This story is a kind of sequel to last week’s, read it here.
It is Monday, February 3rd. Travis is driving me down to Gaithersburg. We need to do a “double swap.” That is a quite unusual occurrence. There are always two vans parked at that store. That is necessary because they buy so many books there. On Sunday, I got a call that both vans were full and buys were still coming in. I was alone in the warehouse in the middle of the big project (the story which follows.) I couldn’t get away. A lucky coincidence brought Nelson to the warehouse with a UHaul truck full of books. I brought in the dogs and opened the gate to allow him and his helpers to enter. We rarely get weekend deliveries. Nelson lives in Montgomery County, so I asked if he would take a van down there on his way home. He agreed. There were no empty vans, but one only had about 50 boxes of books in it. We quickly placed those on the ground, and he was on his way with his two helpers following our van in a car. That meant on Monday morning there were three vans at Wonder Book Gaithersburg. Travis and I would go down together and do some work and then each of us would drive a van back. A “double swap.”
I spent the whole weekend going through the second part of the Cabin Poet’s book collection. Paul Grant’s books were extremely interesting. I felt I’d developed a bond with him and his library after personally going through every book that was initially dropped off.
If you read last week’s book story, you know it was just a fluke that the first part of the collection Larry dropped off late one night caught my eye. He drops off many collections every week. It is rare that he singles one out for my attention. Larry didn’t say anything about these. He just texted a box count and a picture at 6pm last Tuesday.
For some reason, I peeked into a couple boxes atop the wooden pallet. What I saw told me I should go through these books personally. That is a pleasure I rarely afford myself anymore.
Perhaps a higher power was involved. Maybe I was directed toward those books.
Is my Book Muse back in town?
I miss you…you made me laugh ten thousands times.
Oh, well…she knows where to find me.
The Poet’s collection.
Last Friday afternoon when all the week’s labors were being wrapped up (the stores, the warehouse, the vans and truck, Book by the Foot, office work, this and that…), I asked Clif to set the two pallets of books Larry had dropped off late the night before in the middle of the sorting area. During the week this is a high traffic intersection. On the weekend when I’m there alone, I can fill the “streets”—the floor spaces which are like roads between pallets of books and bookcases and desks—with books and not cause any disruption. No one is there whose way will be impeded. And actually, I need the space to spread out. It is the only way I know to go through lots of difficult books in a logical, systematic way. From the first batch of the Poet’s we’d gotten, I had an inkling of what would be in the boxes. I was hoping it would be “more of the same.”
Everyone left the warehouse at 4:30. I bumped around doing this and that. I wandered the concrete spaces—aisles and passages and thoroughfares throughout the warehouse. I surveyed the absolute hopelessness of ever getting caught up.
This winter has been bizarre. So far it has been the “winter that wasn’t.”
(I’m writing this in bed Monday night, February 3rd. It is nearly 60 degrees outside.)
This winter has also been different in that for many years we would get ahead of the books flowing in here. We tend to get fewer collections in the winter. There aren’t the charity sale leftovers to pick up. Usually this time of year we see spaces in the warehouse open everywhere. I get worried that we will run out of “raw” books, and many of the folks here won’t have any work to do. Have we ever had a winter where the threat of running out of “raw” books has not been a real fear?
This winter IS different. The docks are full. The storage areas are full. The 12 trailers backed to docks are full. The 7 vans and the box truck are always full. What will happen when the spring deluges of books begin?
I dunno. We will fight that battle when it is thrust upon us.
I don’t look forward to that.
Leaving the warehouse Friday early evening, I was desperately lonely, but I couldn’t bring myself to reach out to anyone. I finally headed to Volt for a cocktail. I thought maybe Damon would mix me an elixir. Maybe then I would know what to do. Where to go. Maybe I could forget.
Volt was packed. I sat off to the side and played with my phone waiting for a bartender to come and take a drink order. I’d be fine sitting on the radiator and watching the wild mix of people spinning all around me.
No one came.
I texted friend: “Drink?”
I got an affirmative response, rose and left the Voltaggio establishment.
I suppose my friend was in a similar state as I for soon we were seated at the bar of The Family Meal (also a Voltaggio enterprise) chatting about life, the universe and everything. Some hours later we had discussed old times, ancient giants, books, travel, aliens among us… When the tab came, I said: “We had 7 cocktails!”
