Scatterbrained or Polymath?

I confess that I have many interests.

Because I’m driven to creativity, I have dabbled in everything from poetry to soapmaking, from comic book writing to car repair, from coding to carpentry. Because I’m curious, I seek out knowledge in history, literature, science, movies and beyond. Although I understand the value of staying with one project (and do), I can easily jump from one project to the next.

There is a saying in Estonia, “Nine trades, the tenth one — hunger.” You’re probably familiar with the 10,000 hour rule – put 10,000 quality hours into your field to become a master. It’s all about specialization. But certainly, there are individuals who have made quite a success of dabbling, individuals such as Elon Musk, Ben Franklin, Da Vinci, Newton, etc. (it’s a long list).

It’s one thing to obtain knowledge, it’s quite another to integrate it into something new and valuable. Being a successful polymath, I believe, takes a lot of energy and focus.

At any rate, I’ve finally come to embrace my polymath character and not fight it. It’s a part of who I am. Every day, I ponder ideas for bringing two disparate ideas together (often in my work). So, it has already served me well.

Does this resonate with you? How have you brought two fields together?

On John Lee Clark’s Essay “Tactile Art”

In the October 2019 issue of Poetry Magazine, essayist John Lee Clark rights about the nature of tactile art from the blind perspective. It was an illuminating piece that had me thinking long after I’d put down the journal. Essentially, he writes about what’s important in a tactile art piece to a blind person and what elements are unnecessary (but often included because our culture thinks as sighted beings). For example, he talks about the importance of heft. Imagine a plastic toy tank. For sighted persons, the visual experience is enough to convey the ominous, dangerous menace a tank represents. But for a blind person, the weight of that light plastic toy is more important and conveys none of the same menace. If you get a chance to read Clark’s poignant essay, I recommend it.

Writing and Community

For years, I’ve done all of my creative writing in isolation. None of my close friends have been writers. I’ve rarely bounced ideas off of other creative writers. I’ve certainly never collaborated with anyone. On a few occasions, I’ve found myself in a fiction writing critique group, but these have never lasted for some reason (and I haven’t always got the benefit out of them that I had expected to get). It has been like working in a vacuum.

But this year, I have made more of an effort to attend a poetry workshop group in the area. The poets in this group range in expertise, and there are certainly some good minds that challenge me and my writing. But I’ve also begun to reap the benefit of just being around fellow writers who are living many of the same challenges, struggles and joys as I do.

I’ve gained insight into the kinds of journals these poets are getting published in, how they are getting their books published, and which conferences they go to and the benefits they reap from those experiences. Although many of these elements seem small, they add up to a lot, in my estimation.

Whatever your passion might be, I’ve come to realize that being around others with your same passion is a healthy, important and possibly even a vital experience if you can get it.

creative writing and anxiety

Creative Writing and Anxiety

A few years ago, I was speaking with a friend about the intense anxieties I get at night over the safety of my family. He said, “Yeah, that’s the curse of the artist, your active imagination.”

And after making thousands of connections in my creative writing, I finally made this one with my own life. What do we do in creative writing if not make surprising and unlikely connections (especially writing science fiction and poetry)? And the more I exercise the connection-making beast, the more easily it goes to work on my own life, especially at night when all the other noises of the day die down.

To be fair, imagination can bring you positive vision as well as anxiety. Yes, I worry over the worst possible scenarios, and believe me, imagination can create some nearly ridiculous and impossible scenarios. I also have grand (sometimes impossible) dreams of the future. And after a few years, neither of these will please your spouse.

Anxiety can be difficult to live with, but I’ve come to believe that someone has to be the worrier. Someone has to stay up at night thinking through these possibilities, so you’re not blind to the evil of the world. But it’s also good to have a partner or friend who can help you balance these fears with reality.

And as much as I believe in the capacity for evil among us, I believe in the possibility that our better natures will prevail too.

Let’s Grow Our Poetry Culture

I’m interested in helping poetry to become popular again. I’m not referring to slam-style poetry (which I value), nor am I including the Instagram poets (which I consider trite; sorry guys). I want to see a renewal of non-academicians attending poetry readings. I want to see people discussing poetry in everyday conversation, without someone flinching or grimacing. On the flip side, I’m not naive enough to think we’ll be rivaling film and television. People are still going to flock to the latest Avenger movie (the market power of the Marvel franchise is an entirely different discussion, in fact). But I do think it’s reasonable to expect a poetry revival of sorts.

People need to be taught how to read and experience poetry again. Is something going wrong in the schools in this regard? (I’m not sure.) While I don’t want to see a dumbing down of poetry, I do think the art form can be made more accessible by better educating potential readers. There is so much to be gained by a renaissance in poetry’s popularity. Poetry is not only fuel for the soul, but it quietens the mind and heightens one’s sense of observation and critical thinking. Couldn’t we use a little more of that?

Talking Books at North Texas Book Festival

This past weekend, I attended the North Texas Book Festival and had the pleasure of interacting with new readers and fellow authors. These are always some of the best conversations.

The North Texas Book Festival is held annually in Denton, Texas. Home to the University of North Texas, Denton supports a vibrant cultural life of arts, music and literature. The morning of the festival, a big thunderstorm rolled through. Authors like myself dashed from our cars with our carts of books, signs and giveaways, hoping to get  it all safe and dry to the venue. The rain kept many away in the morning. But as the sky cleared, festival traffic picked up, and I had the chance to meet with some of the local book nerds.

All in all, it was a great experience, and I hope to be back in Denton next year.

A Return to My First Love, Poetry

Although I am proceeding steadily with preparing the next two chapter books for publication, in the last few months, I have begun again to pursue my first passion – poetry.

I have been writing and reading in this area a great deal. I’ve read anthologies and journals, as well as books by Mary Oliver, Michelle Mathees and Galway Kinnell. I read through Mary Oliver’s A Poetry Handbook twice, which is full of inspiration, and I am halfway through Stephen Fry’s The Ode Less Travelled, which is more comprehensive. Both are marvelous books for opening up the nuances of what it means to read and write poetry, although the authors come at it from decidedly different perspectives. Fry, an English actor and accomplished author, is much more of a traditionalist when it comes to meter. And his arguments for form in poetry, though perhaps not altogether in current “fashion,” are hard to ignore. That’s not to say that Oliver advocates against form, but it’s clear that she is much more accepting of free verse.

Although I’ve experimented recently with syllabic verse, Fry has now introduced me to the idea of accentual verse, originating from Old English poetry, that focuses on the number of accents only (and does not concern itself with the number of unaccented syllables).

I’m also a big fan of slant rhyme in poems, especially when both words do not come at the end of lines and when not overdone. For me, it imparts just that right level of musicality without being downright chant-like. Fry encourages poets to “not draw attention” to the rhyme.

I fear that some modern poets are losing the rhythm that is so much a part of good poetry. In some ways, we have become better image crafters, but that cannot be all a poem is. This point, perhaps, bears an entire blog post by itself.

For my own poetry work, I have been rather productive, creating and revising almost every day. All of which brings me immense pleasure. I have said often that writing creatively is one of my greatest joys. I marvel that I don’t always find the time for it.

Mary Oliver wrote in A Poetry Handbook that she routinely revises her poems 41 times each! I have found this illuminating and encouraging, although I’m still probably only revising around five times a piece. Like most art, the complexity that makes a piece so interesting comes through in its layers. It is through revision that we create these layers, these levels, of meaning, nuance and imagery.