The Occasional Blog Post

What Sly Stone Can Get You To Learn About Writing – Part Three

“Different strokes for different folks.”

Everyone’s heard this one. How does it apply to writing?

Do what you love and be your own authority. No one can tell you what your style is. The best way to get better at anything is to get involved with your style of doing one thing.

None of us are perfect. Go ahead, create some of the stuff you’re afraid of creating, if that’s what it takes to get in the groove.

Just be people, be family. Be who you really are, and it will be effortless for you to outgrow and outmaneuver criticism, whether that criticism is from outside or inside.

Different strokes for different folks means advice that works for some people may not apply to others.

Yeats said that the critical and the creative impulse are one and the same, so make sure and take full advantage of the creative side of that drive.

By all means, be who you really are. If you are a writer, you’ve got to write. Confront whatever needs to be confronted and do a little more each day. Time is one thing there’s a fixed amount of (and no substitute for). You’ll know you’re really living if you’re getting a little better at being yourself each day.



Poetry, Oscillation, and John Steinbeck’s Sea of Cortez

If there is one constant, it’s fluctuation, and that is a beautiful thing.

In John Steinbeck’s The Log from the Sea of Cortez, one of my favorite books of all time, he speaks brilliantly about oscillation. Here is one example:

How simple if a star floated by unchangeably. On clear nights such a star is there, but it is not trustworthy and the course of it is an arc. And the happy discovery of Stella Polaris–which, although it too shifts very minutely in an art, is constant relatively–was encouraging. Stella Polaris will get you there. And so to the crawling minds Stella Polaris must have been like a very goddess of constancy, a star to love and trust.

What we have wanted always is an unchangable, and we have found that only a compass point, a thought, an individual idea, does not change–Schiller’s and Goethe’s Ideal to be worked out in terms of reality. And from such a thing as this, Beethoven writes a Ninth Symphony to Schiller’s Ode to Joy.

A tide pool has been called a world under a rock, and so it might be said of navigation, “It is the world within the horizon.”

Of steering, the external influences to be overcome are in the nature of oscillations; they are of short or long periods or both. The mean levels of the extreme ups and downs of the oscillations symbolize opposites in a Hegelian sense. No wonder, then, that in physics the symbol of oscillation, (the square root of negative one), is fundamental and primitive and ubiquitous, turning up in every equation.

More on oscillation:

And in a unified-field hypothesis, or in life, which is a unified field of reality, everything is an index of everything else. And the truth of mind and the way mind is must be an index of things, the way things are, however much one may stand against the other as an index of the second or irregular order, rather than as a harmonic or first-order index. These two types of indices may be compared to the two types of waves, for indices are symbols as primitive as waves. The first wave-type is the regular or cosine wave, such as tide or undulations of light or sound or other energy, especially where the output is steady and unmixed. These waves may be progressive–inreasing or diminishing–or they can seem to be stationary, although deeply some change or progression may be found in all oscillation. All terms of a series must be influenced by the torsion of the first term and by the torsion of the end, or change, or stoppage of the series. Such waves as these may be predictable as the tide is. The second type, the irregular for the while, such as graphs of rainfall in a given region, falls into means which are the funcitons of the length of time during which observations have been made. These are unpredictable individually; that is, one cannot say that it will rain or not rain tomorrow, but in ten years one can predict a certain amount of rainfall and the season of it. And to this secondary type mind might be close by hinge and “key-in” indices.

We had had many discussions at the galley table and there had been many honest attempts to understand each other’s thinking. There are several kinds of reception possible. There is the mind which lies in wait with traps for flaws, so set that it may miss, throgh not grasping it, a soundness. There is a second which is not reception at all, but blind flight because of laziness, or because some pattern is disturbed by the process of the discussion. The best reception of all is that which is easy and relaxed, which says in effect, “Let me absorb this thing. Let me try to understand it without private barriers. When I have understood what you are saying, only then will I subject it to my own scrutiny and my own criticism.” This is the finest of all critical approaches and the rarest.

