Thursday reminder to keep going


What does one do with old, unpublished artwork? Dozens upon dozens of illustrations remain hidden. Housed in art portfolio cases and cardboard boxes. These sketches, drawings and illustrations remain artifacts of decades of work.

They resurfaced this summer. Drawings and illustrations created with the purpose of advancing a career as a children’s book writer/illustrator, comic book artist and/or cartoonist. Several four-page comic book stories present an exercise toward a full-length comic book. Inspired by the 1990s indie comic scene, a lot of the stories are slice-of-life scenes and dramas. One collection of illustrations is a story written by a friend. Another set of drawings features character drawings for a writer seeking to pitch a proposal to Image Comics.

There is a portfolio case filled with pages of a first issue and half a second issue of an indie comic. It was created for a writer who contacted me to collaborate on the project. The pages display pen and brush illustrations. Think of the early work of David Collier. If he drew every page with his right hand. (He is left-handed. If I recall correctly.) On second thought, maybe it doesn’t look anything like David Collier’s work. The struggle with this indie project was that I learned that I do not illustrate fast and well at the same time. Back in those pre-iPhone/pre-Twitter days, I worked as a graphic designer during the day and an artist by night. A 30-day deadline to complete 22 pages plus cover art was a difficult task. If I had worked eight hours a day on the project instead of two hours a day, maybe the results would have been better. The indie comic was never published.

Another sketch book has pages of comps for a cartoon strip. The idea was that if I cannot draw detailed panels and pages fast, maybe I can draw cartoons faster. So, I created a cartoon character and comic strip and discovered that drawing a cartoon is just as time intensive as illustrating detailed comic pages. I pivoted toward a cartoon style similar to Jim Davis. In short, a comic strip with near static panels and subtle changes in art between one panel and the next. Sort of a pre-Adam Ellis templated four-panel strip. The comic strip was published regularly in a North Carolina alternative newspaper until the paper took an extended sabbatical.

“I like that one,” my bride commented. Dozens of cartoon pages rest on a desk in our bedroom.

“Maybe I should collect these pages into a book,” I offered.

“What do mean?”

“You know, like an artist’s sketchbook or portfolio book. I’ve got several of those type of books.” I think of books like Michael Wm. Kaluta Sketchbook or C. Vess Sketchbook.

“Yeah, but aren’t those more like retrospectives of an artist’s celebrated career?”

“Hm. Yeah. I guess you’re right,” I answered. But why can’t it be used to promote a career, I think to myself.

“Maybe after you’ve published your magnum opus.”

“Yeah. I guess so.”

The illustration boards still rest on the desk I built from salvaged wood. A reminder to keep going.

Strange Throwback Thursday

Comic Stroll 2013

 

After nearly a six-year hiatus, I was excited to see a project that began with notes and sketches transform into a published comic strip. Even if it was a one-off. Even if I had to hand the responsibility of drawing each panel to someone else. It was done.

I had imagined that the creative non-fiction comic story I crafted would earn some interest. Maybe it would open a few doors to an audience. And allow me to write and illustrate. Even earn some money. Maybe I would quit my day job and provide for my household by doing something I loved. Telling stories. And drawing pictures.

That was five years ago.

A few weeks ago I found a box in the garage. It had several copies of a publication that printed my comic strip. I glanced over the pages and then placed them back into the box. I also found several books. Opened one book I remembered enjoying.

“What’s that?” asked one of the children.

“It’s a collection of comic strips.”

“Oh.”

I pulled a copy from the box and gave it to the child.

“There’s a story in there I wrote.” I said. “See if you can find it.”

The child took the copy of Comic Stroll and headed off to the couch in the living room.

I flipped through the pages of the book I had found. Read a few highlights.

Yeah, I resemble that, I thought to myself after reading a few lines at the end of the book. The author referenced a friend of his who gave up an art gig for a corporate job in order to provide for his family.

Yeah. I know what that is like.

How many comic pages might I have written and illustrated if I had. . . Well, what-ifs and might-have-beens are dangerous paths to pursue. What you did, great or small, is what matters.

Watching my progeny spend an afternoon reading comic strips I had a hand in creating was a pleasure.

