The “perks” of writing and the compulsion to create revisited

One of the blogs I follow regularly is by a writer named Cristian Mihai, who often writes about creativity and the art (and business) of writing.  Although I’m not yet in his league as far as earning money for my writing, I do think this guy hits it spot-on about the “perks of being a writer.”  In a lot ways, reading this I found myself thinking, “oh, this is what I have to look forward to if I persist in writing regularly to the point where more people notice.”  At the same time, a big “perk” for me is one that he didn’t really mention: one of the best parts about writing, for me, is the ability to regularly and reliably stretch my creative and intellectual muscles. Why am I a writer?  I am a writer because I have to write.  The need to create and transform language and  thought compels me, and has for as long as I remember.  When I write, I am engaging with my world and my environment, while when I don’t write I feel like I am treading water and not making any progress at all really.  Here’s one of my favorite parts of this piece, which is worth reading in total as well:

“Okay, now on a more serious note. The perk I like most is that once in a while someone tells you they love your story. Whether a five-star review on Amazon, an e-mail, a blog comment, it doesn’t matter as long as someone genuinely loves your writing. Money can’t buy this mixture of admiration and envy that people feel when they read something really, really good. A paragraph or just a few short sentences that describe exactly how they feel in the world.

Two strangers, the writer and the reader, locked in this strange dance… there’s nothing that can compare to it. And you, as a writer, realize that you’re not as alone as you thought. Someone else feels the same way as you do.

As Tennessee Williams once said, you’re not lonely alone.”

For more on my thoughts about creativity and writing, you might check out these earlier posts from Greenfae’s Leaves (tagged “Creativity”).  Here are a few to get you started: 

The Recommitment

Not Writing Easily Now, I Find Myself Watching Old Movies And Trying To Stay Focused…

Another Great Article On The Origins and Practice of Creativity

A Universe of Its Own (this one is a perennial favorite of mine)

 

 

 

 

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Two Vignettes: Studies in Dominance & Submission

English: The Eye of Horus, done in photoshop

English: The Eye of Horus, done in Photoshop (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

22 September 1998

I was thinking just now about this ring I used to have, the one with the Eye of Horus on it.  It was just a cheap metal thing, seemingly entirely forgettable, and yet it was my first ring, and I really liked it.  Curious about what it looked like?  I Googled Eye of Horus ring and found one almost just like it, except mine was sheet metal.

I lost my original ring in a parking in Arizona in 1992, when I was on a pilgrimage to see the Grateful Dead at the Sacramento Speedway.  I was with one of my best friends and his then girlfriend, who we’ll just call Bella.  My friend, Gene, could be a real  dick, but he could be sweet and was, in any case, attractive and a real cock tease, especially with his friends.  I was really hung on him, but he was one of my best friends, and we were on a buddy trip with his girlfriend to see the Dead when we happened to stop in a parking lot in Arizona.

I no longer remember why we stopped at that point, but it was such an intense trip and even though we had a destination, we had a bit of time to get there, so we were probably just tired of driving.  I remember it was nearly dusk, and we were just hanging out, talking shit, and kicking the dirt.  At some point, Gene started teasing me, which was a favorite pastime of his.  He grabbed my key ring and began throwing it up in the air, blocking my attempts to catch it, letting it hit the ground, and then snatching them away when I tried to pick them up.  If his girlfriend hadn’t been there, we would eventually have gotten to wrestling for control, and if the ground wasn’t too rough, we might even have ended up rolling around in the dust until he had me pinned.  Knowing him, Gene would rub in the fact that he had the upper hand by pinning me with his crotch or his pits in my face so I could feel how fully in control he was and smell his dominance.  I can even now remember many times in our room at college when he would pick such a “fight,” and we would wrestle for control.  We’d roll around, knock over furniture, twist the carpet into a ball, and nearly always we would come to an impasse.  Gene would pin me in a wrestling move.  I would twist out of it, he would pin me again, and many, many times, I can remember feeling how excited pinning me had made him.    Gene wasn’t bigger than me, but he had played competitive sports for most of his life, so he usually had the upper hand.  We occasionally had these wrestling matches when he had a girlfriend, but mostly I think they occurred when he was in between girlfriends and needed to work off some sexual frustration by dominating a friend.

