Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Tribute to Mr. Harris

I recently posted on my Facebook page that I lamented how people didn't read poetry anymore, since I like writing and reading poetry and wouldn't mind having more readers to share with. Someone corrected me, noting that a lot of people read and write poetry still. Only now, it's songs.

That exchange brought me back in time to my high school English class. This is exactly what Mr. Harris was doing when he would have us listen to and analyze the lyrics of songs like Sounds of Silence by Simon and Garfunkel or She's Leaving Home by the Beatles.

Mr. Harris became an influence in my life at a time when I needed that. He seemed to pay attention to me as a person at a time when I felt lost in the crowd.

On one occasion everyone in the class was asked this hypothetical question: If you could be anyone in the world, who would you be? I can't recall if that included people of all time or only present day times. We were then asked to say aloud whom we had written. When I said "me" there was quite a bit of mocking laughter. Mr. Harris literally had to hush the class so he could ask a thoughtful follow up. It was as if he knew I had more to my answer than mere conceit. I replied, "Because everybody in the world has problems. I'm just more familiar with my own and wouldn't have to learn how to deal with a whole new set of problems."

In retrospect it's interesting to note my maudlin problem-focused reply as opposed to an optimist's opportunity mindset. More importantly, Mr. Harris showed respect for me and believed I had something more going on inside. He drew it out in a sensitive manner so that over forty years later I recall the incident.

After one of our writing assignments in which everyone had to write a short story, he came up to me and asked permission to submit my story to a national fiction competition for high school students' works. The story didn't win any awards, but the recognition by Mr. Harris that it was worthy of extra attention proved exceedingly gratifying.

The story was about longing and desire and suffering, from the point of view of a stick of gum. It begins with my lying clothed next to another whom I loved but was unable to communicate with due to excessive shyness. I described the feelings of silent longing, but despaired of anything ever coming of it. As the story develops, continuing from the gum's point of view, I am separated from the one I love, stripped and put into a torturous situation. (I tried to describe all this the best I could without saying words like fingers, mouth, teeth, tongue.) In the end, she is also stripped and joins me, finding comfort in the midst of our harrowing situation by becoming one.

Great story? Probably a little much. But like the great writers I did have several variations on my ending, including one in which we were stuck under a lunch room table. I can't recall the real conclusion, though in retrospect I suspect it was weak.

Here's a poem/song by Paul Simon that we studied in Mr. Harris' English class one day. It became a vehicle for teaching the concept of alliteration, a poetic device that you can see in the line "withers with the wind." The song is simple, but with more to it than might initially meet the mind.

Leaves That Are Green

I was twenty-one years when I wrote this songI’m twenty-two now, but I won’t be for long
Time hurries on

And the leaves that are green turn to brown

And they whither with the wind

And they crumble in your hand

Once my heart was filled with love of a girl

I held her close, but she faded in the night

Like a poem I meant to write

And the leaves that are green turn to brown

And they wither with the wind

And they crumble in your hand

I threw a pebble in a brook

And watched the ripples run away
And they never made a sound

And the leaves that are green turn to brown

And they wither with the wind

And they crumble in your hand

Hello, Hello, Hello, Hello

Good-bye, Good-bye
Good-bye, Good-bye
That’s all there is

And the leaves that are green turn to brown

© 1965 Words and Music by Paul Simon

Monday, August 29, 2011

Open All The Doors

Open all the doors!
Break all the windows!
Remove the locks from this enclosing life!
~Fernando Pessoa

Monday. New day. New week.
New experiences.
New possibilities.

Open your eyes.
Open your senses.
All your senses.
Extend the boundaries
of your tent.
Expand the possibilities
of your life.

Open all the doors.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Paperback Writer

The Beatles were the supergroup of the Sixties. After a certain point in time it hardly seemed to matter what they sang about, they were just that popular. And they did have a such a great sound. Their fame gave them license to experiment and to diehard fans they could do no wrong. If the Beatles did it, it had to be good, even when it was that strange encore-like ending on Strawberry Fields or the use of Indian string instruments with no other members of the group even playing.

And so in 1966 Paperback Writer rolled up the pop charts to number one, the first Beatles single ever released that was not a love song. What was striking about the song was McCartney's fabulous bass line which literally jumped out and grabbed you, as if to say, "Pay attention to this." I loved the song, not knowing that one day I, too, would like to be a paperback writer.

According to Wikipedia, that bass line was the result of John Lennon asking how Wilson Picket got his bass to stand out so strong on a certain record. They proceeded to place a loudspeaker as a mic in front of the speaker where the bass guitar emerged, toying with that configuration to amp it up.

I mention all this because this morning I came across an interesting blog entry about Paperback Writer from the point of view of a literary agency. If you recall, the song's repeated refrain is, "I want to be a paperback writer." Here is the beginning of a rejection letter from the Write Good Read Literary Agency to Mr. McCartney.

Dear Mr. McCartney,
With reference to your recent correspondence seeking representation for yourself and your novel, I regret to inform you that The Write Good Read Literary Agency will not be inviting you to join our client roster.

