Affirmative

I have long had mixed feelings about events, awards, competitions, clubs, schools…that are segregated, i.e. that are solely for the benefit of one group to the exclusion of others. Separation based on race or age or sex or religion or whatever feels divisive and exclusionary. On the other hand, there are many good reasons to reach out to a specific narrowly focused group. Some will argue that disenfranchised groups need targeted opportunities to receive services and benefits to which they would not otherwise have access. Others will argue that two wrongs don’t make a right and will point to individuals who have found the ways and means to achieve their goals regardless.

It’s been awhile since affirmative action was a hot news topic, so why am I talking about it now? I just received an email and flyer from one of my writing mentors. Marita Golden saw a lack of institutional resources in the African American community dedicated to supporting creative writing either as an artistic expression or a professional endeavor. So she and a colleague created the Hurston/Wright Foundation to discover, develop, and honor Black writers. Now she was writing to announce a new Writers’ Week Workshop to take place in Washington DC in July, where an international community of Black writers will meet in a nurturing/safe space to discuss their work, its meaning, and unique aesthetic.

I’ve been debating with myself about whether or not I want to help them spread the word. I decided in the affirmative. Recognizing that such a unique aesthetic exists and should be nurtured, explored, developed and understood is a good reason for selective inclusion and therefore something I can support as an outsider. Plus they are offering a special tuition-free track for high school students, and I’m all for nurturing young writers. So if you know any aspiring African-American writers in high-school, please tell them about this opportunity. (Info and application details are here)

March Madness?

I just came across this quote in the February 2007 issue of The Writer magazine:

“I can’t write quickly. If I could write a book a year and maintain the same quality, I’d be happy. I’d love to write a book a year, but I don’t think I’d have any fans.” Donna Tartt, as quoted in the London Sunday Times

I’ve seen the work of many a hack who publishes pounds of fish-wrap in short order, but there are those writers — and bloggers — who can, and do, churn out what seems to me to be massive amounts of high-quality prose in short time-frames. (TT comes to mind.) I am not so consistent, though when I know what I want to say it does come more quickly and with greater ease. My delays are usually caused by a slow-down in thinking more so than hand-cramps. Either I haven’t worked “it” out yet or I haven’t even had time to think about it. When it comes to blogging, it is usually the latter.

Were I to dare call my writings “art,” I might invoke these words by Glenn Gould

“The purpose of art is not the release of a momentary ejection of adrenaline but rather the gradual, lifelong construction of a state of wonder and serenity.” — from his 1962 essay Let’s Ban Applause!

implying that gradual construction might apply to the creation as well as the resultant experience.

In any case, I am sorry to be so often missing-in-action from the blogosphere, but it’s certainly not for laziness or lack of interest. I think about it daily and often dash off the beginning lines of a post or file away a note of interest for later…then later gets delayed. I also keep intending, and forgetting, to respond to blog comments. I’m not sure, though, whether I should respond with a comment myself, or in a new post. So here are a few aggregated thoughts:

1) In a post about Erroll Garner I excerpted John’s story about playing on Erroll’s very first recording. I distinctly remember someone commenting that the album John spoke of was not Erroll’s “first recording”, and not even the first with John playing bass with him. I can’t for the life of me find the posted comment (maybe it was removed by the sender) or perhaps it was email that I can’t find, but I did intend to answer it. The sender (I don’t remember who it was) made reference to an earlier recording in connection with Timme Rosenkrantz. According to John, who qualifies as a primary source, after hours lots of musicians would hang out at Timme and Inez’s home, jamming. Some may have been aware at the time, others not, that Timme was taping them, but they certainly weren’t “making a record” for release. So while someone mayhave captured Erroll on tape before then, it is John’s opinion that Erroll Garner’s first intended, or official, or professional recording was made for Savoy Records on September 25, 1945.

2) Under the Art & Music post about Ted Nash’s new suite, my mother commented that back in 1993 my dad recorded “Dedications and Inspirations,” a CD with three pieces inspired by Miro, Matisse, and Monet. True, but Dad does not claim to be the first. While interesting, published discogrphies are not always 100% accurate. I do not own, nor have I heard, any of the following, so I share these results of a quick discographic database search with the usual caveat lector warning.

