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How Retarded is the Crackpot?
Follow Up To Words: 4/10/2022, Missouri
1.  I have given my daughter unlimited access to audiobooks and have also helped you gain access to audio library books online.  I struggled with whether this was a good thing for my daughter, worried that it might remove motivation she needed to get her reading.  Now that I have learned more about dyslexia, I am so glad I let her listen as much as she wanted (and still do).  It would not have improved her reading to withhold them and the value of it for her vocabulary, general knowledge and understanding and enjoyment of literature has been priceless.  How do you think such a resource would have affected you in different times of your life?  Before you learned to read, or as an adult when you were first writing on your own, or when you were reading massive amounts in libraries?
2.  Much of your writing has involved interviewing people and then recounting their answers, much later, from memory or very scant notes.  How do you do this?  If you don't hear words when you are writing your own, do you hear the words of others in your memory?  
-Lynn
Lynn, I am so glad your girl is reading. The thing that made me want to read, and learn how to read, where I never bothered to learn math or science, which were both things I had often wished I understood, was hearing stories.
Our father used to tell us tall tales, for instance, about the time he led an expedition up the Amazon River and all of his men got eaten by Pirana fish. My mother read to me and this stoked me with a desire for me to read, for one who was weak and lost at all things in this life could listen as a silent cheering ghost to the stories of men, who seemed such better creatures than us children.
I wanted dearly to be able to read books on my own. Having heard stories—historical or fictional—stoked this desire. My special ed class combined this by having we idiots coached on reading the adventures of men, holding out a promise that we too might be men some day—we were all five of us boys. The men who adventured in the Sea Hunt novels numbered four, and I did not want to be the single one of us left on the mute shore.
I did listen to some audiobooks from libraries and The History Book Club, back in the 1990s. I did this while I was working with a walkman. Had I thought of using this for research while doing The Broken Dance reading, I would have listened to the ancients while stocking overnight at Store 48 in South Baltimore. This would have enabled a better grasp of such massive works as Cicero, Polybius and Herodotus.
I highly recommend audio books and use them extensively since my eyes have begun to fail.
I have two types of interviews: snap and epic.
The snap interview is with a person that I have never spoken to, in which I listen and place affirmative comments. In such an interview I will forget 70% of what they say and hopefully gain a grasp of how they talk. I will then, days later, usually after I get off the train, record those statements of there’s I can recall in the way they said them. What sticks in my mind is the most interesting recollections and the most quirky-worded uses of the language. Since a character speaking in a novel is only being recorded saying a fraction of those things he says during his mostly “off-stage” life in the novel, I find this exercise helpful.
Once I gain enough to overflow my memory, which is usually 1 to 2 hours of conversation, I will excuse myself and walk home from the bar or leave the viewing car and return to my coach seat. There, I will repeat the words of the speaker as thoughts in my mind, while their image sits silently. With outrageous characters like Travis from Dallas, I will print some quotes on the back of my train ticket. For a person who spews a life story, these quotes provide memory cues and hooks on which I can restructure his words. This restructured monologue will be severely abridged.
With someone who I have long known, or I have interviewed over the course of some time, I try and learn their speech pattern, their diction, their quirks. In the case of a biography like with Big Ron, Nero the Pict and Mom, I sit and type their words as well as I may and later use my memory of missed words and knowledge of their speaking style to amplify the monologue.
With people who I am socializing with like Corby and Ken in Portland, training with like Portland Joe, being guided by like Ozark Paul, I repeat their words as illustrated thoughts, as images of scenes with actors wandering like invisible thoughts upon them. Since I speak with them often, I can rebuild their recollections closer to their patterns of expression than mine. For instance, last dusk, as Paul drove me through a long mountain valley, describing Man’s actions as I witnessed the effects of them, and recalling Civil War battles in the area, I was busy imprinting the images of the countryside in my mind.
His words, this morning, echo silently in my head, “The best land is under the lake. Rich folk desired a place to fish and boat and otherwise carry-on, so the farmland had to go... [1} Mexicans have a good eye for land. Where a white person will see a piece of land with a good view and decide to build their for no other reason, a Mexican will buy land based on its potential use.”
