Archive for April, 2011

Five Beautifully Brilliant, Inspiring Manifestos + A Few Thoughts on My Own

I’ve been thinking a bit about manifestos lately, about declarations that transcend time, create energy and fuel dreams. While manifestos are often really specific to a situation, there’s a timelessness to the writing that really speaks to me — which is why great ones endure. I’ve been thinking about it in terms of myself — I’ve been asked lately, in more than a few different avenues of my life, to define what’s important and true for me. I’m still thinking about it, pulling my thoughts together, but of course I had to dig up a few of the declarations that made an impact on me:


A very long time ago I was a punk, and I was a girl, and when those two things came together in the form of the Riot Grrrl movement, it was really amazing. I would need a whole memoir (or maybe a film screenplay or three) to really go into “my life and Riot Grrrl” but it would be adequate enough to say that I wouldn’t be who I am today without this particular music-loving version of the feminist movement. I still remember reading it in college and becoming SO EXCITED, the tingling in my stomach when I was reading something that articulated all these inchaote thoughts and feelings into one cohesive statement. YOU ARE NOT ALONE is often one of the most valuable feelings to get from reading; a beautiful manifesto gives that, and gives inspiration to the possibilities that can arise out of coming together.


If the Riot Grrrl manifesto had the most impact on me as a girl, but I think Bruce Mau’s is my favorite creative-oriented one of all time. Architects and designers love it because Mau’s one of their tribe, and a particularly brilliant member at that; I may not be either an architect or a designer, but I find it applicable as a writer for its emphasis on process, change and the importance of mischief, play and mistakes. Read it: it’s ripe for thinking.


Here’s where I reveal my inner Oprahness and my fashion-ness as well. But this manifesto about fashion and style had a big impact on how I shopped, spent and chose clothing, and it would be kind of dishonest not to include it in a list of manifestos that have changed my life, thinking or behavior in some way. (The PDF download of it has the fuller, more articulate explanation behind each point; I like it better.) This is not a style manifesto that told you what was “in” or “out,” or that pink was the new navy, or anything like that. It advocated clarity, thoughtfulness and discernment when it came to matters of fashion and style, and acknowledged the impact of wardrobe and dress on life in ways that aren’t normally addressed in most fashion writing. And it got me to stop buying so much and radically clean out my closet! Some of its tenets — “Commit to quality and it will commit to you” — found applications not just in my closet, but in my personal life. Closets, boyfriends — if a manifesto can effect change in those areas of life, you know it’s working on some level!


This is actually a book by business and marketing guru Seth Godin, and it’s a curious book to read as an artist and writer. But here’s a fun secret: many business books are actually obsessed with growth and self-development, because being an entrepreneur is actually a very creative act at the core of its word. Linchpin was thought-provoking because it expands the idea of art and what artists do — well, perhaps distills it down may be a better way of putting it — and what lingers for me from reading it was the idea of “shipping,” which is Godin’s way of saying relentlessly putting out work as an act of integrity, and the idea of art as a gift you give to the word, which helped solidified my decision to offer any short stories I do on this site.


Here it is:

1. An honest ego in a healthy body.
2. An eye to see nature
3. A heart to feel nature
4. Courage to follow nature
5. The sense of proportion (humor)
6. Appreciation of work as idea and idea as work
7. Fertility of imagination
8. Capacity for faith and rebellion
9. Disregard for commonplace (inorganic) elegance
10. Instinctive cooperation

Short, but it’s dense with ideas and conviction. Reading it again and again, it inspires a new thought or inspiration — which is what the best manifestos do, right?


Of course, this has got me thinking of my own manifesto: what I’d put in it, what I’d leave out, what I’d address. More to come on that later, but I’m dwelling on freedom, white space, and mystery and magic: a combination of the High Priestess card for Tarot, the art direction of Fabien Baron and the imagination of Angela Carter. And some riot grrrl, of course. Manifestos: quick to read, long to think over.

More manifestos!

Pieces of Life: When I Ramble, I See Sky

Did I mention that I take lots of walks? Yes, since leaving NYC I’m officially a rambler. If I was a Gothic novelist of yore, I’d be traipsing over the moors under the heavy, portentous clouds, the winds whipping through my skirts and hair as I howl in the agony and ecstasy of unrequited love. Instead, I’m in the stark flatness of the Midwest, and I like to tramp (in my new Ann Demeulemeester boots, thank you very much) over long, endless fields that lie between subdivisions in my city. I have a few favorite routes, some of them in this fake plains terrain, others in genuine countryside, all of them stretching out around me and going for miles. After years of straight up-and-down verticality, it feels like a deep breath to go back to horizons and land that stretches for miles. It gives me space to work through thickets of thoughts, to breathe, and yes, sometimes to have imaginary conversations.

These be my ramblin’ boots:

Dirty boots

Some of what I see:


I shot and edited this (on the Vimeo iPhone app!) entirely on my iPod; you can probably tell because it’s so shaky. (One thing about a lighter camera — they lack ballast to keep the system steady.) The music is Flying Saucer Attack, “Distance.” Good solid thinking and tramping music.

Revision is hell: in which I reveal how crazy I truly am

I’ve hit a rough patch with my novel lately. Part of it is energy and working, and trying to balance a million priorities within the same 24 hours as everyone else. Part of it is that I’m at what I’ve learned is my weak spot in a story (the bit right before the third act turning point.) But it’s really because I am S-T-U-C-K. Stuck! I keep hitting dead ends, reversing tack and trying new things, hitting awesome NEW walls, going into tailspins and, whoa, new incontrovertibly impenetrable dead ends! Isn’t writing just awesome?