NOTES:
Comic Stroll, a publication of the Southeast chapter of the National Cartoonist Society, featured a collection of previously unpublished comic strips. You can read the whole journey of what started in November 2005 as a couple drawings and became a creative non-fiction comic strip:
[1] Comics and Narrative Non-Fiction
[2] Comics and Narrative Non-Fiction Continued
[3] Narrative Non-Fiction Comics: part 3
[4] Narrative Non-Fiction Comics: part 4
[5] Narrative Non-Fiction Comics: part 5
[6] Narrative Non-Fiction Comics: UPDATE
[7] Narrative Non-Fiction Comics: UPDATE
[8] Strange Familiar Place comic series
[9] Strange Familiar Place returns
[10] The return of Strange Familiar Place to print

I am supposed to be doing something important right now

To post or not to post. To repeat old habits, or to start new ones.

That is how I concluded last week’s blog post. Further, I revealed that I wrote multiple drafts of the post. From a few different angles. And did not plan on posting them online.

However, a little bird told me it might be worth reading. So, in the tradition of chapbooks, I pulled together the scraps and assembled a small e-book.

The e-book runs 4000 words. Part one is a preface (basically, last week’s blog post). Part two contains five short chapters of blog extras. Consider it bonus material. Like 90s audio CD hidden tracks. Part three is a collection of twelve confessions.

The e-book is available FREE for those who have Kindle unlimited. Otherwise it is a meager $0.99 to download a copy.

Hope you enjoy it. If you like what you find, please leave a comment below or give it a starred review on Amazon. Much gratitude!

Confessions, or to repeat old habits

During the last month I reflected on things I wrote a decade ago. The original idea I had was to simply repost material as a Throwback Thursday blog post. But when I reviewed the writings from those halcyon days before the disruption of iPhones, social media, tweets and posts — I noticed something. The meaning was illusive. I am still pondering it.

The first blog post was about photography. The second was about a poetry reading. The third was about a published essay. The fourth blog post was to be about confessions. Each week I wanted to add nuance and/or context to the original piece. Or at least a different facet of the original. To see it from a different angle. But that week I wrote four different takes on a post time stamped August 23, 2007.

One draft continued after the manner of the previous confessions series. The second draft crafted a meditation on the form and function of the confessions. Another explored the definition. What does the word “confession” mean? And finally, there was a brief homage to the blogger who inspired the confessional series. Ten years ago, there were at least a dozen bloggers (writers, thinkers and artists) I read daily.

To write and post one (but not all) of these different perspectives seemed to me limited in scope and context. To post all seemed unfair to the reader — not to mention indulgent and esoteric. And so, I scrapped the plan. Missed the Thursday deadline. And reflected on a path forward.

And then, during that weekend, I discovered an old spiral notebook from. . . well. . . a long time ago. In those days, my small Southern rental house had no internet, television or air conditioning. The only computer technology I owned at the time was a Brother electric typewriter. The notebook exposed a habit, a pattern, of mine that I have not altered from in years.

The red spiral notebook contained three drafts of a letter to a family member. Each draft was a variance of the previous letter. Each draft removed or altered items regarding hopes, fears and dreams. And the final draft was never mailed. More than one writing teacher and mentor told me that I tend to censor my writing. To hide details. Hide intimacy. This may be the nature of men. It may be my upbringing in a religious household. A home that taught everyone will be accountable to God for every word spoken and written. But failed to offer that if God is sovereign, then he already knows every word and deed I will ever do in my life. And he chose to love me anyway. But I digress.

To post or not to post. To repeat old habits, or to start new ones.

Patience – your writing finds the right audience

Have you ever written something that developed a life — even an audience — unexpected? The final chapter of a literary biography I read recently featured an introductory note that caught my attention. The author stated that of all the essays he had written during his long career the final essay of the book received the most attention. And the most requests for permission to reprint it in various publications.

Those were different days, I reflected. A time when permission was requested to reprint material an effort to share thoughtful writings. Rather than copy, paste, click and post.

In a very small way, a similar observance was made regarding a piece I wrote more than a decade ago.

This was back in the days before iPhones, Facebook, or Twitter. A time when SMS messaging — later texting — was a novelty that would be the most used mobile data service. But that was a couple years away.

A reader of my blog requested a review of a poem. I was suspicious of the request. Thought it might be a college student seeking someone to write his or her literature paper. I accepted the challenge.

