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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Leee Black Childers has left the building

Leee Black Childers (yes, there are three ‘e’s) was a portrait photographer who escaped my notice successfully, right up until the day that he died.  Just this morning, I read his obit in last sunday’s New York Times.  It seems like he lead a rich, full life.

One of the take-home messages for me, upon reading his obit, is that it is crucial to stake your claim to your own life.  How do you want to be remembered?  Who are you?  Claim your dreams, and they are yours.

One of my favorite anecdotes from Mr. Childers life comes from a conversation that he had with Andy Warhol at the Factory, Warhol’s New York studio, in the late 1960’s.  Childers, who was all of twenty-two then, confessed to Warhol that he “aspired to be a photographer; in that case, Warhol told him, he should just call himself one.”

“[Warhol] said, ‘Say you’re a photographer, and you’re a photographer,’ Mr. Childers recalled in an online interview. “And he pointed across the Factory to Candy Darling, who was one of the great drag queens, and he said, ‘Look at her.  She says she’s a woman.  She is.’  So from that moment on, I was a photographer.

Anyway, I found Leee Black Childer’s  obituary a great read and oddly inspirational when it comes to the claiming of my own life story.

You can check it out here.

 

The long road « Cristian Mihai

The long road « Cristian Mihai

Here’s a rather inspirational post from a blog that I follow from a fellow writer named Cristian Mihai.  This piece, the “Long Road,” speaks deeply to to me about cultivating strength and perseverance when following your dreams.  In it, Mihai suggests (and this has often been true in my life as well) that the reason why most people fail to actualize their dreams isn’t lack of vision, it’s lack of sufficient will power to succeed.  This post gives me renewed hope that being recognized for my writing or my craft is possible if only I have the strength to stay the course.  Perseverance and discipline are muscles, like the biceps or triceps of the spirit, so they can be strengthened with effort. This is a much more hopeful position for me to adopt than to continue feeling trapped by past lack of discipline or focus.  This might have been me but I can change if I will it.  Sort of reminiscent of Bruce Lipton’s The Biology of Belief,  which energized my younger, just-post-college adulthood with possibilities.  Anyway, read the post for more on this this.

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.

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.

A Universe of Its Own

Periodically, I find myself in need of inspiration — struck by the desire, I am more susceptible than usual to a good yarn. It was in just such a moment that I re-encountered Paul Bowles yesterday.

My partner and I were at a client’s house, cleaning, when I happened to notice a book on a table. One has to know these particular clients and their habits to realize it is quite remarkable that I would notice any book in particular at all. This particular house has books on every available surface, book shelves lining every intact wall in one room, books hanging from the walls, books, books, books, and more books. Rather like the library of my dreams, if you want the honest truth.

So anyway, there are always books around, and if I could be disturbed at all by the riotous and ever-changing cacophony of competing memes I would probably find this house more of a challenge in which to work than I do. As it happens, though, the flittering of ideas, governing themes, and new literary faces suits my pallet and my temperament, so I tend to exist in a hyper-aware state when I am there. Snooze even for a moment and I might miss a potentially life-alteringly great read.

On this particular day, I just happened to glance down at the right moment to catch an all too familiar face peering back at me from the cover of a book. I am ever the voyeur when it comes to other people’s reading habits, but the charge that went through me was more than just that. I have encountered this author before, but it has been at least twenty years since and in radically different circumstances that I first made his acquaintance.

When I was in junior high going into high school, I became enthralled with Bohemian culture and it’s many anti-heroes. It started with the Lost Generation of 1920’s Europe courtesy of a highschool teacher’s life long obsession with Ernest Hemingway, careened almost simultaneously through the 1960’s drug culture of Timothy Leary and Hunter S. Thompson, who was at that time still writing for Rolling Stone, which I also read) and merged with the Beat Movement (Allen Ginsberg, William S. Burroughs) and their compadres, of whom Paul Bowles was one. One encounter lead to the next and I was deeply into before I knew it. I have long felt that with a little more direction and forward momentum, I might have found myself in grad school getting a degree in liberal studies with a concentration in Bohemian culture.

But I digress.

