Urban Legend Anonymous Patron of the Arts

copy and use rights granted

Not surprisingly, I came to discover that there is no one by that name with a PO box in that small Blue Ridge mountain town whose name and zipcode appeared on the envelope.

The namesake of the purported sender was never seen again, nor the cool million he left the plane with, though some reports say some of it was found in an eroded riverbank decades later.

So the crisp, uncirculated 20s in the envelope might have been part of that loot, I thought, as I read the two sides of the interior of the card last week.

No mention was made of books or note cards to purchase–just 10 bills tucked in, with the final explanation that he and his wife also had disagreements about the thermostat–as in Solomon’s Sheets in Slow Road Home:

“Go buy yourself some new sheets.”

So thank you very much, Mr. Cooper, I am not surprised that, with your suitcase full of money you could go anywhere in the world, but you ended up just there, in that peaceful, rural mountain hideout.

That you are a supporter of starving artists I think speaks well for your sensibilities, in spite of your law-breaking, authority-flaunting past.

And let me just offer, lest I am tempted to resort to Google Ads, that anyone else who wants to sustain a wordsmith by underwriting the yearly subscription  for sundry app services and software purchases towards book #3, crisp bills are accepted. Also paypal transfers to my regular email you probably already have. Heck, I’m a new believer in the Good Fairy!

PS: the bills, crisp and never-before-used, were issued in 2009, and so NOT a part of the missing fortune from the 1970s that parachuted into obscurity.

PSS: I truly am awed and speechless by your gift, Mr. Cooper, and will be accountable to use it wisely towards whatever words I left to share that are worth the paper they are printed on. No promises, but I might just have enough brain cells left to get the job done. And those old hybrid sheets have, just now matter of fact, come apart at the seams.

Reaching Out: The Sound of Fingernails on a Chalkboard

It has not been all that long ago that I noted the phrase for the first time. What did she just say? And once having heard it, it pops up constantly at every turn. And it is driving me crazy(er).

It sounded so precious and pretentious even then. Now that I can’t go an hour without hearing it on the street or radio or reading it on the web, I’m ready to reach out and choke the next person who can’t say “contact, email, call, phone, meet with…instead of “reach out.”

It’s closest relative would be the somewhat less contact-intentional phrase suggesting physical proximity: “to get in touch.” Reach out just involves many more extremity segments and conveys an implied begging, pleading or sucking up.

Apparently I am not alone in my petulance over this cloying newspeak that makes me see a fawning, bootlicking supplicant begging a higher-up for attention, for forgiveness, for spare change–I dunno.

I see praying hands, the arm of God extended, the fingertip of God almost touching David’s, reaching out to validate the human’s continued existence–or not–for yet another moment before He pulls back from His reaching out.

The one who voices the intention to reach out, I’m sorry, sounds  superior, pretentious, and condescending. I’m regret my bad mood here, that’s just the way the phrase makes me feel.

In a huggy touchy-feely granola town like Floyd, we’ll be reaching out til the cows come home, so I better get use to it. Except here, the phrase is more likely to be accompanied by the sincere physical gesture, and that is kind of nice.

Be honest: Have you picked up this smarmy-tactile-sensuous way of saying “get in touch” and is it in common use in your household or workplace?

So get it off your chest. What other NewSpeak has become a brainworm that is eating at you? Language evolves. Sometimes it devolves. Should we let “reach out” become entrenched for centuries of words to come? I say no. You say…

Thanks for ‘Reaching Out’ – Lingua Franca – Blogs – The Chronicle of Higher Educationhttp://chronicle.com/blogs/linguafranca/2012/10/08/thanks-for-reaching-out/

Does “Reach Out” Overreach? : Candlepower : Thinkmap Visual Thesaurushttp://www.visualthesaurus.com/cm/candlepwr/does-reach-out-overreach/

So when did “reach out” become the new way to say “contact us”? | LinkedInhttps://www.linkedin.com/groups/So-when-did-reach-out-761867.S.5803425222929428483

