Posted in Writing

Input versus Output

If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.

Stephen King, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft

November is traditionally a month of me trying to sit down and write some more. This is mostly because of Nanowrimo, which I’ve attempted half a dozen times — always unsuccessfully. This month I’m instead trying to publish a blog post every day (and not doing that well so far).

Last week a very clever writer friend mentioned that she works to balance her input and output, so that she spends roughly the same amount of time reading and watching and taking creative works in as she does writing and making things, a very broad definition of creative output.

This is a brilliant idea, but so hard to do! I’ve been thinking about it every day now, making note of when and how I take things in. I’m not embarrassed about my inputs; as social media has gone to the dogs, I’ve been careful to make sure what I read is of good quality. I read the New York Times every morning, with occasional flips through the Wall Street Journal or the Financial TImes (thank you to my workplace for offering me free access). I have carefully curated Feedly content that include blogs and reviews of books, some relating to financial inclusion (my work), the obituaries from major news sources (love them), cooking and nutrition blogs, and feeds on motorcycling and art. Even my Instagram is pretty good these days. I stopped following people I knew who posted lopsided political commentary and filled my feed with wild swimmers from around the world, my favorite authors and artists, and lots of outdoor enthusiasts. When I look at Instagram, it makes me want to go do things.

That said, I have been in a creative rut. I’ve stopped working on my sketchbook (I’m blaming the fact that all of my exchanges are in other people’s hands right now, but that’s only an excuse), and have only had little fits and starts of art projects (I was so excited to start a little zine on surviving winter, and got so far as to bind a custom sketchbook and gather a long list of ideas on what to include, but I fizzled out then). I’ve written very little, although this post is part of a month-long attempt to kickstart that, and I continue to read way less than usual this year. Why is that?

One thing I’ve noticed is that as soon as I get up and have my coffee, I reach for my iPad. It’s so easy to use to read the news in between playing with the dogs and staring out my back window at the birds. But it’s a machine that I use almost exclusively as input. It’s not comfortable for writing more than a sentence or two at a time. It got me thinking seriously about buying one of these crazy devices — a single-use device that only allows you to write/type. Very little room for editing and no browsing the internet or texting your friends. Too bad the Amazon reviews were horrendous.

Posted in CPB

NYT on Digital Commonplace Books

I just noticed a piece that the New York Times published back in February on creating digital commonplace books. It’s not very good, or thorough, but I like it whenever the topic comes up, as I think it’s a really underappreciated idea.

In short, the author defines what commonplace books are, provides some links to them, and then a few tools you might employ to create your own, none of which have a real review or recommendation.

I’d started searching on digital commonplace books because I’ve been thinking it’s time for an update here on how mine is going. I’ve kept up with it for almost 5 years now, regularly adding to it as I read. But I haven’t really thought about the process or potential improvements in a really long time.

And then I fell down a rabbit hole on note-taking, knowledge retention, and time management. I started collecting a bunch of notes and drafting some thoughts but I want to take a bit more time to process before sharing them here, so that’s it for now. More to come soon.

Posted in Interesting Stuff, Non-book CPB Stuff

Paper Cutting

@annabrones’ beautiful paper cut, from her instagram

Last week, my husband and I took an → in-person ← paper cutting class at the Nordic Heritage Museum. It was the first time we’ve gone on something approaching a real date since the pandemic started 19 months ago. It was taught by the lovely Anna Brones, a local artist I follow on Instagram, and who I have so much in common with (PNW nature-loving, wild swimming, bicycling, sketchbooking, fika-obsessive) that I feel like we’re already friends. It was really lovely.

The class was celebrating a paper cutting exhibit that the museum just opened, and to inspire the group we started by walking through the dark room full of giant cut white sheets of paper sandwiched between big sheets of glass. They cast beautiful shadows on the floors and walls.

Since then I’ve been falling down a gorgeous internet rabbithole of paper cutting. I hadn’t known that Chinese paper-cutting was such an ancient craft, and I love looking at the gorgeous red pieces that range from super basic to crazy elaborate.

Rogan Brown creates these amazingly intricate organic-looking paper cuts, sometimes with subtle colors that make me think of sun bleached coral reefs.

