Monday, December 31, 2012

Artist Interviews: Best of 2012 (Part III)

Garrison by Brian Barber
It's been another great year here just north of Lake Woebegone. There are too many stories to tell, but I've tried to do my part and pass along some of them here. I get asked all the time how I have time to blog every day, and I reply that for thirty years I wrote in a journal every day before heading off to work. I transferred my hour for that to this. I'm not entirely sure what my all my motivations are, but it's been an interesting run. My initial interest was simply my innate curiosity.

Thank you again to everyone who shared a bit of themselves here in 2012. I've enjoyed it and so have many readers.

A Few Minutes with Artist Eric Dubnicka

A Few Minutes with Wisconsin Artist Patricia Lenz

Eight Minutes with PRØVE Collective’s Kathleen Roberts, Founder of PRØOF Magazine

Patricia Lenz, Runway Gulls
Ten Minutes with Illustrator/Animator Brian Barber

Ten Minutes with Jessica Liszewski, Artist and Gallery Owner

Five Minutes with Dublin Artist John Nolan

Exloring HyperLightness ad absurdum with Portuguese Artist Margarida Sardinha

Dialogue with Margarida Sardinha on HyperLightness ad absurdum, Part II

Dialogue with Margarida Sardinha on HyperLightness ad absurdum, Part III

Five Minutes with Artist  Lisa Eddington

Six Minutes With Rock Art Magician Peter Juhl

Eight Minutes With Artist Ernest Gillman

Tate Rich Talks About Ceramics and Community Art

Bones and Steel: Six Minutes with Sculptor Sam Spiczka

Don't Miss Master MEME Daniel Hansen Tonight at the PRØVE 

The Striking Imagery of Unda Arte

It's been a privilege getting to know so many really fascinating people. May each and all of you have a fulfilling 2013. Maybe we'll meet again at the end of the rainbow. Happiest New Year to you.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Artist Interviews: Best of 2012 (Part II)

The author w/ Rosvall Eyeglasses
It appears that these year-end compilations of artist interviews are becoming an annual event. I have certainly spoken with a lot of interesting people. I've also learned much and it has been my privilege to share their insights and experiences with a wider audience. Here's part two of my 2012 artist interviews, a small collection of examples as to why the Twin Ports arts scene is so vibrant right now.

Fruit from a Long Dialogue with Artist Ann Klefstad

Ann Klefstad (Part 2)

Ann Klefstad (Part 3)

Eight Minutes with Richard Hansen and the DuSu Film Festival

Eight Minutes with Northland Painter Aaron Kloss

Ten Minutes with Artist Wanda Pearcy

Eight Minutes with Artist Morgan Pease

Heino Magic
Eight Minutes with Artist/ Water Advocate Tonya Borgeson

Eight Minutes with Artist Wynn Davis

Spotlight on Photographer John Heino

John Heino (Part 2)

Five Minutes with Minnesota Artist Patricia Canelake

Jen Dietrich’s American Iconography

Ryan Tischer Discusses Washington Gallery and Artist Collective

David Moreira Talks About the Art of SkatRadioh

Andrew Floberg piece, one of many great events @ Washington Galleries
Read my upcoming article in this week's Reader for a look back at the 2012 Twin Ports arts scene. Visit tomorrow for more artist interviews from our local scene and abroad.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Artist Interviews: Best of 2012 (Part I)

Before coming to Duluth in 1986 I had been a publishing freelance writer for several years in the Twin Cities. A natural-born extrovert, I enjoyed the whole process of listening to and capturing people's stories, then writing about them. Some of these early pieces included a photographer who wondered if he'd captured a photo of the Loch Ness monster and a couple who met and married in their late eighties. It's been a real privilege to meet so many interesting people and hear so many interesting stories.

Gary Swanson
In recent years I began interviewing artists whom I met through social media. My motivations were several. First, to show the variety of ways in which creativity can be expressed. Second, as a mechanism for sharing their art with others. Third, to see what makes them tick.

Eventually, this led me to focus on the local arts scene here in the Twin Ports. I still reach out to artists abroad but I've taken a keen interest in nurturing our local arts community.

There's an experimental quality to all this. When I was a young idealist I wanted to change the world. It didn't take long for that to become disillusioning. Thirty years later I've decided to roll up my sleeves and see if in some small way I can make a difference here locally. I'm testing the idea that a strong arts community can be a catalyst for the betterment of the larger community, a theory I first heard proposed by the Art Works coalition that brought Richard Florida's ideas here a half dozen years ago.

Here are most of the interviews from January thru April. Enjoy.

Ten Minutes with Cellist/Artist Kathy McTavish

Ten Minutes with Artist/Cartoonist Simon Gray

The Modern Primitive
Ten Minutes with Gary Swanson, The Modern Primitive

Seven Minutes with Painter Melanie Sternberg

Ten Minutes with Annie Dugan, Curator at the DAI

Ten Minutes with Veteran Artist Martin DeWitt

Ten Minutes with Kat Eldred, an Arts-Centered Life

Ten Minutes with Kat Eldred, Part II

Five Minutes With Sandra Cragin

Five Minutes with Colin Wiita

Eight Minutes with Prøve Gallery Director and Co-founder Steven Read

Spotlight on Artist / Writer Jeffrey Woolverton

Thank you to each and all for sharing yourselves here.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Failures of 2012

Many if not most periodicals do some kind of year-end review of the most significant events, or of people who passed away in the course of the year. It's much like a family's Christmas letter which summarizes what everyone has been doing since the last letter. Some folks dislike these letters because they see them as brag letters, but I find them helpful as a method for staying in touch with what is going on in others' lives. For some strange reason I woke up thinking it might be more interesting this morning to write about my 2012 failures instead of a blog about my achievements.

