Sunday, March 30, 2014

Turning Point, Part III: Why Writers Write

Continued from:
Turning Point, and
Turning Point, Part II

Vladimir Kush

Just as illusions are meant to confuse the eyes and senses, summoning the brain to make sense of things, so too can the respective roles of blogging and publishing confuse the writer. I wouldn't want serious authors to give up publishing in favor of blogging, not because I do not find value in blogging, but because I am of the opinion that crafting a book (including eBooks) produces a valuable resource. Of course, it would be unenlightened to say that blogging doesn't have its place in the world. 

There is a watertight division between what comprises blogging and what belongs to publishing; there is always an overlap between them as blogging, in the technical sense, is indeed publishing, only virtual, and often times, though not always, for free. Just as it is annoying to see writers endlessly disputing the authority of blogging and its legitimate pedagogic aims, the latter must likewise keep any initiative they take in blogging within the limits of the most elementary rules of writing and the principles of publication. 

A writer isn't here to give authority about the value of how readers receive their information, though many can write on the subject. Ultimately, it is up to readers to decide the ways in which they will receive their information. Many individuals I know, including myself, read the news online, research online, and yet, return to books, some old and familiar, others new, for detailed information on specific subjects, in particular on subjects pertaining to our professions or personal interests. Reading books versus surfing the web for information is essentially a matter of ease and convenience, and perhaps a matter of habit. As younger generations, raised on the Internet, begin building their libraries of knowledge, traditional books may represent costly, burdensome objects that take up space and are difficult to transport. In the same respect, even eBooks, unless they are textbooks, might seem too long to bother reading. Digital reading overlaps with the psychologies involved in digital surfing: less is more.

Antiquarian booksellers cater to an older audience for a reason; they are more accustomed to holding a book in their hands than they are reading a book on an electronic device, such as their phone or tablet. Initially, I had difficulty transitioning to reading books on my tablet, but once I started downloading more of my favorites, which were often times free of charge, I soon discovered how much easier they were to transport and how much easier it was to read at night. No longer was my nighttime reading interrupted by poor lighting. No longer were the pages of my book crumpled when I adjusted reading positions. No longer did I need bookmarks. No longer did marks from my highlighters and writing instruments bleed through the pages, as I can highlight with a swoosh of the finger - and remove it, just as easily. 

Let me make myself clear: I'm not arguing for one approach over the other. I'm convinced that, within the new framework of modern publishing, that both approaches are valid, albeit different. What is required is for the writer to know themselves, to know their audience, and understand which approach is best suited for their writing goals. We need to ensure that what we write is positioned in the space where it is most likely to be read. While some authors may disagree, I am still of the belief that the purpose of writing is to be read, even if only by the writer, themselves. 

It is the little shadows of doubt that plague writers and undermine their authority to publish. Questions like "Should I publish this?" and "Is my book any good?" and "Will anyone read my book?" are always at the forefront of a writer's mind. In this respect, blogging helps to answer these questions. While the statistics are never fully indicative of what people think about a writer's writing, they are an indication of what the general population is searching for - and reading. Even those who publish in a specific field will find readers flocking to their sites if their writing is easily accessible and reader friendly. Even sites built by the aesthetically challenged find readership if the information is of value to enough people. Here, blogging serves as a reliable testing ground to help authors (and publishers) gauge interest in written material. Of course, there are some blogs, such as mine, that offer a lot of visual feedback, i.e., pictures and artwork. Many visitors find their way to my blog searching for images. While this might skew statistics in the sense that visitors come for the pictures and nothing more, there are many who linger (according to the statistics of how long visitors remain on the page or click on new pages while they are on my blog) that read. When a visitor visits a webpage, for any given reason, and then clicks on another link, often times it is because the written subject matter caught their attention and piqued their curiosity. In any rate, blogging gives writers a chance to test out their material prior to undertaking the arduous (traditional) publication journey. Admittedly publishing is not as difficult as it used to be. With the advent of self-publishing, it is easy to publish books. However, the impetus to publish a book (eBook or traditional) is more than mere ease, it also brings into question one's motivations; be them economy, the desire for an object of worth, or general philosophies one holds associated with global sharing. 

I would like to take a moment to discuss eBooks, which are electronic versions of a printed book that can be read on a computer or handheld device. While many eBooks can be downloaded for free, others are for cost. Sometimes the cost of an eBook is the same as a traditional book. Many authors write with the exclusive intention to publish eBook readers rather than have their books appear in print. One advantage to this is that eBook readers can include hyperlinks, they can be more interactive in terms of readers having the ability to highlight text, as mentioned above, to look up words with a simple touch of the screen, and also to have videos or gifs embedded within the text which can bring the text to life. In this series, I am not limiting traditional publishing to printed work consisting of pages glued or sewn together and bound in a cover. In this series, when I use the word publication, it also includes eBooks. 

All of this information is so commonplace that it might be found a bit silly to dedicate a series to exploring the differences in writing, blogging, and publishing: but I think it touches on some profound issues in the writing process. Many writers do not arrange the type of writing they do into any kind of hierarchy, so they often put arbitrary, whimsical or pointless refusals regarding the different types of writing on the same level as the most essential aspects. For example, you don't publish full-length chapters in a single blog post (though some of my articles test this theory) because most readers won't read for longer than 90 seconds (the average online attention span). With this being said, it is crucial to understand which venue should be used for various types of writing. 

