A Rant Against Artificial, Time-Delimited Technological Barriers and the Engagement of Future Technologies in the Mind of the Modern Fan, or Why New Tech Still Sucks

Once upon a time, on a WOW Air flight from Reykjavik, Iceland to Baltimore, USA, a twenty-something man named Abraham turned to the totally doesn’t look forty-something woman in the next seat and said, “I wish I could go back to the eighties [or before] and experience what it was like to see the Star Wars movies when they first came out.” He turned to the woman, whom we’ll call M, since that’s who it was, smiling, expecting to receive a visceral charge from the unspoken, breathless rapture she must have felt at seeing the then-cutting-edge tech explode on the scene.

“It sucked,” she said, laughing. He was incredulous. “It was diabolical. The whole thing was Muppets and bad special effects. I like the new ones much better.” (I paraphrase, as I suck at remembering dialog.)

Bubble burst. (BAPOW!)

‘Tis sad, but ‘twas true. When the first Star Wars movie came out on May 25, 1977, I was a 19-year-old college freshman at Virginia Commonwealth University and a life-long science fiction buff. Despite the fact that my friends were mostly artists, neither I, nor any of them went to see the movie. Know why? It was stupid. They’d replaced the horribly funny stop-action that we’d suffered through as children with puppets, or more correctly, Muppets. Sure, Kermit the Frog was gone, and Grover’s gravely voice had evolved to become wizened Yoda, but the effect was the same—it was Space Muppets.

At the very least, the Ray Harryhausen era was campy and no one was ever meant to mistake it for lifelike. Star Wars had greater ambitions, and failed in my and M’s opinions.

Silly, and cool as smack for a 12-year-old Sci-Fi/Fantasy buff

Now, understand, all ye Star Minions, this isn’t meant to denigrate the wonderful legacy of George Lucas’s groundbreaking work or the incredible voice talents of Frank Oz, the man underneath and behind eminently memorable figures as Grover, Yoda, and Miss Piggy, for example. Lucas invented a series of Space Operas that will rival anything heretofore created for some time, and Frank Oz? He’s only behind Harryhausen and Jim Henson, in my opinion. Rather, we are talking about the incremental improvements in technology as shown in the Star Wars special effects., and the fact that art tied to technological improvements generally comes up short, leaving us disappointed.

Et tu, Grover?

It is my belief that young people look at these older films and believe we old folk to have been awestruck when the films were new, much in the way that I grew up believing that people in the 1930s must have believed that King Kong lived back when Kong’s film was fresh out of the studio or that Americans really did believe that Martians had invaded during Orson Welles’s radio broadcast of War of the Worlds. Despite reports to the contrary, no one believed Kong’s stop-motion to be lifelike, and only a very few (possibly drink-addled) folk took to the streets in a panic over Welles’s broadcast. While they, as we now, understood the milestone achievement that each breech of the technological barrier represented, the simple truth is those changes were incremental nips above what previously existed. King Kong’s “fur” rippled like a 1930s hand-drawn cartoon, and the most impressive technical achievement was probably the giant hand that held Fay Wray.

King Kong, you know the name of King Kong, you know the fame of King Kong, 10 times as big as a man … and 20 times the smell.

True achievement, whether it be technical or otherwise, is caused by ambitious, creative people pushing against the barriers that constrict them. Without those barriers, there is little motivation for growth. We old-timers weren’t impressed as the “new-fangled” tech rolled out simply because it was only marginally less shitty that what we had before. Hipsters (and I’m using that term lovingly and not cynically) have embraced analog technology because there are fewer restrictions to push against with digital and the next technical step up is so great that it’s harder to see. Futurists will tell you, if you can pull their heads out of the clouds, that technological growth follows a distinct curve. Take a look on the interwebs and you’ll see example after example of growth curves with a long, linear tail, followed by a swift uptick in technical capacity. Indeed, even population growth curves follow a similar trend, except that with technological change, the rapid-growth period is followed by another extended linear growth curve. There is yet enough evidence to determine whether that holds true for human populations too, although doomsayers and dystopian writers would tell you that it does.

