Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Problem Solved in a Flash



I was walking towards a building this morning trying to think of good way to describe it in writing but I drew a blank. However, while I was sitting on a wooden bench after having a banana for lunch a clear description of the building flashed into my mind. 

This evening, while I was looking for a reference that Nassim Taleb made about Balzac's Lost Illusions, I stumbled upon this excerpt that I had highlighted in The Black Swan back in 2007.

Furthermore, we think that if, say, two variables are causally linked, then a steady input in one variable should always yield a result in the other one. Our emotional apparatus is designed for linear causality. For instance, if you study every day, you expect to learn something in proportion to your studies. If you feel that you are not going anywhere, your emotions will cause you to become demoralized. But modern reality rarely gives us the privilege of a satisfying, linear, positive progression: you may think about a problem for a year and learn nothing; then, unless you are disheartened by the emptiness of the results and give up, something will come to you in a flash.

Friday, March 25, 2016

James Franco's Rigorous Work Ethic



I've given a number of mentees and colleagues copies of Sam Anderson's "The James Franco Project" which was a 2010 New York magazine profile on the polymath, because I was impressed by Franco's uncompromising work ethic. Here are some highlights from the piece:

He’s just flown back from Berlin this afternoon, he says, and he has a 35-page paper due tomorrow. Next weekend he has to shoot a student film, because in two weeks he’ll be flying out to Salt Lake City to start acting in a movie called 127 Hours

Revisions are due soon on his book of short stories, which will be published in October by Scribner. He’s trying to nail down the details of an art show that will be based, somehow, on his recent performance on the soap opera General Hospital. Also, he has class every day, which—since he’s enrolled in four graduate programs at once—requires commuting among Brooklyn, Greenwich Village, Morningside Heights, and occasionally North Carolina.

He persuaded his advisers [at UCLA] to let him exceed the maximum course load, then proceeded to take 62 credits a quarter, roughly three times the normal limit. When he had to work—to fly to San Francisco, for instance, to film Milk—he’d ask classmates to record lectures for him, then listen to them at night in his trailer. He graduated in two years with a degree in English and a GPA over 3.5. He wrote a novel as his honors thesis.

As soon as Franco finished at UCLA, he moved to New York and enrolled in four of them: NYU for filmmaking, Columbia for fiction writing, Brooklyn College for fiction writing, and—just for good measure—a low-residency poetry program at Warren Wilson College in North Carolina. This fall, at 32, before he’s even done with all of these, he’ll be starting at Yale, for a Ph.D. in English, and also at the Rhode Island School of Design.

According to everyone I spoke with, Franco has an unusually high metabolism for productivity. He seems to suffer, or to benefit, from the opposite of ADHD: a superhuman ability to focus that allows him to shuttle quickly between projects and to read happily in the midst of chaos. He hates wasting time—a category that includes, for him, sleeping. (He’ll get a few hours a night, then survive on catnaps, which he can fall into at any second, sometimes even in the middle of a conversation.) He doesn’t drink or smoke or—despite his convincingness in Pineapple Express—do drugs. He’s engineered his life so he can spend all his time either making or learning about art. 

Vince Jolivette, Franco’s roommate and general right-hand man (he runs Franco’s production company and plays bit parts in many of his films), met Franco in acting class in 1996. “Our teacher made us rehearse at least once a day outside of class,” he told me. “James would get eight or nine rehearsals. Everyone else would do, at most, one. If we didn’t rehearse, or if I had to cancel, he’d be pissed.”

According to his mother, Betsy, Franco has been this way since he was born. In kindergarten, he wouldn’t just build regular little block towers—he’d build structures that used every single block in the playroom. At night, he would organize his Star Wars toys before he slept. When Franco was 4 years old, a friend of the family died. Betsy gave him the standard Mortality Talk: no longer with us, just a part of life—yes, but hopefully not for a very long time. Little James burst into tears. He was inconsolable. Eventually, he managed to choke out, between sobs, “But I don’t want to die! I have so much to do!”

