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Video: First Reading

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As they say, “pics or it didn’t happen”…

Well, we’ve started to put some pics and video up: go check it out at the “Media” tab.

Here is a video clip from the first reading (kudos to my wonderful nephew Anthony for the steady hands)!

Another $1K Toward Kicking Cancer’s Ass

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My family did our annual Light the Night Walk this weekend.

This one was particularly meaningful, as it marked the ten year anniversary of our first walk, which was the same year my brother Scott was diagnosed with leukemia. As described in the last blog entry, he was given a drug that had just come on the market from its clinical trial phase, a drug that is now commonplace –and effective.

It is, therefore, both to celebrate our good fortune that we caught it in time and the medications responded, but also a gesture of solidarity that we walk. People before us had helped raise funds and awareness, and people before us (many, many people) had lost loved ones. But they still walked, and they still advocated the research and efforts that work toward a cure. We will consider it an honor and a humble obligation to continue walking, each year.

And I will continue to raise as much funds and awareness as I can, in conjunction with my memoir and the events I will plan throughout the year(s) ahead.

We hit our goal of $1,000. (Special kudos to our new team captain, my lovely niece Madeleine, and my sister Janine, for persistence that would make Jerry Lewis proud.) It’s a small amount, in the scheme of things. But anything is better than nothing. And that is what this journey is all about. It is what any journey is all about. And we are all on our own journey. We should never feel we’re alone on that walk through life.

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‘Please Talk’ Getting Some Press…

Author chronicles his mother’s battle with colon cancer

Posted: October 4, 2013 

By Laura McFarland

The Winchester Star

          

Winchester — The five years chronicled in “Please Talk About Me When I’m Gone” (available at Amazon HERE) are some of the hardest Sean Murphy has ever experienced.

From 1997 to 2002, Murphy, 43, of Reston, watched his mother fight but ultimately lose her battle with colon cancer. It was a harrowing and heartbreaking time in his life, and one he wishes no family had to experience.

With his new memoir, which he self-published Sept. 6, the author recounts his family’s experiences in the hopes that it will help someone else who might be going through the same thing or is dealing with the grief of a lost loved one.

“We as a family battled the illness for five years. In the book, I explore some of the things we learned along the way and explore some of the things we wish we would have known and had asked,” he said.

Murphy will have a book signing for the memoir from 7 to 9 p.m. today at the Winchester Book Gallery, 185 N. Loudoun St. The book is $15 and proceeds will benefit Hospice of the Piedmont in Charlottesville.

The author’s ultimate goal writing the memoir was to raise awareness not only of cancer but the issues people deal with as they go through it, he said. Between the overwhelming task of fighting the disease and dealing with the emotional and physical toll it can have on a family, people often feel alone and don’t know where to turn.

“If the memoir imparts some sense of solidarity with those who find themselves dealing with the grief or the process, that is the best way I could honor my mother’s memory,” he said.

Murphy’s mother, the late Linda Murphy, was 59 when she died. In writing the book, he wanted not only to tell about her fight with cancer but who she was as a whole person. The book talks about her childhood, marriage, and motherhood.

As a son and writer, he hopes what comes through the text is how much she meant to him and contributed to the person  he has become as an adult.

“To someone who reads the book,   there won’t be any questions about how I feel   the way she was as a kind, brave person who fought cancer as hard as she could,” he said. “We did the most we could but as is often the case, unfortunately, cancer is resilient once it gets a foothold.”

The memoir also deals with how  Murphy, his father, Jack, and his sister, Janine Murphy-Neilson, have survived the grief of losing his mother, he said. “It took me several years to process the grief before I  even dared considering tackling this book.”

Murphy-Neilson, 47, of Herndon, said she encouraged her brother to write the memoir believing his talent as a writer and the story of what her family went through would make it something that would really connect with people.

He sent her parts of the manuscript as he wrote it,  and it was an emotional time to relive some of those experiences and how he articulated his grief.

“It is amazing to see him take something that was a lot of pain and heartbreak and be able to construct this story out of it and express things,” she said.