(70) Phrases: Why do people use the term “reach out” when they mean “contact”? – Quorahttp://www.quora.com/Phrases/Why-do-people-use-the-term-reach-out-when-they-mean-contact

Urban Dictionary: reach outhttp://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=reach out

Fritinancy: Does Reach Out Make You Retch?http://nancyfriedman.typepad.com/away_with_words/2011/10/does-reach-out-make-you-retch.html

Don’t reach out to me. Please. | A Penned Point http://apennedpoint.com/dont-reach-out-to-me-please/

Coercing Creativity

headbulbs580The Muse responds poorly to pressure. In fact, She cannot be conjured, cajoled or bribed.

But it is possible to create the kind of accommodations that increase the likelihood that cerebral light bulbs will flash and pop, and an idea will take shape.

Some people find they have the most receptive muse-moments while walking in a quiet place; some while catnapping or rocking on the porch or reading a totally unrelated book.

Me, I’m a hydrovehicular creative (if I can claim to be at all). Those few who read my post on this topic at Life, the Universe et Cetera the other day please peck around instead in the archives before you wander off.

(I confess I’m also a DendroRiparian writer-aesthete-creative. You’ll have to figure that one out for your own self.)

Otherwise, read My Best Thoughts Come in the Shower at LU&E and offer a few words about what it takes to bring your Muse your moments.

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The Writing Life: When Does it Begin?

We asked of the small group of self-selected “magazine project” students how many thought of themselves as a writer.

Most denied the claim outright. One said that she used to love writing, but had come across something she had written “long ago” and “it was awful.” She had been very proud of it at the time it was written, but she was embarrassed by it today. So she had “given up” the notion of writing. How do we bring such writing agonies into perspective?

I am not equipped to talk about the broad topic of writing with any group–much less a mixed group of 8th to 11th graders. I can only tell my story. Tomorrow, another local writer, blogger and poet will speak to the magazine group.

So without teaching writing, the two of us will be showing them the writing life–as it has found its way unexpected into the lives of two adults who “became writers” much later than the ages of these students, and from very different urgencies and needs and hopes.

Both of their teachers will emphasis a special attention to the shape, feel and power of language. They can learn best to write by reading; by paying a little extra attention to the way authors craft character, place and narrative form. Even non-fiction is about story.

At the end of the day and of the few days I’ll have an hour with these students, it is their own story I want to them to feel growing every day, even now. I would hope that a few of them might go on to learn the power of words, the joy of the senses and of intentional memory, and the special way the notion of writing will make them attend to and “frame” the details–not unlike the eye of the photographer for composing in light.

At their age, I wrote when my teachers told me I had to. It was an assignment–never an outlet, never a megaphone for a passion. But then, nobody–even my teachers–ever mentioned creative writing. I no idea that skill set was even on the menu.

I pulled some writing quotes from the first few of many pages at goodreads.com. If we should run out of things to say about writing, I’ll recruit ideas from those who have known the joys and terrors of the craft.

“A written word is the choicest of relics. It is something at once more intimate with us and more universal than any other work of art. It is the work of art nearest to life itself. It may be translated into every language, and not only be read but actually breathed from all human lips; — not be represented on canvas or in marble only, but be carved out of the breath of life itself.” – H D Thoreau

“No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader. No surprise in the writer, no surprise in the reader.”
― Robert Frost

“If you do not breathe through writing, if you do not cry out in writing, or sing in writing, then don’t write, because our culture has no use for it.”
― Anaïs Nin

“Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.”
― Anton Chekhov

Show don’t tell.

“Write the kind of story you would like to read. People will give you all sorts of advice about writing, but if you are not writing something you like, no one else will like it either.”
― Meg Cabot

“Ideas are like rabbits. You get a couple and learn how to handle them, and pretty soon you have a dozen.”
― John Steinbeck

“You can’t wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club.”
― Jack London

“Write what should not be forgotten.”
― Isabel Allende

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What’s Write For You?

