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Posts published in “About Writing”

Bruce Mau’s Incomplete Manifesto For Growth

The other day as I was clicking through Tumblr, a network I am finding increasingly strange, I happened upon an image with three points labeled “Incomplete Manifesto for Growth”. After following the tumble trail to its absolute origin, I found this: Bruce Mau’s Incomplete Manifesto for Growth. Man, I love shit like this.

Originally written in 1998 by designer Bruce Mau, the list outlines his design process. But, more importantly, I think the little snippets of advice and guidance can inform any creative process, from writing to design to filmmaking to music. Whatever it is you’re struggling with creatively can benefit from some alternative perspective. You may not always take the advice, but if it causes you to think differently about the problem you’re trying to solve, then it was helpful. As I said yesterday, creativity is problem solving, and anything that helps you solve a problem is good.

And this list is filled with all sorts of good lits bits. If I were forced to pick my favorite five, they would be these.

2. Forget about good.
Good is a known quantity. Good is what we all agree on. Growth is not necessarily good. Growth is an exploration of unlit recesses that may or may not yield to our research. As long as you stick to good you’ll never have real growth.

3. Process is more important than outcome.
When the outcome drives the process we will only ever go to where we’ve already been. If process drives outcome we may not know where we’re going, but we will know we want to be there.

9. Begin anywhere.
John Cage tells us that not knowing where to begin is a common form of paralysis. His advice: begin anywhere.

11. Harvest ideas.
Edit applications. Ideas need a dynamic, fluid, generous environment to sustain life. Applications, on the other hand, benefit from critical rigor. Produce a high ratio of ideas to applications.

32. Listen carefully.
Every collaborator who enters our orbit brings with him or her a world more strange and complex than any we could ever hope to imagine. By listening to the details and the subtlety of their needs, desires, or ambitions, we fold their world onto our own. Neither party will ever be the same.

40. Avoid fields.
Jump fences. Disciplinary boundaries and regulatory regimes are attempts to control the wilding of creative life. They are often understandable efforts to order what are manifold, complex, evolutionary processes. Our job is to jump the fences and cross the fields.

I know, I know. That was six. I tried not to post the whole list. Get over it.

Check out the remainder of the 43 points here: Incomplete Manifesto for Growth.

Number 15 on the list, Ask Stupid Questions, reminds me a lot of Leonardo’s to-do list from the post yesterday. “Ask Benedetto Portinari by what means they go on ice in Flanders”?? That is a stupid ass question. Maybe I’m not asking stupid enough questions.

The Theme for 2012

It is that time of year again! Time to announce the coming year’s theme! And I know you’ve all been waiting patiently for me to have an excuse to ramble on wildly about my musings about creativity and my own personal journey with it. I know you all love it. Or at least the three of you who read these don’t completely hate it. So, that’s good.

In previous years, the themes have been The Year of 5000 Photos and 50 Short Stories (2009), The Year of 3 Music Videos and 12 Short Stories (2010), and, this year, The Year of 12 Projects (and Slowing My Roll) (2011). Of course, in previous years I had other themes—The Year of Trying New Things, The Year of Writing, The Year of Focus, The Year of Finishing Things, and The Year of Self-Care—but those have not been documented here on The Black Laser, so we’ll mostly ignore them for the purposes of this one-sided discussion. If you’d like to read more on my thoughts on previous years’ themes, go right ahead.

This year, The Year of 12 Projects, has been remarkably successful so far with 13 of my 12 projects completed at this point. I won’t go too much into my thoughts about the year as a whole yet—I’m saving that for its own year-end write up—but let’s just agree that it’s been great. And let’s also acknowledge that it’s the first time ever that I’ve met the goals I set out for myself at the beginning of the year.

Wait, that bears repeating. It is the first time in eight years of giving myself themes instead of resolutions that I’ve actually accomplished what I set out to do.

Holy shit.

Amazing!

I think a lot of what made this year such a success was that I allowed my brain to sort of go anywhere in terms of being creative. I wasn’t limited to one specific type of thing. I could do whatever caught my fancy, and, in turn, I got a lot done. That is great. In fact, a posting I recently read at NPR’s blog about Leonardo da Vinci’s to-do list seems to reinforce that allowing your brain to wander, to be unfocused, is beneficial for getting things done. Not that I am da Vinci, but I seem to have stumbled upon the same results. It goes against years of myself trying to focus on one thing, one goal, one idea. No wonder I was never able to do a damned thing; I worried so much about being focused, driven, single-minded about my creativity that I limited what I could be accomplishing otherwise. Knowing that I do better when I let myself be free is rather refreshing, actually.

