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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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Sane Man Walking

When Your Heart Is Strong painting by Nolan Winkler

(This article appeared in the Anderson Valley Advertiser April 2013)

“ Solvitur ambulando, St. Jerome was fond of saying.  To solve a problem, walk around.” Gregory McNamee

After a severely stressful year of extreme physical challenges finally resolved by two successful surgeries, I am once again walking to and from the village every day, and slowly but surely building up my strength and stamina. The three-mile trip—downhill to town, uphill coming home—is invigorating now rather than exhausting, and the hour of steady walking is always a welcome relief from desk work and my connection to the electrical digital reality that underpins so much of my life today.

Spring has sprung, the plum trees and camellias and quince are in fulgent bloom, crab apples, rhododendrons, and cherry trees soon to follow with their outbursts of color, while Japanese maples spread their leafy wings and daffodils wave their trumpet-like flowers over the green grass that will never be so brilliantly green as when it first erupts from the flanks of Mother Earth. How sweet to walk through this riot of new life—what fun to write such purple prose.

“If you are seeking creative ideas, go out walking.  Angels whisper to a man when he goes for a walk.” Raymond Inmon

Having just finished writing a new novel, copies being made at Zo, the one and only copy shop in Mendocino, Ian the meticulous maven of duplication handling my case, I find that I am already in the grip of yet another novel, three chapters written and a fourth being told to me as I walk through the piney woods, the new story so intriguing I can barely remember the other book that owned me so completely for several months until just the other day.

I was talking to a friend about the experience of writing my new novel, the first I’ve birthed in some years, and I used the expression necessary delusion to describe why, whilst in the throes of giving birth, I felt so certain that this new book was truly fantastic, though it might not be any good at all.

“I’m not sure what you mean,” said my friend, frowning quizzically. “Why was it necessary that you be delusional?”

“Because,” I explained, “if I’m going to spend months and possibly years working on something that has very little chance of succeeding commercially, when I might otherwise make real money editing other people’s writing, I must believe the novel is going to be the next Moby Dick or Portnoy’s Complaint, or better yet a combination of the two.”

“But maybe you’re not delusional,” said my friend, an optimistic fellow. “Maybe you did create a masterpiece.”

“Doesn’t matter,” I replied. “Masterwork or drivel, it is imperative that I believe the book is superb or I won’t continue. And because the epigenetic overlords controlling me wanted that thing written, they caused the requisite endorphins to be released into my blood along with whatever else was needed to silence my inner critics long enough for me to get the job done, after which the spell was broken and, to thoroughly mix my metaphors, I turned back into a frog, or Toad, as I was called in elementary school. Toad Walnut.”

“Attachment is the great fabricator of illusions; reality can be attained only by someone who is detached.” Simone Weil

Yes, indeed, until I was fifty, I cared deeply about what might happen to my stories and novels and plays after I completed them, hoping fervently that they would bring me renown and buckets of money. And it was this hoping and caring, I now realize, that kept those creations glued to my psyche for months and years after I finished them. Now, blessedly, I understand that keeping things glued to my psyche is the creative equivalent of going deaf from wax buildup in my ears—an impediment to hearing the call of the muse, a blaring egotism that tells the gods I am not the tabula rasa they require; and so they desist from using me in the way I love to be used.

Which is not to say I don’t appreciate those rare and inspiring notes of praise from readers and listeners—I do—or that I don’t hoot for joy when I find a check in our post office box for something I wrote or recorded—I do. But I am happiest nowadays when the muse has me under her power and there is nothing glued to my psyche to distract me. I feel most alive and empowered when no attachment stands in my way of hearing the muse in full surround sound stereo, my attention undivided as I work to translate her imagistic offerings into prose.

