Becoming One with the Artist

Re-Post from February 2011:

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“One should never write just to avoid being silent…. I feel a writer MUST write what is in his heart, and if there is nothing there of strong content or passion, then he must LIVE and EXPERIENCE before he can truly write….writing is, after all like art, simply sharing our passion with the world.”      ~from a letter to my mother, April 2001

Today, I found an old copy of a letter written to my mother ten years ago. Reading the letter reminded me of the exuberant passion I’ve always felt toward writing as art and my sincere, consistent belief that “one should never write just to avoid being silent.”

I believe that the best writing comes from deep belief, sincere passion, and a strong connective tissue between the writer and the written. These qualities allow great writing to transcend the particular time of its creation.

A writer suffering deep loss, of a child or spouse, will put that loss into the words of a poem or story. It is an intimate loss to him, but it is also a common experience, a shared sadness among other human beings. He will articulate the loss, others will read and identify with his words, the poem or story will always be his but will also become an independent identity in many ways. It will outlive him, or keep him alive, in coming centuries depending on your view. It has its own permanence.

This permanence, or legacy, is part of arts truth, so to speak. Most people can name a few classic writers and artists without great trouble (Shakespeare,Hemingway, Van Gogh, Rembrandt), but how many could name current artists? Very few could name the current Poet Laureate or a current popular painter. Artists understand, to some degree, that their work may well have more meaning and be worth more value in the future. A writer writes now with an eye focused a decade away. An artist creates now with the understanding that his canvass is more permanent than himself.

The artist is a creator. He excavates his emotional soul and pours deep truths onto the waiting page or canvass; he dissects and maneuvers the universal realities he sees as he lives, recasting and reworking them into a timelessness that becomes art. This art becomes a flexible representation of the universal passion of humanity and endures because of that kinship. He creates a legacy, an oeuvre, for himself that will eventually be all that remains.

Art is steeped in the history of it’s time of creation to some degree, but that is more reference point than anything else. The language, dress, and backgrounds’ may change, but the faces and voices are timeless. Eyes look out hauntingly with fear or joy, action takes place with a certain tone or with laughter. The experience is universally human regardless of the time period.

Great writing, like all great art, will show us a truth we know in a way we didn’t know how to express. The combination of new insight along with recognizable, enduring truth gives us an “ah-ha” moment – a moment in which we become one with the words and the writer, one with the art and the artist.~
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The Class War Rages in America

RE-POST FROM APRIL 2011…

“Do you not know that there comes a midnight hour when everyone has to throw off his mask? Do you believe that life will always let itself be mocked?“      ~Soren Kierkegaard

venice_masque

We are the author of our own personal truth. We make daily decisions, as the creator, designing and constructing the platform-frame as a foundation to which we attach our personality, build a narrative history, and create a legacy that becomes the unique remembrance of us in the world. We do this as individuals and as the United States of America.

Nationally, as Americans, we love to believe in theAmerican Dream – that anyone can become anything, rising above circumstances and limitations, to become an American success story.  Our history is one of dreamers and dreams being born and flourishing. Our soil grows an independent fighting Spirit that makes us seek more and better; each new generation shoving past its predecessor to become smarter, brighter, stronger, richer, and happier.This is the promise we have cherished since becoming a nation; a promise believed to be our great Destiny. We are a nation built on hope, individuality, and dreams.

But, times are changing, and as New Americans we live in a time of masks. Our politicians are primarily a collective of hidden faces behind picturesque disguises, the national economy still tragically caught within a depression that is masked by the title recession, and numerous negative sociological and cultural changes ignored and denied as non-existent boogey-monsters imagined by an uneducated and panicky lower-class public. The American Dream still applies to 1% of the population, but what about the 99% who have trouble sleeping and haven’t dreamed in years?

Class Levels and the Battle for Education

America has always been a land of class division as much as she would deny it. However, not since the years of open slavery has the schism between the rich and poor been so great. The classes continue to grow in distance from one another, with the realities of one class being almost incomprehensible to the other class. At the heart of these different realities lies education.

