The Egatz Epitaph

All things Egatz and other non sequiturs.

Too Long to Read

bookcases250When did a comprehensive piece of quality writing become referred to as “a wall of text?” The United States has now developed into a culture feeling the need to apologize in advance for a longer article or story even before it’s read. Online forums and blog posts are often begun with, “Sorry for the wall of text, but….” When it comes to the written word, the American message is clear: Faster, less detail, and no analysis or historical context. These are the hallmarks our society values in the written word today.

Casual readers are not alone in this continued search for brevity. People who edit for a living now send writers this message regularly. When did professional magazine editors begin returning stories to their writers, as happened to my friend David Biedny​, with “TLTR,” shorthand for “Too Long To Read,” written in the margin? To paraphrase Frank Zappa, we’re dumb all over, and this isn’t good for our future.

The start date of the progressive dumbing-down of America is debatable, but there are culprits, and those culprits were largely enabled by electricity. Technologists can point to 1860, with the invention of the first mechanical analog audio format, the phonautogram. 1877 saw the more popular phonograph cylinder introduced. Thomas Edison offered the Ediphone in 1878, but recorded music took off with the music roll in 1883, causing chaos for the sheet music industry. These devices were bleeding-edge technology, and expensive, and by the release of the gramophone in 1895, music became the message they primarily delivered, not spoken text, speeches, lectures, or news broadcasts.

One can argue short attention spans really began when the first spoken threat to reading was born, in 1920, when Enrique Telémaco Susini began regular wireless entertainment broadcasts via radio waves in Argentina. In August of that year, Americans got their reading time diverted when E.W. Scripps was awarded a commercial broadcasting license in Detroit for WWJ, and used the airwaves to sell radios, much like HBO and Netflix creating their own programming to sell their service to subscribers. It was then the century-long death march of American publishing began in earnest. Suddenly, you didn’t have to work by reading to get your entertainment in the privacy of your own home. It was as good as having your terrified child humiliated as she tried to play the piano for your guests, only better, because you could now have professionals creating music, drama, and reading the news for you. By the way, those professionals got paid. More on this phenomena later.

After the talkies appeared in cinemas around the country, and later, when television invaded homes shortly after World War Two to become the cheapest daycare imaginable for the Baby Boomers, the micro attention span of Americans exploded into fashion with the advent of MTV in the early 1980s. A generation of teenagers became bored by anything longer than a five-second video edit. As if to make up for the lack of exceptional new music being created, music video directors—empowered by the speed and economy of editing on video decks, rather than having to splice film—decided to speed up the visuals to compensate for what many new recordings were lacking. If it didn’t flash and move fast, surely it must be old, boring, and, by association, not good.

By the late 1980s, the rest of the United States became addicted to the bombardment of 60-second segments on the 24-hour cycle of cable corporate news networks thanks to CNN, the first of its kind. Throw into this media-conditioning of the culture runaway diagnoses of attention-deficit disorders and the resulting push for prescriptions for children and adults of all ages, a proliferation of cable television channels, the liberation from broadcast television monopoly by the advent of VHS technology, the exploding video game industry, and an overworked middle class, and who the hell has time to read the written word, let alone a lot of written words?

It seems there’s just a handful of magazines capable of in-depth profiles and investigative pieces of real journalism. That may be an exaggeration, but it certainly feels that way. The lifespan of those publications is limited, of course, because most younger American readers can’t read anything longer than a menu, and older readers who expect well-written, detailed articles of substance are dying off. With diminished readership numbers come diminished advertising dollars. With diminished advertising dollars come diminished salaries and freelance rates. With diminished salaries and freelance rates come less writers willing to work for peanuts, as our grandparents used to say, or nothing at all.

I’ve lost track of the number of times weekly alternative newspapers, magazines, newspapers, and sites have asked me to write for nothing in the last 25 years. With my poems, I get it. In a country where a new volume of poetry selling 3000 copies is considered a bestseller, poets are expected to be given nothing and be thankful for it. As an editorial writer or journalist, it’s a different matter. No thanks, Ms. Editor. I’ve got some awards and plenty of publications under my belt. I don’t need “the honor” of my work appearing on your site (hello Huffington Post!) without renumeration. The co-op where I live—a collective of artists—doesn’t accept that “honor” in lieu of my monthly maintenance fee. As Mike Monteiro quoted the film Goodfellas, “Fuck you. Pay me.” More accurately, American writers who are often both crazy and passionate enough to write articles before they’re sold should be saying, “Fuck you. I did the work which will generate readers and advertising dollars. Pay me.”