(To be continued)

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Turning Point, Part II: Why Writers Write

Continued from: Turning Point

Still Life Writing Table 
William Michael Harnett (1848-1892)
Private Collection

The three dimensions, Writing for love, economy and artefact

We succeed in writing (as opposed to blogging or publishing) when we manage to transmit something of value to the world. I have categorized the three main values as being associated with genuine self-expression, the benefits associated with utility, and the tangible production of objects of worth. Notably my opinion is that of a western writer living in the 21st century CE. If I were eastern in my mindset or writing from the vantage point of another time period, I'd find other examples to convey my inner sentiments, but as I am a "me" operating from this specific set of attitudes, I am focusing on I approach writing as it is understood in our current era, and am using examples from this point of reference. 

As far as writing for love is concerned, I am drawing on what psychiatrists, psychoanalysts, and world leaders skilled in the art of well-being are saying: when individuals do not feel that they have an outlet for genuine self-expression, which is an act of self-love, they are more vulnerable to the negative effects associated with low self-esteem or low self-worth. The love that we express toward ourselves, that we pass on to one another, enables us to acquire 'self-esteem' - a type of resilience for life, without which we cannot as capably engage when life's unforeseen events arise. Resilience in physics is the ability of a substance or object to spring back into shape. For living beings, it is the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties or tough times encountered in life. Even though the principle of physics does not always apply to the complex emotional states associated with being in human form, the general validity of this principle seems similar: the more endowed we are with a certain level of self-esteem, the more we express love for ourselves, the easier it is to overcome setbacks and obstacles, and the easier it is, perhaps, to progress forward those things for which we strive as we gain momentum in overcoming preconceived impediments. Here we find a fundamental element of love: genuine self-expression. And this lies at the heart of my writing in which, in the vast majority of cases, not only have I written from a state of happiness and well-being, I actually wrote while in a state of love: for myself, for my children, and for the notion of existence in and of itself. In this respect, one could stay that writing an act of worship. 

The second element, just as fundamental, is economy. This is what one might call the dimension of the 'symbolic', of which economy is, to some extent, the archetype. Culturally speaking, economy, the system associated with the production, distribution or trade, and consumption of limited goods and services, is first and foremost the glorification of money, which we are raised to respect because it is associated with the means by which we might live "the good life". Economy or, rather, money, is that substance with which we cannot live without if we wish to safeguard ourselves against the harshness of living in a world of limited resources. It's hard to argue with the value of money, as it is difficult to negotiate with the reality of biological needs. In this case, the principle of "have" and "have not" is a very profound motivator of action, which enables us to live that good life, fulfilling our needs and our wants. To put it more simply, most of us must work or invest effort in obtaining those goods and services we need to maintain our health and lifestyle. Unless we are born into circumstances in which this need has been met by our parents or custodians, most must push forward into the world in a way that results in these needs and wants being met. In this respect, publishing can serve as the means by which people meet those needs and wants. 

Finally, there are artefacts or objects of worth. This is what I would relate back to the ancient mindset, for it was the our ancestors, who, essentially, invented objects of worth. Henceforth, this is how we have learned to associate our productions. Whether these productions are literary, artistic, or scientific (i.e., utile), they are one way in which we pass along knowledge to others (including future generations). This transference of knowledge is the catalyst by which we grow and prosper as a society. Without these tangible productions, we would be continually forced to reinvent the wheel. 

Love, economy, and artefacts are the three categories related to our success in the endeavor known as writing. Recall again that I am talking of writing, not of blogging or publishing, even if artefacts are associated with success directly derived from the writing process. 

The Rosetta Stone, 
Egypt, Ptolemaic Period, 196 BCE
Currently: British Museum

Self-expression imperils respect for economy and the value of objects

Stemming from the ideals associated with the French Revolution, self-love comprises the very heart of western ideals. We love ourselves enough to stand up for ourselves and for others. With such a passion and sentimentality pulsing through the veins of modern western society, far too often are these taken to the extreme, or to points that make it difficult to focus on the real needs associated with economy and the transference of knowledge via objects of worth. Think of the 90-page essay Nietzsche wrote, at the age of fifteen, to his fellow students in high school, in Greek, no less, on the comparative merits of Sophocles and Euripides, to gauge how much our children, however intelligent they might be, have lost the capacity for hard work when compared with the good pupils of bygone centuries. Writing in Greek today, or even during Nietzsche's time (the nineteenth century), is essentially an incomprehensible amount of work. Few western children at the age of fifteen, however brilliant, would be able to write a fraction of what Nietzsche, Schelling, and other literary geniuses wrote by the time puberty hit. One can't help but wonder if we are seeing a decline in the capacity for economy and in the production of objects of worth given our cultural preoccupation with self-worth. 

This is a fact directly connected with the ideals stemming forth from the French Revolution. While one could argue that more is being produced then ever before, thanks to our living in the wake of the Industrial Revolution, this does not necessary denote that items being rolled off the assembly line are of the same calibre as those produced by the master craftsmen of any given enterprise, writing notably included. We love ourselves so much, and sometimes to the point that we want others to love us too, that we lack the minimum authority associated with understanding economy on a large scale, as well as the importance associated with producing objects of worth. 

Marie Antoinette in Muslin dress (1783)
Louise Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun (1755-1842)

Self-love is a problem but it can also be a good thing

Loving oneself is tricky business. It undermines our desire and our capacity for economy and for production, but it is not by economy and production alone that we grow and prosper as a society. To live one's life in pursuit of economy and production only, indifferent to the inner need for peace and serenity, is akin to adopting a stoic mindset: a mindset that promotes the endurance of pain, hardship and effort without a display of feelings and without complaint. On the contrary: it is loving oneself from which stems our ability to love others, and by doing so, we are genuinely inspired toward self-expression, which includes the activities associated with cheerful participation in the world economy as well as with those thoughts and sensations that ignite our innate desire to produce artefacts of worth. Truly loving ourselves arises within us an awareness of our own needs and interests, just as loving others allows us to perceive theirs. Both aspects of love are vital for overall progress and growth of the world community, her economy, and her legacy.