Like her brother, she hopes people who read the book  that are going through a similar battle will find it helpful to learn about the Murphys’ experiences dealing with cancer. Her family was poorly prepared to go through something like cancer, and she feels many others would feel the same.

“Most of us have no familiarity with the medical establishment and people being ill. You are trying to muddle through it as best you can,” she said. “Only in retrospect can you question things and think about things differently.”

Murphy has been publishing fiction, reviews and essays on the technology industry for almost 20 years, he said. He blogs at bullmurph.com and writes regularly for PopMatters magazine about pop culture.

Information

The Winchester Book Gallery, 185 N. Loudoun St., will have a  book signing for Sean Murphy’s “Please Talk About Me When I’m Gone” from 7 to 9 p.m. today. The book is $15. For more information, contact 540-667-3444.

Check out the book HERE.

Lighting The Night: For Herbie, My Brother and Someone You Love

First of all, just stop and listen to this:

Maybe you’re hearing that for the first time and thinking, like I did about a decade or so when I was lucky enough to discover Herbie Nichols, how have I never lived with this music until now?

If so, I’m delighted to be the humble middleman, doing some small part to make more folks aware of this man’s miraculous work. Incidentally, I don’t use the word “miraculous” lightly. It is that, on several levels. The first is obvious to anyone with ears: truly original and, once heard, unforgettable music, plain and simple. The second is that it ever got recorded.

And you may have heard this one before, without realizing Herbie wrote it (it was initially entitled “Serenade”; only later when words were added did it become “Lady Sings the Blues”, immortalized by Billie Holiday):

You can’t believe everything you read, but you can always have faith in what you hear; the ears never lie. Not when it comes to music. Not when it comes to jazz music. So how to talk about jazz music? Well, perhaps it’s better to determine how not to talk about jazz music. Hearing is believing. That’s it. And if you hear something that speaks to you, keep listening. Whatever effort you put in will be immeasurably rewarded. Trust me. But first, eradicate cliché. Possibly the most despicable myth (that, fortunately doesn’t seem as widespread, perhaps –sigh– because less people talk or care about jazz music in 2013) is one I found myself ceaselessly rebutting back in the bad old days. You know which one: that lazy, anecdotally innacurate and often racist assumption that all jazz artists are (or at least were) heroin addicts. That’s like saying all pro athletes are steroid abusers. Oh wait…

Anyway, the major reason so many people have never heard of Herbie Nichols –aside from the unfortunate fact that entirely too many jazz musicians, no matter who they are or what they did, are increasingly forgotten in a world where the word “jazz” causes so much confusion and consternation, and that is just for the people who may be open to it in the first place– is because he died so young. In 1963, aged 44. Of leukemia. (Yet another genius who died not by his own hand or due to drugs, just to make sure there is no confusion). This is one of the more Tragic (with a capital T) stories in an art form that is full of them.

I’ve written with love and at length of the saint-like Eric Dolphy who, if I were ever inclined to make such a list (and I’m not, particularly), would easily rank in the Top 5 in terms of untimely artistic departures from our planet. What he had left to give is tantalizing as it is incomprehensible; that the fickle forces of fate prevented him from making his joyous noises for several more decades is infuriating. But, as always, it is ludicrous to rail at the silent skies when we can turn to the considerable bounty of Treasure (with a capital T) he left us. Even Booker Little, who was stolen (there is no other word that will do) from us at 23, at least (thank those same fickle forces…) left a tolerably rich body of work –including some majestic music with Dolphy. (That is not a typo, incidentally: 23. Twenty-three. That is the musical equivalent of John Keats, who died at 25 and may well have become the most prominent poet of the 19th Century– if he isn’t already).

Nichols, on the other hand, fell prey to the proverbial fate worse than death: he was unappreciated, and largely ignored for most of his career –if one could even call it that. There are (too) many examples, crossing all musical (and literary) genres of this failure of a worthy artist to find his or her audience. But Nichols, now justly acknowledged as a wholly original and crucially important genius, is one of the more painful instances to consider. His angular and ostensibly arrhythmic playing was, simply, too advanced and ahead of its time for even the most forward-thinking producers of the time to apprehend. At best, he was casually dismissed as sounding too much like Thelonious Monk and although he’d paid dues for almost two decades, it wasn’t until 1955 that he was able to lead his own sessions for Blue Note Records. Better, as they say, late than never, and the work he did during 1955 and 1956 is collected in the must-own Complete Blue Note Recordings.

