I'm revamping this blog and have moved it to a new domain:
blogspot domain: http://rhymeswithcamera.blogspot.com
regular domain: http://www.rhymeswithcamera.com
Eventually I will phase out this blog here but plan to repost the best of this old blog at the new address.
Thanks for reading and don't forget to resubscribe...
I'm revamping this blog and have moved it to a new domain:
Announcing the opening of the 2009 Magic Carpet Ride mentorship application period.
This mentorship, an innovative one-on-one creative writing program, is the first of its kind to provide specialized instruction, direction, and motivation specifically for a writer of literary magical realism. The purpose of the Magic Carpet Ride mentorship is to assist a promising magical realist writer from anywhere in the world in the completion of a polished manuscript by the end of the session which may then be actively submitted to potential publishers.
This mentorship, valued at $1500, will be awarded annually, and on a competitive basis, to a single applicant who is able to demonstrate:
• a deep commitment to completing their work in progress
• strong writing skills
• a desire to learn and to succeed
• a good understanding of the magical realist nature of their manuscript
Applications for the 2009 mentorship session are now available. Applicants must fill out an online application, respond to a questionnaire, send a 10-page sample and pay the application fee ($40 for members of MRCentral; $60 for nonmembers, which covers lifetime membership).
Postmark deadline for receipt of all application materials for the 2009 mentorship session is October 31, 2008. Email deadline for receipt of all application materials for the 2008 mentorship session is midnight [Pacific time], October 31, 2008.
On June 17 (tomorrow), the Field's End Writers’ Roundtable features Sheila Rabe as she discusses answers to the question, “What makes a book funny?” 7:00 - 8:30 p.m. Bainbridge Public Library. Free + cookies!
We don't typically travel over Memorial Day weekend. We're the backyard guerrillas, or the local yokel boaters, or the dayhikers, or the clamdiggers, or the rainy day boardgamers, or the closet cleaners, or the barbecuers. And we always watch a lot of TV.
This time of year, for us, is tough on the downtime schedule. Between the wrapping up of school projects (concerts, plays, art shows), the finishing of after-school activities (for us, it's the end of the annual swimming season, the time for a year's worth of dance to culminate in four recitals, the end of the gymnastics term, final events for Y Guides, and piano recitals), and my own "putting to bed" of various projects which I take leave of during the summer for my own writing, there's not a lot of spare time to watch TV.
While our latest Netflix delivery languishes in its envelope, wondering when we'll turn it back in, Tivo, thank goodness, keeps us connected,
Okay, I can see the eyes rolling in the virtual universe. Listen, I'm not a TV-hating intellectual. I'm a GenXer. I grew up on TV. I know it can be evil. I know it can also be good. And on holiday weekends when the price of gas means it costs me $67 to fill up my small sedan's tank and the traffic on the ferries and the highways is atrocious, it's also a cheap, easy alternative to a blink-of-an-eye vacation. Hey, we do whatever we do together. What more could anyone ask?
The thing is, TV is about story. It's not about tuning out the world or grooming our kids' best antisocial behavior or choosing obesity. We watch together, we discuss themes, we muddle through questionable scenes or unravel complicated plots (well, my 12-year-old is the genius with unraveling the knots in Battlestar Galactica, truth be told; I wish she watched Lost so she could do us a favor there, but that series started when my girls were just way too young, and we'd have to watch the whole thing over again to catch all of us up on its mythos).
We've let most of our dramas and comedies slide to keep up with reality/game shows like Idol, Survivor and Top Model. No, those aren't stories, these are studies in human behavior, as well as competitions. Frankly, I don't see how they merit less than anything you find on ESPN, where both good and bad behavior are celebrated. And they're fun and entertaining, besides.
It's only fair to give the timely shows priority. It's hard to avoid spoilers even one day after results shows are broadcast, though some of these types of shows on our Season's Pass aren't quite so mainstream: I can still watch delayed episodes of Top Chef and Big Break without worrying too much about spoilers.
But we have successfully finished some of our favorites in the comedy and drama category this season: Reaper, Medium, Supernatural, Aliens in America (which I'm so bummed to learn was cancelled).
It's mainly the Big Dogs we're way behind on. And the fact is, we wouldn't have it any other way.
Watching 4 episodes of a complicated television drama like Battlestar Galactica, back to back, without commercials, is a great way to pass a rainy Memorial Day afternoon. It recalls the "Apes All Day" programming at TBS, which runs the entire Planet of the Apes series on New Year's Day. Sweet!
Other shows we're grossly behind on: Lost, Boston Legal, Desperate Housewives, My Name is Earl, The Office. And we're behind on these mostly because we consider this adult programming in our house (not safe for kids under 13). These shows always gets pushed to the after-bedtime slot, but lately, we haven't had the stamina to keep our eyes open past 9:45 most nights without resorting to toothpicks. Mom and Dad need a summer break just as much as the kids do.
There is always Everybody Hates Chris or Jamie at Home to turn to when we do find a random block of time in the evening and nobody wants to play Blokus or Monopoly or Labyrinth. But mostly we just flip on the Game Show Network or The Food Network and let it ride on busy schoolnights. With these channels, there's something for everybody, and if you're busy doing chores or checking email, it makes for satisfying background noise and brainless entertainment.
