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Archive for the ‘writers & books’ Category

we are packing it up

In career, life, writers & books, writing on January 12, 2013 at 5:00 am

210440-Royalty-Free-RF-Clipart-Illustration-Of-Retro-Black-And-White-Men-Carrying-A-Were-Moving-Sign

I’m moving sites, and I’m really hoping you will come along for the ride.

For over two years, I’ve been writing this blog, which kind of roamed free over a number of subjects, but the underlying theme was this idea of spinning my wheels and not going anywhere.  Hence, the name of the blog.  Eventually, as the great film, Shawshank Redemption, will remind you: you got get busy living or get busy dying.  I choose life.  I choose motion.  And hence, as a symbolic gesture, I’ve chosen to self-host a blog about reinvention defined broadly.

The new site is called, re-Do or Die.  As I mention in the description of that site, my hope is to chronicle this next year and my goals.  But I am also hopeful the new blog will be more of a dialogue than this blog has been.  I really do want to create a community of and for other reinventionists.

To that end, I’m going to have regular guest bloggers, and I’m going to try and get a little more interactive.  So, come along for the ride.  It should be fun.  At the very least, it should go somewhere, not just around and around.

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an early new year’s resolution: SIMPLIFY, SIMPLIFY, SIMPLIFY

In career, humor, life, observations, Uncategorized, writers & books, writing on November 28, 2012 at 4:45 am

Who’s kidding who?  I’m not going to do that.  I’m genetically programmed for complex.  I like hard.  I am unsuited for calmness.

Some of this is hyperbolic, of course.  I am not a complete nutjob.  But I do have a habit of choosing difficult things.  As a kid, I decided to be a violinist–yes, a professional violinist.  More specifically, I had this idea that I’d be a soloist.  If you can’t quite imagine what that means, I would liken my chosen career path to wanting to be a professional athlete, but not just any professional.  Being a soloist is like being the top player in your sport, the Michael Jordan, the Pele, the Lance Armstrong without the doping.

You might be thinking this is impressive on my part.  Please don’t make that mistake.  I started seriously practicing at about the age of 16–soloists usually start when they are 4.  I didn’t have a great ear, either.  I practiced like the dickens, it’s true. I can say this without exaggeration: from the age of 16 to about 23, I might have missed 5 days total in the practice room.  But the truth is that I was not smart about practicing.  I was a grunter.  I was all about effort.  I took pride in how hard I worked and not in how good I sounded.

True, I got decent eventually.  By the time I stopped playing, I was good enough to gig for a living in LA.  My last year in LA, I played more Korean weddings, Jewish high holiday parties–more pick-up gigs for more local orchestras than I can tell you.  Basically, by the time I stopped playing, I was…ok.

Did I mention I had gnarly stage fright?

My need to strive beyond my talents did not stop with the violin. As a writer, I felt the same kind of calling.  I let my need for complexity cloud my judgment.  For four years, I put in hour after hour on the computer working on a novel that I didn’t have the chops to write.  I was reading The Corrections at the time and Kesey’s Sometimes a Great Notion, was rattling around my cranium.  In fact, I was trying to channel these big books as I wrote my own “big” book about a group of caretakers looking after an autistic man the year his elderly mother was dying.

Did I mention that I had some Salman Rushdie magical realism mixed in with some elements of Sound and the Fury.

I am no Faulkner…I know, you are surprised!

YES, dear reader.  WTF?  This “masterpiece” was my first attempt at a novel.  I probably could have written three novels in that amount of time if I’d just kept it simple.  I’m not saying they would have been great novels, but by just getting through a whole thing, I would have learned a lot more than writing and re-writing and tri- and quad-writing the same 2/3 of that thing.  I mean I got into writing after reading Raymond Carver and Richard Yates and Somerset Maugham and Graham Greene.  I still think they are great writers, but they are not extremely sophisticated, uber clever writers like Rushdie and Faulkner.

