The Truth is…

Photo: We All Have Stories to Tell 2I am 100% honest and 90% transparent on my blog. But I write a lot of fiction, and I’ve been known to edit or doctor my work like crazy. I don’t think those things are mutually exclusive. Maybe it’s because the intent is never to mislead and deceive, only to get you thinking (differently, perhaps) or entertain you. Maybe it’s because my own thinking is a rare, if not unique, blend of optimism, idealism, pragmatism, logic, guesswork, paranoia, fear, distrust, problem-solving, hope, and magic realism. Maybe it’s only because I’m a big enough fool to believe that I’m being honest and transparent.

Maybe, though, it’s at least a reasonable assessment because I operate with the belief that anyone who reads my posts is clever or intuitive or discerning enough to tell when I’m inventing characters and storylines, when I’m being deeply sarcastic, when I’m illustrating for comical effect, and when I’m trying to be a straightforward documentarian. Even when I’m making up ludicrous fairytales and spouting jocularities while recording my own little adventures and misadventures, I trust my readers to imagine with me the underlying bits of fact, to spot the universal truths and throw out the chaff of willy-nilly silliness. Foolish? Oh, quite possibly. But I prefer to think I’m just cutting everybody the same slack I deserve, the assumption that we’re not adversaries trying to subvert or enslave or otherwise ruin each other but rather fellow travelers and potential compatriots on life’s wandering way.

By the same token, I expect others to grant me grace when I speak my views about the good and the bad in the world, about what I think are healthy and reasonable approaches to understanding and accepting differences and where I think it important to draw a line and say, I can’t accept that idea or action as having any positive or non-harmful purpose in a world populated with imperfect and fragile humanity. Anyone who can’t allow my opinion to go un-insulted is entirely free to leave the room. Press EXIT and don’t look back! But I haven’t had anyone feel the need to do so in a rude way, and that’s the blogging world I find worth operating in; when I go to sites and blogs, to Facebook pages or zines or any other sort of forum, whether it’s one that invites the sharing of ideas and conversations or it’s strictly a pulpit for one person’s views, I am glad to be free to come and go as I please and, if the topic is one that in any way displeases or bores or offends me, to quietly depart and leave the rhetoric to those engaged in it.

On the other hand, I know that there are many (including friends and loved ones) whose thinking and whose opinions and beliefs are so dramatically different from mine that I find it difficult to refrain from civil comments yet I hesitate to leave what I think are slanderous or libelous statements, patent falsehoods, or dangerously misinformed “Facts” and “Truths” standing without challenge, feeling as though I’m slinking off ignominiously and leaving a ticking bomb in the middle of a train station by not offering a clear counter-statement to it. It is not, however, in my nature to enter into debate, no matter how civil. I find it very hard to form and articulate my ideas in a way that I find satisfactory, and am easily cowed into silence by bluster or bullying from opposing viewpoints, so I nearly always tend to “let the Wookiee win” rather than engage in what I’m almost always certain will be not only a losing proposition as a discussion but ultimately, demoralizing for me. Mostly, I’m jaded by past attempts into sensing that those whose beliefs are both loudly and firmly held have no interest in hearing my point of view, let alone considering it as having possible merit.

I was struck by this yet again recently when I encountered a long string of posts from a casual acquaintance who took boldly opinionated stances on several different issues of politics, religion, and social policy that he not only conflated into all being essentially one large conspiracy of evil, crime-backed, world-destroying intent that just happened to, as far as I could see, implicate me personally because the nefarious network he was outing as so hateful included (by name) many people and organizations that I am convinced have quite different, if any, involvement in the acts and policies of which he accused them, and in most cases, act on and endorse things that I find hopeful, helpful, healthy, and humane. But I didn’t think there was the remotest chance he would be anything but dismissive and angry if I were to express the least of my views there. And I was equally sure that he would be hurt, mystified, and convinced that I am not only cozened by the evil empire he hates but probably a brainwashed agent of their horrible intentions of world domination and destruction. So I sit and suck my paws sadly and feel sorry that such divisive attitudes can just bulldoze me like a runaway tank.