While thinking about what I wanted to accomplish for 2012, I recognized that part of my creative palette that I have been really missing this last year and a half or so is my writing. I haven’t written any fiction at all in ages. Do you, avid reader of The Black Laser, recall the last time I posted fiction here? No you don’t. Do you know why? Because it was January 28, 2010. That is terrible. A couple (few?) weeks ago I tweeted, “Do you remember when I used to write stories??? Whatever happened to that, huh??” I wrote it as sort of a joke, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized that it is actually kind of sad. For something that was so important to me that I was going to give up a decent career twice for it, how could it have fallen so far out of my life that the last time I wrote anything of consequence was in January of last year? It’s like having a really awesome girlfriend and then suddenly you stop talking to her at all and then 20 months later you’re all, “Hey, where did she go?? How did she get away from me????” And then after you recognize that you’re all, “Damn, I’d better do something about this because I really miss her.”

And that is what writing feels like to me: an amazing supportive relationship with its ups and downs and pitfalls and triumphs. It has always felt so much more real to me than my ventures into filmmaking or photography or drawing or animation any of the other things I’ve dabbled in. Writing is challenging and because it is challenging it is rewarding like nothing else I’ve ever experienced. It feels good and it hurts and it is scary and I love it. I mean, duh, obviously, look at how I get going on things like this when I give a damn about them. I’m just blah blah blahing all up and down the East River like a crazy man with a garbage bag for a hat.

So that brings us to this year’s theme:

The Year of Writing

A question remains: how do I reconcile the success I had when I let my brain wander with the desire to focus on one specific kind of output? I thought of this, too. I think the key lies in not forcing “writing” to be any one thing, but allowing it to take whatever form I think I want to mess around with at that moment.

The astute reader will notice that this is in fact my second Year of Writing, the previous one being an abortive effort before I had any sense of how to structure these things for maximum efficacy. But I know how to do that now and that means giving myself limits that allow me to be flexible. Funny, right? Limits that allow me to be flexible. But it’s true and it works. Full open-endedness is daunting, but limit the creative sandbox a little and you’ll be surprised what you can come up with. Creativity is problem solving. Give yourself problems to solve.

So what are my limits/goals for this year?

  • 100,000 words – While chit-chatting with Lindsey on the IMs about what my goals should be for this year I recalled that at my peak output, I was writing at least 500 words a day. If I could maintain that every day of the year, my output would be 182,500 words. A massive amount. But I am not going to be so unrealistic and believe that I am actually going to write every single day of the year. Let’s don’t be ridiculous. There are going to be nights where I’ll have my face buried in the computer doing nothing but fucking off on the internet and nights where I am stuck at work late and nights where I just won’t want to write. And 100,000 is a nice, round number.

    What counts toward my 100,000 word count? Anything: letters to my brain, long articles on The Black Laser about whatever, anything for Vox Critica, any fiction, screenplays (who knows???). Basically anything where I give a damn about the quality of the writing. This encompasses quite a lot of what I do and should make hitting 100K for the year not such a daunting challenge. The only things that won’t count are when I’m bullshitting about music videos (unless I actually have something to say, my prerogative) and things like Twitter/Facebook/whatever. I mean, this thing is already 1200 words long. I’d only need to do 84 posts like this and I’d be done.

  • Dance EP – I’ve been talking about making a dance record for a long time. I love dance music. It’s so stupid and fun but can also be really beautiful in the right hands. Those hands are not mine, but that doesn’t stop from wanting to put my own music out there. And it fits under the header of “writing” quite nicely and is so different than writing words that it allows me to play around in a different medium but still be working toward my theme for the year. It will allow my brain to wander when I don’t have anything particularly meaningful to say otherwise.

    What constitutes a Dance EP? Well, as we all know an EP is longer than a single but shorter than an album, so like 3 to 5 songs. I think that is about right. I just want it to be a fun project that makes people want to move and shake their asses and do all that stupid shit that people do that makes them look really funny in photos.

There you have it. 2012, The Year of Writing. 100,000 words or whatever and a dance EP.

And if you think that I think about this stuff too much, I’ll just leave this little snippet of yesterday’s conversation here for you to enjoy.

