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7 posts from December 2008

December 29, 2008

10,000 Hours

I got a copy of Malcolm Gladwell's Outliers for Christmas and read it in one day. One of the things he talks about in the book  is the idea that, to achieve mastery over any field, you have to put in 10,000 hours of practice.

I'd heard theories like this before, but Gladwell unpacked it in a particularly enticing way. So naturally, the first thing I did was to calculate when I would have hit my 10,000 hours. I wasn't the only one.

It's hard to do, because I write, and have always written, everything: fiction, plays, poetry, screenplays, essays, articles, letters, journals, online discussions, and most recently, blogs. And I count all of this together. Although I recognize genre differences, and differences of purpose, as far as mastery of writing -- including the use of the imagination that is so necessary in fiction -- every kind of self-expressive writing that I do contributes equally to my development. I accept that other people may write differently, and may process their different kinds of writing differently. But I don't.

It's also a difficult calculation because I haven't written at a steady rate. There have been years when I would come home and just write for hours every day, and other years when I would write for a few hours maybe once a week ... and to no "productive" purpose. There were years when I wrote nothing "creative" at all, but rather handwrote letter after letter to friends who never received any of them. You know how it goes.

Anyroad, I decided to go conservative and average ten hours of writing per week. Starting at fifteen (the year I bought my first journal -- as opposed to my first "diary" which was bought for me when I was maybe 8 -- realizing that I could write down what I was ACTUALLY thinking rather than some boring YA version of "Dear Diary, this is what happened to me today ...") this would take twenty years; subtract four years (conservatively) for the long stretches when I was writing thirty hours a week, and that would put me at 31 when I hit my 10,000 hours.

I got very excited when I figured this out because 31 was, of course, the age at which I finished the first draft my "breakthrough" story, "Pigs in Space," the one that got me into grad school, got me into Clarion West, and then got published in McSweeney's. (McSweeney's subsequently asked me to record it for an audiobook, which you can download here.) It remains my sole big story publication, (although I'm sure that will change this year ;) ) so take that as you will.

More importantly, though, I remember writing that story, and it took me a while. I wrote the first part and it was a good idea, like a lot of "first parts" I had written before. But this good idea actually brought together a lot of social and political concerns that had been on my plate for a long time, but that I hadn't found a way to put into a story. I couldn't figure out how to end it, though, for a few months. After processing it internally, the solution popped into my head one day and I wrote the rest of the story. I then spent the next two years revising it, putting it through nine drafts, never quite satisfied that it was ready to go.

I turned it in as a writing sample for grad school, got in. Worked on it some more. Workshopped it in class. Wrote 20,000 words of backstory. Used it as a writing sample for Clarion West. Got in. We were supposed to workshop it the first week but I asked to do a new story, since I was sick of "Pigs." Fortunately for me, our first week instructor, Nancy Kress, had read and prepared a critique and gave it to me in our one-on-one session. It was a substantial, but simple, structural rearrangement that she suggested, and she was right about it.

It still took me a few months to see that she was right, but when I went over the story for that last draft, the scales almost literally fell from my eyes and I understood not only what Nancy had said about the structure, but why. It was a small moment that hid a huge transformation. After that, I could actually see story structure in my head: an amorphous, not quite solid, three dimensional shape.

When I look back on it, I think what I was doing was taking the last steps towards understanding story as an integral -- a living -- organism. Not thinking about it as a living thing, which is the same as saying "asking a question," but understanding it a such, which is the same as saying, "having an answer." Just one answer, of course.

That was also the point at which I realized that I had been struggling, without knowing it, toward an end goal which I had reached without ever defining it. And, in reaching it, I realized that it wasn't an "end" goal. The way I explained it to my students at the time was that writing is like running up a steep flight of stairs to a locked door at the top. You bang on and push against the door until it finally gives way ... and then you find yourself on a landing, at the foot of another steep flight of stairs with another locked door at the top.

What changed at that point for me was confidence in what I was doing, and in my ability to do it. This transformation actually took two years, but it started right around the time I would have hit 10,000 hours, and ended in the middle of a four year period where I increased my writing time to over thirty hours a week, adding over 5,000 hours to my total.

