Saturday, December 31, 2011

Summing Up: 2011 Arts Interviews (Part 2)

It is a mathematical dictum that the shortest distance between two points is a line. It has also been observed that between any two points is an infinite number of points because each half segment can be cut in half again and again ad infinitum.

Now, what if time were viewed in the same manner. Half of 24 hours is twelve and half again would be six, but if you keep cutting time in half you end up with an infinite moments of time between now and then. As I pondered this, I began to worry that infinity is such a long, long time that tomorrow might never come. Therefore, I am posting Part 2 of this year's list of interviews with artists and other involved in arts related activities. Just in case...

Ten Minutes with
Richard Hansen, Director of the 2nd Annual Duluth International Film Festival

Five Minutes with Artist/Designer Marian Lansky

Ten Minutes with Painter David Sandum

Five Minutes with Artist
GA Gardner

Five Minutes with Artist Amylee of Paris

Ten Minutes with Artist Sandi Harrold from Down Under

Seven Minutes with Fairy and Goddess Artist Liza Lambertini

Ten Minutes with Artist Tonja Sell (Part I)

Ten Minutes with Artist Tonja Sell (Part II)

Five More Minutes with Multi-Media Artist Tonja Sell

Ten Minutes with Singer/Songwriter Caitlin Robertson

Five Minutes with Richard Brandt, Author of One Click

Ten Minutes with Photographer John Heino

Ten Minutes with Steampunk Artist Eric Horn

A Dialogue on Writing with David Beard

And once again, drive safe if you're out on the roads... and have a very meaningful 2012.

Summing Up: 2011 Arts Interviews

I really enjoy interviewing people. Being a writer gives you the often rare opportunity to gently probe beneath the surface to see what makes a person tick. I've been interviewing for more than 25 years so it's no surprise to find that my blog is occasionally peppered with interviews of artists and other creative people.

My initial aim with the artist interviews had been to help other artists discover the varieties of ways their creativity could be expressed. As I reviewed this past year I found that I produced and shared more than thirty interviews and thought it would be useful to assemble them here in one place.
To each of you who participated and contributed, a very earnest thank you.

Five Minutes with Bluewater Illustrator
Todd Tennant

Ten Minutes with Artist
Nancy Eckles

Five Minutes with Painter
Marcia Baldwin

Five Minutes with Duluth Painter
Dale Lucas

Ten Minutes with Artist
Nancy Miller

Five Minutes with
Eris Vafias and Art Kamakaze III

Karin Kraemer
Talks About Pottery

Local Artists Talk About
Painting Live

Ten Minutes with Artist
Laurie Frick

Six Minutes with Artist
Elizabeth Papenfuss

Five Minutes with Award Winning Narrator Grover Gardner

Twelve Minutes with Painter
Olivia Villanueva

Five Minutes with Artist Paul Klee

Ten Minutes with Painter Juan Farias

Ten Minutes with the Young Creative Rob Kaiser-Schatzlein

Come back tomorrow for sixteen more.... and drive safely tonight if you're out on the roads. Happy New Year!

My seed thought for you in 2012: Life is a gift. Don't force it. Embrace it fully and let it happen.

Photo: Jeredt Runions, live painting at the Clyde. By Andrew Perfetti.

Friday, December 30, 2011

The Gunfighter

Before starting this blog four-and-a-half years ago, my mornings began with journal writing. Thirty years' worth. Re-reading pages from these journals is sometimes illuminating, sometimes depressing and sometimes surprising. There are many insights that would have been utterly forgotten had they not been captured in ink. For this reason alone keeping a diary or journal has important therapeutic value for nearly all who practice it.

Not every day of journal writing produces profundity, but for writers the discipline of writing daily helps us in two other important ways. First, as we dredge our hearts, minds, souls and record what we find, we develop the skill of making concrete in words what would otherwise remain misty, vague and nebulous. And second, I believe that writers can use these daily sessions to work on improving their craft. That is, instead of just writing what happened yesterday or what's going on inside or around us, we strive to record it well.

In high school I kept a dream diary for four years. Not every dream was significant or important, but the practice helped improve my ability to magically extract images and details from the scenes that typically played out in the nether world below the surface of consciousness.

Here's are some scenes from a dream that I recorded on April 13, three decades ago.

Scenes from a Dream

I was a gunfighter in the Old West.

In my dream I had ridden into an abandoned town on my horse... went to the town hall or saloon, some building with a stage, and entered. There were three or four women there, armed, weapons set up so as to protect themselves from an assault in a last stand kind of way. I was not who they were expecting and they let me stay. We talked.
It was not clear to me if the people the were expecting were bad guys or good guys, but it’s possible they were anticipating a posse. Their men had been killed or captured and they were in desperate straits.

It turns out I knew one of the women and I learned from her that she was taking care of two infants that were truly annoying to her. This was a woman with whom I had been somewhat romantically involved at an earlier time in my life. I told her to take care of the children “as if they were my own.” In truth, I suspected that they were my own when I learned who the missing mother was.

We talked and waited and finally the posse showed up. When they entered the saloon, they were surprised at my presence. They knew who I was.... a dangerous man and a sure shot. I had two guns in my hands, but no bullets. Possibly a dozen men entered, and we (the women and I) talked them down. No shots were fired. They agreed to leave the women alone.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

A Dialogue on Writing with David Beard

David Beard received his Ph.D. in Rhetoric and Scientific & Technical Communication in 2002 from the University of Minnesota, Department of Rhetoric. He has written extensively on this topic of his interest and was editor, with Richard Enos, of the book Advances in the History of Rhetoric: The First Six Years. Late this fall we met for the first time at an art opening in downtown Duluth. He is currently an assistant professor of writing studies at UMD.

