As an inveterate magpie, I’m admittedly enchanted by almost anything sparkly and glinting that happens to catch my eye. A flash of reflected sun from a momentary wavelet on a lake at eventide is no better or worse than a shred of tinfoil glimmering from the dark recesses of a trash bin, when it comes to attention-getting power. I wonder at times whether this attitude of mine spills over into accepting cheap substitutes for the real thing in areas of life and knowledge that matter far more than mere visual stimulation does.
Do I pay enough attention to my life and all of its contextual influences?
I do when I remember. But that’s never quite enough, is it? It can become a plain old excuse to say ‘I’m only human.’ So much more power is given us, if we dare to exercise it. No matter what my beliefs and convictions are, if I’m given the capability of questioning and examining them and growing through deeper listening and learning, should I not use that power fully and joyfully? I am reminded often enough by my failures and faults that I can only engage this discernment usefully for myself and have neither the power nor the right to assume my journey will apply to all (or indeed, any) others. This sojourn of learning, questing and listening, and yes, looking at both the shiny objects and those seemingly dull ones presented to me will lead, if I am both fortunate and patient, determined and humble, to a treasury more valuable than all of the scintillations in a world of costume jewelry.
There are endless supplies of guides on How To do something-or-anything; I’m more concerned with How Not to Do It. Much of the how-to tutorials seem aimed more at giving us a gloss of respectability in the subject, a sort of facade of excellence, than actual, practical depth. Expertise is, obviously, a relative thing, after all. It’s not all that hard to be considered an expert in or at something that is very rare or an extremely new discovery or invention: lack of exposure guarantees that few can have mastery. A whole lot more, however, is skill or knowledge that takes a dedicated effort to master to any level of real expertise.
My greatest expertise, if I can be said to have any, is probably in the category of performing ‘filler’ duties in most of the activities I try. Work as I may, I’m not likely to become great at most, and I seldom find learning anything all that easily or swiftly done. Being naturally lazy, I’m even less often found pursuing new knowledge and skills with great rigor and vigor just for their own sakes. So at best, I tend to end somewhere in the middle of the pack. I like to think of myself as the necessary delineator between the great and the mediocre.
All silliness aside, this seems to me an age in which we, collectively, have lost our appreciation for true expertise. Maybe it’s my imagination, but I get the sense that somewhere between the assumption that a speedy dash through Wikipedia will provide all the wisdom we need on any topic and our fascination with outliers—finding the novelty of savants and overnight sensations far more exciting than hardworking earned-doctorate intelligence—and the sense of entitlement our privileged modern existence gives us, we lose touch with the value of elbow grease and passion.
I wasn’t born either brilliant or extraordinarily gifted, and I’m not ashamed of that. But it’d be a pity to go to my grave without having tried to improve on what few bits of intelligence and invention I do have. If I manage to do my best in the present and keep moving toward an elevated horizon, I may not change the world for the better by a single degree, but I will certainly have bettered myself and I might have the slightest chance of shedding a little light around me as I go.
Looks like I’d better get moving!
Like many of my compatriots here in Bloglandia, I chose to close my awards-acceptance shop after having been gifted with a generous helping of them. We all learn very quickly that this is an incredibly open-hearted and open-handed community, and the reassurance of being recognized in this way is a grand encouragement to keep working. It can also demand a fair amount of work and dedication just to go through the proper procedures each award requires for acceptance and the passing of the torch to other deserving souls, this on top of the way that the regular work of producing the blog not only continues but tends to increase if one wants to ‘grow’ the blog in any significant ways regarding its style, content, purpose, and so on ad infinitum. On top of that, there is the increase of comment correspondence that, in turn, inspires other changes and improvements along the way but also means one is devoting larger and larger amounts of time to the correspondence itself.
