Sunday, November 28, 2010

Photography and Writing

I wrote a guest post for a friend's blog. Take a look at the article as well as her blog,
She's a talented writer who discusses writing issues, does book reviews, and...well take a look and see for yourself.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Hidden Interest

Sometimes its what’s not said that draws interest and attention.  The hidden and the lost seem to matter more than what is available and obvious.

Take a page of text and blot a line out beyond legibility and they, the words no more, overshadow the remaining words that jump up ready to be read.

Hide something and it becomes worth finding out, regardless of it true (pre-hidden) value.

I remember a time where such was the case in high school.  Just before Valentine’s Day, students filled out a short survey.  Based on their answers a compatibility list was made showing their closest matches.   My list had a girl in the first spot that I didn’t particularly like.  She was not popular (not that I was, but to me she seemed even less so) and not attractive.  I didn’t want others to see that she was on my list.  So I crossed her off.

And that crossed off name became more important that what was in plain view.

In writing interest comes from not always immediately having all the answers.  We, as authors, lead our readers along telling then certain things and purposefully withholding other things.  Part of the craft comes in knowing how to balance.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Mental Clarity for Writing

Technology is great.  And yet.

Computers can rob the unwary of their ability to think.  The result—or cost—of convenience is loss of thought.  With the ease of computation, deleting, moving, and editing, there is little need for mental clarity.  The process is, write first, think later.  Dump onto the page a smattering of material and then sift through it to see if something can be made from it.  We seem to accept a concept in practice that we condemn in word.  The saying is, look before you leap, but there seems to be blessed little of the former and an abundance of the latter.  We seem to adopt the idea that if it is typed then it is worth reading.  A semi formed thought and a tornado of keystrokes and voila, words on a page.  And that mass of blah gets posted on a blog or sent as an email with no thought of editing or proofreading.  And we all suffer for it.

There is no commitment on computers; nothing is fixed or solid.  It is all soft and mutable.  But there are less fickle means of recording.

On paper there is certain demand for cognitive clarity before the pen can make any sensible markings.  Only so much editing can be done, and there is the work of erasing and rewriting.  Better yet a typewriter puts down letters and words and there they stay with even less modification.  Here the process is think, then record.

I wish there was more thinking that precedes the transformation process that allows for transmitting and sharing ideas.  I of myself buy into the idea of looking first before leaving the solid footing beneath me.

As a postscript, there are little things that computers offer; one is spell checker.  I just learned that sensical is not a word even though its non counterpart is.  The correct word is, sensible. Good to know, and a quote since it’s amusing.

"The problem with defending the purity of the English language is that English is about as pure as a cribhouse whore. We don't just borrow words; on occasion, English has pursued other languages down alleyways to beat them unconscious and rifle their pockets for new vocabulary."
--James D. Nicoll

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Pecan and Ash

Growing up, our neighbors had a pecan tree. It grew and dropped hundreds of nuts every year. It’s a wonder that more pecan trees didn’t sprout up and grow. I know that my mom wanted one to sprout in our yard and give us a hearty pecan harvest every year.

At some point, a little tree sprouted in our yard, right there near the fence next to the pecan neighbor’s house. Finally the pecan tree. My mom declared that the tree would live and we were not to mow over it when cutting the grass. We avoided cutting it down and it continued to grow. It was a great little tree, all of its little pecan tree leaves sprouting and waving in the breeze. It grew so fast. It would be no time before we had our own pecans.

And then we began to notice, one by one, that the leaves that looked so pecanish were not so pecanish anymore. As the tree grew it became more and more obvious that our tree was not a pecan tree at all, but an ash. Nobody told mom. We didn’t want her to uproot it and tear it out. She didn’t want an ash. I didn’t tell her, my brother didn’t tell her and dad didn’t tell her. We figured if it got big enough with out her knowing then it would be safe from removal. She wouldn’t let a beautiful ash be chopped down. It would grow on her. I mean after all it would turn into such a great shade tree, wonderful for climbing and spying.
That brave little ash grew from a little sapling to the size of a good walking stick. Then it grew to the size of a large flag pole. And it grew even taller and thicker in the trunk, so thick it was like a telephone pole. There was no getting rid of it now.

And all the while mom didn’t realize it wasn’t a pecan tree. Instead of seeing it for what it was, she saw what she wanted it to be. Her hope blinded her to what we all knew from early on. But one day she finally realized. That tree was no pecan tree.

