virtualDavis

\ˈvər-chə-wəlˈdā-vəs\ Blogger, storyteller, flâneur. G.G. Davis, Jr's alter ego…
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Writer’s Digest Conference 2012, Saturday

Day #2 of the Writer’s Digest Conference in the chilly, slightly snowy Big Apple… The mondo snow blizzard promised was not delivered, but you wouldn’t know one way or the other inside of this world-unto-itself hotel and conference center. What follows is a mashup, a digital scrapbook. Enjoy! Read the rest of this entry »

Writer’s Digest Conference 2012, Friday

Thrilled to be returning to New York City this year for another round of Writer’s Digest Conference (WDC12). What follows is a loosely curated overview of the data stream generated over the course of the three day conference. If I’ve overlooked a salacious tidbit, please let me know. I’ll add it in ASAP. Thanks. Enjoy! Read the rest of this entry »

No Pants Subway Ride

On Sunday, January 8th, 2012 tens of thousands of people took off their pants on subways in 59 cities in 27 countries around the world. In New York, our 11th Annual No Pants Subway Ride had nearly 4,000 participants, spread out over six meeting points and ten subway lines… If you’re unfamiliar with this event, you might want to first read our history of The No Pants Subway Ride. Since this is the 11th year we’ve done this, there’s not too much to report other than it was another awesome time. (Improv Everywhere)

You’ve gotta love Improv Everywhere and their annual No Pants Subway Ride. Unless you’re too stiff to drop your trousers in public without blinking an eye. Unless you’re too uptight to smile and laugh when the fellow next to you drops his trousers in public without blinking and eye. Spontaneous acts of generosity and hilarity resuscitate levity which is darned near as important as nourishment, respiration and sleep. So say I.

Can you recommend another upbeat improv video or post?

If you’re in need of a wee bit more shake-of-the-blues improv happiness, check out “Black Tie Beach“, “Worst Ice Skater or Best Entertainer? and/or “Welcome To Heathrow Airport“. Bet your day’s going better already!

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:

A Lot of Life

Karl Sprague (@karlsprague) just made my day! I met Karl at the Writer’s Digest Conference in New York City last month, and his sunny, upbeat personality made him irresistible from our first handshake. He’s the quintessential poster boy for the Sunshine State. Here’s what he tweeted me this morning:

You pack a lot of life into a 24 hour period, don’t you? U keep us mentally sedentary folks updated on writing / travel / life

Karl Sprague

Wow. I think I’ll print and frame that when I get home from Costa Rica. Bold font. Hung front and center over my desk. Or my kitchen range. No, maybe nailed to a post by my garden. Hmmm. Duct taped to the wishbone of my windsurfer? Or the handlebars of my bike? Maybe I’ll just memorize it, repeat it like a mantra each morning. Or any time my enthusiasm sags…

I’m serious. What a gift! What validation. What encouragement. I wonder if Karl had any notion at all how his quick message would impact me. I’d like to think he did. He’s magnanimous, wouldn’t miss an opportunity to give, encourage, thank. And yet, I’m guessing he didn’t. I’m guessing he typed and sent that tiny little tweet out into the ether without thinking too much about it. That’s also the kind of fellow he is, generous with complements but totally unselfconscious about his generosity. Second nature. The kind of guy who smiles by default, laughs to relax, encourages because it’s his instinct.

Thank you, Karl. I’m not sure I could summarize my life’s ambitions better!

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 RottenTomatoes.com)

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!

A Cadence of Choice

What is the “rhythm of stillness”? An oxymoron? An invitation to pause and ponder? A whimsical poetic conundrum?

Annie Q. Syed is drawn to the rhythm of stillness experienced in those “quiet hours of the early morning before a city, town, or village takes a big yawn and stretches itself into your routine.” She dubs these rare but sacred moments Still Sundays:

“These mornings are especially unique in New York because the City doesn’t sleep but she just takes naps. And the longest naps are on Sunday mornings. I love Sunday mornings in NYC. I try my best not to have anything planned, not even a yoga class, before 12:00 p.m. If my mind is quiet enough I borrow the stillness and share some thoughts with a few friends or family members via email or a phone conversation. Some mornings I  simply wrap the stillness of a Sunday morning around a pen and put fragments on a paper.

