Saturday, 19 November 2016


These days, I am all about novelty. I don't mean novelty in the sense of "novelty items" or "novelty stores."  Novelty items are small and cheap toys or doodads that are entertaining or eye-catching. I love novelty items, don't get me wrong. Recently I received two novelty items as gifts: a Batman Pez dispenser and and a Wolverine action figure.

No, by novelty I mean newness. To dedicate oneself to creativity, novelty or newness is a given. Creativity requires the belief that doing something no one else has done is good. I am talking about novelty for novelty's sake. I am not speaking of pragmatism. Certainly novelty may have pragmatic applications or results: acquiring a new hobby, meeting a new friend, learning something to help a person at work or home, saving myself from starvation during a bout of poverty by eating Pez (a theoretical example).

The aim of novelty, at least in the way I define it, is simply to encourage oneself to do something new.

I have been feeling stuck, thwarted and downcast lately. A life dedicated to daily newness seemed to be a solution to these feelings of feeling stuck. If I am doing something I haven't done before, how could I be stuck?

I have become a devotee of novelty. Whom should I worship, then? Who is the patron saint of novelty?  Perhaps Claude de la Columbière or Nicholas of Myra, both patron saints of toymakers, depending on whom you ask. I don't need an anthropomorphism to bow to, however. Instead, I have made a pledge. I pledged to do something new every day for one year: 365 days of novelty.

So far I have done well. Since Oct 31,  I have recorded one novelty per day.  I keep a diary of novelty in a notebook. Newness doesn't have to be like a so-called "bucket list" that involves far-fetched, far-flung destinations. I have gone for coffee in two cafes I haven't been in before, I wrote a one-act play, I coloured my hair red, blue and green (temp colour only), I taught my dog a new trick ('phasers on stun: ZAP!'--that is, play dead), I registered two domain names ( and, and I visited a malthouse. Some of these things are creative, some are related to things I had to do anyway but for which I found a novel way of doing them, while others are whimsical. The benefit, for me, is the idea of novelty as something open to me no matter how stuck I think I am and how powerless I feel at times.

Sunday, 4 September 2016

Creativite Stimulants 2: Ekphrastic writing

Ekphrastic writing is writing based on a non-writing work of art. Traditionally ekphrasis is a description of a visual work of art such as a painting or sculpture.

The resulting ekphrasis has to add to the experience of the original art work, help vivify it or express its essence through the skillful use of language. Ekphrastic writing tends to be hyperbolic and enthusiastic, rather than understated, but that is only a tradition. For some examples of ekphrastic writing, see John Mullan's compilation in The Guardian of important ekphrastic writing.

Here is a paragraph of ekphrastic writing I wrote based on a little painting I have in my room.

Her small face stares intensely out at my world and asks for my opinion. On what? On her world or the outside world? Her world is a small square of wood with infinite depth. Bluegreen fog, white flowers opening their erratic petals, pink spheres, paler pink flowers that may be birds, a red table top that may be a brick path leading to somewhere inaccessible to this world. Perhaps to hers, even. Someone has instructed her to wear a blue sundress. A sheaf of long orange hair sweeps over her shoulder and lies down the front of her chest. She is bent forwards, perhaps to get a better look out of the square window of glass that lets her see out into this world. She smiles as though she knows what I might say. I dare you, she says.

Wednesday, 31 August 2016

Creative Stimulants 1: Rory's Story Cubes

I have some creativity tools I want to share. They may be relevant most to narrative arts, fiction writing specifically, but I think they could be adapted for other creative processes.

1. Rory's Story Cubes have images on their six sides. Roll the dice and create a story based on those dice. I have a generic set, but thematic Story Cubes exist as well. These include Doctor Who, Batman, space, and animal cubes.

I have used them when I am completely stuck. They are also a way to start a story when I
 need one but have no ideas.

Below is an example of a paragraph of story I generated. I forced myself to use the images from all nine dice.

The images were a bridge, a falling star, a flame, a fish, one die, a cane, a rainbow, a dialogue bubble, and the Earth:

Cane hadn't known a falling star was coming that night, but there it was, sliding down the night sky in front of him and the bridge he was fishing on. Just as the falling star slipped down below the treetops beside the old Die farm, his line jerked. He leaned over the bridge's pedestrian railing and saw a flash below him in the water. The flash widened. The light was beaming down from above, a hot pink light The light made a roar. In the light he saw a fish in the water. He said out loud,  "Rainbow trout," and then the bridge shuddered beneath him The tremours threw him forward against the railing, and the rod slipped out of his hands into the creek. The earth rumbled. Ahead, flames raced up from the trees and met the roof of the night.

