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1000 Black Lines

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

Fat Tuesday

Local radio station WNCW is playing Mardi Gras music all day. Listen anywhere on the planet by tuning in online [here]. WNCW will feature interviews with New Orleans musicians, artists and writers as well. If you have Windows Media Player, Real Player, Winamp or (my fav) iTunes, then feel free to listen to music celebrating Fat Tuesday!

From WNCW:
On Tuesday we’ll salute the great city of New Orleans all day. At 8:45am, Ellen Pfirrmann will interview Andrei Condescru, NPR commentator and author of "New Orleans Mon Amore." At around 9:20am, Kim Clark will talk with Tommy Malone of the Subdudes. We’ll be playing Louisiana music all day, and checking in with New Orleans residents to hear about their city’s progress in recovering from Hurricane Katrina.


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Building a community

It is written somewhere that it is better to be in a house of weeping than at a house party. I've experienced both this weekend. I am exhausted. My head aches, my eyes burn, my heart aches in ways I didn't know possible, my spirit is heavy as if I can feel it in my gut.

Saturday night I enjoyed meeting new faces (writers, poets, artists) at a party hosted by a local poet. It is nice to meet others in the literary community. My wife and I had a lovely evening. For those who attended, thanks. I hope meet again soon and forgive us for leaving so quickly.

Sunday morning greeted me with great, deep grief as I mourn with others the tragic loss of a friend's daughter. No father should have to bury his daughter. No words can truly comfort. Flesh is so weak -- numb. No one can really help through the grieving process. It is a lonely, personal, spiritual endeavor. But somehow, when a community grieves together there is solemn solidarity.

Four books and four reviews with take away points


Purple Cow
This past week I read three out of four titles. In fact, Blue Like Jazz took me about a day in a half as did Book Business. My reading list has been varied as of late. Part of this is due to career changes and part is due to new discipline as a writer to read more extensively.

:::


Purple Cow, by Seth Godin, is a wonderful book if you're in marketing or new product development. I came to his book after reading Godin's web log. I am also investigating the idea of a brand pyramid for poets -- more specifically, poet who don't currently have NEA grants or book contracts. It is obvious that outside academia, poetry books don't sell well. So, I wanted to learn what makes a strong product and brand.

Last year gapingvoid offered free advice concerning the subject of a brand pyramid.
"In marketing there's something called 'The Brand Pyramid'.

"Basically it describes how the brand "interacts" at different levels of the value chain... Starting from the bottom of the pyramid and working upwards:

-At the bottom, you have reading the stuff on gaping void for free.
-Then you have the affordable merch, let's say, blogcards, t-shirts, books etc.
-Then you have prints and drawings.
-Then at the top you have commissions and consulting.

"Basically, all the layers inform and nourish each other..."


So, applying a brand pyramid to a relatively unknown poet/writer might go like this:
-Free sample pieces available on-line (excerpt or first chapter) and free public readings.
-The book itself (in one format or another – i.e. audio book, e-book, traditional hard cover book)
-Paid speaking engagements/lectures/writing workshops

The Purple Cow was useful in pointing out the simple fact that in a postmodern society consumers have become very adept at ignoring a lot of marketing and advertising efforts. Seth Godin goes as far as to say advertising is dead (which I tend to agree with in part). PR has expanded its reach while advertising in general has diminished. The theme of Purple Cow is to invest in "remarkable" products.

My take away is this: if it's not a remarkable poetry book, then it will die in obscurity. This of course leads to the question; how does one make a remarkable poetry book?

:::



How to become CEO
How to become CEO: Thanks to Tom Peters among others there is an industry of business consultants and their books and their seminars. What I don't like about the consultant industry propaganda is the reliance on outsourcing work to other countries in order to maintain a cheap bottom line and appease the board of directors and shareholders. North Carolina's textile industry (almost extinct at this point) has suffered greatly from this line of thinking. Instead of encouraging innovation, business consultants encourage manufacturing executives to ship jobs overseas or across the border. So how does one lead a company with innovation and sustainability?

