virtualDavis

ˈvər-chə-wəlˈdā-vəs Serial storyteller, poetry pusher, digital doodler, flâneur.
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The World is Calling

Rita Dove and David Guinn (Source: Virginia.edu)

Rita Dove and David Guinn (Source: Virginia.edu)

This morning, while walking my dog near the University of Virginia Grounds, I happened upon these welcome words from former U.S. Poet Laureate and UVA English professor Rita Dove.

“Back when everything was still to come,
luck leaked out everywhere.
I gave my promise to the world,
and the world followed me here.”
~ Rita Dove

It’s the final stanza of her poem, “Testimonial,” which originally appeared in her book, On the Bus with Rosa Parks. Today it’s part of an exuberant mural created by David Guinn and crowned with Dove’s line, “the world called, and I answered.”

Thank you for answering the call, Rita Dove. And thank you for the riotous reminder, David Guinn..

David Guinn (Source: Virginia.edu)

David Guinn (Source: Virginia.edu)

Gentle Reminder

Sometimes I (we all?) need a gentle reminder to unblinder and untether. This morning I needed a reminder…

“We walk along in our normal lives, being irritated by the stuff we are normally irritated by, and then a mural – or poetry – can stop us in our tracks and remind us of the here and now, of both the intimacy of the human spirit and the expansiveness of the world… Murals do that even without words. When you add words, that effect intensifies.” ~ Rita Dove (Source: Virginia.edu)

Spot on! Am I living out someone else’s script? Perfectly articulated, totally accurate, and 100% timely.

“The world is going to call you. Are you going to be ready to answer? Will you be ready to answer?” ~ Rita Dove (Source: Virginia.edu)

Rita Dove and David Guinn (Source: Virginia.edu)

Rita Dove and David Guinn (Source: Virginia.edu)

Discovering Darlingside

“Pesticide is used to kill pests. Fratricide is when you kill your brother,” explains Darlingside’s Dave Senft. “A former teacher of ours used to say ‘kill your darlings,’ which is to say, if you fall in love with something you’ve written you should cross it out. We like that idea and we thought a good name for it might be ‘darlingcide’, but we changed the ‘c’ to an ‘s’ because we’re not super into death.” (Source: Darlingside)

I would love to include a link to the Deerfield magazine (where band member Don Mitchell went to high school), but it’s not online yet. Good article. Intrigued me enough to troll the internets for their sound. Found that intriguing video/song above and was doubly hooked. Doodle dreams?!?! And those harmonies of voice and strings…

“Each song and set of lyrics are created by all of us together, a sort of ‘group stream-of consciousness,’” Harris says. “So we moved away from a single lead vocalist and started gravitating towards singing in unison, passing the melody around, or harmonizing in four parts through an entire song.” Live and on record, they present a unified voice by clustering around a single condenser microphone and blending their voices in the room before they hit the mic. (Source: Darlingside)

I’m wearing out the CDs as I wind my way through this Adirondack spring. My favorite song? Whippoorwill. Enjoy.

My Cartoon Crush on Ximena Maier

Ximena Maier (Source ximenamaier.com)

Ximena Maier (Source ximenamaier.com)

Ximena Maier () is a madrileña (but Scotland-based) illustrator, and she is — sin duda — my newest cartoon crush. My latest doodle dalliance. Right up there with Elizabeth Graeber, Oliver Hoeller (aka the visual flâneur), Mike Lowery, Hallie Bateman, and Keri Smith.

Ximena Maier… has been working as a full time freelance illustrator since 1999, mainly with Spanish newspapers and magazines. She also illustrates cookbooks, travel guides and children’s books. (Source: Ximena Maier)

I discovered Ximena Maier’s whimsical artwork when an Essex friend (and printer) shared a sumptuous letterpressed illustration of a scene from Anna Tasca Lanza‘s Sicilian cooking school. A delicate and doodle-y (not precious) black and white line drawing sumptuously sunken into paper nearly 1/8″ thick… Bliss.

It turns out that most/all of the illustrations at their website, annatascalanza.com, were created by Ximena Maier. If you like what you find, you may also want to visit Ximena Maier’s food blog, Lobstersquad, and her art blog, Ximenita dibuja.. Enjoy!

