blogging

Four Lessons for your consideration

This article in Artsy magazine on Willem de Kooning had me thinking whether there was an equivalent in painting and drawing to “writer’s block”. Why I should make this leap – more a sidestep in reality – when the article doesn’t mention anything like it, I don’t know but thinking does that sometimes. There probably are some similarities between the creative arts.

The article deals with de Kooning’s lessons in becoming an artist. I thought I might consider these in the wider perspective of creative work. There’s a link at the end to the actual article if you want to read that.

Lesson #1: Don’t be afraid to be influenced by fellow artists’ work.

This is funny because I’m often unashamedly, and sometimes unconsciously, mimicking the work of others I admire. Sometimes I might even play around with stuff I don’t particularly admire.

I remember reading a story about Jimi Hendrix when he was seen coming out of a back street dive having gone in to see some second rate band. “Why on earth would a player of Hendrix’s standing bother watching a bad act?” He explained that even a poor player can sometimes give you a great idea about performing or songwriting. He took the influence and improved on it.

Lesson #2: Seek out glimpses of inspiration in the world around you.

This is probably the writer’s block bit. I don’t know about you but there’s always moments when I notice something interesting or inspirational. It might be a small thing, or it might be significant. It’s important to just log it in your mind – or jot a note down (I admire note takers a lot even though I rarely do this for myself).

Lesson #3: Pay attention to your desires, not the critics.

What motivates us? Yes, I think we all like a little approval, we like a little praise. Constructive criticism would be good too, providing we can handle it, though it’s not very nice; it depends where we’re at, past the tipping point of having gained self-confidence enough to brush off the nonsense stuff.

I think you have to be faithful to your desires.

Lesson #4: Embrace imperfection—even failure.

Whatever you’re into to, there ought to come an important tipping point when you realise that a mistake, far from being annoying or an embarrassing set back, is actually a real progression in learning your art. Failures make better teachers than successes. Of course, you have to look it squarely in the eyes and know why, and how to avoid it a second time, but this isn’t something you’re more likely to do with a success.

As a perfectionist myself, this has arrived later than it could have. I see perfectionism as a disorder and it still cuts deep at times but it shouldn’t hold you back.


Article: Willem de Kooning: How to be an artist (Artsy magazine)

image: The Privileged (untitled XX), 1985 by Willem de Kooning

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The Incomplete Angler

Thinking a little more about it, I wonder how similar writing is to angling for a fish.

You should know the fish, your quarry, its repose, what attracts it and what it likes to eat. You bait it appropriately and when it bites, rather than haul it in, care free and rather clumsily, you play it, carefully and craftily, until it is in the net and yours.

I prefer the British way of angling where the fish is set free again, to be tempted and teased by other fisher folk at another time.


I read a story once and now I can’t remember who it was attributed to or who its subject was other than the subject was an eminent thinker. This man would often be seen at a certain lake or riverside, sitting beside a rod and tackle box. Actually, I’m not sure about the tackle box, the absence of one may have drawn the narrator to enquire about his method.

When asked if he’d caught anything, he would reply “nothing”. Then when asked whether he ought to consider changing his bait, he said he never baited his hook to avoid any possible distraction of having to deal with a bite. He simply enjoyed sitting by water, hidden in plain sight amongst fellow anglers so not arousing suspicion, and he found this peace conducive to his true purpose: thinking.

This is probably closer to my relationship with writing and blogging; not so much fishing for readers but fishing for thoughts, amongst the company of fellow bloggers.

Thesaurus

Self-identifying serious writer, Martin Amis, uses a dictionary all the time. I’m delighted by his confession because so do I. Really it’s to improve my sparse vocabulary but, like him, I often find the meaning of the word isn’t what I had in mind.

It’s interesting what he to say about talent, finding rhythm, and avoiding accidental alliteration amongst other things. He talks about crafting a sentence. I’m not sure how much I put into crafting a sentence. While I think that poetry ought to be recited, I hadn’t thought that way about prose; I probably thought this was a fundamental distinction between the two forms. However, yesterday evening I was remembering all the times when a passage in a novel enthralled me. I decided it wasn’t the narrative but the pattern of the chosen words. They were crafted, I imagine, for such an effect.

I suppose I haven’t any high aspirations for my blog posts but I still maintain if it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing well. I shall try to pay more attention to the rhythm in a sentence, resort habitually to the dictionary and thesaurus. All this will be time consuming, of course. I will make my mantra: shorter and better.


Learning the Language of Literature

I think this is an interesting post on Lit Hub, I blog I follow. It’s an excerpt from a book by copy editor, Benjamin Dreyer, an “utterly correct guide to clarity and style”. How many of the bad habits he cites do you make?

(Hey, I initially typed how many of his bad habits do you make?)

As bloggers, I don’t suppose we have to worry too much about correct style and grammar, though clarity is still important. Blogging is more about social media, less about literature. Yet I always maintain the old saw that if a thing is thought worth doing, it’s worth doing well.