Did I mention that I am neither clever nor sophisticated?

an author with the skills to be complicated.

Did I mention that I have come to the conclusion in middle age that I am not exceptional?  Oh, you know that already, don’t you?

I tell you all this because I am doing it again–at least, I fear I am.  In January, I’m moving away from this site, packing up the verbal luggage and moving over to a wordpress.org self-hosted thingamajig.  Why, you ask?

I have decided I want to try and focus on something in my blog-writing.  More details will come over the next few weeks.  It’s enough to say that I have been learning the HTML and reading up about traffic and blog structure and some other tech-craziness.  I’m enjoying it, but I’m nervous I’m being complicated to keep myself from really doing the hard work of digging in.

And yet, and yet, I feel alive.  The great Joe Ponepinto, whose blog is very cool and worth a look, recently mentioned in a comment that I should just follow my bliss.  And maybe that’s the thing: I bliss out doing shit the hard way.  I don’t know if it will be good for the writing career, but I think there’s something to this strategy.  Let’s see.  I’m just hoping some of you will come over with me to the new site.  Come on!  It’ll be different, but I promise I will fill those posts with the same kind of neurotic-complex-loving love I show here.

That’s a promise.

play is the new work…if you’re an artist, at least

In career, life, observations, writers & books, writing on October 22, 2012 at 4:30 am

I recently attended Story World 2012. I’m happy to report that it was well attended, well organized, and the talks were, for the most part, thoughtful and thought provoking, which is a lot of thought when you get right down to it.

If I had to describe the main theme of the event, I’d say it was play. There was a lot of talk of play and the importance of allowing yourself as a storyteller to create experiences (we don’t just create stories anymore according to the panelists I heard) that allow us to be kids at heart, and that allow our readers (experiencers, I guess would be the right word) to be child-like as well.

Usually, I get a little annoyed when people start talking about permission to be a child, about the need to release our inner child—I hear these phrases and think psycho-jargon from a time long since past, a time when bell bottoms and free love were the rage.  (I’m not talking about the 2000’s by the way.)  It’s not just that it sounds dated, I also think that language hides a certain hypocrisy.  It’s like the people saying these things need to take their own advice and not take themselves so seriously. I don’t know, but no child I know sets out to be child-like.  They just are what they are.  Shouldn’t we just be who we are?

Damon Lindelof, creator of Lost

The panelists who I saw at Story World—each and everyone—all seemed to answer this question.  They made me realize that that is the point: people do not act as they really are; they act as they think others expect them to be, and hence, they need to be reminded to allow themselves to be child-like when the occasion calls for it.  According to speakers like Damon Lindelof (creator of Lost), Sean Bailey, the President of Disney, and Brian Clark (Transmedia guru), one such occasion is when creating narrative.

I already knew that as a writer/creative/storyteller/experience maker, I had to get my child on.  I mean, what is storytelling if it isn’t make-believe?  But at some point, I felt guilty for letting myself be that child who likes to revel in stories.  Sadly, make-believe is believed by many to be only for children.  After some time at Story World,  I realize that that is BS. Play is good and it’s nothing to be ashamed of.  In fact, I think if I’d let myself explore that inner child a bit more, my writing and my art would be all the more strong.  And I think the same is probably true for anyone who has to be creative.

What do you all think?  Does art require a childlike appreciation of play?  And if art does require an inner-child, does this mean I have to get out my bell bottoms?

why do writers sometimes put off…writing

In Uncategorized, writers & books, writing on October 10, 2012 at 5:44 am

WTF?  I am a writer.  Now, it’s true that as a new father who teaches, I am often not writing as much as I’d like.  This is not surprising.  Time is a premium, especially for new parents.  But even before The Boy was born, I was a serial waster of time.  Give me four hours to write and I’ll kick butt for two–the last two.  The first couple hours will be me reading around the web, looking up random things, writing myself notes about other random things that pop into my head while looking up the aforementioned randomness.  I catch up on emails sometimes, too.  It’s the virtual equivalent of cleaning the bathroom, which is what I used to do before I got in the habit of writing in coffee houses, which I did because I thought I’d waste less time.

