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1000 Black Lines

:: digital coffee stains on the paper of the blogosphere ::

Rock Star

I'm not a big fan of Alice Cooper, but I thought his lively comments in regards to the "Vote for Change Tour" rather entertaining:
"If you're listening to a rock star in order to get your information on who to vote for, you're a bigger moron than they are. Why are we rock stars? Because we're morons. We sleep all day, we play music at night and very rarely do we sit around reading the Washington Journal." (The Edmonton Sun, Friday August 20, 2004)

On another blog, The Neanderthal, I commented that "Rock stars have not traditionally been known for their aptitude for politics nor policy. I can only think of a couple exceptions--Bono, of U2, being one." After letting my thoughts distill for several days, I wondered about the authenticity of art (and for that matter rock and roll). In high art, one can view the art object without the baggage of the art maker's politics. But is that good? Should the artist be separated from his/her creations? Picasso's 1937 Guernica was evidence that art does not have to be beautiful to be potent. The impact of that painting was colossal. I may be wrong about this, but I understand that Guernica was painted as a reaction to the atrocities of war and not a conceived political statement. Why is it that young artists, poets and musicians seem to latch onto a political movement to validate their art? "To thine ownself be true" may be a bit idealistic. However, artists and advocacy groups seemed to be married at the hip. Maybe it is the advocacy groups who have attaching themselves to artists in hope of validating their cause. Maybe it is politicians that need the arts to communicate their platform or agenda. If that's the case, Alice Cooper may have made more than a rock star's observation. He may have made a very astute point about American politics.

Classic Lit Booklist

Another posting from White Open Spaces prompted a comment from me. The challenge was to list or suggest a classic lit booklist. I started scratching my cranium for other classics I've read recently. Unless you include the Christian Bible a classic, I have only read three books recently that fit the two requirements: must be 50-years old and "has been enjoyed by those from many walks of life."
The Red Pony & The Pearl (both by John Steinbeck)
The Broken Wings by Kahlil Gibran.

In The Broken Wings, the main character references reading the book of Jeremiah in his time of deep despair. I commented on another blog that I am enamoured by the Weeping Prophet. Maybe I need to learn how to weep instead of laugh. The main character in The Broken Wings weeps for the loss of... well, I guess you'll have to read the story. But he weeps, as does Jeremiah.

Classics I am planning to read:
Invisible Man, Ralph Ellison
Lord of the Flies, William Golding (not quite 50 years old)
Brave New World, Aldous Huxley
Palace Walk, Naguib Mahfouz (again not quite 50)
Death in Venice, Thomas Mann

Decline of Reading

White Open Spaces posted an entry in regards the NEA's dismal survey "Reading at Risk." I recently read an article by Joseph Epstein who questioned the results of that survey. Mr. Epstein attacked the quality of literature that was being considered (the survey included romance and mystery novels). But also confessed, "To me the shock isn't the discovery that Americans are reading less; it is the knowledge that we read as much as we do." And he adds, "Though no one can say, how much of this reading is really serious." He went on to list several lifestyle distractions that prevent Americans from reading more (family, friends, community, career). If I am any indication of an average American, he's correct. Between work, family and community, I barely have time to read as much as I'd like. He also referenced several writers I have not read. So, now the challenge for me is to carve out some quiet time and devour those tomes.


Something has been gnawing away at my spirit for days. Junkmail for Blankets blog site, hosted by Jeremy Huggins, published a post which read (and I use with permission): "I have stolen:
TIME--I should have listened instead of talking,
DIGNITY--I put you down to lift myself that night with our friends,
IDEAS--passed them off as my own,
GLORY--the way I talked about you behind your back,
AFFECTIONS--with no intention of holding them,
AWAY--I should have stayed."

It is easy to account for stolen pens, DVDs, notebooks, cash, bus tickets and basically anything physically represented. But the abstract properties such as ideas, affections and glory are more difficult to measure and thus seem difficulty to rob. Or so it may seem. Time you can measure. I do it everyday. It takes me about 40 minutes to ride the bus to work. Three hours to design a half page, full-color vitamin ad. Less than five minutes to consume a bowl of ramen noodle soup. 20 minutes to write a blog entry. Stealing time from the company to email a friend about an upcoming gig -- a coulple minutes. Stealing time from my wife by watching the DVD Open Range -- a couple hours. Stealing time from God by avoiding Him when He calls -- several days. The question is how to repay those stolen moments. For the company who employees, me I can stay late and repay the stolen time. For my wife who comforts me, I can take her out for supper and listen to her. For my God who gives me grace and peace, I am here and I am listening.

Sip Espresso, Gulp Lattes and Visit Often

I got this email yesterday in reference to this blog:

"I think your sight rocks! It makes me want to sip espresso and gulp lattes!"

My response: Please feel free to visit often, bus your own tables and don't spill chai on the keyboard. Other than that, welcome to the café!

Stock Photography Blues

If you're a designer like myself, inevitably you'll run across the following situation. While checking my hotmail account today, I recognized a stock photo in an ad for a "match.com." The funny thing about it was that I decided not to use that particular image for a printed flyer promoting educational material. Initially I had thought this twenty-something-female in-business-casual-attire-smiling would be a great photo to capture the joys of the product I was marketing. But the image struck me as a bit . . . well, not the twenty-something-female you'd find in a classroom teaching 10-year-old students. I had this odd feeling I'd be promoting some rock and roll fantasy Van Halen suggested years ago. So, I discovered another photo of a twenty-something-smiling-female standing in a classroom with a smiling student seated at his desk. I suspect that was a better way to promote educational materials than the previous image -- which now stares at me from my web browser stating "Single? I am W seeking M between 18 to 35". I don't know about you, but that borders on false advertising.