But back to my ring and that parking lot in Arizona.  His girlfriend was there, and he couldn’t really properly torment me in public anyway, so he was taking it out on my key ring.  He threw it up, blocked me, and caught the key ring, or the key ring hit the ground while he was blocking me because he was, after all, not superman and sometimes he couldn’t control both the ring and me simultaneously.  Anyway, the second or third time the ring hit the ground, there was a little flash of metal, and when I retrieved my keys, the ring was gone.

Truly, it was just a sheet metal ring, but I can remember being really irritated.  It didn’t help that Bella said, “Well, maybe you weren’t supposed to have it, ” as if cosmic forces instead of common rudeness might have been to blame.

*

[This next bit originated when I still did a radio show on a community supported radio station, which I is something I did for about a decade between 1996 and about 2006.]

Last night I had a “grandfather moment.”  What happened was, in the last half hour to forty-five minutes of the show, I got in an increasingly discordant mood.  I finished the show with ten minutes of a fourteen minute piece featuring rusty hinges.  About six minutes before two AM, this furious older gentleman called and hissed through clenched teeth that he was a card-carrying member of the station and that he did NOT like what he was hearing through his radio.  Then he hung up on me.

I let the track go on for another three to four minutes (I am not one to let go without a fight) and then eased into “Coil” by Robert Rich off of his album, Seven Veils, a stunningly sinuous album of experimental electronica and percussion that is well worth hearing in its entirety.  As was my habit, I slowly faded out of the rusty hinge track while gradually blending in the Robert Rich track and in my best, soothing radio voice, I described “Coils” as soothing to the savage beast and ruffled listener.

Later, after I had signed off, I realized why the incident had both upset and unsettled me.  It’s not just that I don’t like upsetting people.  There was more to it than that.  I was flung back into my childhood, when my family was visiting my Cape Cod grand parents one summer.  I was still a kid but had developed a habit of locking myself in the restroom when I needed to use it.  (Don’t ask me what that was about — maybe bathroom shame, I don’t know.)  Anyway, my grandfather tried the door and found it locked.  I guess maybe he was afraid I wouldn’t be able to get out, and he’d be left to figure out how to unlock the door.  Instead of going away and leaving me to poop in peace like any normal human would, he hammered on the door with his fists until I fumbled it open, and then he stood towering over me yelling without explanation until I ran sobbing to my parents’ bedroom and hid behind my mother.

I had  forgotten about that moment right up until that old man yelled at me and I had my “grandfather” moment.  For a drawn out, discomforting instant, I was back on that pallet on the bedroom floor with my mother kneeling at my side trying to comfort me.  Sobbing, I saw over her shoulder, through the partly closed-door, the reflection of light off my grandfather’s glasses.

Talking in my sleep

Trolling through old journals when I was at home with a sinus infection yesterday, I came across this little curio.  (Apparently, sometimes in my sleep, I say interesting things.)

Talking in my sleep [again.]  Chris told me that this is what I said last night:

“I like it

when the music

goes

DOWN

LOW

and

DEEP.

If it’s a sound

I’ve never heard before….

I

like

that.”

The intriguing thing about this to me is that this is a pretty good description of the music, especially the electronic music, that I like.  I like intense, psychedelic trance and sample-intensive or  bass-heavy tracks. I have always collected media, especially books, CD’s, live concert tapes, and vinyl albums.  I have an especially large collection of what I might describe as Net Label audio and found sounds.  When Black Lodge Video first opened here in midtown Memphis, I often rented unusual fare, and when I found soundtrack dialogue, music, or atmospheric material that I thought might sound cool sampled into music, I ripped it to cassette, so I have somewhere a fair-sized collection of stuff like that too.  Even as a child, I did stuff like that.  One of my earliest audio projects as a kid involved making audio cassette recordings of  one of HBO’s first original programs.  These shows were a series of very atmospheric, half hour-long renditions of Raymond Chandler’s early 20th century detective stories, featuring the private investigator, Sam Spade.  I faithfully recorded every episode but made the mistake of leaving the tapes in my parents’ basement while I was at college.  My mother, bless her heart, threw them away in one of her anti-stuff purges.  Periodically, I have looked for that series online, with thoughts of replacing those lost tapes, though buying them would only be step one, with re-recording all of those audio tapes a major step two, and I do have other projects.  Of course, the other side of the coin here is that this occurred a long time ago.  Why do I even remember this event at all?  I made those recordings years before I came to understand the reason to buy the highest quality recording medium you can afford, so I most likely recorded those shows on cheap cassettes that would have disintegrated or melted long before now in the less than archive-quality purgatory in which most of my remaining cassettes now live.  At the same time, if I still had those cassettes, I could have used them as sample fodder on my radio show or as fill when I was still doing the DJ thing occasionally.