But lo! On the Tivoic horizon looms a whole new cluster of favorite programs to claim our attention! Summer TV never was so good.
In the family-safe corner: The Mole, The Next Food Network Star, and So You Think You Can Dance. The already-Tivo'd complete series of The Sarah Jane Adventures, which is new to us, will require our parental sneak preview to measure its appropriateness for our kids first, but then there's Last Comic Standing, and that's definitely not family-safe!
Not on the radar yet, but looking forward to them when they return, are three big-time family shows: Project Runway, Amazing Race, and Stargate Atlantis.
And let's not forget the Olympics in all this, coming in August, right? Now that's what Tivo's perfect for, capturing just those segments you like the best, and watching them at your leisure.
Don't worry, Luddite friends, we all still read print materials, on average, an hour a day, during the summer, not counting what we read online. And we exercise, we eat, we do laundry, we socialize.
Though I'm afraid there won't be TV or books tonight. We have tickets to Indiana Jones. Wouldn't miss that on the big screen for the world. (Did I tell you I was a GenXer?)
Happy Memorial Day weekend!
Great quote, from a nice article by Jed Gaylin for the Baltimore Sun
["The arts link students' hearts and minds," 5.20.08]
I'm always amazed that there still exist some people who think that art is somehow elective or optional for human existence. It isn't, and this article explains quite plainly why.
I'm offering this fun 1-hour workshop, Alchemy 101: The magical realist method for turning lead into gold (and back again), at the Richard Hugo House on June 7. Check it out here.
Dear writing culture friends and arts/humanities supporters,
I'm writing to ask you to sponsor me as I raise money to support Seattle's longtime literary and writers' community, The Richard Hugo House.
The Richard Hugo House was created in 1996 to serve as a central hub for writers and readers in Seattle to meet to build audiences for new work. Its membership numbers have swelled over the last 12 years to meet that need and their vision has expanded to include Hugo in the Prisons, Writing in the Schools (WITS), a new expansion of workshops for young writers, and programs for developing creative writing instructors.
The House is operated by a large body of volunteers and a very small staff of hard-working, dedicated people. I have been a member of and volunteer for the House for over five years now and can credit my own progress as a writer to their tremendous diversity of classes, hard-working staff, and commitment to their original vision: to support creative writing careers through a lifetime, to invest in essential work, to grow a teaching program for writers, and to build a vital community that is open and responsible, with programming that is both flexible and risk-taking.
But the House is so much more than that! Their special events, Capitol Hill facilities, residencies, and outreach initiatives have made the House one of the most inspiring writing communities in the US. You can learn more about The Richard Hugo House by clicking here.
Twice annually, they throw a necessary fundraiser called the Write-O-Rama. At this event, writers from all over Puget Sound converge at the House with their pledges and spend the day participating in free hour-long workshops (30 in total) offered by the creative writing teachers at the House. All participants have the opportunity to generate new writing, meet fellow writers, share their work, get to know the staff and, perhaps most importantly, to find new motivation to write. The most important thing to note is that, without this event, the House would not be able to continue to offer affordable workshops and the vast array of other educational and inspirational programming that are at the very core of any writer's life.
Hence my request: Would you be interested in sponsoring me for this year's Write-O-Rama?
The next fundraiser is slated for Saturday, June 7; I am already committed to spending the day at the House in a volunteer capacity, but I would love to bring in a few donations as well to show my support for this vital community.
Their goal this time is 100 donors, 100 dollars, but my goal is ridiculously simple: 10 donors, 10 dollars. If just ten of my friends could donate just ten dollars, I'd make my goal and be part of that larger equation.
Please consider sponsoring me (directions follow for online donations). I hope you'll join me in helping this thriving and necessary writer's community to continue doing good work for so many across the Puget Sound. I appreciate your consideration.
Tamara Kaye Sellman
SPONSOR A WRITING FRIEND FOR WRITE-O-RAMA
It's easy to sponsor a friend to participate in Write-O-Rama online with your credit card. Here's how:
1. Click the “Donate Now through Network for Good” link below
2. Enter the amount you want to give–it is all tax deductible
3. Fill out your donation and privacy preferences
4. Under “Designation” type “Write-O-Rama”
5. Under “Dedication” type MY NAME (Tamara Sellman)
6. Fill out your credit card information as instructed
NOTE: You must make your online contribution by 5 p.m. on Friday, June 6 for it to count toward my total for Write-O-Rama (includes prizes and glory).
Donate Now through Network for Good
Magical Realism writing workshops online! C'mon, you know you want to! 2 more slots in 2 different workshops open!
MR 101—Diagnosis: MR
I need two more to fill this workshop. Please register by midnight May 7. Bring a friend!
This popular workshop reviews participants' writings to determine what markers of MR they have employed and how to add or improve on them. Certain risks in writing MR and other formats of speculative writing also discussed. $60 fee includes lifetime membership to MRCentral.net!
To register, contact me in email and I'll hold your place.
MR 102—Rabbit's Hat
I need two more to fill this workshop. Please register by midnight May 7. Bring a friend!
