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Stories Sway Our Decisions

Last month, I attended a writers conference where Lisa Cron presented a master workshop on how neuroscience discoveries can help your story telling (and your writing). I had to leave early for an appointment, but Ms. Cron’s ideas about the importance of story telling and how stories influence our everyday decisions stuck with me.

So, I looked her up when I got home and found a TEDx talk by her. The video is a little more than 17 minutes long, but worth watching just for the share pleasure of discovering that stories–and therefore writers (hyberbole added by me)–are more important than we think.

In Ms. Cron’s words:

“We turn to stories not to escape reality; we turn to stories to navigate reality.”

and

“If you can’t feel emotion, you can’t make a single rational decision.”

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“The Power of story is yours, use it wisely.”

“Make Me Beautiful”

Journalist Esther Honig wanted to examine how the standards of beauty vary across cultures. She sent a picture of herself—makeup free and hair pulled back– to 40 different graphic designers across the globe with only one request: “Make me beautiful.”

What she received back blew her mind.  (And mine.)

Some of the pictures came back with minimal changes, what I  think of as studio photo retouching. Like this image from Romania:

Romania

All images in post are courtesy of Ester Honig

Others were radically altered. This one is from the Philippines:

Philipines

 

What struck me is that some designers changed Honig’s features in ways I wouldn’t even think of, going to extremes like changing her eye color, removing collar bones, and altering the shape of her eyes and forehead.  Read more »

Obesssions

I was that kid who could spend hours focused on one particular thing and it would usually take over my life. As an adult, I’ve learned to multitask, but sometimes I’m still caught up in something and consumed with one particular thing. It can be a new author and I have to read all books he or she has written. Or just a particular series and I read all books written in one sitting and then wait impatiently for the new one to come out. I love Netflix because the best way to watch any show–House of Cards and Orange is the New Black, for example–is to binge watch.

And then there is the internet. YouTube sucks me in like nothing else and I’m addicted to Kid President, Tiffany Persson (A weird video blog based on a Swedish comedy character), and any cute thing dogs do.  My most recent obsession is watching Bored Shorts TV’s Kid Snippets.

These are videos imagined by kids, but acted out by grownups. For some reason it tickles my funny bone so much that I can’t stop watching them. I’ve watched my favorites over and over again. Here are some of them.

The one with the penguin:

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Read more »

Cognative Surplus, or How LOLcats will Save the World


lolcat
Back in the late 90s, I worked in a software company that hired  full development teams to other technology companies. We provided expertise that our clients might not have in-house, which meant we usually worked with new technology on cutting-edge projects. When the internet opened up to e-commerce, the company signed up new clients at record speed. One of the marketing managers explained to my coworker Angela and me that the internet was finally useful now that people could use the web to make a profit. After that meeting, Angela created a secret slogan that we would sometimes whisper to each other while working on projects that had no purpose other than making crazy amounts of money: “Use the internet for good, not for evil.”

This weekend, I listened to author, professor, and social media guru Clay Shirky on the TED Radio Hour. The program focused on collaboration and Shirky talked about a concept he’s coined “cognative surplus.” According to his estimates, the world has over a trillion of hours of free time to commit to shared projects. Some of that time we—the people of the world—use to do things like watch TV or create memes that we share on the internet. But even if you use your time to create LOLcats instead of inventing cool apps to do crisis mapping (one of Shirky’s examples is the creation of Ushahidi, the software that election information after the disputed 2007 Kenyan presidential race), you should still feel like you’re contributing to the good of the world:

The stupidest creative act is still a creative act….The gap is between doing anything and doing nothing.

The talk is well worth the 13 minutes it takes to watch. I especially find Shirky comparing our relationship with media and technology during the 1900s to the 2000s inspiring. The last century taught us how to consume. We’re still excellent consumers, but with new media tools like the internet and mobile phones we also show that we like to create. And share. And collaborate.

According to Shirky—and I really want to believe him on this—human motivation, new tools of collaboration, and our cognative surplus allow us to do “truly incredible experiments in scientific, literary, artistic, political efforts.”

In this new century, we’re finally using the internet mostly “for good, not for evil.” Angela and I are very happy.

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Learn “Deep Yes” so You Can Say “No”

JustineMuskLast year, I was on the verge of burnout and a friend sent me the most wonderful list: Justine Musk’s 25 Badass Ways to Say No.

I’ve always had a hard time rejecting requests, whether they’re from a family member, a friend, a coworker, or a total stranger. I want to be the perfect hostess, making sure everyone enjoys the time spent with me. Making sure everyone likes me.

