virtualDavis

ˈvər-chə-wəlˈdā-vəs Serial storyteller, poetry pusher, digital doodler, flâneur.
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Thinking Disguised as Walking

Thinking Disguised as Walking (doodle collage by virtualDavis)

Thinking is generally thought of as doing nothing in a production-oriented society, and doing nothing is hard to do. It’s best done by disguising it as doing something, and the something closest to doing nothing is walking. ~ Rebecca Solnit (Source: Wanderlust: A History of Walking)

And, if the conditions are just right, sailing. Thinking. Walking. Sailing. Flanerie in a production oriented society…

Robot Flâneur

How do flâneurs indulge their habit when confined to their studies, jockeying their bureaus?

We read. We write. We shuffle and curate photographs. But sometimes — jonesing uncontrollably for a brief flânerie fix — we dive into the digital arcades. The popularity of my recent post on cyberflânerie has prompted me to share a secret pleasure.

Robot Flâneur, a Google Street View "explorer".

Sometimes, while I’m supposed to be massaging meter or decluttering stories, I plug in the Robot Flâneur and savor the guilty pleasure of Parisian flânerie. Or Mexico City. Or Tokyo… Robot Flâneur is a visual “explorer” based upon the magic of Google Street View. Just pick one o the nine cities around the world and enjoy the voyeurism. But not for long! Remember, there’s all that work to do…

This digital indulgence, courtesy of London-bassed writer and technologist James Bridle (booktwo.org), is simple but intriguing. And not a little habit forming.

“Google Street View is both the view from the machine (from the car, the Ballardian view-of-our-times) and the view of the machine (the way the machine sees). Overlayed with data augmentation, from a non-human-natural perspective (the roof of the car), slightly lensed (fish-eyed), wholly networked.” ~ James Bridle

I can hear your voice vibrating through the internets: “Wonky!” And you’re right. Sort of. But Bridle may not be the best one to articulate the sizzle in his “web flâneur” steak. It’s siren call is really enticing, especially because it’s only an effortless mouse click away most of the time. But don’t take my word for it.

Utterly useless but strangely compelling site… The idea is simple. You find yourself in a random London location in Google’s Street View. Thirty seconds later you’re teleported to another random location. That’s it… [And yet] Robot Flâneur is oddly addictive. ~ Matt Brown (Londonist)

Take a scenic vacation sans pants… Each slideshow’s interactive shots have been hand-picked to most accurately represent the local urban culture, and’re navigable using keyboard shortcuts, which’ll inevitably end up getting you lost in an area where you’ll have to roll up your computer’s windows and lock the doors. (Thrillist)

Robot Flaneur… allows users the experience of a casual stroll around famed cities… Though simplistic, its voyeuristic capabilities prove addictive… For those of you with shorter attention spans, new images are refreshed every 30 seconds, with the option to zoom in, zoom out, or skip around. Just consider this the ultimate staycation. ~ Laura Feinstein (PSFK)

What are you waiting for? Give it a try! (But remember to drop a crumb trail…)

Smile! I’m blogging you…

Smile! I'm blogging you... (image of and by virtualDavis)

Smile! I'm blogging you... (image of and by virtualDavis)

I remember seeing a t-shirt for sale once that said, “I’m blogging this.” Nothing more. Just a black t-shirt with bold white lettering across the front. I’m blogging this!

I should have bought it. It would make people laugh. People who know me. Especially the ones who don’t quite get it. Blogging, I mean.

But I didn’t buy it. I liked the idea, but I wanted to edit the message slightly as follows:

Smile! I’m blogging you…

On the one hand, it’s humorous, and on the other it’s an increasingly relevant disclaimer. The “fine print”. Not just for me, but for all bloggers. All journalists, storytellers, writers, artists, etc.

What do I mean by relevant? We are photographing and video recording and quoting each other around the clock nowadays. Look at the ubiquity of blogging, micro blogging, YouTubing, Facebook-ing and Google Plus-ing. We are busy documenting our lives as well as anyone else who flits across our paths.

I walked down Madison Avenue this evening as a man filmed all of us. Not a news reporter, but a plain clothed civilian. John Doe. Or Juan Sanchez… Why was he filming us? What will he do with our stolen souls? Thievery! Or not…

Smile! I’m blogging you…

One of my favorite English language writers, Michael Ondaatje, returns again and again to the theme of thievery in his writing. It’s a large part of storytelling. I suspect many writers, artists, etc. ponder the idea.