Another situation, I was designing a college ad several months back and used a headshot of this college girl. She had this expression on her face that suggested (to me any way) pleasant contemplation. Not furrowed brow inquisitiveness, but more of a wonder-if-I-should-take-chemistry-or-physics-this-semester expression. Then a few days ago I was flipping through a publishing industry trade journal and found the same image in a collage of book covers suggesting so-many-books-so-little-time. Just when I thought I had come up with the right image for the right copy I am humbled to find someone else had the same general idea. If only I could find a photographer with a day rate of less than $400 then I might be able to avoid the stock photography blues.

The Lost Sea: part 2

The Great Smokies Writing Program series, Writers at Home, began around three o'clock on a beautiful August afternoon with the suggestion of a breeze. I anticipated hearing Keith Flynn read his poems, so I arrived early and found a seat near the middle of the café and sipped the hot chai I had purchased. Since I had some time to kill, worked on editing one of my recent poems. Soon, the café began to fill with those attending the reading.

After an introduction by the emcee/promoter, Mr. Flynn introduced himself and discussed a 56-university tour (done in 65 days) and the 10th anniversary of the literary journal he edits. Then he began his segment with a Keb' Mo cover of Momma, Where's My Daddy, followed by a poem from his first book and several newer poems from his forth coming collection. What struck me about Keith Flynn's performance was his powerful baritone voice as he read his poems and the smooth whiskey burn of his blues vocals as he sang. He is as big and bold as the words his poems. I refer to both his stature and his presence for I look up to him both figuratively and literally. He concluded his segment with a tribute to Ray Charles by singing the first verse of "America, the Beautiful". Independent bookstores are not typically known for their patriotic sentimentality, but the way Mr. Flynn belted out that tribute drew a small crowd from off the street and into the café.

He was followed by a new writer, Mindy Friddle (the author of The Garden Angel. She read from the first chapter of her novel and that concluded the afternoons events.

I retrieved my copy of The Lost Sea from my messenger bag and waited with a half dozen other fans for the opportunity to shake hands with the Keith Flynn and Mindy Friddle. Small talk with the emcee (who is the director of local writing classes) and Mindy Friddle (I had once lived in the city she calls home) bridged the moments before I was able to approach Mr. Flynn. I thanked him for his performance and asked about his "2-ply poems" and commented how that particular format resembled some of William Matthews' work. We briefly discussed that and also Sebastian Matthews' reading of his memoir In My Father's Footsteps (which also took place at this bookstore and which I also attended). As he signed my copy of his book, he invited me to another event where he would be performing. Interestingly, I was scheduled to perform poetry at the very same place but 30 days earlier. He expressed his interest in visiting that event as he signed my copy: "For Matt, a brother in the dark art of making poems."

The Lost Sea

Keith Flynn will be reading his poetry at a local independent bookstore this weekend. In preparation for attending the reading, I thought I would read through his book The Lost Sea. There are a couple lines from his poems that captivate me.

The greasy clouds slide across
the slippery harbor, gathering
the day in sheaves of fire.

from "Landscape with Train after Merton"


Who was he to question the love of ruin
or the relentless efficiency, so amazed
at the courage of color that he would
never attempt to paint it, only duplicate
its forms, the throbbing knots and gristle
of anatomy books, the tempest poured from
the distances of mirrors or the sea
sighing back again its muscular nocturnal.

from "The Manneporte"

As a child, I remember listening to my grandfather reciting poems from memory. At an early age I was exposed to the beauty of literature, specifically poetry. I suspect most children are not exposed to poetry and therefore ignore or fear it when they grow into adulthood.

I am very much looking forward to listening to Keith Flynn read his poetry.

Instead of graphic design or marketing posting, I thought I’d post an excerpt from a book I just finished reading. The book is Dark Harbor: A Poem by Mark Strand

The folded memory of our great and singular elevations,
The tragic slapping of vowels to produce tears. . .

Shaping the soul’s solemn sounds on the edge of speech
That carry the fullness of intention and the emptiness
Of achievement. . .

This passage reminds me of the writings from Ecclesiastes: “Then I observed that most people are motivated to success by their envy of their neighbors. But this, too, is meaningless, like chasing the wind.”

Bind-in Cards

Ah, the sweet success of a 1.7% return on investment (RIO). Yes it does look a bit meager. In fact, it appears down right despicable. Most marketing directors would sing hallelujah if they could bring numbers like that to their CEO. The reality of marketing wisdom is that it is very rare for a magazine marketing campaign to bring in a 1% ROI. Predictably, best results for a business to consumer model is to campaign in July and December. The rest of the year you run short marketing campaigns to keep the circulation numbers from dipping too low. That's why those annoying little insert cards (sometimes referred to as bind-in cards or blow-in cards) are in every issue of a magazine. Insert cards represent that consistent brand awareness and subscription (or gift subscriptions) offer. These cards act as a supplement campaign and sometimes the only campaign. Further, because the bind-in cards are inserted into the periodical there is less cost involved in sustaining the marketing campaign. Here is a real world scenario:

- 3 million inserts printed at $30,000.
- 3000 people complete the subscription forms and return the card to the magazine's circulation department.
- Of the 3000 that respond, 30% don't send in the funds for their subscription leaving the magazine fewer new paying subscribers.
- And the ROI reveals the campaign brought in a gross revenue of $100,000.

I am leaving some details out intentionally. As a "thank you note" the circulation department supplies a year's worth of great reading material.

So the question is, am I a Marketing Communications Coordinator fronting as a Graphic Designer? Or am I a Graphic Designer pretending he knows something about marketing?