It cheers me more than you might guess to return to my friendlier neighborhood here, to be able to speak my mind and show my little pictures where if anybody disagrees, they just share what interests them to share and move on. Where if they question my veracity or accuracy, they ask questions and/or offer useful corrections kindly and without reproach or personal attack. Yes, I make up all kinds of stuff and tell stories that have sometimes have more whoppers in them than any single Burger King franchise. But I never try to hide whether I’m talking sincerely or pulling anyone’s leg for entertainment.

Yes, I edit virtually every photo I post at least a little. But the very act of taking a photo is an editorial process: the photographer chooses what her audience sees, how much of it she sees, from what point of view, and so forth, before ever fiddling with the picture for further artistic or story-driven reasons. And further, in the instances when I’m not making digitally doctored artworks out of the photos for what I believe are fairly obvious illustrations rather than factual expressions, any alterations I do make are attempts to help the photos show what I saw and experienced rather than merely what my camera is capable of capturing and showing, at least given my paltry technical skills with it.

So I stick by my claim: I’m honest and transparent here. But it is my truth, my sense of clarity and my perception of reality that I’m sharing here. I know that nothing I say or do here will change the minds of any who disagree, nor will my posts save any little part of the world. If they save someone from a bad mood for a little while, that’s pretty good. If they somehow manage to make someone who does disagree with me think about what I might think or why, that’s pretty good even though I know my chances of changing a mind are negligible if any. And of course, I could be wrong. If all my posts do is allow me a dash of release while I exercise my creativity and try to suss out my own point of view a shade more clearly, that’s not such a bad thing either. If you’re still here keeping me company when the post is over, now, that is a fine thing indeed. And that’s no lie.Photo: We All Have Stories to Tell 1

Just Press this Button and Be Amazed!

I’ve told you that I am enamored of digital photography. How could a person who loves taking pictures—but is too confused by the functions and uses of a ‘real’ camera, and far too lazy to do anything like the intensive study required to become skilled with said functions and uses, let alone learn how to process photos afterward—how could I not love digital cameras and photo processing?

One of the bonuses of the ability to revise and improve my photos digitally is the element of surprise that comes when I’ve taken very dark photos (at night or in poorly lit places), open up what looks like an entirely black image in one of my favorite editing programs, brighten it and change the contrast, and voila! there’s that thing I was looking at and had entirely forgotten by then. Sometimes the photo turns out to be something I had no idea I’d shot, too, but even those pictures can be interesting in their own ways.Photo: Gnats 1

Take this particular black rectangle from our recent time in Prague. I knew I’d taken photos on a couple of evenings when we were out and about with our compatriots, but couldn’t necessarily say exactly what the subject of them had been. A little tweaking brought the memory out of the dark.Photo: Element of Surprise 1

Gnats! There was a flurry of gnats flitting around a lamppost and making a tiny but lovely little display of sparkling fireworks, and when I took the photos I had no clue whether they would actually show anything at all, given the intensity of the surrounding darkness. But my hopes were rewarded, if not with a magnificent set of photos, at least with a welcome memory of that beautiful evening that even a clueless picture-taker like me could enjoy.Photo: Element of Surprise 2