Throughout the year I kept a log of my daily blog posts from Jan 1 through today. This log/list began informally with the following entries...

Jan 1 best of 2011 interviews part 2
Jan 2 11/22/63 part 1
Jan 3 Fellini Quote as lead in to Dali Museum story

Preceding this list of dates and entries I had a short "to do" list of projects and goals for the year. It's a surprising list because when I reviewed it a couple days ago, I realized that I had accomplished not a single one of these projects or goals.

I received an email from another writer who said her goal for 2013 was to "Fail more, care less." For me, 2012 was my year of failures in some regards, and I don't mind so much because of all the great moments in between the stints of pushing my boulder up the hill only to watch it roll down again. (cf. the myth of Sisyphus)

2012 has been all the more interesting because it followed a 2011 in which I achieved something that surprised even me, I found a young partner to form a publishing company by means of which I published a novel and three books of fiction. (Feel free to follow N&L Publishing on Facebook.)

My expectation was for a continuation of that trend, so I was surprised to end the year with a list in which I accomplished not a lick. To be honest, this list was not written in its entirety on Jan 1. It was expanded during the first months of the year as I slid forward through time.

1. Promote books
2. Book on How to Teach Writing
3. Find agent for The Red Scorpion as film
4. Ralph Kand story as book
5. Paint Kennedy/Oswald Series
     Six pictures on illustraton board
6. Create a Dylan exhibit for Dylan Days
7. September Red Mug Show
8. Book of Interviews
9. Book on arts with Ann K
10. Write a Steampunk Short Story. Begin with Whisk Biscuit.
11. Intergalactica book

Fail.... Fail... Fail... 

Number five on the list was influenced by visiting Dallas in 2011 and then reading Stephen King's book over New Years. The Red Mug show was offered at one point in late 2011 but good heavens, I was tired just thinking about it. I still think my novel The Red Scorpion would make a great film, with a strong potential for a sequel, but someone else will have to champion that. These things aren't easy to do when you also have a full-time career that pays all your bills and puts food on the table. Short stories are easier to finish, and for now I have two really very interesting ones going that are getting me jazzed.

There were other failures as well, more personal and laden with lessons.

And so, on the threshold of 2013 I look ahead uncertain as to what will unfold, but knowing that it will be an interesting year. I'm guessing that some of the writing projects will move forward as some of the art goals fall by the wayside. For now, my painting will remain something therapeutic on an as need basis. Or at least, that's how it appears from today's vantage point.

I'd like to sing more, too. But you can't do everything. Or so they say.

Here's a poem that I published at several years ago that perhaps touches on this theme tangentially. It's called Falliing Too Far.

Falling Too Far

Like Icarus
I have flown too high
to heights that I
cannot sustain
propelled by love
to touch the sun
and burn my wings

Have a great weekend. Reflect on your year, and embrace the possibilities of Tomorrow. 

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Ten Minutes with Illustrator/Animator Brian Barber

Brian Barber makes a living as an illustrator, designer and animator in Duluth, Minnesota. Much of his work has a delightfully light-hearted whimsical touch. Earlier this spring Barber’s work was featured at the Duluth Art Institute in the George Morrison Gallery.

EN: Do you make a living doing art and illustration? Tell us briefly your career path from schooling to present.

Brian Barber: I make a living doing a number of artsy things: illustration, animation and video, and graphic design. In school, I was an art major and focused pretty equally on illustration, design and photography, so I feel pretty lucky to be able to continue doing what I really like and to make a decent living at it. My first job was as the Art Director of the student newspaper at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. I really liked the collaboration with writers, editors and other artists, and even liked the deadlines. I still find myself getting worn down when a project goes on too long. A daily newspaper deadline was like a fresh start to everything.

After graduating, I bounced around and had a few jobs as a screenprinter, worked at a small ad agency in Lincoln, and tried to start a weekly newspaper with friends in the style of City Pages and weekly papers like that. We managed to publish 4 issues before our complete lack of business sense caught up with us.

I moved to Minneapolis in 1998 and worked as a screenprinter while trying to round up other freelance illustration and design jobs, and got involved with what was at the time a very strong neighborhood newspaper network. I went on to do layout and design work for monthly magazines and did freelance illustration projects here and there.

After family and a kid entered the picture, I felt like I needed something more stable and responsible, so I took a job as an Advertising Art Director in Duluth. I did that with a couple different agencies here for 10 years or so, until my wife went back to work full-time. Now I'm back to the self-employed life.

EN: When did you first take an interest in drawing and illustration?

BB: In 4th or 5th grade, my friend Harry and I would redraw Don Martin comics from MAD magazine. We would study the lines he made, how he drew feet and noses and all that stuff. So I knew I was pretty good at drawing, but didn't really know how to make a living at it until I worked at the student paper.

EN: Who have been your biggest influences in the development of your style?

BB: I don't know if it necessarily shows in the work I do, but Ralph Steadman, Robert Risko, CF Payne, Chip Wass, Ed Fotheringham, Ian Pollack, and Lane Smith are illustrators that made me think "That's what I want to do." I think those are all people who's style I've tried to understand, dissect and pull apart to see how they do it. I've bounced around with so many styles, it's embarrassing to look back at some of the work. But honestly that's what keeps me interested in it is bouncing between something like a simple pen and ink style to a detailed painting style to taking photos and movies. It's all a kind of graphic design.

EN: You also play drums with the group Tangier 57. Why does it seem like so many artists are also musicians?

BB: I don't know. For me, I think it might be like redrawing the Don Martin comics - I want to take something I admire, pull it apart to see how it works and see what I can use or recreate on my own. How does surf music work, how do you write a pop song, how does horrible cheesy lounge music work?

EN: What is the difference between book illustration and doing illustrations for an ad agency?

BB: Timelines. Ad work is notoriously fast. Book publishing seems unbelievable slow after working in an agency. There are usually fewer people working on a book. With advertising, there's a writer, an account executive, maybe a creative director, the client, maybe a committee, media people, and so on.

EN: You have a rather whimsical style in a lot of your work. How did that develop?

BB: I really have a hard time doing "serious" work. I've done assignments for magazines where the topic is serious, and generally I'm not happy with what I do, and I don't think the editor or art director were either. Trying to write an artist statement is painful. I don't have a statement to make with what I'm doing other then maybe "Hey look, I drew a pig and he's wearing a smoking jacket."

EN: Where can we see more of your work?

BB: is the best place to begin.

This article originally appeared last week in The Reader, the Northland's alternative for news, arts and entertainment.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Lo, How A Rose E'er Blooming

"He who has not Christmas in his heart will never find it under a tree." ~ Roy L. Smith

The birth of the Christ child has been an endless source of inspiration for art and literature. This classic carol was originally penned in German in the 15th century. Its astonishing beauty aspires to the subject matter it seeks to unveil, and does a pretty good job of achieving its aim.


Lo, how a Rose e'er blooming from tender stem hath sprung!
Of Jesse's lineage coming, as men of old have sung.
It came, a floweret bright, amid the cold of winter,
When half spent was the night.

Isaiah 'twas foretold it, the Rose I have in mind;
Like Mary we behold it, the Virgin Mother kind.
To show God's love aright, she bore to us a Savior,
When half spent was the night.

The shepherds heard the story proclaimed by angels bright,
How Christ, the Lord of glory was born on earth this night.
To Bethlehem they sped and in the manger they found Him,
As angel heralds said.

This Flower, whose fragrance tender with sweetness fills the air,
Dispels with glorious splendor the darkness everywhere;
True man, yet very God, from sin and death He saves us,
And lightens every load.

Merry Christmas

Monday, December 24, 2012

Thank You, Mrs. Kappos

"Ever singing, march we onward..." ~ Henry Van Dyke

I grew up in one of the new suburban neighborhoods that broke out in the Fifties, with its compact houses and compact lots. Young families got new starts in this setting. Ours had a school at the end of the block and a city park less than three blocks away. And there were lots of kids so there was always someone to play ball with, or kick-the-can.

In addition to the memories from this period there were also influences. One of these was Mrs. Kappos.

I don't recall how the tradition got started. I can only assume that she and her husband took the lead and made it happen, a tradition that no doubt sparked my love of singing because every year there were Christmas carols on Christmas eve for nearly all the families on our block, followed by an after-party of hot cocoa, candy canes and cookies.

What is remarkable to me is that she would actually have us practice every week beginning in early November, right after Halloween. We'd gather and practice, not simply to learn the songs but to learn four part harmonies, and that was the best part, because there's nothing quite like learning to sing harmonies to enhance a beautiful melody.

This was the beginning for me of a lifetime of singing. In elementary school I joined the choir. In junior high I would sing all the time. I remember riding home from a Little League game in a car full of kids and I was singing as the other boys screamed for me to stop. I called my group Eddie and the Screamers. In high school I would likely have sung with a rock band had I not been so shy. But a few years later I sang in a men's quartet. I've sung at weddings, including my own, and at funerals. And when karaoke became the rage I did my share of that as well, in more than a dozen states.

My daughter's home for Christmas this year. Last year she was in China, so this year's gathering is a very special time. As we finished decorating the tree last night we sang several Christmas hymns together, a variation of a tradition we shared as a family. When our kids were growing up the place where we bought our Christmas trees was a little bit far away so that we could enjoy the lights, and also sing carols. We'd have our Christmas carol books and everyone would pipe in with gusto. I'd sing the harmonies I enjoy, jumping around from tenor to baritone depending on the key we started at.

Christina wasn't here when we got the tree ten days ago, so we saved some of the decorations for when she arrived yesterday. And we sang.

There are very few moments when I don't have a song in my head or my heart, wherever they reside. I woke this morning inwardly singing something gentle by Bon Iver. In the middle of the night I went through the three verses of Away in a Manger several times.

Music is a gift that can bring both joy and comfort, aesthetic pleasure and something more. Thank you, Mrs. Kappos, for the memories you planted in us and this love of singing.

Photo courtesy John Heino Photography

Sunday, December 23, 2012

NRA Response To Newtown Tragedy Is Absurd

This gun only shoots ink, skin deep.
This past spring, I had a first had experience with the consequences of budget cuts in our schools. The Duluth school board was once again wrestling with their financial straits and was striving to determine what to cut. Members of a loose affiliation of artists made appeals to the school board not to cut music and arts from the schools, one of the items on the table. The debate was real because state and federal funds are being diverted to other programs and in other directions. And Duluth is not the only community dealing with this problem of limited funds.

Within seconds doing a Google search you can find over a million articles about budget cuts in our nation’s schools. Schools have historically been battleground for our children’s futures. School boards agonize over how thin to spread the gravy. Here’s an excerpt from just one such report addressing this matter titled
Starving America’s Public Schools: How Budget Cuts and Policy Mandates Are Hurting Our Nation’s Students.

New austerity budgets passed by state legislatures are starting to have a huge influence on direct services to children, youth, and families. There is widespread evidence that the education funding cuts are leading to:

• Massive cuts to early childhood education programs (pre-K and kindergarten);
• Huge class sizes in many subjects, reaching levels that are upsetting parents and potentially damaging students’ education;
• An end to art, music, physical education, and other subjects considered to be part of a well-rounded education;
• Cuts in specialized programs and/or hefty fees for them. Some of these programs serve students with developmental issues or those who need more individualized attention. They also include extra-curricular activities such as band and sports as well as academic offerings in science, foreign language, technology, and Advanced Placement subjects.

Against this backdrop my jaw dropped when I heard the NRA recommendation to place a trained, armed officer in every school. This NRA response to place an armed officer in every school in America shows a complete disconnect with what has been happening in our schools. Did the NRA leadership really spend a week of deliberation to come up with this response.

I agree with Michael Mayo, Sun Sentinel Columnist, who wrote

Dear NRA,
Really? This is how you're going to respond? With the same tired cliches? By doubling down on guns (a weapon in every schoolhouse!), ramping up the fear, and not even broaching the possibility of some common-sense restrictions on rapid-fire guns and ammunition to keep the carnage in check?

The full article carries this headline: NRA shoots self with brazen response to Sandy Hook.

To get an idea of how many armed guards would be needed in Duluth alone, I did a count of how many schools we have here... 9 public elementary schools, 2 public middle schools, 2 public high schools, 4 charter schools, 6 alternative public schools, 4 Catholic schools, 4 private non-Catholic schools, and the independent Marshall school for a total of 32 schools. Hiring 32 more personnel will not solve the problem of overcrowded classrooms here. I know of communities that have no police at all because they can't afford them. Now they'll be required to have them in their schools?

The response to the tragedy that I did like this week is pictured below. Former school board member Harry Welty has a reputation locally of making an annual snow sculpture on his front yard at 21st Avenue East and 4th Street. They are usually quite creative and often make the local papers. This year Welty's sculpture was designed to honor the Sandy Hook shooting victims. 

Saturday, December 22, 2012

A Visit with Annick McKenzie , Contemporary Artist with a Passion for Colour

I first encountered her work through a thread on Facebook where art is shared. I found her colors invigorating and was not surprised that her page on FB was called Contemporary Artist with a Passion for Colour.When I checked out her website, it was indeed a colorful experience. She was open to an interview and shares herself here.

Ennyman: When did you first take a serious interest in painting?
Annick McKenzie: My half brother was an artist and my father encouraged me to learn about art when I was young, French painters mostly and together with my mother we went to visit Paris when I was around nine years old. My visit to the Musée du jeu de Paume, which at the time had the greatest collection of impressionist art, was a turning point for me. Color!

After many years of dabbling in using paint, it was only nearly 20 years ago, that the time came when the right teacher appeared to give me the opportunity to discover my courage in trying to paint seriously. She gave me the freedom and confidence to be myself and discover that I have a passion for color.

Bleu, Blanc, Rouge
EN: What is your favorite medium?
AM: My favourite medium now is acrylics..I did use oils but got very frustrated at the length of drying time and the smell of turpentine really upset me..the smell made me physically sick. I was so delighted to discover acrylics. Acrylics are just right for me, amazing colors and fast drying. They are perfect for my impatient temperament.

EN: How large or small are your paintings?
AM: My paintings are mostly medium to large size (60x60cm to 1.50cmx 100cm)..I enjoy painting on very small canvases sometimes but prefer large all depends on the subject, the series, and also of the size of your studio !!!

I use a large easel but painting on the floor is sometimes necessary to accommodate a very large canvas. I also enjoy painting on wood, love the feel and smell of this medium.

The Joy of Life
EN: Can you elaborate on your influences? 
AM: Paul Cézanne,as Henri Matisse and Picasso said, ’the father of us all’ touched me enormously. I think it must have been his style, the way he felt and painted his world. I felt I wanted to discover it, too. After many visits to Provence I also fell in love with his landscape. It makes my heart sing. Also I was so touched by Renoir. His paintings are full of color and ‘joie de vivre’... His paintings make me feel good and hopeful. Vincent van Gogh touches my heart in a very different manner, but how he expresses his life through color is so powerful and humbling. Monet, of course, harmony of color. Gauguin amazes me with his style and use of color.

There are so many color masters to thank for inspiring me to give it a try... Kandsinsky, the German expressionists, the Fauves, Pierre Bonnard. The list is endless..

"An art which isn't based on feeling isn't an art at all. Feeling is the principle, the beginning and the end; craft, objective, technique – all these are in the middle.” Paul Cézanne

EN: What led you to return to your homeland
AM: I left France in my early 20’s to come to England where I met my first husband who was an American citizen living in Canada at the time. I therefore lived in Toronto for a few years, then moved to Manhattan NYC for a few more years. New York City in the 70’s was incredible and I am happy to have known the experience as my husband was working in the music industry.

I came back to the UK, divorced and stayed in England where I married again and have 2 wonderful sons.

I now live in the South of France , in Sainte Maxime in the Var region. My strong feelings of home, in this wonderful and inspiring landscape of Provence, drew me back. My husband and I settled there 17 months ago and we do call it home!

The weather is an important factor, also. Give me the sea, blue skies, sunshine, good food and wine anytime!!! But also as a painter, the light and color are second to none. It is a real joy to live each day in the landscape of my heart. I feel grateful.

Heart Warmer
EN: What are you currently working on ?
AM: I had my first exhibition in September 2012 (38 large paintings) in the Musée de la Tour Carrée in Sainte Maxime... not bad after arriving there a year ago! Now, I am focusing on 2013 ..choosing where to exhibit, being in the landscape with my camera (often my iPhone) to capture those moments when I see a particular color, subject, etc.seeing the beauty of nature everywhere and getting so much joy out of me ideas which will help me to re-create in my is always exciting ..each day, each moment is the beginning of a new adventure ! I am on the road to finding my inspiration, listening to new feelings and developing my art.

EN: Any advice for your artists?
AM: Just listen to your heart, be open, follow your hard and never give up! If one uses Art as a way to inspire others, give them hope, we can feel gratitude to be able to have the opportunity to do just that..

As my Master in Life, Daisaku Ikeda, Buddhist philosopher says:

‘Unless we view things with our hearts, we can see nothing. But if we look at the world with a love of life, it will reveal its beauty to us’

To see more of Mckenzie's work, visit

Friday, December 21, 2012

The End of the World

Today is the the shortest day of the year, or at least in the Northern Hemisphere. And I guess there's been a lot of chatter about it also being the end of the world. That Mayan calendar business sure created a lot of buzz, and some humorous material for comics and cartoonists.

One of the cartoons I saw has two Mayan natives giving instructions to the calendar maker. One says, "Just take it to the year 2012. That's when we switch to the Dilbert calendar."

Another that made me laugh was a picture of the maker talking with another Mayan. He says, "I only had enough room to go up to 2012." The other fellow says, "Ha! That's freak someone out someday."

The Louvre in Paris announced yesterday that they had 10 million visitors this year, one million more than last year. Either that's a good sign for the resurgence of the arts, or a bad sign that a lot of people had the famous repository of great art on their bucket lists and were more successful than I at getting there. If today's the end of the world, I guess there's a lot of my bucket list that won't get completed this time around.

Here are a few tweets from this morning's observations regarding this matter of the world's end.

The world didn't end woooo!!!! Christmas is nearly here! Lots of wrapping to do today! Let's go!

Best text today:Happy Apocalypse.How's the end of the world for you?It's a bit boring here I have2admit.Bring back the millennium bug I say! End of the World

Daughter & I listened to REM's End of the World As We Know It at 6:12AM for Winter Solstice. We're still here.

I heard through a friend Mark Sanchez last nght took his entire 2012 paycheck and bought end-of-the-world insurance.

Ah, but there really are some things that make you almost wish it were the end of the world. One is a broken heart. On my 13th birthday Teddy Fiore asked Robin Christianson to go steady and she said yes. I cried on my pillow and said, "So this is what it's like to be a teenager." This song was on my Best of Herman's Hermits album, and in the melodramatic manner of youth it expressed how I felt, and comforted me. 

The End of the World

Why does the sun go on shining
Why does the sea rush to shore
Don't they know it's the end of the world
'Cause you don't love me anymore

Why does my heart go on beating
Why do these eyes of mine cry
Don't they know it's the end of the world
It ended when you said goodbye

I wake up in the morning and I wonder
Why everything's the same as it was
And I can't understand, no I can't understand
Why life goes on the way it does

Why do the birds go on singing
Why do the stars shine above
Don't they know it's the end of the world
It ended when I lost your love

Don't they know it's the end of the world
It ended when you said goodbye 

The Future Is Inevitable

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Yukon Jack Gallagher

When faced with a blank page and the start of a new story, every writer has a series of decisions to make. One of these is how much detail to include and what to leave out. Another is whether to tell the story in first person or third person.

When I wrote my novel The Red Scorpion, I wrote the middle section of the book several different ways. It's a haunted house story with a supernatural twist. In the story our teen hero finds a journal under the floorboards in this long-abandoned bed and breakfast. This was the culmination point for the first part of the book. The second part of the story takes place in the late 1930's. Being a diary, I tried to re-create this diary and tell the story from that point of view, all first person but in the form of notes. I found it limiting because I wanted to include more backstory on the motivations of the youth Chuchui who betrayed his clan. So I re-wrote the whole thing in third person. Eventually I even changed the order of the book's three sections and made this backstory the lead or Part I of the novel.

Yukon Jack Gallagher is an example of how first and third person approaches create a different feel for readers as well. I came across this file the other night, the beginning of a story about a guy who throws a television set out a third story apartment window. See what you think.

Yukon Jack Gallagher

As Jess Phillips lay in the back yard, his mind drifting, eyes wide to the clear summer sky, he became acutely aware of the quivering movements of his eyes. He shifted his focus and a pattern of shapes, like indistinct protozoa or a swirling archipelago of molecules, shifted and danced before his face.

It is a phenomenon he had noticed before. Through deduction he concluded that his retina was perceiving material on the very lens of the eyeball itself. Much like the white noise of a room which his ears were trained to tune out so, too, these little spots, splotches, and in his case a pair of scars on one eyeball, were automatically filtered by his subconscious in order that the skin of his eyes might achieve its pellucid purpose.

He had noticed this phenomenon on other occasions. What he had never thought about until this day, however, was that this might have been the phenomenon Yukon Jack was trying to ask him about. He hadn’t thought about mad Jack Gallagher in fifteen years and it amused him to do so. Jack was a crazy one for sure, but not because of the spots he saw in front of his eyes, though Jess thought that was pretty crazy, too, at the time. He met him during the years Jess painted apartments in South Minneapolis.

When the caretaker gave him the assignment to paint the living room of apartment 309 he knew it would be an interesting day. That was Rhonda Wilkie’s apartment, a wrinkled redheaded woman who looks sixty, is probably forty and acts twenty. First time Jess met her he was walking down the back stairwell with his painting equipment. She called out, “Come on in and have a beer!” She was the only one in the building who kept her door open all the time.

They were always loud in there, the television perpetually blaring as they laughed, drinking and carrying on.

Yukon Jack Gallagher

As I lay in the back yard, my mind drifting, eyes wide to the clear summer sky, I became aware of the movement of my eyeballs. I shifted my focus and a pattern of shapes, like indistinct protozoa or a swirling archipelago of molecules, shifted and danced before my face.

It is a phenomenon I have noticed before. Through deduction I have concluded that my retina is perceiving material on the very lens of my eyeball itself. Much like the white noise of a room which our ears are trained to tune out so, too, these little spots, scratches, and in my case a pair of scars on one eyeball, are automatically filtered by my subconscious in order that the skin of my eyes might achieve its pellucid purpose.

As I said, I have noticed this phenomenon on other occasions. What I’ve never thought about, however, until this day was that this might have been the phenomenon Yukon Jack was trying to ask me about. He was a crazy one for sure, but not because of the spots he saw in front of his eyes, though I thought that was pretty crazy, too, at the time. I met him during the years I painted apartments in South Minneapolis.

When the caretaker gave me the assignment to paint the living room of apartment 309 I knew it would be an interesting day. That was Rhonda Wilkie’s apartment, a wrinkled redheaded woman who looks sixty, is probably forty and acts twenty. First time I met her I was walking down the back stairwell with my painting equipment and she called out, “Come on in and have a beer!” She was the only one in the building who kept her door open all day.

They were always loud in there, laughing and drinking and carrying on, the television perpetually blaring.

Great literature? Nah. Just an exercise, and upon review here I can see why I'd abandoned it. There's better stories in the pipeline, and this is one has turned to tumbleweed.

Oh, while we're talking books though, I started reading Ghost Burglar last night, by Jack Burch and James D. King. It's a compelling read and I didn't want to put it down. If you need one more Christmas gift for 2012, this could be the ticket.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

The Poet Declares His Renown

I discovered Borges in the 1971 Fall/Winter issue of Antioch Review. There were six short pieces, each no more than half a page, which were so dense with meaning and profound that one could not help but take notice.

"A Yellow Rose" was the first to capture my fascination. It later appeared in his book Dreamtigers, as does the sixth piece, "Everything and Nothing."

After you read these, try "The Circular Ruins," which is found in his collection Labyrinths.

The Poet Declares His Renown

The circle of the sky metes out my glory, 
The libraries of the East contend for my poems, 
Emirs seek me out to fill my mouth with gold, 
Angels already know by heart my latest ghazal. 
My working tools are humiliation and an aguish; 
Would to God I'd been stillborn.

Special greetings to all my blog followers in Russia.

Featured eBook of the Day: Unremembered Histories

Wordless Wednesday: Duluth Pack

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Books and Reading, A Few Good Quotes

I got my first Mac in 1987, a MacIntosh 512ke. Over time I have written a lot of material on my various Macs. Unfortunately with each new generation of software, many files become obsolete because they can't be opened. My early MacWrite files and early PageMaker files are pretty much inaccessible unless I want to pay some extra cash to see if they can be retrieved, which I did for my screenplay Uprooted earlier this year.

It can be fun to dig through the folders to see what's there. One folder on the desktop of my iMac is called Redeemed Good Stuff, and this weekend I sifted through a few of the folders and files to see what was there. Some of the files had names like "A Top Ten List of Music" and "Claude Hopkins Ad Tips" and "Journal Notes Blue Notebook." I also found a number of early writing projects that I'd begun and abandoned, and a file containing nine pages of quotes about books. Here is a smattering from this latter file for your edification.

