Thursday, 25 September 2014

Creativity and Mind: Some Readings

Creativity has implications for people who study the human mind. I found three links from people and organizations who study mind-related sciences and creativity.

For photographer and psychologist Arthur Shimamura, creativity is understandable in terms of the formula I-SKE, which acknowledges the interrelationship between the artist's intention and the audience's sensation, knowledge and emotion.

Scott Barry Kaufman discusses research which suggests that creative people think in flat associations rather than hierarchical associations.

The American Psychological Association accepts artists and teachers of art as affiliate members of its division The Society for the Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity and the Arts. As Erika Packard explains, "psychology has many applications in the arts--from music to visual and performing arts--as well as to the study of creativity."

An Internet image search on the words "creativity" and "mind" brings up all kinds of trippy images. [By Rp3082 (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons]

Wednesday, 10 September 2014

Woolf Knew All About the Agony of Creativity

The Young Woolf (Wikimedia Commons)
Virginia Woolf was prolific not because she could sidestep the anguish of writing but because she did so much writing that she experienced it.

In her pseudobiography Orlando, Woolf describes what the title character inevitably experiences once he decides to be a writer:

Anyone moderately familiar with the rigours of composition will not need to be told the story in detail; how he wrote and it seemed good; read and it seemed vile; corrected and tore up; cut out; put in; was in ecstasy; in despair; had his good nights and bad mornings; snatched at ideas and lost them; saw his book plain before him and it vanished; acted his people's parts as he ate; mouthed them as he walked; now cried; now laughed; vacillated between this style and that; now preferred the heroic and the pompous; next the plain and simple; now the vales of Tempe; then the fields of Kent or Cornwall; and could not decide whether he was the divinest genius or the greatest fool in the world.

Saturday, 16 August 2014

Drama to Prose Fiction: Dialogue Transformations

I like the idea of applying good advice from one genre to another genre. Studying Plays by Mick Wallis and Simon Shepherd aims to help people understand how to read plays. The chapter on dialogue has a subsection on conversational maxims as devised by H.P. Grice. The theory is that people are supposed to follow a set of rules when they are in conversation so that the speakers seem co-operative. When someone disobeys one of these rules, that agreement to co-operate is broken.

The co-operative maxims, words verbatim from pages 58 and 59 of the third edition, are as follows:

(1) quantity: give the right amount of information (neither too much nor too little)
(2) quality: try to be truthful
(3) relation: say something pertinent (don't go off on a tangent)
(4) manner: don't be long-winded and be clear (avoid prolixity, ambiguity and obscurity)
(5) respect:: give your interlocutor their due (give them the respect they deserve)

Page 59 lists the ways people break these maxims:

(1) quietly violate a maxim e.g. deceive
(2) opt out of the co-operative principle e.g. claim a right to silence
(3) avoid a clash by breaking one maxim e.g. tell a lie to be kind
(4) brazenly flout a maxim e.g. when the customs officer asks if you have anything to declare, reply "Nothing but my genius"

In drama, a violation of a maxim can reveal the relationship between the speakers or reveal ironies related to plot, among many other things.

I decided I would do an exercise that Wallis and Shepherd describe (59). I took a piece of dialogue from the novel I am working on and changed it so that one of the characters broke a maxim in a specific way. Once that maxim gets broken, the other character's responses must change too. Even if a character is already breaking a maxim in the original, I have to make the characters break another one.

Here is the original dialogue. Burghie is helping Gilda find Gilda's brother Pete, Burghie's childhood friend, whom Gilda thinks is planning to leave town. At this point in the story, Burghie and Gilda have just found out that Pete has left. "He has a crush on Gilda and has decided to tell Gilda how he feels about her. Burghie is speaking to Gilda while sitting on his bike. The story is from her point of view.

    “What did you want to tell me?” Gilda said. “Is it about Pete?”
     “What, then?”
     “I just wanted you to know, Gilda,” Burghie said, “that this thing with Pete has been fun. I mean, I don’t think it’s fun looking for someone who has disappeared. But it’s been good to get back in touch. I mean that it’s been fun hanging out with you and working on this stuff. It’s like old times.”

     Gilda nodded. “Sure. I think so too.”
     He nodded back. “I’m glad you think so too.”
     “You’re easy to worth with.”
     He hesitated, then said, “So are you.” 

