Long Aphorism

“The arts are not a way of making a living. They are a very human way of making life more bearable. Practicing an art, no matter how well or badly, is a way to make your soul grow, for heaven’s sake. Sing in the shower. Dance to the radio.

Tell stories. Write a poem to a friend, even a lousy poem. Do it as well as you possibly can. You will get an enormous reward. You will have created something.”themed pirate ship jump house

― Kurt Vonnegut, A Man Without a Country

In the “Umm…all right” Category

I was on the train the other day sitting down in front of a man.

Obviously homeless. Obviously crazy. This man spoke out loud.

He spoke to an invisible person in the seat right next to him.

I noticed something quite odd about the rhythm of his speech pattern.

He spoke in short, choppy sentences, with word choices out of the norm.

There was quite a long pause between each line. He’d speak briefly, then silence.

Each spoken line seemed odd. Why that choice of words? Finally, I got it.

Each line said had exactly seventeen syllables. Yes, I counted.

I listened to him the whole train ride, and counted each line one by one.

Seventeen syllables. Pause. Pause. Then seventeen syllables. Pause. Pause.

I don’t know if it was purposeful, but for half an hour it went on.

This man spoke in haiku to an invisible friend. I was enthralled.

I share ’cause it seemed the kind of thing you guys would appreciate.

So fascinated was I that I decided to challenge myself.

Could I write this post exactly seventeen syllables at a time?

I don’t know if that man was conscious of his efforts or just crazy.

It doesn’t matter. Perhaps it was just one of those times to live art.

The Wisdom of the Market

Seems only natural to use this forum on creativity to talk about bullying.  See, already I’m indulging in a free-floating snideness.  And who am I put out with?  The crusaders or the realists?  Both, I guess.  Those of you psychologically attuned will note that such ambivalence indicates I speak from experience.  I have been bullied.  I have also tried cosying up to a bullying culture in an desperate effort to win acceptance and so have joined in my share of targeting those I perceived as being even more deserving targets than I clearly was.

So I’ve got the anger and the guilt going.  “Deserving…clearly…”  Noted that, did you, you psychologically attuned folk?  Was I really a deserving target?  No, part of me insists.  No one is a deserving target.  I, therefore, wholeheartedly lend my righteous anger to the crusade.  Stamp it out!  And yet…

That still small voice:  “You were probably pretty annoying.  You’ve picked up on clues to that effect.  Might have done you a little bit of good.  Made you a bit more…circumspect?  We can never really see ourselves accurately at that age, after all…”  That little voice that suggests the wisdom of the group is kind of like the wisdom of the market.  You take your lumps, right?  Experience scratches a few tattoos on your skin.  You learn to survive in a tough world.  And yet…

Round and round it goes.  So one wants to imagine a hypothetical situation that might offer some objective information, something outside the subjective loop of fear-loathing-and justification, something you can bring to the bullying debate free from the clouding of subjective division.  Imagine someone with bullying baggage indulging in a perverse desire to follow up on characters from the past through online social networking.  What happened to kids from the old school?  From those dim elementary and middle-school years?  It’s a plausible scenario.  What might one find?  What if one finds a subtle sense that most of those who were of a bullying nature–and even those who were of a less defined “onlooker” nature in that cultural milieu–had, as adults, signed on as supporters of the right-wing/ libertarian agenda?  Can we conceive of such a result from such a thought experiment?  Can we draw conclusions?  I open it to the group.

My particular concern is with the question of progressive leadership.  Is it possible for leadership to emerge from those not complicit in a bullying culture or, worse, who might have been victimized by it?  In other words, what if the impulse to lead comes from a desire to help the progress of the species and not from a youthful ability to orchestrate and manipulate taunters that’s now directing itself into the wider world?  Is such leadership even possible?  How might what we discovered in our little thought experiment play into this?  Could a leader with progressive vision get a pack of dogs to settle down enough to be vaccinated and maybe even learn a few commands?  How are our enlightened discussions related to this?  Do we speak to each other out of a belief in leadership? To return for a moment to my experiences, which I briefly noted in the opening paragraph, I can say that as a result of my encounters with bullying I see human barbarity as a puzzle to be solved or something to be overcome through large movement towards a new human future.

But I also know I have no taste for aligning with a diversity of others to achieve such progress.  That, too, is a result of my experiences.  My anger sparkles like fireflies in a jar.  I’ll poke a few holes in the lid, but that’s it.  Gonna keep things screwed shut and glowing on a shelf in my room.


