Artists Stand Naked

All these writing exercises, many under time constraints – “Please do a character development, using dialogue and no description, for the next 12 minutes” – become like unconstrained mini-therapy, without the benefit of professional interpretation.

“You are not the narrator…” Sure I’m not. I’m supposed to connect with my “conscious, make friends with it” and “take a stand in your work”. If I really took a stand everyone in the room would fall down.

I’m learning that artists stand naked. Perhaps that’s why they are hunched over all the time.

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If Mark Twain Had a Laptop



I look down at my MacBook’s desktop, and staring back at me is a monster. A jumble of incomprehensible and expanding piles of electronic icons spill and shuffle around as if the sorter cubbies on top of a roll top desk had just collapsed. I think, if Mark Twain had a laptop, this is what it would have looked like.

The mess drives me nuts. I lie to myself and say that’s because simplicity and order are the core of efficiency, but the fact is it’s more about me. At some very low threshold of complexity I can simply no longer keep track of all the piles in my head and an anxiety fit of organization and purging follows. I do that until a new equilibrium level of simplicity is reached, one that I can handle. But it makes me wonder if we are better off with our PCs, and all the digitalization that they provide. I mean these machines and their digital software systems were supposed to be better than piles and piles of paper, right?


The nice thing about the physicality of books, printed pdfs, and paper journals is their hard edged presence and volume. Having them piled up around you reminds you of things; like how much you’ve done, and how much you need to do. That volume of paper communicates what you have to do, and more importantly, it gives you a gauge of what you can do. 

Of course the physical nature of a book is also nice because it makes them easy to ‘auto sort’ to borrow a phrase from the systems people. Piles become projects, and sequential piles become workflows – a pile over there for research on a book topic, another for information on developing as a writer, one over there in anticipation of that trip to the Azores, that should it ever occur will benefit greatly from the decade of background reading accumulating in its pile. 

But while the work flow order of book piles seems so self evident, many seem hell bent on eradicating it. Read More »

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Agenda for America

Agenda for America: After Quantanamo lets make jet travel safe again.

The LA Times reported that 208 passengers have been convicted of  felony terrorist activity under the Patriot Act over the past few years, often for raising their voices to Flight Attendants.

I’m surprised the number isn’t in the thousands.

Jet travel in America has degraded from poor to horrific. Airlines routinely abuse their passengers with delays and disrespect and have created cabin configurations that require contortion to survive a cross country flight. The industry defends its actions based on profitability pressures, yet it sells seats for under a hundred dollars to some passengers while charging thousands to their most valuable frequent flyers.

But passengers, what ever you do don’t you dare raise your voice! Jet rage can get you sent up the river for a fiver on a Federal rap.

I know its hard to bash the airline industry when we are praising one of their members as an American hero, but, come on Obama. Do you want to get America back to work? Then let’s make it safe, or gasp pleasurable to fly again.

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Finally a Tech Savvy White House

Let me in!

Does anyone over at CNN know how to use a computer? Certainly they do over at the new Obama White House. Perhaps CNN can get a tech assist from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

Now we all know that those Dell Laptops on the desks at CNN are just props, even if we hadn’t caught on from the mystery logo changes that occur as they are shifted around during coverage.

As if we needed more proof, in addition to choking on 1.8 million simultaneous streaming viewers during yesterday’s inauguration (see pic), CNN ran a grossly embarrassing feature called “The Moment”. The concept: Snap a pic at 12:00 when Obama became President, send it to CNN and miraculously an image would be produced by magical technology.

Through a number of clumsy segments CNN Chief National Correspondent John King poked and prodded a touch screen and, well, nothing happened.

The software they are using is called Photosynth, a really cool technology that showed up in a TED talk by Blaise Aguera y Arcas in May 2007 and is being developed by Microsoft. While Blaise is using flicker images to photo map the entire world, CNN yesterday had trouble getting a good shot of the Capitol.

Stick to broadcast guys. This Web 2.0 thing isn’t going to work out anyway.

Or is it?

It sure worked down the street. Maybe CNN could take some lessons on technology implementation from the tech folks now running the Executive Branch. At 12:01, the moment (exactly) after Obama became President, was flipped to the new administration portal and it worked; not a trivial matter. On the site was the agenda for the new administration (even items like “mandatory community service” that were struck during the campaign, as well as the revised tax reduction plan). Very impressive.

Now if Obama can just keep his BlackBerry we may actually get some productivity out of the Federal Government. Yes, we can!

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The Speech

Leaders lead from the podium. Those who say otherwise do not understand how leadership works. Regardless of your political stripes, few dispute that somewhere along the path of the last eight years George W. Bush stopped leading the country, primarily because he failed at the podium of public opinion. More difficult to believe, but no less true is the fact that great oratorical leaders can promote horrific policies yet still sway millions. That is the power of the podium.

Today’s (fabulous) speech by President Obama was remarkable in the electrifying demonstration of an articulate man who can lead. At its core that, and his obvious intelligence, will be his greatest strength, regardless of the policies his government will develop in the coming months.

The New York Times said today…

“He remains hard to read or label — centrist in his appointments and bipartisan in his style, yet also pushing the broadest expansion of government in generations. He has reached across old boundaries to build the foundation of an administration that will be charged with hauling the country out of crisis…He will eventually have to choose between competing advice and priorities, risking the disappointment or anger of constituencies that for the moment can still see in him what they hope to see.”

In other words he is still something of a national Rorschach inkblot test, we see in him everything we hope for.

Many will read much into his speech today, picking and choosing their favorite parts.

Here were mine… Read More »

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The End Of Cynicism?

Is this the end of cynicism?

Obama’s soaring victory speech in Chicago last night was an oratorical flourish of positivism, such as has been missing in public discourses in America for years.

The breathless New York Times reported last night’s events not as an election victory but as a zeitgeist shift for America, a change long coming now finally here; a revolution achieved. That tone was echoed in major papers and broadcasts everywhere. It’s not just here at home. There is global excitement about the resurgent American ideal. In the euphoria Norman Mailer called himself a “born again American”, and I’m sure that Erica Jong is feeling same way over in Europe.

“Hope”, “Change” and “Yes We Can” are ringing out across the airwaves. It is a welcome and cathartic relief from the rancorous tone delivered by the media for decades. Certainly the Obama victory has been an affirmation of principles long held by the academic left which have seeped into our collective philosophy. For them the revolution is won.

But what does this victory mean to the future tone of discourse in America? Is this the end of cynicism, the tone of voice which has become the best way to identify a speaker, entertainer, writer, researcher, artist or academic as American? Now that the revolution is over how will we speak, casually and formally, without the ability to mock, snark or deride the archetypes built since the 1960’s? Certainly the old rebellion is over, we saw Jesse Jackson’s tears. So what will replace its messenger, the sound of sarcasm and cynicism in our voice?

Read More »

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