Through the Marine Layer

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Through the Marine Layer

Yesterday morning, I embarked on my first bike commute of the year. It was through what we in San Diego call the marine layer, that fog that rolls in over the coast and the city from the Pacific Ocean. Some parts of the ride was thick with ground level clouds while a clear path was seen further out. It’s just one part of my cycling journey.

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Last year, it was off and on with the bike riding for me. A year ago, I was recovering from prostate cancer surgery, so there was no riding a bike for a while. I could barely walk for the first three months, but I managed to do so with a cane and I took public transportation. I even managed to fly to the AWP conference in Washington DC in my condition. I would have loved to have experienced riding around this city on a bike, but it wasn’t the time.

It would be in the late spring I was able to ride. I could no longer throw my leg over the topbar of a traditional men’s bike, so I bought what is traditionally seen as the women’s model, a stepover Linus model from my favorite bike shop. It helped that she was bold and beautifully black. Elke, as Spot the bike mechanic christened her, even inspired envy from men who noticed my bike.

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In the previous year, before the surgery, I had done much of my thousands of bike miles with Beau, the electric blue Swobo. In my recovery, I couldn’t ride him anymore, but I did find a good home for him with a poet and fellow teacher.

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I’ve had four bikes in the past several years and they represent different aspects of the bike journey. In late January 2015, my first bike was a Bianchi Cameloeonte, a lower end model that was made for daily practical use versus long treks and races like the higher end Bianchi models. It changed my life with the commutes. I fell in love with riding a bike and I got to learn about bikes from taking in to the shop to get serviced. Early on, within three months, it got stolen at City College when I was teaching an evening class.

That was very stressful and put the brakes on my cycling for a while. 

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 Before I got Beau the blue Swobo Fillmore, I found a used Bianchi Ibex on Craigslist. The woman selling it to me out in the far suburbs didn’t seem to know much about it as it must have been her husband or son’s bike that had been sitting in the garage and not getting much use. She didn’t know how things worked mechanically, which made me wonder if I was getting a lemon of a bike. After I handed her the $200, I drove it home and had the shop take a look at it.

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Some servicing and a tuneup sometime later had the Ibex running well. This was the bike that brought me to being able to ride up the steep hills of San Diego, a city of mesas and a few big hills. It would take me through the first half of the year until Fall 2015 when I bought the blue Swobo, christened by Stephen the shop owner as Beau.

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Beau got me many of my miles and continued to be with me in the tumultuous year of 2016 that claimed some of the cultural treasures of my youth like David Bowie and Prince and then later on gave us the Orange Haze who shall not be named. 2016 was also the year where I first showed the signs of having prostate cancer through blood screenings early on, a confirmed diagnosis mid year, and then the surgery at the end.

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Even though I like to personify these bikes, gender them, and see them in terms of relationships (Beau the boyfriend, the Ibex and Elke as girlfriends), the bikes are also like the tools for writing. I’ve had some fountain pen-level bikes. However, I could have also made do with less expensive models and got the riding done.Ultimately, it’s what I do with those bike - plot and move through the story of my rides that matters.

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Each day I get on a bike is different. Most days seem the same as far as the pedaling goes, but variables include the weather, my state of mind, and even the traffic. Most days, it’s very clear as San Diego days typically are. I can generally afford to go off the beaten path. However, on those marine layer mornings or late afternoon, it helps to know where I’m going. What I experience on the way is what’s different. 

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My Web Presence History

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My Web Presence History

My first website was made sometime in 1997 on Geocities after a friend of mine created his own site on that platform. I started from a template that created a simple, but ugly website. It went this way for a few months until I bought a copy of Dreamweaver and created more attractive HTML files I could upload and then I updated it with an attractive portfolio with some short stories and poems I have written to date. The title was unimaginative: The Fiction and Poetry of Shinichi Evans.

I went into the Wayback Machine and, unfortunately, I could not find a copy. A few years later, I branded my site shindotv and I got a domain name to boot. Shindo came from a moniker a high school friend gave to me when he created a postpunk goth zine.

I created an artful entry page with a cross and cigarette photo made by my brother, which the Wayback Machine has an intact copy, but for the menu page that follows, the blue square graphic grid with the mouse on over squares is incomplete. It still had the portfolio of the previous page with some additions.

