Paul Cantor, I just zoomed to the responses because I had an epiphany.
Thomas R. Barton, JD
41

Hey Thomas R. Barton, JD. Thank you for that suggestion; it’s a good one. So good, in fact, that I should probably take this opportunity to say I already do that. Sometimes with voice notes on my phone, sometimes by sitting at home with a camera facing me, like the confessional booth on a reality show.

If there is any real reason why I can no longer do it while driving, it’s that I do not actually have a car anymore. Or, well… I do. But it’s not accessible to me, living in Manhattan and all.

Parking here can cost upwards of $600 a month, which is enough to rent a small apartment or even a house in some other place. And on-the-street parking is virtually non-existent, with most spaces taken up by bike-sharing stations and construction zones.

So, the car is out for the moment. And I haven’t really found a replacement for the kind of thinking environment that a car provides. I try to take walks, which I’ve also done for many years, but it’s not the car or the walking so much, but rather the existence of empty space one sees when doing that sort of thing, especially at night.

Manhattan is just not empty enough. Everywhere you look, there is something to divert your attention, trigger some kind of thought about something else. Which is good in some ways, but in others, not so good — you spend a lot of time thinking about things that are sort of outside of your own head. It’s more of an outward reflection, as opposed to an inward one.

I think inward reflection serves a person better in the long run, for what we have lost in our smartphone-addicted, attention-starved modern day world is the ability to sit and stew with our own thoughts, to look out at the night’s sky and be content to just imagine.

I notice this most when I’m in the gym, and people — myself included — seem to need distractions to get them through their workout, as if the mere act of running on a treadmill with their own thoughts is a nightmare they rather not experience. As a people, we do anything nowadays to not think about things.

But back to your original suggestion. Sometimes I meet people who tell me they want to write, and they can’t seem to wrap their heads around actually doing it. Usually it’s an older person; young people, especially these days, take to writing real quickly.

And I tell them that if they want to write, they should merely turn the voice note app on in their phone, then talk into it as if they were talking to their mother or a good friend. They think this is ridiculous, embarrassed because it sounds like I’m telling them to talk to themselves — when in reality, that’s what most writing is really: talking to yourself.

I find that spoken language and written language are linked in ways that most people fail to realize. I’m not sure if the writers coming out of MFA programs get schooled in that sort of thing, but it would seem that journalists have a leg up on them, because they sort of spend their lives listening to other people talk. Which gives them an ear for dialogue.

In my own life, I try to record myself talking as much as possible. I also try to record other people, too. Sometimes when I have friends over, or I am with a group of people at dinner, I will turn my recorder on and just place it on the table, then record the hour or two that we are sitting there chit-chatting and bullshitting.

I find that the best ideas come from that sort of natural dialog, when there is no filter and people are speaking freely, without the intent to ever have it be contained in any sort of creative thing. A lot of it I don’t use, nor do I let anyone hear it. But the reason I do it is because the best ideas are informed by and reflect real life itself. If I had to sit around imagining that sort of thing, I don’t know if I could do it.

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