(1) Quietly violate a maxim (relation)

     "What did you want to tell me?" Gilda said. "Is it about Pete?"
     "What, then?"
     Burghie opened his mouth, then shut it with a click. "Do you think this neighbourhood is going downhill?"
     Gilda frowned. "Um, no. I mean, it never was the best neighbourhood, but it's not any worse that it always was. Why do you ask?"
     "I was just thinking of starting my own restaurant, maybe around here."
     "I don't know," Gilda said. She couldn't believe that he'd asked her to come here, in person, to talk to her about the food industry. "I don't know anything about restaurants. I'm the wrong person to ask. I mean, don't you work in a restaurant in this neighbourhood?"
     Burghie flinched. "Yes, of course you're right."

(2) Brazenly flout a maxim (quality)

     "What did you want to tell me?" Gilda said. "Is it about Pete?"
    "What, then?"
    "I just wanted you to know, Gilda, that this thing with Pete has been fun. I mean, I don't think it’s fun looking for someone who has disappeared. But it’s been good to get back in touch. I mean that it’s been  fun hanging out with you and working on this stuff. It’s like old times.”
     "Sure it's been fun, Pete. Sitting around wondering when or where my sibling is, wondering if he's dead. Risking getting into trouble at work by making phone calls to try to track him down. Spending all my free time calling people I wouldn't normally talk to."
     Burghie flinched. It reminded her of a dog being hit across the head with stick. She had gone too far with him.She'd forgotten. He was not like her that way. Damn her cynical mouth. "Not that I'm saying you're a bad guy or anything."
     He was looking down at his pedals, but under his eyebrows she could still see his eyes glistening. "Of course that's not what I meant," he said. When he lifted his head again, his eyes hardened. "I'm not a monster."
     "I know that. You know that I know that."
     "Why say that, then, Gilda?

Wednesday, 23 July 2014

Another episode of "General to Specific": A Writing Exercise; Also, Abstract to Concrete

First Go-Round: WhatEvs. In writing, specificity allows writing to reflect the uniqueness of things and ideas in the world. Small variations from a type will change a caricature or cliche into a character or inventive phrase (and thus a new idea). There is something to be said for simplicity, of course; but if the aim is not to go for simplicity, then specificity is a good tool.

This exercise is also a way to generate ideas quickly. Start with one sentence that is general or abstract (or both). Rewrite the sentence and add a level of specificity or concreteness (or both).

Rewrite that sentence and increase the specificity or concreteness again. Carry on until you can't take it anymore, or, better yet, until you think you have a tiny narrative worth expanding on.

1. Things are here.
2. Boxes arrive at the building.
3. Square cardboard cases trickled in to the factory.
4. Dishwashers in their cardboard boxes trickled in at a rate of two a day to the factory.
5. The recalled dishwashers, some of them re-packed in their original boxes by their anal, angry owners, trickled in at a rate of two a day to the factory in Anaheim.

Who knew that I had an interest in  dishwashers and in Anaheim? But apparently so.


Second Go-Round: General to Specific. I am going to do this exercise again, except this time I am going to try to distinguish between General to Specific and Abstract to Concrete. "General" means "applicable to many things or circumstances." "Specific" means "applicable to a small subset of things or circumstances."

"Abstract" is not the same as general, not really. "Abstract" means"related to the nonmaterial world, to ideas or concepts." "Concrete" means "related to the material world, such as what can be understood by the five senses." (ESP not included.) That is, it's possible to have an abstraction that is general or specific, or to have a generality that is abstract or concrete.

I am starting with the same sentence as above, but I will force myself to go from general to specific and stave off any urges to think about abstraction or concreteness. This will be hard to do. My model sentence is suitably bland to have it both ways in the general-specific or abstract-concrete spectrums.  I will also force myself to keep as closely as possible to my silly dishwashers and Anaheim, though I won't kill myself if the sentences deviate.

1. Things are here.
2.  Elements exist in this region.
3. Non-continguous monads co-exist in this field.
4. Non-continguous monads of the phenomenal world form the content of this discursive field.
5. Discrete words about human experience constitute the vocabulary of legal discourse.

This was difficult. I felt like I was making things up, and I couldn't really follow my dishwasher-Anaheim model. But I did avoid having sentences that deal with the sensory world, more or less.

Third Go-Round: Abstract to Concrete.

1. Things are here.
2.  Objects exist nearby.
3. Boxes sit one metre away.
4. Cardboard boxes are stored one metre away from Bindi.
5. Cardboard dishwasher boxes hunker down one metre away from Bindi's office in the Anaheim factory.

PS: I kind of did this exercise in a different post.

