Writing a Review

I wrote reviews for a youth magazine in high school. This means I was on an email list where every day (sometimes twice a day) for two years or more I got emails asking if anyone on the email list would like to receive a free CD or go to a free concert in exchange for a review. I was always too nervous. Only once did I accept. I wrote an awful review of Mat Kearney‘s album “Nothing Left to Lose.”

Cover of "Nothing Left to Lose (Reis)"
Cover of Nothing Left to Lose (Reis)

By awful review, I don’t mean a poorly written review – which I also do – but a very mean review. I said that Mat Kearney was your typical male singer (he’s not). I said he sounded like Dave Matthews (he doesn’t). I remember sitting on the edge of my bed with my discman, sketching out notes after only having listened to the second song. I remember cringing, knowing what I was doing was not truthful. I just felt that writing a mean review made me more of a journalist.

Let me say I had never listened to Dave Matthews before. Let me say that I was nervous because I was sure I had nothing substantial to say about music. Let me say that I knew what I was doing was not right. I still did it. It never got published. Everything always got published.

I had some amazing experiences with writing for this magazine in high school. I interviewed Jason Mraz in his hotel room. I sat front row at a fashion show. I twice got a $200 shopping spree for writing short fiction.

I until recently thought I couldn’t write a review. I didn’t have enough knowledge or scope about the arts, whether it be books, music or movies, to make an informed opinion about something. I rarely leave a movie and feel one way about it, let alone be able to defend any way I feel about it. I can’t hear the difference between songs or singers.

I know more about books, so I suppose this was my way in to realizing that I am allowed to have opinions about things. In Literature classes and book clubs and through this blog I have practiced speaking my mind about literature and the writing process. Still, it was only recently that I realized the key to writing a review.

It is the opposite of what I was doing before. One does not need to have sweeping opinions or strong ones to write a review; one simply needs to have noticed things. The more specific of thing you might have noticed, or the more specifically you can say how that thing made you feel, the better. Never say a song is “one-dimensional.” Say that the song made you feel you were in an enclosed room. Don’t try and claim you heard the same beat in a different song. Say that the beat felt like it had come out of somewhere deep within the graveyard of music hell. Don’t say you love the song. Say that the song was yours to begin with. Say whatever you please, as long as it is detailed and you mean it. If you mean it, you’ve written a review.

I didn’t know who Mat Kearney was. I didn’t listen to his whole album. I had decided before I started writing that I would write a bad review because I thought that’s what you did two thirds of your time as a journalist. It wasn’t long after this experience that I decided I didn’t want to be a journalist, whether the two moments were connected or not. I realized that what I really liked was another type of writing, one where you’re creating the art instead of commenting on it. Fortunately for the narrow-mindedness of that future, I’ve come to the realization that all writing is the same: write something true, and write it well.

I went looking for a pencil sharpener

There’s a trend, now that the world is getting more complex, to want the world to be simpler. I want to live in a cabin without electricity. I want to read by candlelight. I want to write a novel. It’s a spoiled thing, really, but maybe it’s a nice thing too. My heart isn’t connected to the internet.

I spent fifteen minutes today looking for a pencil sharpener. It was probably five minutes, but felt like fifteen. There were five minutes before I got out of my seat spent deciding whether it was efficient go look for the pencil sharpener. There were five minutes after admonishing myself for going looking for a pencil sharpener I hadn’t found.

The thing is I really wanted to go looking for it. I wanted to look for something as simple as a pencil sharpener, something once so integral but which I hadn’t used for years. I use mechanical pencils. I write with my finger on the screen of an iPad.

I held up an exacto knife instead of a pencil sharpener at one point, wondering if I was that Romantic. I wasn’t. I just used another pencil.


(from officemuseum.com)

I received the wonderful gift of an iPad mini for my birthday. It is such an incredible device, yet I’ve found myself doing such silly things on it. Mostly I’ve played a Boggle game called Scramble with Friends. It’s just Boggle.

Do I deserve all this technology, all this painstaking advancement in human capacity, when I find myself wishing for something simpler? I keep reading books about people who have decided to live like hermits (Walden, by Henry David Thoreau, and now We Took to the Woods by Louise Dickinson Rich), and wishing I had that kind of courage. Really, I’m wishing that I had that kind of skill. I couldn’t build a house in the woods. It would become immediately evident, if in the woods, that I didn’t know how to do anything.

I’m reading about art education, and how educators can either decide to turn a blind eye to popular culture and technology or incorporate it in their teaching. The author seemed to think it was evident that a blind eye was not the way to go. But how much technology can we incorporate into our education, into our lives and our bodies until we become consumed by it? Maybe a blind eye would help us out sometimes. Maybe instead of doing an app where you build a cabin, you might gain something out of building your own. Something that is not efficiency. Something that is closer to the heart than efficiency.

I know I don’t want to give it all up, but sometimes I just need to make myself spend the day looking for pencil sharpeners, in order to remind myself that my body is manual and that I need to take the time to remember how things used to be, even though I grew up in a time when you threw out pencils and I’m only dreaming of a time when knives were used to sharpen the lead.


The other day I thought I left the burner on. When a seed gets planted…

I have these moments often, where some thought strikes me and unless I do something about it it will continue to grow until it has become something corrosive. I always picture the worst and then expect it to happen. I know my car will get towed so I go check on it. I know I will forget things so I leave notes everywhere. I check and double check on everything and I am never, ever late.

I am aware of my neuroses, but identifying them hasn’t made them go away. Any sort of attention to them actually eggs them on. I feed them like they are the very soul of me.

Persistence of Memory” by Salvador Dali (polosgallery.com)

There are fruit flies in the kitchen. For two days I have been trapping them with meticulous attention. Every few minutes I get up to check on my fruit fly trap (a glass of wine I started last night). Though my intention is to exterminate them, I am also trying not to kill any. They feel like my pets.

( Remember when there were these plastic containers you could buy from the pet store and you filled them with water and if you waited long enough for the water to get dirty and bacteria to grow you could have these pets called Sea Monkeys? If you shone a light on them they danced around. What was that? )

Though I get obsessed with things, like fruit flies and potential floods or fires in the house I am driving away from, I also have a very short attention span. These two qualities should be mutually exclusive, but I’ve been able to make the very worst parts of them cohabit. I get obsessed with one thought and then move quickly between that and others.

Luckily, one thing I have a neurosis about is writing. I must do it. If I don’t, I get grumpy. I didn’t fulfill a satisfactory quota no one made. I didn’t do something I was supposed to.

Is that all passions are, a positive channel for the worst parts of ourselves? An outlet for the perfectionist, the ambitious, the obsessive compulsive and the anal retentive?

I like the idea that some trying quality, an obsession that grates on the nerves of our every day lives, can be fuel for something productive. I love that my negatives can be developed into something positive, maybe beautiful.

Swedish Translation

“Du Fick Aldrig Veta” by Bruno K. Öijer

you may have never known

that when you left I sat still

by the print in the grass where you lay

I dragged my hand

over that pressed down grass and it was

as if I needed and took care of your absence more

than I needed and took care of you

it was as if nothing might have come back

if you returned

had you trespassed

you would have interrupted grief’s advance

and you may have never known how tender and strong I

spoke to your shadow in the grass

it was as if I already mourned you

as if I tried to accustom myself to

what awaits us all

and the price for a person’s insight

is a feeling of abandonment

which already from the start eliminated and destroyed the belief

of a lasting love