Rhythm and Self-Consciousness in writing this Book
The manuscript of what became this book was written on a word processor between November 19th and December 20th, 2000, and was twice rewritten in January of the following year. Some was original composition but most represented reworked materials from versions of the text written ten or more years earlier. This book has actually been in progress for more than forty years, interrupted by other writing projects and a career in accounting and real-estate management.
From my high-school years, I have kept a running journal of “idea notes” which included creative thoughts on various subjects. They were first sketches of school-boyish inventions or business ventures scribbled on pieces of paper. Lately, these notes have tended to be related to writing projects in which I was interested. I thought of them as expressions of original inspiration and treasured them as a personal heritage. They were typed in a chronologically ordered series and assigned numbers for convenient identification.
The notes pertaining to rhythm and self-consciousness date back to the early 1960s when I was a college student, majoring in philosophy. My idea notes at that point tended to focus upon philosophical issues encountered in my studies or in personal life.
years in the creative wilderness
As a student, I began to have doubts about my own mental abilities. I feared that prolonged life in this mode was undermining my native thoughts and I was losing my memory and ability to concentrate. Perhaps I was no longer interested in my subjects or was suffering from competitive anxieties? My notes at that time focused on rhythm as a condition of replenished mental energies and concentration. Self-consciousness was a debilitating condition in which I then found myself. My creative imagination was carrying forward from a source in previous periods of my life.
Eventually these concerns led me to drop out of college for two years, memorize poetry, and go live in West Germany. There I continued this rather aimless kind of existence, accumulating still more idea notes. I also was able to concentrate for an extended period of time on a writing project which concerned U.S. politics. Its experience convinced me that I was basically a writer, specializing in presentations of ideas. I returned to college, graduated, briefly studied accounting, and then migrated to Minnesota to pursue this occupation.
I was always torn between ideas and the practical world. I took an accounting job for a year with the State of Minnesota and then quit it to pursue what I hoped would be a fruitful writing career. My idea notes furnished the direction of the writing. It went well for several months. I did finish two or three short pieces to my satisfaction and wrote several short stories. Then I started into the main project which was to write a work to include all my thoughts accumulated in the idea notes concerning rhythm and self-consciousness.
This project did not go well. The problem may have been that I put too much emphasis on the original notes and not enough on new creation. I thought that each note contained authentic insights whose truth needed to be brought out in expressions reflecting those originally conceived. Therefore, my strategy was to assemble the notes, group them by concept, and then connect them together in a coherent piece of writing, trying to retain as much of the original meaning as I could. I cut up carbon copies or photocopies of the source-note sheets into separate slips of paper for each numbered idea and physically arranged them by theme. Then I actually started writing.
I remember sitting in an apartment room day after day writing passages in longhand and then deciding that the subject should be approached differently. So I would cross out words and write in new ones, or I would redirect sentences or paragraphs to other parts of the manuscript, or I would insert new paragraphs in various places, to the point that I was becoming confused where I was in the project. I would wake up in the morning, drink several cups of coffee, assemble my papers in orderly piles on the table, and be prepared to start writing. But nothing came - nothing more, at least, than a few paragraphs up to several pages.
I found that I could not sustain the concentration to produce a full-length work such as what I had written in Germany, even in a rough draft. It seemed that the best strategy was to let the writing go for a day or so and then return to it, hopefully with a refreshed point of view. What I learned from this experience was that I could not force the writing to come as I wished. Maybe it was a mistake to have quit my job to pursue this type of activity full time.
Without ever abandoning the project, I turned to other pursuits that seemed more promising. I invented and patented a board game which I then produced in a small quantity and sold in department stores in several cities. I returned to college to take more accounting courses for the purpose of sitting for the CPA examination. I also read a number of library books on religious and other topics, making notes of their contents. I became interested in the shorter-workweek question (originally as a practical solution to the problem of how a person such as myself could support himself financially while having the time to pursue projects of personal interest) and produced a manuscript on that topic. At the end of this period I married and began seriously to pursue a career in accounting.
While employed as an accountant, I considered myself to be primarily a writer. Accounting paid the bills but, in my case, it was not a fast track to riches and career success. In the course of more than twenty-five years, I held five accounting positions and was fired or laid off the same number of times. The fifth job, which lasted about sixteen years, was as cost accountant for the public-transit agency in Minneapolis-St. Paul. I took up writing on weekends or during vacations or interludes of unemployment and found that this system suited me better than when I was a full-time writer. The fear of experiencing writer’s block was relieved by the knowledge that my frustrating condition would end when I returned to work Monday morning and submerged myself in a manageable routine.
