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.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

A picnic bench in a construction site

Lunch with trucks -
large steel creatures
tiptoeing noisily,
their deliberate slowness
even more menacing

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Musings from the gym

For about a year or so, I've been keeping a workout diary to keep track of my progress at the gym. It's a 6x4" memo book, perfect for keeping in my pocket. Since it's always handy, I've also found it a great tool for writing down thoughts while I'm riding my bike to/from the gym or while I'm there. Some of them later turn into poems or articles. I recently dug through a number of the little books to see if any of the thoughts might be worth sharing.

June 2006:

The power of unthorough observation: Arriving at the gym, I saw a tall, scrawny guy with a thoroughly unkempt beard working out diligently at the various exercise machines. When I left, I ran into a tall, less scrawny guy with a neater beard. Not bothering with details like confirming it was the same guy, I concluded that spending time in the gym really works. Results from statistics and research probably probably work like that, too, sometimes.

I find myself awed by nature, every time without fail. We are nature too, despite our antics of civilization and technology. I find it impossible to separate us from it.

Nature was the first modeler of art. We created our own art in our desire to possess a facsimile.

May 2006:

At my gym, I saw a woman wearing many adornments, particularly a prominent collection of diamond engagement rings worn on many fingers, but not on her ring finger. I retreated hurriedly, her display reminding me of a collection of staked skulls displayed outside the village to frighten away intruders. Fear of meeting a similar fate is a strong deterrent in any situation!

For some surely important reason, I watched a TV program about the loss of fertility in women as the age. According to the program, by age 45, there is a less than 1% chance of a woman conceiving, because those little eggs are just tired. The next morning in the gym I noticed a very athletic young woman in her 20s working out on a treadmill for what seemed like hours. I couldn't help picturing her eggs just bounding with energy! For the the rest of my workout, I caught myself speculating about the condition of the eggs of the women in my gym. If the producers of that program only knew how much influence TV can have.

If crows were $2 each, I'd probably buy several. Something would probably have to be done about storing them safely, though.

May 2006:

I did an hour's worth of cardio on this one machine. When I was done, two hours had passed. I never could figure out how the heck I did that.

A Stairmaster is a mechanical manifestation of Zen practice. Each moment is a separate universe of "now" that seemingly stretches on forever. Especially on the higher settings. If only moments not spent on the Stairmaster could be that timeless.

February 2006:

I've gotten used to seagulls dropping shells on the bike path, since it cracks them open and saves wear and tear on their beaks. This morning, however they were dropping bread on the path! Someone's going to have to coach them. And their flying is off, too!

September 2005: Grad school gets long...

Designing job performance evaluations for crows. How would they differ from evaluations for seagulls?

Several years into grad school, I increasingly remind myself of the corner of 7th & Redondo Avenue where crews are always working on something: Great if ever finished, but always under construction.

At the gym:
Drinking water and missing my mouth...
Humanness: A Flawed Tool
Doing squats in the "cage", others looking on: Am I the lion, or the monkey?

July 2005:

In the garage
the body heat
of cars

Summer skin: The wind on my thighs.

Office Plaza, weekdays:
Paths crossing like insects,
drawing nectar from the same flower
over and over

May 2005:

I went to run the stairs, and found the customary group of pigeons at the bottom, pecking for food in the sand. Since they're always there, I now call them "The Eternal Birdfaces." Hard exertion can do neat things to inspiration!

April 2005:

Dragging the tired carcass into the gym: The purpose for exercise could be the joy in using my body. Now that's a novel thought!