The Space Pope
4:39 PM The year I did 50 short stories, I kept a word/story count by each date I finished one so I could graph the work.
4:39 PM Jeez, I think about this too much maybe. But whatever.
4:40 PM I could keep a spreadsheet of writing by wordcount/type/date

lfkaufman
4:40 PM You think about most things too much. :)

Now I’ve blown my little secret that I intend to graph my progress. Here’s to 2012!

Creative Projects-August: The Black Laser Gets Redesigned, or, Giving Advice To Those Who Don’t Want It

Another month, another series of successes! WOO WOO. I was able to successfully finish the redesign of The Black Laser which was long in coming. I am glad it is done. That was project 8.

I also debuted as Torgeir the Black Metal Extremist over at Vox Critica which is pretty sweet. Giving people advice they don’t want might be the most important thing a person can do for others and I am glad to be inflicting that trauma. Enjoy it. Torgeir was project 9.

You’ll also notice that the counter for this year so far is already at 11. That’s right. Nearly all the way there and only mid-way through September. It’s a far cry from earlier this year when I was struggling to get things done. Feels damned good.

On the other half of the tip, August was a pretty good, moderate month for me. Nothing terribly exciting to report there. The whole “Don’t Go Drinking During The Week By Yourself” thing is working out pretty well for me. Next up? “Don’t Go Drinking By Yourself At All.” Baby steps.

There’s a bunch of stuff to talk about during this month’s wrap up, but it will have to wait. Until then!

Creative Projects-July: One and A Half is better than Zero, or, Where is all this money from!?

July was a successful for month for me on both pursuits for this year.

Creatively, I put another The Black Laser Reads… out into the universe and managed to finally begin the redesign of the site. I didn’t finish the redesign until we had rolled over into August so it won’t count towards July, but does count for my overall year tally of getting things did. I am pretty psyched on that. Hopefully, if I can keep this momentum up, you’ll be seeing a year end summary where I can claim to have finished more than 100% of my allotted projects. Pretty good. Gets my juices going, that does.

It is also quite nice to have finally passed 50% of my allotment, with another 8.333% in the works. It’s not yet ready to be shared, but it will be done before the month ends so look for more about that when the time comes for my August summary.

In regards to my secondary goal for the year, July was great. I was quite good at sticking to my “don’t go drinking during the week” guideline which feels good. I’m sleeping well (except for the heat), waking up easily, feeling chipper in the morning, and I’m finding money in my pocket from the beginning of the week. It just stays there! That was welcome because, for a variety of reasons, July ended up being a fairly cash-strapped month for me. Finding money that I would have previously written off as history ended up being nice little reminders that I was successfully sticking to my plan. That’s good.

I’ve also been riding my bike around a bit. I quite like it and find that I am flying around like a lunatic whenever possible. Not recklessly, of course, but enough. Though the month of constantly threatening rain has dissuaded me from taking the bike out on more than one occasion. That’s a drag, but getting caught in whipping sheets of rain in the dark with the wind blowing your contacts out as you ride through traffic is less desirable. I’ll pick my battles there.

Overall, pretty positive month for me and, aside from some weirdo mental shit on and off that has little to do with my theme, feeling pretty good about it. I feel like I am developing a healthy pattern here of work, followed by work, followed by relaxing.

I’ll check back in on this business in a month.

Creative Projects-June: Oh, Christ, again?!, or, Hello, velocipede.

It’s July 5th now and…wait. What the fuck? Where did June go?! Did this happen again?! Oh Christ. I had a whole month to accomplish something, yet my tally for projects for this year still stands at 4 of 12. Pathetic! Sure, it was a busy month at work and I did a lot of good stuff there, but none of that counts! Curses!

In other news, I’ve done quite well, I think, in pursuit of my other goal of slowing my roll. I’ve not been going out during the week, a new thing for me I assure you. I’m sleeping well, money stays in my pocket, and I feel good. All that is great.

I bought a bike this weekend and I am very excited about it. Not only did I fulfill a goal I set for myself last summer, but it feels damned good to ride around zipping past people. It should come as no surprise that I ride my bicycle like I walk: fast as hell. Why go slowly?!

In summary, not a lot to say this month. Hopefully July is more productive now that I’m feeling nice and easy about not drinking on school nights. Even a single drink is an impediment to my ability to produce creative work and staying dry will help. At the end of June I thought I would not be working again until Ford comes back mid-August and was looking forward to having a bunch of empty days to fill with projects and things, but last week I got all booked up. Good for my pocket book, not good for my free time. I’d rather be working than not, though, so it’s all right in the end.