Water Strider
Image by fred1st via Flickr

When the computer era came into my world (we’re talking mid-eighties here) I wasn’t able to compose a sentence without a pen or pencil in my hand. My brain translated thought processes into words only by way of that very rigid, habitual, proprioceptive-cognitive linkage.

I used an ancient “luggable” IBM computer for the first time in 1985 to produce my term paper (on Punctuated Equilibrium) for a class I was taking at Virginia Tech. I did the creating of the paper in long hand on yellow legal pads, then transcribed it in Leading Edge, saved on a 5 1/4 floppy from which I printed it on an impossibly slow pin-feed printer. I can still hear the back and forth buzz of it now. [Another sound of technology–like the hand-shake squelch of the 14.4 baud modem–that only our generation will ever remember.]

I kept coming back to the keyboard attempting to use all my fingers to create “documents.” There was no such thing as email for us then so computers were only fancy typewriters. For years I was not able to both think coherently and type effectively.

That problem persisted through my masters dissertation at UAB in ’87 (Helium Neon Laser for Experimentally Induced Pain…etc etc) though by then my typing speed and accuracy had increased due to competing in Typing Tutor–a typing game I played with our nine year old son, and by which means he learned early on to touch type.

What freed me up was the advent of email sometime around the early nineties. Cut and paste got easier. Casual writing of an email to a friend let my mind flow with fewer restrictions than the formal papers. Spell check got better. And my hands could keep up with my thoughts and I was uninhibited in converting stream of consciousness into stream of verbiage in a toss-away document that only the recipient of my digital letter would ever see.

Email freed me up to type what I thought–as fast as I thought it–and to pre-process syntax more creatively before it reached the interface with the digital paper of the monitor. Email lead to the first personal writing that carried its own reward, that introduced me to the idea that creating with words could be in some ways as satisfying as creating a pleasing photograph.

At this stage in my life at age 62, I could not go back to the legal pads because of the condition of my hands and my longhand writing illegibility. But there are some–including noted writers like Peter Jenkins (Walk Across America) I recently met and had dinner with in Roanoke–who still use pen and ink. Wendell Berry refuses to use a computer for his writing.

Longhand writing certainly flows at a slower pace. It is more unforgiving of mistakes so probably forces greater focus if the writer’s intention before the costly words become visible. This lifehacker piece–A Defense of Writing Longhand [Patrick E. McLean] justifies the notion of keeping the writing process as simple as possible.

Is there a “feral power” in raw prose that becomes blurred if we get it out of our brains and done with too quickly at the keyboard? Are there too many other distractions, typing words that appear perpendicular to our faces on the monitor with the threat of temptations to yield to  distractions just a keystroke away–email notifications, chat notices, remembered to do items to record, checking the weather report…you know what I mean– even when typing in Full Screen mode like I’m doing now in Scrivener?

[Aside: The energy for writing used to come from the mutton chops the author had for lunch. Now it comes from Mr. Peabody’s Coal Train for those millions of us who write electronically. I think sometimes about how our writing lives would change if (when?) the Son of Stuxnet eats our power grid out from under us.]

I would not willingly give up the brain-butt-hands cognitive-mechanical loop that is my current writing habit. And for me, the tools play an important part, letting me order and annotate, color code alternative paragraph revisions saving all my “strike-through” garbage to reconsider before I delete it. I can add marginal comments, and instantly find saved quotes and phrases when a space in a paragraph opens up for them.

I have maybe a dozen projects going at the same time–most just for personal research and interest, some for future blog posts or press pieces or Book Three–and couldn’t imagine juggling that many paper notebooks with their associated sticky notes bristling along the edges. But I guess that is just the way some top-level authors and journalists do it.

Sometimes blogging is an excuse to avoid the more arduous job of actual focused writing to a topic. This is one of those times. I gotta go. Write on…

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