— a 1968 recording by Astrud Gilberto with unknown accompaniment with the title “Lillies by Monet”
— German pianist Siegfried Kessler’s 1976 recording Les Mots Sont De La Musique that includes “La femme en blue d’Henri Matisse”
— a 1987 solo piano recording titled “Water Lilies: Richie Beirach Plays Musical Portraits Of Claude Monet”
— “Homage To Joan Miro” by the Emil Viklicky Quartet recorded in Prague, 1987
— Slalom, a 1988 recording by Jane Ira Bloom with Fred Hersch in piano that includes two tracks “Painting over Paris” and “Miro”  

Tangentially, I’d like to add that I have long been fascinated by the interplay of the arts, especially artists who themselves are multi-talented, people like Tony Bennett and Miles Davis And not just musician/painters, works by actor/painters such as Martin Mull, Richard Chamberlain, Gene Hackman, and Sylvester Stallone have also been sold at charity auctions and at galleries.

3) In Your Eye would have been the title of my response to TT’s first posting from Los Angeles. I had planned to tell him that the majority of us who live in what is loosely called L.A. do not live in any of the places he mentioned — many live “in town” which includes the Wilshire district and the increasingly popular downtown L.A., but even more of us live in other towns, from San Pedro to Pasadena, to Thousand Oaks and beyond. I also wanted him to know that in my nearly 30 years of living out here on the left Coast I have never, ever, dined at an In-N-Out Burger, and I set foot in Westwood as seldom as possible. So when he writes, “I’d say that was a real Los Angeles evening, wouldn’t you?” I would have to reply, “not hardly.”

I’d call my disappearing act March Madness but it’s been going on for months now and, as I steadfastly refuse to give up on trying to multi-task, it may be a persistent on-again off-again condition. If you’re reading this, it means that you have been hanging in there with me, for which I thank you very much.  (Of course, you could be a brand new reader of DevraDoWrite and I may have just scared you off….).  I’ll be back as soon, and as often, as I can.

Words To Live By

A writer friend sent me the following quote:

If you don’t feel that you are possibly on the edge of humiliating yourself, of losing control of the whole thing, then probably what you are doing isn’t very vital. If you don’t feel like you are writing somewhat over your head, why do it? If you don’t have some doubt of your authority to tell this story, then you are not trying to tell enough.
~ John Irving

I might add that this is just as applicable to living in general as to writing in particular.

I’ll never learn…

Instead of paring down, I took on more. In the midst of all my writing projects, I have been building websites and blogs for people (arnoldrichards.net, missnancywilson.com, and boomerhead.com, to name a few) …..but it was for money. Got to do a little something to fill the coffers while waiting for the SnapSizleBop projects to earn their keep.

Speaking of which, we have now officially launched the At the Feet of a Jazz Master project — that’s the one based on John Levy’s long life in the jazz world. The end result of the project is a high-quality soft-cover coffee table book of exquisite color photos (shot by Leroy Hamilton) interspersed with short essays and vignettes that celebrate John’s life, the lessons he’s learned, and the legacy that he leaves. But there is much to the online project experience that will not make it into the book — for example, photos from John’s personal archives, lots of streaming audio on the SnapSizzleBop radio player, audio interviews with many artists and friends, and maybe even some streaming video clips.

We’ve launched seven participant levels ranging from the $30 Download Participant and the $50 Mail Order Participant, to the $2500 Collector Participant (includes a poster with dozens of great autographs) and the Enduring Legacy Participant that lets you give the gift of jazz education to the school of your choice for only $3500.

Here’s a direct link to the complete list of participant offers and here’s a link to the overall project description. I hope you’ll check it out.

By Request

My husband loved the before christmas poem about losing my shoes and has now requested that I write about my office…so take it up with him.

Clean it up, and find your shoes,
my helpful husband offers.
He is not aware of what he asks,
it’s here I fill my coffers.

Although the floor is piled high
with music, books and papers,
in this space that’s mine alone,
I work on all my capers.

My room is roughly 10 x 12
with overflowing shelves,
I don’t know how the work gets done,
it must be all those elves.

Van Gogh, Kandinsky, and Picasso
hang on butterscotch walls.
A four-line phone atop my desk,
it’s here I field the calls.

No office furniture in my room,
I much prefer a den.
It’s such a mess, oh can’t you guess,
I’ll never find my pen.

Notebooks and file folders
cascade on a serving cart.
I can’t keep track of all there is,
I’ll have to make a chart.

My desk an oblong dining table,
belonged to my grandmother.
It’s piled high with reference books
and so I need another.

From great Aunts Hattie and Tillie
comes my oval dining table.
It’s here I sit and window watch
whenever I am able.

I’ll never find my shoes or keys,
as much you might suspect.
Don’t give me that look, i’m writing three books,
what else do you expect?