Leave It that Way

How irksome that constant tension between the urge to grow, move and change and the undoubtedly more natural desire for stasis! Isn’t good-enough good enough? Can’t the ol’ universe cut me a break a little more often? I like it when I get something done, especially something I’ve really wanted or needed to finish, and most especially when it turns out well. But I can’t say I’m crazy about the long slog from here to there. Most of the time it’s just work. Drudgery. Laborious, effortful, tiresome and irritating, endless to-do lists of work.digital illustrationThat, as you know, is the unwarranted whingeing of a privileged, well padded and wilfully late-sleeping creature. I am the human equivalent of a Slow Loris, desiring fervently that the world would slow down to my own pace and let me seem to catch up with it—that is, if anyone as lacking in will and momentum as I am could be called fervent. But like the Loris, I am masking with my ever-so-slow progress through life a fair quantity of deliberation, because I do indeed have wishes and plans. They tend to be so vague and changeable that it’s useful to move at the slowest possible pace in order that my ideas will catch up with my motion before I need to act or make any significant alterations in my trajectory.digital illustrationThat’s how a person with seemingly no ambition or energy or intention of doing anything whatsoever that is not forced upon me can have, in quiet reserve, a fair treasury of plots and plans, ideas and inspirations all waiting for the right moment when I decide to take them up in the public view. Like seeds and bulbs, these unfold into leaf and then, as leaves, transform from season to season. Like artworks, they begin as the meeting of a barely formed thought with a pencil mark or two and gradually evolve into drawings that in their turn can change to other kinds of drawings or paintings or parts of collages. That’s how a little book that took about a decade to get from the slightest inkling at its inception to publication can have in its wake another ten books or so that will seem to spring fully formed from the printing press in relatively short shrift because they too were being built and tended, ever so stealthily and quietly and ever so slowly, all the while I’ve been creeping and plodding along.

It may not look like anything’s happening yet, but don’t worry; unless I’ve stopped breathing, I’m still moving imperceptibly and you can safely leave it that way for now.

My Own Inverted Jenny

book cover imageI have a little confession to make. My book-publishing debut has a noticeable flaw. It’s not huge enough that the editorial filters of the publisher, or even my own oft-repeated scrutiny, caught it in the preview and proofing processes, but I noticed it, and I’d like to make it better. See, in the hard-copy and digital proofs that I checked before giving the go-ahead to publish, I didn’t manage to spot how low the contrast was between text and background on one of the two-page layouts, and it’s not nearly legible enough for my taste in the final print, even with my relatively eagle-sharp eyes.

So I’ve made a revised version of that page duo and a couple of other pages that were quite acceptable but I thought deserved a boost of readability as well as long as I was at it, and I have requested that the publisher allow an after-publication change. Those of you who have already purchased and received the book (I’m looking at you: family members; Mira, Diane, Gracie, Christine, etc, and a handful of others that I know of thus far) will probably know which typography I’m describing. It’s readable, but it’s an effort, I admit. Those of you who haven’t bought the book yet, I certainly hope you will do so but maybe, just maybe, I’ll be able to give you an even more polished product if you wait until I give the thumbs-up to a tiny revision in a week or so. Now, at least you know the whole story of my neophyte adventure.

If you’d rather hang on to the original version of the book as it stands anyhow, I promise you that all but the one poem—all 165 or so of the others—are entirely readable as the book stands, and while I can’t in any way promise that this, my first foray into unintentional-humor publication (to be fair, the rest of the book is supposed to be amusing) will be my last, let alone likely to accrue the sort of megabucks value given the famous upside-down airplane stamp of my post title, I do hope that when I croak, you might be able to get a bonus by selling off the short run of mistake-inclusive prints to crazed collectors. So if you paid, say, ten or twelve dollars this week (and I see they’re already reducing the price on Amazon, so bargains can already be had) you may be able to sell the book in a couple of decades for thirty-six cents extra. Talk about a fantastic investment! Don’t say I never gave you anything exciting.

But seriously, I hope that you will think buying a book from me is a reasonable investment not only in my happiness and well-being but in your own good spirits, because that’s what the book was intended for in the first place: playful entertainment for semi-grownups in the form of my whimsical-to-wacky drawings and poems. With your patience and a little perseverance on my part, we ought to be able to conjure up such an interlude together one way or another, no? I thank you for your good humor and support. Have a lovely day, y’all, and I promise I’ll keep you posted on my progress.photoOf course, since I’ve already made the revision of my “oops page” to submit, now I’ll be getting started with the conversion of the (reedited) book file to prepare it for a Kindle edition, and will need to decide which of the many other books I’ve got on various ‘back burners’ will be next on my agenda for what will hopefully be mistake-free from the moment of its publication. That’s the plan, my friends.