That is all good and great stuff. Really. Even if I were to quit blogging cold turkey this very moment I would say unabashedly that it has been wildly enriching, educational and happy work for the last nearly three years in ways that I couldn’t have imagined or replicated with any other kind of activity. I’m still almost entirely income-free in every way, though I’ll admit I’m starting for the first time to consider advertising here onsite for commercial partners in addition to the previous, occasional tiny plugs for my ArtSparks store at Zazzle.com or my book on Amazon or my Pinterest accounts, all of which combined make me an amount of money that I assume would send any self-respecting modern teenager into tizzies of fiery revolution if offered as their allowance. Again, not a complaint, as I am a happily kept woman whose partner willingly arranges his life to do the income earning while I blog, tend the household’s needs, and accompany him when I’m able. A surprising twist (to me) is that leaving a full-time job teaching at university and becoming a homemaker in a one-car family didn’t turn me into a hermit and a fearful little creature who hides in the hedgerows, but rather brought me out of my shell in developing and sharing what skills and arts I like to cultivate and in corresponding with and befriending a slew of people doing similar things all around the world.
Whether this work of mine benefits anyone outside my household is a matter for all visitors to decide for themselves, but I know that I derive both pleasure and growth from working here, in one way and another. I think I lead a far more colorful and expressive life internally, and that has external ramifications that effect useful change and direction in what I do—and how and when and why and with whom.
So I was happy to be tagged in a recent round-robin writing meme that requires little labor I wouldn’t already be doing and offers in return an opportunity for thinking about what does happen hereabouts and for learning how that is similar to, and different from, what happens in others’ blogging territories. I thank the marvelous Rosemary, whose blog is full of constant delightful, piquant artworks, brain-stretching turns of phrase and ideas that get my gears turning each time I have a chance to stop by there, for inviting me to be another participant in these collective ruminations.
Part of the meme process is to publish on the Monday after being tapped, and ask your nominees to do the same. I failed to get even close to the right timing, being on my own weird schedule as always. It didn’t, however, prevent my thinking further on the topic, so I’ll just pretend I was timely and wax philosophical when I’m good and ready, and if you need to, you can pretend it’s Monday the 28th of April all over again.
The rules of the process that I can follow merely require that I answer four questions about how I write and nominate three others. My nominees may well be no-award bloggers, too, (always or by now) but might find the questions worth asking themselves yet again, for these are questions we all ask or are asked often enough, those of us who write regularly whether for self alone or with wider purposes. Have fun with it, or if it doesn’t in fact offer that possibility to you, just ignore it while digging through the big basketful of thanks I’m sending your way for what your writing means to me.
What am I working on at the moment?
I’m working on blog posts, books, art commissions, planning for other posts-books-artworks, and doing what reading and research I need to inform and guide all of those things. The book of art and poetry I published in January used about a tenth of the content I’ve been creating and amassing over the last decade or so, leaving bunches of other books to be refined from the collection. I’m currently compiling sets of related, somewhat thematic poetry with which I intend to combine my visual art and texts as in the other books, but in these particular instances will collaborate with composers to set the texts to music. The art projects include a piece for a friend and former university colleague’s change of job celebration and a companion artwork for one of my graphite drawings that was bought at a fundraising auction. The latter won’t engage my writing skills, but the former is going to be a mixed-media piece that will allow me to play with textual content, another element I greatly enjoy incorporating quite often in my visual work. One feeds the other, always, just as my reading and correspondence inform what I do here.
How does my work differ from others of its genre?
I have no idea what genre my work actually fits. Seriously. This has been a problem as long as I can remember: it seems no one else knows how to classify me, either, and if I can’t be conveniently and recognizably enough pigeonholed, apparently no one can figure out any ways to market my work. I’ve posted about it before.
I roam down so many strange little byways every time I stop to write that if “genre” applies, I suppose I must move from one to another regularly. I consider myself an essayist, artist and short fiction enthusiast in what I typically do here; my self-selected projects, like book number one, virtually always have substantial overlap somewhere between those. Adding to the oddity is the spill-over from my personal blend of contented immaturity, constant rambling from piquancy to pathos and beauty to the bizarre. If I can figure out how to make a one-page piece that combines visual art with text and ranges from terrifying to hilarious, tenderly thought-provoking to ridiculously unexpected, then I am likely to be truly happy. And oh, so un-sellable. Blogging at least allows me to practice, enjoy, and air out whatever variety of my inclinations and artistic urges I choose, so it doesn’t merely stay bottled up, endlessly mouldering.