Monday, 7 July 2014

Five Statements about Creativity

Mozart knew a thing or two about creativity. (Wikimedia Commons)
  • "[C]reativeness is the lucky readiness to feel, to sense, to see an opportunity--to discover and to invent." Josef Albers, quoted in Black Mountain by Martin Duberman.
  • "For when you come to think of it, the only way to love a person is not, as the stereotyped Christian notion is, to coddle them and bring them soup when they are sick, but by listening to them and seeing and believing in the god, in the poet, in them." Brenda Ueland, If You Want to Write.

  • "When I am, as it were, completely myself, entirely alone, and of good cheer--say traveling in a carriage, or walking after a good meal, or during the night when I cannot sleep; it is on such occasions that my ideas flow best and most abundantly. Whence and how they come I know not; nor can I force them. Those ideas that please me, I retain in memory and am accustomed, as I have been told, to hum them to myself. If I continue in this way it occurs to me how I may turn this or that morsel to account so as to make a good dish of it, that is to say, agreeable to the rules of counterpoint, to the peculiarities of the various instruments." Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, quoted in Brenda Ueland's If You Want to Write.

  • "First thoughts have tremendous energy. It is the way the mind first flashes on something. The internal censor usually squelches them, so we live in the realm of second and third thoughts, thoughts on thought, twice and three times removed from the direct connection of the first fresh flash." Natalie Goldberg, Writing Down the Bones.
  • "Fundamental to any art form is the image, whether it be the physical image as created by the dancer and choreographer, the musical image of the composer and musician, the visual image of the plastic artist of the verbal image, often metaphorical, of the writer and poet....While, however, it may be quite easy to see the role of image as it relates to the visual artist, it may be less easy to do so with respect to the writer. The word 'image' is being used here to convey what can only be described as the irreducible essence--the i-mage--of creative writing; it can be likened to the DNA molecules at the heart of all life. The process of giving tangible form to this i-mage may be called i-maging, or the i-magination. Use of unconventional orthography, 'i-mage' in this instance, does not only represent the increasingly conventional deconstruction of certain words, but draws on the Rastafarian practice of privileging the 'I' in many words.'I-mage' rather than 'image' is, in fact, a closer approximation of the concept under discussion....In her attempt to translate the i-mage into meaning and non-meaning, the writer has access to a variety of verbal techniques and methods--comparison, simile, metaphor, metonymy, symbol, rhyme, allegory, fable, myth--all of which aid her in this process. Whatever the name given to the technique or form, the function remains the same---that of enabling the artist to translate the i-mage into meaningful language for her audience." M. NourbeSe Philip, "The Absence of Writing or How I Almost Became a Spy."

Tuesday, 17 June 2014

Writing Exercise: From Sentence to Story

Mimetic Capitol has been quiet. I have been writing and grading. I have also been recuperating from my best-seller blitz and have been reading things for reasons other than keeping up with the Joneses.

To create is to do. In that spirit, I am going to do a writing exercise that shows how a little story can arise from a little sentence. I learned about this exercise from one of my colleagues at work (Dave Brundage at Athabasca University).

Write a simple sentence in which someone does a simple action. Then, for each part of the sentence, write a corresponding paragraph. Expand and explore upon that part; don't divorce it from the sentence's context, but rather build up the sentence by focusing on one element at a time.

Depending on the sentence, the result will be a three or four paragraph mini-story. The last part of the mini story can be round-up or conclusion of some sort The exercise part comes from forcing oneself to see in one action and one actor the potential for a world.

I looked out the window, and from that look, here is my sentence:

The man walked up the path to his house.

My elements are (1) "the man," (2) "walked" and (3) "up the front walk to his house."

(1)  The man had been gone all day, and the ride home had not been pleasant. The doctor's office had been busy, loud, and dry, and he had to wait for one hour past his appointment time before the small, thin nurse invited him down the too-bright corridor to a bland grey examination room. He waited in that room for half an hour. When the specialist finally entered the room, she had little to say. His bone density tests showed continuing weakness, so he had to continue on as before. He left the office with his prescription and without ceremony. His car was too hot when he got in, and he had no air-conditioning. He was not familiar with that part of town, either, and its traffic patterns were foreign to him. He hit rush hour. By the time the man pulled his car up to his familiar spot in front of his house, the blandness had emptied him of all content.

