Posts Tagged ‘personal growth’

The Joys of a Poet

December 14, 2016

(And His Arrival at this Most Minuscule of Positions)

carl-nelson4

I cross the Ohio everyday.

Of the many experiences I remember of my theater years, the most compelling occurred on stage.  They were small moments, mini-scenes, in which the characters seemed so autonomous that the actors no longer needed to please the audience.  They were little sections of life that didn’t need to sell their plight to the audience; didn’t need the audience’s approval.  No great injustice needed be fought.  Rather, the tables were turned and it was the audience which could either watch or not.

These scenes from my work which have so stuck with me were quiet areas in the midst of the plays’ turbulences where this balance had been achieved… if only to be enjoyed for a short time, the world and theater being what they are.  Looking back, it’s occurred to me that the theater was not my calling as it is not rising conflict which energizes me but balance.  I love playfulness.

Amount and quality of audience are the two measures of a playwright.  If you cannot attract an audience and/or critical stalwarts, then you are not a playwright.  Those are the realities.  But like most practitioners I fudged.  I could attract a smidgeon of an audience, and some of them liked it – so I rationalized and called myself a playwright.  For I did write several plays, and they were produced, and, as unsuccessful people are apt to say, (with each career change), “I learned a lot!”

I would guess one of the reasons artists would yearn for great success – aside from the money and fame and beautiful lovers – is that it gives them a forceful argument when dealing with the complaints of people they have known privately.   For a very successful playwright, the easy reply is that, “Well, you are just a small minority of the many, many who loved it.”  A small time playwright cannot use this defense.  The troublesome person lives right next door.  The hope for audience is partly a defense mechanism.

Also a large audience will grant a artist the opportunity to command better and better opportunities.  For a playwright this would mean access to the best actors, directors, set designers, venues and… even audience.  But it also means restrictions.  The more money, the more pressures to reduce risk and to frequent travelled ground.  The better and more powerful your collaborators, the better they are at stealing the audience for themselves.  A popular actor might want the scene re-written to better showcase them.  A powerful director might insist upon their vision.  A powerful financial source might prefer the politics slanted a bit differently – or removed.  And the venue has a very worried view of what their regulars will endure.  With the acquisition of a large audience, there is always the risk of losing it.  The second guessing becomes as bothersome as pushing a huge rig down the road, squinting ahead, all the while glancing in the mirror at a wandering trailer.

I’d guess the first audience for most of us would be our parents.  And perhaps many of us found theirs as frustrating as I found mine.  Mom and dad would pay attention, but only in their terms; not unlike strangers.  This was a bone of contention between us for many years.  Finally, I gave up.  I no longer shared how I felt or my hopes, and oddly enough, our relationship improved markedly.  Mom and dad were intelligent, generous, caring people once I got over the fact that they didn’t want to know me very well.

Segue to the audience…

Since that time, I have employed this tactic often.  The solution to many an insoluble problem is to ignore it; proceed as if the world were created without that problem.   If acquiring audience seemed an insoluble problem for me, why not eliminate the audience?  For all these reasons – and the fact that I’d pretty much played out my hand as a playwright – poetry looked pretty good to me.

So after I had moved from Seattle to this Appalachian area, I looked around and found a poetry group which looked compatible.  They were close by, met frequently, weren’t attached to any college or university, and most importantly had sympathy for the spirits – albeit pagan, (in their case).  When I first read my poems to the group for their reaction, one of the first individuals to respond asked skeptically:  “Who do you imagine your audience to be?”

They all looked to me.

“I didn’t think poetry had an audience!” I responded.

“You may leave now,” the next laughed.

 

In truth, I had had my fill of trying to acquire and please an audience.  A writer gets tired of playing the whiskey drummer.  Some of my misgivings are revealed in a previous piece I’ve written.

the-audience-is-a-mob

Poets have little audience, generally make no money, and, unless they misbehave, command little attention.  We wander about in the artistic world a little like derelicts or the homeless.  All of which allows us great freedom.  And we catch our audience as we can… perhaps spouting off in a bar – or wherever we find ourselves for that matter, like the local hardware.  People don’t believe they are listening to poetry in so much as they believe they are arguing with a drunk or indulging an eccentric – which is a time honored practice in small, out of the way spots like here in Appalachia – or hope of hope, enjoying a laugh with a clever fellow!