When she told us, we were a little sheepish. She could tell we already knew. She wanted to know why we hadn’t told her. Well, because we liked it for what it was and didn’t want to see it destroyed because it wasn’t what she wanted.

The ash isn’t a bad tree, mom even likes it now. The danger was it not that it was bad. The danger was that it was not what she expected. Who knows, maybe we’ll get the pecan tree yet, but when the next sprout appears I think she’ll be a little more observant.

In my life I have not stopped to look at the tree to really find out what it is. I assumed it was one thing and acted according to that belief. But I was wrong. I have procrastinated doing what I want and what love because of my failure to look and see. I picked one path because it seemed fruitful, but that was not right. I should have been looking for the ash tree instead of looking for the pecan.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

of Food and Poison

Here is a would you rather that I thought of yesterday.

Would you rather come to the table everyday never knowing if there was going to be food or how much, or would you rather eat at the table that always had enough food?  The only catch is that while the food is good in quantity, it is bad in quality.  It is poisoned.  Not much, not deadly.  Just enough to make you sick.  Not all the time, just most of the time.

What do you pick—the pain of hunger or the pain of sickness?

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Poisoned Seeds

We would count a farmer a fool who poisoned his seeds before planting.  Why go to the trouble of planting something that will surely not sprout nor produce?  It would be a simple waste of time and energy.  But the better question is, why poison them in the first place?  Why not just plant the seeds in health and then nourish them as they grow?

It is easy to judge the hypothetical actions of a farmer who poisons his seeds.  But it is harder to see the reality of our own actions.  It may be that we are that farmer in action.  The only difference is that our seeds are not literal, but figurative.

How often have we wanted something just enough to go through the actions of pursuit, with no confidence in success—and even worse, with certainty of failure?  Our attitude affects our performance and our performance affects our outcomes.  Are we poisoning our own dreams and hopes?

Yes.  Too often, yes.  We are setting ourselves up for failure.  There is no one to blame but ourselves.  Only we don’t blame ourselves.  We blame other people and things.  We don’t take the blame ourselves because we don’t see what we are doing.  We blind ourselves to the real culprit of our woes.

I am beginning to realize my own poisonous behavior.  I am ready to change,  ready to plant with the hope of harvesting.

Friday, November 5, 2010

On Being a Twin

Yesterday someone asked me a question that I have heard many, many times.  He did so with a preface that he hoped it was not a stupid question.  It was not a stupid question, though the commonly assumed answer is silly.

He asked, a little sheepishly, if there was a way to tell me and my twin brother apart.  Of course there is, many have mastered it.  If that weren’t the case how could I ever have friends?  Isn’t part of friendship knowing someone and yet loving them?  And that right there is the answer.  If you want to be able to tell me apart from my twin, then you must know me.  But getting to know someone takes time and energy.  Many look for the simple way out, the panacea of sorts for the sickness called twins.  That hope in the easy distinction of twins in the form of a specific and reliable difference in appearance is the stupid assumed answer to the question I was asked, how do I tell you apart?

Obviously twins are distinct individuals.  But the problem is that, unlike regular people, they look alike.  Ironically the solution is sought in the problem.  There must be some way in which they don’t look alike.  What, then, is that difference?

It seems silly to rely so heavily on looks as the distinction of individuals.  How inconsistent that is with other friends.  Do you only recognize a friend if they are visible?  No, there are other ways—voice, tone, and manner of speaking, just to name a few.  After all there are authors whose style is so distinctive that words on a page are enough to identify them.

There it is.  If you want to know which twin is which, you first must know them.  When I am asked if there is a way to tell me and my brother apart, my answer depends on who is asking.  If I think they are sincere and willing to learn I will tell them that they just need get to know us, really only one too.  If someone knows me they will also know when it’s not me and therefore my twin.  But mostly they are not invested.  They don’t really care and are simply looking for an easy out to what they consider a problem, two people that look too much alike for comfort.  To those people I say there is no way to tell us apart.  And for them it’s true.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Noble Giving

I went to the symphony recently.  I flipped through the program and came across the recognition section that listed donors and their contribution category.  Holding the position of prominence was the list of those few who had donated in excess of $250,000 within a one-year period.  The list was only about 5 names long.  On the top of that list, that was arranged alphabetically, was Anonymous.