For the last 100 years, each generation of Americans seem less capable of or interested in reading anything of length. I despair for those of you who’ve chosen to have children. Our education system has failed our nation from pre-school to college. I say that as a former undergraduate-level professor and the son of two teachers who retired as educational administrators (public school principal and college president). I taught college freshmen who couldn’t write two cohesive sentences in a row, and several who couldn’t read a passage aloud in my classes. Our local governments and the national government have failed our nation with biased, failed educational goals for decades. With an educational system that doesn’t teach high school graduates how to balance a checkbook or apply for a loan, not to mention think critically, how can we expect a new generation of readers to get excited over a New Yorker-length profile?

Of course, it starts before then. As each generation is awash in more electronic media, the importance of reading books—still the best long format delivery system—recedes further and further into the past. I was fortunate, with my parents somehow instilling a love of books and reading in me at an early age. Perhaps it was a good way to keep me occupied. Perhaps it was because I’m an only child: no siblings to fight or play with. Either way, I knew the written world was a magical escape hatch, but also quickly discovered it was an autodidact tool to teach me all the cool things never touched upon in public school. It became my oxygen supply, and by junior high school, I rarely watched television by choice.

With the Internet literally and figuratively in the pockets of most children, research doesn’t require reading books for the information a school report requires. Search engines help us zero-in on data to support points, which speed-up research infinitely, but something is lost when attention spans are conditioned to become shorter and shorter by not reading an entire article or book to fully comprehend context, historical background, or supporting points. We’re in the days of the fast food of information: just enough to keep going, and quickly, but not a well-rounded diet of varied and deep data only decent-length writing can provide.

American education systems and parents are not the only guilty parties. Our news organizations are culpable, too. Print, radio, and television have failed us because their corporate overlords dictate which stories get regurgitated ad nauseam and which stories never make it to the light of day. President Bill Clinton failed us by signing the Telecommunications Act of 1996, which, riding hard on the Reagan-era Republican wave of deregulation, allowed conglomerates to cross-consume all media from billboards to multiple newspapers, radio stations, and television stations in one geographic area, let alone nationwide, reducing some cities—like Seattle, for example—to one-newspaper towns. Can you imagine? One editorial voice disseminating information to an entire major American city? It happened. What were we thinking? Where was the outrage? Where’s the outrage today? I’ll tell you. It’s been subverted by overtime and Netflix binge watching.

Rank-and-file teachers have historically been grossly underpaid and undervalued in the United States. I remember. I saw it my entire life with my parents, and experienced it firsthand myself. It was only in the last two decades, or so, that teachers’ salaries have been raised beyond the level that kept much of the best talent away from the pedagogical profession. Of course, since the 1990s, America’s colleges and universities have eliminated not only most tenure-track positions, but the majority of new full-time teaching positions in a measure to cut full-time benefits and pension programs due to unchecked rising healthcare costs and the need for more college sports stadiums instead of teachers and educational resources. With an army of uninvested adjunct instructors comes a further reduction in the quality of education, and so the downward cycle continues.

Because of the circles I run in, I count many good teachers as friends. For years I dated a woman who taught special education in East Harlem for the New York City Department of Education. She regularly spent her own money on school supplies for her students, put in obscene hours, and struggled to educate the most marginalized future citizens in our society: impoverished, developmentally disabled minority children. Talk about effort, patience, and sacrifice. In my twenties, I taught alongside great professors, many better than I. Before that, I studied with graduate school professors I draw inspiration from to this day. Although things are better for American educators than when I was a child, teachers today in this country are still underpaid, overworked, and undervalued. These are the people we’re hoping can create the citizens who will care for us if we can make it to retirement—another longshot that seems less likely each day for many Americans. I hope those new citizens have the skills and interest in reading articles longer than a menu, but the outlook for that isn’t good.

The Internet has bred more writers (as bloggers and email writers, primarily) than ever before, but the simple truth is neither the quality nor readership is there. Few bloggers have professional editors, for instance. The reason for that is when writing for free, what author has money to pay an editor? Again, pay me. You want a quality? You get what you pay for, but if no one has the time or attention span to read, who ultimately cares?

I’m a freak, an anomaly; part of the dying breed of readers. I long ago chose reading over television, but within that substrate I choose to read long and well-written articles over, say, a news story on Yahoo, the news site which popularized the one-sentence paragraph. Regarding journalism, the phrase “too long to read” doesn’t exist for me. That’s not true for enough American readers, and that’s a painful harbinger for my nation and her future.