Way back in Neanderthal times, 1990, when I worked for IBM as a strategic planner, I got sent to a Strategic Planning course in the Bay Area in California. In between the nightly forays in drinking Tequila in every bar in the area and discovering that I was fluent in Spanish when drunk, we had class. I know. Employers expect too much. Anyway, it was during this class I learned about the technical growth curve wherein our teacher fairly accurately predicted the rapid changes we now take as given. Hold onto your horses, because it’s only really started. By the end of the century, you may not recognize the ground you stand on.

Still, what does this have to do with our overlong title and the rant to this point? Everything. Back in the ’60s and ’70s, when I was a kid, we had music, and it was great. Unfortunately, everything we had available to play it on sucked. Sucked donkey balls. I mean, it truly got-on-your-nerves sucked. Car radios, if they worked, were mono and attuned only to AM radio. If you’ve never heard AM radio, ask your brother to play his cell phone audibly with the earbud removed. Then go to the next room and close the door. It sounded like that. There are scores of misheard lyrics from back in the day, not because we were idiots, but because we couldn’t hear the blokes sing. I kid you not, I thought my uncle liked guys, because he kept playing Hendrix’s singing, “’Scuse me while I kiss this guy.”

Um, that’s too much info, Jimbo. It’s only the 60s, and I’m stuck here in the South where we don’t have them there homo sapiens. (True story.)

You’d spend your hard-earned money on vinyl and maybe it’d last 6 months before all the scratches the needle caused would make it snap, crackle, and pop like breakfast cereal. Frustrated, you’d slip it back into the dust jacket and leave it never to be played again. Your record collection was just like a library—a collection of things you once read or listened to but no longer bothered to open. Sure, your friends would be impressed by how extensive it was, but unless you were fastidious, it never sounded as good as it looked. Then the late 80s happened, and if you were a typical bloke who had to work for his money, around 1987 or so maybe you invested in your first CD player. And CDs were the BOMB. I mean, It was the first clear step-up on that technological curve we’d waited so long for. FM radio had shown us how clear music could be, and we were anxious to hear digital versions so we could finally learn the lyrics to all those songs we’d been mis-singing for years. But there was a problem: unless the CD was fully digital—DDD they called it—digitally recorded, mixed, and mastered, you still heard the familiar cracking or tape hiss that accompanied your vinyl or cassettes. So, like the audiophile I was, I only bought DDD or very well remixed ADD CDs, and waited for fully digital streaming.

Huh? What? That hadn’t been invented yet.

No, it hadn’t. But you know what had? The Internet. Back in the late 80s, we “old guys” were surfing the web via FTP sites that operated like non-graphic versions of today’s pornoweb … I mean Internet. It was slow and you had to read stuff, but it worked. Moreover, we had imaginations borne of a lifetime’s frustration at having to deal with shitty 78s, LPs, eight-tracks, cassettes, hand-cranked record players, and home entertainment systems the size of your mom’s minivan with all the audio quality of your cell phone’s external speakers. Yay for music! Boo for it sounds like crap. So what did we do? We longed for and imagined the end state. I remember talking to people (who thought I was nuts) about music streamed over the airways like radio from vast and deep collections of archives that would allow people to hear radio without ads, and, gasp!, hear music we and not some gritty DJ liked. Sure, I couldn’t imagine the infrastructure that would make that happen—underground fiber optics that made the volume of data required reasonable—but I could imagine the concept.

You see, my young folk, we old guys could imagine the future because of all the low technological ceilings we’d had to deal with all our lives. Walk around in a home with 6-foot ceilings and you’ll spend a lot of time thinking about vaulted ceilings. Grow up in a house with high, vaulted roofs, and the only thing to think about is where to go out and get something to eat. Problems demand solutions. The want of problems causes nostalgia for a time when folks had something to struggle against. This is what our young hipsters are now experiencing. (By the way, they called them Hipsters in the 1930s too, and they had plenty to struggle with.) Hipsters don’t want analog, they want something meaningful, some ceiling to abut against. They want more.

I can still see the future here because I still hate wearing headphones or any kind of ‘buds’ and having to turn my music off just to talk to other hoomons. It’s still a low ceiling for me, although the delivery method finally suits what my brain sought back in 1973 when I first ached for digital, streamed music. So while those who were born to this tech are (mostly) satisfied, I yearn for subdural implants that interact, via human-brainwave interface, with my auditory and visual cortices, allowing me to “hear” music in my brain without there actually being any. The songs will reside in a nanochip in my ankle, and I can call up the soundtrack to my life simply by thinking of it. My lovely brain will then play me the music by decrypting the digital file on my chip. It’ll be wonderful, but I’ll be dead, so, there’s that.

