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QUINTESSENCE

Book World

The e-publishing business reminds me of the old Amway pyramids...the one or two "stars" shine way up here, but for every one of those, there are three thousand writers making four bucks on sales of two books.
- agent at a publishing panel

Left Coast Crime is a fun and energetic mystery novel "fan" conference. An opportunity for fans of writers to meet the authors they admire, and for writers to mingle with each other, learning the latest trends in publishing and publicity in the fast evolving book industry. I was struck by the comment above, a wryly offered "The Emperor has no clothes!" as I've met equal parts "self-publishing gurus" here as writers seeking more traditional publishers from the big six houses or the various regional or small presses. In the rush to make the engine of the Internet and e-publishing power our words into the hands of laptop and tablet toting readers, we the writers, are getting close to forgetting the value of the publishing vetting process. There is a reason a would-be manuscript must compete for first an agent, then find an editor that will champion the book before an acquisitions committee, and then woo over book reps and reviewers....good books are made. And the more they are scrutinized on the way to you, the reader, the more I feel we all get what our dollars pay for - a good read.

The book process has many flaws, subjective taste one that often dilutes originality from one end of the bell shaped curve to the other, but it's strength is enforcing the highest levels of skill and craft. I am reminded of that today, listening to the hardworking agents that read tirelessly, the consulting book editors who fix bad drafts, the publishers who will read for months to find a gem in the pile and the champion it all the way. Books have fans. They begin in the publishing industry, and end in the bookstore. At conferences like this one. I am humbled...Today I had the pleasure of seeing one of mine, THE GEOGRAPHY OF LOVE, wrapped up in a beautiful auction basket for bid in the book room of the conference. Fans, even where least expected, make you glad you worked your way to where you are.
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Knock on Silence

I have not worked at all.... Nothing seems worth putting down - I seem to have nothing to say - It appalls me but that is the way it is.
- Georgia O'Keeffe

Just dash something down if you see a blank canvas staring at you with a certain imbecility. You do not know how paralyzing it is, that staring of a blank canvas which says to the painter: You don't know anything...
- Vincent Van Gogh

I have, as the writer Anna Held Audette discusses so beautifully in her little chapbook, "The Blank Canvas," struggled as a writer to invite in the muse. As Audette reveals, there is nothing so devastating as discovering you have no creative ideas. The experience calls into question some fundamental issues about who you really are. Perhaps you're not the creative person you thought you were. The blank page, the empty canvas, is all the proof needed: You are a fraud. Caught between your devastating stuckness to make anything at all and inner doubts about whether one even has the creative stuff to begin with.

Audette's book is about creating, or encouraging, the circumstances in life that increase the likelihood of ordering up "that flash of inspiration." She points out that even the most dazzling architecture has a solid foundation we might not commonly consider worthy of a moment of revelation. I happen to know from experience that Audette is right. Even if you sit in your writer's chair staring at your cracked paint for an hour, day after day, praying for inspiration at your personal "genius bar," if you have a pencil, tablet, or whatever you use to jot down fleeting ideas as they arise, you are on the way to corralling enough inspiration at any given moment to light a small fire in that dark night. Does this sound melodramatic? Try answering the question, "So what are you working on next?" asked by any interested soul hoping to be wowed off their feet. Only you mumble, "Uh, right. Working on that very question."

One of the "revisit the foundation" tricks that works for me is to dip back into the creative fishbowl for a bit. As O'Keefe might have abandoned the ranch and caught the train east to New York for a month of exhibitions and dinners with fellow artists, or Van Gogh take his pint at the village pub, sometimes we can come out of a dry spell by plunging into the energy field of other creative souls. For that reason, I love writers conferences. There is inspiration to be found in the inspiration of others, and I love the fact that most of us hanging out post-panel at the bar have been around the ring a time or two with our creative demons. Support, in abundance. I'm headed to a conference this week, in fact. I'm really hoping to rediscover the foundations of some dazzling creative architecture there in this time spent with other writers. Writers conferences are one tool in a creativity "rescue kit" that works for me when everything else I can think of does not. There must be ways that boost you toward inspiration as well. Keep signing up for those classes, do the dishes nude, sit in meditation, run the trails, or whatever it is that helps you see that design in the paint cracks.

Wish me luck. I hope to come back having solved a big structural problem in a novel I'm struggling with. Or at the very least, with the patience to keep staring at the wall, pencil in hand.
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Two Questions

Two Questions: How do I intend to be in relationship with Self, and How do I intend to be in relationship with Others?
- W. Sagen Smith

Years ago a friend, living a life marked by both chaos and depression, pivoted toward more positive and productive living. He credited a conversation where he was asked, and answered honestly, two very simple questions: How do I intend to be in relationship with self? How do I intend to be in relationship with others? The power in these questions is not predicated on a particular answer.

