Tag Archives: creativity

Creativity and Struggle

Le tour eifel, 2012 Photo by Tami Cowden

Recently I listened to Joni Mitchell’s A Case of You. Like most of her poetry, it is about bittersweet relationships, heartache, love, struggle, and a bit of redemption. That’s true of a lot of creative works. In popular music, an amazing number of tunes are breakup songs. Take Breakfast at Tiffany’s for example. “And I said, well that’s one thing we’ve got.” Or Green Day’s famous Good Riddance (Time of Your Life,) which is not, as many high school faculty seem to think, a sincere wish that you enjoyed yourself, but a bitter and snide farewell to someone the singer thinks has wronged them big time. I’ve written one good poem in my life. It was shortly after I broke off a relationship. I remember being surprised that being the dumper was no more pleasant than being the dumpee. It’s tough times, and no mistake. But, outside of that, I’ve just lived a fairly quiet life of great fortune and privilege.

I had cousins at Jamestown, and a direct ancestor who arrived in 1729. The next year he married a girl from Garden City. One of their many sons is also my direct ancestor. He fought with a Connecticut regiment during the American Revolution. Odd, because they were from Philadelphia. Yes, I have direct ancestors who were genuine Philadelphia WASPS. And, of course, I’m a white male with blue eyes born smack in the middle of the twentieth century in Ohio, of all places. White privilege was invented for people like me. One breakup does not a creative career make. I can’t sing the blues; outside of my eyes there’s nothing blue going on here. I can’t write heartfelt song lyrics about loss and deprivation, because, well, haven’t really had any. In college, some friends and I were into the Alice books. Bill was the Carpenter, Ed another character. I was the Mock Turtle. “He hasn’t really any problems, you know.” So true.

Now, your basic African American, there’s somebody with problems. Besides being on the inverse side of privilege, consider their ancestry. Slaves! The lucky bastards! No wonder they invented the blues! No wonder they continue to shine in creative ventures of all kinds. Lucky, lucky, lucky!

But, dammitall, I like to write stories. I’m not sure I’ll ever tug many heartstrings, but I try to entertain. And sometimes, entertainment is all you need, you know?

Go Big Or . . .

Sunset at the Mayan Palace Resort, near Puerto Peñasco, Sonora, Mexico
Sunset at the Mayan Palace Resort, near Puerto Peñasco, Sonora, Mexico

Go Home! A true story from my own recent past. Besides installing flooring and preparing to be a driver for Lyft, I have been messing around with my writing by producing things that are not the novel I’m trying to get off the ground. Until yesterday morning.

Yes, morning. As I was waking up yesterday, the solution came to me. I have had the basic idea for the book since last June. The first pathetic attempt at it now has the title, “First Pathetic Attempt.” There are more attempts nestled in the directory with that one. (I use a cloud service, Microsoft One Drive, and I highly recommend that if you use a computer to produce your work, you also use a cloud storage solution. One drive integrates seamlessly into my Windows 10 installation, but any one will do you, probably.) The others have such names as, “Il ne marche pas” and “Second first draft.” One file has the same name as the now, finally, properly begun, novel. Nope. Ain’t gonna tell you. Too early, but it’ll be a good one, I’m sure.

The thing is, I tried first person with one character, then a third-person approach, then, okay, first person with another character, which is the version with the French name, and now, at last, limited third-person wherein the POV does shift, but not often enough to make me dizzy. But the big thing is that I needed some sort of real grabber to start the story with. I was seeing it as a romance, but it just wasn’t working. I had a version where a male protagonist was in trouble at the beginning, which is okay, but not for a romance. I had a version where a female protagonist tells it all, but it seemed flat. I had a character disappear out of the story, which was putting too many restraints on the plot. And then, yesterday morning, as I was waking up, BAM!

