I lost a poem last night. Traveling down the great San Joaquin with my parents, under a thirsty waxing crescent of the moon, it appeared in my mind large and promising. I typically get 3 or 4 words of an idea if I’m lucky – just a tiny fuse to light in a stiff wind of distractions. But this was a complete thought, a compound sentence of maybe 10 words. A small stanza, if I’d been in a position to save it. But I was driving. Otherwise, I could have typed it into my iPhone and tonight or tomorrow I might have a new poem to share with you.

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Eat Your Wheaties!

Moderate giftedness has been made worthless by the printing press and radio and television and satellites and all that. A moderately gifted person who would have been a community treasure a thousand years ago has to give up, has to go into some other line of work, since modern communications put him or her into daily competition with nothing but world’s champions.
– Kurt Vonnegut

Is it me, or has the Internet begun to reverse the process? Or, has it just nullified it? Where are the world’s champions now, if they’re not everybody?

I mean, I feel like I’m moderately gifted, but my few fans are scattered far and wee. … No man is a prophet in his own country. … And I’m a big fan of several of you whom I consider gifted, who live at some distance from me. I hope I haven’t failed to let you know. (Which reminds me, I need to update the Blogroll in the right column.)

Where was I going with this? … Oh yeah, check out

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No Less Wit

There is not less wit nor less invention in applying rightly a thought one finds in a book, than in being the first author of that thought.

– Pierre Bayle, philosopher and writer (1647-1706)

Right. Right. I have a few random thoughts on that, I think.

I believe it was Chaucer who said we plant new corn in old fields. An apt metaphor if I’ve ever heard one. And there’s a reason why reading is an imperative facet of writing. But what about other sources, such as music, movies, and even (egads!) TV? 

Gratefuldeadbear crop1A careful reading of the poetry I’ve written over the years will disrobe allusions to The Grateful Dead. And as I’ve been writing my novel, I’ve been thinking about To Kill A Mockingbird – the film version – at least a little. Sometimes I think about The Waltons TV show

Back in October I posted about making mood boards, and how visual imagery plays a part in guiding one’s writing efforts. (My mood board is here.)

As interested as I am in technology, as repulsed and drawn by turns as we are by the lurid lights and shadows of society and politics, I think nothing is more interesting than imagination. Without imagination, there is no invention, obviously no art.

Mission Santa Barbara Also known as  "Queen of the Missions for its graceful beauty."
In a sense, without imagination, there is no God. Because no matter how firmly we believe, and how well seated are doctrines and litanies in our minds, no sane believer can convince me he understands God. The Bible tells us we can’t. We can only try to comprehend Him through our symbolic imagination, and apprehend Him through a miniscule mysticism.

Mostly, we have to deal with life as it is Now – life on life’s term’s – or we wind up as crazy and wild as the Tucson shooter. But when the day is done, a creative person should feel at ease to hold her or his life up to the mirror of art at an angle, to see how the light might break differently then. And that’s a work of imagination. There’s no way to think about the future, otherwise.

What about you? How do non-print media inspire your creative life?

meanwhile, in the shade

I found this in the prefatory text of today’s A Word A Day from

Short story writer Guy de Maupassant once wrote, "Whatever you want to say, there is only one noun to express it, one verb to animate it and one adjective to qualify it." As a master of the short story, Maupassant knew something about finding the right word.

While a word has many synonyms, each synonym has its own shade of meaning. A good writer picks just the right shade to paint a picture with words.

Well, that’s true. That’s what we do. Well, it’s what you do, you good writers. The rest of us stare at the sheet of paper until drops of blood extrude from our foreheads, just trying to imagine the vast array of possibilities. By some accounts, English has over a million words.


The truth is that everyone consults the color palate of words, but writers take it more seriously and pursue it as an art. (Or in the case of business and technical writing, a profession.) There is a poet in every man, just like everyone makes music, even if it’s singing in the shower. We’re not all Beethoven, but we’re somebody.