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It was something I could use to show others my work as I was studying in an MFA program at the time. Alas, I didn’t update for several reasons: formatting works took time, my work at the time had a lot of images at the time, and that uploading files seemed to take more work. The site and the domain name lapses and it would be some time after I graduate that I would create a blog on Blogger/Blogspot.

I would call this blog shindotv and eventually reregister the dot com I lost earlier. Even though I called it my MFA afterlife, it never had a clear focus. I wrote some grad school memoirs, rants about adjunct teaching, and soon discovered the gay blogosphere in networking with other bloggers. Some of the blog entries from the time were clearly correspondence with other bloggers, where some others were more caught up with pop culture topics like Project Runway. I also added to my blogging community when I networked with the San Diego blogging and Twitter community. By that time, I had moved my site to a hosted site using Wordpress software. I felt like I was moving on up.

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Going side by side with my Blogspot blog was a profile I created on Myspace and my first Twitter profile. I cross-posted some of my blog entries on the MySpace profile. As for Twitter, it was early days and I didn’t tweet much on it. The iPhone would come out a year later and make it easy. But at the time, it depended on either posting the tweet by their website or texting from your phone, which was more tedious with having to having to use the number keys to get your letters and then send the message to a five digit phone number. The myspace profile would eventually lapse in use, but when I got a second generation iPhone, tweeting became easy. And then it became easy to tweet too much. As I made more connections in the San Diego Twitter community through their Tweetups (Twitter Meetups), I had more of an audience. 

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I would eventually get rid of the Myspace profile, especially when Facebook made it moot. Over three years ago, I got rid of my original Twitter profile. By that time, I wanted to put the content of my tweets, whether they were in the moment tweets, mini rants, or even my annoying attempts to promote shindotv behind me. Also, I stopped being invested keeping up with the relationships on Twitter.

I joined Facebook in early 2008, which is shortly after creating my Twitter and Facebook profiles. I friended old high school connections, colleagues, and even friends of friends. Of the profiles mentioned so far, the Facebook profile is the one that’s still in existence. It’s not because I like it anymore, but it’s become a communication utility that’s become entrenched in our culture. And like most people, my usage has evolved over the years.

There were silly games and applications. Facebook was convenient for short rants, some of which I’m not proud of. It was too easy to circulate memes. I posted a lot of links to current issues over the years. I also tried cross-posting my blog and posting links to entries early on, but eventually, Facebook killed the blogs. Speaking for myself, I can say it killed mine.

A few years ago ago, when I was lamenting blog death, I tried creating another blog, which I named The Shindoverse. It was hosted on my web server and I found snazzy Wordpress templates for it. Whereas shindotv went all over the place, The Shindoverse would have fewer, but more thoughtful entries. My intent was to go for quality. I had some writerly entries and then I did discuss my cycling as a process and discipline I was discovering later. Two years ago, the site fell victim to malicious hacks. The attacks didn't seem to target me personally (like it was trying to ruin me), but it was a time when sites with Wordpress software were heavily targeted by hackers looking to hijack the sites. I copied and pasted as many entries onto a MS word file and then deleted the blog.

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I ended my account with my web host shortly after and I migrated the shindotv blog and my domain shindotv.com to my account on Wordpress.Com.

Over the past five years, I have also had accounts on Instagram and Tumblr. I posted images of bow ties, local beers, and lots of photos of San Diego on my Instagram profile. One nice thing at the height of the bow tie postings was that I developed some relationships with bow tie sellers and I got some free ties from them, which I then happily shouted out. I also posted photos of the ones I bought. Much of these images were cross-posted on my Tumblr profile, which I also used to try to get back into blogging and writing. I have tapered off from using both Tumlbr and Instagram about half a year ago.

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Two years ago, I decided a going back to a static website would be good. I created my website and this blog on Squarespace. This time, I would keep it focused on my Resplendence project from my MFA and related works. Though I named it The Shindoverse, the Gold Lady became the face of this new site. She’s always been a better ambassador of my brand than I can ever be. There’s room for other works though. 

