13 February 2017

Two winter haiku, with a plus-one

squirrels avoided
the mound of snow on the stile
now it's been wind-cut

trees pepper the snow
white hillocks are shadowed with
some essence of blue

a front-yard maple
sixty years old
bends to the south

21 June 2016

Am writing

when work is so intense I sometimes forget to breathe
even though I'm listening to natural sounds like
waves and rain
wind and birds
and a break from almost not breathing
is advisable.
when courage waves at me from others' lives
as courage more than any other thing
opens my heart
and I don't want to be without courage myself.
when birds nest in junction boxes
and the summer heat feels cool
and work is so intense I sometimes forget to breathe
and a break from almost not breathing
is advisable.
when I remember I'm not rich
and won't be able to walk barefoot in the Saratoga summer
and feel the wind in the pines on that plateau
that's an ancient ocean floor
and I want to do that walk and feel that wind.


In the Playa Azul video,
there’s a shot-sequence of grey and blue
with mountains erupting across a bay
at low tide.
A man, a little left of center, is wading,
pulling a skiff over to a
anchored in the foreground.
Mist curlicues are making new clouds
in the lower valleys,
and a plane flies by, right to left,
laying a fine trail of diesel exhaust
in the sky.

The fisherman transfers equipment
from skiff to boat.
A dog, barking nearby, has a hollow voice,
suggesting house or veranda.
As the sky brightens,
curlicues lose their edges,
and mist streams pour
slow, smooth, and evanescent
over the farthest peaks.
The plane returns from the left,
banking very low,
and the fisherman ignores it,
as he works to tether skiff to boat.
He limps around the assemblage to find the anchor,
which he pulls, and tosses
into the boat.
He’s not seventeen anymore;
the skiff is his trolley, and now,
tethered to the boat,
it’s an outrigger,
or so I think as he climbs aboard the boat
and potters about arranging things.

But when he moves abaft and starts the engine,
he joins his craft as surely
as man joins horse to make centaur.
He’s a water-centaur,
as graceful and balanced as any fisherman can be,
and I guess his aging-pains fly away,
when he sails like this.
Man and boat exit right, noiseless
on the glide.

The cool-hued scene
has me wondering. Alaska?
But he’s not wearing waders,
and the jagged mountains
say, “Maybe Hawai’i?”

Absent of fisherman, plane and dog,
the scene’s so quiet it looks like a still,
a reflection moves,
a swell begins to roll in,
and a solitary waterfowl flies
low and quick along the shore.
The tide has turned,
and birds sing out:
Hawai’i for sure.

The Playa Azul video confirms,
“Kaneohe Bay Fisherman, 4:30 PM.”
The light is behind the mountains.
The view to the west, then.
You hear a faint-sounding motor before you see
a boat, a hundred meters out
moving north to south, parallel to the swell,
a water-centaur
low in the stern.

Note: Playa Azul Beautiful Beaches is a three hour ambient video featuring beaches, from Jim Wilmer's The Windows Channel company. This poem is about the video's ten-minute Kaneohe Bay sequence.

19 June 2016


Changes: After a move from NYC to the Hudson River Valley region of New York State (USA), life is less circumscribed by a city's dense population and urban landscapes. My mind and feelings are slowly infiltrating empty spaces, as if they're shoreline caves and I'm the sea.

Sand settling: Of the works that have slotted into my heart the past few years, there are: Anna Badkhen's writings, Shozo Ozaki's art, the waka of Japan's Heian period, and the courage of four people I follow on social media: Bobby Friction, S-Endz / Casey Rain, Bina Shah, and Rahul Pandita.

Action: After more than a year of not writing, words seem important again. I'll be writing brief pieces, rough haiku-ish things, in a Scrivener project. The way it goes is: write; edit; realize what crap I've written; share; re-read from others' points of view, edit more, stick with some final edited version. Embarrassment is part of the process, needed to knock down the ego that gets in the way of an open heart.

Goal: I'm aiming for some of the courage I see in those writers and artists and people I love.


  Don’t fall in love with yourself.

  Head held high, above the clouds,
  where sunlight brushes your eyelashes
  with gold, listen
  to the songs of people
  under the flute of the wind.

31 October 2015

A third of a hundred yaadein

  1. Sandalwood powder in a lidded bowl of repoussé silver   
  2. Black block-printed birds flung across red khadi cloth 
  3. Modest celebration of long knotted fringes at ends of stiff peach-colored watered-silk shawl
  4. Salt air stung nose and slidiness of seawater mixed with sand underfoot
  5. Sweet silky-soft fescue grass
  6. Pink silk damask dress
  7. Weight and slip of long white linen dress lined in white silk
  8. Toasted marshmallows ash outside and cream within
  9. Steamy velvet of sautéed just-picked eggplant / brinjal / aubergine
  10. Umami and tanginess of spareribs slow-braised in sauerkraut seasoned with black pepper and brown sugar
  11. Delicacy of fresh spinach steamed with flecks of water and sprinkle of sea salt
  12. Soft warm familiar roughness of wool tweed being sewn by hand
  13. Foal's eyelashes, soft nose, hungry teeth
  14. Walnuts, oranges, cut rock hard candy, balsam fir, snow at night
  15. Two cats, one window, one tree to climb, maple bedstead, plum-colored comforter, guitar
  16. Incised copper vases, stone hearth, Persian rug, walnut and bronze table, wrought-iron tools
  17. Onion-skin typing paper's resistance to all art mediums
  18. Painting at night
  19. Freezing all winter for vanity's sake in fuschia and persimmon double-faced wool jacket 
  20. Anonymous safety of woman wearing man's long, dark trenchcoat
  21. Snuggly comfort of boat shoes
  22. Steadiness of riding boots
  23. Lipstick-red calfskin slingbacks that weren't suitable anywhere but looked so good
  24. Summers of long cotton skirts, linen blazers and blouses, Chanel-style flats
  25. Underwater somersaults
  26. A penny a beetle, never paid 
  27. Raspberries
  28. Blackberries
  29. Fritzi's pale-mauve grape jelly
  30. Fritzi's scrambled eggs and toast
  31. Sunshower in an arch of elm trees
  32. Sculpting crusts of snow
  33. Jade and coral treasure

