Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Deep Reading

What is deep reading, exactly?  Basically, it’s submersing yourself, in a contiguous block of time reading a sizable book of text (not just mere images) from beginning to end.  Oh, you think: that’s easy! Or, you’ve done it plenty of times.  If you done it recently and regularly, then kudos to you!

But for some, have you noticed that your attention wanders so fast when trying to sink into a good book that you had to put it down as soon as you started?  You’ve chosen a topic you want to read about, a topic you want to learn and educate yourself on, or a novel you heard about and wondered what the hype was about, but the book sits on your nightstand for weeks on end, if not months, only collecting dust.  

I am glad you are reading my blog posts and would love you to come back; however, I challenge you to make a goal to read a book a month and then two books a month, if you are not a reader, or an avid reader.  I know people read at different speeds and some have learning disabilities that make this highly difficult.  I know I am a slow reader myself.  I have fallen out of good habits here and there, trade one habit for another, but deep reading should be up there with diet and exercise.  

In the past, reading a book for pleasure was the norm to expand one’s knowledge.  Today, social media and news online allows me to devour a wealth of information in passing, but that’s it.  It’s fleeting and not ingraining.  What’s noticeable, however, is my loss for time.  Before I know it, I have spent hours noodling through articles on the internet and have not truly educated myself on anything, just the news of the day, and the occasional viral videos of pandas and baby goats (which tickle me, by the way).  

Most of what’s written online are also wrought with spelling and grammatical errors, that it’s no wonder that the current president of these United States, cannot spell, let alone do some real deep reading either.  But politics aside, not only is good reading good for our society, but it is good for your general well-being.  As a writer and teacher, I often hear students tell me that they hate reading.  Especially in this digital age, I know why.  

In my most recent blog posts I have posted various books for my readers to consider on the topic at hand because I want learning and inspiration to continue long after you have read my short blog posts.  Some of you may ask what deep reading has to do with art or music or writing.  Reading books at length about these topics has everything to do with it!  If you were to take a Master of Fine Arts whether in creative writing, visual arts, music or theater in college, you will be doing a lot of reading and a lot of doing. You will also be learning from artists of the past, comparing styles and techniques, learning from the classics and the contemporaries.  A well-rounded education for artists and writers is important to establish your voice and style and your vision.

A well-rounded reading diet about various topics for the average person is ideal. It doesn’t matter if you buy actual books or an e-book and if you must, an audio book. Your mind will be engaged in mindfulness and you will come away with it full.  

Here are the benefits of regular reading:

1) Discover/improve yourself
2) Improve society/world
3) Reflecting what you read improves memory
4) Makes you more attractive 
5) Can make you a better communicator

So, read like you’re in college and read for your personal pleasure.  This is the deep reading I speak of.  Make the time to exercise your mind.  Most of all, read and be happy!

Once you’ve made a habit of reading on a regular basis, here’s some journals to keep track and reflect on the books you’ve read:

"The What I Read journal is ideal for jotting down thoughts and keeping track of all the books you’ve read and can’t wait to start. It’s great for keeping checklists, taking notes, and deciding what to read next, and it’s the perfect size to take with you anywhere."

"With checklists of award-winning novels and recommended reading for every genre (spy novels, romance, sci-fi, humor), this classic reading journal also includes plenty of pages for keeping track of all the books you've read and want to consume next."

"The ultimate journal and resource for book and list lovers, My Bibliofile includes checklists of recommended reading, activities, and entry pages for recording all of the books you've read and making note of the books you want to read. Recommended reading lists from a variety of reputable sources (Pulitzer Prize, Man Booker, and National Book Award winners, Oprah's Book Club picks, Modern Library's 100 Best Novels, BBC's Best Novels, etc.), as well as lists of favorite titles for various genres (horror, sci-fi, detective fiction, international classics, etc.) mean you'll never have to wonder "What should I read next?""

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Is it Poetry?

polaroid camera on table

From Bukowski to Instapoetry

Barfly Bukowski

When Charles Bukowski entered the writing scene in 1939, he was considered an underground, low-brow writer who submitted to magazines and underground papers.  Most of his themes were guttural and sexist, wearing that gritty, greasy sailor masculinity on his sleeve. He drank excessively, swore and objectified in real life as well as on paper. He was criticized for lacking metaphors, but his anecdotes were interesting as well as his raw and offensive grit. Quite opposite from academic poets, postwar poets who entered academia, he stood apart, impassioned and bitter at the fringe of society, drank and smoked his life away.  Posthumously, he has gained some of the notoriety he longed for. He had produced many volumes of work, dabbling in many genres, he was championed by respectful editors in the end.