Ghent Altarpiece (1432)
Jan van Eyck

This triptych of value associated with writing is present throughout the history of western culture. The Ghent Altarpiece, or Adoration of the Mystic Lamb, completed in 1432 by Jan van Eyck, is considered the first great painting of the Renaissance and is the world's most coveted masterpiece. Scholars argue that it is is the single most important painting ever made. Standing before this altarpiece, one cannot help but feel overwhelmed by its monumentality. By the details, the strands of hair, the richness of its artistic realism, and by the truly masterful display of what oil paints, in the hands of a master, can become. These effects dazzle the mind and eyes alike, permitting a whole new level of intricacy to invade our subconscious. Basking in the beauty of its complexity, is akin to basking in the beauty of our own complexity. Self-love, in similar fashion to our nostalgic love of objects of worth, connects us to the world and provides for us a sense of cohesion despite the uncertainty that lies just below the surface, an underpainting, if you will, of life's grand production. Our appreciation of objects of beauty and worth is as dynamic and provides the pillar upon which we build each successful society. It is how we apprehend life, how we learn to recognize which items are of value and which are worth preserving. Yet, we would not be faced with the question of what to preserve if there were not individuals creating items for our discernment in the first place. 

This is exactly how self-love corrects itself. We recognize in the masterful works of others the value of production, the worth associated with the work and toil we invest in creating objects rather than just building sandcastles on the beach. Here, the western mindset notably differs from the eastern mindset. Unlike the Buddhist and Hindu practice of creating beautifully impermanent mandalas and objects of worth, only to whisk them away once they are finished, the western desire to hold onto all the beautiful productions we create results in an equally powerful mindset that instills within us the desire to preserve our common global heritage ~ and to create more. As I mentioned earlier, I am of a western mindset, but I do recognize many values associated with the eastern mindset. In this respect, blogging, for me, feels more like an eastern activity than a western one. While there is an undeniable virtual footprint, there is nothing tangible to hold in my hands unless I publish these articles into something tangible.

Today, as the world grows more connected by virtue of the virtual world, the two mindsets, western and eastern, are drawing closer. Of course, we can always come up with counter-examples of how we remain separate, but the overall observation remains true. Those primarily focused on the production of wealth will point out, correctly, that each society continues to take on a larger share of the world's resources. The fact remains that, since the beginning of time, the ways in which we find ourselves living and interacting in the world, the beliefs we hold, and the desires for which we aim, are largely associated with our culture and the era in which we are living, more so than with our own innate talents for any given activity. 

The first thing we need to take care of, however uninteresting this may seem, is the business associated with self-knowledge and self-understanding so that we are positioned in a state conducive to learning. Our ability to become autodidactic learners, a trend on the rise with the advent of easily accessible knowledge via the Internet, directly aids us the skills associated with exercising our minds. By learning and understanding more about the world, we can turn that microscope around and examine ourselves. In doing so, we naturally strive to solve the problems of self as ardently as we strive to solve the problems of the world. By solving our own problems of character, of morality, and of virtue, we invariably interact with others in a way that results in less conflicts and, ultimately, true global progress. 

(To be continued)


Turning Point: Why Writers Write

Over the last three years I have (in the public sphere) reflected upon nearly every human emotion associated with happiness and well-being, with the result that I have met and befriended many new people, gradually emancipating my thoughts toward paradigms that put the collective on an equal footing with the individual. It might be thought that a solitary activity such as writing would be less affected by the thoughts of the collective, but in taking my writing public, a new principle of meaning, namely the global collective, has risen within the links of the thousand or so posts penned by one individual. 

In fact, this experience has resulted in my reorganizing my thoughts from the top down, while at the same time opening up new dimensions in them. This series is devoted to writing as an educational form of art and will explore that which opens 'from within' while doing so. The intimate aspects of knowing oneself combine in areas that are, each in their own way, the marking of a turning point of the individual toward the collective. 

Living in the Age of the Second Humanism 

Before going down the rabbit hole, I'd like to make two preliminary remarks. They are necessary, in my view, if I am to avoid creating the conciliatory impression that everything is for the best in the best of all possible worlds, which is of course largely untrue: as for happiness, even if we rate it as the highest of all, happiness raises at least as many problems as it solves, if not more. 

Happiness raises as many questions as it solves 

Happiness, as I have written many times over, is what drives my writing and writing is the main cause of my frustration with writing. Furthermore, and I would emphasize this too, the happiness I derive from my writing is easily transformed into its opposite, unhappiness. In other words, I find tremendous happiness in writing ~ writing articles, writing letters, writing short stories, writing poetry, writing technical bulletins, writing manuals, writing lesson plans, and so forth ~ but tremendous unhappiness in the act of editing, formatting, and publishing traditional hardbound books. The freedom associated with self-expression appeals to me, while the contrived nature of work, i.e., the business of writing, disinterests me. 

Invoking self-expression as the new principle for the writer is no reason for relapsing into naivety and deciding that activities allowing for this ease of expression make everything wonderful and easy. In many respects, blogging and similar paradigms associated with modern publication makes the lives of writers much more complicated, and in the pedagogic domain this complexity is perhaps becoming more and more evident. Here writing plays a role that is at once essential, almost vital, in terms of contributing to the collective knowledge of the world and making that knowledge easily accessible, but it is also tremendously disruptive, less "good books" will be published as a result. In short, instant publishing, such as blogging, is as much the difficulty as it is the solution. 

