Saturday, March 24, 2007

The creative process

By chance, in my journeying across the landscape of artists' blogs, I have started to encounter artists who post not only about their creative process, but are prepared to post the process itself!

This clip is from France Belleville's blog and shows her creating a gorilla. From nothing. Artists are like magicians this way.

As I type this, Bean says, "She's creating a picture of a gorilla, actually."

"All any of us have is the idea of a gorilla, Bean. Is her gorilla more or less real than a photo of a gorilla? Or a film image of one? Or a real one?"

Conversations between the Bean and I often end up this way.

But back to the process. Sometimes the process can turn into the end result. Bean and I discover a band called I'm From Barcelona, a 29 person choir from Sweden. Their MySpace site explains how the choir's new album, 'Let Me Introduce My Friends' came to be:

Fueled by love and vacation, Emanuel Lundgren writes a couple of explosive happy pop songs and decides to gather all his friends to put them on tape. His apartment turns into a friendly factory as people come and go loaded with banjos, accordions and kazoos. Some weeks (and lifetime memories) later, a homemade EP is finished and Emanuel collects almost all the 29 participants for a first and last live show in August 2005.

What he thought was an ending was a beginning of numerous rumours and talk about this new and exciting band. One show soon turned into plenty. Swedish media goes out of control and bloggers all over the world starts sharing their knowledge about the Swedish big band. In only a couple of months more than 20 000 people have downloaded songs from the bands website.

Today over 140 000 people have watched the video for We're from Barcelona on the website! The EP "Don't Give Up On Your Dreams, Buddy!" is released on EMI Sweden in early 2006 and is followed up by the full length album "Let Me Intruduce My Friends".

Here is the video to one of their latest tracks, We're From Barcelona.

Now, that's happy.

Friday, March 23, 2007

It's interesting to test your capabilities for a while

I love this.

Thanks (again) to Bill Emory over at his observational photographic blog Black and White,
which just plain-old makes me feel better about being. Make sure you have a look at day of rest and stairway too.

This morning I caught this song on T4 Music, a salsa remake of Coldplay's Clocks (with a subtitle of Time is Running Out) that has turned the tune into a song about the fear of climate change and its implications. This really appeals to my hippie tendencies and I am compelled, nay, obliged to reproduce it here. Unfortunately I can only find you a teaser:

Searching for Rhythm Del Mundo I also came across this great video to the Arctic Monkeys. It reminds me a bit of a scene from Ghost World.

Have a great weekend, and if you saw the singing group on Meridian tonight, feel free to tell me all about it - I missed it!

Thursday, March 22, 2007

The dark side of happiness

'How would you feel about life if death was your older sister?'
Neil Gaiman's Sandman Series - mythical.

Thursday night and I know it's dull to become addicted to a television show, but I had to watch the first episode of the third season of House. I love House and his endless quest for meaning through medicine.

I also know that I will not go out on Thursdays until the season ends.

On my travels at TED's blog, I drift across Theo Jansen, a kinetic sculptor who lends wooden creatures to the air. These sculptures, powered by the wind, are like nothing I've ever seen, and how he dared to dream of the idea, I couldn't help but wonder, the Carrie in my mind thought. Just moments before I chopped off her little finger. Ok, that was only in my mind, but it didn't make it any less fulfilling.

You have to see it to appreciate it (the sculpture, not me hacking off the digits of poorly constructed characters from overly expensive American soap operas, silly), so I've provided you with a YouTube clip. That's the kind of girl I am.

I find these sculptures fascinating and beautiful, and yet eerie, almost terrifying. They turn my mind towards some kind of dreamscape, although this may not be entirely due to the sculptures. As I've stumbled into a dead end with the graphic novel, Promethea, by Alan Moore, I've started on Neil Gaiman's Sandman series, which is equally as compelling, frightening and brilliant as Jansen's wind sculptures.

Theo Jansen's wind creatures remind me of Neil Gaiman's film, Mirrormask - available at the ever-inspiring Central Library - which also creates for the viewer an eerie and irresistible world. I think because Theo Jansen seems to place a lot of his creations on the shore of the sea is another reason why they remind me of something fantastic, as if they could be on any world, any planet, a parallel Universe, maybe.