10 October 2015

Dream: blue dress

Lately I've been dreaming a lot, good stuff that I usually can't remember, to soundtracks of various Korean serial dramas and historical movies.

Early this morning there was a joyous, honest dream, its main character a dress, its songs the dialogues and music of the film Hwang Jin Yi.

The dress wasn't an ordinary one. It was an wedding dress in three parts: skirt, blouse, veil, made of aqua blue tulle. Now I don't like the color aqua for cloth. There's no natural cloth dye that makes the color aqua. Thus, aqua says "chemicals," to me. And I don't like tulle, either. It's a scratchy, flimsy, trite kind of weaving. But somehow that dress made me happy.

I wasn't wearing it. I was on the run. A sister was with me. I carried the dress pieces loosely, in my hands, where they floated out, flag-like. The skirt had three tiers, a small bustle, a small train. Tiers, bustle and train? It should not have worked for me. But it did. And despite its late Victorian-era features, it was quintessentially modern, of the moment, and very much about me.

It was my femininity, sculpted in light-green-blue translucent threads, lofting in the breezes I made with my run, streaming out along earth's groundwinds.

28 March 2015

Jai hum

They say the victors write our history. But everyday people make it. They say the elite tell the stories. But the rest of us are the stories. And we have voices, now.

Two movies, not fantastical, told from everyday points of view, made by individuals elite enough to have tools and dreams enough to make films... but yet not so elite, since they haven't lost their connections with the rest of us:
Another, though developed and filmed from an elite culture point of view, is as honest about our emotions as anything I've seen:
Prarambh, being about beggars, and very raw, doesn't even have a Wiki page. The Valley of Saints stars don't have Wiki pages. Wiki is how we're recording present-day history. Us, the everyday people, enabled by tools developed by the moderately-elite techno class.

That recently published paleogenetic research from Britain, about how the biggest genetic event of the Common Era was never recorded in history, how elites write about themselves but don't intermarry widely, while common people migrate slowly, persistently, don't write about themselves, and do intermarry: that, too, is about the importance of everyday lives.

Everyday people matter. Victors and elites bob up like corks thrown into water, but after time, they break down, crumble, and sink. It's the ocean of our collective selves that makes history, and stories, real, possible, persistent. Jai hum.

Humara do dil (2014, digital painting, PS), by heather quinn.
Photoshop-Wacom-Kyle Webster PS Brushes practice.
Or, Hanuman playing with our hearts' dualities.
Or, a world-map of love.
Or, that, over eons, seas and countries fracture, split, and recombine, like our hearts.
Or, a study of color, value, edges, texture and composition.
Or, an exploration of contrasting energies.
Or, calm and bounce.

01 November 2014


  • A specious woman. I'd never thought people could be termed specious. But there's one I saw today, an actress, whose every move was false. It shocked me, seeing it against the backdrop of the false world in which she played. If falseness stood out in a skilled actress, I thought, it must be a character trait...
  • Give me a rebel anyday...
  • Our arts, our highest-skilled achievements, are constructed from imperfections. Our broken natures, fought against, and finally embraced, through practice...
  • Investing time and effort in things that benefit others... oh, there are only a few people for whom this feels right for me, right now...
  • Texture. That's our ("our" meaning all of life and the universe) brokenness, close up. It's our quantum-ness, our unique potentials, viewed at a fine level of granularity. And it's essential to all the arts...

02 January 2014

Forging a blade

Watching Nova's Secrets of the Viking Sword yesterday, I was impressed with the work that goes into purifying iron ore to make crucible steel, and the effort an ironsmith puts into beating an ingot until its crystalline structure gets slippery enough to form a bar, then beating it for hours more to form a blade. Then there's a process called quenching: controlled cooling that's supposed to help steel become tougher and more flexible.

Watching the ironsmith work, listening to his concerns, I was reminded of the process of editing. Fraught, a challenge for sure, editing carries destruction as its risk. It takes courage to get past fears of cutting too much, of damaging a work's essential nature.

But without edits, how can essence become manifest, except by accident or an audience's indulgent imagination? Editing is cutting away, and reshaping, rearranging. It's suitable for art, design, relationships, and self, as much as it is for writing.

It's a long process that needs focus, sensitivity, listening and feeling. It needs practice, trust that one can hold something without crushing it, and insight and courage, to learn how to recognize and kill one's monsters as well as one's darlings.

08 September 2013

Autumn 2013

One of the craziest things I've ever done was try to take six Coursera classes at the same time. I signed up this past spring in a fit of exuberance — university level courses available online, free! — and ignorance — online and free means denatured, I thought.