From Blogging to Publishing Books

My second remark is this: it is crucial, when discussing these questions, to draw a clear distinction that is, at best, ambiguous: that between blogging and publishing. In principle, blogging is the business of publishing in a digital format. "Blogging" dates back to the 1990s and is an abbreviation of the word "Weblog," a personal website or web page on which an individual records opinions, links to other sites, or, in the case of educational blogs or commercial blogs, disseminates information. A blog is also the digital meeting place where writers and readers can engage. Publishing, on the other hand, is the task, occupation, business, or activity of preparing and issuing books, journals, and other material for sale. It is aimed at readers who select the book according to their personal or professional interests. If a book is successful in terms of sales, it can also serve as the catalyst that brings writers and readers together, though the space is not interactive in the same way as can be a blog. 

While not all published authors blog, many bloggers do publish books. The two, combined, can offer a writer a space for self-expression as well as a career, assuming they sell enough books to support their lifestyle. It can of course happen that bloggers take over the responsibility of the publishing activities, opting for self-publishing instead of seeking out a traditional book publisher, but this makes no change to the principle at stake: blogging and publishing imply different types of relation between the writers who write for self-expression and the writers who write in order to engage in the business of publishing books. Of course, the problems of blogging and of publishing respectfully are closely linked, and we must not forget that blogging is publishing, according to the new paradigm of modern publishing. Sometimes they overlap, with bloggers occasionally publishing, and vice versa - but this does not mean they are the same. The principle difference is that blogging offers the writer and reader a digital meeting place where they can engage. The tipping point that inclines one toward blogging or publishing can be perceived as a social one. Whatever the personal inclination to write, the inclination to engage and share in real time can often times lead a writer to blogging, whereas the inclination toward economy leads writers toward traditional publication, which includes self-publication.  

Most of the problems I encounter in writing stem from the confusion between these two registers, or, to put it more clearly: writing suffers greatly if a writer's end result is misunderstood before they start writing. The social mores associated with writing dictate that a writer must publish traditionally if they are to be considered a professional writer. This is a defective start to the writing process. This defect is largely linked to the rise of an excessively sentimental love of artefacts so intense that it destroys the spirit of writing, the inclination that leads one to express oneself in written form. Hence it is obvious that writing, when compared only to publishing traditional books, is sometimes a problem rather than a solution. 

Let's see why.

(To be continued)

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Our Ego Is The Scene of the Crime

Yesterday I spent some time surfing my own blog. With my 3-year blogging anniversary coming up (April 17th), I took a lighthearted stroll through my writings to see "What's what" as Rajesh Ramayan "Raj" Koothrappali from the Big Bang Theory television show would say. 

Some articles made me laugh, some outright bored me and made me wonder why I bother writing at all, and others, well, let's just say that they were just darn confusing, even for me. Not that I don't recall what I was thinking at the time; on the contrary, sadly, I do recall exactly what I was thinking with each article, but that doesn't always indicate that they are well-packaged for an audience. In fact, followers of my blog know that I do not always convey my thoughts well, often time due to time constraints and my insistence on NOT striving for perfection but instead writing for well-being, to organize and make sense of stray thoughts, and to entertain, if no one else, at least myself... but I still write. 

The interesting thing about writing for an audience, even an online audience as opposed to an audience that purchases and "pays good money" to read another's thoughts, is that even though we are not editing and formatting our thoughts, they are still en guarde. If they weren't, we'd probably only end up with gibberish (of which this blog has plenty).

But where does gibberish lead? Is it possible to surprise the mind when the scene of the crime is located in the seat of our own ego? If my ego cannot let go of its need for self-importance, how can I ever unlock the thoughts that would really confuse me, the ones that would send me reeling into the subconscious realm only to dedicate ceaseless hours to analyzing the trip over and over again, perhaps, even, for years to come. 

If our conscious thoughts are a collection of well-constructed, tightly packed, intricately trained reiterations of intellectual and emotional fuel we've previously absorbed, where are "we" in the mix? We construct ourselves from a layer painted by our parents or custodians. Rather than reinvent the wheel, rather than question whether walking or swimming should be our primary method of locomotion, we stumble (or skip, or walk, or run) through life building upon a framework with which we are presented in infancy. 

We awake into the world (or dream ourselves here) utterly helpless; reliant upon those around us to care for us, teach us, and fill our brains with information that leads directly to thought (or does it?). For some individuals "conscious thought" hits earlier, but for most, it is somewhere around the third year of life when, for the first time, we become aware that the image projected back to us in the mirror is our own. 

From this point forward, we begin feeding our own ego. Like sponges, we absorb everything around us until someday (usually during puberty) we start analyzing it all; rejecting what doesn't fit, in order to make room for what will eventually become the cornerstone of our thoughts. Depending on the path we take in life, this foundation could resemble just about anything. For a natural philosopher, for an individual prone to philosophical inquiry, this foundation might echo or mirror the thoughts of history's great philosophers on how to live a good life, on how to formulate sound thoughts, and on how to organize and analyze those thoughts for efficacy and, ultimately, for deeper understanding. 

But what happens when all the thoughts we formulate are mere constructions of a building or architecture we did not initially design? How can we know, amid the labyrinth of complicated irregular, intricate and confusing arrangements we allow the world to impress upon our minds, whether or not the structure is sound? Can it ever be sound? Do we ever truly have the ability to distinguish our thoughts from those which were initially formulated for us? Is claiming to know anything about a world of incomprehensible paradoxes nothing more than taking a Kierkegaardian leap of faith? What else can we do?