Actually, I’m thinking 2037, so who knows? Maybe.

There are infinite other examples to choose from. Back in ’79, or 2 A.S.W. in geek speak (two years After Star Wars) Disney studios released The Black Hole and the Star Trek franchise got in the game with Star Trek: The Motion Picture. They suuuuccckkkked. Why? Disney’s entry was full of special effects, they being a step up in CGI that made Star Wars’ models and Muppets look dated. However, it was all effects and no plot. Star Blech, on the other hand, was all plot and familiar characters, with few effects and zero action. Trekazoids were dressed up with nowhere to go, while Disney bored us with people we didn’t give a damn about doing stupid shit in space for no discernible reason.

But then, as the summer of 1979 began, Ridley Scott came on the scene and dropped Alien. What? It rocked. It was mostly set pieces and makeup, the hallmark of horror and Sci-Fi flicks since the ’30s, but there were technological improvements to both. The creature was believable, the ship was believable, and Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley kicked space ass. So, all of us who’d waited a year (when the crowds dispersed) to see Star Bores saw Alien in droves, simply because the complete, incremental upgrade of tech was better than a space opera that used the same technology we’d seen on Saturday Night Live in Nineteen Seventy Fucking Five.

Sorry, Star Wars Fanatics, 43 years later, I’m still not much of a fan and still not impressed. I recognize the greatness of the achievement and the cultural impact, but the film, the technical aspects, leave me drowsily expecting more. But that’s not the point of this story, is it? It’s not whether Bill and M are impressed or whether hipsters have been cheated out of the conflicts life presents by (we) overprotective parents, driving them backward in their world views instead of forward. The point is simply that we as hoomons must cease doing two things:

First, we have to stop thinking people in the recent or distant past were stupid. I could imagine digital streaming at age 14 when Nixon was still the Tricky Dick in Chief. M could imagine wrist computers (a step up from Dick Tracy) in her London youth. Ancient Egyptians could imagine traveling the stars even as they feared they were secretly wishing to fly among gods and not balls of gas. (Both things are the same thing, but they didn’t know that.) Where problems exist, solutions follow, guided only by futurists full of imagination and great engineers full of infrastructure and pragmatics. We old guys/gals invented the concept of technology so that young guys/gals could bring it to fruition and tell us all the ways we’d been stupidly limited in our dream-making.

I think, therefore, it be.

Second, we have to stop trying to prevent young people from struggling. There is a reason that technological growth curves have such long tails, and that reason is complacency. We get a solution, wallow in the efficacy of our new, improved lives, and cease looking to shake shit up. We strap the kids in the minivan, ride on the shoddy highway, tune in digital radio, and forget all else.


What we should be doing is realizing the highways are crowded and unsustainable and trying to figure out a way to reengineer travel completely. (No, Uber and Lyft aren’t it. That’s called a Taxicab Company. C’mon, man!) F*ck the minivan. How about we strap the babies into a smelly old Volkswagen Beetle with only AM radio and tell the whiny fuckers if they don’t like it to invent something better? Guess what will happen?

They will.

Go be, my hipsters. Be and then do. We need you, but not in the past. Analog ate llama turds. We was there, and it was shitty. Always. Go out there and create, and don’t forget to #ShakeShitUp.

Oh, and invent your own damned universe. That shit we invented in the 60s and 70s is full of war, dated ideals, and dreams your grandpa had. Create your own and be sure there’s some sex in it. A future without sex is a short, boring damned future.

Bill Out.

equator bound

North to south is her direction, always
towards the equator, away from tepid lovers
and half-felt heartaches. She flies, her tail
feathers to past mistakes; takes a sharp left
turn at the coast.

She stops to smell sad flowers that
mistake themselves for weeds, an
affinity she learned these years gone by.
Plucks one that smells of sunlight
and bathes her hair in it,
the light dancing meringues, and
with the golden blue of eyes,
turn a dangerous green.