I bet wind-creatures wouldn't have split the atom.

And of course, I couldn't let a post go by without a mention of my newfound obsession, happiness. I had a long discussion with Glenn the other night about anger, and how I've been trying to work out some of mine.

"I suppose," he said, "I'm with the whole Jung thing. You have to accept that you have a dark side. Not suppress it, or work through it, but truly accept that it's a part of you."

It's funny, because I'd been reading a lot in Promethea about that.

Another interpipe cultural offering, this time from the LyingMotherfucker site - sorry, that is what it's called. This interpretation of Milne really, really, really made my dark side laugh.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Happiness is a sad song

Urbis at Manchester are running a new exhibition on play - it looks great.
How long does it take to get to Manchester?

To answer my own question - what makes a writer happy?

Well receiving a comment from one of the amazing artists I wrote about a couple of days ago for a start!

France Belleville of the Wagonized blog that I raved about a couple of days ago (her drawings are amazing - go there immediately. Maybe read this first...) posted a fabulous comment yesterday that made my day. I love comments. Comments make me happy.

France observed in her comment that "Happiness is a sad song." This is a timely observation for me, as I have been ruminating on something puzzling all week that I am calling The Paradox of Happiness.

On Monday I went to the Central Library - fantastic cultural resource that it is - to pick up the next in the series of Alan Moore's Promethea (awesome, btw - you should really check them out, although the library's stop at Volume 4 and I've yet to discover if any more have been published). Clutching it in my greedy, graphic novel hands, I headed up to the Third Floor Cafe for a bite to eat.

I have a lot of memories of the Third Floor Cafe. When I was a child, Bean (my uncle) and I came to the library every week. The Central library was the main recreational venue of my pre-13 years life. We would choose our books - me in the Children's Section in the basement and Bean upstairs, usually in Crime, Science or Biography - and then we would go to the cafe - it was called The Crow's Nest then - where Bean would buy himself a coffee and some toast, juice and a KitKat for me. We would sit at the table in front of the window, at the back right hand side (the cafe is kind of L-shaped) and we would show each other all the books we had chosen. You could only get 8 books each then, not the twelve that modern readers enjoy. Back in my day.

After, I would go and stand on the ledge in front of the window. The cafe's windows run from floor to ceiling, and if you sat at our table you could go right up to the window and be separated only by a pane of tinted glass from a steep drop to the ground below. It scared and thrilled me in equal measure. Bean would order another coffee and we would sit for maybe an hour in best friend silence reading our books until it was time for us to go home.

When I was very small, before my parents had the good sense to get divorced and thus cement their friendship forever (no irony), home was not always a great place to be. Thus, the Central Library with Bean is the site of some of the happiest memories of my life so far.

I thought about all this on Monday, as I walked towards 'our' familiar table with my freshly borrowed Promethea burning a hole in my bag. I stood at the window while I waited for my coffee to cool down and felt that same thrilling fear at the drop below. I remembered how happy those visits in my childhood were. And I felt a mixture of such happy remembering and sad loss that I almost cried there and then.

I have been puzzling over this all week. Is happiness remembered bound to make us sad? I get this same feeling sometimes when I remember the best times of past relationships, too. Or is it an awareness that my particular, special happiness then is not accessible to me now? That I know I cannot be that child again? Is it the loss?

Or is it just, as France suggests, that happiness can sometimes be a sad, sad song?

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Muriel's Ark

It was Lisa's day in the Ministry and I mentioned a recent article by Muriel Gray, who was the Chair of year's Orange Prize, bemoaning the lack of fiction in female fiction writers. Muriel laments (that's a great name for a band, you can use it) that women "appear to have forgotten the fundamental imperative of fiction writing. It's called making stuff up." She complains that too much women's fiction is simply too autobiographical. If Virginia Woolf were alive she would doubtless take Muriel out with a sniper rifle.

Lisa and I puzzled over this article and couldn't really get past the fact that it was negative, patronizing and such an over-simplification as to be almost meaningless.

I'm not sure that these kind of generalizations are helpful unless they are part of a discussion or study that involves, well, research perhaps, into the changing nature of the books women are writing - and, importantly, the ones being published - or an examination of the assumptions that we make about women's writing. Actually, I'm not sure that even that would be helpful. If you go into something looking for difference, you will tend to find it. And I don't see anyone bollocking Nick Hornby (admittedly a frightening image).

In my first year at Uni they told us of studies that look at assumptions of gender, which showed that when tutors (male and female) were told they were marking a man's work, they consistently marked higher than if they were told the writer was a woman - even if there was no variation in the work. I wonder about a similar experiment with fiction.

What would happen if we took the covers off some books and asked people to identify whether they were written by a man or a woman. What assumptions would that show about men and women writers?

Muriel concludes her article:

The first hurdle is to convince women that if they break free of those gender constraints, they will still be relevant and still be taken as seriously as the quality of their work demands. The Orange prize is a leading force in assisting this, and the fact that all three major literary prizes will have gone to women authors shows that when women dream and dare and invent, they are in every way equal to their male rivals.

"Every way equal to their male rivals" - oh, piss off, Muriel.

Monday, March 19, 2007

What makes a writer happy?

I love this picture, Kevin's Hands from France Belleville over at Wagonized.
Wagonized is my new favourite thing.
In fact, I've been living there since I found it a few days ago on a search for hands.
This blog is amazing and only the third visual artist's blog that I have encountered on my travels
(For info: the others are Jeannie Driver and Youngest Indie)

I'm still meditating on the nature of happiness. In fact, I have stumbled 'accidentally' this week onto more information on the nature of happiness than seems strictly normal, but it just goes to show what you notice when you open your eyes - even to just one idea. I'll be posting more about some of the theories of happiness over the next few days.

My other major current preoccupation is my writing. As per. The blog is often the most writing I do in a day, with my diary a close second. The creative 'stuff': articles, short stories, my ongoing stab at the GBN for young people and the occasional terrible poetry is still getting trapped on the backburner, and along with my happiness studies, I'm currently working very hard to find out for myself exactly why.

As my friend Lisa often says, "I don't believe in writer's block!" For myself, neither do I. I always assumed writers' block implied a moment when you ran out of ideas of what to write and I never have a problem with that. Life provides too many incidents to speculate on.

I do believe in fear though, and this can be one of my main deterrents to writing often and to writing well. I find it hard to trust what I write sometimes, I lose faith that I'm copying someone else's style, that I've stolen someone else's idea, that I'm writing badly. Increasingly, I believe that the reason I write is twofold: to understand the world and to be understood by others in it. If I feel like I'm failing on either of these two counts, then I'm not happy about my writing.

But understanding something through the act of writing, and having my writing understood by others is actually just a question of my perception. And that brings me squarely back to the link between state of mind and happiness.

I'm as happy as I think I am!? Does that mean by proxy that my writing is as good as I think it is?

I found this great quote on the blog Wagonized, Drawings by France Belleville, which I cannot get enough of recommending to you:

Talking about Keith Jarrett in The Creative License, Danny Gregory writes: "He says you have to assume that what you are doing is meaningless, to be willing to toss it away. The best moments, he says, "are when i am playing only in the present and not heading anywhere. I aspire not to know what i am doing." This is mindfulness, living in the present. (...) But to achieve mindfulness, you just need something you already have: the willingness to quiet down, clear the crap, and TRUST." It echoes what Karen Winters was writing recently about "effort without striving".

Jenny Diski, one of my favourite writers of screen and paper, has posted on her blog recently on the act of writing.

"None of my novels (or my non-fiction) is predicated on presenting a simple, recognisable picture of reality. Here's the thing: it has never crossed my mind when writing a novel that it should be 'believable' to the reader. I've always found it odd when a book is praised because its characters and their doings are 'totally believable'.

I don't think that novels have to be (and am not interested in writing novels that are) reproductions of the world. There are novels written as realistic portraits, but by no means all and there's no reason why they should be. It is certainly not the only task of a novelist to reproduce reality. A novel is not good just because it looks to you like the world you know. Nor bad because it doesn't.

There are other kinds of truth (or even untruth) that a writer might want to get to. Pictures they might want to paint of what is least likely. Some of us want to play with ideas in the form of narrative. Only the narrowest of views demands that novels must be believable and that novelists have to conform to their readers' notions of the way the world is."