“Walking takes longer than any other known form of locomotion except crawling.  Thus it stretches time and prolongs life.  Life is already too short to waste on speed.” Edward Abbey

Countless authors have written about how their most famous works came to them while they were on long walks; and many great scientists, Einstein among them, have said that their most profound theories were first imagined while they were taking walks. I attribute this recurring linkage of inspiration and walking to the profound interrelationship of our specie’s evolution from little-brained tree-dwelling apes to walking-around-on-the-ground hominids with huge brains—the relatively swift evolution from small-brained to big-brained coinciding precisely with our specie’s adaptation of walking and running on two legs as the fundamental means of getting around in the absence of trees to swing through.

During my brief collegiate career, I majored in Cultural Anthropology and was required to take an introductory course in Physical Anthropology, a field I found both fascinating and infinitely less morally questionable than Cultural Anthropology as it was generally practiced in those days—a university-funded imperialism, if you will, that treated indigenous societies as specimens to be intellectually dissected and analyzed by Great White Academics whether those specimen societies wanted to be dissected or not.

In 1967, the year I began my avid reading of Physical Anthropology texts, one of the debates raging in that field was whether bi-pedal locomotion (walking on two legs) or the advent of the opposable thumb was the adaptation most responsible for and/or conjoined with the dramatic enlargement of our australopithecine brains.

This distracting debate eventually went the way of the Dodo, thank goodness, and we followers of the fossil discoveries and resultant theories of how we came to be the humans we are today were no longer distracted by academic dickering while we marveled at the ingenuity of nature guiding our evolution from little hominids who were the favorite prey of enormous cats to large hominids staring at television screens while miniature versions of those enormous cats sleep on our beds and demand to be fed or they’ll shred the furniture.

My point being: I totally grok why walking ignites the imagination, and I enjoy thinking about that ignition as a variation on good old ontogeny recapitulating phylogeny—the physiological development of the individual organism recapitulating the physiological evolution of that organism’s species—the imagination ignited by walking recapitulating the interconnectedness of bi-pedal locomotion and the dramatic enlargement of our incredible brains.

 “After a day’s walk everything has twice its usual value.” George Macauley Trevelyan

I have previously extolled the wonders of Bruce Chatwin’s book The Songlines, which might have been subtitled A Treatise on Walking and the Evolution of Human Society, and I feel compelled to extol his book again. A favorite anecdote therein echoes my own sense of how Nature intends for humans—amalgams of body, mind, and spirit—to function on spaceship Earth.

“A white explorer in Africa, anxious to press ahead with his journey, paid his porters for a series of forced marches. But they, almost within reach of their destination, set down their bundles and refused to budge. No amount of extra payment would convince them otherwise. They said they had to wait for their souls to catch up.”

That story strikes me as an excellent explanation for the discombobulating sensation known as jet lag, as well as explaining why I always feel so much more relaxed and present when I walk to town rather than drive. I have not run ahead of my soul. Or put another way, I am in synch with my essential nature. I am grooving with my intrinsic biorhythms. I have fortified my sanity by doing what my body and mind and spirit require for optimal functioning. In walking I am practicing the yoga (unification) of body, mind, and spirit free of digital electronic automotive interference—striding (or in my case ambling) through the natural world as our Bushmen foremothers and forefathers strode on the sands of the Kalahari.

Here is another thought-provoking tidbit from The Songlines.

“In Middle English, the word progress meant a journey, particularly a seasonal journey or circuit. A progress was the journey of a king round the castles of his barons, a bishop round his dioceses, a nomad round his pastures, a pilgrim round a sequence of shrines. Moral or material forms of progress were unknown until the seventeenth century.”

What I especially like about that earlier definition of progress is how it resonates with my feelings about my daily walk to town, my own little pilgrim’s progress, my shrines the post office, Zo, Corners of the Mouth, Harvest at Mendosa’s, the bank, Goodlife Café, the Tiki god statue overlooking the mouth of Mendocino Bay, the driftwood sculptures on Portuguese Beach, the library, the hardware store, the traffic light on Highway One—the pleasure of my progress amplified by meeting other pilgrims along the way.