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I put off on making the site live after I got most of the pages up as I needed to put text and captions where needed. It was simply procrastination. I finally got the text where I needed it around the start of the year and here it is. I also started posting on The Shindoverse Notebook, more or less going with a New Year’s resolution to write 250-500+ words a day. However, this also represents a step I’m taking in my creative journey, so it’s important to me.

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Last summer, I created The Shindoverse blog on my Wordpress account as a way to tell my story, whether with the creative journey or other things, like having dealt with prostate cancer over the past two years. It has recently found use as the mirror blog for The Shindoverse Notebook. It’s not completely out of line with the purpose I outlined on the blog and there’s room for discussing a wide variety of things under my creative journey or telling my story. 

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Over the decades, I have sought to present myself as a writer online, not all attempts successful. All these different manifestations on the web have also been an attempt to develop my voice, whether it has been the stories or the discussion. I’ve come back to having a portfolio. I’ve also returned to having a blog. I hope my use of these things will evolve in way that serves my intentions and my art. 

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Reading: Griffin & Sabine Trilogy

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Reading: Griffin & Sabine Trilogy

  • Books: Griffin & Sabine, Sabine’s Notebook, The Golden Mean
  • Author: Nick Bantock
  • Publisher: Chronicle Books
  • Genres: Fiction, epistolary fiction, visual fiction, art book, toybook

What drew me into the Griffin & Sabine trilogy was the conceit of them being a series of artfully done postcards between two people corresponding across the world. Griffin makes prints of his artworks on postcards and Sabine sends her own artwork on handmade postcards along with her country's stamps of her own design and both occasionally send letters in altered envelopes, which the reader can pull out and read. The handwriting and artworks of these two are distinctive enough to establish who did what, and these visual elements add to the believability of a very surreal story.

However, the narrators are unreliable. Griffin is most likely real in this fictional universe, but his grip on reality is questionable. Sabine's claims of a telepathic link is compelling and she gives enough details in her correspondence to be believable, but being able to meet Griffin is another thing altogether. That she is a real person is suspect, though the evidence of the letters with their canceled stamps seem to tell Griffin otherwise.

The sending back and forth of cards and letters by post now seem quaint, but that it is between two pen pals who become lovers fits perfectly in our social media age with online connections made between strangers and the infamous catfishing stories over the past few years. Which then brings the question of what kind of person is Sabine really.

It's also possible that Griffin is the true author of both sets of postcards and letters just as Nick Bantock is in real life. Or, Sabine is the one who invented Griffin. As the trilogy progresses to the end, the answer isn't clear.

Bantock packs a lot into these thin volumes and makes use of the space between. Interestingly, the postcards, letters, and envelopes don't leave much space at all, with surrealist paintings and collages taking up the whatever space they can. Even the text takes up as much as it can, only leaving room for stamps and addresses.

As visual works and physical objects, the Griffin & Sabine books are a delight, even as the the stories and art take a dark turn.

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Reading: The Phantom Tollbooth

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Reading: The Phantom Tollbooth

  • Authors: Norton Juster, Jules Feiffer (illustrator)
  • Book: Phantom Tollbooth
  • Publisher: Random House

It's one thing to be exposed to this story as a child. It was in the form of a play done at my American elementary school in Japan when I was in fourth grade. It was bizarre and entertaining and a lot of the concepts flew over my head. It would be several decades later that I'd pick this up as an adult and the conceptual stuff was fun. I got these personifications and representations the protagonist Milo and his friends for the journey encounter because they were things I picked I gained in my knowledge over the years.

It's fantasy and clever allegory where the rift between the King Azaz of words and ideas and the Mathemagician, king of the numbers, can only be resolved by a quixotic mission taken on by Milo, Tock, and Humbug to rescue Rhyme and Reason, the princesses who bring harmony and order to everything. Milo starts off as an ordinary boy who doesn't know much to overcoming his ignorance in his quest.

It's very instructive for young readers, but it has a lot for adult readers too because nagging doubts, distractions, or getting caught up with ignorance don't go away after childhood.

I really enjoyed the images by Jules Feiffer. They are deceptively simple, looking as if the narrator could have sketched them himself, but with more value than he could have done. The heavy lifting in the story is done by Norton Juster’s text and storytelling, but the images add greatly like they do for Alice in Wonderland or Shel Silverstein’s Where The Sidewalk Ends.

