Haiku for Summer

A sentimental haiku for the fast-departing season:

 

Don’t go!  Wrap me in

Warm air and long hours of sun.

Good green everywhere.

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A Poetic Conversation about Useful Procrastination

“Useful procrastination” may seem like an oxymoron, but those of you who are practitioners know that it is not.  Got a deadline for work?  Wait, you also have laundry to do.  You may be up until three a.m. prepping for that deadline, but now your laundry is done.  Told yourself you were going to write two chapters today?  Wait, didn’t you also plan to paint the bathroom?  Yes, you did.  Where is the paintbrush?  Wow, the bathroom looks great!

This is my inner dialogue, expressed through haiku:

 

A voice inside says:

“Write.  You promised.  Now’s the time.”

But wait!  The dishes–

 

“No!” voice says.  “Write now!”

I’m almost done scrubbing these.

“OK, but that’s it.”

 

Is the garbage stinking?

“No.  Go upstairs, you can still–”

Responsibility calls!

 

Dishes done, trash out, check.

“Now you really have no choice.”

The dog needs a walk…

Great Shows that Got Cancelled, Installment 1: Better Off Ted

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So, sometimes shows I really like get cancelled.  In this post, I wanted to reminisce a little about one of them, Better Off Ted, starring Jay Harrington and Portia de Rossi.  In this comedy, Ted is (or was) a well-meaning single dad trying to do the right thing in a soulless corporation which builds new technological advances and tries every trick out there to maximize profit.

This show had a lot of great deadpan humor and strong writing that created hilarious situations.  Some favorites include the “Racial Sensitivity” episode, “Through Rose Colored Hazmat Suits,” and “Jabberwocky.”  The company often makes funny and devastating mistakes at the expense of its employees, showing its inability to understand people.  The show is broken up at times with commercials such as:

“Doing the Right Thing–it’s important.  What does it mean in business?  We don’t know yet.  We know what wrong is–actually, no we don’t, because we’re a successful company, not some boring ethics professor…Veridian Dynamics.  Right and wrong.  It means something.  We just don’t know what.”

Images from Wikipedia

The company’s perspective is most often embodied by Portia de Rossi’s character, Veronica, who plays Ted’s boss and the supervisor of a section of the company.  After the company works its employees excessively in order to prepare for the upcoming “Relaxxxicon” event, and one employee dies, Ted protests the company’s response: a half day off for a memorial service.  Veronica explains why the company won’t change its policies, saying, “The company feels that if we ease up just because one person dies, it may encourage other people to die.”

In the “Through Rose Colored Hazmat Suits” episode of season 1, Ted brings his daughter, Rose, to work when his nanny is unexpectedly unavailable.  He doesn’t want to leave her at Veridian’s daycare when he discovers that the children in the daycare are being used for custodial work on the company grounds.  Rose has a large effect on Ted’s coworkers, Veronica included, at least once Veronica sees Rose.

Ted: “Did you even notice I have my daughter with me today?”

Veronica: “I look at people’s eyes when I talk to them, Ted, not at their waists.”

When Veronica asks Ted to go to the lab, where he cannot bring his daughter, he’s hesitant to let Veronica watch Rose:

Ted: “I have to watch Rose.”

Veronica: “I can wash Rose.”

Ted: “I said ‘watch her,’ not ‘wash her.'”

Veronica: “Hmm.  Even easier.”

Ted: “The fact that you thought I was going to go wash Rose right now makes me think you makes me think you may not know that much about children.”

Veronica: “I know they need to be cleaned.”

After some initial stumbling, Veronica bonds with Rose when she realizes that Rose is useful in helping her to manipulate her boss and employees.  People are reluctant to yell, cry, or make a scene in front of a child.

Veronica: “You are very effective at getting people to control their emotions.  That is a huge asset.”

Rose: “Um…thank you?”

Veronica: “Yes, thank you is correct.”

Did anyone else watch this when it was on?  For those Amazon Prime users out there, both seasons are available with your subscription through Amazon Prime Instant Video.  I hope you enjoy.  I had fun looking back on favorite lines and characters–this show had fantastic writing!

