Among the news items that were offered today on July 13, 2006, was the auction of the plays of William Shakespeare. Apparently Mr. Shakespeare had thirty five plays that were included in a volume called “The Folio.” It was auctioned today and the winning bidder was a gentleman who offered five million dollars for the entire collection.

Now let us turn to my portfolio of essays. In this case, there are more than 200 essays in their original wrappings in the bookcase to my right. They may not be worth five million dollars but I am open to offers of something less than that amount. All of this really is a setup for saying how these essays came to be written and distributed.

The process of producing an essay starts with an idea. I do not know why this is true, but a large proportion of my inspirations occur while I am in my bathroom. A while back, for example, I produced a series of essays that were entitled “Thoughts While Shaving.” Incidentally, now that I am non-sighted, I am saving a fortune by not turning on the lights when I enter the bathroom to shave. It makes no difference to me whether the lights are on or off, or whether the sun is shining or not shining. I use an electric razor which involves no great effort to shave the face. The man I admire, however, was my father who used a straight razor even during his thirteen or fourteen years of blindness. It is amazing that he did not slice off his nose or his ears.

Ideas for essays also come to me while I shower. For years, when I was sighted, I kept a Staples notepad in the top drawer of the cabinet in my bathroom where I would jot down these ideas. Many of the ideas came to me at night and seemed of great importance when I wrote them down. However, the next morning when I read them, they made much less sense or no sense at all. But in any case, for better or for worse, the bulk or the preponderance seem to originate in the bathroom.

In former days, I would sit down at a table or a desk and I would write out the essays in longhand. This process allowed me to correct my mistakes or to make additions as I went along. Ordinarily I would make those additions in red pencil so that my wife Judy, who typed the essays, could see the changes. But non-sightedness brought a new dimension to this essay-writing process.

The New Jersey Commission for the Blind brought me a dictating machine which I am delighted to have. It produces cassette tapes. Prior to the cassette tape machine, I used several handheld cassette machines that were not particularly satisfactory. All things considered, the use of this sturdy old fashioned desk model Panasonic tape recorder is an improvement. It is several cuts above the Dictaphone wax cylinder used by Rolland Crow which was discussed in a recent essay.

Now getting the ideas on to the tape is not an easy process. In all of the essays that I have written through dictation, I only had one where a second recorder was used for the purpose of reminding me of notes that I needed to include. It finally struck me that the use of the second recorder was more trouble than it was worth. And so now, I try to put my thoughts together and dictate them in a coherent fashion without the use of notes. One of the drawbacks about this form of dictation is that often I will have an idea where the main punch line will not occur until the fourth or fifth paragraph. By the time I reach that point in the essay, I may have forgotten what I intended to say. I used to worry about forgetting those thoughts but now I have a little bit more confidence with the thought that the forgotten words will sooner or later return to my brain, at which time I will continue to do my dictation.

There is one factor that may be helping me now. During the time when I could see, I was near-sighted. This meant that I never ever read a speech. I would prepare the speech and reduce it to notes that were largely stored in my head. If I ran into trouble, I might reach in my pocket and pull out my notes. But in all of the hundreds of speeches that I made while I worked for the union and for the Bell System, I never ever read a speech. Reading a speech is an absolute turnoff. When the audience notices that the speaker is reading from a speech, they turn their attention to crossword puzzles and letters that they intend to write when they are free of the meeting. Sometimes they read newspapers. In my own case, I always thought to myself, “why don’t you give me the speech; I will read it when I have a chance, and we will save all of this wasted time.” On the other hand, when an audience sees that you are speaking a cappella, without a script or elaborate notes, they instantly pay attention. Perhaps it is to see whether you make a mistake or not, but more than likely it is to listen to your thoughts.

In all of my speech-making, rule number one was to prepare thoroughly and to see if my thoughts could withstand challenges. Perhaps that trait has served me well in going from the handwritten word to the dictated word.

When the essay is dictated in draft form, my wife Judy takes the cassettes to a lovely lady, Mrs. Eva Baker, in New Providence, New Jersey, a town eight miles to the west. Mrs. Baker transcribes the script and transmits it back to us using e-mail. When time permits, Judy reads the script to me from the computer screen and we do the best we can to polish it and to correct errors.

Please believe me when I tell you that polishing the script and correcting the errors is very hard work. Obviously everything must be done in my head. It is difficult to imagine what the script will look like after it has been polished and corrected. While I could still see, I could easily review each line and each paragraph. But in the current situation, I am unable to do that. So everything must be done completely in my head. I am becoming a little bit more comfortable in this format, but I must tell you that when I am finishing with a session of polishing and correction, the sweat from my armpits goes down to my hands. As I say, it is hard work.

Once the script has been polished and corrected, Judy runs the appropriate number of copies, staples them, puts them in envelopes, and delivers them to the Short Hills Post Office. With a little bit of luck, they soon appear in your mailbox.

As I continue to use the dictating machine, its virtues become apparent. In some respects, it may even be better than having the former written material. But all things being equal, I would prefer to have the old method of writing the script in longhand, correcting it in red pencil, and having the chance to review it four or five times before giving it to Judy for typing. For reasons unknown to both Judy and myself, we have never numbered the essays. Judging by the size of the binders, I assume that there are more than 200 of them. They are copyrighted material, which when turned over to an auctioneer should bring a minimum bid of two and a half million dollars. Many of the receivers of the essays are former employees of AT&T and I believe that they all must have two and a half million dollars to devote to the Carr Portfolio. But who knows? I may find a wealthy stockbroker or a real estate agent who would willing to offer a bid in excess of $2.5 million. In any case, I hope that you enjoy reading them.

Now a final thought. Mike Scaniello remodeled the bathrooms here a few years ago. In view of the thought that essay ideas come to me while I shave and shower, I have asked Mike to produce plans for doubling the size of my bathroom. I believe that a bathroom twice as large as the one currently being used would produce twice as many giant sized ideas for essays. It all seems logical to me. So Mr. Scaniello, please do your thing.

July 13, 2006
Essay 204
Kevin’s commentary: And here I am, giving them all away for free. A few things stand out to me from this one. First, I really enjoyed the idea that speeches were prepared and given “to see if my thoughts could withstand challenges.” So often a person speaking is convinced that he is absolutely correct — after all, he’s so good at his thing that he’s been asked to speak about it! The ideas of being welcome to challenges and the subsequent implication that Pop might actually change his mind about something if enough evidence is offered to the contrary are both rare qualities in a person.

This essay also gives a needed window into exactly how much effort has gone into each of these. I’ve published 515 essays. Conservatively, if each essay takes 90 minutes to think about and prepare, half an hour to finalize and deliver, and 90 minutes to revise, then I have processed 1,750 hours worth of effort in the course of publishing these essays. Conversely I’ve probably only spent about 200 hours publishing them. On my end an essay usually takes between 15 and 35 minutes to read, comment on, categorize and publish. If the essay supplies music to listen to or a question to research it may take more than that, and essays in the short category sometimes take less, of course.

In any event I hope that Pop considers himself to be a rather prolific writer and I hope he is proud of the fact that the quality of his essays did not decrease with age, blindness, or any number of things that might be expected to produce a drop in value. Clearly a lot of effort was exerted to bring these essays into existence and I’m thankful for it.

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