Now of nature – she and summer sweat –
fly to the south where dreams begin,
equatorial passions beckon, and
the smell of overripe fruit drips
between her perfect breasts.
A child, still at the border,
but woman in full bloom when she arrives.
Tosses straw hats o’er breaking watered cliffs.
Her hair has stolen the colors of the setting sun
and she is humid in her woman places
like the land she now possesses.

Muse shall be her lover
and song shall be her child.
Strong, sinewed thighs claim the beach,
tender toes spread and sex the sand
welcome its wet embrace. Her skin kissed
by the remnants of equatorial suns,
she is ocean and fury and wind
that ripples finger through her hair
and stars that fight for her eyes’ attention.

But to the south she keeps her eyes,
from the north and winter lovers.
She sits, softly, at peace
in her conquered Latin quarter,
unsheathes her favorite sword
and with her mighty pen,
writes her happy endings
by the equatorial ocean
where lovers reach no more.

A Dream Is Not a Hobby

A dream is not a hobby.

The difference between dreams and reality

Some of you are already nodding your heads; others are, perhaps, confused. Let me explain. Writers, painters, sculptors, photographers, those of us who try the arts hoping to eke out some acclaim and a living, do so because we love it, to be sure. I write books and stories, for instance, because I get genuine enjoyment whenever someone reads and enjoys my stories. I probably get more satisfaction than they do. However, that doesn’t mean I don’t care about financial results.

I routinely get told, by well-intentioned people, that I should be content with “writing for myself” or that I shouldn’t care about financial rewards.

“Why are you writing?” they ask, “Is it for money or because you enjoy writing?”

The answer is, “Yes.”

“Do you want to be good, or do you want to be famous?”

Again, “Yes.”

I, in fact, am confused by the question. It’s like asking, “Do you want to have kids or do you want to see them grow up?” Um, why do you think those are two different things? The theory seems to be we artists should be content with being able to create – that the work itself is enough, if we have people who recognize and appreciate our efforts. But that diminishes our dreams of being an artist to a hobby.

I write for two reasons. One, I love to write. Two, I dream of being able to quit my day job so I can write more. Why should I be content with the first reason? Would you, well-meaning friend, be okay with consulting for free, as long as clients tell you that you’ve done an admirable job? And you, dear doctor friend, do you treat patients as a sideline (hobby) while working full-time at another gig that pays the bills? Of course you don’t, and why should you?

See, here’s the secret that your artist friend isn’t telling you: they probably work as hard at their art as you work at your job. Plus, most likely have a “real” job to go along with it. My work days, if you count the days I’m at my career, or writing, or promoting, or editing, or any of other related tasks, are 7 days a week, 52 weeks per year. I “work” probably 10-12 hours per day. The fact that the writer/photographer work is fun doesn’t lessen how hard I work at it.

If you are not an artist, but you have a friend who is, promise me something. Promise that you will never tell him or her that they should be happy just doing the work. And, if you believe that to be true, keep going to work and give them your salary. See if that feels satisfying. The work is its own reward, after all. Right? Your artist friend has a dream to be validated, which in modern society takes two forms: First, people view the work, like it, and tell others they do. Second, there is some tangible, objective measure of its worth.

Now I’m not trying to reduce everything to money. Heck, my own research indicates that the bestselling books aren’t even the ones that are critically acclaimed. However, the way I know that my short stories are good is if people are willing to give something up to read them. A painter knows people appreciate her painting because they pay for it. If they were all free, would they be important? Who knows?

I give away books to people I like. Those who care, read them. But here’s a secret – the more they like me, the more they like the book. So, am I good? Not unless objective people think I am.

I don’t have a dream to be a writer. I have a dream to be paid because people like to read my work. Your artist friend doesn’t have a dream to do a gallery showing, she has a dream to have people come to the gallery, love her art, and buy some of it. Then, perhaps, she can spend the remainder of her life doing what she likes for money.

Because, at the end of the day, isn’t that the dream we all have in common?

Chock Full of Fail

No matter how SAAM 11-28-09 051agood my work is when I finish and publish it, there is only a short time before I will revisit it and decide I no longer like it. I suppose it is a natural artist’s rhythm, like the ebb and flow of a tidal pool. In the past, I’ve used the dark time for purges, deleting work from public view, only to become enamored with (an edited version of) the work in the future. Sometimes, I never like it again, and it becomes buried within my archives for years.