In my obsession with the Beats and with immersing myself as completely as possible in their lives and their world, I found myself rubbing shoulders with Allen Ginsberg, William Burroughs, and their friend and compatriot, Paul Bowles, who lived for 52 years in Tangiers, in the Kingdom of Morocco. It started with a simple picture, one of many in the Allen Ginsberg collection, of Ginsberg, Burroughs, and friends sitting with Bowles in front of a house in Tangiers. At that time, I knew Bowles only as the indulgent host who allowed William Burroughs to stay with him for long periods of time in the 1950’s, while Burroughs was writing the fragments of prose that Ginsberg would help him turn into The Naked Lunch. (Burroughs, though a remarkably visionary writer in his own right, was at that time addicted to and later strung out on various opiates and other hard drugs that made coherent writing difficult at best.)

Although I made note of Bowles, I had many literary interests, and as the source I was immersed in at the time was a Ginsberg biography ( or a history of the Beat Movement) there wasn’t enough salient detail about Bowles to keep me enthralled, and thus, I soon moved on.

A good half a decade or more later I was a late night DJ on a local Memphis radio station (a gig which itself lasted about ten years). I worked in an a very organic electronic format, with lots of room for experimentation, and so found myself with a still heady interest in the Beat Movement and, even better, a media outlet for my experimentation. As a result, I began incorporating audio clips of the Beats and other like minded authors reading as well as the more experimental audio outpourings of Bohemian culture. It was at this time and in this environment that I encountered a CD produced by Bill Laswell (an audio syncretist and musical hero of mine) of Paul Bowles reading from _The Sheltering Sky_ and other works on top of highly discordant and experimental soundtrack. Needless to say, I loved it and played from it (& with it) frequently. I was at that time passingly familiar with Paul Bowles and his life and works, but even so, I was stuck by the power and cold beauty of his prose.

Now another half decade later I am happy to encounter a new collection of shorter works by Bowles organized around a subject that is central to my own life as well: the art of travel, the power of place, and the traveler’s life. _Travels: Collected Writings 1950-1993_ by Paul Bowles looks well worth reading, touching as it does upon a central theme of my own life, travel and the power of place.

Thinking about Paul Bowles again and finding myself in need of more information, I found myself at his official website, Paul Bowles. There I found a number of intriguing side notes from those whose encounters with him and his works were a good bit more intimate and personal than my own. One of my favorites is this interview with the man himself: interview

Sometimes the simplest approach trumps all

A friend passed me this link to a short video called “29 Ways to Stay Creative”. I liked it so much, I thought I’d re-post it here. What I find most compelling about the video is the way it distills a book’s worth of information into a couple of minutes of bullet points. I have seen these suggestions before, the difference here is in the brief and elegant expression all of them together. The video is basically a visual flow-chart for a book on staying creative. If I were writing such a book, I would use the 29 Ways in the title as chapter headings and then give simple exercises and illustrations to encourage my readers to put this into practice. Anyway, enjoy the video, and stay creative!

My Writer’s Heart Seems Empty

My writer’s heart seems empty. I’ve been silent for so long. I sometimes wonder whether I should bother trying together my “gift” back or if I should just move on to the next “scene,” the next skill. On the one hand, reflection on past experiences provides fodder for new explorations. So don’t forget the past; draw instead on it’s colors to fill out your pallette.

On the other hand, as long as you look to memory for your inspiration, you will be constrained by the parameters of previous experience. Rather than drawing on “dead” memory to create, think how much more lively your creation if you seek out new sensations and novel experiences.

1 January 2005 Saturday ~pm

Collage thoughts

At a friend’s house. Just saw the most amazing collage. So detailed. Excellent concept and nearly wall-sized. Guy who did it collaged with magazines and then painted over it to provide greater depth and detail. Overall concept was of a man wearing a tribal mask and riding a Chinese dragon. That image was a composite of many, many smaller, seemingly unrelated images. Ingenious, really.

Thing was, when I saw it, I initially was overwhelmed by its scope and found myself imagining collages a tenth of the size of the piece. Chris’s reaction to MY reaction essentially amounted to “no way are you starting ANY smaller.”