“It’s very clear, it’s a disaster my dear.”
“I know,” I say with a sigh.
“If you clean it all up, you might be in luck.”
“Okay, well maybe I’ll try.”

Welcome

A warm welcome to all new readers of DevraDoWrite; thank you for taking the time to visit. And a special howdy-do to those who arrived by way of GalleyCat (thank you, Ron) or Grumpy Old Bookman (thank you, Michael Allen). I don’t think I’ve been this excited since I was blogrolled by Terry Teachout on June 13th of 2005.

Music, books, good works, and other reasons for living – that’s what this blog is about. In other words, whatever is on my mind – snapshots of my life as a writer and a reader, a listener and a watcher, a wife and a daughter. The categories under which these musings, opinions, and commentary are filed include Boos & Bravos, Notables, Hmmm…, Word Play, Writing Life, Reading Life, I’m All Ears, Jazz Ears, Date Specific, and This ‘n’ That. When I started out I on May 1, 2005 I was very good about posting five days a week, but in the last few months, working to launch the new projects at snapsizzlebop.com, I’ve been a bit less consistent. Getting back on track is one of my New Year’s resolutions.

Recently I enabled the Comments feature on DevraDoWrite, and although I am getting thoroughly splogged (I believe that’s the new word for spamming a blog), the valid comments that come through make it worth it, so I welcome your comments and hope to hear from you.

Happy Holidays!

ADDENDUM: If you’re visiting from OnePotMeal, welcome to you too! The folks there posted a nice mention that includes a great quote from Brian Camelio, the brains behind ArtistShare.

A Gift From Grumpy

My press release about SnapSizzleBop and whether the ArtistShare model might work for writers got a plug in Grumpy Old Bookman’s Tuesday’s posting. Grumpy Old Bookman is “A blog about books and publishing, aimed at both readers and writers. Listed by the Guardian as one of the top ten literary blogs.” I am feeling very honored to be mentioned and it gives me hope.

In the same day’s postings he mentions that “Galleycat reports that some established writers are finding it preferable to go with smaller publishers. Little or no advance, but better attention and maybe more money at the end.”

I read about this in Publishers Weekly too. It’s all well and good for best-selling authors, or writers whose books fit the fad-of-the month, or for hobbyists who have a different career and write in their spare time. And it’s especially great for re-issues of out-of-print books. In other words, if day-to-day survival as a writer is not of concern, then it’s wonderful. But it is not of any help to those who need to be paid for their work in the here-and-now.

So how do book writers survive? Some take on commercial writing tasks (writing press releases, business plans, and such), some write freelance articles, some line up speaking engagements (and sell their books too), some do editing and/or teach classes, and some hope to win grants, fellowships, and contests. Some try all of the above. These are just the first few answers that come to mind. Of course, you all know my hopes are vested in the ArtistShare solution over at SnapSizzleBop.com.

It would be nice to receive a grant or fellowship, but Brian Camelio, the founder of ArtistShare has been raising my consciousness about matters of patronage. While a gift, grant, or commission can bring financial relief, albeit temporary, there is nothing good about feeling beholden. And that feeling of debt, coupled with mandatory gratitude, is not a cocktail that enables creativity. I’m giving these matters some serious thought and no doubt will soon have more to say on the subject.

NPR Goodies

Piano Jazz:

“The Ashby Brothers” Piano Jazz show airs the week of December 26, 2006. (Click here to find the radio stationin your area) The show will feature interviews with Marty and Jay Ashby, who will be joined by longtime friends and MCG Jazz collaborators, bassist Rufus Reid and drummer Lewis Nash for the musical portion of the segment. The Ashby Brothers Quartet cover an array of music in the segment, from Duke Ellington’s “Just Squeeze Me” to Ivan Lins’ “Norturna.”

Additionally, Bill Strickland, President and CEO of Manchester Craftsmen’s Guild, was also interviewed by Mrs. McPartland to share the history of his success with MCG and its sister organization, Bidwell Training Center, and his plans to replicate the arts and technology program in major cities throughout the U.S. Bill Strickland’s interview is available as a podcast.

Charlie Brown:

Mr. Rifftides and TT both sang the praises of Vince Guaraldi’s Charlie Brown music. Did you know that Guaraldi’s classic score almost never made it on the air. Check out Felix Contreras’ Behind Guaraldi’s Timeless Holiday Soundtrack that aired on Morning Edition last month and can still be heard online.

Lillian Ross:

On Morning Edition today I heard “The Long View: For Writer Lillian Ross, the Story’s in the Details.” Ms. Ross, a long-time staff writer for The New Yorker, has long been one of my writing heroines.

Rich details, status details, intimate details, telling details, these are the little facts observed that bring people to life on the page. (Of course I’ll be talking more about the use of such details in the months to come for People On The Page over at SnapSizzleBop.) It was no surprise that by the end of this morning’s NPR piece, Ms. Ross had turned the tables on interviewer Steve Inskeep.

Back in June 2005 i wrote about Ms. Ross and her techniques:

One of my goals as a narrative nonfiction writer is to make my readers to feel as if they are there, seeing the events about which I am writing. In order for that to happen, I have to evoke the readers’ interest and convey to them a sense of my reliability, letting them know that either I was there observing (and now they can watch through my eyes) or at least that I did thorough research. Lillian Ross is a master in this genre and I often try to analyze her work in search of techniques that I might employ. (read the whole piece here)

Here are some books by Lillian Ross:

Portrait of Hemingway (Random House Publishing Group, 1999)

Picture (Da Capo Press; Reprint edition June 2002)

Fun of It: Stories from the Talk of the Town (Random House Publishing Group, 2001)

Reporting Back: Notes on Journalism (Counterpoint Press, 2003)

Green Kryptonite

I seem to have been stripped of my super powers. No longer can I accomplish everything plus by yesterday.

Working on two books while planning a third, plus blogging, plus other cash-paying tasks has created an overwhelming overload, with overwhelming being the operative word — brain freeze, a near total shut down.

The symptoms include an inability to think clearly and a pain in my own neck; literally, it’s on the left side. I finally figured out that the pain is caused by Freecell (yes, that solitaire-like game that comes with the Windows operating system). It seems that the amount of time I spend playing Freecell on the computer is an excellent inverse indicator of how “in-control” I’m feeling about my current projects. I’m not shirking my tasks in lieu of playtime — the obsessive/compulsive drive that keeps me clicking feels like an addiction and as such it’s really not fun. Nor is it relaxing. So why “play”? Probably because I can win and feel like I’ve accomplished something. When I lose, I just click again until I win…hence the addictive nature of it. It runs neck-in-neck with re-arranging the furniture, books, and/or files in my office, although the re-arranging activities do allow me to claim some trickle-down benefit to the waiting work that is not the case with Freecell.

So what’s the antidote? To identify small easy-to-complete tasks. Sounds simple but it’s more than a notion when my projects are all intertwined. It’s the tangle that must be unraveled and sometimes it cannot be done by force. It’s not a matter of will-power or dedication, my butt is firmly planted in the chair, but it does remind me of trying to meditate — I am unable to make my mind go blank, and I find it equally hard to imagine a single image, whether it’s white light or a flower or a shoe. My mind wanders, faster and farther the harder I try to rein it in. I’ve heard that constant jumping around from one figurative treetop to the next described as ”monkey brain.” So if trying hard makes it worse, perhaps not trying at all will allow some thoughts to crystallize and emerge on their own.

Let’s hope so, ’cause I’ve got a lot of work to do.

“Only amateurs say that they write for their own amusement. Writing is not an amusing occupation. It is a combination of ditch-digging, mountain-climbing, treadmill and childbirth… But amusing? Never.”
–Edna Ferber (1887–1968), U.S. writer. A Peculiar Treasure, ch. 1 (1939).

Words To The Wise

I’m beginning to receive a lot of press releases promoting events and products. Whether or not these announcements might be of interest to you, I do not make a habit of posting the majority of them because my blog is not a public broadcast station and I do not consider myself to be a news service with a capital N as in The News, even when that news is entertainment-related. At those times when I am writing for “the press,” I do consider myself to be a journalist, and no matter what the outlet, I do hold myself to journalistic standards when writing nonfiction, but DevraDoWrite is a blog, and as such it is no more and no less than a platform for my thoughts and ideas, which hopefully hold some modicum of interest or entertainment value for you, my readers. Why else would you be here?

You might then wonder why I post the occassional press release and review the random CD, performance or movie. Usually it is because the annoucement has triggered some related thoughts that I wish to explore and share. Sometimes my discourse is right on point, but often times, like today, it is merely tangential. Today’s case is vocabulary-driven, truly an act of simple curiosity aroused by a press release from the USAF Band regarding “Acapella Music of the Empyrean.” I love coming across words that are new to me, and empyrean was an unfamiliar word.