-1. Having forgotten a very pleasant piece of verbiage Paul used to describe the invasion of the Ozarks by the elite, I have taken another statement of his from the day before yesterday, and inserted it out of order, illustrating yesterday’s half-remembered observation with Sunday’s most memorable verbal demonstration.
I hear Paul’s distinct and drawl-throated voice in the other room now. But that quality, the sounds, do not come to me when recalling his words, but rather the thoughts, the meaning, which I will try to reform according to his way of speaking at a later date.
The recalling of actions and words is done the same way I used to memorize my side of the story before parental inquisitions as a boy. If my brother and I got in a fight, and I knew he would tell on me, or planned on tattling on him, I would rehearse my memory of it in my mind, silently, over and over. If I had tried to do this out loud, he would have beat me up again.
Below is an email from Portland Joe who is homeschooling also. Just as I would forget many of his words spoken to me in person, I will redact those of his words that are off topic:
“Dearest James,
“Greetings and salutations. I hope all is well with you as you travel across the plantation.
“I nearly forgot when we last spoke that I was to send you a message about homeschooling. The details now escape me. Perhaps it had to do with finding more resources for your editor? Or maybe it was to provide me with resources? Here is information on the curriculum we use:
“Don't worry: it was developed by a man, even though there's a woman influencer who markets it. It's a rather simple formula: on school days a child must read for an hour or two, write an essay or perform copy work, memorize vocabulary from a book he has recently read and make progress in mathematics coursework. We are also trying to minimize sugar intake and "screens" intake. It took us a few months to implement it but I think it's working.”
“I also appreciate the spate of recent blog posts about our time together. They serve as excellent reminders of what we trained; thank heaven I don't have to rely on my memory. Your memory, on the other hand, is uncanny. Your recent post on table top war gaming was also inspiring; I'm looking for an entry level game for [oldest son] to see if I can get him hooked. And get myself hooked.
“Wishing you success in your endeavors and a measure of relief from modern life, we remain
“Sincerely yours,
-Portland Joe
I have had many interview subjects comment that I have a surprisingly good memory. This is because I repeat their spoken thoughts as ideas over and over again in my mind. Just as I work out problems of worldliness as if I am thinking to a silent walker by my side treading up a rocky hill, when I repeat Joe’s comments and questions in my mind, they are silent thoughts with him off to my left in the driver’s seat, as most of our post-training review is conducted while he drives us back to our meeting place.
This habit of repeating words and actions as thoughts was developed on Baltimore City buses weaving through that town and while walking on the adjacent sidewalks, as I replayed in my mind the actions of people trying to waylay me, words of invalidation spoken by wife and boss, sets and displays that could be rebuilt or rearranged when I got back to work, and punches I ate in sparring that might have been dealt with other wise. The fact that I walked simple routes by day and bussed by night, unburdened by the responsibility of not running over pedestrians or wrecking into other cars as I piloted a chariot of Modernity, provided me through my working years with 2 to 4 hours a day of visualization time. Duz might have thought I was brilliant for showing up at work with memorized plans for resetting an aisle or rebuilding the display scheme, or tweaking the staff schedule. But where he had only ten minutes of driving, in which he was actively using his mind for navigating a dangerous machine, I had an hour going and coming back as a bobble-head on the bus daydreaming about improving the inventory profile tomorrow.
This takes me back to Dad, who once lost everything on a handshake deal to promote a genius man’s memorization program. The venture was called Impact International, circa 1973. Dad believed in this method of improving your memory by listening to rhymes and word games and engaging yourself verbally. We three tykes would sit in the backseat of his 1968 Impala and chant along as the speaker on the 8-track audio cassette lead off the word games. Recently, I have been sketching novels [Haft, Last Whiteman, Sorcerer! and Ranger?] by writing one or two of roughly 20 scenes in my head, and then constructing a rhyming or long cycle poetic table of contents as a narrative cue to drive me into the story but barely written as a witness to something I want to believe has already been written by another.
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