Mystical bookshelves full of magic

Elders

It is important to have elders. One of mine is Ray Bradbury.

He was one of the best science fiction writers that ever lived. Countless short stories, television scripts, plays, and books flowed from his pen. He also had a love of life few had, or will ever, match.

This shines through in a book of his called Zen in the Art of Writing. It is the best book about writing anyone can read. Oftentimes such work can fall into dull introspection, cynicism, and tactics; Bradbury doesn’t waste his time with any of these things. He is unabashedly in love with writing and wants you to be too. Continue reading

Same Dream, Different Collar

Chevy in the Hole was one of the largest auto production facilities in the world. At its peak, 8,000 people worked there, in eight different assembly and production plants in Flint, Michigan.

Possibly the greatest voice to come out of those plants was a guy named Ben Hamper, author of the book Rivethead: Tales from the Assembly Line. In it, he describes life as an assembly line worker during the dying days of the Flint plants.

The books characters had different ways of dealing with the life of a shoprat. All of them turned to alcohol in some way or another. One man in particular, one that Hamper was making a hero in his columns, was so drunk on the job that he shit his pants.

But Hamper had a different means of making the clock run a bit faster: he started to write. Working the rivet line, he would finish his work and have one or two minutes before the next car crawled down the line. In that pit of time, he started to scribble. And he got damn good at it, too.

Read any of his work, and you can plainly see this Rivethead guy is smart. He’s talented.

This begs the question: why did we have him working on an assembly line? You have a guy with that kind of intelligence, that kind of talent for writing, and the best thing we as a society can find for this guy to do is rivet rocker plates to cars? Continue reading

Comic Assumptions

Librarians are over thinkers.

That is, after all, how we make our living. We are also not known for confidence, or the ability to keep things in perspective.

As a librarian, I’ve done a few articles interviewing people about their work. It’s always fascinating. Everybody’s got a story. If you can’t see that, if you can’t connect, that’s your problem.

Comedians get paid to do that, when you think about it. They get paid to connect with people. Laughter, in and of itself, is a connection with the people in the crowd. I’ve listened to hundreds of hours of standup and interviews with comedians. They’re interesting people. They love to talk. Interviewing one should be really easy. Continue reading

In Praise of Wandering

Bill Watterson is one of the best cartoonists of all time. I’d say he’s the best. I can’t imagine a better art, better characters, or a better strip than Calvin and Hobbes. It was brilliant when I was a kid and it’s brilliant now. It’s easy to wonder how such a prolific author came up with so much great art in one lifetime.

In the Calvin and Hobbes 10th Anniversary Book, Watterson speaks about his own creative process, specifically how he came up with ideas for his strip. He wrote:

People always ask how cartoonists come up with ideas, and the answer is so boring that we’re usually tempted to make something sarcastic. The truth is, we hold a blank sheet of paper, stare into space, and let our minds wander. (To the layman, this looks remarkably like goofing off.)

Like most of the work Watterson has produced, there’s a gem in it: goofing off is how creativity works. The really great ideas, the really incredible ones, usually come from the metaphorical gambol. Continue reading

Funny Numbers

10,000 is a funny number.

In most libraries across the country, you’ll find one book that focuses on that number like a hawk. That book, of course, is Outliers: The Story of Success, by Malcom Gladwell.

The book describes the success of many people, from the Beatles to Bill Gates. The author attributes their success to mastery over their given craft, and posits that this mastery comes from 10,000 hours of deliberate practice; inborn talent is only allowed to grow if the person commits to practicing that skill in a deliberate way for long periods of time. This is not the only piece of the success puzzle that Gladwell posits, but it is a large one, and one that’s being debated.

What’s implied by this theory is that in order for a person to be a success, they must specialize at an extreme level. They must get really, really good at a single thing.

One of the people who’s put in their 10,000 hours is a comedian named Louis CK. He’s been in the stand-up game for quite awhile now; he has a successful sitcom, stand-up specials, and roles in Hollywood films. By any measure, he’s a great success, a seminal figure in pop culture today. Continue reading

Rest on Your Laureates

A poet laureate can be understood as an official poet of a government. The US has had a national laureate for many years. I was reading an article in the New York Times that there are actually 45 state poet laureates in the US. This number doesn’t count those lower than the state level; there are tons of them on the county and city level as well. Hell, even my city has one.

The funny thing about this article, in particular, is that it wasn’t an article about how poetry is a dying art.. The writer even mentions this multiple times in the article, as if surprised herself. There was another article the Times published more in line with this narrative. The author calls on the nation’s schools to begin teaching poetry again. What is funny here is that the article is based on three false assumptions.

The first assumption is that poetry is a dead art form here in America. It most certainly isn’t.

For proof, I turn to Fancy by Iggy Azalea.

Stay with me now. Continue reading

Brick by Brick

Manhattan is a great place to be in the springtime.

Walk out of the subway on to 42nd. It’s only a block to you destination, of course; you couldn’t come to New York and not see the library. You can see the lions from down the street.

Past the arches you walk, and the place opens up. It’s beautiful. The walls are painted with murals, the ceilings painted with clouds. There’s marble everywhere. Woodwork is everywhere. In the reading rooms, up the stairs worn smooth by centuries, they’ve got pieces like Toledo enamel suspended so high above you it might as well be in the sky.

The true heart of the collection is beneath your feet. It’s dug in many stories beneath the surface. That’s where the beating heart of the collection is housed. 15 million items.

It’s as fine a temple as ever has been built, and it’s built to awe.

How does somebody build something so incredible? It’s hard to even wrap your head around that question. Where does one even begin?

Now, with that in mind, I want you to look a little more closely at something.

Look at the wall. Really look at it. What do you see? Continue reading

The Rule(s) of Writing

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These pages all started out blank.

“Kill your darlings.”

“Show, don’t tell.”

Write what you know.”

As a writer, it’s easy to believe that there are certain rules of writing that, if followed, will result in your success. Rules are comforting, in a way. They offer certainty.

The problem with this is that writing is not certain. We can see the end result, pick that apart, and see what works for us. We can fiddle and tinker.

Rules are a different matter. Continue reading

Taste

Underwood

Boom.

Raymond Chandler was not the most prolific of writers. He only started publishing in his forties, after losing a job in the oil industry thanks to the perils of being an artist, which are eerily similar to being a drunk.

He remains, however, one of the most brilliant writers of the 20th Century. The iconic private detective Phillip Marlowe was his creation; anytime you see a private detective in a trench coat, talking about ‘dames,’ and drinking, you’re looking at the cultural contribution of Mr. Chandler.

His taste in food, much like his writing, were simple and direct. ‘Cooked well and fast’ were his prerogatives. Every scrap of his writing reads that way, spiced with the acerbic wit that made Marlowe famous. Continue reading