The poorer classes traditionally are less educated and less literate than the more prosperous classes. The recent cuts in public school budgets for arts and sciences, the teacher downsizing and layoffs in the public schools, and the current trend toward staff reductions and closing of public libraries is obviously more detrimental to the poor. Likewise, when the fear of government shut-downs were discussed, it was the military and public parks that faced pay cuts and closures – both of which are utilized by and filled with people of poor to modest incomes. The rich seldom need to use these services or join our military forces.

The money and privilege of the higher classes provides advantages beyond what the “average” American can afford. High crime rates, violent acts during a crime, and major drug use are often directly traceable to lack of education and trauma in the home. Deprivation of basic resources and a sense of stability and security, along with unhealthy self-esteem, creates an unbalanced psyche that leans toward mental illness, drug use, and violent crime. While the answer may not be to throw money at the problems once they’ve reached that stage; certainly, no one would deny that our society benefits from educating our children, teaching them to be productive, ensuring that all children have their basic needs met, and are provided a good, basic education.

Education is like medical care: those with higher incomes and more disposable money will always be able to purchase both commodities. Those without the funds to do so lose the foundation of opportunity. We create a society in which violence thrives because higher education, critical thinking, logic and problem solving have not been taught. Instead, people take what they want by forces believing that to be the only way they’ll ever have it. Lack of opportunity, inequality, and jealousy creates violent men and women.

door-lock_small

In recent years, our public education system has fallen terribly short of its objectives – we do need review and changes. However, cutting teacher pay, laying-off teachers, and increasing class size are not forward-moving steps. Rather, these are antiquated methods that lock doors to keep certain people (classes) “in their place.” An uninformed and uneducated public is also a less powerful public. But, we must beware, because history shows that mob rule becomes the norm when people cannot find voice or power any other way.

Who is the 99% ?

There’s a wonderful article by Joseph E. Stiglitz, in this month’s Vanity Fair, titled, “Of The 1%, By The 1%, For The 1%,” that explores the inequality in wealth and class in America. According to Stiglitz:

The upper 1 percent of Americans are now taking in nearly a quarter of the nation’s income every year. In terms of wealth rather than income, the top 1 percent control 40 percent….While the top 1 percent have seen their incomes rise 18 percent over the past decade, those in the middle have actually seen their incomes fall.

This is a staggering truth – the numbers don’t lie. The rich run the country through wealth and power, and the middle class IS shrinking. Stiglitz goes on to examine this situation in depth, looking at the ruling class and politicians, at current reinforcing rules, and at what this means for America as time passes. In closing he explains a basic truth often forgotten by those in power: As a nation, the fate of the 1 percent and the fate of the 99 percent is intricately knotted together.

The 99 percent could be called the “average Americans.” The men and women who work a job in construction, food service, plants or warehouses, service industries, and myriad other “blue and white collar” jobs. The 1 percent are the politicians, the IT millionaires, the privileged dynasty families, and the other top power brokers in our nation. The 1 percent, like the mythical comments of the French queen, may very well say “let them eat cake,” as the lower classes starve. Again, history teaches us valuable lessons about the abject distance between the two classes and the violence that is possible when the rich and powerful men forget that the poor man has a destiny entwined with his own.

Writing an Author Bio: How to Win the Race! Part 1

“All runners (writers) in place!”

“Ready! Set! Go!”

The starting gun fires and the race begins!

Half the contestants stumble and turn, blindly running in the wrong direction. The other half run toward an imaginary finish line in the distance . . . somewhere?

Welcome to the world-cup championship race for the best Author Bio!* You, the writer (or hope-to-be writer), must tell the world who you are, and why they should listen to you, in a succinct 25 to 150 words. No solid guidelines exist to help you and there is no definitive formula for winning. Ready! Set! Go!