My exhaustion last year didn’t only depend on not wanting to disappoint people. Life threw me a few hurdles: my dad’s fast onset of dementia, my mom’s reoccurrence of cancer, my husband’s shoulder injury, which although not life-threatening required caretaking duties. A person saner than me would have recognized that these events demanded less commitment elsewhere. But I barged on, over-committing myself to write a grant, organize a physics conference, join work committees and initiatives, and keep up with my regular volunteer duties in the community.

Hence the burnout.

Even when life doesn’t throw huge boulders in our paths, creative folks don’t always recognize that it’s okay to say “no.” It’s okay to set aside time to practice our art. We’re not being selfish. We’re not being entitled. We’re just doing what’s necessary to nourish that part of us that feeds our soul.

Justine’s list didn’t cure my tendency to instinctively say “yes” to any and all requests, but it I am learning to be more protective of my writing time. I’m not yet brave enough to say all the things on the list out loud, but it’s so much easier for my mouth to utter a “no” when my brain is thinking one of these:

-Life’s too short to do things I don’t love.

-My ladyballs are not that big.

-There is a person who totally kicks ass at this. I am not that person.

-The idea is bad and you must be punished.

-I no longer do things that make me want to kill myself.

-It would cause the slow withering death of my soul.

It’s easy to think that until we are published, sold our first photograph, or recorded our first song, we don’t have the right to turn down a request in favor of writing, painting, creating. But actually, we do.

Actually, we must. Read more »

What Would You Ask a Panel about Paths to Publication?

GetLit14I’m reaching out to the esteemed readers of Bark for much needed help. During this year’s world famous Get Lit! festival, I’m moderating a panel on the many publication options today’s market offers.

A Brave New World: Finding Your Path to Publication in Today’s Market with Rebecca Zanetti, Danica Winters, and Shoshanna Evers. 

Never before have authors had as many options to get their prose into the hands of readers as they do in today’s market. But how do you know which publishing model is right for you and your writing? Join authors Rebecca ZanettiDanica Winters, and Shoshanna Evers for a frank and honest discussion of the benefits and disadvantages of current publishing options. Together, these three successful and multi-published writers bring expertise on just about every path to publication you can imagine, including small presses, digital firsts, traditional big 5 houses, self-publishing, and hybrid models. Bring your questions! Moderated by Åsa Maria Bradley. 

Time:  12:00-1:30 p.m.
Venue: Spokane Convention Center
Room: 205

If you were to go this panel, what would be the questions you’d like answered?

It would be great to see you at the panel, so you could get your questions answered. However, if you can’t make it, I’ll see if the authors would visit Bark for an extended discussion.

 

The Making of Good Writers

WriterLeslie Jamison thoughtful and smart essay “Which Creates Better Writers: An MFA Program or New York City? examines the issues brought up in MFA vs. NYC, an essay collection edited by Chad Harbach. The collection is an extension of the questions Hardbach asked in his 2010 essay by the same title, which was written in response to Mark McGurl’s  2009 book The Program Era.

I remember some of the arguments debates that heated up the internet four years ago, and it seems like the collection continues those discussions.

The Los Angeles Times thinks the book ‘ponders whether getting a master of fine arts degree in creative writing is a good idea.’ Though in the article that follows this headline, reviewer Carolyn Kellogg broadens the issue: ‘The larger question is whether institutionalizing a creative endeavor benefits our culture.’ In the New York Times, Dwight Garner calls it a ‘volume that asks whether fiction writing can, or should, be taught.’

Jamison expands these questions in her essay and clarifies why the debate will probably never be settled.

“Not so much whether writers can be taught but what it means that they are getting taught, and what it means that we keep asking this question about the legitimacy of the discipline; what our anxieties about the institutionalization of writing might teach us. The volume asks who pays the bills, and how; and also how these flows of money—the pressures they generate and the institutional affiliations they produce—affect the work itself.”

Reading this article right after AWP resonated with me. It’s been four years since I last attended the conference and yet many of the panels this year discussed the same issues as the talks I attended then, including “…the legitimacy of the discipline; what our anxieties about the institutionalization of writing might teach us.” And many of the students in the audience again  brought up variations of “who pays the bills, and how; and also how these flows of money—the pressures they generate and the institutional affiliations they produce—affect the work itself.”

I’m not sure we’ll ever get concrete answers. I kind of hope we don’t, because I like the landscape of the writing market to be as fluid and diverse as I hope new writers (and writing programs) will continue to be.  And so, I’m quite happy to debate these issues, now and in the future.