As someone who harbors ambitions of one day becoming a published author myself, I fully understand your desire to become a ‘paperback writer.’

I share the frustration we authors feel when our work is rejected with little or no explanation as to why it’s deemed unworthy. With that in mind – and please understand this is in no way a request for you to re-submit your work – I’d like to offer some observations about your letter of enquiry, along with some helpful advice which, if heeded, I believe will greatly increase your chances of getting past that all-important first stage of the representation process when you submit your work elsewhere.

You start your letter of enquiry with ‘Dear, sir or madam, will you read my book?’

To use the modern vernacular, I’m afraid you ‘Shot yourself in the foot’, not once, but twice, within your very first sentence. In this modern technological age, a quick call to Directory Enquiries would have gotten you this agency’s telephone number. Had you then telephoned our main office, a member of our secretarial staff would have gladly furnished you with the name of the person to whom you should address your letter of enquiry (in this case, myself).

For a good laugh, or at the very least a big grin, read the rest of the letter here.

As for the record itself, here are the lyrics. Enjoy.

Paperback Writer

Dear Sir or Madam, will you read my book?
It took me years to write, will you take a look?
It's based on a novel by a man named Lear
And I need a job, so I want to be a paperback writer,
Paperback writer.

It's the dirty story of a dirty man
And his clinging wife doesn't understand.
The son (The Sun) is working for the Daily Mail,
It's a steady job but he wants to be a paperback writer,
Paperback writer.

Paperback writer (paperback writer)

It's a thousand pages, give or take a few,
I'll be writing more in a week or two.
I can make it longer if you like the style,
I can change it round and I want to be a paperback writer,
Paperback writer.

If you really like it you can have the rights,
It could make a million for you overnight.
If you must return it, you can send it here
But I need a break and I want to be a paperback writer,
Paperback writer.

Copyright 1966 Lennon/McCartney

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Poco a Poco

The best achievements in life are achieved poco a poco. That is, little by little. Be patient, work hard... little by little you will succeed.

If your life were a story, what would the plot be? What is the hero's quest? What are the main themes? How will it end?

Perfection vs. Purpose
A number of years ago someone shared the idea of life being like a jigsaw puzzle with pictures on both sides of the pieces. On the one side is a picture of you, and on the other side is everything else in the world. The application was that if you try to solve the picture puzzle that is the world, you will never be able to get it worked out, but if you put the picture together that is you, then behold, you will then be able to see the world aright.

About a dozen years ago I began suspecting there was a flaw in this thinking. This is not to say we shouldn't strive to improve ourselves, but if our focus is on making our selves better, whether more "together" or less neurotic or more "holy" and unblemished, how far does one go with it? You can make perfection a lifetime quest and still never get there.

In actuality, it may be that without a clear purposefulness, we lack the motivation to truly deal with our shortcomings, imperfections, character defects. Having a defined purpose gives us a cause, power to remove hindrances to our personal life aims.

Example. You are too loose with your tongue and don't care that it offends people. You find that it has cost you a couple jobs. You have children and have a strong motivation to provide for them, so you deal with this issue. You "improve yourself" because there is a higher purpose involved.

A good life operates on both fronts, improving our selves and making a difference in the world, in the lives of those around us whom we serve.

I guess blogs are the same as lives in some ways. Poco a poco... little by little we add strings of words, trying to identify a plot amidst the themes. And wondering where it will end.

Have a good day.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Fresh-picked Corn. Yummm.

Last night we picked our first ears of corn from the garden, and yumm, they were good. There's nothing quite like garden fresh vegetables, and double so for fresh-picked corn.

I remember when we were kids growing up in New Jersey, which incidentally is called The Garden State, my dad would stop at a place called Joe's Fruit Farm near Martinsville to pick fresh corn on the way home from work during the harvest season. As far as he was concerned, corn was best when put on the stove within five minutes of picking. That's a good rule in my book. And last night we abided by it.

My dad's dad liked to grow corn, too. But the corn in our garden has nothing to do with my own green thumb. The only time my thumbs are green are when I have been painting using green paint.

Corn is the most widely grown crop in the Americas and it comes in range of varieties. Called "maize" in Mexico (not to be confused with baseball great Willy Mays, though pronounced the same) corn is a staple of the diet there, as opposed to the wheat bread in our country. I once tried to calculate how many corn tortillas were eaten per year in Mexico and it left my head swimming. In most places in Mexico every meal used to be accompanied by tortillas, which served as eating utensil, hot pads, and even napkins.

Today, however, an estimated 40% of the corn grown is used for ethanol, a controversial decision though helpful in keeping the large corn growers' pockets lined with green.

Modern sweet corn can hardly be beat for good eating. The local farmer's markets sell out quickly so you'd best get there early if you want it fresh.

While we're on the topic of corn, I do have one question. Why do they call corny jokes corn? That is, where does that usage of the word corn come from? I understand why they call corns on your feet corns. But how did low caliber humor get called corn? Maybe something to do with corn whiskey causing people to act silly and lose their ability to discern witty humor from stupid stuff? Just trying to work that one out in my head.

Meantime, have a wonderful day and a great weekend.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Why Red?

Red Interactive is an experimental art initiative conceived by Ed Newman and John Heino. I met John on the set of Iron Will, a Disney production filmed here in Duluth. A few years later I discovered that we shared a mutual friend, and the mutual respect deepened as a result of our seven years with a group called M5. (It would make this all more intriguing if M5 were a secret underground group with secret handshakes, but it was not.)

Most of his adult life he has been keyboard artist in various bands while holding down high level executive positions by day with various companies across the Northland, primarily in the energy field. In recent years John became increasingly energized by photography, a passion of his that most likely developed while an art student at the University of Minnesota, Duluth. For several years we have expressed a mutual desire to work on a collaborative art project, sowing seeds now and then as regards what shape this project would take.

Red Interactive is an outgrowth of this seed sowing activity. One seed pertained to the involvement of others via interactive social media. The implementation of this boundary-stretching experience was only made possible by the emergence of Web 2.0 interactive social media platforms, primarily Facebook.

The physical component of Red Interactive aims to open sometime in September in Superior, Wisconsin (specific date and location TBA) and run for approximately two months. There will be an ever shifting display and two or three red-themed events involving red-themed art, found objects and sculpture collaboratively arranged in a 3D composition within the physical space. Each event will also feature red-themed performances (music, dance, poetry, etc.).

Parallel to the physical show, space and performances, Red Interactive will maintain its virtual space on Facebook and through the full array of online channels such as Twitter and blogs. Some elements will move back and forth between physical and virtual Red Interactive spaces. This is open architecture. We welcome all artists, creative thinkers and people who simply enjoy art--particularly experimental projects. The only boundary is that this is a public arts project, so we ask that all physical and virtual contributions are appropriate for public display.

A lot of people have been asking "Why red?" "Red" is a trigger and a theme. It could have been "blue" or "farm animals" or "show tunes for $100." The trigger/theme merely presents the first thread from which the ultimate tapestry is woven into fractals of infinity. Why red? Because it has such a rich array of connotations -- passion, danger, romance, redemption, intrigue and the like. John suggested it originally, and I liked it for its lack of specificity. Like music, colors convey such a variety of connotations, especially when blended with imagination.

For all who have been contributing to make this an original and ever-surprising project, thank you. For those who are as yet not part of our experiment, please visit our Facebook page, make comments or even contribute your own red vision. Images here (by Andrew Perfetti, John Heino, and John Nolan) are just a few of more than 100 original contributions from ten countries, ten states, three continents.

Go red.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Writing On Demand

One of the biggest myths about writing is that you need to wait for inspiration from your muse. Honestly, if that is your method, you will drink yourself to death before that muse shows up.

While it's true that inspiration can strike at any time and you need a butterfly net in your head to capture those sparkling but elusive special illuminations, for the most part writing is a craft and a discipline. Hemingway's aim was 500 good words a day. Jack London wrote a thousand words a day. Whatever your target, you're more likely to reach it by discipline than by hopes, whims and the winds of chance.

It was Dorothea Brande's Becoming a Writer that sank this lesson home for me. She pointed out that by setting an established time and place to write each day we can harness our unconscious, our intuitive powers, train it to join us as we approach the allotted time. The unconscious, says Brande, is shy, elusive, and unwieldy, but it is possible to learn to tap it at will, and even to direct it. The conscious mind, on the other hand, is meddlesome, opinionated, and arrogant, but it can be made subservient to the inborn talent through training. (These last two sentences were borrowed from a review at Amazon.com, but they capture the essence of my thought so very well.)

Written in the early 1930's Brande taught writing and was a keen observer of the creative process. Brande may not have been the origin of the notion of left brain/right brain thinking, but I first encountered it here, decades before it was popularized in the self-help rage of the nineties.

It's my opinion that if you want to master the craft of writing, here are three things you can do. First, get into the habit of writing every day. When I was young I used do what I called "limbo excercises." At a specific time each evening I would place a sheet of paper into my typewriter and fill it with words, single spaced, as fast as I was able. It was a great exercise for getting the joices flowing, especially since you were not aiming for publication or fame, but just learning how to produce good copy quickly. (Note: No one that I know of skips the editing step that must follow. Do not aim for perfect prose. Perfection happens when you tighten and revise afterwards)

Second, go to the library and read as many books on writing that you can possibly find. Buy the best ones for your personal library.

Third, read great writers and study how they do what they do. You'll never be a great writer if you can't tell the difference between Hemingway and Danielle Steele.

For what it's worth, Amazon.com has 93 used copies of Brande's book on sale starting at 35 cents. Might be a good place to start if you're a beginning writer or young writer seeking to move it up a notch.

Have a great, great day. And write on.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Unremembered Histories

In 1991 my short story "The Breaking Point" won the Arrowhead Regional Fiction Competition. The unexpected rose had a thorn in it. This was the first year that the winning story was not published.