(That’s a Vesper, BTW. A “book” cocktail invented by James Bond (a.k.a. Ian Fleming) in Casino Royale.)
There were 7 appetizers or so. I had BFD (Breakfast For Dinner)—eggs, sausage, bacon, rye toast—comfort food.
We texted one another when we were both home safe.
I’d been sent a lifeline. Friday was behind me. The week was behind me. I stoked the fire and crawled into bed with Merry and Pippin. I read some Elizabeth Daly. I’ve been rereading her Gamadge bibliomysteries lately.
They are like comfort food. Cozy Mysteries.
Soon I was dreaming.
Saturday morning I bumped down the mountain with my two Jack Russells beside me.
I parked near the “Managers’ Entrance.” The door has one of those automatic locks. I waved my credit card size and shaped “key” over a little plastic box next to the door. “Beep” the door unlocked, and I could enter the building.
I passed “Research Mountain” in Madeline’s area.
There is a huge pile of yellow tubs filled with books that are waiting to be “researched.”
We will never get caught up.
(Which is fine. I’d be likely bored if we weren’t in a constant state of panic mode.)
I ignored all the researched book tubs in the “Madeline” area that are filled with potentially collectible books. Each book in those tubs has a slip of paper in it telling me the results the researcher had found. Madeline, the guru, the top researcher usually makes most pricing decisions on these books herself. She will only kick books back to me that have problematic results like:
“None online. None on World Cat.”
Does that mean the book in my hand the only copy left in the world?
This happens more often than you would think.
What do I do when I get a book with those results?
Guess, of course. Educated guesses to be sure.
Usually…some I just put aside for the future. Maybe there will be more answers in a couple years.
What about a book whose search results are “None online. 7 on World Cat.”?
That aids my decision a bit. The book is extremely uncommon. Guess? Educated guess to be sure.
What about results like “Online 1 at $35, 1 at $95, 1 at $750, 1 at $1100, 1 at $1150, 1 at $1155. 4 on World Cat.”? Very confused results! What kind of value do I put on that book?
Other researchers—still novices—need each of their book’s search results reviewed. If I feel they’ve done a good job and their notes are trustworthy, I can slap a price on the book and send it to Madeline to decide if she wants it showcased at the Frederick store or simply added to the warehouse database.
It is fun evaluating these books and getting them priced to go on the market. Some are really exciting. Some incredibly exotic—seemingly one of a kind. Some are complicated by author inscriptions or other enhancements that confuse the book’s value and how to market its quirkiness. Some are still impossible to quantify and/or to catalog in an effective marketable way.
What to do then? PUNT! (i.e. Put the book aside to look at again in the future.)
After Madeline’s mountain, I passed the Conference Room where all manner of work awaits me. I ignored all the chores. Bank statements and credit card statements and bills and mystery envelopes piled up on the conference room table. Why there? My office desk is currently impossibly buried.
I didn’t even peek into my own office. It is a maze of piles of books I simply can’t part with.
‘Maybe some day I will do a book show again…’ I thought.
I passed through the door for the office area and out onto the warehouse floor. The three rows of data entry stations were lined with carts loaded with books. There were about a dozen different kinds of books on these carts. Each had a paper taped to it detailing what the type of books on it. Their descriptions would make no sense to someone who doesn’t work here.
(Easy for Leonardo…LOL.)
Some carts had my name on them, a blue slip of paper with “CHUCK” printed on it.
Halfway across the warehouse floor were the two mountainous pallets of BIG boxes containing the rest of Paul Grant’s book collection, but I passed them to put the dogs out in the “dockyard.” It is about half an acre. We don’t get deliveries on weekends, so when I close the gate, they have all that space to romp around in. Because it is fenced, in they can’t get out.
I returned to the Cabin Poet’s pallets and pulled up a stool next to them. I set out 5 yellow tubs to one side of the stool. I set 6 empty Banker’s boxes on the floor on the other side of the stool. I pulled up a 6-shelf 4-wheel metal book cart behind the stool.
The plastic tubs were for books that will stay in the warehouse. Why yellow? Our “colors” have been yellow and black for decades. Why did I choose those colors? I think I read somewhere yellow is the most attention attracting color. That was one of my first “business/marketing” decisions.
