something small

Things are falling down on me
heavy things I could not see
When I finally came around
something small would pin me down.

– Phish

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The Doldrums

It’s quiet in here, too quiet. I haven’t heard the music of words lining up and thumpimg together for quite some time now. Writing makes me happy and I’m not writing. But I don’t get writer’s block. I don’t believe in writer’s block. I believe in the horse latitudes. If I don’t keep the little boat of my consciousness out in the trade-winds, in the shipping lanes of language, I wind up windless and adrift. Becalmed.

I know what I have to do. Just as horses were sacrificed on sailing ships becalmed on their voyage to the New World, thrown overboard to save water for the men and lighten the ship, I need to make a change.

No one needs to have their forelegs cracked and be tendered to the vast, insensate Deep. I just need to find some time in my day for reading. Those who are artists understand; no planting, no harvest. No peace, no art.

Let Them Alone

 

If God has been good enough to give you a poet
Then listen to him. But for God’s sake let him alone
until he is dead: no prizes, no ceremony,
They kill a man. A poet is one who listens
To the nature of his own heart; and if the noise of the
world grows up around him, and if he is tough enough,
He can shake off his enemies but not his friends.
That is what withered Wordsworth and muffled Tennyson,
and would have killed Keats; that is what makes
Hemingway play the fool and Faulkner forget his art.

 

– Robinson Jeffers

Don’t Use Your Mind

I have a table in my home that is not supposed to be cluttered. It’s a rule I have for myself, which I only occasionally break: Don’t put stuff on the dining table. Books and magazines belong elsewhere. Snail mail (can you even believe it still exists in 2013?) goes in a basket in the home office. Despite the rule, I recently found myself needing to clear off that table. The only way to do that is to remove things. Moving them around on the table does not help.

That table is a lot like Mind. Well, it’s hard for anything not to be a metaphor of Mind, but take my word for it. It’s impossible to solve problems with a cluttered mind. And you can’t solve problems with the same state of mind that created them.

David Allen, the author of Getting Things Done, says that the main issue of a stressed out, non-productive life is the lack of bandwidth (table space) “… to be able to engage appropriately. Worse is that our creative energy is being used to fix and handle, remember and remind. We use our psyche to do this, instead of a system.”

Allen says, “Don’t use your mind to accumulate stuff and avoid it. Don’t use your mind to get stuff off your mind.” And, “Don’t keep anything in your head for the rest of your life.”

If I understand, he doesn’t mean don’t let certain things stay in your head that long. He means for the rest of your life, don’t use your mind for storage. It has better work to do. He says that our thinking has to be captured so that it can get out of the way of our problem solving or creative efforts.

“Capture your thinking. Get it out of your head. Anything and everything that is potentially meaningful – big or little – write it down.”

It seems I am constantly encountering people who are stressed out by problems but have no system for dealing with them. They have a mess to clean up but no space to work on the mess. Their mind is full of everything they need to keep remembering and there’s no bandwidth left for problem solving.

The worst part is when they blame the table for the mess that’s on it. They blame technology. Their computer or their phone, that’s the problem. Modern life is too complicated. It was better when it was simpler. The forget that any system, whether it employs sticky notes or Evernote, requires some planning, practice, and maintenance.

Well I remember the days before computers, when the phone hung on the wall and had a dial. The people who could solve problems were the ones who knew where their tools were: shovels and wrenches, glue and scissors, and the first aid kit. A place for everything and everything in its place. And if you needed to learn something, it helped to know the Dewey Decimal System and how to use the index cards in the library. There was a system, and it was not accessed by memory or luck. It was not kept inside of anyone’s head.

Ray Kurzweil is a prominent futurist, author, and a lead engineer at Google. He predicted the Internet, search engines, speech recognition, etc. He says that humans are becoming non-biological, that we are merging with our technology, and that our smartphones are extensions of our brains. So be it. Our forefathers had their parchments and notebooks. Da Vinci and Jefferson didn’t try to keep their projects in-between their ears.

We have better tools now. Whether what works for you is a desktop computer, a mobile device, a Moleskine and a pen, or some variety of tools, we all need a system to keep life from overwhelming us.  Even the humblest of intellects needs to prioritize their thinking to keep from overloading, stressing out, and teaching a colleague how to roshambo.

Since the invention of written language, Humankind has kept the bulk of its knowledge, wisdom, poetry, history, calendars, etc., in systems outside the damp confines of the brains of humans. They wrote stuff down. The difference now? We can carry it all – the entirety of amassed human information – around in our pockets. And Twitter too.

Right now, I’m thinking about these words and their best order. My Google Calendar knows when my doctor’s appointment is next week. I don’t. My technology will get me there, and remind me to pay my insurance bill and water the ficus in the living room, and what I’m supposed to pick up at the store. I’m not trying to remember it, is my point.

I hope you have a system that works well for you.

The next time someone asks me why I always have my phone, I’ll tell them it’s for thinking. I’m not playing bloody Angry Birds or laughing at grumpy cats. I’m thinking. Just like a notepad and a pen, this machine does mental work and is an extension of my consciousness. And someday, when I’m gone, you can download my consciousness into a Roomba, and I’ll quote T.S. Eliot while I vacuum the rugs.