In his Second Meditation, the philosopher René Descartes (1596-1650) describes feeling something like angst after he's begun to question his reality: "I feel like someone who is suddenly dropped into a deep whirlpool that tumbles him around so that he can neither stand on the bottom nor swim to the top." 

René Descartes considered the possibility that he might be living inside a dream; a theme depicted extraordinarily well by Christopher Nolan in the movie Inception. Whether we are living in a dream, in reality, or in the wake of an ego initially designed by well-meaning beings, we can never claim certainty with respect to "What's what" in the world. For all our studies, for all our ruminations, meditations, and critical examinations, we must take, with a grain of salt, all our knowledge, facts, opinions or beliefs, which we often times state as facts, and allow ourselves to throw them at a wall to see what sticks. If our reason cannot convince us of our own existence, we must let some other force guide us to this conclusion. But, what if we're not the type of person to jump? 

Philosophical skepticism requires all information to be well supported by evidence, but also brings into examination the reliability of our own senses. How can we know whether or not our senses are reliable? Ultimately, by examining them against the reported perceptions of others. However, if we are only questioning human beings, the study might not be entirely accurate. We are not considering the sensory perceptions of other beings, without which cannot formulate a clear and concise picture of objective reality. 

In the end, writing this blog, unlike packing up specific thoughts for a specific audience and publishing those thoughts in a book, is akin to self-examination. Making jokes along the way is merely a personal preference, a matter of taste, really. Knowing that there are impediments to knowledge is akin to having common sense, despite common sense being an artefact of a world filled with paradoxes. 

Now, "What's what" with that?

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Inception Art

Because it's never just a drawing

In the complex world of Inception Art, a mysterious Artist has the ability to infiltrate people's artworks to steal and even alter their drawings and doodles. How can we tell whether we are drawing or being drawn? Is Inception Art possible? Can sense be made of an artistic paradox? And the question on everyone's mind: did the pencil fall - or does it even matter? 

The Artist's Totem

Let's start with the pencil. First of all, the pencil is extremely unreliable as a dream drawing detector. It only works to tell you that you are "not in someone else's dream drawing." So even if the pencil falls, you could still be in your own dream drawing. Dream drawing totems have this weakness because, if the dreamer knows how the totem behaves in reality, the dreamer could dream that it behaves that way; and obviously the dreamer of the pencil knows how it behaves in reality. This is why you don't want anyone else to touch your dream drawing totem. If anyone gets a hint of how it is supposed to behave, they could dream that it behaves this way, and then your dream drawing totem couldn't tell you that you are not in their dream drawing world. 

Despite all this, the Artist tells him or herself how the dream drawing totem works. When asked by their own apprentice whether the dream drawing totem was their idea, the Artist says, "No... it was my Master's actually... the dream drawing totem was conceived of in my Master's atelier. My master would draw with it in the dream drawing and it would never topple over. Just draw and draw." 

So the pencil can't tell the Artist that he or she is not in their Master's dream; his or her Master knows how it works. And in fact, since their Master is the architect of the layers in the atelier, couldn't the Master have (even inadvertently) worked the medium into a law "All pencils fall" into the very physics of the dream drawings the Master drew? How could dropping the pencil tell the Artist that he or she has left the dream drawing layers of inception art? 

And wait... what was that? The dream drawing totem belonged to the Artist's Master? Isn't that a crock of Crayola crayons! Sure, the Artist thinks their Master has passed on; and if the Master has, then the Artist doesn't have to worry about being in his or her Master's dream drawing. But the Artist thinks their Master has passed on because he or she believes the world in which the Master passed is real. The only way the Artist could come to that conclusion, however, is by dropping the pencil and watching it fall - but wouldn't that be circular reasoning?  

Because it's never just a drawing

Monday, March 24, 2014

How to tell if you're an animated drawing

It is a rare but not unheard-of phenomenon that an animated drawing remains unaware of the fact that they are not human. 

The Paper Check

If you suspect that you might be an animated drawing, pull out your sword and slice through the air in a swooping manner. If the paper rips and folds downward, taking you with it, this is a sign that you are not human. At this point, your best hope is that your human notices and tapes the paper back together again.

The Compliments Check

Listen for the sorts of statements people make in your presence, such as "Wow! What a great drawing!" or "(He or) She looks so lifelike." This is an indication that they are talking about YOU, and that you are a drawing. If you can move, you are an animated drawing. 

The Interaction Check

Note whether individuals respond when you speak directly to them. If you are jumping up and down and shouting and no one notices, you are probably an animated drawing. Of course, you could be a highly annoying human that others have simply blocked out. If you are uncertain, perform the other tests here in this handy HOW TO TELL IF YOU'RE AN ANIMATED DRAWING Guide. 

Consult an Expert

Find someone who is skilled in the study of objects of art, such as an art historian or connoisseur, and ask them whether you are an animated drawing. If they do not reply ("interaction check"), things are not looking good for you, presuming you wish to be a human. On the other hand, if you are happy being an animated drawing, this is a moot point. 

Judge Your Ability To Physically Affect the World Around You

If you are a spinning dancer that confuses people as to which direction you are spinning; if you appear larger to people but in reality are the same size as the individual behind you (who happens to look just like you); if the lines in your environment are crossed and at angles, which makes others queasy in your presence; or, if your appearance looks like a negative photo illusion and there is a blank white box next to you ... you might be an animated drawing. In this case, you are most likely a specific type of drawing known as an optical illusion. Here, it might seem as if you are affecting the world around you (the brains of the viewers), but in reality, it is not you who is affecting viewers, it is their brains responding to your lines or form. 

