Category Archives: Art

The Woodstock of Poetry!

Because I now believe in poetry and all of its possibilities and because I spent many years being oblivious to poetry, I’ve created a new website!  My ultimate, ultimate goal is for people far and wide to say, “Poetry is fun,” “poetry is relevant,” and “poetry is pop.”  Because even if all of it’s not, there’s plenty of it that is.  Like this (to give an extreme example).

If you’ve ever been saddened by having to dissect a dense, ancient poem in school, PoetryStock.com aims to make you happy again!

If you’ve ever wanted to write a series of haikus about the pH level of shampoo (or something), PoetryStock.com wants to hear them!

If you’re up to this challenge that Nietzsche poses — “A subject for a great poet would be God’s boredom after the seventh day of creation” — PoetryStock.com will smile.

And he will, too.

There are plenty of places to post your poems on the internet, but Poetry Stock is different because there will be an annual poetry celebration connected to it. Also, there will be a podcast that gives poets a chance to read a poem they’ve posted on the site and talk about it (or whatever they want) for a few minutes.

Anyway, that’s what I’ve been doing this month. Lately it’s always something other than this blog…but I love this blog. This blog was the first real outlet I ever had to express my thoughts and try to craft them into something people would enjoy. So I’ll always be grateful to this blog. And even if I don’t always put regular blog posts on it, I’ll at least let it know what I’m up to.

P.S. This child is smarter than I’ll ever be:

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Ai Weiwei — “I’m so fearful”

It’s strange when you stumble upon something–a book, a movie, a person, idea–and it changes your whole concept of the world.  It happened to me just now when I watched this PBS Frontline profile of the Chinese artist Ai Weiwei.  I simply did not know that he existed.  And now that I know he exists, it seems he doesn’t exist–his whereabouts have been unknown since April 3rd, with most people suspecting that the Chinese authorities are detaining him.

Below is an installation he did of 9000 children’s backpacks, a response to the children who died in poorly constructed government schools in the Sichuan province earthquake in 2008.  The backpacks spell out a sentence that a mother told Ai about her daughter: “She lived happily for seven years in the world.”

What the PBS profile really gets across is that Ai puts his life in danger doing provocative, controversial things.  He doesn’t mind risking his life to try to fight unjust things.  At the end of the profile, the filmmaker asks Ai, “Do you ever examine yourself to say, why is it that you are so fearless compared to other people?”  And he says, “I’m so fearful, that’s not fearless.  I’m more fearful than other people maybe.  I act more brave because I know the danger is really there.  If you don’t act, the danger becomes stronger.”

“What I am is a writer…” (taking comfort in the insight of others)

George Orwell means a lot to me.  I don’t know more than the basics about him, and I haven’t read all that much of his work.  But I credit him, in part, with helping me realize I am a writer. 

Writing for me isn’t everything, but it’s extremely high on the list of the things that define me.  The things that make me feel like a worthwhile person.  The things that I think about and mean to do each day.

I suspected I was a writer for a long time, but it wasn’t until I was a senior in high school that it felt like a confirmed fact.  That was the year my English teacher assigned Orwell’s 1984.  Even though I was an avid reader, I often didn’t finish the books teachers assigned (A Tale of Two Cities).  I was a big fan of the mystery novels I regularly took out of the library at the time, especially Mary Higgins Clark.  Fast-paced intrigue and sex and crime.  I think I might have actually read too much as a teenager.  Often I stayed holed up in my bedroom instead of making efforts to lead a fulfilling social life.  I guess I’m not much different today…

Anyway, I did read all of 1984.  And at the end of the semester, my teacher gave our class options for the final project.  We could either write a regular essay about some of the themes in the book, or, we could opt to do a creative project.  It was 2004 at the time, so the creative project would be a twenty-years later epilogue to 1984.  Which is kind of brilliant and makes me think my teacher actually enjoyed being one.

I was one of the only ones who chose to write the epilogue, I think.  But my excitement toward the assignment made up for the rest of the lack of enthusiasm. I got really into it.  It was the first time I’d ever sat down and composed a legitimate short story.  The assignment required only 8 pages, font size 12, double spaced.  In the end, I wrote 20.  There was intrigue and sex and crime.  I read it over and over again I loved it so much.  And I titled it: “2004: The Love Child.” (Because Julia has a baby. And Winston is the baby daddy. Sex! Crime! Intrigue!)

I don’t think I still have a copy of that piece.  It probably disappeared along with an old hard drive.  But I remember the feeling it gave me.  If I had to pick one word to describe that feeling, it’d be empowered. 

I’m reminded of all this because I recently took a copy of George Orwell’s Why I Write out of the library.  Held in the hand it feels like a chapbook, which I guess is what it is.  A chapbook of essays.  I haven’t gotten very far.  I’m on page 9 out of the 120.  But Orwell writes something in these early pages that struck me.  He writes about the “four great motives for writing.”  Reading it felt like getting a long awaited diagnosis from a doctor and finally, finally knowing what’s wrong.  Only in this case, just what is.