Why do I write what I do?
It may well be that I’m driven by forces far beyond my conscious choices. I’ve never embraced nonfiction much when choosing my reading; maybe that made it seem too much like work, like required reading, and you already know of my deep aversion to Effort. So no, I wouldn’t have chosen to write nonfiction any more than to read it. But of course, it could be argued that blog autobiography of the sort I practice, barring my being obviously delusional, is a generally factual forum in itself. Very much on the other hand, I have always loved goofing around with wild and outrageously unlikely fictional and fantastic ideas, subjects and stories. It’s so much fun to invent and flesh out my fantasies with all sorts of odd details and unexpected turns of phrase and plot and character development, the best of those in my practice being the ones that can develop in extremely short and shallow tales that fit into a single blog post or book page. I have a short attention span, so I prefer to treat even pretty sophisticated topics with this kiddies’-picture-book approach, quite often, knowing that it’s what will appeal to me first, and any somewhat like-minded reader after. If there are any such readers.
How does my writing process work?
I am, and have long been, a scribbler. Everywhere I’ve lived I’ve kept notebooks, scratch paper, and notepads stashed everywhere I’m likely to come to rest for even the shortest time: bedside, by my reading chair, on the kitchen counter nearest the table; next to the toilet, in the glove compartment of the car, on my desk. When the tiniest idea pops into my head, I’m likely to grab one of these and whatever pen or pencil I’ve put with it and scrawl as fast as I can. Story, drawing, list, note, sketch or poem? Maybe a combination of them. I might have my laptop or iPad handy and go directly to digital, but the medium matters less than grabbing hold of the idea while it lasts. I can always transcribe, scan, photograph or otherwise capture my paper scribbles, and those stashes of mine are much easier to access in most of the places where my day and night find me, so part of me is still very old school in this regard.
PS—I know there’s a long and honorable tradition of early morning writing—really early morning writing, by my standards—being a great and grand way to produce fabulous stuff and have a lasting career and all of that. I am not in that tradition. When I write in the early morning hours, it’s because I’ve been writing late and am still at it at 3 a.m. I would rather sleep ten or eleven hours a night, every night, than be a great writer. If that’s what it takes. Until I have confirmation that early morning writing is the only path to artistic excellence and writerly happiness, I’ll keep writing in snatches and patches of day and night that leave me free to sleep when and as much as I want and need. That’s my process, for good or ill. So far, it keeps me mighty happy. And happy to be here.
And now, I nominate these three writers to participate in a Writing Process Blog Meme:
Christine @ http://journeyintopoetry.wordpress.com
If you accept my nomination, you will write an article prompted by the following four questions and post it on your blog on Monday, April 28, 2014. Just like I did! Wink-wink. The four questions (just to jog your memory from the above bits):
What am I working on at the moment?
How does my work differ from others of its genre?
Why do I write what I do?
How does my writing process work?
I completely understand if this ‘isn’t your thing’. No obligation. Just having fun!
In Dash’s closet there was a very hard-to-reach spot at the very back of the top shelf, and he was quite happy that his younger sister Mattie couldn’t reach anywhere near it. There was a large jar there that he prized beyond any other thing he owned, even his pocket knife and the doll that he loved as long as his parents would only call it an Action Figure in front of any of his friends. The jar gave off a very faint blue glimmer that was even visible on the darkened closet ceiling after the bedroom light was switched off, and it pulsed comfortingly at young Dash as he lay across the room gazing on it while drifting off to sleep each night, dreaming eventually of the wonderful things that would happen when the creatures he kept in the jar finally came to their full maturity. He remained, as far as I know, blissfully unaware that they were beings of his little sister’s making and left for him to find and nurture. He may have begun to wonder what exactly was brewing when his Action Figure seemed to have moved to the far end of the shelf one morning of its own volition and then disappeared entirely until it resurfaced at the end of the week in the bathtub drain, one arm missing and covered with some kind of sticky corrosive ooze, but I imagine that he guessed Mattie might have had a hand in this trickery. The relocation of Dash’s pocket knife underneath the heavy jar was a harder to explain, more puzzling development.