Never judge a book by its movie. ~ J. W. Eagan

The first time I read an excellent work, it is to me just as if I gained a new friend; and when I read over a book I have perused before, it resembles the meeting of an old one. ~ Sir James Goldsmith

The greatest gift is the passion for reading. It is cheap, it consoles, it distracts, it excites, it gives you knowledge of the world and experience of a wide kind. It is a moral illumination. ~ Elizabeth Hardwick 

Reading is not a duty, and has consequently no business to be made disagreeable. ~ Augustine Birrell

A house is not a home unless it contains food and fire for the mind as well as the body. ~ Margaret Fuller

The books we read should be chosen with great care, that they may be, as an Egyptian king wrote over his library, “The medicines of the soul.” ~ Paxton Hood

I am a part of everything that I have read. ~ John Kieran

In science, read by preference the newest works. In literature, read the oldest. The classics are always modern. ~ Lord Edward Lytton

Any book that helps a child to form a habit of reading, to make reading one of his deep and continuing needs, is good for him. ~ Richard McKenna

Reading makes immigrants of us all. It takes us away from home, but more important, it finds homes for us everywhere. ~ Hazel Rochman

Everything you need for better future and success has already been written. And guess what? All you have to do is go to the library. ~ Jim Rohn

I’ve never known any trouble that an hour’s reading didn’t assuage. ~ Charles de Secondat

No matter how busy you may think you are, you must find time for reading, or surrender yourself to self-chosen ignorance. ~ Atwood H. Townsend

Choose an author as you choose a friend. ~ Sir Christopher Wren

Why pay a dollar for a bookmark? Why not use the dollar for a bookmark? ~ Fred Stoller

I've used a dollar for a bookmark before. It doesn't work on my Kindle, though. But if you have two dollars, I hope you'll enjoy my featured eBook of the Day: The Breaking Point and Other Stories

Read on! 

Monday, December 17, 2012

Area Voices: Art Buzz in the Northland

The Twin Ports arts scene seems to be especially vibrant right now. Does it seem that way to you and how has it gotten this way? What have been the driving forces that are making this happen?

I asked these questions to several people involved in the arts here locally. Eric Dubnicka, a local artist who also works as preparator at UMD's Tweed Museum, affirmed my impressions and explained some of the reasons as he sees it. "I believe a number of factors are involved in this movement. An emphasis on the revitalization of the downtown area is key, as it focuses much of the activity. Additionally, there are more jobs for younger people, especially creative types, ebbing some of the “brain drain” that has always plagued the area. I’d also point to the increase in bars with music, such as the Brewhouse, Pizza Luce, etc. which created an incubator of sorts for young artists of all types to meet and be involved. It created a 'scene.' Additionally, there have been more opportunities for UMD and other institution’s students to get involved by volunteering and exhibiting, giving them experience and involvement in the community before graduating.

Heino's Windswept Chickadee
Photographer John Heino added this perspective. "The rich natural beauty of the area has always been a magnet for artists and other creative types. It is a source of inspiration, and it contributes in a major way to making the Twin Ports a place where people want to live. The past few years, I think, have been about a number of energetic local leaders trying to make other key factors as friendly to artists as the place itself."

Heino went on the point out that "not coincidentally, interaction and cross-pollination have been steadily increasing since the Knight Creative Community Initiative's Art Works team brought 300 arts, business and community leaders together for a focused dialog on how the arts could help drive economic activity in the region. Kat Eldred, Art Works Co-chair, is now the executive director of the Duluth Art Institute. Countless spinoffs from the Art Works conference continue to this day, producing tangible results such as the Phantom Galleries project in Superior."

"In roughly the same time frame as Art Works," Heino added, "formal and informal leaders emerged in the Twin Ports who are promoters and advocates of the arts. Mayor Ness and several city councilors have supported the arts to a much greater degree than many of their predecessors. As a modest but important example, local art is now rotated through the City Council Chambers."

Klefstad's Waters
Artist/author/critic Ann Klefstad's comments were also affirmative, passing along some of her own acknowledgments as to why this is so. "Yes, it does seem more vibrant. People are finally filling up the Sheraton and casino parking ramps in the evening. That never happened before this year, in my memory. And there are more galleries: Ochre Ghost, Prove, the potential Nordic Center, along with the established Washington Center, Lizzards, DAI, and more . . .

"What have been the driving forces that are making this happen? I think there are a lot of them. Crucial drivers have been longtime players like The Arrowhead Regional Arts Council and their use of Legacy funds to both underwrite artists and understand the needs of doing work in this area, and to provide career training and contacts for regional artists. Other key people have been the Zeppa Foundation¹s Zeitgeist spaces and the energy of the people who have worked there over the years: Tony Cuneo, Kat Eldred, Crystal Pelkey, Andy Bennett, Katie Helbakka, Tim Masset, Johnathon Olsen, lots of others---and the Duluth Art Institute and the great energy of Annie Dugan and the rest of the crew . . . The whole Homegrown crew and Jason¹s outfit at Beaners . . . . Even the growth in creative brewing that started with Dave Hoops at Fitgers and now has driven the creation of all these great creative food/booze places . . . There have been many, many people working for many years to build this critical mass. But I think now that kids coming out of UMD in the arts and in music and theatre are seeing this energy and adding to it, bringing their talents into the mix. The performance of Spring Awakening this year at Renegade, which totally knocked my socks off, used many students in the cast, and they were dazzling. So the contribution of the universities’ fine arts departments which are doing great work is also important."
Although there has been excitement about the arts in the past with waves that advance and recede, there is one thing especially different this time, which Dubnicka points out. "I’d also add that social media has played a major role, allowing exhibits or performances to reach a wider audience with a small budget, incubating viewership."

