Whenever I read a sentence that begins “Don’t get me wrong…” I want to scream and mark through it with a thick Sharpie. PLEASE add this phrase to your exclusion dictionary! Replace it with “Although” or – better! – don’t use it at all! If your writing is good enough, I won’t misunderstand you.

Oscar Levant

Good overview of Oscar Levant, one of those minor performers of a Time Gone By who appealed to what the writer calls the “midcult” audience of the ‘40s and ‘50s, but who was capable of much more had manic-depression not wrecked his life.

A pianist who idolized his friend George Gershwin, Levant played second and third leads in movies and became a radio “personality” that boosted his concert career while freezing him in the public mind as a wisecracking cynic.

Later on, he became known less for his musicianship and more for his cutting wit, which he turned more and more on himself.

I remember reading a couple of his memoirs, which were straightforwardly written but not memorable. One detail stuck with me: Levant playing piano in New Orleans at a site below sea level. The humidity slowed the keys’ action so much they rose up slowly instead of snapping back.

Levant’s self-deprecating quotes in the article are chilling, particularly this one: “It’s not what you are, but what you don’t become that hurts.”

YouTube has lots of videos of Levant on panel and interview shows of the ‘50s. Here’s something a little quieter, that ends rather sadly:

Some days, my banjo lesson feels like I’m playing music. Other days (like this morning), it feels like I’m doing math and my mind won’t settle down.

Weird Old Book Finder

From today’s Recomendo newsletter:

Weird Old Book Finder

Clive Thompson created this search tool for weird old books in an attempt to rewild our attention. It only finds books one at a time and in the public domain, which you can download. I found this 1901 copy of Studies of Trees in Winter, which is actually a book I came across in a Berkeley library years ago and have been searching for. I also discovered this — definitely weird — rare manuscript titled The Complex Vision by poet/philosopher John Cowper Powys. I love tools like these that help me break free from the same old internet loop. — Claudia Dawson

Today’s Pome was too good not to share:


Your dress waving in the wind.
is the only flag I love.

Garous Abdolmalekian
trans. Idra Novey and Ahmad Nadalizadeh (2020)

Career Advice to My Younger Self

  1. Imaginative experiment 1: Think back to when you were 7 or 8 years old. You’re at a dinner surrounded by parents, aunts, uncles, grandparents. Someone asks you, “What will you be when you grow up?” Answer as if you were that 7-year-old. What’s the reaction of your family around the table? Laughter? Teasing? Disbelief? Scoffing? What’s your reaction to what your 7-year-old self said? Whose reaction is most important to you? Source: The Ultimate Anti-Career Guide
  2. Imaginative experiment 2: You’re at your retirement party. Your colleagues are celebrating your life and career. What are they celebrating you for? Were you a great manager? A visionary? A great teacher? A skilled navigator of the bureaucracy? What footprint did you leave behind in their lives?
  3. Where do you want to work? Use LinkedIn to find contacts there and invite someone out for a coffee meeting. Don’t talk about yourself: ask about their work, what interests them about it, what keeps them there, etc. Make friends, don’t network. Schedule 3 or 4 coffee meetings a month, let people know you’re out there and you’re interested. Source: Ask the Headhunter, and a few other places.
  4. In my 20s-40s, I switched jobs every four years, it seemed. By that time, I’d figured out the job, was bored, and wanted to be tested and challenged elsewhere. Think in terms of job adventures. Don’t hone a set of skills so specialized and local that they make you the perfect employee at your current job. When you start a new job, start looking for the next job. Maybe apply for jobs via LinkedIn to see if the marketplace values your current skillset.
  5. Don’t worry too much about this mythical thing called “a career.” Look after the little things, like doing work you find valuable and worthwhile. The career will look after itself.

Etaoin Shrdlu

Etaoin Shrdlu is a somewhat infamous phrase among language enthusiasts. It is pronounced “eh-tay-oh-in shird-loo” and is believed to be the twelve most common letters in English, in order of most frequently used to least frequently used. The expression came about from linotype typesetting machines. Were one to run a finger down the first and then second left-hand vertical banks of six keys on a linotype machine, it would produce the words etaoin shrdlu. Linotype machines were sometimes tested in this manner. Once in a while, a careless linotype machine operator would fail to throw his test lines away, and that phrase would mysteriously show up in published material. The full sequence is etaoin shrdlu cmfgyp wbvkxj qz.


North Carolina’s Health and Human Services + LabCorp have “launched a pilot program to provide 35,000 no-cost, at-home COVID-19 collection kits for North Carolinians who may face difficulties traveling to testing sites.”

"We have so little time for the mending we must do"

My heart was broken recently and I keep the pieces on the back step in a bucket. A heart can mend but unlike the liver it cannot regenerate. A heart mends but the break line is always visible. Humans are not axolotels; axolotels grow new limbs. A broken heart will mend in time, but one of the contradictions of being human is that we have so little time for the mending we must do. It takes years to know anything, years to achieve anything, years to learn how to love, years to learn how to let love go when it has worn out, years to find that loneliness is the name for the intense secret you can’t share. Years to share what you can share. Years to be hurt. Years to heal.