I prefer to think of storytellers as borrowers, not kleptomaniacs. We borrow characters, scenes and plots. We borrow the smell of bacon cooking three doors down, the sound of a cello being practiced (badly) somewhere on the other side of an overgrown juniper hedge.

Vicente Huidobro (1893-1948)

Vicente Huidobro (image via Wikipedia)

Not all writers admit that they are recyclers, borrowers or thieves. Chilean poet Vicente Huidobrodeclared, “The poet is a little God.” He aspired to invent worlds of words out of thin air and ambition. I invite you to evaluate his success.

With the advent of widespread social media it’s easier and more enticing than ever to collect and curate the perfect pair of eyebrows, the seemy backstory, the unpredictable twist of fate, the melodic denouement peppered with the fragrance of jasmine and fireworks on a summer evening… All from the comfort of our own desktops. Or smart phones. The 21st century storyteller is everywhere you are.

Of course, flanerie still serves the storyteller well, but his boulevards have been extended exponentially. I am an unabashed flaneur, but not just in the Baudelarian sense. I’m an urban flaneur, but I’m also a rural flaneur. I’m a café and sidewalk flaneur, but I’m also a digital flaneur. And I’m collecting and curating 24×7 (to the occasional regret of my bride and friends, I hesitate to add.)

I apologize. I understand that not everyone wants to be onstage all the time. Not everyone wants to have their almost lofty soufflé or their offkey arias recorded for posterity. I get it. I’m with you.

But, I can’t resist. You’re interesting. Not just your eyebrows and your bacon and your cello practice and your seemy backstory and your perennially deflated soufflé and your upside down melodies. You.

But rest assured that mine is an imperfect lens, a distorted microphone. I won’t steel your soul. I promise. I can’t. It’s yours as long as you choose to nourish it. I will borrow liberally, borrow, not steel, and I’ll do so with a sometimes distorted, always playful filter.

Will you lend me the mischievous glimmer in your eye when I ask you what you want for Christmas? Will you lend me the fierce gate, knees high, hips restrained, stride impossibly long that I remember from the first time I watched you walk toward your airplane when heading back to New York City from Paris? Will you lend me your hurt and confusion and quirks and dreams?

I’ll do my best never to betray you, and I’ll always resist your soul.

I promise.

Mindfulness and Flânerie

Just another listless dreamer...

New Yorker marginalia by virtualDavis via Flickr

Linda Hollier’s Mindfulness and The Flâneur examines a topic near and dear to my heart, soul and senses: flânerie.

I’m honored to be mentioned and grateful because she inspired me to update my Metro Flaneur post with a list of my favorite flanerie miscellanea. But ego and overdue “housekeeping” are just the tip of the iceberg.

Ms. Hollier (@lindahollier) is positing an insight that intuitively resonates truth to me, but which I’ve never before heard.

Speed, whether online or offline, is a characteristic of the modern world. The flâneur reminds us to set the pace of our own lives.

Cast as a character in the 21st century drama of life, the flâneur thus begins to play the role of consciousness. (here2here)

Amen. The pace and the scope. Flânerie demands an elasticity of time and space. Freedom to meander, to lose oneself in the other, perhaps even to become the other without fully detaching from self. For a while.

Anthropologist Grant McCracken reflection on Joy Walking comes to mind.

It’s a little like joy riding, except we’re not stealing cars, we’re stealing moments. Joy walking happens when we leave the house or office and start walking. We don’t have a plan. We just go… We step in and out of people’s lives. Couples in love, couples at war…  The tiny courtesies and rudenesses of public life… The key is to get out and about. To get away. To see what you can see. Steal a moment. Make it your own. (PsychologyToday.com)

Ms. Hollier’s suggestion that flânerie and conscioussness may overlap is intriguing, an idea worth passing along to my mother who’s a student of Buddhism and a proponent of mindfulness. Let’s see if I can get her to weigh in. Stay tuned.