Sunday, 14 August 2016

Case Study of Comedy Television as Art

I have been listening to Marc Maron's podcast WTF this summer. The Atlantic gives a charming account of Maron as an American Ancient Mariner. Indeed, he is someone who cannot stop talking about himself, and, in so doing, compels others to both listen to him and become a version of him.

WTF has been around long enough for people to compile best-of lists. One of the podcasts that appear on many best-of lists is the second part of his special 500th podcast with comedian Louis CK.  This episode contains CK's account of the creation of his webseries Horace and Pete. Maron gives CK free rein to describe the entire creative process behind the creation of CK's webseries.

Listening to this account gave me a view of what it is like to put together a project that has no precedents. Louis CK is not an unknown person, and as he admits, he was able to use his fame and his past success to help him fund and produce his project. To hear CK talk about the project, money (it was his money) was not an issue for him. Instead, what CK wanted to do was to allow himself to be creative and then allow himself to work towards getting his creative ideas to an audience.

CK talks about everything in the production of this podcast. For those who aren't interested in behind-the-scene details, this is not the podcast to turn to. But for those who want to hear the details of how someone gets an original project off the ground, from writing to casting to marketing, this should prove a useful case study.

Saturday, 30 July 2016

Turkey Shoot

I am working on something, but I am not finished. In the meantime, here are two recent photographs of turkeys that I personally took with my own hands and with no assistance whatsoever.
Spokane street turkey, July 15, 2016

Carny turkey, July 25, 2016. He is sleepy but happy.

Monday, 4 July 2016

Genre Lesson: Bollywood Musicals

Rang de Basanti
To educate myself on one of my favourite art forms, film, I occasionally hold film festivals for myself and any willing participants (who are rare). I have done this for 1950s science fiction, American war films, and film noir. I know these genres well enough already, though. To push myself further, this spring I chose a genre that I have avoided because I was certain I would hate it: Bollywood musicals, or more properly, Hindi popular film. I expected to be horrified by the stock characters and sentimental plots, but I wanted to learn something new. Maybe I was being judgmental for no reason.

I scoured the Internet for "best of" lists and cross-checked them with my local library's holdings. I came up with a four-film list, and away I went.

The first film I saw was Rang de Basanti (2006). I chose it both because I found it on more than one list and because I have a song from the soundtrack in one of my playlists, having become intrigued by composer A.R. Rahman after watching Slumdog Millionaire. Before Rang de Basanti, that film was the closest I had come to seeing a Bollywood musical. As I expected, I thought Rang de Basanti had an amateurish approach to characterization and plot. I also expected more dancing. I was surprised, however, by the film's invocation of the history of Indian separatism. The ending also shocked me: it was more like the end of the second season of True Detective than a musical.

I needed a more centre-of-spectrum specimen.

Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham

I think I found that specimen in Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham (2001). This is three hours of improbably impromptu dancing, slow motion shots of lovers blinking at their beloveds, formal religious festivals with traditional costumes to reinforce the genre's conservatism, and plenty of stock characters. I was impressed by the melodrama. The young actors were almost painfully handsome, and the film gave plenty of attention to their physical appearance. The title translates as Through Smiles and Through Tears, and indeed there is plenty of crying. Whole sequences involve close ups of different people looking at each other with tears welling in their eyes. All emotions run high: when the father, played by Bollywood's legendary Amitabh Bachchan, pronounces his disapproval over his son's choice of bride (a standard plot element in Bollywood popular cinema), the sound of lightning and thunder punctuates every sentence. The sentimentality and the music-video dancing interludes fulfilled my expectations.

These expectations were tempered somewhat in my third film-festival entry.
Anand (1970) was made a few decades before K3G. It features a much younger Amitabh Bachchan as a doctor who cares for a man who is dying of intestinal cancer.  The emphasis in this story is the dying man's cheerfulness despite his certain death and his desire to bring the stiff, lonely doctor out of his shell. The illness gives many opportunities for sad songs. Unlike the musical numbers of the other films, the singing is more contemplative than social. Rajesh Khanna, the actor who plays the dying Anand, sings (or rather, lipsyncs to a track) while walking alone on the beach, standing on a veranda or strolling through the town streets. The dance number is reserved for a scene where Anand auditions for a local drama group and sees the rehearsal for a dance number.