Are you making time to be still? To listen to the stillness? This past Sunday Syed pondered a conversation she’d had with a friend who decried the perpetual frenzy and commotion of life in New York City. She wondered if, how and why stillness is possible (essential?) amidst the whirring, screeching, bumping, jackhammering, phone ringing, car door slamming, elevator bell dinging “city that never sleeps”. It is. She knows it is, and she wandered toward the reason why. Her reason why.

“New York didn’t define me; I defined New York. I believe the stillness I speak of is borne out of that carving. I can hear a steady beat inside the multi-rhythmic pulsating blend of music that can’t easily be tuned out. The tempo matches my heart. Stillness then is a cadence of choice.

At least most of the time. Carving out a space for stillness amidst the throng will open up the possibility of stillness. But there must also be room for chance, for stumbling accidentally upon these somewhat paradoxical interstices, and then honoring them. Syed doesn’t say this, not explicitly, but she recounts an anecdote that trumps any explanation.Tucked into her familiar routine of yoga class followed by pizza at an Upper West Side pizzeria, a fleeting encounter with Nina — a 78 year old Greek lady dressed in a pink skirt suit — offers an invitation to wander into the unfamiliar. Syed accepts the invitation.

If the rhythm of stillness seems to be drowned out by din and routine, it might not be New York City or Los Angeles or Chicago that have picked up the pace or turned up the volume. It might be that we forget to stop, to listen, to wonder. It might be that we’re not quite as receptive as we could be. Should be.

I’ve lived in New York City. I’ve lived in Washington, DC and Paris and Rome as well. Plenty of busy-busy in all of them. And so many reasons to ignore the old bat who says “Hello,” at the pizzeria or asks you how to find the Jardin des Tuileries. No time to stop and wonder at the thousands of tiny black birds painting paisleys in the sky above the Colosseum. Too busy to pause and listen to the girl practicing her cello at Abe’s left foot in the Lincoln Memorial. But, as Syed reminds us, there’s an opportunity lurking beneath the quotidian. Whether it’s an early Sunday morning while the “To Do” list is still snoozing, or squeezed in between a slice of pizza and a bus ride, there’s rhythm in the stillness. Will you stop to listen? To sing along? To dance?

Acknowledgment: Special thanks to Annie Q. Syed (@so_you_know on Twitter) who’s inspired me plenty in recent months, and who is is one of the reasons I believe that Twitter is a midwife for real friendship! And a hat tip to the late Paul Zweig who’s The Adventurer: The Fate of Adventure in the Western World is where I first stumbled upon this idea of interstices.

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Michael Sorkin Proves There’s a Raconteur in Every Flâneur

In Twenty Minutes in Manhattan, Michael Sorkin, an architect and critic, makes like Jacobs and immerses himself in the rhythms and patter of the street. He has shaped his book according to the contours of his daily stroll across a dozen or so blocks of Lower Manhattan, from the top floor of his five-story Greenwich Village walk-up to his office in TriBeCa. Walking, Sorkin writes, is “a natural armature for thinking sequentially,” providing opportunities for heady musings on all manner of city life. Yet his peripatetic narrative is anything but linear. Proving there’s a raconteur in every flâneur, Sorkin unspools strands of free-floating observations about a scattered array of urban issues and gathers them into a loose weave along his path downtown.

Read the article at The Nation

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Good Bye, New York City

A whirlwind return to the Big Apple to start packing up and moving on… With only a couple of weeks remaining before the closing, it’s time to make our home a movable nest for a while. Congratulations to Nikki Field, our excellent real estate agent, for finding the perfect buyer and for donating a portion of her commission to Hamilton College. It’s been a pleasure working with her and her assistant over the last year. Looking forward, we’re lining up a moving company to schlep our belongings north to our still-not-complete new home on Lake Champlain. Per the recommendation of our real estate agency, we’re leaning towards Padded Wagon. Seems like life has involved an awful lot of moving companies over my last decade or so. Time to settle down and stay put for a while. Until the wanderlust returns, at least… We’ve also been running some “furnishing errands” including hunting for rugs. And gobbling up sushi which is considerably less abundant in the North Country. Enjoying our final time in this beautiful apartment, but feeling very confident that the move is a great decision. I’ll update you once we’ve handed over the keys.

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