What else is there to say? Here are a few quotes from the man himself, which should leave little doubt as to the stature of what we lost (but should be grateful to have had in the first place):

What I feel most deeply is that I, everyone, has to keep delving. If you don’t keep delving and examining things in your mind, that’s the end of civilization.

I’m a guy who’s been broke all my life, and music is a release for me. It’s the way I can keep on living. And also, I want to give a rounded picture of life, and happiness is a part of that. My desire is to dig behind the surface and get the feel of what’s actually happening, and I know basically there’s going to be a love involved in it, whatever it is, when you do go beneath the surface.

This music is something to live for…something to be taken seriously, but not serious. Music is joy, and living–not death.

“Love, Gloom, Cash, Love”:

I was thinking of Herbie Nichols today, knowing he died of leukemia, and that I plan to participate in the Light The Night walk this weekend. This is an annual event my family and several friends never miss, for a variety of reasons. First, it’s impossible not to get behind an organization like The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. Second, the work and research these people have done are making a difference.

How about a story with a happy ending?

After watching our grandmother and then her daughter (our mother) die of cancer, the Murphy family was done with that disease for a while. Of course, life seldom works that way. Less than six months after my mother’s funeral, my sister’s husband Scott (who is not my brother-in-law; he’s my brother) was diagnosed with leukemia. Thankfully, it was caught quickly and what was at that time a trial medication effectively put the smack down on the disease. It made a lot of sense for us to show our gratitude for the cause, and all this work, to do some small part to share the love, spread the word and light the night. And so we do.

(I’ve written at length, recently, about my personal campaign to raise funds for cancer-related organizations: the most recent update is HERE.)

My niece, Madeleine, has become our team captain. Here is her call to arms for this year’s walk: 10 years ago this year my family did our first Light the Night walk to raise money for Leukemia and Lymphoma when my dad was diagnosed with Leukemia. He is now cancer-free, but our tradition carries on with me as the captain of our team. This year we are walking October 5th at the Reston Town Center. My goal for our team is to raise $1,000 for the Leukemia and Lymphoma society- we’ve done it before and I know we can do it again. If you are interested in donating toward our cause or even if you’d like to walk with us, please contact me at vivalamadeleine@hotmail.com. I can’t tell you how much it would be appreciated; anything will help immensely. Also if anyone is interested please join us back at the house right after for our party celebrating my uncle’s release of his book- a memoir about his mother, my grandmother. The book will be sold there and my uncle will also read excerpts from it. It’ll be very exciting and tons of fun so feel free to help support two causes that night! Thank you so much for your time and we are looking forward to October 5th!

Our team page is HERE.

If you want to learn more about the event, or how to get involved, I encourage you to check it out. Let me add that this is not a solicitation, and I’m not trolling for donations. Rather, it’s intended as an awareness campaign. Let’s face it: there is not an overabundance of feel-good stories in our society right now, and it’s easier than ever to let apathy or cynicism sink their claws into your soul. To consider that there are scores of people (professionals and volunteers) dedicated to eradicating a disease that, unchecked, would continue to rob families of loved ones, and all of us of someone (or something) we love, is inspirational. I am humbled by those efforts and celebrate that they have, in part, helped save the life of a person I could not fathom being without. By the way, he turned 44 in 2010.

Raising Awareness (and Funds) For Our “Ordinary Angels”

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First, an update.

The numbers are in, and I achieved my goal of raising (at least) $1,000 for The Lombardi/Ruesch Center (more about them HERE).

My first two events brought in $1,080, and I’m beyond honored to accept the invitation to participate in their December symposium, Fighting a Smarter War Against Cancer (more about that HERE).

My last few events, and next several events, will raise as much money (and awareness) as possible for the great people at Hospice of the Piedmont.