Photography is especially prone to this, although I must confess the ebbs and flows cycle much faster. It’s common for me to like a shot, create a post, and then dislike it again before the post goes live. Poems are similar, and so I try not to ever read them once I think they’re done. I try, but fail.

It used to be discouraging, to say the least. However, recently, I’ve begun to see the value of the cycle. There is a creative flow, when the words come, when the images are clear, and when I’m upbeat and creative. Then, there comes the editing ebb, where I retrench and realize the piece was flawed, the words imperfect. The difficulty is remembering that it doesn’t mean I suck, to be honest.

For most of the time, in my opinion, my work is full of suck. Chuck Wendig tweeted about this today, in his inimitable style:

So it’s not just me. Or you. It’s all of us. I don’t start the editing process when I’m in the negative part of the cycle; I’ll be too harsh and slash too much. Instead, I make notes — mental or otherwise — on what needs to be improved. Then, when I’m once again feeling positive and creative (though quite a bit more humble) I’ll start the process of fixing it.

Ebb, flow, build, tear down, rebuild.

I suppose if I never saw how full of fail I was, I would never improve at anything. More importantly, if I never allowed others to see my crap, I would have no incentive to grow. It’s easy to be mediocre in private. What is challenging is forcing yourself to fail in public, to present an imperfect work, and be embarrassed enough to work your ass off to get better.

Like Chuck, I invite my self-doubt in for tea (Chai, as it softens his blows). However, I also invite the public. You would be amazed at how good a judge of quality silence can be.

Not in Style

I have never been in style. That doesn’t mean I’m a nerd or a geek; rather, I just don’t care about trends. My mother used to preach never to be “weak-minded,” which in her viewpoint, meant listening to anyone else’s drive but your own. I may not have set the world on fire, but I’m certain I’ve made my mother proud in that regard.

Artistically, I’m drawn to old, you see. I read old books; I read new books. I finish the old ones; I abandon the new ones. I’ve read 5 books this year to date, and 4 of them are at least half a century old. I hated the other one.

So, it probably isn’t surprising that my art is dated. My photography is reminiscent of shooters from the 1950s or 1960s, the folks whose work I literally grew up watching. My writing is similar — full of characterization, words, descriptors — it isn’t prefabricated, ready to be turned into a screenplay. Indeed, although a  former friend used to bet me my books would be movies, I’ll wager it never happens. I like plots and subplots; I think readers should be surprised. They should laugh in the middle of tears, or cry during lovemaking. In the old days, the world wasn’t simple; only the themes were.

Now, I recognize that a lot of people like the old stuff. Why else would we keep recycling story ideas? But that’s not what I’m referring to. I am referring to the time when artists thought it their job to invent the art.

Y’all don’t hear me.

Picasso perfected drawing people. Then he pulled the work apart, rearranged it, and recreated it in the form of cubism. He told us to look at the visual through its emotional filter, to see the world not through the visual cortex, but through the whole of the self. For decades, poets knew the rules of poetry. Iambic pentameter ruled the landscape, and rhyme was the order of the day. In the 50’s and 60’s, poets stripped away the rules, found the frames holding up the structure, and added as little to the remaining skeleton as possible. The result — post-Beat, post-modern, too cool 2 be cool — turned the literary world on its ear. Art and consciousness became indistinguishable.

And then, someone discovered you could make money, and suddenly, it wasn’t about the art, it was about the Marketing. Now, I’m not anti-business. I am, however, anti artists who believe what they are selling are commodities. No, my friends. We are selling us. We sell our invention, our pain, our loneliness. We sell the ability to feel the mother weep for her dying child. We sell the teenage girl who awakens, and thinks she might have just been raped. We sell the lonely man, walking barefoot on concrete, his feet black against the cold sidewalk, as he looks from face to face, hoping someone notices he didn’t die the night before.

They won’t notice, but we will. If we sell simplicity, and not the crowded, messy, ugly perfection of life, why the hell did Picasso live? What was the point of Sonia Sanchez or Diane Arbus, or Jimi or Janis, or any of it?

If this — whatever it is we do — is about selling and not creating, then let me die unsuccessful and unsold.

Shoot, it was good enough for Van Gogh.

