Monday, 30 January 2012

Quote of the Week - Rumi

"Be patient.
 Respond to every call
 that excites your spirit.

 Ignore those that make you fearful
 and sad, that degrade you
 back toward disease and death."
excerpt from "Cry Out in Your Weakness"

I could just really do a Rumi quote every week.  Or Hafiz.  Still - I try to spread it around.

Thursday, 26 January 2012

Practivist of the Week - Update!!!!

In 9 hours, the goal of $10,000 was reached.  Donations will continue to be accepted for further health care costs.

There aren't words for how amazing this is.

Practivist of the Week - YOU helping Tara Hardy

I saw this woman on stage once.  Once.  And she wrung out every drop of salt and water inside me.  We couldn't even stay for the rest of the readers -- we were exhausted and exhilarated from seeing her.  She is at once fierce and elegant, a writer who spares her audience nothing, yet refines each turn of phrase to release maximum meaning.

She is a no holds barred as a writer and a performer.  She is a veteran of the grind that is writing, stages, touring, and our particular kind of freelance lifestyle where money comes when it comes and health insurance is a rare commodity.

She is in trouble.  You can help.  The goal is $10,000 and they are more than halfway there.  Please donate.  CLICK HERE.  Thank you.

I'll let you see for yourself:

Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Writing Is Not A Mystery - Sitting Down Like Bukowski

Right.  So we've already learned I'm New Age peripheral.  I'm also smut-adjacent.  If honesty is the best policy (it is), then you kind of have to tell it all.  I'm a big fan of artists who give us the whole truth, and those who know how to make ugly beautiful.

One of my favorite things is when a scruffy hipster writer comes on the scene trying to get all Bukowski all over the place.  Translation:  drink, spew some words, and lay anything that will have you.


Thing is, if that was how Bukowski had proceeded, I doubt he'd have the canon of published books he has.  Have you noticed just how many books he authored in his lifetime?  Lemme tell you - books do not write themselves.

We also know that Bukowski held a job at the United States Post Office for decades.  (I'm a big fan of the Post Office.  Buy some stamps or something.  Keep post alive!)  One of those dying jobs that lets you work your 8 hours and go home unburdened while still having enough money for a crappy room, some booze, and boxes of Kraft macaroni and cheese.

So here you are - hipster writer - on the dole, sleeping all day, drinking every night, out at pubs working your best lines, spitting the same 3 poems you wrote at Uni, professing your love for all things Bukowski, Miller, and Hemingway.

What's wrong with this picture?

Well, mon cher hipster writer - you are not doing the work.  Writing is work.  Like anything.  Work, work, work.  I sit typing this and I have been writing for HOURS today and barely gotten through morning pages, 2 blogs and an email.  A book - A WHOLE BOOK - that sh*t takes TIME.

Bukowski didn't get chicks cause he was so hot - he got chicks cause, well, I don't really know how he got chicks.  I do know that one particular female gives him credit for helping her to become the writer she was.  And that was both through him being and sharing the writer he was, and through being supportive of someone else's art and vision.

What Bukowski did, what Henry Miller did, was write everything.  I'm often confounded at how Miller could have written Tropic of Capricorn while actually living Tropic of Capricorn.  But he did it.  Somehow, he found the will, ability, clarity, focus, and time to write those tens of thousands of words.

Truth is - Bukowski sat down at that typewriter for hours every day.  While working at the Post Office, while binge drinking, while living the tales he told.  It's  not an easy thing to do.  Not at all.  It's true he was no Soccer Mom shuffling kids all over town in a minivan, but life is life, and work is work, and a bad habit is a bad habit and they all take time.

Bukowski wasn't a lady who lunched, a guy given to long workouts at the gym, and I don't think he spent a whole lot of time at the mall.  It may be that you have to give up something to get something.  Poverty and isolation has its upside for creatives - you don't have to spend time and energy on things like keeping up appearances, a social calendar, and shopping for endless hostess gifts.  (Okay, they have their time-consuming downsides, too, but that's another blog.)

You may not be able to hold onto everything in your life if you are planning to devote real time to your art.

File:Kerouac ontheroad scroll.jpg
The original On The Road scroll

Mixing life and art - it's a fine trick.  Kerouac and On The Road is a great example - if he'd had his head down writing the whole time on that east to west extravaganza, well, there'd be no story - he wouldn't have lived anything worth telling.  But if he didn't manage to have his head down writing, at least some of the time, the stories would be cocktail party anecdotes instead of a groundbreaking, defining, and now classic novel.

That's what's at stake when you don't sit down.  The loss of the very material and insight you are aching to share.  The potential loss of connection on a grand scale.  The disappearance of the potential to reach across any and all boundaries of time, space, geography, and culture to midwife something profound.

After these last three blogs, you've realized that sitting down is hyper-important to me as a writing tool.  It is.  In fact, it could be the only tool you need.  It's simple and clear.

You must sit still and write to produce any writing.  

Maybe this is what they mean by the Laws of Attraction - you can only attract the writing by giving it space and time and focus and will.  But that's pretty true of anything in life.

Happy sitting!

(This blog is part of a series - you can look the others up on the side, or go to the blog search and type "writing is not a Mystery" - either should work.)

Tuesday, 24 January 2012

The Other 50% - New Developments

The latest figures on percentages of women working in features are out.  Women make up 5% of the directors of the top 250 box office grossing films of 2011 - up 2% from 2012, but down 4% from 1998 numbers.

And Sundance announces a new partnership with Women in Film to track the progress of women directors.   The headline on that one is a bit misleading.

Is Bridesmaids the reason for the sudden interest?  Or is this just (another) watershed moment?

Monday, 23 January 2012

Quote of the Week - Hockney

"I don't value prizes of any sort. I value my friends." 
- David Hockney


David Hockney portrait by Jim McHugh

If you know me, then you know...

Saturday, 21 January 2012

Writing Is Not A Mystery - Sit Down With Julia Cameron

I'm inherently skeptical, leading ever so slightly toward cynical, so I overcompensate with optimism wherever possible.

When I see people getting into the next New Age thing - I'm the one who starts asking the questions no one wants to hear.

From The Secret to Dr. Emoto and his water molecules to What the Bleep Do We Know?  I'm the one saying, yes, but if you follow the Law of Attraction to its natural conclusion, or so who is this doctor and just how were these experiments done or did you not take high school physics?

That's me.

Imagine my skepticism, back when I was a real New Yorker (no - not a Carrie Bradshaw fake New Yorker), about The Artist's Way.

In truth, I wanted nothing to do with it.  Who is this Cameron woman?  What could she possibly have to say?  How can she be qualified to write this -- how can anybody?

I'm not sure where I first heard about it.  Maybe in CineWomen NY.  As writer's block (which I don't believe in, and I'm sure we'll get to a blog on that in this series) slipped it's ever-creeping hold over me, well, I had to try something.

So I bought a copy of The Artist's Way.

I opened it and read the Introduction.  There was a lot of God stuff and a slightly New Age approach.  There was also a caveat - a way out - a believe what works for you about it.  I liked the quotes (in fact - that is when I started collecting and sharing quotes).  I kept reading.

I committed to the 12-week program.  I knew I had a lot of traveling to do, so I gave myself permission to miss a week, or do a week twice if the schedule got too hectic, or just stay on a week until I made it through.

A lot of stuff comes up, and for once, I promised myself I wouldn't push through like a bulldozer, but I wouldn't give up, either.  I did my morning pages during my first ever Sundance - which involved very little sleep.  In fact, after seeing Slam, I wrote my first ever flow!  In about 16 weeks, I finished The Artist's Way.

I've been doing morning pages (and artist's dates) ever since.  I must recommend this book as a tool to individuals 4 or 5 times a week.  Part of the reason for writing this blog is to have a quick place to point people who ask me what they should be doing.

So.  If you are terribly unsure of how to proceed as a writer, or any other type of creative, get yourself a copy of The Artist's Way.  You can find one anywhere - new, used, at a library.  Sit down with it and decide if it is for you.

But sit down with it.

It may not work for you, but I bet it does.  I picked it up because I was stuck in a screenplay; by the time I put it down, I was well on my way (unbeknownst to me) to being a poet and spoken word artist.  The results may not be what you expected, but there will be results.  You will clear some things out of the way and be able to see new things - ideas, predilections, a path.  Hope.

And the very sneaky thing about The Artist's Way is that it gives you the beginnings of a process.  The most important thing you could have as an artist.  Cameron makes sure that you sit down daily, and that you have a purpose in doing so.  It gives you a place to start - every single day and every week.  Morning pages, Artist Dates, Walks.  Start there and you cannot possibly fail.

(This blog is part of a series - you can look the others up on the side, or go to the blog search and type "writing is not a Mystery" - either should work.)

Monday, 16 January 2012

Quote of the Week - Chloubier

"Make friends with pain, and you will never be alone."

I found this as a pre-chapter quote in a book I'm reading.  Have to say, it earned a laugh from me.  It's true in all its dimensions.

Sometimes, befriending your worst enemy is the best thing you can do.
Image copyright Celeste Potter
(Cool image above copped from Celeste Potter's website.)

Tuesday, 10 January 2012

Writing Is Not A Mystery - Sit Down, John

(Second in a series.  If you missed the first one, click here.)

There is this moment in 1776, when John Adams is being a particular a**hole.

Normally, he's annoying, a pain, a cynic, a devil's advocate, a blowhard, stubborn, and many more words, not as diplomatic, but in this moment, he's being an a**hole.

This being a musical - the other members of the Continental Congress decide that the thing to do here, of course, would be to sing about it.  What else would a bunch of middle-aged, powdered-wig-wearing men of property do in this situation?

Lucky for us -- the whole song is on YouTube.  Please watch:

Writers can be a particular kind of  a**hole, too, sometimes.  Sometimes, they think the thing will write itself. (It won't.)  Sometimes, they think they'll write it later. (They might.)  Sometimes, they think the laundry is more important. (Usually not.)  Sometimes, they run out of sometimes and make more sometimes up.

But eventually, time runs out, and the thing is not written, nor the other things that might have flowed from it.  There is no finished script, no body of work, just a shoulderful of bad feelings about writing.

If you are a writer, you need to take the advice of the Second Continental Congress and  SIT DOWN.

What did Adams write when he finally sat down?   Thoughts on Government which formed the basis of the framework for many state constitutions.  He wrote the Massachusetts State Constitution.  Rich letters to his wife, Abigail, to Jefferson and to George Washington.  Not to mention essays, treatises, and speeches.

But Adams isn't the point here; sitting down is the point.

You gotta sit down.  Now and often hereafter.  Whenever you want to get up - think of the song.

And sit down!

(More on sitting down in the next installment.  Also, there's a resource list of recommended books on the Coaching/Consulting page.)

Monday, 9 January 2012

Quote of the Week - James


"Beyond the very extreme of fatigue and distress, we may find amounts of ease and power we never dreamed ourselves to own; sources of strength never taxed at all because we never pushed through the obstruction."

- William James

What do you think?  It's a new year.  Wanna push through?

Saturday, 7 January 2012

Growing Pains

Last week The Bodhi Tree.

Next week Angeli.

Pioneers on Melrose that came to be iconic.

When I first first came out to LA from NY (oh, you know this is a long-term wrestling match), The Bodhi Tree was the place I felt at home.  The only place I could breathe.

I don't remember how I found it, but I went often.  I went to see people.  I went because they always had tea in a thermos with little paper cups.  I went because you could pull a scholarly book on Eastern religion out of the shelf and sit and read it in a chair.  I went because it smelled good, because they had trinkets, and because it was soulful in a city severely lacking soul.

I don't know who told me I had to try Angeli.  Melrose was like part tourist trap, part Camden town, part 8th Street and a good place to get boots.  In a world of In N Out Burger I was looking for some food.  My first trip to Angeli - well, I don't remember who it was with, either.  I remember the hot fresh baked breads they put on the table.  I remember perfect marinara sauce.  I can still taste it.  I was surprised by the space - the colors and angles, the closeness of the tables - so un-LA - but as soon as the food arrived, you were in your own world.

Why do I think these institutions are closing?  Because, I think, they succeeded too well.  What was radical when The Bodhi Tree opened forty years ago is mainstream now.  The Bodhi Tree went from having to get people interested in alternative philosophies and spirituality, to finding a niche, to - well, The Secret.  There isn't a bookstore you can walk into now (assuming you can find one) that doesn't have an Eastern Religion or Philosophy section.

The New Age and Self-Help books that used to be the province of The Bodhi Tree are everywhere.  No one replicates the environment they created - the places to get lost in the store, the old wooden caess, the seats, the art - and certainly you won't find another bookstore that will carry Henry Miller, Bukowski (yes, i think I got all those there first), and everything you ever wanted to  know about every religion.  The Bodhi Tree never succumbed to political correctness - it was a place for exploration and curious minds.  There was always something to find there.  Like the Traveler 99 CD I picked up there that is long gone to Amoeba, but I can still here every track in my head.

 Angeli staked its claim in LA food culture early on.  It held it's spot on Melrose, anchored a few equally good places that have come and gone, and kept doing what it did best - serving impeccably prepared simple foods at unbelievably reasonable prices.  I took one of my youth poets there for a grown-up dinner, and I expect she will remember that for a long time.

Like Bodhi Tree, Angeli made LA safe for other places like Angeli - which led to a trend, which led to the emerging foodie culture LA is embracing now.  (Yes, LA, you are emerging.  Seriously, if you doubt it, go to the Bay, or Seattle or New York, or anywhere else.)  I think their closures are natural in the cycle.  It's a different Melrose; a different Los Angeles.

There are those of us who've staked our claim in burgeoning LA culture - with words, with beats, with rhymes, with music, with paint - and I feel our time will come soon, too.  We made LA safe for art and culture, we gave it homes and voice, and we created an audience.  The ones we've been mentoring come at it fresh, with new opportunities, new agendas, and a demand to be taken seriously, and not left on the fringes of pop culture.

And that's okay, too.  It means we did our jobs well.

LA - you might just be growing up.

Wednesday, 4 January 2012

Writing Is Not A Mystery

Writing is not a mystery.  It's not.  It's an activity, a craft, occasionally an art, a skill, and a process.  As with any art, craft, skill, process, or sport, mystery can enter into it when there is a confluence of agility, personal qualities, and circumstance.

In and of itself, however, I wouldn't call it a mystery.

Demystifying the process is not too tough.  Writers create mystery around themselves to make the task at hand seem more difficult (it's actually difficult enough already).  Writers ascribe mystery to make themselves feel better when it's not going well or when they are scared to approach it.  Writers call it a mystery when they are not yet writers, feel that they should be, yet have no idea how to begin.

When it comes to writing, people sit down to type the great American novel or screenplay as if no preparation is needed or even exists.  This soon lands most in a whole lot of trouble, the kind that usually leads to defining writing as indefinable - a mystery.

Why do so many treat writing as if it were different from other disciplines?

As a writer and a coach, my observations lead me to believe that, in part, it is because both the essential skills and tools are readily available, and taught to almost everyone at some time in their youth.  We learn the alphabet as toddlers, to write letters in pre-school or kindergarten, to read in elementary school, grammar in middle or high school.  We have pens and pencils and paper and computers and printers all around us.

Unlike other crafts and arts, the tools themselves are secondary.  It's not a big investment to become a writer - you can steal office supplies from your temp job if you must.  You don't need $100 running shoes (actually, you don't need $100 running shoes), a Yonex racquet, 5 pairs of toe shoes, a drum kit, no - just paper and pencil are good for a start.  It doesn't matter if you're using a fountain pen or a MacBook Pro - you can still write at a high level.

So -- that means everyone can write, right?

(Insert skeptical face here.)

One would not attempt a Swan Lake pas de deux without ever having set foot in ballet class, practicing, stretching, toning, learning the choreography, but only from seeing productions of the ballet.  

After being a tennis fan for years, one would not step onto the court to battle Roger Federer, having never taken a lesson, or played, or done strength training.

Anyone can write, but not everyone can.

It doesn't work that way.  It works the way being a prima ballerina or Roger Federer works -- you have to actively cultivate the skills to approach the craft as an art.  You have to show up consistently. You have to practice.  If you want to be better than the pro at the club, you have to put in your 10,000 hours.

In the way that talking doesn't always mean communicating, knowing how to write sentences does not always translate into the craft of writing.

Most of all, you have to start simply.  Build your muscles up, and your stamina.  No marathon Crime & Punishments until you've done your scales.  (Yes - mixed metaphor - well done for spotting it.)

(First in a series on Demystifying the Writing Process.  Next up:  Where to Begin.)

Monday, 2 January 2012

Quote of the Week - Day

"The more you look and get frantic, the more you don't get."

- Doris Day

Everybody needs to hear this.  Everybody who wants anything needs to hear this.  And that's everyone.

(This comes from a great interview in The Hollywood Reporter.)

Doris Day Interviews with Sir Paul McCartney Before Album Drops

Happy 2012!