"Hey, I know that guy! I love that guy!"
Finally, I watched Devdas (2002), one in a long line of films based on the Bengali novel of the same name. I recognized Shah Rukh Khan,a  main character from K3G. ("Hey, I know that guy," I said to myself. "I love that guy!") I also recognized, albeit belatedly, Aishwarya Rai, who I had seen in The Pink Panther 2. By this point in my education, I was able to see where the film followed and deviated from the genre as I had come to know it.  Much like K3G, the emphasis was on visual splendor and musical numbers. Unlike K3G, the story is a tragedy rather than a comedy. I appreciated the turn away from expectation, but I had to sit through some of the things I didn't enjoy about K3G: the endless tears, the slowness of plot development, the simplicity of characterization, and the insistence on creating a glitzy fantasy world for its characters to live in.

This film helped me identity for myself the genre that it most reminded me of: European opera.  I do not like opera, for the most part, because of its emphasis on visual elements over plot and because of its glacial plot deroulement. Once I saw Devdas and the other films as opera, I was able to both appreciate the genre more and feel secure about letting the genre go from me. I am not giving up on Indian film: I am just saying that I have had my curiosity sated about the type of film that the term "Bollywood musical" conjured for me.

A simple primer for Americans about Bollywood covers the surface features of Bollywood musicals. One of my former postcolonial studies professors, Vijay Mishra, wrote a book on the Hindi film industry, for those who want a more scholarly approach. I may dip into it myself to broaden my Indian film knowledge.

Friday, 17 June 2016

Gardening the Creative

File:Chicago World's Columbian Exposition 1893.jpg
World's Columbia Exposition 1893, Chicago (Wikimedia Commons)
For some people, looking after a garden simply involves cutting the grass or watering the plants, but for others, garden design is an art form. Recently, my attention was drawn to the art of the garden in two different places:a book by Erik Larson about the 1892-93 Chicago World's Columbian Exposition  and an interview with English garden designer Juliet Sargeant on CBC Radio's arts program q.

Larson's The Devil in the White City tells the double story of Chicago's struggle to create a rival to the Paris Exhibition in the midst of a nationwide financial collapse and of aserial murderer who preyed on the women drawn to the city during the fair. Among the architects and city planners who worked on the fair was Frederick Law Olmstead, the landscape architect who designed New York's Central Park. The  Chicago exhibition was famous for its large-scale projects: an oversized neoclassical city, the first ferris wheel, and the reconstruction of Algerian, Polynesian and German "villages" in the city's people-pleasing midway. Olmstead, however, insisted that the vegetation and pathways that surrounded and connected these works of wonder would set the emotional tone for the entire space.

The "Modern Slavery Garden" Juliet Sargeant has created
The Modern Slavery Garden, 2016 Chelsea Flower Show
A century and continent away, Sargeant put aside her medical training to become a garden designer. In her exhibit The Modern Slavery Garden for the Chelsea Flower Show, Sargeant creates an allegory for the secret suffering in Britain of  victims of human trafficking. The display, which on the surface looks like a proper English country garden, commemorates the passage of the UK Modern Slavery Act. 

Landscape architecture and garden design require the proper selection of plants to suit a theme or mood, not to mention the practical skills required to place living things in and around inorganic materials. My humble backyard garden is nothing on the scale or the intellectual purposefulness of Olmstead and Sargeant works, but like the heroes in Voltaire's Candide, I do my own little work in my garden.

Friday, 10 June 2016

Creativity and Mental Illness

A couple of years ago The Atlantic published an essay about  research on creativity and mental illness with an emphasis on the work of Nancy C. Andreasen. One conclusion of Andreasen's research is that creative people tend to have mental illness in their families, even if they themselves do not (and many do).  Why this is the case seems to derive from the way that creative people think. They are good as associating ideas with other ideas, which can be both helpful and not helpful to mental health. Associations are not always practical, understandable to others, or even correct.

Andreasen makes other generalizations about creative people that, unlike mental illness, are qualities  somewhat under an individual person's control. Her creative people work hard, probably because they are doing what they like to do. They tend to be self-taught in some areas of knowledge, even if they have a great deal of formal education, and they tend to be interested in many different areas. Creative people take risks, and they are persistent in the face of rejection or failure. Andreasen defines creativity in a way that embraces the arts and sciences equally. John Nash, for example, the subject of the film A Beautiful Mind, was of particular interest to her. (Read her obituary about John and his wife Alicia).

Her most recent long-term study focuses on famously creative people, so her results may be skewed as a result towards those people whose creative work has gained some mainstream acceptance and public accolade. Nevertheless, I think it is worth noting her generalizations and think about their implications for people who are not famous.

Saturday, 4 June 2016

Public Art in Urban Nature

My recent intersection with urban interventionism through 100In1Day has led to another intersection, one that involves walking in my city's vast river valley and ravine complex.

Knowing what I have been up to lately, my husband clued me into the Kinnaird Ravine art walk, and I went along with him with our son and dog to check it out. The KinnArt Ravine project was mounted in early November 2015. Since then, people who walk along one portion of the gravel path through the ravine also pass through a public art gallery. News coverage at the time gives good information on the project and many more photos.

This part of the ravine is so deep and low that it is easy to forget the ravine is in the city's downtown. At first I mourned the now more obvious signs of human activity that the murals present. Of course, my desire for nature to somehow trump human occupation is based on willful illusion: I am well aware that I am in a city when I walk through the ravine. In any event, the paintings replace an existing retaining wall along the trail, so the murals beautify an existing architectural structure.

This project is listed on the website of Make Something Edmonton, the same group that is coordinating 100in1 Day.

News coverage at the time emphasized the community league's desire to discourage the graffitti that covered the previous retaining wall. As one of the organizers pointed out, however, public art is not alien in other parts of the world, such as his home town in Chile.

I sometimes get suspicious about attempts to discourage graffitti, even though I realize that much graffitti is not art. I was pleased, then, to see some graffitti-style murals in KinnArt.

Signs of creativity and positive group effort please me and give fodder for my humble blog too. I salute the artists and organizers of this project.

Monday, 23 May 2016

Shaping community 100in1Days at a time

I have created a project called ReadOut for 100in1Day in Canada. Begun in 2012 in Colombia, 100in1day is an act of "urban intervention" for citizens to improve their cities with simple ideas to create temporary or permanent changes to their communities. Canada's six participating cities have set June 4 as the nation's community day of action.

The urban intervention movement seems rooted in twentieth-century counterculture.In counterculture, subsections of a community build, march, and organize without the permission of official social structures, including government. 100in1Day has connections to folk carnivals and festivals, Dadaism, the American happenings and French situationists of the 1950s and 1960s, the flash mobs of the 2000s, the infiltrations of Pussy Riot, and the Occupy movements. Mimi Zeiger's The Interventionist's Toolkit catalogues 21st century urban interventionism with an emphasize on urban architecture and planning.

Dadaists thought that art as a category should be dismantled because such categorization gathered up the qualities of art and isolated them from other human activities, as though the values of art had no business being integrated with human culture generally. Street art, therefore, especially guerrilla street art such as graffitti, aims to remedy this false categorization and return art to where it belongs: everywhere people live. This connection with street art is manifest in the many 100in1day projects that involve visual art in some way. Murals are popular, for example.

In the case of 100In1Day, local governments seem actively involved in promoting these interventions. Instructions for Edmonton's 100In1Day stress the need to fill out permits and follow bylaws.  I suspect that municipal city planners and nonprofits are desperate to appeal to as many subcommunities as they can and therefore appreciate this self-funnelling of group energies into small-scale activities. Groups can reveal a need or a willingness to cooperate through an urban intervention, and in this display make their cause visible to others, including nonprofit and government agencies. At the same time, land developers and real estate agents, as well as other businesses, sponsor or initiate projects. As a result, some of the interest in this day has a foot in the door of private profit-making.

Perhaps 100In1Day is a cooptation of underground activism for ideological ends. My little project has people reading and waving and talking to people in their neighbourhoods. If one of the things people choose to read on their front lawns is Guy Debord's The Society of the Spectacle, so be it.

Friday, 20 May 2016

Uncheck Your Phone

Tomato seeds in an egg carton
I have a new cellphone, but I plan to use it less. That is, I have pledged to stop checking my phone.

Instead of using up those few moments of my day when I have to wait for something to happen--a file to load, a person to find his debit card in his wallet, a person to come back to the car after running out to buy some milk--I am going to do other things. Checking the phone, at least for me, sometimes takes me away not for a few seconds but for a few minutes. I can accomplish a great deal  that is creative, rather than consumptive (reading ads other people have written, playing games other people have written) in those minutes.

Tomato seedlings in tomato cans
I am not interested in being more efficient. Rather, I am interested in being receptive to the possibilities for creativity. Zones of emptiness that need filling for the sake of being efficient (that is, doing things) becomes zones of plenty.

Instead of checking my phone, I have been able to do the following:

1. Make bookmarks. I started with pages torn out of a spine-cracked Jane Eyre paperback. With a few strokes of a paintbrush in a pot of Modge Podge, I can layer the paper with glue that hardens the pages so they can last for as long as those bookmarks you get at the clinic about health services.

Combination of two anti-phone-checking tactics
2. Start tomato plants from seed. Getting the seed from an  online seed catalogue was as time consuming as playing two rounds of Wordsplay, my usual go-to for passing time. I bought soil at the hardware store, so that trip was the amount of time I would spend watching dachshund-related videos on YouTube. I used egg cartons for seed starting cells, and I planted the seedlings into empty cans of plum tomatoes. Watering the cells took about the same time it takes me to check out new posts on Pinterest.

3. Read snippets from any book or magazine I have lying around, such Invisible Man, pictured here with a bookmark I made.

Saturday, 7 May 2016

Fiction and democracy

Ralph Ellison photo portrait seated.jpg
Ralph Waldo Ellison (from Wikipedia)
One of my literary heroes, Ralph Ellison, considered art to be essential to democracy. His perspective was of an African-American man in the twentieth century after the Second World War. As the United States goes through an election tumult in 2016, Ellison's views about fiction (my area in the artistic field) and American democracy may convince people that art has a role in elucidating the aims towards which political entities generally should be directed.

In the 1981 introduction to his 1952 novel Invisible Man, Ellison explains the genesis of his novel as a convergence of artistic ambition and  "social responsibility":

"[I]t would seem that the interests of art and democracy converge, the development of conscious, articulate citizens being an established goal of this democratic society, and the creation of conscious, articulate characters being indispensable to the creation of resonant compositional centers through which an organic consistency can be achieved in the fashioning of fictional forms. By way of imposing meaning upon our disparate American experience the novelist seeks to create forms in which acts, scenes and characters speak for more than their immediate selves, and in this enterprise the very nature of language is on his side. For by a trick of fate (and our racial problems notwithstanding) the human imagination is integrative--and the same is true of the centrifugal force that inspirits the democratic process. And while fiction is but a form of symbolic action, a mere game of "as if," therein lies its true function and its potential for effecting change. For at its most serious, just as is true of politics at its best, it is a thrust toward a human ideal. And it approaches that ideal by a subtle process of negating the world of things as given in favor of a complex of man-made positives."

Ellison goes on draw an analogy from Mark Twain's The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, in which the young white Huck goes on a river adventure on a raft with his friend and slave Jim. Their adventure constitutes a mental space "in which the actual combines with the ideal and gives us representations of a state of things in which the highly placed and the lowly, the black and the white, the northerner and the southerner, the native-born and the immigrant are combined to tell us of transcendent truths and possibilities."  Fiction, then, "could be fashioned as a raft of hope, perception and entertainment that might help keep us afloat as we tried to negotiate the snags and whirlpools that mark our nation's vacillating course towards and away from the democratic ideal."

This view of creativity, then combines art, a widely recognizable avatar of creativity, with political reform. Such reform depends on the willingness to rectify dysfunction by implementing new models of governance. To create new mechanisms for governance requires, of course, creativity. Political reformers, then, as far as Ellison is concerned, could use the skills people develop in reading and writing fiction to power the "centrifugal force" that leads to a desire to modify the status quo.

Friday, 25 March 2016

Games People Play

I am going through a book that aims to help video-game designers develop their game-design skills by cross-training with non-digital games: board games and card games. As Brenda Brathwaite and Ian Schreiber, authors of Challenges for Game Designers: Non-digital Exercises for Video Game Designers state, "Game design is an art form" (1).

I am not a game designer, but I happen to be working on a novel with a character who has decided to create a board game, so I decided to educate myself on what the character would have to go through when he creates the game. The character can't use computers to do this (he decides not to, basically), so in solidarity I chose this print book over the sources of online advice, which are numerous, on making board games.

I'm not finished the book yet, but it's been fun so far. The book has many exercises, as though it were designed as a textbook for a game design course. One exercise led me to make a "fog of war" version of Settlers of Catan. Another was a "first past the post" board game that has characters race around the Mediterranean in an effort to control the region secret-society style (my character Pete's game idea). I also create a card game along the same lines as the board game. For lolz, I have the rules for my fog of war game below.

The game-design process was not alien to me, except for those parts that required me to draw something. (I am bad at that.) The book emphasizes the importance of play-testing, which for me is another way of thinking of revising in writing. Worth looking at for writers is the storytelling chapter.

Knowing how to play Settlers of Catan will help make sense of these rules.

Alien in the Desert
Use 5-6 player expansion set with the base Settlers of Catan and set up the board so all land tiles are face down and all sea tiles are face up, with ports distributed around the land tiles. Flip over four land tiles. Players pick a starting point among the four. The robber piece is in this game called the Alien. The desert and the alien are in the centre. Each player gets two roads and two settlements. You must put one settlement on the overturned tile and another at a port.
The play order is the same as for expansion set Settlers. People are still advised to build even if they don't know where they are building.  Until a player has two overturned land tiles under control, that player draws a resource at random plus any resources gained by the dice roll. The resource cards are shuffled together. Whenever the banker retrieves a specific resource from the deck, the banker shuffles the deck. Redeemed resource cards are put in a discard pile. When a resource card is required but missing from the resource deck, or when the resource deck is empty, the discarded resource cards are shuffled and turned into the resource deck.
Whenever a seven is rolled, the roller picks a face-down tile and flips it over (carefully). The robber goes in the centre of the tile with a roll token chosen randomly. Roll tokens are placed randomly on the overturned land tiles. No one can build a settlement on the land tile until the robber moves off it, but existing settlements continue to benefit from dice rolls that match the roll token. The development card "Soldier" moves the robber to wherever the player of the card wants to move it, just as a roll of seven does.
Once all the land tiles are flipped over, the alien in the desert becomes a limit on a hex's action, as it does in the normal game.
This game needs more play-testing to figure out a way to make flipping over times happen more frequently.

Wednesday, 10 February 2016

Paperweight: Virgil Thomson on Creativity

This morning I used A Virgil Thomson Reader as a paperweight to keep another book open as I took notes. I chose it for another reader, too: so I could mine it for blog-friendly insights on creativity.

Through a sizable portion of the 20th century, Virgil Thomson (1896-1989) promoted modernism through his activities as  composer, critic, writer, and all-around impresario. I first came across him in a course about Gertrude Stein. After that course, I kept running into his name in all kinds of contexts, to the point that I stopped being surprised when I ran into him, including, for example, during my search through the Banff Centre library bookstack for a suitable paperweight. Here are three excerpts, which I picked for their interest, not because I agree with them necessarily, from my gleaning:

"Every profession is a secret society. The musical profession is more secret that most, on account of the nature of music itself. No other field of human activity is quite so hermetic, so isolated. Literature is made out of words, which are ethnic values and which everybody in a given ethnic group understands. Painting and sculpture deal with recognizable images that all who have eyes can see. Architecture makes perfectly good sense to anybody who has ever built a chicken coop or lived in a house. Scholarship, science, and philosophy, which are all verbalizations of general ideas, are practiced humbly by all, the highest achievements of these being for the most part verifiable objectively by anyone with access to facts. As for politics, religion, government, and sexuality, every loafer in a pub or club has his opinions, his passions, his inalienable orientation about them. Even the classical ballet is not very different from any other stylized muscular spectacle, be that diving or tennis or bullfighting or horseracing or simply a military parade.

"Among the great techniques, music is all by itself, an auditory thing, the only purely auditory thing there is.  It is comprehensible only to persons who can remember sounds. Trained or untrained in the practice of the art, these persons are correctly called 'musical.' And their common faculty gives them access to a secret civilization completely impenetrable by outsiders." (from "Our Island Home, or What It Feels Like to Be A Musician")

"My literary method, then as now, was to seek out the precise adjective. Nouns are names and can be libellous; the verbs, though sometimes picturesque, are few in number and tend toward alleging motivations. It is the specific adjectives that really describe and that do so neither in sorrow nor in anger." (from "The Paper" [the New York Herald Tribune]

"Laymen are likely to think that the poets are just being fanciful when they talk about magic and sorcery. This is not so. They are talking very good sense indeed, though their terminology may be antiquated. As a matter of fact, they are the only group of men in the world that has any profound prescience about the unchaining of the dark forces that has taken place in our century. Their chief utility to us all is that they help us to fight those dark forces by the only effective means there is or ever has been. I mean the light of reason, the repetition of sage precept, and the continual application to all the dilemmas of human life of the ancient and unalterable principles of disinterested thought." (from "Survivals of an Earlier Civilization, or Shades of Poets Dead and Gone")

Tuesday, 9 February 2016


Scrapetool is an artist's book by Carolyn Leith in the collection of the Banff Centre's Paul D. Fleck Library and Archives. It is a board game with one die, one token, scorecards and a cardstock game board. The game aims to instruct about media representation of complex social issues. Players roll the die and move around the game board, whose spaces (numbered like TV channels) are images of monitors with news clichés. Players fill out the scorecard (a monthly calendar) with the clichés they land on, one cliché per day. Channel 48's text, for example is "Sexism charged in controversial case," while Channel 60's text is "Health care plan gains support." Scores are determined by how closely a cliché matches a new story delivered on the calendar day on the scorecard (more points if the cliché appears exactly).

I found of interest a discussion of the role of games in the game's instruction manual section "Reasons to Play." Art might be a kind of play (as the instruction state) so these reasons apply to the creation of art objects. Below is the text of this section:

In fun and play we recover the integral person, who in the workaday world or in professional life can use only a small sector of his being.

Games are popular art, collective, social reductions to the main drive or action of any culture.

Games are a way of adjusting to the specialized actions that occur in any social group.

As extensions of the popular response to the workaday stress, games become a faithful model of a culture.

Games are dramatic models of our psychological lives providing release of particular tensions.

Art, like games, became a mimetic echo of, and relief from, the old magic of total involvement.

For more on Scrapetool, see here.

Sunday, 7 February 2016

Creative Cafeteria in Alberta

Can a place be a locus of creativity? I think so. Thanks to my one of my employers, I am attending a writing retreat at the Banff Centre in Banff, Alberta.

View from the Kinnear Centre for Creativity and Innovation
I have been thinking about Black Mountain College, the relatively short-lived utopia for learning and creative conjuncture. Banff Centre is in part a business conference centre and corporate retreat resort at the too-trendy townsite in Banff National Park near Calgary. Nevertheless, Banff Centre has lasted much longer than Black Mountain, partially because corporate money has supported the buildings and salaries of its employees.

While I am at my writing retreat, I have access to the fruits of this corporate infusion. I have an Artist Card (a debit card-rec centre-style swipe card) that grants me access to the following:

Battle Abbey: Jakob Koranyi and Heather Ware

I will be attending a performance by Ballet Jazz Montreal, a group I have always wanted to see. I will likely see some of the above events as well.

Creativity is a head-space, a way of thinking, not a place-place, but the inputs of the physical world provide the materiel for the outputs of creativity. For someone who, like Allen Ginsberg, is "shopping for images," the Banff Centre is a cafeteria, if not a supermarket.

Update: The subject of a previous post, McLuhan House has been renovated and is open for tours.

Writing and Retreating


View from my room at the Banff Centre
The Writers Guild of Alberta Annual Banff Retreat gives writers a chance to withdraw from the demands of daily life and advance towards writing. A writer-in-residence organizes occasional group meetings and readings and sits with each retreat member one-on-one to discuss their writing. This year's writer-in-residence, Stephen Ross Smith, is one of more personable people I have met: even battling a cold, he was relaxed and cheerful.
I am here for nine days. A few people have attended the retreat before; others, including me, are here for the first time. Talking and interacting with this group has revealed to me the variety of activities and  experiences that constitute the creative life. Prose, poetry, photography, journalism, translation and music are among their products. Several people are members of Borderlines, an Edmonton-based writing circle sponsored by the WGA and consisting of recent immigrants to Canada: among the group are poets, journalists, a blogger and a screenwriter from countries such as Chile, Nepal, Russia, and Egypt.

I sit in my room and work on my novel (and this blog) without having to grade assignments or walk the dog. The campus consists of several buildings, large and small, with gravel-strewn paths up and down and around, winding their way around like the mind winds itself when directing its energies to a particular writing problem (what are the names of some bars in Montreal?) or to the waxing and waning of confidence and stamina. The food is good (maybe too good)--I am most grateful that I don't have to cook.