At the time, I was writing book reviews, essays, interviews and such. Mostly for local publications. But a few journals and magazines on the West Coast published some of my work. I reached out to Len Fulton of Small Press Review and asked if I could submit the poem review. He graciously agreed.

I wrote a review of Charles Simic’s poem “Old Soldier” in an esoteric manner that could not easily be passed off as a high school literature paper. I sent off the review for publication. And waited. Months went by. Issue after issue of Small Press Review arrived in the mail box. Impatient, I posted an abridged, clumsy version of the review on my blog. A month later I submitted it to editor, publisher, and friend Pasckie Pascua who published it in the September 2005 edition of The Indie. When the November-December 2005 issue of Small Press Review arrived I was surprised to see my review had — in fact — been published.

The review of Simic’s poem “Old Soldier” remains one of the most read posts on this blog. It is embarrassing to me for a couple reasons. One, the lack of virtue in my life. The selfish rush to be published. Patience is a virtue I am still learning to practice. Another reason for the embarrassment is that the online, perennial version of the review is a shadow of the original. The writing that appeared in the Small Press Review has never been released online. And maybe that is best for now.

The review of the poem is the final chapter of a book manuscript I finished. As of this writing it remains unpublished. But maybe one day it will greet an audience of its own. And maybe wander online as well.

Language is communal

If “language is communal” with the primary obligation of telling the truth, than poetry — the highest form of literature — is essential for addressing the fragmentation of communities and people.

Thirteen years ago, my wife and I hosted friends at our cottage on the outskirts of Asheville. A simple meal of salad, chicken and pasta, and red wine provided the vehicle for conversation and stories.

The husband told a story about being pulled over by local police near Old Fort. The officer asked for the husband’s driver’s license and registration. The requested items were provided through a narrow slit of a rolled down window.

“I still have to roll the window down,” he smiled. This attested to his mountain frugality and blue collar virtue.

The officer returned the license and registration and asked if he knew why he had been pulled over and if he had firearms.

“No. And yes,” he replied. The officer asked where the firearms were located. He told the officer that the guns and ammo were stored separately in the trunk. He was then asked to get out of the vehicle and show the officer the guns. Which he did.

The trunk was opened to reveal a chainsaw, climbing equipment, tools and containers for guns and ammo. The officer admired the make and model of one pistol. Asked what he did for a living. And requested to handle the pistol. The husband complied. The officer inspected the pistol. To the husband’s surprise, the officer commented that he would tell his wife about this. She might buy it for him as a birthday gift.

“Well,” said the officer. “Have a safe drive home. And repair that busted tail light within the month.”

I admired the husband’s story. His stories were like climbing a mountain road that rose and fell and wove between cove and valley and eventually arrived were it intended.

That night, as the dishes were cleared from the dining table and a second glass of wine poured, his wife shared that she and her mother planned to attend my reading at Malaprop’s Bookstore and Café on Thursday night. She confessed that she was looking forward to the scheduled night of poetry and music. But she wanted to know why I chose to read and write poetry.

“Why not stories?” she asked.

That question haunted me.

Poetry’s form and function is different from prose. It is more ancient. Where a novel’s exposition provides a landscape of hundreds of pages to expand the narrative plot of character, conflict, and theme, a poem compresses an idea, thought or theme into a few lyrical lines. This is an overly reductive and non-academic comparison of the two forms. But consider the etymology of the word “poetry.”

The English word for poetry comes from an ancient Greek word meaning “to make” or “to craft.” The German word for poetry comes from a Latin word meaning “to dictate.” The Romans often borrowed Greek ideas and themes and aped or improved them. Between the two etymologies I gather the impression that poets are conduits for The Muses — the source of inspiration and creativity. Poets dictate the message of The Muses. Poets craft the message of truth. The ancient Greeks invoked The Muses at the beginning of poems, hymns and epics.

At the time of the diner with friends, I held a casual understanding that poetry in the German language encompasses a compression or density of thought and theme. And that poetry in English embraces beauty and harmony–or graceful elegance. Then, as much as I could afford, I studied Persian, Chinese, Japanese and Korean poetry. And I learned there is much I did not know about continent of poetry.

“Why not stories?” she asked. Stories are important. Poetry is essential. Community is vital. Words must nurture a fractured community in order to bring it together and make it stronger. That August Asheville evening, more than a decade ago, was one of the last nights our two families enjoyed supper and stories together.