It’s a good book to start the year and I’ll take its lessons to heart.  

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Busted E String

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Busted E String

I've had a goal to learn how to play the guitar for a while. Last summer, I bought a guitar, a wonderful left-handed Fender model. I got some self-teaching books, but I never made it past first string. I have also felt it would be a good idea to get lessons, but it's always a matter of schedule and expense, etc.

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Since this year is still young, I figured I'd pick up the guitar again and learn it. I made music flashcards with notes and string positions, so I can arrange them any way I want: open strings, by string, sharps, flats, etc and even throw a chord or two in at a time. I came up with a way that works for me in the meantime and I was excited to try it out.

Yesterday, I came home from Guitar Trader with a tuner and strap for my guitar. I clipped the tuner to the head and started with the first string. It was very taut and I knew it for a while. I told myself the night before I needed to properly tune it. I didn't know it was so tight that it would bust with a short turn of the tuning key. And it was irritatingly inconvenient at the moment.

I felt derailed right after that string broke.

I had just come home from a several mile ride across two cities with the bulk of it spent on the freeway, and I didn't want to repeat the trip on a late Friday afternoon/early evening.

The good thing, though is I knew this problem was solvable and and that I could do something about it on a saner time. While it didn't require sleeping on, that I could put this off until the next morning was self care.

When it came to writing, self care wasn't always evident. Even with methods of backing up data, computer crashes can still take writers by surprise and it is stressful. It doesn't help for people to say that you should have backed up your files. You lost your writing and it can be traumatic. There are the times when someone makes crazy in your life and it hinders you in trying to write. When you succeed in getting them out of your life, it may take some to recover both your sense of self and the writing practice. It's not as simple as buying an E string and installing it on the guitar.

Once upon a time, I wanted to learn to write and I set about making a goal of it. It helped to have those literacy skills. I then got the education. And I got the reminder that learning writing is a never ending process.

My goal to learn how to play the guitar is a more personal one. Here, the equipment is important and there are a lot of practical solutions to problems. However, this is a process just like writing and it requires patience and self care.

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Being Present with First Thoughts

Yesterday morning, I took a cue from Natalie Goldberg's Writing Down the Bones in the “First Thoughts” chapter and wrote in my notebook, pen and paper, in five minute bursts. I used the timer on my iPhone and I started it up two times more. I spent a total of seventeen minutes more or less, which doesn't seem like too much time. However, five minutes or a group of five minutes is more than none writing.

Goldberg offers these guidelines for any timed writing session:

  1. Keep your hand moving.
  2. Don't cross out.
  3. Don't worry about spelling, punctuation, grammar.
  4. Lose control.
  5. Don't think. Don't get logical.
  6. Go for the jugular.

I used a pen and notebook because it kept my hand moving. I figured this would be a good way to start on some fiction I've been meaning to write. If I try to start on Microsoft Word, I freeze up. There's something about how it gives you a virtual page layout that makes it daunting to even start and helps reinforce the terror of the blank page. Even sitting down with a notebook with pen in hand can induce this anxiety, so having the timer on pushed me to get my hand moving.

As much as I like using the Notes app to write things out, it doesn't get my hand moving the same way. It does get my thumbs moving and the predictive text adds an element that's not present when I sit down with pen and paper, which brings me to editing issues.

I have to admit I still crossed out words in my brief morning writing session. It's a hard habit to kick. Most of the time it was the wrong form of the word or even one that was misspelled. And yes, I worried about writing down the wrong word and spelling.

I usually don't have much problems with punctuation. However, I do get fixated on sentence structure and worry about how elegant or inelegant they come out. When I am writing more quickly, my sentences do run on more. They can be long and unwieldy, which is the opposite of being in control.

It's not just spelling, punctuation, grammar, and sentence structure regarding control. It's scary to reveal things in writing, especially when it's deeply personal. Even when it's not so personal, it's easy to get caught up o in what someone might think about me based on what I say, what I present about myself. Also, style and execution at this stage can stop the process altogether.