For a while before The Boy, I was all caught up on blog reading, but my toilet had seen better days.  (My wife hates cleaning more than she hates eating salads, which is saying something in her case.)

Now, I only have dribbles of time in the morning or late at night.  And the dribbles are even dribblier because I still want to read things here and there and write emails.  I’m like my first car, an ancient, brown beast that I bought for 500 bucks.  My father told me when I got the thing that I should always warm her up before driving–advice I have since been told is a bunch of BS.  Oh well, dad meant well, and The Beast didn’t last the summer.  But what was not true that car, certainly seems true for me.  I need time to circle into the writing process, to warm up the brain, to face the fear that I will suck.

I say this even though most times when I do my warm-up, I hate myself as soon as I start writing.  Why?  Because I love writing when I’m not doing everything I can to avoid writing.

I’m not sure if there’s a solution here, other than doing as the good people at Nike used to advise: Just Do It!

9 months and out–LESSON #1

In career, humor, life, observations, Uncategorized, writers & books, writing on August 29, 2012 at 5:30 am

 

If you want to succeed at something, stick to it.  OK, obvious, I know.  But let me start with a story that will show you how I have not followed this very obvious truth.  I call this little ditty, Curse of the Dumb-Dumb Who Keeps Wondering What Other People Think of Him.  Here it goes.  I hope you like it–really, I do.

(See what I mean?)

When I was 15, I discovered tennis.  This was before the Williams sisters, mind you.  On paper, I had no real business with the sport.  Tennis is not quite golf and it’s a good bit under polo in the rich-person pantheon of athletics.  And yet, it certainly has a little bit of the country club vibe to it even to this day.  My father at the time, classic immigrant that he is, was happy about my discovery, telling me that tennis was a good sport for making connections with rich people.  (My father’s strange views of American society are another story.)  Anyway, I loved tennis.  I spent a summer going from one public court to the next all over Santa Monica, looking for people to play.  I was what I am not usually: without fear or apprehension.  I just wanted to play.

I say all of this, but this month was the first time I picked up a racket in 25 years.  I stopped when I was a sophomore because even though I loved tennis, the sport was not going to get me cred with the girls–at least I didn’t think I would.  So, what did I do?  I switched to basketball, which was a joke.  I’m 6′ 3″, and I liked playing pick-up games.  But my heart wasn’t into it.  And I didn’t have a head for the game in a more organized setting of league play.  So, basically I sucked it.  And after getting through Hell Week, I quit the team.  By that time, I’d gotten rusty at my tennis game, and then I hurt my shoulder trying to serve and it was over.

Now, do you get the point?  I left what I loved out of some concern of what others would think.  And I’ve been repeating the same mistake for years. You’d think I’d learn by now, but you’d be surprised how hard it is to see that you’re repeating the same mistake.  Every situation seems new.  Even now, I feel the pressure to give up on writing. I’m not going to, mind you.  This is it for me, I know that.  But sometimes, I have an idea, and I work through it, and as I sit with the project, I start to have doubts.  I start thinking no one will like what I’m doing or that I will fail (which also comes from a concern for others) and I want to run away.

I tend to think that most ideas, if you stick with them, can bear fruit.  Part of success is telling that inner-critic that tells you to quit because you might fail or because no one will like it or because you will end up penniless and friendless (and probably toothless as well) to shut the f&*& up.  There is success to be had if you just stick to what you’re doing and not listen to others.  I think that’s clear enough.  Right?  You agree, right?  Come on.  Agree already.