Polaroid and Tulips photo

Instapoet: Rupi Kaur

In today’s world of social media phenomena, it’s no surprise that there may come someone with a cult following just like Bukowski. Except without alcohol, violent sex, the Queen of Instagram’s Instapoet, Rupi Kaur, the twenty-something Indian-born Canadian poet, has built her empire of millions of fans and became Amazon's high selling poet.  In the same vein, however, she is criticized for not being stylistic enough and lacking imagery.  Kaur claims she represents global feminism and intersectionality and exudes the stereotypical puppies and flowers femininity, quite the opposite of sexist Bukowski.  The commonality among them, however, is the non-acceptance of the academe.

Which begs to question: what makes poetry poetic?  There are layers of complexity such as tones, imagery, and vocal cadences to name a few, that even haikus, as small and short as they are, are jam-packed with intensity.  With that said, Bukowski comes closer to poetics than Kaur’s for his depth, irony and experience.  However, these are poets who have gathered a cult following in their lifetime in two different eras, background and gender.  Does Kaur’s poems give an allusion of poetry in this digital age? Perhaps. Does it harm poetics?  Perhaps not.  Some may say that her poems have inspired her audience who would have otherwise may have not come to not enjoy this art form at all.  Perhaps may even inspire a great poet who isn't the Ariana Grande-like, of watered-down poetry, basking in her Instagram, viral, SEO, content writing fame, who is truly avant garde.

"With passion, wit, and good common sense, the celebrated poet Mary Oliver tells of the basic ways a poem is built-meter and rhyme, form and diction, sound and sense. Drawing on poems from Robert Frost, Elizabeth Bishop, and others, Oliver imparts an extraordinary amount of information in a remarkably short space. “Stunning” (Los Angeles Times). " 

"An illuminating and invaluable guide for beginners wary of modern poetry, as well as for more advanced students who want to sharpen their craft and write poems that expand their technical skills, excite their imaginations, and engage their deepest memories and concerns. Ideal for teachers who have been searching for a way to inspire students with a love for writing--and reading--contemporary poetry."

Sunday, February 4, 2018

Breathings of Your Heart

As a writer and visual artist, I constantly scour the bookstores and art stores for inspiration like a kid in a candy store.  It's a constant battle to keep inspired.  Before I know it, I am knee deep in my mediocre life forgetting I am lost in the grey and banal existence of working a 9-5 job, juggling a household, remember to eat right and exercise all a while hoping I get enough sleep--let alone write? Create art?

But there in the modicum of desire lies my fantasy of a writer and artist life.  What are they really?  Is it the masculine existence to live feverishly and crash and burn like Jack Kerouac or Earnest Hemingway? Is it the kill-myself-in-the- short-end like Virginia Woolf?  I think in today's world it may actually be the slow death of unguided, anxiety-riddled, bombarded by useless information dichotomy.  We eat too much carbs, carcinogenic meats and processed foods, work in menial, uninspiring jobs, that we end up dying by our own demise subversively anyway and instead of alcohol as our poison, it is opioids and loneliness. 

I waste away noodling through the interwebs instead of my writing or art-ing, but I have this blog, and at the very least I am working my way through the drudgery, the painstaking process of starting the process.  I know I will find my way again.  Some stops are longer than others.  Once I situate myself with the right amount of inspiration, I am there again. My most productive was when I was in college producing my own volume of work in my MFA program.  Thereafter, I have produced in short spurts.  In the meantime, I collect books, novelties, trinkets, and quotes to squirrel away upstairs for more leaner times.  

Want some inspiration?  Here are some books & novelties to surround yourself with and refer to.  May you "Fill your paper with the breathings of your heart".

"This literary tapestry of the human experience will delight readers of all backgrounds. Moving year by year through the words of our most beloved authors, the great sequence of life reveals itself—the wonders and confinements of childhood, the emancipations and frustrations of adolescence, the empowerments and millstones of adulthood, the recognitions and resignations of old age. This trove of wisdom—featuring immortal passages from Arthur Rimbaud, Sylvia Plath, Virginia Woolf, David Foster Wallace, William Shakespeare, Herman Melville, Jane Austen, and Maya Angelou, among many others—reminds us that the patterns of life transcend continents, cultures, and generations."

"Letter Board – Black Felt with 290 White Plastic Changeable Characters – 10 in. x 10 inches Square Wood Oak Frame – 4x6 inch Canvas Bag Holds Pieces - Vintage Inspired Display by Type Writer"

"This carefully curated book, packed with original research, is a go-to resource for thoughts on a variety of subjects, including originality, punctuation, reading, daily routines, rejection, money troubles, the creative process, love, truth, and more."

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Age is Nothing but a Number

In the United States, we yearn and celebrate youth.  Every turn we take, we hear: fresh faces, fresh ideas, young minds, new perspectives, to describe what we need for our collective consciousness to move forward, and now we hear this ring true in our politics, this need to elect younger candidates to force out the old and tired voices.  It even rings more true in the tech industries, with the new fan-dangle apps and wireless everything, coding for kids.

Of course when I was younger, I was the least phased about what this all meant because I stood at the threshold of many possibilities.  It's true that older generations give way to the next generation, but what's even true is that age does not matter in creativity.  

Look at Dr. John Goodenough, who at 94 has a patent pending for a new kind of battery that will change the way we live.  94!  He was featured in the New York Times article by Pagan Kennedy who wrote, "A study of Nobel physics laureates found that, since the 1980s, they have made their discoveries, on average, at age 50. The study also found that the peak of creativity for Nobel winners is getting higher every year."

Sure, you say, but that's in physics, and that's out of your league or not your thang.  If you find yourself at the precipice of middle age or well into your retirement, fret not.  You only have to look for the people who are just starting or who are still doing it better in their mature age, such as the case of Carmen Herrara, a Cuban born, minimalist artist, who didn't get discovered until she was 89!  

I read an article about her in The Gaurdian by Hermione Hoby, and one of Carmen Herrara's quote really, really inspired me: "You don't decide to be an artist, art gets inside of you. Before you know it you're painting, before you know it you're an artist. You're so surprised. It's like falling in love."  Which kind of goes in the line of what I had written in a prior blog post of mine where one of the artist resolution is proclaiming it and living it

You will find that I like recommending articles and books that go with the topic at hand.  It's because I find that learning and growing intellectually in our creativity is what connects us as artists and thinkers.  No matter what your age, sky's the limit whether it is writing that novel, travel, be a beekeeper, or become an amazing mosaic artist.  Discard those biases and break those barriers.  It is your one life, enjoy it, and continue sharing your talent with the world!

Here are some books for this week's reading:

"In this richly illustrated volume, bestselling author and artist Lisa Congdon explores the power of women over the age of forty who are thriving and living life on their own terms. Profiles, interviews, and essays from women—including Vera Wang, Laura Ingalls Wilder, Julia Child, Cheryl Strayed, and many more—who've found creative fulfillment and accomplished great things in the second half of their lives are lavishly illustrated and hand-lettered in Congdon's signature style. The perfect gift for women of all ages, A Glorious Freedom celebrates extraordinary lives and redefines what it means to gain wisdom and maturity."

An Artist of the Floating World "From the winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature and author of the Booker Prize–winning novel The Remains of the Day 
In the face of the misery in his homeland, the artist Masuji Ono was unwilling to devote his art solely to the celebration of physical beauty. Instead, he put his work in the service of the imperialist movement that led Japan into World War II. "

"Portrait of an Artist, as an Old Man follows the journey that Eugene Pota undertakes as he sifts through the detritus of his life in an effort to settle on a subject for his final work. He talks to everyone, including his wife, his old lovers, and his editor. While everyone has ideas, no one offers any real answers. Written with sections that alternate between Pota's real-life efforts to settle on what novel to write and his many and various false starts writing that novel, Portrait of an Artist, as an Old Man is a rare and enthralling look into the artist's search for creativity."

Monday, January 8, 2018

5 Reasons to Start & Keep a Journal

Throughout my lifetime I have started many, many journals that are still scattered throughout my house.  From time-to-time I take a deep breath and delve into the blast from the past, which is usually a brave endeavor, to say the least.  Why? Because I have mainly started journals to document most difficult times of my life.  One, for example, is my divorce chronicles from 20 plus years ago.  When I revisit it, I reopen the wounds slightly but not entirely because I come away with it with a sense of accomplishment that I have indeed survived that ordeal.  I look back and think about all the injustices and also the regrets.  