Unseen Connections: Art Articulating Life

When I first started tweeting (this summer), I underestimated Twitter as a medium for finding out all sorts of information and getting exposed to great art and ideas.  A few days ago, I encountered the work of Shuli Hallak, and I wanted to share it because I thought it was so provocative and current.  Perusing her work today also reminded me of the work of a close friend and fantastic artist, Gayla Martin, who is seemingly at the other end of the spectrum.

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Shuli Hallak’s “Servers that Write Text Data” from her photographs of Facebook Servers – used with permission

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A photograph of one of Gayla Martin’s sculptures – used with permission

Fast Company magazine recently featured Shuli Hallak’s work in a piece called “Invisible Networks: One Woman’s Fantastic Quest to Photograph the Living Internet.”  There are all sorts of images in on Hallak’s website.  She’s photographed all sorts of cables, panels, and electronics which look foreign to the eye, like something out of a sci-fi movie.  It is interesting to be able to see the internet, which can feel like a bizarre abstract concept to those who remember life before it began and then became so prevalent.  There is so much involved that we don’t see–wireless networks, data storage–the physical part of what connects us “invisibly” to people all over the world.

In the Fast Company interview, Hallak explains that there is a lot at stake when it comes to understanding the concrete dimension of the internet:

“There are a lot of implications. If we know what this stuff looks like, then we can actually speak about it and think about it. It’s not actually very complicated or difficult. We’re visual thinkers. And we can speak about things when we have a visual concept.”

This is certainly true.  Language has an intimate connection with thought.  This is why expressing ourselves and hearing others’ expressions is so important, for one thing.  Through expression we can learn about ourselves and others, and we can evolve and change.  By understanding more about how the internet works, we can better understand something that many of us use daily without considering how it works and its physical place in our world.  I like that some of Hallak’s photographs show the technology on its own as an alien thing, while some of them integrate technology with people or the environment.  Her work asks that question–is technology now a true part of our world?  Is there a way in which it is still separate?  Can we see it as organic and part of a system which includes humans and the environment?

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Shuli Hallak’s “Deep Sea Cable Recovery” – used with permission

Gayla Martin’s work at first seems very different.  She mostly works in thread and fabric, but lately has been making prints and paintings as well.  She has created organic weavings with variations in line, thickness, and light.  She’s created changes in space with large hoops suspended from the ceiling which have a rain of threads (ranging in length from two to ten feet) attached to them.  Martin hand dyes the thread and her work exudes personal energy.  The everyday materials, including a tea strainer (in the image above), remind one of home, and the processes involved in creating these pieces further add to their human feel.

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From Gayla Martin’s “Constructed Impressions” and “Weavings” – used with permission

For me, the common threads (haha–I’m not sorry for the pun, though!) are the way that lines are integral in defining space, as well as making something unseen visible and available for discussion.  With Hallak’s work, I see the straight lines of the data storage area and the curves of the cables and the way that space is defined by cables and rectangles.  There is an intricate apparatus that Hallak is making visible and available to us through her photography.  In Martin’s work, she’s added visual lines to articulate and describe invisible human ties to our surroundings.  Sometimes, her work shows our connection to our environment–places we grew up, or places that hold meaning for us.  Lines and weaving ask us to think about the very nature of connection: how are we tied to what we see and the people around us?  What if these lines are broken?  Are the  lines even?  Is the space around us rigid or fluid?

Both artists’ work, especially seen together, ask us to examine the line between the organic and the artificial.  Martin’s work uses organic, everyday use materials like thread, or even a strainer, to show us something unusual about our lives and make us consider them in a new way.  She often considers light and shadow, and when you see these pieces in an installation, part of the beauty and the experience is viewing them in context.  Hallak’s work shows how artificial objects which are part of advanced technology integrate with organic materials, like the ocean.  Hallak’s photographs, like “Multiple Subsea Cables” (below) can also show how these technological materials can imitate the organic: seeing the cables close up, they look like they could almost be vines, and we can see the fraying threads on them that remind us of weavings like the ones that Martin constructs.  There is a human element, even in very technological objects that we may imagine to be inhuman and abstract.

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Weavings by Gayla Martin – images used with permission

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Shuli Hallak’s “Mulitiple Subsea Cables” – used with permission

Both Gayla Martin and Shuli Hallak are exploring important and often abstract aspects of life through their art.  What do you think of their work?  What does it remind you of?