If you don’t know or fully understand what Hospice is and what they do, I encourage you to take a moment and read about Hospice of the Piedmont HERE.

On Sunday I had the opportunity to do a reading at the almost impossibly beautiful Afton Mountain Vineyards.

One of the sections I read was a chapter entitled “Ordinary Angels”: it describes why I endorse Hospice, what Hospice does, and why I’m dedicated to doing as much as possible to support them. To put things in some perspective, here is a brief list (directly from my friends at HoP) of how a very little money can go a long way.

  1. A $90 donation sends a child who has lost a parent to our special bereavement camp
  2. A $60 donation will pay for medications for a week for a dying hospice patient
  3. A $30 donation provides supplies and a hospital bed for a dying patient in their home for a week
  4. A $5 donation provides oxygen for a dying patient for a week
  5. A $5 donation provides food for an entire day for a patient at the Hospice House

Cancer is a terrible reality that afflicts too many people (personally, I can’t think of anyone I know who has not been directly or indirectly impacted in some form or another). While I endorse and celebrate the folks (like my friends at the Lombardi/Reusch Center) who are working to discover new ways to combat and treat this ailment, I also hold a special place in my heart for the special people amongst us who assist and comfort people who need it the most.

“Ordinary Angels”, from my memoir Please Talk about Me When I’m Gone.

i.

My neighbor died, abruptly, while I was away at college. The girl across the street told me what happened: it was sudden, totally unexpected.

I didn’t even know she was sick, I said.

No one did, not even her, she said.

She simply collapsed; alive one second, dead by the time she hit the floor. No warning, no symptoms. It was like she—and her family—got blindsided by a truck called cancer. It was inside her, everywhere, engulfing her from the inside out.

ii.

After just about everything had been done, every last resort explored and found insufficient, after five years my mother finally knew (this was before the pain, the real pain, commenced). Even while we were still lying to her, she ultimately could no longer lie to herself. Her body told her, and her grandchildren—who didn’t yet know how to lie—told her. The kids could sense it, and when she saw she was boring her granddaughter, that was a sign. When her granddaughter—the one she helped raise, the one whose diapers she’d changed, the one for whom she could not buy enough toys or treats, the one she secretly (and not so secretly) loved as much as her own children—made it obvious, in ways only very young children can, that grandma was no longer as much fun, she knew.

iii.

Generally speaking, illness is cathartic. Even the worst stomach flu is tolerable because we know that however awful it feels, it’s temporary. In fact, as the worst symptoms ensue, you can take a curious comfort, knowing it can’t get worse. It follows patterns, borders, and you can almost predict the course it will take. Then, as you gradually begin to improve, it becomes slightly intoxicating: the nasal drip that made it hard to swallow and difficult to sleep now congealed and coughed up, expired demons exorcised from your system. Your vitality stumbles back, like an eager baby learning to walk, and eventually, you’re yourself again.

With terminal cancer there’s no improvement, and each time you confront the worst possible symptoms, more are always on offer, a never-ending supply promising agonies you could not have previously imagined.

iv

To hear some people tell it, angels are all around us. Lincoln spoke about the better angels of our nature, but these people believe actual angels are guiding our lives, their handiwork resulting in what we can only call miracles.

It’s certainly an enchanting notion: our departed loved ones—or unknowable spiritual beings—looking down from heaven, intervening on God’s orders, helping us do what we can’t do for ourselves.

We see evidence each day of the ways our fellow human beings make concepts like angels, heaven, and even hell seem like the only sensible remedy for the evils we inflict. Even if, guided by angels or their influence over our natures, we established a better way to exist, we would still have inexorable setbacks like illness and death—the sorts of circumstances that practically compel divine exegesis.

v.

Question: What would you have done differently?

Answer: I would have brought in hospice much sooner.

Question: Why didn’t you?

Answer: I didn’t realize it was an option.

vi.

Listen: for a country that prides itself on doing so many things so well, America doesn’t handle dying with any particular aplomb. In fact, we are decidedly inadequate when it comes to confronting death, much less embracing dying as a natural process, an opportunity to heal the living.