This workshop is all about generating new magical realist writing. Weekly prompts and email reviews of all works submitted by participants in private setting help improve everyone's understanding of magical realist writing technique. $60 fee includes lifetime membership to MRCentral.net!
To register, contact me in email and I'll hold your place.
Okay, over my lunch break I had the best time laughing my way through the latest episode of Supernatural, one of my favorite Tivo'd shows (Tivo'd, meaning, I'll watch it during my lunch break).
The concept of Supernatural is basic: two hunters of demons, ghosts, and other evil miscreations take care of family business off the grid and across the US in areas commonly thought of as dangerously haunted or cursed sites.
In this particular episode, they're caught on tape moving in on a group of paranormal amateurs as part of the sophomoric reality show they're filming called "Ghostfacers." (It's clearly a parody of the SciFi Channel's cheesy Ghost Hunters. For my money, Paranormal State takes the cake for best show in the docu-drama/reality scarefest category.)
Anyway, if you get the chance to watch it, you'll laugh like crazy (except for the scary parts; Supernatural's all about the unholy freak out).
I'm pleased to hear that the show will be moving into its fourth season. I want them to solve Dean's mortal dilemma: will his deal with the demonette mean his life will end in just 2 months? Rumors have it next year will be an all-out demon war, but I hope they work with the mythos aspect instead, like the X Files did. That's the way to keep people hooked, if you ask me.
Still recovering from a lovely Saturday spent at the Field's End Writer's Conference, but in the meantime, here's a quote from Anais Nin to get you thinking about your writing life, your project-in-progress, your stickiest creative challenge, your current dream-in-words:
1. I'll be at the 3rd Annual Field's End Writer's Conference tomorrow. Hope to see you there! The weather looks positively lovely (for a change; it's been crazy and uncomfortable this whole spring).
2. Dmitri Nabokov has finally decided to publish his father Vlad's final manuscript, Laura, even though Dad wanted it destroyed. Wow. I heard he made the decision after running into an apparition of the family patriarch.
3. Two major Caribbean litterauteurs recently passed: EA (Archie) Markham (Guyana) and Aimee Cesaire (French Martinique). Markham's got a new book coming out and the fab Caribbean publisher, Peepal Tree Press, is helping to put together a fitting memorial for the well-loved writer. Cesaire, for those who don't already know, was the famed Father of Negritude and one of the most important and cherished voices of our times. Both amazing talents will be missed.
4. Seth Godin's "Write Like a Blogger" post is great advice for writers who, well, blog already. (If you don't, you should, is all I'm saying.) If you don't blog, then much of what Godin suggests probably won't make a heap lot of sense, but go there and read the entry anyway.
5. I wish I could travel to the Czech Republic in the next month. Borges and Kafka will be celebrated and compared in a month-long event organized by the Franz Kafka Society. How cool that will be!
6. You do know that books all around the world are being scanned for preservation, right? Learn more here; it's pretty fascinating.
Ever fascinated with the mysterious ways of the human mind, I'm still mulling this piece from Creativity Portal: "Rethinking Thinking" by David Jiles.
Jiles, who has examined the best creative thinkers (Einstein, Hemingway, Picasso, Tesla, Beethoven and countless others) to find common secrets towards creative thinking, writes:
"People in every creative endeavor use a common set of general-purpose
thinking tools in an almost infinite variety of ways. These tools reveal the
nature of creative thinking itself; they make surprising connections among the
sciences, arts, humanities, and technologies. At the level of creative
imagination, everyone thinks alike. But, as master composer Igor Fyodorovich
Stravinsky explained in The Poetics of Music, is that “what concerns us
here is not imagination in itself, but rather creative imagination: the faculty
that helps us pass from the level of conception to the level of
He narrows his discussion to a dozen talking points:
Check it out, if you're as fascinated as I am with the way the mind words.
I recently ran across this statement from Deb Smith, who consults for Four Blocks, a specialized service for teaching elementary aged students basics like creative writing:
"I have found that my 2nd graders are very good at writing the 'middles' of stories. However they were not good at writing a topic sentence or a concluding sentence."
I find that bewildering. It seems like most of the writers I consult, all of them adults, spend the majority of their time on the first and last 30 pages of their novel. It's the middles which sag, lose their steam, or get overlooked entirely.
Certainly, most of the writing classes that address this more piecemeal approach to writing focus on beginnings and endings. So maybe that is part of the reason why adult writers seem more adept at the front and back ends of their manuscripts. Fewer pay attention to the middle structure.
But what about middles? Why do 2nd graders find them easy to locate?
The middle is the plot, of course. It's the point of the book. Think of all the good books you've ever read. Was it the beginning that made that book? The ending? Or, was it the middle you remember most of all?
Stylists will try to work their way around weaknesses in plotting by using clever tactics to give their books a sense of quality that hinges entirely on a throw-them-to-the-wolves beginning or drop-dead-gorgeous ending. But do we remember these books, aside from these overdeveloped devices? Not really.
TV shows, by the way, are about middles. So are plays. Video role-playing games with multiple endings really must have strong middles to work. Movies should be about middles, but sometimes they're about effects or gimmicks. Poems...well, I don't think of poems as having that sort of momentum. Poems are singular. Poems, unless their thick with narrative, don't necessarily have middles. They are breaths between thoughts.