I don’t know if I’m allowed to reprint this much of the text, but I’m going to do it anyway in light of how much I love it and want to share it.  He writes:

They exist in different degrees in every writer, and in any one writer the proportions will vary from time to time, according to the atmosphere in which he is living.  They are:

  1. Sheer egoism.  Desire to seem clever, to be talked about, to be remembered after death, to get your own back on grown-ups who snubbed you in childhood, etc. etc.  It is humbug to pretend that this is not a motive, and a strong one.  Writers share this characteristic with scientists, artists, politicians, lawyers, soldiers, successful businessmen – in short, with the whole top crust of humanity.  The great mass of human beings are not acutely selfish.  After the age of about thirty they abandon individual ambition – in many cases, indeed, they abandon the sense of being individuals at all – and live chiefly for others, or are simply smothered under drudgery.  But there is also the minority of gifted, wilful people who are determined to live their own lives to the end, and writers belong in this class.  Serious writers, I should say, are on the whole more vain and self-centered than journalists, though less interested in money.
  2. Aesthetic enthusiasm.  Perception of beauty in the external world, or, on the other hand, in words and their right arrangement.  Pleasure in the impact of one sound on another, in the firmness of good prose or the rhythm of a good story.  Desire to share an experience which one feels is valuable and not to be missed.  The aesthetic motive is very feeble in a lot of writers, but even a pamphleteer or a writer of textbooks will have pet words and phrases which appeal to him for non-utilitarian reasons; or he may feel strongly about typography, width of margins, etc.  Above the level of a railway guide, no book is quite free from aesthetic considerations.
  3. Historical impulse.  Desire to see things as they are, to find out true facts and store them up for the use of posterity.
  4. Political purpose – using the word ‘political’ in the widest possible sense.  Desire to push the world in a certain direction, to alter other people’s idea of the kind of society that they should strive after.  Once again, no book is genuinely free from political bias.  The opinion that art should have nothing to do with politics is itself a political attitude.

It’s like the Myers-Briggs personality test for writers. At this point, I think I’m mainly motivated by aesthetic enthusiasm, secondarily by ego, a pinch of politics, and history lastly. I’m curious what other identified writers feel about this. If they think there’s truth to it and what motives they identify with.

I know this post is already long, but writing this reminded me of something else I recently read. It made me feel better about the periods in my life when I haven’t been productive or creative. It made me feel glad that there are people out there who understand the solitude and introspection and idleness that often accompany the days of a writer.

It comes from Emily Fox Gordon’s new book of personal essays, Book of Days:

What I am is a writer, and during the twenty years when I was producing nothing, covering my existential nudity with an inadequate garment composed of patches of housewife/graduate student/mother, I was serving the writer’s apprenticeship, letting the world trickle through me to leave behind sedimented layers of impression.  All through my protracted apprenticeship I felt anomalous and apologetic, subject to fits of self-loathing and panicky self-consciousness, inclined to take refuge in the comfort of grandiose fantasies.

I confess, sometimes imagining that I’ll truly live the life of a writer (my version of it) feels itself like a grandiose fantasy. But it is comforting. And it’s one I badly want to be my reality.

The Circus

I watched all six hours of the PBS miniseries “Circus.”  Before watching it, I thought I hated the circus.  It made me think of sad-looking elephants and subpar performances.  But not this circus.

I was supposed to go see the Big Apple Circus.  On Christmas Eve.  That’s how good this miniseries was–I wanted going to the circus to become a Christmas tradition.  But that didn’t work out.  So the tickets got changed to the week before Christmas.  But that didn’t work out either.  So now, maybe there will be no circus this year.

I think the main thing that captured my imagination about the show is the lifestyle.  In one of the parts, the creative director/ring leader is preparing for retirement.  He’s lived his whole life with the circus–sleeping in a trailer, performing every day, traveling from town to town, being part of a strange and talented community.  But suddenly he’s leaving that behind.  He needs to look for an apartment and start buying groceries and living a “normal” life. 

It was almost tragic.  You couldn’t help but feel that he was going to be profoundly bored and lonely in his new life.  And then I thought about my own life.  How it’s more the apartment, groceries, “normal” thing than the trailer, performing daily, on the road thing.  And I wondered, am I profoundly bored and lonely?  And I just don’t realize it?

Perhaps.

Someone is a genius

Maybe this is old hat, but I’ve never seen it done before.  And I will now think of it every time I see a Wet Paint sign.

Big Boy!

I have a crush on the man in the center:

He’s 14 feet tall, made of bronze (which always has been one of my favorite metals), and his name is Untitled (Red Man).  It’s by Thomas Houseago and it’s currently on display in City Hall Park in New York City.  You can have someone take a picture while you hold his hand like I did today!

My favorite part is how his eyes don’t line up.  It makes him seem not threatening at all despite his height and weight.

Life and the Academy

After watching the Academy Awards tonight, I’ve got this feeling in my chest.  It’s tight and open at the same time.  It’s at ease and anxious.  It’s the same feeling I have when I stop and think about life–the overwhelming feeling of recognizing its beautiful mysteries, contradictions, and ambiguities.  

I’m left with that feeling now because the Oscars are a celebration of creativity.  And if I’m truly honest with myself, I feel most alive when I’m creating.  No matter if it’s a poem, essay, performance, or conversation with a friend. 

The speech that most directly related to all this came from Michael Giacchino who won Best Original Score for his work on “Up”.  He said:

I was nine and I asked my dad, ‘Can I have your movie camera? That old wind-up eight milimeter camera that’s in your drawer?’ And he goes, ‘Sure, take it.’  And I took it and I started making movies with it and I started being as creative as I could.  And never once in my life did my parents ever say, ‘What you’re doing is a waste of time.’ Never. And I grew up I had teachers, I had colleagues, I had people I worked with all through my life who always told me, ‘What you’re doing is not a waste of time.’  So that was normal to me….

I know there are kids out there who don’t have that support system, so if you’re out there and you’re listening–listen to me: if you want to be creative, get out there and do it.  It’s not a waste of time. 

In the end, the competition doesn’t matter.  The support and the love–they do.  And creativity?  It’s not a waste–it’s life itself.