Does this scene sound familiar to you? Do you sit at the keyboard, palms sweating – trying to figure out who you are, what you have to say, why your work matters – trying to create the perfect Author Bio? If so, this article will help you understand and formulate a great Author Bio that works for you!

Warming Up: Defining Yourself as an Author!

I’ve been thinking about Author Bio’s for several weeks due to my blog getting more clicks on that page. It’s time to revise and update, and that decision, to re-work my own personal Bio, led to this article. Honestly, I never enjoy writing my Author Bio. It always seems a bit egotistical and pretentious – listing all my previous publication credits,talking about myself formally, introducing myself with all that pomp and grandeur – it’s not really a comfortable process even if you’re an old hand at it.

It’s even worse if you’re new to the writing profession. How do unpublished writers create credibility for their work and a professional sense of who they are in the Bio? After all, it’s not like you can say, “I’ve never written anything before, but I know my work is worth publishing. Trust me.” Right? Well, you can do that, but it never works out to your benefit!

The Author Bio is the starting point for any serious writer.**  Most editors read your Author Bio and your cover letter before even glancing at your submission. (I’ll talk about cover letters in another post.) The effort to write a good Author Bio is both necessary and worthwhile. A “good Author Bio” will help to define who you are as a writer and what your work says to the world. It is a source of clarity and purpose if done correctly. It is also, based on my years of experience as an editor, one of the most neglected parts of a submission package.

Starting Line: Understanding the Three Types of Author Bio’s

The Author Bio is the first impression an editor will have of you. It should contain the same level of writing expertise as your work. It should provide a glimpse into your philosophy on writing and the motivation behind your work. The first key to writing a good Author Bio is to understand that it is intricately linked to your work as a writer.

There are three main types of Author Bio’s:

1. Author Bio A: Educational credentials and previous publications in the small-press arena and/or winning or high placement in literary contests;

2. Author Bio B: Non-educational credentials, but combinations of publications in local or online arenas, mixed with small-press and literary publication credits;

3. Author Bio C: Non-educational and Non-published credentials, may have a blog or informal online publications or no publication history of any type.

These Bio Types are intentionally broad to allow for varying degrees of writing expertise and publication history.*** The Type label is an organized way for us to discuss “writers” as professionals, using their background, particular focus and interests, and their degree of publication experience in order to write an effective Author Bio.

It is important to remember that your Author Bio is actually your writer biography – not your mom biography, your I keep a perfectly clean house biography, or I love ice skating biography – your Bio should represent you as writer and your specific area of interest regarding a piece of work and it’s inclusion in a specific magazine or market. (The exception to this rule: Stephen King can say anything he wants in his bio!)

The Type A Bio will typically be a more experienced professional writer or an academic with numerous publication credits in their field of study. They often have a PhD or an MFA,  attend well-known workshops, are involved with writer colonies, and may be a full-time writer, professor, or editor. They often blog professionally for various media,win numerous prizes and grants via writing competitions, and may have published books one or more books.

The Type B Bio often holds a college degree and is a writer for local publications or literary magazines. They may own or edit a small-press magazine, have numerous literary publications, have won or placed in literary competitions, and may be a professional blogger with a medium to large following. They are usually less involved with national events/publications and more involved in local arts programs and cultural events or organizations in their area.

The Type C Bio is typically the beginning writer or a more mature person who has retired and is now pursuing a life-long dream. They may or may not have a college degree, may have written for local regional publications, may have some published credits or none at all. They often start writing as an emotional release, an escape from troubled lives, or because they are an avid reader and have always wanted to be a writer. They often have a blog with a small following and may or may not participate in community writing activities or reading groups.

The first step in writing a great Author Bio is to decide your Bio Type and then make an  honest assessment of self.  Nathaniel Hawthorne was right when he said:

“No man, for any considerable period can wear one face to himself and another to the multitude, without finally getting bewildered as to which one is true.”

Many people in the world wear masks on a daily basis, but the writer must to step from behind his mask and view himself with distance and perspective.

