Monday, July 30, 2012

Not Feeling Like It, But Doing It Anyway

Whatever "it" may be.

There's a lot of sentiment and tribal-level excuses of mediocrity that float around as "memes," you know, those viral posters and quote sayings you find everywhere on the internet, especially on social media like FaceBook. Mostly they go about as deep as they go wide.

In an interview with poet William Bronk, the question is inevitably asked, "How do you work?" It's a question everyone always wants to know the answer to, although the answer almost always remains mysterious. The creative process is more like green growing things than engineering, after all: there are always elements of unpredictability and unknowing.

Interviewer: How much do you revise?

William Bronk:
I revise very little. And the revisions are not really re-writings at all. In most workshops and creative writing classes you’re advised to re-write and re-write. If the poem isn’t there there’s no point in trying to write it. And if the poem is there, leave it alone. Very frequently I think that I’m improving something. I make the improvements and then the next day realize that it was right the first time. Leave it alone.

Awhile ago, I objected to a poet telling a classroom workshop that it takes maybe sixty drafts to complete a poem. I still think that's the most wrongheaded, stupidest piece of writing advice ever given to a classroom of poets. William Bronk would very likely agree with me. Based on what he says here, that is, which closely echoes my own experience and practice.

I just returned home from a three-week roadtrip, and, following the usual couple of days of resting after the last push of driving, find myself ready to re-engage and re-assess. This roadtrip I didn't write as much as I usually do. I barely wrote at all in the journal. I wrote a few song lyrics, one finished one plus several fragments. I wrote bits and pieces of reflective writing and posted them on FaceBook.

(Yes, I've finally joined FaceBook. I resisted for years, but then joined a couple of months ago. My rationale is that I am basically using it as a tool of self-marketing for the music composition and photography businesses. It's actually part of my business plan. Nonetheless, you won't catch me posting what I'm having for dinner, or with who, unless it's related to arts business. I do find FB convenient for short-form blogging, quick and easy and usually only a couple of paragraphs. And yes, I do admit its usefulness for connecting with people I'm working with on various current projects.)

The first part of the trip was all about going to the quadrennial GALA Festival, and both listening to lots of choral music and featuring the premiere at GALA of my own piece Heartlands. I'm pleased to say that all went very well. There were a few minor logistical problems involving my personal post-surgery disabilities, but overall it was a fantastic, positive experience. One or two concerts blew me away. And my own concert was all I'd hoped for, and more. (More on all that as I have time to integrate and write about it.)

The latter part of the roadtrip, I mostly focused on making video and photographs. Frankly. after the run-up to the concert premieres of Heartlands, and GALA, I was mentally drained, emotionally burned out, physically exhausted, spiritually tired, I was coming down from months of stress, and pretty blank some days. There was also grieving involved, as one of my best friends, Erick Jonasson, died very suddenly, at too young an age, and for no really good reason. We, his friends, are all reeling from that. All of this colored the last part of the roadtrip, and even though I captured some very good video and photography (I believe) during the rest of the roadtrip, I was often either blank or overly-emotional, and just wanted to get home. I even cut short some of my planned stops in National Parks, as they were just too much to take on, and I needed to get home. The last two full days of long drives were no more than a blur, to be endured, and I wrote very little. Erick was the person who once pointed out to me that I do some of my best thinking, and writing, on these roadtrips out into the West; and that remains true. Yet the end of this trip consisted of coming down from the incredible stresses and joys and excitements and terrors of preceding months, and also reeling from Erick's passing over. So I wasn't as fruitful as usual while on the road. I was ready to be home, this time.

It doesn't matter. Here I am, getting back on that horse, doing things this week because they must be done, not because I want to do them. Actually, I do want to do things. I do want to stay busy. I know that keeping busy making art is one of my best ways to cope, as well as to process and integrate events. Things are changing in my life, and I have a business plan, and I still have a lot of Things To Do. (Patience, patience.)

But it also doesn't matter that this roadtrip wasn't a "vacation." It was never intended to be one. Yes, I did seek out and find some recharging solitary time out in the desert silence. Yes, I did have a successful concert at GALA. Yes, I did bring home new video footage and many new photographs. All of these are on the level of a "working vacation." Part of the overall business plan. So I wasn't just taking a vacation, and I had never planned to.

What this was, and this was only intensified after GALA, was pilgrimage. My roadtrips tend to be pilgrimages much more than vacations. I'm not even sure that I can take a vacation, except in small moments here and there. I recall that John D. McDonald had his character Travis McGee state that he intended to retire as frequently as possible. I get my vacations on those moments when I stop and do nothing. They last minutes or hours, and like the Zen masters encourage us to do, that's all that I am doing in those moments. It's active, not passive. I am for those moments actively doing nothing. And that is my vacation recharge. Then I get back in the saddle and ride on, metaphorically and often literally.

I have more to integrate, and write about, regarding this most recent roadtrip. And about GALA. And about Erick—who I hear laughing at me, somewhere there from the Summerlands. I hear him laughing at me because of some of the work he has now left me to do. (Gee, thanks.) I am not grudging, I am willing. It's all part of the new fabric.

And I realize: some fundamental things in my life are in the process of changing, or already have. My second night home I dreamed of the desert, of lightning and rain, and of the gods and heroes that ride the rainbow. Whatever journey begins now, here and now, for once I feel little fear but mostly anticipation.

Labels: , , , , ,

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Almost an Ars Poetica

Almost an Ars Poetica

I don't have to eat
this breakfast silence
although I should
lest I go scattering
through another day

I want to live
sunlight on belly
brass in bold beds
although some days it's
awkward hard

It's not that
suffering leads to art,
that common myth
among non-artists,
it's that art is your best
response to life, a way to cope,
to get at the marrow,
to want to go on living.

We don't suffer for our art,
it is our art that gives solace
to our suffering. We cope as we can.
And making art is still
our best revenge.

Labels: , ,

Friday, July 20, 2012

Taos, NM, in Infrared

Photographs of St. Francis of Assisi church in Rancho de Taos, NM, July 2012

and of a ruined plaza building near the church:

Labels: , , ,

John Cage Centenary

John Cage's 100 birthday will be in September 2012. I intend to celebrate with a marathon listening session, just letting his music and text-sound poetry and spoken word recordings play in my studio and house for several days. To get ready, here's some required listening:

John Cage works available at UbuWeb

John Cage & Morton Feldman: Radio Happenings
Two composers sit down in 1966-67 to talk about music, art, life, politics, and many other topics, providing us genuine insight into their unique creative processes, and exemplifying how making art is itself a joy.

And some required reading/listening:


Diary: How To Improve the World (You Will Only Make Matters Worse)

An essay about Cage's piece 4'33"

The official John Cage website and blog.

Labels: , , , ,

Thursday, July 05, 2012

Sun & Moon & Fireworks

Wednesday, July 04, 2012


May the road rise up to meet you.
May the wind always be at your back.

Labels: , ,