Joe Camel and Stonewall Jackson

Joe Camel and Stonewall Jackson

02018.09.22

The Creative Soul

 

In 1997, Stuart Elliot reported for the New York Time regarding the demise of Joe Camel.  Joe was the graphic that helped turn the tide for the R J Reynolds Tobacco Company, along with his brother camels known as Buster, Max, and Floyd.  While commercial art often is considered the bastard child of visual arts, it cannot be denied that many successful logos are seen by more people than any painting ever is. 

 

As Elliot reported:  gains in sales and market share for Camel, the nation’s No. 7 cigarette brand, came only at a high cost as anti-smoking activists convinced President Clinton, the American Medical Association, several Surgeons General, the Federal Trade Commission and other authorities that Joe Camel was emblematic of what they maintained were the insidious, underhanded marketing gimmicks by which cigarettes are sold in America. Particularly, the activists hit home with contentions that slick, colorful presentations of a grinning cartoon animal were intended to appeal specifically to children to take up smoking.

 

”Joe Camel represented an icon that refueled the moral outrage of the anti-smoking movement,” said Eric Solberg, executive director of Doctors Ought to Care, an anti-tobacco group in Houston. Reynolds has always denied that Joe Camel — introduced to Americans in 1988 after more than a decade of selling cigarettes to Europeans — was anything but a standard marketing tactic meant to persuade adult smokers to switch to Camel from bigger brands like Marlboro.  The White House cheered the demise of Joe Camel, which now appears only in the United States. ”We must put tobacco ads like Joe Camel out of our children’s reach forever,” [then] President Clinton said in a statement.”

 

Thomas Jonathan “Stonewall” Jackson (January 21, 1824 – May 10, 1863) served as a Confederate general (1861–1863) during the American Civil War, and became one of the best-known Confederate commanders.  Born in what was then part of Virginia, Jackson attended the US Army Military Academy at West Point.  He then served in the US Army during the Mexican-American War with distinction.  Afterwards, he taught at the Virginia Military Institute for nine years where he was very unpopular with the students.   When Virginia seceded from the Union in May 1861 after the attack on Fort Sumter (12 April 1861), Jackson joined the Confederate Army. He distinguished himself commanding a brigade at the First Battle of Bull Run (21 July 1861) the following month, providing crucial reinforcements and beating back a fierce Union assault. In this context Barnard Elliott Bee Jr., allegedly highlighting Jackson’s courage and tenacity compared him to a “stone wall”, hence his enduring nickname.

 

In late April and early May 1863, faced with a larger Union army now commanded by Joseph Hooker at Chancellorsville, Lee divided his force three ways. On May 2, Jackson took his 30,000 troops and launched a surprise attack against the Union right flank, driving the opposing troops back about two miles. That evening he was accidentally shot by Confederate pickets. The general survived but lost his left arm to amputation; weakened by his wounds, he died of pneumonia eight days later.   Military historians regard Jackson as one of the most gifted tactical commanders in U.S. history.   His tactics are studied even today. His death proved a severe setback for the Confederacy, affecting not only its military prospects, but also the morale of its army and the general public. After Jackson’s death, his military exploits developed a legendary quality, becoming an important element of the ideology of the “Lost Cause”.

 

Yesterday in one southern city a rally was held to encourage town officials to remove statues like those of Stonewall Jackson.  Much like the campaign to remove Joe Camel these commemorative sculptures represent one form of the visual arts.  The reason I am dedicating this blog post in a series about creativity to two such instances of censorship is because they raise a very interesting set of questions.  While I certainly do not want anything or anyone to encourage any human being to smoke cigarettes and I disdain war and the concept of slavery, I think banning such images and statues means we are sacrificing an excellent learning opportunity.  If the arts are to continue and serve their purpose, we must address these questions.

 

Joe Camel would make an excellent case study for a student of graphic arts.  Joe Camel was actually born in Europe. The caricatured camel was created in 1974 by a British artist, Nicholas Price, for a French advertising campaign that subsequently ran in other countries in the 1970s.  The character lacked many typical camel traits, essentially appearing as a muscular humanoid with a camel’s head. Feet were always to be covered, in footwear consistent with the rest of the outfit. The character also lacked a tail or hump.   Advertising presented Joe Camel in a variety of “fun and entertaining, contemporary and fresh” situations, wearing “bold and bright” colors, blue and yellow where appropriate. His face remained the same in different advertising pieces, and images of his hands only used when necessary.