It is the element of distance that allows the writer to find truth in himself and the piece of work he’s creating. Again, Hawthorne makes a succinct point when he says, “Accuracy is the twin brother of honesty; inaccuracy, of dishonesty.” Good writing always flows from a place of emotional honesty and perspective cultivated and polished by the writer. instinctively, the reader understands this and backs away from the work of an overwrought, dishonest writer.

(E.g. Writing a story of Aunt Martha being fat because you hate her guts, and with no other intention or depth, will seem hostile, petty, and pointless to the reader. You’ll lose them before the end of the first paragraph. On the other hand, writing a story about Aunt Martha, from a place of honesty and compassion, detailing your journey to forgive her and move away from hatred, will gain a reader’s interest and involvement. They’ll want to know how the story – your journey – works out and will likely continue reading.)

Take a long, serious look in the mirror and then take a long, serious look at your writing from the position of observer. It’s time to start writing.

(Read Part 2 Here)

Photo courtesy of:training racing pigeonswebsite.

*The term Author Bio is used in its general, wider meaning throughout this article to include any writer, poet, author, etc. that would be formally submitting work for acceptance and publication.

**I realize that writing and publication has changed a great deal these past years. However, whether submitting work in a traditional snail-mail manner or via online submission tools or emails, I still believe a certain level of professionalism is required. Thus, the Author Bio and cover letters are treated as necessary to any submission process regardless of the format.

***I firmly believe that you can be a successful writer regardless of your particular Bio Type or level of experience. I also believe that no one type is better or worse than the other. These Types are used as a simple guideline to understanding the various levels of professional achievement, along with the slant or focus of particular writers. It is not intended to be in any way discriminatory, argumentative, or seen as support or rejection of any particular group or individual writer.

The 99% and The Battle for America

“Do you not know that there comes a midnight hour when everyone has to throw off his mask? Do you believe that life will always let itself be mocked?“      ~Soren Kierkegaard

venice_masque

We are the author of our own personal truth. We make daily decisions, as the creator, designing and constructing the platform-frame as a foundation to which we attach our personality, build a narrative history, and create a legacy that becomes the unique remembrance of us in the world. We do this as individuals and as the United States of America.

Nationally, as Americans, we love to believe in the American Dream – that anyone can become anything, rising above circumstances and limitations, to become an American success story.  Our history is one of dreamers and dreams being born and flourishing. Our soil grows an independent fighting Spirit that makes us seek more and better; each new generation shoving past its predecessor to become smarter, brighter, stronger, richer, and happier. This is the promise we have cherished since becoming a nation; a promise believed to be our great Destiny. We are a nation built on hope, individuality, and dreams.

But, times are changing, and as New Americans we live in a time of masks. Our politicians are primarily a collective of hidden faces behind picturesque disguises, the national economy still tragically caught within a depression that is masked by the title recession, and numerous negative sociological and cultural changes ignored and denied as non-existent boogey-monsters imagined by an uneducated and panicky lower-class public. The American Dream still applies to 1% of the population, but what about the 99% who have trouble sleeping and haven’t dreamed in years?

Class Levels and the Battle for Education

America has always been a land of class division as much as she would deny it. However, not since the years of open slavery has the schism between the rich and poor been so great. The classes continue to grow in distance from one another, with the realities of one class being almost incomprehensible to the other class. At the heart of these different realities lies education.

The poorer classes traditionally are less educated and less literate than the more prosperous classes. The recent cuts in public school budgets for arts and sciences, the teacher downsizing and layoffs in the public schools, and the current trend toward staff reductions and closing of public libraries is obviously more detrimental to the poor. Likewise, when the fear of government shut-downs were discussed, it was the military and public parks that faced pay cuts and closures – both of which are utilized by and filled with people of poor to modest incomes. The rich seldom need to use these services or join our military forces.