For more than five years, my family fought cancer. We faced multiple turning points and uncompromised choices. When we finally realized that hospice was an option—and despite the gratitude we collectively feel, in hindsight—the decision to take that step was far from uncomplicated. It obliged us to acknowledge a reality we could no longer elude: the woman we loved was increasingly close to death, and we could do increasingly little about it.

We brought in hospice. We did the research, made the choices, placed the calls, faced our fears.

The hospice nurse who visited us that first morning was calm and kind as my mother sat in the bedroom unable to control her shaking limbs, looking like a child who had been caught shoplifting. Within minutes, the nurse established a bond with my mother. Within hours, she managed to become all things to everyone involved, talking and listening to the rest of us as we sat around the kitchen table, a benevolent vessel who received—and seemingly resolved—every concern about medications, how to communicate (with my mother, amongst ourselves), how to navigate the unfathomable process of helping someone die with as much dignity and peace as possible.

Our nurse was the only hospice worker who visited us—sometimes a hospice doctor will visit as well, or a social worker, or a home health aide—and she was a miracle worker. She managed to console and reassure us at a time when we needed it most: You are doing right by your mother; you are bringing love and serenity to an impossible situation. The contrast between her and the overworked, anonymous nurses we’d dealt with to date had a profound, calming effect. The seemingly simple, heretofore unthinkable access to a consistent, reliable advocate made a difference we could not have articulated only weeks earlier.

That’s what they do, I thought. This is what they do, I say now to anyone who will listen. Hospice helps you help yourself: it’s that simple, that extraordinary.

Hospice workers are angels of death. They help us see dying as natural; they help us to see it as holy. When we’re faced with an impossible situation, we can’t afford to rely on angels we’re unable to see. No divine miracles are necessary, since beings are amongst us who provide the support, comfort, and grace many of us would pray for.

When you or someone you love is confronting a death that will be neither quick nor painless, these ordinary angels can become the embodiment of what God’s envoys usually get credit for. When even the most compassionate doctors and priests are unable to offer more than kind words and empty promises, hospice workers are waiting to step in. And that is as close to a real miracle as we can expect to encounter in this world.

vii.

My mother came into contact with several dozen medical professionals between 1997 and 2002. Her hospice nurse was the only one who came to her funeral. This is what hospice does. This is what hospice is.

Revisiting Bruce’s Barbaric Yawp, via Louis CK

This righteous, eloquent and not uncomplicated rant by National Treasure Louis CK has, rightly, been getting a lot of buzz this week.

I’m actually working on a separate piece discussing some of the notions Louis CK (who, in case you weren’t already aware, is a GENIUS) addresses, so stay tuned. The issue of smartphones (in particular) and technology (in general) is one thing, but CK’s diversion into an appreciation of “Jungleland” warrants more mention. Fortunately I already did my homework here.

For now, this provides an excellent opportunity to revisit –and celebrate– what might be the best moment from The Boss on the best song from his best album.

The original piece, entitled “The Boss, The Big Man and the Best Rock Song of the ’70s” can be found in its entirety HERE.

Here is where I celebrate The Big Man:

3.54 – 6.13. That is the second it begins and the second it ends: the sax solo that follows what is possibly Springsteen’s finest (and certainly most blistering) guitar solo. We’re talking about “Jungleland”, needless to say. It is a perfect song, closing an album that also begins with a perfect song (“Thunder Road”).

Here is the song.

Here is my take.

And there it is: after a couple of tentative years as an apprentice, this is when Bruce became The Boss, and regardless of how you feel about everything that followed, the work here sufficiently secures his status for all time.

