From Alba to Albany

By the time this posts, I should be on my way via planes, trains and automobiles (not to mention the bus to the airport in Edinburgh). It’s hard to believe my fantastic year has drawn to a close. Needless to say, I have no wish to leave Scotland and already have my ticket back. My sweetie awaits.

The Fulbright has been a great gift. I have written so much and I have so much more to write. I will be burying myself in the work this fall and hope to have some splendid things to show for it.

I have new friends and new ideas and a whole new outlook. So much has changed and so much more will change.

Classes begin on Monday. It will be quite a shift to be back in teacher mode. Somehow it will happen, but I’m not sure how at this point. I’m sure the mere process of traveling will provide transition as it always does. The “no-time” of airports instantly takes you out of normalcy, so it will doubtless have that effect again.

I’m not looking forward to the jangling roar of constant commerce. I’ve been surrounded by small towns and beautiful countryside much of the time and very few harsh American voices. I’m dreading the political season and the seemingly non-stop vitriol from pig-ignorant zealots that has made people here shake their heads with disbelief (even as their politicians begin to take on the same madness).

It will be a test of my abilities that I have cultivated in the last few years to remain resilient and hopeful, to hold onto that indestructible happiness within me. It cannot be reliant on being in a particular place or with particular people: just me, wherever I am. And I think I will be able to do that. I miss my friends after all, even if I do not miss the country of my birth. Many of my friends have had great difficulties and griefs in the last year while I have been crowing in my happiness. I can do my part to help heal their sorrow. My Kipper has had a difficult year, too. I will be glad to see him once again.

All will be well.

Tuesday’s Overlooked A/V: What is Creativity?

Sculpture by David Batchelor at the McManus

Rabbit, rabbit! First of May and sumer is icumen in, lhude sing cucu! If you’re out protesting in the streets, I hope you’re enjoying a fine day. My film today is a bit of an odd choice, truly in the spirit of the “overlooked” like no other I’ve written on.

I *think* it’s called What is Creativity? At least that’s how I’ve remembered it all these years. I suspect it was an hour or less long, as it was shown to me in junior high art class in 6th and again in 7th grade. The only ‘name’ in it was John Astin, but it doesn’t appear on his list of films in IMDB. The three things I remember from it are seemingly indelibly fixed on my memory — however, given my proclivity for ‘adjusting’ quotations to suit me and never quite getting them right (a habit I gave to Ro in Owl Stretching) I’m sure I may have adjusted them somewhat. But they’re so vivid! And as it was on creativity, I was sold from the start.

So, what I do recall of this elusive film: there’s an animated sequence that covers the history of the world through art. The “dark ages” literally blackness until the ‘Renaissance’ comes along with a light [insert medievalist eye roll]. There’s an exchange between Michaelangelo and someone else: “What are you doing?” “I’m painting a ceiling. What are you doing?” “I’m painting a floor.”

There’s another part that’s a parable told with ping-pong balls almost Jonathan Livingston Seagull-ish, with one non-conformist ball who decides to try to bounce as high as he can, with an inconclusive ending, “Some say he never came down…”

My favourite bit was the part with John Astin, who played an artist who wasn’t doing very well then suddenly had an inspiration to put together mannequin parts and gears and whatnot in a kinetic sculpture. He debuts it to a crowd of critics and suddenly he’s dressed as a gunslinger as the potshots come in. He shoots back in vain until at last there’s one positive voice in the noise: “I like it!” He leans forward, encouraging the comment, until he hears, “I mean the materials alone must be worth something!” Bang! And he goes down.

So, am I the only person who remembers this?

As always, find the complete round-up of neglected works over at Todd’s.

