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Archive for the category “Creativity”

making things up: names and games

Kalkaska

The first thing kalkaskaI remember making up was a new name for my brother, Mark, who was born when I was three years old. I imagine I was not happy with all the attention he received merely for existing. When visitors thought they were being cute by asking me what my baby brother’s name was, I hissed “Kalkaska” and stomped out of the room. It was the name of a place where my father and his friends went hunting and the ugliest word I knew at the time. A few years later, I invented numerous ways to torture my brother, such as sending him out into the neighborhood dressed as an old woman.

brother-2.jpg

The look says it all: I still don’t get the point.

When my mother was expecting her third child, I was coincidentally agitating for a puppy. She suggested we have the new baby first and get a puppy the next year. I briefly considered the idea. But after my experiences with sibling number one, I decided it would be better to get the puppy first and a baby—if we absolutely had to have one—the following year. Needless to say, that didn’t work out the way I wanted it to. And it was another boy.

a proclivity for morbidity

During elementary school, I was the oldest of the neighborhood gang and both bossy and creative. After our ordinary games grew boring, I made up things for us to do. My parents’ backyard had several features that lent themselves nicely to these activities. The built-in brick barbecue grill, for example, had a large flat surface that proved ideal as a make-believe morgue slab. We kids took turns playing the “dead man” by simulating a deceased person spread out on top of the slab/grill, the cannibalistic aspects having escaped me at the time. Everyone else formed a semicircle around it chanting, “Dead man, dead man, come alive; come and catch me with your big green eyes.”

It was not poetry and it didn’t make a lot of sense, but it was great fun. The rest of us had to remain in place chanting away (there were more verses) until the dead man jumped up and started chasing us. The kid who was caught became the next dead man. As with any game, there were rules. In this case, lots of rules. In fact, we had frequent “rule breaks” to decide important matters, such as which neighbor’s backyard we were “legally” allowed to cross into.

a star is born?

ticketThen there was the wooden picnic table that served as a stage for several variety shows, in which all the other kids performed—complete with costume changes—to an audience of ticket-buying parents and neighbors. I was the writer/director/stage manager/promoter, and general whip-cracker. This was not unlike some of my later roles in life.

The shows were a natural extension of my playwriting hobby that began when I was quite young. I painstakingly printed every word of dialogue and stage direction, completing well over a hundred “great works,” all of which are long gone. I can imagine—although I can’t remember doing so—ceremoniously dumping them into the trash one day, upon deciding I’d outgrown that phase. It’s something I would have done.

and we get credit for this?

Still in elementary school, I volunteered for the Entertainment Committee one year. My co-chair and I were given specific dates—holidays and such—for which we were to provide some sort of entertainment for the class. We could do just about anything we wanted to do—and in front of a captive audience! Our stellar events included three plays that I wrote, cast, costumed, directed, and rehearsed in the coat room in the back of the classroom. We were excused from class for rehearsal. I couldn’t believe what an incredible racket we got to run.

The first two plays were, let’s say, not a complete success. By Christmas, though, I had it down. That play went off without a hitch and received sustained applause. Props included baked sugar cookies, which one of the actors frosted with real frosting I brought to school in one of my mother’s aqua Pyrex mixing bowls.

the unbirthday parties

My favorite creation from that time period was the series of unbirthday parties. One weekday near the beginning of summer, my next-door neighbor and I were trying to get her little brother to leave us alone so we could clean out a room in the basement of her house. I bribed him by promising we would have a birthday party for him later if he would go away now.

unbirthdayHe went for it and left us to our labors. When we finished, we talked my friend’s mother, who was a stay-at-home mom and a good sport, into helping us with the party. I will never forget that cake. I think it was one of my friend’s pre-Easy-Bake toy oven mixes because it was very small. The inside was chocolate and vanilla marble. The outside was covered in Kelly Green frosting and multicolored sprinkles. It was a cake only a kid could truly appreciate—or look at without gagging.

We all bought presents from the dime store and wrapped them before the party, which of course was held in the freshly cleaned and festively decorated room in the basement. It was such a blast that all the other kids wanted parties, too. There were seven of us altogether, so for the better part of two months we had weekly unbirthday parties, each one slightly more elaborate than the last. Both moms had to get involved when it was finally time for my party.

a rose by any other name would still call her brother Kalkaska

Eventually, I developed somewhat of a reputation in regard to my ring-leading nature and choice of activities, especially with my neighbor friend’s father. Whenever he thought something we were into was the least bit odd, he could be heard muttering that it must have been Joycelyn’s idea. Only he didn’t call me Joycelyn because that’s not the name my mother gave me. That’s the name I made up for myself some 40-odd years ago.

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can the enneagram make you a better writer?

F2G Enneagram_transparentAt a SouthWest Writers meeting several years ago, a fiction writer at my table mentioned she didn’t always know what choice her character would make when faced with a decision, an obstacle, or a fork in the road. I had no opportunity to pursue the conversation with her, but I wanted to tell her about the Enneagram and how it could help her solve that problem.