Poets talk among themselves swapping words and a cleverly turned phrase in a verbal one-ups-man-ship.  And now and then when the urge to flock comes upon the poet community, they hold readings.  The grudges are dropped, the qualms muffled and a general comity of fellow feeling along the lines of “We are all in this together” and “I will listen to you if you will listen to me,” contains the aggregate of assembled oddballs.  Aside from this, poets send out their little missives to journals and odd sorts of publications as if spreading sparks in hopes of starting a fire.  This is the off-the-main-road-poet’s life, aesthetic nobodies chipping flints over damp wood and hoping for a conflagration.

As far as rewards, there is the quiet joy – something like that of a stamp collector – of having trapped a bit of life in verbal amber.  I’m reminded of the New Yorker joke showing the painter in his studio sitting to admire his painting on a Friday’s night with a coke and a theater pail heaped with popcorn.  Only the artist fully grasps the ins and outs and the subtleties of life captured in a well done work.  His lack of audience allows him unfettered freedom.  And his inability to market successfully frees up his schedule.  Find a bit of work or arrangement to pay the rent, add a few understanding spirits to voice admiration from time to time, and you have a satisfied fellow.  Or, at least someone satisfied enough to continue working…

A good poem doesn’t need an audience to be alive.  It’s alive all by itself.  It’s the audience which needs the poem to feel alive.  And that is because a good poem has balance.  And we rest in its achievement.  Not everybody of course, but there are people out there who delight in a little heaven here on earth.

So, to the number of audience an artist needs?  Just enough to keep him working, I’d say, and find him a little rent.

No more than fifty to a room at any time.  Anymore and it’s just the sound of hands clapping from somewhere out beyond the circle of light; the circle of trust…  but quixotically, always with the possibility of many more, if only to make the writing of the poem like purchasing a lottery ticket.  We keep talking and writing, hoping for that conflagration.

If you would like to read more of Carl Nelson, visit:  http://www.magicbeanbooks.co/home.html

Advertisements

From the Editor’s Perch…

October 22, 2013

Achieving Mediocrity II

Beverly Hillbillies

Locating Failure, and then Adjusting Slightly Upwards

            Which brings us to the, “How to…”

Let’s start with failure.  So often people shy from failure, or are so preoccupied in shunning it, or ‘distancing’ themselves from failure, that they never really stop to take a good look at it.  If this sounds like you, then there are a lot of surprises in store.

The first surprise is that most of the people you may categorize as failures, really aren’t very good at it.  This shouldn’t come as a surprise as many people are not very good at anything.  That said though, most failures you will see suffer for their failures, but have never really explored or exploited its opportunities.  They latch onto their little thread of failure and ride it in as hidebound manner as any successful type might, except to their dismal ends.  They see problems and enemies everywhere.  They worry about what happened before, or what might happen again.  They are constantly afraid of being ‘found out’.  They are hidebound, close-minded, stuffy, stilted, puffed up, snooty, completely paranoid, worn-out from excessive posturing, and possessed by envy.

A successful failure embraces what they are!  They turn a blind eye to difficulties.  They see opportunities everywhere. (Because there are!)  They admit to no limitations.  (Because there aren’t!)  Everywhere is a bowl of cherries. They act like a complete fool! and are nobody’s victim.  They don’t ask the government’s help.  They are free of envy.  And they are just fine on their own, thank you.  Though they’ll certainly take whatever’s offered, because they are not proud!  The best failures don’t ask anybody for anything, because a good failure lives in the now.  And right now, they’re still breathing, so anything could happen!

A good failure just trundles on, oblivious, explaining every setback as at worst a detour, and at best, a fortunate intervention.  Because life is on the failure’s side, and the failure sees himself in the lead position because he is alive!  Always!  …while a lot of things aren’t.  Because the very successful failure bumbles along, “forgetting, mislaying, losing, unmaking, undoing, unbecoming, not knowing”… all the while engaging, cooperating, chatting, visiting, and doing surprising things!  In short, fully engaged in living a charmed existence.  For it is only sound reasoning to presume that a true failure leads a charmed existence.  Because what other rational could explain their continued existenceIf there is anyone who fully embraces the presence of God, it is the fool and the failure.  And a good failure will bless his charmed existence and not embrace any golden calves.  In this respect, the true failure is faithful and monogamous – a near saint.

