Monday, 30 April 2012

Quote of the Week - Flaubert

"Be regular and orderly in your life, so that you may be violent and original in your work" 
 - Gustave Flaubert

This seems like such great advice!  It's a wonder so few follow it!

Strive for some balance this week!

(Did you know there is a movie called Equilibrium with Christian Bale, Taye Diggs, Emily Watson, and Sean Bean and it's Sci Fi?  Me, neither!  Ah the magic of googling images....)

Christian Bale may be the opposite of Flaubert's quote.  Hm.

Friday, 27 April 2012

Dear Netflix - 10 Things You Could Do To Make Me Like You Again

Netflix Sorting Center

Dear Netflix:

You were my favorite company.

You blew it twelve ways to Sunday and now, well,  now, I'm kinda sad about you.  Each month, I forget when you robo-charge me and therefore forget to put my service on hold.  So you get another month to get better.  But you don't.

Since I roam, I only have streaming now.  (Also, since you messed up being able to send stuff to the right address.)

I was pretty happy you've changed your hold policies - as I've been charged for months when my hold ended before I could revise it and the charge went through and then I put a new hold on it.  So, I was excited about that, until I put my account on hold, you didn't pre-notify me, so I didn't change the restart date....and you billed me anyway.  Way to go and thank for the fake heads up.

Here are my ten things you could do to make us all feel better:
  1. Unhide the movies that are streaming.  You have to be a detective to find out what's available.  The browsing interface is far inferior to the same but different Netflix site devoted to DVD's.  I have to overload my queue with stuff when I come across it, cause I'm afraid I'll never find it again.
  2. Stop recommending things I've already rated.
  3. Stop recommending things in only a few weird sub-genres based on some movie I watched like 17 months ago, which was probably a work-related thing anyway.  Example:  "Emotional Dramas based on contemporary literature," and "Quirky movies featuring a strong female lead," and "Classic Crime Movies from the 1960's."
  4. You and I both know I have a (real) Netflix account.  I know this because I see that things I've rated on (real) Netflix show up with my ratings on (steaming) Netflix with their ratings.  How bout you automatically put things from my (real) Netflix queue onto my (streaming) Netflix queue when they become available?
  5. Make my streaming queue sortable.  How hard is this, really?  Like, can I search it by type or rating or year or ANYTHING?????  This would be a tremendously positive change.
  6. Remove things from my (streaming) queue when I've watched them!  Please!  And please make the removing from queue function actually work - things just keep popping back up again and again.
  7. When you take things from my queue away from streaming, and then put them back on streaming later, add them back to my queue.  (Can't be that hard, come on.)
  8. Stream more better content.  I use your service for research -- there's stuff I have to watch and stuff I need to re-watch.  The paucity of A-movies on here is appalling and embarrassing.  You - Netflix - king of the hill - are now competing for my $7.99 a month with Hulu Plus.  Is this what you want?Netflix, Hulu
  9. Stop pretending the movies I search for don't exist if they are not on streaming.  We all know there's a movie called The King's Speech.  In fact, it's available on the same/different Netflix where you send plastic through the mail in red wrappers.  So, really, am I searching for Stephen King's Children of the Corn?  I think not.
  10. Allow me to have a streaming wish list queue - a list of things that are not streaming currently that I want to see - and let me know when they start streaming.
  11. Think about where you are going.  What happened to the Netflix that offered a million dollars to the person or team who could improve its recommendations algorithm by 10%?  That Netflix was ahead of the curve, thought about its end user and was reliably outstanding.  That Netflix was the Apple to Blockbuster's Microsoft.  That Netflix created and dominated a market.  This Netflix is talking about becoming more like a cable station.  Why would your customers need another cable network?
The King's SpeechChildren of the Corn

Okay.  Eleven things.

You were the best of what internet commerce could be.  I still hope for you to become best again.

Monday, 23 April 2012

Quote of the Week - Mike D.

"You could call me a straight-up amateur.  But that hasn't stopped me before.  And that hasn't stopped me here." 
- Mike D. on curating at MOCA (from an interview on KCRW)

Being professional is great.  It's a good feeling to have some command of your chosen turf.  But everyone starts as an amateur.  Everyone.  You'll never get anywhere if you're not willing to move through that.  You'll never surprise yourself.  You'll never grow.

What if the Beastie Boys told themselves before Cooky Puss - we're a bunch of white dudes from the NYC/BK with no hip hop skills - we can't do this?