The classes were a challenge. They hammered my available time, will and experience. The MOOC environment put more of the work of succeeding directly on me. At the same time my work hours almost doubled. The result? After a month I whittled participation down to four classes. A couple of weeks later, I washed right off the deck. It was an eye-opening initiation.

I had also signed up for a couple of autumn classes. These are starting this week, and I'm going to try to hang on. They're Modern & Contemporary American Poetry, offered by U. Penn and taught by Kelly Professor of English and Faculty Director of Kelly Writers House, Al Filreis; and Accountable Talk®: Conversation that Works, offered by U. Pittsburg's Jennifer Zoltners Sherer, Pam Goldman and Lauren B. Resnick.

Here are my worries: First, one class requires 5 to 9 hours a week, and the other 3 to 5, for a total of 8 to 14. From the previous experience, I'd say twice the time is needed. That will be 16 to 28 hours weekly. Second, my work hours are supposed to go back to an average 45 a week, but haven't yet. Third, in the last few weeks of the classes when the work is toughest, NaNoWriMo starts up, and I'm attempting it (for the fourth time).

But the biggest and scariest worry for juggling all this is the northern hemisphere's autumn and early-winter seasons, with their ever-shortening days. I'm paying close attention to this, because in past years I didn't and it hit me hard.

To repair my work-fatigued mind, I've been using Lumosity. At the best of times, I mix up east-west directionalities (or, as I view it in the Northeast United States, left-right orientations), and I can manipulate shapes or colors but not both at the same time. When I'm tired, both faults get worse, and I also have an emotional disconnection from numbers so profound that they lose their hard values and turn expressive and amorphous — rather like metaphors — for me. Lumosity has a few games that fight these problems and help keep my mind in trim. The games have also uncovered other fatigue-related things, like unsynchronized anticipation of patterns, which are interesting — I was not aware of these.

To quiet my mind and increase stamina, I chant Om Gam Ganapataye Namaha, and meditate, I've been reading more, and listening to music and movies less, and when I work or read, I assume partial yoga poses sometimes.

The repair of the partially-slid hill and damaged buildings just to the east of where I live is done, and the neighborhood is somber — disaster can happen in a moment, even in old NYC nabes! — and quiet. That's a big improvement over the construction noise of the past few months.

With particular awareness, I'm tapping into my known Scandinavian heritage, and a guessed-at, older, mountainous and partly nomadic one, to learn better ways to deal with this season. We don't have Polar Nights in the Northeast United States. But there is a pervading sense of mourning and loss, as darkness increases and cold advances from the north.

Most autumn and winter holidays emphasize the importance of light. Their traditions of warm colors, and associations with fire, candles, twinkling lights and such, as well as of physical warmth and bountiful foods, are antidotes to darkness, and the dangers of cold weather. But participating in the holidays takes time, and what if you don't have enough and you need to wing it, like I will? Can I make enough warm feelings happen?

I read something last year on the importance of lighting for Scandinavians, as they get their homes ready for short days. Unfortunately I didn't bookmark the article. But this year I found something called How to Survive the Dark Winters at MyLittleNorway.com, a site run by two bloggers, L-Jay and Moose, who love to share about Norway. L-Jay wrote How to Survive... and she's provided lots of practical advice.

various lamps, image via Wikipedia
Feeling rather like a series of gentle slaps, L-Jay's wake-up points are ones we usually wouldn't think of — take cod liver oil to get enough vitamins A, D and E; recognize that SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder, a darkness-triggered seasonal depression that can be lethal) exists and be proactive fighting it; stay active and upbeat; intentionally tap into the spirit of holidays; and do lots about using or finding light in unexpected ways. For example, L-Jay writes, "Window lamps are in every house. In the dark season Norwegians place hanging lamps in the windows to mimic the sun." Mimic the sun! Who knew!!

Last year I got some buffet lamps. With their long columns and narrow-diameter shades, they can be clustered together, or placed in tight spaces, to make soft pools of light at standing-eye-level. They made a big difference in my place. I'll be looking at window lamps, lantern-like candleholders, and such, for this year.

Writing a piece like this is a way of sharing with you all what's up with me. But, perhaps more, it's also a way of me putting myself on notice that trouble is coming and I need to do something about it. I feel as if my naked toes are curled over the lip of a precipice, and the valley and river I want to get to are far below. That I'm here because I want to be doesn't make it feel easier or less tense.

Wish me luck, if you care to. I won't be around social media much, because it takes too much time. But I will be around in spirit, and you will all be in my heart. Blessings to all.

12 August 2013

The Edit

It started when I shared my last week's short story with my son. He said it was overwritten. After he kindly highlighted the overwritten parts for me, it was clear that he was right.

A dose of objectivity from a trusted source is always refreshing. In this case, it was revolutionary. My son uncovered a wider-than-expected gap between what I want to say, and how I say it. He showed me there's more work to do, if I'm to learn to edit well.

In any medium, edits are a tool or element of process. As an artist, I build up, then take away, doing as much work with a gum eraser as with a piece of charcoal. The taking away is an editing process, and it's always been more important to my art than any other aspect of it.

In writing, I had edits on an equal footing with inspiration, time management, technique, story structure and voice. Now I've learned that edits are my primary tool there, too. I also see just how much the emotional connection to one's work needs to be broken when one edits - otherwise, one seduces oneself into keeping dross.