I honestly don’t know how well I’m doing but I do try. Notwithstanding that I went to school – a grammar school, to boot – my confidence in my English is frail. I’m not in possession of an extensive vocabulary, my spelling can be atrocious and lessons in grammar have for the most part been informal.

One thing I tend to do now which I never did when I started writing is edit with intent. This can correct many of the silly mistakes and run a sanity check – or clarity check – on the piece, but also it makes me question what I’ve done with grammar, especially tense. Man, I have a real concern with tenses. It’s like operating a machine without a manual, it seems to work but is it working the way it’s intended to?

Also, I’m learning to tighten things up. My venture into flash fiction prompts with word count limits has made me aware of this. The irrelevances, the tautologies and repetition, the pointless adverbs, the inconsequential detail. A rose smells sweet but if there isn’t a nose to appreciate this, why mention it?

Better Places to Read & Write

I want to record this fact, that I’m writing this after reading through the latest posts from my followed blogs, sitting in The Cricklade Club. They are promoting Veganuary but I chose from the menu a chilli bean doodah which came with a soft poached egg.

I am also sinking deep into a wonderfully distressed, tan leather armchair, part of a suite corralled about a low, broad table. I sip an IPA called Pioneer which isn’t over bitter and has distinct floral-fruity notes. The place is buzzing but oddly not distracting, and it is this which makes me think I should read, and perhaps write, more in places like this.

After we move house, I must try to look for a pub with wi-fi and a comfortable corner, and bring along my iPad (the phone I’m using here is a bit too small for typing). Perhaps, amongst noise and strangers, I will be plagued by far fewer interruptions and distractions.


image: on the wall by the comfy corner, a stranger in contemplation.

Views on Writing: Catching the Light

Clive James wrote of writing that it was turning a phrase until it catches the light.

When I read – and when I write, though this is a late experience and I’m still on the nursery slopes – too often I’m not noticing the glint of light. This is made more obvious when I consider those times when the light appears brilliantly, and it’s as if something magical is happening. It’s quite often an opening paragraph or an introduction to something, and it’s usually quite simple, precise, colourful and concise.

Following a path towards an understanding of Reena’s Exploration Challenge this week, I googled the name Kosho Uchiyama Rōshi. He was a Zen Buddhist monk in 20th century Japan, a master of origami, and an exponent of zazen, literally “sitting”, a method of meditation devised by the Zen master, Eihei Dōgen.

I follow his name in turn and find this passage on zazen attributed to him,

“I have not visited many Zen monasteries. I simply, with my master Tendo, quietly verified that the eyes are horizontal and the nose is vertical. I cannot be misled by anyone anymore. I have returned home empty-handed.

I quietly verified that the eyes are horizontal and the nose is vertical. This is a phrase that catches the light.

Music: De Gustibus Non Est Disputandum

I was reading an article last week about different country’s attitudes to social media interaction, which must include blogging, and those “taboo” controversial subjects – religion, politics, sport, and music/movies.

Not being religious, I don’t want to be one of those aggressive, brute, atheists I often read in the comments section of national newspapers. I don’t wish to pour scorn on people’s personal faith. Politics, I just don’t understand enough about to argue. As for sport, it’s games – fun to play and all that, but what’s with the tribalism? I never got it.

I was surprised to see “music/movies” included. What can be controversial about those? Surely, both are fair game for social topics. I know there are significant numbers of people who still hold faith in power of The Beatles, and others who feel the same about Led Zeppelin, but generally I’ve found people to be open-minded and curious towards music.

I’ve probably written before that my first foray into blogging was themed around music. It was simply something to write about; I wanted to try blogging and couldn’t think of anything else to write about. It’s often tempting to go back to that theme and write around music till the cows come home but I’m mindful to avoid it. Mainly, I’ve found music to be a personal journey, one not easily put into words. I could do a mix-tape – been there, done that, on a blog, weekly – but who’s interested?


But as it’s Christmas, and I seem to have had a bit of time on my hands this morning, I’ll let the guard down slightly and offer a glimpse of my musical tastes. Bandcamp, whose blog I follow on WP, have posted their top 100 albums of the year and I’ve listened and selected three of those which I quite like (I was happy to hear all of them though some of them once only),

It’s annoying that I can’t get an audio clip to stop playing once another clip is selected. I did try some code – it didn’t work – sorry but life is too short.

Immediately this felt like familiar turf. It’s what I’ve concentrated on for the past decade. I started exploring bebop, and jazz in general, just to get away from pop and the dull, time-worn ubiquity of electric guitar bands. I’ve always had an ear out for jazz, or at least jazziness, but it got serious when I gave Miles Davis a chance. Not being a musician, I wouldn’t say I get the theory involved, but I love the instrumentation, and the sense that they are virtuoso players, not people making sound with the minimum of education.

There’s a whole wide world of music out there though most are content with what’s in their own back yard. It’s a shame, I think. I didn’t know this performer. Though the style is pretty familiar, the vocal is in Korean. I find electronic music – synths and stuff – can go one of two ways, but carefully composed, it’s delightful. I love to get my ears inside those layers of simple, repetitive beats and rhythms. I like mesmeric sounds too, though not necessarily electronic.