Some of you may have approached journaling as a place to dump all the horrors, and to be honest, I do have some more light-hearted ones with some very, very awful poems that have evolved into more palatable ones...but most of my journals were experimental, raw, often incoherent, which stored my anxieties and obsessions.

Journaling, however, doesn't have to go that route.  It can be used for true empowerment, a place to go back and review and repeat your mantras, a place to fuel creativity.  I will start journaling with this new approach, so here are 5 ways to think about journaling that can help you start your self-discovery:

StockSnap - pixabay

1) Stay "Woke" Now

In other words, evoke mindfulness.  What does that mean?  That means stay in the present -- be grateful in the here and now...the beauty in peeling a pear, for example, listening to classical music while painting.  Practicing this diffuses past hurts. Mindfulness actively engages your thoughts and past anxieties loses its teeth and is less likely to keep you stuck in the past.  

2) Bridging Empathy

Empathy for those who have done me wrong is something I did not believe in because as far as I saw it, they had no empathy for doing what they did to me. I can now have empathy for their transgressions and understand why they may have done what they have done because of their own shortcomings.  With that said, managing your emotions is a sign of high emotional intelligence. Anger is natural and transferring anger to page or on canvas can be an outlet, but there must be a resolve to heal in the end. Search in your journaling for this deeper connection.  

3)  Between Hand and Brain

It's often said that there is a strong connection between retaining memory and handwriting.  If anything, recording a memory memorializes the moment but it also strengthens cognitive recall and mental acuity. Artists usually have their drawing journal for their studies to build on techniques, improve scale and experiment with perspectives.

4)  Goal Setting

Reading my past journals where I dreamed of finishing my classes and obtaining my MFA in Creative Writing, I whirl with glee every time because I am proud that I have accomplished my goal.  Goal setting can be small to large, so have a place where you can record them, and whirl with glee when you have also achieved them, too!

5) Self-Discipline

If you can maintain your journal and write regularly, you will strengthen self-discipline because in a nutshell, discipline begets discipline. Experiment and see the other areas that might come into focus where you can approach and compartmentalize with more ease after sharpening your self-discipline practices. 

Here are some books that can help you set up/start journaling and then create your own!

"Start Where You Are is an interactive journal designed to help readers nurture their creativity, mindfulness, and self-motivation. It helps readers navigate the confusion and chaos of daily life with a simple reminder: that by taking the time to know ourselves and what those dreams are, we can appreciate the world around us and achieve our dreams."

"AMAZON #1 BESTSELLER! This is a Writing Journal. It is perfect for writing poetry, notes, lists, or ideas for your next book. Every page is the same as it is a JOURNAL--for you to fill in the pages. Each lined page has the same inspirational message across the top to remind you to BELIEVE. "

"This gorgeous undated journal of weekly lists will help nurture self-expression and self-development. Each seasonal section includes list prompts, with plenty of space to write your own lists, and challenges to help you take action and make your dreams a reality. With perfectly timed prompts that meet you where you are throughout the different seasons, this journal will open up new avenues of self-knowledge and help you celebrate, enjoy, and take ownership of your life, as each week of the year becomes more thoughtful and vibrant."

"Science has proven that optimism is actually good for your heart, and this amusing writer's journal affirms the notion that it's also good for your brain. With playful prompts and witty quotations, Knock Knock's It's Gonna Be Okay is smart yet comforting—like a pair of horn-rimmed rose-colored glasses."

"Overall Length: 8 Inch, Width: 6 inch, Depth: 1.5 inches

Pages: Aprox. 280 pages counting both sides of Tree Free Handmade paper
Cover: Genuine Crazy Horse Leather. Distressed with more use.
Binding: Copic bound with same leather cord and leather strap closure
Design: Asymmetric front flap. Create your own pattern with Crazy Horse leather feature."

"Now more compact and featuring spiral binding to make for easier use, these Morning Pages invite you to do three pages daily of longhand writing, strictly stream-of-consciousness, which provoke, clarify, comfort, cajole, prioritize, and synchronize the day at hand. This daily writing, coupled with the twelve-week program outlined in The Artist's Way, will help you discover and recover your personal creativity, artistic confidence, and productivity."