I'm not upset by this discovery. I'm thrilled. A facing-off with a previously-unrealized fact is a moment on a long journey, it's movement, it's real, it affirms the work I'm trying to learn to do.

A cascade of events followed that took me to a new place, a country almost, where there are plenty of things to say, no lack of courage to say them - and edits rule.

In that place, I found: a New York Times article by Vanessa M. Gezari, titled "How to Read Afghanistan," a second New Yorker Magazine article by Richard Brody on the Godfather movies, titled "'The Godfather' and Style," a photograph by Hendrik Kerstens of his daughter wearing a plastic shopping bag on her head, lit and composed like a Dutch Old Master painting, further readings from William Least Heat-Moon's "Blue Highways," especially his descriptions of the Palouse region of America, excerpts from Carl Jung's autobiography "Memories, Dreams, Reflections," Arthur Szyk illustrations for Andersen's fairytales, and finding that all of Andersen's stories are now available online, and, finally, a series of movies that are either modern fairy-tales, or are allegorical: Tangled, The Rise of the Guardians, Paheli, Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi, Jab We Met, and Harakiri (Masaki Kobayashi's version).

From the Gezari article:

"...Afghanistan is a predominantly oral culture, where stories may be read aloud once, then memorized, told and retold, changing slightly or significantly with each telling. The door between literature and everyday language has long been ajar; even in casual exchanges, Afghans rely on allegory, metaphor, parables and jokes to convey meaning. / Such indirection is common in violent and repressive societies, but after more than 30 years of war, the Afghan penchant for elegant and oblique expression is particularly well honed. Stories give the teller power over the chaos that surrounds him. They are also a kind of code. Knowing how to read them separates Afghans from the people known in Dari as haraji, outsiders — namely, everyone else..."

From the second Brody article:

"...golden-age Hollywood style essentially depends on collectively acknowledged codes—on repression, omission, even censorship. The very nature of style is irony: a secret public confession of saying what one isn’t saying, of showing what one isn’t showing, of confiding publicly in sympathizers, and assuming that those who don’t see the style are complicit in the code of silence at which style is a sly wink. Style is a mark of savvy that creates its own secret inner circle, a dispersed and democratic aristocracy of taste. (Perhaps the ultimate evidence can be found in the films of Howard Hawks, whose apparent clarity of manner, which mimes transparency, is as severely artificial as the prose of Ernest Hemingway..."

This soup of seemingly unrelated items has a point of unification: we tell stories to understand who we are and to tell others of ourselves, and in doing so, we make personal myths, these myths are our most lasting and valuable artifacts, and edits are integral to story-telling and myth-making.

I'm full of insights that are fresh, to me. Like a someone who's just quit smoking, I want everyone to see through my eyes. But I recognize the tunnel vision that afflicts me for now, and how strange this state of mind will come to seem in a week or two.


What I've learned is so valuable to me that I made a Fairytales, Myths and More Pinterest board, with links to all of the above, as a memory aid.

And I've started adding more old poems to a Scrivener project in which I hope to revise the poems into a body of work. I've worked on the project off and on, but had not been feeling too confident that I'd be able to do what I wanted.

And I've come to a fresh awareness of the importance of stories, whether written, told, acted, or made into art, and that good edits are the making of any strong story, poem, piece of art.

Finally: from the bottom of my heart, I affirm my appreciation for the truth-tellers amongst us - the silent ones, the outliers and the clowns - who pay a price for that, as they keep us closer to what's real.

28 June 2013

Early summer education, 28 June 2013

No Coursera classwork has been done for a week now... for twelve days in a row, I've worked long, long hours.  

Negro Attacked by a Jaguar,
Henri Rousseau,
oil on canvas, 1910
I was thinking about H. Rousseau again, and the idea that his style is based on him seeing Kashmiri papier-mâché boxes, the kind decorated with naqashi painting.

His mature palette (his colors) and style are unique in Western painting. The rhythms in his work, and the people, animals and settings he portrayed - where did they come from?

He lived in Paris, and never traveled to lands with jungles.

Yes, he sometimes went to zoos or botanical gardens.

But I don't think that accounts for his warm-toned, intense colors...

Henri Rousseau,
Or how he painted vegetation outlined in lighter hues, and silhouetted against luminous skies.

Or how he built up dense scenes from layers of simple shapes.

Or his smooth brushwork, an unusual technique at the time.

Kashmiri papier-mâché box
However, consider:

He was a tax collector. He handled goods that came in to Paris. To collect the taxes, he would have viewed goods and assessed their values. Over the years, then, how could he have avoided seeing hundreds, and maybe thousands, of naqashi-decorated Kashmiri papier-mâché boxes?

The boxes were very popular and the French were importing them like crazy, in those days.

Here are two close-ups of naqashi work. See what you think:

close-up of naqashi painting
on an antique Kashmiri papier-mâché box 
close-up of naqashi painting
on a Kashmiri papier-mâché box

I have no idea if Rousseau was actually influenced by Kashmiri painting.

But I react to Rousseau's work the same way I do to Kashmiri design and painting: I hunger to touch it, and to see it every day, a visceral reaction I don't feel for other kinds of art.

So I'd love it if it's shown that Rousseau saw those gorgeous boxes, and worked out how to paint that way, and dreamed fables and scenes set in Kashmir, and did his best to translate his dream-stories, with his hands, into African-themed pictures, to make something unique.