Drawing on Your Beginner’s Luck

The nice blogger from Zara–A Writing Story stopped by recently and her post said she is working at starting to draw. I’m delighted to have another person join the ranks of happy visual artists via drawing–a collection of skills that come in quite handy (no pun intended, especially since there are artists who use their mouths or their feet to make artworks) for far more than strictly a pleasurable activity or visual entertainment. Drawing, a foundational skill in all sorts of visual art, is also a means of communication that differs from and can work in wonderful tandem with writing, singing, signing, and any number of other ways of personal interaction and transmission of information. In addition to the practical application of the end product of the process, the practice of drawing itself has great power as a mnemonic device, a tool for problem-solving, and the training of the brain in such useful skills as eye-hand coordination and (as I know from experience) the correlated motor control of working through tremors to achieve refined movements.

But beyond that, as I said to my blogger colleague, the act of drawing has elements of physical pleasure in the mere action of arm and hand and body that can be worth the pursuit, not to mention the mental and/or emotional pleasures possible. The act of drawing as a form of meditation, even without regard to any possible ‘product’, is quite desirable on its own.

As I said to my correspondent, she needn’t be intimidated in the least even if she’s a rank beginner: By even making the effort to learn, you’re worlds ahead of lots of others! A book I often referenced when teaching my beginner students in college was Betty Edwards’ classic Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain–it has exercises that aren’t too hard even for someone who’s never attempted to draw before, and because her focus is on how the brain works in visual activity, she offers insights into the process and possibilities that few others do. There are, of course, innumerable excellent how-to books for those who want to draw, many of them favorites of mine as well, but because of Dr. Edwards’ [then] ground-breaking work in recognizing the character of right-vs-left brain function and how it played out in drawing, I always found her work particularly helpful.

Because drawing can engage so many diverse cognitive processes like this, it can be complicated and overwhelming to know just where to start learning how to draw. As I remarked in my note to my fellow blogger, All of that aside, simply making marks on a surface is the beginning of drawing. Sometimes the least intimidating way to begin is to take a piece of paper, make some totally random marks on it, and then see where that takes you. Even if all it does is make you comfortable making the arm movements for a start, that’s helpful. If, as with most people, you look at it and think ‘that looks like . . . ‘ or ‘that doesn’t look quite right . . . ‘–well, then, you’re already making editorial decisions that can help you move toward drawing the way you want to draw.

The bottom line, if you will, for me is that I feel more alert, more attuned to potential solutions when everyday problems arise, and generally just plain happier when I draw. It’s not because every drawing turns into something fabulous–far from it–but because the process of drawing opens up my brain and spirits in useful and unexpected ways. Many times, my drawing produces nothing more than scratches that are shorthand for bigger and more complex and, I hope, better things to come. But the exercise itself is valuable to me, and a glance back through my sketches can often kick-start me into drawing a work that is more successful than the twenty previous ones.

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Exploring pattern in a sketch.

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Playing around with volume.

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Faces and flowers show up often in my sketchbooks.

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Hands can be pesky subjects, so I play with sketches of them frequently too.

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Any little vignette that pops into my mind is worth scribbling at least a few times.

Ultimately, whether I’m in gear for serious drawing or just fiddling with a pen or pencil to pass the time, it’s good practice and feels worthwhile. If nothing else happens, at least I have given my brain some thinking-room between the lines and I might figure out what to make for supper, how to cut through the piece of metal that is in the way of my completing a repair in the garage, or who knows–I might even remember where I set down that book I was reading days ago before it ‘disappeared’. It’s doubtful I’ll come up with any Nobel Prize-worthy inspirations while drawing, but then again, if I don’t draw, I’ll never find out!