So why else might it be that 2nd graders can grasp middles but adult writers can't?
I'll have to think a bit more about this. What do you think?
Don't know about this yet? You should. Folks all over the US are making a federal case out of it, literally. Looks like a grand monopoly suit in the works, which will affect everyone who values books: readers, writers, publishers, booksellers. Be informed.
The breaking news on March 27 From Writer's Weekly:
"Reports have been trickling in from the POD underground that Amazon/BookSurge representatives have been approaching some Lightning Source customers, first by email introduction and then by phone (nobody at BookSurge seems to want to put anything in writing). When Lightning Source customers speak with the BookSurge representative, the reports say, they are basically told they can either have BookSurge start printing their books or the 'buy' button on their Amazon.com book pages will be 'turned off.'"
Amazon – The Great Dictator
What is going on at Amazon? The Internet behemoth suddenly seems to be turning the screw on publishers. Last week it was Print-On-Demand publishers whose turn it was to feel its wrath, with its outrageous behaviour demanding that POD publishers use only Amazon's 'Book Surge' POD service or face putative measures. This week it is the publishing world in general.
Amazon Policy Concerns Many In Publishing Industry
The Washington Attorney General's Antitrust Division has advised Amazon.com of concerns it has received from several parties and has asked the company to respond. The Antitrust Division is also conducting an initial review of the marketplace and will respond to inquiries more full once the review is complete, according to Writers Weekly.
New publishing policy at Amazon angers authors: Writers see move to monopolize printing
A power struggle has erupted between several national writers groups and Amazon.com Inc. over the company's new publishing policy, which some charge gives Amazon a monopoly on book printing.
Wow, NFFTY is too quaint a word to describe the experience of screening the National Film Festival for Talented Youth two weekends ago.
My family and I attended 2 of 3 days of the event, viewing dozens of short films written and produced by people ages 12-21, and were seriously blown away by their vision, their audacity, and their amazing storytelling skills. I am reminded, once again, that teenagers get a bum rap for simply being young. My experiences over my lifetime repeatedly debunk that notion, for I am usually inspired by the efforts, the thoughts and dreams, and the healthy energy of young people who have a vision for their own future. They are all poised at the very beginnings of their journeys and we need to be there to help them along the way to do the things that we couldn't or wouldn't do when we were their ages. The future starts with them.
The films were divided into four categories: narrative, documentary, animation/music video, and experimental. As for subject matter, let me give you just some of the topics we viewed to show you what's on the minds of American youth:
homelessness • family history • depression • civil war in Colombia • art • community-supported agriculture • book banning • children of war • Hurricane Katrina • bipolar disorder • the death penalty • environmental justice • memory • girls' self image • body decoration • racial understanding • religion • organized farm labor • the uses of fear
espionage • immigrant identity • dreams • random acts of kindness • drug addiction • cycles of life • female glam superheroes • unrequited romance • the dangers of LSD • intergenerational ties • WWI aviation • suicide • STDs • WWII battleground humanity • murder mystery • apathetic Americans • the final moments of an elderly man • love triangle • sci fi journey
farmyard supremacy • animal rights • dyslexia • cultural identity • unexpected friendships
While all of the films were amazing in their own way, there were a few standouts that deserve some special attention here in this blog. Please visit the links if you can (some of them offer ways to see the same movies we saw, right off your own computer) and show them support either through an email, donation, or a letter to your congressperson.
Afuera: An Argentinian teenaged girl emigrates to Los Angeles and sells the one relic of her past to support herself, a gold necklace with a Star of David pendant her grandfather bequeathed to her. This film sheds light on what being an immigrant in America could mean.
Big Bad Wolf: An excellent documentary on the way various cultural institutions use fear to motivate people. I'd say this is required viewing for all Americans who don't think voting and politics are worth the discomfort they bring. Directed by students ages 15, 17 and 18.
Bittersweet: A very simple narrative about how the way we treat each other can create a domino effect in our community.
Cows With Guns: Extremely funny claymation music video that walks viewers through the political challenges of animal rights activism. Whoever wrote the lyrics deserves some sort of grand award and recognition. I laughed so hard I cried. Reminiscent of the America Rock! videos of the 70s, but edgier.
Dis Order: Lovely and well-articulated piece about a dyslexic girl trying to take a test. The graphics show wonderful insights into the different ways that creative minds work and prove that dyslexics can still be true geniuses.
The End Is Near: Funny narrative about a boy so caught up in his college applications that he doesn't see the world falling to nuclear holocaust all around him. A pretty decent rendering of the apathy among Americans in general, who are usually too caught up in busy-ness to pay attention to anything important around them.
Invisible Children: MUST SEE. If you screen this film and don't leave with tears in your eyes or a stomach ache, then you aren't a human being, period. Three teenaged boys naively take their video equipment on a random trip to Africa and end up uncovering a terrible atrocity in Uganda: children who must hide at night from rebel forces or be abducted into a bloodthirsty regime of brainwashed boy soldiers. This film will make you laugh, cry, get really pissed off, and hope. This film has changed foreign policy.
The Last Stand: It's really touching to see sensitive movies about reaching the end of one's life produced by young people. This one shows a man making a choice about the way he will die. I was blown away by the filmmaker's lighthearted compassion.