I've kicked some of the work pressures away. Emergencies are temporarily under control. 

I won't be able to catch up any of the classes in full. But I will be able to go back to watching lectures & reading.

May the God of Work Emergencies take a vac for a few weeks now.

19 June 2013

Early summer education, 19 June 2013


A twelve-hour workday on Monday, and an eleven-hour workday yesterday, ensured I did nothing for classes, and I'm honestly in an overwork daze. Today is likely to be an eleven hour day, as well..

Blessings to me for not giving up on the classes. 

When it's time to rest, I lie on my bed, Kindle beside me, think about picking it up, then sleep. When I wake, I'm so disconnected from my personal life, I kinda don't see the Kindle is still there. I go into a meditation of sorts, something to get my internal rhythms soft and calm, then allow my awareness of the work ahead of me to rise (still feeling calm), then think about things like shower, breakfast... and then it's to work right away. If I can get through this week and accomplish my work goals, the next week should be lighter, work-wise. Here's to that. 

To show just how scrambled my brain gets with too much work, I wrote "did I nothing" above, when I meant "I did nothing." All spelled correctly. But in the wrong order. It took six hours away from the writing before my mind could see it.

16 June 2013

Early summer education, 16 June 2013


Relationships fiction:As I didn't finish Manon Lescaut in time to complete a required analytical essay, I won't earn a certificate of completion for the class. But the lectures and readings are wonderful, so I'll continue with the class. I did five peer reviews for the previous week's writing assignment.

Behind the scenes in archaeology: Again, I did nothing here really. Looking at the list of lectures, and the tweets the class is doing, it's clear they're discussing things I'm really interested in, but I don't have time, yet, to give to this class.

Art concepts and techniques: I watched the lectures, and conceptualized an art piece for the week's assignment, but didn't have time to make the piece.

Fantasy, science fiction and the mind: I still have two days to finish the two Alice's, which are this week's reading, and which I haven't yet started on.

Each of these classes is so interesting that I don't want to un-enroll from any of them. I overbooked my time. My time is overbooked even without classes. I'll be reading, and fall asleep without being aware of it, then wake up forty minutes or three hours or whatever time later, having lost that time for good, work-wise, but also having gained it, health-wise. 

This is a purely voluntary effort, and it's mostly free. So I shouldn't feel bad if I don't complete any of the classes. There's so much of value in each, I won't turn my back on them.

Though I didn't have time to, I roughed out the beginning of a short story on Friday, and revised and expanded it a little yesterday. 

As I've never been able to get very far writing short stories (the form is so condensed!), I put it down to the deeper experiences of understanding and analysis I've been exposed to in the two weeks of classes so far that I was able to do this. 

Since my goal with the classes isn't to earn a degree, but rather to improve my understanding of, and skills in, whatever I'm learning about, the classes have been a success so far, despite my meager official participation in them.

Writing this blog is helping me compose faster. I should post more often, to magnify the effect. Also, maybe I can shift my voice to a more casual one. For about a year, I've been writing too formally, as if I haven't been introduced to my "audience."

11 June 2013

Early summer education, 11 June 2013


Yesterday, another out-of-the-blue happening: my laptop's sound card got confused, and blasted some bad data onto the hard drive. It took four hours out of my day to recover from the problem.

The result: the essay I'd expected to submit for one class today will not be submitted. I wrote about a third of it, and need three more hours to finish. And I don't have the time. 

However: I made big efforts for three of the four classes. Of the four classes, I couldn't complete the work for two, and have not done any work at all for one. But I've been adaptable, and have not been thrown off track.

Once again, writing about the imperfections of this effort takes the sting away. I end this brief blog un-guilted and at ease, which sets me up to continue.

09 June 2013

Early summer education, 9 June 2013


The wall collapse emergency settled down last night (see 8 June), though there were still times when posses of fire engines came roaring through the neighborhood, and sometimes the news helicopters returned.. I was able to do classwork yesterday afternoon and evening. After a few hours sleep, work continued through the night into today's early morning.

Fantasy, science fiction and the mind: I need to finish Grimm's Fairy Tales, so I can write an essay due Tuesday. That might seem an easy thing, but I need to take notes as I read, I prefer to read in the dark (Kindle), and sometimes I'm so tired I can't get the cap off my pen.

For these classes, I got a new Cross gel pen, a deep purple one with a cap that's too tight on the writing end and falls off the non-writing end, plus Moleskine notebooks in three sizes - two quite large, and three each of two smaller sizes. Six of them are the Kraftpaper cover ones, which I love because I don't feel bad when I need to bend them back on themselves. I keep the small Moleskines together with a soft hair elastic, and clip the pen on the cover of the top one in the stack. I'm so organized. This is how it should have been for school and college. The difference between then and now is that no one is MAKING me take Coursera classes. Big yes for that.

Art concepts and techniques: I finished the lectures and took the week's quiz. I still need to make a piece of art in accordance with the class's "Fantastic art" guidelines, scan or photograph the work (in full and in closeup), and submit the resulting images. I have till 7 tonight to finish. Update: I fell asleep twice while reading for other classes, and don't have enough time left today to do the art.

* * *

cover of Abbé Prévost's
Manon Lescaut
The other two classes I'm taking are relationships fiction and behind the scenes in archaeology.

Relationships fiction: I've done the first week's required work, which was lightweight intro stuff. The professor running the class gives lectures so aware and humane, he brought eyes to my eyes. I didn't expect to run into a mind and heart like this in a Coursera class.

Now, on to reading Manon Lescaut in full.

Behind the scenes in archaeology: I haven't done anything for this class. Though it seems like fun, this class also has the least importance for me, given my current focus. Yet, given the novels I'm trying to write, it may turn out to be more important than I'm allowing it to be right now. So I'm going to try to keep on track with it.

* * *

Writing this blog is good. I haven't blogged for a while, and my casual writing technique has kind of slid away. Most of the time I use to compose these posts is spent simplifying and clarifying the story. Uh oh, fire engines again.

Besides practicing simpler writing, blogging makes my classwork more visible to me, which has the strange effect of making me worry less. I guess by writing down what I've done, I don't care quite as much about the things I haven't done.

I hope writing these blogs will push me to doing class essays and peer reviews faster - right now, I'm taking too much time to do them. I'll report back about this in a few weeks.

I'm referring to classes by description, rather than their official titles. I don't like bowing to officialdom. Professors can be awfully officialdom-ish. This is one way I keep what's mine mine. So is calling the courses "classes,"  - the official term at Coursera is "courses." Ya didn't know I was that rebellious, did you? I didn't either, till now. 

08 June 2013

Early summer education, 8 June 2013


I'm taking four Coursera classes. The two that seem most important are: fantasy, science fiction and the mind; and art concepts and techniques.

Already the classes are paying off, with new knowledge about the class subjects, and better understanding of myself.

frontispiece of first volume
of Grimms' Kinder- und
Hausmärchen (1812)
Listening to fantasy/science fiction class lectures, then doing the first week's readings (Grimm's Fairy Tales), has helped me understand that I see life primarily through a lens of personal and social danger. These are common themes for fantasy and science fiction.

Childhood encounters with abandonment, lack of nourishment and cruelty helped bring fairy tales to life for me. Fairy tales created a formal framework for the experiences, lending me a sense of protection and dignity, through knowing that such dangers are not invisible to everyone. They also gave me a way to see things more objectively. (I don't have enough distance from this, to say more right now.)

This week, the art concepts and techniques class is focusing on Fantastic artists, coincidentally, with lectures on nine such artists. The first two are Henri Rousseau and Marc Chagall.

Listening to the discussion of how Rousseau applied paint, I suddenly realized that Rousseau's mature style and techniques may have been influenced by the naqashi work used to decorate Kashmiri papier-mâché boxes with scenes of animals and nature.

Rousseau almost certainly would have encountered naqashi work firsthand, because, during Rousseau's lifetime, Kashmiri shawls were highly popular in France.

Kashmiri artists embellishing
papier-mâché objects with naqashi.
uncredited photo, c 1890.
The trade was important to both countries. The French term "papier-mâché" is used in Kashmir even today.

Imported Kashmiri shawls were packed in naqashi-embellished papier-mâché boxes. And the naqashi-decorated papier-mâché boxes became popular collectibles in their own right in France.

Kashmiri papier-mâché boxes,
decorated with naqashi work

I see lots of similarity between naqashi work and Rousseau's technique and style - things like: distinct form edges, enameled colors, layered brushwork, flattened perspective, smoothly-modeled textures, and the subject matter: stories of people, animals and nature.

I've always loved Chagall's work for its fantastical story-telling style. In this week's lecture on Chagall, I learned he used elements from Cubism.

Jiyong Lee glass sculpture
"Green & Yellow Cuboid Segmentation"
I was completely unaware of his connection with Cubism.

I also didn't realize that I have a sensitivity to Cubism itself. Just last month, I pinned an image of a glass sculpture by Jiyong Lee, on Pinterest.

It was only after watching the Chagall lecture that I realized that the sculpture uses Cubist structures called "interpenetrating planes."

And that is exactly what moved me most about it.

Marc Chagall's
"The Circus Horse"
Chagall's edges are usually curved and soft-textured, rather than linear and distinct. Yet his planar structures are often Cubist.

In fact, Chagal uses Cubist-style interpenetrating planes (new term for me) throughout his work.

Sometimes these structures are distinct, sometimes they're implied. But they're very common in Chagall. I think they're one of the most distinctive identifying features of his work.

* * *

It's a pattern in my life that whenever I start work that involves a heavy time commitment, and the work is meant specifically to benefit me, something strange happens. It's always something that could not have been predicted, something "out of the blue."

This week, with four classes active, I had my fingers crossed. There was more work on the job than usual. Early heat and, later, heavy rains, were uncomfortable. Around midnight last night, tired almost to the point of muteness, I let go of everything I was trying to accomplish and went to sleep. 

aerial view of collapsed
retaining wall. photo:
Seth Gottfried,
New York Post.
I woke at 3:45 am. Refreshed, I started watching art lectures. Loud whooshes of sound, like a sudden heavy downpour, started up. I was surprised. I thought it had already stopped raining. I listened, but when the noise stopped after a minute, I went back to watching the lectures, then put them on hold in order to write the Rousseau part of this post. A few minutes later, I heard the sound of a fire engine approaching, then stopping on the street outside the courtyard. Then more came.

It turned out the whooshing sounds had come from the collapse of a nearby retaining wall. No one was hurt. Part of a building, east and up the hill from where I live, was damaged - some of its fire escapes were pulled off. Right now, engineers think the wall was undermined by the rain from tropical storm Andrea. 

5:30 am.
uncredited photo:
There's been lots of activity and noise from firemen, police, onlookers, residents who were asked to leave the damaged building, news teams, superintendents, handyman, neighbors, community service volunteers, and news helicopters.

Everyone in this building is worried that we may be asked to evacuate, if engineers discover that whatever caused the collapse is deeper than they think. Everyone responding to the collapse has assured us that the building is safe, electric and gas and phones are OK, and so on. Which is good, if time proves it's true. I'm hoping it's true. The feeling from emergency people on the street is upbeat.

But it hasn't been a wonderful morning for catching up with classwork. And as if I needed more of the same, it's also one more proof for my childish sense that the world is a dangerous place.

30 September 2012

OctoberQuest 2012

OctoberQuest 2012. What is it? An open-to-anyone, DIY, photo-essay project based on the artistic essence of haiga. 

What's it for? To take a short journey in search of your vision of the world. You can do it just as you are, and have fun, and feel proud at the end of it. It has a little challenge and structure built in, to provide a matrix for your creative development.

"Erm.... w
hat's haiga, anyway?" I hear you say. Traditionally haiga is a painting and a haiku on the same piece of paper or canvas. For this non-traditional project, it's a photo plus a short writing in any style.

Why is haiga's essence important for this project? 
 A haiga has a reflective feel when the subject is nature, and an ironic or funny feel when the subject is people. A haiga makes a real connection between image and words, and it does it simply, subtly.

By bringing in haiga's essence, and by planning to do project activities on certain days throughout October, the project will bring out the best of your creative nature - even if you're not sure you're really creative (trust me - if you've read this far, you are).

If you're still on board, here's what's involved:
  • Take 1 photo every weekday from October 1 through October 26.
  • Every weekend in October, upload to a private place, and add captions, plus poems or prose, to the pics.
  • Finalize everything during the last three days of October
  • On November 1, share your finished album with others.

Still wanna do it? Here's how...


  1. Preparation - on October 1, 2012:
    • Make an album in Google+ Photos:
      • Use the UPLOAD NEW PHOTOS feature to upload an old photo.
      • Call the album OctoberQuest2012.
      • By default the album will be private. Leave it that way for now.
      • Practice uploading an additional old photo or two, adding them to the newly-existing album OctoberQuest2012.
      • Once you've got the hang of uploading to the new album, delete the old photos from it.
    • If you don't have a Google account, or don't want to use Google+, try a Blogger, WordPress or other private blog, or a Pinterest board. Caveats:
      • If you want to use a private blog, you may find you'll tend to write more because of the blog format - consider how much time you're willing to give to this project.
      • You cannot make a Pinterest board private, and there is a tight restriction on the length of Pinterest captions - so unless you're comfortable working under the public eye and you're economical with words, I don't recommend Pinterest for this project.
  2. During the week - from October 1 through October 26, take at least 1 photo every weekday.
  3. On the weekends - Oct 6-7, Oct 13-14, Oct 20-21 and Oct 27-28:
    • Upload a photo for each weekday into existing album OctoberQuest2012   
    • Optional: use PhotoShop or other graphics app to resize and/or style a copy of the photo before uploading.
    • Caption each photo with location, and if you want, subject, time and weather.
    • Write something short to go with each photo - I recommend using haiku, senryū or haibun forms, which are short by design. (If you're not sure what these are, check the Wiki links at the bottom of this post.) But you can use any form. Just think about the connection between image and words. Be simple, casual, easy. Be funny, too, if it works. Above all, remember what made you take the pic, and try to put that feeling into words. 
    • Any or all of this can be done on weekdays, if you prefer.
  4. Finalizing - on the three last days of the month - Monday through Wednesday, Oct 29-31 - review captions and writing, and make any final changes.
  5. Finishing - on Thursday, November 1, change the Share status of your OctoberQuest 2012 album or blog to from Private to Public, and share it via FaceBook, Google+ and/or Twitter - if you have accounts for all three, I recommend sharing on all three.
American gray squirrel
American Gray Squirrel
Queens, NY
Oct 2010, rainy afternoon

Tweeting Your WIP and Finished Work:

Still game, and on Twitter, too? Here are some hashtags you can use: #octoberquest2012 #photography #amwriting

Wikipedia References:

Haikai - the basic ancient form of Japanese poetry from which all present-day haiku-related arts evolved:

Haiku - brief poems, usually three lines long, usually about nature, with 17 on (sound groupings something like syllables), one cutting word, and one season word: 

Senryū - like haiku, but about people, not nature; often funny; no cutting word, and usually no season word:

Haibun - haiku or senryū plus prose:

Haiga - a painting plus a haiku - the OctoberQuest 2012 project is about creating a photo-illustrated haiga album:

Questions? Comments? Fire away.

22 July 2012

Prepping for NaNoWriMo 2012

This November, I will do NaNoWriMo 2012. It will be NaNoWriMo try three for me.

November is a month of busyness, and, in the Northern hemisphere, a month of change, with a sun that's more angular and far away, and winds that flow down from the Arctic Circle, bringing cold, darkness, high clear skies and dramatic storms. Annual plants, tender plants, die. Outside colors fade. The rattling of branches makes more noise than birdsong – those winds are strong, and many birds have flown south.