Beginning in 1981, I self-published four books (not counting the present one) under the auspices of Thistlerose Publications and was coauthor of another published by Praeger. The first dealt with economic arguments in favor of legislation to reduce working hours; it was written to support a bill submitted by Rep. John Conyers in the 97th Congress. The second was a social commentary including a discussion on men’s issues. The third contained reasons for opposing the North American Free-Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and proposed alternatives to free trade. The fourth presented a new theory of world history. The Praeger book, coauthored with former U.S. Senator Eugene McCarthy, was also about work hours.
In the late 1970s, while employed as an accountant with a crane manufacturer, I finally was able to assemble the idea notes related to rhythm and self-consciousness and some other subjects in a typed manuscript that was 135 single-spaced pages in length, including an appendix. An expanded version, 215 pages long, was completed in 1984. Neither was suitable for publication. The manuscripts lacked coherence because I followed the source notes too closely. They also covered too many topics. In the late 1980s, I began expanding some of the chapters to bring in additional materials relating to sports psychology and music theory.
At the end of the 1980s, I was forced to leave my rented quarters in St. Paul when smoke damage from a fire left the house uninhabitable. Moving to Minneapolis, I first was occupied for several years with trade issues and then with activities, unrelated to writing, which concerned acquiring a small apartment building and becoming an inner-city landlord. Coming into conflict with Minneapolis city officials, I joined a group of small-time landlords who were suing the city. As the group’s “chief writer”, I now cheerfully labored on one of the lower rungs of a writer’s occupational ladder - producing letters to the editor of my local newspaper. I was also briefly a candidate for mayor of Minneapolis but withdrew in favor of a better-known candidate friendly to landlords.
That decision gave me time to resume work on personally appealing writing projects. By now, however, my thoughts had turned to writing a book about world history, an outgrowth of ideas within the “rhythm and self-consciousness” series of source notes. And so, for the next two years, I read books on history, made notes on their contents, wrote and rewrote different chapters, and finally published a book in time to receive two reviews in the first month of the new millennium. Although I was working full time on this project (apart from my landlord duties), I did not relapse into the creative funk of the 1960s either because my writing skills were more firmly developed, or the subject matter was less difficult, or because I was now using a word processor to compose and rewrite the text.
I had long had in mind returning to the “Rhythm and Self-Consciousness” manuscript. The thought, frankly, made me nervous because of past difficulties in working with this text. Philosophies concerning issues of the mind deal in more elusive subjects than those in economic or historical writings. Yet, suddenly, I decided to do it, spurred by the thought of a further three months’ delay in obtaining a visa for my new wife to enter the United States from China. Perhaps I could write most or all of this long-postponed book during the time while I was still living alone. My desk was clear of obligations related to the world-history book. The landlord problems were under control.
a fresh start
I had a busy day on Saturday, November 18, 2000, tagging along with a poverty group that was conducting a “slumlord tour” of Minneapolis as an unsympathetic observer. But then, on Sunday the 19th, I began with the first chapter, writing everything new. I finished it the next day. The next two chapters followed at a similar pace, a chapter completed every two or three days. It was a pleasure to watch this fearsome project quickly fall into place. In a little more than a month, all ten chapters were complete. This came just in time to drive to eastern Pennsylvania to visit my parents and brother for the Christmas holiday. Although corrections and additions still had to be made, I was satisfied that “Rhythm and Self-Consciousness” was now completed as a book and that the quality of writing was satisfactory.
With this experience, let me tell what I have learned about writing such works during the past thirty or more years. I have learned to work at a certain speed and avoid rewriting too much in the first draft. I have learned to follow a routine to put myself in an alert, creative mood in the morning. I make a pot of coffee, drink a few cups, and read the newspaper. If I feel ambitious (which may be once or twice a week), I will additionally jog for a mile or so and take a quick bath before dressing, drinking coffee, and reading the newspaper. I make sure that the disordered papers from the previous day are put in a reasonable order. I briefly try to think of what should be accomplished that day. If there are notes or parts of existing manuscripts that pertain to that day’s work, I read them and allow my mind to fill up with awareness of them. It’s important to work new materials into the manuscript so that one’s mind is kept in a creative mood that is receptive and loose.
Another secret that I have learned is the value of taking naps. I think of myself as a bow that needs to be unstrung every once in awhile to keep the spring in it. I have learned to take catnaps lasting from twenty minutes to half an hour in which I feel my body and mind grow numb as the fatigue drains away. When I have finished a section or have reached a mental impasse, I take one of those naps. Then I come out of it, do a few fussy things, and am ready for the next round of work.
Actually, this second, third, or fourth beginning of the work day is often better than the first because one has a certain mental momentum by then which makes writing come more easily. On a good day, a writer can extend his productive day through naps to the equivalent of several days. During nap time, thoughts come into the writer’s head that may be useful in the next session. One’s creative mind is always working.