I’m two behind at this point and something needs to give. My brain is not very creative these days and about the only thing I can think of is jokes in 140 characters or less. Summer time is a tough, stupid time for me. This is going to be tough.

Stay tuned, Black Laserites!

A letter to Infinite Jest

Dear Infinite Jest,

Well, I’ve finally finished you. It’s been, what, like 8 months? When I started you, you looked like this:

But you were so big and cumbersome that it took me months and months to make it through even a few hundred pages of your massive, dense, nearly-1000 page (without endnotes) bulk. Luckily, bitching about how you hurt my hand on the subway inspired a random Kindle from my mom for Christmas. She offered at the time to buy you again for the Kindle, but I retorted that I already owned you, so why buy another copy? I’ll just finish the paper copy and use the Kindle for other books.

Well that dream didn’t last very long. You were so large that I couldn’t really hold you with one hand on the train, much less flip back and forth from text to endnotes without much difficulty. Lucky were the times I got a seat so I could spread you across my lap and actually read without worrying about letting go of the pole and being tossed on the invariably rough subway ride to or from work. I gave in. I spent the 9.99 on Amazon and bought the Kindle version. When I finished you, you looked like this:

Nevermind the text on the image.

A few weeks ago, after a brunch mandate to stitch & bitch with Jesse (MACHO AS HELL), we found ourselves in the back yard of TBD in my beloved Greenpoint drinking beers and having a sans-women hang out time. It was really nice. As such, we got around to talking about you. But before we get into the whole post of this letter, let me restate something I mentioned in reference to Ken Follett’s Pillars of the Earth.

I like to work for a book. I really dislike having everything handed to me in tidy pockets of exposition. Nothing pulls me out of a book more than when someone within the first 30 pages stops to explain what they mean but this or that term that the author has created and feels some need to explain directly rather than letting us figure it out like rational, literate adults. I want vagueness and mystery and hints and intentional misdirection. I want to use my brain to participate in unraveling the text. I don’t think that’s so much. In fact, it is the one characteristic that differentiates books into the “enjoyed” pile and “would recommend to someone” pile. Sure, I enjoy books that are quick and hand me things, but only in the way you enjoy popcorn movies filled to the brim with explosions and tits and car chases. They’re little pieces of mental vacation. Think summer blockbuster versus art house.

Infinite Jest, you clearly fit into the “would recommend to someone” category for me. There’s nothing easy about your nearly-1000 pages and I enjoyed the task of deciphering you. You are a specific work of mad genius that I could never ever create. I enjoyed you immensely for all your rambling and wandering and temporal shifts and insane characters and plotless plot and asides and footnotes and nonsense and magical realism. It is clear to me that you are an intensely personal work by someone who was a tragic loss.

And then the other day on the subway I finished you. And all I have to say is fuck you, Infinite Jest. Fuck you with a knife and die. I’m all right with vague endings and I have never minded leaving questions unanswered at the end of a book, but this was too much. I felt like we’d stopped 100 pages before the book should have actually ended. In a flashback nonetheless. Total bullshit.

So, fuck you for making me feel like I didn’t get it. And fuck you for making me want to read you again so I pick up all the clues I missed the first time through. Fuck you. I love you. I haven’t been left wanting more so badly by an ending since I finished Neal Stephenson’s Anathem (which I thought I discussed here, but cannot find record of).

Fuck you, I love, and oh my god I am so sorry.

Love,

The Black Laser.

Creative Projects-May: Getting back into the roll, or, Where did April go?!

Ok, right off the old proverbial bat, let us all address my biggest failing of the last month: no Creative Projects-April post. What the hell happened to that? Why have I failed you, my loyal readers, so dearly?! How could I possibly ever make it up to you and continue to enjoy your (conditional) love?!? I blame myself and a couple of other reasons. First, I didn’t actually do anything creative on a personal level in April. Sure, there were blog posts about music videos and some other crap who knows what it was about, but I didn’t engage in any real creative pursuits in the month so I was pretty embarrassed about that, especially since I didn’t accomplish a damned thing in March either. Work on the WBDPE hadn’t continued—though the project has not been abandoned—since it might end up taking a change in direction. I had some other writing ideas that never panned out because I was a stupid asshole for a lot of the month. And then, to wrap up my spat of excuses, I was in Lons Smangeles for a couple weeks working on a big old Ford job which I brought back to NY and kept me busy into May. Add to that a few other jobbie jobs here at No6 and it was actually a pretty busy month for me.