 

But it is very hard to fail at everything and yet not to have found a little success at something.  That’s just the way it is!  And it is these small successes which your common, garden variety failure quilts into a livelihood.

The true failure lives a small existence, but often in the midst of thriving success.  Successful people have an incredible need for failures all around themselves, and they have the money to pay for it.  They hire and delegate and presume upon supernumeraries all over the place.  All of which creates a thriving market for affable supernumeraries, a position for which the failure and his persona the ‘fool’ is eminently qualified.

Another aspect of failure many people do not recognize is that it is an enduring position.  A comic, who passed through town, shared that she made up for the breaks in her career by working as a lowly aid to the disabled.  “Because they will ‘always hire you’”.  A good failure just goes on and on like the Eveready Bunny – the world, as it is, displays a continuing need for them.

Failures are like the little beetle who captures a little water from the morning dew as condensate on his wings, a little water from the vegetation he chews, and quite some protection from the thick carapace he labors under as he trudges around under a blistering desert sun where few others can live.  The failure locates a place of little or no competition, and finds a way to make themselves comfortable, living on God’s bounty.  They arrange their modest existence well away from the frenetic world of successes.  Whenever the successful get too close, so as to oppress them, they make quite a show of their failures to drive the predatory successful away.  “No money to be made here!” The successful shriek.  And it works well.  The successful can’t seem to distance themselves from failure quickly enough.  And in this way, failures share many of the same defenses as the skunk or our small, unsung  beetle.

Whenever a successful failure speaks, it’s usually with humor, because humor is idiosyncratic and subversive.  Most humor in one way or another utilizes the banana peel – to pratfall the predatory successful.  Success is reiterative, and vulnerable to the vagaries of life as a machine.  Whereas a failure’s humor and persona is as agile as a cat, and all the more reason for failures to employ it.

A real failure can be quite a funny and engaging character.  Most good stories employ them.  But if you would rather hear a person blow about themselves all day, in a continual, reiterative manner, then you’d be better to pick the successful for a drinking companion, or get hired by some high powered firm.  A failure doesn’t much like to talk about themselves, except in a self-deprecating manner, so as to add a little flourish to their stink.  They’d much rather the spotlight shown elsewhere… perhaps on the scenery chewing success!   All they would really like is your respect.

Which, unfortunately, is hard to come by – unless we’re on the same page here.

 

Which is why I suggest locating failure – find that inner fool! – and then just back yourself off a bit, until you have found just that level of income and respect necessary for your comfort – but not a jot more.  Don’t let those lunatic over-achievers grind you down, or shut you up!  Leave yourself open to life, and parade your failures and your mediocrity – don that fool’s cap and bells – capture a little of that morning dew, sniff that morning air, gaze out upon that great blue horizon!  and motor on.  The world is yours.

Photo by Google Images

From the Editor’s Perch…

October 18, 2013

Where we talk about anything that passes through my gol’ durned mind…

Sky8

Achieving Mediocrity

“When trouble arises, quickly roll up into the posture of a failure.”

 

            Mediocrity gets a bad rap.  Its word roots mean ‘halfway up a mountain’.  The word mediocre is used to denote moderate ability or value.  In other words, you’re right in the middle of the herd.

But what does this mean?  Well, halfway up the mountain is just above the tree line where all the grasses and flowers grow.  You’re successful enough to get fed.  There are lots of others around.  You’re safe, protected by numbers.  But you’re enough of a failure to enjoy the freedom of nursing an odd idea, preoccupation, or interest with relative impunity.  Why, no one of importance is following what you’re up to.

Prince Harry dresses up for fun in Nazi memorabilia, and he gets called on it big time.  However, mediocrities get away with this sort of misbehavior all the time.  Mediocrities come and go pretty much as they please.  It’s like having a universal passport.  If you are mediocre you have your work, and your vacation and your family and your car and boat – and your venal sins – you might even harbor a few mortal sins, plus a little free time.  You don’t have it all.  But having it all requires a lot of expensive upkeep and safe keeping.  You have a bit of everything, and no obligatory posturing.  A mediocre person can more or less just let themselves go.

