, in part.

In other words, none of us gets up in the morning and decides whether the internal combustion is a good thing to use, whether it is wise and responsible to proliferate its use until societies and economies will depend on it, though its use is destructive and escalates the ruptures between human beings and their earthly environment. That's the strangeness, too, that I mean: the narrowest, blindest 'utilitarian', business decisions, made by--whom? a few people, on behalf of all, who mostly accept it, and, it would seem, barely anyone who could see the consequences already plainly manifest in the very invention and what it requires to 'feed' it to function.

"Prodigies in the earth," indeed! The strangeness of people and the Internet began a very long time ago. Perhaps it was that perennial strangeness even which had a hand in the invention of the Internet…

P.S. That, obviously, was more than two paragraphs. Another example of the "new math"?

Len said...

One of the interesting things about the Internet to me is that while it can often seem as though it is facilitating communication between two people, it quite often serves to separate them instead. It poses the illusion that I am speaking to you, but, in fact, I am talking to a machine that is talking to a machine that is talking to a machine that is talking to a machine that is talking to you. As a result of this separation, messages are often misinterpreted and meanings are muddled.

Of course, the rise of the ubiquitous smiley face is an attempt to combat this. "Hello.:-) I'm fine.:-) How are you?:-)" It's the waving of a white flag to a conflict that has yet to begin. And why? Because it is extremely easy to fly off the handle about an e-mail, a post, an IM message.

It's at once distant and immediate, which seems to be a dangerous proposition.

There's also the question of anonymity, but maybe we'll touch on that another time.:=)

Robert G. Margolis said...


You're saying, then, that, with the Internet, there is a harmful, dangerous separation between technos and logos, compared with, say, using a pen (ink-dipped or ball point?) to write a letter? Maybe, I guess, I differ a bit on this. I'm talking to "you" now, as I write; that's an illusion, yes, of course, and not an illusion, just as much of course. How, in the act, other than the mechanical process and use of medium, is it different than handwriting a letter to you?

How, actually, am I "talking to a machine"? Why, then, don't we say that when I handwrite a letter I'm actually talking to a pen which is talking to a piece of paper? Machine suggests, often is synonymous with impersonal, absence of intimacy, immediacy and directness of rapport. Internet machine, then, as medium of deception and counterfeit, faster than the speed of human communication, amplifying, by its speed, and its ease, all the base traits of human beings? Yet, I'm sure we both have experienced the same in a hand written letter, a typewritten letter, in an in person, face-to-face conversation.

Is it, analogously, as Bobby D. once remarked, that "electricity ruined my music"? There's another nuance of difference we're trying to get at here. Which is where my laziness kicks in, here on the verge of having to think something through. That, and I don't remember what, if any point this was intended to make. That, and I have to leave the house to catch a bus into town.

Oh well, maybe better luck next post!

Len said...


I appreciate your helping me think through this. Since it is certainly possible to maintain a civilized exchange of ideas (as these posts on my blog and so much of the posting on The Blog of the Unknown attest), I'd saying that what I'm trying to get at is more of tendency than a rule. And believe me, I wade into this post with white flag waving.

Now, I'll try to clarify my ideas without, I hope, distorting any of yours.

I think there are differences between communicating through the string of machines and other means of human interaction. First, of course, is face-to-face discussions, or as it is sometimes known, conversation.

When we converse, we not only communicate with our words but also in a number of other ways: by vocal inflection and emphasis, intonation, volume, facial expression, and gesture. Even in phone conversations (a person communicating with a machine that communicates with a machine that communicates with a person), we are left with vocal cues with which to interpret the words. (However, I would argue that miscommunication is more likely to occur over the phone than it is in person for precisely the same reasons that it does on the Internet. Having worked both in retail and as a CSR at a call center, I can assure you that the distance and anonimity that people achieve by having the separation of machines affects their behavior significantly and makes them more prone to fits of temper and general unpleasantness.)

When it comes to writing letters, I think a lot of different factors come into play. In a handwritten letter, we give visual cues to compliment the words. Out handwriting takes on different tones depending on whether we are happy, angry, lustful, or peevish. I've had my head handed back to me on a couple of occasions because of a letter I've written by hand, but I can say without fear of contradiction that on each occasion I richly deserved it. My meaning had been clear and the meaning of the reply had been, too.

Now, the typewritten letter is something I am intimately acquainted with. I prefer to type my letters, not because I am trying to hide (I don't think), but because 1) I think I write better on a keyboard than I do with a pen and 2) I hate my handwriting. (This is not because it is illegible. It's not. I hate it because it is plain.)