Damn it!  I’m doing it again.

cause it’s hard out here for a p…, i mean, reader

In career, life, media, Uncategorized, writers & books, writing on August 20, 2012 at 5:11 am

It’s a chilly night here in San Francisco, and I spent the evening catching up on some good old blogging-goodness.  Specifically, I came across a lovely post at Blood Ink Diary about books, owning them, reading them, not lending them–basically, loving them.  So if you love books, too,  I suggest you read the post.

As for me, I should’ve just enjoyed the prose and the message.  But I often do not do what I should do, and as I snuggled against my fleece blanket (I think San Francisco thinks it’s in the southern hemisphere), and read the post, I felt a shiver that was not caused by the fact that I live in a town that summer forgot.  Part shame, part remembrance of things lost would be the best way to describe what I was feeling.  The first because at some point as I’ve tried to write and write and get that writing out there, I’ve forgotten the power of great words, of slow-moving words for words’ sake.  It’s been months that I’ve read a book for joy.  A good half-year since I’ve read a long work of fiction.  Why?  It’s like I’ve become some kind of puritan who pooh-poohs the novel for its lack of “usefulness”.  Sure, my pilgrim brethren didn’t read books about branding and social media campaigns instead of reading fiction, but they dismissed the novel and the poem because they could not see the point to reading anything that didn’t build the soul–aka, scriptures.  Idle hands are bad enough, but an idle mind taking in words over the novel-version of the boob-tube, that was just too much.

It’s cliche, and I’ve already said a million times in this blog, but the Catch-22 of loving words enough that you actually want to string some along in new and weird ways for some imagined group of readers demands that you not do that creating very often.  It demands that you do a lot of selling, of yourself, of your concepts, and maybe, your body, which wouldn’t be bad except that I’m married–sorry ladies.

It’s an impossible situation.  That’s right, Joseph Heller, your little war book is nothing compared to the dilemma of the modern writer.  I was going to say that we writers trade our creative time for money so that we can write more words.  But the truth is that it’s not only the time; it’s also the head space.  To create, to dig the foundation of our imaginary worlds, one has to be kind of pure-minded.  You gotta be focused on the story, not on what that book might do for your wallet after it’s done.

I think that’s why the post I referred to above shamed me a little bit.  Its author is devoted to the words inside all those lovely books on her shelf.  She doesn’t care if they are useful or practical or if they fit the world and its ideas about utility.  A great book focuses the mind, and if you allow me a moment of operatic hyperbole, it focuses the soul.  The same is true of the writing process, of course.  And that’s what I have to remind myself of.  No matter what happens with career or my lack thereof, I cannot forget.  I cannot.

Of Rain, Books & Turkish Coffee

In observations, writers & books, writing on August 19, 2012 at 1:42 pm

Of Rain, Books & Turkish Coffee.

 

there is something wonderful here.  the post made me slow down and reminded me of how/why I write.

praying for prayer?

In humor, life, observations, writers & books, writing on June 19, 2012 at 6:43 am

I have a few obsessions–at least I do when blogging.  My career as a witer (or lack thereof), my sense of speeding through life and the counter-need to slow down, and…goddamn it…I don’t have any other obsessions.  Jesus, I can’t even come up with three.  Three is so writerly, and I can’t come up with a third…

I’m not very obsessive, I’ll admit it.  I’d probably be better off in my career if I were.  (OK, I hit on obsession #1–check.) 

And as for obsession #2, I’ve been thinking about God today.  Well, I started thinking about God because I was listening to this somewhat ancient podcast of Fresh Air.  It was about a scholar spending time with some evangelicals who believe they have personal relationships with God.  By relationships, I’m mean hanging out with the Almighty, having a cup of coffee, taking things out.

At one level, I get a little weirded out by the sound of these people. But there is another part of me that doesn’t really think there’s anything weird at all about believing that God is all around you.  I studied Religion, not theology (there’s a difference) in college and went on to grad school, as well.  There are very few Religious Studies majors in the world who choose that major strictly out of some intellectual need.  We all have issues with God or religion or both, or at least a fascination.  I would fit in the latter.

