Thursday, November 17, 2011

"How To Make Yourself Miserable"

You still there, after that title? You might want to consider what that says about you.

“Sometimes, I want to make myself miserable and I just don’t know how. Hopefully, this blog post will help.”

I, personally, am in no need of such assistance. I have won Emmy Awards, and, making my way to the stage, I am already thinking,

“Sure, this year. But what about next year?”

It’s a gift. Some has it; some doesn’t.

I has it.

This blog post is not about me, although it also is, because it involves something I noticed that I wouldn’t have noticed if I were not the type of person who is gifted at making themselves miserable. People lacking such a gift, what I noticed would have zipped right past them. Thus, has this shadowy aptitude heightened my sense of observation. I am extremely blessed and grateful.

It happened while I was listening to a book-on-tape, which I do regularly as I exercise on the treadmill. There I am, trudging along going nowhere, listening to the true story of the gunfight at the O.K. Corral, when this thought pops up in my admittedly “different” mind.

You have written a book. And one day, your publisher, or agent, or whatever, calls you with the good news. You’re a winner. They don’t do this for all their books – it’s only for a small fraction, actually – but your book, it has been decided, will be brought out on tape.

More money. A wider readership. Possibly Grammy consideration. As Martha Stewart says, “It’s a good thing.”

They send you the finished product, and you listen to it. And instantly – if you have a gift for making yourself miserable – you become painfully aware of your standing in the “Hierarchy of Commercial And Literary Importance.”

This takes you back to when they decided to publish your book. That, again, by the standards of people ungifted in the ability to make themselves miserable, would be a “Duh” in the “Good news” department.

And it was. Even for you.


They send you the first printed copy of your book. You open it, and it is immediately obvious exactly where you rank in the publisher’s pecking order.

The “Giveaway”? The print and the paper.

For your book?

Print: Small.

Paper: Thin.

To make sure you aren’t being paranoid, you go to your bookshelf, and you pull out a John Grisham book. Just as you suspected:

Print: Big. Paper: Thick.

And there you have it.

You are no John Grisham.

It’s the same deal with books-on-tape. It goes beyond packaging. It goes beyond who they contracted to read your book. It goes beyond whether the opening and closing are accompanied by music, a category which itself breaks down into “composed originally for the project” or simply “plucked out of public domain” – no recording session, no royalty payments required.

Such indicators are significant, of course. But if you are truly adept at making yourself miserable, you proceed beyond these wounding delineators of distinction, lasering in on the tiniest of issues:

The way each disc in the multi-disc package ends.

I have detected a recognizable hierarchy in the methods in which the “ends of discs” are executed. Examine how your book’-on-tape’s “ends-of-discs” have been treated, and you’ll know precisely what they think of you.

The “top-of-the-line” offerings end with a voice, announcing, “This concludes Disc One.” The “Disc concludes” voice is different from the voice assigned to reading the book. Consistent with the project’s lofty status, the publisher has brought in – and paid – one person to read the book, and a totally different person, to say, “This concludes Disc One.”


A level below this, there’s a different-from-the-reader voice, intoning,

“This concludes this disc.”

You see the difference?

If the book-on-tape includes, say, thirteen discs, the “top of the line” version, the different-from-the reader voice records a distinct “This concludes” ending for each disc. “This concludes Disc One”, “This concludes Disc Two”, and so on. With the “one-level-down” treatment?

One size fits all.

It’s not over. Drop down another rung and, rather than a different person, it’s the book reader themself announcing, “This concludes this disc.” Pretty cheesy, right? Suddenly, the person who’s been reading to you emerges from “reader mode” and they’re doing the “This concludes.” I have to tell you, this “double duty” can really tarnish the illusion.

“Wait, the reader. You mean, he’s just a hired gun?”

Finally, the shabbiest book-on-tape disc-ending treatment of them all:


The disc just ends. Petering out into silence. Leaving the listener clueless as to what exactly is going on. Is there more? Is the thing broken? Does the machine – which in my case is the Sony Disc Man – need new batteries? Has the ‘sound plug’ become somehow detached? Ear-wise, you are entirely in the dark. Finally – the length of the interval being individual in nature – you get it.

“Oh, I see. The disc’s over.”

There is no “end-of-disc” signal whatsoever. You have to figure it out for yourself.

My show biz experience suggests that the specifics of the “disc ending” procedure are hammered out ahead of time. I imagine there’s some haggling involved.

“Two people – a reader to read, and a separate person for ‘This concludes’.

“Agreed. But the ‘This concludes’ is generic, no ‘disc-by-disc’ individualization.”

“Okay, but I’m not happy. And by the way, the quality of bottled water at this meeting is an insult! ‘Poland Springs”? Are you kidding me?”

Those who come by it naturally are aware that there is no end to the ways you can make yourself miserable. You can even make yourself miserable with the awareness that some people are genetically better at making themselves miserable than others.

It’s a discouraging thought. But you just have to live with it.


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