There are two gradations of typewritten letter: manual and electric. I've had both and used both. With manual typewriters, there's something very human about them. The way the letters are not always in a neat line, the typeovers, the mistakes, the handwritten corrections and the signature. Electric typewriters are colder and more business like, less of a personal expression and more of an expression of the machine.

All versions of letters (as opposed to e-mails) have certasin common traits as well. For example, there is the question of time. Reading a letter is a leisurely activity and an intimate one. People give litrtle bits of themselves to us in a number of small ways: their handwriting, the way they fold the paper, the kind of paper they use. Writing a letter is a very personal act, one that can take days. E-mails tend to be written quickly, read quickly, and either replied to quickly or ignored.

It is difficult to flame someone who has written you a letter. The composition of the reply is apt to be precise and judicious, acid or servile as the need may be. With an e-mail or the post on a messageboard, however, the process is usually lightning quick: Read, fume, reply. I think that flaming is a phenomenon akin to road rage. In both cases, we are represented by our machines, and the rage is directed not so much at the person as the object.

This is getting closer to the nub of the problem, I think. There is something in communicating through a string of machines that tends to objectify the participants, that tends to make them less knowable even as they attempt to bridge that gap through the medium of the word.

I hadn't intended to write a doctoral thesis on this, but there you go.

Len said...

Sorry about the typos in the above entry, but it is now out of my hands.

Also, I have been assured by my wife that my handwriting is not plain and that I am insane. She's probably right on both counts.

Robert G. Margolis said...

Dear Doctor Thesis,

"Plain 'n Insane". What a great slogan, and to receive it from your wife no less! I'm gonna ask my wife for a slogan for me, I like yours so much. (Or, maybe, I could just select a few disparate but related character traits of mine, and she could work her verbal magic.)

I'm so pleased I prompted (provoked?) you to think through more and aloud. I agree with everything you've said. Well, I mean, I have to: I've experienced everything you describe of yourself, made the same or similar observations, and arrived at the same conclusions myself. What was I thinking in my previous post? More like not thinking, clearly.

Your discourse is nuanced and the expression of your insights is finely honed. I'll have to remind myself, from now on, to think like that more often. I sleepwalk, while awake, a lot, so I forget just how much, in my heart, I already know how subtly, pervasively insidious is this machine and the 'habits' of thoughtless, of lack of awareness and attention, lack of patience, of kindness, courtesy, of reflection, of genuine communication it fosters and feeds. Did I leave anything out? If so, add that to what I've just listed.

I'm sorry you can't see this written to you by hand on paper, or, at least, typewritten on an old manual typewriter, but I hope you'll read and accept this as if were written to you that way.

Len said...

Provoked. I was definitely provoked. Which is a good thing, although all of this thinking is hard work. I can understand why the President avoids it.

Sleepwalking through life might be appropriate. For "life is but a dream," as Stephen "The Buddha" Foster put it. But I know exactly what you mean. I see the trance in the eyes of my fellow commuters and understand their trance as a reflection of mine.

And, for the record, if you're interested in a more traditional type of correspondence, just contact me by using the e-mail link on my profile and we'll work something out.

Robert G. Margolis said...


Stephen Foster, one of my favorite songsters, is correct about our life of dream--"we are such stuff as dreams are made" said quill user Shakespeare, but the song says not to sleepwalk, but to row our boat, merrily, merrily, merrily, down the stream, not against the current of the dream. Who recognizes the dream?

The dreamy Chuang Tzu has the best of dream words about our dream:

"In the midst of a dream, we can't know it's a dream. In the midst of a dream, we might even interpret the dream. [In the midst of the dream, Stephen Foster sings a song about being awake in the dream.] After we're awake, we know it was a dream--but only after a great awakening can we understand that all of this is a great dream. Meanwhile, fools everywhere think they're wide awake. They steal around as if they understood things, calling this a king and that a cowherd. It's incredible!

Confucius is a dream, and you are a dream. And when I say you're both dreams, I too am a dream. People might call such talk a sad and cryptic ruse. But ten thousand generations from now, we'll meet a great sage who understands these things. And when that happens, it will seem like tomorrow." ("The Inner Chapters", David Hinton translation)

Is it tomorrow yet, or am I still dreaming?

Len said...

After considering the current election and the mass of stupidity that gets catalogued in the papers and the evening news, I'm afraid that the dream continues. And I'm not just using the word "afraid" rhetorically. Although, as one of my favorite songwriters said, "Nothing is real/There's nothing to get hung about."

Robert G. Margolis said...

Yes, and as one of my favorite songsters, the man of his own chronicles, says and sings: "It's alright, Ma, it's life and life only."