It’s that time of year when I spend hour upon hour upon hour reading and commenting on law students’ draft briefs. To do this, it’s necessary to have a personal “culture of commenting.”
I’m borrowing that phrase from a wonderful writing book, Hilton Obenzinger’s How We Write: The Varieties of Writing Experiences (2015). In the chapter on writing “costumes, cultures, rituals, metabolisms, and places,” he shares delightful stories from a variety of writers on how they create their own personal “culture of writing.”
He credits historian Mary Lou Roberts for the phrase. And Roberts’s own culture of writing apparently includes listening to soft rock. Here’s Obenzinger sharing his interview with Roberts:
[I]t comes as “a shock to some of my students” that she listens to a radio station that features “really bad soft rock.” The fact is that she is no fan of soft rock, but “I can’t listen to good music, because I get distracted.” She can listen to good music when she does something tedious and somewhat mindless, like footnotes; but when writing original material, she needs to be irritated by music that bothers her. “I find as a writer I am best off when I am a little bit distracted. Because if I get too focused, I get stuck; I am thinking too hard about it. I need to either go away from it and come back, which works really well, or I need to be slightly distracted. So the soft rock station “is perfect because the music is listenable at a certain level, but I’m not totally distracted by it.”
Well, I tried it. It may create a culture of writing for one person, but it did not create a culture of commenting for this person. “If You’re Gone” by Matchbox Twenty and its ilk on Pandora Soft Rocks channel did not help me find my grove. Too many words conflicting with the words in my head of what I’m reading and what I might like to share with the student as a comment. My students do not need to hear any voices inspired by Rob Thomas. (“I wonder what it’s like to be the rainmaker” just does not work; legal writing is about the stuff you have to do before making the rain. And “little yellow tags” aren’t really involved in the paperless Real World as much as they used to be.)
I’ve tried the Ambient Radio channel as well, but it just reminds me of the movie Gladiator, which doesn’t help either. The songs are “Elysium” and “Now we are free.” For me to create a culture of commenting, plow through the work, and be free, ambient music turned out to be a fail as well. I do put on the giant ugly headphones from time to time. But I listen to . . . nothing.