One tub was for the computer to decide if it should be added to our online inventory. The computer may “reject” a book if we have too many copies of it already or the machine finds other issues. If it accepts the book for our online inventory, it will also price the book according to our own internal parameters and algorithms. One book online may have many prices as we concurrently list most books on numerous selling platforms. Different sites may have different commissions or shipping rates or may be in Euros or British Pounds or Canadian Dollars.
Another tub was for first editions. These the computer will add to our inventory in almost every instance. In this case, it will also pick its own price—in a “smart” way—because it “knows” the book is a first edition. Occasionally some of these will get kicked back—for too many different reasons to describe here.
The automated pricing?
It is all very complex. I don’t know how it all works. I’m glad there are people here that do. With the volume we do, this is the only way to #BookRescue the vast majority of relatively common books we attempt to sell online all over the world. To do everything by hand would mean we could not get to thousands and thousands of books. Also, since the selling price for the majority of books is so low, we must be automated in order to stay competitive with other booksellers.
(Do you know the story of John Henry—the legendary “Steel Drivin’ Man”? That’s an analogy to what we do here. Even the best people here could never keep up with the computer’s processing of books.)
My favorite selling platform? WonderBook.com of course! Our new site looks great, and its functionality improves every day. Also, our “delivered” prices there are usually substantially less than any other site. We pass the commissionless savings on to you.
Then…well, the other tubs get tricky. I’ve been doing this for 40 years now (come June 2020.) I started this business when I was very young. I was only 9 years old! (That’s a lie!) I have handled millions of books. At first it was always in the trenches of a brick and mortar store. I dabbled a little bit in mail order, but the main selling venue was our stores. You put a price on a book and put it on the shelf. If it sold right away, I’d worry had it been priced too low. If it didn’t sell for a long time, I’d consider lowering its price. If it never sold, I learned from that experience as well.
We first starting selling books on the fledging World Wide Web in 1997. (By then I was a teenager, LOL.) That changed a lot of the way we handled and priced books. But the bookselling grounding I learned in the trenches all those years ago has helped the company stay viable—and grow as well!
So…the story of John Henry and the Steam Driving Machine. The computer is kind of like that. BUT unlike Mr. Henry, this machine didn’t put us out of business. We embraced the technology. Also, the technology did not control us. We control the technology. Well, maybe not entirely. We developed a symbiotic relationship between ourselves, our survival and quality of life, and the internet.
The computer has helped everyone in the company. And all the books we work so hard to get positive results on.
We now have over 135 employees!
Without the computer and the people behind its programming, all the people would be doing work some place else—likely not with books. I’d probably be driving a cab.
All those years of book work…
I started this business as a “bookie” and a “recycler.” From the very first day, there was the passion for books and the passion to find new homes for books we acquired. An adjunct to that was…survival. From day one, there were rents to be paid. Utility bills. The cost of books. The cost of supplies and shelving. Then, I had to live. I had a pickup truck. A 1976 “once white” Ford F 150 with a cap covering the bed. The logo on the cap was “Don’t Go Topless.”
I needed a place to live. I needed food. I wanted beer (or was that a need?) In those days, my tastes were pretty simple. I could find Piels Beer in “shorts” (squat fat 12 oz bottles) for $4.99 a case. Funny how I remember that. If I was feeling flush, I might spring for a 6 pack of Stroh’s. If I was feeling wealthy, I might buy a “sixie” of Molson’s or Labatts. That was about as exotic as it could get back then. I recall my brother Jimmie visiting once, and I splurged on a case of Molson. (A case was just a warm-up for him in those days.) It cost $24.99. He was shocked! The next cases we shared were Piels or Old Frothingslosh (if it was in season.)
Ok…so back to the part where it gets tricky… I’ve seen the results—positive and negative—so many millions of books now I have a gut feeling for which are “Not in System.” “NIS” means the computer databases (not our own) do not recognize that particular book. If I send a book to Data Entry and it is Not In System”, it simply gets put on a cart and sent back. Guess who it gets sent back? ME! I HATE handling a book twice.
I have a mantra at Wonder Book. Every time a book gets handled by an employee its cost goes up. If “I” need to handle a book more than once, that book has become very expensive no matter how fast I move it from here to there. It also means some other book here has to wait longer to be handled.
I have learned—through “countless” samples what kind of books are quite often NIS.
I bypass the computer in these cases and put them in yellow tubs using the old fashioned “sledgehammer” method of slapping a “price of experience” on the book.
ARE YOU STILL WITH ME?
Anyway…whether my explanation makes sense or not, what happens is I drop those books into tubs at a fixed price. $19.95, $39.95… whatever my gut, my experience tells the book the book might be worth.
If a book is NIS, it is usually somewhat unusual.
So, as in the olden golden days, I price the book myself and put it on the shelf (our online inventory) and let the market (a.k.a. “you”) decide to buy to or not.
OH! There’s one more category of “yellow tub” books. The “Madeline” tubs. Madeline has been doing research here since I was 19. Maybe before (I’m lying—about my age—not Madeline.) Madeline has done much of our online research for a long time. A long time. I send books to her that I do not want to guess at. Some I need an autograph or something else verified. Some I am just curious as to what other booksellers are trying to vend the book for.
(That is the simplified version. If I explained any more, your head might explode. OR I might venture into corporate secrets—proprietary stuff.)
So, that explains how I decide which plastic tubs “internet worthy” books get dropped in to.
The cardboard Banker’s boxes?
Those all go to the stores.
I typically line the boxes up in two rows of three.
95¢, $2.95, $4.95,
$7.95, $12.95, $19.95.
Using my John Henry…my “analog” mind, I toss some books into boxes at those price points.
Well…it is complicated…some books I feel will do better at the stores than online. There are too many reasons for that to go into here. Plus some of those reasons are trade secrets.
And the stores need quality books to keep the public happy and spending money on books. If the stores were boring, they wouldn’t be viable.
Suffice it to say…it WORKS.
So far, anyway.
When I fill a box or tub, I set a piece of scrap paper atop it so whoever handles the box or tub will know where it goes. For the boxes, I use a marker on the paper. I write and price and the store I want the box to end up at on it.
For example: “$4.95 HD.”
Every book in that Banker’s box will be stickered at $4.95 at HD. HD = Hagerstown’s Wonder Bookstore. I send books there I think will do better for that clientele.
40 = Frederick (It is on Rt 40.)
WG = Gaithersburg (Wonderbook Gaithersburg.)
Are you still with me?
Then I drag the filled boxes and tubs aside and stack them. I fill their void with an empty tub or box.
When I started Paul Grant’s collection on Saturday, I laid out my yellow tubs and Banker’s boxes as usual. Then I set my extra large 7-11 coffee on the floor next to the stool. I stepped to the pallet and lifted a box off the top layer.
“Geez! This must be 70 pounds! Larry usually uses liquor boxes.”
Wine and booze boxes are about half the size of the moving boxes I had stacked before me.
I set the box on the floor between the stool and the pallet. I sat on the stool and pulled apart the flaps on top of the box.
Some magic must have poured out for soon I was in a “zone.”
It was just me, alone with the Poet’s books. I felt I was seated in a kind of aura.
I lifted out book after book. Most I could toss into a tub or box of my choice with just a glance. Others I needed to open and inspect the copyright page to determine if it was a first edition or not.
Hours flew by. Books flew out of boxes. My mind was battered by thousands of visual impressions. So many of these impressions had links to my memory and my long ago life as a young man with ambitions to become a writer—a poet actually.
A large percentage of Paul’s books were poetry. Most were written by people I had never heard of. Many were produced by university presses—like Pittsburgh, Wesleyan, Louisiana State and Yale… Some boxes were almost exclusively thin hardcover and softcover poetry books. A box could contain a couple hundred of that kind of book, I think.
There were 100s of modern obscure poetical works. 1000, maybe 2000. Each one was some woman or man’s labor of love and passion. They worked to get discovered. A publisher accepted their work. Printers and designer created their books.
I couldn’t bring myself to make the wise business decision and send them to the dollar tables at the stores.
I can imagine that some of these poets only sold a handful of their books.
Paul must have been a willing benefactor at readings or workshops.
There were also many inscribed to “Sonja” as review copies.
I’ve experienced many small press literary works that had most of their only print run leftover—languishing on shelves or in cartons at the publishers or even their homes.
Years ago, I bought thousands of Wesleyan University Press poetry books in a lot. They needed a storeroom cleared. Did I pay 10 cents each? If so, that turned out to be a poor business decision.
Even big name authors’ works can go begging as you’ll see near the end of this story.
Regardless of how obscure, I had to look at every title in Paul’s collection. If it was by a poet I’d heard of, I’d open it to determine if it was a first. Other factors would have me look inside. It could just be a gut feeling. It could be the publisher. If it was a notable publisher, I would inspect the copyright. But then if it was an obscure publisher whose cover art was edgy or whose contents appeared to be Feminist or Gay or…something eye-catching, those factors could be hooks.
I simply could not take the time to look inside every single book of poetry. Even though almost all poetry by anyone not well known only ever gets one printing, I couldn’t claim the book was a first unless I checked.
If the book had relatively serious condition problems—a bad dust jacket, a missing dust jacket, some damage or staining to book etc—I would toss it into a Banker’s box to go to the stores. It would have a better chance of selling there where the buyer could see firsthand that the book was still viable than with a lengthy negative description online.
I also noted that a good amount of the books were autographed. That factor would not get me to look inside every book. Unless the author is noteworthy, autographs do not add much to the value of the book. Besides, every book gets looked through when a data entry person handles it. There every book gets inspected for hidden defects…and surprising enhancements like autographs.
I was not depressed that many, maybe most, of the books of poetry would never sell. I felt it was a duty—to the poet/author, the book and to the Cabin Poet, Paul—that I give every slender volume a chance. I think the data entry managers understand that that is part of our “mission.” Even though some books may be difficult to add online because of their obscurity or other factors. I can imagine them thinking: “These will never sell.”
St. Jude’s is the patron saint of lost causes. But is there a very minor one for lost book causes?
Book after book. Box after box.
Don’t get me wrong, there were highlights.
Two very nice Sylvia Plath’s appeared!
They were both later printings, but not much later. Their jackets might exactly match the first editions. If so, they could be “married” to first edition copies which lacked their DJs. If not, they were still very cool. Some books later editions still have some value if their first edition versions are so expensive they are unapproachable.
The same was true of this The Catcher in the Rye.
But the George R R Martin’s were firsts. Everyone knows how hot his books are now—mostly because of the huge success the television epic Game of Thrones. Unfortunately, like most of the Cabin Poet’s books, the end papers were foxed. My guess is that cabin in the woods he lived in was often quite damp. I think this kind of foxing on books that are not extremely old is a result of the books being exposed to substantial air dampness during seasons when there was no climate control. In my experience, for modern books to be affected this way, they must be in those circumstances for many years.
Almost every book in the collection had some of this.
However, I sent all three of those books to Madeline. My feeling was she would like them in “her” glass cases at the Frederick store even with their flaws.
Many of these books were also in sleeves that Paul made. I still have no idea why he chose to craft slipcases for most of the books he did. Was it size and shape? An exercise in “building” the sleeves of differing dimensions? Still, they were quite beautiful. I don’t recall any two to be made using the same pattern cloth. When I came across one, I would shake the book out and send it to a tub or box. I would turn and place the empty slipcase on the cart behind me.
When it comes to books I want for myself, I’m afraid I am incorrigible. Paul had 5 books by my poetry professor at Connecticut College, William Meredith. He was a great influence. He became Poet Laureate at the Library of Congress in 1978.
I gently tossed 3 of those books off to the side onto the floor. I’m sure I have copies of them somewhere…but still.
Later I found a few books by my other Conn College poetry teacher, Brendan Galvin. He took over the course when Meredith went on sabbatical. Yes, I tossed those aside as potential “keepers.”
There were a number of books by my classmate at Conn College, Michael Collier. We didn’t interact much there. When he began have great success as a poet after college, I became quite jealous. He was actually doing what I only dreamed of. Of course, I wasn’t trying to get recognized. Nor was I writing much for many of the early years when my life was in such turmoil.
Good for him!
No, I didn’t want any of those books for myself. I DID check to see if they were first editions.
Time flew by as my spirit flew to other times.
Meredith had turned me on to Wallace Stevens and John Berryman. Borges I had discovered on my own.
Yes. These were sent to my “keeper” pile which, while not significant, was growing.
Beyond the poetry, Paul’s book tastes were very close to mine, my tastes when I was much younger and very idealistic.
So many of the books, in the brief moment that I held them, took me back to a time and a place when I first discovered that book or author. I’d, for a flash, bask in the presence of the title before I gently tossed it into a tub or a box.
Hours later it was Saturday evening. I finally had to stop. I surveyed my work. I’d gone through just about half of the Cabin Poet’s books.
I returned Sunday morning and continued. It took all day, but my mission was accomplished by late afternoon. All the boxes were emptied.
I rose and surveyed the carnage.
I’d made dozens of boxes of books. I’d made dozens of tubs of books. The cart behind me had relatively few—maybe 20—books that I would send to Book by the Foot. There were a LOT of colorful empty slipcases on the cart. Over 100, I think.
What will I do with those? I’ll store them somewhere. I’m sure a use for them will come…with a little creative thinking “outside the box” LOL!
My little sprawl of keepers was not substantial.
Nor was it small.
I put those on a cart to inspect more closely on Monday.
I was exhausted—physically. I was drained mentally. My mind had experienced thousands of evocative impressions this weekend.
I was filled and drained concurrently. Does that make sense?
I walked amongst the boxes and tubs to make sure everything was labeled. I wandered around the warehouse a little, making sure I had left no messes…at least messes that weren’t labeled.
The dogs accompanied me.
They were ready to leave.
The lights in the 3 acre warehouse are so many and so powerful that when I switch them off, there is a loud metallic “clunk.”
Monday, February 3
The email for the last blog was not sent until Sunday. Yesterday, it got a few nice comments. One was from his niece who was handling the estate. She followed up with a couple nice emails. I was glad about that. I didn’t want to intrude upon the family’s privacy.
Another commenter wrote that Paul had worked in the Wonder Book warehouse when it was a Post Office facility! That gave me some tingles for some reason.
Had the aura I felt I’d been in all weekend been something more?
Coincidences and connections…sometimes I think there are other powers at work in our lives.
Cheryl, his niece, confirmed this when I told her I had found two of Paul’s handwritten journals and poetry amongst the books—and would she like them back:
Thank you for your condolences and for going through his collection personally. He did work at the sorting facility in Frederick—it afforded him time to write (and have, thankfully, good health care benefits.) I would love to tour when I get back down there.
We were quite close, I spent 6 months out of the last 2 years living at the cabin taking care of him, both of us writing—him to the very end. Yes, I would love to have the journals. A manuscript is in the works. I have many boxes and journals to go through plus his artwork to sort including the poems he wrote and had illustrated or did himself. He was a typesetter until computers. The slipcovers? Either he liked the book, or the cover of the book inspired him. I did ask!
Monday was furthermore a “getaway day.” Tuesday I was leaving for LA and the ABAA Rare Book Show in Pasadena.
“Getaway days” are amazingly productive. When I have an absolute deadline and I’m going to be away for a few days, I get into an even higher gear. I accomplished so much.
One funny accomplishment was with this little book.
I discovered one copy of it laying about back in Books by the Foot. I recalled ordering it as a remainder but not for designer purpose. It is too small and thin. I bought all the copies the remainder house had because when they sent me a sample, I noticed it was a hand numbered limited edition. I was supposed to have been notified when the books from this company arrived!
“Did these come in?”
I held the copy out to Dennis.
“Can you find them? They weren’t for you guys.”
“Please put them on a cart and bring them up to me!”
A little while later this cart appeared.
We had about 250 copies of the print run of 500.
While that may be too much of a good thing, I couldn’t let these books be lost.
I instructed a data entry manager to put them ALL online no matter what the computer says!
I also packed up the books from Paul’s collection that I wanted to take home and look through and probably keep. None were rare or valuable, but they all meant something to me.
They were loosely put in two banker’s boxes. Maybe 30 books. I set them in the back of my Ford Explorer.
I’ll look through them when I get back. I’m finishing this story up from Santa Monica! It’s been an eventful trip. I’ll be at the opening of the book show Friday.
There should be a book story in that! I hope…next week.
Thanks to anyone who has read this far.
I hope I was able to convey the kinship I developed for the Cabin Poet. The respect I developed spending 3 days of my life sorting his book collection is profound. He went to many writing events over a lifetime to collect these books. He “lived the life of a poet” in his lonely cabin in the Maryland woods. It was a wonderful collection. Maybe it is what my book collection would have looked like had I taken a different path all those years ago.
Especial thanks to anyone who sends comments. It really helps to know what people think about these stories. If I don’t hear anything, I feel like I’m writing in a vacuum.