Rich Wilhelm

Posts Tagged ‘writing’

2018: The Year of Taking Better Notes

In Uncategorized on January 1, 2018 at 10:20 pm

Here we have two notebooks that I made from a box that contained a six-pack of Fireside Chat winter spiced ale, made by 21st Amendment Brewery. I hope to take better notes in these notebooks.

As the end of 2017 approached, I began to feel like I had not accomplished anything all year. I was feeling like I had nothing to show for the year.

This was not an accurate feeling. Throughout the year, I continued to be a husband and dad to the best of my ability on any given day. I continued to be a news editor, even traveling to New Orleans one week to do that job. I gave tours at Laurel Hill Cemetery and I made and mailed Really Cool Notebooks to every corner of this country and beyond. I have largely shown up for the various roles and responsibilities I have in my life.

But I did realize there was something that I did not do in 2017. I did not take good notes. Days and weeks passed by in which I didn’t write in a journal, didn’t post any blog entries, didn’t really check in with myself. Which is perfectly fine, except that, as someone who someone who considers himself a writer, I ought to have done more.

Also, I didn’t read much this year. I read one book — the fascinating Lincoln in the Bardo — and that’s it.

Really, though, I read quite a bit. Nearly all that reading though, was online news stories.

Therein lies the problem. In order to try to keep up with a very weird year, I gave myself over to the task of simply trying to keep up with the ongoing saga emanating from Washington, D.C. And Mar-a-Lago. And various other golf clubs.

In short, I spent an inordinate amount of time tracking the activities of our president. But I’m done with that.

Don’t get me wrong. I am going to continue to follow the current situation, and to try to continue to voice my concerns and to figure out what I can do to make a positive contribution to our country and world right now.

At the same time though, I think I need to cut down on my grim fascination with the current resident of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, D.C. And I think I need to recover whatever part of myself I feel has been lost in the shuffle of 2017.

I’m not doing this to bury my head in the sand, but to find a way to be more engaged that simply staring with bemused horror at stories of the latest inanity.

The way forward for me is, I think, to find ways to be more positively engaged in the world around me and in the world within me. And, as this is happening, to take better notes.

If I do start taking better notes — real, pen-to-paper notes, maybe even in the “Fireside Chat” beer box notebooks shown in the photo above, that is — I will hopefully occasionally organize those thoughts into entries for this blog. I make no promises, but I’ll give this a shot.

Here’s to a productive, positive 2018 for us all!


HooplaThon Day 1: Just the FAQs

In Uncategorized on September 12, 2016 at 12:51 am

HooplaThon Day 1: Just dipping one set of toes in the Hoopla.

Welcome to the HooplaThon. You probably have questions. I have answers.

For reasons that I will attempt to delineate, I have decided that for the next bunch of days, I am going to attempt to write a journal entry while listening to side 1 of the 1985 Starship album, Knee Deep in the Hoopla. Then, while playing side 2, I will craft the journal entry into a casual essay on this blog.

Why, oh why, do I want to take on this ridiculous task? Glad you asked.

I have my reasons, the first being as a way to confront a statement that I often hear, but don’t really believe: “Life is too short for bad music/bad movies/bad books/bad art/bad sports/etc.” I feel like this Hoopla experiment is a way to test that theory with a daily dose of Knee Deep in the Hoopla, an album that contains the song “We Built This City,” which often tops polls as the worst song ever recorded.

So my thought was, why not spend some time with this musical product (the use of the word “product” is quite deliberate) that is often deemed “bad” and see what results from my nightly listening experience. Will I find that life really is too short for bad music?

But that leads to another question: Is Knee Deep in the Hoopla truly bad music and is “We Built This City” really the worst song ever recorded? Or do the album and song simply have bad reps?

The fact of the matter is I could be listening to Coltrane’s A Love Supreme every night. Maybe that would inspire some glorious damn prose to come flowing out of my mind. But that’s not the point. The point is: where will prolonged exposure to Knee Deep in the Hoopla lead me?

Also a question: what exactly is “hoopla” and can it really be quantified? How does one get knee deep into it and does one in fact know that they are precisely knee deep in it?

Some readers might wonder: is there some kind of political agenda going on here? The answer is a unequivocal, “Well, yeah, now that you mention it, maybe there is.” After all, has any American year been more filled with political hoopla than 2016? Actually, I am thinking about hooey here. Clearly no year in American history has been filled with as much political hooey as this year. But hoopla is happening too, and we’re all knee deep in it at the very least, whether we want to admit it or not.

Trump is the king of hoopla and the king of hooey as well. Contemplating a Trump presidency awhile back, I realized that I’d rather be compelled to listen to “We Built This City” every single morning for the next four years than to wake up knowing the Donald Trump was president. So there’s that.

What else is this about? It could be about anything really, as long as the tangents wind their way back to Knee Deep in the Hoopla. It’s about spurring me to write every night and its about figuring out a way to avoid the early evening naps that end up wrecking my sound sleep hours later. Maybe writing these entries will be a way to “rock myself to sleep,” as Grace Slick sings, with the help of Quiet Riot’s Kevin DuBrow, on Knee Deep in the Hoopla.

So, finally, how will this work? As I stated at the beginning, each evening, I’ll scribble thoughts in my specially designed Knee Deep in the Hoopla notebook, provided to me by my sponsor for this blog series, Rich’s Really Cool Notebooks. Then, while listening to side 2, I’ll type up the journal entry I just wrote, hopefully crafting it into something semi-coherent.

If there is a point or points to this project, perhaps, it or they, will emerge as I compile the entries. To quantify the project, I’ll add a new Hoopla to the official HooplaMeter (see photo above) with each new entry.

So, join me if you’d like. I hear Marconi is about to play the mamba.


Searching for My Walden

In Henry David Thoreau, journal, journal keeping, not quite Walden, Philosophy/Creativity, Uncategorized, Walden, Writing on February 7, 2016 at 12:28 pm


Early, oh so early, on a Sunday morning. I have walked the dog and she is snuggling in our bed now with my sleeping wife. One kid is sound asleep in his room. The other is presumably sound asleep as well, though not at home this morning. He is hanging with friends at the college campus he will call home come this fall. Even through the clangorous din of a new wave album that I’m listening to through headphones, I can feel the Sunday morning quiet.

I could have gone back to bed after Jolie and I returned from her walk, but I like this time on Sunday mornings–at least those Sundays when I don’t wake up feeling anxious. This was not really one of those fretful days. Or maybe it was, and I turned it around by putting a pen to paper and fingers to a laptop keyboard.

I am searching for my Walden. Yes, I am referring to Henry David Thoreau’s classic book, beloved and despised both in its time and now. No, I am not comparing myself, at least not in any more than one way, with Mr. Thoreau.

Henry and I do share one very important trait though. At heart, we are both journal-ists.

Not journalist, as in my major in college. Journal-ist, as in lifelong keepers of personal journals.

I started keeping a journal around 1980. Within a year or so, I had gotten serious about it–all thanks to Valerie Shulman, my 11th grade English teacher. I have been writing, with varying degrees of frequency, in my journal ever since. At this point, I have been keeping a journal longer than Thoreau did, due to his ill-health and early demise. He was more dedicated to it though and, of course, his journal is the foundation of canonical works of American literature. I, on the other hand, am eternally distracted by any number of things, most of which Henry would have surely disapproved.

However, I recently found a old ten-inch record containing the self-help exhortations of one Earl Nightingale, giving listeners “The Strangest Secret.” I picked up the record and turned its front and back cover into my latest journal notebook:IMG_0812

I still haven’t gotten around to discovering what “The Strangest Secret” is, but making the notebook has inspired me to get back to writing daily one-page entries, which I’ve been doing since January 22. I’m trying to incorporate some art into the journal too, basically because I like colored pencils very much and what they say about the current “adult coloring” trend is true: I find spreading color across a page to be very calming.

This latest spike in my journal-keeping is something that I am doing for myself. Keeping a journal, and trying to be consistent about it, is a process that I find personally helpful, and I also want to make sure that I have a decent record of this era of my life once I get a little older. In recent years, I have occasionally turned to my old journals to confirm the details of certain long-past life events and I’d like to be able to do that for these days as well.

So, this is for me. And yet, I know that Thoreau crafted much of his work–including Walden–from his journals. I have always been intrigued by the concept of a journal as a mine for more fully-formed works. I figure, with 30+ years of journal-keeping behind me, I’ve got some kind of Walden in those pages somewhere. Again, I am NOT comparing myself to Henry and his work, other than to note that he pulled from his journals to create essays and books and that I’d like to do that as well.

Of course, one way to accomplish that would be to craft blog entries–on some kind of semi-regular basis–that find their roots somewhere in my journals. These days, I make no such solid promises. But, given more quiet Sunday mornings, who knows what could happen?



The Wednesday Seven 4/16/14

In Wednesday Seven on April 17, 2014 at 2:01 am

The idea of a weekly column very much appeals to me. I’ve done it before–when I was writing for my college newspaper, and when I first started The Dichotomy of the Dog as a blog, just before people started using the word “blog” with some frequency.

I’ve maintained a blogging presence since 2000 and over the years my reasons for need this have changed. Lately, I’ve been struggling to find a reason to continue blogging. Maybe returning to a weekly column might help. I’ll give it a try tonight and see what happens next Wednesday night.

Because I’ve got a number of different things going on, I’m going to use this entry as a clearinghouse for my upcoming activities. I think this will be helpful, at least to me.

So, here’s what I’ve got going on:

1) Reading at the Library. I’ll be reading at the Phoenixville Public Library this Monday evening. But I won’t be reading just anything. I’ll be reading a piece of my own writing, out loud, to an audience for the first Writer’s Open Mic Night to be happening at library. I’m not sure how many local writers will be reading, but I’m looking forward to hearing their work and sharing my own. Doing this might help me to get a little bit more serious with my current and past writing, and what I want to do with it. I’m more than likely going to be reading a memory piece of mine called “Rosary Beads and Lemonheads.”

2) A Whole Lot of LuLu. Lulu, a vintage clothing store here in Phoenixville, is having a vintage flea market on Saturday, April 26 and I’m going to be selling the notebooks I make from record album covers, VHS boxes, cassette tape inserts and cassingle sleeves. Of course, I’ve done most of my notebook selling through my Etsy site, but it would be nice to have my act sufficiently together to do the occasional craft show or flea market.

3) Relay for Life. I will be participating in my 11th (!) Phoenixville Relay for Life on May 3-4. This Relay will be the tenth for our family’s team, Savage Walkers. I attended our latest meeting last night and everything seems to be falling into place for the Relay, thanks to an incredibly dedicated committee. I am honored to have the chance to work with these people. If you’d like to support my Relay efforts, you can go here: .

4) Records, Records, Records. This Saturday, 4/19, is Record Store Day and this year I’ve got a local record store, Deep Groove, to visit. I don’t usually pay much attention to all the special RSD releases, but still like hitting a story on the day. This year, there is a very attractive item I wouldn’t mind picking up: a four-record set containing both of show’s R.E.M. played for the MTV Unplugged show, one in 1991 and one in 2001. Record Store Day has inspired me to begin a record cataloging/weeding project of mine own. For about a week I’ve been plowing alphabetically through my collection, assigning every record a number and weeding out things I don’t need anymore. More on the listening and weeding and whatnot another time.

5) Philomath is Where I/We Go. Speaking of R.E.M., I had the idea a few years ago of compiling a collection of the writing I’ve done about R.E.M. into a book. I still like the idea, but I’m thinking instead what I’d like to do is collect a bunch of essays and stories from other fans and make a book out of that. Not a whole lot to say about that at the moment, other than if you happen to be reading this and if you happen to be an R.E.M. fan, maybe you’d like to contribute to the book? Let me know.

6) Other Book Ideas. While I’ve become intrigued with the idea of self-publishing a book, it’s not something I’ve taken much initiative to do. However, lately I’ve had a couple different ideas about ways to bring bits and pieces of my collected writing together and I feel like one of these days, I’m just going to have to buckle down and do something about it.

7) Comprehensive Overall Plan to Straighten Up My Life. I kid. Or maybe I don’t. I think the purpose of all of the above-along with some other things I’m working on or trying to work or need to work on but won’t be writing about here-is to make some fundamental changes in my life. I don’t mean to be cryptic, but maybe someday I’ll elaborate.

That’s my Wednesday Seven for the week of April 16, 2014. Tune in next week and maybe I’ll show up again!

An Open Letter to AMTRAK

In trains on February 26, 2014 at 5:53 pm


Word on the street, or on the tracks, is that AMTRAK has offered free “residency” train rides to writers, and that you may be offering more of these trips soon. If this is the case, I’d like to offer myself for one of these rides.

Allow me to introduce myself. My name is Rich Wilhelm. I am a husband, father, son, brother, uncle, nephew, cousin and in-law. I am a friend to at least a few people as well.

Professionally, I am a writer and editor and have worked for the same organization for 24 years. I will more than likely be at this organization for awhile longer, which is fine.

But that’s not all. For example, since my father died in 2003, I have been seriously involved in the American Cancer Society’s Relay of Life, the local version of which we’ve been holding in my town of Phoenixville, Pennsylvania since 2004.

I have also unexpectedly become a bit of a craftsman in recent years, making notebooks out of old cassette single sleeves, VHS tape boxes and record album covers. This means that I have sent Pokemon VHS tape box notebooks to people in Australia.

In another recent attempt to keep myself engaged and engaging in my middle-aged years, I trained to become a certified volunteer tour guide at Laurel Hill Cemetery in Philadelphia two years ago. Laurel Hill was the first cemetery to be declared a National Historic Landmark and it is fascinating, eerie and beautiful. Becoming a tour guide at Laurel Hill was the culmination of a lifetime of poking around old cemeteries and visiting presidential grave sites.

I once walked Debbie Harry to her car, though some people I know doubt my version of that event.