The new version, the version that I think will stick, opens with a rape. Or at least non-consensual sex, for those who like to parse meanings. That’s the thing that will carry the entire story, always under there, always causing trouble, possibly ending/changing/starting relationships. And it will justify (when I’m done with it) some pretty nasty stuff happening to the bad guy. (The guy who rapes the girl, you fool!)

So, point is, I went big, and it worked! No, no vivid descriptions of exactly what happens. Plenty of that available for free, innit? But an emotional description from her POV. Not so much of that available for free. So, it’ll be months before this thing is ready to talk about, but stay tuned, because talk about it I shall. And so shall my characters, all of whom, of course at this stage, I love.

In conclusion, if you’re having trouble starting a story, try going bigger. It costs nothing (maybe some paper and ink) but it can yield some big rewards!

Atuona Hiva Oa – Hitchhiking and the Dead Artists Society

Because caffeine exacerbates sea sickness, I do not drink much coffee if at all while out at sea. So, it is a special treat when we reach shore and I can finally have a cup. On Sunday morning, the rich flavor of our Galapagos coffee paired perfectly with the early morning light reflecting off Atuona’s sheer tropical cliffs. I sipped happily while enjoying the view from my “patio”. Andrew perused the cruising guides in an effort to plan our sailing circuit around the Marquesas. “Bonjour?” A gal our age greeted us as she bumped her inflatable dinghy into Sonrisa’s hull. We greeted her in return. “Did you guys just arrive?” We confirmed, and we all made small talk about how the crossing went, etc. She looked past us toward Sonrisa’s companionway. “Is it just the two of you on the boat?” When again we confirmed, she asked how we managed the watch schedule. We explained, and she furrowed her brow. “You must have been so tired; have you ever considered taking on crew?” She had made the Pacific crossing on a boat owned by an older gentleman, and she was looking to swap boats. We declined, but we confirmed we would let her know if we heard of anyone else needing crew. She thanked us and motored away. After breakfast, we gathered our wits and headed into town to explore. After making the long row and then the long walk, it was already time for lunch. We found a bar/internet cafe/bed and breakfast/lunch spot called Salon du The. We ordered sandwiches of egg, ham, gruyere cheese and lettuce on a fresh baguette. The baguette was perfect: crisp on the outside, chewy on the inside. The French gal who took our order explained that she, too, stepped off the boat she had crossed the Pacific on and had been sleeping on the couch at Salon de The while waiting for another opportunity. The bar/restaurant allowed her to stay for free in return for her manning the sandwich station. A nurse in her former life, she began traveling the ocean offering to crew for boats in the Mediterranean. She made her way across the Atlantic, through the Caribbean, through the Panama Canal, to the Galapagos, and across the Pacific. When she started in the Mediterranean, she had only taken a two week general course on how to sail. We wished her luck, but again declined. We are lone wolves…and we have friends meeting us soon, so we don’t have space. While we ate our sandwiches we met another single gal age 25 looking for a boat, three men looking for boats, and one guy who is happily aboard his current boat heading to New Zealand. A handful of these crew members just started sailing the first day they left Panama; intending to learn along the way. If you are looking for a way to sail around the world on a tight budget, employing the secret “Ample Supply of Beverages” method seems to work on all docks across the world. You must be willing to work as part of a sailing team, learn fast, and help keep the mood on the boat positive (i.e. – don’t be a jerk.) After lunch, we hiked to the local cemetery. The graves of famous painter Paul Gaugin and musician Jaques Brel were the original draw, but I am finding local cemeteries to be an interesting stop in their own right. Each culture seems to bury their loved ones in different ways. Here, because the island is formed of steep, high mountains, there is plenty of space between the waterline and their cemetery. They bury their people, lining the graves with rocks or covering them with a slab of concrete. Many graves are marked by crosses of metal or stone. Most are decorated with flower leis. Gaugin’s grave was quite interesting. It was a simple round lava rock that had been smoothed out in the ocean surf. His name and the year of his death are etched into the stone. A stone carving of a Tahitian woman is placed just to the left. I felt it fitting that I place a flower in my hair to pay him respect. For those who don’t know, Gaugin was a French painter who lived in the late 1800s. He moved to Hiva Oa to seek the art he believed “lived within himself.” In letters kept in the Gaugin Center in Atuona, he explained that the bustle of other artists in Paris was a distraction preventing him from accessing his personal inspiration. His theory turned out to be sound. His paintings depicting Polynesian culture with the influence of his European style combined into something different and beautiful. A few years ago, I set a New Year’s Resolution to learn to think like a successful entrepreneur. I read a number of autobiographies, listened to interviews, and observed the entrepreneurs in my life. Their successes were numerous and varied, but there was a common thread amongst them: The Flyer. To reach a unique level of achievement, they each took a unique risk that drew them away from the pack. Until now, I tho