Hallucinations of the Conscious Mind

An article on Hallucinations and the Human Subconscious states, “People who experience an event while dreaming will refer to it as a dream, because it occurred in their subconscious. Whereas, if the event had occurred while they were awake-in their conscious mind-frame, then it would be considered as an actual experience.” But what if the reverse where true? What if reality is malleable, and we are only “conscious” of the power of our minds while asleep?

I’m not talking about dream walking – I explored that idea to my satisfaction in my series The Stream. I’m talking about all those people whose creative minds we have taught to believe only that which others see. I am referring to the small, gifted populous who can see what their subconscious minds tell them might exist. What if they aren’t crazy? Maybe they have simply evolved past the stage the rest of us have reached.

Maybe it is we who are mentally disrupted.

Here, for example you see a photograph of a lovely red car. It is a beauty, this classic Mercedes, a delight of German engineering. She sits, silent, wondering if anyone will notice her. She is strong, gifted, with a race car’s heart that you cannot see. But to us, she is but a red car, on an empty, cobbled street.

What’s that you say? She’s not red? Well of course she is red. She was born red, her momma is red … she’s red. The fact that you choose to see her as a purple car does not change who she is. Her color is your delusion; however, since other “rational” beings see her as purple, each declaring she reflects the violet spectrum of light, almost the antithesis of the red spectrum her heart tells her she reflects, the declaration is made. She is a purple, clunky car of little import.

Her seeing red in her side-view mirror is but another of her hallucinations.

But I saw her, when first I approached. She whispered to me, “I am red, the color of the heart. As I sit, too close to the curb for comfort, I can feel the hands of the non-believers tearing at me. They grab, and stroke, and pull, and tear. I fear to sleep, fear to dream. I wish to run, to race, to flee, but they tell me I cannot. I am but an ugly, purple beast.” A tear of colored oil leaked into the street. “I am mad, I fear.”

“They see only what their eyes tell them,” I replied. “You see what your subconscious dreams. You are gifted, and cursed, in that your subconscious does not await the silent stirrings of night. Hallucinations, my once-German love? No. You have an artist’s mind, and truth for we artists is what we dare to believe.” I touched her cool bonnet and smiled. “Reality is not what exists, but what we are willing to create.”

Her horn blared, lights flashed, and she dared to believe what her dreams told her. And, with camera in hand, I shot her once again, this time, for all the world to see. “We writers, my love,” I told her, “see dreams while still awake. The fortunate of us write them down, and make others believe. The truly gifted, however, have their dreams speak to them, but it is no more madness than the light from the evening sun.”

I bristle when I learn of creative souls who are put in boxes meant for the rest of us. Neither reality nor unreality is truth; they are merely ideas to ponder. Believe what your heart says can be true, and let the unbelievers wallow in their blind reality. Neither hallucinations nor imagination are delusions, any more than is reality. They are simply means for the mind to understand the world that is, or could be. Personally, I believe some artists who have been labeled “mad” suffered from little more than a form of visual synesthesia — their creative minds begin a thought, and their sympathetic brains interpret it visually. How is that different than when I watch a movie, and hear different (better) dialogue, or know the words sung by a guitar? 

The only difference is whether I believe myself mad for having the gift. For years, I suppressed it, to stifle the voices. Now, I encourage them to shout. I, however, am “sane” because they only come out to play when invited.

“Creativity is more important than knowledge.” — Albert Einstein

“A car is whatever color it choses it to be.” — Me

Day 2: How Not to Write

I have never had writer’s block. That’s unfortunate, because I don’t want to write. Well, I do want to write, but I am determined not to. It’s not finished cooking yet. I could poke out a short story, but the current collection isn’t burning up the cash register, despite my 1st (5-star) review.

Initially, I decided not to begin my next work in progress due to a lack of support of people “in my life.” I have people who have bought a book or two, but only 2 (one my mom) has read any of them. It led me to believe that perhaps I’m not a very good writer. After all, if I were, wouldn’t friends read my work? Would they ask me to send them signed copies – across the state, across the country, to other continents- only to place them on the shelf, unread? I’m not a friend or a favorite author, I am a conversation piece. “This is my friend, Bill. He’s an author; see his books?”

So, yeah, I realized I must really suck as a writer. But on second thought, I like my stuff. Which led me to a second conclusion – the people in my life suck. Instead of chucking the writing, I postponed it, and got rid of the people in my life.