Keri Smith on Creativity (and Book Midwifery)

Who is Keri Smith?

Who is Keri Smith?

I’m long overdue with a post about Keri Smith (kerismith.com), and what better way to make up for that then by sharing some of her awesome advice on creativity. Both of the pointers I’m quoting below actually come from a post called, Seven Steps to Getting Published, but as far as I’m concerned they’re all about creativity, creativity, creativity. And maybe even more than “publishing” they read like wise tips for successful book “midwifery”!

But first, by way of introduction it’s time to meet one of the most innovative book artists currently in the game, Keri Smith. It’s not too far a stretch to say that she is reinventing the concept of bookness, silly-putty-ing it into one of the most unconventional vehicles for creativity and adventure bound up between covers.

Here’s a more official blurb from her website:

Keri Smith is a Canadian conceptual artist and author of several bestselling books and apps about creativity including Wreck This Journal (Penguin) [check out her readers’ cool creations here: @WreckThisBook], This is Not a Book (Penguin), How to be an Explorer of the World -the Portable Life/Art Museum,(Penguin), Mess: A Manual of Accidents and Mistakes (Penguin), The Guerrilla Art Kit (Princeton Architectural Press), Finish This Book (Penguin), and The Pocket Scavenger (Penguin). (KeriSmith.com)

Keri Smith on the Carpet

Keri Smith on the Carpet

I’m a little obsessed. For the last year I’ve been pouring over her work, each time feeling like I’m come across a co-conspirator. In fact, some of her books feel like they were born out of my own head. Only they weren’t. And her head’s done it better.

That said, I feel like these two creativity tips might have been borrowed from my head. They sound so familiar I could have written them myself. Only, I didn’t. She did. Again. So I’ll defer to Keri Smith.

Keri Smith on the Shelf

Keri Smith on the Shelf

1. Let your idea have it’s own life. This sounds a little strange but what I mean by this is once you have the idea in your head don’t try to control it too much. Let it tell you what form it should take. It really helps at this point to go for a long walk and just LISTEN it may be several long walks. Let the words and images evolve. With my most recent book it took over a year for me to know what form it would take. I had ideas for content and had begun writing but no overall format to tie it all together. I didn’t worry about it too much but just let it “be” for a while. One day while reading a book on “intuition in business”, a concept popped into my head. This concept was “play”, and it tied the whole book together and became my focus from that moment on.

2. Really enjoy yourself and the process of creating, the best work will flow out of you. People will respond the most to things you did with passion, as opposed to things you forced. Don’t worry about whether it would sell, or what’s hot in the moment your target market, or what a family member recommends. Be honest with yourself and the process. (KeriSmith.com)

See why I think that they’re both really more about book midwifery? They address the creative process from first flickering vision through generations of revising and refocusing and wrong turns and Ah-ha moments. They are all about the creative flow state that I’ve been discovering/pursuing over the last couple of years.

Listen. Play. Be honest. The rest will take care of itself.

Thanks, Keri Smith!

Kickstart David Berkeley’s Stories and Songs

David Berkeley, by Avery Rimer

David Berkeley, by Avery Rimer

I’m fresh back in the Adirondacks after a revitalizing Santa Fe sojourn where I discovered David Berkeley (@davidberkeley). I was invited to a concert. I was unable to attend. I found his website. I read. I listened. I discovered his Kickstarter campaign for a combination book/album.

Long story short. I’m hooked. First, his music is habit forming. Not like dark chocolate. Or base jumping. More like a timely letter (handwritten, not emailed) from a friend that arrives in your mailbox on the same day that you awoke missing him/her. Rhythmic storytelling that sounds familiar from the first listen. Hints of Cat Stevens…

There was more poetry too. A shared connection to St. John’s and even a secret stash of high desert goodness known as Chupadero. Sometimes life rhymes.

In any event, I’m psyched to be able to help him crowdsource his fifth recording project, a book-album combo that he’s crowd funding to the tune of $25k. And he’s almost there. And almost out of time. And I hope you’ll consider helping out. You can thank me (and David Berkeley) later. I’ll thank you now. Thanks. Gracias!