You may be able to spin, to lift and hold certain objects, but these may be drawn objects that only you can see. Try performing an action with the object, such as throwing an apple at the person in front of you. If they catch it, you are not an animated drawing. If they don't notice, then you are most likely an animated drawing. 

The Fork Test

Poke yourself in the palm of your hand (assuming one has been drawn for you) with a fork, the point of a pencil, or other sharp object. If it hurts, you are human. If it does not, you are an animated drawing. 

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Fender and Zazzu

Fender & Zazzu, 2014
Soph Laugh
Copic marker on paper
Private Collection

Fender lives in a world characterized by constant change, activity, and progress. He has a positive attitude and is full of energy and new ideas. Within him is a force that stimulates change and progress. He is energetic, spirited, and spunky. He is one of those high-octane, full of vim and vigor, feisty beings. Bold and enterprising, Fender beings are highly flexible in thought. 

Zazzu is at peace. A poet might describe Zazzu as an area of the sea without wind. She is tranquil and quiet, soothing to be around. She is serene, untroubled, and composed. She is the epitome of appeasement, satisfying others with her presence. She is unruffled, untroubled, and poised. Easygoing and levelheaded, Zazzu beings are happy and have an inner sense of completeness. 

Fender and Zazzu could be described as the Yin and Yang, as polar opposites, as two fundamentally different ways of being-in-the-world. As with all physical systems, beingness appears different on the outside. Just as a balloon when inflated is full of air, it appears large and protruding in a closed space. On the inside the balloon might feel exuberant and joyous, while on the outside it is perceived as loud and obnoxious.

If we examine Fender in all his positive glory, we see a contrast on the inside. We see an individual operating from a mode of deficiency. His actions are motivated by a need that compels him toward acquiring what he thinks will assuage his needs. He sets goals and strives to keep everything in its right place. Everything in Fender's world ought to be just-so, with nothing out of place.

On the contrary, Zazzu, while seemingly placid and unexcitable, is actually operating from a different perspective of being-in-the-world. Zazzu is in a state of inner completeness, and is at one with herself. Her actions are not motivated by a sense of inner deficiency, but rather experienced as an overflowing of her inner sense of completeness.

Fender seeks perfection. Zazzu feels completion. But which is best?

We live in a physical world ruled by dynamic systems. While the enlightened quality associated with relinquishing oneself from a sense of deficiency to exist in a state of completeness might sound nice, it involves creating a container for oneself, a nurturing place to exist when the world gets hectic.

Creating a special or sacred space in which to exist is akin to mothering oneself. The act of mothering is closely related to the Buddhist practice of 'exchanging one's self for others', which the Dalai Lama frequently recommends when speaking to audiences in his public appearances. It involves letting go of the ego, of the needs that arise from a desire for perfection, and allowing oneself to exist with less, in a place that is light and spacious, uncluttered with needs and wants. In this place, compassion and loving kindness toward others is more easily felt as they are immediately accessible.

Existing in a dynamic universe makes it impossible to exist 100% of the time in Zazzu's world. If we enter the realm of Zazzu and let go of all concerns of ego, like a garden, the chaos of life will continue growing, and if left attended, will gradually creep up and overpower our Zen-like garden.

For this reason, Fender and Zazzu are presented next to each other, but existing in separate spaces. The blank space between them represents our capacity for spontaneous appropriate action. Here, intuition and action spring forth at the same time. In this sense, thinking, action, and intention must be harmonious. It is like living in a space of suspendedness, in a place of inexhaustible energy where you are aware that you must work in order to be carried along. In this state, time seems to slow down, though you may be working at top speed; worry fades away, and you exist in a frame of mind where what needs to be done presents itself without counterthought or question.

Despite the spontaneous nature of this way of being, appropriate action results out of deliberation. Deliberating on matters requires our 'walking through them' in our mind's eye; recognizing the emotional states that will arise and evoking that Zazzu'esque nature within to soothe ourselves so that we can focus on action and not reaction.

In order to live in Zazzu's world, we need Fender to help us formulate the ideal state so that when moments arise, we can create something outside ourselves that exists within. What's most important is recognizing whether to evoke Fender or Zazzu at any given moment, as well as understanding that our perceptions of others arise from two distinct aspects of beingness: 1) the state in which we are temporarily existing + the state in which the other is temporarily existing; 2) the illusory or external perception of Fender vs. Zazzu states of being (recall the balloon analogy above). Here, we must recognize that both we and the other are experiencing a perception and act according to what we perceive to be the highest ideal of both states. If we do not know the highest ideal, it is best to ask.

Identifying with the Zazzu state is like identifying with the aspect of creation that appears to emerge from nothing. In this fresh state we have not yet formed attachment. Identifying with the Fender state is like identifying with the aspect of what we produce, the product of our own creation, something that arises out of a sense of attachment (to the medium or tool we utilize to create it).

To discover oneself is to understand that reality exists in close proximity to both states, in a state of perpetual, relaxed preparedness ~ allowing for nothing and everything simultaneously. Recognizing opposites as temporary states rather than permanently fixed time space locations allows us to live in a state of 'perpetual awareness' or 'unprojected consciousness'.