Nonetheless, the pattern of sampling and archiving is one I began very early in my life.

Perhaps this isn’t a surprise, given that my mother was a librarian, and my father was a teacher for almost 40 years.   My father has always been quite rigorous in his archiving tendencies.  He keeps journals (as I do) and freely admits having kept a copy of just about everything he has written as well as copious notes on anything he’s read that relates to any of his several research subjects.  From my dad, I learned to archive my work, to keep journals, and to take notes on (and in) books, magazines, articles, etc. that touch on my subjects of interest.  My mother’s influences in this area are more subtle but still there.  She is ardently (and increasingly) anti-stuff, where I have always been a collector.  The collector impulse I got from my father, but my mother’s work as a librarian has meant that I spent a significant part of my younger years in and around libraries, and because both of my parents worked for the same academically rigorous and resource-rich private school, I had early access to world-class libraries with college-level resources.  As a child, I spent any afternoons not otherwise engaged in after school activities hanging out in the library where my mother worked.  As time went on and I outgrew the kids collection, I graduated to the teacher’s reading room where the grown up fiction was kept.  From my mother, I learned the importance  of reading, for pleasure as well as for a purpose.  Spending so much time in libraries helped me see the utility of catalogs and lists to create order.  By extension, keeping clippings and notes on an array of subjects has helped me to impose a kind of order on my otherwise chaotic universe of interests.

While on the subject of the personal archives to impose order, I just read an excellent eight-part series of reflections by London-based evolutionary biologist and writer Olivia Judson on the New York Times blog .  Called “The Task,” the series was an extended meditation on the power of stuff and on our complicated relationships with objects, mementos, and emotional debris accumulated over a lifetime. Judson talks a lot about the emotional attachments she uncovered after her father died, when she and her brother had to dispose of forty-five years of her parents’ accumulated stuff.  The author details some of the conflicting emotions that came to the surface, while at the same time conveying to us what interesting folks her parents were.   Apparently, her dad worked for Time Magazine in 1960’s, and he kept everything he ever wrote, as well as file cabinets full of notes and clippings.  And books.  And stuff.  Lots of other stuff.  At the time of his death — he was the surviving parent — his house brimmed with mementos, memories, and emotional landmines for her and her brother.  I read the entire series and can say that it is well worth it and is a surprisingly quick read at that for what it is.  I was most struck by Judson’s last few paragraphs of part one, though, and found these words most germane to my thoughts on the power of stuff.  In closing, I’d like to offer this quote from Olivia Judson’s “The Task” because it encapsulates a lot of my conflicted relationship with  stuff, both having it and collecting it.:

“…To anyone who suggested that maybe he did not need all the stuff, my father would invoke the great psychologist William James, who wrote that the loss of possessions gives ‘a sense of the shrinkage of our personality, a partial conversion of ourselves to nothingness.’

“I never agreed with the idea that personality is defined by objects; I would rather say that objects are defined by personality. Yet when someone is dead, and their belongings are all that is left, dispersing those belongings feels like an erasing of their physical presence on the earth.

“Moreover, although my father didn’t mean it this way, there is a sense in which James was right. An old T-shirt waves at you and says, ‘Remember when we went to Hawaii together?’; a plastic cup reminds you of a party you went to one hot summer day. A dried corsage — where was the dance? who was the date? — reminds you of the girl you were, who thought a corsage worth saving. In other words, objects are keys to remembering what happened and who you were, and their loss can make the memories inaccessible. So — for me at least — this task also brings with it a fear that in throwing things away, I am also throwing away access to parts of my mind.”

To a certain extent, Judson speaks to my fear too.  On some level, I think my objects (and the collections of which they are a part) are like place holders for the memories and experiences they represent.  I wonder if I’m afraid that parting with my things, whether journals, or books, will erase the memories or experiences they represent.  Should I continue to buy (or collect)  books, music, etc.?  Am I afraid that without such reminders, I won’t remember the present five, ten, or even thirty years hence?  On what level do I use objects to hold space for memories I’ve made and experiences or connections I’ve had, and on what levels do the memories impart relevance unto the objects?  Does collecting these things help me to form or hold on to my memories?  Do these objects enhance connection or insulate me from it?  Which objects enhance and extend my life and which detract from it?  Does having these books, journals, magazines, and media in general offer enough value to my life that it is worth it to have them around, or do they mostly provide another excuse for why I am so rooted in my life in Memphis?  After all, I can’t load all of this stuff in a truck and go on the archetypal Great American road trip across the country, or can I?  And would I even be able to enjoy such a trip if I hauled all of my stuff with me?

