Category Archives: Writing

Creativity is like stretching

A creative experience is like a stretching session: if it’s not a big of a challenge, you’re not doing it right, not getting anything out of it.

Having new ideas is fun

It’s possible to leave behind one’s old ideas and have new ones, see the world anew, and it’s fun to do this!

This is the message I have to share with the world: It’s fun to create! It’s deeply satisfying! It shows the world to you in new ways — it reveals new aspects of the world. It shows that there’s more to the world than we know. It has shown me that ideas are not the truth — ideas I thought were real I now see as arbitrary. A lot of my new worldview has come from creative experiences.

It’s a wonderfully simple message! But it’s one that was a long time in coming to me, perhaps because so much of our culture is now provided by and accessed through commercial means — bookstores, art galleries, TV, movies, magazines — all these commercial forums — and we see art as having the purposes of getting us fame and money (or career).

Maybe my message, what I model to the world, is that I like my life even without getting published! I’m not perfect, not the only model to follow, but my way of living — which includes the daily creative act of freewriting my journals — is pretty fun and interesting and worth trying.

I don’t want to define myself as someone who writes about only a certain topic, or who writes in a habitual style or tone. I want to share my work style, my process, and then go on to create my own particular things. I want to demonstrate creativity in its least-restrictive form, which is that I’m not trying to make any product to sell. If you, as an artist, decide that you’re gonna make something for someone else, you’re already limiting your creativity — you’re abstracting whom your audience is from your limited experiences with other people, with the result that you’re condescending to others, assuming to know what others want or need. And then there’s the problem of there not being really all that many ideas within the range of tellable stories — whereas in my writing, I go well beyond stories. I may be limited by words, by thinkable thoughts — not all experiences can be easily described — but I can look at words as merely a medium, as the tools I use to have the creative experiences I enjoy.

The types of texts that get published — novels, nonfiction reports, celebrity interviews — are so narrow compared to all the types of texts there are, including diaries, conversations between non-famous people, descriptions of regular life, real places. There’s the bias toward the spectacular that seems to leave regular lived life in real places largely unexplored.

Kerouac’s On the Road is a book that captivated me when I read it at age 19 — I think I understood it as instructive, that I could perhaps view my life as he viewed his. But now I see that book was the telling not about Kerouac’s regular life but about his vacations, essentially — he wrote his scroll as a story told to impress and/or amuse others. What remains is the challenge of how to live daily life in a rewarding way.

So what interests me now is escaping narrow definitions of what life is or could or should be and instead dipping my toes into the unknown, into what’s beyond the definitions. I want to have my own ideas, do my own thinking, and if I never feel like advocating my ideas to others, that’s fine — maybe I can advocate my process!

Everything I publish might be read as an exuberance — defined in Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate 11th as, in part, “joyously unrestrained and enthusiastic,” “plentiful.” I’d never thought of myself as exuberant before — maybe this is just a positive spin on the “intense” adjective others have used to describe me.

Over time, I do come to new ideas that seem to solve my problems, increase my understanding.

And when I publish, I don’t need to have everything nailed down and tidy. I don’t have to fret whether I seem a respectable, authoritative-type voice. I don’t need to post — my experience is already had; I’ve already had the joy and satisfaction of the earlier journal-writing session! So publish whatever! I don’t need to publish — there’s some good freedom. And once I’ve realized that, it gets easier to publish!

 

Posting Exuberantly

I thought this today: I’d like to share here on the blog ideas that pop into my mind, but not because I think the ideas themselves are all that valuable. Some of these ideas may be useful, at some times, to some people, but what I’d really like to show is how cool it feels to be open to new ideas and how rewarding it feels to practice creativity daily (mostly in the act of freewriting my journals). I don’t want to formulate some argument in support of these feelings — I think I may just post exuberantly.

Types of Poetry collage

I got a pamphlet in the mail about something called the Palm Beach Poetry Festival. An idea came to mind: Cut out one of the “Poetry” words and paste it into the middle of the paper, and then cut out other nouns and think of these as different types of poetry: sand poetry, Tim poetry, guest poetry, Q & A poetry, glance poetry. I don’t know what these types of poetry would be — whether written for an occasion (November 10, 2017 poetry) or for a situation (one-on-one poetry) or written at a place (lake poetry) or written about a place (road poetry) or written about a topic (nut poetry) or to be recited while using the thing (Amex poetry) — but I loved thinking of these things for the first time today.

Full page.

Top half.

Bottom half.

A close-up.

Another close-up.

American Writers Museum

The American Writers Museum opened this spring in Chicago (as I learned about here) and my wife and I toured it a few weeks ago. It’s on the second floor of the building at 180 N. Michigan Avenue, which is near the Bean and the Pritzker Pavilion in Millenium Park.

My selfie with Kerouac’s scroll! Though On The Road is no longer my favorite book, I read it in college and felt that it broadened my ideas of what literature could be. (Yes, this isn’t the most-flattering picture of me, but I was pretty eager to take this selfie.)

The beginning of Kerouac’s scroll on which he wrote first draft of On The Road. This is a temporary exhibit, there until later this fall. The scroll was under glass, and that blue line in the photo seemed to be another piece of glass holding the scroll flat. Notice too that the names are those of Kerouac’s friends, not yet renamed as characters.

One item on a wall of facts about authors of everything from song lyrics to ad copy.

An interactive thing where you pick from the given categories and the screen displays a writer with these characteristics.

I didn’t know Emily D. was famous for her baking. Or for hangin’ with snails.

Dialogue writer.

My wife creates with a touchscreen version of a Magnetic Poetry-like game.

Several typewriters were set up for people to write their own works. It reminded me of typewriters I learned to use. My wife and I liked this display the most.

These two video clips of my wife and I using these typewriters are here because I just liked hearing the sounds of old machines from my childhood.

There’s a video display of text forming shapes projected on a wall. Here’s a Kurt Vonnegut quote.

A display of books above the lobby and giftshop of the museum.

Why I Write, this Sunday Night

Updated Monday night: Sometimes I write things and wonder if I should publish them, and I should probably have listened to that voice of doubt last night. What I originally wrote felt like it had energy, but it was not a useful energy. What I wrote below is just a note of frustration with, well, myself. It probably doesn’t need to be read. But I’ll leave it up as a reminder to myself that, well, it’s OK to feel frustrated at times.
Edited the day after: Sometimes I think that I should simplify my sentences for publication because not everybody will want to dive into my own voice as much as I do. On the other hand, the value of my writings may not lie in being simple.
On the weekends I usually tell myself that I should use that free time to post to the blog. But giving myself this assignment seems not to make me feel good about editing my work, and I think I need to be in an open, receptive mindset in order to edit my work well.
Sometimes I think that there’s more to being alive than simply producing words and ideas, and then those are the times I tend to go and lie next to my dog on the floor and see what he’s paying attention to. Sometimes I just nap. I can be alive without having to write all the time. I live through writing, by writing, but I don’t want to confuse my need to write with anyone else’s need to read my writing. And I’m posting and editing this now so that I can pare back the thoughts of a moment of tired frustration. I may not even like this revision by tomorrow. We’ll see.
Original: I write everyday. I write in complex sentences. Sometimes I think that I should simplify my sentences for publication because not everybody will want to dive into my own voice as much as I do. On the other hand, I’m not sure that my writings have all that much to say, so their value may lie in being an extension of my attention …
I would like to blog things from my writings on the weekends, when I have time and energy to blog. But using the blog as a need to publish, giving myself this priority, this assignment, this deadline, seems not to make me feel good about editing my work, and I think I need to be in an open, receptive mindset in order to edit my work well.
I write every day but sometimes I think that writing is just an arrangement of words and ideas and that there’s more to being alive than simply producing words and ideas, and then those are the times I tend to go and lie next to my dog on the floor and see what he’s paying attention to. Sometimes I just nap. I can be alive without having to write all the time.
I write every day. I write to live. I live by thinking and writing. It’s a decent lifestyle, really it is, but also … I don’t want to confuse my need to write with anyone else’s need to read my writing. And I’m posting this now so I can feel that I did something blogable today.

Links: Narrative empathy, for good or ill

For good:  This article by Amy McLay Paterson at Vox cites these articles suggesting that reading literary fiction improves readers’ ability to empathize.

For ill: “How Stories Deceive” suggests that “when we become swept up in powerful narrative, our reason often falls by the wayside,” and people can get conned.

Paul Zak, a neuroeconomist at Claremont Graduate University and the director of its Center for Neuroeconomics Studies, studies the power of story in our daily interactions with friends, strangers, books, television, and other media. Repeatedly, he has found that nothing makes us receptive, emotionally and behaviorally, quite like narrative flow.”

Narrative ads, like some of Budweiser’s Super Bowl ads, “work because they appeal to your emotions by drawing you into a story that you can’t help but be moved by. From that point on, you are governed by something other than reason. Emotion is the key to empathy. Arouse us emotionally and we will identify with you and your plight. Keep us cold, and empathy won’t blossom.”

Paterson gives an example of how empathizing with imaginary characters can be frustrating: “I cursed myself for wasting energy on an unworthy title, hate-reading the last 200 pages of The Rosie Effect because I’d liked The Rosie Project and wanted to make sure that everything turned out okay.”

In other recent news about narratives: “All Stories Are the Same“: This article makes a claim about the universality of this narrative:

All plunge their characters into a strange new world; all involve a quest to find a way out of it; and in whatever form they choose to take, in every story “monsters” are vanquished. All, at some level, too, have as their goal safety, security, completion, and the importance of home.

But this article oversimplifies when it claims that “all stories are forged from the same template, writers simply don’t have any choice as to the structure they use; the laws of physics, of logic, and of form dictate they must all follow the very same path.” And I don’t agree with this article’s emphasis on following the “template” — “a piano played without knowledge of time and key soon becomes wearisome to listen to”  — as if an artwork being “wearisome” were a sin.

And this:Christmas: The Greatest Story Ever Told?” at The Atlantic points out that this narrative “contained many of the time-tested elements of good storytelling.” But of course, this narrative is significantly fictionalized in its basic facts:

The beautiful Nativity story in Luke, for instance, in which a Roman census forces the Holy Family to go back to its ancestral city of Bethlehem, is an obvious invention, since there was no Empire-wide census at that moment, and no sane Roman bureaucrat would have dreamed of ordering people back to be counted in cities that their families had left hundreds of years before. The author of Luke, whoever he might have been, invented Bethlehem in order to put Jesus in David’s city.