HB MES and Publications

Back from a fantastic trip to P-Con. With luck I can get a con report up soon, but I have to give a talk to the digital humanities doctoral students at the Moore Institute tomorrow, so I better get that completed first. Many thanks to Pádraig, Catie, Deirdre and all the organisers as well as to Maura for taking me under her wing, the lovely Sarah for all the laughs, Suzanne and Juliet for great craic, the Talbots for my signed copy of Dotter of Her Father’s Eyes, John Connolly for buying us all dinner, the tango dancers for giving us a cause — oh, and so much more. Anon.

My publication: I have a piece “Before the Watchmen Palaver” in the latest issue of Drink Tank (309). The editors have turned the entire issue over to discussion of the proposed Watchmen prequels. There’s a wonderful and terribly unsettling cover, too. Read the full issue in PDF form here: it includes Pádraig and Laura Sneddon, too. Thanks, James, for asking me to contribute. UPDATE: I don’t think I remembered to post yet that the collection that includes my essay on reading Lost Girls as post-Sadeian text is also out:

Last but very much not least, fifty-five years ago in a dark corner of Manchester, the lighting flashed, the skies opened up and Mark E. Smith was born. All right, I’m only guessing about the lightning and rain, but it’s bound to be likely. My muse, my role model (LOL) — well, he has inspired me in several stories of late and what better example of sticking to your guns and succeeding on your own terms do you need? So while I might post perennial favourites like “Bill is Dead” or “Touch Sensitive” or “Tempo House” I’ll share this instead for those not yet up to speed on The Fall or if you’d prefer a story, snuggle in for storytime with MES and Lovecraft.

Friday’s Forgotten Books: If You Want to Write

As I get ready to teach another Creative Writing course, I think about books to recommend at the end and here’s a perennial recommendation. I’d also recommend Lynda Barry’s What It Is as well, especially if you yearn to write but haven’t quite figured out how to get the inchoate thoughts in your head out onto paper( and yes, Barry wants you to use paper). Like Barry’s book Ueland’s classic will give you confidence in your words. I chose this image because that’s the edition I first had: it’s been through many since then.

Ueland gets to the heart of the matter with her concise assertion: “everybody is talented, original and has something important to say.” Everybody: that’s an important underpinning of all that she writes here. You don’t have to go out and live adventures or make yourself ‘interesting’ (a most films about writers suggest) in order to write. She’s about the process — the work of writing — as the way to discover what you have to say. “I learned…that inspiration does not come like a bolt, nor is it kinetic, energetic striving, but it comes into us slowly and quietly and all the time, though we must regularly and every day give it a little chance to start flowing, prime it with a little solitude and idleness.”

One of her “ah ha!” moments comes from reading one of Van Gogh’s letters in which he begins by talking about how beautiful the scene outside his window is, then decides to try to sketch it. “And then on his cheap ruled note paper, he made the most beautiful, tender, little drawing of it,” Ueland writes, and “the moment I read Van Gogh’s letter I knew what art was, and the creative impulse. It is a feeling of love and enthusiasm for something, and in a direct, simple, passionate and true way, you try to show this beauty in things to others, by drawing it.” That’s the key: recognising something that matters to you and conveying it as accurately as possible.

Never ask yourself if your ideas are important. Don’t worry about being profound: “I learned that you should feel when writing, not like Lord Byron on a mountain top, but like a child stringing beads in kindergarten – happy, absorbed and quietly putting one bead on after another.” Remember, “…writing is not a performance but a generosity.”

Obviously she and I agree about Blake, but there’s a key there, too. “Don’t always be appraising yourself, wondering if you are better or worse than other writers. ‘I will not Reason and Compare,’ said Blake; ‘my business is to Create.’ Besides, since you are like no other being ever created since the beginning of Time, you are incomparable.”

I like to have her reminders. Ueland nourishes the soul and reinvigorates the heart

As always, check Patti’s blog for a roundup of overlooked tomes.

Krampus and Digital Monks

Did the Krampus visit you last night or did Saint Nicholas fill your shoes with gifts? Happy Independence Day, Finland (let’s have a little Värttinä for that).