“Acapella Music of the Empyrean featuring Members of The Singing Sergeants” is the title a December 9th concert that is part of The United States Air Force Band Chamber Players Series held at Anderson House Museum (2118 Massachusetts Avenue NW, Washington, D.C.). This free concert starts at 1:30 p.m. but because I live on the left coast and have no plans to be in D.C. next month, rendering me unable to attend, listen, and learn, I turned to an alternative source of enlightenment: the Internet.

Looking it up in the Word of the Day Archive, I found the following definitions and examples:

empyrean \em-py-REE-uhn; -PEER-ee-\, noun:
1. The highest heaven, in ancient belief usually thought to be a realm of pure fire or light.
2. Heaven; paradise.
3. The heavens; the sky.

adjective:
1. Of or pertaining to the empyrean of ancient belief.

She might have been an angel arguing a point in the empyrean if she hadn’t been, so completely, a woman.
— Edith Wharton, “The Long Run”, The Atlantic, Feburary 1912

In the poem — one he had the good sense finally to abandon — he pictured himself as a blind moth raised among butterflies, which for a brief moment had found itself rising upward into the empyrean to behold “Great horizons and systems and shores all along,” only to find its wings crumpling and itself falling — like Icarus — back to earth.
— Paul Mariani, The Broken Tower: A Life of Hart Crane

In my experience, the excitement generated by a truly fresh and original piece of writing is the rocket fuel that lifts Grub Street’s rackety skylab — with its grizzled crew of editors, publishers, agents, booksellers, publicists — into orbit in the empyrean.
— Robert McCrum, “Young blood”, The Observer, August 26, 2001

Empyrean comes from Medieval Latin empyreum, ultimately from Greek empurios, from en-, “in” + pyr, “fire.”

Wikipedia says empyrean can mean several things, and definitions range from the biblical to the brewery:

* In Christian theology, the Empyrean (also called the heavenly rose, or the mind of God) is the name of the highest heaven.
* In Paradiso, the final book of The Divine Comedy, the Empyrean, based on the above, is the abode of God.
* In Asheron’s Call, Empyrean refers to a race of highly intelligent humanoid beings inhabiting the planet Auberean.
* In Digital Devil Saga, Empyrean Halo is a powerful attack spell, the name referring to the heavenly rose in The Divine Comedy.
* Empyrean Brewing Company is a brewery located in Lincoln, Nebraska.

Although I do ponder the merits of using words that require readers to have a dictionary at hand, I am nonetheless on the perpetual quest to expand my vocabulary. To that end, I subscribe to a weekdaily email from wordsmith.org that serves up a word with definitions and sample uses, each week’s offerings being thematically related. Sometimes the words are new to me and on occassion I make a note to add one to my vocabulary list. A few weeks back the theme was words about books, and here are three of those words:

auctorial (ok-TOR-ee-uhl) adjective

Pertaining to an author

[From Latin auctor (author, creator), from augere (to create). Ultimately from the Indo-European root aug- (increase) which is also the source of auction, authorize, inaugurate, augment, august, auxiliary, and nickname (“a nickname” is a splitting of the earlier “an ekename”, literally, an additional name).]

fascicle (FAS-i-kuhl) noun

1. Part of a book published in installments. For example, the Oxford English Dictionary was published in fascicles.

2. A bundle. For example, a bundle of nerve or muscle fibers, or a bundle of leaves.

[From Latin fasciculus, diminutive of fascis (bundle).]

The word fascism is related. It refers to the Latin fascis (a bundle or a group) and also to the emblem adopted by Mussolini: a bundle of twigs that was carried as a sign of the power of a magistrate in ancient Rome.

hornbook (HORN-book) noun

A primer.

[From horn + book. In earlier times, a hornbook was a book containing the alphabet or other material for children. Though it would be stretching the definition of book by the present standard — it had a wooden paddle with a handle that held a paper with learning material protected by the transparent layer of a cow’s horn.]

See pictures of hornbooks here

By the way, WordSmith.org is also the home of the Internet Anagram Server that I had so much fun with early in my blogging days — Raison D’Etre (Monday May 02nd 2005), Word Trips (Friday July 08th 2005), and Caveat Lector Dictionaria/Encyclopedia (Tuesday September 27th 2005).

And in case you are wondering, the purpose of today’s tour-de-words is not to warn you off of sending me press releases. Au contraire. I love to read them, never knowing what serendipity-dowrite might stike. When my little gray cells are sufficiently stimulated, you’ll read about it right here. So stay tuned and keep in touch.