Get the book here. (affiliate link)

Let me know what you think:

What Sly Stone Can Get You To Learn About Writing – Part Two

“You can make it if you try, push a little harder, think a little deeper.”

I recently heard Tony Robbins’ interview of John Reese in which John said that it’s the people who do just 5% more than their competitors that earn all the money. He was discussing making money, but this applies to the creative process as well.

As a creative writing teacher I came to especially love the students who gave just a little bit more than the others in class. These individuals were characteristically the ones who spoke up more often, did their homework, and overall just seemed to care more than their peers. Keep in mind that they weren’t necessarily planning on becoming creative writers — these students were just the generous souls who applied themselves regularly and risked their ego by initiating conversation in class.

No surprise, no secret, these students earned A’s. Can you judge someone’s effectiveness based on how they perform in class? Not definitively, but you can learn something about how they are willing to contribute their efforts. Creative writing classrooms may not always seem like the most friendly place to workshop the results of your creative process, but it is extremely friendly when contrasted to most other niches in the real world.

Would someone who wasn’t motivated to contribute in a class devoted to the craft of writing be able to succeed? Of course, but they’ve got a long road ahead of them. So take Sly’s advice. Loosen up, believe in what you believe in, and work hard. Some say all you need to do is 5% more than your peers. If you’re looking to stand out, that may be all it takes.

What Sly Stone Can Get You To Learn About Writing – Part One

“It’s not the teaching, it’s the learning.”

For those of us who have been students and those who have been teachers, each of us understands the limitations of academia and the benefits of actual experience. Likewise, anyone who has any experience with academia understands the benefits of a good teacher and how they can strategically short-cut years of research, trial and error. Even though a teacher can only teach you so much, this amount is often the distillation of years of study and application, and is absolutely priceless.

The amount that can be taught at schools and universities (and writing retreats) is far exceeded by the individual’s ability to learn. The best kind of teacher, then, is the one who can facilitate learning. It is so important that the student (or any learner) have an idea of what they intend to learn so that they can help drive the learning process. So much of the learning process is in their hands.

In my view, teaching is measured best not by quantity but by impact. Learning often happens best in cases where there is immediate feedback since in these cases there is ample opportunity to apply what is taught. It’s my belief that the learning only really begins to take place once the teaching has been implemented. It helps tremendously if the teaching applies to the student’s intention to learn.

Jimmy Santiago Baca’s “Meditations on the South Valley”

What a great book. Here’s an example:

Catholic holidays

Franciscan nuns bussed us

to Jemez mountain parks.

The old yellow bus gagged

round tree tangled curves

and looming walls of stone,

canyon depths flashed mesquite

enfolding green hills between green hills,

until at the mountaintop, I summed

layers and layers of distant dustland drift,

as the bus gear grudged and nuns nagged

us to sing prayers, until we jolted

down a dirt road to the sunny picnic grounds.

Just look at how he’s using verbs in this poem. I love how “gagged” and “nagged” frame it.

Each page of this book is good.
Get Martin & Meditations on the South Valley

Support OFI – You Can Purchase Borneo Rainforest for $57.50 and It Will Be Protected Forever

Go here: http://bit.ly/7sqIQj

Here’s what you can do: spend the amount of money you would pay to fill up your car’s tank with gasoline on ¼ hectare of Borneo rainforest land. OFI will protect that land in perpetuity (forever).

You can get a full hectare for $230. That’s 2.47 acres of Borneo rainforest.

The reason they are buying up all the land can be found here:

http://bit.ly/7sqIQj

Put simply, they are buying the land so that no one else can. If someone else buys this land, they are not going to do it just to leave it alone.

It is basically a race against time to prevent deforestation and destruction by palm oil plantations.

http://bit.ly/7sqIQj

This is a rare opportunity to make a clear difference.

Get involved here:

http://bit.ly/7sqIQj

What’s behind the retreat, part 2

If you aren’t familiar with the different modes of writing you’ll engage in when on the retreat, check out the About the Program page on summerwritingretreat.com for more information.