My talk is today at the Moore Institute. It’s an update of my keynote address from April; I wanted to hit a lot of the same issues, but I’ve also cut it a bit as well. Mostly the jokes: different audience. Not all of the jokes, of course. But I figure some of the offhand popular culture references won’t travel well.

Writers: have you taken my survey about writing in the digital age yet?

No idea what kind of audience there’ll be. Some friends have promised to show and there will be sandwiches. We’ll see. And no, I didn’t go through with my plan to graft a Guy Fawkes mask onto the Moore Institute logo for one slide. Coward.

Mary of Nijmeghen

Mary — or Mariken van Nieumeghen as it is in the original — is a play that shows up in the early sixteenth century. My students read it this week and (among other things) we talked about how one might adapt it to a modern movie and came up with a really good plan. They’re convinced I just use the class to brainstorm writing projects.

Who? Me?!

But they did enjoy learning a lot of new curses (eg. “profligate strumpet”). It’s a Faustian tale — although it predates the “original” Faust — in which a young woman sells her soul to the devil in a moment of weakness and confusion. He doesn’t tempt her with life everlasting, love or riches, but with learning.

The Devil: If you would give your love to me, I would teach you the arts as no one else could: the seven liberal arts, rhetoric, music, logic, grammar, geometry, arithmetic and alchemy [<–substitutes a false one here, it should be astronomy], all of which are most important arts. There is no woman upon earth so proficient in them as I shall make you.

The seven disciplines were the backbone of the original university as founded in the Middle Ages. I like to remind my female students that they would not have been welcome there. Fascinating that this is the temptation for her, though wealth and riches come eventually. She finally repents when she sees a play (how po-mo) but it’s a delight to see the joy and frustration of the writer (believed to be Anna Bijns) come through in the scene in which drunken revelers demand a demonstration of Mary’s rhetorical skill:

O rhetoric, o true and lovely art, I who have always esteemed thee above all, I lament with grief that there are those who hate you and despise you. This is a grief to those who love you. Fie upon those who count you merely folly. Fie upon them who do so, for I wholly despise them. But for those who support you, life is full of hurt and sorrow. Ignorant men are the destruction of art.

They say in the proverb that through art grows the heart, but I say that it is a lying fable, for should some great artist appear, those who are unskilled and know not the first thing about art will make their opinion prevail everywhere, and artists will be reduced to beggary. Always it is the flatterer who is preferred, and always artists suffer such harm, and ignorant men are the destruction of art.

Fie upon all crude, coarse common minds, trying to measure art by your standards: everyone should pay honour to pure art, art which is the ruler of many a pleasant land. Honour be to all who are the promoters of art, fie upon the ignorant who reject art, for this is why I proclaim the rule that ignorant men are the destruction of art.

Prince, I will devote myself to art, and do everything in my power to acquire it. But it is to all lovers of art a sorrow that ignorant men pay so little honour to art.

Clearly it will always be so, but it’s comforting to know that despite the efforts of ignorant men, art continues to thrive even in the midst of our suffering. Translation by Eric Colledge in this excellent collection.

Utter Madness

What was I thinking? That I could somehow manage to do all the last minute things I need to do before getting on that airplane tomorrow and go down to Kingston for a reading of my play Lumottu?


So, yes, the play reading has been re-scheduled for August 30th. Yes, right before I head off to Ireland, but things will have to be sorted long before that. Um, I hope.

I must be mad; yes, it’s the only explanation. I am up early to pack, finish things that need to be done, run errands and then actually teach today, too! My mantra continues to be, “Somehow it will all get done, somehow…”

Not sure exactly how that will happen, but things are bound to get done if you stare at them long enough, right? What? It takes more than staring? I’m doing this all wrong then. Thank goodness I have help: thank you, Catherine, and thank you, Peg! I think there was something else I meant to mention in this post, but for the life of me I can’t recall what.