I thought these two questions, commonly used in clinical psychology to explore personal satisfaction, were engaging on several levels. They ask the question Am I happy with how I treat and think about myself, and Am I engaging with the world in the way I feel is best? The inference is that the tone and core attitude in how we engage with ourselves and the world is within our control. Not a given, but a choice. A revolutionary thought for anyone for whom life feels reactive, rigid, or predestined to circular outcomes.

I decided to ask myself these same questions. I thought about the first question for quite awhile. In relationship to self I wish to be accepting and uncritical of my own needs, open and curious, trusting of my intuition, intentional, strong enough to make right choices, and always honest. I was surprised by the fit and simplicity of my feelings. Especially the first part - to be accepting and uncritical. We often come down on ourselves before the world even has a chance to respond. The second question - How do I wish to be in relationship to others? - seemed more straightforward. Accepting and uncritical to others as well as self seemed right, supportive not judgmental, approachable, trustworthy, loyal in heart and deed. I was surprised by the degree I value the honest quality of loyalty. It is the core of relationship for me, but also of simple honorable commerce between strangers. As my grandfather used to assert, one's word should be as good as a handshake.

Defining what I thought others would appreciate from me and defining what makes for good relationship, I realized we must become the relationship we seek. What we need from others is essentially what we need from ourselves. Beginning with examining the self opens the boundaries of sacred values to others. As my friend discovered, intention sets the tone of life we lead.
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Revived

THE REWAKING
Sooner or later
we must come to the end
of striving

to re-establish
the image the image of
the rose

but not yet
you say extending the
time indefinitely

by
your love until a whole
spring

rekindle
the violet to the very
lady's-slipper

and so by
your love the very sun
itself is revived.


- William Carlos Williams

The theme of renewal this month - of spirit, heart, and mind - has a beautiful resonance for me. The limning of new green on the tree branches outside my study speaks to the budding of hope and expectation within. There is something about spring that nudges us to get on with it. To pluck our rusty dreams up and tinker them back into play. To rethink the impossible or the challenging and build a bridge to somewhere. Perhaps just to throw the window open and breathe deep of the sunshine and colors of spring.

This poem by William Carlos Williams is a favorite. "The Rewaking" reminds me that some essential essence of life and joy may be re-found through the mysteries of love. That reality and the real dance in many robes of perception, and the presence of happiness reshapes all things. The poet speaks of love as a force of nature capable of reviving even the sun. The imagery of this for me is powerful, because the concept of revival brings us back to something that weariness may make us believe we have lost. Lost to the grinding darkness of winter, the pressures of work and responsibility that take us far from where we might even notice the violet color of a flower in the garden. The colors of happiness, "the image the image of the rose."
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Pi Day

According to theorists from Weber to Habermas, the good news about modernity was that it managed, for the first time in history, to fully differentiate the Big Three. That is, to differentiate art, morals, and science; of self, culture, and nature. These domains were no longer fused with each other, no longer syncretically fused and confused.
- Ken Wilbur, A Brief History of Everything

Happy Pi Day! A mishmash of mathematics and cuisine, Ken Wilbur might raise an eyebrow at food and math theory coming together in a good old-fashioned science camp romp. With apologies to Mr. Wilbur, we can separate our science and food facts later, add back that Pi(e). Really then, what's the big deal over the basic mathematical meaning of Pi and it's relationship to the calendar? Well, Pi Day is observed on March 14 because of the date's representation as 3/14 in month/day date format. This representation adheres to the commonly used approximation of 3.14 for π. (The fractional approximation of π, 22⁄7, resembles the date July 22 in the day/month format, where it is written 22/7. Pi Approximation Day is therefore celebrated on July 22. Two pi Day is informally celebrated on June 28. (2π≈6.28) More than you wanted to know, right? Wait, it gets better - !)

According to the good folks at Wikipedia (and who can doubt Wiki, right?) Dr. Larry Shaw created Pi Day in 1988. The holiday was celebrated at the San Francisco Exploratorium where Shaw worked as a physicist, with staff and public goofily marching around one of its circular spaces, then consuming fruit pies. The Exploratorium continues to hold "bring your own" Pi Day celebrations.

On Pi Day 2004, Daniel Tammet recited 2 964 decimal digits of π. (Wow, what I wouldn't give for just a stamp size fraction of that guy's immediate recall memory.)

On March 12, 2009, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a non-binding resolution (HRES 224),recognizing March 14, 2009, as National Pi Day. Of course it was non-binding...I mean, not everyone likes pie. And for Pi Day 2010, Google presented a Google Doodle celebrating the holiday, with the word Google laid over images of circles and pi symbols. They have a lot of time on their hands there at Google apparently.

But think of this (Thank you, Greg): Three years from now, will there be a worldwide server crash at 9:26:54? No doubt the modernists arrived on the scene just in time. I don't know it I could accept blending my math and my food pyramid indefinitely. I mean before modernity, Wilbur points out the common refutation for Galileo's discovery of the moons of Jupiter asserted that if animals had seven orifices (not to mention other similarities in nature "too tedious to enumerate," such as the seven metals, etc.) there must be only seven planets. No more. We've got Mercury, remember? A full house.