L. 12. 1 Bear Hunt Song, or rules of creative conduct revised

  1. Be wary when it feels like a word association game.
  2. What is the form?  Form is the wheel you don’t have to re-invent.
  3. If it’s truly new, it should be somewhat off-putting, something you would just as soon skip past or avoid, like a stranger who a year later is an intimate.
  4. Today’s intensity is tomorrow’s regret.
  5. Welcome intrusions.

I have no problem with these.  I still feel cute as a button uttering them.  Shirley Temple cute, if I’m being honest.

Three gnaws a bit, though.  I want it to be more concise, more aphoristic, more…Lichtenbergian .  Georg is the Master!  I’m so happy the quote rotator is back up to speed, humming away.  In these dark days of diminished production quotas, it’s a reason to visit the site everyday.  I can fiddle with Three, maybe, in the spirit of Lichtenberg:

3.  The truly new is that troubling stranger who in a year’s time could easily become an intimate if you gave in to your instincts, but who would more likely reject you outright for understandable  reasons.

Shirley Temple is now disgustingly cute.  I think my more compact version is actually longer, but it feels more precise and even has a touch of storytelling verve, which is not usually my forte.  So it’s a keeper.  Bon bons at play…

But I’m also content to chuck all of them.  I don’t really believe in them as working guidelines.  I don’t really believe myself these days when I claim I create.  I have been revisiting the circumstances that first put me on a supposed creative path, and the truth is, I really cannot speak of  those circumstances in any other way than as an encounter with an impasse.  At a certain point in my development, I met with something I couldn’t understand or encompass or circumnavigate.  The instruments I normally employed to get at things were useless.

Always an exciting moment, of course.  And, in my case, I think, traumatic.  Every encounter with an impasse is something of a trauma, I might assert.  The moment of defeat makes an impression and sets the stage for a lifetime of re-visiting, of rehearsing the fatal encounter.  Exciting, traumatic, and, ultimately, therefore, essential.  Because, as I said before, you are not equipped.  You lack savoir faire.  There is no help.  You become a moment of possible extinction.  Such a threat, a loss, a lack, touches on the essential, on you, on life.  You can’t find a ring to grasp.  You plunge.

Here’s a version of the Bear Hunt Song as thoughtfully preserved by a helpful Boy Scout troop.  The song is basically a guide to using prepositions in one’s various encounters with the world.  It is the prepositions that function as the working codes, the symbolic formulas, that afford you the chance to move on Reality, to engage it, to establish meaning and possibility.  Reality as a set of known possibilities is, in fact, mapped out in the song.  But here’s the interesting thing:  at the heart of the song is an encounter with an impasse.  And that moment, really, is the essence of the song.  The key moment, the thrill, is when prepositions aren’t worth a damn.  And that is why it is fun to perform the song.  Repeatedly.  The Bear.

To put it briefly, my particular preoccupation with “creativity” and all that it promises and withholds is due to meeting a Bear.  My continued engagement is a rehearsal charted by a particular practice, a particular way symbolic reality works and then unravels.  I flee and re-approach.

I was lost in a Baroque tangle and baffled by words.  That was the Bear.  At the time there were no friendlier words to begin to characterize the predicament or the effect.  I then began to collect related objects that seemed to want to adhere to the initial mysterious mute monstrosity.  The “creative” path took its place as a possible connection to that mute kernel, along with others.  All within a family drama, of course, and surrounded by various figures of interest.  And so I orchestrated more and more elaborate meetings with the thing in the cave.

What to do?  What will this new clarity tell me about how to proceed?  I’ll keep you posted.



L.12.1: Funt’s Rules Revisited

All in all, I feel my rules are pretty much the same, and actually, I think that I am following these rules more now than I was when I wrote them. But for the sake of the assignment I will expand and reflect on each.

1) It’s okay not to finish something. Process is more important than product. If you’ve learned all and stretched yourself as much as you can, finishing for finishing sake is not necessary.

I still live by this one, and I think that this one makes me more Lichtenbergian than anything. While I do believe that process is more important than product, this can often get me into the trap of never finishing things. I LIKE writing this screenplay. I LIKE making this animated short. If it’s ever finished, then I won’t get to work on it anymore. Futzing with it forever is a much more inviting idea. “Ah,” I tell myself, “But when this thing is done, I get to start work on a new thing, and have fun working on that.” Reasonable, but then from another part of my brain, “Yes, but you KNOW working on this is fun. What if working on the next thing isn’t.? Or the next thing? What if I never work on anything that is as fun as working on this thing?” And so it goes.

2) Have something to write/draw with or on with you at all times.