Okay, now you: when did you hit your 10,000?

December 16, 2008

Writers' Rooms

IMG_3318

I've seen photos of writers' rooms before and didn't care that much about it except to envy them.

But I'm right in the midst of considering how to rearrange my workspace so this (via) was a very good thing for me to see, for on-the-ground ideas.

I don't have a whole room for the writing, just one wall of my "bedroom", which is a bedroom, study, and sitting room in one. (The other large room in my apartment is living room and dining room, and I have a kitchen, bathroom, and walk-in closet.) The way the room is laid out, I have little choice about where to put my bed, which gives me little choice about where to put my desk. So I'm stuck with this one particular wall. (the white crumple in the foreground of the photo above is my bed.)

 It's kind of a weird and uncomfortable place to sit, but it's the longest wall in my apartment, and pretty much the only place I can put my table short of transplanting the two rooms. I solved the problem of storage by raisinIMG_3319g the table up high (it has IKEA screw up and down legs) and getting a draftsman's stool to sit on. Problem is, this isn't comfortable, and I simply stopped using the table. So I've decided to lower it to a normal height again, but now I have to consider a number of things:

  1. What do do with all the crap stored beneath it. Should I install wall shelves over the desk? Put organizers on top of the desk? Invest in storage containers for under the desk?
  2. Should I create some kind of mild barrier between the end of my desk and the doorway right next to it, as a kind of psychological boundary marker? And if so, what?
  3. Which of my current organizers aren't working? What should I keep, what should I build out, and what should I get rid of?

Any detailed responses or principles would be welcome. Sigh.

December 15, 2008

Reading Update

Boy, have I been bad about posting lately. If anyone is still reading this blog: my apologies.

I read The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn last week. I've never read it myself. My dad read it to me when I was a kid, and it really wasn't the best book to read to a kid. It's not really a kid's book. Tom Sawyer might have been, but Huck Finn isn't.

It's very similar to Uncle Tom's Cabin in a lot of ways, except more racist. Jim is actually less of a well-rounded character than Uncle Tom, which isn't surprising. Uncle Tom's was written from a northern pov, from someone who hadn't actually met very many slaves, so Uncle Tom was a vehicle for her ideas about blacks. Jim is less of a vehicle for ideas as he is a placeholder, a representative for slaves. He's superstitious, loving, and loyal, probably traits that Twain saw -- or thought he saw -- from his encounter with slaves as a child ... and probably the traits he picked out as being the best that blacks are capable of.

But the book's not about how slaves are people too. It's all about Huck's process of realizing that slaves are people too. Ugh. I understand that this was a big deal at the time, but the time was nearly 150 years ago. Can we stop being so impressed now?

I've also read:

Love and Other Monsters by Vandana Singh: a few glitches but mostly enjoyed very much.

The first three omnibuses of the Buffy Season 8 comic book: fun, but not essential.

The first omnibus of The Last Man comic book: kinda hated it.

December 09, 2008

Gendering Blogs

Via Aqueduct blog I came to the Gender Analyzer, an AI-driven online app that tells you whether a man or a woman wrote a particular blog.

Naturally I had to try it out:

  • atlas(t), my mapping, geography, 'n' stuff blog, is 70% certain to be male.
  • atlas(t): The Galleon Trade Edition, my art blog of the Galleon Trade artists exchange project, is 59% certain to be male, "however it's quite gender neutral."
  • SeeLight, this very blog, is 58% male, but is also "quite gender neutral."
  • APAture Live, the live blog I kept for the 10th Annual APAture arts festival, is 52% male, but also ... you know.
  • EnterBrainment, my paid entertainment blog, which I've abandoned now, is 57% FEMALE (but quite gender neutral).

It's interesting, because I use pretty much the same diction and sentence structures in all five blogs, but the vocabulary is different because the topics covered are different. Atlas(t) has a lot of abstract terms, and a very wide variety of terms, because of all the blogs, this one covers the broadest range of topics. Galleon Trade Edition is mostly about art, and SeeLight is mostly about literature. APAture Live was about multidisciplinary arts, but also about relationships and community. And EnterBrainment was about entertainment and celebrities, written for a primarily female audience.