When my nephew was a baby and learning to talk, he would see a telephone and say tonebach. It was the perfect word. But it’s weird that he chose a sound that was closer to telephone than simply phone, since we rarely use the older, larger word anymore. And he used tonebach for everything from a wall phone to a desk phone to the smallest cell phone. How did he know? Because babies are geniuses, that’s how. Words are an exploration for them.

Writing is always an exploration, whether it’s discovering the hidden lives of characters or the perfect way to say you owe me money, pay up.

“A writer is a person for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people.”
—Thomas Mann

Oh, that’s right. And there are several reasons. Among them is the fact that it is our art, so we can’t stop until we get it as close to perfection as possible, and the last drop of sanity forces us to abandon it and move on. It’s never simply good enough.

There’s the search for something to write about, and that’s usually hard. Though I admit that sometimes for this blog, I just paste in a quote I find interesting, then see where it leads. That’s what I’m doing now. And isn’t that how inspiration works? Didn’t Van Gogh see a field of wheat and follow it into his mind?

Writing isn’t often fun and it isn’t always done for fun. And that’s an extreme over-generalization. But it has some validity, at least for me when I’m wearing my hat of poet and literary writer. It’s all about practice, just like mastering a musical instrument. And It’s about digging for common groundwater, buried streams that run between our lives. All too frequently, the subterranean shores on which they meet are points of pain and grief. Such feelings are common in the lives of human beings.

When William Faulkner – my ultimate, all-time favorite writer – accepted the Nobel Prize for Literature, he said:

I feel that this award was not made to me as a man, but to my work–a life’s work in the agony and sweat of the human spirit, not for glory and least of all for profit, but to create out of the materials of the human spirit something which did not exist before.

Then there’s the solitude, the need to find free hours, and the fact that the people around you don’t appreciate that very much. You go off by yourself for long swaths of time, and come back with very little to show for it. Especially compared to someone whose art is The Well-Tempered Clavier or the well-turned chair.


Well, it’s nobody’s fault but our own, after all. We could’ve made chairs, or birdhouses. Or some nice paintings of mountains, rocky coastline or dogs and cats. (Though people might have more room for books in their lives than for chairs and paintings.) We choose to string words together, finding the right ones and the right order for them, and we’re probably stuck with that choice. It’s a calling too easily accepted, but borne with some difficulty.

There was a strong sense of the sacred in my task. She should be borne from her old bed to her place of rest in one fluid motion, as of a bird in flight. Still I wanted to lay her down so badly, just for a minute to shake out my arms and stretch my back. No. All I have to do is this step, then that step. One after another, the next right thing. Like words in their order, or how you tie a knot. Step by step until I get it done. It’s my burden to bear and mine alone. I should be grateful for the privilege. Not every man has half a day to spend on death, let alone kindness.

— Kyle Kimberlin, Charlie’s Crossing, work in process.

pink noise

Your Computer Really Is A Part of You.

“The person and the various parts of their brain and the mouse and the monitor are so tightly intertwined that they’re just one thing,” said Anthony Chemero, a cognitive scientist at Franklin & Marshall College. “The tool isn’t separate from you. It’s part of you.”

So long as the results of our interaction with everyday tools are as expected, we are atoned – symbiotic – with them. When the results are not, we are not. We become aware of the disconnect between us and the tools.

Believe it? Read the short article linked above; otherwise, you’ll never know what pink noise is.


A guy is trying to draw every person in New York, which I think is a pretty interesting idea. Futility can be inspiring, no?

Here's a newspaper article about him. And here's his blog, with drawings. I imagine the latter took quite a bump up in traffic from the former today.

Hey, if more people were hanging out in Taco Bell drawing pictures of each other, the world couldn't be any worse off for it.

Posted in art

cool stuff

web sites of 2 artists

Public Gallery | Aaron Ristau

Glenray Tutor – Photorealist

Both are great. But the latter, espeically, spins memory back into childhood.