 

In 1991 The Journal of the American Medical Association published a study that reportedly showed six-year-old children who not only knew Mickey Mouse was the logo for the Disney Channel but that Joe Camel was associated with cigarettes.  The Reynolds Tobacco Company, under great pressure, ultimately pulled all Joe Camel ads and ran rather boring public service announcements stating that smoking cigarettes was “an adult custom”.   While the numbers for underage smoking have decreased somewhat, last year 6200 smokers below the age of 18, the legal age in the USA to smoke, were caught, some in grades 1-4.

 

Since Joe Camel was so attractive to this age group, why did they not use Joe Camel to educate both children and adults about the actual dangers involved with smoking?  Public Service announcements regarding people with open laryngectomy holes who died after making the commercials are far scarier to some children than a friendly half-human/half-camel.  Even with the increased taxes which have more than doubled the price of a pack of cigarettes since Joe Camel went away people are still beginning the lifelong habit of smoking.  Perhaps Joe and his brothers could have been utilized in helping people stop smoking or never start instead of the bland commercials that replaced them.

 

The commemorative statutes that adorn many public venues in all parts of the country are, in part, educational.  However, few if any contain the artist’s name or even the name of the subject.  Instead of removing and destroying these works of art, why not add a sign that explains their subject and the consequences of his/her actions.  If we continue to ignore history, we have consigned ourselves to the fate of repeating it over and over. 

 

Art at its core is educational.  Even art created for pleasure also serves to educate us.  When we censor our past, we destroy an important part of our history.  We are not perfect and our past is certainly embarrassing and disgraceful at times.  However, paying homage to our mistakes opens the door for discussions about lessons learned and efforts to repair those mistakes.  Whether it be a smiling cute camel, anatomically incorrect but fun, or a stone-faced old guy, art can be used in proactive measures.  We owe it to ourselves to celebrate the successful art and use it to better our world.

Capturing a Moment in Time

Capturing a Moment in Time

2018.09.14

The Creative Soul

 

I remember my first grown-up present at Christmas.  It was a very inexpensive camera, but it was a gift that made me feel so grown-up at age seven and seemed to promise me the rest of my life would follow and be magical.  The art of photography continues to seem magical to me.  Photography is the taking of a picture of reality that somehow not only shows us the obvious but also the unseen, the possibilities of our imagination and beyond.

 

Photography not only can inspire us; it can improve our mental health.  IN a Dec 2017 article Danielle Hark wrote: “We all deal with mental or emotional struggles at one time or another in our lives. Whether it’s stress from work, situational depression or anxiety, or full-on mental illness, it helps to take time to refocus and gain perspective. One tool you can use may be right in your pocket attached to your phone… a camera.  It has been proven time and again that creativity and art therapy are valuable tools for emotional wellness. Photography is one such tool that you can utilize without going to art school or being professionally trained. Modern technology provides easy-to-use options including a variety of automatic modes on point-and-shoot cameras, digital SLRs (single-lens reflex cameras), and even camera phones. Now anyone can take photos — and just by taking a photo, you are taking a moment to stop and look at your environment through a new lens. This moment can be the moment that changes your day from a negative to a positive — or at least gives you a momentary distraction and calm.”

 

Photography is the act of taking pictures for sentimental reasons, as a hobby or keeping informed with new events. Similarly, taking pictures help us to stay in touch with past events, thereby enables one to appreciate history.  Most people use photography as a tool to keep in touch with past events. Looking at photographs taken in the past also helps to improve our knowledge on how we relate to past events.

 

Medically speaking, taking pictures can save a life.  The advancements made because of x-rays and modern photographic capabilities combines with nuclear medicine are truly life-saving tools.  There are other reasons for taking pictures, though.  Legally it is a good idea if ever in a traffic accident to quickly snap a picture of any damage done to your vehicle.  It is also a good idea to periodically take pictures of your home and its furnishings.  These can be used to document loss from theft or natural disasters.  Keeping hard copies of such pictures is also a good idea since digital photography is sometimes inadmissible in court.

 

What about the weekend photographer or the proud grandparent?  Are those being creative and are there health benefits?  Even the Centers for Disease Control recognize the advantages of taking pictures and the art of photography.  When community members photograph their daily lives, they may find that the bigger picture begins to emerge.  In young hands, a camera can be a gateway to healthy habits, life styles and communities.  Researchers gave cameras to teens in inner-city Baltimore and asked them to take pictures of positive activities that were alternatives to joining a gang. “The project gave participants courage to talk to adults about community issues,” says Seante Hatcher.  Ms Hatcher is the community relations coordinator for the Johns Hopkins University Prevention Research Center (PRC), one of 35 community-academic partners the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) funds to find innovative solutions to health challenges. The “Photovoice” technique shows that taking pictures can empower the photographers, document their perspectives and deliver their messages.

 

“Photovoice bridges age, race and gender. The pictures speak in a language common to everyone,” says Joyce Moon-Howard, DrPH, a researcher at the Columbia University PRC. The center has used Photovoice in interventions to promote healthy eating and in programs to encourage teenagers.  The process of taking photos can be used to involve young people in positive activities and engage policymakers in discussions about sensitive community issues. with HIV to share their feelings about living with the disease. “The project used both the lens of the camera and the lens of the HIV-positive young adult,” says Alwyn Cohall, M.D., director of the center. “Participation reduced the isolation and stigma of dealing with HIV and gave the teenagers a sense of belonging.” In a separate study, teens took and shared pictures of nutritious foods and were inspired to try more fruits and vegetables, he says. Dr. Moon-Howard identifies group discussion as a vital aspect of Photovoice. A set of photographs, she says, creates a “series of meaning” that helps a group identify issues of mutual concern and can motivate change.

 

By picking up a camera,, you are not only being present and creative, but you are actually practicing mindfulness, which reduces stress and helps leave you balanced and ready to take on the rest of your day.

 

 

A Stitch in Time

A Stitch in Time

2018.09.12

 

One of the oldest forms of being creative is often one of the most overlooked and underappreciated – sewing.  Early humankind needed coverings and the art of sewing created them.  Sewing is much more than simply joining two pieces of fabric, though.   It also includes decorative stitches and the art of quilting.  Grammy-winning pop musician Mary J Blige is an avid quilter, explaining that “I like to do interior design; I love to quilt.  I love to see different colors together, and I love to match thing up.”

 

Embroidery is the art or handicraft of decorating fabric or other materials with needle and thread or yarn. In this way, it has been practiced for decades.  The origin of embroidery can be dated back to Cro-Magnon days or 30,000 BC. During a recent archaeological find, fossilized remains of heavily hand-stitched and decorated clothing, boots and a hat were found.  In Siberia, around 5000 and 6000 B.C. elaborately drilled shells stitched with decorative designs onto animal hides were discovered. Chinese thread embroidery dates back to 3500 B.C. where pictures depict embroidery of clothing with silk thread, precious stones and pearls. Examples of surviving Chinese chain stitch embroidery worked in silk thread have also been found and dated to the Warring States period (5th-3rd century BC).

 

Embroidery and most other fiber and needlework arts are believed to originate in the Orient and Middle East. Primitive humankind quickly found that the stitches used to join animal skins together could also be used for embellishment. Recorded history, sculptures, paintings and vases depicting inhabitants of various ancient civilizations show people wearing thread-embroidered clothing.

 

Thicker filaments were woven into heavy yarn and today, some acrylic yarn is made from recycled water bottles.  Can we do sewing with these and call it being creative?  The answer is a resounding yes and this type of sewing is known as crochet… sometimes.  Ruthie Marks explains:  “You and I call it crochet, and so do the French, Belgians, Italians and Spanish-speaking people. The skill is known as haken in Holland, haekling in Denmark, hekling in Norway and virkning in Sweden. … No one is quite sure when and where crochet got its start. The word comes from croc, or croche, the Middle French word for hook, and the Old Norse word for hook is krokr.

 

American crochet expert Annie Potter, has a different theory: “The modem art of true crochet as we know it today was developed during the 16th century. It became known as ‘crochet lace’ in France and ‘chain lace’ in England.” She also refers to a 1916 visit by Walter Edmund Roth to descendants of the Guiana Indians in which Roth found examples of true crochet.

 

Fiber arts researcher Lis Paludan of Denmark, who limited her search for the origins of crochet to Europe, puts forth three interesting theories. One: Crochet originated in Arabia, spread eastward to Tibet and westward to Spain, from where it followed the Arab trade routes to other Mediterranean countries. Two: Earliest evidence of crochet came from South America, where a primitive tribe was said to have used crochet adornments in rites of puberty. Three: In China, early examples were known of three-dimensional dolls worked in crochet.  But, says Paludan, the bottom line is that there is “no convincing evidence as to how old the art of crochet might be or where it came from. It was impossible to find evidence of crochet in Europe before 1800. A great many sources state that crochet has been known as far back as the 1500s in Italy under the name of ‘nun’s work’ or ‘nun’s lace,’ where it was worked by nuns for church textiles,” she says. Her research turned up examples of lace-making and a kind of lace tape, many of which have been preserved, but “all indications are that crochet was not known in Italy as far back as the 16th century”- under any name.

 

Another form of fiber arts is knitting.  Knitting is the process of using two or more needles to loop yarn into a series of interconnected loops in order to create a finished garment or some other type of fabric. The word is derived from knot, thought to originate from the Dutch verb knutten, which is similar to the Old English cnyttan, to knot. Its origins lie in the basic human need for clothing for protection against the elements. More recently, hand knitting has become less a necessary skill and more a hobby.

 

Knit as a word in English has probably come from Knot meaning to tie. In old English there are references to ‘knit/ knitting’ meaning to draw close, (knitting the brows), which we even use today. More often than not the history of a word, tells us a lot about the craft, e.g. ‘weaving’ as a word exists in many languages, but knitting does not. There is no ancient Greek, Latin, or Sanskrit word for knitting.  The art of combining fibers to make fabric is where weaving got its start but why some languages use the two terms interchangeably is unknown. 

  

Like the other forms of creativity we are discussing this week, the needle arts also have health benefits.  Anna Deen listed them for AllFreeSewing.com:  Sewing is a relaxing alternative to watching TV and scrolling on our computers. Screen time leads to a sensory overload—while watching your favorite TV show may seem relaxing, such an activity is actually tiring and leads to feelings of unrest and unhappiness. However, because sewing is a purposeful, completion-based activity, you actually feel relaxed, focused, and accomplished while sewing!  Sewing is a great social activity with which to meet people and form sewing groups, get advice, and build relationships with others who share similar interests. You can join both online groups as well as attend in-person meet ups to build sewing communities and friendships.  Focusing on one activity helps relieve stress and focus your thoughts after a long day. By focusing on sewing, you become mindful of concentrating on one activity at a time, which helps you feel relaxed.

 

 Additionally, there are mental health benefits as well.  Sewing can help decrease levels of depression? When you do an activity that you enjoy (like sewing!), your brain releases a chemical called dopamine, which is a natural antidepressant. By sewing, your brain releases dopamine which makes you feel happy and decreases depression.  Working through a sewing pattern gives you a sense of accomplishment. This feeling of accomplishment improves your levels of self-esteem and confidence. The high confidence levels you get from sewing help you overcome hurdles in other parts of your life.

 

At its most basic, sewing and the other fiber arts require us to focus both physically and mentally on a task. It’s hard to sew if you’re not paying attention – many a pricked finger stands testament to this. So if you’re concentrating on your sewing you can’t be worrying about what to give the kids for supper, or fretting about problems at work.  Monica Baird, pain specialist at the Royal United Hospital Bath states “It changes brain chemistry for the better, possibly by decreasing stress hormones and increasing feel-good serotonin and dopamine.”  It also improves eye-hand coordination and assist the elderly in emotional, social, and cognitive skills.

 

 A stitch in time might just save your sanity and increase your life span, as well as helping clothe someone and decorate one’s abode.  By the way, that famous quote goes like this:   “A stitch in time saves nine” and means an action taken now will prevent problems later.  It was first used by the English astronomer Francis Baily, in his Journal, written in 1797 and published in 1856 by Augustus De Morgan:  After a little while we acquired a method of keeping her [a boat] in the middle of the stream, by watching the moment she began to vary, and thereby verifying the… proverb, ‘”A stitch in time saves nine.”   By being creative with the needle arts, a stitch in time might just increase your life span.

Move It and Groove It

Move It and Groove It!

2018.09.10

The Creative Soul

 

Located on a part of real estate in New York City that either affords one a landscape of New Jersey or Manhattan, Naomi Goldberg Haas offers free dance classes to older adults.  The Founder of Dances for a Variable Population has two rules for the creativity of dance:  “Have fun and don’t do anything beyond your limits.”  Haas and her students offer the top three advantages of not only the movement of dance but also learning to appreciate personal beauty and one’s own body.

 

1.                   ‘You Recognize the Difference It Makes’.

 

Haas explained her philosophy of teaching dance: “There’s so much we can learn from dancing with each other. Also, by dance-making with each other, we gain an appreciation of our own body and beauty.”  Some students come for the exercise benefits. “Once you pass a certain age, you realize you have to be in a physical program,” Haas observed. “You recognize the difference it makes. On a larger social level, the lack of movement is killing us.”  DVP, which Haas founded in 2008, works with more than 45 senior centers and institutions. Movement Speaks, one of its programs, offers older adults and low-income communities free dance instruction.  They also perform a public show of an original work created by class participants.

 

2. ‘Touch Is Life-giving’

While dance has health benefits for the body and mind, Haas emphasized that her goal is to inspire participants to move creatively and feel empowered by that movement.  DVP classes also incorporate some partner work where people might briefly hold hands as they circle around each other on the floor. “Touch with someone else is life-giving,” Haas explained.  At the end of class, the dancers divided themselves into groups of four. Each participant would lead a few times, and then pass the torch to the next person, so everyone got a chance to create a movement and follow their partners.

 

3.    You Can Rediscover Dance

Students who had previously studied dance might find the class more doable than a class they would find in a traditional studio because DVP’s emphasis is on what you can do, not insisting that people attempt choreography that would be beyond their limits.  Karen Beja, a 59-year-old school psychologist, began dancing with the group about three years ago. “I did a lot of dance as a young adult and I stopped in my late 30s and I miss it,” she explained. “Naomi has given me back movement.”  In addition to keeping her mobile and flexible, Beja said, “It makes me feel joyful.”

 

Other advantages discovered by the class include the mental advantages of learning to improvise and memorize.  Traditional dances often included improvisation but then remembering desired combinations of steps exercises brain muscles as well as leg and foot muscles.  The diversity often found in the classes is also a huge social benefit.  Not only is there a difference in gender and age but in culture and ethnicities.  New relationships are made and friendships formed.  Social interaction is a necessary part of living and the connections made through classes that encourage one’s creativity are paramount to good health. 

 

UC-Berkley reported in 2014 that many studies have found dancing can improve balance, even in frail elderly people. Some have shown improvements in gait, walking speed, and reaction time, as well as cognitive and fine motor performance. Dance studies have included jazz, ballroom, tango, folk, and a series of slow, low-impact dance movements—though any kind of dancing would likely be beneficial.  Interestingly, according to a review in the European Journal of Physical and Rehabilitation Medicine in 2009, dancing may help people with Parkinson’s disease, which is characterized by rigid muscles, slowed movement, and impaired balance.

 

Dancing may also be good for your mood. It has been shown to reduce depression, anxiety, and stress and boost self-esteem, body image, coping ability, and overall sense of well-being, with the benefits lasting over time. In one study, it even helped control “emotional eating” in obese women who eat as a response to stress.  The authors of a meta-analysis of 27 studies on the effectiveness of dance movement therapy, published in Arts in Psychotherapy this year, concluded that dancing should be encouraged as part of treatment for people with depression and anxiety.

 

If you can move, you can dance and you should.  Let your creative spirit move and feel the benefits that dancing can bring to your life.  There are dancing apps, some specially designed for older people of the informed, to assist you in being creative with dance.  There’s no downside to incorporating dance into your regular physical activity routine, and it could help motivate you to get moving if you find other types of workouts, like treadmill walking or cycling, a little boring.  You will not only get creatyive, you might even get healthier!

 

A Reflection of ….

A Reflection of …

2018.09.05-06

The Creative Soul

 

“We and all creation reflect the image and nature of God the Divine Artist. Creativity, the ability to make or think new things, is of God’s essence. Creativity reflects God.”  These words of Br. Luke Ditewig sounded so wonderful to me the first time I heard them.  It was during a sermon and I was an impressionable teen-ager.  Suddenly from the pew behind me I heard a very gruff whisper.  “Oh yeah?  Then how do you explain heavy metal music?”  The elderly gentleman’s wife saw my shoulders move as I tried to stifle my chuckle.  After the service she turned to her husband and gave his shoulder a marvelously targeted punch:  “Maybe heavy metal music is what God sounds like when he’s mad,” she replied and then winked at me.

