February 26, 2017


My fifth grade teacher, Mrs. Hollinger, gave me a gift at the end of the year, just as I was about to graduate from her class and into middle school. It was a copy of Strunk & White’s The Elements of Style, a book that has remained, in some edition, on my bookshelf ever since.

She told me something as she gave it to me that I still remember, twenty-five years later: You’re going to be doing a lot of writing in your lifetime, more than most people do, so I hope this comes in handy as you develop and further your skill.”

Mrs. Hollinger was not incorrect. I write a lot, for work and for pleasure, and refer to my copy of The Elements of Style constantly. (When asked about my fealty to the style guide by a teacher in high school once, I told her that I could only take risks in my writing if I knew the basics, could only break the rules if I knew them well.)

When I hear the world elements,” I think of The Elements of Style and not of the periodic table or something of that sort. When I hear the world elements,” I think of writing: stories, essays, briefings, letters. Putting words on paper (or screen) is elemental, to me. It has been since I was a child—something Mrs. Hollinger noticed, and fostered, early in my life. To her I am thankful.

For the most recent edition of The Mixtape Concern with the theme of elements,” I’ve collected a small selection of songs about writing.

Kendrick Lamar — Poetic Justice

Every time I write these words, they become a taboo
Making sure my punctuation curve, every letter here’s true
Living my life in the margin and that metaphor was proof
I’m talking poetic justice

Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds — Love Letter

I hold this letter in my hand
A plea, a petition, a kind of prayer
I hope it does as I have planned
Losing her again is more than I can bear
I kiss the cold, white envelope
I press my lips against her name
Two hundred words. We live in hope
The sky hangs heavy with rain

Muddy Waters — I Be Bound To Write To You

(Can’t make out most lyrics except the wail of bound to write”, which is all the lyrics I really need.)

Aaliyah — 4 Page Letter

I Was Too Shy, So I Decided To Write
I’m Sending Him A 4 Page Letter,
And I Enclosed It With A Kiss.
And When I Write Him He Better, Get It On Time.

Gang Starr — Manifest

I profess and I don’t jest cause the words I manifest
They will take you, sedate you, and I will stress upon
You the need for, you all to feed your
Minds and souls, so you can lead your-selves
To peace, I got a real objective here
I am effective here

Paul Simon — Rewrite

I’m workin’ on my rewrite, that’s right
Gonna change the ending
Throw away the title
And toss it in the trash
Every minute after midnight
All the time I’m spending
Is just for workin’ on my rewrite

Elvis Costello — Everyday I Write the Book

Chapter One we didn’t really get along
Chapter Two I think I fell in love with you
You said you’d stand by me in the middle of Chapter Three
But you were up to your old tricks in Chapters Four, Five and Six

The way you walk
The way you talk, and try to kiss me, and laugh
In four or five paragraphs
All your compliments and your cutting remarks
Are captured here in my quotation marks

A Tribe Called Quest — Pad & Pen

My pad and my pen
The beat and the blend
The party won’t end

Sonny Rollins — I Could Write A Book

If they ask me, I could write a book
About the way you walk and whisper and look
I could write a preface on how we met
So the world would never forget

And the simple secret of the plot
Is just to tell them that I love you, a lot
Then the world discovers as my book ends
How to make two lovers of friends

Michelle Branch — Hotel Paper

I write mostly on Hotel Paper
Knowing that my thoughts will never leave this room
I’d be out of line telling you, Leave her”
So I lie lonely surrounded by you

Mos Def — Love

It was love for the thing that made me stay in the house
Spendin time, writin rhymes
Tryin to find words that describe the vibe
That’s inside the space
When you close yo’ eyes and screw yo’ face
Is this the pain of too much tenderness
To make me nod my head in reverence
Should I visit this place and remember it?
To build landmarks here as evidence
Night time, spirit shook my temperment
To write rhymes that portray this sentiment
We live the now for the promise of the infinite

(You can download all the tracks in this mixtape here.)

→ Mixtape