Speaking of the future, I not only enjoy reading long articles, but I write them, too, and am always looking for interesting assignments. If you’ve made it this far, you know that, but most professional editors won’t, so I won’t get paid any time soon for what I do best. At almost 2000 words—for many of those editors—this is too long to read.

Writing, England, and the Blues

Remarkably, emails still come my way asking my opinion on different issues surrounding e-publishing, the publishing industry as a whole, and writing. I guess this site still means something to readers, and for that, I’m fortunate. As I’ve previously posted, I’ve stopped using The Egatz Epitaph as a commentary on the business of writing and publishing, but that’s what it’s still known for. Looking to the future, I think I know what I want to do with the old Epitaph next, but first, here’s a bit about what I’ve been up to this past year while not posting here regularly.

Last November, I was invited by Dean Parkin and Naomi Jaffa to appear at the 26th Aldeburgh Poetry Festival. This invitation came to me when I had one leg hanging over the edge of the cliff, and it revitalized my love of literature, writers, and the people who support the art of the written word. My former graduate school professor and mentor Tom Lux was also appearing, and it was great to catch up with him. As always, Tom provided practical advice, some metaphysical guidance, and thoughts on where my art was currently at.

Dean Parkin introduced me to his hero, British poetry legend Brian Patten, the ass-kicking Tom Pickard, and the luminous Adélia Prado, among many others. To be welcomed as a peer by other poets who had decades of publishing experience beyond mine was heartening. Many writers need this from time to time. After you’ve progressed beyond the workshops and/or the open mic scene, it’s time to decide if the calling has really called you. Things concerning most of your countrymen quickly fall away. You get down to work in a small room. If you stick with it long enough, you emerge with an original voice, and, if you’re lucky and/or deserving, you meet others like yourself who remind you you’re not in the struggle alone. Welcome to the club.

I also became friends with the brilliant photographer Peter Everard Smith and his lovely wife Joao, who kindly put me up at their 15th century home in Shimpling. Peter’s work had fascinated me since I had seen his images on John Mayall and the Bluesbreakers’ albums Crusade and Bare Wires, the first records featuring my favorite blues-rock guitarist, Mick Taylor. I was a teen when I bought those records, as was Taylor, incredibly, when he played on them. As most fanatics did back in the day of the twelve-inch album covers— before we got to see musicians moving on MTV—we scoured those 144-square inches, front and back, for every molecule of information they contained. Decades later, I’m an electric blues player myself, in England, and meeting the man who took those photos I had completely memorized in my teens. On top of that, Peter photographed me at the festival events I appeared at. Talk about an honor. A few days later I was eating Joao’s incredible food, was photographed in Peter’s studio, all while staying in their gorgeous home. The universe is beyond kind on occasion. Peter and I are planning a book together; more on that in the future.

I also read in Norwich, a city bursting with literary arts, where the incredible poetry dynamic duo of Helen Ivory and Martin Figura put me up at their Butchery, which has hosted countless poets in the past. Helen had me read at their long-running Café Writers series in a 600 year-old venue, where some new poems of mine about England went over with nary a pint thrown in anger. I still find myself thinking of returning to Norwich to finish my Ph.D. If only the Butchery took long term guests.

Outside Helen Ivory's and Martin Figura's Butchery, Norwich, UK, November 2014. Photo ©Martin Figura

Outside Helen Ivory’s and Martin Figura’s Butchery, Norwich, UK, November 2014. Photo ©Martin Figura; used with permission.

Dean and I spent time in his childhood haunts around Lowestoft, and we ended the trip in London, hanging with his musician friends. A brilliant ending to a great trip. The entire fortnight reaffirmed my love of the U.K., her people, and how connected I am to the art of good writing. I was fortunate. Dean, Naomi, and all the new friends I made through them rescued a lost part of me when I needed it back in the worst way.

Back in New York, I continued my love affair with Bijou, my puggle, and my obsession to take 1940s and 1950s jump blues guitar to my own demented next level. As Bijou and I settled in for another dark New York winter, I kept thinking of the prescient questions my U.K. readers had, and how deeply informed they were about my work, even though Beneath Stars Long Extinct wasn’t published in England. It was exhilarating, and made me realize that kind of cultural discourse in my own country was scarce, at best.

Of course, as a writer—and particularly a writer of contemporary American poetry—I write to craft something I consider beautiful, and not for renumeration or adulation. I build these small engines of emotion out of language, each one telling a very short story; each one helping me make sense of a world I find largely cruel, senseless, and beautiful. When they do something similar for others, it’s gravy; the ultimate long tail effect.

November gifted me some great friends across the pond, reunited me with others, and audience reaction reminded me of what I do best. There are learned readers in the U.K. who appreciate what I do, and that’s the greatest gift any writer can ask for. I’m fortunate and grateful.