In reality, living in the combined realm of Fendazzu or Zazzender feels like the ineffable quality of awe, wonder, or mystery associated with existence. Rather than being hindered by ideas and opinions, we incline toward experiences that require a bit of intrinsic awareness, where desirable states surround those who do not cling to predefined outcomes or even stillness. There is a tendency for some individuals to cling to the skirt of enlightenment, continually telling others what they are missing, creating new ways of being, and negating others. This is the same thing, only the other side of beingness. Attachment that arises from judgment, even positive judgment, is a tragic romance. Whereas the love affair of mind exists in having our cake and eating it, too ... or saving it for a rainy day, whichever works.

Friday, March 21, 2014

How to Dislodge a Yummy Piece of Candy from a Stick in 5 Easy Steps

by Bo Erik Hollsten

1     Evaluate whether or not you like the piece of candy to determine if it is worth the effort invested to undertake a candy dislodging activity.

2     If the candy is coated with insects, you may wish to avoid dislodging the candy unless you enjoy eating candy coated insects. 

3     If there are any power lines nearby or touching the stick, call the local power company to have the stick with the candy on top of it removed safely. 

4     If there is another blob person trying to reach the candy on top of the stick, you should either challenge them to a showdown, steal the candy, or offer help to the other to blob person to obtain the candy and then split it. 

4.5  In the event you opted for the latter option (above), have the other blob person lean on the stick and push it forward so that the stick bows downward where the candy can be plucked off the stick. You can now enjoy the candy with your new blob friend. 

5    In the event there are no other blob people around when you find the candy, use your hand to gently pull the stick toward you. Be careful not to pull the stick too far, otherwise you risk launching the candy off the stick in the opposite direction. You can now pluck the candy from the stick and enjoy your yummy treat.

Monday, March 17, 2014

On Luck

Luckianism is a theory in Irish ethics holding that the proper course of action is one that maximizes luck, usually defined as maximizing happiness and reducing suffering. Classic luckianism's two most influential contributors are Saint Patrick and the millions of Americans who celebrate St. Patrick's Day each year. In the 'Staff of Jesus' (the Bachall Ísu), a staff which had, according to tradition, been given to the Saint directly by Christ, we read the complete spirit of ethics of luck. To be given such grand object, one might expect luck to always be on one's side. According to the c.937 Book of Armagh from the mid-eleventh century, the 'Bell of the Testament', a bell attributed to Patrick, was also one of his attributes. If this doesn't ring a bell of luck, I don't know what does. 

In luckianism, the moral worth of an action is determined only by its resulting lucky outcome, although there is debate over how much consideration should be given to actual luck, foreseen luck and intended lucky actions. In A Fragment on Four-leaf Clovers, an unnamed Irish mystic writes, "it is the greatest luck of the greatest number that is the measure of good and bad luck" and describes this as a fundamental axiom. In An Introduction to the Principles of Irish Luck, this same Irish mystic talks of the "principle of Irish luck" but later prefers "the greatest luck principle."

Luckianism can be characterized as a quantitative and reductionist approach to Irish ethics. It is a type of natural luck. It can be contrasted with deontological luck, which does not regard the lucky consequences of an act as a determinant of its moral worth; as well as virtue luck, which primarily focuses on acts and habits leading to luck. 

Luckianism is influential in Irish philosophy. Millions of Americans who celebrate Saint Patrick's Day believe that a lucky government is achievable through the consumption of See's Irish Potatoes as well as massive amounts of ale or beer on Saint Patrick's Day. These actions involve a type of lucky democracy in which people come together in the name of luck to celebrate their lucky stars. 

Keep Calm and Love Soph

In the Soph universe, evolution has given select individuals special names. But it is up to those select individuals to decide how to use them. Some opt to use their names for good (see above photo), but some opt to use them for pure commercialization purposes (see below photo). Whether one uses their name for the greater good or for personal gain is an entirely personal decision. 

The stories of our names aren't new, nor are the questions about them. They go back at least as far as written history records names. Of course, oral traditions indicate that names go back further than that, but who's counting. Such histories raise the question: do such "named" individuals have good reason to be virtuous, even though they can get away with being immoral? Irrespective of what one calls oneself, is it "natural" for people to use their names for their own advantage? Or is that just an excuse? After all, isn't it "human nature" to use one's attributes, name included, for selfish aims? What is it exactly that compels us to use our names for good? 

Plato argued that it is our nature is to use our names for good and that there is good reason to follow one's namesake. But to understand his argument, we have to understand what, for Plato, it meant to have a virtuous name and why virtue is so important. 

According to Plato, being virtuously named is important, because if you are not careful to live up to the virtuousness of your namesake, then you will be doomed to suffer from the opposed vices that arise from being ill-named. No name can free you from this dilemma. In fact, Plato would argue that the virtues of one's name become more and more important the richer you become from commercializing that name. The more you suffer from the gobs of money you make merchandizing your name, the more your life begins to spin out of control. So if your name denotes a 'love of wisdom', your vices are wisdom-vices and will make your life 'wisely' spin out of control. 

To see what it means to be virtuously named for Plato, let's begin with the name Soph whom Plato would admire. First, begin by thinking about the Lamed, the 12th letter of the Hebrew Alphabet. Lamed is known as the majestic letter, symbolic of the King of Kings, towering higher than all the others in the Hebrew alphabet. Lamed is an acronym of lev mevin daat (a heart that understand wisdom). Even though Lamed indicates a love of wisdom, Lamed does not roll off the tongue as easily as does Soph, so quit thinking about Lamed and, instead, think about Soph again. 

Now, that's better. It is easy to understand why someone named Soph might want to take credit for being wise: she is named nobly and enjoys being honored for it. Plato would say that this desire comes from her thumos (thoo-MOSS). Thumos is not a part of your brain (that's your "thalamus"); thumos is a part of the soul. There really is no good translation of the Greek word thumos, but look at Soph's face when she sees a company getting rich off of her name. 