Klefstad concurs. "And of course the factor that was always missing, in a city where the social street is snowed under half the year, is communication among artists and with audiences. And so here in Duluth Facebook and its ilk have made a huge difference in everyone knowing what¹s happening and with who. Perfect Duluth Day started this web-arts thing off, and is still a great contributor, but I would definitely put social media into the mix as a driver of the current ferment."

Everyone agrees, something's happening here. What it is just hasn't been defined yet. Twin Ports Arts Align: the ball is in your court.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Spielberg's Lincoln Delivers

I'd been following the development of this film for a couple years now, anticipating something as big as its theme. Spielberg's Lincoln, finally released after twelve years in development, is stellar, laden with stars who undoubtedly anticipated this film would deliver as potently as imagined. And it does.

The knockout punch is not just the fine acting, but the cinematography. When we went a few weeks back, the theater was packed, and our seats were near the front off to the side. No problem though. I'm sure that from any angle I would have had this same experience of wishing I could stop the film and breathe in through my eyes every image from every minute of the film. I'm serious. Every shot was a work of art, bar none. The painstaking beauty of creating the sets, re-creating every detail of the times, was so hyped ahead of time that I did not expect to be so moved by it. But it's a moving film, in every respect.

The story, which you no doubt know by now, is about Lincoln's efforts to pass the 13th Amendment that would ban slavery forever in this country. He had the foresight to recognize that once the Southern states were returned to the union, the passage of such an amendment would become impossible. As this movie demonstrates, the passage was nigh impossible even with the absence of the South.

Daniel Day-Lewis deserves the praise he's received from the critics. The film is a masterpiece in every sense of the word and casting has to be atop that list. Having read numerous books on Lincoln and listened to the speeches of Lincoln as delivered by Raymond Massey who a generation ago "became" Lincoln for a spell, it's quite a task to capture all the nuances of Lincoln's character in such a brief time frame as this 150 minute film permits. But the screenwriters worked deftly and Day-Lewis assumes the persona of the self-taught backwoodsman who became a president during one of our most critical historical periods.

Frequently when reviewing films I like to cite a few comments from Not everyone shares the same point of view on even the most cherished classics, whether film or literature and is usually reliable to serve up some spicy contrarians.

One criticism is that the film is not about the Civil War or slavery or even Lincoln. To this I would say that in the field of cartography, a map is not necessarily made more accurate and useful by being increased in size to the point of being an identical reproduction of the city, state or country. All storytellers, as well as memoir writers, but wrestle with the problem of what to leave in and what to leave out. In this instance, Spielberg has given us a magnified close-up of a singular event in Lincoln's life, the passage an amendment through congress. Like any good story, the chosen event is revealing about the character and motivations of the man. The event takes place in a context, and the story has significant reverberations for all who see or hear of it.

Another criticism of the film was the film score by John Williams. I suppose the purpose of this film was more to tell the story rather than sell CDs afterwards. I do not recall it being offensive or intrusive, and recall noting early in the film that it seemed suitable at the time.

A third criticism leveled at Lincoln has to do with the manner in which the screenplay has been sponged through and through with political correctness. The film, they claim, is devoted to the greatness of Lincoln and is unrestrained in making him out to be heroic. Well, it took about 125 years for critics of Robert E. Lee to have their voices heard without being hounded and howled out. Lee was a great man, but still just a man. Lincoln's critics were vocal much sooner. He was hated in his lifetime and certainly the grounds for that have never dissipated in some places where he has been regarded as the primary cause of the immense loss of life during the Civil War.

When I saw the film I myself was (perhaps foolishly) blind to the PC observations some critics have made, absorbed as I was in the cinematic depictions of the times. Yes, I noticed that the White House was not called the White House till years later but it didn't bother me.

In an age where action films about terrorists and terminators and superheroes abound, a straight up historical drama is not going to grab its audiences in quite the same manner. But then again, this film is a work of art and art appreciation varies with different audiences. People who gravitate to the Bourne Identity just might find Henry Fonda a tad boring in Twelve Angry Men. And I promise you, there are no chase scenes trying to compete with Daniel Craig for the best chase scene ever in a motion picture.

Bottom line, I thought the film quite powerful and worth seeing. I also had something of a epiphany at the end. Lincoln, after he was shot at Ford Theater, died the day on April 15. If you know your history, you'll also recall that he was born on February 12. These two dates are the birthdays of two of the four most significant women in my life: my mom and my daughter.

Three or four years ago I became friends with a passionate Lincoln buff who was living in Springfield, Illinois at the time. You might enjoy that blog entry titled Ten Minutes with an Ardent Lincoln Buff from Illinois.

If you see the film, tell me what you think. In the meantime, have a very special day.

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