All are good questions, really, but there are no easy answers here.

The best I can hope for, I think, is that wrestling with these issues will help me live in the present, write honestly, and continue to engage in my life while not simply archiving or recording it.

The Re-commitment

I have been less than consistent in my blogging habits this year. A combination of so many other commitments and less than optimal writing conditions, I suppose. And I am easily distracted and have not properly prioritized my writing by giving it a fixed place in my schedule. And then there’s my tremor, which makes typing and long-hand writing difficult, each in their own way. All of these are excuses as much as reasons.

The trick is, can I commit to doing better in 2014?

I believe that I can.

Part of “doing better” involves allowing myself to write about a wider variety of subjects. Since I realized I have readers, I’ve found it increasingly difficult simply to write for myself. It’s like, I can’t just write anything out of fear of disappointing expectations that someone (possibly me) has for what I write about here. The truth is, I set my own expectations on some level, so I should reasonably be able to loosen or change those expectations.  Occasional disappointment is normal, and I have to accept that as I am a perfectionist, by default, I cannot always meet my own high standards.

In other words, perhaps I should accept the process of writing and the possibility of less than stellar outcomes occasionally because, ultimately, writing consistently is more important than striving for a “perfect,” mostly unobtainable, outcome, especially when that will result in me writing and posting less overall.

I don’t think I have to post “shit” in preference to not posting at all. It’s really just that when not posting means I am not writing at all (as often was the case last year), this inactivity is poisonous to the process of becoming a better writer and usually results in a weaker, less frequent output overall.

My goal for 2014 is to try to post more regularly, on more topics and not to limit my writing  as much as I did in the last half of 2013.  Using old journal entries as a starting off point is fine, but I also cook exotic food, brew wines (and, one day, beers), collect media (especially books), and am a ravenous  (and passionate) explorer of a variety of music, often but not always experimental and electronic.  Music blogs like The Burning Ear have been hugely influential, not so much as sources of music but as an inspiration and reminder to keep my mind and my ears open for new sounds. One of my longest-time favorite sites for media exploration, and the source of so much good (& legal) music, spoken word, film, live bands, out of print books, and ephemera, is Archive.org.  A close second for inspiration, though their material is considerably less (intellectually and philosophically) accessible than the Archive is UbuWeb, one of the most comprehensive and wide-ranging sources of avant-garde material that is freely available anywhere.

I have more interests now than the limited survey of my New York Times and old journal reading habits would show. I read books, the occasional magazine, and a number of other blogs that provide fuel for my creative urges.  I follow a lot of blogs and dip into most of them often but find myself returning most often to only a handful of regular ones.  As is true for many people, perhaps, intellectual stimulation is helpful, but only up to a point.  My favorite blogs touch on a number of subjects without fear. Although I respect bloggers who can post continually on the same subject, I am often stimulated creatively by the blogs that are more varied in their content.

Take my father’s blog, for instance, which he calls “Retired But Not Shy” and in which he posts mostly long-form (2000-3000 word) posts on a number of distinct, but often interrelated, subjects.

His posts are monthly and tends to focus on  Blues music (a passion of his), history of Georgia politics in the post-colonial period (one of his areas of experience and the subject of his degree study), and teaching history at the secondary school level (his old profession).   Varying his topics even this much allows him to use old journals (as I do), use notes that he has taken on several subjects over many years, opine on a variety of topics, and dispense words of wisdom on the subject of teaching to younger would-be teachers who find his blog courtesy of referrals by people at his old graduate school.  It’s a cozy arrangement and a clever one.  By blogging on a variety of interrelated subjects he is able to sustain his own interest and publish about subjects that appeal to several distinct and sometimes overlapping, audiences.  More unique readers, as well as a more repeat visitors, are possible with this scenario.