Bijou digs jump blues.

Bijou digs jump blues.

It was an intense winter of woodshedding the jump blues, walking the ice with Bijou, and pondering the next phase of my life. I know what the new direction of The Egatz Epitaph will be, and it involves a nonfiction topic that will yield a new book in a genre my poetry readers won’t be expecting. As always, thanks for your emails, interest, and patience. Stay tuned. Cheers.

An Open Letter to Major Labels

I published the following on my Facebook page, and it got some great comments and a bit of attention. Unbeknownst to me, I published it just before the MTV Awards, which shows you how closely I’m in touch with that world. Here it is for all to read, along with a few edits.


Dear Major Labels of the Music Industry:

There’s a reason I don’t spend much money on buying new music, and it’s not because record stores are just a memory, or because of piracy, or because I got old.

LPYour recent offerings suck. That’s right. They suck. My ears make my wallet vote. If my choices are between another Katy Perry-type freeze dried, overproduced studio creation developed by an extensive team and a band with nine guys who all look, sound, and dress like 19th century Mennonite farmers, I’m out. Like Hollywood, you, the major recording labels, continually play it safe, offering nothing different, nothing compelling, nothing with a gram of emotional honesty.

Your promotions suck. When musicians, established and not, have to sell their songs to television networks so they’ll get a 20 second snippet played with a bad medical drama voiceover on top of it in the hopes the exposure will generate sales, your marketing department has failed. Fire them all, and start over with someone who has better ideas.

Your loyalty sucks. Most popular bands of another era were mentored. Their first two or three albums and tours were spent to train, develop their songwriting, and foster future potential blockbuster sales. Today, if a new major label band doesn’t score big with a single off their first album, they are marginalized by the label and not promoted until they shrivel up and die. Shame on you.

Radio sucks. Thanks to the Telecommunications Act of 1996, and the subsequent corporate consolidation, conglomerates like Clear Channel now call the shots regarding what the public gets exposed to. DJs used to play what they stumbled across that moved them, not what some corporate whore from the car rental department told them to play. Since this has gone on long enough and a new payola scandal gets trotted out in front of Congress every 17 years, why don’t you put some money into a more effective Internet-based broadcast system which showcases new, worthy, talent which doesn’t sound like all the other AutoTuned crap you majors have been peddling for decades?

I could go on, but this is capitalism, and as Marx pointed out, the rules are merciless and simple. You offer us little more than shit for a long enough period and eventually we look elsewhere. Get your acts together, and maybe I’ll come back to you. Until then, I’ll keep buying more toys to make my own music. I’m not Jeff Beck or Mick Taylor or Andy Summers, but even listening to my own music, let alone making it, makes me much happier than paying for what you’ve been peddling for a long, long time.

Ron Egatz

Making It Look Delicious

Another short film I did during my absence from The Egatz Epitaph. I wrote and directed this short with my friends at MAC Group. It features the incredible food photography of William Brinson. If you want to learn how to shoot food for your blog or any other occasion, Brinson is your guy. If you want to hire a pro to do it for you, he’s definitely your guy.

Linda and Bob Carey’s Story

Here’s something I did during my hiatus from The Egatz Epitaph.

A few years ago I stumbled across the work of photographer Bob Carey a few years ago. This was just as he began to ride a huge tsunami of publicity for his Tutu Project photos. We became friends, and he agreed to be the subject of a short film I wrote and directed. The good folks at PocketWizard loved his work and his use of their products, and underwrote the entire effort.

I know of no other photographer who has received the kind of press Bob has. He’s been everywhere in the mainstream media, from CNN to The Today Show to The Huffington Post. He and his wife Linda have a story most Americans can relate to. Bob explains all in this short. I hope it moves you as much as their journey moved me.

Not a solo effort by any stretch of the imagination, this short film was made with the help and labor of my friends at LPA Design, MAC Group, and several freelance production persons. I was and still am thankful for their time and support.

All revenue generated by The Tutu Project goes directly to fund The Carey Foundation. Please help the most honest charity organization I know of.

Egatz at Brookdale

Here’s an interview I did at Brookdale College on the Beneath Stars Long Extinct tour. Suzanne Parker is a talented teacher, and asked some great questions. I got to read to the student body that evening, and that itself was also televised.

Topics covered: my common poetic themes, the publishing of the book, the poem “Heartworm and the Space Behind,” my penchant for writing poems the FCC would have issues with, independent publishing, lucid poetry, and the usual things I rant about. Enjoy.

Rebroadcasting in the Clear

It’s been quite some time since my last post on the old Epitaph. Hard to believe I was coding this blog in the 1990’s, before the term “weblog,” when I’d write each post nightly in TeachText/SimpleText under System 7.5 on an old PowerMac 8100A/V.

I pulled all that content a long time ago. The new version of The Egatz Epitaph was all about the publishing industry. As I predicted years ago, it seems Len Riggio and company continue to drive Barnes & Noble into the ground. The place to get your books, both electronic and traditional, is Amazon.

I came to the decision there are already plenty of journalists getting paid to watch the publishing industry. Many of them even have staff jobs with health care coverage. Although readers of The Egatz Epitaph would write in to say they enjoyed my opinionated rants, for me, watching the implosion of the publishing industry in a country that has coined the acronym TLTR for “Too Long to Read,” well, it was just too depressing.

What’s up for the future? I’m not entirely sure. I have some other short film projects in the works which are strictly non-commercial. They actually involve my writing. As with all film work, much of this depends on time and money. I’ve been playing the blues and writing original songs more than I have in years, largely thanks to Jenn, who encourages me to fill the loft with my own music. Oddly, she doesn’t mind hearing me work out new instrumental parts. That she picked up an awesome Mesa Boogie for me is proof. She’s taken a few guitar lessons from me, but she’s more about blowing some blues harp these days.

Since my last entry, Jenn and I have been engaging in other good things together besides making music. We’ve shot some video for Reel Chow, and we’re working on the development of two different cooking shows. Can’t really report anything else about them right now.

To say I’ve been dismayed by the wholesale violations of the Constitution’s Fourth Amendment in light of the Snowden revelations is an understatement. This, along with the private sector’s unending drive to replace the corporate American workforce with cheaper overseas labor, show me there’s plenty of reasons to keep writing The Egatz Epitaph. Maybe that’s what I’ll focus on, or maybe it’ll just be more stories about my crazy life and adventures with Jenn.

I know WordPress much better than years ago, so information architecture changes in this blog might be forthcoming. Stay tuned, and thanks for all the emails that never stopped coming during my long hibernation.

The Death of Flash

The bones of Steve Jobs continue their easy rest, especially since November, when Adobe capitulated by announcing the end of mobile browser Flash development. Not only that, but they have moved their focus onto HTML5, something they should have embraced a long time ago.

Sure, we’ve bitched about Flash for years, but there was a time when we here at The Egatz Epitaph praised it as a comprehensive animation tool in the mid- to late-nineties. Back then, if you wanted animation, you could either learn to program in Java or wave your fingers in front of someone’s monitor in pantomime. Javascript was another option. Anyone else remember Director and Shockwave files? The field was limited for mortals and/or professionals interested in other things to deploy on the Web, like writing and designing. Read the rest of this entry »

The Chattahoochee Time Warp

Kids, don’t try this at home. You’re about to read the worst advice a young writer can ever hear.

For the past decade, or so, I’ve rarely submitted unsolicited writing to publications of any kind. I feel pretty fortunate some editors seek me out. The ones who do are the ones who’ve published me better than 90% of the time for the past ten years, or so.

As the poet Thomas Lux said to me, “Ronnie, editors are not going to come into your home and open your desk drawer to search for poems.” Even spending an hour a week getting your submissions in the mail is critical (if you’re ready to be published), but my track record proves I’m incapable of even that.

Read the rest of this entry »

Oh, What a Difference a Half-Year Makes

Hello, readers. Thanks for your kind emails during my half-year hiatus. We’ve had much happening at the loft, and outside events have essentially taken over my life for the past six months. They include family illnesses, freelance work, readings, radio interviews, a lot of spouse time, legal maneuverings, and a host of other matters both good and bad. The massive amount of emails from FoEs and regular readers alike are most welcome, and the encouraging messages helped get us through. It reminded me of the last time I shut down The Egatz Epitaph at the end of the 1990s, when regular readers got seriously pissed. This time, though, I don’t intend to quit. Enough with the personal issues for now.

Out in the real world, much has happened in the technology and book vending industries since I last posted. As chronicled on this site, Borders has finally completed its long march into the history books. After a seemingly endless series of executive and managerial missteps, the 40 year old company collapsed, leaving many vendors in red ink, and 10,700 people without jobs.

My wife Jenny and I did our part, though. With many publishers and authors still sending me books to review, we keep our book purchases to a minimum. We are, after all, running out of room for books. Hello, iBooks, but I digress. We visited our local Borders, but the garage sale atmosphere was just too depressing. It felt like people were picking over the carcass of an old friend. Read the rest of this entry »