March Point: MUST SEE. The filmmakers were at the festival and I am certain they have no idea how much power their film wields. Three young men from the Swinomish Tribe decide to make a film and end up uncovering an environmental atrocity in their own back yard which still hasn't been fairly addressed by politicians, despite the fact they went to the state and federal Capitols to seek assistance. I voted for Christine Gregoire and Patty Murray and was outraged at their response to the efforts of these young men, who simply asked for an audience. I've already written my letter of complaint to the both of them. Contact the filmmakers through Native Lens
Nice Touch: Oh, this one's so sweet! An elderly lady who plays the piano everyday breaks her fingers in an unfortunate accident. The neighborhood is not the same without her daily music until a little boy pays her a visit and she teaches him how to play the piano.
One Light: A 13-year-old Sikh's efforts to share his cultural identity with his non-Sikh neighbors makes a perfect rendition of the idealism of youth, and it seems to be making a difference in larger circles. I was proud that my children saw this film. Click the link to see it for yourself.
Release: Two suicides rock a small family. Heartbreaking in content, but the narrative was so artfully done that it ended up being one of the most beautiful films in the batch.
A Second Look: True stories from the streets. This filmmaker made a great effort to reveal the faces of the homeless, and they're not who you think they are.
Speaking Truth to Power: The Story of the Farm Labor Organizing Committee: I had no idea that there was a contemporary farm labor movement in the American South! This story features a current day Cesar Chavez, Baldemar Velasquez, who has worked tirelessly to get his people fair wages and better conditions. I want to express my thanks to the filmmaker for taking the time to tell their story.
The power of filmmaking takes on new meaning when you see the world through the eyes of creative and talented young people. Not only that, but it can open the eyes of people who are much older who may think that American youthsare only interested in sex, drugs and video games.
I have come away inspired and informed.
One caveat: these films, for the most part, are not suitable for kids under 12 without the supervision and engagement of a thoughtful parent. Even at age 12, the subject matter and approaches involved can be rather sophisticated and daunting for some children.
Let's face it, even my husband and I weren't prepared for the intensity of some of the films.
But no matter. You can parent your children by giving them only the safe view of the world or by opening their eyes (and your own) to the realities of the larger world. We chose the latter because the fact that these children took on these subjects and did something positive about them is enough reason. These could be our own talented children trying to solve the world's problems, after all. How could we not support them?
I took my 10- and 12-year-old daughters and found that the best way to deal with some of the subject matter and other more adult aspects of these films (including language and some violent imagery) was to have a solid bedtime discussion with the both of them to answer questions they had and to address their concerns, fears or discomforts over some of the films they saw during the day.
In the end, we are all still talking about the films and what we learned, and both of my children are now interested in studying filmmaking themselves (at the local level, starting with workshops taught at the public access TV studio).
And I couldn't be happier about that fact. The world doesn't need more people wearing blinders and earplugs. If we can all raise children to look and to listen, then we have done our world a favor.
I'm looking forward to a few days of low-tech living, so I'll be seeing you here again on April 7. But I would be remiss if I didn't mention that we have tickets to NFFTY for the weekend. Can't wait!
The National Film Festival for Talented Youth (NFFTY—pronounced“nifty”) was
formed in 2007 with the goal to become the most influentialyouth-oriented film
festival in America. The festival showcases films byfilmmakers (21 and under)
from across the country and hosts a number of paneldiscussions, workshops
and other year-round filmmaking activities in Seattle,WA.
From the PEN America blog:
"As you may have heard, British memoirist Sebastian Horsley was denied entry into the US on account of "moral turpitude." As mentioned here before, PEN has long opposed ideological exclusion, and even if Horsley is no Doris Lessing, laws like this shouldn't be abided."
My response? Amen to that. Give me a break. US memoirists seem only to be flat-out liars, of late (no, not all of them, but it does seem to be a trend, maybe designed to sell books? Hmmmm). At any rate, in the so-called land of the free, how can we so pompously judge the work of foreign-born writers while we suffer the current stain on our own starched white shirt?
"And so Horsley has been invited to this year's World Voices festival, April 28-May 4 in New York (with satellite events in Boston-- i.e., Cambridge-- and Rochester). With any luck, the US government will get the chance to exclude him once again, and draw further attention to this frankly un-American policy."
My response? Now this is why I belong to PEN. Right on! (And please, America, let us choose a president and administration that's got open minds in its thinktank, k? We've been locked out of freethought for a tad bit too long, I say.)
"If they do so, though, he'll miss some great events: Ian McEwan and Steven Pinker; Rushdie, Eco, and Vargas Llosa together again; Rabih Alameddine talking with Aleksandar Hemon; Susan Bernofsky, Deborah Eisenberg, Jeffrey Eugenides, Wayne Koestenbaum, and Michael Krüger paying tribute to Robert Walser; the list goes on and on."
My response? I wish I could go to the World Voices festival. Sounds like just my cup of tea. I mean, come on…Rushdie, Eco and Vargas Llosa all in the same room? A miracle I won't have the pleasure to witness. Dear readers, if you happen to go to this event, please send me back a dispatch, wouldja?