Off to meander the digital meadow with the mingling masses…

Update:

Great news. My mother, Melissa Davis, shared her impression. Thanks, mom! Here’s what the wise lady thinks:

Mindfulness, flaneuring and turtles

Reading this after an abbreviated mindful yoga session with Jon K-Z (on tape), I am delighted to chime in. Linda Hollier’s reference to turtles on leashes reminds me of walking with a 2- or 3-year old, a great flaneur opportunity. I recently grandparented my 3-year old granddaughter for a week which required walking her to preschool and back in Georgetown, a fascinating place where equipment and men with shovels were digging up the ancient trolley tracks. Took us forever – which was as good as it gets – even better than a turtle because she had a couple of feet more within her purview AND she asked questions!

Years ago I read a NYTimes op ed that shared the unscientific findings of a city dweller observing adults accompanying small children around a neighborhood in Manhattan. She reported that the majority of them pushed strollers which ensured timely arrivals wherever the adult was headed. She contrasted them with the handful of adults who walked – meandered – alongside their youngsters, stopping to examine every interesting flower or bit of flotsam along the way. She pointed out that there was nothing more important for a child that age to do than poke along – and through – every curiosity.

I think flaneuring is like drawing, something we are born with but that schedules and school steal from us. I agree that mindfulness – being totally present in the moment – goes hand in hand (or leash) with flaneuring. I am not surprised that so many people wonder if they ate, lose their keys, forget names, obsess about how stressed they are given the mindless speed that propels them through their days. A little daily flaneuring would sort them right out! (Melissa Davis)

Amen! Way to go, mom. Just goes to show that my decision to meander the digital meadow with the mingling masses yesterday restored the cosmic balance, inspiring my mother to opine. Perhaps I should meander the soggy non-digital meadow this afternoon?

Related articles:

Skin Deep Accidents

Clipped from: shellartistree.posterous.com (share this clip)

Is it an accident that the palm of the hand is cool and inviting, a brookside grotto inviting us in to rest and listen to the water burbling past? Is it an accident that the index finger knuckle suggests an eye awakening a children’s book character from the hand, index finger and thumb? Is it an accident that the fingers and their shadows echo the sensuousRubenesque topography of a woman’s legs and posterior?

Yes. Accidents.

Just as the grotto feels safe and calm, like sitting in the earth’s gentle hand. Just as the improvised puppet inspires a child’s laughter and imagination despite being “just your hand”. Just as the nude napping in early evening light suggests cupped fingers, a shadowy hand gathering sheets.

Thanks for these accidents, Michelle Rummel (@shellartistree).

Sunday Supper

Frog cartoonFelt grand enough after dinner last night at Turtle Island Cafe, but awoke this morning feeling like I was drowning. Nightmare? No, I was actually struggling to catch my breath. Seems that my lungs were suddenly extremely congested. And my ears and nose.

So… I took my vorpal sword in hand (read Dayquil) and dealt the beast a few quick blows. Deft swordsmanship and plenty of hot tea subdued the bronchial beast marginally, and I set about adapting my day. I bowed out of a monthly writing group this afternoon and a public reading of Karen Lewis’ play The Perfect Wife held at The Depot Theatre.

That was the bad news. The good news? As an almost forty year old who’s voice neglected to drop the desired octave at puberty, I’ve long envied those radio announcer baritones and basses who can make a snippet from the AP or the weather report sound like chocolate melting over a candle. Today was my moment of glory. Struggling to catch my breath all day, I’ve nevertheless hummed and sung myself hoarse, hitting notes that I’ve never hit before and will probably never hit again. Joy! Griffin, my almost three old Labrador Retriever keeps cocking his head and wondering when his “momma” is coming home from Charleston to restore a little normalcy. That’s right, my bride joined John Davis (@trekeast) last Thursday for a paddling leg of his epic 4,000 mile human powered adventure. But more on that in a moment.

First, I’d like to back up. What’s up with the title of this blog post, you’re probably wondering. What’s this about Sunday supper? Good question! Silly title really. Probably smorgasboard would have made more sense. Or digest. But enough with the food references. Basically today’s post is what might have been the conversation around the table if we were sitting down to catch up over a slow Sunday supper. Make sense?

Okay, so that’s the title, but what about the silly frog? That was a quick doodle that I made this morning after figuring out what was going on with my breathing and funny voice. Actually, it’s more than that. It’s a hat tip to Hugh MacLeod (@gapingvoid) who’s book Evil Plans has entertained and inspired me over the last couple of days as much for the quirky-but-clever cartoons as the simple message he drives home with miniature sound bite chapters.