I’m a believing Agnostic or an Agnostic believer.  I tried to explain my beliefs once already on this blog, if interested, please see this.   If you are still here, I commend you: good choice.  Let’s live in the present.

So, as I was saying, today, I was listening to Terry Gross and this scholar talk about people who have relationships with the divine, and I started thinking about my own relationship to God.  I realized right off that I don’t really like that term, relationship.  I’m old school, I guess.  I like imagining that there’s something mysterious and wondrous about this entity we call God/Yahweh/Allah etc.  It’s not something I want to imagine having a relationship with the way I have a relationship with some dude at work.  That’s how the people being discussed today see God–He’s like their buddy.  Where’s the majesty in that?

And this leads me to my point: why don’t I pray anymore?  I used to pray every night–mainly petitions.  There was a point that it was almost like a superstition, maybe even a superstitious obsession, which I could add to my poor list of obsessions if only I were still obsessed with prayer the way I used to be. Back then, I needed to pray for everyone near and dear to me or I feared  something would happen to them. I guess that’s the downside to not seeing God as buddy.  Buddies don’t smite your second cousins in Uruguay if you fail to ask for his protection. There’s something childlike in believing that God would smite your family if you piss him off, but even so, I wonder if it’s not a bad sign that I don’t make the time to talk with God at night as I used to.

It’s not guilt, mind you.  I think it does have something to do with being too much in the world.  Look, there’s a reason why as a writer of fiction, I gravitate to the surreal/magical.  I think there’s truth in that stuff.  I don’t know if I can get myself to capture some of that magic, but I think that’s my goal as a writer, and maybe, just maybe, it’s my goal as a person, a spiritual person, too.  I once told a friend of mine in grad school just about the time I decided that I wanted to write and not be a scholar of religion, that I saw writing as a spiritual exercise.  She thought I was daft at the time.  But I do.  I have to explain how next time.

For now, I’m curious.  do any of you see God/the Force/some spiritual force in your writing? Do you speak with the Almighty even writing the most Earthbound family drama?

does the D in DIY stand for delusional?

In humor, life, media, writers & books, writing on June 14, 2012 at 10:15 pm

Last night, while trying to raise money for my GED graduates, I got into a conversation with a friend.  It was loud at the bar, but not loud enough to stop what is basically the same conversation I have with this friend.  It foes something like this: he tells me he hates his job; he wants to make money doing what he wants to do; i agree; i like teaching, but i want to also make money telling stories.  The conversation ends with us looking into each others’ eyes and asking: but how can we monetize what we like to do?  It’s almost romantic, wouldn’t you say?

But last night, we took on a new theme–one I’ve been thinking about for some time.  I’ve really been getting into the idea of late that with the amazing technologies all around us, artists can get their work out to people without the aid of big distribution mechanisms (JESUS, I sound like a damn MBA student).  But one thought that comes to me as I try to design my plan to get my stories out in the world is this: what stops me from putting out shite that has no value?  It’s a wonderful world where we can all go out into the world and get some money from a Kickstarter campaign, but even if you do get some very nice strangers to fund your romantic comedy about a vegan zombie with a heart of gold, does that mean you should make said movie?  Are you kidding yourself?  How would you know?

I’ve come across two other writers who have tackled this theme today:

1. The Girl in the Hat has a post that bounces up against the same question.  As always, she writes from her own experience and does so with humor.  The only problem with her is that she’s one of those talented writers who writes about not writing well while she actually writes super well.  So, if you’re wondering if you write well, you might not feel so well after you read her entertaining post.  Oh well, get over it.  Go read her.