One of Franco’s most serious productivity advantages is his personal assistant, Dana Morgan. “I tease him when people say, ‘How do you do it?’ ” she tells me. “ ‘You don’t! You do all the things they know about, but you don’t do the normal human-being things.’ ” Morgan [...] makes sure he wakes up, gets dressed, eats. “I guarantee you he would not eat unless I fed him.” 



And here are some excerpts from Rolling Stones' 2016 cover story "The Mystery of James Franco: Inside His Manic Days and Sleepless Nights" (I feel compelled to warn that the reference to "G_d's p_ssy" by Seth Rogan and Franco is possibly the absolute worst form of blasphemy I've ever heard!):

The Cranston fight in Why Him? involves a ton of choreography performed by stunt doubles, which translates to a ton of sitting around for Franco. Since he hates wasting time, the result is an absurd tableau: As the stuntmen scuffle right in front of him, he sits cross-legged in a canvas folding chair, calmly sips coffee and reads not one but two different paperbacks at once – a Jackson Pollock biography and Toni Morrison's Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination. Franco takes in several pages from one, then switches to the other, paying no mind to the cacophony mere feet away. "On comedies, usually everybody's fucking around between takes, but that's not James' process," Hamburg says. "He's making use of every single moment. The other day he was in hair and makeup, typing on a laptop. I said, 'What are you doing, writing a novel?' He said, 'Yep.' And he actually was!"


In all my conversations with Franco, he seemed locked in – fully present to what I was saying, pressing me for clarification and nuance even when it was small talk. Other collaborators attest to his powers of concentration amid the feverish multitasking [...]"Other producers and directors would praise the talent in one breath and then tell you a story about him falling asleep between camera setups with some annotated copy of a Faulkner novel in his lap. But then he came to work, and he had both of his characters surrounded. He didn't let slip a line or a gesture."

If you're having trouble completing your projects you may want to use Franco's work ethic as motivation to sleep less, work longer but smarter too (i.e., Don't waste time. e.g., You can read while you're waiting on line at Trader Joe's.)

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Henry Miller’s 12 Commandments for Writers


My Desk Circa 2010

Approximately six years ago a black hardcover library copy of Henry Miller's Tropic of Cancer (above near upper left hand corner) was stolen from my "desk". 

In the lower right hand corner is a stack of manuscripts for, Yes Dear!, a children's book that I wrote that were waiting to be mailed. The book was never published, but an eerily similar book, Yes Day!, was published. 

Last Tuesday I left my tattered and copious notes filled copy of Miller's Plexus in the bathroom of the same establishment in Manhattan. I was planning to add additional points from Plexus to the second edition of The Allure of Nymphets. However, the novel was gone when I returned the next morning. The janitor said that he saw Plexus, but that he had left it in the john.

I ordered a non-Prime used copy from Amazon\Free States Books today and until it arrives I will benefit from Miller’s 12 Commandments for Writers:

1. Work on one thing at a time until finished.

2. Start no more new books, add no more new material to "Black Spring."

3. Don't be nervous. Work calmly, joyously, recklessly on whatever is in hand.

4. Work according to Program and not according to mood. Stop at the appointed time!

5. When you can't create you can work.

6. Cement a little every day, rather than add new fertilizers.

7. Keep human! See people, go places [...].

8. Don't be a draught-horse! Work with pleasure only.

9. Discard the Program when you feel like it—but go back to it next day.

10. Concentrate. Narrow down. Exclude.

11. Forget the books you want to write. Think only of the book you are writing.


12. Write first and always. Painting, music, friends, cinema, all these come afterwards.



Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Inspiring Films for Writers?

Something in the Air (2012)


I did a post on how The Tenants, the novel and the film, can be inspiring for writers. And I would add that, for artists and for creative types in general, Something in the Air (2012) [French: Apr├Ęs mai] is just as inspiring. The inspirational key appears to be that both films actually show that artists creating and discussing the strife that accompanies the push to create. 