On her guidelines for a timed writing session, regarding “Go for the jugular,” Natalie Goldberg adds the note “If something comes up in your writing that is scary or naked, dive right into it. It probably has lots of energy.” This where giving control comes in. In avoiding what's scary or naked in my writing, I avoid what's awkward or uncomfortable, but I also avoid material that can later on be what lets the reader in. This is the type of thing that makes personal essays compelling, but it can also add deeply to fiction. I should not avoid the things that may be difficult to discuss or things I'm ashamed of in these writing sessions. Emotions too as they can be very scary, especially in naked form.

I've often use emotion to put off writing. Most of the time, it's that I might be feeling drained or sad, so I tell myself that I will write when I'm in a better state of mind. Then I'm in a better state of mind later and I still don't get around to writing.

For this and just sitting through the writing, Natalie Goldberg discusses Zen discipline and then applies it to writing: “...you may feel great emotions and energy that will sweep you away, but you don't stop writing. You continue to use your pen and record the details of your life and penerrate to the heart of them.”

In my desire for stability and control, I found it easy to stagnate and not move. There isn't room for the energy of first thoughts, so letting go of what she describes as the ego, “that mechanism in us that tries to be in control, tries to prove the world is permanent, logical, enduring, and logical,” helps. Then there is room for the energy of the first thoughts.

I can go into my timed writing exercises knowing the value of first thoughts. I can also approach untimed writing in the same way. And being present compared to living in the past helps. This makes writing active.

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Reading in this New Year

It's so easy to get caught up in this idea of reading as a writer that it becomes this rule, a dogma. Some writers, like Stephen King in his famous book on writing drives home this point where it's easy to internalize in this way. I have to admit it's easy to feel guilty if the reading falls by the wayside for whatever reason.

When this happens, reading becomes a labor. This takes whatever joy there is in reading a work someone else created out of their own dreams and desires that it destroys the point of reading altogether.

Reading is about listening, hearing the story a writer is telling you. Or, it is to take in the view someone is presenting you. This is what it is to be an active reader.

Sorry, that is the English teacher part of me talking, but it is true. We do live in an age where context is missing and public figures are constantly shouting that that's not what they said. Often, the context is deliberately hid, but a bigger issue is that many of us aren't fully equipped to truly see it, especially when we are caught up in what outrages us.

I got it in my head as a young man that somehow reading a book is like eating it and writing creatively is like shitting out your literary meals. I've never seen it explicitly said like that. However, when you are advised to read to shape your own language and learn the form of wiring, it's easy to come to this view. And I'm starting to realize how warped it is.

I suppose it's better than plagiarism, which is like gobbled up prose that's vomited up too soon and the sick is still very recognizable as the food. Often, it's voluntary like the inaccurate image of Romans going into the vomitorium to disgorge the contents of their stomachs so they can eat more.

This year, I do intend to make reading a more regular practice. I also resolve to get past the baggage so that reading is more the act of listening than it is looking for something to steal. In cultivating the act of listening as a reader, I myself can present my story in a way that the audience can listen themselves.

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Facebook and Orange Haze

Over the years, I have come to have a love/hate relationship with Facebook. I love the connectedness I have with the various groups of people in my life. I hate that I can spend too much time chasing updates. I like when people share funny or interesting updates. I hate that the updates have now become non-stop articles about the orange haze. No, I’m not going to name that, but I’m sure you have a good idea already.

This has become the great crazy maker (to borrow that Artist’s Way phrase) of our time. I’ve gotten to where I’ve gotten rid of the personal crazy makers in my life such as certain friends, a significant other, and even a toxic mentor and my challenge became to cultivate sane contacts, whether they have been in my life for a while or I starting to know them. Now there’s a crazy maker in the background and I didn’t say yes. It’s more like having someone scream outside my house nonstop and I don’t want to acknowledge him, so I play the music to maximum volume.

I understand I’m not alone. I see it on friends’ posts. The problem has become that it’s all I see now.

Before, my problem was that Facebook took my time, my thoughts, and words. I resented yet, yet I could not stop.

Every year, I see friends give up Facebook for Lent. Forty days they don’t post and then they are back at it again. I’ve never tried it as I try to turn this abstaining practice of Lent into something life-changing. It doesn’t always work out that way, but that is the intention.