Another multiple-interest blog that I follow is my friend Barbara’s blog, which she calls, “Enamored With Life.”  She blogs about the latest studies on natural health topics, her art and experimental photography, her reactions to other people’s creative work, life, and her writing.  It is, in other words, a robust personal blog, the reading of which, allows me intriguing glimpses of some of my friend’s many facets.  I enjoy catching glimpses of her art work and that of her many talented friends and relatives.  I also appreciate how experimental her photographic manipulations are.

But don’t I write primarily for myself?  Yes, of course, I do write a lot to satisfy myself, but hopefully you, dear reader, will come along with me as I explore a variety of subjects here.  Ultimately, it is more satisfying, at least for me as a writer, to know that I have an audience and to receive feedback occasionally on posts I have written because it keeps me honest, keeps my voice authentic, and most of all, motivates me to continue writing and exploring.  On a related note, I just read a really incisive essay on why bloggers maybe shouldn’t get so hung up on their blog’s statistics.  It was by Matt Mullenweg, a founder of WordPress.com, on his blog, “Ma.tt.”  To summarize,  he finds that he is a better, more consistent writer when he writes for two people: one, his present or future self, and  two, the person whom he considers his ideal reader.  For each new post, he only considers what he feels about the post and how his ideal reader might respond.  It seems like he is saying that not getting hung up on which posts get lots of hits and which don’t has allowed him to feel better about all of his posts and not get discouraged about writing because, as he puts it,

 There is no predictable connection to the effort and thought you put into something and the response it receives…

Anyway, Mullenweg’s post, “The Intrinsic Value of Blogging,” seems very àpropos as I have spent much of the last couple of days pondering this same issue.

Another way for me to contextualize the experience of writing a blog is that it’s like being on the radio, something I did for ten years, as well.  While my radio program was a varied, woven fabric of intelligent electronica, experimental, beat poetry, free jazz, etc, there was a certain percentage of every hour where I had to talk about the music, give the station call letters, and read public service announcements.  When I started doing my show, I had the most trouble with the speaking part of the gig.  Some advice that helped me then is also rather germane now: when you’re on air, don’t think about all the people who could be listening, close your eyes and speak directly to your best friend (or ideal listener).  For one thing, it is probably impossible to please every listener all the time.  Also, when one speaks directly to one or two people (without using inside jokes or personal references that might alienate other listeners), it really is easier to connect the music with the listeners.  The other bit of advice that was probably more germane to radio than to WordPress (due to WP’s ability to generate real reader/visitor statistics) was to consider that for every caller that a DJ got, he or she might have a 1000 listeners.  What is perhaps even more true now than it was then, is that the easier you make it for your reader/listener to interact (read, share, comment, contribute) and the more valuable content you offer, the more potential readers/listeners you could have.

One of the most widely read single-focus blogs I know, according to articles, blog posts, and, yes, TED talks by and about the blogger, is Post Secret.  According to the data tag at the bottom of his home page, “Post Secret is the largest advertisement-free blog in the world.  Visitor count: 648,689,278!!!”  Although Post Secret is a definite guilty pleasure, and this blog clearly needs no help attracting new visitors, I include it because the numbers are stunning, and the fact that such a simple concept clearly resonates with so many people is pretty awesome too.  This blog provides a physical mailing address to which folks from anywhere in the world can and do send anonymous postcards disclosing secrets big and small.  Once a week, on Sundays, the blogger posts photo-scans of the best postcards he has received recently.  From this concept, he has drawn at least one TED talk, media appearances, and at least one book.  Every time I dip into the current batch of secrets there are stunning revelations, often in the original handwriting of the sender, written on whatever random bit of paper or postcard they chose to use.  One of the first “jaw-droppers” I remember from one of the first times I read this blog was a Christmas card with lettering in block print letters that said, “My husband gives me lots of presents at Christmas to make up for the abuse.”  Another that was up the first week of January features cute, apparently hand drawn, puzzle pieces in pale pastel colors.  The block-type lettering has been overlaid and features the following message: “Dear Evil Stepmother, I bet you are still looking for that last piece to your puzzle.  I took it!  Love, your passive aggressive step-daughter.”  There is also a feature called, “Classic Secrets.”  One of my favorites there is a post card of the Eiffel Tower with the following message: “I am secretly learning to speak French.  Then I am going to Paris with him or without him.”  Very clever stuff, really.