Kiriken Masayo creates unbelievable paper cuts from a single piece of paper.

Aghhhh, so much beauty in such a simple art form. Check out more artists here.

my amateur contribution to the art form

Posted in Books, Reading

Behind Schedule

I have not been reading very much this year. Or rather, I should say that I’ve not been reading many books. I am spending an inordinate amount of time surfing the internet, scrolling through Instagram, and reading a ton of online newspapers and blogs. All fine things to do in moderation, but normally I spend a lot more time happily lost in thick plots and fascinating narratives. I’ve been very aware of this lack of progress because of my Goodreads Reading Challenge, which loyal followers will know normally keeps me motivated and engaged. But not this year.

I’m just ….tired. This is not a year of great progress for me on any number of levels, but focus in my leisure-time especially. This will be my fifth or sixth time to reset and start over this year, and I am hopeful that it finally sticks, but the truth is that it’s OK if it doesn’t.

I’m just going to keep pushing myself to read, especially when I find myself doing something less satisfying than getting into a good book, which is really quite often. I have such a great backlog of promising books on my kindle, too, so really there’s no reason not to be reading every chance I get. I mean, look at these beauties!

Posted in Books, Reading

Vic’s Top Ten Books from 2020

2020 was a shit year for me, for almost everything except for reading. I blew right by my goal of reading 75 books and ended the year having enjoyed 86. You can see everything I read and rated here but perhaps more interesting is my list of the ten best.

  1. Hollywood Park: A Memoir by Mickel Jollette: I only read this one because my book group (LONG LIVE QUITTERS CLUB!) picked it but I’m so glad I did. It was pitched as a cult memoir, and it is to some extent, but it’s even better when Jollette, the lead singer of Airborne Toxic Event, starts talking about the complicated process of forgiving your family and about how the best music is both terribly personal and universal.
  2. Outpost: A Journey to the Wild Ends of the Earth by Dan Richards: What a great read in a year so many of us spent stuck inside. Dan travels to the very corners of the world and writes eloquently about those wild experiences. I particularly loved the bits about fire towers in remote Washington State.
  3. Why We Swim by Bonnie Tsui: Perhaps it’s because I was so obsessed with swimming this year, but I really enjoyed this memoir/history of swimming around the world.
  4. Hidden Valley Road: Inside the Mind of an American Family by Robert Kolker: Fascinating account of one family bearing the burden of six of its twelve children suffering from schizophrenia sharing not only how that affected the family but how it helped advance the science of treating this devastating disorder.
  5. Untamed by Glennon Doyle: I want to be too cool to love Doyle but I’m just not. She talks about her feminism, her religion and her family in a way that I’ve never seen anyone else, and I aspire to her honesty.
  6. How to Change Your Mind: What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression, and Transcendence by Michael Pollan: Let’s just say I’m now obsessed with doing mushrooms. Great read.
  7. Wow, No Thank You by Samantha Irby: She’s funny and she’s kind of into being gross and I love everything this woman writes. Fantastic essays.
  8. Solutions and Other Problems by Allie Brosh: This is Brosh’s second book and as soon as I finished this one I went back and re-read the first. She’s got this amazing knack of being funny and poignant and her ridiculously simple illustrations couldn’t be more perfect.
  9. All Adults Here by Emma Straub: I love novels with imperfect families who find ways to still love each other and this is a really good one.
  10. Afterlife by Julia Alvarez: This is the first book I’ve read by Alvarez and I’m so happy to have such a big backlist to dig into now that I know she’s so wonderful. This is a good one if you’re feeling like the world is too polarized for us to ever fix it. Maybe one person at a time is a good approach.

Posted in CPB Quotes, Poetry

That Poem

If your Inauguration morning was anything like mine, you had tears and coffee all over your face, especially after Amanda Gorman read her gorgeous poem. What a poem. What a poet. I can’t wait to see more from this powerhouse, starting with her first collection of poetry due out this autumn.

Here’s the full text, just in case you can’t get enough of it like me.

The Hill We Climb by Amanda Gorman

When day comes, we ask ourselves, where can we find light in this never-ending shade.

The loss we carry. A sea we must wade.

We braved the belly of the beast.

We’ve learned that quiet isn’t always peace, and the norms and notions of what “just” is isn’t always justice.

And yet the dawn is ours before we knew it.

Somehow we do it.

Somehow we weathered and witnessed a nation that isn’t broken, but simply unfinished.

We, the successors of a country and a time where a skinny Black girl descended from slaves and raised by a single mother can dream of becoming president, only to find herself reciting for one.

And, yes, we are far from polished, far from pristine, but that doesn’t mean we are striving to form a union that is perfect.

We are striving to forge our union with purpose.

To compose a country committed to all cultures, colors, characters and conditions of man.

And so we lift our gaze, not to what stands between us, but what stands before us.

We close the divide because we know to put our future first, we must first put our differences aside.

We lay down our arms so we can reach out our arms to one another.

We seek harm to none and harmony for all.

Let the globe, if nothing else, say this is true.

That even as we grieved, we grew.

That even as we hurt, we hoped.

That even as we tired, we tried.

That we’ll forever be tied together, victorious.

Not because we will never again know defeat, but because we will never again sow division.

Scripture tells us to envision that everyone shall sit under their own vine and fig tree, and no one shall make them afraid.

If we’re to live up to our own time, then victory won’t lie in the blade, but in all the bridges we’ve made.

That is the promise to glade, the hill we climb, if only we dare.

It’s because being American is more than a pride we inherit.

It’s the past we step into and how we repair it.

We’ve seen a force that would shatter our nation, rather than share it.

Would destroy our country if it meant delaying democracy.

And this effort very nearly succeeded.

But while democracy can be periodically delayed, it can never be permanently defeated.

In this truth, in this faith we trust, for while we have our eyes on the future, history has its eyes on us.

This is the era of just redemption.

We feared at its inception.

We did not feel prepared to be the heirs of such a terrifying hour.

But within it we found the power to author a new chapter, to offer hope and laughter to ourselves.

So, while once we asked, how could we possibly prevail over catastrophe, now we assert, how could catastrophe possibly prevail over us?

We will not march back to what was, but move to what shall be: a country that is bruised but whole, benevolent but bold, fierce and free.

We will not be turned around or interrupted by intimidation because we know our inaction and inertia will be the inheritance of the next generation, become the future.

Our blunders become their burdens.

But one thing is certain.

If we merge mercy with might, and might with right, then love becomes our legacy and change our children’s birthright.

So let us leave behind a country better than the one we were left.

Every breath from my bronze-pounded chest, we will raise this wounded world into a wondrous one.

We will rise from the golden hills of the West.

We will rise from the windswept Northeast where our forefathers first realized revolution.

We will rise from the lake-rimmed cities of the Midwestern states.

We will rise from the sun-baked South.

We will rebuild, reconcile, and recover.

And every known nook of our nation and every corner called our country, our people diverse and beautiful, will emerge battered and beautiful.

When day comes, we step out of the shade of flame and unafraid.

The new dawn balloons as we free it.

For there is always light, if only we’re brave enough to see it.

If only we’re brave enough to be it.

Posted in Non-book CPB Stuff

Keeping 2020 Goals Simple

I normally get really carried away with my New Year’s Goals — most years I have upwards of a dozen of them, and I make a point of making each one Specific Measurable Attainable Relevant and Time-based (SMART). My lists often span a few journal pages and get pretty complicated. I think it’s a remnant of my overachieving days in tech.

This year I keep reading advice about taking it easy on yourself with goals given the pandemic. The New York Times has suggested making tinier resolutions or even down-sizing them. Given this, a simple approach like illustrator Julia Rothman’s More/Less list is pretty attractive. She has a drawing exercise for this in yesterday’s NY Times, but I prefer to stick to her earlier written word format, the one she shared on Instagram back in 2017.

So, here it is. My 2021 goals, super simplified: MORE doing stuff that’s good for me, LESS ingesting of things that aren’t. More reading, more writing, more making, swimming and exploring. More walking and biking. Less alcohol and less junk food.  Easy-peasy. Now let’s get those vaccinations done so we can do some of these things together!