People leave. Find a better job. A greener pasture. Or at least a different job with a different view. Change is the only constant. The transience of American culture enables people to move every few years. Words, idioms and phrases fall in and out of fashion. How then are we to nurture a strong community? Maybe it requires each of us to dwell deeply and stand by language. Stand by words.

Reflections in a puddle

20130701-123531.jpgIt is an early summer morning. It rained the night before as I walk a mile or so before I climb into the car for the morning’s mega commute. The parking lot near my home is dappled with puddles slowly evaporating. It reminds me of when I first started taking black and white photographs in high school. One of my favorite subjects was reflections of the sky in puddles.

I do not remember what initially attracted me to the subject matter, but I remember loading a 35mm SLR manual camera–either an Olympus or a Pentex–with a spool of film, pulling the leader and lining the sprocket holes with the sprockets, securing the leader to the spindle, closing the back door and advancing the film a couple frames. I would sling the camera over my shoulder and head outdoors to capture a surreal glimpse of the heavens from the perspective of puddles on asphalt. Or pools of water on gravel roads or a grassy field.

After collecting images captured and hidden on a roll of exposed black and white film, I returned to the darkroom at the high school and processed the film. First developing the amber film strips and then placing it in the enlarger to make prints. The way the image emerged from the paper as it floated in the developer solution was no end of amazement for me–like watching an unseen ghost suddenly materialize. The image of a lamp post in a puddle near the grainery, the water tower with clouds dancing from the pavement, the side of the building of the Coal Miner’s bar on Main Street or a self-portrait reflecting in a pool of water in an alley.

Something about a reflection seen from a different perspective captivated me. How can I look at a subject differently? How can I view it from a different angle–another perspective? I guess that is how I approach a lot of things today–asking myself, What is the wider context? Some days I just need to take a long walk on an early summer morning and look for those puddles, search for a different angle of the sky, watch the fog on the mountain tops from a mud puddle. Maybe a distorted, impressionistic reflection will inform me of something I did not see before.

NOTES:
From the archives. Consider this a Throwback-Thursday-what-did-I-write-five-years-ago entry. #TBT, #ThrowbackThursday: https://coffeehousejunkie.net/2013/07/
Six years ago I wrote this: A bookless American library: https://coffeehousejunkie.net/2012/08/02/a-bookless-american-library/
Eight years ago: Making its own app adds revenue for beleaguered newspaper: https://coffeehousejunkie.net/2010/08/02/making-its-own-app-adds-revenue-for-beleaguered-newspaper/
Ten years ago: https://coffeehousejunkie.net/2008/08/01/998/
25 years from now I want to: https://coffeehousejunkie.net/2009/08/04/scumblr-microwalrus-gumnos-mediatinker-com/

Typewriter poetry and blogging — updated

Some days all you need

A poem for a friend composed on a manual typewriter

At least eight years ago, an old beat up manual typewriter provided a platform to compose poetry and other writings.1 It was an effort to return to an intentional practice of crafting poetry and prose without distraction of disruptive media.

For years and years, a notebook, journal or sketchbook was never far from reach. But one night after a long night of poetry and music at Beanstreets followed by an even longer time of coffee and conversation at Old Europe, a friend convinced me to try blogging.

Photo courtesy of @mxmulder

Sample journal page of poetry

The immediate response to blogging was infections.2 Connecting with people all over the country, sharing writing samples or books read and being part of an active digital community was exciting. And the feedback on written work was quick — sometimes within a couple days or hours. The practice of writing allowed me to hone the craft of creative writing and exposed me to other writers across the country. One of those bloggers actually showed up at a poetry gig I did. She was on a cross-country trip to visit friends and wanted to visit in real life.

Over time, I noticed that my practice of writing notes, daily sketches and other activities had all but disappeared. Relying on keyboards, display screens, hard drives and servers presented became a crutch. My writing drafts and sketches appeared deceptively crisp and final in neatly formatted text documents and web blog interface windows.

So, I pulled the plug. Returned to handwriting and typing as practice.3 Some friends and fellow poets saw a few samples of typewritten work and suggested I post it on my blog. It was a novelty. A curiosity. So, I did.