It's strange how those things go. After this, repeated submissions to literary magazines and other publications were perpetually returned. I started to conclude that publication of an unknown writer's fiction seemed to be a futile pursuit. I did not have the postage or the motivation to continue that route and instead chose to share my stories on a website that I created in for that purpose, among others. Three of my stories were eventually translated into Croatian, Russian and French.

For the most part the stories remained dormant as my energies had been directed into other pursuits... until this past winter. An email from Portuguese artist Margarida Sardinha reminded me that I had poured a lot into my fiction, had been serious about it and took great pains to craft stories worthy of any collection. The stories were things of value and needed to be treated that way.

My very first impression is that there's a certain style in some ways similar to Franz Kafka which is good and intense - very mysterious for one doesn't know where the whole thing is going to go... but is sure that there's a message to be captured from the many moments stated in the short sentences that are all poignant to the story. Perhaps what I want to say is that I feel the work to be extremely existentialist in a serious way and not in an ironic one - best portrayed by Sartre.

Also, there's an enormous spiritual and ethical awareness in your writing which is not directly implied in Kafka's work but if one reads him under the light of the Jewish religious upbringing he had like Harold Bloom pointed out, one will find it there, something that is completely ruled out in Sartre's views. Yours, generally speaking and only from what I've read so far, is slightly more lyrical or poetic if you will, but carries that acute seriousness and extreme loss of hope and faith (common to Kafka) only you give it a try in explaining it, be it searching for religious/spiritual arguments or other author's references which I very much sympathize with because it becomes a "loss of hope when hope is not all lost"... And there you achieve something great for the stories are open cycles (not dead-ends like Kafka), they become allegories, which by definition are circles constantly closing and opening on themselves. You match Borges here beautifully. I also like very much how you build the stories to show the two sides of the same coin without being preachy or moralist, again this duality which has been around since the beginning of time, is explored in a very simple and engaging way enabling us to breathe and reflect when needed; for although the stories are of an existential character they are mostly of an extrovert attitude, in the sense that the reader understands what the character is feeling by what he says and not by some introvert description of how he feels which in my modest opinion is extremely liberating and contemporary - reminding me of Eco in some ways and of Plato's simple dialogues full of meaning and hidden messages.

Maybe this is a very simplistic way of putting it and I know you are influenced by many other writers and not necessarily by Kafka or the others I mention here, but still as I'm meant to humbly and with all respect say what I think in these comments I hope you take it as a personal view that is only "simply another view" and not set in stone in any way.

Ms. Sardinha's commentary set in motion a renewed desire to see the stories brought to a wider public. As the year progressed a pathway opened up and the launch of N&L Publishing has created the platform from which several books will be launched this fall. N&L Publishing is a collaboration with TJ Lind, a high school student with an iPad attached to his fingertips.

Currently we are in the final stages of preparing The Red Scorpion, my debut novel, for publication. It's starting to feel like we're close, aiming to launch in September. The three volumes of stories will roll out on the heels of that release.

Unrembered Histories is a compilation of six stories with a supernatural twist. The collection will feature:
Two Acts That Changed the World
The Empty Space
Duel of the Poets
Lu Lee
Unremembered History
The Nonsense Room

This volume will sell for $1.99 on Kindle and Nook. And I'm fairly confident that they will make you hungry for more.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Hiker Update: Shane and Josh Sentenced to Eight Years

When I was a boy we went through a phase where we played marbles a lot. We often went next door to Dennis Kappos' house to play. He had a flat driveway and lots of marbles. The houses were close together in our Cleveland suburb of Maple Heights, with a space just wide enough for your car and three feet of lawn in between. The Yeagers* and Turners, two families without children, lived in the two houses beyond Dennis' house and their manicured lawns were maintained with extreme care.

It must have been exasperating for Mrs. Y to see these wee boys always gathering just a few feet from her yard because we knew it was forbidden for us to tread there. Sometimes she would watch out her window to see if there was mischief going. Occasionally she would bark at us, and on one occasion I remember a marble shooting onto the grass and Mrs. Y. furiously rushing out across her lawn in an attempt to retrieve it, as if the offending marble weight a half ton and might permanently damage the surface of the yard. Evidently it never occurred to her that here heels were doing more damage than any size marble ever could.

This is the story that popped into my head when I read this morning's paper announcing a verdict in the Iran trespassing case involving Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal who were taken into custody more than two years ago. Shane and Josh have now been sentenced. Iran television announced that they have each been sentenced three years for illegally trespassing and five years for spying on behalf of the U.S.

Like Mrs. Y. and the marbles, the behavior seems so out of proportion to the real offense that it ought to be comical. Tragically we are discussing a very lengthy segment in these young men's lives, and the lives of their loved ones. There is nothing funny about it.

In some ways I can half understand the Iranian argument that these young men were spies. Over and over again we read books and stories about how the U.S. trained and utilized Delta Force heroes to infiltrate various hot spots incognito. The net result of these clandestine actions is to cause our adversaries to distrust anyone who happens to be American, or foreign. Missionary work and humanitarian aid activities become riskier when there is a shadow of doubt as regards the real motivations of those implementing these activities.

So it is that Shane and Josh have now been stamped as spies by a nation with whom we do not have diplomatic relations.

There is still a basis for maintaining hope that this ordeal will be over sooner than later. According to a Washington Post article, "the report (of the young men being sentenced), although carried on Iran’s highly controlled state media, was not immediately confirmed by authorities."

Let's keep Shane and Josh, and their loved ones, in our prayers.

*Yeagers and Turners: Not their real names.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Author Receives Court-Ordered Damages After Damaging Review

Sometimes an article just seems to catch your eye and you can't put it aside till you hear the rest of the story. Such was the case when I read Francis Whelan's "The Hunting of the Snark" which appeared at Slate.com August 7 a couple weeks back. The opinion piece assesses the story of an author who received a scathing review and sued. In the end she received the equivalent of over $100,000 for her day in court, more than what she made on the book probably.

Naturally the details make the verdict less cut-and-dried, but Whelan is not in favor of the notion of writers suing for bad reviews. That's sort of how some reviewers get their kicks, I believe. A bad play or poorly written book is like shark bait. Many reviewers reproduce venom the way my property produces weeds.

The reviewer who took it in the chops was Lynn Barber, the book Seven Days in the Art World by Dr. Sarah Thornton. What worries Whelan is that if critics begin to fear lawsuits, they will next be setting aside the scalpels with which they have become adept at using to lacerate mediocre talent. The end result will be bland reviews that bore more than inform. The Sunday reviews will cease from being entertaining.

The story caught my eye for another reason. I am preparing four manuscripts for publication this fall and I'm wondering just how thick my skin is should there be any sharp-toothed reviews. Many folks graduate from the school that all publicity, good or scathing, is good publicity. I understand that. On the other hand, no performer likes an indifferent audience. No one at a party wants to be utterly ignored.

Actually, I have been writing long enough to know that as busy as everyone is these days, it's almost a miracle if someone is reading your work in the first place. The best hope for most fiction writers would be that someone makes a movie out of it. From there it is only the smallest step to, "The movie was good, but you should have read the book." Then you will get some readers."

The Red Scorpion and my short story collections will be on Kindle and Nook initially. eBooks do change one factor with regard to the book buying habits of consumers. I doubt that many eBooks will be purchased in an attempt to impress friends at the size and scope of one's library.

Alas... Do enjoy the weekend. It's gotten off to a beautiful beginning here.

To stay current with our fall schedule of events for The Red Scorpion including times and places for launch parties or "eBook signings" be sure to follow us at N&L Publishing on Facebook.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Phantom Galleries Update

My brother posted an interesting statement the other day on his Facebook page. Earth, without art, is just "Eh".... Eh?

There were some post cards sent out this week from the Phantom Galleries Superior inviting people to pARTicipate in this project which has been designed to be a collaboration between the art, business and community in downtown Superior. A reception, dialogue and walking tour have been scheduled for 5:00 p.m. on Thursday, August 25 at 1410 Tower Avenue.

The featured artists in this round of Phantom Galleries include Ken Kollodge ("Iced Light" photography) and his wife Kathy (paintings), Jeredt Runions (with a display titled "Dreamcatcher") and David Derbis, whose paintings on the corner of 13th and Tower have caught a lot of attention.

Phantom Galleries places 24/7 temporary art installation into vacant storefronts, inviting the people to be curious about what's happening there. Everything is for sale, so there is a sense in which it is also an economic initiative.

The Phantom Gallery concept has taken root in quite a wide range of cities across the country, from L.A. to Millville, NJ. Six cities in Wisconsin have been endorsed by the state arts board and

The next round of Phantom Galleries will include what hopes to be a surprisingly outside the box gallery conceived by photographer John Heino and myself called Red Interactive. Please take a few moments to visit us and post on our wall. More info about the planned Red Flashmob and other Red Adventures will be posted there. We hope you will "Like" and join us.

In the meantime, have a great weekend. Find something beautiful to do.

Top Right: Ken Kollodge, who will be at this week's Phantom Gallery open house/reception ot 1410 Tower.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

The Help: Worth Seeing By All

This past Sunday we went to see The Help. I'd been hearing great reviews and saw a lot of promotion for it when I was in Dallas last week. I did not know how powerful the film would be and how it would intersect with several other stories I had watched or read lately, including a documentary on the Freedom Riders that I saw two weeks ago.

Forget any talk about Oscars. A movie like this is not about performances, it's about conveying a message, though the performances are strong. Like "Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous," we are given snapshots of a lifestyle most of us up North have been utterly oblivious to, the strange world of Jim Crow laws and "separate but equal."

Jim Burns' outstanding documentaries on Jazz and on Baseball return to this theme repeatedly. What were the Negro Leagues all about anyways? You're the most talented pitcher in the world and you can't play pro ball because you're black?