Another more singularly focused blog that I follow is my uncle’s blog, “Yellowstone Stories and Images.”  He uses his blog to promote his book, In The Temple of Wolves , which is phenomenal, by the way.  He publishes gorgeous photos of Lamar Ranch (which lies in a remote corner of Yellowstone) and blogs about the experiences he and his wife have while volunteering there for three months every winter.  I have a strong naturalist streak myself, so I can relate to the wish to spend time in the wild, to hike in the snow, to track wolves in the moonlight, to live where the moon and stars are mostly what you see at night.  I love that stuff too, but as I am not yet retired and haven’t made the life choices necessary to live that way all the time, I have to enjoy those adventures primarily through vicarious outlets like this blog.

So what can I learn from this small survey of regular blog gleanings?

Quite a few things, it turns out.  There is no idea so simple that it won’t appeal to someone, so a blogger doesn’t have to make every post a labyrinthine work of court intrigue to engage and keep readers.  Writing about passions and subjects that genuinely interest the writer more effectively engages the reader than subjects chosen to entertain or appease a supposed audience.  Big numbers are awesome, but don’t let stats come between you and your writing.  You write for your self first, your ideal reader second, and if you can please everyone else with that, more power to you.  The more of yourself you put into your writing, the better, but “there is no predictable connection to the effort and thought you put into something and the response it receives,” so don’t sweat it.  Writing consistently trumps writing perfectly; you write consistently to write better, so don’t let anything or anyone come between you and your writing.  It is just fine to put more than one passion or interest into your blog because it is your blog, although subjects that interrelate somewhat have the potential to knit together a larger audience.  Be okay with the process and the possibility that this blog may turn out to fuel a larger project.  Most of all, write, write, and write again.

My goals for my blogging in 2014 are, at least, to write more consistently and  a wider range of subjects that genuinely interest me and to put more of myself into the posts that I publish.  My blog has always been primarily text driven, although pictures and sound files might be nice occasionally too.  (I don’t have a digital camera, so regular picture posts might be farther away than I’d like to admit.  I also have very little experience working with sound, so sound files may not happen quickly either.)  Blogging is a process as much as a product, so I will expect my goals and my output to evolve with my experience and my ability.

Until next time, thanks for reading.

dreaming, fragments

dreaming, fragments:

like a rocket

only bigger,

and more beautiful,

and more pristine

than anywhere.

A level above,

at the tippy top,

of a long ladder

(beyond a trap door)

A penthouse,

roof of the world

Not writing easily now, I find myself watching old movies and trying to stay focused for the work at hand

Cover of "Le Samourai - Criterion Collect...

Cover of Le Samourai – Criterion Collection

I like to put on a familiar movie, playing over and over, while I write.  Movies that are moderately paced with sparse dialogue are actually easier to work through than silence for me.  Silence makes me twitchy, in fact.  With nothing going on, I feel compelled to do something with my hands.  With bits of noise, ambient sound, I often find that I can drop into the space in between (think of it like that old definition of music being the space between the notes) and concentrate on my work.  Lately, perhaps because of other things going on, I’m finding concentrating at all difficult, whether with or without background sound.

I suppose it’s typical for me.  I am always “all in” at the beginning of a project, I bog down under the details of the middle parts, and when I have met my goal — keeping in mind that completion may not always be the goal — I am off to the next new thing.  Speaking of new things, I picked up a new book this morning.  I am perpetually dipping in and out of books, papers, magazines — always restless, stuffing my mind full of knowledge, striving to connect all of the dots.  This morning’s choice: The Renaissance Soulwhich purports to help me to understand myself and my need for many interests.  It also suggests that it is quite possible for me to channel those interests into financial and personal success without sacrificing those interests or the pleasure I get out of having all of those interests.     Reminds me of a line from a movie I saw recently, I think it was Now You See Me.  Somewhere in there, one of the characters say the secret to being successful is, “always be the smartest guy in the room.”  That’s my goal, ultimately, I think, although I like to think that I don’t pursue knowledge for arrogant reasons, but rather for its own sake.  I genuinely thrive on learning, enjoy packing my brain like a computer, and strive to be able to see the connections between things.

Anyway, yesterday I put in the movie, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and turned the volume down low.  I kept it running over and over for three or four hours while I worked on a longer blog post.  (It’s not finished, so we will all have to wait and see how it turns out.)  Loosely, I was working through my struggles with creativity, recalling the literary influences that have shaped me, trying to understand the connections between my influences and the writer I am struggling to become.  Today, writing this, I put in another perennial favorite: Le Samouraia film by Jean-Pierre Melville.  The pacing, cinematography, and sound track bear a bit of a resemblance to Tinker Tailor, although the former was a French-Italian production set and shot in the late 1960’s while Tinker was set in the early 1970’s, but shot in 2011.  Not unsurprising, really.  I like films like this.  They bear repeated viewing, aren’t flashy enough to be distracting, and yet are potent and influential in their own way.