One of the first photographs of a poem I composed on a typewriter was written for a friend. It was posted about this time of year — in 2011.4 A few days later I followed up with another poem5 that was later read at poetry event where I and other poets were dubbed “the next generation” of Asheville poets.6

I do not claim to be the first person to post an image of a poem typed on a manual typewriter. But I noticed a trend in that direction about a year after posting those images of typed poem sketches.7 Not sure exactly if I started the trend. Probably not. Maybe other like-minded individuals who sought to return an organic practice of handwriting and typing as a mode of composing their visions and ideas.

After relocating to the southern boarder of the Great White North8, I continued using the manual typewriter as a mode of composing new work — both poetry and prose. Some of this was due to the original intent of the practice — crafting content without distraction of disruptive media. Some of the use of the manual typewriter was due to a period of time that I was without a functional laptop and no internet access. A local writers group saw a lot of typed first drafts from that manual typewriter. One of those typed drafts was later published as a short story.9

Most recent first drafts have all been handwritten if not typed on one — of now two — of the manual typewriters. Blogging. Well, that has atrophied. Maybe I’ll post some photos of typewritten drafts this year as a way to keep the blog active. But, to celebrate an eight year anniversary of analog writing — I’ll keep most of it offline and on paper.10

Keep your stick on the ice and remember to use the lowercase L key when typing the numeral one.

NOTES:
[1] In truth, I composed poems on an electric typewriter prior to that. Did it for decades. Did not own a personal computer until… well, that is another story.
[2] That was when there were a mere couple million web blogs in the world. Now, there are some platforms, like Tumblr, boasting 100 million blogs. The blogosphere has become quite congested.
[3] Examples of some the 30 poems in 30 days journal posts with photos: here, here and here.
[4] April 1, 2011, blog post.
[5] Poem: “Never Look A Doughnut Dealer in the Eyes”
[6] “Rhyme and reason” by Alli Marshall, Mountain Xpress, April 6, 2011. Accessed April 2, 2018. “https://mountainx.com/arts/art-news/040611rhyme-and-reason/”
[7] Examples include Typewriter Poetry (though it seems the web site has not been active since March 19, 2015), Remington Typewriter Poetry (this site too has become inactive with the last entry posted June 2016), and the most popular is Tyler Knott (though his web page has an archive going back to 2003 (which is odd because he uses Tumblr as a platform and Tumblr was launched in early 2007… maybe he migrated his content from some other source to Tumblr… but I digress) the posted images do not begin until 2012 (unless I am mistaken).
[8] A reference to Bob and Doug McKenzie, fictional brothers who hosted the show Great White North (a reference to Canada, aye). For sample episode view Youtube video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0pPRaD6TKLc
[9] Left of the Lake published “Mortal Coil” in 2015. https://coffeehousejunkie.net/2015/08/31/publication-of-mortal-coil/
[10] Original post published on April 21, 2015 https://coffeehousejunkie.net/2015/04/21/typewriter-poetry-and-blogging/

National Poetry Month, weekend edition, part three

National Poetry Month is nearly at an end. One poet, Ann E. Michael, mentioned that she participated in this year’s National Poetry Month “by reading more than by writing.”[1] I agree with that sentiment.

One book I have been reading is a bilingual collection of poems by Anna Akhmatova. The modernist approach Akhmatova displayed in a Russian poem about an English play — Hamlet — amuses me. The line that gets me every time I read it is: “It was the sort of thing that princes always say.”

For people who do not know that they may actually like poetry, I like how Dick Allen put it in this blog post:
“Think of books of poetry the way you think of music CDs. A CD may have 12-15 songs on it. A small book of poetry may have 30-50 poems in it. Just as good songs will be played over, so good poems will be read over and over.”[2]

Following the thread of these two poets, I have read and reread some poetry books. A few favorite poems are on my repeat playlist. This poem by Akhmatova. Another poem by Han Shan. A couple poems by Li-young Lee from his book The City in Which I love You. A poem by Tu Fu.

In Sam Hamill’s notes regarding his translation of a Tu Fu poem he wrote about the mingled joy and deep resignation expressed in the work. “What is implied in the original, . . . is the notion that somehow, . . . he will not waste away sitting before the wine jug. . . . [Tu Fu] asks the question every poet asks under such circumstances: Why do we do it?”

Indeed. Why do we do it? My reply is to continue the Great Conversation.

NOTES: