Sunday, November 11, 2007 - web imitating art

In Kim Stanley Robinson's Science in the Capital series of novels (Forty Signs of Rain (2004), Fifty Degrees Below (2005), and Sixty Days and Counting (2007)), the website has has a central place in setting the tone of the novel and providing important context for shaping the thoughts and actions of one of the protagonists.

After reading the third book in the series, I finally decided to visit the site to see if it existed, thinking that I, too, could benefit from a daily reading of Ralph Waldo Emerson. I was pleased to discover that there really was an -- it had been created by one of the series' readers as a tribute to Robinson's work and his message. As the site's creator notes in the site's "about" page: "I decided to make web imitate art."

In a case of the web imitating the web imitating art, there is now also an site. Since Kim Stanley Robinson's books inspired a real incarnation of the Emerson for the Day site, I imagine that Tom Wolfe's protagonists in A Man in Full could have found an Epictetus for the Day site just as useful in their novel's setting.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

The power of allusion in written works

I was first introduced to Sidney Lanier's (1842-1881) poetry though a book titled Macroscope, written by Piers Anthony in 1969. Anthony's book may have been the first written work to illustrate to me the importance of writers and artists alluding to others' work in their creations. The impact of somone's creative work reverbating in succeding work by others is an important aspect of how art and literary works over time, growing from being isolated ideas expressed by their creators to influencing a society's larger culture. Gordon Dickson, in his book Three to Dorsai! (1975), put forth the concept that societal change often begins as isolated visions that are first expressed by individual artists and writers. The concept behind their creative work, in turn, inspires others, whose collective message is then discovered and embraced by selected elements of their society. From this, ultimately, come the seeds of societal change.

On a more personal scale, I owe discovery of Cuban singer Ibrahim Ferrer and the group Buena Vista Social Club to Keith Snyder's book Coffin's Got the Dead Guy on the Inside.

Sidney Lanier was a Georgia poet whose work exemplifies the genre of lyrical poetry. A prominent musician and music teacher in his own right, he purposely integrated musical elements into his sound devices and diction.

Here is the first stanza of his 1878 poem, The Marshes of Glynn:

The Marshes of Glynn

Glooms of the live-oaks, beautiful-braided and woven
With intricate shades of the vines that myriad-cloven
Clamber the forks of the multiform boughs, -
Emerald twilights, -
Virginal shy lights,
Wrought of the leaves to allure to the whisper of vows,
When lovers pace timidly down through the green colonnades
Of the dim sweet woods, of the dear dark woods,
Of the heavenly woods and glades,
That run to the radiant marginal sand-beach within
The wide sea-marshes of Glynn; -

Sidney Lanier resources:
Biography on Wikipedia -
"Poems of Sidney Lanier, Edited by his Wife" on Documenting the American South website -

Urban scavenging

Last year, my daily commute included a journey through the usually gridlocked traffic of the Garden Grove Freeway. Major road construction had closed a good number of exits and lanes for a string of impressive engineering projects, and watching all that activity could provide entertainment for the unfortunate motorists who are still stuck on it after running out of snacks, tunes, or cellphone time.

Earlier that year, when construction began in earnest, a small family of vultures began perching themselves mornings and afternoons on the large freeway sign that overlooked all six lanes and studiously craned their necks down at the stalled traffic below. I kept wondering why on earth they were doing that and finally concluded that they must be waiting for a car to die!

Morning aftermath

Nelson DeMille, in his book Up Country, wisely said that when a man has been drinking, he should never be near any communication e-mail, no telephone, no fax machines, nothing. I've been promising myself to follow his advice, but so far, it hasn't happened. As a result, I always dread looking at the "sent" box of my e-mail the next morning, but the excitement does add a rush to the waking-up process.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

The important things

As I was returning from the beach, just ahead of me I found a couple going up the stairs that lead to the top of the bluffs. Although they were relatively young, my impression was that they had been together for a while. That afternoon, they had been flying a kite in the shape and colors of a large, red butterfly, because that was what he was carefully carrying up the stairs. Toward the top, she leaped ahead of him, and in a burst of laughing exuberance climbed up the rest of the way ahead of him. I pictured how he might then remember first meeting her, how he might well have fallen in love with her upon first discovering that vibrant energy she exuded, graceful like a dancer, at totally unexpected times.

I followed them past the top of the stairs onto the bluff, he with the butterfly kite, she with hair golden in the evening sun, and I remembered a woman I loved once, and the same evening sun on her hair and how I later regretted ever letting her go...but she had lived a continent away and, at that time, I thought I had no choice. They were walking side by side, hands almost touching, and my thoughts urged him to take her hand, because life is short and affection should be shown. Their hands kept missing each other as they walked, but he finally put his arm around her, so I was satisfied that that was good enough. They were talking about things people who have been married a while, but who are still young, talk about: things they wanted to buy someday, things they needed now. It would be a while, I thought, before they would discover the really important things, the cherished things, like that memory of their walks together, with their kite in the evening sun. My thoughts having run their course, I passed by them. "Beautiful kite!", I said.

Friday, June 30, 2006

More on "writer's mediation"

Since this blog is about the process of writing, particularly poetry, I wanted to revisit my blog entry from last year about Gail Sher's book titled One Continuous Mistake - Four Noble Truths for Writers. The Four Noble Truths she refers to are:

1. Writers write.
2. Writing is a process.
3. You don't know what your writing will be until the end of the process.
4. If writing is your practice, the only way to fail is to not write.

It's my belief that writing regularly is important, whether it's a form of recreation or a profession. I do both, but I don't find it too unpleasant...actually I could do it all day and often do. The hard part for me and maybe for others (and the reason I'm writing this) is to write as part of a recreational regimen, like exercise, meditation or reading. Darn, it takes discipline! Some days I have to force myself to give myself the gift of "recreational creativity" - getting my butt and my notepad outside when I'd rather be doing something "more important", to quiet the "thoughtmonkeys" that squawk about everything that I need to do, and to just write creatively.

I think this applies whether writing a poem pulled out of nowhere or a painstakingly researched novel that starts with writing the first chapter the way the journey of a thousand miles starts with the first step. The practice starts with doing it. So I keep telling myself when I drag my sometimes unwilling carcass to the notepad. The nice thing is that even if I end up with a few lines of something worthwhile, it's my incentive to keep doing it.

My advice is to not approach your "creative time" with expectations. Only then can you surprise yourself.

Here are a few quick pieces I ended up with even during those times I couldn't come up with anything more involved:

If we could only fathom what a unique, once-in-a-lifetime experience life is, perhaps we would pay more attention to it.

young woman on cell phone
not available
for conversation

play hide and seek
behind swaying palm trees

This butterfly
can’t decide
which flower to land on

Telephone wires -
birds’ bellies
colored by the evening sun

On its side –
a toy boat
in a drained bathtub

evening trees
etched by
crows' calls

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

thoughts on the concept of work

I have always been fascinated by how people work (or fail to work) together, both as a writer and as someone getting his graduate degree in Organizational Change. Here are some assorted tidbits on the subject that I've scribbled down over the years:

Work can be thought of as the process of overcoming inertia - whether it's hefting steel beams or just wrestling the unwieldly structure of your organization.

A friend of mine works at a large defense contractor. Like many other bureacratic institutions, it seems to be very difficult to get anything changed there. She call it "getting the elephant to dance."

Never underestimate the obstacles any halfway organized society or group of people can throw in your way.

Parkinson's Law, a term developed by British historian Cyril Northcote Parkinson from his lighthearted observations of politics, states that work expands to fill the time available.

On the practical side, one of the most useful definitions of work comes from a grocery store manager I once knew: "When you're at work, you have to work! That's why they call it work!"

Then there was Howard, the twenty-something manager of the car wash where I worked during high school. His motivational speech for our benefit before every shift was "Don't you f**** up this time!"

Sunday, June 25, 2006

A new poetry resource

I recently received an email from Diana Collins, one of the founders of Famous Poets and Poems, kindly thanking me for maintaining a blog where people can learn something new and useful about poetry.

I never thought of my blog teaching something new and useful about poetry, other than sharing those myriad sights, sounds and thoughts that this elusive creature I call the "creative self" eventually turns into poems. Along with what I hope will eventually be poems. You can always read the finished products on the main Contemplating August site.

Diana's email made me realize two things:
  • First, she and fellow poetry fans Helen Jaworski and and Monica Vesela have created a very nicely done poetry resouce of over 500 poets and 20,000 poems, along with poets' biographies and pictures. (I have been lamenting the dearth of classic and modern poetry reference sites, increasingly abandoned for poetry contests and posting-communities which generate more traffic, the basic staple of web-dom.)
  • Second, maybe there's more that I can do to teach my readers about poetry, particularly the technical elements that every poet should at least know...even if they choose to ignore them (and they can, as long as they know what those elements are.) A sort of "Poetry 101." Since I've done this in e-mail form before, I'm motivated to take on the challenge of putting together a primer on poetic elements. I've started on Lecture 1, which will be out soon. Thanks, Diana!

Friday, June 23, 2006

a difficult trade arrangement

I am fortunate that my workplace is a large, campus-like settings, with lots of grassy, open spaces and trees. Birds, of course, like it too, and there are large numbers of mocking birds, greckels and sparrows, plus the occasional crow flying by. I happen to like crows for their entertainment value and feel that this place needs more of them. So, while feeding a group of several dozen sparrows, I began wondering how many sparrows I'd need to trade for each crow. A exchange-rate of sorts, like currency. Like any simple question, there can be complex philosophical ramifications. Exchange, after all, implies compensation, which requires an owner. But since autonomous living beings have no owner (other than themselves), and I didn't want to get metaphysical, I had to conclude this mental exercise with the thought that there was no one to arrange a trade with...the sparrows and crows certainly seemed content with the present arrangement, so that settled the matter.