I remember staring into the depths of a marble and I wish I had a handful now.

I have noticed that many successful technical innovators have toys in their workspace

Since I’m writing a novel about 2 kids, maybe I need to scatter a few toys around in here. Maybe I’m using one now.

Bad Beginnings: Slumdog Millionaire

Imagine you got on an airplane and the captain said, “Ladies and Gentlemen, we plan to begin today’s flight to Dallas by crashing into an avocado orchard about two miles east of the airport. But after that, the flight should improve, and the middle will be fantastic.”

Well it’s a funny thing, art. Despite all its yawning canyons of subjectivity, we are stewing in it together. And despite knowing that our tastes are so disparate, I still hope each time to like the things that other people have told me they enjoyed. But I keep encountering movies whose directors take that crash first, soar later approach.

Tonight I sat down with a cup of decaf coffee and the DVD of Slumdog Millionaire. It is a widely acclaimed, very popular, successful  film. Highly recommended to me, personally, it was.

Visually dazzling and emotionally resonant, Slumdog Millionaire is a fim that’s both entertaining and powerful. – Rotten Tomatoes

So I completely expected to be enthralled to some extent; at least, to muddle through in a few sittings, and decide that it was a decent film at the end. Here’s what happened.

Scene 1: We see two sweaty, fairly dirty men in close-up. One man is young and skinny, the other older and fatter. The older man was blowing smoke in the face of the other.

Cut to Kyle’s house, where he sits in his chair. Setting his coffee aside, he says, “OK, right off, I’m disgusted, repulsed. Great start.”

Scene 2: The Indian version of the Millionaire TV show, a nervous guy, the young guy in the first scene, is a contestant. Cut scenes back and forth to (scene 1) him being beaten and tortured by the big guy.

Scene 3: Turns out the big guy is a cop. Another cop comes in, and it’s revealed they’re torturing this young guy to find out how he cheated on the TV show. He won’t talk. They proceed to attach electrodes to him and give him a shock. Cut to …

Scene 4, Kyle’s house. He ejects the DVD with the remote, walks to the TV, retrieves the disk. He picks up the red Netflix envelope, slides the disk into it, seals the envelope and carries it to the table by his front door, to go back to Netflix at his next convenience. Returning to the TV, he takes another film from a stack of red envelopes.

Turns out I don’t care how great other people think a movie is. I don’t care how many times I’ve done this, only to be told later, “Thou fool! It gets better! … Sure, it starts off slow, but then it gets good!”

Thanks, I’m sure that’s absolutely true. I have no doubt that Slumdoggie was going to improve. I just don’t think that’s a good reason to expect me to sit through a bad beginning. The beginning of everything matters. There are no ordinary moments. Life is too short. I’m writing a novel right now, and I’m trying really hard not to leave any vapid, bland, lousy paragraphs in it.

Any writer will tell you that you get one chance to set the hook, when you have the reader’s attention and you’d better do something for it. It’s entirely likely that the reader hasn’t even bought the book yet; she or he is standing in front of the shelf at Barnes & Noble, and is just going to read a few pages first.

Movies with bad beginnings rely on an old, and probably dying, paradigm: that of the viewer who has already paid to get in, or to rent, and is willing to give it some time before he does what I did. The paradigm is dying because increasingly, people are like me: two more Netflix flicks on the TV, 70+ channels of crap on TV, the vast Internet at hand, and a small library of books in the house. Plus a stack of unread magazines. We are swimming in distractions and entertainments, and nobody is getting a mulligan in this game, anymore.

It gets better is one thing I don’t ever want to hear about the humble things that I create with the talent God gave me. If the beginning doesn’t merit your attention, the whole thing belongs in the shredder. And if the first scene of a movie blows chunks, I don’t care how good the middle is, or the end. Maybe the director should have started in the middle or at the end, and left the asinine beginning on the cutting room floor, in Studio City, or Mumbai, and saved us all some time.