But in the deep south it went much further, and The Help gives yet another perspective on the manner in which this cancer infected the hearts and lives of so many.

This film is about a gutsy girl who decides to tell the truth about what it feels like to be poor and black while having to take care of the children and meals and chores of rich white folk. The treatment and tone of the film keep it from being maudlin. It's an enjoyable film even while being deadly serious, and for this reason it should reach a wider audience.

The Help is the story of a young writer named Skeeter (Emma Stone) who returns to her hometown of Jackson, MS, after being away at college. She's been told that if she wants to be a writer in New York, she needs more experience first. In the process of gaining that experience as the writer of an Ann Landers-type column, she realizes that there's an untold story in Mississippi that she must tell. When black servants Abilene (Viola Davis) and Minnie (Octavia Spencer) begin to open up, Skeeter knows the first hurdle has been crossed and her hopes are stoked. But the stakes were high, and two women's stories were not going to be sufficient. Her New York publisher wanted a dozen.

These were the days speaking up about racial equality meant putting your life on the line. It was not going to be easy for Skeeter to get these black servant women to speak up about their experiences. In essence, Skeeter's quest to do so becomes the driving force of the film against a backdrop of Freedom Riders, shootings (Medger Evers and JFK were both buried from bullets they caught at this time) and general abuse.

It's still hard for many of us to comprehend that this whole Southern way of life existed simultaneous to our own childhoods in the 50's and 60's. In Ohio and New Jersey we were so oblivious and care free. No black youth in Alabama could ever risk being so care free around whites. To even look at a white girl was to risk losing your life.

The Help, as a film, is a useful vehicle that tackles these issues in a manner you don't expect. Try to see it if you can.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

The Music In My Head

Notes from Saturday

Today it is Paul Winter, Winterland. Light, airy, rhythmic, delicious. It seems like there is always music playing there, lifting me up or soothing me down, carrying me along through my day. And I wonder, is this a common experience for all? For a few?

Music has always been a part of my life, and usually the tracks playing in my head are familiar because of they were listened to over and over again at one point in time or another. The Paul Winter music is particularly well suited to my first class seat above the clouds, drifting toward Minneapolis on my return to Duluth. The plane floats, carried along on the flowing melody, sweeping us along on a jet stream. Not the jet stream, of course, that shoots west-to-east, but we’re being briskly buffeted by currents and waves as we bobble along, smooth then not so smooth, but hardly tempest-tossed.

Often it is Dylan. Desolation Row has a lyrical quality with a rhythmic strum that hankers along with the pace of a typical day. Visions of Johanna can have the same effect, the mournful mouth harp embellishing the easy pace.

Procol Harem's White Shade of Pale is another smooth soother of a tune, the organ transporting you on a wave of ethereal internal ecstasy as you do your chores, process paperwork, disappearing into your day. Need to slow even further? Go with Who Knows Where the Time Goes? by either Judy Collins of Sandy Denny. This song will take you there....

On the other hand, if you're getting ready for the gridiron, need a boost, the Stones can get you ignited. There's a reason Microsoft chose Start Me Up as its anthem going into the Internet age. One of my favorites is Can't You Hear Me Knockin' when its time to pick up the pace. Then again, Dylan is no slouch when it comes to energizing, either. Take hold of the opening notes of Highway 61 Revisited off his Live album and hold on.

Then again, you don't always need contemporary music to give you that joltin' jazzed jivestep. Duke Ellington and even Ludwig van B can both put spring in your step when you need it.

What's the music in your head today?

Monday, August 15, 2011

Scraps of Paper

"Ideas are like cattle. They have to be gathered and herded if you want to keep track of them, otherwise they just wander off and get lost." ~ M.L. Bennett

This weekend I rolled up my sleeves and began cleaning my office. The clutter had me overrun. Keeping things too long is probably a bad habit I learned from my dear mom who, when I was young, kept bags with popsicle sticks, cartons, bottle caps and all manner of odds and ends as long as it had some potential use in a cub scout art project or some other rainy day endeavor.

Alas, the words that make me wince are "potential use" because as a writer nearly every thought, idea, magazine article has "potential use" in a future story, article, book or blog entry. I have enough such idea stimulants set aside that I have filled whole boxes with them and carried them to my garage.

After clearing the floor I made it to the desktop and began sorting, throwing and cataloging. Many of the notes on the scraps of paper are quite interesting. In the old days writers kept a journal to assemble their miscellaneous observations and thoughts. I once read a book of F. Scott Fitzgerald's scratchings. I used to keep notebooks like that myself till the world went digital. Then I began writing on scraps of paper, intending to start a file on my computer. Some, like items 5, 7 and 8 were scribbled while driving and listening to audio books. Unfortunately, the sources are forgotten, though a diligent search would probably prove fruitful if undertaken.

Here are some items from paper scaps I handled this past 24 hours.

1. "May us by breath be the solo meaning of life." (EdNote: This is a quote from a musician in a recent dream I had.)

2. This, too, is a dialogue from a dream:
Little boy says to man, "Pretty soon you will be wearing a tie."
Man says, "What will I be wearing a tie for?"
As he walks away a necktie suddenly appears on the man and he is wearing a tie.
The boy says, "Because it is my dream."

3. Oedipus: Man’s doomed attempt to outwit fate

4. “The only time I feel alive is when I’m painting.” ~Vincent Van Gogh

5. A conservative flaw: the belief in a “Golden Age” when all was good and beautiful.

6. His smile was effective.

7. “If men were angels, no government would be necessary.”

8. “There’s always a moment in childhood when a door opens and lets the future in.”

9. Community was once based on geography, now it is based on affinity.

10. Will the last honest journalist please turn out the lights?

That should be enough mental snack food to munch on for one day. Have a great new week!

Sunday, August 14, 2011

X Marks the Spot

About twenty years ago I took it upon myself to do some heavy lifting with regards to our family genealogy, renting microfiche files of all census data from 1790 to 1900 in the vicinity of our kin in Eastern Kentucky. I also located and obtained numerous official court documents including records or births, deaths and the like. In addition, I was able to acquire a number of marriage certificates, which can be helpful in identifying other relations in your family circle.

One such document was my great grandfather's marriage certificate. Since our kin on dad's side of the family were illiterate, it was interesting to read the signature on this document, an "X", and in parenthesis the printed words "his mark".

This week in Dallas I was listening to a man tell about his cataract surgery and he said that the doctor put an X just above his eyebrow to indicate which eye was going to be worked on that day.

The hotel I’d been staying at here in Dallas was the Hyatt Regency, bathed in elegant ritz and walking distance to Dealey Plaza, where John F. Kennedy’s caravan escorted him to his destiny with death. If you’ve never been here, and you saw the events on television that bleak week in November 1963, then rest assured this is a place that will make an impression on you.

The dense air was seething heat as I left the hotel in the early evening. Dallas had been under a spell of 40+ days with no relief from the 100+ degree weather. As I crossed an intersection to approach Dealey Plaza, a small concrete park with a statue commemorating Dallas newspaperman George Bannerman Dealey, I could see I was being eyeballed by a black man on the other side of a long pool. Clearly I was a mark, though I expected pan-handling and not the story he intended to share.

I missed his name when he introduced himself but he began by pointing out he meant no harm and that by avoiding him I missed the plaque with the Warren Commission statements printed on it declaring Lee Harvey Oswald was a lone gunman in the JFK assassination. He pointed up to the sixth floor window in the Book Depository from whence Oswald had fired the shots that took the president’s life and wounded Governor Connally. We were now standing at the corner where the motorcade made its left turn that led to the president’s fatal rendezvous.

In the middle of the road there are two X marks painted in white, identifying the location of the president when each of the bullets struck him. This gets your attention right off.

I pointed to a large tree that would have somewhat blocked Lee Harvey Oswald's view if it had been standing there in 1963. My "guide" indicated that this tree would not have been blocking his view at that time. From a different angle (photo to right here above) I could see that the keep the top of the tree trimmed so it does not block the view from the window where Oswald had set up his firing station.

And then he said, "Let me show you something."

We walked down to a lamppost which was across from the grassy knoll. He pointed to a fence across the street atop the knoll. "Notice how there is a direct line from that corner there to this lamppost with the X precisely in the middle. That's where the second gunman was hidden. Did you know there was brain matter found on this lamppost here? Think about it." (In this picture, the second X is in the middle of the road between the lamppost and the fence where a second gunman purportedly took his aim.)

The scene makes an impression, and I took photos that I knew I would be sharing here.

Back at the hotel I asked someone about these ad hoc tour guides and was told, "They have most of it right."

But when I re-watched the Zapruder film, and looked at a number of other contradictory websites debating the matter, I did not see this particular lamppost anywhere in those pictures. There were lampposts across the street, but not the one that this fellow claimed had been hit by debris from JFK's head. I did, however, see a pretty wide range of explanations of what occurred, including one site suggesting Jacqueline Kennedy herself was the second gunman.

For conspiracy fans there's plenty here to chew on. I myself don't rightly know what to think, except it was clear to me that a U.S. president lost his life in Dallas that day. Two X marks on the road show where the he had been when the bullets struck him. November 22, 1963, was a very sad day.

Bottom right: photo from the grassy knoll.
Compare this last shot with the original Zapruder film.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Rejoicing with Innovation Institute's First Graduating Class

“The road is long
With many a winding turn
That leads us to who knows where…”
~The Hollies

For Harrold Andresen, it truly has been a long and winding road, but the journey has not been taken in vain. This spring Harrold, friends and family witnessed the first graduating class from Innovation Institute, the certified automotive maintenance training facility that he founded.

Harrold Andresen has owned and operated an auto repair facility of one kind or another for nearly forty years. He knows a thing or two about fixing cars. He has also demonstrated a keen aptitude for applied creativity, as in brilliant, having frequently designed tools to solve problems because those devices did not exist. He loves that facet of engineering and design, the creative process of bringing concept to completion.