Editing Life

MyLifeAt a an author reading at Auntie Bookstore’s last year, Craig Johnson talked about how much he liked Robert Taylor’s audition for the role of Sheriff Walt Longmire in the A&E TV series based on Johnson’s novels (Viking). That is, he liked it until a breathy “Oh, my” escaped from his wife’s lips when she saw Taylor saunter across the screen. She quickly defended her reaction by describing Taylor as a taller and slightly better looking, “TV version” of her husband. (Nice save, Mrs. Johnson.)

This made me wonder what the TV/film version of me would be like. I pictured a polished, skinnier Asa, with better skin, thicker more lustrous hair, wearing expensive designer clothes and shoes. She would know how to walk in high heels, have an infectious tinkling laugh, and use a clever repertoire of insightful comments during conversations. And she would look good in hats.

Later that night, I uploaded some pictures from the author event to social media and realized the edited version of my life already exists: Facebook.

Here are some of the director choices I’ve made for the Facebook version of my life:

Major Milestones:
My husband and friend arrange an amazing 40th birthday party—show pictures of guests, especially cute children of friends playing with dog. 

Turning 40 means spending an alarming amount of time in front of a magnifying mirror tweezing coarse hairs that sprout on my chin—CUT!

Traveling:
Ziplining in Costa Rica—post photos of posting with hubby in matching helmets, include video of me whizzing down a very high line at fast speeds.

Spending hours on the toilet, purging from both ends due to Costa Rican amoeba entering gastrointestinal system—Are you crazy?! Nobody wants to see that. CUT! Read more »

Does Geography Determine Creativity?

MapEyeAs a teenager, I thought I had to move to a big city to be a writer. Growing up in a small Swedish town (3000 people), I had my sights set on London, Amsterdam, or in a pinch, Copenhagen. Berlin seemed pretty cool too, but when it came time to pick a third language in seventh grade and my school offered German and French, I for some reason picked the Romance language. When after three years I still hadn’t mastered the French vocabulary, I scratched Paris off the fourth place position on my list.

At seventeen, I moved to the US to study and learned quickly that in this country, the only place to become a successful writer was New York City. Young creative people still flock to this vibrant metropolis, but according to Candy Washington, sometimes they need a vacation from the “hustle-and-bustle of the NYC grind.” In her recent article for PolicyMic, she writes:

New York can be a great environment for the creative 20-something — but only if you’ve got endless funds, patience or both. And as the city continues to price us out, it’s important for young artists to consider other equally exciting and inspiring places to call home.

Ms. Washington suggests the following five cities for creative living:

1. Wilmington, NC: The new film and television hub
2. Little Five Points, GA: Boho-chic in the South
3. Providence, RI: The new ‘Creative Capital’
4. New Orleans, LA: More than Mardi Gras
5. Portland, OR: Stay weird

I would add San Francisco, CA to this list because of the video games influenced increase in creative jobs such as graphic art and game story writing. I’d also add Seattle, WA because I read somewhere that it has more published authors per capita than any other US city. And I’d add Austin, TX because it’s the city that first coined a marketing term that included the word “weird” (Keep Austin Weird) and because it offers live music of any genre any day of the week.

None of these cities were on my radar by the time I arrived in America and I didn’t pay much attention to New York either. Science had taken over as my main focus. I still did some writing, but not with my previous fervor. Being immersed in a second language also did weird stuff to my brain. Paragraphs would end up half Swedish, half English, and sometimes wholly in a new language I named Swenglish. Writing was hard and when I wasn’t studying, I was more interested in spending time with my new American friends and my new American boyfriend. None of them were interested in writing or any other type of art. Read more »

In Memorandum: Danny Rice

DannyRice

Alumni Danny Rice (07 – 09) passed away suddenly on December 28th. His family had a memorial service on January 3 in Oakland.

I was a year behind Danny and remember him mostly for fantastic writing and great conversations over beer at the Elk. Plus, his glorious tattoos.

I heard about Danny’s passing from Terry Owens, here’s what he said on Facebook earlier today:

Danny was obviously one of the kindest, most caring, friendliest people I have ever known. And what a hella great writer. I’ll always remember good long craft talks at Sunset Junction, his ridiculous tattoos, and working as Assistant Managing Editors of Willow Springs with him

Ellie Kozlowski posted the news in the EWU MFAers group:

Whether or not you knew Danny Rice, he was an amazing, kind, sweetheart of a human being.

Please consider helping Danny’s family offset some of the cost of his memorial service by donating to the Danny Rice memorial fund through Give Forward.

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