Which brings us back to the Big Man. His contributions (as a presence on stage as much as a player on the songs) going forward were always well-received, but it’s debatable whether he ever blew again like he does on Born To Run. And on the album’s centerpiece, possibly Springsteen’s finest –and most important– moment, Clemons does his finest work. “Jungleland” employs the epic, almost operatic (“Man there’s an opera out on the Turnpike”) strategy Springsteen developed on the first two albums (think “Lost In The Flood”, “Spirit in the Night”, “Incident on 57th Street” and “New York City Serenade”), but this is at a whole other level. From the languid, strings and piano introduction to the gradual build-up (“As secret debts are paid/Contacts made, they vanish unseen), to the aforementioned guitar solo (3.00 – 3.27), the tension, at once joyous and foreboding, builds and then, instead of crashing, it crests. Enter Clemons. 3.54 – 6.13: the solo. It is extended, totally in charge and almost indescribably affecting. He wails, establishes a groove and then (right around the 5.43 mark) goes to that other place. Finally, just as the strings and piano take over, that last gasp, like a light going out or a life being saved. It is his moment, and in addition to being the best thing he ever did, it ranks as one of the best things anyone has done in a rock song.

All of this sets up the denouement: while the lyrics (some of Springsteen’s very best) and the majestic piano cascades, courtesy of Roy Bittan, finish what they started, it’s up to the singer to sell this cautionary tale (“In the tunnels uptown/The Rat’s own dream guns him down) turned climactic cry of endurance. And sell it he does. The song could end after the final lines (including the immortal couplet “Man the poets down here don’t write nothing at all/They just stand back and let it all be”), and it would be a tour de force. But as the piano and strings begin to dance in what seems an obvious outro, Springsteen becomes a rock deity. 8.45 – 9.22: those 37 seconds, a wordless cycle of soulful screams, articulate everything Springsteen had spent three complete albums building up to; in that final cry we hear anguish, anger and above all, resolve. There is no fear, not anymore. He has arrived and after this song, there is no chance he could be ignored and even less chance anyone could ever take away his crown.

Full Circle, and Then Some

Check this out:

SG

 

That’s my first fiction writing professor, the novelist and all around great guy Steve Goodwin. More on him and an extended interview can be found HERE.

He was generous enough to provide the following blurb, which I’m honored to have on the back cover of my book: In some moments of profound experience, we see and feel in extraordinary ways. That is what happened to Sean Murphy after his mother’s death.  He has had the courage to look honestly at death, and the talent to express his love and grief in a way that will comfort and sustain his readers.

That should give you a sense of what a generous and erudite dude he is.

He was nice enough to ask me to visit his class last night and speak about my experience: before, during and after publication.

What happens in a classroom stays in the classroom (thank God), but I can say that it was a total pleasure to experience from the vantage point: standing, not seated, speaking, not listening. It’s a vantage point I was preparing myself for, way back in the early ’90s, as a grad student with one foot in a PhD program and the other retreating to a quiet place to write the “pretty good” American novel. Ultimately a number of factors convinced me that I should spend the next two decades working, refining, erasing, restarting and recreating the various visions –initially fiction, eventually non-fiction as well– that filled the sometimes inspired space between my ears.

It is both presumptuous and inaccurate to describe last night as full circle. It wasn’t, in the sense that I don’t believe I’ve “arrived” anywhere, if I ever will. Also, having a former professor ask you to talk to his class can’t approximate what it feels like to teach and interact with grad students year after year. On the other hand, it was something different, at once more and better, than simply “full circle”. To say being there, having my professor (a very well-respected writer, by the way) hold up my book and pass it around, was a surreal honor is obviously an understatement. But it also felt real and inevitable, the way a dream does when you wake up abruptly in the dark, not sure where or who you are.

sean-frontcover-hires

That’s what the last couple of weeks have felt like, in some regards. Is this really happening? And the answer: of course it is. More, why shouldn’t it be happening? When you work toward a goal for so long, perhaps you can be forgiven if you don’t fall to the floor in a flood of tears and relief, in awe of what you’ve achieved. It’s just another day, another piece of the puzzle, another brick in the wall. And if the goal is, or was, just to get a manuscript from here to there, from PC to paperback, that’s one thing. If the goal is to reach an audience, start a conversation (or hundreds of them), and use that as a springboard to the next step, holding your book and getting props from a beloved professor is just part of the bigger picture. All of which is not to say I’m at once bewildered and humbled that I did what I’ve done, or that anyone outside my family and network of close friends might be remotely interested. But when I made the decision, back in those uncertain but unwavering years during the early-to-mid ’90s, to do whatever I could to make my life into art and vice-versa, I envisioned it as a mission for life.

In this regard that journey is not completed. It’s neither at the beginning nor, hopefully, near the end. I am where I tried to be; where I willed myself to be. I am, by any reasonable assessment, where I’m lucky enough to be. It’s not what I imagined it might be. It is at once more and better. And it’s still happening, which is exactly as it should be.

Right?

The Story of My Life

Let me tell you a story.

Last week, Jason Herskowitz joined me for a Google Hangout, and we discussed the rapidly changing music industry. The issue at hand was whether streamed services are saviors or disruptors as they relate to the evolution of music in particular and content in general. In my opinion, they are a bit of both, but practically every innovation in each industry has been. Furthermore, I suspect history will look more favorably on these services than we might imagine today.

In my role as an analyst for CEA I’ve followed the developments of this shifting landscape with keen professional as well as personal interest. During the last decade advancements that, I maintain, benefit both artists and consumers, have all revolved around the democratization of content. What does that mean? In brief, it no longer requires archaic and expensive technologies and processes to make and acquire works of art.

As difficult as it might be for younger consumers to appreciate, the home audio business remained relatively uncomplicated for the better part of a century. The book publishing industry operated according to a fairly specific—and consistent—model for hundreds of years. Naturally the Internet came and changed everything. In the bad old days, gatekeepers held sway, overseeing the acquisition, creation and dissemination of content. These days, artists have the ability, and resulting channels, to create, distribute and promote their work.

Let me tell you my story.

I am old school enough to remember typewriters. More, I used them. More still, I took a class once that, in hindsight, was perhaps the most important—or at least most practical—one from my high school years. Flash forward through college (word processor), graduate school (a PC I could access only in a computer lab) to my first computer—a miracle with a printer that could produce dot matrix pages in sixty seconds, per page. Eventually I began writing for an online-only magazine, and finally created an obligatory blog. Then e-readers came along and eventually, tablets.

As an avid (if obsessive) reader and music aficionado, I have embraced each stage of progress as it relates to the ways content is made, purchased and utilized. These innovations have inexorably made it easier and more affordable to engage with our world; indeed they have opened up or created entirely new worlds. Throw in the marketing miracles inherent in social media and the people—not the self-appointed or well-connected tastemakers—are now the arbiters of what matters and what is relevant. This is a very good thing.

In my capacity as a music critic, I used to receive the occasional (now, more frequent) request from musicians, asking me to consider their work. Initially, they would offer to send a self-produced CD; these days they’ll lead me to their website, where sample files are accessible. To take one notable example, jazz guitarist Aram Bajakian contacted me a few years back, hoping I would listen to the album he had just made for John Zorn’s independent label Tzadik—haven for an ever-growing stable of talented but outside the so-called mainstream musicians. It turned out to be one of my favorite releases of the year. (Check out my review, HERE.)

This event, not unique, represented an epiphany of sorts. It occurred to me that Bajakian’s debut may never have had a fair chance ten or even five years ago. Of course, stories like this are becoming the new normal: despite what myopic naysayers stuck in the past insist, there is more incredible art being made today than most of us could hope to keep up with. As usual, the only ones lamenting these developments are the same sorts who always resist or stifle progress. These are the same folks who benefited, unfairly, from the rigged rules of the antiquated, imbalanced system.

Flash forward to 2013: I am releasing my first book this month, deciding, like so many musicians and, recently, writers, to go the independent route. Along the way, I’ve collected more rejection letters than I could count, but I’ve also seen the 20th century SOP steadily disappear as an unhappy memory. Today, just about anyone can publish a book, and a lot of people are trying. Does this potentially flood the market with inferior product? Certainly. Does it also ensure that more writers (and musicians, and movie makers) have the opportunity to be heard and discovered? Without doubt.