I admire her for being honest about an issue many writers struggle with. Anyone who writes character-driven stories, real or fictional, must have a basic understanding of human nature. While some aspects of being human are common to all of us, we do differ from each other, sometimes in significant ways. The ways we’re different aren’t random, however. A writer can’t just throw together a hodgepodge of attitudes, behaviors, and characteristics and hope to come up with a believable character. Discerning readers recognize poorly drawn characters, whether they are two-dimensional or too multi-dimensional.

Our characters don’t just have to be believable to our readers; they also have to be believable to us. We have to know them better than they know themselves. Yes, we need to understand what they want and what’s in their way, but we also need to know what they’re afraid of, what they resist, what their unconscious motivations are, and what internal obstacles they must overcome in order to succeed. Having a good personality typing system to work with can make that so much easier. It can also help your characters stay on track instead of swerving off the rails.

cookie-cutter characters need not apply

cookie cutter personThe primary objections writers have to typing their characters are no different from the objections many non-writers have to being typed.

Don’t box me in. Some people believe they’re unique, so being typed diminishes them somehow. They think typing puts them into a box. But typing doesn’t put people into boxes; it identifies aspects of the boxes they’re already in. It points out what’s inside the box and what’s outside, both of which are equally important.

Typing equals stereotyping. That’s true. But stereotyping is just a form of categorizing, and categorizing is a function of the kind of thinking the unconscious part of the brain does automatically. We can’t stop the brain from categorizing, which means we’re already stereotyping other people. Understanding the elements of personality can result in informed rather than uninformed categorizing by the brain.

There’s more to me (or my character) than my type. It’s true that personality type doesn’t explain everything, but that’s not a good reason to dismiss it. Humans have a capacity, called mentalization, that allows us to understand our own mental states or thought processes and—more importantly for writers—to attribute mental states to others. We can recognize that others have beliefs, intentions, fears, and desires that are different from ours. Without this ability, we wouldn’t be able to get inside the heads of our characters. The better we’re able to understand where other people (real or imaginary) are coming from, the more true-to-life our characters will be.

why choose the enneagram?

The Enneagram isn’t the only personality typing system available. What I like about it is that the surface simplicity makes the basic concepts easy to grasp. But it is also comprehensive and multifaceted, both broad and deep, which allows for plenty of subtleties and variations.

Enneagram is a Greek word that means “diagram of nine.” The symbol consists of a triangle and a hexad within a circle. The resulting nine points represent nine basic, or core, personality types, each of which has a unique perspective and approach to life. The theory of the Enneagram is that we tend to polarize at one of the nine points, overdeveloping the characteristics associated with that point, while leaving undeveloped many of the characteristics associated with the other points. So each type also represents a particular kind of imbalance.

An individual’s core personality type remains the same over the course of a lifetime, which is why having a character change too much or too abruptly, or behave totally “out of character,” usually isn’t believable. But every character has the possibility for change, either positive (growth) or negative (deterioration). Any character can learn how to moderate and overcome his or her innate predispositions or be done in by them. In fact, that’s the basic arc of just about any character-driven story.

the nine types

Very briefly, these are the nine types:

  1. The Good Person, the Achiever, the Reformer, the Perfectionist. Principled and responsible, but can also be rule-bound and critical.
  2. The Helper, the Giver, the People Pleaser, the Partner. Compassionate and altruistic, but can also be co-dependent and manipulative.
  3. The Performer, the Succeeder, the Motivator, and the Status Seeker. Self-assured and accomplished, but can also be competitive and performance-driven.
  4. The Individualist, the Tragic Romantic, the Artist, the Sensitive Person. Creative and inspiring, but can also be overly dramatic and fault-finding.
  5. The Observer, the Investigator, the Knowledge-Seeker, the Thinker. Perceptive and curious, but can also be cold and detached.
  6. The Loyalist, the Questioner, the Guardian, the Devil’s Advocate. Organized and hard-working, but can also be indecisive and overly-vigilant.
  7. The Adventurer, the Epicure, the Generalist, the Enthusiast. Cheerful and multi-talented, but can also be acquisitive and thrill-seeking.
  8. The Challenger, the Confronter, the Leader, the Asserter. Courageous and magnanimous, but can also be combative and domineering.
  9. The Peacemaker, the Preservationist, the Mediator, the Universalist. Deeply receptive and serene, but can also be disengaged and inattentive.

You can probably identify a few people—real or fictional—who might fit some of these descriptions.

getting under your characters’ skin

masks 2One of the benefits of learning how to apply the Enneagram in your writing is the ability it gives you to get under your characters’ skin so you can know them better than they know themselves. While many personality characteristics are apparent—meaning they’re expressed externally—the motivation underlying them is internal and unconscious. Your characters, like actual people, think they know why they behave as they do, but there’s a good chance they’re wrong.

The following sketches of the nine Enneagram types may give you some ideas in regard to your own characters (the ones in your imagination as well as the ones you interact with in the so-called real world).