There, that feels better.

While I delay the inevitable new WIP, I’ve begun distracting my artistic bent (again) in other ways. I’ve read five books this year, but that won’t last long. I’m not much of a book nerd, I must confess. I’ve also done a bit of web page design, as well as other design work. But my mainstay has been photography. I’m collecting my usual array of street shots, and compiling shots to be used in book cover designs I’ve been asked to help with. Here are the ones I like from last month.

Dupont Circle metro station, Washington D.C. This will eventually be integrated into some cover art for a story that starts in this locale.
I love the moments when subjects do exactly what I need them to do for the shot. I aimed the big camera in her general direction until she gave me a “get lost” look. Thanks.
And still I rise
I have a small collection of shots like this.
Near Thomas Circle, Washington, D.C. The great thing about photo hikes in the city is that you can jump on the metro anywhere if you start to get tired.
My writer’s brain reminds me of the stories of the old row houses that used to be here.
Old architecture and…
old cars make for new stories.

The distraction led me to restart photo blogging, and begin posting to my billjonesjrphotos.wordpress.com blog again. I’ve gotten a couple of invites to show work at some online galleries. It reminded me that, for a while, local websites were using my shots fairly regularly. Maybe being “great” at something is out of the question for some of us. Perhaps being good at a number of things is enough.

Until I figure it out, I’ll stay in waiting mode.

Seeing Myself through Others’ Eyes

I am always fascinated when others share their views of who I am. That is mainly true because few who venture to do so see me for who I am. They tell me I am apples, and in fact I am oranges. My closest friends understand me well. However, I sometimes think that’s only because they are the ones who take me at face value. I am who I say I am.

Oddly, few people seem to be able to accept that concept.

So, when I run into a stranger who seems to “get” me right away, I am always pleasantly surprised. Such an occurence happened tonight. I was coming from a rather unfulfilling evening’s shooting at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial, when I decided to stop in at Subway, appropriately located near D.C.’s main Metro station.

 The place was empty, except for two customers, one of whom was asleep, and the young man working the counter. As he fixed my sub, he started up a conversation. He asked me if I was in town for the BET awards show. I assured him I was not. (Apparently, one needs to be attired in a ratty fur to gain entry.)

He toasted my bread, starting laying on the veggies, and gave me an odd look. “Are you a poet, or a book writer or something?” he asked.

Needless to say, I was taken aback. I am both, though people who have known me a decade never guess as much. I asked the kid if he was psychic, and he laughed, claiming he was not.

“No, you just have that vibe,” he said, gesturing to indicate my clothes. (I attribute it to the black fedora.) “You are just really calm, and chill,” he added. (Every single person who has understood me well has said that about me. Everyone else disagrees completely.)

I suggested he get out of Subway, and look into Sales. He has their key skill: the ability to read people, figure out what they are about, and connect with them. I was pleased to see that he seemed interested.

What is the point of this story? That sometimes, if you stop caring what people think, a few will be able to connect to the real you. That a random young man could determine that I was a writer by the way I comported myself while ordering a veggie sub, made my night. It is not often I get to see myself through others’ eyes. It has been decades since those who gave me feedback were even close to being right.

However, now, as I have rejected all the labels given me, and reclaimed the only one I ever claimed for myself – artist – people are beginning to see me as I see myself. Maybe I won’t need a new mirror after all.

 But that happens to most of us, does it not? We are told who we are, and after a while, given the repetition of the labels, we accept them. We stop being cool, and start being mom or dad. We stop being silly, and learn to be professional. We are not artists, because we choose not to starve, and only those whom earn a living through their art can be artists. So, we hide ourselves in a little box that we open only on special days, and only when alone.

I wrote my first poem at age 9. The last time I checked, my mother still carried it in her wallet. I started taking photographs at age 12. At age 20, I was invited to become a full-time photographer. I turned it down, because by then, I had learned that being an artist was not my destiny. I had learned that from my teachers, the principals, the entire administration.

“You should be a doctor, or a lawyer, or an engineer,” they told me. So I tried to be what they wanted. This is despite the fact that every award I received in school was for excellence in English. Poet was not a career, they said. That was for Don L. Lee or Nikki Giovanni, not a kid who scored in the 99th percentile at a time when the world needed strong black leaders. (In retrospect, I’m guessing they had never heard of Maya Angelou.)

