Free author readings and lectures

The Warren Wilson College MFA program for writers provides free readings and lectures to the public. The first reading begins tomorrow night. The reading schedule is posted on their web site (link). I plan on attending as many as I am able. However, a passage from one of Günter Grass’s novels makes me wonder about the validity of creative writing programs.

Here unpolished literary attempts were read aloud and critiqued…. based on the American notion of teaching creative writing. (Crabwalk, Chapter 2)

Gardening: spirituality and vermicomposting

Squash and peas begin to flower

The urban garden as it looks in early June; squash and peas begin flowering.

Oh, Adam was a gardener, and God who made him sees
That half a proper gardener’s work is done upon his knees,
So when your work is finished, you can wash your hand and pray
For the Glory of the Garden, that it may not pass away!

(link: The Glory of the Garden by Rudyard Kipling)

The correlation between gardening and prayer had not occurred to me until I read that Kipling poem. American culture has forgotten how growing one’s own food is a lot of labor and often a gamble. This year there has been sufficient rain, but previous years these mountains have experienced drought. In years past I’ve lost plants to a Spring frost, plant mold and blight. But when Kipling wrote those lines ubiquitous herbicides and pesticides where unavailable as well as genetically modified plants. Gardening and spirituality have always been connected, but only in recent history that we have forgotten that truth as the culture detoured to a road of industrial foods.

So far the garden has yielded a modest supply of lettuce for occasional salads, a dozen or so snap peas, a half-dozen chili peppers. The tomatoes should be coming in soon as well as the squash. The first load of vermicompost was used in the garden box where the peppers grow. (It may be difficult to see in the photo, but there are two green totes behind the tomato garden box where I vermicompost table scraps.) At the current pace, worms compost one tote of table scraps every three to four weeks. It’s hard to imagine that this little garden provides so much work that many evenings and weekends are filled with labor on my hands and knees.

Soundtrack to the late 90s

I can’t complain and all my bills have been paid.
Thank you so much for all the wonderful…

Link: PlankEye

This weekend, I visited the 90s through the portal of my compact disc collection and discovered that some of my favorite, modern, alternative, somewhat indie, but mostly obscure bands released their creative energy upon the world around 1995. Most of them didn’t survive the threshold of Y2K. Those who did survive Y2K, panted, sputtered, and collapsed shortly after 9-11. As I listen to some of the old tunes I recall how some of these songs resonated with me. Room Full of Walters came out with a song that articulated a message I didn’t have words for. At the time, I lived in the gun-totting, bible-thumping, concealed-arms permits Southern state. First time I heard the song, I said out loud, “You read my mind!”

Jesus Christ would never carry a gun
but you defend your right to bare one….
What’s up with you?
Why do you do the things
you do in the name of God?

Link: Room Full of Walters

Straight out of the university with a degree in graphic design, I had a passion for art. During the day I’d work at a small publishing company designing newsletters and booklets for residential and commercial properties, but at night I was painting, writing and reading. My goal was to have a solo show with at least 20 paintings. That’s when the music of Dimestore Prophets hit me like a two by four.

Truth is getting so hard to paint
Just chasing the wind, no place to begin
Mister, you’re not the first
Try working with dirt
Yeah sure ok Monet

Link: Dimestore Prophets

By the time the curtain closed on the 90s I finally had that solo art exhibit.

Another Dimestore Prophets song that stung me like a bee and wouldn’t let me ignore it was a tune called “Soothsayer.” At the time, I was recovering from the effects of being in a Christian fundamentalist environment and I just couldn’t stomach religion anymore. “Soothsayer” complicated my thoughts about God and faith and life in a way that still haunts me today.

Kneel down to the
system, hail religious
grind

Now jump like a
circus
dog through my hoops of fire

You won’t find a
back door to
heaven

Link: Dimestore Prophets

And then there are girls. Futile attempts at romance. Negotiating various relationships. And this song sometimes captured those moments at night on the patio, drinking coffee, smoking a cheap cigar, trying to read a book about two lovers who just don’t quite connect because of class or taste or some other issue that complicates life (but makes great novels).

