ˈvər-chə-wəlˈdā-vəs Serial storyteller, poetry pusher, digital doodler, flâneur.

Less Literal, More Literary

Less Literal, More Literary

Less Literal, More Literary

Yesterday I admitted my love/hate relationship with marginalia and graffiti. This morning I awoke troubled. I realize that yesterday’s post was disingenuous. It’s more like a love/tolerate relationship. Or LOVE/tolerate.

I can’t honestly claim to hate marginalia or graffiti, not often at least.

Which brings me to another confession. I often joke about Mondays. How tough they are. How frustrating they are. How long they are. How persistent they are. (ie. “Every day is Monday.” Or, “It’s been a week of Mondays…”) Also how short they are. How fleeting they are… You get the picture?

Maybe Mondays should be shorter and Fridays should be longer?

I know, clever, right? No. Not clever. And worse… not 100% candid.

You see, I actually sort-of-kind-of like Mondays. I start planning for Monday on Friday. Or at least Sunday. Monday morning is a land of possibility. Goals. Lists. Optimism.

I’m always overly ambitious and overconfident on Monday morning, and almost always surprised when Friday afternoon sloshes in and I’m still building my sand castle. “Wait! I’m not done yet. The turrets…”

So, yes, some weeks feel like Monday every day, but those also tend to be the weeks when I feel accomplished and satisfied on Friday. When I’m ready to turn off my computer and head out to garden or ski or windsurf or just wander the back meadows with Griffin.

Less Literal

This morning as 5:30 am rolled into 6:00 am and I indulged a few final minutes snuggling with bride and dog before decamping for the day, I began composing a list. Lists always help when I’m troubled. Organize the problem into actionable reminders, and it feels like I’m partway done.

It quickly swelled into ten reminders. Personal, less literal, more literary reminders.

  1. Slow down.
  2. Cultivate curiosity.
  3. Suspend assumptions.
  4. Wend. Wander. Wonder.
  5. Meander beyond the margin.
  6. Meander more!
  7. Multitask less.
  8. Think in stories.
  9. Live in stories.
  10. Hum. Or doodle.
Books. Parcel. String. Knot. via virtualdavis

Books. Parcel. String. Knot.

It sort of reads like one of those cheesy inspirational posters you can order online. The kind you can pin up in the employee lunch room to improve team productivity. Only, this might prove detrimental to team productivity. At least in some ways. Any way, Top 10 Ways to be Less Literal and More Literary might lack mass market appeal, but I’m sticking with it. A Monday morning mantra. An everyday mantra. Amplify opportunities. Ask more questions. Get lost. Make things up. Fool around with a harmonica. Kazoo? Uh-oh. The list is growing.

Short List

Make time to be less literal and more time to be more literary. Have a great week!

Graffiti and Marginalia

The Season (Summer), by Jasper Johns

The Season (Summer), by Jasper Johns

It’s Marginalia Monday and many, many, many marginalia posts overdue for a glancing look at graffiti.

“It would seem that for nearly as long as people have been writing things down, other people have been writing in their margins. (Book Blog)

Ditto, graffiti. Evidence your nearest public restroom. Or the Lascaux caves. After all, cave paintings are graffiti by prehistoric yob, and the saucy rhyme next to your favorite American Standard is too! Both are simply reminders that we humans can’t resist those clean white margins. We must share our wiles or wile away time.

I have mixed feelings about graffiti and marginalia. I suspect most people do.

I remember studying Don Quixote for the first time in high school. I was cross referencing several versions of the text including a crumbly old edition from the school library. I was frustrated with the marginalia. It was a library book after all! I was almost angry to think that a previous reader had felt obliged to foul the pristine pages. Almost, but not quite. I was also fascinated. I flipped through the book reading the notes.

I have a similar reaction to graffiti, annoyed when it feels like vandalism, fascinated when it feels like a subversive art form. During my freshman or sophomore year I discovered Jasper Johns, and for the all the world his work felt to me like an extension of the graffiti I saw in New York city. Layers of visual storytelling. For a while I was fascinated with Jasper Johns and especially obsessed with Seasons. I imitated his complex collages of images and words and letters and numbers and symbols.

It took me years to realize (and then admit) that I loved marginalia. I stopped hiding the fact that I hunted through used books for the best marginalia, flipped through a book hunting for interesting asides before ever wading through the text itself. Likewise with graffiti, whether it’s a prehistoric pictograph in the New Mexico desert or a visual riff dripping down the side of a dumpster.

Now don’t take this as blanket praise for graffiti. Or marginalia. If you spray paint my car or contribute your clever flipbook animation to my vintage collection of Casanova’s memoirs, I’ll hunt you down and tattoo my least successful poems across your forehead. You’ve been warned. But, if the world is your text and you can’t resist the temptation to illuminate the text with clever, beautiful or otherwise irresistible marginalia/graffiti I’ll probably stop to appreciate your work…

Social Media as Cancerous Sprawl

Sprawling Jesse Darling on Social Media

Sprawling Jesse Darling on Social Media

“Social media is to the Read/Write Web what sprawl is to the metropolis of modernity: a homogenous, cancerous, rhizomatic junkspace that expands exponentially outward on a sludgy wave of strip malls and sponsored links, greed and induced demand.” ~ Jesse Darling (The New Inquiry)

Jesse Darling (@jessedarling) does not mince words.

Assumptions? Yes. Stereotypes? Yes. Norms? Yes. Egos? Yes.

But not words.

She sharpens them. Flexes them. Fuels them. And then she unleashes them. Sometimes playfully. Other times lethally. Often cunningly. Always intelligently.

I’m stretching when I say, “Always intelligently.” I don’t know Darling, nor am I familiar enough with her work (words, photos, digital, etc.) to speak so broadly. But what I’ve read/seen so far is searingly smart. Angry, flip, sarcastic, edgy but smart.

I don’t always agree with Darling, but I respect her bravery. She takes risks. Says what she thinks. And supports it. Intelligently.

The passage above, part of a provocative response to Evgeny Morozov’s The Death of the Cyberflâneur, is a powerfully articulated version of a observation about social media that’s been sloshing around in my head for some time. Sloshing but not uttered. The sort of observation that time will temper, prove or disprove. Most of us wait and see. Darling paints the graffiti on the wall. Today. And then moves on.

Social media is unchecked sprawl, and much (most?) of it is MSG enhanced junk with nominal real value. But cancerous? Potentially, yes, but Darling’s sweeping generalization inevitably oversteps. Such is the role of art and artists, of course, but Darling’s assertion overlooks the healthy aspects of social media (semi-democratizing the previously oligarchic media, empowering global collaboration and open source initiatives, dilating artistic possibilities, etc.). Unfortunately, social media sludge is more difficult to avoid than strip malls. And more enticing…

3D Art on Sidewalks

3D Art on Sidewalks (Photo: RedRoseRattus)

3D Art on Sidewalks (Photo: RedRoseRattus)

Have you witnessed 3D art on sidewalks? Chalk murals that create optical illusions so compelling they stop traffic?

I’ve mused about 3D sidewalk artwork before, wondering not only if it can blow minds but possibly also slow speeding vehicles. But I haven’t pondered its potential as a vehicle for storytelling. And yet it obviously is!

Telling a Story via 3D Art on Sidewalks

Literature and film have explored the idea of stepping into drawings for ages, using artwork as a gateway between reality and illusion. And yet 3D sidewalk and street artists are often dismissed with an amused shrug.



“It’s not graffiti exactly, but who’s going to clean it up?”

Julian Beever Creates 3D Art on Sidewalks (Photo: HMHung)

Julian Beever Creates 3D Art on Sidewalks (Photo: HMHung)


Is 3D Art on Sidewalks Just Chalk Graffiti?

3D art on sidewalks is cool and weird and graffiti, but cleaning it up is rarely a problem. In fact, it tends to vanish altogether too quickly. Rain. Pedestrians. Vehicle traffic. Perhaps its ephemeral nature is part of what makes 3D art on sidewalks and roadways so appealing. An invitation into another reality that will expire almost before you’ve decided whether or not to dive in.

Street artists like Julian Beever, Edgar Mueller, Eduardo Rolero, Manfred Stader and Kurt Wenner distort perspective with little more than chalk, unfettered imaginations and a near perfect ability to render anamorphic illusions. When their artwork is viewed from the correct angle, an ordinary street or sidewalk creates the illusion of three dimensions.

Example Of 3D Sidewalk Art: A "Coca-Cola ...

Coca-Cola Bottle (Photo: RedRoseRattus)

Their chalk art transcends mere graffiti and many other art forms in its capacity for interactive storytelling. 3D art on sidewalks introduces a narrative possibility that engages viewers. Pedestrians and drivers stop and look. Perhaps they reorient themselves to better appreciate the optical illusion. They pause and let their eyes wander over the mural, actively suspending disbelief in order to engage with the image. In many cases the audience/viewer even choose to step into the image, playing along with the illusion, often posing for friends with cameras to memorialize the encounter.

A bit like a real life video game…

Writer’s Digest Conference 2011, Part #1

The Writer’s Digest Conference 2011 (NYC 1/21-23) promised exactly the sort of publishing nuts and bolts I’ve been looking for:

  • Getting Published in the Digital Age: How to get published in the digital age!
  • The Future of Publishing: What is the future of publishing?
  • Platforms and Social Media: Why do writers need a platform and how do they build that strong platform?
  • Perfecting Your Pitch: Learn how to perfect your pitch at the Writer’s Digest pitch slam!
  • Honing Your Craft: Learn how to write a page turner in any genre!

It even offered a speed-dating-esque Pitch Slam for writers to practice manuscript pitching techniques taught in the presentation sessions. Throw in the opportunity to meet other writers and the single best opportunity to crowdsource Rosslyn Redux among a targeted book audience, and I’ve been anticipating the Writer’s Digest Conference the way teenagers anticipate summer vacation.

And I wasn’t alone! The pre-conference buzz grew frenzied in the days leading up to Friday’s opening session. What follows is a beta mashup from Friday’s sessions. I’ve aggregated and curated digital artifacts from Twitter, blogs, etc. to tell the digital story of Writer’s Digest Conference 2011. I hope you enjoy the journey. And I genuinely hope you’ll let me know what I’ve missed so that I can include and preserve it for writers who were unable to attend the conference. Please tweet me (@virtualDavis) or contact me directly if you come across great tweets, blog posts, videos, etc. that I should add. Thanks!

All the #wdc11 graffiti that’s fit to curate! I’m gathering and sorting the most compelling digital artifacts from the 2011 Writer’s Digest Conference taking place in New York City on January 21-23. The data wave is swelling, so I’m sure to miss plenty. Don’t hesitate to bring more goodies to my attention.

All the #wdc11 graffiti that’s fit to curate! I’m gathering and sorting the most compelling digital artifacts from the 2011 Writer’s Digest Conference taking place in New York City on January 21-23. The data wave is swelling, so I’m sure to miss plenty. Don’t hesitate to bring more goodies to my attention.

A Muse to Amuse Your Ego

I’ve just polluted a perfectly wonderful blog post over at Multi-Hyphenate, and I’m feeling a little ashamed.

No, not the blog troll sort of graffiti that I find reprehensible. But the kind of run-on comment that should have been a blog post instead of clogging up someone else’s blog post (which I alsofind reprehensible.) So… aside from a mumbled apology at the end of my comment, I’m reposting my thoughts so their wise editor is free to abbreviate or remove the comment I posted to Annie Q. Syed’s “There is No Muse“.

A “muse to amuse your ego” is an amusing and clever tongue twister that I can’t resist borrowing for a quick blog post… But I’m not sure I’m 100% convinced.

I’m with you here: “At the end of the day… you are simply a storyteller and you have a job to do: tell the damn story. ” Just spent this morning listening to Tom Ashbrook interviewing Eric Bogosian about his novel, “Perforated Heart”. (You can hear the On Point rebroadcast, but note it was originally broadcast May 26, 2009.) He tells the story. In more modes, manners and muddles than most storytellers,

Eric Bogosian

Eric Bogosian (Image via

Bogosian tells the damn story. An acquired taste, especially if you’re not male and/or not connected in some way with NYC, but Bogosian is a storyteller without precious, pretentious muse mongering.

Or is he? Perhaps we just don’t meet his muse. Perhaps Bogosian’s muse is personal, intimate, private. Perhaps it is a changing muse, evolving along with his own writing style, ambition, skill. I don’t know. And frankly, I don’t much care because his storytelling stands on its own, muse or no muse.

What’s the point? I think that storytelling need not be divorced from muse. A muse. Many muses. But the story, the finished product, need not reflect the role of the muse in the creative process. A storyteller’s craft is complex, and the journey is often long (as you’ve readily acknowledged) between story seed and finished story. For me, the muse is one part of that journey. She’s part inspiration, as you’ve mentioned above, but she’s also my collaborator. I don’t mean to get too fanciful hear, but recall that storytelling is not a hermetic art. It requires an audience. Else it is mere babbling! The burps and farts of a crazy man. You’ve said, “Sometimes when I write words feel like picking precious beads in sand.” Right! And why? Because you’re not writing for yourself alone. You’re telling a story for an audience and precise, accurate language is the currency of a storyteller if s/he is to find a receptive audience. I’ve slipping into pedantic drivel, sorry…

So inspiration, yes, but my muse is also more of a collaborator. Like music to a dancer. And perhaps also like a dance partner. I’m a crumby (but enthusiastic) dancer, so take this comparison for what little it is worth. I can dream up a clever dance, practice and refine my steps, my rhythm, my gesture, my poise, etc. But it’s only when I attempt this creative process in conjunction with music — real or imagined — that my dance evolves away from the dizzying courtship of a park pigeon into something more compelling, more complete. And better still when I extend my hand to a dance partner — real or imagined — to enter into the dance with me, to mirror, to oppose, to resist and beguile and charm and challenge that something beautiful can be born.

Yes, I’ve overextended the metaphor. Apologies! But there’s an idea in there, an idea that a creator can extend the limits of his or her creativity significantly when amused by a muse. ;-)

That indulgent difference aside, there’s much we agree on. The work of a storyteller is also to know the difference between this creative dance and the hard work of distilling the finished product from the draft. After narcotic creativity transports the storyteller beyond initial inspiration and indeed often beyond the anticipated scope of the story, it’s time to begin the hardest work. The editing, the weeding, the focusing, the revising. The muse does not belong in this process, at least in my own writing. She’s a temptress, a dazzling temptress who’s creative genius forever outstrips my own. And so the time comes when I must bid her farewell, for a while, remove my dance shoes, sit down at my desk and work. Dancing is divine, but I have a job to do!

3D Sidewalk Art That Will Blow Your Mind

3D Sidewalk Art (via

3D Sidewalk Art (via

3D sidewalk art makes the best graffiti ever!

Maybe these fellows will come to my town and chalk up a canyon across the road in order to slow down speeders. 30mph and cars routinely double the speed limit! But strategically selected 3D sidewalk art could change that quickly…

The example above suggests all manner of similar concepts because our road skims the lake shore. Imagine three dimensional chalk art creating the illusion of a vast chasm washed out in the road. Or 3D sidewalk art (in this case it would be more appropriate to call it 3D road art perhaps?) depicting a freighter crashed into and through the road. Or a flock of sheep blocking traffic…

3D sidewalk art to the rescue!

3D Sidewalk Art & Law Enforcement

Instead of punishing the creators of 3D sidewalk art, lumping it together with graffiti and categorically assuming that it is all destructive vandalism, what if we shift our thinking in a more positive direction? What is we deam 3D sidewalk art part of law enforcement’s tools to deter high speed traffic? Instead of pitting law enforcement against the 3D sidewalk artists, law enforcement could become the most vital patrons of the public displays. The art form might get catapulted into its heyday, with municipalities all around the world celebrating the intrepid creators of sidewalk and street illusion. Traffic would slow. Accidents would diminish. Road rage would vanish. The driving and walking public would swap stress for joy, assertive myopia for panoramic vision… Just imagine!

In Memoriam J.D. Salinger

J.D. SalingerJ.D. Salinger died today at 91, and like so many writers and bloggers and journalists reflecting on his writing, life and eccentricities, I am stumbling.

He was a gifted and esoteric writer. He was an inspiration. He was a mystery clinging to privacy. It seems that this latter characterization has intrigued the public almost as much as his craftsmanship. I you count yourself among this lot, you might enjoy a wander over to Kenneth Slawenski’s post “J.D. Salinger’s Untold Stories: Tales Of A Recluse“. If you’re experiencing Salinger’s passing as a sort of memento mori you might be find company in Ron Rosenbaum’s June 1997 article for Esquire, The Man in the Glass House.

The silence surrounding this place is not just any silence. It is the work of a lifetime. It is the work of renunciation and determination and expensive litigation. It is a silence of self-exile, cunning, and contemplation. In its own powerful, invisible way, the silence is in itself an eloquent work of art. It is the Great Wall of Silence J.D. Salinger has built around himself. (Ron Rosenbaum, Longform)

Like his infamous antihero who briefly yearned to wander west pretending to be mute (or deaf? I don’t remember which) Salinger horded silence. Words are written, not explained. Perhaps they can’t or shouldn’t be explained. Perhaps this is Salinger’s legacy, the reminder that words like graffiti on a cave wall are at best an imperfect roadmap for fleeting truths. No, that’s not it. That’s a haul of bollocks! Let’s try again…

Words are enough. Too much, even. They are the best we can do, and asking them to morph into reality — either through the magic of cinema or the exegesis of the author — is self indulgent voodoo. Looks like I’m off the rails again.

Salinger’s Holden Caulfield is at once an archetypal storyteller and audience, a warrior against hypocrisy and a guardian of childhood innocence. He embodies the inevitable contradictions of adolescence and of the writing life. I suspect this literary anchor has inspired and encourage a great many storytellers.

Jonathan Safran Foer has stated that, ‘many readers were created by The Catcher in the Rye, and many writers, too. He and his characters embodied a kind of American resistance that has been sorely missed these last few years, and will now be missed even more.’ (The Penguin Blog)

Where from there? I’m tossing darts in the dark and missing the bulls eye. Missing the dartboard altogether. No doubt Salinger would have been mortified with the swell of memorials.

  • “Who wants flowers when you’re dead? Nobody.” ~ J.D. Salinger
  • “I’m sick of not having the courage to be an absolute nobody.” ~ J.D. Salinger
  • “I am a kind of paranoid in reverse. I suspect people of plotting to make me happy.” ~ J.D. Salinger
  • “An artist’s only concern is to shoot for some kind of perfection, and on his own terms and not any one else’s.” ~ J.D. Salinger

That last quotation is a suitable closing note. As wouuld be any of the thirteen short stories that Salinger published in The New Yorker between 1946 and 1965 including “A Perfect Day for Bananafish” and “Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters“. (Available online to subscribers.) Or better yet? Read or re-read The Catcher in the Rye.

N.B. With so many pretensions Latin-isms (In memoriam, Memento mori) cluttering a single, brief blog post, I’d better lather on one more, Nota bene: I pinched this photograph of J.D. Salinger from Soup, but it appears to be a stock photo since it appears all over the place. (In other words, the credit unknown. Apologies.)


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