I don't write all the time, although sometimes I feel that I should. There's a great throwaway line from Bill Murray's playwright character in TOOTSIE – "Since I'm awake, I'm gonna do some writing."
Sometimes I feel that way. But sometimes I have to procrastinate. You can't write all the time. (At least I can't. Maybe Joyce Carol Oates can, but I can't.) So I kill time on various websites until the sense of guilt becomes too much for me, and I go back to my work.
Here are five of my favorite places to kill/waste time – and find out some good things, too.
I hesitate to recommend this website because anyone who goes on it never has to buy a book – or almost anything – and certainly not my book, ever again.
This is all FREE stuff. And not only free: it's great stuff. The cream of our culture. Really.
• 950 Free Online Courses from Top Universities
• 675 Free Movies Online: Great Classics, Indies, Noir, Westerns, etc.
• 550 Free Audio Books: Download Great Books for Free
• 600 Free eBooks for iPad, Kindle & Other Devices
• MOOCs from Great Universities (Many With Certificates)
• Learn 46 Languages Online for Free: Spanish, Chinese, English & More
200 Free Kids Educational Resources: Video Lessons, Apps, Books, Websites & More
It's a stunning array of material. Chaplin films, Hitchcock films, Jane Austen audiobooks, Ivy League lectures, famous writers, reading lists, syllabi, free music – this is the long-promised Free University of the Internet. Congratulations to editor Dan Colman who has scoured the net for the best free stuff out there. It's a double-edged sword, so much free stuff on the web: no one has the need to go anywhere or buy anything ever again. How will artists and musicians and actors – except for the very top – survive?
But I listened to a brilliant lecture on "Antony and Cleopatra" by Marjorie Garber of Harvard.
This is a website where killing time is actually a positive, character-building experience.
ARTS & LETTERS DAILY
This is a blue-chip aggregator from The Chronicle of Higher Education. It brings together a huge range of scholarly and intellectually enticing articles, book reviews, essays, opinion pieces, and links to a worldwide selection of newspapers, magazines, breaking news sites, and "favorites."
New material is added six days a week. You can easily get lost in this site. But you also see the good work of many interesting writers, and it spurs you back to work.
TALKING POINTS MEMO
I'm a political junkie. I don't put too much politics into my blog because I'm saving it for my new novel. I care too much about politics to deal with it casually, and I don't want to turn this blog into a political one, which I could very easily do.
I go on several political blogs during the day, but one I always try to hit is Talking Points Memo. Joshua Micah Marshall is a very good editor, and he brings a lot of good material to his site.
I have a rather large library of books about music. I have a whole series of books of Billboard charts, several Rough Guides, the four-volume New Grove Encyclopedia of Opera, lots of biographies and critical studies, books of anecdotes, books of photographs, etc. People are always buying me books about music. For instance, for my birthday, Calder's Father got me the new Terry Teachout biography of Louis Armstrong.
But sometimes books are not enough, and I need instant information. There's a song I can't think of, or a question I have about who wrote what, or who played on what song. For that, I go to All Music.
It used to be better a few years ago, before it decided to try to monetize what was essentially a pure fan-and-information site. Still, it's the place to go for information on music, and I understand the need to make money to stay in business. Everything shouldn't be free. It's a good place to learn what you want to know about, and to explore and find new music that you don't know about yet.
There are Editor's Choices, a good search function, and guides to different kinds of music – everything to support one's curiosity about the world of music. Often you can get twenty- or thirty-seconds of each song, to help you decide what you like and what you want more of.
It's an easy site to waste a lot of time on, so I guess that's a sign that it's a good one.
Some people play solitaire online, some people play video poker. My time-wasting Internet game is Bridge. I like to play bridge with real cards, and I like to play it on-line, too. And on this website, I can play one game or two, and be back at work in five minutes.
This bridge site has players from all over the world. I've played with people from China and Turkey and Africa – virtually, all over the world. I once played with a woman from Ireland who lived down the street from where I lived when I was a college student in Dublin. Very strange and nice.
Bridge is a great waste of time – "the chess of card games." It gives your mind a little work-out, but not too much. It's north of Mindless: enough to wake me up and get my basic functions working.
And it's free.
Cue Marshall Crenshaw's "You're My Favorite Waste of Time," and it's back to work, to try to do what I do better.