How long must I write this long

Internet | Language/Structure
Reflections on what motivates me to write — long.

Thirteen years and now three U2 albums ago, was the release of U2’s Achtung Baby, which had compelled me at the age of 15 to buy a CD player. I didn’t go see the supporting Zoo TV tour, but I still remember listening to the accompanying Zoo Radio broadcast, and capturing it on the leading music-sharing technology of the time (audiotape). The broadcast included this pithy exchange between Irish deejay BP Fallon and U2’s drummer:

Fallon: What is Zoo TV Larry Mullen junior?
Mullen: Expensive
Fallon: What is Zoo Radio Larry Mullen junior?
Mullen: Cheap.

I would apply these answers to the difference between reporting and blogging. I aspire to report and essay, not to blog, so it gets very taxing.

I have worked, to my estimation, a number of ten hour days in preparing essays. The piece on Yang Jianli was one such piece last February such an effort I recall; the most recent dividend being that I happened upon his housecat wandering around the neighborhood last night and returned him home. My recent piece Read Me, Not Them: Rage Against the Elite And Mainstream Media took about 24 hours over the course of the week, ending up at 4,000 words. I thought I’d try to rush out a few quickies today to balance it out.

By comparison, Keith Olbermann’s writing throughput, is 6,000 words daily in preparation for his Countdown show, as he told OJR’s Mark Glaseer in a recent interview. As he should: he’s a professional.

Instead of a nice stipend to keep me going, I have another handy motivator: addiction. The image I have in mind stems from another cultural artifact from U2’s 1991 album. The fourth song, “Until the End of the World,” was on the soundtrack for the Wim Wenders film of the same name. Popular interpretations of this song suggest that it is about Judas Iscariot’s betrayal of Jesus, though others point out that it more directly references the movie. I saw the film years later to see for myself. The plot was rather cluttered, but I do remember that the fate of the world is in question due to some impending nuclear settlement. The main characters end up in Australia, and become addicted by some machine which enables people to see each others dreams. They strap into it and block the real world out, much like the characters did in the other science-fantasy/horror popcorn film about virtual reality, 1992’s The Lawnmower Man.

I think about this when I write. I get into sensory deprivation in the dead of night, and that’s when I can best write. The trouble is doing sensory deprivation while the sun is up, and dealing with real-world concerns like food-shopping and managing money and showing up at parties.

But my negotiations with reality are trivial matters. Consider the White House aide who told reporter Ron Suskind, “we create our own reality,” and who has no more regard for facts than the 9/11 Conspiracist. A cynic might demand that people get out to “the real world” instead, but that doesn’t provide enough navigation. The real world that people are asked of to visit are the places where people are most different from them.

Of course, that’s what I’ve always liked about U2’s Bono. Bono went out to the real world of discomfort zones– be it Africa (the most publicized trip being with Suskind book subject Paul O’Neill) or the Republican National Convention. That’s not to say he’s had some fun along the way. The “Zoo TV” tour was designed as an apparent satire about seeing the world through television. He’d call up the White House during these concerts, asking to speak to George Bush (the first). Sensing an advantage, candidate Bill Clinton phoned into U2’s national call-in radio show in August 1992. The Zoo TV tour, many critics held, eventually got caught up in its own self-importance in the unending world tour. Some have suggested the same of Bill Clinton. They intersected again last month when the political rock star serenaded the rock-star politician at the dedication of the William J. Clinton Presidential Library. Whatever one might criticize about President Clinton, he was never afraid to go to places where he’d feel uncomfortable, or to engage ideas he was told not too.

I’m trying to taking in the new album “How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb” which so far has yet to transcend being background music. Maybe it’s because I haven’t listened to it as advertised (i.e., on an IPod). I went to MicroCenter and looked at all the new PDA’s and music players… learning that the SmartMedia storage cards, which I had chosen to use by buying a Nomad MP3 player four years ago, and a Fuji 2400 two years ago, were quite outdated. So I bought an even older piece of technology which uses no portable storage format at– a refurbished PalmPilot IIIe, with foldup keyboard, for fifty bucks. Now I can write wherever I want.

The title of this piece is a takeoff on the refrain in “Sunday Bloody Sunday”: “How long must we sing the song.” This piece is 900 words. That’s enough.

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