Soph is surprised but also indignant and a bit miffed. A company has gone and manufactured her name on goods without checking with her first and/or offering her a percentage of the profits, and THE REAL SOPH thinks less of them for doing it. Our thumos reacts when we sense an insult to our dignity, our worth, and the honor of our name. That is why Plato associates thumos with being totally ticked off. When someone insults you unjustly, you get frustrated, and out of that righteous frustration you might hurl an insult or even throw an intellectual punch at the entity who offended you. 

Thumos and the acts it inspires are not necessarily bad, according to Plato; in fact, they can be very good. Thumos can help you develop the virtue of courage. A strong sense of dignity and personal honor in one's name guided by courage can protect you from people who try to take advantage of your name and can also help you set the bar higher for yourself. Expect more of yourself, and you might be surprised by how capable you are. But your thumos can also get you into trouble. If you throw a punch every time you think someone has insulted your name, you are indulging in the vice of recklessness, and you will get into more trouble than you bargained for. 

Friday, March 14, 2014

Paint Dancing

P-dancing, also called paint-dancing, is a style of artistic dance that originated among artists in California who, after painting and finding themselves covered in paint, spontaneously begin dancing. Paint-dancing is spreading worldwide due to many factors, paint distribution and application procedures being two main reasons. Initially, paint spreading was limited to canvases and a variety of mediums such as ceramics, textiles, and wood, but after a rather clumsy artist reportedly "fell into her paint" and then got up and "twirled it all around the room" ... "splattering paint on canvas, walls, floors, clothing, and exposed skin" ... the trend caught on and spread like, well, paint. 

While diverse in the amount of paint one applies to one's dance, paint-dancing consists of four kinds of movement: top-paint, down-paint, power-paint moves, and freeze-drying. Paint-dancing is typically danced to alternative, hip-hop, funk, or other electronic-like music with beats that are intended to mix-up the paint to create a variety of color blends and designs resembling Pollockesque-like works to more fractal-like designs, depending on the movements. 

A practitioner of paint-dancing is called a p-dancer or paint-dancer. Although the term "paint-dance" is frequently used to refer to the dance, "p-dancing" is the original term. These terms are preferred by the majority of paint-dancing pioneers.


Art puritans consider "paint-dancing" nothing more than a highly messy activity invented by clumsy artists who exploit art and sensationalize it by dancing in it. The term "paint-dancing" is also problematic because it has become a diluted umbrella term that incorrectly includes airbrushing, enameling, frescoing, gouaching, pastelling, and figure painting, which are not styles of "paint-dance", but are styles of painting. The activity itself is properly called "paint-dancing" according to paint-dancers. 

The terms "p-dance" and "paint-dancer" are the original terms used to describe artists who paint via dancing. The original terms arose to describe the artistically inclined, albeit clumsy dancers who, after falling into their paint, got up and danced around in ecstatic-like states due to euphoric-like sensations they were experiencing. The paint that splattered onto the canvas (as well as other surfaces) was a true artistic artefact of the experience. 

For those immersed in the euphoric, artistic-like experience, who purposely or naturally fall into their paints (and sometimes paintings), the term "paint-dancer" denotes a spiritual experience described as "kissing the world with paint" ...

Dance Elements

There are four primary elements that form p-dancing. These include top-paint, down-paintpower-paint movesand freeze-drying.

Top-painting generally refers to any string of paint splattered from a standing or twirling position. It is usually the first and foremost opening display of artistic paint-dancing style, though paint-dancers often transition to other forms of p-dancing. Top-painting has a variety of movements which can each be varied according to the dancer's expression (excited, engrossed, engaged, etc.). A great deal of freedom is allowed in top-painting: as long as the dancer maintains a sufficient amount of paint on their body so that it splatters and flows onto other surfaces more easily. Theoretically any movement can be considered top-paint so long as one is utilizing paint as a medium. Transitions from top-paint to down-paint and power-paint moves are called "drop painting". 

Down-painting (also known as "fancy footwork") is used to describe any artistic movement on the floor with the paint-dancer suspended on their hands or feet. Down-painting includes purposely dripping paint from a lowered position so as to increase the size of paint dots and blobs onto the intended surface. The most basic down-painting move is done entirely on feet and hands but more complex variations can include the knees when sliding through paint between paint-dancing gyrations. 

Power-painting moves are acrobatic paint-dancing moves that require momentum, speed, endurance, strength, and control to execute. The paint-dancer is generally supported by their upper body while the rest of their body creates circular momentum, resulting in fractal like designs being splattered onto the intended surface. Some examples include the windmill, swipe, back spin, and head spin. Some power-painting moves are borrowed from gymnastics and the martial arts. 

Freeze-drying moves are stylish poses that require the paint-dancer to suspend himself or herself off the ground using upper body strength in poses such as the pike-paint pose. They are utilized to emphasize large volumes of paint and often signal the end of a paint-dancing session. Freeze-drying can be linked to "finishing up" where paint-dancers go from "freeze" to "freeze" in order to "hit" paint splats in a specific pattern, which displays musicality, physical strength, and artistic control. 

P-Dancing Styles

There are many different individual styles used in paint-dancing. Individual styles often stem from a dancer's background, musical tastes, aversion to or acceptance of getting messy, and a number of other factors. The style one adopts is as individual as one's artistic creations. 

A Beautiful Mess (2014)
Soph Laugh
Method: Paint-dancing