How To Become CEO does not follow the typical model of business books. The book consists of maxims for people who want to ascend the corporate ladder. For example, arrive at work 45 minutes early and leave 15 minutes late. These nuggets of wisdom can be applied to corporations with over 1000 employees or an activist organization of 10. Most of Fox's maxim's center upon leadership and networking and didn't really answer how to operate a sustainable company. In a way, the book reminds me of something one might read on how to win at chess in three moves or less. The theme is the title; if you know where you want to be (CEO), then this book is full of advice on how to get there. If you want to know how to operate a sustainable operation, then you'll have to find another book.

May take away: leadership can be a very lonely road but rewarding.

:::



Book Business
Book Business: One of the projects I'm developing is a book for a local publisher. What better place to start my research than to read Jason Epstein's Book Business in which he offers wisdom culled from over 50 years of experience in the New York City publishing world. The book covers the dawn of publishing in America to the birth of the retail chains and speculates on the future of publishing. Of course, there's name-dropping (he was the first publisher to release large excerpts of Lolita) as he was directly responsible for several publishing world innovations like the proliferation of paperback classics.

As one who would like to be published and one who is assisting someone publish others' works, I found it a fascinating read. Publishing is not a business to enter if you want to make a fortune. For that matter, writing is no longer a career where one might make a fortune, unless so ordained by the benevolent goddess Oprah. Publishing and writing are careers one pursues if one wants to change the culture by sharing ideas. That's not to say one cannot survive in publishing, but making a fortune is more likely to happen in real estate or investment.

My take away: unless working with a major New York publisher the sperm will never make it to the egg. Independent publishers work the edges of the publishing world and can survive to some extent only because they cater to niche markets. However, the dirty little secret is that many "independent" publishers are owned in part by a larger, New York-based publisher. Thus, insuring an affordable title for an audience used to discount prices from retailers and online retailers (i.e. the American addiction to cheapness).

:::



Blue Like Jazz
Blue Like Jazz: The author describes Blue Like Jazz as this: "I never liked jazz music because jazz music doesn't resolve. . . . I used to not like God because God didn't resolve. But that was before any of this happened."

Several people suggested I read Blue Like Jazz because some of my blog postings and essays echo themes discussed in Donald Miller's spiritual memoir. For that reason I did not want to read the book because I didn't want it affecting my own writings. In the last few months I've written several essays on the topic of spirituality (non of which have been published yet). So, confident that those essays would be immune from Miller's influence, I began to read Blue Like Jazz last Sunday.

Much of the book resonates with me. If you've grown up in evangelical America and are completely pissed off by organized religion then you'll enjoy the storytelling as the author explores his own spirituality. He chose a wise approach in writing one this topic -- confessional non-fiction. For this reason, he keeps his critics at bay because he's not presenting theological manifestos or ideological creeds. He offers his own personal journey. And you can't really argue with that. It's his story. You may be able to argue with his conclusions but not his story.

In much the same manner I've written my essays on spirituality from the same angle: it's my story. And that's why I'm not sure I like Blue Like Jazz -- he beat me to it. And there's no award for second place. Everything published after Blue Like Jazz will be compared to it. However, Miller is no Annie Dillard. And that fact offers me a bit of hope for my own writings. Miller may have created a market for "new-realism essays" (his term from page 188) for which there may be many voices – some polished and refined, others streetwise and hip. On the other hand "new-realism" is a relatively obscure market to begin with -- so...

My take away: write something remarkable, know where I want to be 10 years from now, lead with confidence, seek a New York publisher first (an independent publisher second, third, fourth or last), to thine own self be true, keep writing, keep exploring, keep reading, write well, write often, and submit manuscripts.

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As if there wasn't enough to do on a Thursday night

Anthony Abbot read poems from his book The Man Who, at Malaprop's tonight. Dr. Abbot is also a current board member of the NC Writers Network.

WLOS was at Malaprop's recording the open-mic portion of the event. It's funny in a way, because the host of Blind Date with Poetry, Matt Moon, confessed he doesn't own a television set but encouraged those who did to watch the 11 o'clock news.