2. The other writer who tackles the question of self-awareness and writing is Jack Hitt. He has a new book called, A Bunch of Amateurs.  The book isn’t about artists; it’s really about inventors of all sorts.  Since I think artists are inventors of a sort, I think the book is a fit.  I heard Mr. Hitt on the radio speaking about his book, and someone asked him how you could tell the difference between a genius and a hack, and his answer stays with me.  He basically said, you almost never can know for sure.

Great.  So I will keep writing, knowing that I might very well suck it or not.  History is told by the victors.  Take that, Haters of the World.  I will write my Zombie Rom Com and maybe just maybe it will be the next Titanic.  (Irony intended.)

 

should writers fear pictures?

In humor, observations, writers & books, writing on May 31, 2012 at 9:23 am

Today I had coffee with a wonderful illustrator named Jonathan Silence.  It was a meeting of like-minds, and I’m not saying that because we’re both Libras–that was just gravy.  We might collaborate on a project this summer, which I am very excited about.  All the more excited after meeting Jonathan and realizing that we have similar views about what good stories are.  In short, we seemed to agree on two things: 1. that the type of stories we want to tell, what we would call the best types of stories, are stories for children–at least they are labeled as such, which as anyone knows, also means they are pretty good for adults, too.  (I’m going to talk about that idea in the next post, so don’t freak out, adult writers. There will be time for debate.)

The other idea we agreed on was less an idea than it was a shared concern about the current push to digitize everything, especially books.

though I am not eating the pickle sandwich in this picture, I hope you can imagine that I would be eating that pickle sandwich at a later time

Now, allow me to make an Evel Knievel leap of logic and say the following: for me, a digital culture is a visual one, by definition.  Think about it.  The web pushes images.  It is what It does best.  It’s what it’s for.  Everything from YouTube to the very graphic interface you are reading these words on is based on image.  Jonathan and I spoke about what that means for storytelling, and though he is a creator of images, he was concerned that this need to have pictures all the time is destroying our ability to imagine. I agree (to a certain point). Look at an episode of CSI or a doc on History Channel and you see the sad trend.  Two people talking is never shown for more than a few seconds.  Even if what’s being said is completely inane, you can rest assure that what’s being said will be shown in images.  So, for example, if you filmed me talking to my wife about eating a pickle sandwich, then you can bet your life that before I showed you that video, I would have my editor fade in an image of a pickle sandwich. You, as the viewer, could not imagine a pickle sandwich, so the picture of a pickle sandwich would be necessary.

God I hate that.

Now, don’t worry.  I trust that all of you can imagine a pickle sandwich.  But then again, just in case, here is one:

Though I could see Jonathan’s point, the writer in me is not so scared about the digital world and its super-need to rely on images. I will admit that somewhere along the line, I became a little snooty about what is and what is not good writing, by which I really am talking about good storytelling.  I am going to avoid trying to define terms, partly because I’m not equipped for that kind of thing and even more to the point, I have learned not to care so much about definitions.  They are helpful, but they can also limit you.  As in I once thought I could only be a professional writer if I published a proper novel. (I have three versions of 2/3 of a book to prove it.)  That idea was definitely tied to my understanding of what literature was, which in a few words can be described this way: character-driven sadness in which nothing happens except for someone dying towards the end.

My way out of that intellectual crapper has been to think of myself as a storyteller, which I know is a bit hack, but it’s no less true for being so.  Every medium has its strengths and weaknesses.  There are some stories that I think work best for the page.  But contrary to what I used to think, the written word is not the only way to be deep.  Jonathan Silence’s images are just as deep as a Ken Kesey novel.  It’s just that the stories being told are different kinds of stories. Along the same lines, I’ve been reading a blog called Little Commas, which I recommend highly.  I don’t know who hosts it, but every day, the blogger puts up drawings or graphic art or photography, and in so doing, makes the case that images are stories.  Even a company logo is a story. You just have to know how to look at it.

For the writers out there and the visual artists, too, I’m wondering what you think.  Can a digital culture make great stories? Or are we doomed to seeing pictures of pickle sandwiches?

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