A Thank You Note to Oliver Sacks and the Privilege of Living

(I apologize for the lack of a post last week. I wasn’t feeling well; I tried writing a blog post somewhat related to the topic of Valentine’s Day but the draft wasn’t up to par. I’m doing better this week. Thanks again for reading!)

Oliver Sacks portraitOliver Sacks, the well-known neurologist, professor, and author of multiple books, has written a life-affirming article in the NYTimes in the opinion section titled My Own Life: Oliver Sacks on Learning He has Terminal Cancer. If I’m fortunate enough to live as long, and as full of life as Dr. Sacks I hope to face death with as much dignity and vigor for life as he has stated in his writing. Dr. Sacks described himself as “a man of vehement disposition, with violent enthusiasms, and extreme immoderation in all my passions … I feel intensely alive, and I want and hope in the time that remains to deepen my friendships, to say farewell to those I love, to write more, to travel if I have the strength, to achieve new levels of understanding and insight … But there will be time, too, for some fun (and even some silliness, as well) …  I have been a sentient being, a thinking animal, on this beautiful planet, and that in itself has been an enormous privilege and adventure.

Within the article, Dr. Sacks speaks a bit about people’s uniqueness.

There will be no one like us when we are gone but then there is no one like anyone else, ever. When people die, they cannot be replaced. They leave holes that cannot be filled, for it is the fate – the genetic and neural fate – of every human being to be a unique individual, to find his own path, to live his own life, to die his own death.

These words mirror a poignant quote from Richard Dawkins’s book Unweaving the Rainbow, which I read in The Sense of Style: the Thinking Person’s Guide to Writing in the 21st Century! by Steven Pinker, just a few days earlier describing how lucky we are to even be born into this world.

“We are going to die, and that makes us the lucky ones. Most people are never going to die because they are never going to be born. The potential people who could have been here in my place but who will in fact never see the light of day outnumber the sand grains of Arabia, Certainly those unborn ghosts include greater poets than Keats, scientists greater than Newton. We know this because the set of possible people allowed by our DNA so massively exceeds the set of actual people. In the teeth of these stupefying odds it is you and I, in our ordinariness, that are here.”

(I would like this quote read at my funeral, as many others apparently have done.)

I feel grateful for the life I have after reading the words of these two men and reminded me not to take my existence, or anyone else’s, for granted.

The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat

In my early, nascent years as a creative arts therapist Oliver Sacks’s book The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat was recommended to me. The book provided a humanistic and compassionate view of people with neurological disorders and helped reinforce that people are not their illnesses. Thank you Oliver Sacks for your dedication to spreading knowledge, teaching others, and sharing your spirit. May you get to do all that you wish in life before you reach the end of your journey.

A Thank You Note to Oliver Sacks and the Privilege of Living

Art is a Remix

Do you know about TED talks? They’re wonderful, informative presentations on a wide variety of topics that take about 20 minutes or less to watch. The website recently featured a talk by one of my favorite book artists, Brian Dettmer.

The video is only a little over six minutes long but it’s full of great points to ponder, especially the last half of Dettmer’s talk. While I was watching, the first point that struck me was when he said, “I think of my work as sort of a remix, in a way, because I’m working with somebody else’s material in the same way that a D.J. might be working with somebody else’s music.

When he mentioned the word remix it reminded me of the author Austin Kleon and his book Steal Like an Artist, which covers the idea of remixing, where you selectively “steal” ideas from other artists you admire and combine or remix them. The end product then becomes your work. If you have time watch Austin Kleon’s TEDxKC talk.

By remixing, Brian Dettmer is making something “more new, more contemporary.” He also goes on to say, “I’m thinking also about breaking out of the box of the traditional book and pushing that linear format, and try to push the structure of the book itself so that the book can become fully sculptural.

People learn by copying, then combining and remixing to create their own work. However, once you have been working on something for some time, you begin to evolve and your unique voice/perspective emerges. By pushing boundaries the artist again creates something new.

Old books
I’ve bought or have taken old, unwanted books for the sole purpose of tearing out its pages to make something. However, I haven’t quite “harmed” any of those books yet …

Would you ever destroy/rip/throw away a book? Dettmer explains that people generally are disturbed by the thought of destroying a book because “we think about books as living things, we think about them as a body, and they’re created to relate to our body, as far as scale, but they also have the potential to continue to grow and to continue to become new things. So books really are alive.

I’ve heard of the phrase “words come alive” but I’ve never thought of the book as alive. I’m still ruminating about the book as a living body.

My favorite part of Dettmer’s talk was during the last minute or so:

And I think of my work as almost an archaeology. I’m excavating and I’m trying to maximize the potential and discover as much as I possibly can and exposing it within my own work. But at the same time, I’m thinking about this idea of erasure, and what’s happening now that most of our information is intangible, and this idea of loss, and this idea that not only is the format constantly shifting within computers, but the information itself, now that we don’t have a physical backup, has to be constantly updated in order to not lose it. And I have several dictionaries in my own studio, and I do use a computer every day, and if I need to look up a word, I’ll go on the computer, because I can go directly and instantly to what I’m looking up. I think that the book was never really the right format for nonlinear information, which is why we’re seeing reference books becoming the first to be endangered or extinct.

So I don’t think that the book will ever really die.People think that now that we have digital technology,the book is going to die,and we are seeing things shifting and things evolving. I think that the book will evolve,and just like people said painting would die when photography and printmaking became everyday materials,but what it really allowed painting to do was it allowed painting to quit its day job. It allowed painting to not have to have that everyday chore of telling the story, and painting became free and was allowed to tell its own story,and that’s when we saw Modernism emerge, and we saw painting go into different branches. And I think that’s what’s happening with books now, now that most of our technology, most of our information, most of our personal and cultural records are in digital form, I think it’s really allowing the book to become something new. So I think it’s a very exciting time for an artist like me, and it’s very exciting to see what will happen with the book in the future.

When e-books first appeared I heard/read a lot about how the book may become obsolete. Dettmer’s analogy of what happened with painting after cameras and printmaking were introduced is a hopeful, exciting way of looking at the book’s future.

What do you think about the future of books?

Bonus: Here’s another video featuring a paper engineer and book artists respectively, Matthew Reinhart, Andrea Dezso, and Carole Kunstadt. Also, if you’re interested in seeing more book arts related material online have a peek at my Pinterest board. Thanks for reading!

Art is a Remix

Lynda Barry’s Syllabus and Refuting Plato

Syllabus cover

When I first saw Lynda Barry’s Syllabus: Notes from an Accidental Professor in Barnes & Noble the cover called to my curiosity and I flipped through its contents. Each page felt like a visual bombardment with tons of handwritten text and artwork. However, I’m glad that didn’t deter me from actually sitting down and reading my library copy a few days later.

Syllabus gave an inspiring sense of what a class experience would be like as one of her students. After I finished reading her book last Wednesday I immediately wished I could sign up for one of Professor Lynda’s courses. The book will have to do as a substitute for now (I intend to purchase a copy for my evergrowing bookshelf). Also, Lynda is on twitter and tumblr, where she often gives students their assignment.

This year I’ve been borrowing and reading a lot of books about writing and learning more about an author’s process of creating a story. I’ve started to read 12 Short Stories and Their Making: An Anthology with Interviews edited by Paul Mandelbaum. The first featured author Walter Kirn, who wrote The Hoaxer, gave his opinion of fiction writing at the end of the interview.

Fiction writers have not made a very good argument, and professors haven’t either, for why made-up stories can actually be relevant to real life. And I think we’ve kind of lost that thread as a culture. It’s an increasingly quixotic enterprise to try to enlighten through falsehood. And that’s why people want true stories that they can take away a clear moral from, rather than ambiguous, made-up stories that will somehow … increase their wisdom.

So I think that the father in the story represents some of my own conflicting feelings about writing fiction. I mean, it’s never been an entirely reputable occupation. Plato pretty much said flat out that artists were deceivers and creators of useless, untrue objects, and I don’t think we’ve ever gotten over that as a society. (p. 27)

For other writers out there, do you feel that writing is NOT a reputable occupation? I highly admire writers and other artists for their creativity and persistence. I felt defensive and I wanted to shout that art is not a falsehood. Instead, I would propose that art making and the product/object may bring you closer towards truth (whatever that may mean to an individual). But then that’s the art therapist side of me roaring back.

And I was so grateful to soon read two quotes that contradict Plato’s belief about art/ists in Lynda Barry’s Syllabus her 16th class note on page 171.

The 16th class note
A look at the 16th class note. The rabbit creature appears interested as well.

The arts, I believe have a pivotal role in putting us in touch with the transcendant, with whatever it is that is beyond us. They are core to a civilization, measures of our health, and should be treated as such …” Iain McGilchrist, psychiatrist & writer

Devils come to earth briefly transformed to stop you from being artistic, from becoming artists. And they have a magic question. The magic question is, “WHAT FOR?” — but art is not for anything. Art is the ultimage goal. It saves our souls … ” –Young-Ha Kim, writer

There’s so much more to digest in Syllabus. What do you think about fiction writing? What’s your view on artists?

Lynda Barry’s Syllabus and Refuting Plato

Worth taking the time

Last Friday I finished reading Louise DeSalvo’s The Art of Slow Writing. I highly recommend the book for any artist. It offers wonderful advice on the creative process explaining the benefits of investing your time to fully achieve your authentic voice. As DeSalvo explains in the opening introduction:

The Art of Slow Writing cover

Slow writing is a meditative act. It acknowledges that we are all beginners and insists we cultivate empathy for ourselves because being a writer isn’t easy. Slow writing is a way to resist the dehumanization inherent in a world that values speed. It’s one way to find – or return to – our authentic selves.

DeSalvo’s book reminds us to step back and allow time for ideas to grow. My favorite quote from one of the early chapters that helped shift my perspective on my craft:

By viewing writing as practice rather than accomplishment can be a valuable shift in perspective. Instead of thinking, “I want to become a writer as quickly as I can,” we can try this: “I will dedicate as much time as I must to learn my craft.”

Also peppered throughout the book are examples from other well-established writers on the “role of waiting in the creative act.”

Many of us try to rush the creative process. But, as [Ian] McEwan’s process illustrates, and as [Victoria] Nelson asserts, it often takes time “for an imaginative idea to grow to full term in the unconscious …” If we proceed “entirely by ego command,” we’re likely to subvert “this mostly invisible gestation period.” As writers, we need to cultivate the twin traits of “[s]urrendering and listening” but this will be impossible unless we give up our struggle to control our artistic process, unless we cease engaging in what Nelson calls a “solipsistic master-slave struggle for control over yourself.

While I was reading TAoSW, I also happened to read about the artist Agnes Denes in Lives and Works Vol 2. Agnes Denes’ process coincides with DeSalvo’s advice because Denes takes a lot of time to research and experiment before she completes most of her projects, which can take up to several years like her artist book, the Book of Dust.

The running theme in both books is that anything worthwhile takes time and, sometimes, waiting is necessary in order to gain a deeper understanding into your work. Another aspect of the process is allowing yourself to experiment and fail so that one’s creative growth can develop further. It’s okay to make mistakes! Make lots of them! It’s all part of the learning process.

What has helped you in your creative journey?

Worth taking the time

SDBA Annual Meeting in La Jolla

San Diego Book Art’s annual meeting was held in La Jolla’s Riford Library on a beautiful Sunday afternoon, which gave me ample time to enjoy a delicious brunch at Pannikin with my husband and check out the wonderful D.G. Wills Books next door before the meeting. I’m always ready for any excuse to browse a bookstore, but I didn’t find any used books to buy within my budget after browsing for about an hour. It was almost time for the meeting and I wanted to support the bookstore. Interspersed within its shelves are new copies of reading material so I bought a shiny paperback of Jung’s Memories, Dreams, Reflections, which I’ve always wanted to own and finish reading.

Some samples of Genie Shenk's books
Some samples of Genie Shenk’s books. The colors and textures were sublime to see firsthand.

After settling into my seat up front at the library and listening to announcements and accomplishments of the organization, it was time for SDBA’s special guest artist Genie Shenk’s presentation. She’s one of the founders and long time member of SDBA. The artist is known for her book arts series involving her dreams, which she’s recorded since 1982. Her works are owned by private collectors and part of university library collections.

I enjoyed Genie Shenk talk about the various themes in her art using mica, rust, or the use of space. The most poignant moment was when she mentioned her work expressing grief. I was very touched by her description about the loss of a loved one and how she expressed her personal grief through book arts.

As I listened to the presentation and committee/board members speak I felt very lucky to be in a place with such a vibrant books arts community with wonderful people willing to share their time and expertise to keep SDBA growing and thriving. It was wonderful to see and catch up with people I know in the book arts community in San Diego as well, especially Sibyl and others from Bay Park Press.

2015 looks to be an exciting year and I want to be more involved this time around so I volunteered to help with online publicity. I encourage anyone else who’s curious or interested in book arts to contact me or SDBA!

SDBA Annual Meeting in La Jolla

2014: An Exciting Year of Graphic Novels & Comics

Last year I started following two great series — one is a prequel of a highly acclaimed series started back in the late ’80s and the other started a whole new fandom by the writer of Y: The Last Man.

Sandman Overture

Sandman Overture Covers created by J.H. Williams, III and Dave McKean
Overture covers created by either J.H. Williams III or Dave McKean. I always have a difficult time deciding which cover to take home.

If you’re a fan of Neil Gaiman’s Sandman series you need to go get Sandman Overture now at your local comic book shop. It provides Morpheus’s origin story with gorgeous art illustrated by J.H. Williams III that I drool over every time. The latest issue #4 was released last month on Dec 17 (not pictured). The release dates haven’t been consistent but I don’t mind. I savor the story I have so far and wait patiently for the next installment. There’s only two more issues left …

Saga
Saga volume 1 deluxe edition
Inside peek into the first deluxe edition released Nov 25, 2014.

The first issue of Saga was released back in March of 2012. I fell into the series late and only became aware of it last year. I can’t believe it took me that long because Brian K. Vaughan‘s creation has everything I appreciate in great storytelling. A story combining sci-fi and fantasy? Yes, please! Characters who are physically portrayed as ethnically diverse? Hell, yes! A rocket that’s also a tree?!?! I’m a fan for life!

And the artist for the series is wonderful! I love Fioana Staple‘s line work and vision. She portrays scenes so beautifully and with such warmth. I was lucky enough to see her and Vaughan in Saga’s panel at last year’s SD Comic-Con. One could see that Vaughan and Staples have a great partnership and play off of each other’s strengths to evolve the story to something even bigger, better, and more beautiful.

Here

A page spread inside Here by Richard McGuire.
A page spread inside Here by Richard McGuire.

As a bonus to end the year was the publication of Richard McGuire’s Here. It is the book equivalent of your own visual time machine. (Possibly better than a “blue box”? Ok, that may be going a bit too far.)

I was unsure at first whether I should buy a copy. People from different eras were depicted in an indoor or outdoor setting. What was happening? At first glance I felt confused and wondered what was I looking at? But as I perused a copy in a bookstore I started falling in love with the concept and the art. I found there are threads of continuity running through the book as a whole once you really take a few moments to look through it. Very much worth your time and money!

2014: An Exciting Year of Graphic Novels & Comics