Excuses. Excuses. Excuses. So many excuses.

I know it. And, part of this year’s theme, is that professional projects don’t really count, so, though I actually was pretty creative in April, none of it counts toward my tally. They’re my rules and I’ll stand by them.

But May was better! I completed two (2) creative projects which helps make up for the big zeros (0s) in March and April. Let’s discuss them, shall we?

1st – The inaugural The Black Laser Reads. I’d been talking and thinking about and planning this project for a long time, so it felt particularly sweet to execute it. I have the next one planned out and intend to start it tonight when I get home. It will keep me from going to the bar! For a while! Woo woo.

2nd – Two (2) Get Drunk Tonights for Vox Critica. This one is pretty funny because it flies right in the face of this year’s secondary theme of slowing my roll. But the write-ups are fun and good and I think they do a good job of communicating something about me: I have strong opinions about bars. I am not a ranter or a raver (love me some house music though) and you’ll notice that most of the writing about personal stuff here on The Black Laser isn’t long-winded blocks of opinion and information. Some people are really good about that sort of thing and actually have really decent, smart things to say and I enjoy reading them. I have tremendous respect for people who can sit an organize their thoughts into coherent, concise articles about things. People who analyze and consider and weigh data and topics and other opinions and the ramifications of some event or predict the ways things might go based on limited information.

I am not one of those people.

When I get excited, my whole opinion of something can be boiled down to, “That’s awesome!! YEEEAHHHHHH!!!!” and that’s it. I don’t objectively criticize or evaluate or break things down. I’m just full-bore, head-down, running at the wall because I’m stoked on how it makes my head feel to impact the bricks. Even when I don’t like something, my opinions usually akin to, “Sure, I didn’t like this and this, and that other thing was pretty whack, but I guess it’s ok. They clearly worked pretty hard on it.” I basically have to either love something or absolutely abhor it to have strong opinions. As it turns out, I have pretty strong opinions about bars. Who’d have thought? (answer: everyone.)

Writing the Get Drunk Tonights might be the only opinion piece I am capable of writing with any regularity. There are just so many bars out there and I have thoughts about every single one of them. Want to know how I feel about The Woods? Or Union Pool? Or Ace Bar? Niagra? Lakeside Lounge? Off the Wagon? The Mark Bar? Barcade? Duff’s? Pencil Factory? Lulu’s? Alligator Lounge? McDougal Street Ale House? Enid’s? Bar Matchless? 119 Lounge? Motor City? Max Fish? More?!?!?! SO MANY MORE?!?!?! I could easily write you a recommendation for any of those bars in a heartbeat. Well, some of them might not be a recommendation, more of a gentle (not gentle) warning against going there, but the point stands.

Even if it contradicts this year’s secondary theme, I think this is and will continue to be a good outlet for me and a way to help me learn to recommend things to people without just saying, “Dude, what the fuck that place is so awesome!”

Now, what about my stated secondary goal of slowing my roll? April and May were complete fucking washes on that count. After my masterful March, I bounced right back in my stupid old patterns of partying too much. Where are my healthy outlets? Where is my motivation to stay home? Where is my motivation for moderation? Guh. It’s getting bad too. I’m being an asshole to people while drunk that I wouldn’t be normally and I find that very distressing. It makes me feel like a real son of a bitch. I’ve always struggled with being a stupid, arrogant prick. I feel like it is something I’ve wrangled when my brain is firing all cylinders, but once in a while too much purple drank and I turn into a raging prick asshole motherfucker and have to hear about it afterwards from people, usually sending me into a few days of crippling self-doubt, which is kind of a funny way for it to turn out. Not funny haha, funny ironic. Oh, the guilt isn’t nice either. It’s a quite annoying cycle of feel good about myself/drink/do something horrible/hate myself. Why do I do this bullshit all the time? Am I bored? Hopelessly fucked up? Can I learn to moderate? Or should I just lay off all together? And let’s not talk about how much I hate blacking out. Sorry, mom.

We’ll see if June can be better. I just have to stay engaged with some projects, hide out from the heat at home, and keep my head forward. Overall, good creative month, shitty slowing my roll months. Let’s see if we can have both at the same time!! Yay, June!