At the heart of all of this, I am a writer. I’ve been published here and there and I’ve maintained various blogs since the dawn of the age of the word “blog.” Mostly, though, I’m simply a writer, who enjoys a good train ride now and then.

Way back in 1988, my friend Joe and I, just a few months away from college graduation, took a series of longs AMTRAK rides: Philadelphia to Chicago; Chicago to Memphis; Memphis to New Orleans; New Orleans to Atlanta; Atlanta to Philadelphia. It was quite a week. Adventures ensued. I spent a decent chunk of our train time that week writing in the journal that I’ve been keeping, more or less consistently, since 1981.

While writing has continued to be important to me, I’ve never really gone on any kind of writing retreat. Going on such a retreat might help me clarify the various writing ideas that have been tumbling around in my brain for the last few years.

So what I’m saying is, if you’d happen to invite me to take a long train ride, I might just be inclined to accept that invitation. I’d go anywhere, though a train trip that ends at your Philomath, Georgia, stop would be ideal since I’ve heard that people needing inspiration sometimes journey to Philomath.

Oh, can’t get to Philomath from here via AMTRAK? Well, I’m sure we can iron the details out later.

In any event, thanks for thinking of all of us writers/riders!



Peppermint Zen Piano

In Facebook status poem, poem on December 6, 2013 at 4:49 pm


Peppermint Zen Piano

Started the day by listening to
Julia Cameron and Natalie Goldberg
getting all Zen about writing
as a toy piano occasionally commented
with brief note clusters from my back seat.

(Plus a peppermint mocha.)

We’ll see where this all leads.

I’ll miss the toy piano when it goes,
but it belongs to Cliff Hillis and Beth Lennon.

And, besides, it’s taking up a spot
where a kid usually sits.

Late Night Thoughts on Listening to a Swedish Country Band Play ABBA Songs

In Writing on March 15, 2013 at 3:05 am

I have the time it takes for me to listen to ABBA Our Way by Nashville Train to explain what I’d like to do here.

ABBA Our Way is a delight, by the way. It is a collection of ABBA songs, all done up nice and country-style by a Swedish band. The album was released in 1978 on RCA Records. Here are the brief liner notes, as penned by Lasse Westmann in Stockholm, sometime in 1976:

Special thanks to Benny Andersson, Bjorn Ulvaeus and Stig Anderson. They are a fabulous songwriterteam and without their songs this record wouldn’t exist. It was a hard job to pick twelve songs out of the rich production of great ABBA hits. We’ve tried to give the songs the shape of Country style and we hope you will enjoy this album. I would also like to mention the boys behind the instruments and the girls in the choir. In my opinion the best you can get in Sweden today, so I’m very pleased that they’re all here on this record. During the sessions we’ve had a fantastic help from ‘Brumme,’ who served us coffee, other refreshments and helped us with almost everything. We had a great time while we recorded, so I hope you will have a good time when you listen.

I have owned the ABBA Our Way LP for many years, though back in the late ’70s, I was entirely unaware of its existence. This is a shame: a country-inflected album of ABBA covers would have been an intergenerational sensation in my family, though at the time I probably would have scoffed at the notion of countrified ABBA tunes.

But, at 47, I’m just too middle-aged to worry about what is or is not cool. Versions of Swedish pop tunes that would sound just right on Hee-Haw work fine for me these days.

I was a kid when the cream of Sweden’s country music players and singers hit the studio to record ABBA Our Way. Even in those days I considered myself a writer but I wrote strictly for fun. I filled up “write your own book” blank books with my goofy poems and extremely short stories and I drew pictures of the Richie Rich-styled mansion I’d live in when I was a grown-up famous writer, because, of course, all writers were fabulously wealthy and lived in homes with diamond-encrusted monograms on their gates.

As it happens, I am still a writer. I have worked for the same organization for 23 years, spending the last decade in a position the requires quite a bit of writing.

Make no mistake: I am grateful for making a living the way I do. Recently though, I’ve reached the conclusion that, one way or another, the writing for fun needs to happen again, if only for the sake of my sanity.

I know that many people don’t find writing to be very much fun and I get that. I think we can agree that certain activities are almost universally considered to be fun and some are not.

There is certainly no fun consensus on writing.

For me though, this seems like a good time to locate the fun in writing again. Since I’ve enjoyed the concept of writing a weekly column before (originally back in college, then 13 years ago when I first began blogging), I’m thinking I’ll try it again.

This is my first week. When I’m not writing, I’ll be drawing pictures of the mansion I’m going to live in when I grow up.

That’s the plan. So, as Nashville Train closes out ABBA Our Way with a down-home take on “Waterloo,” I’ll say good night. Hopefully, you’ll find me here again next week at this time.

Patrick F. O'Donnell

writer, editor, general wordsmith and scribe

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