I hope the program descriptions hook you, and that you’re eager to try out an innovative approach to invigorate your project, whether you are interested in publishing your writing or not. Part of the writing project for the retreat is writing down and committing to your life goals, which you probably will not seek to publish but will certainly influence your level of fulfillment at the retreat and afterward.

You might see this as a hybrid retreats, in that it balances creative writing and wellness as mutually beneficial. If you are familiar with more traditionally-styled retreats or writing workshops, you might be surprised at how ours are put together. They are set up to work the middle ground common to all people regardless of occupation or pursuit. That middle ground pertains to the level of fulfillment you get from the activities you engage in and how they direct you toward your outcome or project. These aren’t like the workshop-style retreat where you basically go to a classroom and sit down with the author. There will be plenty of one-on-one time and plenty of cross-pollination between participants on their creative projects as well as their dreams, but no classroom time. Our retreats are designed to help people get and stay inspired and excited as artists and as individuals. The retreats model exactly what has worked for me in the past and utilize strategies that apply to a wide range of people. I hope to see you there!

What’s behind the retreat, part 1

I want to give a brief history today on how the retreats began, and specifically, why they have the underlying model of a writing immersion. A lot of people haven’t yet come to see writing as a part of total wellness. For me, it’s integral.

I have come to believe that when you put something down in writing, something magic happens, whether that thing is an observation, a life goal, a story idea, or the the sketch for a poem. This belief formed during one summer I spent on vacation in Italy. I was devoting the greater portion of my day to writing, and as a result I made a tremendous amount of progress in my work. This may not sound surprising — devote a lot of time to something and surely you’ll experience some improvement, as long as you’re paying attention to the results you get from what you’ve put into the activity, but remember that this was a vacation — something you normally go on to get away from work. And here I was with a project on my hands, and it still felt like a vacation. Now I believe that vacations are best when they are taken to get away with doing the work that you love the most. The outcome of the time I had invested by being immersed in writing was incredible. I had produced hundreds of pages on several different projects, and because I had done them all simultaneously and the rest of my life was taken care of (delicious meals, wonderful social life, rich and inspiring environment great for hiking and photography), I had the head-space to keep all these projects organized. I was able to raise the bar on what I had previously imagined possible.

What were these projects I was working on? Well, they’re the same ones you’ll utilize on the retreat if you make the decision to participate (and I hope so! There’s a very limited number of spots available, since the warm and sustainable nature of the retreat necessitates having a small group. If you decide to join us, it should be soon). I began each day with a good run followed by a few hours of goal setting. After I had thoroughly lit myself up by getting clear just what it was I wanted in both the big and small pictures, I was ready to begin writing on the other projects I had come up with while on vacation. Just as an aside, I should comment on a marvelous thing about writing, which is the fact that you can take it anywhere. I was able to find plenty of spots I could move to besides my writing desk for a change of scenery and nowhere was the concern that I would be interrupted by anything unpleasant. Italy is truly friendly to writers and artists. It is a remarkable country for sowing the seeds of your creative project.

Visit summerwritingretreat.com and writingimmersion.com

Before the beginning

I’d like to open this up by sharing with you all how excited I am to get going with these retreats. I know they are still months away, but they are looming impressively on the horizon for me. It is going to be such a treat to share some things that I’ve learned about life, fitness, and goal-setting for fulfillment in these majestic locations in Italy.

Both of the retreats still have space available, though it is anyone’s guess how quickly they will fill up. If you are seriously thinking about applying, give it a quick go. Your application doesn’t have to be perfect — the best application is one that is true to you at a gut-level anyway. I look forward to hearing from you about your writing project ideas and especially regarding your goals for the retreat.

If you need information, check our FAQs page. For the kind of qualitative information that dreams are made of, spend some time at the Spannocchia Photos page. I hope the feel of the place comes through, and I hope just seeing the place today gets you inspired.