Technically, still Creative in a Lean, Mean, Agile Machine

Technically, I’m still writing, as a Technical Writer that is, and facing the same challenges, as a creative writer, as I have since graduating University; trying to balance work and creative work with all the other daily needs and finding that the work world always manages to trump.

In the past, I would make the day job easier by finding opportunities to use creativity and a heightened attention to style and structure wherever possible, even if it’s just for a guide on how to use a piece of software.  And it is possible to strive for communication that is meaningful, powerful and beautiful in a well-written guide especially when I am motivated to prove to non-writers the difference that it makes.  These qualities just take a different shape than they would in a creative piece.

It is charming to see non-writers react to writing methods that are common-place for me. They remind me that, yah, it is pretty cool to dig out the essence of an idea buried under a few feet of text; like finding the lost toy in the sandbox.  In return, I’ve learned to adore the idealism of work methodologies, such as lean six sigma and agile, in ways that probably bewilder the business and tech teams that I’ve worked with in the past.

Can an agile software development environment teach a girl how to write a novel?  And, at the same time, can a would-be novelist show the IT solutions industry the power of well-told fiction?

When I am working on larger communication pieces in a non-creative environment, my mind can objectively settle on the ideas, words and logic like architectural design.  ‘Personal’ has nothing to do with business and tech writing.  I recognize how this practice could be extremely valuable to creative writing.

My biggest problem as a creative writer is that I am daunted by the larger task: the novel.  I know I have the talent to write – at least as good as the worst published ‘bestseller’ – but I don’t know how to manage the work and time to get there.  Every time I have tried any BOLD and FAST writing plans, like ‘a novel in 30 days’, I am quickly stunned by it and fail to meet my deadlines.

Agile and lean six sigma work methodologies are very popular, mainly with software development teams, for their ability to improve work processes, to save time, energy and resources, and to guarantee results.  Their ideas and processes, however, are applicable to any project-oriented work, such as a novel.  Some creative adjustments required: it is difficult to be a one-person team.  And I should be truly morose if I accidentally end up with a piece of software instead of a novel.  That would be funny, though!  Eventually.

While my work in technical writing has sometimes felt like I was speaking two different dialects, in English and logic, my day-jobs have taught me that:

  1. If I continue to fail deadlines, I must make my work-in-progress smaller and simpler.  I don’t need to abandon the whole novel and assume that I suck.  Just give myself smaller pieces of the product/novel to chew on at a time.
  2. Failure in the smaller goals is manageable. However, not having a product/novel, by the end of my project, is NOT an option.
  3. Once I have some success in the smaller and easier ‘sprints’, I can work up to harder ones.
  4. I must always have something done – and done well – at the end of each ‘sprint.’

There is a risk of getting too focused on the tools and thus losing the bigger purpose, however, ultimately, any which way a writer can mess this up, by the end of each week, the writer can evaluate what isn’t working, and fix it: one week wasted is better than a year.  If the business world is going to give the creative world a boost, it must be a disciplined plan balanced with the creative fire needed to sustain the reasons to care about it.

On the flip-side, having a steady day-job allows me to give back as much as I choose to get.  If I want to advocate the literary arts, there is no better place to do that than in business/office environments, where most people have too much to read and most of it isn’t well-written or engaging.  I have an ongoing ambition to prove to my colleagues that there is more truth in fiction than non-fiction AND that the best non-fiction understands that it must, because it can only, present a version of the truth.

In business communications, we tell the truth in the best manner possible; NOT because we want to encourage lies or false news but to TRANSLATE the truth into a form that is easier, more accessible, and most relevant to the target audience.  Aesthetically, too, though readers never fully appreciate these things until they’re missing, writing is easier and more accessible because it is composed of sentence, paragraph and document structures that are clean, sharp and logical.  It makes me sound so rigid, doesn’t it?  But I’d rather be rigid than let the writing be made rigid by excess and lots of ‘huh?’  Or worse: ‘that sounds great but what are you trying to say?’  A luge sled must be polished if we want to go at highly ill-advised speeds, right?

It’s a choice that a writer can make.  I could continue, like Martin Eden, to just keep writing, in my own brilliant way, until I either die or ‘make it’ — and then become so disillusioned with success that I …. ok.  OR, I can balance myself.  Contribute my talents to whatever job will have me, and in return, allow the job, and the society that I work with, help me develop my oh-so-brilliant ways.  The results: literary writers who are optimistic.

Nice idea.  Now, I just have to do it. (1. Work-in-Progress: Optimism)

© lyw 

 

Playing with Storytelling

Always Sometimes Monsters is an award-winning PC game that, if you play, you will most likely only do so once — much like life!  Getting you all riled up about everything that is so wrong and right about it.  The difference is you could play it again if you wanted to – change all your choices – even develop a mod to change the game.  Game only, not life.  Or maybe.  I don’t know.

Kudos to the Canadian indie gaming company for creating such an interesting experience that had so many people talking on the internet about life choices.  It’s cheap, it’s short (unless you don’t use the help guides for that damn boxing interval), it’s – not cheerful.  An ending (or endings) worthy of some good ol’ English Lit deconstruction on self-love vs. all the other alternatives. This game got me thinking that lit writers, who aren’t feeling enough love from the paper publishing industry, might want to start turning their attention this way.  PC games today may still favour violence and a blatant disregard for logic but this game demonstrates that an absurd world also provides a lot of potential for playing with, and for, greater and more twisted storytelling.

Reminiscent to this game is the latest poem featured on the lywTube channel, Happy as Monsters, by Lauren Mascitelli: a happy, urban gothic trip wonderfully illustrated by the artist herself.  Please check out the poetry video:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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When the Plug gets Unplugged, a poem by Kim Hyesoon

Photo by Henrik Donnestad, Unsplash.com

War and horror – and everything underlying – happens for a species like ours.  We’ve got a long history of it.  Bad habits die hard they say.  That’s why I say, when you see an expression of the grotesque in art, don’t be so quick to turn the eyes from it.  Not always, of course.  For the kind of art that ONLY wants to be shocking or gross — I’d rather spare my senses.

However, in Kim Hyesoon’s poem, When the Plug gets Unplugged, it’s not her fault if the grotesque is the inevitable result of her subject. I might get squeamish and back away from her imagery but I can still follow an honest, human voice trying to explain and share a painful reality with me.

The poem seems to be about the aftermath of a war, a battle, probably atomic.  But is it that simple?  Could it actually be a metaphor of any kind of traumatic loss or suffering?  An ugliness or hurt that connects all of us whether we’ve been through war or not.

I’ve never experienced war.  I’ve read about it.  Seen documentaries that gave me nightmares.  I stare at a poem like this and just wonder.  Is it really that grotesque?  Or just part of what we all are?  It is a mess.  Should I be surprised?  Given our human history?  That our imperfections can be that vivid?  And can we accept them?  In order to start cleaning up somehow.  She’s asking for a flame thrower or act of God.  Any better ideas?

If art is meant to be an expression of our humanity then it certainly won’t always be beautiful.  If I look closely enough at this poem, put aside the repulsion, I may recognize something of my own ugliness and horror that I am turning away from and refusing to deal with.

The latest poetry video on the lywTube channel is a piece from this poem.  I do invite everyone to check out the full poem on the Missing Slate journal website.

Check out the poetry video at this link:

© lyw 

Expedition into 2014

I’m getting ready to write something important to me and, of course, that means I’m procrastinating.  A nicer way to look at it is that I’m attacking the beast from the side.

After several weeks of a trickling work flow, I called a stop and told myself to go back to doing something a little productive, and less daunting.

I have a stack of hand-written semi-professional writing journals spanning roughly the last 5 years that need transcription into an e-form.  Why?

  1. Find and Destroy evidence of any stupidity.
  2. Salvage any ideas that I can develop.
  3. Retain a relevant chronicle of myself – the stuff that I think will be important for me to remember in years to come, even if it means keeping some of my stupidity.
  4. Purge the remaining fluff.

Transcribing old journals is like cleaning out and reorganizing your closet.  What kind of closet you have depends on what kind of journal you keep.  Is it for a specific project?  Is it emotional therapy?  Stream-of-consciousness?  The main purpose of a journal for this writer is to observe my day for anything I might be able to grow as an idea.  That’s the goal.  Usually starts with ranting.

So, transcribing journals is a good job to take on while I’m procrastinating.  It can lead to a forgotten idea or lead me back to the roots of my current ideas.  There is a high risk of wallowing in the past while transcribing and I need to be mindful not to linger anywhere too long; try to look at the content with detachment.  If a good idea from the past cannot help me look at my present or future with some difference, such ideas are impossible to activate and therefore useless baubles.

Yesterday, I was digging through 2014, dealing with the mind of a girl trying to hammer out a small book of poems – and as always, herself.  I had some funny moments during the transcription.  One where I thought I was brilliant.  Declared myself my own biggest fan – which I know is a very small club – but was proud to lead, at least, yesterday.  It’s a great feeling to not recognize something that I wrote and to think, ‘Hey, that was pretty good!”