Type 1: the Good Person, the Achiever, the Reformer, the Perfectionist
Keyword: Principle. Ones are motivated to improve themselves and live the right way. They follow the rules, defend against criticism from the environment, and scan the environment for chaos or disorder to right. Sometimes they resent the fact that others seem to do as they please. Downside: They can come across as rigid, rule-bound, critical, and self-righteous. Upside: They can be highly principled and responsible with a strong sense of integrity and an ability to inspire others. Communication Style: Teaching, preaching, finding fault, admonishing. Self-talk: That’s not right. Fictional Example: Atticus Finch (To Kill a Mockingbird)

Type 2: the Helper, the Giver, the People Pleaser, the Partner
Keyword: Persuasion. Twos are motivated by the need to be loved and valued and to express their positive feelings toward others. They scan the environment to see what needs to be done, keeping their own needs out of their awareness by focusing on the needs of others. Downside: They can be co-dependent, manipulative martyrs. Upside: They can be sincere, empathetic, compassionate, altruistic people who make a positive difference in others’ lives. Communication Style: Befriending, supporting, offering advice, getting personal. Self-talk: You need me. Fictional Example: Garp (The World According to Garp)

Type 3: the Performer, the Succeeder, the Motivator, the Status Seeker
Keyword: Performance. Threes scan the environment for approval and resist being undermined by the environment. Wanting to be well regarded, successful, productive, and efficient, they focus more on their outer appearance than on the way they feel. Downside: They can be competitive and overly concerned with performance. Upside: They can be charming, self-assured, high-spirited, and persistent, making outstanding contributions and achievements. Communication Style: Promoting, exclaiming, motivational speeches, success stories. Self-talk: Watch me shine. Fictional Example: Jay Gatsby (The Great Gatsby)

Type 4: the Individualist, the Tragic Romantic, the Artist, the Sensitive Person
Keyword: Passion. Fours scan the environment for raw material and defend against being pigeonholed or limited by the environment. They search for what life means and try to understand their feelings and to avoid being ordinary. Downside: Since they compare reality with what could be, they find fault with who they are and what they have. Upside: They can be highly creative and inspiring and have the ability to transform all their experiences into something valuable. Communication Style: Longing, lamenting, poetic turns of phrase, self-expression. Self-talk: I’m feeling…. Fictional Example: Blanche DuBois (A Streetcar Named Desire)

Type 5: the Observer, the Investigator, the Knowledge-Seeker, the Thinker
Keyword: Privacy. Fives scan the environment for information and defend against intrusion from the environment. They want to be self-sufficient, to know and understand, and to avoid feeling invaded; they enjoy being alone with their own thoughts. Downside: They can seem cold and detached, preferring their own minds to the company of others. Upside: They can be highly perceptive, insightful, curious, mentally alert, and open-minded. Communication Style: Detailed explanations, facts, precise instructions, definitions. Self-talk: I’m thinking…. Fictional Example: Sherlock Holmes

Type 6: the Loyalist, the Questioner, the Guardian, the Devil’s Advocate
Keyword: Participation. Sixes scan the environment for agreement and support, defending against instability in the environment. They tend to be cautious, compliant, and dependent, but they can also be indecisive and overly vigilant. Upside: They can be great community builders, who are responsible, organized, and hardworking. Communication Style: Questioning, second-guessing, trouble-shooting, warning. Self-talk: But what if…. Fictional Example: Hamlet

Type 7: the Adventurer, the Epicure, the Generalist, the Enthusiast
Keyword: Pleasure. Sevens scan the environment for gratification, resisting frustration from it. They want to be happy, to contribute to the world, and to avoid pain and suffering. They suppress anxiety by making lots of plans and keeping busy. Downside: They can become acquisitive and materialistic, focused on avoiding boredom and amusing themselves. Upside: They can be resilient and cheerful, multitalented, accomplished achievers who bring people together. Communication Style: Storytelling, joking, entertaining, imagining. Self-talk: On a lighter note…. Fictional Example: Holly Golightly (Breakfast at Tiffany’s)

Type 8: the Challenger, the Confronter, the Leader, the Asserter
Keyword: Power. Eights scan the environment to see where the power lies and resist impact from the environment. They want to be self-reliant and strong and to have an impact on the world. They readily express their anger. Downside: They can be combative and adversarial, attempting to dominate their environment. Upside: They can be courageous and magnanimous, natural leaders who champion people and focus on achieving their vision. Communication Style: Debating, arguing, giving directions, taking aim. Self-talk: Do this my way. Fictional Example: Jo March (Little Women).

Type 9: the Peacemaker, the Preservationist, the Mediator, the Universalist
Keyword: Peace. Nines scan the environment for union or merger, defending against conflict or disharmony. They are the type most likely to identify with the other types. They blend in, accommodate others, and forget their own wants and needs. Downside: They can become disengaged, unreflective, and inattentive, expressing their anger indirectly. Upside: They can be deeply receptive and trusting, stable and serene, and excellent mediators and communicators. Communication Style: Recounting sagas and epics, generalizing, daydreaming aloud, wondering. Self-talk: Nice ‘n’ easy. Fictional Example: Chauncey Gardner (Being There)

enneagram characters…in character

knitting womanUsing a personality typing system the wrong way can lead to creating stereotypical or cardboard characters.

But stereotyping results from generalizing based on a few personal characteristics of any sort, including nationality, religion, gender, race, height or weight, occupation, hobby, pet ownership, age, relationship status, or even eye or hair color.

It’s easy to turn a single (relationship status), 60-year-old (age) woman (gender) who knits (hobby) and owns a cat (pet) into a stereotype. You can probably picture her. Maybe you know someone just like her—or think you do.

Using her as a stock character is economical because the author doesn’t need to provide much additional information for readers to fill in the gaps. If this character is to play a more significant role, however, she can’t remain a stereotype. Let’s try looking at our single, 60-year-old female cat-owning knitter through the lens of the nine types of the Enneagram.

Type 1: The Critical Knitter: Fran is an intake coordinator at the local animal shelter. She always follows the policies and procedures, which is not the case for her co-workers whose mistakes she has to correct. She believes she is more qualified than her supervisor. Her tight-lipped attempts to remain composed and professional instead of telling everyone what she thinks are exhausting. In the evening, she attacks her knitting furiously, often tearing out several rows at a time because the work doesn’t meet her standard of perfection.

Type 2: The Self-Sacrificing Knitter: Marcia knits blankets, scarves, and sweaters for her siblings’ grandchildren, from whom she rarely receives a thank-you note or phone call. Even her nieces and nephews are much less grateful than they used to be. She wonders if they use the things she sends them, but it wouldn’t feel right to stop making them. So although she’d rather spend some of her knitting time reading or going out, she stays home to knit and to make sure her aging cat is comfortable.

Type 3: The Competitive Knitter: Lisa began making her own clothes in order to develop a distinctive personal style. She turned her clothing designs into a successful business which she’s currently still running. She recently took up knitting as a way to relax while being productive. But when she found out the largest yarn store in town awards prizes at an annual contest, she committed herself to besting the previous winner. Her cat is now banished to the bedroom so he won’t mess with the yarn.

Type 4: The Expressive Knitter: Olivia enjoys the various textures and colors of yarn and likes to make one-of-a-kind pieces that represent things like openness, love, or loneliness. She incorporates found objects into each one to give them added dimension. However, she tends not to follow patterns so her creations don’t always turn out the way she envisions them. That can be wonderful or utterly devastating, depending on the results. On the days she’s tempted to toss all of it into the trash, she’s sure her cat is judging her.

Type 5: The Speculative Knitter: Erin taught herself how to knit when she was 10-years-old. Having mastered the technique, she doesn’t have to think about it while she’s doing it. Instead, she uses her knitting time to ponder how to solve the world’s—and her own—problems. She enjoys thinking about things much more than she enjoys spending time with others, including her boyfriend who has become increasingly demanding of her attention. Her cat, on the other hand, has become more withdrawn. When did she last see him?

Type 6: The Anxious Knitter: Sandra has a long bus commute to work five days a week. She tried reading to pass the time but was so distracted by the scenery, overheard conversations, and passengers getting on and off that she lost track of the stories. Knitting absorbs less of her attention yet it keeps her hands occupied. That helps calm her, but it also allows her mind to ruminate about the upcoming company merger, the health of her 16-year-old cat, and the next-door neighbor she’s sure is dealing drugs.

Type 7: The Enthusiastic Knitter: Amy just learned how to knit! She loves it! In fact she’s told all her friends about it and has started a knitting circle. She carries her knitting bag everywhere so she can continue working on one of her projects. Switching back and forth keeps her from getting bored like she did with watercolor painting and photography. Last week, she had to have her cat put to sleep, but she plans to get another one at the animal shelter on Saturday.

Type 8: The Driven Knitter: Carla has a demanding job and volunteers at a women’s shelter. Recently, she agreed to help her neighbor with the crafts festival at her son’s school. She has little down time, so she took up knitting to relax. That backfired, though, because now she’s running a group that knits hats and scarves for women at the shelter. She’d like to get more exercise and eat healthier, but who has time? At least she takes excellent care of her cat.

Type 9: The Avoidant Knitter: Justine works in a large office. For some reason, everyone comes to her with their problems. Sometimes she’s able to help, but it’s very distressing to have to listen to them. She’d rather not get involved. Hoping to be left alone during her breaks, she started bringing her knitting to work and made a sign to hang on the wall of her cubicle. It says “Knitting in Progress” and has a picture of her cat so people will know not to be offended.

The brief sketches of these nine different knitters indicate some of the strengths and weaknesses—and opportunities for conflict—inherent within each type. The Enneagram also identifies how they are likely to act and react, their deepest fears, and the challenges they need to overcome. This information can help writers create characters that are both interesting and believable.

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NOTE: This post was originally published as a series of articles in the SouthWest Sage, the newsletter of SouthWest Writers.

For more information on the Ennegram, please visit my Enneagram website, Nine Paths.

celebrating the senses: vision

eyeThe human brain processes around 11,000,000 bits of information at a time, of which we are only consciously aware of about 40. The vast majority of those 11,000,000 bits of information are related to vision. As John Medina says in Brain Rules:

Visual processing doesn’t just assist in the perception of our world. It dominates the perception of our world.

The things that are in our visual field, whether we’re aware of them or not, have an effect on us. I really became aware of that two years ago when I went through my living space from top to bottom to get rid of all the things I was no longer using. In the course of decluttering, I decided to make my space as cheerful and visually appealing (to me) as possible.

sunNow I have plenty of colorful things I enjoy looking at, including the sunflakes in my windows, the bright things in my office, and the two dozen pieces of talavera pottery in various locations. Most of the talavera critters are on the walls: frogs, geckos, salamanders, birds, and turtles. There’s a roadrunner (the New Mexico state bird) looking out the window of my office, a sun over the stove in the kitchen, a mushroom on top of a bookshelf, and several flower pots full of ivy.

My favorite color is red, so that’s the accent color in my kitchen. The pottery on the mantel over the fireplace belonged to my partner, and looking at it frequently reminds me of him, as does looking at the two stunning 4’x4’ paintings he created, one in the office and one in the living room. Of course, what I enjoy looking at the most in my apartment is my cat, Naima.

sandia-sunset

Photo Source: TripAdvisor.com

Then there’s the great outdoors, which is what attracted me to the southwest. It’s hard to describe the nature of the light here, but it’s unlike the light in either Michigan or California. The sunsets can be spectacular. The clouds are different, too, or so it seems. And the Sandia mountains that always let you know which direction is east aren’t just a great place for hiking, they’re amazing and beautiful, especially when the setting sun turns them watermelon-colored. The picture above does not lie!

cranesfallI love to look at all the trees and the wildflowers in this area, along with the roadrunners and occasional coyote. The cottonwood trees along the Rio Grande bosque turn into a magnificent golden canopy in the fall. And the migration of sandhill cranes to the Bosque del Apache in November is another sight to behold.

The world around me is full of both humdrum and wonder, all of it worth celebrating. I’m truly grateful for having the opportunity to see and appreciate it.

This post is the last of April’s 30 Days of Celebration. To read more, click on the Celebration category link.

Thanks for sharing this brief journey with me.

celebrating sunflakes

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAA suncatcher by any other name would be a sunflake. That’s what the artist who creates them calls them, and I’m not about to argue with her. It all began with a yen to find a single suncatcher to hang in my kitchen window. I searched retail stores and art galleries off and on for well over a year. I also searched online for almost as long before I came across exactly what I was looking for. It’s the one on the lower left in the photo below. But as you can see, it has company.

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I wasn’t able to stop after getting just one sunflake. So I thought maybe I’d get another one or two for windows in the living room. Sunflake #2 is the fourth from the right.

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It turned out that I couldn’t stop with two, either—or with three or four or eight. I now have close to 24 sunflakes hanging in front of the windows in my apartment. The ones in my living room, including this beauty below, sparkle at the first light of day, while the array (above) in my dining room window glints and gleams as the rays of the afternoon sun cross its path. The three in the kitchen reflect the last of the bright light in late afternoon.

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Here you can see it with a couple of its bright companions.

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The source of these beauties is Amber Bechtol of Natural Curve Creations in Leander, Texas. After I’d ordered several pieces from Amber, I realized she was willing to customize the colors of her designs. Of the several pieces she customized for me, this is my favorite. The design is called Zephyr and the color choice is rainbow. So I have a rainbow Zephyr hanging in my kitchen window!

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Although I wondered if I was going a little overboard while building this collection, I have to say I have never regretted acquiring any of them. I notice and appreciate them every single day. Each one is a celebration of light, color, artistry, and joy.

Thank you, Amber!

This post is part of April’s 30 Days of Celebration. To read more, click on the Celebration category link.

celebrating public art

public art1No matter what part of Albuquerque you travel through, you’re bound to encounter one or more of the 800 works of public art scattered across the city. Many of them are the result of Albuquerque’s 1978 Art in Municipal Places Program, which sets aside 1% of City construction funds for the purchase or commission of works of art.

Whether you love or hate individual pieces, you can’t deny that all of these sculptures, murals, and colorful mosaics add immeasurably to the sense of place.

I particularly enjoy the gorgeous mosaics that decorate the entrance to my local library as well as the downtown Convention Center. This (below) is one portion of the Juan Tabo Public Library facade.

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Here are a few more. Which ones do you like best?

GE

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This post is part of April’s 30 Days of Celebration. To read more, click on the Celebration category link.

celebrating the music of poetry

music of poetryIt’s still April; still National Poetry Month.

Poetry and music often come together in unexpected ways. Poet Dorothea Lasky said:

The music of poetry is a delight for the mind.