Here, I have to acknowledge that Facebook changed my life. I’m not saying that it’s great, but i’m not saying it’s horrible. I don’t always like it, though.

There is the orange haze I mentioned earlier. That it shows up in my newsfeed constantly makes me feel like I’m forced to stare at something with my eyelids cut off. There’s the time suck that was an issue long before. And it has a way of taking up time that can be used for reading or writing.

The funny thing is since Facebook is still primarily a text medium is that it doesn’t add greatly to the reading anyone does. I believe that it’s that the reading one does on Facebook isn’t active. People often react and miss things and context is lost. And outrage takes over everything.

In the midst of all that, I see posts that add up to compelling stories. I see interesting ideas and insights from friends. However, it’s the reactive side of posts I see more.

For me, if I decided to try to quit Facebook cold turkey, I would be back right away. It’s what happened when I tried removing the app from my iPhone and iPad. I re-downloaded them shortly after.

I have found that making these blog posts have helped. I don’t want to take as much time as I have before. I haven’t posted this much this week. It’s an opportunity to rethink how I engage on that medium and how much I want to engage elsewhere. It’s also made me think of how I can use that time for things I want to do such as writing and my artwork.

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Writing Tools

A long time ago, when I first read Writing Down the Bones, I soon got caught up with fountain pens. At the time, Sheaffer still made fountain pens that were still writing pens, not just calligraphy, and they were really cheap. I remember getting clear colors like red, blue, or green, and some opaque ones like in marbled green or blue. They leaked a lot, so I took the inkstains on my hands as a badge of being a writer.

I wasn't simply content with my fast writing fountain pens, I bought fancier Cross pens several times over the years and I lost all of them. They were nice props to have.

I have consistently used Uniball pens. They are good rollerball pens, but I think I picked them up in bulk from Office Depot or in singles from art supply stores because I have gotten myself branded on them. While they're not fountain pens, they still make nice props and I'm not inclined to share them.

I should switch it up, go with the Staples or Office Depot store brand and be less fixated on what I'm writing with.

There are all the times I bought hardbound notebooks or Moleskines and never finished them. The nicer the notebook, the more daunting I find them to use.

I understand the point of the Beginner's Mind chapter in Writing Down the Bones isn't about developing writing fetishes. However, I have to admit that I have gotten caught up in some because there is symbolic value in these things. I had often hoped to benefit from their magic.

A couple of days ago, I stopped by Target and I bought a few composition notebooks for 50¢ each.

I got them for the purpose of doing timed writing and/or to get those first thoughts down quickly. They aren't great looking and they remind me of middle school and high school, so I don't take it too seriously. It's a medium where I have permission to write the worst stuff in the world. I can fail amidst all the verbal doodling.

I've never taken to using typewriters to write stories or poems. It's a much more writerly symbol (more like icon) and I have come across some attempts to recreate that experience for our high tech age, such as a word processing machine built to provide the sensory experience of the electric typewriter keyboard with an e-paper screen. One gets to have an experience that is both analog and digital. However, it's greatest appeal is that one can write without the distraction of the Internet, whether it's random Google searches or Facebook.

I have also come across keyboards on shopping searches that offer the feel of typing, like clacking keys, for use with the computer or tablets. Unlike the e-paper typewriter, it's still easy to get caught up with the Internet, especially social media. However, the typewriter-style keyboard is a seductively sexy prop that has tempted me a few times. No, I've never bought one.

Weirdly, I find it easy to thumb it out with the Notes app on my iPhone. While it's something that's bundled up in a very expensive smart phone, it doesn't feel that expensive to me. It is the software equivalent of those 50¢ composition books. Whatever I write doesn't feel so important that I get bogged down in what to say or how it looks. Also, it's something I don't take as seriously as Microsoft Word, which makes me freeze up.

After having smartphones for the past few years, I still have trouble taking them seriously. It is what I tweet and post Facebook statuses with and those are very artless mediums, no matter how clever one is on them. I have to admit I have spent too much time on those social networks and I have even felt at times that they have taken some of my best words and thoughts. So in a weird way, to use the smartphone as a writing tool is a way to reclaim my time and my energy writing.