Jeannette Winterson

Airbnb outsourced a shoddy background check on my account using only two pieces of data – my name and birthdate. This simple and lazy check found four arrest records scattered throughout the US (one to a man of a different race, and two others where the middle name was never given – only an initial). This was enough to trip Airbnb’s algorithms. So, despite my history as a good customer with excellent reviews from our hosts, they deactivated my account 7 days before our leave date. I filed disputes. We pivoted and booked a place with VRBO using my wife’s account. Amazon and Google could just as easily flip a switch and cut me off from services I use and depend on, with no way to dispute or appeal the action. I’m caught in a web I willingly walked into.

Sunday is for Introverting

Friday was spent running errands, Friday night was caroling in Mary Fran and Stefan’s backyard, Saturday lunch and afternoon were spent doing essential catching-up with Sue (recently moved back to NC from Santa Rosa), and Saturday evening spent with our Bull City Commons brethren and cistern with a chummy and cheery happy hour at the Bartlett’s common room/patio. Sitting there and watching the rain come down and wash the streets, smelling that fresh air – who needs TV? Afterward, a post-Happy Hour get-together in Jackie and David’s apartment with some yummy Spaghetti Bolognese.

Much eating, drinking, and socializing over the last two days gifted us with restless sleep and the need to pull the covers around ourselves on Sunday. Given that cohousing attracts introverts, we have a saying after we’ve spent lots of essential energy socializing: “I need to introvert.”

So that’s what today is about: introverting. Puttering about, writing Christmas cards, maybe shopping for groceries. Gathering energy for next week.

Creating a PDF with clickable hyperlinks from a Word 365 file

We’re having trouble creating a PDF with clickable hyperlinks from a Word 365 file. We want to create a PDF with clickable headings in the table of contents, clickable hyperlinks, ckickable cross-references, etc.

Neither Save as PDF nor Exporting to PDF did the trick, though the resulting PDF did have clickable bookmarks in the side pane. Which is OK but not great, and not what we wanted.

Turns out that you need Adobe Acrobat to create a PDF with clickable hyperlinks from a Word file. (I have PDF utilities on my iMac that could do this, probably, but we need this operation to work on a Windows laptop.)

The hackity-hacky-hack way around this situation is to do this:

  1. Upload the Word file to Google Drive.
  2. Open the Word file in Google Docs.
  3. Download the file as a PDF.

We don’t get the bookmarks capability with the resulting PDF, but the hyperlinks work and the Word formatting is unaffected.

Solution grabbed from the last post in this Microsoft support thread.

And I leave the final word to the writer of that support message:

Now the question is, why am i spending xxxxx money for using Office business when it cannot perform an operation as simple as maintaining functioning hyperlinks after a PDF conversion? (When) a simple (free) software such as Docs (Pages for Mac works too) can perform the same operation without any problem? To me, this remains a mystery.

"And they cannot stay"

In downsizing my paper files, I’ve run across pages I’ve saved from various writing classes I’ve taken over the years.

Liz and I took a class at the late, lamented Duke Continuing Education program called “A Passel of Vignettes,” taught by Sharlene Baker, a wonderful writer and teacher.

In the class happened to be a distant cousin of mine, Tim Brown. He wrote a vignette titled “Everything Quiet Like a Church,” about a conversation on a city bus between a young man and an 80+ year old woman. At the end of the scene, he asks if her husband is still with her.

Here’s the last paragraph:

“I’m alone mostly,” she replied. “My husband passed on nine years ago.” She raised her head a little and looked out the window as we rode through the tree-lined street, houses with big yards. The bus was practically empty by now and I felt I was drawn inside her for a moment. All the distractions disappeared and I experienced her silent center. She smiled a grateful smile, and said, “These people we love, who make our lives what they are – they come live with us, love us, change our very chemistry. And they cannot stay.”

Haunted art

From an old notebook I found, from a News & Observer article on a portrait that had slipped out of the NC Museum of Art’s hands and was returned after 30 years.

“No work of art is ever what it seems, at least at first glance,” said John Coffey, the museum’s deputy art director. “All good pictures are haunted.”

Secrets of a professional ghostwriter

Secrets of a professional ghostwriter, from a 1997 editors forum post. I can’t imagine the nuts and bolts have changed much.

Favorite bit of advice:

Do nothing twice except this: Tell the client twice—but not three times—when he is about to slit his own throat. Examples include cluttering the manuscript with political, religious, or ideological diatribes or excessive autobiographical material.

Puttering on the blog

Spent a couple of hours using MarsEdit to do a long-overdue cleaning up of old posts from the mid-2000s. At that time, I used Tumblr as my digital scrapbook, as Evernote was not really on the scene then.

I was embarrassed that many of those old Tumblr posts appeared on this micro.blog as if I’d written them, without proper sourcing or attribution. So I deleted a lot of those posts, plus many many posts where the source links were 404s or when referring to products or sites that simply don’t exist anymore.

I kept lots of posts that were diary entries marking my path through grad school, quotes, random images – a digital scrapbook I’d enjoy just paging through in my anecdotage.

I always harbored the fugitive idea that I kept stuff on the blog so I could find it again. And it’s true, there are a few things I post here that I do often go back. But honestly, not a lot. I remember switching personal information managers one time and marvelling that all the years of stuff I’d saved out into a big text file I never, ever went back for.

It’s all a river, flowing past us. These posts are souvenirs from past times and places, with more coming our way. Be sure to write a nice note to yourself so that you’ll smile in the future when you see it.