Might be time to take the pie out of Pi, folks.
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Kaleidescope

The moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred... unforeseen incidents, meetings, and material assistance, which no man could have dreamed would have come his way.
- Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

It is a strange thing, success. And by "success" I do not mean victory, fortunate outcome, achieving the height of competitive earnings, awards or laurels. I mean success as the manifestation of intention. Fruition, attainment, fait accompli. Bringing to pass, or carrying through to completion a personal idea or desire into reality. Accomplishment is perhaps the better word.

What Goethe observed is that once our personal energies and thinking line up firmly behind a goal, the means of achieving that goal often appear unexpectedly, at the right time as needed. I like to think of this power of commitment as setting the kaleidoscope of the universe; fine-tuning a personal view out of a chaos of resources that oscillate to the energy of intentional thought. A changeable, flexible, resilient world. One in which what we dream might be molded by the very commitment we bring to the task. We do not yet know we need this particular thing to make X, until we have in fact determined to build X. The alterability of our goals is met by an equally fluid universe.

And that is a thing to ponder.
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In Detail

Henri Rousseau, Exhibition in Paris, Jungles
The point of going somewhere like the Napo River in Ecuador is not to see the most spectacular anything. It is simply to see what is there. We are here on the planet only once, and might as well get a feel for the place. We might as well get a feel for the fringes and hollows in which life is lived, for the Amazon basin, which covers half a continent, and for the life that - there, like anywhere else - is always and necessarily lived in detail: on the tributaries, in the riverside villages, sucking this particular white-fleshed guava in this particular pattern of shade. What is there is interesting.
- Annie Dillard

Revisiting old friends on my book shelves, I dipped into Annie Dillard's essays on expeditions and encounters, Teaching a Stone to Talk. It's that kind of March day in the Northwest, where an expedition of any kind seems necessary to shake off the dregs of winter discontent. After reading her notes above, I thought what if I looked at life as it is in detail? What is there that is interesting? What details mark the particulars of my life, the way my days unfold? What valuable information does the obvious contain, just there for the seeing?

Sometimes I think we work far too hard, seeking excitement from the unfamiliar rather than wading in the freshness of what is hidden in plain sight. I don't think any of us will ever be done excavating the layers of ourselves, our histories, the rhythm and song of our days. But from time to time we tumble into a rut, and soon bored or frustrated, move on; leaving much of ourselves unknown and left behind. What if like Annie Dillard we explored not a place of the unknown, but a place of the familiar? And there, within the self or daily life, observed with neutrality and strangeness the detail, the uniqueness, the pattern of life lived? We would certainly find unexpected things, both unique and interesting. We have this one life, one planet, perhaps one home and table and simple blue bowl. What do they tell us? Why do we choose them? Where have they led us?

Life resides in the details. And knowledge of any kind is grounded in the specific as well. Mastering the unknown begins at the level of the fundamental. Perhaps before Ecuador, the self. As Dillard suggests, we might as well get a feel for the place.
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Paying Attention

This morning I walked into the kitchen and a shaft of light hit the table, it filled the large clay bowl with the four lemons in it. The light from above, the glaze of the earthen bowl reflecting it, and the intense yellow of the lemons radiating it back out. It was like an exquisite prayer. I stood there for awhile, folding my own hands into quiet attenton. There is nothing to be said about this except to notice the incredible beauty with which objects reveal themselves to us.
- Burghild Nina Holzer

March flits through the snow-tipped trees with the returning robins, not here for certain but clinging lightly to the hard new buds of the bare branches and then lifting off and gone. This is the time of year a hint of renewal stirs in the breezes. The earth is ready for something new. Aren't we all?

Today I give you an assignment in observation, the first step in deep appreciation. Why? Because to really appreciate your life and your environment right now, where you stand, is to fully embody living. Only by this conscious act of paying attention, of being present, do we notice the beauty and miracle that exists around us. You or I might be standing at the bus stop and notice that the blue awning on the shop across the street is our favorite shade of alpine blue. We might be the person in anonymous green scrubs laying out sterile instruments in the hospital operating room who suddenly grasps how much we love this dedicated, focused supportive teamwork, the mission of the work we do. Or perhaps, like I did yesterday sitting in my tax accountant's office, experience an overwhelming sense of gratitude people of all interests (and thankfully great talent with numbers) walk this earth. The light is reflected back from the bowl.

But back to the assignment. If you can, spend three to five minutes looking at something in depth today. It can be a chair, a milk carton, your fingernail. Look from the outermost to the innermost level of detail you can, taking the object in. Let the largesse of the object as well as the details form a sense of knowing in your mind. That you comprehend and are curious about this object, appreciate it to the fullest degree. Now write about it, or draw. A quick paragraph or sketch, nothing formal just a splurge of expression - all art is at its core a translation. What we take from this exercise is an awareness of how we translate life. All the time. In our work, our love, our complaints and observations. As Burghild Holzer put it, quiet attention is like a prayer. We are part of a constant renewal that is there just for the looking.
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