Better off if things were left unsaid.
Tomorrow’s sorrows waiting there once again.
The silver pinholes of the night
refuse to sing their starry song tonight.

Link: PlankEye

And I realize that these songs are kind of like milestones. Some chosen, others placed in my way, but markers nonetheless to surviving the late 90s and progress on to the new century — new millennia.

Is it possible to be a polymath in today’s culture?

Are polymaths extinct? In the ancient world polymaths shared expertise in various fields of knowledge. One example is Leonardo da Vinci — not merely a painter, but sculptor, architect, musician, scientist, mathematician, engineer, cartographer, botanist and writer. More recently, Thomas Jefferson fits that definition as a horticulturist, political leader, architect, inventor, and founder of the University of Virginia. Is it possible to be a polymath in this modern world? As it relates to blogging, can effective bloggers be polymaths?

Copyblogger offers some habits of effective bloggers. The list includes:

  • prolific
  • concise
  • focused and consistent

(Link: 8 Habits of Highly Effective Bloggers)

One of the things stated as an attribute of an effective blogger is:

Successful bloggers choose a topic and stick to it.

They write consistently about their chosen subject… Even when they write about something that seems to be off-topic, they relate it back to the niche they know…

This makes practical sense as far as marketability. You don’t expect comic books sold at a doughnut shop. But what about a gas station? Of course, you purchase gas at a gas station, but most gas station owners don’t make profits from the sale of gasoline. Most of their revenue comes from products sold inside the gas station. In high school, I stopped by the gas station routinely to purchase comic books. Should blogs be doughnut shops or gas stations?

In the marketing world, as in the blogosphere, an individual who chooses a topic and sticks to it is a specialist or consultant. In Peter Rubie’s Telling the Story, he presents this definition of genres:

The development of genres came about as a marketing necessity. “Category” and “genre” are marketing terms… Their purpose is basically to help you more easily find what it is you’re looking for.

Telling the Story then goes on to list seven narrative nonfiction categories: adventure, travel books, biography, history, military, memoir and true crimes. The music industry follows the same protocol: country, pop, rock, hip-hop, and so on into the sub-genres of goth-metal, indie-folk-americana, afro-celt, etc. What Copyblogger proposes is to be marketable to your online audience. If you’re a tech blog, write about technology. If you’re an organic gardener, write about gardening. If you’re a mom, write about mommy stuff. That way your online readers are trained to expect only doughnuts at the doughnut shop.

The question is this: if blogs are specialized, will that make the community more or less knowledgable? I’ve noticed that art blogs often link to other art blogs. I understand that the reason for this is to create a strong community. The challenge with specializing content is that the specialists become islands of highly focused, topical knowledge surrounded by the waters of ignorance of other general knowledge. Jacques Barzun explores the idea of specialized knowledge and more in The House of Intellect. Let me go back to the opening paragraph where I stated “more recently, Thomas Jefferson…” Between Thomas Jefferson and our present information age, the society and culture has changed so dramatically that I wonder if our institutions of intellect suppress the nurture and nature of polymaths.

Should you do an audio or video podcast?

Here are a few thing to consider before you start:

People will remember:

  • 10% of what they read
  • 20% of what they hear
  • 50% of what they see and hear

(Link: Is Web video really effective?)

I’m not sure about the accuracy of those numbers, but here is another thing to consider: who is producing the content? Video takes a lot longer to produce than audio, and there are a lot more variables to video capture (like what’s in the background, natural lighting, audio, etc.)

An audio podcast — providing there is good audio capturing technique — is relatively easy to produce on a regular basis. Using a good digital recorder and mic, you can capture audio relatively quickly, download it to a laptop, edit it using various audio software, export it as a MP3 file and upload it to a Web server for online distribution.