 

We are all critics.  Seriously.  If we are to be honest, we really are all critics.  Everyone knows what they like and what they do not like.  We also all want to matter.  The recent #alllivesmatter is not a new concept.  Countries have undergone revolutions for that very thing.  The recent controversy, which is still ongoing, in the USA regarding playing choosing a different way to show respect during the National Anthem is nothing new.  Civilizations have forgotten to address the critics and tried to sweep them under the carpet.  History tells us that people are not so easily silenced.  The creative arts are also evidence of this.  It may seem that the artist owes his/her audience something delightful but the truth is…What the artist owes the world is an honest reflection of the moment in time they are capturing.

 

Any creative work is a dialogue between the artist and the audience member and no two audience members are going to hear the exact same dialogue.  Criticism is also dialogue and an important form of feedback that the artist should not ignore.  First, if someone takes the time to critique you, they are honoring the time you spent creating.  Negative critiques do not seem like a compliment but they are.  They also offer a chance to evaluate your work.  Not every critic is going to understand your intent or perhaps the meaning of your work.  Not every critique needs to be followed but they should ne given respect and heard.

 

The language one uses in response to criticism is vitally important. Never engage in an argument. Instead, turn the exchange into a discussion about how to resolve the differences or what was unclear.  Most of create because we have a burning need inside to let that creativity out.  However, we do need the audience, the viewer, that person who listens to what we are trying to say in whatever form we are creating.

 

“The Critic as Artist” is an essay by Oscar Wilde, containing the most extensive statements of his aesthetic philosophy. A dialogue in two parts, it is by far the longest one included in his collection of essays titled Intentions published in May 1891. “The Critic as Artist” is a significantly revised version of articles that first appeared in the July and September issues of The Nineteenth Century, originally entitled “The True Function and Value of Criticism.” The essay is a conversation between its leading voice Gilbert and Ernest, who suggests ideas for Gilbert to reject. 

 

Through the title, Wilde explores the fact that even a critic is an artist and the critique is in itself a creative art form.  The essay champions contemplative life to the life of action. According to Gilbert, scientific principle of heredity shows we are never less free, never have more illusions than when we try to act with some conscious aim in mind. Critical contemplation is guided by conscious aesthetic sense as well as by the soul.

 

The soul is wiser than we are, writes Wilde, it is the concentrated racial experience revealed by the imagination. Criticism is above reason, sincerity and fairness; it is necessarily subjective. It is increasingly more to criticism than to creation that future belongs as its subject matter and the need to impose form on chaos constantly increases. It is criticism rather than emotional sympathies, abstract ethics or commercial advantages that would make us cosmopolitan and serve as the basis of peace.

 

“Critics don’t help you at all, they are not better than a randomly-picked person,” says Dr. Pascal Wallisch, a psychologist at New York University.  A 2017 study by Wallisch and perception researcher Jake Alden Whritner found that our taste in movies is highly idiosyncratic — they’re peculiar to an individual. Their paper, entitled ‘Strikingly Low Agreement in the Appraisal of Motion Pictures’, also revealed that our preferences are often at odds with those of film critics.  Wallisch and Whritner gave almost 3000 people a list of over 200 popular films — major motion pictures released from 1985 to 2004 (including some in the Star Wars series). The data was collected over 10 years (2005-2015) via an online survey where participants were asked to rate every film they had seen and give each movie a star rating on a scale of 0 to 4 stars.

 

The scientists compared everyone’s scores with everyone else’s in a pairwise manner, compared people to 29 professional film critics (like Roger Ebert) and compared individual scores from those groups with aggregated sources of reviews, including Rotten Tomatoes and the Internet Movie Database (IMDb).  As reported earlier this year in Forbes, “Prior to our research, what was shown is that critics agree highly, but no-one’s ever looked at how critics correlate with regular people,” says Wallisch. “What was relatively unusual is that the average rating between critics and movie-goers was so different. This is the only research that actually shows scientifically that critics and people don’t agree.”

 

In a 2014 New York Times article James Parker answered that age-old question “Should we respond to our critics?”  Parker’s answer was succinct and to the point.  “No. … Getting a bad review is no longer an elite experience. We’ve all been trolled, oafed, flambéed in some thread somewhere.”  He continues:  “Sometimes you are the pigeon,” Claude Chabrol said, “and sometimes you are the statue.” Wonderful, Gitane-flavored words. But we are not statues — we are not made of stone. Anointed with guano, do we not feel it? And right now everybody feels it. Getting a bad review is no longer an elite experience. Writers and non-writers, mandarins and proles, we’ve all been trolled, oafed, flambéed in some thread somewhere, at the bottom of some page. Scroll down, scroll down, take that Orphic trip into the underworld of the comments section, and there they are — the people who really object to you. Their indignation, their vituperation, is astonishing. It seems to predate you somehow, as if they have known and despised you in several former existences. You read their words and your body twitches with malign electricity. You must get out of this place immediately, run toward the light. Let the dead bury their dead. And don’t look back — because if you do, like Orpheus, you’ll lose what you love the most.”

 

The critique is a reflection of the moment in which it was given, nothing more.  In his memoir, “Prince Charming,” the great poet Christopher Logue, in mellow old age, dives into “a chocolate-liqueur box filled with dated clippings of every review that my books, plays or radio programs had received since 1953.” He makes a discovery. “How differently they read now. At the time, oh, the complaining: That fellow failed to praise me for this, this fellow blamed me for that. . . . Now, how fair-minded their words appeared, how sensible their suggestions for my improvement.”

 

As we delve further into the science and muses of creativity, please remember this:  This blog is a creative work and, like all other creative works, merely a reflection of the moment in which it was written.  We all have our great moments and then those that, hopefully, will one day be a learning experience.  All are creative efforts are simply steppingstones of the past and it is up to us as artists to not allow them to become millstones that drag us under. 

Lexi Rees

Lexi Rees

2018.08.31

Literature and Life

 

I must admit that, when going to visit someone, I am always a bit bothered when I do not see any bookcases in their rooms.  To be sure, I seldom go into every room, especially if it is merely an acquaintance or my first time visiting but still, as someone who has bookcases in practically every room, yes even the dining room and kitchen, I sort of expect to see a book case in every room.  My living room, den, previously mentioned dining room and kitchen, as well as every bedroom and guest rooms…well, we have a few bookcases overrunning with books.  So when this author said she went to her bookcases to find a favored but perhaps forgotten book…. I was delighted!

 

I asked Lexi Rees what was her favorite book.  Her answer:  “That’s an impossible question. My favourite book has changed over the years from when I was aged four, “Ernest Owl”, to aged ten, “Nancy Drew” and “The Hardy Boys”, to the wildly eclectic mix I read today. It could be Tolstoy’s “Anna Karenina” or Terry Pratchett’s “Mort”, depending on my mood. Of course I loved “Narnia” as a kid (it was pre Hardy Potter) and “Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy” still makes me laugh. 

 

“So I scanned my bookshelves for a book that surprised me, that was still fresh in my mind even though I had read it years ago and there it is – “A School in South Uist”, about an Englishman who is persuaded to take a job as headmaster on a tiny, remote island in the Outer Hebrides in the 1890’s. It’s survived numerous charity shop culls of my overflowing bookshelves, although I don’t know why since I’ve only actually read it once.

 

“It’s not a best-seller, although it ranks well enough in the fairly niche Amazon categories it’s listed under. I don’t have any family connection to the author. I’m not even sure how or where I first stumbled across it as I don’t recall a friend recommending it. I assume I bought it whilst route planning a trip. I’ve travelled extensively in Scotland (and around the world) and try to read a book set in every place I visit, but I’ve never made it as far as South Uist.  It’s an autobiography, but it’s one of those that could easily be mistaken for fiction – it’s got an interesting story, great characters, a fantastic setting, perfect pace and a wonderful voice.

 

I’ve just realized that the barren, windswept island where the elders have their gathering in my book, Eternal Seas, was probably inspired by the image this book conjured up of South Uist, even though the ruined castle I describe is Castle Gylen, near Oban.  I’ve put it back on my TBR pile. It deserves a re-read!”

 

Lexi Rees grew up in the north of Scotland but now splits her time between London and West Sussex. She still goes back to Scotland regularly though.  Usually seen clutching a mug of coffee, she spends as much time as possible sailing and horse riding, both of which she does enthusiastically but spectacularly badly.  Her first book, “Eternal Seas”, was written on a boat; the storm described in it was frighteningly real.

 

Lexi writes action packed stories for children, and will be publishing a non-fiction book for grown-ups in 2019.  She also has a blog about her family’s adventures, which seem to include lots of kids’ activities, travel, horses, boats, cars and crafting.  You can connect with her at any of these links:  Website https://lexirees.co.uk/; Facebook https://www.facebook.com/LexiAuthor/; Twitter https://twitter.com/lexi_rees; Google + http://bit.ly/Lexi-on-GooglePlus; Instagram https://www.instagram.com/lexi.rees/

 

[Please go to my Facebook page for pictures that accompany this post.  https://www.facebook.com/n2myhead/?hc_location=ufi]

 

Writers are not perfect people although some do manage to construct perfect endings.  What they do is connect the written word to the living we all do – whether it is a book for children or adults.  I thank all whom I have featured this month.  They make our living immeasurably better and turn an hour into an adventure when we read their efforts.  What I hoped to illustrate this month is that we all have an effect on each other.  After all, as one of my favorite writers and actual distant relative John Donne, once penned:  “No man is an island.”

 

 

Neil Simon

Neil Simon

2018.08.26

Literature and Life

 

Few playwrights have achieved the success that Neil Simon has.  Fifty years ago he had four plays on Broadway at the same time, each playing to standing room only audiences and receiving rave reviews.  Today is Sunday and it is the day I have kept for writing about my favorite writers and/or books.  Today will have two posts but first, it is with great sadness that I report that today is also the day of Neil Simon’s passing.  This post is dedicated to Mr. Simon while the later post will be about a book of essays.

 

I learned to count collating pages of television scripts and the first time I read a play, the format felt right at home.  Novels seemed a bit wordy but plays were a format I knew and loved.  Neil Simon was one of my first playwrights to read and adore, although in hind sight much of his work was probably ill-suited for a young girl.

 

Marvin Neil Simon was an American playwright, screenwriter and author. He wrote more than 30 plays and nearly the same number of movie screenplays, mostly adaptations of his plays. He received more combined Oscar and Tony nominations than any other writer.  He has said that he wrote comedy because he wanted to make people laugh.  His parents had a tempestuous marriage and escaping to the movies to watch comedies was one way Simon survived.   “I think part of what made me a comedy writer is the blocking out of some of the really ugly, painful things in my childhood and covering it up with a humorous attitude … do something to laugh until I was able to forget what was hurting.”

 

Simon himself had a stated preference to writing in longhand and never used computers.  He preferred thin ruled paper, often buying up a dozen or so pads or notebooks of it in London since it is very hard to find in the USA.  He compared it to the lines of music manuscript paper and liked being able to see quite a bit of writing at one time.  He emphasized the lyrical quality of dialogue and indeed his character’s speeches were like lyrical songs.

 

Neil Simon began creating comedy for which he got paid while still in high school, when at the age of fifteen, Simon and his older brother created a series of comedy sketches for employees at an annual department store event.   To help develop his writing skill, he often spent three days a week at the library reading books by famous humorists such as Mark Twain, Robert Benchley, George S. Kaufman and S. J. Perelman.

 

When asked by the Paris Review what his great gift was as a writer, Simon pointed to the “construction” of his comedies, which are typically built around a dilemma involving characters of opposing wills and wants. “By the time you know the conflicts, the play is already written in your mind,” Simon explained. “All you have to do is put the words down. You don’t have to outline the play, it outlines itself.”  Elaine Joyce Simon wrote in the afterword to her husband’s collected “Memoirs: “If you’re looking for the heart and soul of Neil Simon, you’ll find everything you need to know in ‘Brighton Beach Memoirs’ ”.  Recent revivals of “The Odd Couple” and “Sweet Charity” have proven the timeliness of Neil Simon’s writings.  The man who wanted to make us laugh is still doing it. 

 

“Don’t listen to those who say, you are taking too big a chance. Michelangelo would have painted the Sistine floor, and it would surely be rubbed out by today. Most important, don’t listen when the little voice of fear inside you rears its ugly head and says ‘They are all smarter than you out there. They’re more talented, they’re taller, blonder, prettier, luckier, and they have connections.’  I firmly believe that if you follow a path that interests you, not to the exclusion of love, sensitivity, and cooperation with others, but with the strength of conviction that you can move others by your own efforts, and do not make success or failure the criteria by which you live, the chances are you’ll be a person worthy of your own respects.”  Rest in peace, Neil Simon and thank you.