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Self-Loving

When Your Heart Is Strong crayon on monotype:paper Nolan WInkler

When Your Heart Is Strong drawing by Nolan Winkler

(This article appeared in the Anderson Valley Advertiser February 2014)

“Marketing is too important to be left to the marketing department.” David Packard

A friend of mine went to graduate school at Yale in theater management and marketing where his favorite professor was forever reminding his students: “For every hundred queries you send out, you can count on one response. This won’t necessarily be a positive response, but at least it will be a response.”

As a writer and musician who for many years fished, so to speak, in the smallest tributaries of the mainstream before experiencing a few years of success on the cultural Mississippi, as it were, of New York and Hollywood, only to return to the hinterlands where I have continued to cast my line for the past thirty years, I have sent out thousands of queries, stories, songs, novels, plays, screenplays, and music CDs to agents, publishers, producers, directors, DJs, magazine editors, and people randomly selected from the phone book, and in my experience the professor’s estimate of one response per hundred submissions is right on the money.

I was one of those young writers who, for fun and incentive, once papered the four walls of my rented room (from floor to ceiling) with form rejection letters from The New Yorker and Esquire and The Atlantic and Playboy and dozens of other magazines large and small—the collage of hundreds of colored rectangles strikingly beautiful, though the cumulative negativity of the verbiage writ on those disingenuous notes (we carefully considered, we’re very sorry) eventually caused me to burn them all in a bonfire of rage against the machine and in hope of exorcising the demons of self-doubt.

“Well-ordered self-love is right and natural.” Thomas Aquinas

Nowadays, as a sometimes self-publishing author and musician, I frequently encounter disdain and contempt from all sorts of people for manufacturing my own work. Yes, Mark Twain self-published most of his novels, and countless other revered writers and artists self-published, self-promoted, and self-sold, but the dominant cultural myth remains that self-manufacturing books or musical recordings is pathetic and disgraceful, especially for someone no longer in kindergarten.

This anti-self-publishing sentiment is especially true among people over fifty who were not raised on YouTube, though many people under fifty also make a clear distinction between an artist who brings out his or her own creations and the artist who manages to sell himself, literally, to a subsidiary of a multinational corporation. Is this not a form of cultural idiocy? And from whence does this antipathy to marketing our own creations come from?

“This self-love is the instrument of our preservation; it resembles the provision for the perpetuity of mankind: it is necessary, it is dear to us, it gives us pleasure, and we must conceal it.” Voltaire

So there’s Voltaire, the keen observer of social mores, three hundred and fifty years ago warning against public displays of self-appreciation, regardless of the emotional importance of such self-positivity, thus confirming that self-negation as cultural norm is nothing new. And who in our steep-sided pyramidal society and pyramidal economic system benefits most from this bizarre idea that it is shameful and wrong for a free lance artist to manufacture her own art and then alert the world that her art is for sale?

“Marketing is a contest for people’s attention.” Seth Godin

A Seattle publisher recently reissued my novel Inside Moves in a handsome paperback edition after the good book had been out-of-print for over thirty years, and dozens of people who had previously snickered and snorted in derision at my self-published works wrote and called to congratulate me, a few of these brainwashed peeps actually saying things like, “Must be great to have a real book in the stores again.” How bizarre! I was going to say how fucking bizarre, but that would be crude.

 “Self-love is a big part of golf.” Lewis Black

Nine times. Think of the Beatles song Revolution 9 with that annoying voice in the background intoning interminably “Number Nine, Number Nine.” Recent marketing research indicates that busy publishers, editors, DJs, and other persons bombarded with press releases and poems and screenplays and songs and cries of “Look at me jumping!” by millions of Baby Roos (see Winnie-the-Pooh) need to be loudly informed about something nine times, on average, for the thing to penetrate their overloaded cerebrums and get them to take notice. Oy vey. Such postage and envelopes and mailers for the struggling artist!

Speaking of postage, over the last seven years I have sent out rafts of copies of my four piano CDs and the two music CDs Marcia and I made together, these rafts going to radio stations around the country, with one response for every hundred submissions a close approximation of my success rate, whether that means actual airplay for Incongroovity or Mystery Inventions or a terse: Go Away! We Only Play Music Recorded By Famous People.

I hasten to add that these are not large radio stations I apply to, but small ones kin to our own KZYX whereon you will be lucky, indeed, to hear our music, though not for lack of my sending them our CDs. Jamie Roberts, bless him, occasionally plays my recorded fiction, and Joel Cohen has played a few cuts of my piano music—local exposure a special thrill for us. The good people at KMUD are so stoutly unified in their indifference to my offerings, I have ceased to bother them.