We have lingered in the chambers of the sea
By sea-girls wreathed with seaweed red and brown          
Till human voices wake us, and we drown.

On Inspiration

I’ve said many times that I don’t believe in writer’s block, that if I stop writing when I want to write it’s not a block but more of a clog. Something gets stuck in the natural flow of energy or spirit; something that shouldn’t have been involved in my flow in the first place. Fear comes to mind, and anger, and any of the great plethora of social and societal distractions.

Last night I posted a video which I found inspiring, in which this is said:

“… Welcome to planet Earth. There is nothing you cannot be or do or have. You are a magnificent creator. And you are here by your powerful and deliberate wanting to be here. Go forth, giving thought to what you are wanting, attracting life experience to help you decide what you want. And once you have decided, giving thought only unto that.”

That is a loving, affirmative thing to say. Maybe it’s baloney, but if I were a parent or a teacher, or a preacher, I would tell children this, as early and as often as possible.

I think they’re talking about what you are wanting of life. I don’t think it means, you know, toys. People are made to be loved, things are made to be used. Our consumer society tends to get it backwards, which causes grief. But I digress.

But do I believe it, that it is possible and advisable and wise to give thought only to the creative and life-affirming impulse of what one wants? Yes, I do. If what you want does not involve keeping informed about the debate over the payroll tax, or the great and taxing sadness of the perennial elections of fools and cannibals to high office, let it be. I promise there are more than enough people to worry over such things. Let it be someone else’s useless suffering.

I believe this because I have learned – by the lights of my own life experience – that to see everything that others want to show you takes a million floodlights. But what you want – what you have the talent to do, if that makes it clearer – is so close and clear that a single candle is sufficient to show the way.


Great minds discuss ideas.
Average minds discuss events.
Small minds discuss people.

Ironically, one of the distractions I’m sometimes confronted by is just the opposite of anything you might expect. When I get an idea for something to write, I get distracted by the excitement and pleasure of getting an idea for something to write. This phenomenon must be caused by the Internet. Web 2.0 has heated up our innate desire to share to a rolling boil. 

Holy crap, I’m writing! I can’t wait to share it.

Isn’t that strange? I have to keep telling myself to relax and focus. What’s the next word and the next one after that? Just write them down, in a good order. It’s not time to start shopping for an agent yet. You’ve only got four sentences, for crying out loud.

Yes, I believe that humans should live by the laws of attraction, that the primordial substance of life is love, and that we can do or be or build anything and everything. I also realize that we, at least in America, live in a culture designed to block that force, to diffuse and scatter it. That we can live creatively and well is arguable; to make a living in such a way is exceedingly rare.

Finally, there is the gradual cooling of the small furnace between my ears. It is undeniable. I’m a better writer than I used to be, but not a quicker thinker. As I grow older, I imagine more richly and lyrically, but I don’t have the cognitive pace of my college years. It takes longer to submerge to the lurid fathoms of creativity, and it used to be easier to stay down there for hours at a time. Perhaps it’s just a phase; my less blue period, if you will. Maybe I need to turn off the computer for a while and try working with a legal pad and a ballpoint pen. That worked well for a long time, you know.

Maybe it’s because I turned 50 this past year, but I’m aware that inspiration is fleeting, not to be wasted.

So, kiss me my sweet
And so let us part
And when I grow too old to dream
Your love will live in my heart.

Nat King Cole sings When I Grow Too Old To Dream.

Once in a while

“… there is a moment that emerges when the creative process itself seems to "talk" to the artist. Those who have listened deeply to this "voice" that echoes the rhythms of the universe, and can recite its reverberations back into the stream, are capable of creating work that can enchant the very cosmos itself. So I have faith in the surrender and acceptance of the creative act and the humility to know that a great artist is but a conduit for an expression that resonates with something that is greater than him or herself.

— The Director of the Imaginary Foundation
    http://goo.gl/hCd7d

Once in a while you get shown the light
in the strangest places if you look at it right.
— The Grateful Dead

skeletonroses1

 

Patience

Waiting for my life
to begin again,
for the dead clock to run
backwards to my birth,
for the dawn to bend
humbly over Carpinteria,
San Francisco, Death Valley;
wherever I am when it finally
happens:

when sugar of the orange
runs back to the tree,
airships float whispering
through my suffering sky,
the blue dog of mystery
meets me on the other side,
my scars fade to roses
and cities are built on my bones.

 

       — J. Kyle Kimberlin

 

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No Accounting For It

Ah, good taste, what a dreadful thing! Taste is the enemy of creativeness.

– Pablo Picasso

Boy, that’s the truth, isn’t it? And who jumps to mind among the worthies of literature? I mean, you don’t even have to wander off toward Charles Bukowski, Hunter S. Thompson or William S. Burroughs.

We’re talkin’ D.H. Lawrence, James Joyce, Mark Twain. Among those three there are banning, prosecution, and attempts to expunge their work from from libraries.

How can it be? Well, in the words of Ron White, “You can’t fix stupid.”