So what I can gather from all of this is that they have simply gendered sets of vocabularies. Sigh.

December 07, 2008

Top Ten

Everybody wants year-end top ten lists!

I pledge to be year-end top ten free on this blog! Argh!

December 02, 2008

Liveblogging "Continue the Conversation - Bay Area Cultural Participation"

I know, I know. You fell asleep halfway through the title. And today's event that I'm liveblogging might not be interesting for anyone who isn't an artist or a nonprofit arts administrator. But then again, I think they've got some fun stuff planned, including a performance by Paul Flores and ... something by Favianna Rodriguez (does it really matter what? Everything she does is cool.) So I'm holding out for the "hmmm ... iiiinteresting" possibility.

Okay, what this is: a "convening" (read: mini-convention) of artists and cultural workers in the Bay Area, especially the East Bay, under the aegis of a consortium of foundations. This has something to do with the Wallace Foundation, and something to do with the San Francisco Foundation. And that's the best I can do three minutes before the show starts. I'll fill in the blanks as they do.

(ETA: A little background: The San Francisco Foundation and Grants for the Arts, two of the Bay Area's primary grantmakers, got funding from the Wallace Foundation to give out individual artist commissions to address "How rapidly changing demographics and/or evolving technologies impact the ways in which artists and arts organizations across the region connect with audiences." I proposed to liveblog APAture 10 (which I ended up doing for myself here), but instead of that proposal, John Killacky asked me to liveblog an artists and orgs convening instead. That is, this one. I worked together with Nicole McGovern of Helicon to set up a Twitter @reply page where people could send comments during the event, as well.)

Here's the info: Tuesday, December 02, 2008 from 1:00 PM - 6:00 PM (PT) at the Oakland Scottish Rite Center. I'd say just come on down since it's free, but they required an rsvp and it "sold out" at least a few days ago. (Wow! Iiiiiiinnnteresting.)

I'm here, I'm all set up. I just posted instructions to the Twitter page on how people can start posting to our Twitter page. (If you have a Twitter account.) People are going to be conversing via Twitter during the convening ... which may or may not be an overly optimistic statement.

The place is organized in tables, labeled with artistic discipline. My first fellow "Literary" person gave me this tip: the "Have Fun Do Good" blog by Britt Bravo. Will check it out. But first, I have to load up on liquids.

1:16 PM: And we're starting with a welcome from Samee Roberts from the City of Oakland (Arts Division). Says: no way to quantify how many artists in Oakland. We are poised on one of the most culturally rich regions of the world. 957,000 people are exposed to art--and a bunch of other statistics I didn't catch. Often the city art programs are the ONLY art programs left in the schools. Arts one of five key growth industries in Oakland in the coming years. Attracting more nonprofits and supporting the business end. Launching major arts marketing initiative in the spring. Today's event is an all-Oakland production.

1:21: Diane Sanchez from East Bay Community Foundation. Makes a joke about tables labeled "Other." Is talking about John Killacky, arts program director at the San Francisco Foundation, and listing his accomplishments when I tune back in from explaining to someone how to make a post to Twitter. Killacky's experienced every side of arts organizing. (From what I've heard, it's all true about him. He works his butt off to support the arts in the Bay Area ... and knows everybody.) Intros John Killacky.

1:23: John Killacky speech:

Shout outs to the folks involved in this event. Mentions previous, smaller convenings. Group of them also brought back the arts office in the City of Oakland. (Applause.) Describes scene when councilman says "Artists, I have heard you. The money's back in." Time of community power.

Could spend the whole afternoon bemoaning the economy. One of the things we need in a bad economy is a loyal and expanding audience, so today we're going to talk about our audiences, and our relationships to them. New demographics and changing technology. Shout out to me. Points out Twitter.

The Wallace Foundation focused on arts organizations around the country and looking at community. Last year Wallace invited Kary Shulman at Grants for the Arts and Killacky to talk about collaboration. Five other cities were invited. Experiment in which Wallace is staying with them for four years, eleven orgs in Bay Area.