In November, we bring missing colors and light and warmth inside. The melancholic outdoors makes a high contrast with the new richness of indoors. The month's quiet challenges of festival preparations – secular and religious – and family reconnections lend both tension and energy to associated responsibilities. November engages me. It's one of my favorite months.

Yet because of all this, November's not a good month to take on a marathon writing project. In my two past NaNoWriMo attempts, my efforts would go dead by November 10th, leaving me in a down state suffused with sensations of embarrassment and failure. And that is a less-than-optimal mood for meeting November's challenges. So why would I try again? Actually, until yesterday, I sure wasn't thinking of doing NaNoWriMo 2012.

But then I was lucky enough to read a Livia Blackburne retweet of a Rachel Aaron tweet pointing to a Rachel Aaron post on the differences between plot and story. That post mentioned another post on Aaron's 5-step approach to planning a novel. And that planning post included an enthusiastic recommendation for an app designed to support creative writing. The app is called Scrivener, and therein lies my story today.

I downloaded the app last night. Went through the slightly-confusing registration and activation process. Started in on the interactive tutorial. Then – predictably for me – I cut over to my own way of doing things, starting my own project, a re-do of the fantasy novel I've been working on.

I started by putting in the series title (the book will be one of a three-book series), and a few of the characters. I put in a note about the book's major McGuffin, and, per Rachel Aaron's 5-step novel planning advice, a note about the ending. Then I left it alone till this morning, as I was mentally full-up with thoughts of in-depth planning before writing, a new concept for me to wrestle with in real time.

This morning I pasted in completed scenes and chapters from last year's draft of the book. I added in more of the characters, and some of the place settings. And I attached character sketch sheet templates to the character notes. And lo and behold, Scrivener showed me what it's good for.

Take character development, for example. You know how you have an idea of a character? And the character has a name, an age, a history, a personality, an appearance, and other dimensions? And you know how you have to keep that character well-defined, but not mummified – alive in the story, consistent yet changeable? And you know how you have to do that for multiple characters? And how each layer of each character is intertwined with the story and with other characters, not to mention settings, and conflicts, and action and so on? Well, Scrivener supports that complicated structure. And it does it simply and intuitively.

On the other hand, you know when you want to get away from structure and just write? Scrivener lets you do that, too, with no destruction of the structures you've created.

And it formats your draft in the standard accepted style, and it counts words for the book, and for sections, such as chapters, and it estimates how many pages the work would be if printed as a hard-cover book or a paperback. Moreover, it can be used for screenplays, and non-fiction work as well. Whew! And wow!

So, hey! I bless Livia and Rachel for their wise approach to writing. Their generous sharing of the reality  –  not the idea, guys  the reality that planning before actually writing is how to do it, is going to make a huge difference for my attempts to write a three-book fiction series. Thanks to them, and that reality, and to how Scrivener supports an organized approach to creative writing, I'm going to give NaNoWriMo another try this coming November. Because I realized today that I get stuck after ten days because I don't know how to push the story forward, so I edit what I've written (stupid tactic when doing a writing marathon) and stress about the story and end up mired in confusion.

Having spent a couple of hours on planning so far, it's a revelation to me that the planning takes so much work, so much time. Here I am in mid-July, preparing to write in November, when I never ever thought I'd be anything other than a "pantster" when it came to writing. Experience, which is, perhaps, just a simple word that really means humiliation+persistence+openness to changing tacks (sailing term), wins every time.

When I realized in full force how complicated a novel's structure is, I also had to acknowledge that my pantster approach to writing fiction has been simply shallow, lazy and uncommitted. I learned long ago that editing is crucial to all good writing, even poetry. But until now, I had not learned that the structure of a novel is critically important to its success.

What I'm gearing up for is to get as much planning done as possible before November. Review my writing from last year, fix it a little, then throw it out. Then, for NaNoWriMo 2012, start with the planning portion only, and write completely fresh work. Yay! Is how I feel this morning. So yay that I took three hours away from other stuff to write this, in case anyone else could benefit from what I've learned.


Livia Blackburne is a neuroscientist, and a published fantasy and YA novelist.
Livia Blackburne on Twitter
Livia Blackburne's writing blog – fresh takes on process, creativity, and how the mind works

Rachel Aaron is a published fantasy novelist.
Rachel Aaron on Twitter
Rachel Aaron's writing blog – good tips, with a special focus on writing efficiency and logistics
Rachel Aaron's website – free chapters of selected books, plus more

Scrivener - an app that supports the organizational, formatting and writing process needs for complex works such as novels, screenplays, and long-form stories and non-fiction pieces.

NaNoWriMo - NaNoWriMo means National Novel Writing Month. It has evolved into an international event, a writing marathon in which participants attempt to finish at least 50,000 words of a novel or non-fiction work, in first-draft form, in the month of November. One is allowed to plan the work before November, but not actually write any of it until NaNoWriMo officially starts.

14 March 2012

Story nodes

  • He was proud and secretive, and died early therefore. Pride kept his head too high. Secrecy shrouded the corrections that realities bring to the fantastical mind. He tripped, thought he was OK, and found, too late, that he was wrong.  (viz. HL)
  • In a running stream, a pool: transparent, reflecting blue and green. A woman, invisible, immerses herself. From a heart fall droplets of blood. Currents swirl and lift the cooling droplets, carrying them a little way off, where they fall in heaps. There they lie now, corruscating gems.
  • Baptized, by wind.