So, I plastered their labels across my forehead, and gave it my shot. I got my MBA. I was a good corporate soldier, for the cause. I fought at racism at work. I battled (and won) against fellow employees who tried to get me fired for being smart and black. I battled the old boy I worked for in the 1980s version of IBM, who confessed to having once been in the KKK. He blanched when I informed him I had once hit a Klansman in the head with a brick.

I fought the good fight, wrapped in all the labels they gave me. Nearly three decades later, I’m still here, having worked for one  company for over 25 years. And I have hated every moment of it. Don’t get me wrong. My company rocks. I like my job. The pay is good. Yet, I spent 25 miserable years. Why? This. Ain’t. Me.

Market Research Planner. Program Manager. Subcontracts Manager. Capture Manager. Lead Business Planner. Financial Planner. Accountant. Quantitive Analysis Lead. Director of Boredom. Somebody-Please-Shoot-Me Analyst. Decades of labels. (I once tried to get my title changed to Business Pimp, but they wouldn’t go for it.)

You see, none of these labels fit me. I am still the same person as the 9 year-old-kid who got a “A” on his 1st poem, despite having only 15 minutes to write it. (I had been out sick, and the other kids got 2 days.) I am the same idiot walking around with 2 cameras, pointing them at anyone around. I’m still the guy who thinks in movies, rather than words. I still think daydreams are the most important part of the day.

I met, married, and had my heart shredded by someone who convinced me I was an artist. The end of that relationship was nearly the end of me. However, having failed in my attempts to die of a shattered heart, it also became my beginning. I am – finally – that which I had always hoped to be. The old guy who gives sage advice to any and all who seek it, then goes home, and writes shit.

At this stage of my life, I will accept only those labels I give myself. I am an artist. With a kick-ass day job. And some really cool hats.

Art, for Pete’s Sake!

Lately, I have been thinking a great deal about publication. I’m not talking about publishing my work; as time goes on, I’m actually becoming less interested in getting published, and more interested in becoming an excellent writer. Ah, but there’s the rub. Although we writers consider ourselves to be artists, we do so with a different ethos that some other artists.

Take, for instance, a painter. To oversimplify, there are two distinct ways to becoming “published” as a painter. You can sell individual, original works of art, or license reproductions (limited editions, giclees, prints, etc.).  Similarly, there are two ways to become a wealthy painter. One is to have your work so acclaimed, and in demand, that your individual paintings are sold for a high price. The other, and not mutually exclusive method is to sell a ton of prints for prices that vary, but still are substantially different that what an individual master work would garner.

For a painter, the singular way to become successful, both artistically and financially, is to learn to paint well. The average painter would never expect to do mediocre work, then jump into the market to sell prints. The painter develops her skill, and over time, her market, leading, one hopes to sales.

We Indie publishers, however, seem to be skipping this step. We flood the market with mediocre works, more anxious to be seen than to be skilled. It is akin to new artists running of reams of limited editions of a painting that was never high quality to start with, in hopes that someone will buy it. And, when the market does not rush to our doors, we simply mark down the price.

We, as writers, cannot allow ourselves to succumb to the vanity of saying “I am published.” We must strive first for quality, for skill, for art. Then, hopefully, when our craft is honed, the public will come meet it.

I fear we have already wasted our opportunity however. Even as an indie author, I hesitate to buy more indie work, even at discounted prices. Instead, I find myself shopping the for lesser bargains of higher quality. We have not policed ourselves. Our galleries are full of schlock art. And now, our patrons have begun to turn their backs on our wares, in search of the old galleries where the masters sick, high in price, but low in disappointment.

I hope we can reverse the trend. I hope we can shout down the publishers of $0.99 electronic pulp fiction. I hold onto a glimmer of hope that writers will understand that publishing a million crappy short stories as if each were a quality book, does nothing but steepen the road for those trying to rise above mediocrity.

This tome is not meant to suggest my work is superior. It is, however, meant to assert that if I knew that it was not, it would never see the light of day. Writing is not a genetically produced trait. It is a job, when done well; and art when done brilliantly.

I pray we will all strive, finally, for art.