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March 2014

Tunes for a Monday Morning

I've suddenly noticed that the Monday Tunes of late have been rather melancholy (fado, murder ballads, myths of the West country, brooding songs of northern Europe) -- so here are songs & videos intended to start the week more cheerfully. The connecting theme between them is simply that they all make me happy...and I hope you enjoy them too.

Above: "Rock, Paper, Sissors" by the Norwegian band Katzenjammer, four musicians (friends from their art school days) who blend a passion for traditional instruments and world folk music with a love of cartoons and popular culture. The band's name is taken from an early American comic strip, The Katzenjammer Kids.

Below: sublime silliness from Beirut in the video for "Elephant Gun." Zach Cordon, the talented young multi-instrumentalist at the heart of Beirut, was raised in New Mexico (hence the echo of Mexican Mariachi music running through his work); he's also spent a lot of time in Europe, and is now based in New York.

Above, more silliness: "La Gallina" by the fabulous Ozomatli, out of Los Angeles. Oh, how I love these guys! If you ever have the chance to see them live, don't miss them.

Below: "Tangled Up" by Dutch singer Caro Emerald, queen of "new swing." It's from her second CD, The Shocking Miss Emerald (2013), which I was dancing around the kitchen to just this Tilly's great amusement (or perhaps bemusement).

And last, a lovely song to end on:

"Don't Let Nobody Drag Your Spirit Down" by the great bluesman Eric Bibb, recorded in the UK for the BBC's TransAtlantic Sessions. Bibb grew up in a musical family in New York City, and now lives in Helsinki, Finland.

The tools we use...

Woman Writing by Louis Edward Nollau

I'll be on a writing retreat for the next three days and therefore won't be on-line again until Monday -- so I'm throwing the conversation here at Myth & Moor over to you, with a question:

In Dani Shapiro's lovely book Still Writing, she speaks about the value of developing a writing rhythm that includes periodic breaks in order to give the mind a chance to ponder creative problems in an unstructured way. (She calls this "ritualized dreaming.") For previous generations of writers, this often took the form of cigarette breaks -- but almost anything else will do: going for a walk, making a cup of tea, etc., etc. Anything, that is, besides the Internet -- which Shapiro calls "crack cocaine for writers." 

Old typewriter

"This," she says, "may be the most important piece of advice I can give you. The Internet is nothing like a cigarette break. If anything, it's the opposite. One of the most difficult practical challenges facing writers in this age of connectivity is the fact that the very instrument on which most of us write is also a portal to the outside world. I once heard Ron Carlson say that composing on a computer was like writing in an amusement park. Stuck for a nanosecond? Why feel it? With a single click of the key we can remove ourselves and take a ride on a log fume instead.

"By the time we return to our work -- if indeed, we return to our work at all -- we will be further away from our deepest impulses rather than closer to them. Where were we? Oh yes. We were stuck. We were feeling uncomfortable and lost. And how are we now? More stuck. More uncomfortable and lost. Our thoughts have not drifted [in order to uncover a solution to whatever problem is at hand] but, rather, have ricocheted from one bright and shiny thing to another."


Zadie Smith agrees. Number 7 on her list of writers' "dos and don'ts" (in the Guardian article linked to yesterday) states in no uncertain terms: "Work on a computer that is disconnected from the ­Internet."

Almost every writer I know wrestles with this. The Internet is a wonderful tool for fostering community among creative folks, promoting one's work, and engaging with readers. It's an equally wonderful tool, alas, for procrastination and "feeling busy" while never actually writing. Some writers (artists, etc.) eschew the Internet altogether, or have Internet-free spaces for creative work, or use Internet-blocking tools like Freedom or Anti-Social...others are on-line practically 24/7 and have created careers that rest on constant enagement with their there's a wide variety of approaches to this issue; and, obviously, the only one that is "correct" is the one that works for you.

Edwardian woman writing

But it's clearly a thorny issue, for I don't personally know very many writers who feel like they've gotten their on-line/off-line balance exactly right; and I admit that it's an issue I occasionally wrestle with myself. When I get the balance right, then this blog and other forms of social media add a rich dimension to my creative work, supporting the writing, editing, and painting I do off-line. But it's all too easy to tip that precarious balance over...and when that happens, spending time on-line can leave me feeling drained and jangled, not invigorated and inspired.

Real life, for me, takes place outdoors, at home, and within my local community. I want my art to reflect these thing; and my Internet use to support these things (as well as engagement with the larger, worldwide community of folks who make and love Mythic Arts); but neither art nor life-online is intended to replace these things altogether.

I'm genuinely curious about how the rest of you engage with the Internet, how it effects your work, and whether you control your on-line time in any specific way. And yes, it's ironic that I'm asking this question while engaging with you all through cyberspace.

The Internet is both a blessing and a curse...but the aim, for me, is to keep this powerful communication tool in the blessing column just as much as possible. Achieving that goal is a work in progress, constantly re-evaluated and adjusted. What about you? What works, or doesn't work, for you? I look forward to reading your comments when I return.

Women at a Paris cafe, 1952

The Pre-Internet, writing-related photographs above: Woman Writing by Louis Edward Nollau, 1936; an old typewriter;  Suffragette (The National Woman's Party), 1919, by Harris & Ewing; Edwardian Woman Writing by Cochrane, exact date unknown; and Women at a Paris Cafe, 1952, photographer unknown;

Faire et se taire

Overlooking the village

On Thursday, I listed Jane Kenyon's instructions to herself for writing (via a quote from Dani Shapiro) -- which reminded me of an article in The Guardian a few years back in which contemporary authors were asked to list ten "dos and don'ts" for writing fiction (inspired by Elmore Leonard's "Ten Rules for Writing," originally published in The New York Times in 2001).

The writers polled included Margaret Atwood, Hilary Mantel, Zadie Smith, Andrew Motion, Michael Moorcock, and Philip interestingly wide-ranging list. The variety and contradictory nature of their "rules" makes it clear how individual such things are...and yet the lists make for fascinasting reading, and contain a few gems of advice.

My own personal favorite is Neil Gaiman's list, which is limited to eight:

1. Write.

2. Put one word after another. Find the right word, put it down.

3. Finish what you're writing. Whatever you have to do to finish it, finish it.

4. Put it aside. Read it pretending you've never read it before. Show it to friends whose opinion you respect and who like the kind of thing that this is.

5. Remember: when people tell you something's wrong or doesn't work for them, they are almost always right. When they tell you exactly what they think is wrong and how to fix it, they are almost always wrong.

6. Fix it. Remember that, sooner or later, before it ever reaches perfection, you will have to let it go and move on and start to write the next thing. Perfection is like chasing the horizon. Keep moving.

7. Laugh at your own jokes.

8. The main rule of writing is that if you do it with enough assurance and confidence, you're allowed to do whatever you like. (That may be a rule for life as well as for writing. But it's definitely true for writing.) So write your story as it needs to be written. Write it ­honestly, and tell it as best you can. I'm not sure that there are any other rules. Not ones that matter.

Helen Simpson is more succinct:

"The nearest I have to a rule is a Post-it on the wall in front of my desk saying "Faire et se taire" (Flaubert), which I translate for myself as 'Shut up and get on with it.' "

By the oak

If you were asked to list your own ten "dos and don'ts" for writing or other creative work, what would they be?

Or, if you're a rebellious soul put off by the notion of "rules" altogether, then what are some pieces of advice you wish someone had given to you when you were younger...things you've gleaned over the years of working in the arts and/or living a creative life?

By the streamPhotographs: a walk through the Devon hills on a misty morning

Tunes for a Monday Morning

This week, three fine singers from Scandinavia:

Above, "Words," by the great Ane Brun. Brun was raised in a musical family in Molde, Norway, and is now based in Stockholm, Sweden. This song comes from her sixth CD, It All Starts With One (2011).

Below, Brun sings "Off the Road" with Anna Ternheim, a young singer/songwriter from Stockholm who now lives in New York City. The song was recorded for Ternheim's fourth CD, Leaving on a Mayday (2008). 

And third:

"The Curse," by Danish singer/songwriter Agnes Obel, from her beautiful new album, Aventine (2013). Obel was raised in Copenhagen and now lives in Berlin.