I like folk, and I like country. And I like to hear an acoustic guitar being picked, and I like meaningful words. This is a proper ballad, it tells a story, it draws you in, it’s interesting. A ballad isn’t just any old quiet number in the repertoire of a hard rock band. Do me a favour! It’s quite dark this one, isn’t it? I like the ‘cellos too.


What people around the world do and do not talk about on social media.

Bandcamp’s Top 100 2018

Blogs (not death) and taxes

Oh no! It seems I have been absent from Blogworld for five days. This is all because we have decided to sell our house and buy another, and though it’s been a long while in planning, it still comes as a shock.

It is said that moving home is one of the most stressful things first world people can experience in life. Fortunately for us, there’s an element of excitement and optimism which goes to counter the bad stuff like legal issues, due taxes, and acquiring all the necessary home buying expertise. Not least, the total chunk of cash which needs to be paid to various parties is eye watering and the lion’s share of all this goes to Her Majesty’s treasury in so-called stamp duty – a tax on the audacity of wanting to own your own home – it’s a wonder her subjects move at all.

Anyway, it probably means I might not be up to reading any of your blogs, or even writing in mine, until that particular fat lady sings. The idiomatic fat one I mean, not the Queen, god bless her.

It’s raining in Baltimore

It is.

Even though I am in England – it’s raining here too though that’s never surprising – I checked the weather out in Baltimore. Drizzle. Isn’t that the worst kind of rain? It’s hopeless trying to dance in it. A bloody insult, I call it.

I began this post by considering its title to be, It’s raining in Gloucestershire after that Counting Crows song. It’s a funny thing with Americana that when you try for the British equivalent, it just doesn’t sound right. I blame history: we simply have too much of it. We were hey-nonny-no-ing with pig bladders on sticks centuries before Bill Haley rocked around his clock. It’s not easy shaking off a first impression.


Plans thwarted by weather, I had an extra half hour in bed, thinking about things. Like,

Why do we Follow, instead of just remembering who the good ones are and thinking, “hey! I wonder what they’ve been up to recently?”


I thought about Relaxation and became aware that though I was recumbent on a good mattress and with my head on a comfortable pillow, I wasn’t completely relaxed. I noticed a tension in my muscles between the shoulder blades; for some inexplicable reason, I was unconsciously lifting my upper back imperceptibly off the bed. I practice a little yoga so I’m used to monitoring the old bod for unnecessary tension and managed with some mental effort to switch the offending muscle off.

Relaxing, or the process of it, is quite frightening. It’s psychological. It is essentially overcoming the fear of letting go, akin to falling. I find the biggest hurdle to fully relaxing is around the chest, all that physical apparatus which deals with breathing. Though there’s plenty of scope to let go of the unnecessary tension, it feels to me like I might stop breathing altogether and won’t be able to start up again. Nonsense, of course, but that’s the treachery of the thinking mind.


Now if you ever plan to motor west, travel my way, take the A road that’s the best
Get your thrills on the A-Thirty
It winds from London to Land’s End, less than three hundred miles, give or take a bend
Get your thrills on the A-Thirty
Now you go past Camberley, Basingstoke, and Egham…

When I was small, the family would head in the car to Cornwall for our regular annual holiday. From NW London, we’d pick up the A30 somewhere south-west of our house and it would take you all the way to the far edge of the country. It’s not called Land’s End for nothing. This way is mostly defunct now as you’d be mad not to hit the motorways, M4 and M5, but you’ll be hard pressed to find the poetry in those.

I was attempting to fine tune the version then I remembered Billy Bragg’s parochial parody of Route 66. As small as we are, I’ve no knowledge of Shoesburyness or why it would be anyone’s destination. It must be part of the parody.


I nearly forgot to say I downloaded an app to tune guitars and the last thing I did before getting into bed last night was tune the guitar beside the bed. It was easy, but what was more amazing was it hardly needed any tuning. Maybe there’s hope yet.

Now if you ever plan to motor west……🎵

A13, Trunk Road To The Sea – Billy Bragg

Days For The Diary

My rolling subscription to Ordnance Survey maps brought to my attention that this coming 30th September will be the inaugural National Get Outside Day here in the UK.

There seems to be a day dedicated to everything and anything you care to think of (just think of something and google it adding “day” to the end, you’ll see. And there is a day especially for blogging – Blog Action Day, 3rd November – a date for your diary.)

Given that there are trillions of things imaginable and just 365 days in which to do them, it’s clear there’s going to be days shared by several celebrations, commemorations, endeavours and activities. I trust there’s at least someone keeping a register to prevent a conflict of interest. I mean, you don’t want Get Outside Day to fall on the same 24 hours as Stay In Bed All Day Day, now would you?


Blog Action Day (3rd November)

National Get Outside Day (30th September)

Stay In Bed Day (16th September)