Everybody needs an Evil Plan. Everybody needs that crazy, out-there idea that allows them to actually start doing something they love, doing something that matters… Every person who ever managed to do this, every person who managed to escape the cubicle farm and start doing something interesting and meaningful, started off with their own Evil Plan. And yeah, pretty much everyone around them — friends, family, colleagues — thought they were nuts.” (Hugh MacLeod, Evil Plans)

It isn’t rocket science, nor does it pretend to be. After all, a book that relies as much on cartoons as prose to make a point isn’t about pretence and pontificating. It’s accessible and lighthearted. And following close on the heels of Guy Kawasaki‘s (@guykawasakiEnchantment and Seth Godin‘s (@thisissethsblogPoke the Box I fell surrounded by kindred spirits: initiators, starters, creators, shippers, adventurers.

If there were more hours in the day, the week, I’d dish up quick reviews of all three of these books. Don’t count on it. Instead, read them yourself. Quickly. They’re all available digitally, and both Enchantment and Poke the Box are available as audiobooks too. Perfect for the car or the gym! Evil Plans doesn’t really lend itself to audio with all of those terrific cartoons, but I bet MacLeod could pull off one heck of a Vook

In other news, yesterday’s “Loquacious Flaneur” continues to evolve, so I’ll wrap up and curate a few last tweets before taking my vorpal sword in hand (read Nyquil) and dealing the bronchial beast a few last blows before surrendering to sleep!

The Loquacious Flaneur

The flaneur’s art — if he has one — is the art of receptivity. Of being open. Of listening and observing and smelling. Of suspending judgment enough to commune with his subject.

The flâneur seeks communion with the other, and this requires a receptivity and a yielding to the bustle of the urban crowd.

And so it is that an unanticipated invitation from Barbara Greene to wonder and wander the word flaneur was easily accepted earlier today. What follows is the quite-possibly-still-evolving trail of artifacts.

Mentors & Mavericks: Writer’s Digest Conference 2011

On January 21-23 I attended the 2011 Writer’s Digest Conference. I arrived focused on my book, my book pitch and my publishing goals. I left focused on new friends and acquaintances, a community of writers and publishing industry professionals who shared their visions, ambitions, guidance and encouragement. Listen to my wide wandering reflection on this transformation or read audio transcription.

I’ve collected the social media artifacts from those three days into an illuminating if cumbersome archive of the event:

I’ll continue to curate and weave my commentary into this collaborative coverage in the days ahead. Please contact me (@virtualDavis) to recommend blog posts, etc. that I’ve overlooked. Thanks!

The highlight of the Writer’s Digest Conference was the people. I’m referring to both the  presenters and the other attendees. As a writer, I find that it’s all too easy to disconnect — to become isolated — not socially but professionally. And yet, I love to connect and interact. I yearn for feedback and criticism and guidance and encouragement. This is a big reason why I teach, act, blog, flinflan, tweet and tell stories. Writing demands connecting and community. Last weekend’s conference delivered both, engaging me directly with writers, readers, publishing veterans and innovators.

In addition to the curated archives above, I’ll blog on several of the most memorable presentations over the next week or two. I’d like to start today by acknowledging one presenter who profoundly impacted me, Jane Friedman (@janefriedmanThis woman’s a dynamo! Behind those coquettish ringlets and a smile that feels like a bear hug from an old friend, Jane Friedman is all genius. No joke. And not only publishing-smart, but savvy-smart. And generous-smart.

You see, I was Friedman’s student even before attending her “Your Publishing Options” session on Saturday morning. She didn’t know it; she didn’t even know me. But her No Rules blog has been a critical component of my crowdsourced MFA in recent months. Then, a little over a week ago, I attended her “3 Secrets for Selling Your Nonfiction Book Live Webinar“. Ninety minutes of real-time Friedman instructing me how to compose an effective book query. Great class!

She answered questions and disected queries submitted by participants in the webinar. My learning curve went vertical. But the most helpful was yet to come. I’d mentioned to Friedman that I’d be pitching my book at #wdc11, so she revised my bloated book overview into an amuse-bouche to tempt literary agents during the Pitch Slam. And she did so almost immediately despite the fact that she was preparing for her battery of presentations and traveling halfway across the country. She communicated and encouraged me via three separate social media channels. All, without having ever met me!

In short, Friedman had won my gratitude and admiration even before her Saturday morning presentation on traditional publishing, niche presses and self-publishing. Then she proceeded to deliver what was easily the most organized, efficiently delivered and content-rich presentation that I attended all weekend. She observed that all three publishing options are relevant today (“they’re almost all on equal footings now”) and mapped out the pros and cons for each. She instructed us to evaluate how we connect with readers in order to select the publishing channel most compatible with our own strengths. Although the self-publishing route demands the greatest entrepreneurial spirit, Friedman emphasized that all three require writers to actively market and promote their work. Nobody is exempt.

Friedman illuminated the dark nooks and crannies of today’s publishing world while empowering a capacity audience of aspiring writers to chart their own course. She acknowledged that it helps to have a “partner” or mentor in the publishing community, and I realized why she’d already had such a profound impact on me. Her blog and webinar are the closest I’ve come to having a writing mentor since college, half a lifetime ago!

I’ve written since high school; I’ve taught writing; I’ve edited and published online and offline journals; and I’ve even mentored others. But I’ve never sought out an experienced, confident coach to help me become a published author. Why not?

I suppose, like many writers, I’ve identified the writing practice with solitude, with head down focus and perseverance, with forging my own course. I suppose, like many writers, I’ve been stubborn and overconfident that I can (must?) navigate this adventure independently.

But Jane Friedman and Dan Blank and Richard Nash and Patricia V. Davisand Al Katkowsky and a half dozen literary agents and several dozen writers grabbed me, jerked my blinders off and showed me that I’m not alone on this journey. We’re a community full of wise mentors and inspiring mavericks. Writers who opt out of this community are sacrificing the very guides, resources, and opportunities which can accelerate their progress as writers. And they are overlooking the friendship and encouragement of the most compatible colleagues out there!

And so, I return to the Adirondacks, to my desk, to my manuscript. But unlike my writing practice before the Writer’s Digest Conference, I have discovered a new passion, focus, strategy and community. I am now ready to seek out the mentors and mavericks who will shape my adventure. I’m ready to embrace my fellow adventurers, starting with a warm “Thank you!” to everyone I met at the Writer’s Digest Conference and to those of you who followed along via #wdc11. And I am ready and eager to bear hug all of you who follow, support, critique, encourage and teach me via TwitterFacebook, the virtualDavis blog and my Flinflanerie newsletter. Thank you!

Biblioflanerie

A visit to the New York Public library in 2006 by “an untrained eye” revealed this made-for-film moment. Too good. Almost too scripted…

The painting, the woman, teh bench, the floor, the pallet, the lighting, the woman’s action, the photographer’s framing all conspire to catapult would-be flaneurs into this arresting moment. Unstaged. Found art.

New York Public Library #5
Originally uploaded by an untrained eye

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Flaneur as Detective

Flaneur
Flaneur by macfred64 (Flickr)

Flanerie can, after Baudelaire, be understood as the activity of the sovereign spectator going about the city in order to find the things which will occupy his gaze and thus complete his otherwise incomplete identity… [The flaneur] emerges as a new sort of hero, the product of modernity. He is the spectator of the modern world. (Cat’s Cradle:Flanerie 1)

This idea captured my attention. Briefly. There are some intriguing parallels to be explored between the activities of a flaneur and a detective. Unfortunately this blogger only glances on the topic. And in a second related post he actually muddles the concept a bit when he explains that a flaneur intends to be observed by the crowd, his/her audience. Hmmm. This idea may run true in Baudelaire, but it strikes me as problematic with the figure of a detective who endeavors to be discrete, virtually invisible to gather essential data.

The figure of the “flaneur” prefigures that of the detective…It suits him perfectly to see his indolence presented as a facade behind which the sustained attention of an observer never letting his eyes off the unsuspecting criminal… The Flaneur is out to be seen.The crowd is the audience. Flanerie is a “crowd practice”…The “flaneur” is like a detective seeking clues who read peoples characters not only from the physiognomy of their faces but via a social physiognomy of the streets. The image and activity of a ” flanerie ” is tied to the emergence of the popular genre of the detective novel and also the literary practice and social justification of labour time of journalists who, like the “flaneur”, put their observations both for sale on the market and wish to pursue their own purposes…(Cat’s Cradle: Flaneur 2)

I’m interested in (and ill informed about) this relationship between flanerie and the emergence of the detective novel. It’s an intriguing premise, and perhaps Cat’s Cradle author, Alphie, will return to the theme soon. Or others? I look forward to discovering more!

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