The money and privilege of the higher classes provides advantages beyond what the “average” American can afford. High crime rates, violent acts during a crime, and major drug use are often directly traceable to lack of education and trauma in the home. Deprivation of basic resources and a sense of stability and security, along with unhealthy self-esteem, creates an unbalanced psyche that leans toward mental illness, drug use, and violent crime. While the answer may not be to throw money at the problems once they’ve reached that stage; certainly, no one would deny that our society benefits from educating our children, teaching them to be productive, ensuring that all children have their basic needs met, and are provided a good, basic education.

Education is like medical care: those with higher incomes and more disposable money will always be able to purchase both commodities. Those without the funds to do so lose the foundation of opportunity. We create a society in which violence thrives because higher education, critical thinking, logic and problem solving have not been taught. Instead, people take what they want by forces believing that to be the only way they’ll ever have it. Lack of opportunity, inequality, and jealousy creates violent men and women.

door-lock_small 

In recent years, our public education system has fallen terribly short of its objectives – we do need review and changes. However, cutting teacher pay, laying-off teachers, and increasing class size are not forward-moving steps. Rather, these are antiquated methods that lock doors to keep certain people (classes) “in their place.” An uninformed and uneducated public is also a less powerful public. But, we must beware, because history shows that mob rule becomes the norm when people cannot find voice or power any other way.

 

 Who is the 99% ?

 

There’s a wonderful article by Joseph E. Stiglitz, in this month’s Vanity Fair, titled, “Of The 1%, By The 1%, For The 1%,” that explores the inequality in wealth and class in America. According to Stiglitz:

The upper 1 percent of Americans are now taking in nearly a quarter of the nation’s income every year. In terms of wealth rather than income, the top 1 percent control 40 percent….While the top 1 percent have seen their incomes rise 18 percent over the past decade, those in the middle have actually seen their incomes fall.

  

This is a staggering truth – the numbers don’t lie. The rich run the country through wealth and power, and the middle class IS shrinking. Stiglitz goes on to examine this situation in depth, looking at the ruling class and politicians, at current reinforcing rules, and at what this means for America as time passes. In closing he explains a basic truth often forgotten by those in power: As a nation, the fate of the 1 percent and the fate of the 99 percent is intricately knotted together.

The 99 percent could be called the “average Americans.” The men and women who work a job in construction, food service, plants or warehouses, service industries, and myriad other “blue and white collar” jobs. The 1 percent are the politicians, the IT millionaires, the privileged dynasty families, and the other top power brokers in our nation. The 1 percent, like the mythical comments of the French queen, may very well say “let them eat cake,” as the lower classes starve. Again, history teaches us valuable lessons about the abject distance between the two classes and the violence that is possible when the rich and powerful men forget that the poor man has a destiny entwined with his own.   

to an unknown poet

In the late 70’s, when I was about nine, a poet came to my class at O. P. Earle Elementary School in Landrum, South Carolina as part of an arts program. He spent several days reading poems, teaching us what poems were, and encouraging us to write them. He took several of the best poems from the class with him when he left, promising that some would be published as part of the program.

I received a package in the mail with a newspaper-style tabloid inside a few months later. One of my poems was chosen for publication. I can remember the “big deal” this was to me then and the excitement and pride of my grandparents when they saw the published poem with my name attached. This is the first memory I have of me as an individual, the first moment in which I understood personal identity.

The unknown poet that opened the door of individuality and possibility for me has remained with me in essence through the years. I wish I knew his name so I could write a letter thanking him for the great gift he brought into my life. I have been able to personally survive and grow in ways that would have been impossible without poetry. And, after years of writing in all genres, poetry is always the place of deepest emotion for me, the true home to which I return.

The power of poetry is such that in a small schoolroom, in a miniscule rural town, a frightened little girl found her voice. That voice found the courage to speak from the depths of isolation to the heights of possibility. That small, tiny voice has spoken from numerous magazine pages all over the United States. That voice is still speaking . . .

I remain indebted and eternally grateful to my unknown poet from childhood, to the arts program, the teachers and school system that believed in poetry as an important part of education. Thank you.