When it’s read out loud—or set to music and sung—it’s can also be a great delight to the ear.

i carry your heart with me

Poem by e.e. cummings/performed by Michael Hedges (with David Crosby and Graham Nash singing harmony) from the album Taproot. Cummings is my favorite poet and Hedges is a wonderful musician.

i carry your heart with me(i carry it in
my heart)i am never without it(anywhere
i go you go, my dear;and whatever is done
by only me is your doing,my darling)
i fear
no fate(for you are my fate,my sweet)i want
no world(for beautiful you are my world,my true)
and it’s you are whatever a moon has always meant
and whatever a sun will always sing is you

here is the deepest secret nobody knows
(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud
and the sky of the sky of a tree called life;which grows
higher than soul can hope or mind can hide)
and this is the wonder that’s keeping the stars apart

i carry your heart with me(i carry it in my heart)

the song of wandering Aengus

Poem by William Butler Yeats/performed by The Waterboys from the 2011 album An Appointment with Mr. Yeats. A surprising find. According to Mike Scott’s track guide, “This lyric conjures in my mind’s eye a moonlit wood on a hallucinatory night in some old Celtic dream time, and the bard Aengus, silver-bearded, wandering out on his quest. This music is the soundtrack to that vision.” Flute solo by Sarah Allen.
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I went out to the hazel wood,
Because a fire was in my head,
And cut and peeled a hazel wand,
And hooked a berry to a thread;
And when white moths were on the wing,
And moth-like stars were flickering out,
I dropped the berry in a stream
And caught a little silver trout.

When I had laid it on the floor
I went to blow the fire a-flame,
But something rustled on the floor,
And someone called me by my name:
It had become a glimmering girl
With apple blossom in her hair
Who called me by my name and ran
And faded through the brightening air.

Though I am old with wandering
Through hollow lands and hilly lands,
I will find out where she has gone,
And kiss her lips and take her hands;
And walk among long dappled grass,
And pluck till time and times are done,
The silver apples of the moon,
The golden apples of the sun.

adventures of Isabel

Poem by Ogden Nash/performed by Natalie Merchant from the album Leave Your Sleep. I love the energy, the arrangement, the words, Merchant’s voice…everything! It’s my favorite tune on the album.

Isabel met an enormous bear

Isabel, Isabel, she didn’t care
bear was hungry, bear was ravenous
bear’s big mouth was cruel and cavernous
bear said, Isabel, glad to meet you
How do, Isabel, now I’ll eat you
Isabel, Isabel, she didn’t worry
Isabel didn’t scream or scurry
Washed her hands straightened her hair up
Then Isabel ate the bear up

Once in a night black as pitch
Isabel met a wicked old witch
witch’s face was cross and wrinkled
witch’s gums with teeth were sprinkled
Ho, ho, Isabel! old witch crowed
I’ll turn you into an ugly toad
Isabel, Isabel, didn’t worry
Isabel didn’t scream or scurry
showed no rage, showed no rancor
turned the witch into milk and drank her
Oh yeah,

Isabel!!!

Isabel met a hideous giant
Isabel so self reliant
giant was hairy, giant horrid
One eye in the middle of his forehead
morning, Isabel, giant said
I’ll grind your bones and make my bread
Isabel, Isabel, she didn’t worry
Isabel didn’t scream or scurry
nibbled on his zwieback that she fed off
When it was gone, she cut the giant’s head off

Isabel!!!

Isabel met a troublesome doctor
punched and poked till he really shocked her
doctor’s talk was of coughs and chills
doctor’s satchel bulged with pills
doctor said wow Isabel
Swallow this, it will make you well
Isabel, Isabel, didn’t worry
Isabel didn’t scream or scurry

Took those pills from the pill concocter
Then Isabel cured the doctor, yeah, oh yeah

ozymandias

And now for something completely different.

Poem by Percy Bysshe Shelley/performed by JJ Burnel (bass guitarist for the English group, the Stranglers) on the “b” side of his single, “Freddie Laker.” (Lyrics included in the video.) I confess to having once stolen a book from the public library–and it was the collected works of Percy Bysshe Shelley. I memorized this poem. I was in high school, but still, what was I thinking? What I’m thinking now is that this is actually pretty cool.

celebrating the world of typography

fonts1Are you old enough to remember manual typewriters? If you wanted to produce decent-looking print material back then, you actually had to have it professionally typeset and printed. Selectric typewriters made proportional fonts possible, but they were no threat to printing professionals. During the selectric-typewriter age, I worked for a book publisher in San Francisco where I spent a fair amount of time editing proofs. And for quite a few years after that, I continued interacting with printing companies.

The introduction of word processors and then personal computers didn’t initially have any effect on the traditional print process. But enter Apple computers, and all of that changed in a very short time. Adobe started making fonts—and font families—available for Apple computers, and in short order, I was totally on their hook. I drooled over the Adobe font catalog trying to decide which fonts to buy. (I mean these fonts could actually be mine!) After making my decision, I went to the Apple store to purchase them, after which I had to manually install them on my computer.

Somewhere I came across a bumper sticker that read, “He who dies with the most fonts wins.” I put it up in my office. Because I intended to win.

I work on a PC now, and the graphic interface just isn’t as good as a Mac’s. I’ve learned to live with it, but I don’t like it. Yes, I have access to far more fonts now than I did 25 years ago when I had to go to the Apple store to pick them out one or two at a time. But printing from a PC leaves a lot to be desired when compared to either printing from a Mac or professional typesetting.

fonts2Occasionally I indulge myself by “leafing through” some of the online font catalogs reacquainting myself with some old favorite: Antique Olive, ITC Berkeley Oldstyle, Friz Quadrata, ITC Novarese, Nueva (used in the photo on the right), Ocean Sans, and Optima. There’s something about the shape and proportion of letters that I think I’ve always paid attention to—sometimes more than to the actual words or even the meaning. It’s not unusual for me to check out what font was used in a book I’m reading.

Typography is something most of us ordinarily take for granted. So I’m celebrating typography today, along with the artists who design typefaces, because beautiful typography has added a dimension of pleasure to my life for many decades. Maybe it has done the same for you without your being aware of it.

This post is part of April’s 30 Days of Celebration. To read more, click on the Celebration category link.

to celebrate the waking, wake

Muriel RukeyserIt’s National Poetry Month!

To celebrate, here is a poem by Muriel Rukeyser.

She’s the author of my all-time favorite quote: The world is made of stories, not of atoms.

Song

Make and be eaten, the poet says,
Lie in the arms of nightlong fire,
To celebrate the waking, wake.
Burn in the daylong light; and praise
Even the mother unappeased,
Even the fathers of desire.

Blind go the days, but joy will see
Agreements of music; they will wind
The shaking of your dance; no more
Will the ambiguous arm-waves spell
Confusion of the blessing given.

Only and finally declare
Among the purest shapes of grace
The waking of the face of fire,
The body of waking and the skill
To make your body such a shape
That all the eyes of hope shall stare.

That all the cries of fear shall know,
Staring in their bird-pierced song;
Lines of such penetration make
That shall bind our loves at last.
Then from the mountains of the lost,
All the fantasies shall wake,
Strong and real and speaking turn
Wherever flickers your unreal.

And my strong ghosts shall fade and pass
My love start fiery as grass
Wherever burn my fantasies,
Wherever burn my fantasies.

I’ve written (very little) and written about poetry fairly often on this blog, which is named after some lines in an e.e. cummings poem. You can check the posts by clicking the Poetry category link.

This post is part of April’s 30 Days of Celebration. To read more, click on the Celebration category link.

celebration is a state of mind

celebrate 1At least that’s how I’ve decided to look at it. Recently I noticed that celebration hasn’t been present in my life as much as I want it to be—or as much as it has been many different times in the past. I could identify a few reasons for that, but the reasons don’t matter. What matters is that I want it back!

So I’ve decided to create 30 Days of Celebration to help me get back into the celebration habit. That means I will post something about celebration every day from now through April 30th.

In thinking about what represents celebration for me, I quickly came up with a list of at least a dozen things. One of them is music. To kick off this 30 Days of Celebration, I created a celebration playlist of 20 songs and put it on a CD.

Levels (Avicii)
Shut Up and Dance (Talking Is Hard)
It’s Time (Imagine Dragons)
Wings (Jimmy Buffett)
Wonder What You’re Doing for the Rest of Your Life (Train)
Bright (Echosmith)
Hands in the Air (Timbaland feat. Ne-Yo)
Wonder (Emili Sande & Naughty Boy)
Good Life (OneRepublic)
Leaving Winslow (Jackson Browne)


Glad Tidings (Van Morrison)
Earthquake Driver (Counting Crows)
The Moment (Toad the Wet Sprocket)
Avalanche (Talking Is Hard)
Terra Nova (James Taylor)
Downtown Train (Patty Smyth)
Good Feeling (Big Idol)
Wake Me Up (Aloe Blacc)
I Lived (OneRepublic)

The songs that represent celebration for me may not feel celebratory to you. I invite you to consider which songs do feel like celebration to you—and to play them today.

If you, too, would like to amp up celebration in your life, please visit throughout the month and share the things—and the ways—you like to celebrate.

reflections on a tea-soaked madeleine

How does autobiographical memory actually work—and how reliable is it?

proust madeleineThe scientists are telling us that memory is a reconstruction, and yet we, as people, tend to stick to our old-fashioned ideas that memory works like a video camera, for example, that it just records, and it files things away in mental DVDs that we can pull down and set playing. And in a way, that’s not surprising, because we see memories as foundational for who we are. We commonly feel that we are our memories; our memories define us. So something needs to change. … Accepting that memories are not literal representations of the past as it happened doesn’t mean that we have to forget about them or start disbelieving them all. But they’re shaped by who we are now. They’re shaped by what we feel, what we believe, what our biases are. (Charles Fernyhough, Pieces of Light)

According to neuroscientist Karim Nadar, it may be impossible to bring a memory to mind without altering it in some way. Memories we replay mentally over and over or talk about a lot with others are especially susceptible to such alterations. And when you retell it, the memory becomes plastic, and whatever is present around you in the environment can interfere with the original content of the memory.