Ennyman: Whom would you consider the most significant American writers of the past 100 years? And which authors have been your personal favorites or biggest influences?

David Beard: The most significant writers in the last 100 years in our nation? I don't think anyone has surpassed Fitzgerald as an expression of the flaws of the American dream. I love teaching The Great Gatsby. (We are lucky to have a Gatsby expert at UW Superior, Deborah Schlacks.)

But when I was starting out, I dreamt of being Vonnegut for at least three reasons. First, Slaughterhouse Five is one of the most important books about WWII and life after WWII that is accessible to people ages twelve to eighty. Second, Palm Sunday (his first book of essays) helped me understand the relationship between conscience and literary or rhetorical style. Vonnegut, for me, I'd say is all about conscience expressed on the page. Third, and most important, Vonnegut was a writer by sheer force of effort and sheer force of will; he was an engineer by training, not an English major; he was a soldier, not a poet. But he was a writer.

E: Did I mention to you that I interviewed Vonnegut for an article once? I was a Vonnegut fan when young. Here's the short tribute piece I wrote about Vonnegut shortly after he died.

DB: In the same way that I love Vonnegut, I admire Tim O'Brien. The Things They Carried changed how I teach literature. But I've never fallen for his later work. In that same vein, Art Spiegelman's Maus changed how I teach visual communication.

But the biggest impact on students today? To be a writer, for so many young students, today, is to walk in the shadow of Hunter S. Thompson and William S. Burroughs. I admire them both, but I have mixed feelings about their legacies as "writers to emulate," or examples of the writing life. What do you think, Ed?

E: Regarding Hunter S. Thompson and Burroughs?

I come from the "belles lettres" school of thinking as regards writing. It’s the writing, not the lifestyle that matters most. Hunter Thompson became a pop icon of anti-establishment, but is that the embodiment of what a writer should be? If I recall correctly his first major story on the Kentucky Derby was just a mish mash of notes and not even a prepared manuscript. The editor of Esquire who gave him the assignment was going to print and needed the story but Thompson had done little but party. The editor asked for the scribblings and they were purportedly published as is. (I say purportedly because an Esquire editor famously altered even Raymond Carver’s writings around that time.) Any other editor would have called it rubbish but they celebrated it, printed it and donned Thompson a genius. Proof that the king had no clothes on.

I’d be curious to know how much of the interest in Thompson is due to his writings and how much due to the movies about him. And what does this say about being a role model for young writers?

What I’m saying is that it perpetuates the erroneous notion that to be a great artist (writer, musician, etc) one has to behave insanely himself or herself. Burroughs and Thompson were one-percenters as regards over-the-top lifestyle. I would argue that it’s possible to write well and live a “normal” life…

What’s your take on how the Internet has changed publishing?

DB: The Internet has made it possible for more people to be writers but for fewer of them to be paid for it.

The Internet has made it easier for writers to reach audiences, including marketing their own work, and I think, maybe, as a result, some authors become the product for sale.

Two of my favorite regional authors are Roy C. Booth and Aaron Brown. Both maintain blogs and Facebook pages. So when I buy their latest works, I'm extending my relationship with them as much as I am buying a product. Surely the same might be true of readers of Ennyman's Territory?

E: I certainly hope so. New topic... What do you mean by "the new rhetoric"? In what way is the new rhetoric different from the old rhetoric?

DB: When we talk about the Old Rhetoric, or when we talk about rhetoric in popular terms, we tend to talk about the ways that persuasive figures manipulate people. We think of emperors addressing their people ("Friends, Romans, Countrymen, lend me your ears") or presidential candidates addressing their voters. We think about demagogues misleading the people to enter into power -- whether the power of politics or the power of the market (old school advertising set out to manipulate consumers the way politicians set out to control voters).

When we talk about the New Rhetoric, we're talking about the way that our society has the technologies, the social structures and increasingly the will to turn monologue into dialogue. As a teacher, that's the condition I foster, the skills I teach and the social change I want to enable.

E: Are there any universal truths about writing that you try to personally convey to your writing students?

DB: There are no universal truths for successful writing. Writing is, for me as a writer and in my classes, a local act, constrained by local forces. Each act of writing requires the writer to pull out the barometer to get the air pressure, the thermometer for temperature, the calendar, the compass for bearing, the map with protractors for location, the Farmer's Almanac for info on this date, historically, and the Ouija board for just a tiny peak into the future. Anytime any part of those writing conditions change, the strategies you'll use as a writer will change with them.

We are lucky to live in a place where writing is taught so well by so many: Heather Bastian at Scholastica, Jamie White-Farnham at UWS, John Hatcher, Chris Julin, Rachel Wolford and Craig Stroupe at UMD. The teaching of professional writers is part of the culture and climate of Duluth Higher Ed. And it's part of the climate of the town. I work with the Arrowhead Regional Arts Council, who regularly fund work by established and up & coming writers, and who teach young writers and artists the grant-writing process. And every year, dozens of college students learn from professionals like you, Ed, in internships.

E: Thank you, David, for your thoughts and insights. Let's keep the dialogue going.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Amazon Prime Makes Receiving Content Sublime

I'm currently reading #1 bestseller Steve Jobs, an incredible book about the incredible man behind that incredible company. I will be writing more about it in the week ahead, but wanted to note one observation that emerges as one reads this story. So many of the great companies were the result of a visionary leader whose fingerprints are all over the products they produce. Steve Jobs' Apple is no different.

Another observation. In the internet age there have been real winners and losers, and the captains of industry in the digital age are fully aware of what's at stake in many of the battlefields where they duke it out with rivals. The computer's operating system was one of these battlefields, and Bill Gates was Steve Jobs' rival on that front.

In recent years another battlefield has emerged as regards how content would be delivered to our computers and portable devices. Apple's iStore is going head-to-head with Amazon and Barnes & Noble. The result for consumers of electronic media has been fast dropping prices and superfast upgrades to electronic devices that deliver books, music and video.

Many card games, from Bridge to Tripoli, involve a bidding war in order to name trump. Once trump is declared, the cards are played in accordance with this new situation. It's not enough to play your cards right but to have the power to declare whether the money cards will be clubs, diamonds, hearts or spades. Hence the backdrop for many of these digital wars. The visionaries saw the lay of the land (or rather, cyber-territories) long before most consumers even had an inkling of what was at stake.

Amazon's current game changer is Amazon Prime. Here's what Sam Biddle at Gizmodo has written about Amazon Prime.

Game Over: Amazon Prime Is Officially the Greatest Deal in Tech
Amazon's Prime service began as a way to get your books and deodorant shipped to your door faster. Which was nice. Now, it's turned into a cornucopia of digital everything: movies, TV, books.

And as it's grown, it's turned into something else: the smartest digital ticket around.

The four components of Amazon Prime are these.
1) FREE Two-Day Shipping on millions of items
2) No minimum order size
3) Unlimited instant streaming of thousands of movies and TV shows with Prime instant videos
4) A Kindle book to borrow for free each month from the Kindle Owners' Lending Library

O.K. what's the catch? The whole kit-and-kaboodle is yours for a flat fee of $79 a year. And the first month trial is free for anyone who likes the concept but is on the fence.

As a writer I like the concept so much that I'm making two of my own books, Newmanesque and The Breaking Point and Other Stories, available in the Amazon Prime lending library this week. Not that these $1.99 eBooks were expensive to begin with. (Thank you to new buyers and readers! Reviews always welcome.)

Will it be the game-changer Biddle suggests? Who knows? Google's attempts to steal the Facebook community with Google+ hasn't panned out as hoped. But Prime is just one of Jeff Bezos' current moves. Apple and Netflix will counter.

Meantime life goes on all around us. Have a great day.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Why I Try

Why I Try

Do I really want on my deathbed to lie
wondering why I didn't try?

Regretting life I didn't live?

Regretting the strength I didn't give?

Regretting what I didn't share,

wondering why I didn't care?

And so, you see, till the day I die

I'll try and try and try and try.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

It's a Wonderful Life

"You've been given a great gift, George: A chance to see what the world would be like without you. " ~Clarence

The celebration of Christmas has resulted in a whole host of traditions that families pass down from one generation to the next. Decorating the Christmas tree, singing carols, reading the Christmas story and exchanging gifts are just a few of the common traditions that extend back many long years through the generations.

In more recent years, because movies and television have more or less emerged during the Boomer generation, a new set of traditions has been added. For some families it's the watching of Charlie Brown's Christmas, created by Charles Schultz near 60 years ago for television. In our family it has been the shared watching of A Christmas Carol, the George C. Scott version.

Before we finally got the DVD we used to watch a VHS version that we taped from television in the late 1980s. Watching this story for ten, fifteen and twenty years has not only brought a continuity to our traditions, but a lot of laughs as we try to say some of the lines just before they're said on the film. "Cratchitt!"... and "Another sound from you... and you'll keep your Christmas by losing your situation."

After the visit by deceased friend and partner Bob Marley, the ghosts of Christmas past, present and future all visit the miserly Ebenezer Scrooge on Christmas eve and teach him that there are other ways of looking at the world besides the way he sees things. The lessons are many and valuable, and the story richly entertaining and heart-warming to boot.

There's another film that many families share as a tradition. Like A Christmas Carol it's the story of a man who has been seeing things wrong, but instead of ghosts helping him get perspective on his life, it's a quirky guardian angel named Clarence, striving to earn his wings.

This film, too, has so many memorable moments and lines. The scene where Jimmy Stewart is inwardly despondent over the lost money and lashes out at his children is heartbreaking in the extreme. The screenwriting, directing by Frank Capra and the acting are all five star. In honor of the 65th anniversary of this film, the Los Angeles City Council declared this past Friday "It's a Wonderful Life Day."

One theme common to both these films is the deep insight that our lives are interconnected to others in ways we often don't see because we're caught up in our selves. If we're fortunate, we can begin to grasp the truths contained here without a visitation by ghosts or George Bailey's suicidal despair.

Whatever your traditions as regards Christmas, my prayer is that you will be richly rewarded with new self-understanding this season as regards your role in the bigger scheme of things. For some reason I keep wanting to say thank you.

"You see George, you've really had a wonderful life. Don't you see what a mistake it would be to just throw it away?"

Thank you, thank you, thank you.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

It's an Awesome Thing

It's that time of year when creches and Nativity scenes show up all around. Probably a lot of commerce generated by all this Christmas gear. If you're like me, you may have had the thought cross your mind at the extravagant lengths to which some people go to dress up their yards with lights and re-enactments of that moment in time long ago. From now on, instead of saying, "Who has time to do all that?" ... here's an alternative thought. This really happened.

Merry Christmas to all, and the very best to you in 2012.

Caitlin Robertson’s Coyote Blues

In November I interviewed Minnesota singer/songwriter Caitlin Robertson who is currently trying to raise money for a second CD of her folk-rock-country-pop songs, Wintersong. In December her threesome, Caitlin Robertson and the Dusty Roads, opened for another Twin Cities group at The Rex (the old Fitgers Tap Room) and I was able to purchase a copy of her first CD titled Coyote Blues, which I have been listening and re-listening to. And I like it.

There are a whole slew approaches to making music. For some groups the song is simply an excuse for break-out jams in between verses. For other groups, it’s all about the message, the story, the words. Robertson weaves both music and words into a lyric whole.

My first impression of the album is its clean sound and high production values. The songs involve a range of musicians in various combinations from acoustic guitars, keyboards and percussions to fiddle, mandolin, upright bass, electric bass, steel and slide guitars and vocal harmonies.

My next observation is that Robertson’s songs demonstrate a serious effort to craft original images and touch universal themes in new ways. I was very pleased to find that the CD includes an eight-page booklet with acknowledgements to the other artists involved with her project as well as all the lyrics to her poetic songs.

The opening track, Red Barn So Lonely, begins this way:

Red barn so lonely
Rooftop white with snow
Doors hang open
Swallow breath-stealing cold…

I hear William Blake in this simple description which easily becomes a metaphor for so much more. The song continues with lines like “frozen quilts of stars” and “ice covered wings” as the narrator struggles to regain hope, to re-connect with lost dreams.

Robertson’s lilting, lyric voice has a childlike innocence as it soars through airy high spaces. She's easy to listen to. But she’s not the innocent you expect as you learn she’s past her thirtieth year and has had enough life experience to know it has painful as well as rewarding contours.

I’d be interested in learning who she’s singing to when she sings Meet Me In Port Townsend, the second track. The Photographer is another song that tells a story in song, followed by Feeding the Vultures, Sally Ireland and the Ice Cream Song (Meltin’ Fast).

Coyote Blues, from which the album takes its name, is a story about two cowgirls who meet a coyote while walking into town one afternoon. It’s an intriguing song with an interesting twist, including a coyote howl that will take you places.

Two of my favorite songs on the album are Bar Napkin and Losing You. Bar Napkin begins…

Bar Napkin, bar napkin
Won’t you dry my tears
Won’t you record my poems
Take away the years

It’s been a long time
Since I felt young
Oh what a mess
This life has brung….

The song brought back a memory from my own youth when I felt old and had seen so much, felt I had been through so much. In the song the narrator recounts a decade of her life from young barmaid to present, weary and looking for a fresh bar napkin to start on again.

I find it interesting when songwriters mention their actual ages. Paul Simon once wrote, "I was 21 years when I wrote this song; I'm 22 now and I won't be for long... and the leaves that are green turn to brown."

The song also brought back memories of my year in Mexico where tortillas, like bar napkins, serve a variety of purposes, from hot pad, to soup spoon, to even being a napkin. I never saw anyone write on poem on a tortilla, but it’s a sure thing this south o’ the border food staple has been the subject of more than a few poems.

Losing You corrals a painfulness that could put moisture in the corners of your eyes, a song of loss and heartbreak. It’s not the belt ‘em out blues of Janis Joplin. It’s more Melanie and Linda Ronstadt, a high clarion call perhaps not unlike the Sirens that tormented Ulysses. (O.K., I’m probably over-reaching there.)

Read the interview here to learn more about Caitlin Robertson and her current project. Be sure to enjoy the video. You won’t receive her CD by Christmas any more, but if you get a little Christmas money from grandma, it might be something to add to your collection.

click images to enlarge

Friday, December 23, 2011

eReader Wars

Woke this morning dreaming about digital eReaders. In my dream a company called Digital Mayflower had been the pioneer in eReaders, which is funny because when I woke and looked it up online, there really is a company called Digital Mayflower, though in a different technology category. The trigger for this dream was an Editor’s Pick article that I read yesterday in Wired magazine about eReaders.

About Wired Magazine
In 1994 I took a one day class about the Internet at U of M, Duluth in part because I wanted to be ready for the coming technology revolution. There were many highlights that day, chief of which was searching through libraries in Berlin and Pisa via Archie, doing Veronica searches. When I got home, abstracts for several articles were magically downloaded onto my 20 meg Mac… Right then I knew something powerful was happening.

The second highlight was less profound, but quite practical. The instructor said there’s a new magazine all of us should be reading, and he showed us his copy of Wired. I went out and bought a copy and have been reading it ever since.

Back to the Story
So yesterday I was paging through the January issue which I came in the mail earlier this past week. In the midst of a hundred other topics was this Editor's Pick article by Tim Carmody. In Carmody's estimation, the surprise winner is... the Kobo Touch.

Huh? Never even heard of it. But I'm sure they will make hay with the endorsement, because Wired magazine is no longer a fledgling start-up. It is a million reader powerhouse whose recommendations and endorsements have real clout.

For the record, you really don't need an eReader to read eBooks. Browsers like Chrome can download books from the store or the Barnes and Noble eUniverse. But as Carmody points out, "When it comes to book-length reading, no glowing LCD tablet screen can hold a backlight to the eye-saving e-ink of these readers."

Other eReaders compared and featured included the Nook Simple Touch, the Sony Reader PRS-T1 and the Kindle from Amazon. And why it matters which eReader you choose? Well, the Kindle and Nook each have special relationships with the "mother ship" and the more Kindles there are, the more Amazon sales will soar. Ditto for B&N for buyers of Nooks.

Despite Wired's influence, Kindles have been selling at the brisk rate of a million per day as we head into Christmas, undoubtedly due to the low price point of less than a hundred dollars per unit. Nook countered by lowering the price on its own eReader.

To best understand the eReader wars, picture the theater industry. Hollywood made the movies, but there was a time when no one could view them without the theaters. The distribution network gave the film industry its power. Likewise modern ePublishing. B&N and Amazon maintain the inventories, but the distribution systems determine which resource people will use to buy their eBooks from.

For this reason questions were raised in various blogs regarding the article's selection of the Kobo. Why? Because something is at stake. And here's the first article I found in response: Paul Biba's short and too the point Wired’s Tim Carmody stacking the deck against Amazon ereaders? Slanted review warning! It's a really concise criticism that you'll really want to read if you're still undecided between a Nook, Kindle, Sony and now Kobo.

The heart of Biba's beef is summed up in a paragraph that appears after listing the four eReaders reviewed by Carmody.

What’s going on here? Carmody is taking a completely different category non-touch Kindle and comparing it to three higher-end touch ereaders. In addition, one of the “Cons” he lists of the low end Kindle is that it has ads. This same version of the Kindle is available without ads, but he chose not to mention this and then decides to use the ad version and list it as a con.

Biba's barb ends, "Shame on you, Wired."

On the very same day Carmody posted a few comments of his own at another site.

The January issue of Wired has my first article/review in the print magazine, a roundup of new e-readers. We didn't get to include the new Kindle Touch or the Kindle Fire, because they weren't released until a month ago (magazines take a long time to make!). But I was still surprised at how much I liked the Kobo Touch and how disappointed I was with the $79 entry-level E Ink Kindle.

Kobo put up scans of two pages of the review. (I don't even have my print copy yet! The world is crazy.) Still, very happy to be in my first issue of the magazine — and I'm already writing something for my next issue now.

Personally, I don't care one way or the other what eReader you choose. I already have my Kindle and love its ease of use. What matters more to me is that people continue to enjoy reading. The high volume of eBooks being sold seems to indicate that there are still a lot of folks with this passion.

Books are a labor of love for those who write them, and authors find no small measure of satisfaction in connecting with readers who appreciate their work, in whatever form it is encountered. As an author myself, I am not very particular whether you buy my novel The Red Scorpion at or B&N. What matters to me is that you enjoy the ride.

Here's the page to visit for a brief introduction to my four current books. And if you get an eReader for Christmas, start anywhere.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Bob Dylan

I found this last night online. Kinda fun story of a guy who did the best he could to hold Dylan at arm's length, but after a long, long time finally got it. I like the title of the essay because of its deliberate take-off on the sub-title of Kubrick's classic, Dr. Strangelove.

The Mike Walsh story begins this-away....

Let me make this clear up front: I'm not a Dylan-head, Dylan-ite, Dylan-phile, Dylan-ologist, or any other kind of extreme Dylan fan. In fact, I never bought a Dylan record or CD until just a few years ago. I never saw the need. Growing up in the 60's, Dylan was on the radio all the time --"Blowing in the Wind," "Don't Think Twice It's All Right," "The Times They Are a Changin'," "All I Really Want to Do," "It Ain't Me Babe, "Mr. Tambourine Man," etc., etc. Plus, many other bands had hits with his songs, like Peter Paul and Mary, Hendrix, and The Byrds. There was no escaping Dylan back then. You listened to him whether you wanted to or not.

In college, it seemed like everybody in the dorm except me owned Dylan's Greatest Hits, Volumes 1 and 2. So I had to listen to the same songs all over again at just about every dorm party. One kid down the hall even had a guitar, a neck stand with a harmonica, and a music book of Dylan's greatest hits. So I got to hear the same songs played and sung live -- quite amateurishly, to put it kindly. By the mid-70's I'd had quite enough of Dylan -- so much so that I did a nasally, slurred vocal rendition of "Like a Rolling Stone" just to torture the Zimmermanites, even though they never seemed to mind. In fact, they joined in no matter how obnoxiously I wheezed, "How does it feeeeeeeel?", so the joke was always on me.

What I wanted to hear was something different, something that wasn't on the radio. Soon punk and new wave surfaced, and I've been a slave to indie rock and the underground sounds ever since, as my record collection can attest. My opinion of Dylan stayed the same during all that time, even though I didn't sing "Like a Rolling Stone" quite so often (although I did work up an even more annoying version of "The Needle and the Damage Done" but that's another story).

The rest of the article can be found here at the Phawker blog where you'll read that it took many a year for this fellow to come around. For seem reason I was much more prepared for his outside-the-pop-40-box sound a bit earlier than that. When Ed H. loaned me The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan on the school bus, I recognized something stirring there. A few years later, when Ed shared about the beauty of eating flower petals on a subway in Greenwich Village with his girl friend, I wasn't so sure about that part of the new scene.

Last night I remembered his story about the flower petals because Susie bought some edible flowers to brighten the darkness of our Winter Solstice. She thus decorated my stew with a pansy. Which I ate, incidentally. It made me smile as I thought of Ed H. on the subway... Funny how Subway became a franchise, and yesterday noon I ate a sandwich there.

An intersection of connections... Eds and subways and eating flowers and Dylan. As I write these lines I drift through Girl From The North Country, and Boots of Spanish Leather... and Bob Dylan's Dream.... and I dream a little, too.

Hope you're still holding some dreams in the hearth of your hearts. Keep 'em goin'....

Picture top right by Ennyman, painted on a page from the 1939 London Times

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Butterfly Effect

Butterfly Effect, A Novel by Rick Anderson Schuster
(Not to be confused with The Butterfly Effect by Andy Andrews)

Take A River Runs Through It, explode it into a dizzying mix of interlocking puzzle pieces indescribably reshaped into vague flashes of certain and uncertain intangibilities, and you have Rick Schuster’s covertly personal novel about coming-of-age on the Jersey shore, Butterfly Effect. Ken Rossi is a middle-aged swim instructor who once aspired to Olympic stardom but is now a high school gym teacher, ever wondering if he had what it takes but failed to apply himself.

Scouts had acknowledged his natural ability, sowing his imagination with seeds of a golden future. Had he not achieved a citation in Sport Illustrated? Now he wondered where the sidetracks began. Why had he failed to make the necessary sacrifices? When did he begin to realize the dream would never come true? When did his parents first recognize he’d been slacking? What were the emotions ripping their hearts that he never recognized?

The catalyst for Rossi’s self-reflective explorations is a fourteen-year-old Lizzie Norman who catches his eyes during a routine swim meet against Rahway. The teen swimmer has the moves and determination of a champion, the same kind of drive that once drove Rossi as a teen. What he doesn’t anticipate as their relationship unfolds is the manner in which she responds to his fatherly attentions.

It’s the little things that bind the two. Her broken family has filled the pool of her heart with saltwater tears, but his kindnesses instead of helping only serve to exacerbate her pain, becoming the very distraction he hoped she would not have to deal with.

Butterfly Effect explores a variety of sub-plots, including the roles of sports and scholastics in character formation, social posturing, the challenges of adolescence and the difficulty of identifying boundaries regarding appropriate and inappropriate behaviors in a post-modern age.

At times the narrative is a bit jumpy as the reader flashes back and forth between Rossi’s teen experiences and Lizzie Norman’s present struggles. It seems the author was striving to reinforce the parallels of their lives, from different locker room viewpoints.


In the end, Rossi and Norman recognize too late the trap they’ve made for themselves. Both lack the willpower and energy to be proactive in their liberation. When the scandal hits the papers, Rossi realizes that the whole of it began with a single harsh look by his father when he finished second in his first swim meet, a look that at the time he took wrong and only now begins to see in its true light.

Being from New Jersey I could relate to this story a Jersey teen on the edge of the Big Apple and the Big Pond, and the big world out there so near and yet so far away. The highest levels of competition involve pushing through pain thresholds that most of us shy away from. Butterfly Effect explores the internal pain thresholds we grapple with as well. Sometimes it’s just all too much.

If you enjoyed this fictional review of a fictional book, you might also enjoy The Breaking Point and Other Stories, available as an eBook for your Nook or Kindle.

Monday, December 19, 2011

In a Better World

Every once in a while in the very first sequence of a movie you get a strong sense that this is going to be an extraordinary film. It happened for me with Run, Lola, Run. It happened with There Will Be Blood. And yesterday, from the first, I knew that In a Better World would be a thought-provoking and painfully powerful film to watch, the kind of pain that comes from art. The opening film score and landscape shots alone conveyed that mix of beauty and pain which elevates it to something almost transcendent.

It's a Danish film directed by Susanne Bier, whom you may know from Things We Lost In the Fire and After the Wedding, films I've heard of but have not yet seen. The story takes place in Darfur, centering primarily on two families. It's a drama that looks at the problem of vengeance from an assortment of angles.

We meet Anton, the first main character, at a small outpost hospital where he is the doctor. A woman is rushed in with her stomach cut open and they begin the emergency surgery that they hope will save her. We hear that the "big man" did this, and the horror of it is this. The "big man" likes to take pregnant women and bet whether she is carrying a boy or a girl child. Then they cut her open to see if he won the bet.

Once you hear this story, you're almost certain that we'll be meeting the "big man" later in the film, and indeed we do.

Anton has a son Elias who is victimized by bullies in the school he attends. This son and a new friend named Christian will be a central piece in the story. Christian becomes the new kid in this tough school because his mother has died and father brought him to a new place. Like the bigger world where Anton's dad works, this bullying situation is a microcosm, with its own "big man"...

What is the response to these bullies? What is the response to violence? When Christian sees the school bully corner his friend Elias in a basement bathroom, he chooses violence to subdue the kid, and threatens him with a knife.

In another confrontation Anton attempts to teach the boys that there is an alternative to revenge. By turning the other cheek we demonstrate our strength and the other person's foolishness. This lesson doesn't sink home with the boys, however, and they make other choices in response to things going on.

This inadequate summary is meant to simply hint at the varieties of ways violence is examined in this film. The acting is top-notch, the pace is good, the story remarkable.

This is not the kind of film you will balance a checkbook to. Besides, much of it requires reading subtitles. It is the kind of film that will move you if you engage it. We live in a broken world. How do we respond to the violence that is tearing us apart?

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Holiday Stress? Bring It On

Nearly every year around this time I post my brother's article about holiday stress and things you can do to alleviate it. The feedback I get has been evidence that the season isn't always jolly with ho-ho-hoes while we're decking the halls and splitting logs for the yule-tide fire. If you need a little encouragement in this regard, and a handful of practical wise words, read Dr. Ron Newman's Holiday Ups and Downs.

On the other hand, a few words in defense of holiday stress might be in order.

Stress, or the pressure that comes from responsibilities, isn't all bad. I'm not going to say it's fun. But it can be rewarding. Here are some examples.

We have made it annual tradition to write a Christmas letter that we send to friends and family. It updates them on what our children are doing and what we've been up to. There's a sense in which it keeps us connected to the people we care about, something which is healthy in a post-modern world where so many connections have been broken.

Even if you don't write a letter, just sending pictures or even a card requires addressing envelopes, staying organized, keeping current with addresses of people in your life. It takes time and could be perceived as a burden of sorts, but doing it has hidden benefits. One is that we're elevating this season in some way, marking the passing of a year by not letting it pass unmarked, unnoticed, just another season.

There are other things most of us do that we don't have to. We put up trees and lights, we go to parties, some spend an evening or afternoon visiting shut-ins and singing carols. And there's always the shopping that needs to be taken care of. If you're not in the right frame of mind, those lines can be stressful.

What I've found, though, is that years later the memories created by family traditions can comfort us like a warm blanket and hot cocoa. Here's an excerpt from an email I received yesterday from my daughter who is currently in China. You can see here the variety of traditions that were built into our family Decembers.

I really miss singing Christmas carols!!! ... I was just thinking of when we'd sing Christmas songs on the way to get the tree, and we'd sing Frosty the Snowman and we'd always get mixed up on the words. haha. Getting the Christmas tree and decorating it I think is my favorite Christmas tradition, the one I have most memories of... it was so special to all be together, singing, and being excited for Christmas... Christmas eve was always almost more exciting than Christmas, too, with the suspense of everything. watching A Christmas Carol as a family, reading together and putting out the cookies for Santa...

I share all this because even when the feelings aren't there -- you're tired or burned out or going through a hard time -- next year will probably be different. We don't scrap traditions because we're not in the mood. These traditions have hidden rewards and give continuity to ourselves and our families.

Please note: I do understand the emotions of those for whom the excessive commercializing of Christmas has become odious. The "reason for the season" was the birth of an infant born into a poor family in a stable, in a country oppressed by a foreign power. It's an almost crazy setting for the birth of king. And how that event turned into long lines at the mall I'm not quite sure.

All this to say that traditions have value. Each family benefits by shaping its traditions for another generation. It's a beautiful thing.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

The Soothing Magical Power of Quiet Heart Music

This week I was prompted to think again about the power of music, especially its ability to console and soothe. These thoughts led me to pick up the phone and call a lifelong friend, Henry Wiens of Quiet Heart Music, whose piano CDs are designed purposefully to this end, to comfort and heal. Afterwards he passed along to me a recent letter from a "customer"... the kind of feedback that keeps him motivated to continue sharing his music. (Posted below.)

The trigger for all this was a USA Today article that included some interesting insights on this topic.

"Often, music therapy is more cost-effective than administering medication, especially for patients with anxiety, sleep disturbances or pain," says Al Bumanis, spokesman for the American Music Therapy Association.

A 2007 survey of U.S. health facilities by the Society for the Arts in Healthcare, along with the Joint Commission and Americans for the Arts, found that of the 1,923 facilities, 35% offered some type of music to patients.

Besides promoting relaxation and reducing stress, music therapy has been shown to affect sleep patterns, improve stroke patients' memories and decrease the amount of sedation medication needed for some patients.*

Here's the letter that Henry forwarded to me:

I’ve been meaning to email you for a while but just getting around to it now. I hope you are well.

My mother had a rough summer as she progresses further into the depths of Alzheimer’s disease. She no longer can feed herself or walk. Most days she is unaware of her surroundings and gets agitated very easily with noise and multiple people in the same room. My sister and I tried many things to calm her and have her be more relaxed and peaceful. We bought a few soft animals for her to hold. A soft blanket for her lap, and then my sister remembered she had bought your CD at the Pittsburgh conference last year. Your music has been key to calming my mother. When we start the music she closes her eyes as if she is visualizing a green pasture and feeling a warm breeze. It’s amazing to watch the tension leave her face and her body relax.

I will be purchasing some CDs for the facility where my mother is residing so everyone on her floor can experience the calm, soothing magic of your music. Thank you for providing this for not just folks with dementia but everyone who needs to restore tranquility and calm to their day.


Are you stressed out because of this whirlwind called the holidays? Do you have life complications driving you to distraction? Does the armor you wear during your workday make you weary by day's end? How do you spell relief? I spell it, M-U-S-I-C.

Music provides healing grace note for hospital patients
USA Today June 17, 2008

Friday, December 16, 2011

Mad Men

The soundtrack begins with descending strings playing as a graphic shows a man in a dark suit looking at the corner of an office. Close up: silhouette of shoes stepping into frame and a briefcase being set on the floor. The wall art falls away, the chairs melt and fall away, and then the man himself begins his fall, descending in apparent helplessness past all the sensual imagery of his ephemeral world of glamour and glitz. Like a cat with nine lives he ends up seated in a position of suave cool, arm stretched over the back of a couch, facing forward. So begins the introductory sequence that is Mad Men, the sophisticated award-winning TV drama featuring ad agency exec Don Draper in early Sixties New York.

The haunting music and intro sequence is perfectly executed and thought-provoking. It's classy, smart and essentially tells the whole story. It makes a fitting touchstone to begin each episode.

So what's this show's appeal? Why such high ratings by critics and viewers? First off, the stories are well crafted to give an inside glimpse of not only the lifestyle of Madison Avenue, but of the Sixties itself. For example, what better vehicle for discussing the public relations issues of the Kennedy-Nixon campaign than through the ad agency that represents one of them.

The first four seasons give viewers plenty to work with as the agency's activities take place against the backdrop of the JFK year during which women's issues, race issues, Viet Nam, the Cold War, Cuba relations and more all came to the fore. We see, too, the impact of advertising and the ethical issues agencies deal with.

The story itself, like the show's intro, features creative director Don Draper, a complicated man in the midst of this complicated time. The supporting cast includes the young, ambitious sleazeball Campbell, secretaries, and the partners at the top. Almost none of these characters can be considered role models, and when I watched the first few episodes it was like fingernails on a blackboard at times. The sexist attitudes, the devious agency politics, moral bankruptcy of some of these characters could easily make one uncomfortable. But the show is not about creating role models. These were the real attitudes in many places, and continue to this day though we're more aware of their unacceptability today.

Amongst its fans, the show shines because of the writing, the attention to detail and the broad range of understanding of everything from the fashion scene to the political scene, from dog food to soul food.

There are so many good lines, all delivered in the midst of ordinary conversations as agency execs meet with clients in boardrooms and restaurants, or wait in taxis down on the street. Here's one I scribbled down last week: “Nobody knows what’s wrong with themselves. And everyone else can see it right away.”

In another episode, Joan lays it on the line with, "I'm not a solution to your problem. I'm another problem."

In a somewhat hilarious scene in which there is an accident in the office involving a client from England, I believe: "That's life. One minute you're on top of the world and the next minute some secretary is running you over with a lawnmower."