In The Tenants, Lester and Bill are repeatedly shown typing while struggling to complete their novels. And in Something in the Air, Gilles is regularly shown painting, drawing and reading.
However, I haven't been able to find any other films with artists as the protagonists that are actually shown creating anything i.e., that are inspiring. A far third on my list would be La belle Noiseuse (1991) which is about Frenhofer, a former famous painter, who restarts a neglected project after discovering an exhilarating younger muse. But that's about it.

What films have you found to be inspiring?

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

The Undo Button Inventor(s) for the Nobel Prize




I'm convinced that the inventor(s) of the Undo button should receive a Nobel Prize. Can you imagine how much pain, sorrow and frustration the God given Undo button has prevented for writers? 

Join me in starting a petition to have the name(s) of the inventor(s) be nominated for the prestigious award. In the meantime, here's an excerpt from Undo's Wikipedia entry:


History[edit]

The Xerox PARC Bravo text editor had an Undo command in 1974.[1] Behavioral Issues in the Use of Interactive Systems, a 1976 research report by Lance A. Miller and John C. Thomas of IBM, noted that "It would be quite useful to permit users to 'take back' at least the immediately preceding command (by issuing some special 'undo' command)."[2] The programmers at the Xerox PARC research center assigned the keyboard shortcut Ctrl-Z to the undo command, which became a crucial feature of text editors and word processors in the personal computer era.[3]
Multi-level undo commands were introduced in the 1980s, allowing the users to take back a series of actions, not just the most recent one.[3] AtariWriter, a word-processing application introduced in 1982, featured undo. NewWord, another word-processing program released by NewStar in 1984, had an unerase command.[3] IBM's VisiWord also had an undelete command.

Monday, November 30, 2015

Seth Godin's THE DIP and Sylvia Plath's Love of Rejection Slips

The Dip

Seth Godin's The Dip may be a helpful principle for writer's to follow to deal effectively with rejection. In general, the principle is that it's naive to think that one will have a linear rise to reaching the New York Times Bestseller list. 

Realistically, a writer may have to experience The Dip where rejection will be the norm; however, the longer one writes the better the chance that he will be published.  In general, one will (eventually) see a direct correlation between effort and returns; however, like Ben Fountainit may take up to 18 years. 

Here are some quotes from writers that may help you get through The Dip: 

Sylvia Plath, "I love my rejection slips. They show me I try."

F. Scott Fitzgerald, "Work like hell! I had 122 rejection slips before I sold a story."


Isaac Asimov, "Rejection slips, or form letters, however tactfully phrased, are lacerations of the soul, if not quite inventions of the devil — but there is no way around them."





Sunday, November 8, 2015

Free Percussion Concerts: Writers Seeking Inspiration Through the Arts




A number of novelists and writers, including real and fictional, partake in the arts. For example, Gardner relates in Creating Minds that Freud read "extremely widely [...and...] mastered English and French and also taught himself Spanish so that he could read Cervantes in the original. Fond of art and the theater, he attended many exhibitions and plays and commented penetratingly on what he had observed." 

And Lester visited the Whitney for inspiration. 

In addition to the UNIQLO free Friday nights at the MoMA, I frequent (mostly) free percussion concerts. Last Friday night I saw the Manhattan School of Music Percussion Ensemble. Bob Becker's Mudra (1990) was especially good. 

If you're in New York City, the following free percussion concerts are coming up:

NYU PERCUSSION ENSEMBLE
With very special guest Glenn Kotche (Wilco)
LOCATION: Frederick Loewe Theatre
ADMISSION: Free
Monday, December 7 at 8pm

NYU MARIMBA ENSEMBLE
Simon Boyar, Director/Conductor
Program in Percussion Performance
LOCATION: Frederick Loewe Theatre
ADMISSION: Free
Friday, December 4 at 8pm

Juilliard Pre-College Percussion Ensemble
Room 309 
FREE; no ticket required
Saturday, December 12 at 6pm

Manhattan School of Music 
Percussion Ensemble
Thursday, March 31, 2016
7:30 PM - 9:30 PM

Location:Borden Auditorium

Juilliard Percussion Ensemble
Alice Tully Hall 
FREE tickets available TBA
Monday, April 4 at 7:30pm