Source: Atuona Hiva Oa – Hitchhiking and the Dead Artists Society

Blog Day

I hereby declare Wednesday to be “Blog Day.”

Shhhhhhyyyyeah. Sure.

Anyhow, I put it into my calendars, so I’ll be getting reminders about it, so maybe. We’ll see. But for now, here’s what I’m up to this week.

In the world of real estate I have one condo for sale and two rentals. One of the rentals has been hit with a lot of vandalism as it sat empty. It took me months to get the owner in Kentucky to understand what was happening here in the big city. He lives in Bowling Green, a nice college town, where people are not so eager to mess with other people’s stuff. But, enough about real estate. Check my pages on Facebook if you want more of that.

In the world of writing, I have a middle-grader ready to pitch, assuming I can find someone to pitch to. I’ve joined RWA for the quality of their conference, in particular since a fellow children’s’ writer, Jay Asher, has so heartily endorsed them. Tami has been a member since forever, even served on the board once upon a time. I’m looking forward to the conference. I have begun plowing very slowly through my YA romance, about a chapter at a time, trying to make it read well and all. I’m up to page 15. Don’t hold your breath, but it shall be done.

And then there’s stand-up. I took two courses from Philip Paredo, a recent import to Las Vegas who is a comic and also runs Tickle Me Entertainment. I haven’t decided how far to pursue this field yet, but this very night I plan to be at Legends on Boulder Highway for open mic night, starting at 9pm. Don’t go there to see just me, ’cause I may not make it, but I’m going to try. Go there if you want to hear some fresh comics, though. Definitely for that.

I’m hoping to get additional creative juices flowing through this blog, so if you want to help out in comments or whatever, and tell me what you’re up to, or trade links, you know the drill, I’m open to that.

I’ll see you, I hope, next week. Same bat time, same bat channel.

John C. Calhoun and Current Politics

I don’t mean the John C. Calhoun who was a Confederate advocate prior to the Civil War. I mean the John C. Calhoun who was an adviser to President Nixon on issues of mental health. My John C. Calhoun was essentially a biologist specializing in mammalian behavior. Okay, in how mammals act and why.

Assuming they have any, you can still buy a copy of his Space and the Strategy of Life. It’s way out of print. I got a copy for free from the man himself because somebody clued me into the secret method of getting one. That was, write him a postcard by hand asking for it. Now that, if you will, is sort of odd. But it was fitting, given what his research uncovered. My copy is just a photocopied reprint of a manuscript, I imagine you get covers and everything with the book.

Calhoun determined that any group of mammals has an optimum size. For different species the optimum number is different. For rabbits, it’s a lot. Really a lot. For humans, it’s eighteen. The optimum number seems to relate to how much food can be gathered and distributed, how much space the individuals need for their activities and things like that. For any mammal, when the number of group members gets close to twice the optimum, the group splits in two, hey no hard feelings, and now there are two optimum groups. Lucky groups, I suppose you could call them, keep splitting off and splitting off. Of course, sooner or later, if a species is really successful, it runs out of room to keep splitting in two.

Uh-Oh.

In most cases, if that happens, then some groups just have to go. As in get killed off by other groups. Humans sometimes indulge in that solution, but mostly we don’t. Instead, we add a layer of complexity to our social lives so that we only meet roughly the same number of people we’d meet in an optimally sized group. That’s where social class comes from. After a while, not even that is sufficient, so we add layers of layers. By using these artificial seeming social dividers, we humans can endure population numbers that would be inconceivable to many species.

This relates to politics because, if you think about it, something has to give every time the population of a group of humans reaches eighteen times a power of two. At 36 (18 x 2) you either split, or come up with a class system. At 72 (18 x 4) you can so that again. Before you know it, you’ve got separate villages, a principality, a kingdom, an empire, each adding a layer and keeping individuals only meeting a manageable number of other people. How do you live in a city? You ignore the people you meet on the street unless you have actual business with them, or they are friends in another context. Sure, you’re all in New York or whatever, and you may be a heckuva bunch, but you keep out of each others’ business, because you have to to survive.

So, say your population is approaching 2,359,293, which is 18 times 2 raised to the 17th power. Go ahead and add it up, if you wish. Like say you live in the Las Vegas area, which population recently topped the 2 million mark. Hey, we’re getting close. It would be reasonable to expect that some tensions are developing, right? Well, some are. The City of North Las Vegas is in financial trouble and so is now using the County Jail to hold suspects for trial or whatever. There is talk of consolidating Fire Departments, also. As Calhoun points out, England and Scotland became the United Kingdom when their population was right, although that’s not obvious in a historical reading. In the same manner, Southern Nevada is having a crisis of government, where consolidation seems like the key to saving money all around. It is (gasp) another layer of government, but it also is being, mostly, welcomed. In the business world, all of us are eagerly awaiting the full consolidation of licensing. It isn’t fun paying a fee here, a fee there, another one over somewhere. What is being put together is a method to pay all license fees at the same time, and to one entity. Whee-doggie. Dang, biological destiny at work!

And, what if your population has recently exceeded 301,989,888? Like, say, the population of the United States of America did in recent years? Would you expect that things might be up in the air? Maybe a fairly significant number of people wouldn’t be happy with the way things are going? Maybe even that some people would simply go into denial about what’s happening and, oh I don’t know, say that they want to “Take Back The Country?” Why yes, you would expect that. And so, here we are. The problem for the super-conservative crowd is that there is no going back. They can learn to accept what the country has become, or they can fade into historical insignificance. That, friends, is why “Current Politics” is in the title. The question now isn’t whether we let all the immigrants vote or whatever, the question is whether we use their skills to keep America great. That’s what we’ve always done during past similar crises, and I’m pretty sure that is what we will do this time. Of course, I have been wrong before, but I’m pretty confident that we’ll come through the current crisis (which may get worse before it gets better) just fine.

*****Aside about creativity.*****

I said that getting an article from John C. Calhoun involved a hand-written postcard. That’s because he also discovered that people who move through a group quickly interact with a lot more other people during the day, while people who move through a group slowly interact with a lot fewer other people during the day. And, further, that “high velocity” people, meeting lots of other people, tend to be influential but not creative, whereas “low velocity” people, much more solitary (in general) tend to be creative but not influential. (This is  true in most species, not just humans.) Calhoun chose to be creative, which is why only an old-fashioned slow means of communication worked. Today, if any form of art is done by committee, no matter how much brainstorming and cross-checking they do, it’s going to more or less suck. Real art is the result of real creativity, and that, my friends, requires a passle of alone time. Which explains why nerdy folks like Jobs, Gates, and Zukerberg stomped all over corporate giants like Xerox and IBM in building the modern Internet. Bottom line: if you want to construct something that basically is a known quality, like a skyscraper or city hall, form a committee. If you want good art and innovation, be alone, be very alone.