That impressed me.  Someone gave over a quarter of a million dollars and was not, by choice, recognized by name.  That is unexpected and yet it rings of a noble kind of giving.

Noble giving is often replaced by petty giving.  Petty referring to how and not what is given.  The difference is in how it is said.  The former is, “I gave money to the symphony.” The latter is, “I gave money to the symphony.”  One type focus on the giver while the other on the recipient.

As a result of living in a capitalistic economy we act based on certain expectations.  One of those expectations has to do with transactions.  When we expend energy, effort or time we expect remuneration.  We expect to earn.  We go to work principally to earn money, but there are other types of earning, and they are the types that are usually the strings that we attach to the things we do for others.  We expect payment in recognition, love, future favors, leverage, promotion of a certain image, and many other subtle but harmful ways.  The giving stops being about the recipient and becomes about the giver.  It is done not for what will be done for the receiver but for the giver, and that is petty.  Noble giving is when the recipient is the focus, their joy, improved station or satisfaction is paramount and the giver is simply a footnote.

Because we have all, to some degree, bought in the idea that nothing is really free, even if someone gives it mentality we have problems expressing gratitude.  We receive something and wish to say thank you in proportion, to immediately give back to balance the account, to pay off the giving.  Sometimes a simple, heartfelt thank you is all that is needed.

The never ending, public thank you and credit giving can be tedious to a noble giver and prevent future giving.
Sometimes the best expression of gratitude is a simple and sincere thank you.

This idea of giving also extends to the less than tangible realm of compliments.  Here, as in few other ways, the strings are very easily felt.  Pay someone a compliment and watch as they flounder for an appropriate response.  They may be suspicious, they may deny the compliment or return in kind.  What is rare is the simple heartfelt expression in to little words, thank you.

As with many things in life it comes down to a choice.  I chose nobility over pettiness.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Super Powers

I was recently asked what super power I would choose if I could magically have any.  I answered before I stopped to think (which isn’t uncommon and which sometimes leads to awkward moments).  My immediate answer was, staying power. 

Of all the abilities that I could have chosen, many of which are freaking awesome, I chose staying power.  I passed up on super speed, invincibility, invisibility, super strength, super intelligence, and flying power.  Who’s ever heard of staying power?  And why would I choose it?

Starting things is easy, fun and exciting. But as time moves forward and the project or job loses its novelty it becomes harder to be excited about investing time and energy in it.  Good ideas, good intentions and good starts often all end up in the same place, the graveyard of the unfinished.  There is enough good material in that place of the dead that if revived, brought back to life and finished, would amount to success, fame and fortune.  But those result never come to those who could have had it.  Because they quit.  They gave up something that once was all they could think about and focus on.  It was their pet and they invested time, money and energy.  And then it came to an end.  Came to an end because they had no super power, didn’t have the power that I would choose.

I finish more projects than most.  And yet I have sent more ideas and projects to the graveyard than most.  I think of the waste, my waste.  Oh, the loss.  I am missing out on so much.

I want staying power because it is a power that would permeate into all parts of my life.  No, I couldn’t fly to the tops of skyscrapers or mountains.  I couldn’t deflect bullets.  I couldn’t run so fast I was no more than a blur of color.  I couldn’t disappear.  But I would get things done.

I have heard people say they have a million dollar idea.  So what?  Everybody does, they are a dime a dozen (baker’s dozen).  So why are there not more millionaires?  Because there is no execution and follow through.  Ideas stay eternally ideas (or occasionally they are born only to die in infancy).  There would be more millionaires if there were more staying power. 

Maybe my choice isn’t a real super power.  And it may seem boring.  But at the end of the day it is one that would translate into the most value.  And value matters.  After all, what is the point of having a power if it never translates into anything but the satisfaction of whims and fancies? 

I chose what would make me better and by so doing making things better for those around me.


I am a writer.  In writing staying power is essential. To get to a polished piece, follow through is necessary.  Ideas are easy to come by, development isn’t difficult.  Even fleshing out a first draft can be simple.  What’s hard is revising, editing, changing and improving.

I wish I could turn out a large volume of good writing.  But writing takes time.  Paying the price is part of the process.

So if my posts aren’t as frequent as posts on other blogs it only means that I am not a blogger.  I am a writer, and I share some of my craft on a blog.  When I am not posting it doesn’t mean that I am being lazy.  It means that I am working behind the scenes on other projects that demand time but give little back in visible progress.