Yes. I do this. I have a very specific breed of notebook that I like having with me in particular. I like them so much, in fact that I have bought out Target’s entire supply three times, so I have a stockpile of them in my closet just in case Target decides not to carry them anymore.

3) Let everything inspire you.

With the aid of hindsight, I find that I am really good at copping out on Lichtenbergian questions sometimes. Of course on this one. I suppose a better way of saying this one would be: Look for inspiration outside of your tried and true sources, and don’t have hard and fast rules about how something is inspiring to you. I have tried to make from an interesting magazine article I read one time, a screenplay, a short story, and an animated short. Now it is the inspiration for a one-man show, which is the perfect way to tell this story. You’re idea for a graphic novel might make a better short film. Or your poem might make a better song. Who knows.

4) It’s never either as good as you think it will be or as bad as you think it’s turned out.

Okay. Except when it is.

5) Have fun.

I hate how simple this one is, but it’s true. the idea of the tortured artist is preposterous to me. If it isn’t fun to work on or be a part of, don’t fucking do it.

That wasn’t too painful. But I agree that a series of rules for kickstarting might be in order.

L.12.1: Dale’s rules revisited

This is going to be painful.  You have been warned.

First, a recap:

  1. Start every venture with the words “Abortive Attempts”at the top of the page.
  2. Face up to the fact that quantity is better than quality—and more likely in the first place.
  3. Make your distractions as productive as your work.
  4. Defend your time.
  5. Learn to look/listen for what is missing.

One reason I proposed this Assignment is that I’m in a creative stasis at the moment and I wondered if watching other people create might help me push some button that would restart my energies.  Also, I thought it might be helpful to reexamine my own rules for creativity.

But I’m clearly missing something key here, because although my rules are still quite valid, they do not provide me with an impetus to get back to work—in this case, on the percussion piece for this summer, or indeed on anything else.

“Abortive attempts”? This is a great rule and a critical one.  Last year when I was working on the Cello Sonata, I had separate files for each movement just to fart around in.  I’d make and save “Adagio–Ideas,” for example, and I could plop down a melody or a chord progression without regard as to whether it was going to work or not.  If that’s all it was, a melody, and it didn’t go anywhere, I could skip a couple of measures, draw a double-bar, and start something else.  I could copy and paste, join bits together, insert crap here and there, and if and when I ever got something that was “right,” I could open the actual “Adagio” file and copy and paste my work there.

Whenever I got stuck, I’d head back to the Ideas file and plop out more abortive attempts.  It worked, even though it’s always more painful that those who don’t do this kind of thing can imagine.

Which leads to my second rule.  By plopping out huge amounts of stuff that does not work and will never work, I would come up with something that does and will.

However, in the static state I have found myself in for the past month at least, neither of these rules is useful.  I can’t even plop out crap.  It’s just not there.

I know, I know: plop anyway.  It would be worse than usual, but at least I’d be working.  That’s the trick, though, isn’t it?

Third rule: productive distractions.  I suppose I can claim this one, although none of the work I’ve done outside the realm of creativity could be reasonably claimed as “distraction,” since there’s nothing to distract from.  Still, I have worked fairly regularly in the labyrinth (and will be working more in a couple of weeks as a birthday treat to myself), so that’s all to the good.

Mostly, though, I have written letters to Craig.  I start a letter and work on it all week as I have things to say to him, and then when I get a letter from him I’ll respond to what he has to say and mail it off. And then I start new letter.  I wouldn’t call it an obsession, but it is the only thing I am rigorous about these days.

But these distractions are not serving the purpose that the rule implies, and certainly not the way distractions served me previously.  Working on the Preludes or the Cello Sonata, I might turn from one to the other, or a blogpost, or some task in the labyrinth, and those “distractions” actually served as a break from the work so that it could percolate while I was not paying active attention to it.  Now, my letters to Craig are not a break from the work, they are the work.

Defend my time?  Not necessary.  I have pruned away all outside duties and interests other than my job, and it does not consume every moment outside the office.  I have more than enough time to be writing not only the percussion piece but the Five Easier Pieces that I keep wanting to do this year, or a song for my young baritone friend John Tibbetts, or even, heaven forfend, getting a head start on arranging William Blake’s Inn for string quartet and synthesizers.  What am I going to do when I actually have to produce that gem?

My gestalt theory or creativity?  That’s only useful if you’re actually working on something, and I am not.

I think I need to develop another five rules for getting off one’s ass.

The one that comes immediatly to mind:

  1. Grind it.

If I think of more, I’ll add them.  Feel free to suggest some in comments.