But I have managed to win over a handful of daring and prescient DJs who now regularly spin my tunes in Warren Vermont, Bloomington Indiana, Arcata California, Fort Collins Colorado and Astoria Oregon. Mazel tov!

“Well, I think everyone struggles with self-love.” Philip Seymour Hoffman

When I was a preschool teacher’s aide, one of my favorite things about the three and four-year-olds I had the pleasure of overseeing was their unabashed love of their own artistic endeavors and creations: crayon drawings and finger paintings and block towers and sand castles and somersaults and dances and impromptu songs—everything! Countless times an excited little kid would show me his or her creation, and in response to my saying, “That’s wonderful!” the little Picasso or O’Keeffe would confidently reply, “I know!”

But something happens to most American children in the years following kindergarten and continuing for the rest of their lives, some multi-level, multi-layered reprogramming goes on at home, at school, on television, at work, in life, so that by the time children are six and seven-years-old they are much less likely to share their creations with an adult, and by ten-years-old most kids cease to create anything.

From happy self-loving declarations of “I know!” to complete emotional and creative shutdown in just a few short years—the result of our horrifying and incredibly effective system of mass repression.

What are you talking about, Todd? Look at the millions of people making YouTube videos of themselves and their kids and cats and stuff, and the millions of people taking pictures of themselves with their smart phones to go along with their tweeting and sexting.

“It is better to fail in originality than to succeed in imitation.” Herman Melville

In my perusal of sports highlights on my computer, I am required to sit through commercials in order to see brief snippets of games I’ve missed for lack of a television. Thus I have seen many ads for razors, cars, big-budget movies, computers, running shoes, and Disney vacation resorts. In the latest series of Disney ads, people are shown publicly acting out in spontaneous and imaginative ways, and then being judged idiotic or crazy by their families and friends.

In one such Disney ad, a father and his two children are in a hardware store when the father gets the wacky idea of donning a welding helmet and picking up a fluorescent light tube and pretending to be Darth Vader wielding a light saber. In his excitement, the father gets carried away and knocks over a display, a heinous act that embarrasses his well-behaved children and dismays the other people in the store. But in a twinkling, the father and children and their mother are transported to a Disney resort where the father is allowed to duel with real (fake) light sabers and a Disney employee dressed up as the real (fake) Darth Vader—the children no longer embarrassed by their impulsive father.

The Voice accompanying this vomitous series of ads declares, and I paraphrase, “So if you want to be even just a little bit creative and spontaneous and playful without punishment and censure, you must give large quantities of your hard-earned money to the Disney Corporation and we will allow you to be slightly more carefree than you are allowed to be in real life, though we know that even when you come to this totally artificial place, you will be too inhibited to act in ways that will necessitate our having to punish you.”

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Walking To Town

(This article appeared in the Anderson Valley Advertiser October 2012)

“Everywhere is walking distance if you have the time.” Steven Wright

Last night by the fire, our new (old) house enshrouded in dense fog, I said to Marcia that I didn’t feel we were on the land where this house sits but rather on a boat, or possibly a raft, floating somewhere on the ocean of existence. I was not yet anchored anywhere except in my own interiority, except I didn’t use the word interiority because I didn’t think to use it until today when a letter came from my friend Max that said, “While it’s fun for me to say I’m on the Riviera, I notice this: in a certain way I am always in a room and inside my interiority when you and I are talking to each other. Wherever I may go, I’m always coming from that same place.”

Speaking of interiors, yesterday we had one of those spatial breakthroughs that amaze and gladden the spirit. On the east-facing wall of our new living room, two feet above the top of the doorway, sat a massive room-spanning shelf, a single piece of old growth heart redwood sixteen-feet long and a foot wide and two inches thick—an amazing slab of wood. And because the shelf was there and so massive and commanding and impressive, we kept trying to figure out what to put on it. We tried statues, books, driftwood, stones, gongs, drums, and pottery, yet nothing seemed quite right. But we had to find something to go there. Didn’t we?

Well…yesterday morning I woke to the epiphany that the massive shelf was actually a gigantic energy-clogging, dust-collecting, enemy of our psychic and aesthetic freedom, and so I conferred with Marcia and we decided to take the impressively massive thing down, which we and our carpenter-in-residence Jamie Roberts did—no easy feat. Then we scrubbed away the dust and cobwebs on the liberated wall and stood back to take a look. What a fantastic change! Now the room seems much larger and definitely happier, while the wall, I’m sure, is hugely relieved to be free of that burden.