And then there were the many other moments when I thought I sounded and looked (due to the quality of the handwriting) like a lunatic.  Must have been my stream of consciousness exercises where I was just throwing out things that came to mind without any context.  Thinking of George Harrison from the Beatles when I write that.  He said in an interview that after taking LSD he realized expanding his mind through chemicals was limited and there had to be a better way without them.  And if a Beatle said that, then you know it must be true … (just kidding).  My point is that journaling is a very healthy and chemical-free way of not so much expanding your mind but exploring your mind, your subconscious and your soul – if you believe in that sort of thing.  Go as far out as you want.

Through journaling, I’ve had a life-long and close friendship with myself which I believe translates into stronger self-awareness than people who don’t.  Through transcribing this friendship, I return to lessons I’ve forgotten, and as a result, I don’t need to wonder why I continue to repeat into my present day.  But it’s not just a nice feeling — it’s a useful feeling — to find that I can still respect and enjoy where I have been despite my mistakes.

lyw

 

Photo by Xiang Gao on Unsplash

Ali’s Song: an old call for peace re-Activated

The latest poet to be featured on the lyw Youtube channel is a peace activist.  Michael R. Burch has many other titles but the selected poems that have been translated into lywtube all sound this particular chord.

Ironically, I received the green light from Mr. Burch to illustrate his poems about the same time that PBS ran their Vietnam War documentary series by Ken Burns and Lynn Novak; a series that showed people from all different sides of that war who were so sure they were right at one time and not so sure at the end.  It is a very well-rounded and thorough documentary guaranteed to make me shamefully thankful that I don’t know war and hate to that extreme.

The poems, like this documentary series, do not make me regret taking time for very somber subject matter.  I consider it a privilege.  They remind me that the world is still healing from a past that we inherited.  The poet and the film-makers presented the subjects through intimate, human perspective, like meeting an injured family member who needs me to listen and care for him/her rather than some cold horror being reported on the evening news.

The first poetry video, Ali’s Song, is a poem that depicts Muhammad Ali’s stand against the draft into the Vietnam War and for equality.  The second poetry video, Survivors, is a short yet powerful perspective on the definition of a survivor.  The third, Something, is a poem dedicated to the children of the Holocaust and Nakba.  The first poetry video is loud, rhythmical and strong.  The other two are shorter but slower and quiet.

Ali’s Song … I hesitate to summarize anything about Muhammad Ali or his relationship with his country.  However, that stand he made makes a great ruler to measure oneself by.  Read the story (a version), ask yourself what or who you think was right?  What was wrong?  What would you have done?  He had so many people telling him he was wrong and so many reasons to doubt his decision.  And if he ever did, he didn’t show it.

I hope that I should be so ready to take as strong a stand as he did when an equally important choice is presented to me — and, that I am not wrong in my decisions.  That’s just it, isn’t it?  Yeah, we need more champions today, for sure, but with information being so suspect these days, how do we make sure what we do is right?

Ali’s public image as a heavyweight champion didn’t leave much room for talk about his soul and relationship with God but I think he would have really liked the references in this poem dedicated to him.

The other two poetry videos speak for themselves.  They may be a lot quieter and slower than Ali and Ali’s Song but they are just as strong.

I would like to invite you to please check out these new poetry videos on the lyw channel. The text is best viewed in the highest HD setting in Youtube.

Ali’s Song, a poem by Michael R. Burch:

2. Survivors, a poem by Michael R. Burch:

3. Something, a poem by Michael R. Burch:

© lyw 

Reading the text of Alicia Jo Rabins

Alicia Jo Rabins is a writer, musician, composer, performer and Torah teacher.   She is one of the first poets featured on the lyw Youtube channel who dips directly and deeply into religion.  In these featured pieces you will find some very nice, sharp balances :  the big story – fragmented; a guide to life made personal, individual and introspective; ancient echoes of the past aligned with a modern life.

The poem, Florida, especially rang this way for me.  At first, it seems a simple poem about an individual and common feeling of longing, however, now I consider it a look at a society that has learned to desire shiny baubles in such a profound way.

In the second poetry video, Ancient Studies: Coliseum Ghosts, the poet seems to be reconciling ancient wisdom with modern reality.  I do not know the Torah and it is clear she writes about something very specific.  But what did I find in this poem?  A quiet character thinking about how time stretches connects her present life to old wisdom and how well they align.  Also, I easily indulged the poem to be that of a writer, like myself, trying to write worth her salt today while minding the legacy of the masters before her.  It’s a fine balance to learn from your masters and also have the courage to be your own.

I invite you to please enjoy these two poetry videos on the lyw Youtube channel your way.

1. Florida – Alicia Jo Rabins

2. Ancient Studies: Coliseum Ghosts – Alicia Jo Rabins

the Lit Twit: a poetry campaign on Twitter

So ima gonna tweet once a weekday for a month; see if I can’t blow out or up a decent tune about poetry.

To date, I have only used Twitter as a supplementary tool to my blog.  But no longer!  The bird will take centre-stage on September 4, marking the beginning of a little poetry campaign through Twitter.  I’ve renamed my Twitter account to the Lit Twit in honour of the campaign.  During the Lit Twit campaign, I will tweet a couple lines of poetry (classical, contemporary and obscure), ending each week with the persistent question: Why do We Read / Write Poetry?  A question that is open to anybody’s answer.

Let’s face it, Twitter is pretty severe for writers.  WORDY writers, if that’s what you want to call me.  140 character limit?  Why bother?  Was my common thought.

But you know what I’ve learned to love about this limitation?  I can amplify a piece of poetry that would not have nearly the same volume within the body of a larger whole.  In fact, an isolated line of poetry in the frame of a tweet becomes almost like a visual message.

Poems tend to literally look a lot alike – a column with the right side in a waving line if you don’t justify your text.  The longer and denser the poem, the more it looks like nothing more than a big column, never mind the text.  And quite honestly, since I have a generational sickness of a short attention span, I am less inclined to dig in when poetry looks like that.

I chipped off a piece of a big marble column and presented that instead of the whole column it would certainly have a more unique shape and the size would be less daunting.  That piece’s texture and particular veins might become more striking by this isolation.  A small piece of poetry can often feel very big.

And it’s not like a haiku.  I’ve cut a piece of poetry out of a larger whole.   The places where I cut enhance the viewer/reader experience, especially if you stop to imagine what the rest of the column must have looked like; what the rest of the poem might have been saying.

All the living and at large poets who have granted me permission to recreate their poetry on Youtube have also granted permission to quote their work during this campaign.  George Elliott Clarke, the Parliamentary Poet Laureate of Canada, included.  We affectionately tweet him as GEC.  I want to publicly thank him again for being so supportive.  And the pieces that I struck from his larger poems, are really going to sing as tweets.

During this campaign, I’m also going to share my love for some masterful poets that until a few years ago were unknown to me.

Do you know Adunis?  Aka Alī Aḥmad Saʿīd ‘Isbar?  Can’t believe I stumbled upon one of his poems by accident a couple of years ago and he could have easily gone unnoticed my whole life.  Today, I am a large and growing fan.  It amazes me how his work can be both simple and complex at the same time.  His poetry feels alive and moving.  Flows like thoughts from my own head but shares, clearly, somebody else’s experience.

And Mr. Gerard Manley Hopkins?  Spellbinder. That’s what I call him.  Read Windhover loud and out loud and, hopefully, you get something of what I did from that poem.  Can’t believe I’d never read his work until a few years ago as well.

So, some classical, some ‘obscure’ (to me anyway), some contemporary and some GEC all in a month of poetweeting.

If you are into Twitter and poetry, or think you could be, please find this campaign at #LillianYWong (aka the Lit Twit) starting September 4!

© lyw

light bulb image c/o Alvaro Serrano at Unsplash.com

Links to the works of some of our campaign’s featured poets:

drums, electric guitar and See Wern Hao

See Wern Hao is the latest, living and active poet to grant me permission to recreate two pieces of his poetry as video on Youtube.  Given his penchant for quoting popular music as inspiration for his work both poetic pieces are complimented with dramatic, rock-esque music.

Promoting poetry on Youtube is still a slow build for me but these young, vital poets keep me going.  While pursuing a degree in law and liberal arts, See Wern Hao is keeping his lit lit by participating in the 2017 Singapore Writers Festival and scattering his work, like seeds, over the fields of social media and online journals.  He is everything that I think a young writer should be: active, available, smart, keeping busy and out of trouble.  I totally made up the last part.  I have no idea how much trouble he gets into.  I do know that when I was in school, I spent a little too much of my time ‘doing something close to nothing, but different than the day before’ [quote from Raspberry Beret, Prince].  I also held the immature idea back then that all I needed to do to be a great writer was hone my craft — which included getting into interesting experiences to write about — and somehow and someway, publishers would find my talent like a beacon calling out to them.  I was not nearly as active or in tune to my other options as Mr. Hao.

I also don’t know for a fact that See Wern Hao is all the things that I claim he is.  I say it because I see it in the body of work that he has produced of himself online.  I see it in his commitment to his poetry.  It’s one thing to spread your work around and another to hone your craft.  Two completely different things.  He’s got the right balance and I can’t wait to see how his craft and career grows in years to come.