However, I'll still go with the idea that using the phone to write is liberating because I don't take it seriously as a medium. It's not like a journal book or even Microsoft Word. It just works.

What works is going to be constantly developing. I haven't tried using any voice recording or voice typing yet. It might be a good way to get these thoughts out during a walk or if I'm doing something like making something on a sewing machine. There is still room to experiment and see what's right.

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Writer’s Guides: The Artist’s Way

Once upon a time, I took an Artist’s Way workshop. This was post-MFA with me having taught for a couple of years and feeling frustrated about not really getting any writing done. Meanwhile, a friend who is a self-taught poet was inspired by Interview with a Vampire and went down the rabbit hole of vampire literature and films and movies in teaching himself how to write his own vampire novel. This same friend told me about the Artist Way Workshop that was facilitated by a friend of his.

I knew about Julia Cameron’s book for many years, but shied away from it. It sounded New Agey, like drum circles. But there are times in one's life when one needs something like that, so I decided to give it a try.

It's hard to get away from the spiritual component of The Artist's Way. Cameron isn't the only one to advance this idea of creativity being a spiritual thing as there's the Zen connection in Natalie Goldberg's Writing Down the Bones and the Christianity that guides Anne Lamott in Bird by Bird. Cameron doesn't come from a specific faith or tradition in her approach, though invites the reader who's picked up her book to see themselves as being made in the image of the image of the Creator to be creators themselves.

While a theme of this book is following your creative passion, it's not about getting caught up in a vague spirituality. Julia Cameron gives a prescription for self-care long before it became a term while walking the reader through practice with plenty of activities and prompts, like morning pages, artist dates, and assignments to tap into one's creativity.

Through it all, it is about pursuing art safely in the safe space you make for yourself. A term that stuck out for me is crazy maker, that person who obstructs or details you from own creative journey. While we need other people, especially those who encourage us as creatives, we don't need the self-serving, abusive people who keep us from moving forward.

All of us can identify crazy makers in our lives and something that becomes clear in this book is that we are not to be crazy makers ourselves, but people who also support other creatives.

This is where the workshop comes in. I met some wonderful people in those sessions, some of whom I still keep in touch with in some way. Some people took what they were doing already further, while others made different creative decisions. I didn't pick up on my writing, but I did decide to learn how to sew. This was something I always wanted to do. Also, my lacking this skill was something that held me back when I was a high school senior applying to get into a fashion school. I wanted to do fashion design, but got shunted into visual presentation. I was still pursuing my visual art passion at the time, but I had also limited myself from what I actually wanted to do. I suppose it's not too late. I don't think I'd want to now. I can still make fabulous clothes for myself, but I digress.

The workshop followed the 14 week structure given in the book. The facilitator in my group stuck largely to the script, but he also added his own shamanism and his framework of the Wizard of Oz. Dorothy's journey and the symbols from the book and film added greatly to the his lessons. For him, creativity was about the magic and he would even wave his fingers at me or someone else to transmit it.

It had been years since then that I had picked up the book. I don't think I even had it anymore, so last week, I went to Bookofff with the purpose of buying it and I managed to find it. It's no small feat to find a book you're specifically looking for in a used bookstore, so this was synchronicity.

The workshop's facilitator died a couple of years ago, so I also see it as his magic lives on and that it was no accident that I found it. I've been going through it and remembering his lessons, but also seeing what Julia Cameron has to say with fresh eyes.

 

Here is the list of writing books:

  1. Natalie Goldberg, Writing Down The Bones
  2. Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird
  3. Julia Cameron, The Artist's Way
  4. Rachel Simon, The Writer's Survival Guide
  5. Francine Prose, Reading Like a Writer
  6. Jeff Vandermeer, Wonderbook: The Illustrated Guide to Writing Imaginative Fiction
  7. Jessica Page Morrell, The Writer's I Ching (with card deck)
  8. Naomi Epel, The Observation Deck: A Toolkit for Writers (cards and guide)
  9. Jamie Cat Callan, The Writer's Toolbox: Creative Games and Exercises for Inspiring the “Write” of Your Brain (game kit)

 

There are more titles I can name, maybe later.

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