Another Great Article on The Origins & Practice of Creativity

English: The New York Times building in New Yo...

English: The New York Times building in New York, NY across from the Port Authority. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Today’s New York Times front page yielded a lot of really sad news, but nestled comfortably mid-page there was a really interesting, curiously uplifting article by one of the Times’s art critics on why he began to write in the first place.  Reading this piece, I saw a lot of familiar scenes.  I am sure that we are worlds, perhaps also generations, apart in many ways but the scene he paints early in the article, I could have torn from the pages of my childhood as well:

“Then there was reading, a lot.  Typical scene: Four people — my young father and mother, my sister and I — in different parts of the house, glued to the page late into the night.  Many books around, on shelves, on desks, on chairs, an environment I duplicate wherever I live.”

There are differences, of course.  There always are.  Holland Cotter had a sister, I had a brother.  His father was a medical doctor, mine has a PhD.  His parents allowed him to wander freely through museums because they used the museums as a sort of “surrogate nanny” (his words). Our family went to museums together, more as a family outing.  Still his description of being seized by the aesthetics and the obvious stories of the Pre-Modern art initially and then gradually beginning to read the descriptions because he needed to know more, until finally he took notes on what he saw, all of that seems very familiar.  I did a lot of that too and do still.  I also write a lot, though perhaps (not yet) as well, and certainly not for as well-known an outfit as the New York Times, but still, the similarities were startling.

At any rate, the entire piece is definitely worth a read if you have the time.  It’s today’s paper, page A1, “Finding Poetry on the Page and, Later, on the Canvas,” by Holland Cotter, for the Critic’s Notebook.

“How To Get It Done” (From A Master Project Juggler)

“How To Get It Done” (From A Master Project Juggler)

Among my most passionate fascinations is creativity and the drive to create.  This post originated with a piece I read on one of my favorite current blogs, Co. Create by Fast Company.  (I have linked the Fast Company Post above.)  Their mission statement says that they “explore  creativity in the converging worlds of branding, entertainment, and tech.”  Quite a lot of their articles focus on highly creative people giving suggestions about how to wring the best material out of every situation.

A formal personal bibliography of influential authors and thinkers is still a long ways from completion.  Distilling the origins of my own ideas and philosophies is, I think, pretty crucial for me to understand my truth, my passions, and whatever contributions I might ultimately have for writing and artistic expression.  At some point, I may put more energy into a comprehensive survey of influences, but for now this is just a small survey.

Cover of "Howl"

Cover of Howl

Somewhere, between my formal education and the present day, I managed to cram my brain  with the writings of many of Bohemian movements and free thinkers of the last century.  To a certain extent, I may have sought a way forward in my life and work because I have never really bonded with the conventional approach.  The “safe” or conventional approach still doesn’t really resonate with me; to this day, I would rather take creativity/productivity cues from someone whose work I respect or whom I count among my many influences, and for whatever reason, the conventional approach doesn’t usually interest me all that much.

I have found influences among many and varied thinkers, artists, writers, and activists of the last century.  Among my influences, I can count both well-known and obscure personalities and people.  From Allen Ginsberg, whose poem, “Howl” is among the greatest in American literature, certainly among the greatest of his own out-sized generation, I learned alliteration, the power of ellipsis, how to live my truth and mine my life experience for my art/craft.  Howl’s first two lines reverberate even now: “I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked/dragging themselves through the negro streets at dawn looking for an angry fix.”  I have found greater value in the methods of confirmed free-thinker and Nobel laureate (of chemistry), Kary Mullis than in many scientists more well-known to the public.  (Mullis’s book, Dancing Naked In the Mind Field, blew my mind appropriately the first time I read it.)

A veteran internet marketer and self-proclaimed “world renown nutrition expert” named David Wolfe has been instrumental in helping me to form some of my own views on the subject of healthy nutrition.  He has made a career of traveling, speaking, cultivating a “high raw” foods lifestyle, and modeling the successful entrepreneur.  His best known book, The Sunfood Diet Success System, has radically informed my own nutritional theories.  Another health influence on me, whose work I first found straight out of college when I first walked into a health food store, was Christopher Hobbs.  The first book on herbs and health that I ever bought was Foundations of Health by Christopher Hobbs.  I have bought or read hundreds of other books on the subject since, but I would still argue that Hobbs’ book has been among the most influential on my own thoughts on the subject.