I am amazed to follow after this next generation of poets when just a few years ago I honestly believed that all our great poets were from older generations or generations gone by and poetry was a wilting art.

Please check out below the two new videos on the lyw Youtube channel … a channel exploring the online potential for shared and sharing literary works.  **Videos are best seen in the highest HD setting otherwise the text looks blurry.

1. a poet is only madness … a poem by See Wern Hao

2. Home of the Professional Dreamers … a poem by See Wern Hao

© lyw 

Thank you to Unsplash.com for the use of their beautiful library of hi-res photography in the making of these videos.

digging up old ideas

Recently, on the way to my day job, I remembered a film script idea that I had about 10 years ago.  I went digging for that old idea in my files and couldn’t find it.  I am sure I left it in the past for a reason and shouldn’t be too concerned by the loss.  Good or bad, though, I would still like to see it again.

It’s funny how a creative idea that was never realized always feels precious like a rough gem.  It could have been the worst idea in the world but as a fledgling bad idea it always has the potential to be magnificent.  Funny, still, how I feel more attached towards ideas from my past than people from my past.  Perhaps this is because people are not within my control, whereas an idea is — or should be – can be?  If nothing comes of my idea, I am the only one to blame.  I am that idea’s only hope.  Nobody would have that idea quite like me.  Certainly, nobody would love my idea quite like me.

Funny on funny.  Because, again, if I had developed those ideas into the ugly monstrosities that usually occur when I develop script or novel ideas then that preciousness would be lost.

I did a major purge of creative files a few years ago mainly because I was advised that it was a very healthy thing to do for writers.  This purge promised to help me to:

  1. Let go of the past that is keeping me from experiencing the present or having any mind for the future.
  2. If I have been dogging on a story for years and not getting anywhere, remember that I am mortal; my time here is finite.
  3. Realize that an idea that is 10 years old or older probably has little relevance to me now or would need to be turned into a new idea to suit who I am as a writer.
  4. Consider that since I probably have at least a few creative ideas a year — if all of my undeveloped ideas continued to follow after me, year after year, like tin cans attached to my waist with strings – I’d make such a royal din everywhere I went.
  5. Accept that some ideas are just bad and deserve to be put to rest.  I don’t know if I can ever believe this statement.  After all, aren’t I the bad one if I can’t make something out of one of my brilliant ideas?

**Important Note: I’m only talking about literary ideas.  An idea such as doing your own amateur household electrical or medical surgery.  No.  Don’t do it.

I think the lesson learned is that if I should have a good literary idea then I should develop it immediately.  Embrace the sucking, as They say, and just do it — so it doesn’t follow after me for years and I don’t suffer the regret of needing to purge them. I bet some sort of angel or spirit weeps every time an idea dies before it’s even given a chance.

Ultimately, there is wisdom to this funny business.  Whenever I have tried to develop a creative concept into a novel or script it has grown into a hairy kind of Frankenstein with lots of heads, arms and legs and eventually feels beyond my control to develop any further.

I do believe, though have not yet proven, that I must persevere long enough to see the beauty in the ugly reality of my idea.  That’s life, isn’t it?  An idea is an ideal.  The ideal is perfection.  Longer creative pieces will never turn out the way I had it in mind.  The writer and the story develop together and the reality will always come out differently.  The reality is where I will learn and test the truth about me, my story and my perspective on this life.  Time is a factor as well.  The act of stretching out an idea through linear time, page after page, scene after scene — it does stuff to an idea.  It applies maddening and rigid logic to the abstract.

Obviously, if my storytelling craft adhered to a popular formula or template the work and product would be different.  Ideas, I imagine, would have a clearer and smaller path to follow to completion.  Kudos to writers who can successfully write longer creative pieces within a template.  My monsters have always managed to escape such prisons.

And those are the few times when I have actually been very proud of my monstrosities.

© lyw 

Photography credits:

Dave Michuda

Nirzar Pangarkar

commas: the tracks that stalk the lone writer

Image result for comma clipartFor the life of me, no matter how hard I try, how many times I edit or how long I take to publish, blogging without the help of an editor always leaves me with useless commas running around my text.  I don’t know how they get there!  I don’t know how I miss them during my own editing process.

Sometimes I choose to write in fragmented sentences because I prefer to write like I speak whether it’s grammatically correct or not.  However, there’s no good reason to have extra commas.  It’s not cute.  It’s not casual.  It’s just wrong and annoying. Periodically, I also suffer from being a semi-colon fool.  Since I don’t speak with a stammer, I must stammer in thought or think in a stop-n-go style.  This could explain a lot about my issues with longer creative pieces. Oddly, my business writing does not suffer nearly as much from these short, staccato uuhh’s damaging my flow – it’s true, I swear!  I suspect this is because I find less to hesitate about.

Image result for comma clipartRegardless, useless commas are the most annoying thing about my blogging experience and expound the importance of the editor.  In fact, if editors can save me from those maddening track marks, they should get equal, if not higher, credit for the work.

I am often faced with dualities when it comes to blogging.  Whenever I see a benefit, there is always an almost equal risk.  The blog’s charm is frequency and immediacy.  It encourages me to leave the past in the past, write for the present and keep an eye to the future.

However, this freedom doesn’t provide the same level of polish and quality that would come from a traditional, slower form of publication and processing from established publishing companies or larger publications.  Lone bloggers generally don’t have editing and marketing talent behind them.

comma%20clipartHowever to that, there is more creative freedom in a less restricted environment such as a blog.  I’m grateful for the way social media has loosened me up (a little) to imperfection and being ‘out’ instead of hidden in that small place in this world where I silently write. Social media provides access to a lot of other great writers and ideas as well as venues to develop a personal craft, story and following.

However, the literary arts industry is already small, and possibly shrinking, suggesting that online writers and publishers need to ally themselves with traditional, industry-standard publishers and academic partners to keep this market growing.

However, blogs in a blog aren’t meant to be permanent and often serve as a prelude to more important work or ideas. A cooking blog is meant to guide us to the more important work of cooking rather than admiring the blog (although, there is an unusual trend of people who would rather stare at pictures of good cooking than make it themselves). My literary blog is aimed at chewing on another literary piece or ideacomma%20clipart not the blog itself.  Is it then worth getting a 3rd party editor to go through this stuff?  Yes. At this point, I say, yes.  Just because those commas are driving me mad!  Blogs don’t need to be Nobel-prize winning stuff but they should be clean-er.

OR, one day, writers like me must evolve enough to be as much a 3rd party editor as a writer.  Editing while writing is not a good idea because honestly, I don’t think it’s even possible.  Writing needs a pair of fresh eyes to be critical about those little details.  Could I learn to separate myself from me, after the draft, long enough to be an impartial editor to my own work?  That certainly sounds like evolution.

© lyw 

** comma artwork c/o: http://www.clipartpanda.com/categories/comma-clipart

That Bloody Chamber: Feminism, Lit Theory and Angela Carter

Related image

image c/o: www.amazon.com

Since I am recently out from the red velvet fiction of Ms. Angela Carter’s the Bloody Chamber, let’s talk feminist literary fiction and theory.  That bloody chamber is right.

While reading her work, I admired what I detected as a hidden mirth under a proud and defiant spirit; like a Shakespearean Puck character.  The writing is smart, beautiful, and sexy, to boot; regardless of gender.

When I love, then I dissect, literarily not literally.  To get to know this writer better, a closer examination of the writing was needed, beyond the super-girl, sometimes gothic, persona.

And let me tell you there are some downright rock-star moments in this book.  Rockstar, kick-ass, literary fiction. I never thought those adjectives would go together. I love it!  She is her own freakin’ genre.  (We should blog later about the definitions of literary fiction, as they are dubious; in need of an Other.)

I wondered about Ms. Carter and the era she grew up in.  What was she searching for in her stories?  What was she really telling me through her fiction?  This trail brought me back to that word I haven’t used in a long time: feminism.

... the only writer I’ve ever known to make a widowed mother sound like a rock star ...: It was a confrontational word back when I knew it and when she was living it; there’s no doubt in my mind that it was. But she willingly put herself in that fight by claiming the title. Did she?  Just by the stories she chose to publish in that Bloody Chamber: I think, yes.  But how did she do it?  Happily, defensively, aggressively, angrily? I am sure she needed a high level of certainty about who she was in order to write so sharply, almost like she couldn’t afford doubt.

While I was in school, whenever feminism came up throughout the history of English Literature, from antiquity, Middle Ages, etc, I felt I was being asked to define who I was as a woman, and if I couldn’t, then I had to confess ignorance of my sex and its role in shaping human history.

I was too inexperienced to honestly consider feminism on a personal level.  I was also too busy trying to prove academic opinions when I barely knew enough to have any.   The thesis statement: another bloody chamber.

I eventually learned that I don’t need to be defensive, or offensive, to be comfortable in my definition of myself as an intelligent woman because I make my mark everyday by how I choose to be. ie. Today, this is what a woman does.  Tomorrow, this is what a woman does. And some days are stupider than others.  I adhere to that highly ideal and poetic theory that each one of us essentially define all through being one.  But I appreciate that I enjoy this relaxed stance because those history-making fights for women’s rights, in the Western world, had already been waged for me.

Was Ms. Carter’s fierce brilliance a little defensive?  Her fairy tales leave a lot unsaid. Fairy tales generally do.  To go further into a fairy tale character might reveal an ordinariness behind that magic designed to dazzle us into following after her.  I personally love it when legends become huggable but, sometimes, it is not easy to be both tough and soft.

P.S. On a side but interesting note, after noticing a few references to the Bible — ‘a mark of Cain,’ ‘Eve’s sin’, etc. — in the Bloody Chamber, I wondered if in the process of finding her sense of identity as a feminist and writer, in her era of individualism and defiance for the status quo, Ms. Carter wanted to challenge the biggest male – and arguably literary — presence in her Western culture as an equal — and that would be God.  Now, that’s a pretty big statement but an interesting chew, not just for her, but her generation of writers. Whenever literary fiction has taken direct aim at religion there might be a case to be made for these writers wanting to face their own ‘God’ for an ultimate self-revelation.  Think of the way religion was used as a form of repression during her lifetime.  I might be onto something. Wonder what my former Lit profs would think of that thesis statement …

P.P.S.  Was surprised that I could not find any satisfying illustrations inspired by this book …

© lyw 

summer somewhere on lywtube

a fragment from a long poem by Danez Smith

a fragment from a long poem by Danez Smith

Summer, somewhere is a poem with a slow build like a quiet voice speaking up in the corner of an empty room.  Please check out the below link to this poetry video and give it time to build.  Towards the middle it blooms into something intimate and thoughtful and emotionally intelligent.

Pieces of this long poem, by Danez Smith, are currently featured on the lyw Youtube channel, including a 2nd poem entitled, it doesn’t feel like a time to write. 

I met Danez online during research for the 2015/2016 poetry campaign that launched the said Youtube channel.  He is a young, active and talented poet producing as well as performing poetry live and online.

a poem by Danez Smith

a poem by Danez Smith

Poetry freshly pressed, virtually and dynamically in video, and also a poet fresh and too young to need pressing: a combination I rarely find when I look for poetry.  But we’re going to change that, right?  I’m on the hunt for those young, or old (<–can’t be prejudice against my own kind), living, contemporary, and active poets who are interested in a growing, revitalized poetry market, one that isn’t niche, almost private or somebody’s sentimental hobby but one that is on the immediate pulse of our daily lives and modern zeitgeist.

I’ve copied below my favourite quotes as a sampler to the videos:

from the poem summer, somewhere by Danez Smith:

there, I knew how to swim but couldn’t.

there, men stood by shore & watched me blue.
there, I was a dead fish, the river’s prince.

there, I had a face & then I didn’t.
there, my mother cried over me

but I wasn’t there. I was here, by my own
water, singing a song I learned somewhere

south of somewhere worse. that was when
direction mattered. now, everywhere

I am is the center of everything.
I must be the lord of something.

what was I before? a boy? a son?
a warning? a myth? I whistled

now I’m the God of whistling.
I built my Olympia downstream.

from summer, somewhere by Danez Smith:

if you press your ear to the dirt
you can hear it hum, not like it’s filled

with beetles & other low gods
but like a mouth rot with gospel

& other glories. listen to the dirt
crescendo a boy back.

Link to poetry video of ‘summer, somewhere’ by Danez Smith:

 

Link to poetry video ‘It doesn’t feel like a time to write’ by Danez Smith:

© lyw  

an Open Letter

image c/o http://i.ebayimg.com/

image c/o ebay

[Recently, I remembered a passage from a poem entitled, ‘Open Letter to the South,’ by Langston Hughes, which I honour as an example of what I think is great about the American spirit.

Inspired by this recollection, I decided to write my own open letter to the United States of America to continue Mr. Hughes’ dialogue on hope, unity and openness.  It is clear to me, throughout Hughes’ work, that he never gave up hope even though he felt often tested.  This hope probably gave him his sharpest pain and yet he held on to that hope, showing so much courage and fortitude. Even in his bleakest poems, you can feel that hope keeping him writing. This passion riding on top of his craftsmanship?  Of course, he’s my favourite poet.  This creative letter ends with that noted passage from the poem:]

November 9th, 2016

Dear America,

Both you and my own city have done some things in the past few years that I don’t quite understand.  Regardless of the difference in sizes, I feel as though both our societies have been seeking new answers to more than just economics and politics.  This growing feeling of uncertainty has recently led me to reflect more on the things that I am certain about when it comes to you — and me.

Please allow me this moment to share with you, as you venture forward into this new chapter of your history, what this Canadian writer loves most about America.  This Canadian writer loves:

  1. The history of American art and culture.
  2. The history of American sub-culture and the American teenager.
  3. The legacy of Eleanor and Franklin D. Roosevelt.
  4. The American fight to define freedom and individual value.

From where I live, considering how much my life has been influenced by American art and culture, I know I would not be me without you.  Before I knew anything about identity or language, I was surrounded by American culture.  I survived my adolescent years under your willful banner and I estimate that at least 30% of my academic and literary studies were steeped in Americano.

Let’s face it: the first teenager must have been American.  Some kind of rebellious spirit has always sung out of everything grim and great moment of your last century and helped to develop an incredible range in music, art, story and sport.  You have always had an unyielding need to express individuality, despite societal demands for money and guns and other such short-term and limited methods of gain and communication.  A subculture isn’t necessarily a good thing but I think their existence indicates a society that is strong enough to question and validate its authority and status quo; and thus in a better position to evolve; though in an often defiant way.

America, you are a society where a voice will find the strength to rise and prevail, despite whatever odds, and actually win, many times.  Lots of people fight for freedom and rights; few have been as successful as you.  You pave roads literally and figuratively for physical, mental and artistic transportation in a way that no other country has.

Sometimes, you have been accused of arrogance and aggression; of being both culprit and champion for freedom and individual rights. Ironically, and rather poetically, some of your fiercest battlegrounds appear to have been against yourself, being party to the kind of oppression that inspires you to take a stand.

A few months ago, I saw a great documentary series on the Roosevelts which reminded me of two great leaders whose like this world has not seen in a very long time. Eleanor and Franklin D. Roosevelt were two humans who accomplished many great things for more than themselves.  They were not perfect and made mistakes yet their legacy reminds me that I don’t have to fear failure in pursuit of my greatest goals because I can do just as much damage and suffer just as much disappointment by settling for something easier, safer and more common. Both of these leaders had reason and opportunity to settle for more common and smaller lives.  If FDR had let his disability daunt him or if Ms. Roosevelt had accepted the limitations set upon her gender, my life, I’m sure, would have suffered, if not theirs.

America, like the Roosevelts, has not been perfect yet you are a country where perfection has more freedom to seek itself.  You are a country of new beginnings for new immigrants sprung from traditions that have travelled from and to almost every part of this world. Your dominant language, English, is an amalgamation of those new and old ideas and ideals.  In fact, might I suggest that your cultivation technique for ideas, finding a way to bloom regardless of your circumstances, is perhaps your greatest resource and strength.

Dear America, please continue to be united as the states of America and under your banner continue to kindle the defining process for freedom and courage for all, although, personally, I would prefer your methods be through love and art rather than guns and politics.  Remembering who you were when I was young, what will you be today and tomorrow?

I end this open letter with a quote from one of your greatest poets:

We did not know that we were brothers.
Now we know!
out of that brotherhood
Let power grow!
We did not know
That we were strong.
Now we see
In union lies our strength.
Let unions be
The force that breaks the time-clock,
Smashes misery,

excerpt from ‘Open Letter to the South’ – by Langston Hughes

Sincerely,

Lillian

 

salsa-dancing as a civilian defense

civilian defenses is a poem about salsa-dancing as a defense against the extreme highs and lows of life; an anchor, especially for private citizens within a large, urban society.

Most times, salsa is danced for merely recreation, exercise and  socialization.

When things are either too much or too little in one’s life or in one’s city or country, why in the world would one stop to dance salsa?  How can salsa be a civilian defense?  And against what?

If you are too passionate, too angry, too desperate or too high in whatever way, salsa can refocus you and your energy into a very specific time, place and activity.  The real risk of physically turning you and your partner into a hot mess keeps you at attention.

If you are too low, too sad or too numb from whatever you are going through, salsa warms the blood, forces breath into our most held breath and gets the eyes blinking again.

Either way, salsa reconnects the body and mind to some other part of the world outside of ourselves and is a reminder, when we need that reminder, that we are vitally alive and not alone.

It is a peculiar thing that human recreations (ie. jazz, blues, baseball, boxing) have often been strengthened during  difficult times in human history.  It is a peculiar thing to witness humans reach for sport or the arts when they feel they have little else to reach for.

… an interesting observation that started this poem for me several years ago. Please check out the below poem, stirred up with a little colour and sound, in a little video on Youtube.  