NYU Marimba Ensemble
MONDAY, APRIL 18


NYU Percussion Ensemble
TUESDAY, APRIL 26

NYU African Gyil And Percussion Ensemble
THURSDAY, APRIL 28

NYU Steel
SATURDAY, APRIL 30

NYU Composers Meet NYU Percussionists
SUNDAY, MAY 1


Room 309 
FREE; no ticket required
Saturday, May 7 at 6pm

And if you're willing to fork over some money to be inspired:

CARNEGIE HALL PRESENTS
So Percussion
Performance Friday, February 12, 2016 | 9 PM
@ Zankel Hall


Monday, November 2, 2015

THE PARIS REVIEW Rejection

Click to Enlarge


I recently submitted five poems via snail mail to The Paris Review . (Surprisingly, the editors don't accept online submissions.) And I received a rejection "letter" today. The "letter" is a bit disingenuous, because I doubt that the editors at the prestigious literary journal "regret" not being able to publish my verse. 

Kathryn A. Higgins, who interned at the journal, shared, "The Paris Review gets many unsolicited manuscripts every day and publishes I believe about one each year.

Depressing and yet encouraging — the work is definitely read, although not published."

However, I'm proud to join the likes of other poets such as Charles Bukowski whom were never published in the The Paris Review. Here's one of the poems that I submitted:


by Mo Ibrahim

Charlie Chaplin had a crush on 12-year-old Maybelle Fournier before 
he met Mildred Harris when she was fourteen and bore
him a child at 16.
He was smitten with Hetty Kelly and impregnated Lillita Grey at 15.
Casanova took the virginity of Nanetta and Marta, who were orphans.
Seidel wrote in Ooga-Booga about maidens
“But this woman is young. We kiss. It’s almost incest.”  
The Rosewood Day School Pretty Little Liars were dressed
in sky-high minis and panties which they flashed
at the “fortysomething guy” at the mall before he hastily left abashed.
Breakfast at Tiffany’ s 13-year-old Holiday Golightly 
married [a much] older man and when she was barely
15 she lived with a college jock whose eyes could have been blue
and at 18 she stated, “I can’t get excited by a man until he’s at least 42.”
Californication’s Frank Moody had sex with his step-daughter who was 16.
Bored to Death’s Ray was upset that Jonathan didn't sodomized the 16
year-old St. Ann's coed.
While On the Road Neal Cassady of the 15-year-old Marylou said, 
“...so sweet, so young, hmm, ahh.” In The Dark Side of Camelot Kennedy 
Sr. had sex with his 17-year-old caddie, 
whom he imported from the French Riviera while his wife, Lyndon Johnson 
and Lady Bird listened to the action
over lunch at the Kennedy beachfront home in Palm Beach.
In The Porning of America Frank Sinatra had the confidence to beseech
an affair with 14-year-old Tuesday Weld who (ironically) turned down 
the role of Lolita but after its success she probably had a meltdown.
And what was the 16-year-old’s New Year’s resolution?
“I’m going to fuck my history teacher!” At least she wasn't a freshman.
Gossip Girl’s Dan asked, “Who doesn’t like school girls?” 
Case in point, the homeless man whistled at the Catholic school girls
on the Grand Central subway platform while
the Pope approved the length of their skirts to entice an ephebophile.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

THE PARIS REVIEW's Beneficial Twitter for Writers

In addition to Brian Koppelman's Vine and Jon Winokur's Twitter, writers may find The Paris Review's Twitter very beneficial. Here are some examples:




Saturday, August 15, 2015

Smoking May Increase a Writer's Concentration

Paul Bowles, Oscar Wilde and Patricia Highsmith


A number of famous writers smoked while they wrote. For example, Moliere said, “Whoever lives without tobacco doesn’t deserve to live.” And Oscar Wilde related, “A cigarette is the perfect type of a perfect pleasure. It is exquisite, and it leaves one unsatisfied. What more can one want?”

And a study conducted by scientists at the Wuhan Institute of Physics and Mathematics under the Chinese Academy of Sciences found the writers may smoke because smoking may have the ability to "boost concentration and imagination". However, the researchers also found that "heavy smoking damages the brain overall". 

To possibly have the best of both worlds, like Mark Twain and Freud, you may want to consider cigars. 

Brad Rodu posted on Tabacco Truth:

...the Kaiser Medical Care Program, one of the nation's largest health care maintenance organizations, provided the answer in 1999 by publishing an excellent study on cigar smoking in the New England Journal of Medicine. They followed 16,228 never smokers and 1,546 cigar smokers - all men - for 25 years, and compared rates of several diseases among them.  Cigar smokers were divided into those smoking less than 5 cigars a day (let's call them moderate), and 5 or more (heavy).

Compared with never smokers, heavy cigar smokers were shown to have increased risks for several smoking related diseases.  They had higher risks for heart disease (Relative Risk, RR = 1.6, 95% confidence interval, CI = 1.2 – 2.0), emphysema (RR = 2.3, CI = 1.4 – 3.7), oral and pharynx cancer (RR = 7.2, CI = 2.4 – 21.2), and lung cancer (RR = 3.2, CI = 1.01 – 10.4).

The good news: Moderate cigar smokers had only a slightly higher risk for heart disease (RR = 1.2, CI = 1.03 – 1.4).  Those smoking fewer than 5 cigars daily had no significantly increased risks for stroke, emphysema, oral/pharynx cancer or lung cancer.

The comparable health risks of smokeless tobacco (ST), cigars and cigarettes are shown below. 



Thus, just like with most things, moderation appears to be the key. It's advisable to smoke less than or equal to five cigars per day and not 22 like Twain



If you decide to smoke cigars while you write, I would additionally advise you to follow Mr. Bill's advice:


  • Beverages (e.g., espresso) are good accompaniment for a cigar
  • If you find yourself salivating...spit most of it out as opposed to swallowing it
  • Do not smoke a cigar as you would a cigarette. (i.e., Like Clinton, do not inhale.)
  • Take a puff every 30-90 seconds
  • Lastly, and arguable most importantly, never smoke on an empty stomach or you'll end up like the Berlin clerks in Nabokov's "Beneficence":


...Berlin clerks were leaving their offices...in his eyes, the turbid nausea that comes when you smoke a bad cigar on an empty stomach...

If you're concerned about the effects of smoking cigars on your stamina, Micheal Jordan shared the following in the July/August 2005 issue of Cigar Aficionado, "Not many people know about it. When they read this, they'll know that each and every day for a home game, I smoked a cigar. I wanted that feeling of success, and relaxation. It's the most relaxing thing." That's correct, the greatest basketball player to, thus far, ever play the game smoked a cigar before every home game. And he mentioned that before the interview he worked out after he had a cigar. 

Edward Hopper's Nighthawks (1942) Featuring Phillies Cigars


If you're a starving artist, like Bukowski, you may want to begin with inexpensive convenience store cigars like
Garcia y Vega English Coronas over the popular Phillies brand. While both cigars are machine-made, the Vega's have a dark natural leaf wrapper while the Phillies have a lighter processed wrapper which according to Famous Smoke "are made from so-called sheet binder, a homogenized tobacco product in which large quantities of tobacco are broken down and reconstructed into a sheet of “tobacco paper,” as opposed to an actual tobacco leaf, which has been cured, fermented, and aged." Consequently, the Phillies "leafs" leaves an extremely strong tobacco smell on the hand(s), and they may contribute the strong nicotine "buzz" that is not typically experienced from smoking Garcia y Vegas. 

Lastly, it's important that one "toast" his cigar before (fully) lighting it with a wooden match, which in many cases is very difficult to do especially with the winds coming off of the Hudson and East rivers. A butane wind resistant cigar lighter is a more realistic lighter for use outdoors. (Cigar aficionados swear by butane lighters, which don't harm the taste of the cigar.) And a benefit of purchasing machine rolled cigars is that they're "pre-cut"; thus, one doesn't have to "peel the cap" or use a cigar cutter.




video

Ranald Macdonald of Boisdale London: 
How to Light a Cigar via The Wall Street Journal