Being mediocre is about as close to enjoying the perks of failure as the average prudent Joe can afford to be.  He’s neither pious, nor afflicted with chancres.  He’s neither a drunken sot, nor abstemious.  He’s neither a fool nor a genius.  If he has made any remarkable achievement at all, it might be in acquiring no small amount of common sense, humility, and tolerance for others, all the while enjoying him or herself, more or less… that is, pretty much so, and not expecting any more.  Self-supporting, procreative, relaxed and affable, the mediocrity has a lot of common, garden variety achievements to be proud of, plus a bit of time which he sometimes spends helping others, or raising kids.

If the mediocrity has any special ability, it is usually employed in a supporting role.  As they say in the halls of Congress, “There is no end to what you can accomplish here, if you don’t want to take credit for it.”  This is very true of life in general, all of which means and offers fertile soil for the mediocre and the unsuccessful.

The successful mediocrity takes advantage.  There’s hardly any other word for it.  The obviously successful are vulnerable.  There’s hardly anything more true that could be said about obviously successful people than that they need an enormous support staff… lots and lots of underlings.  These successful people need a lot of other people helping and assisting them with their work and all their trappings; helping them to get on with their lives.  The normal successful person is a virtual living cripple, honed to a razor’s edge to excel in a very narrow range of endeavor, like a supersonic jet.  They can’t be used to just taxi off to the store, or to hammer a nail, or much of anything else!

The obviously successful person is so cocooned in the frenetic network of whatever it is they are pursuing, that they rarely have the time or inclination to inquire or follow-up on wherever or whatever their underlings are doing.  It is enough that they do ‘it’, whenever ‘it’ is required.  So, whereas the successful person has to be mindful of many, many things, the mediocrity has to be mindful of only one, or at the most two.  This can be quite relaxing and the mediocrity can live a long life, while employed well enough to enjoy much of life.  And if, or when, trouble arises, they can quickly roll up into the posture of a failure, and pass as unnoticed as a “block, a stone, or some senseless thing”.

As Charles Bukowski, the poet, advised:  “Don’t try so hard.”

Photo by Carl Nelson

From the Editor’s Perch…

August 26, 2013

Editor’s note:   Now if this doesn’t expand my readership, I don’t know what.  Who doesn’t want to get ahead in life?


How to Get Ahead in Life

Motivational-Poster-7 

Where I work we sell copiers.  It’s a large place – we do a large business, with a big sign on top – and almost no walk-in customers.  In fact, people rarely call us up to inquire about a copier.  Now and then, someone new with very small needs, will inquire via the internet.  But basically, no matter how prominent your dealership is, or how big your sign, in order to sell a copier you have to go find a prospect and meet with them.  Our equipment costs a lot, and has proven to be quite popular.  But it doesn’t sell itself.  This is the first rule of advancement in life: Nothing sells itself.  Somebody has to tell somebody else about it.  You want something?  You have to tell someone that.  You have to ask people to do something, if only, “look at my stuff.”  Nothing sells itself. 

 My-Name-is-Bob

Then, whether selling myself or a copier, someone has to buy.  And to get that person to buy, you have to go to them.  They rarely come to you, which means that to get ahead in life you’re probably going to have to travel.  Bob Dylan didn’t stay in Hibbing, Minnesota.   Bob Dylan had to get to New York where they were buying what he was producing.  If you have an exclusive product to offer, statistically it just makes sense that whoever needs it will be somewhere else than right across the street, especially in Hibbing.  You’re going to have to travel.  Maybe you’re lucky, and your prospect is just downtown.

 

When I visited New York City some years ago, what surprised me was how small some of the famous spots were.  Greenwich Village was truly ‘village’ sized.  Little Italy was, indeed, ‘little’.  And yet these spots marked the ground zeroes from where numbers of artistic movements and cultural icons have originated.  This (plus some reading I have done) causes me to state another truth which is, that the leading creative activity happens within a fairly small radius; within a very small clan.  There are companies who employ large numbers of people, most of whom use our copiers.  But it is a very small number of people who actually determine whether it is our copier they will purchase.  Decisions about your future are made by a very small clutch of people who live and work and pass their time within a very small radius.  And you have to find them and get in with them if you want to become a part of it all; if you want to get close enough to grab the gold ring.