I loved this quote from D.M. Bryan in an article in last Sunday's edition of the Calgary Herald:
"I get life block, where there's too many things to do…I don't have enough time to have writer's block. When I can find time to sit down, I write."
"…I didn't do much serious writing until my son was born. It seemed like a good time to sit down in front of a computer."
(I couldn't have said it better myself—though I had daughters, the only difference.)
Bryan's novel, Gerbil Mother, has just been released. Having just lost a beloved gerbil only a week ago, and digging this author's attitude, I'm already extending my literary sister vibe her way.
Learn more about this budding author:
Posted by Tamara Sellman at 7:34 AM
So many interesting things happening this week, and I haven't had a chance to present any of them to you! Mea culpa. Some weeks are just busier than others.
In the spirit of sharing, let me distill these tidbits for you...
• Monster Manual man moves on
Gary Gygax, infamous co-founder of the role-playing game, Dungeons & Dragons, which I played a little in college and which has deeply informed my writing life on the level that Tolkien and Bradbury have, died on March 4. (I still have my Monster Manual from 1985.)
I didn't know he was living in Lake Geneva, WI at the time. That wonderful place is just a 30-minute trek from my old stomping grounds in Wauconda, IL. Dungeons & Dragons was created 34 years ago and really, let's give it the credit it deserves: there would be no good electronic gaming of any kind without D&D's brilliant pen-and-paper blueprint. Gygax deserves to go down in the history books for being a forefather to one of pop culture's most significant shifts in entertainment.
Read the NYT obit here.
• A question for literary scholars…
PENAmerica wants to know: Is the fictionalization of historical fiction a growing trend or just a blip on the lit culture radar? They ask a rather interesting question after discussing the work of Ilija Trojanow, who "revisioned" the life of Richard Burton:
"Has historical fiction really become a larger part of the serious literary landscape over the last few years?"
My first reply is a kind of balking. Is it really so much a leap to call historical fiction serious literature? I have always stood in awe of historical writers who can move into territory out of time and resurrect it for me as the reader. That's no facile, formulaic feat. The very first book that comes to my mind as a successful fictionalization of historical fiction is Margaret Atwood's Alias Grace. Who would say that was not a piece of serious literature?
If you would like to answer that question, take a gander here.
• Zines gone six feet under: Old news?
I hadn't been completely aware of the death of zines until I read this article by Tim Brown at Critical Mass (the blog for the National Book Critics Circle). And I'm still not sure I agree that it's all over for zines. Or, if it's all over for zines, it's because the internet came along and turned them into blogs or websites or McSweeney's and others like them came along and reinvented them as commercial enterprises. Thoughts, anybody?
• Crying Uncle!
Okay, I think it's pretty obvious right now that my weekly or twice-weekly column on American Intellectualism has seen way too much of the back burner. What can I say? New projects rise (or rot) like spring bulbs.
Since I took on the AI project last fall, I've started writing a new nonfiction book, began work on a new anthology, increased my volunteer efforts for one active writer's organization and accepted the responsibilities of conference director for another local writing community.
By now, you should sense what has become inevitable news, that I've decided to suspend my further adventures into American Intellectualism right now so that I can wrap up some other projects that need closure (the nonfiction book, overdue revisions on a novel, new revisions on a children's book, and the production of the anthology).
Thanks to those of you who wrote to me personally about the series. I'll probably pick it up again someday, but probably not in 2008. I appreciate your understanding, and thanks for reading.
I hadn't read AlterNet in a while, though I used to daily when I penned a short little weekly newsletter on free speech issues, Candleflame, for about 9 months after the US launched attacks on Iraq as a (fabricated, we know now) response to 9.11.
Trolling through my feeds today, I find this wonderful list of progressive titles that appeared in 2007, which were selected by AlterNet staffers, its readers, and book experts (though who they are, I'm not sure...).
The list is fascinating, to say the least, and I found a book on their top 10 that I have wanted to read for a while now.
"8. The World Without Us by Alan Weisman
Teasing out the consequences of a simple thought experiment—what would happen if the human species were suddenly extinguished—Weisman has written a sort of pop-science ghost story in which the whole earth is the haunted house ... After thousands of years, the Chunnel, rubber tires and more than a billion tons of plastic might remain, but eventually a polymer-eating microbe could evolve, and with the spectacular return of fish and bird populations, the earth might revert to Eden. (New Yorker)"
It's a standout in a lineup primarily focused on war, terrorism and the military, as well as the evils of capitalism and American politics (though the honorable mention list includes titles addressing economics, class conflict, feminism, the beauty industry, and environmentalism).
LibraryThing has a groovy entry on the libraries of several literary bluestockings.
(Funny, it was posted at their blog in early Feb instead of now, but no matter.)
Wanna read what Sylvia Plath, Susan B. Anthony, Isabella Stewart Gardner, and Marie Antoinette collected on their library shelves? Compare with your own libraries? You can also comment on whose libraries you'd like to see revealed in LibraryThing or elsewhere.
Me, I want to know what's in the libraries of contemporary speculative writers like Katherine Dunn, Jean Hegland, Meg Rosoff, and Aimee Bender, as well as some classic writers and thinkers from the past, like Janet Frame, Carson McCullers, and Helen Caldicott.