There were three types of materials that I used to write “Rhythm and Self-Consciousness”:
First, there were the “idea notes”, or “source notes”, previously mentioned. These notes expressed original themes for the book, presenting its content and organization. Some of the notes were recent; others dated back to my college days. Second were what I called “reading notes”.
Any book on a theoretical subject needs, besides theory, plenty of examples. I think of the theory as being like cement mix and the examples being like the stones and rocks, steel rods, used bedsprings, or whatever contractors put into the cement to stiffen it and make it hold together. A concrete object without this filler material is apt to crumble, while filler material alone is a pile of junk. Both need to be used together to create a firm structure. Theory needs to go with concrete examples, illustrations, or whatever can tie it to a reality that the reader recognizes.
The third type of material used to write this book was manuscripts of previous versions. There were at least two versions of each chapter, excepting the first, plus additional writings. Needless to say, it was easier to put the work together when there were existing versions from which to borrow words or gain a sense of how to organize the materials.
Not long before I began writing Rhythm and Self-Consciousness , I attended a workshop in Minneapolis conducted by Pavel Tsatsouline, former trainer of Soviet athletes. I bought a copy of his book on flexibility training. For the discussion of Greek philosophy, I brought out a copy of The Spirit of Western Philosophy coauthored by my old college professor, Robert S. Brumbaugh, with whom I had corresponded on the subject of rhythm before his death in 1992. I reread the chapters on Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle in this book and made notes on points that might apply to my argument. I also made notes from Tsatsouline’s book and from Aristotle’s discussion of the Soul.
I located as many file folders as I could find containing previous versions of chapters in “Rhythm and Self-Consciousness”. I made photocopies of my source notes from the 1960s where these two concepts were first discussed. I also assembled a large file folder filled with newspaper clippings and magazine articles that might apply to this book. I listed all these articles on sheets of paper and went through them again jotting down points of interest. There were several other folders from past years that contained reading notes from books previously read and annotated. These were made more available for access while writing.
my own mass-production techniques
Having been raised in Detroit, I was aware of Henry Ford’s mass-production techniques that brought parts down to the assembly line on conveyor belts. This allowed the workmen at different points on the line to have the parts and tools that they needed to do their work, with limited reaching or lifting.
So it was that I tried to organize the work of writing a book. I wanted the written notes and all relevant manuscripts to be immediately available to me. It was important not to be tired or confused from reviewing too many materials before starting the writing. The relevant materials should already be in front of me, and the others be put away in a known location for possible use. In preparation, therefore, I had to sort through the materials and decide what was needed for each day’s production. I would fill up my limited mind with each day’s knowledge, mull it over, and creatively put it to use.
I did not make an outline of the book when I began the writing. From experience, I have learned that organization can be the most difficult part. I could not organize the entire book in an outline, just the immediate chapter and perhaps the one after it. In fact, the scheme of chapters for my book changed several times. I would ignore previous plans as a new scheme of organization occurred to me. I obviously had to have a sense of where to go in the immediate chapter; that was the focus of my planning.
Each chapter was a beginning of sorts. I would assemble the relevant papers for the chapter after putting the old ones away. I also made a point of doing new research, even if it meant spending a day or two on that. I listed most of the important materials on a fresh sheet of paper - source notes, reading notes, and summaries of the previous versions. Then I read through what I had assembled for the chapter on the morning when I would begin the writing. I made sure that I knew what would be the starting point and wrote down some of the other points that followed. My objective was to cover all or most of the materials planned for the chapter and complete roughly ten typed pages, each single spaced.
I contrast with my original practice of composing in longhand, I composed this book manuscript on a word processor. I have become used to composing nearly everything I write by such means; typing the text has an air of finality that makes me choose my words more carefully. Also, of course, word processors can handle revisions and corrections more easily than in the case of handwritten or mechanically typed manuscripts. Knowing that, I felt more comfortable in continuing to compose the first draft and letting corrections go for the time being.
I must admit that, source notes notwithstanding, much of this book about rhythm and self-consciousness is based on “book learning” rather than first-hand experience. I am not a skilled athlete or musician but a person having some though limited acquaintance with those areas. My main experience with sports psychology comes from having participated for several years in a golf league. Having a relatively high handicap, my partners and I won several trophies in our handicap golf competition. I found that during tournaments I had some control over the level of my playing through the thoughts that I cultivated. I could identify particular moods within myself that were associated with playing well as opposed to playing poorly.
With respect to music, I think I have good instincts but lack the ability to play any musical instrument or read notes. I have sung in several church choirs, though none recently. Every week or so, I participate in a men’s singing group that includes serious musicians and poets. I exercise creativity in improvising rhythms to go with each song or chant including rhythms of clapping, harmonic parts, and, sometimes, singing unrelated melodies or words. However, my creative drive has been inhibited somewhat by disparaging comments from two of the more knowledgeable musicians.
Well, a philosopher has only to describe technique leaving the performance to others.
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