(P.S. the text displays best using the HD setting in Youtube):

*dance art painting c/o Andres Giraldo at salsaycontrol.com

© lyw 

 

 

The Art of Drawing a Weapon

image c/o imdb.com

image c/o imdb.com

Ralph Steadman learned to draw not to make pretty pictures but to apply drawing like a weapon; to invite people to observe his world and actively think and act upon it.

In the documentary film, For No Good Reason, Ralph Steadman is shown starting a picture with a splash of ink on a canvas.  He explains that when he doesn’t know what to do, he does that.  Some artists may think that sounds like – a poorly-planned composition. Objectively, there is little that could dispute that.  Nevertheless, throughout the documentary we get to see what Steadman makes out of such a random act:  and his career, his talent and his body of work is also, indisputably, impressive.

This is a refreshing documentary that advocates on the abstract side of art; the value of bringing a haunted image out of our imagination for us to have in material or digital form.  And this is not just abstract art.  This is abstract art often driven with a personal message from an artist who is not shy about his opinions be it politics, war, society or anything else.

A great abstract or conceptual artist, to me, is somebody who creates beyond the aim for beauty, skill, craft and ego, and has enough beauty, skill, craft and ego to pull that off.  The great thing about art like this is that there is nothing to measure it by.  It either says something to you or it doesn’t.  It either excites you or it doesn’t.  To discuss how good the art is, or to compare styles or skill, is irrelevant and almost stupid.  Just look at it; take what you will and move on.

That Steadman has art skills is beside the point because his stand-out gift is that he can draw a story that no photograph or other human eye could capture.   How?  Well, I guess, first, he let himself.

An artist who would never start a composition without a plan will also never know what he/she could do in a similar situation.

Stream-of-consciousness writing is the most similar concept for writers: just spewing, or spewing off a subject, until something usable comes out.  I lost interest in this type of exercise a long time ago because I wound up weeding through a whole lot of crap.  However, I’m glad to know it’s a tool in my holster if I ever want to explore that side of me again.   Though my skills may not be good enough to make ‘art’ out of random acts, stream-of-consciousness is still a great exercise in mental and emotional cleansing.  Writing coaches often recommend this exercise to get motors rolling and to cure writer’s block.

Honestly, I think an artist needs a little more than just skill to pull off art like this. The artist also needs a high level of faith and trust that the artist is going to find something from that starting place of nothing.

I recommend this documentary for any kind of artist, even if you find abstract art offensive.  His reasons, for starting with no reason, are fascinating and his career and dedication to his craft is inspirational. I can see how his style is very good at keeping an artist’s mind hungry and courageous about and during the creative process.  It seems to have kept Steadman very agile and youthful.

I will end this short blog with some favourite quotes from the film:

  • I go out of my way to make something that is as unexpected to me as anyone else. 
  • Anything can exist on that piece of paper.
  • You can start something and not know how it’s going to come out in the end. If you did, what is the point of doing it?

© lyw 

The Fiction between being Young and Adult

The book selling industry can sometimes come up with strange categories to help consumers make novel choices.

The last category to bemuse me is called, New Adult Fiction (too old to be a teenager; too young to be … what?  Like me?!?)

Upgrading this classification system, for helping people to identify themselves and their preferred novels, seems a strange paradox of providing many options while narrowing them down to a few.

Many years ago, when I was a teenager, I got a job at a Coles bookstore.  In this little bookstore, where I barely worked, a ‘New Adult Fiction’ section did not exist. The Young and Adult Fiction sections were purposely divided only for cautionary reasons.  One was, for the most part, grossly simplified and stereotyped and the other was explicitly grossly simplified and stereotyped.  Everything else in between was just fiction, unless already caught by a fan-favourite genre like Mystery, Science Fiction / Fantasy, etc.  At the time, the Mystery Section had already spawned a sub-genre called Suspense. Later, I started seeing Thrillers and Psychological Thrillers.  The weirdest genre I ever saw was called ChickLit.  I’ve never read any of the books in this category but apparently, it raised some controversy.

The youth section, back in my youth, was called the Young Adult (YA) section.  Any fiction for those younger than pre-teen went to the Children’s section. Though there were a few good novels slotted in Young Adult, like S.E.Hinton’s, The Outsiders, generally, the Young Adult section was pretty pulpy (starting us young on those pre-processed carbs).

The Adult Fiction section was very specific, too.  It was on a high shelf and consisted of two rows and in plain sight of the cash register desk.  I think I remember some of them having sleeves to conceal part of the book cover, too.

Today, Adult Fiction has broadened in definition, depending on where you buy books.  It is no longer simply a discreet way of separating erotica from hands that may be too young.  Adult fiction can also mean fiction that involves adults or adult concerns (whatever that means).  New Adult Fiction means fiction for ‘newly-made’ adults: people who are fresh out of school, assuming that they all went to school, and learning how to be independent.

I see how these fiction categories are trying to help readers make choices, however, to me, a good novel is a good novel.  The Lord of the Rings should be in the same section as To Kill a Mocking Bird.  

This opinion is, admittedly, not that practical.  Some people really like wizards and they should be able to easily buy books that have wizards in them and not swim through a hundred other books that clearly have absolutely no wizards.

Categories and sub-categories, are also especially practical for large, physical bookstore.  These stores are huge and it would be exhausting to browse the entire store for a book with wizards in it.  E-bookstores, however, can offer key word searches to help consumers pinpoint exactly what they seek without needing to make more precise categories to help them.

Practicality aside, part of the beauty of reading a fictional story is opening ourselves up to the unknown — at least a little.  The more we already know about what’s in the book, the less imagination and wonder that goes in.  This strongly applies to writers as much as readers.

My favourite way to choose a book is to read the back and a few pages and see if it grabs me enough to go a little further.

Imagine you were searching for a new partner.  You’re single and want companionship.  You think you know what you want and you look for it.  But imagine getting exactly what you want in somebody. That somebody has nothing new to offer, hasn’t any of his/her own thoughts, ideas or desires that go outside of your own expectations.  This might suffice for some people but imagine the flip-side: You meet somebody who has some things that you can safely expect, and want, yet this somebody introduces you to new and wonderful ideas and experiences that you could not have imagined on your own.  I think it was in the film/theatre play, Six Degrees of Separation, that suggested that people are like doors or doorways that lead you to new and strange places.  Let the cover of a novel be that door.  Check it out.  Venture in a little.  It won’t hurt (hopefully) and it may lead to a pleasant and transformative surprise.

In the case of classifying fiction towards a particular age group, maybe I’m paranoid (actually, I’m pretty sure I am), but I see a subtle risk here. The lucky books that get to fill these categories such as ‘Young Adult’ indirectly imply that these books define not only the genre but the concerns and likes of this age group and what it means to be this age group; thus it becomes creatively and socially stifling.  Keeping precise categories hinders the category’s ability to grow and creates fixed expectations.

I have actually read many Children’s Fiction novels as an adult such as, the Little Prince, Peter Pan and Alice in Wonderland, and found these novels had a lot of secrets and wisdom that would be lost if not read as an adult.  I’m glad I don’t feel the need to be a child to pick up these books. 😛

Unfortunately, the flip-side is not true.  I don’t think children should venture into Adult Fiction, new, or otherwise, to be adventurous.  If we really want a useful new definition for the ‘Adult’ label in bookstores, it should just be an aid to children to not be bothered, any earlier than they need to be, by what adults concerns themselves with these days.

Thank you for reading this latest literary chew.

© lyw 

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The Ghost who Haunted Subtly

Tom Gauld

© Tom Gauld c/o:  www.tomgauld.com

Until a few days ago, I did not know that literary fiction was popularly known as boring fiction; challenging, yes; questionable, often; but, not boring.

I was actually preparing a short blog series to celebrate literary fiction when coincidentally during my research I was trying to finish a debut novel of a now, award-winning, literary writer.

Marcel is an eloquent and charming short novel, leaning heavily on the passive side.  The back of the book said the main character is haunted by the mystery of a family member’s life and death.  But there is no haunting.  The boy is not haunted.  More like mildly curious, in a very mute way.  I wasn’t expecting a horror novel but, at least, a character more on edge.

The back of the book also promised me a dramatic discovery of the dead man’s letters yet I was halfway through the novel and no letters.  Novels are not scripts, so it’s okay that this writer did not prescribe to needing the main action to start any time soon.  It’s good to have variety in our media art.  Like having Tolkien’s Ents in our midst.  Instead of letters, I was steeped in poignant and poetic descriptive writing, heavy like the air on a hot summer evening.  This had been enough to get me to buy the book but the lack of motivation could not get me to finish it.  Life is too short.

Subtle is another word used on the back of this book cover.  Yes, I got the subtle.  Subtle and passive.  A challenging combination for any writer to maintain for even half of this short novel especially for my generational sickness of a short attention span.

I said in my last blog that I feel like I meet writers in their fiction and that this is one of the most interesting ways of meeting another person.  How interesting a story is depends on how skilled the writer is and how much a writer is willing to give of him or herself.  I can’t believe that some writers just aren’t interesting.  If I’m not interested in a book either it’s not my type, or more likely, it’s because the writer is holding back or some thing is holding the writer back.