Through the course of time the characters change, grow together, grow apart, take on more responsibilities experience heartaches, and at times reveal our own lives here in various parts of the American scene. If you need a show with guns and violence, this is not really for you. If you like something thoughtful, it's something to consider. And even Campbell isn't all bad, just as the heroes aren't all good. It's a slice of life.

Enjoy your weekend and get your Christmas presents wrapped. The 25th will be here before you know it.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Ten Minutes with Steampunk Artist Eric Horn

I first met Eric Horn at the world premiere of Chronicle at the Friends of Industry event early last summer. Think of Jules Verne. Think of futuristic contraptions that might have been conceived 120 years ago. Think steampunk... a world where flight and travel and life is all steam-powered. And now meet a talented artist and illustrator who is bringing this world to life.

Ennyman: When did you first take an interest in artistic expression and who were your early influences?
Eric Horn: I have always been into drawing and being artistic. Ever since I was able to hold a pencil, crayon, or pen I have been drawing and sketching things. My parents encouraged me to keep at it. My father, Ran Horn, is in his own right a very good artist, who has his own Gallery in west Texas and his own website. He taught me a lot of what I know about drawing and painting. Although we have completely different styles I learned the basics from him. My other influences came from art teachers I had over the years. Two of those teachers had a big impact on me, Mr. Englund and Mr. John Salminen. They taught me that there is more than one way to draw, paint, or take a photo. They also taught me that criticism is not a bad thing, but a way to help improve yourself and your art.

EN: How did you become interested in Steampunk?
EH: Steampunk is something that I stumbled across only a couple of years ago. I fell in love with the look and feel of the genre. I also love the fact that it lends itself to interpretation. Although there are some hardcore steampunk enthusiasts out there, overall there are no real rules on how to be steampunk. As to my art it is very loosely steampunk or I should say it is my version of steampunk, which may or may not fall into what other people view as steampunk. I work with what I have available and the funds to do this, so I have limits on how exact to the genre I can be.

EN: Tell us about your current project, which you shared at the Friends of Industry event last spring.
EH: "Chronicle" is a graphic novel that I have been working on for over a year now. We came up with the idea of showing it as a slide show set to live music for the "Friends of Industry" show last June as a way of introducing the idea to people. It took me over 4 months to do all the art and get the layouts on a DVD. Because I was on a time limit I did not get everything that is going into the final graphic novel. I only had about half an hour for the "film" and had to pick and choose the scenes and shorten any narrative and dialog so the viewers would not be bored. But all said, I think I was able to tell most of the story to a point. This project has taken on a life of its own and I am currently working on continuing the story. I have taken my time getting back on the horse, so to speak, because over the 4 months I worked on the first part it took a lot of energy out of me, and once I get going again I know how much work I have to do. Part one is approximately 25 pages of a comic, give or take. And that is only a third of what we have written, and that third is only a third of what is in our basic outline of the story, not counting the 5 side stories I'm currently writing and story boarding or the re-shoot of the scenes I left out or was not happy with originally.

As to what "Chronicle" is about, it is a gothic, steampunk fairy tale that I have come up with. The bulk of the story takes place on an Air-ship in a world that would resemble the late 1800's. The story has all the good stuff, like action, drama, horror, with a dash of comedy. The story is amazing (if I do say so myself) and I am trying to make sure that all the art in the book is just as amazing. I want my future readers to enjoy the ride I give them and want them to engross themselves in just looking at the pictures of the story.

EN: Like many artists you have a regular job. What is your typical art regimen?
EH: Well in my real life I work at the casino as a Black Jack Dealer, and then I also work at the Renaissance Festival every year. Not sure about my typical art regimen. I usually go in spurts of working on different things. But even when I am not working on anything I do think of ideas of things I would like to do and try. Like I have a couple of ideas for coffee table books, more stories to tell, and paintings I should do. The trick is trying to find the time and motivation to do them....

EN: How much time do you spend on your drawings?
EH: Well, that all depends on the piece. Some of my pen and ink drawings have taken me months to do, putting in a couple of hours a day on them. Some I have cranked out in under two hours. As for my self-titled Over Art style (Over Art is when I take a photograph and then ink over it to give it an animated feel and look) I can do a piece in usually a day or three. The longest I have worked on something is years. I have one piece that I still have not finished because of the amount of ink involved, and I also lose focus on finishing it and put it away to work on something else.

EN: I heard someone say they had no idea you were doing all these fantastic pictures. Have you only recently begun showing? And were you surprised at the positive reactions to your work?
EH: I find that funny as I always have some kind of drawing tablet with me. And thought I was known as the artist in my friend circles. I have done a few shows around town in the past. I have done 4 or so at Jitters coffee house, and I am on the short list if an artist is a no show for the month. But because it is not a real art venue I have not had a lot of exposure. Now that I have been involved with "Friends of Industry" and a few other well advertised and attended shows people are seeing and being exposed to me and my art. I'm now taking every chance I can to get a fan base built for my yet to be published work. No, I am not surprised that people like my work. This sounds conceited, but I know my work is good. If I did not think so I would not be doing it. I have 2 sort of mottos 1) I am awesome! 2) Anything is possible. As long as I can believe in those two things I feel I will make it as an artist. Told you I am a very vain person.

EN: Where can people find examples of your art online?
EH: I mostly have examples of my work on Facebook, and a few of my old black and white ink drawings are on my dad's website I have not had the time or money to build my own site yet, but that is a plan in the future.

EdNote: At last weekend's Goin' Postal show Eric should us some experiments he had been doing using coffee as a medium for creating backgrounds for illustrations. When I saw these I knew I was talking with a kindred spirit.

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