Terence McKenna is another influence, though more on the meme level than on the level of the writer’s craft.  Of his many books, I have read and benefited from a number: True Hallucinations, which Terence wrote about his first trip to the Amazon in the early 1970’s, and introduced us to him and his equally fascinating and erudite brother, Dennis McKenna, who is a research-oriented pharmacologist/botanist/chemist who is still active in his field.  (Incidentally, Dennis has just published a book detailing his life with Terence, called The Brotherhood of the Screaming Abyss.)  Other favorite Terence McKenna books include, The Archaic Revival and Food of the Gods.  The elder McKenna (Terence) also has countless articles, interviews, one CD, which involved him intoning his most radical ideas over an album-length trance track, and innumerable talks and sound bites available for download on the internet.

IDEA: What’s In A Name?

Downtown Smyrna, GA

Downtown Smyrna, GA (Photo credit: The Ken Cook)

17 Dec 1998 Thursday, ~8:40 pm

I’m stopped now beside the road within sight of Smyrna Boots on 70 South East in central Tennessee.

How is there a Smyrna in Tennessee and one in Georgia and yet another in New York and one in lower Delaware?

How are they connected by their common name?

Is any of them connected to the ancient Greek city of Smyrna?  In case you were wondering, this Smyrna, although Greek, was, according to Wikipedia, in what is now Izmir, Turkey.

View on the agora; in the back : columns along...

View on the agora; in the back : columns along the western stoa; Izmir, Turkey (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Someone, perhaps even me, should do a study of small towns, their names, and their origins.  One could pick any stretch of road in America — preferably one with some history to it — and devote a chapter to each small town and its name and history.  This could break down as a meditation on place.  We could get into the history, migratory patterns, local/regional character/color as well.

One could use one stretch of road and its small towns to extrapolate about the culture of small town America and the importance of a sense of place.  One could do this in any country, though America is the country of my birth, so I know it better than I would know any other.

Inklings of Mortality Part One

Death

Death (Photo credit: tanakawho)

The last dream I had this morning, in the midst of my first alarms, was of a conversation with someone who casually mentioned that someone very close to me had died.  It was one of those awkward moments where the person speaking doesn’t know that what they are saying is news to the person to whom they are talking.

In dream interpretation, at least some streams of thought, one might suggest that this dream could be interpreted as foreshadowing.  I am, however, reminded of the last episode of the first season of “Sherlock” (called “The Great Game”), where James Moriarty, his arch nemesis, is talking about their game of cat-and-mouse.  Holmes interjects, “Lots of people have died,”  and Moriarty harshly retorts, “That’s what people do!”

People die.

So if it’s not foreshadowing, what might it be?

A read through?

A dress rehearsal?

A reminder?

Something.

In the dream, the speaker casually mentions that someone with whom I’m close is in the hospital and then that her husband, with whom I am also close, has died.

This is devastating news, and yet perplexing.  I have just (in waking life) spoken at length to this person in the last few days.  I have received no sudden phone calls.  This person is not (really) dead.

And yet, in the first moments of my waking reality, hearing this news cleaves me to the core.  I am mute with grief.

I hit the snooze buttons, lie back for a few moments more of what?

Rest?

I have just been told that someone has died.

Drifting in that twilight sleep, between the first and second alarms, I am sobbing, or perhaps because I am not yet really awake, I dreamed that I am sobbing.

In any case, it felt real to me.

I have no retort to this.

It was a kind of “dress rehearsal,”  because that’s what people do.

My morning yoga & meditation was interesting.  I couldn’t keep my mind off of the dream.

Death of a loved one is often devastating.  The last conversations had.  The things left unsaid.  The experiences you didn’t get the time to have together — and the ones that you did.

How will I respond when I really receive that phone call?  Sure, dying is what people do, but when it’s one’s own father, or mother, or brother, sister, lover, or friend, it’s different, right?

I’m not sure that it is different.  What’s different is the rawness of the emotion if one is close to the person who has died.

“People die, that’s what they do,” but when it’s my _____________ (fill-in-the-blank), it is, finally, real.

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