2299293

Book Cover image c/o: http://www.goodreads.com/

Marcel is the first novel of a writer who was probably fresh out of school.  While reading it, I felt like I was meeting a writer who didn’t know how to present himself and so instead, presented what he learned in school over a footprint of human history.  At least, I think so.  I never finished the book. The writing is very safe and proper.

I do think this literary novel is boring but it’s still better than anything I could have conceived.  If I had written a novel fresh out of school, I would have come out with some weird, violent metaphor for my soul that would have frightened the daylights out of anybody.  Fortunately, I didn’t have the mental fortitude to go all the way to a full manuscript.  This writer did, and went on to continue to evolve his craft.

Who said all literary fiction had to be good anyway?  Just like, who said all literary writers write on a higher plateau?

Nevertheless, literary fiction is still the art of creative writing in one of its higher forms; when writers reach for this, we are bound to get the crazy bad with the crazy good.   It is still the genre that makes genres and our known archetypes and plot scenarios.

Literary fiction can suck.  However, I believe it is only boring when writers let themselves be held back or discouraged.  Who was that first person to coin the phrase, ‘Embrace the sucking’? Though its origins may be military, I think brave artists take the phrase to a whole new level.

© lyw 

Goth my Grimm: Go Ahead and Make my Day

artwork by Blender84 c/o Deviantart.com

image by Blender84 c/o pinterest.com

I was looking for some light reading and picked an e-book that boasted a modern gothic spin on my favourite childhood fairy tales. Red Riding Hood as a modern day biker!  Goth my Grimm! What a great concept!  I was severely disappointed to find that it was little more than an adolescent attempt at applying erotica to my favourite childhood fairy tales.  Not only did the book not deliver what it said it would; it was also poorly conceived.

What gets me is that these writers were already riding on the backs of incredible stories and thus in a great position to ride right into another great story.  Gothic fiction is not equivalent to erotica and erotica does not have to be equivalent to cheap and stupid. I am amazed at the use of the term ‘adult’ or ‘mature’ to the two-dimensional story-lines and characters that often make the erotica literature genre.  Intelligence, including emotional intelligence, is way sexier; like all things that take more time … and effort … and imagination to get.

For example, think of Bram Stoker’s Dracula: this is a story where both the erotic and gothic successfully merged but did not beat the story to death.  The story is about a vampire and his human victims, how they strive to exist and survive in the same world and how their natures clash.  The Freudian metaphors in this novel are far from subtle yet the story goes without a single, sexual encounter.  In this novel, the gothic and erotic were better developed because the whole story was better developed.  The erotic scenes or elements actually did something to illustrate or develop the story or characters – not just as a result of oh, somebody hot showing up.

When I read the description of this e-book, I was hoping for a more kick-ass version of the damsel-in-distress archetype of Red Riding Hood, exploring a character who takes a more head-on approach to her path from innocence to maturity, and maybe even a reflection on her own primitive nature.  That could have been very sexy.

Our classic fairy tales do what this fantasy-type fiction should have; compare our strangest and most impossible dreams against what we think we can’t do in our waking life regardless of whether we are emphasizing a specific genre in the telling (erotic, gothic, horror, etc.).  This theory does not work with porn because that is not the purpose of this type of literature.  If I was looking for porn and got a great story, instead, I’d have been just as irritated, right? Yet, this e-book seemed to aim for a hybrid between the two and, I guess, due to lack of focus, it failed.

I firmly believe that even the pulpiest writer is looking to eventually get into his/her ‘own’: the kind of stories that go beyond genre, formula or, in this case, using fiction as a tool.  Because writers are artists, too.

Even as a kid, as much as I liked an entertaining, plot-driven story, it was easy to recognize the difference in the stories that momentarily distracted and the ones I cherished; these stories gave more.  These cherished books weren’t all classics or critically acclaimed but they all showed a writer’s passion. Reading a person’s fiction is like stepping into the back of a person’s head.  Because it’s fiction, I’m not stepping into blood, bones and brains; I’m stepping into the dream of that writer’s best craft: following a clever rabbit down his/her proverbial rabbit-hole.  This is true even in the most formulated genre-fiction, if it is written well.  These are the books that make the genres that other writers chase.

In fact, I think even porn could be literary.  The writer just has to try!  First and foremost, pornographic literature needs to have sex in it.  To give its readership anything else for the sake of a better story would just by annoying.  So, in that case, the best approach would be to start the story right in the act.  Don’t even bother explaining who they are or how they got there.  Cut out the superfluous, I always say.  Dialogue?  Forget that, too.  Let the action speak entirely for itself and develop character and conflict based on how the players physically react to each other and their given environment.  With this concept, a pornographic story can still fulfill its purpose and also provide an incredible stretch for any writer to develop a compelling story with such limitations.

I have heard that the type of erotica that I am criticizing in this blog has made a come-back in the market, bolstering fiction sales where the ‘literary’ kind has not.  I must, therefore, accept that my opinion might not be the popular one.  But, I ask, who cares what way the market is swinging, when, as a writer, you have a choice between making a real connection with your readers or just something you think they’ll buy?  Especially when you are already working off another piece of art?  Even a bad piece of art is better than not trying at all.

© lyw 

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A Creative Burst of Fiction on a Seasoned Baked Potato

I have not written a real bite of fiction in years and I wondered if the ability to make-that-believe had been withered too far.  Everybody, writers or not, should write a little fiction, once in a while.  It’s just good exercise.  However, that can be hard to do if we don’t already practice creativity on a daily basis.  Like physical fitness, the less creative we are, the more inclined we are to be even less.  Why?  Why try something different?  Is that really an efficient use of time?

Ironically, try to stay away from creativity – or fitness – for too long, and sure enough, life will demand that you be more creative – or athletic.  For example, bus charging your way needs you to muster a quick burst of energy.  Or, a boss, partner, or nemesis requires a better, or alternative, way of doing, saying, showing something.  And at these times, we do not want our creativity to hobble out of its dilapidated hobbit-hole and start poking at ideas with a tentative stick.  We want our creativity to spring forth and get its nose and paws into everything; all the while barking, drooling and snarling for the affection and attention of our best ideas.

Can anybody out there describe what it feels like to have a creative breakthrough?  Does it feel something like reinventing the whole world?  A new pair of eyes all of a sudden?  To have awe for something so much that attention and motivation are effortless.  Does the world suddenly seem more awake and colourful, if for a moment?

Imagine doing that every day!  It’d feel great but we’d surely combust.  Getting a great creative buzz, despite how good it feels, can also be very disruptive to a daily life.   Reality needs me to come back to earth, too soon and too fast, and refocus on more daily and routine needs.

However, if we train our creativity regularly, like an athlete trains, we could stay more animated more often and still get our jobs done.  For example, if a couch potato suddenly got up and ran 5K, that potato would be cooked!  Ready for sour cream, chives and a dusting of paprika!  A well-trained athlete, however, might treat a 5K run as a warm-up.  There are creative artists out there that engage themselves this way every day.  (But, I hope that never becomes common-place for them.)

Writing, and reading, fiction is a great tool for flexing creativity.  No matter how short it is, fiction requires pure creativity – even when a writer/reader tries to base fiction entirely on fact.  Fiction requires a new version of how things may seem to the writer/reader and always gives a new pair of goggles to look at the world through by the end of the piece.  I have known this fact since the day I fell in love with fiction.

How great those new pair of googles are depends on the level of passion for the piece and the level in which you let yourself believe in what you write/read.

But how do I start, after being away so long and becoming so creatively conservative and slow?

First, I need to remember some basics.  Fiction is not pulled out of the air.  My stories come from only one source and that is me.  Any research, any fantasy or science fiction and any external inspiration have to first be absorbed by me and my perspective before they can enter a story that I write or interpret through reading.

So, I could write a fiction on anything that I am able to imagine but who wants to write about anything they can imagine?  I should write, or read, about something that I care about, or believe I could/should learn to care about. This provides passion for the story and characters that I am building in my mind.  This makes the experience a lot more personal and challenging to write well.

By comparison, it would be easier to write fiction if the subject didn’t matter to me; that is, if I just wanted to tell an entertaining story.  A writer/reader can still get quite a buzz from this kind of story, too.  Unfortunately, for me, that’s always fallen under the category of why don’t I just write about anything?  And hence, I have never found this type of fiction easier to write.  I think eventually, every writer/reader will wants something more personal and challenging — and still be thoroughly entertained.  A beautiful thing about creativity through fiction is that even if you only set out to spin an entertaining yarn, eventually, your own passion will seep into the story.  Fiction is a great way to learn about yourself; to truly read in between the lines, yours and everybody else’s.

However, there is another important given to writing/reading fiction.  After I pick a subject that I care about or think I can care about, I then need to try to read and write about the subject away from myself – try to accept the subject from the different perspectives, settings and situations that are presented or available.  It seems like an odd thing to do but how else are you going to get new creative perspective on something you care about or think you know all about?  How else is it going to become fiction?

So here is one great example as to why creativity, through fiction, can give us a great burst of energy.  It works on some extreme paradoxes.  I start and base my story entirely on me, I then try to distance it as far away from me as my imagination can take me.  With that distance, so many things can happen.  Down the rabbit hole as they say and – well, you have to try it, to believe it.  Thus, the art of making believe.

© lyw 

image credits:

cat image c/o: http://www.funnycatsite.com/pictures/peeking_out_of_my_boot.htm

baked potato image c/o: http://www.partybluprintsblog.com/party-themes/gilded-baked-potato-bar/

spinning yarn image c/o: http://knaughtyknitter.typepad.com/the_knaughty_knitter/spinning/

Alice in Wonderland rabbit image c/o: http://aliceinwonderland.wikia.com/wiki/File:627x900_1669_White_Rabbit_2d_illustration_alice_in_wonderland_rabbit_fantasy_concept_art_picture_image_digital_art.jpg

What are the Odds of Meeting The Numbers Guy?

The chances are good if you were keeping up with the upcoming Toronto Jewish Film Festival, May 5 – 15th, 2016, that advised, ‘If you buy something at The Big Carrot in Toronto, and David is your cashier, he’ll surprise you with an awesome historical fact or math equation based on your total. But there’s more to David than meets the eye.’

However, I just wanted to buy some organic tea that wasn’t grown with a cocktail of pesticides and locked in a plastic tea bag, and lo and behold, as David rings in my tea he begins applying the total of my purchase to a total of measurements that made up the length of a bridge in New York.

As much as I like friendliness and unique characters, city life has made me wary and paranoid.  But before I could start worrying, David pointed to the movie poster on the wall of the Big Carrot and explained that he was the ‘Numbers Guy’ being featured in a short documentary.  I loved that.  He said he had devoted his life to numbers and never imagined that it would get him featured in his own documentary.  He was extremely congenial about his share and only offered more information about the showing when I asked.

Here is some more media coverage on the short documentary and the film festival.  It sounds like it should be a good ticket.  Regardless, if you are in Toronto and want to do a little health food shopping, please take the opportunity to meet this friendly, numeric fellow:

© lyw 

Poetry Found, but not Lost

 

Slide1

Sunset image c/o http://riseonwings.org/

So we conclude the poetry campaign …

Today’s video and blog concludes the poetry campaign on the lyw YouTube channel, having gone for approximately five months.  It’s been a great ride into social media and the business of other poets and artists online.

In five months, I was introduced to the first young, living poet for who I would become a fan.  My research dug up master poets from the past, as well as from different cultures and languages, that would have never existed for me without this campaign.  I animated poems both old and obscure, strange and passionate through music and video; watching some of my own poems dance this way and that.  I connected with strangers online knowing next to nothing about them other than a common interest in art and poetry.

Since the purpose of this campaign was to promote poetry appreciation, it seems ironic that I found my own appreciation was not as active as I thought.  I write  poetry.  I certainly like my own enough.  And I like the poets that helped to form my style and tastes.  Most of these poets are writers who I found when I was an active student of literature; that was over 20 years ago.

Slide2

Horse and Train painting by Alex Colville By Source (WP:NFCC#4), Fair use, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=40007706

With old poetry always evolving, or being discovered, and new poetry constantly being written, I can hardly say I am current.

With reflection, I think I must have assumed that today’s poetry was just like me: an older generation writer holding onto an older generation’s genre and therefore that genre must still be stuck in its past glory.  Thus, I must have further assumed that the poets that I looked up to 20 years ago, made up the same master canon for great poetry today.  My old canon was also limited to what was available to my North American education.  Poetry is international and multi-cultural.

As this campaign’s goal was to stretch the shrinking niche market of poetry; so did my own revitalization begin.  How priceless is that?

I hope that poetry explodes on the Internet.  I think it is the best place for it now.  At this point, it will not make anybody rich.  Writers can be liberated by that fact.  Poetry can be made exclusively for the craft, and certainly NOT made exclusive to a few.

However, there is a risk to poetry storming the Internet.  It is the same risk that many Internet news sites and social media tools are under: too much filler content.  Content for the sake of content should be an Internet sin.  Readers are drowning in this stuff.  Blank space is beautiful and better on the eyes and mind than some of the ‘news’ I have read online.  Pinterest has become one of my favourite social media tools because it values visual content over text.  This may seem contradictory for a writer of words, however, in this bombastic Information Age, less is so much better.

So poetry not only needs to take advantage of the benefits of the Internet, it can be part of its solution.  Don’t let your wonderful poetry get buried under six feet of fillers.  And if you have a 50 page epic poem that is itching to be read, you just need to be extra inventive in the way you present that online.  There are lots of free, online tools and tutorials on how to do that.  Plain text is not the way to use a platform that hosts text, images, audio and video, as well as social networking tools.

Also another idea for the dream of a Poetry Revolution online: I think copyright permissions need to be easier to request and get.  Publishers need to make it easier to share their publications for non-commercial use and get more master poets (meaning: more than the usual suspects) actively read online.  Let’s make them the next YouTube sensations!  If kitten videos can get a million viewers then so can our best poets.

I would also love to see more living, contemporary  writers have their own professional websites or web profiles that make them easier to contact.  The stereotype of writers who must work in extreme isolation and loneliness has never been a healthy one; even for introverts, like me.  For writers who are available online, people might be so moved by your work that they will promote your work through their own social media. Writers online make it easier to share their great work, as well as contact, for proper permission, to use their work.

Thank you for reading this blog.  I hope you enjoy the last video installment to our poetry campaign on the lyw YouTube channel.  The theme is simple: these are clips from poems I found during the poetry campaign that are fabulous but didn’t fit any of my other themes:

 

© lyw 

What Colour is there?  When Songs Sing Poetry?

Slide1

Rock Star painting by Thomas Fedro: http://fidostudio.net/

When music and poetry meet, it can be a beautiful thing.  Sometimes, music can carry and keep words in our minds far better than static words on a page.  A vocalist can interpret and add an emotional connection to the words.   With music, a poem can become an anthem.

So what’s the difference in a song, once poetry gets involved?  This is open to interpretation, and argument, as with any art-form that wants to evolve.  However, I think it’s safe to say that lyrics, which are also poetry, shouldn’t sound too stupid or naked once the vocals or music are taken away.

Songs lyrics can actually be considered a separate literary genre because they build meaning and emotion in a unique way.   Through repetition, tone and rhythm, songs have an incredible power to communicate and tell a story that goes all the way back to tribal times.  The power of song can actually change the meaning of a story by the way the words are sung.  Spoken word poetry works in a similar way; however, this is only one genre of poetry and does not define all of poetry.

A song lyric needs more, or even less, than a strong message or emotion or a desire to be serious, intellectual or important to be poetry.  Of course, that’s arguable.

Slide2

Elegy to the Spanish Republic No. 110 by Robert Motherwell, 1971, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum c/o: Fair use, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=10881894

However, the most irrefutable statement about poetry is that it is not prose.  Why does a writer choose to say something in this ‘different’ way?  Just to be weird or something?  Hopefully, when we choose to express ourselves in verse it is simply because we think poetry expresses, whatever we are expressing, better than prose; and becomes proof that sometimes the human race feels and communicates beyond ordinary speech and language.

So this week’s video, as part of the ongoing poetry campaign on the lyw Youtube channel, is a poetry compilation, taking pieces of lyrics from popular Western music.  I was so sure I could quote at least one Smith’s song in this video but, alas, these are lyrics that not only need the singer and music behind them but a strong dose of teenage angst.

I started this video with the opening lines from Homer’s, the Odyssey.  It is not a song itself but captures beautifully why literature would want to get up and sing.

Some extra notes about the making of the video:

Google searches for poetic song lyrics are not adequate.  I had to dig through my own library for songs thus totally outing myself and my corresponding generation.  Though part of this video may seem like I am a Baby Boomer, that is actually one good indication that I am, in fact, Generation X.

The second note, about the making of this video, is that I became acutely aware that my search was limited by the English language.  Music is a multi-national and multi-cultural art that unites.  Half my collection is not in English.  I have no idea what these songs are saying and they still mean so much to me.

© lyw

a tantric guide

Slide1a tantric guide is a funny poem about a woman’s introduction to tantric yoga in her pursuit of personal wisdom while living in an urban, middle-class society.

Yoga has been a popular form of exercise in almost every major Western city for decades.  Not only is it great exercise, it helps the body prevent and heal from injury – and some argue, from sickness.  The physical practice also calms the mind and relaxes stress.

Yoga is more than just physical exercise, however, since the physical is enough to cover the above benefits, most of us don’t look further.  In the twenty years that I have practiced yoga, I satisfied myself mainly with just the physical study and a little meditation.

The focus of this poem surrounds my attempt to go a little further out there into tantric yoga — with as open a mind as I could possibly manage.  I started with a book.  I took from it what wisdom I could but had to leave a lot of it behind.

Tantric yoga is a fascinating study that makes the asanas (physical exercises) of yoga seem like child’s play in comparison.  Though there is wisdom in this study, I am glad that I had enough self-awareness to decide what was or was not for me.  I’m also glad that I didn’t close myself completely at the first sign of ‘I ain’t doing that’, for I would have lost the opportunity to find what beauty and wisdom that I did in tantric yoga.  I didn’t forcefully reject anything.  I put aside what wasn’t for me, kept what seemed good for further consideration and continued to the end of the book.