Whose library would you like to check out (so to speak)?
Last day to get the discount! Time to register for the Field's End Writer's Conference in Suquamish, WA (site of Chief Seattle's grave, no less), just a few miles away from both charming Poulsbo, WA and scenic Bainbridge Island. It happens April 26 2008 and offers programming of interest to poets, fiction writers and nonfiction writers, both new to the craft and well seasoned. And yes, I'll be there!
Having attended the previous conferences, I highly recommend this intimate and inspiring 1-day event. The site is absolutely gorgeous, and no cold box lunches here. Hot salmon or vegetarian lunch, and munchables all day long. It's an excellent value for your money, considering the major talent they have coming in for the day: Roy Blount, Jr., Stephanie Kallos, and Timothy Egan as speakers, and a myriad of excellent facilitators for several workshop tracks.
But you've got to register by today, February 29, 2008, to take advantage of the early-bird price. You can register online, or download a form and mail it in, but hurry! The conference fee goes up on March 1.
Questions? email: email@example.com web: www.fieldsend.org
Nine of us registered on Thursday and left on Sunday. Poets, novelists, short story writers, essayists, bloggers.
The weather was fabulous, the town was a creative person's curio cabinet, and there were books galore at the hotel and everywhere nearby.
I stayed in the Robert Louis Stevenson room. For the weekend, I revised 120 pages of my novel, uncracked the mystery of its chapter breaks (that was a huge epiphany!) and wrote 4 new scenes. How much time did it take? About 15 hours.
Oh, and I took my Creativity Totem with me. Did it help? I don't know, there were so many amazing things working in my favor last weekend, it's hard which to credit most.
So I finally finished my project. It's actually been mostly finished for a while, but I had to string it all together to complete it. As you can see, I made little disks with images and words, then hung them on a shimmery green ribbon, affixing beads at the top and the bottom and a wire loop for hanging. My totem ends up being a mobile, a form I tend to like. I have more than a few things hanging in my writing space already (peace cranes, prayer flags and the like).
To the right is a section of the totem reflecting my muse, Frida Kahlo. I realized when I was putting this together how much of a similarity there is between this rendering of Frida and an old photo of my mother when she was hometown beauty queen back in the 50s. I used to hate my eyebrows and thought I would never grow into them. Now I honor them. Who knew?
The American Intellect, A to Z: "C = Intellectualism Dot Com: The Influence of Technological Communication, Part III: "After School Special"
I've been poking at this subject from more than one side, so look for three sections, all told:
Today I'm going to wrangle all of this into an AFTER SCHOOL SPECIAL. (Yes, I was a child of the 70s and pretty sure I watched every show ABC ever produced.)
So we have the notion of the Old School, which can be boiled down to the following set of camps:
• Neo-Luddites (those who are resistant to or against the development of technology)
• Technocrats (centers of power which choose skill sets over human elements)
• Fundamentalists (those who promote that science and thinking do not replace faith)
• Social Anti-Intellectuals (those who think eggheads suck)
• Traditionalists (people who insist that tradition always trumps innovation)
And we have the notion of the New School, which can be boiled down to the following set of camps:
• Dissenters (people using technology to mobilize change)
• Users (people who love technology, fix technology, improve technology)
• Equalizers (people who use technology to level the playing field, encouraging equality, diversity)
• Defenders (those who know the risks of technology but support its positive developments)
• Liberators (people who use technology as a way to expression without gatekeeping)
So if we had a rumble, who would win?
My feeling is that together, everyone would win if they just wouldn't rumble about it.
Here are some ways to think outside polarities:
1. Develop more tolerance.
Tolerance is not just an issue for conservatives (though it seems as if it could only be a challenge for conservativism). I have friends who are quite left wing who are just as intolerant of certain cultural developments that don't "swing" their way. In fact, the people who I think are the best ambassadors when it comes to using technology are the folks in the twin middles: the political and economic middles. They see where things have been and where things are going. They make their decisions based upon multiple sources of information. They aren't as likely to adhere to a staunch position if someone can show them quality evidence or thoughtful argumentation to the contrary.
If Neo-Luddites could be more accepting of technology as an ongoing earmark of human development, then maybe they wouldn't be so fearful of the future.
If consummate Users were to develop more tolerance for non-users (and their slowness to adapt), then maybe non-users might be inspired to try new things.
If people in general stopped using derisive terms like nerd and geek to describe people who are tech friendly, maybe more people would be interested in learning more about technology in general.
If those who use technology to advance their interests outside the normal venues (such as writers who self publish) were to show some earnest respect to those who operate inside the normal venues, maybe there wouldn't be so much disagreement between the two with regard to the quality of their separate efforts.
And I can't close a discussion about tolerance without wondering if it will ever be possible for the movers and shakers of fundamentalism to think of their work not as an either/or scenario in collision with scientific or progressive thinking, but as a kind of complement to it.
Personally, I don't struggle with the idea that faith and science could exist without being at odds with one another. (And I'm not talking Intelligent Design here, folks.) But the majority of the world does. A little tolerance between these two camps could really change it up for the better.