Have-a-Plan

As Woody Allen noted, “eighty percent of life is showing up”.  He meant that you had to have the work done and ready to go.  But it also means, that you are there where the work is done.  So if you’re a musician and you’re in the recording studio, even if you’re not employed as a musician, you’re ready in case they need another horn, or if they are trying to think of a musician to call.  As noted above, you’re within the radius.   Kris Kristofferson started emptying ashtrays and sweeping up at Columbia Studios in Nashville.   When you ‘show up’ there is the possibility of something happening.   You want to date that special girl?  You first concern is to be nearby, to give her the sense that you’re already somebody within her community, who she might speak with, who she has ‘seen around’.   Show up.  Be there!

 

All of this advice will work whether you wish to get ahead in a big way, or just in the smaller way of the day to day, especially this last trick:  Be of help.  You want something from someone, be it recognition, attention, respect or whatever – being of help is an excellent way to start.  First, it’s a nice thing to do.  And second, it markets to the person’s needs.

 

Wherever a person needs help is a place where that person is a prospect.  And if you fill that need, there’s a good chance they’ll make a little purchase.  And this works with anyone whether it be a wife or a child or a boss or even someone you don’t know as yet.   You want to gain your wife’s attention?  Do something she needs doing on a regular basis.  You want to make sure your son obeys?  Help him to do something he’s interested in but doesn’t know a lot about.  They will come to rely on you.  And people recognize and respect the persons who they need and depend upon.  So be of help.  Help to advance someone else and they may advance you.

 

(One caveat here:   A little discrimination is in order here.  Be sure that person stands within a circle you would like to share.   They might be in a circle you are trying to get out of…!   Screen your prospects.   Otherwise, you might not feel better.  Not screening their prospects is how ‘nice guys finish last’.    ‘Caveat helpor’: Let the helper beware.)

Motivational-Poster-9

Motivational Posters by Carl Nelson and available at:  http://www.imagekind.com/artists/carlnelson/MotivationalPosters/fine-art-prints

 

From the Editor’s Perch…

June 23, 2012

 

Does Art Make You a Better Person?

A lot of people, mostly artists I’ve noticed, say it does.   And it’s usually only artists – or people in arts related careers, who are pitching for a fuller revenue stream  – who broach this topic.  You rarely hear of a lawyer, or a garbage collector, or a plumber, or a cop, or a mayor, or any of any number of professions raise this question about themselves.  They seem to take it for granted that being paid for doing something useful is worthwhile, and hopefully, that participating in life in this capacity makes them a better person.  But it may not.  That’s the way it goes.  A person has to get the food on the table. 

However, artists have a lot of trouble even ‘getting food to the table’.  So another reason to justify doing what they are doing seems necessary.  Personally, I would keep looking for a reason, because I haven’t seen the theater turning out superior persons.  Mostly it makes them like gambling addicts who will squander their last few dollars to create a hit.  Their relationships founder; their lawns are not mown;  weeds abound in the flower beds, their homes tilt; the children either aren’t conceived or grow up a little funny, and financially the whole consortium dances right along the edge.  Actors and writers maintain that assuming the personalities of a variety of characters gives them insight into the human condition.  What I see is that it adds quite a little arrogance to their own condition.  We are always writing/acting ourselves.  Who’s kidding who?  It’s as plain as the nose on our faces – which doesn’t change.  Has art made me a better person?  I can’t say it has.  But age, and life, may have formed me a bit.

How About Beer?

But has beer made me a better person?   I can’t say it has, either.  But I enjoy it.  And so I enjoy art.  I enjoy making it.  I enjoy watching and listening and experiencing it.  I enjoy talking about it.  And like most artists, I figure out a method  of paying my way.   Isn’t that enough?  

Photo by Carl Nelson of John Ruoff/Mime

Addendum:  “There are, of course, more important things than art:  life itself, what actually happens to you.  This may sound silly, but I have to say it, given what I’ve heard art-silly people say all my life…  Art shouldn’t be overrated.”  – Clement Greenberg


%d bloggers like this: