All posts for July 2019

Self-Work In Progress

If you don't work on yourself, it makes the job of others defining you against your will easier for them.

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2019/07/24 17:00

Back in 2013 or so when I started my other site Ganriki, devoted to reviews and analyses of Japanese popular culture, one of the notes I made to myself that ended up in the site's explicatory note went something like this: Palettes, not hierarchies. This was something I had gleaned from another figure prominent in my Zen studies, John Cage. The point was not to worry about ranking things, least of all one's self, but to simply learn the lessons on display all around you, as offered by others. The "worst horse" is actually the best because he has the most to learn, the most opportunity for growth and application of the universe of lessons.

Said Cage, in Lecture On Something:

When Art comes from within, which is what it was for so long doing, it became a thing which seemed to elevate the man who made it above those who observed it or heard it, and the artist was considered a genius or given a rating: First, Second, No Good, until finally riding in a bus or subway: so proudly he signs his name like a manufacturer.

When I first encountered all this, I thought: How is it, then, that we are to improve if we are not worried about the quality of our work? This was answered, fairly swiftly, by another assertion: If you compare yourself to anything, compare yourself to your earlier self.

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Tags: Buddhism  Zen  self-criticism 

Constructive Loafing

On Zen as the "do-nothing" philosophy (which it isn't).

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2019/07/23 17:00

I've known about Zen far longer than I have taken it seriously or practiced it. It took me years to go from being someone who was interested in it in a purely intellectual way to someone who engaged with it. The delay wasn't for lack of opportunity or good teachers, but because of a resistance within me that I've only recently identified.

For a long time, what I saw as this philosophy of passive acceptance at the heart of Zen prevented me from ever entering into it thoroughly. How is this, I thought, not a profound insult to the reality of suffering as we know it in the world? How was acceptance of things as they are not an affront to the fact that some things desperately need changing?

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Tags: Buddhism  Zen  philosophy 

The Forever Draft

The idea is called "continuous publishing", and it doesn't thrill me.

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2019/07/19 17:00

The idea is called "continuous publishing", essentially sharing a piece while it's in progress and shaping it based on a stream of feedback:

By reducing the importance of the moment where a piece is first publish [sic], we can work on more substantial writing that improves over time, like a Wikipedia article. But it doesn’t have to take the form of Wikipedia: it could be an essay, a short story, or field notes filled with observations.

It’s permitting yourself to think out loud.

To do this, set the expectation that a piece of writing is not complete and that updates may happen. The moment of publishing is merely the beginning.

There are two problems I have with this idea.

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Tags: audiences  authors  blogging  feedback  writing 

Bibliophile's Lament

The joys and tribulations of the Open Library.

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2019/07/16 17:00

Not long ago I discovered the Open Library, as wonderful a resource for a bibliophile like myself as there has been since I first blundered over the threshold of the Strand in New York City. The idea couldn't be simpler: they scan copies of books, hold them in storage, and you can check out a given copy for two weeks and read it by way of a web-browser reader. The reader is crotchety but sufferable. The collection is spotty, but growing daily, and I'm constantly amazed at how many things in my own collection — and things I thought would be irreplaceable — show up there. It hasn't killed my interest in buying books, or checking them out of other libraries, but it has affected by reading and buying habits in a few ways.

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Tags: Open Library  books  libraries  reading 

Advice And Consent

The very best advice I received was not a command but a seed for discussion.

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2019/07/13 17:00

Nice interview, but this bit in particular caught my eye:

Tom Skerritt on the 40th Anniversary of Alien, Collaborating with Ridley Scott and More | Interviews | Roger Ebert

The more that a writer puts into making a solid screenplay, that inspiration goes to the director and goes to the creative people and everyone becomes engaged with it. It isn’t one single thing—it is the harmony that happens on a set and that goes back to Hal [Ashby] and Bob [Robert Altman]. They would say, “That’s a good suggestion. I don’t know if I am going to use it but because you said it, you made me think of this other thing.” There is no right or wrong about this. It is what you listen to and how you separate the wheat from the chaff, as it were. That is just an instinct writ from the experiences that you have had. I have had the mind-boggling opportunity to do some significant films and those were because of the filmmakers—they gave it to us. You cannot tell creative people how to paint a portrait. You can’t tell them that you want a particular color to suit the image that you have—you can’t do that. If you do, you don’t deserve the artwork.

Emph mine, in big part because it points back at my earlier posts about how hard it is to find and work with good advice.

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Tags: advice  creativity  creators 

Fallings From Grace

My Dale Peck problem.

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2019/07/13 14:00

One of the least pleasant things to do is discover that someone whose earlier work you admired and took useful direction from has since become someone who sets fires just to see what the resulting meltdown looks like.

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Tags: critics 

My Own 'What' And 'Why'

How I used to get caught up in thinking about the surfaces of the things I admired.

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2019/07/08 09:00

Before I launched Genji Press — my milestone marker for when I got good and serious about this writing thang — I spent entirely too much time thinking about the surface aspects of the great things I admired, because those were the parts most readily assimilated and copied.

Cargo cult thinking, I guess you could call it. This story has these elements and this flavor; therefore, if I write something with these elements and this flavor, I'll have something as good, and (not coincidentally) something just as deserving of success. Took me a while to figure out why this was such a lousy path to walk. Not just 'cuz it was imitative and deadly to actual creativity, but because this was exactly the same model used by every ninny in marketing, advertising, and sales to whomp together products that existed mainly to be sold to a gullible audience.

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Tags: Stanley Kubrick  creativity  creators 

The Wile E. Coyote Problem

Why much of what we call "genius" is mostly cultivated stubbornness.

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2019/07/07 08:00

Over the last few years much research has surfaced to the effect that cultivated consistency that pushes at some envelope is the most desirable form of anything deserving the name genius.

Much of this confirmed my earlier suspicions in that vein. People called Richard Feynman a genius, whereas he was more likely to frame it as just having an endless, background-process variety of diligence for a set of problems that never completely left his mind. Eventually the right answer popped out, if only because he was systematically exhausting the possibilities, even when other people didn't think he was on the case. Other people, not realizing this, saw him come up with answers out of nowhere. How else to explain it but as Genius?

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Tags: creativity  creators 

No Hands On The Wheel

The problem of power, and why discarding power isn't a solution to it.

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2019/07/05 08:00

I don't think I ever explicitly recommended this essay before, but here it is: Jo Freeman's "The Tyranny Of Structurelessness". Go read it first, then circle back here.

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Tags: society  utopia 

Genji Press: Projects: It Ain't Where You're From, It's Where You're At And Where You're Headed

The peculiar genesis of my new novel means it's going to take at least one to two more passes than usual to kick it into shape.

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2019/07/04 08:00

I've mentioned before I'm in the middle of work on a new novel, The Fall Of The Hammer, and in general it's not my habit to post word-count updates or anything that granular. I prefer to underpromise and overdeliver, and to bring the thing out when it's done and no sooner. I will say this, though: the peculiar genesis of this story means it's going to take at least one to two more passes than usual to kick it into shape.

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Tags: The Fall Of The Hammer  future projects  writing 

The Big Payback, er, Payoff

What you do and don't owe a reader.

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2019/07/03 17:00

Matt was talking about Gene Wolfe when he hit on this:

Midstream Thoughts on Book of the New Sun :: Matthew Buscemi

This brings to mind a writing "principle" a former writing group harped on, that the reader should get "payoffs." The idea here is that each moment the reader spends scanning their eyes over the author's words creates a kind of debt, that the reader is putting themselves out by forcing themselves to pay attention to the writing. The author, under this logic, is thereby obligated to provide "payoff" for this debt. When pressed, the writing group would admit that elements such as narrative inter-connectivity and detail discovery could serve as "payoff," but the lived reality of receiving the group's feedback laid plain that "payoff" consisted of mostly of sex, violence, and explosions.

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Tags: genres  science fiction  writers  writing 

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