(Sigh. I missed a whole chunk of what Killacky was saying because my wireless connection went down a bar and all this stopped loading very fast and I was struggling to manage it. Sorry! He was just talking about what's happening today. Also introduced someone whose name I missed.)

1:34: Killacky again:

Cellphones off except for Twitter. No formal breaks today. There are speakers and a performance "expert," but really today is about your conversation and the "World Cafe" discussion.

Introducing Paul Flores. Poet, playwright, spoken word artist who's been on HBO. Asked him to accept commission to do performance text. Bilingual piece.

1:37 Paul Flores:

Start with funk music and a video of latino youth in SF, the Mission. (Darren Leon at the next table is sit-dancing to the music.) Here comes Paul. Music fades out but Paul stands in front of screen with images running, he's in the scene and also popped out of it. Busting spoken word. (How long does a poem have to be before it becomes a play? How cohesive does a story have to be to be a narrative?)

Beautiful, "mission communist chicano" standing in front of an image of sneakers on power lines. Back in the day, the poets in the 'hood. Shout outs. "Machetes, machetes, machetes in their voices." The part about the food. "The readings were never paid," but they ate well. Sweeping history of the movements from seventies to now, shout out to technology. Mentions his size (he's big). Ends in 1995.

1:44: More conversational now. In 1995 left Chula Vista and came to SF. Met *and here he describes every type known to man*. Everybody was a poet.

Goes into a character with a stick-up-the-ass American accent, dropping items of cultural savvy. Turns him on to poetry slams. Story about SF State and a girl selling Guatemalan textiles. Already has a dress to use for her rape poem. Why does everyone in SF want to go somewhere else. He's only ever wanted to come here. Jack Kerouac fan. "Poet or die ... I think I'm dying." He's a punk ... but cool. Starving.

Girl selling textiles actually daugher of a colonel who burned people during the war. Valley girl Spanglish accent, but had purpose and really wanted to move to El Salvador. Had a plan to move to the jungle and marry an Indian. He doesn't have a plan. His upper-middle class parents not a good example. Realizes that all the Mexicans in the Mission could also be Salvadorean refugees. Listened to the Spanish being spoken around him and it was amazing. It was like being in a foreign country. He's a refugee, too. Everyone saying "Son of a bitch."

1:52: Back to his own persona? No. Now he's a woman activist sitting on the ground trying to sell poetry to passersby. Will trade a book for a burrito or piece of pan dulce. selling revolutionary poetry, not to immigrants. They don't need reminding. Back in the day, shout outs to revolutionaries of years past. Bone through my hair, spear in my hand, tribe. Stood out here and told the truth about property. Everybody wants to live in a loft, like a fishbowl. You a businessman underneath that goatee? Tattoos, body piercings.

Now back to his own persona. (A lot of this funny, but my response time is slowed by typing. Nobody else near me is laughing or reacting. I wonder why.)

2:00: Now he's doing a puppet show with beer cans as puppets. Three beers. I can't see the brands. One is Coors. "Wannabe test tube gangster" Three gangsters talking shit about each other. Somebody holding forth about Sam Colt. One of them is sick and somebody goes to get a guy named "Gato." Gato is a can of Tecate, shorter than the others. Sam dies. Argues over baseball teams and shoots Tecate can.

2:03: Back to persona: reminds of incident when Glickstern of Liquid club beat some Latino patrons with a crowbar and wasn't convicted of anything.

Poem about this and gentrification, hipsterdom. "Are you doing that crowbar thing?" Everything is "_____ thing." "How could gentrification be violent if artists started it?" "That English-only thing ... that electronic hate-mail thing ... that Mexican beer is better at room temperature thing ... doing the volunteer at the pirate store instead thing ..."

How was I different from them? Fought for afterschool arts programs, not bike lane. Couldn't call himself an artist in the Mission until he was evicted. Came to Mission looking for an audience. Now when he walks through the neighborhood, he only sees tourists.

2:09: John Killacky:

By-play with Flores about baseball teams. Paul says Cubs might make it because look at Obama.

Killacky intros Holly Sidford of Helicon Collaborative. She authored reports on various things I didn't quite catch because I was looking at how to spell her name. (Sorry! I'll fill in blanks later.) She'll set the frame before we do World Cafe.

2:11: Holly Sidford:

Was asked to set the frame for the conversation. Trying to hit the key ideas they hope will frame the discussion.

Theme is change: in the economy and community. Is cultural participation changing in the Bay Area? How is that change afffecting you? (Missed the last two. Dude, I do wish speakers would slow down around the key points.)

Change is inevitable. Strains of economic crisis only illuminate trends going on for a while. Rahm Emanuel: a crisis is a terrible thing to waste. Thriving in times of significant change requires five attributes:

  • anticipating and analyzing what's going on
  • having right attitude, not feeling like victim
  • capacity to adapt and change
  • articulation and communication, consistently
  • audacity think big, think bold, don't get beaten down by current circumstances.

Short term crisis brings opportunities to address long term challenges. So don't do anything that won't address long term goals. Don't try to save jobs that are going to be lost anyway. Anticipate what the world will look like five years from now.

Fight idea of retrenchment and death by a thousand cuts. Any org can cut 10% and look the same but 30% cuts or more will change the orgs. Will have to rethink fundamentals of org.

We are in a global economic upheaval and we're not taking this seriously enough. We are in a once-in-a-lifetime gale that is ripping up the bases of our economy. California will be particularly hard hit. State deficit will balloon. If the auto industry and financial sector are going through a mass transformation, then the arts "industry" will as well.

How the arts have weathered previous crises: in 4 of 9 recession years totals of arts giving increased. But this is different. Responses of audiences vary but in hard times they tend to shrink and their tastes become more conservative. And applications to art school go up. (general rueful laugh.)

This impacts:

  • revenue--earned and unearned
  • audiences--appetite and capacity
  • programming--scale and frequency
  • partnerships--ripple effects
  • venues--cost, availability.

Need to maintain adaptability b/c all of this is uncertain.

2:20: Lists some statistics about Asian and Latino community growth, white community decline. Rising elderly population. Shows graphs. 27% of Californian population is immigrant. Will grow to 36% within 12 years. (Boy, these are great graphs! I hope they post these. I'll ask them to.) Breaking down ethnicities in Bay Area counties now and in the future.

Implications for arts industry? Young Latino audiences, aging audiences. What themes will artists explore? What technologies? Institutions? How will people manifest support? Continued contests over immigration, language, growth, and public resources. Likely to get more intense. Bigger, more diverse, and older population, smaller working-age population. Immigrants will be supporting Baby Boomers. Women in workforce needed to support aging population.

Alan Brown did a study of cultural engagement patterns in the Inland Empire. Home is most common setting; places of worship and parks are also big for African Americans and Latinos. Taking photos, singing, musical instruments, social dancing are all big. Twice as many  Latinos as whites participate in ethnic heritage. Participation is changing: increasing, doing it themselves. Strong and growing desire to create and share what they create. Technology lowers barriers to artistic expression.

Ways of participating: Inventive, interpretive, curatorial, observational, ambient.

2:31: Obama zeitgeist: Lesson for Cultural Sector:

  • people want to be inspired; want link to a higher purpose and the future
  • the improbable is possible with the right strategy--applying lessons of community organizing, neighborhood by neighborhood
  • entitlements are dead--sense of entitlement, that is--could be what sank Hillary and McCain
  • empower the young--hire young people, respect them
  • participation is our most important renewable resource--Obama's the most diverse campaign, 2.5 million contributions, 1.2 million donors under $100? Made it easy for them to give small amounts.

Participation is our most important renewable resource.

(Good talk. Really interesting points. I hope they post that powerpoint presentation.)

2:36: People from Helicon speaking and explaining "World Cafe" concept. We're getting into small groups of five or six and discussing ... stuff.

World Cafe core assumptions:

  • The knowledge and wisdom we need is present and accessible
  • Collective insight evolves from honoring unique contributions:
    • connecting ideas
    • listening into the middle
    • noticing deeper themes and questions.
  • Intelligence emerges as the system connects to istelf in diverse and creative ways.

We're splitting into small groups by discipline.

ROUND ONE: This first session will be about 25 minutes. Describe your experience of how cultural participation is changing. What lessons have you learned?

I'm going to sign off now and I'll check in at the end of each group.

3:14: So I was in a group with Emily Sevier of CCI, Khan Wong and Valerie Tookes from GFTA (lotsa funders here!) and a ceramic artist who didn't put on her name tag until the end. We talked about new technologies of course. Khan is a gamer! We talked about expanding communities online, and how online apps and games (like World of Warcraft!) are changing the type of cultural participation that happens online. Also how games (like Guitar Hero! You Rock!) brought arts participation back into the home.

ROUND TWO: New question: How would you describe the Bay Area arts community's experience of how cultural participation is changing?

3:20: I'm now at a table with Isaias Rodriguez of YBCA, Samee Roberts of City of Oakland, Rene de Guzman and Indra Mungal of the Oakland Museum. René and Indra talked about Museums being the television model: where you have to be on the couch at 8 PM to see your show. But nowadays, with TV shows online, you can watch what you want, when you want. How do museums update? I complain about bad museum websites.

3:42: The most interesting result for me from this discussion was the consideration that Favianna Rodriguez' really amazing and successful real-world studio sales couldn't happen without the internet. The internet changes the way we organize things in the real world ... not just how many people we can get to the event, but how the event operates. Talked about the long tail of internet commerce.

ETA: This was a really interesting discussion group, but because I didn't take notes during the time, I've lost a lot of what we said. Bad Blogger!

ROUND THREE: The question is what do you see as the future possbilities for cultural participation the Bay Area given what you are hearing today (including your conversations and the context presented)?

3:46: I was looking for a table with total strangers and found it! Nirmala Ramalingam of the San Francisco Foundation, Sherwood Chen, Sade Huron, Jonathan Darr of Young Audiences of Northern California.

I mention my previous museums online complaint and Tate Modern website Tate archive is recommended.

We spent a lot of time going over what was said in previous sessions. We didn't much get to the question at hand, but did talk about the need for arts education to be put back in the schools.

4:14: HARVEST: harvesting ideas after the three rounds.

Changes:

  • people have to get into the electronic public space
  • attentiveness to younger people's perspectives
  • social networking for marketing and communications
  • redefining sense of community
  • multilingualism, multicultural, multiracial
  • definition of "culture" is much broader
  • increasing self-curating; ipods; harder to get audiences to take risks; at same time a yearning for connection; social dancing is exploding
  • changing look of performances
  • participation is more in demand
  • arts are becoming more democratic; elite art forms becoming more unpopular
  • accessible, neighborhood-based and family-based activity

Possibilities:

  • barter? easier to carry a credit card than a chicken; embrace being different things to different groups
  • importance of arts education; audience development
  • opportunity to tap into nonarts groups
  • arts could function as amazon functions--if you like this maybe you'd like this
  • wikipedia doesn't have more obscure stuff; use wikis to make more stuff available
  • arts groups interacting with nonarts groups, social change element
  • partnering with existing local agencies for transportation
  • expertise vs. participation; access for public to make their own traditions.
  • adopt web standards, tagging system, pull each other's feeds
  • Obama's push for rebuilding country's infrastructure, make sure some of those funds are earmarked for artists (yes! the new WPA!)
  • artist-led integration of arts technology to inspire; BA perfect place to incubate that relation.
  • does technology widen or close cultural gap?

4:35: now, take 30 seconds to reflect, then we'll do a modified version of "open space." Come up with a topic of a discussion you'd like to be part of. Then people who propose topics will be leading discussions.

Topics:

  1. drawing audiences to East Bay arts events
  2. what this recession means, the value of cultural participation in terms of civic action
  3. how to engage audiences to participate more actively in specific art projects
  4. getting artists and programs for people in the baby boomer generation
  5. how do we hold the dept of education accountable to getting arts education
  6. organizing a lobbyist in washington to influence obama re: arts
  7. people who are using media technology and other internet tools and resources for cultural participation (Isais)
  8. how oakland and east bay arts orgs can cross promote
  9. new paradigms for sustaining nonprofit orgs
  10. next steps after this event

4:58: Technology group is by far the largest group, and splits very reluctantly into two groups at moderator's insistence ... and then only when Isaias and Favianna, who are leading, each take a different group. I'm with Favi's

She asks: What apps do you use? I'm just gonna list them here:

  • constant contact--email management
  • facebook, myspace, linkedin, tumblr--social networking sites
  • surveymonkey
  • typepad, wordpres, blogger--blogging sites
  • youtube, tubemogul--video share
  • gmail
  • googletalk
  • paypal
  • yahoogroups
  • basecamp, dot project--project management
  • google docs
  • flickr--photo share
  • itunes, amazon--creating product lists

What great models have you seen of people's use of technology?

  • Using paypal to facilitate money exchange.
  • Integrating blog posts with event announcements; integrating different media/apps: embedding videos into event announcements
  • Using tagging, keywords, trackbacks to increase traffic to website. But this requires cost/benefit analysis b/c it takes time.
  • What about rights to images on Flickr?

5:15: Back to center. Each group is going to share one thing they talked about.

  • What's the deal with the recession? group: Keep the conversation going, have another forum on this topic specifically, use your space to convene, have a barter board.
  • Audience participation group: identify how to let ppl into creative process, which is fragile and messy.
  • Getting Boomers to begin creating art group: celebrate those boomers who may have given up a while ago, create intergenerational art opportunities.
  • Next steps group: creating an online way for Bay Area arts orgs to communicate with each other. Also, a physical space.
  • East Bay arts orgs attracting audiences and cross promotion groups (which were actually two groups which melded): openly foster a culture of collaboration among arts orgs of the East Bay. Don't be territorial.
  • Online media tech tools and how to prioritize them group one: good next step is to share best practices.
  • Creating new paradigms for nonprofit orgs group: changing language, 21st century language for fundraising; outreach on Obama campaign model; redefining funding levels to be more comfortable for those in the service area; what does sustainability mean?
  • Lobbying Obama for arts policy: reaching out to Barbara Lee and a whole list of orgs. (Did nobody get the memo about saying just ONE thing you talked about?) Arts to no longer be satisfied with crumbs, etc. (Wow, he's listing too many things for me to type.)
  •  Media group two: big list concept turns into genome concept (Amazon's "If you like this then you'll like ...")
  • Arts education group: willing to partner with other agencies to work with Ron Dellums' office; how to integrate arts into core subjects; understand what they're allowing students to miss out on and why this is unacceptable

5:25: We did amazing work today. Tip of the iceberg. (Seriously, though, are there ever next steps to these things?)

Closing with thank yous and ... oo! Next steps. Question answered. We can't have another day where we sit and talk about great ideas and not have any next steps. This is a four-year initiative. There will be many conversations, and there *can* be other activities. Can use these topics as workshop themes.

Closing with thank you and invitation to reception. Thanks to various participants and funders:

Wallace Foundation
San Francisco Foundation and Grants for the Arts
East Bay Community Foundation
City of Oakland
San Jose Cultural Office
Theater Bay Area
Staffs of Theater Bay Area, San Francisco Foundation, and Grants for the Arts, who staffed the event
Favianna and Reed who are producing a film about this, Moi, Paul for performance
Sound people and folks at Scottish Rite Temple
Paul McGovern who organized entire event

Okay, I'm off to the reception. Will clean up and add links and comments later tonight.

December 01, 2008

What To Give Writers As Gifts

In the spirit of Tayari Jones' list last year, here are some holiday (or general) gift suggestions for the writers in your life, both do's and don'ts.

DON'T buy your writer books unless they are young, beginners, or you know they're poorly read. Writers--real writers--are voracious readers and must be given the freedom to self-direct. Also, unless you talk to them about books all the time, you don't know what they've read. If there's a particular book that you really want them to read that you don't think they know about, go for it, but don't buy them something because you heard it was good and thought they might like it.

DO buy gift cards to book stores, or a LibraryThing or PaperbackSwap account.