Special thanks to both Shuli Hallak and Gayla Martin for providing the images including here and giving their permission for their use in this blog post.  All images belong to them.  Please check out their websites: ShuliHallak.com and GaylaMartin.com; they have much more work than appears here!

Shuli  Shuli Hallak – You can also follow her on Twitter: @ShuliHallak

cupid3.jpg  Gayla Martin – You can also follow her on Twitter: @moxiegm

Removing the “vs.” from Genre vs. Literary

Exploring the internet yesterday, I ended up on the Electric Lit website, reading Andy Hunter’s post, “Ursula K. Le Guin talks to Michael Cunningham about genres, gender, and broadening fiction.”  Anything with Michael Cunningham’s name in the title will get my attention, and though I haven’t read enough Ursula Le Guin, I did enjoy The Left Hand of Darkness, and reading this article got me interested in reading more.

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Michael Cunningham (The HoursThe Snow Queen) says of our current literary period, “I feel like the most prominent aspect of this period is what I call ‘broadening.'”  He goes on to explain that “broadening,” for him, means “the sense of a much larger collective conviction about who’s entitled to tell stories, what stories are worth telling, and who among the storytellers gets taken seriously.”   The post, Cunningham, and Le Guin discuss the line between “literary fiction” (Cunningham, Toni Morrison, J.M. Coetzee…) and “genre fiction” (science fiction, fantasy, mystery, thriller, horror,…) and the effects of that line.

I think this is an interesting and important discussion.  I’m aware as I write this post, that even putting the parentheses above and including genre labels and authors plays into defining and supporting the line between literary and genre fiction.  I agree with Cunningham and Le Guin that this line is not always meaningful and can be harmful.  Cunningham asserts that ” some of the most innovative, deep, and beautiful fiction being written today is shelved in bookstores in the Science Fiction section.”  Many people, as this post points out, declare an aversion to science fiction and other forms of genre fiction, perhaps picturing people dressed up as Star Trek characters and imagining that aliens, ghosts, and romances offer little more than superficial fantasies.  However, literature in any genre can offer meaningful experiences to the reader, and there is a lot of variation within all of these genres.  (There’s also a lot that can be learned from studying Star Trek and the community that has evolved around it–work that I have not done, but I’m certain others have!)  Calling one part of fiction “literary” or “mainstream” tends to put other types of fiction to one side as less serious or important.  Le Guin calls this “the lingering problem: The maintenance of an arbitrary division between ‘literature’ and ‘genre,’ the refusal to admit that every piece of fiction belongs to a genre, or several genres.”

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This comment of Le Guin’s reminded me of Cunningham’s Specimen Days, which weaves together excerpts of Walt Whitman’s poetry with stories from different time periods, including a story set a future landscape with nonhuman characters.  While Cunningham is considered to be a solidly “literary” author, his work does cross these “arbitrary line[s]” and benefits from doing so.

I think Stephen King and Juliet Marillier are other authors who are often placed in genres (horror, fantasy), but whose work is character-driven and aware of the power of language.  Both of these authors explore, as Le Guin and Cunningham do, the way humanity functions under different circumstances.

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Le Guin is right that “genre” is often “used not as a useful descriptor, but as a negative judgment, a dismissal.”  Later in the same post, Le Guin says “But the walls I hammered at so long are down.  They’re rubble.”  I hope that this is true.  I think this post does acknowledge that the division between genre and literary does still exist, but I agree that there are moments of wonderful crossover.  Categories can be useful as lenses for looking at literature, but works can and do fit into multiple categories sometimes.

This is a great conversation, and I hope you’ll check it out!–though I quoted from it here, the conversation is much more in-depth on the Electric Literature website.

What do you think?  Is there a line between “literary” and “genre fiction”?  Should there be a distinction?  Are there authors whom you feel have been placed in a genre category whose work could be looked at with a “literary” lens?  Which genres would you put some of your favorite “literary” authors in?

 

 

 

Robin Williams: 1951-2014

Great links for hearing and seeing Robin Williams and thinking about some of his many and diverse accomplishments. Thanks, Longreads.

