Sunday, September 30, 2007

Writing for Whatever Audience is Left

From Stephen King's essay in The New York Times Book Review (9/30), "What Ails the Short Story?":

We could argue all day about the reasons for fiction’s out-migration from the eye-level shelves — people have. We could marvel over the fact that Britney Spears is available at every checkout, while an American talent like William Gay or Randy DeVita or Eileen Pollack or Aryn Kyle (all of whom were among my final picks) labors in relative obscurity. We could, but let’s not. It’s almost beside the point, and besides — it hurts.

Instead, let us consider what the bottom shelf does to writers who still care, sometimes passionately, about the short story. What happens when he or she realizes that his or her audience is shrinking almost daily? Well, if the writer is worth his or her salt, he or she continues on nevertheless, because it’s what God or genetics (possibly they are the same) has decreed, or out of sheer stubbornness, or maybe because it’s such a kick to spin tales. Possibly a combination. And all that’s good.

What’s not so good is that writers write for whatever audience is left. In too many cases, that audience happens to consist of other writers and would-be writers who are reading the various literary magazines (and The New Yorker, of course, the holy grail of the young fiction writer) not to be entertained but to get an idea of what sells there. And this kind of reading isn’t real reading, the kind where you just can’t wait to find out what happens next (think “Youth,” by Joseph Conrad, or “Big Blonde,” by Dorothy Parker). It’s more like copping-a-feel reading. There’s something yucky about it.

The Border

"It is so easy to conjure permanence....when the alarm goes off in the morning, one is already forced to jump into the dream that is reality, the dream of affection and accountability, the dream that leads to the ultimate Other...To begin to know this is to begin a journey toward awareness, the border of personal power."

- Bruce Wagner, "The Art of Reality," Tricycle: The Buddhist Review, Fall 2007

Friday, September 28, 2007

118 Project

Here is a rap video produced by the Swiss fire department to counter confusion over updated directory assistance phone numbers which are similar to the department's emergency number.

Thursday, September 27, 2007


"We want to break intellectual submission of the language. To use all the resources that prepare themselves to operate efficiently over the sensibility of the spectator. Bringing them to other territories where other, more powerful laws exist. A space where the pressure of the senses affect the mind. Where the speed of the stimuli that the spectator receives, supersedes the intellectual reaction. The the emotion arrives before, always before."

"That hits the body, beneath the clothes. Behind the eyes. Within. A space where the spectator gives itself to, knowing that he forms part of an artistic event, that is inside a parallel reality, etherea, beautiful, delirious and absolutely more truthful than the day to day. Where the spectator knows he is being driven to smash against his own sensibility. A sensibility collective and universal."

Running Man

Under Water

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Book Autopsies

"Brian Dettmer carves into books revealing the artwork inside, creating complex layered three-dimensional sculptures."

We Do Not See

"When one door closes, another opens; but we often look so long and so regretfully upon the closed door that we do not see the one which has opened for us."

- Alexander Graham Bell

[Thanks Vicky!]

Saturday, September 22, 2007

A Single, Readable Page

In the documentary No End in Sight, Robert Hutchings, the Chairman of the National Intelligence Council from 2003 to 2005 recalls that President Bush dismissed his agency's Report on the State of the Insurgency in Iraq as mere guesswork. "The President hadn't read it, not even the one-page summary over which we worked so hard to reduce these findings to a single, readable page."

Friday, September 21, 2007


When clouds of spring scud by on windy tide
Like old Dutch sloops beneath the Palisades;
When robin sings from memory, and beside
The house lost fragrance stirs in leafy shades;
Then on a ramble memory goes
To Ravensdale and Uniontown,
To high Mt. Hope, steep Pinecrest,
To Edgars Lane, Villard Estates,
Three Island Pond and Indian Rock;
The VFW, Warburton Bridge,
Reynolds Field and the Aqueduct,
To old Southside and Tower Ridge,
To Billie Burke’s and Draper Park.

Say the word and you are there; each scene
Clear in recall, more clear by nature’s art
When Spring, the mountain-leaper, hangs her green
In all the winding bygones of my heart,
And lilac breathes to mind, how faint so ever,
A little village by the Hudson River.