I have a new toy! I’m not an early adopter when it comes to tech; in fact, I’m a slowpoke, and pretty much a big chicken, since learning new things intimidates the heck out of me. I know things come slowly to me, so it takes a while for me to even get up the nerve to try. But I have a new toy, and I’m liking the process of learning what I can do with this one.
It’s an iPad, my new toy, and I bought a stylus to use with it, and downloaded several drawing programs (freebies and super-cheap ones, of course), and I’m having a grand time fiddling around and trying to see what I can do with the new artistic tools I’ve gotten. No amount of technology can make me into what I’m not, but some of those things I can do with the things I’ve now got could help me to make myself, however gradually, into a better artist. And that’s a fun thing to the degree that it does a remarkable amount to overcome my normal reluctance to trying to learn anything new.In times past I have managed to kill a lot of trees in pursuit of my artistic growth. In my heart I am a great big tree-hugging plant lover, but my instinctive urge to make art has often trumped my tree love, at least to the degree that I make many works on paper. It’s easier to use when making marks into drawings than other, non-flat surfaces. I’ve been happy to use recycled material when possible, but paper is paper and, well, finite too. I’m liking the option that electronic tools give me of deleting or, better yet, erasing, layering, and redoing all kinds of things over and over again without needing to go to print unless and until I’m good and ready to do it. Here goes!
Here’s the thing about flamingos: they’re living contradictions. They’re some of the least altered descendants of the dinosaurs, yet in the twentieth century they became icons of modernism in art and design in large part for the very strangeness that ties them so closely to their ancestors. In the span of that surge of popularity, they also had both the high-cultural cachet of favored subjects in Art Deco’s glamorous creations and the lowbrow delights of trailer park plastic lawn decorations. The elegant long necks, graceful broad wings, and that magical coral hue of their plankton-painted plumage are counterbalanced by rather gawky squawking voices and oh, my, what an unattractive smell.
Here’s another thing: we human-types tend to have a certain ambivalence about many things in our lives and appreciate that the world is far from simple. So it’s not surprising that many of us should find flamingos fairly intriguing and compelling. They’re kind of weird. They’re sort of good metaphorical stand-ins for us.
I’m fond of and amazed by birds. I’m particularly drawn to raptors and songbirds, but truth be told, I wasn’t so taken by flamingos, and when I got to spend a tiny bit of quality time in their presence in zoos or parks, I was amused by their seeming clumsiness and more than a little taken aback by their stink and noise. Guess you won’t be surprised, then, to know that when I had a little time to reflect on it–well, it was my own reflection I saw. I’m still thankful I’m not an actual flamingo, since people mostly don’t laugh openly at my foibles when in my presence, and hardly ever tell me to my face that I’m stinky. All the same, having that little picture stored in my mind is useful. I may still be slightly ridiculous, in my stumbling, silly way and with my imperfect voice and showy but eccentric ways, but I guess if flamingos can be such wonderful and iconic beings with all of their oddities, why shouldn’t I, too? Flawed and goofy I may be, but I’m an amazing creature of my own kind.
No matter how impressive and terrifying the monster, there’s always something that can defeat it. Most monsters have their own monsters, when it comes right down to it. Their tormentors may be superior powers, but in truth, it may well be the simplest and smallest, most innocuous detail that thwarts the fiercest monster.
It might even be me.
Kept at Bay
Greedy little nightmare,
You stole from me an hour
Of sleep that should have been repose
With twisted, dark and sour
Delirium and horror-shows
Of ghosts and ghouls and glee-
Filled monster tales and dragon-scales—
O! Set this captive free!
For if you deign to torture me
Incessant, sleepless grind,
I’ll out you in a rotten verse
And you will lose your mind.
Give me dreams, but let me sleep,
In peaceful rest to lie—
Haul off the tossing, counting sheep,
The nightmares passing by—
Yes, make the most of forty winks,
A hundred, if I may;
Remove insomnia and keep
Harsh wakefulness at bay—
No more foul nights as hostage to
Psychosis’ nasty knife—
Now, make a truce and make it true,
Right through eternal life!