Yet, I bet you listen to that loop in your head a whole lot.

It's Monday - put your karma on straight and get out in the fight.

Nothing should stop you.

Friday, 20 April 2012

Swimming Through Amber Kindle Edition!


After a little bit of html elbow grease, the SWIMMING THROUGH AMBER Kindle Edition is up!

No wasting trees!

Cost effective!


What could be better?


Thanks to Francesca Barrientos for technical assistance!

Thursday, 19 April 2012

Writing Is Not A Mystery - There, Their, They're...

What's wrong with this picture?

If the editing process is like getting dressed before leaving the house, then that last look in the mirror before you walk out the door - that's proofreading and copy editing.

It is part of the job.   To be honest, it has its tedious qualities.  Even blogging on it seems tedious, or obvious, or unnecessary in a goes-without-saying way.  But it doesn't go without saying.  It needs to happen.

I've had the privilege of programming work, auditioning people,  and reading submission and I can tell you - programmers, editors, directors, producers - have limited time and attention just like everyone else.  In this process, you are looking for something specifically unspecific, you are hoping to fill slots or find an overall shape that works for a show, a festival, an anthology.  You are waiting and hoping to be dazzled - you are completely open to being dazzled.  The other thing you are completely open to, is being turned off.  The terrible is the friend of the selector - it is so easily discounted and put on the "no" pile.  Easy decisions are hard to come by, and believe me when I tell you that the first 90 seconds of your short film, the first three minutes of your feature, the first paragraphs of your writing, the first scene in your screenplay, all carry an unbelievable amount of weight when any of them are being reviewed in a bulk process.  Everything between completely excellent and bad is a problem in this process - it requires deeper thought, it requires itself to fit in somewhere, it requires talking with other people in the process to figure out whether it works or not.

All that to say - don't submit sloppy.  Sloppy documents give people a chance to discount you for no reason.  They give readers a moment of distrust that can snowball out of your control.  They allow doubt into the selection and review process.  Maybe the writer isn't that good, maybe what's good in this is an accident, since they don't seem to know grammar or spelling or punctuation - maybe they will be difficult.

Ignoring accepted conventions in grammar, spelling and punctuation do not make you subversive and interesting.  They make you a writer easy to dismiss, reject, or put on the bottom of a pile.  They make you a problem for an editor or publisher.  Most importantly, these types of errors undercut your ability to get through to your audience.  Everyone is overloaded - don't give anyone a reason to stop reading.

It's counter-productive to submit documents that are full of errors.  The way you feel when you leave the house without earrings, or with mismatched socks, or accidentally wearing your t-shirt inside out - that's how you should feel about sending out documents that aren't as close to 100% as possible -- weird and uncomfortable.  Our tendency is to go fast - write fast, post faster - but that only works for things that you intend to last only as long as a twitter feed.

Editing can be fun!
You can outsource this part of the process, but initially you might not want to - you might feel overprotective.  Maybe once it's ready to be published or the equivalent, you can engage someone to be your final eyes on it.  You can certainly take a copy editing or proofreading course, or get yourself a good book.  I like a red pen - marking up a print out is fun - like being the teacher.

I like to take the tedious and obvious nature of copy editing and proofreading as a little gift.  A simple, clear-cut process in a sea of abstract thoughts, feelings, character motivations, pinache and flash.  Cooking a great meal requires assembling ingredients, preparation, tasting, finessing.  Washing dishes is just washing dishes.  Sometimes, it's nice just to wash dishes.  Copy editing and proofreading is like that.  It makes it easy to step a few feet back from your piece, and sometimes, even see something larger you had missed.  Don't neglect this step - it's like wrapping a gift before you give it, or focusing the camera before you take the shot.  It may seem small to you, but it has a large effect on your potential audience.

And that's who you're writing for, right?

(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 April 2012

Quote of the Week - Burroughs

Do not despise your own place and hour. Every place is under the stars, every place is the center of the world.
- John Burroughs via Goodreads
The Midnight in Paris thing again.

Just be where, and when, you are.

Friday, 13 April 2012

So What's A Practivist?

Someone who practises practivism!

Practivism = Proactive, pragmatic, promotable activism.  

I think I made up the term; maybe not.  The Zestyverse has been featuring practivists for over a year now.  Some recent profiles include:
Are you a practivist?  Do you turn your talents and energy into helping community, sustainability, youth, equality?  Do you know a practivist?  If so, the Zestyverse wants to feature you - send a message!  

Thursday, 12 April 2012

Writing Is Not A Mystery - It's A Commitment

From bronswirlz13 via

I see so many pieces wasted - good ideas, great tension, fantastic characters - by writers who don't edit what they've got into a shape that makes it soar.  A finished piece is more than what poured out of the top of your head in strings of sentences and fragments - it's a well-defined document that is ready to go out into the world on its own.

You don't consider yourself dressed to go out when you step out of the shower and into a towel.  You dry off, put on clothes, maybe make up, shoes.  That's editing.  Without it, your piece is soaking wet and naked standing on the street corner, wallet and keys on the kitchen table at home.

Don't rob your piece of its distinctive voice.  Don't hold it back from its audience.  Don't strand your words.

Writing is a process.  The longer your piece, usually, the longer the timeline.  Build time into your process for all the steps.  They are what elevates your writing, and your commitment to them is what elevates you as a writer.  As you revise and rewrite, you are developing your eye and ear for good writing - you are on the lookout for what a reader would be gleaning from your work.

The Voynich Manuscript - a magical mystical text
For poetry and spoken word, I read pieces out loud over and over and over,  so I can hear what the audience is going to hear.  Each glitch in the rhythm, each crease in the meaning, I attempt to iron out through editing.  It's a great idea to read things aloud while editing and to read a printed version.

The transition from the writing to editing stage is subtle, but there is a distinction to be made and it's helpful if you can find that little place of change and recognize it.  It's wearing a different hat from the one we've been cultivating - yet it still requires openness and presence.

This time you sit down and just let the words you have written speak to you without making assumptions about what they are going to say.  If you bring assumptions here, you'll bring intentions - you'll be the observer affecting the experiment.  In other words, you could end up influencing your own read of the material - and essentially be reading a different piece than your actual readers will.

This is abstract -- essentially, you've got to judge the thing without judging it.  How does somebody do that?  You assess it without emotion or investment.  That's where the trick is.  You look at it, as much as possible, even at this early stage, as completely separate from you.  It is!  It's not you - it feels like you, but I promise it's not you!  It can't cook dinner, do laundry, or apply for a credit card.  It's not you.

Look at it as the gift you are giving to others, or the gift you have received from somewhere else.  Find out what the gift feels like, what it has to say, what taste it leaves on your tongue, what color it sets before your eyes.  Then and only then, you may ask if it is tasting the way you would like it to taste, showing you the color you want to show.  And even then, don't forget to ask if this one you have tastes better than the one you were hoping for, if the color is different, but perhaps, more appropriate.  Let the writing surprise you!

Editing is being your best possible reader and your most innocent reader simultaneously.  It's finding the shape of the piece within what you've written down and uncovering what's still in your mind underneath what you've already unearthed.  It's opening yourself up to the channel of that particular message.  It takes cultivation.  It takes a willingness to empty out enough to leave some space for a new pattern, rhythm or image to emerge.

A lot of people simply don't get past the first stage of writing.  Why?  Is it difficult?  A little.  Is it time-consuming?  Absolutely.  I don't think that's why.

I think it's because it's scary.  It's scary to admit that you think that little blurt is worth editing, refining, and putting out into the world.  It's scary to put your most abstract self into the hands of strangers.  It can give you a queasy and imbalanced feeling.  Brene Brown aptly calls this a "vulnerability hangover."  You open yourself up, and even if the news is good, you get this raw, exposed feeling you can't shake.  Joni Mitchell described in an interview as all nerve-endings when she made her remarkable album Blue,  Artists must cultivate this rawness, as uncomfortable as it may be.  It's the reason for a lot of behaviour that seems erratic and abnormal.  Make best friends with your art.  Let it be the cure for the hangover.  If you commit to it, it will commit to you.

Are you interested in a series of linguistic one-night stands or do you want to master a language -- your language?  

It's no easy thing to dress up your first born, make it a brown paper lunch and put it on the bus for the first day of school.  And here's the fun part -- they are all your first born.  Each time out, it's new.  This is part of being an artist - it doesn't work if you run yourself on autopilot.

It's your gift to the world.  It's your legacy.  It's your action.  It's your way of adding what's inside your head to the larger conversation.  Listen to it.  It's asking you out on a date.  It's asking you to go steady.  It's asking if you want to spend your life with it.  Put a ring on it.

Stay committed.  Don't let the odds get you down:

(I stole the AWESOME image up top from another blog on writing - whoulda thought?  So please check out her blog, too!)

(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.)

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

Monday, 9 April 2012

Quote of the Week - Ellison

"Life is to be lived, not controlled; and humanity is won by continuing to play in face of certain defeat." 

 Aargh...truth hurts!  Happy Monday!

Friday, 6 April 2012

Practivist of the Week - You Helping Kcymaerxthaere Art Project!

Some of the best things in the world come without a why attached to them.  Life.  Love.  Flowers.  Kcymaerxthaere.  Don't trouble yourself with the why of it - just bask in the wonder of it as an entity.  Be glad it exists.

I met Eames about 4 years ago in Edinburgh.  We actually lived about 20 minutes apart from each other for about a decade before, but didn't meet until the Fringe.  I went to his show and was seduced by the genius of his alternate reality.  A parallel but equal universe to our own, with its own history, its own languages, music, art, mythology - all channeled through his vision - reading our world back to us in code, and then concretizing that code into being.  That takes a particular kind of brilliance and an unwavering commitment to art as a concept.  Imagine if Tolkien had actually gone around creating Middle Earth wherever he went, turning all the stories into a new kind of reality, and you'll have some concept of what Eames is accomplishing with Kcymerxthere.

In the last few years, he has taken his project next level - traveling the world to place plaques at significant sites in the Kcymaerxthaere and lately, partnering with local artisans to create art that both supports the local community and tells the stories of the Kcymaerxthaere.

There are only 4 days left to help raise the $4000 dollars it will take to fund a local project in Abilene, TX. You can help make it happen by going to Indiegogo and giving whatever you can.   Actually go even if you don't think want to give - there's a great video and more information on Eames and the project.  I can't believe that you won't be hooked once you learn a bit more.

If it sound a bit out there, a bit confusing - well, it is.  And it isn't.  And I'm not the storyteller.  Eames is - and he's the best person to tell it to you.  So CLICK!

Writing Is Not A Mystery - Forward Ever (Backward Later)

Let's talk about moving forward.

In his excellent (and well-edited) book On Writing, Stephen King suggests writing through your first draft without giving in to the temptation to edit as you go.  I wholeheartedly concur. Writing through the first draft without tweaking almost insures there will be a first draft. Editing as you go almost insures there won't be.  Re-read the draft when you sit down to work, and keep writing from the end.  With a poem this is easy.  With a story, screenplay, novel - not so much.

Incessantly tweaking the first act of a screenplay, the opening of a novel, or the beginning of a book may feel like the right thing to do - you want your set up to be impeccable - but it's a great way to get bogged down.  This is an easy way to lose momentum, to lose the forest for the seedlings, and to get bored of the work.  By the time you feel the beginning is done, you may also feel there is no end in sight.

I know a writer who spent over a decade on a first novel.  Draft after draft, re-combing, recombining, tweaking, but never giving it its legs.  All that work still named a first draft.  Given out to readers every 2 or 3 years for feedback, and then back into the cave for 2 or 3 years to fix the first draft, which was nowhere near anything the writer wanted to submit for publication.  

Moving forward involves letting go.  There is a point at which you must let go.  When you leave the planet (and you will, we all do), do you want to leave one book, or a whole shelf of books? 

Think about how many shelves Stephen King's books take up in a library.  He is possibly the most prolific writer in history - I gratefully receive the advice he has shared.   He's never limited himself in form or genre, he simply takes different names when he feels like it to keep some distance.  Maybe you don't like Stephen King books and don't want to take his advice.  Whatever his slant on the universe, can you deny his grasp of human motivations, character, his understanding of sense of place, morality, his power for telling a story with gripping suspense, or his ability to plot narrative arcs so carefully intertwined with his characters' journeys that they seem inseparable?

I'm a huge Raymond Chandler fan, but I've run out of Chandler to read.  I hate that!  If I were a rabid Stephen King fan, instead of a just a respectful one, I'd probably never run out of his books to read!  (Unnecessary aside:  I have this weird habit of saving back one book from living authors I love, so that if they stop writing, I still have one shiny new spine to crack - for instance, I've never read The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison - it's my saved book of hers.)  Things take the time they take to craft, of course, and it isn't a race.  But there is a point at which you must exit the Interstate or you will end up in the Atlantic or the Pacific.

If you're working on a first draft longer than it's socially acceptable to breastfeed a baby, I'm calling you out. (I'm going to caveat that with exceptions for PhD. theses, working moms trying to write in their one lucid hour a day, textbook writers, J.R.R. Tolkien and other extreme cases that involve incredibly time consuming drafts - you know who you are and you are on your own recognizance.)

Let go - you don't need to put it all in the first book. You have more books in you, more screenplays, more poems, more essays, you do.  If you continue in first draft limbo, you won't.  This is a trick you are playing on yourself - telling yourself you are writing, you are a writer, yet neurotically obsessing over your insecurities as manifest by your manuscript.  Yes, I said that.  The monster in a box is back.

I'm admonishing you, because if this is your issue, then you are stuck in something gooey and pernicious, and much worse than the thing that people call Writers Block.  (Insert that Law & Order sound effect here, fact, every time I write Writers Block, you can hear that.)

There is help for this - there are editors, coaches (yes, like me), classes, workshops, there are reading services, there are ways to get creative feedback to get out of the feedback loop in your head.  If you don't avail yourself of the assistance surrounding you, then you are babysitting some part of yourself you are afraid to show to the world, possibly to your own spiritual and psychological detriment.

Journal writing is not for show; it's yours, it's precious, it's private.  When you choose other forms of writing - presentational forms - as your calling, but then withhold presentation in perpetuity, something is wrong.  Remember - you don't have to show it to anybody.  Write it, and if it's too personal, fleshy, raw, terrible, terrifying - put it in a drawer or the electronic equivalent and move on.  However, dancing with this thing you know you don't want to show anyone in some kind of perpetual stalemate is not healthy.

Ask yourself:

Do I enjoy the process of writing?

Do I enjoy the process of writing this particular thing?

Do I get joy from the product of the time I spend writing?

Why isn't it finished?

When will I consider it to be finished?

Is this what I want to write?

Will this ever be something I want to present to the world?

What am I waiting for?

Perfection is the constant stalker of the artist.  If the spectre of this mercenary is hanging over your head while you write - well, that would make it impossible to write anything.  For a minute, turn on the television.  Flip through the channels.  Watch what's on there.  Somebody wrote that.  Somebody is getting large checks for that, buying a house with that, paying for their kids' college.  Perfection?  Occasionally.  Professional-grade?  Yes.  So, what are you waiting for?

Don't try.
Let go of the idea of perfection, of an absolute finished (citation:  George Lucas).  Take it off the table.  You are not going to make Citizen Kane your first time out.  That was a fluke of humanity.  Seriously.  So was Harper Lee's To Kill A Mockingbird,  Margaret Mitchell's Gone With The Wind, and Adele's 19.  I mean, seriously - who makes masterpieces their first time out of the gate?  Not very many people.  

Perfection is not the point.  Communication is the point.  Becoming part of the cultural dialogue is the point.  Sharing your vision is the point.  

If the thing you are working on won't call itself finished, is driving you to distraction, is driving you to drink, is making you nauseous, put it away.  Start something new, taking the lessons with you, but acknowledging the ways in which the idea didn't work, or spun out of your creative control, or was not large enough to sustain its form, or was too large for its form, or was beyond the grasp of your skills at that point.  It's totally okay.  You don't have to burn it or anything.  Or burn it, but keep it on a hard drive somewhere.  You can go back to it.  You can steal from it.  You can move on and write the thing that truly wants to be written by you and shared with the world.  Write that.

(And that's a double dose of perfection - Adele singing Dylan.  Enjoy it - don't try for it.)
(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.)

Wednesday, 4 April 2012

Marketa Kimbrell Memorial - April 6th

I just received this information and was asked to post it.  Here's a link to my original post on her passing.

Marketa Kimbrell Memorial April 6, 2012

Please join us for a memorial to celebrate the life of Marketa Kimbrell. Kimbrell was a greatly valued member of the Tisch faculty for nearly 30 years, and head of the Acting and Directing Area of the Undergraduate Film & TV department for much of her tenure. She also had a role in Sidney Lumet's 1965 film THE PAWNBROKER, and co-founded the New York Street Theater Caravan in 1970, a theater company that brought productions to those that might not normally have access to theater.

Tisch School of the Arts, 721 Broadway, Room 006

Monday, 2 April 2012

Quote of the Week - Lahiri

"For surely it is a magical thing for a handful of words, 
artfully arranged, to stop time." 
- Jhumpa Lahiri

It is.

I heard about The Clock movie, but didn't get to see it.  Maybe next time.

Happy April! 

P.S.  The above quote come from a NY Times blog by Jhumpa Lahiri, which I've posted on before.