What I like about both of these quotes is that both artists are talking about trusting the process, and I don't think this just applies to creativity. Humans place a lot of stock on where we are headed, the purpose behind what we're doing - yet all we have is right now.

I found a great poem the other day that can be used as a useful kicking-off point for anyone wanting some help with their creativity.

If You Could Write One Great Poem,
What Would You Want It To Be About?

(Asked of four student poets at the Illinois Schools for the Deaf and Visually Impaired)

Fire: because it is quick, and can destroy.
Music: place where anger has its place.
Romantic Love - the cold or stupid ask why.
Sign: that it is a language, full of grace.

That it is visible, invisible, dark and clear,
That it is loud and noiseless and it is contained
Inside a body and explodes in air
Out of a body to conquer from the mind.

Robert Pinsky

Just the title of this poem got me thinking. If I could write one great poem, what would I want it to be about? I can't tell you the answer, because I'm writing a poem to go with it, but when I'm there, it's yours.

And obviously, now I'm bound to ask.....what would your poem be about?

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Mother's Day and The Mystery of the Missing Posts

Motherhood by Nora Heysen (1941)
You can also find out more about Heysen and her work, here at Wikipedia

I spent Friday night catching up with Bean over a few bottles of white wine that were very more-ish and I was definitely NOT walking in a straight line by the time I stumbled to bed.

The NSN's decided to raise a merry rumpus, but not with their usual midnight mating calls this time. At 3 am they launched into one an unholy row that lasted at full volume for about an hour. Those noisy little monkeys.

The result was that all my provisional plans for the weekend imploded. I spent most of Saturday lying on my couch acting like a wounded princess:

"My head! My aching head! Oh why must I be TORTURED in this way?" and so on.

Of course this only lasted until Bean and my visiting brother left at mid-afternoon. Having lost my audience, I quit with the drama and curled up on the sofa with a book until I fell fast asleep.

Which is exactly where I woke up at 4.20 this morning. Damn.

Today, Mum and I, hopefully joined by my brother when he returns from his travels later, are going out for something to eat to celebrate the festivity that is Mother's Day. I don't get the impression that Mother's Day means a great deal to my mum, and I must confess I share her apathy. Mum and I see each other all year round, we're very close and she's a constant priority, so Mother's Day always feels a little, well, forced and pointless really.

Nonetheless, it's nothing out of the ordinary for me to meet up with la famille on a weekend anyway, and it's always better when we can all meet up at the same time.

Interestingly though, a quick search on Wikipedia tells me that most countries in the world celebrate Mother's Day, scattered throughout the year. Wikipedia reports the history of Mother's Day in the UK as follows:

"Mothering Sunday, commonly called "Mothers' Day" in the United Kingdom, has no direct connection to the American practice. It falls on the fourth Sunday of Lent (exactly three weeks before Easter Sunday). It is believed to have originated from the 16th Century Christian practice of visiting one's mother church annually, which meant that most mothers would be reunited with their children on this day. Most historians believe that young apprentices and young women in servitude were released by their masters that weekend in order to visit their families.[2] As a result of secularization, it is now principally used to celebrate and give thanks for mothers, although it is still recognized in church, with attention paid to Mary the mother of Jesus as well as the traditional concept 'mother church'."

Motherhood is particularly interesting to me at the moment as one of my best friends, Shon, is pregnant (you did say tell everyone, didn't you Dill?). This is something that, until it happened, I thought would never happen to any of the women I know. For it to happen to Shonagh just makes me feel a million times fiercer about her than I usually do, which can be no bad thing.

Most of my other closest female friends, with the exception of a couple, a quite commitedly childless and intend to be child-free, myself included. The child-free movement is, according to some a growing movement, or to others, one that is suddenly finding itself under the spotlight.

In a recent edition of Bitch, the childfree movement was examined in a lengthy feature and in a recent issue of Mslexia a reader wrote a letter complaining that the childfree movement consistently refer to children using negative terms such as "Crotch-droppings", a phrase which had me in giggles every time I saw a toddler for weeks.

What do you mean I've got no maternal instinct!?