DO pick an art form that you know they don't experience enough of (dance, or music, or theater) and buy tickets to see a really hot show. Be sure to include drinks afterward, so they have someone to talk to about said show.

DON'T buy pens, paper, or (especially not!) notebooks. Writers are VERY particular about their writing implements, and unless you know specifically what type/brand they want, don't buy implements for them.

DO get a gift card to a stationery store, or if they write on their computers, find out what software they use and buy them something new, like Scrivener. If you buy a disk from a store, be sure to get a gift receipt so they can return it.

DO get them a gift card to a computer store (esp. the online store they use), especially if you know that their computer is dying. If they're getting ready to buy a new computer, they can put your gift towards it.

DON'T buy them books on writing or publishing. If they know what they're about, chances are, they've already looked into these books and have already read the best and ignored the mediocre ones.

DO invest in something career related ... what that really means is, give them a home-made gift certificate for a specific amount of money you will invest in some career development opportunity, like a writers conference, or a class, or a workshop, or a writing contest. These things are expensive (weekend conferences can cost hundreds of dollars before you figure in travel or accommodation costs; submitting to a writers contest can cost $20 or $40 or more).

This is a wonderful gift that says both that you take them seriously as writers, and that you're willing to give them money toward developing their careers. But be sure to pay up when they decide what to spend it on!

DON'T stress about trying to occupy a writer's mind or give him/her ideas. That's part of their JOB, and you don't have to help out with that.

DO worry about their bodies. Give them a year's gym membership, or a gift certificate to a public bath, or a massage (or series of massages!) Give them things that will help maintain or improve their health.

DO arrange a spa date! Especially if you go with them.

DO give them a gift certificate for manicures. I don't know about other writers but I'm very dependent on my hands (for typing) and bite my nails to keep them short enough to type. As a result, I suffer from hangnails. If someone bought me a manicure a month for a year, I would bless them forever.

DON'T waste your money with joke gifts or junk.

DO, for a writer who is trying to write for a living, give money. Freelancing is hard.

DO, If you have a nice guest room in your lovely home, or a vacation house, tell your writer friend that they can use it for a week or a month (or however long) when they're ready and they need it, for a writing retreat. This may not seem like much of a gift to you, but to a writer who  is desperate for some quiet me time to push out that draft, this could be the one thing in the world no one else can give them.

Also, unless you have that kind of relationship with the writer, just saying "you can use my guestroom/house anytime!" might not be enough. The writer might be hesitant to take advantage, so formally giving an amount of time as a holiday gift might make it easier for them to actually take you up on it.

I've suggested a lot of gift certificates, so here's a shopping list of gifts at different amounts:

  • $10-15 will buy a decent writing notebook, like a moleskine.
  • $15-20 will cover a decent manicure in your writer's neighborhood.
  • $20-40 will cover the entry fee for a writing contest.
  • $25 will cover the cost of  one new hardcover book (most of 'em, anyway). These are the books hardest for a working writer to get ahold of, but also the ones they might most want to read.
  • $40 will buy Scrivener, the hottest writing software right now for book-length projects. It's a download, not a disk, and you can find it here.
  • $40-60 will cover the application fee for a fellowship or an MFA program. (If they're talking about doing either of these.)
  • $60-75 should be enough to buy a massage for 45-60 minutes, depending on where you go.
  • $75 will buy a month's membership at a 24 Hour Fitness Gym. I imagine other low-cost chains are comparable.
  • $130 will upgrade their Mac operating system. Undoubtedly, Windows will cost less.
  • $150 will buy them the new MS Office Suite.
  • $240 will buy a year's worth of manicures.
  • $350 will buy a year's membership at a 24 Hour Fitness Gym. I imagine other low-cost chains are comparable.
  • $750 is the cost of a week at the Squaw Valley Community of Writers, not including housing or travel.
  • $2345 is the cost of a week at the Breadloaf Writers Conference, not including travel.
  • $3000--30,000 will cover tuition for one year of a master of fine arts program at most universities.
  • $30,000 should get most writers with no chronic illnesses through one year of life in most areas of the United States (but maybe not so much for San Francisco, New York, and LA).

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