To this, I would add the link to The New Yorker article by Sarah Larson, “Robin Williams: The Best Wierdo.”  If you subscribe to The New Yorker, there’s also a great profile in the archive.

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Comedian and actor Robin Williams died today at the age of 63. Here are five in-depth interviews with him.

1. Robin Williams: ‘The Night Listener’ (Terry Gross, Fresh Air, Aug. 3, 2006)

Terry Gross talks to Robin Williams, and, towards the end of the interview, asks him about depression: “Do I get sad? Oh yeah. Does it hit me hard? Oh yeah.”

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Writer’s Digest Conference 2014 – What I Learned

I got overwhelmed thinking about how to write this post.  I knew I wanted to write about my experience of the Writer’s Digest Conference 2014, but I learned so much that I wasn’t sure where to start.  My friend, fellow writer, and critique partner, Lisa Pais, and I took the train down to New York on Friday night and were in time to join the conference Saturday morning.  We both had work obligations on Friday, preventing us from making the Friday afternoon workshops.

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(Looking at the mezzanine at the Roosevelt Hotel, where the conference took place)

I really liked Tim Grahl’s workshop, “How to Sell your First 1,000 Copies.”  Tim is the founder of Out:think.  On their “About” page, they say “We empower your brand, your tribe, your career.”  I felt like I got a lot of good advice on a good philosophy for building one’s author platform as well as some specific suggestions.  My favorite quote from Tim was “Be relentlessly helpful.”  I will try to do that with this blog–I’ll do what I can!  Let me know if anyone has questions, and I’ll answer to the best of my ability.  Tim has his own blog on the Out:think website–you can see a lot of the advice he gives, which made sense to me!

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I also enjoyed learning about how Goodreads works from an author’s perspective (thanks to Michael J. Sullivan and his wife, who gave that presentation).  I had used it as a reader, but didn’t really know how it functioned for authors.  I’ve now claimed my author page and have joined some discussion groups.

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I learned a lot from the panel including authors Joe Nelms, Sean Ellis, Jeffrey Somers, Kristopher Jansma, Julia Fierro, and Kelly Braffet (and have added a lot of books to my mental–“to read” list–just need to add them to my Goodreads “to read” list now!).  It was eye-opening to hear that some of them had not had their “break-out” until they had gone through multiple agents and written between four and ten manuscripts.  This is good and bad news, right?  Good news that if you haven’t made it in the first few years, or with the first agent, or with the first manuscript, you can still hold out hope that your writing will someday be read in a traditional published form.  Bad news if you’re thinking that finding an agent or writing a book means you’re all set.   I felt good about what I learned though.

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Both keynotes were wonderful–I loved hearing from Harlan Coben and Kimberly Lawson Roby.  Both were inspiring, entertaining, and spoke to a lot of the common experiences that writers have.  I may add some more later on some of the specifics they shared.   I don’t typically read books of the type Coben writes, but liked him so much I think I may have to try one!  I haven’t read Roby’s books before either, but I definitely plan on it.  She was wonderful and I loved how she spoke about her characters.

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I participated in the Pitch Slam, and was so nervous that I wanted to make sure I kept my hands in my lap during most of my first pitch in case the agent noticed me shaking.  After the first pitch, I realized that I could do this, and that all the time I had spent honing my pitch and practicing talking about my novel did help, and then I was less nervous with the rest of the agents.  They were incredibly nice!  In fact, I think everyone I met at the conference was warm and friendly.  I had been nervous because I was expecting this conference to be much more overwhelming compared with my only other writer’s conference experience, the New England Romance Writers of American conference, which I attended with members of my writer’s group.  By the way, that was also a great conference!  I’m not a romance writer, but learned A LOT–I would recommend going to any writer.  Why was I expecting to be overwhelmed?  I suppose because I was going all the way to the big apple, and felt like I was really ready to pitch my first novel, so I had upped the stakes for myself.

All in all, I certainly feel that the conference was a worthwhile experience.  I always cringe whenever I pay something like that and have a moment of panic, BUT I’m very glad I went.  I’ve also been traveling around for writing and for teacher training, and then went on a road trip with my husband to visit friends of ours out of state.  I’m glad to be home for a few days now and get back into my writing routine!  My writing buddy is tired, too.  He was at doggy daycare the last few days:

 

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