Of course, I know this is part of the process — doing hard time in an MFA program got me well acquainted with the ups and downs of long-form writing and revising. It’s still hard when you go through it, though: the doubt, the uncertainty, the cloud of irritation, general spaciness and questionable grooming (non)choices you exist under as you try to slog your way through a bog of narrative issues.

Besides the agonizing issues of “Should my werewolf disappear before or after the mysterious appearance of the clan chieftain?” or “Should I kill off the best friend in view of the protagonist or maybe I should have it discovered by her boyfriend, this precipitating the shapeshifter equivalent of the nervous breakdown?”, the hardest thing is feeling like I’m wasting time going in wrong directions. For this draft of this section, I’ve already burned through 10,000 words that have gone nowhere — investigations and explorations into new threads of stories, expanding moments that I thought were key but now seem secondary, and a whole scene involving an oral report on John Milton’s Paradise Lost that is really an apology and declaration of love. (It sounded good in my head.)

I keep trying to remember that it’s okay to go “nowhere” in stories — that, as Kanye West likes to tweet, #ITSAPROCESS, because your characters, if they’re good, will always have something to reveal when you’re writing. But after awhile, encouraging tweets/mantras only go so far, and soon you’ll resort to doing crazy things like talking to your characters to get through these rough patches.

Which is actually what I did last weekend after a whole week of eking out nonprogress on my book. Five whole days of sitting down for hours at my laptop after whole days of being chained to a computer for my job resulted in nothing but frustration. It really made me want to throw myself under the train. After I couldn’t take it anymore, I went for my daily walk, my head too full of that fog of frustration to really notice that it was the first truly glorious day of spring. (Yet another item to add to my “Why I sometimes hate my novel” list.) I tramped along, stewing over how much I hated myself for being such a fuck-up and Why weren’t my characters behaving?!!

I was loping along when suddenly I had this strange thought: that I was walking exactly like my werewolf prince, sort of hunched over, brow furrowed, preoccupied. (You don’t know how many times I’ve written that he’s furrowed his brow. He’s a brow-furrower. It’s his thing. On him, it’s sexy. On me, it makes me look oddly hungry.) And then — and here’s where I reveal what a lunatic I am — it was as if he was there beside me, both of us just strolling along on a fine spring day. Well, if he’s here, I thought to myself, I may as well ask WTF is going on with him right now. And so we had a chat, and it turns out that even though he was plotting his disappearance from my story, it didn’t mean that I could stop being in touch with his point of view. He kind of glowered about it (he’s kind of broody that way), but he had a good point: characters’ opposing choices often fuel a narrative’s energy. And so for the rest of the walk we talked about what was happening with him, how that affected my protagonist (she joined us at some point but being a cool, independent sort, she had other things to do), and a few other things.

When I was a kid, I used to talk in my head to imaginary people all the time. Everyone assumed that I would outgrow this. Apparently, I have not.

I don’t think I’m the only writer who’s ever chatted in my head with my characters, though I’m pretty aware that it makes me sound certifiable or at least very New Age-y. But sometimes it’s good to get a reminder that 1. it’s important to understand your “antagonist”; 2. it’s good to take walks; and 3. in some subconscious level, you’re not totally in control of the story. And if it takes having long, intense discussions with your characters in your head, well, I’d gladly pay a price of seeming like a literary looneybin in order to zoom forward with 10,000 more words of solid writing that actually does something.


And if all else fails, this TED video was a good reminder that being “wrong” is actually a valuable learning process. (When she gets to 13:26, she goes into the particular way “wrongness” works with stories, via examples of “This American Life.”)

And of course, this old favorite from J.K. Rowling, on the benefits of failure:

J.K. Rowling Speaks at Harvard Commencement from Harvard Magazine on Vimeo.

Sparks: Warpaint @ Coachella, Cate Blanchett Shot By Cass Bird, Vimeo’s iPhone App, Oracle Fox

These are the things that are making my imagination sing a little this week.

Cate Blanchett in T Magazine, shot by Cass Bird

Cate Blanchett is my favorite actress — I’ll see anything she’s in, really. One of the highlights of film school for me was going to a talk she and her husband gave when they brought Hedda Gabler to BAM; I was genuinely star-struck. She’s very serious and thoughtful about her work but not herself, and spoke eloquently on the necessity of risk in a life of art and creativity. (Her skin really is that amazing in person as well.) I love Cass Bird’s photos, too — they have such a light-soaked, casual feel. The two together had the great effect of leavening the usually regal way she’s often photographed.

Warpaint at Coachella

No, I’m not at Coachella this year. (Or any year — I’ve never been. It sounds vaguely horrible, to be honest.) But the good folks there are , which is pretty rad. I caught Warpaint’s set, and even though the stream was as buggy as all out, I still loved it. Their beautifully witchy, intricate record The Fool was a major novel-writing soundtrack and one of my favorite albums last year. They’re super-hot, too…what’s not to love?

Vimeo’s iPhone App

Is so brilliant! Well, after an initial hitch. (Tip: make sure you enable location services for it in order for it to access your camera roll.) But after that, it’s super amazing to realize you can shoot HD video and edit right on your iPhone or iPod Touch 4G. Genius! I’ve already been making loads of little movies. (More of which you’ll most likely see here later…just warning you.) Here’s one tiny example below — yesterday there were slight snow flurries, so I took some quick footage and edited it together. The camera’s shaking ’cause I’m shivering!

Oracle Fox

I’ve stopped reading most fashion blogs for the most part (so sad to see the replication of Fashion Industrial Complex norms than see something truly indie in spirit), but Oracle Fox is one of the few that I keep my eye on, because I love the sun-soaked Australian witchy boho thing it has going. It’s springtime…why wouldn’t you want to look at images of girls wearing hippie clothes on a beach? (Writing about a girl skateboarder, you know I have a special place in my heart for this image.)