What we now know is that our brains happily reconstruct memories, though we are frequently fooled into thinking that the reconstructions are seamlessly recorded recollections. … Even for the sharper memories born from strong emotions (often called flashbulb memories), time erodes the infrastructure, leaving cracks and gaps. Instead of remembering specific, perfectly accurate details, what constitutes memory over time are general impressions of events with spotty details—and the older we get, the spottier they become. (Daniel Kahneman, Thinking, Fast and Slow)

There is more than one way to lay down a memory. We’re not talking about a memory of different events, but multiple memories of the same event—as though two journalists with different personalities were jotting down notes about a single unfolding story. … The conviction that memory is one thing is an illusion. (David Eagleman, Incognito)

The world is made of stories, not of atoms.

So said poet Muriel Rukeyser. And she was correct. The world of atoms is composed of facts, details, events, objects, phenomena, information, etc. In the world of atoms, things happen (events take place).

The world of stories consists of our perceptions and interpretations of what happened, as well as the meaning we assign to it.

The things that happen to or around us and our stories or explanations about those things are not the same thing. But because of the speed with which our unconscious brain (a/k/a System 1) processes information—and the fact that we’re not aware of what it’s doing—we think that our story about what happened is what happened.

  • Something happens.
  • We pay attention to selected aspects of it. How do we decide what to pay attention to? For the most part, System 1 (our unconscious) makes that decision for us, based on the model of the world it maintains.
  • We miss most of it! We’re not capable of consciously perceiving everything that is going on around us. Our unconscious can process around 11,000,000 bits of information at a time compared to the 40 bits we can process consciously. There’s an amazing amount of filtering going on all the time.
  • We come up with an explanation for the parts we paid attention to. We have an inner interpreter/narrator whose job it is to maintain an ongoing narrative of our lives, creating order out of chaos, making cause-and-effect connections, and generally leading us to believe we understand what’s going on. Our inner narrator is a great confabulator. If it doesn’t have all the information, it will make something up. And we will almost always believe what it tells us. And we can’t stop ourselves from interpreting or explaining.

A set of brain circuits—usually brilliant, sometimes buffoonish—force narrative structure on the chaos of our lives. Our minds constantly struggle to extract meaning from the data rivering through our senses. … In the same way that your mind sees an abstract pattern and resolves it into a face, your imagination sees a pattern of events and resolves it into a story. If there is no story there, we are only too happy to invent one. (Jonathan Gottschall, The Storytelling Animal)

  • We assign meaning to our explanation of what we paid attention to or noticed. We decide the meaning of things. And we can’t stop ourselves from making meaning.
  • After the fact, we have a memory of what happened, which is really a memory of our fragmentary perception overlaid by our explanation and the meaning we attached to it. This is not a memory of what actually happened in the world of atoms. Our memory tells us stories. So what we get to keep from our experience is a story. The kinds of memories that make the best stories—and the easiest ones to recall—are of events that had a strong emotional impact.
  • Each time we tell the story (to ourselves or others), we edit it. Talking and/or writing about an experience interferes with our memory of it. We remember not what we have experienced but what we have said about what we experienced. Usually the editing is unintentional, but if you pay attention, you can catch yourself in the act of editing to suit your audience, your purpose in telling the story, the impression you’re trying to make, or even your mood.

We have a tendency to reshape the irregular features of our world into smoother, more symmetrical forms. Inconvenient details tend to be pruned from our memories, and facts that do not fit together in a coherent way tend to be forgotten, deemphasized, or reinterpreted. The process of retelling a story in our own narrative style places certain constraints on what we recall, and these constraints guide our reconstruction of events. (Joseph T. Hallinan, Why We Make Mistakes)

  • What we are left with is the latest version of our altered recollection (and selected perception) of something that happened and what it means to us.

When you’re writing a story from a character’s point of view, you include only what that character is aware of. Unless you’re a really bad writer, you don’t include random bits of information just because you find them interesting or because you discovered them in the course of your research.

Everyone always has a point of view, in real life as well as in stories. We—and our characters—can’t help but view the world subjectively. Everything that happens happens to us.

Your P.O.V. character acts, reacts, and interprets events based on his or her model of the world the same as we do in real life. No one is a completely reliable narrator because we are all selectively paying attention to—or screening out—various things, interpreting what we pay attention to, creating cause-and-effect explanations, and assigning meaning.

Furthermore, our experiences instantly become part of the lens through which we view our entire past, present, and future, and like any lens, they shape and distort what we see. The bottom line is that there is no such thing as a true story. A story can be more or less “truthy,” but never completely true.

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