The good news: with sufficient ability, awareness and time, anyone can publish without paying for it or surviving the scrutiny of hit-seeking middlemen. The bad news: as liberating as this new DIY ethos is, the onus is now entirely on the artist. As such, I necessarily became acquainted with the nuts and bolts of creating a book, from legal pad to Amazon. Suffice it to say, this demands a proficiency at production, distribution and marketing.

The bottom line? This process represents the very essence of innovation, in actual practice. If you want it done, do it yourself. If you want it done well, understand and learn all the things you do not know. In halcyon times, writing a book was itself the hard part, and pretty much the only thing an author controlled. Too many authors had to hope that their publisher could generate sufficient interest, garner reviews, set up a book tour, etc. If that didn’t happen, there were few options other than luck or a miraculous endorsement from Oprah.

Today, even taking the independent route will cost you money (unless you happen to be a book designer, website builder and professional editor). On the other hand, it cost you money back in the day, as well: those advances given to authors were typically contingent upon future sales and the cost of assembly, editing and distribution were factored in on the front-end. I worked with the appropriate people, and worked on my game-plan with every spare second I could afford. Without a publisher or promoter I secured my own blurbs and booked my own reading events. As this book comes into the world, I have no one to answer to but myself. It’s beyond what I could have imagined, and just the way I would have imagined it, in some implausible future.

That future is real and it is now; in fact, milestones being made this moment will already be surpassed tomorrow. In the past I celebrated certain advancements from the sidelines, in solidarity. As I watch, and experience, the empowering mechanisms of innovation create previously unimaginable opportunities, I understand it’s now also the story of my life.

More about the memoir and how to acquire it, HERE.

About Bright Moments

Sean MurphyPlease Talk about Me When I’m Gone is a memoir about love, loss, grief and recovery.

It’s also a memoir about dialogue: a dialogue with my mother, a dialogue with myself and my memories, and a dialogue with the reader.

In telling my mother’s (and my family’s) story, I recall the many things we knew and, importantly, what we did not know. We became experts on how to deal with the day-to-day urgencies of a terminal cancer patient; what we didn’t know was the wealth of resources available to us: organizations and individuals who can help. [Read more…]

Reflections From A First Reading

ptimOne of the brightest moments in a weekend filled with them occurred when my great friends John and Lisa Santoro gave me the gift seen above: a framed copy of the book cover. Naturally this was put to use and graced the signing table (as it will at all subsequent events).

Here is the Facebook status I put up Sunday morning, still buzzing from the festivities from the night before: Clichés be damned: I am literally overwhelmed and overjoyed by the love and support on display yesterday. One of the greatest days of my life? No question. Thank you, all, for being part of it. I LOVE YOU!

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Here’s a passage from the memoir’s prologue:

Looking out, all my familiar faces: my father, my sister, her husband, my nephew and niece, the two aunts—my mother’s sisters—who had been with us for those awful, awe-inspiring final two weeks, and behind them the confidantes, colleagues, childhood friends, grown-up acquaintances, friends’ parents, and all the less recognizable faces I hadn’t seen in so many years. This is the closest we come to witnessing our own funerals. The same people there to support us, smile and cry with us, becoming part of the moments that become memories; an event that connects us and brings us closer, no matter how far away or disparate our lives might otherwise be.

Looking out at my family and understanding that they helped shape me, that I wouldn’t change anything even if I could. We learn to put away childish things and earn the chances we’ve been given, the responsibility to carry on the work that has already been done on our behalves. Equal parts fate and good fortune, we look at those familiar faces and understand what they have done, and what we need to do.

sm4The event was graced by the presence of a very special, honored guest: Robert E. Simon, the man who designed, and named, the town of Reston, VA. It was a privilege to toast him and enjoy a spirited exchange involving places and events, all the great memories he helped make possible. This great man turned 99 this spring and, hearing him speak, it seems reasonable to believe he’ll be with us for many more years. Here’s to that! Cheers!

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"In some moments of profound experience, we see and feel in extraordinary ways. That is what happened to Sean Murphy after his mother’s death.  He has had the courage to look honestly at death, and the talent to express his love and grief in a way that will comfort and sustain his readers."

-  Steve Goodwin, author of Breaking Her Fall

May 27, 2015