Pure Energy: bells, bowls and didge
After Malaprop's I headed over to the open mic at Courtyard Gallery & Studio, from 8 to 11 PM hosted by Jarrett Leone (pictured playing the didge). WLOS did not cover the Courtyard Open Mic event. As always, the event opens with an Indie film viewing. I came in on the last five minutes of Anarchy TV. Ironic isn't it?

Anyway, a singer/songwriter opened the evening and I followed with a work-in-progress poem (because I'm rather bored with the published poems), a quote by Walt Whitman (which I had just read today) and then finished my time with a short poem I just finished, I think.

The lovely and talented Ash Devine graced the Courtyard event with her vocals and guitar. I left right after she conlcuded her set. I normally stay until the very last person reads or sings, but tonight I needed to submit an essay to an editor.

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What's in your book bag?

So, Friday night I was over at a friend’s home for supper -- sweet potatoes and some sort of meat. It was very tasty. I ate too much and paid for it later. I felt like such a glutton.

The kids were playing upstairs and the adults were sitting around the table making small talk after the meal. Somehow the topic of good reading material came up. I had just finished reading How to become CEO by Jeffrey Fox (don’t worry my progressive friends... there’s stuff in that book that’s good for anyone who wants to better themselves... be it organizing a protest or organizing a nonprofit company) and mentioned a few things I learned and the husband (or wife, I can’t remember which ... and unlike James Frey I’m not going to say it was Leroy or some imaginary person like that) asked if I had read Blue Like Jazz. I said I had a copy but had not read it. Blue Like Jazz rests on the kitchen counter and has since Christmas (when I was given it). Someone had told me I should read it especially after reading parts of 1000 Black Lines. When someone tells me I really need to read a book, I usually don’t want to do it. It’s a pride issue. I want to genuinely be wooed by a book not have it shoved down my throat.

Like I said until yesterday morning that book rested on the kitchen counter next to other books people tell me I should read and other books I am currently reading (by choice ... like a collection of poems by Eavan Boland, selected poems by William Blake and a chapbook by Clayton Couch). Sunday morning I woke up and enjoyed a pancake breakfast and out of boredom or annoyance or divine appointment I picked up Blue Like Jazz and began reading it. I didn’t put the book down until this afternoon.

Don’t worry, I’m not going to provide a review of the whole book. It is quite easy to read (written in a very conversational manner) and very engaging on many levels. I’m still considering what to think of it. I haven’t made my decision as to whether or not I like it. Part of me doesn’t like it because someone told me I would like it. And part of me likes it because it genuinely wooed me from the first page (well, maybe not exactly the first page, but definitely by chapter two). I’ll let you know what I think of Blue Like Jazz in a day or two. I need time to think about it...

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Care to join me?

Open mic tonight at Courtyard Gallery & Studio, from 8 to 11 PM hosted by Jarrett Leone. Sign up starts at 7:30pm. Bring your guitar, your book of poems, your songs, but do not bring your ego.

If you've never been to Courtyard Gallery & Studio, it's located at 9 Walnut Street, beyond former Gypsy Moon (now Scully's), down one flight a stairs and to your right. All things wild and beautiful find their way to the Courtyard Open Mic (which is a collaboration between Courtyard Gallery & Studio and The Traveling Bonfires.

Drinks (coffee, tea, and other non-alcoholic beverages) and food (bread, cookies, etc) are available for "little cash donations." What's unique about Courtyard Bonfires Open Mic is that people want to be there -- they are there by choice. Most open mics have a mixed crowd consisting of people who come for the event, people who are in there for dinner (food), people who are there to finish homework/office work or people who are hanging out with friends. Those who do gather for the Courtyard Bonfires Open Mic do so because they understand and appreciate the power of music and words. Who knows, maybe the lovely and talented Ash Devine will grace Courtyard event.

UPDATE:
Ash Devine didn't make it to the open mic tonight, but perennial favorite, Michael Farr, did! I forgot the name of the guy who played mandolin with him, but it was a great set of live music.

When I first moved to Asheville, I stumbled into a used bookstore, The Relaxed Reader, which held an open mic hosted by Michael Farr. I'm sure he doesn't remember me nor my introduction to his music, but there's something about Farr's music that defines and expands what it means to live in Asheville.

There was even a special guest all the way from Minnesota who had the funniest parody about Wal-mart using the children's classic "The Itsy Bitsy Spider."

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Narrative Non-Fiction Comics: part 5



inked comic page
A while back, I mentioned that the first installment of my creative non-fiction comic is complete and pending publication. The first installment is titled "Higgins: Inside the Box." Last weekend I completed half of the second installment (four strips or roughly 12 panels) which is the conclusion to the story arch, "Higgins: Inside the Box." Then I began scripting a 5-part comic strip for a third installment which features a story line about this event. There isn't an official title to this one. However, "Higgins: Outside the Box" seems like a logical progression.

Last Tuesday was the SECNCS meeting and fellow artists encouraged me regarding my inking techniques and suggested some tips on lettering comic strips. One artist, who is regularly featured in the Rapid River magazine, recommended that dialogue text be all caps and narrative text be upper and lower case. The recommendation is already being implemented beginning with the second installment.

This endeavor of combining illustration and creative non-fiction, have inspired me to study the poet William Blake. The illuminated text is not a new media; many ancient manuscripts were illuminated. For example, The Book of Kells is famously known for its illuminated text. Years ago, I studied under a calligrapher who taught me the secret of the Celtic knot work and spirals represented in the Book of Kells. The discipline of the knot-work has served me well, though not in my recent illustrations.

But William Blake illuminated his own poems and printed his own collections with the help of his wife. It helped that he was trained as an engraver and went on to apply his trade for book and magazine publishers. Being an innovator in his own right, he applied his trade to illuminate and print his own literature. Like William Blake, I studied graphic design (the modern day digital engravers if you will) and know how to produce books and magazines for clients. I wonder what William Blake would think of creative non-fiction comics?

Previous posts on creative non-fiction comics: [1] [2] [3] [4]

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From the X-Files

Last night I was updating this blog and I ran across something very weird. In the last six months I've stopped compulsively checking Site Meter and other memes that help track traffic because it became a major distraction in my life. However, last night I checked Site Meter and discovered someone set a new record.

A visitor from the Raleigh area had visited 23 pages for a record of 102 minutes (on average, visitors don't stay for more than five minutes)! What could possibly keep someone that interested in this blog? That's when I noticed the Raleigh area visitor left an "Anonymous" 1649-word comment!

Normally, I just delete anonymous comments on the principle that if an individual is not willing to take responsibility for the comment made one does not need to be read.

Then I read the lengthy comment. I didn't delete it, but I did "hide" it. I couldn't quite make sense of why the comment was placed and why it was attached to the post it was attached.

Then I discovered something very interesting on The Truth Laid Bear. Supposedly, 1000 Black Lines blogs about the NSA and domestic spying.



So, I went back and reread the Anonymous comment. The Anonymous commenter wrote, "Jesus Christ is a false god... America is a country of castoffs, rejects... Royalty is the correct way to organize a society... Democracy misleads people..." and 1600 other words along the lines of anti-American, anti-Jewish, anti-Christian language.

Either a conspiracy theorists or William Shatner just spammed me. So, I deleted the comment because... I can't get behind that.


William Shatner - Has Been
excerpts from "I Can't Get Behind That" by William Shatner and featuring Henry Rollins

[Shatner]: My kids say: He said to me, and I'm like... and he's like... and she's like...
[Rollins]: It's all... He's all... She's all...
[Shatner]: I can't get behind that kind of like, English!

:::

[Shatner]: I can't get behind the Gods, who are more vengeful, angry, and dangerous if you don't believe in them!
[Rollins]: Why can't all these Gods just get along? I mean, they're omnipotent and omnipresent, what's the problem?
[Shatner]: What's the problem?
[Shatner]: What about the men who say 'Do as I do. Believe in what I say, for your own good, or I'll kill you!' I can't get behind that!
[Rollins]: I can't get behind that! Everybody knows everything about all of us!
[Shatner]: That's too much knowledge!
[both]: I can't get behind that!
[Shatner]: Yeah! And what about student drivers using my streets to learn? If you learn to play the drums you got to go to a studio! Go to a parking lot ... Why are you jeopardizing my life? I can't get behind a student driver!
[Rollins]: I can't behind a driver who drives like a student driver! If you're going to drive an urban assault vehicle then get off the phone and keep your eyes on the road!

:::

[Shatner]: The leaf blowers, is there anything more futile?
[Rollins]: Car alarms.
[Shatner]: Clap off.
[Rollins]: Clap on.
[Shatner]: Spam.

:::

[Shatner]: I can't get behind so-called singers that can't carry a tune, get paid for talking, how easy is that? Well, maybe I could get behind that!



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Blog maintenance...

Please stand by...

Excerpt from an unpublished essay

I used to do a lot of stargazing when I was a child. The Upper Midwest is great for that because the plains are so flat and the heavens so grand. As a boy, my father would take us to his childhood home at least once a year. Sometimes it was during the winter holidays, sometimes during the summertime. It’s a place on the prairie not far from where South Dakota, Iowa and Minnesota meet. The farm he grew up on is still in operation. Two of my uncles still milk cows and raise hogs and cattle. They don’t know anything about graphic design but have intimate knowledge of the seasons and the animals and nature in general. All they know of graphic design is that “city folks” do it.

I remember “helping” milk cows in the evenings during the winters. The term helping is loosely used, for my brothers and I didn’t really milk anything. We would follow the uncles out to the barn and watch the cows enter the stanchions and then observe our uncles go about their business as dairy farmers. The barn was warm, the cows smelly, the work hard (hauling buckets of milk to the main holding tank was all we could really do) but the reward was leaving the barn and standing out in the yard under the dazzling canopy of heaven. The cold night air would force our gloved hands deeper into our coats as we’d look east at the radio towers’ red blinking lights.

The stars were exceptionally bright in that part of my life. The Big Dipper was the first constellation I looked for on those nights. Find true north by locating Polaris was all part of the wonder and awe of those childhood days on the farm where my father was born and raised. I later learned about Orion and the Pliedes and Taurus, but true north was always first.

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Bono for President


U2 dominates Grammys
8 Feb 2006
The first time I heard the music of U2 was from a double vinyl release of Rattle and Hum. Before cassettes and CDs and iPods there were vinyl records. The black and white grainy photos and reversed out lyrics (white text on black background) created an experience that's difficult to explain. For those older than I, the musician(s) may have different names: Elvis, Bob Dylan, or Bruce Springsteen. For me it was the rebel Irish rockers of U2.

Many of you already know I don't own a television. So, I was delighted this morning when NPR broadcasted the results of last night's Grammys:
- Rock Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal for “Sometimes You Can’t Make It On Your Own”
- Best Rock Song for “City of Blinding Lights”
- Best Rock Album for How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb
- Song of the Year for “Sometimes You Can’t Make It On Your Own”
- Album of the Year for How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb


Bono at the National Prayer Breakfast
2 Feb 2006
Here's something NPR did not cover [hat tip to Thicket Dweller]. Last Thursday, Bono spoke at the National Prayer Breakfast. I know. It is very odd indeed.

"If you're wondering what I'm doing here, at a prayer breakfast," began Bono. "Well, so am I. I'm certainly not here as a man of the cloth, unless that cloth is leather."

He continued his introduction at the National Prayer Breakfast by commenting how "unnatural" it seems to have a rock star behind a "pulpit and preaching at presidents."

"It's very humbling and I will try to keep my homily brief. But be warned - I'm Irish."

After a couple more comments he offered this reflection:
"I presume the reason for this gathering is that all of us here - Muslims, Jews, Christians - all are searching our souls for how to better serve our family, our community, our nation, our God.

"I know I am. Searching, I mean. And that, I suppose, is what led me here, too... You see, I avoided religious people most of my life. Maybe it had something to do with having a father who was Protestant and a mother who was Catholic in a country where the line between the two was, quite literally, a battle line. Where the line between church and state was...well, a little blurry, and hard to see.

"I remember how my mother would bring us to chapel on Sundays... and my father used to wait outside. One of the things that I picked up from my father and my mother was the sense that religion often gets in the way of God.

"For me, at least, it got in the way. Seeing what religious people, in the name of God, did to my native land...and in this country, seeing God's second-hand car salesmen on the cable TV channels, offering indulgences for cash...in fact, all over the world, seeing the self-righteousness roll down like a mighty stream from certain corners of the religious establishment...

"I must confess, I changed the channel. I wanted my MTV.

"Even though I was a believer.

"Perhaps because I was a believer."


I didn't change the channel -- I threw the whole television away. Don't think of me as pious for doing it. My noble motivations were mingled with selfish reasons as well.

I share the same cynicism toward organized religion that Bono confessed in his address. When people are placed in positions of power, whether it be religious or political, there is always the potential for the abuse and perversion of that power. Abraham Lincoln is credited for saying: "Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man's character, give him power."

From there Bono presented a topic near to his heart -- poverty.
"God may well be with us in our mansions on the hill. I hope so... God is in the slums, in the cardboard boxes where the poor play house. God is in the silence of a mother who has infected her child with a virus that will end both their lives. God is in the cries heard under the rubble of war. God is in the debris of wasted opportunity and lives, and God is with us if we are with them... It's not a coincidence that in the scriptures, poverty is mentioned more than 2,100 times. It's not an accident. That's a lot of air time, 2,100 mentions. 'As you have done it unto the least of these my brethren, you have done it unto me' (Matthew 25:40)."


The Christian Scriptures mention money over 2,300 times. Heaven is mentioned to over 500 times. But I digress.

Bono concluded his speech on the topic of "a completely avoidable catastrophe" -- AIDS in Africa.
"There is a continent - Africa - being consumed by flames.

"I truly believe that when the history books are written, our age will be remembered for three things: the war on terror, the digital revolution, and what we did - or did not to - to put the fire out in Africa.

"History, like God, is watching what we do."


I don't know about you, but I still find it difficult to believe that Bono didn't drop the f-bomb during his National Prayer Breakfast address. I suppose NPR would have run that story if he did.

Transcript: President Bush's remarks at the National Prayer Breakfast
Transcript: Bono's Remarks at the National Prayer Breakfast


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Need more coffee

The last 45 days have been a true test of my character as it relates to writing.

Twelve essays are in the works, two of which are almost ready to offer to the publishing gods and goddesses. The essays range from 1000 to 2400 words and could be categorized as narrative non-fiction and/or personal essay. Each essay orbits the subject of the power of written words and how the written word shapes one's life.

Also, been writing several poetry chapbook reviews. If you have a chapbook you'd like me to review, send me an e-mail.

That is why blogging had been sparse recently.

Will update later...

Need more coffee.

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A Scene from Old Europe (a coffee shop)

A patrol cruiser pulls up to the café. The officer enters the front and orders a coffee to go from the dark haired coffee server. We're all wearing uniforms -- conforming to something chosen or imposed as we eat from the table of civility.

A hipster hugs one of the coffee servers, lifting her blouse off her waistline as he does do, and says good-bye. He leaves through the front, turns and glances back at her through the glass door.

A young couple with an infant consume coffee and dessert. It's difficult to be hip with children. They have a way of removing the mask of coolness and success. Like Vikings, children pillage conversation with unexpected outbursts. Soon the couple slouch in defeat and leave with the little respect and dignity they can muster.

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Surprised & embarrassed

You can imagine how surprised I was this morning when I opened the November-December 2005 issue of Small Press Review and read "Guest Editorial" by yours truly on page three. Surprised because it's February 1st and I just received the issue yesterday, but also because I had submitted that piece over 10 months ago (more on that here and here and here and here). I am a bit embarrassed because in my haste to get that piece published, I posted an abridged version on 1000 Black Lines and later submitted it another editor who published it. Patience is still a virtue I need to practice.

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