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?

Help Me Choose Cover Art!

While I was putting together my last post (as I indicated) I came up with an idea of how to do the cover art for the paperback version of my short story collection. I liked the idea enough that it prompted me to replace my current cover for the ebook version with new art. However, being impulsive, I thought I would try to get feedback this time.

This collection is the 1st real cover art I’ve attempted. My goal is to make it look somewhere between pulp fiction (to which these stories are homage) and professional. Both versions are probably meh, but I’m trying to do this without spending a penny on cover art.

The Juice version 3 Ebook Cover
1. Primary Version (which violates every design rule I never studied).
The Juice version 3 r2_Front Cover Alt
2. Alternate version (which is cluttered, but reveals more about the stories – urban horror, sci-fi, fantasy, humor, and suspense)

For comparison, here is my mock-up of the final book cover. The back will be overlaid with info such as the book blurb and ISBN information. It’ll look all book-like once refined and finished. Feedback is welcome.

Rough. I haven’t decided how dim to make the city scene, but I can darken it as much as I like.

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.