(2) With his bones supposedly not dense enough, the walk from the sidewalk to the house was a testing ground. Could he get to the front door without leaning to one side. Would he avoid tripping on the crack that winter had created when it push the earth up until it bulged and split the cement into a crevasse. Could he shuffle his legs in the required rhythm to move himself foot by foot up the four steps to the front door. Would his bones shudder and stop, leave one leg raised above a stair-tread and hover there without the man being able to move it. Would he be able to open the door without losing his balance. Would she be there to open the door for him.

(3) The answer lay in the attempt, and the man attempted. Up the walk, forward, he commanded his body, and his body obeyed. It pushed him up the the smooth ramp of the cement, past the crack, to the front steps, the four treads up, the landing at the front door. He put his keys in the lock without teetering. He turned the key in the lock, and his body did not turn with it. His legs stood firm as he twisted the doorknob. He pushed open the door.

The house was quiet. No one was there. The dim hallway pointed him towards the unlit kitchen. He looked down at the dark smooth tiles. The man did not walk. He felt his bones splinter.

Thursday, 27 March 2014


Mimesis means "imitation" as well as "representation." Imitation of someone else's style can force you to stretch out of the bonds of habit.

Thus the rewrite exercise. Impose a different set of circumstances onto the sentence structure of someone else’s writing. I did it myself. I chose a writing style and structure that I thought was something I wouldn't ordinarily use. 

The original is from Dylan Levi King’s “The 33 Transformation Bodies of the Bodhisattva Guanyin” published in Grain, herewith:

There was a man seated in the back of a flatbed tricycle. His hair was bright white, combed back, and he wore a threadbare black blazer. The man smiled at him from under a pink umbrella trimmed with lace. The procession kept walking. The megaphone chastised the rain. Incense steamed from Guanyin’s shoulders. The rain--
--stirred the sea under her lotus desk and she calmed it with a sweep of her willow branch. She looked up at the clouds. The rain fell and didn’t reach the sea and fell only into the mouth of her ceramic jar. The rain--
--left its cool moisture on her skin.
--fell in juddering waves. The water came to his knees as he walked through the park at Granville and Number Three Road. In the parking lot at Richmond Centre, the water rose to his waist. He climbed the escalator at the SkyTrain terminus station and the water rose to seal him on the platform. The water threw itself against the glass walls of the station. White foam swept along the surface of the water, carrying torches of bull kelp, a yellow hard hat, a crate of oranges, shredded paper. He heard the rain drumming on the blue skylight above him. He saw a train siting a few hundred yards down the track, halfway to the next station at Landowne. The rain--
--emptied into the drain with a dignified, steady gurgle. She sat down at the head of the tub with her legs pulled up against her breasts. She pushed back the shower curtain. Cool air dried the warm water on her face. She folded her legs under her and stood up. She turned off the faucet. The shower curtain held in the last bundles of steam. She reached out and grabbed the heavy white towel, wrapped it around herself, and stood breathing in the steam scented with her roommates’ shampoos and soaps, the smell of her clean white hair.

***  *** *** *** ****** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** ***

My Rewrite

There was a man seated in the front of the club at a small table. His hair was bright blue, tied back with a black velvet ribbon, and he wore a dazzling sequined blazer. The man smiled at Pete from under long fake eyelashes. The room begin filling up. The electronic dance music drowned out all other sound. Reverbs shook Pete from his feet to his shoulders. So many people. One--
--brushed past Pete to reach the bar and she sat next to the blue-haired man with a sweep of her long black cape. She looked up at the rows of bottles behind the bar. Her index finger rose and pointed to the wall but she didn’t catch the bartender’s attention so her finger hung there and pointed until it dropped to the shiny black surface of the bar. She was a man--
--stood in front of Pete for a moment to reveal a tattoo on her skin. A knife on her throat--
--danced in shuddering jerks. His jacket reached his knees as he jangled himself through the crowd gathering near the bar. In the dance floor at the far end of the bar, a waiter in a pink bow tie bowed in front of two middle-aged men in striped trousers. The waiter held a round tray with two martini glasses for the two men and the two men took the drinks and toasted the waiter before they drank the contents of the martini glasses in one gulp. The waiter threw confetti on the men and went back to the bar with the empty tray. White dots of light swept along the faces and clothing of the crowd, tracking spots from the disco ball above the dance floor, across top hats, a yellow beret, a pair of giants, solitary woman leaning against the wall. Pete heard the beat drumming in his head and above him to the neon blue ceiling. He saw a bouncer sitting a few metres from the bar on a stool near the restrooms, his back to the room as he spoke to a young man in high heels--
--lapdanced with a white-faced man or woman in a kilt with a slow, steady rolls of his hips. He sat with his hand on the man or woman’s shoulders near the front of the club with his legs straddling his or her lap and his chest pushed against his or her breast. He or she pushed back the lapdancer with two palms. Hot air poured above Pete from a vent and dried then moistened his body in his clothing. The lapdancer folded his arms across his chest and stood up. He turned up his nose. The lapdancer stepped back into the crowd in front of the bar in a gap of light. He or she reached out and grabbed the lapdancer before he faded into a gap of darkness, dragged the lapdancer back onto his or her lap,  and leaned back as the lapdancer put his hands on his or her shoulders and squirmed in his or her lap against until the white-faced person on the chair smiled so wide the blue light from the ceiling struck the gleaming white teeth and the dark lipstick around his mouth and turned the entire room into his or her expression.

Sunday, 23 February 2014

Last Will and Testament of the Bestseller Read-In: John Grisham's Sycamore Row

I 'm not being a downer. Grisham's book IS partially about lynching, so check out the link.

Sycamore Row is one of the books for which I have managed not to read the first book in the series. The first in the series and the first book John Grisham wrote, A Time to Kill, was published in 1987. Sycamore Row makes sure to recap events from A Time to Kill, though, so I didn't feel lost.

Sycamore Row is a good example of the kind of book that I have suspected dominates the best-selling books and that I have managed to say away from for the most part. It is a book by a famous writer, and it has its points of interest, but the book is not, at least for me, special enough to warrant spending my precious reading time.

The legal case itself was fairly interesting. Mississippi lawyer Jack Brigance has a dead client, but Jack fights for the client's will as though the client were still alive. The book sets up the scenario and its stakes very early on, though, so the legal finagling ends up being slow-paced considering how long the book is.

As well,  the book highlights race relations in the early and late 20th century. For some people, violence and race may be a foreign topic. For those who have some knowledge of this aspect of American society, the book's conclusion was not much better than the Agatha Christie drawing-room revelation in which important information is revealed at the last minute. I don't need this book to remind me that race has been an issue in America for a long time.(Check out the current Mississippi state flag below, for instance.)

What remains, then, is the book itself. I wanted more than what the book gave. Characterization gets little attention, for example. Lawyers and judges are crotchety because Jack and other characters say they are, so the book doesn't attempt to show them being crotchety except to indicate how many other characters think they are crotchety or, for some reason, how much the characters drink. Drinking too much is okay unless the characters get into a car accident while drunk and kill two nice teenagers; as typical in this book, only bad guys do bad things like that, even though the good guys are as likely to drink and drive as the bad guys. Jack himself is fawned on by everyone in town, but nothing about Jack is charming enough to warrant being on his side except for him being the main character and being told by other characters he is charming.

File:Flag of Mississippi.svg
Yes, that's a Confederate flag on the current Mississippi state flag. Want to go house shopping there anyway? Click on the flag.
The book seemed padded, too. For example, I was displeased by how many times the book explains the same basic information about the legal case. The repetition was a sign of limited substantive editing on Grisham's part, or else the author didn't trust the reader to understand the details even the third or fourth time. The book also takes weak tangents: I didn't care what kind of house Jack Brigance wanted to buy. The book spent more time than necessary dealing with Jack and his dull wife and child trying to buy the most beautiful house in the count.

Sycamore Row is an "easy read," that's true, but I don't care if a book is an easy read.  Dr. Seuss is an easy read, too, but I love the whimsy and optimism of its simple words. I also know Dr. Seuss is for children and so should be easy to read.

In Summary

This is the kind of book I had expected to find more of in my bestsellers' list, but it is the only book that met that expectation. I liked two of them, was so-so with one of them, and disliked or was bored by the rest.  For what it's worth, I rank them in terms of most liked to least liked as follows:

1. Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone
2. The Kite Runner
3. The Game of Thrones
4. Sycamore Row
5. Twilight
6. The Da Vinci Code
7. The Shack
8. Fifty Shades of Grey

All this time I have wondered if I were doing myself a disservice in not reading bestsellers, and in the end I have decided that I haven't done myself a disservice. I'm always going to find myself reading things I am not particularly interested in reading but have to, just because of my work. I don't regret reading these eight books, but I am glad it's over. In terms of my free reading time, I have been doing what I should be doing--reading books that I think will expand my knowledge of the world in some way and that will help me learn things to strengthen my own writing.

Sunday, 2 February 2014