-by Henry J. Scully

[Thanks to my friend Carolyn who sent me this sweet,
nostalgic poem written by her 84-year-old brother-in-law.]

Let Your Characters Do The Suffering

From Catching the Big Fish: meditation, consciousness, and creativity by David Lynch:

It’s good for the artist to understand conflict and stress. Those things can give you ideas. But I guarantee you, if you have enough stress, you won’t be able to create. And if you have enough conflict, it will just get in the way of your creativity. You can understand conflict, but you don’t have to live with it.

In stories, in the worlds that we can go into, there’s suffering, confusion, darkness, tension, and anger. There are murders; there’s all kinds of stuff. But the filmmaker doesn’t have to be suffering to show suffering. You can show it, show the human condition, show conflicts and contrasts, but you don’t have to go through that yourself. You are the orchestrator of it, but you’re not in it. Let your characters do the suffering.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

When Someone Deeply Listens To You

by John Fox, from Poetic Medicine: The Healing Art of Poem Making

When someone deeply listens to you
it is like holding out a dented cup
you've had since childhood
and watching it fill up with
cold, fresh water.
When it balances on top of the brim,
you are understood.
When it overflows and touches your skin,
you are loved.

When someone deeply listens to you
the room where you stay
starts a new life
and the place where you wrote
your first poem
begins to glow in your mind's eye.
It is as if gold has been discovered!

When someone deeply listens to you
your bare feet are on the earth
and a beloved land that seemed distant
is now at home within you.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

This Is What Practicing Is All About

"After you lose some great passion in your life, or a dream that you've had collapses, it often takes a really long time before you can come to terms with what that loss meant to you... This is what practicing is all about. You're striving for some unattainable goal. And consequently every day you are going to end up not achieving what you dream of and, yet, the next day somehow you start again. And try again. And the fact that you don't achieve what you dream of each time you sit down is what leads you forward and makes you continue.

And I think it's true for anything. It doesn't matter if it's music or dance or acting or an art form or baking a cake or parenting even. I think this idea of practice means that you come back to it--almost no matter what happens."

--Glenn Kurtz, classical guitar player and author of Practicing: A Musician's Return to Music

Check out his playlist on Paper Cuts.

[Quote found on Jonathan Carroll's blog]


"Every Sunday afternoon throughout my childhood, our considerably extended family -- my grandfather was one of nineteen children -- met at my grandparents' apartment for a dinner of pot roast, brown potatoes, and string beans...And when the meal was over and the dishes cleared, and Memere's sons-in-law had drifted to the parlor to watch the Red Sox blow a five-run lead to the Yankees, and the children went outside to play in the driveway, then someone perked a pot of coffee, set the sugar bowl and the can of condensed milk on the table, dealt the ashtrays to the aunts, and then we all sat around the kitchen and talked about the family and the neighbors...Gossip, I loved it. And that turns out to be the writer's job: to attend to the gossip and spread it as far as you can. At the heart of all good fiction and at the heart of all good gossip is the same thing: trouble. If you think about it, fiction is nothing more than gossip about the people you've made up."


"All I know is what I have words for."

-- Ludwig Wittgenstein

Monday, September 17, 2007

To See Takes Time

“In a way, nobody sees a flower, really, it is so small, we haven’t the time – and to see takes time, like to have a friend takes time.”

Georgia O’Keefe

The Dhamma Brothers

"In 2002, Donaldson Correctional Facility [near Birmingham, Alabama] became the first maximum-security prison in North America to hold an extended Vipassana retreat, an emotionally and physically demanding course of silent meditation lasting ten days. The Dhamma Brothers tells a dramatic tale of human potential and transformation as it closely follows and documents the stories of 36 prison inmates who enter this arduous and intensive program. It challenges assumptions about the nature of prisons as places of punishment rather than rehabilitation and raises the question: is it possible for these men, some of who have committed horrendous crimes, to change?"

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Librophiliac Love Letter

"Everyone has some kind of place that makes them feel transported to a magical realm. For some people it's castles with their noble history and crumbling towers. For others it's abandoned factories, ivy choked, a sense of foreboding around every corner. For us here at Curious Expeditions, there has always been something about libraries. Row after row, shelf after shelf, there is nothing more magical than a beautiful old library."

Abbey Library St. Gallen, Switzerland

A Compendium of Beautiful Libraries


The Dresden Dolls
Brechtian Punk Cabaret

Monday, September 10, 2007

Rocket Science

"Life is not easy for teenager Hal Hefner. His parents have split, his older brother is an obsessive-compulsive and he has an unpredictable stutter. Given that his active mind and quick wit tend to be obscured by his problematic voice, Hal is not an obvious candidate for his school's high-powered debate team. So when the star of debate team, Ginny Ryerson, asks him to be her partner, Hal rises to the occasion, and in doing so he scores a victory that has nothing to do with winning a debate, but everything to do with finding his voice."

A Keeper

The Book of Hours
by Joyce Sutphen

There was that one hour sometime
in the middle of the last century.
It was autumn, and I was in my father's
woods building a house out of branches
and the leaves that were falling like
thousands of letters from the sky.

And there was that hour in Central Park
in the middle of the seventies.
We were sitting on a blanket, listening
to Pete Seeger singing "This land is
your land, this land is my land," and
the Vietnam War was finally over.

I would definitely include an hour
spent in one of the galleries of the
Tate Britain, looking up at thepainting of King Cophetua and
the Beggar Maid, and, afterwards
the walk along the Thames, and

I would also include one of those
hours when I woke in the night and
couldn't get back to sleep thinking
about how nothing I thought was going
to happen happened the way I expected,
and things I never expected to happen did—

just like that hour today, when we saw
the dog running along the busy road,
and we stopped and held on to her
until her owner came along and brought
her home—that was an hour well
spent. Yes, that was a keeper.

[Thanks Kit!]

Sunday, September 09, 2007

What an Artist Does is Fail

"Let me point out, if it has escaped your notice, that what an artist does is fail. Any reading of the literature (I mean the theory of artistic creation), however summary, will persuade you instantly that the paradigmatic artistic experience is that of failure. The actualization fails to meet, equal, the intuition. There is something 'out there' which cannot be brought 'here.' This is standard. I don't mean bad artists, I mean good artists. There is no such thing as a 'successful artist' (except, of course, in worldly terms)."

--From "The Sandman" by Donald Barthelme

[Thanks Tammy!]

To Be the Best in the World at Something

Seth Gordon discussing his debut documentary, The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters, on KCRW's The Treatment.

"Twin Galaxies, which became sort of the governing body of classic arcade records, make it their business to verify whether or not a score is legit or not. And they spend the next twenty some years determining whether scores when they are submitted are any good. And the one score that never gets challenged in all these years is Donkey Kong, the one that sort of started it all. Until a substitute middle school science teacher who has just been laid off from Boeing was bored and got himself a Donkey Kong for his garage and, without realizing it, was setting record scores all by himself."

Check out Seth Gordon's short film, Fears of a Clown, which explores a clown's childhood fears.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

A Mind That Becomes Rigid

From Practicing Peace in Times of War by Pema Chödrön:

I remember reading once about a peace march. When one group was coming back from the march, some pro-war people started cutting them off and blocking them; everyone started screaming and hitting each other. I thought, "Wait a minute, is there something wrong with this picture? Clobbering people with your peace sign?"

The next time you get angry, check out your righteous indignation, check out your fundamentalism that supports your hatred of this person, because this one really is bad--this politician, that leader, those heads of big companies. Or maybe it's rage at an individual who has harmed you personally or harmed your loved ones. A fundamentalist mind is a mind that becomes rigid. First the heart closes, then the mind becomes hardened into a view, then you can justify your hatred of another human being because of what they represent and what they say and do.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Not Intent On Arriving

Here are a couple of fun travel web pages:

  • Matador is "a place to share travel stories & photos, meet people in the places you're going, get info and advice from experts, become a paid travel writer, collaborate with local organizations, and get inspired everyday with articles about sustainability and world culture."
  • CouchSurfing is "a worldwide network for making connections between travelers and the local communities they visit."

"A good traveler has no fixed plans, and is not intent on arriving."
-- Lao Tzu