Then yesterday evening—after an incredibly busy day of carpenters and roofers and painters swarming all over the house—two burly men, Spanish-speaking metal scavengers, showed up with their enormous blue pickup truck to take away various metal things we have removed from the house, the largest item being an old cast iron bathtub that weighed well over four hundred pounds. The two fellows mused for a moment over the tub, and then, as easily as I might lift an average-sized cat, they picked the tub up and slid the behemoth into the bed of their truck. And then, confronted by an incredibly heavy old woodstove, they lifted the massive thing as if it were nothing more than a chubby child; and my hernia ached as I looked on in awe at their prodigious strength.

As I was overseeing the various Herculean efforts of these two good men, I communicated with them in my extremely limited Spanish until one of the fellows, tiring of my linguistic deficiencies, said in perfect English, “So…where did you learn to speak Spanish?” I tried to answer in Spanish and he graciously helped me find the proper words. When I said I had gone to Mexico and Central America in 1970 as a Spanish translator for a marine biologist, the fellow translated my claim for his companion, who retorted in rapid fire Spanish something to the effect of, “If this guy was the translator, they must have had some very interesting adventures.”

“


I have two doctors, my left leg and my right.” G.M. Trevelyan

One of my favorite things about our new house is that we are only a mile from the village, and in our first week here I have twice walked to town to do my errands. On the way to town, I descend some four hundred feet in elevation, which means that on the way home I ascend those same four hundred feet. Going to town today took me fifteen minutes, the return trip forty. I am in abominable shape, aerobically speaking, and I am hopeful that several walks to and from the village each week will eventually ameliorate my sorry condition. Today in my knapsack I carried home four bananas, two big carrots, a chocolate bar, a bag of ginger powder, a notebook, pen, pocketknife, and a half-pound of mail, the sum total of which nearly killed me. At one point I was walking so slowly I thought I must be kidding, but I was merely trying not to have a heart attack.

 “Methinks that the moment my legs begin to move, my thoughts begin to flow.” Henry David Thoreau




How wonderful I feel strolling into town after my downhill ramble, my little truck left at home while I get my errands done and get some exercise, too. I enter Zo to make a few photocopies and find Jan presiding over his remarkable machines, and I feel I must tell him that I walked to town, which seems to please him, for he knows the steep first mile of Little Lake Road very well, being a bicyclist who climbs that hill with great regularity.

Copying done, I emerge into the fog and do a double take because…no truck! I am once again a vagabond as in my youth, a wanderer possessed of only what I can carry. I traverse the two long blocks to the post office, send a package to Kentucky, a letter to England, fetch the meager mail, and head for Corners of the Mouth in the little red church where the vegetables are always superb and the choices of chocolate as wide as the Mississippi.

But wait! I cannot buy my usual twenty pounds of vittles, for I am on foot and in terrible shape, and the space inside my knapsack is greatly limited. Therefore, I tell myself, I will only buy what we most desperately need, which, thankfully, is nothing. But instead of nothing, I purchase the aforementioned four bananas, two big carrots, a chocolate bar, and a bag of ginger powder (Marcia’s making ginger snaps), and as Garnish rings me up, Sky is nearby replenishing the fruit bins and finds a perfectly edible but less than perfectly gorgeous Golden Delicious apple, which she offers to me as a perk for being such a good customer.

Thus burdened and gifted, I head for home, cross Highway One, and make the mistake of trying to go too fast on the first steep rise, which renders me out of breath and nauseated. So I slow way down to the aforementioned barely walking at all until my heart stops pounding and my vision clears and I am no longer in danger of throwing up, after which my climb goes wonderfully well, however slowly.

Eventually, many minutes later, I trudge past the elementary school and leave the road to climb a steep trail through the woods to avoid the treacherous curves of Little Lake Road, which trail brings me to a little clearing where I come face to face with a magnificent buck and a beautiful doe, neither of whom seems the least bit afraid of me; and when I offer them the apple gifted me by Sky, both deer nod enthusiastically, I kid you not.

Home again at last, the sun finally banishing the fog, I enter our new (old) house feeling absurdly triumphant for having done so little, and as I peek into Marcia’s office she looks up from her work and says, “What? Back already?”