Slide2One needs the courage to be vulnerable to accept life lessons. However, one also needs the self-confidence to know when something is not right for him or her. This may seem difficult if one is trying to learn that self-confidence.  I think your heart will always tell you, regardless, if you listen carefully.  I hope so, anyway.

You know what I think is my saving grace in life lessons?  I never take myself too seriously.  Lessons, I absorb as earnestly as I can but I remind myself that I am an absurd little human and I learn wisdom very slowly and because I am uniquely absurd, somebody else’s mantra is not necessarily my own.

I have wondered if this mindset prevents me from taking the greater wisdom from life lessons.  This has been suggested a few times in my personal and literary studies as much as the opposite.  I do take some things very seriously but this is an exclusive list.  And even then, I think there is room for a little humour.

I hope you enjoy this funny poem despite being a little out there.

© lyw

 

The Art of Looking Sideways, Instead of Up

I read a great quote from actor Tom Hiddleston (loved him as Henry V) who said of his contemporary peers, “I used to look up for inspiration, like every actor does, to people like Daniel Day-Lewis, Robert De Niro, Kenneth Branagh … Now I look sideways.” [Quote Link]

Most artists learn by studying the masters of whatever craft that we aspire to learn; however, by looking sideways to our great contemporaries we learn to be part of our craft’s current zeitgeist.  Our peers inspire us to get to work towards our own ‘mastery’.  Comparing masters and peers is like saying that was great, what about now?  That’s the great thing about art.  Any creative craft by its nature wants to evolve.  Whether we are great or not, if we’re going to call ourselves artists, we are responsible for now. This may seem like an obvious fact but if you’ve spent most of your career studying instead of doing; it becomes a necessary reminder.

Now, we wouldn’t call anything a ‘master work’ if it didn’t have a timeless quality that speaks to any generation.  However, it’s not comparable to an artist who is living in that generation.  I guess that depends on whether you believe that art is a reflection of its society.

One startling realization, after reading Tom Hiddleston’s quote, is that all of my favourite poets have already passed away or are definitely from an older generation.  I don’t pursue contemporary artists unless they are being loudly celebrated and awarded.  And unfortunately, contemporary poets are not loudly celebrated.

Funnier still is that there are many masters and master works that did nothing for me. A ‘master’ work can suck as much as amateur one, in my subjective opinion, and a master work can easily escape ever being published or promoted, yet I still assume that I should study the established canon more than a contemporary artist.

The poet, Warsan Shire, that I featured in a previous blog is one of the first living and contemporary poets that has truly moved me – ever.  She’s just 28!  How did I find her?  During a Google search for something other than her.

I would love to say that for this week’s poetry video on the lyw YouTube channel, I have a montage of clips from our latest and greatest contemporary poets, but the task to hunt down copyright permissions is not worth a 5-minute video.

Instead, here is a link to some great contemporary poetry contest prize winners online as well as larger poetry sites, with copyright permissions.

Thanks for reading this blog/rant.  I realize many of my opinions in this one are strong and there are many other artists that would argue in other directions just as strongly.  It is just something to consider, and should in no way take you away from your art — to argue about art.

blog by lyw

This Rock Wears a Wild Crown

This Rock Wears a Wild Crown is a poem about a funny guy, royally stubborn in loyalty, steadfastness, inappropriate humour and recreational pugilism.  The zen quality of rocks and the flow of time has failed to smooth any part of this demeanour.

Ironically, this poem and character can be a great yet indirect support to overly-sensitive people or anybody stuck in their own heavy moods.  His inappropriate humour and proud opinions dumbfound sensitivity and disrupt both serenity and melancholy.

Despite his roughness, he is friendly.  Despite his offensiveness, he intends no harm. Despite his admiration for the art of war, he is honest – relatively – more honest than you’d expect, anyway.

And despite my persistent confusion over his approach to life, I can’t help but think he is searching for the same things as me – just in a more combative way.  What is that, ultimately?  Love?  God?  Maybe. I’ll only indirectly admit that in poetry.

I’d like to invite you to meet this character in the poem, this rock wears a wild crown; the latest video installment to the lyw channel on Youtube, promoting poets and poetry through online media, as well as a selected poem from the poetry chapbook, ya helu.

written by lyw

Who is Helweh, the Troll?

Slide1‘helweh, the troll’ is a poem about a character who seeks an answer to a question that is thrown upon her: ‘how do you earn a living?’ She is a mythical creature considering the human pursuit of financial security and quality of life. She is a character who finds herself in employment that does not suit her natural talents.

Written with affection and humour for somebody I know, as well as many people who I suspect have a little troll blood in them, she was a former co-worker who I shared many a coffee break and, back in that day, a smoke break. We worked many hours in the same business district and cultivated a strange balance of dedication to our work and finding time for our own personal well-being. She, unfortunately, had a shorter fuse and patience for office culture and never stayed at any job for long.  Funny as hell though and as long as I work downtown, I hope she does, too, even though she would prefer something else.  Office environments need people like her.

This quasi fairy tale / myth was written using the breadcrumb trail of poetry as the vehicle for narration.  The poem is part of the poetry chapbook, ya heluas well as this week’s addition to the lyw channel on Youtube, currently rolling out a poetry campaign making poets and poetry our daily treat and exercise.

When creating Helweh as my hero, I drew inspiration from Joseph Campbell’s book, The Hero with a Thousand Faces, and Dante Alighieri’s epic poem, The Divine Comedy. In this poem, Helweh’s character makes a hapless comparison between her journey and that of Dante’s epic journey through Hell and Purgatory towards Heaven.

Slide2In regards to Joseph Campbell’s, The Hero with a Thousand Faces, many years ago, I found this non-fiction book a compelling read that dissected the role of the hero in human myth and story. As well, this book left me with the hopeful idea that I am, or can be, the hero in my own life’s story – alas, a hope that I have often found disappointed ever since.  Still, it’s a beautiful and passionate book for a work of non-fiction and I don’t regret this aggravated kernel of hope imbedded in my heart. I humour it sometimes and it keeps me humble. At the end of the poem, I left Helweh with a possible answer to her riddle yet it is unknown if or how she will implement it.  If I, or my friend, have not lived up to the call-to-adventure, then perhaps this Helweh lass will.

As an aside, I remember having a cynical thought when I finished reading Campbell’s book, that today’s real world did not look for leadership from heroes or encourage the possibility of living heroes. It is as if the concept is left to fantasy, film and fiction; for those who wear capes and need special powers.

It was a wonderful journey writing this poem. I did not know how it would end or how I would help Helweh answer her question when I first began writing it.  I guess if I wanted to make myself feel better about Joseph Campbell’s book, I could say that I did answer a very subjective call-to-myself in this poem.

Thanks for reading this blog and please visit our latest link and video to the lyw YouTube channel:

written by lyw

Blog Image Sources:

Atlas Obscura Rakotz bridge: http://www.atlasobscura.com/places/rakotzbrucke

Under the Mosswort Bridge: http://www.wizards.com/magic/images/cardart/LRW/Mosswort_Bridge_640.jpg

Surveying Literary Journals

I was recently asked to survey a Canadian-wide distributed literary journal.  The survey was designed to determine how and how often I read their journal, who I was in terms of their demographic and what I liked and disliked about their journal.

My response reminded me of the various stages and avenues that I take and have taken as a writer who seems destined to always be ‘new.’  The ‘new’ part, though I am not as young as the word makes me sound, is something I have learned to appreciate.  I will always be a student to my art-form.

image c/o Awin Literature

Below is the comments section response that I left with this survey:

Thank you for allowing me to take part in your survey. 

To be honest, I have not been drawn to a literary journal for a long time.   

When I did buy or borrow journals it was to, as advised by the Submission Guidelines, read the journal prior to submission.  Though lucky enough to be published in a few small lit journals as a wee lass, I must admit, I saved these books just to look at my own work, in print, once in a while.  

If I look to enjoy new short fiction and poetry these days, I do searches on the internet and find a wealth of writers who are current, active, connected and free.  Blog-sites have become interesting hubs for writers.  I would rather subscribe to one artist’s journey than to a literary journal.  I find the experience more personal and vital. 

Another great way to connect with new short fiction and poetry, as well as the people who write them, is to join writing groups either locally or virtually, or create your own.  Surprisingly, the last magazine to tickle me with their creative, non-fiction, writing skills was the CFA Magazine for Chartered Financial Analysts.  

If I look for guidelines or instruction on how to improve me as an artist, I look to all art-forms and all kinds of artists to inspire and motivate me.   This is always best when done live and in-person if you can get it that way. 

When I think of writing my own fiction and poetry, I no longer put my hope in literary journals to publish or validate me as a writer.  For me, it is more important to write to write rather than to write to publish.  For that reason, wordpress.com and online self-publishing has helped me continue to write outside the shadow of my solitude and be open to other artists and the public.

Sincerely,

lillian y wong (lyw)