2. Accept that your own personal learning curve will never end.
I am always surprised, and saddened by, people who really think that, once they're out of school, they really don't think there is anything more to learn. I know people like this inside my own family, and the outcome of that attitude has been challenging for them. They resist learning about new technologies, new forms of media, new ways of thinking. But when they come up on problems that could be easily solved with technology, they are unable to do so and must negotiate them in ways that are less efficient and effective, and which can be even more expensive and time-consuming to do the old way.
While I'm not saying we all need to accept everything that comes our way without a second thought (because "second thinking" has never been more necessary to survive our information-saturated culture), I do think we need to come around to the idea that there will always be new things to learn and that, eventually, we will have to learn them.
That means figuring out how to set the VCR or the Tivo. That means finally going online. That means using a fax machine, or a cell phone, or an mp3 player. That means spending the time to figure out how all of these things work, and accepting that we may not be able to figure it all out right away, but that it's okay to not be completely tech savvy from the get go.
It gets easier over time, like anything in life. It also brings with it so many rewards and benefits that the extra time spent learning new software, say, or navigating the web will be a small price to pay for the way technology can simplify and add dimension to our lives.
3. Be judicious and thoughtful about using media technology.
If we continue to saturate our children's lives with technology, while withholding the other more sensory and personal pleasures that come from activities that don't involve a plug-in or a screen, we may very well create new generations of people who have missed out on some very important aspects of what it means to be human. Variety is the spice of life; we need to be selective about how technology influences our lives (as much as we are able).
This means making choices. And we do like having choices in American life, don't we? Except that people don't realize how many choices they actually have, so they either don't make these choices or assume they can't make them.
For me, as a parent, there are certain boundaries: No television in the morning while the kids are getting ready for school. No electronica for them until all their homework and chores are done. Nice days are for spending outside and unplugged. The satellite service channel and ratings locks, and the passwords, exist for a reason. No incoming or outgoing gadgets or gizmos at social events like slumber parties.
For me, as an individual, there are still more boundaries: Do not answer email on weekends. Make phone calls to friends whenever I want to chat (no emails or text messages). No more than two hours of TV at a time. Use Tivo ruthlessly to skip commercials and to take away the television's ability to reorganize my day. Do not wear earbuds in public unless I am certain I will not be interacting with other people. Use technology to learn, first and foremost. Think outside the media box.
This, for me, is the crux of the problem as it relates to American intellectualism. Technology gives us a huge range of options for accessing information. But we have become a culture of celebrity-infatuated, entertainment-consuming people who are, in fact, losing touch with our ability to think for ourselves, or even to find value in thinking for ourselves. Sure, media technology can be wonderfully engaging and gives us easy access to entertainment like never before. But the media makers out there giving us our virtual thrills benefit by their ability to seduce us with cheap, easy access to films, music, images, and the like. They are not necessarily interested in our betterment.
Let's not forget, too, that information technology can also feed our intellectual selves, if we use it at all, and in doing so, use it wisely. It can encourage us to think freely, to gather and interpret information about an issue from multiple facets. It can create a space where a shared dialog with others from all over the world can lead to problem solving and change for betterment, but only if we remember that technology is a tool, and not a devil—or an angel.
In the end, it's up to us to engage in self-inquiry to determine whether we want to use this tool only for fun, but for something beyond ourselves. America as a whole hasn't come to that bridge yet, not as a whole culture. Small groups of people are working their way there: grassroots political activists, closet intellectuals whose lives are filled with practical considerations (like paying the bills and raising children), cultural creatives, science hobbyists, local community volunteers. I don't know if or when the moment comes when we finally render a peaceful truce between our virtual and (for lack of a better term) "real" lives. Maybe we'll all just wake up one day to find we've achieved the perfect balance between the two. Or maybe we'll always be at odds with the demands of both. Regardless, we have the means to make these aspects of our lives work for us and through us, we just have to be conscious about our decisions, be willing to learn, and come to tolerate each other in our singular quests to make information and media technology work, not only for ourselves, but for the world beyond our own little bubbles.
I just reread Fahrenheit 451, and was left reeling by a whole new subtext I hadn't really picked up on when I read Bradbury's classic the first time over 20 years ago: not only is his novel about book banning, burning and censorship, but it's about the decline of original free thought and the rise of media and entertainment as replacements for traditional human relationships. Bradbury had quite the vision 50 years ago, predicting so much of the state of our new media lives as it exists in the present that even the obvious exaggerations aren't so unlikely. It's a great book for thinking about our relationship to media, though, and whether we want to have someone control it for us or to be able to control it ourselves, and at what costs. In a discussion about the pros and cons of information media in a climate where intellectualism is on the wane, these are precisely the kinds of questions we need to wrap our minds around.
Thanks for reading. I'd love to hear your thoughts.
Forthcoming topic: "The American Intellect, A to Z: "D = Dumbdown"
UPDATE 3.14.2008: I've decided to suspend further entries to this series indefinitely. Life is overfull. Thanks for reading! Rhymes With Camera regular entries continue, all the same. TKS
I've finally edited and downloaded my live podcasts from NYC.
Episode #2: "What is the AWP?" and Episode #3: "About the CLMP" are now both playing at Writers Umbrella. Downloads via Flash player or Quicktime.
Coming soon, Episode #4: "Habitable Planets presentation + KGB reading"