His biggest “idea” and perhaps his most challenging life project has been the founding of Innovation Institute. In 2003 the first major hurdle was crossed when the school for wheelchair bound men received its 501©(3) nonprofit status. This inception was only the beginning of many years of work in finding funding for the dream.

Andresen himself has made tremendous sacrifices, converting 15 bays of his Mechanical Excellence auto repair facility into the school here in Duncanville, just south of Dallas, Tx. The time investment in acquiring tools, equipment and funding has been enormous so that seeing this year’s graduating class was enormously gratifying.

“The mission of the school is to get products into the hands of the disabled that they couldn’t get anywhere else or they couldn’t afford. Also, to give them some skills so they can earn some money for the first time in their lives,” Andresen said. “Also, to help these men achieve a greater measure of freedom and dignity.” Freedom and dignity are major motivations for many of the students who have come to the school.

The school combines Harrold’s incredibly creative mechanical aptitude with his passion to help the handicapped, especially men more drawn to activities like welding and maintenance than arts and crafts. This is no hobby project. It is a state-of-the-art vocational school for the wheelchair bound.

To read a great article about Innovation Institute, turn to page 22 in this PDF version of Duncanville Now.

To make tax deductible contributions, or to learn more how you can support Innovation Institute in other ways, contact mechanical@sbcglobal.net.

Click images to enlarge.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Eating Words Won't Satisfy Hunger

A couple years ago I made several blog entries regarding the world famine crisis. In one of those blog entries I used the phrase "idiot legislators"... which for many is a relatively mild accusation, but in my case it feels unkind to be so harsh. At the time I felt a need to write a response to what I had written, which I am reprinting here. Put yourself in their shoes. What would you be doing right now about the energy issues and economic challenges and international food supply issues our world currently faces? Personally, I do feel that efforts to convert farmland from food production to energy production can be easily labeled idiotic. When people make stupid decisions, this does not mean they are stupid people. A lot of smart people make stupid decisions. I have made my share. This does not mean I am a stupid person. When I jumped out of a moving car, for example, it was a stupid thing to do. I still aced most of my tests in school. So, as I eat my words I'm noticing that there's not a lot of nutritional value in words. If there were, we could have our printing presses do overruns on every job to feed the hungry. Words in abundance would pour forth from our shores. We're already bombarding the world with words through radio, and other media. And here I am pushing out more words through my fingertips onto computer screens potentially visible around the globe. At the end of the day, an empty tummy needs food, not words. I myself do not have an answer to this crisis since I myself do not have the facts. My hope is that those who have all the facts will be able to sort things out and make decisions based on truth. What we don't need is for moneyed interests to determine national policy for personal gain. It is in this sense that I do not always trust our legislators. We cannot lose sight of our global interdependence. Have a nice weekend. Just a little food for thought.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Five Minutes with Artist Amylee of Paris

Today's social media is bringing together people from all over the networked universe. Amylee is a French artist who lives and works in Paris, one of the world’s most amazing cities, rich in both history and culture. Born in Nimes in the south of France in 1978, she has used her creativity in the service of industrial design, fashion and lifestyle work with various agencies. In 2007 she had her first exhibition and has worked as a professional full-time artist since that time.

Ennyman: How did you become interested in Art?
Amylee: Art has always been a passion, I began drawing and painting when I was a child.
Graduated from French state university in Applied Arts and Design in 2003, I went to Paris after my studies. I wanted to be a designer like Philippe Starck, Ron Arad or Jaime Hayon (my favorites) but my professional network decided otherwise.

Enny: Who were your early influences?
Amylee: Taking inspiration from fashion shows and contemporary patterns, I credit my influences as the Art Deco painters, French Fauvists, Mucha’s illustrations, Klimt and colors of the Pop artists.

Enny: The women you paint are so colorful. How did you become interested in this subject matter?
Amylee: I love brilliant colors and glam portraits. I became interested in this subject after many years working in and around art, making a living as an advertising designer, graphic designer or fashion and lifestyle coordinator in several agencies.

Enny: What is the medium you are working in? Some of the flowing colors remind me of watercolor or ink.
Amylee: I work in many techniques (acrylic paint and paper collages on canvas).

I like to paint with acrylic because it dries quickly. It allows me to follow my impulses. I use patterns papers to dress up my portraits. My paintings are handmade and unique. No watercolors or inks, just acrylic paint with water and collage patterns.

Enny: What size are the pieces?
Amylee: I love large formats. Often my canvas sizes are 20x40 inches, 20x60 inches and 39x58 inches.

Enny: How does being a younger artist color the way you look at things?
Amylee: I’m 33 year old woman and I live in my time. My paintings are in galleries in both Paris and New York, but I use social networks (Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Flickr, Linkedin, etc.) to show my work and communicate with my followers or people who love my paintings. I have already had several projects through the web. I like to say that I am a fine artist 2.0

To see and learn more of Amylee and her work:
Blog http://www.amylee.fr

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