Embrace Transparency

Watch Morgan Spurlock’s TED Talk, “Embrace Transparency” (aka “The greatest TED Talk ever sold”). No editorial needed… Enjoy!

Dancing in the Snow

“Life is not about waiting for the storms to pass… it’s about learning to dance in the rain.” ~ Vivian Greene

Dancing in the Snow (despite a wind chill warning)It’s been a bumpy transition from 2013 to 2014. Storms, proverbial and otherwise, have dampened the celebratory season for me. There’s no sense in airing out dirty laundry (how many metaphors have I mixed so far?) So I’ll hop, skip, jump forward. After all, there’s no guarantee that the storms will pass. It’s January in the North Country, after all! Blizzards are supposed to be the norm.

So I invite you to join me in dancing in the rain, er, snow.

Apparently the whole Northeast is getting snowed under. It’s cold as blazes here, but there’s actually relatively little new snow. Fine, dusty powder. Maybe 3–4 inches. No more.

Thousands of flights have been canceled including my sister’s and parents’ return-home flights after holidays in the Adirondacks. A “wind chill warning” popped up on my mobile phone an hour or two ago, and the old school thermometer outside my bedroom window appears to have frozen…

So at this stage dancing is as much a survival technique as anything else. Crank up the melody, and enjoy your evening!

I Want to Live: Praise for 12 Years a Slave

12 Years a Slave (doodle by virtualDavis)

12 Years a Slave (doodle by virtualDavis)

Almost 24 hours after watching 12 Years a Slave (movie) I still can’t shake it. The story and characters won’t let go. They’re both still gripping me in technicolor evil. And grace.

If you haven’t seen this Director Steve McQueen’s unflinchingly candid glimpse into the enslavement of free black man Solomon Northup, you need to.

TWELVE YEARS A SLAVE is based on an incredible true story of one man’s fight for survival and freedom. In the pre-Civil War United States, Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor), a free black man from upstate New York, is abducted and sold into slavery. Facing cruelty (personified by a malevolent slave owner, portrayed by Michael Fassbender), as well as unexpected kindnesses, Solomon struggles not only to stay alive, but to retain his dignity. In the twelfth year of his unforgettable odyssey, Solomon’s chance meeting with a Canadian abolitionist (Brad Pitt) will forever alter his life. (Fox Searchlight: 12 Years a Slave)

The film is gripping and visceral. And fair warning, it’s also totally unfiltered and unforgiving. McQueen captures slavery in its least sympathetic and most complex iteration I can recall, plunging into it’s insidious, malignant effect, dehumanizing slave, master end every one in between. 12 Years a Slave is a genuinely immersive experience absent special effects or melodrama. McQueen deploys somewhat unconventional storytelling techniques such as an excruciatingly drawn out scene with Northup hanging from a noose, barely clinging to life, while life returns to normal around him. The juxtaposition of a slow-motion murder amidst quotidian chores and playing children is devastating.

While virtually every actor in 12 Years a Slave delivers a superb performance, Chiwetel Ejiofor as Solomon Northup is riveting. He manages to exude grace in the face of devastating events, transforming a demanding, almost impossibly complex character into one of the most powerful and believable film roles I’ve witnessed in years. Lupita Nyong’o, Michael Fosbender and Brad Pitt also deliver exceptional performances, but I’ll do them and the film injustice if I continue. Just see it for yourself. Here’s a trailer to motivate you.

Find 12 Years a Slave

Hannah Brencher on Letters, Strangers and Love

“I posed a kind of crazy promise to the Internet: that if you asked me for a hand-written letter, I would write you one, no questions asked.” ~ Hannah Brencher

Hannah Brencher‘s (@hannahbrencher) phrasing, and the idea it sums up, struck home. First, there’s that opening phrase.  The Internet for those who’ve grown up with it is an entity. A being. Like the universe. Or a god.

More Love LettersFor me — and I suspect for many others too who watched the Internet’s birth, that first spank on its still wet posterior, that first gasp of air followed by a global yowl — the Internet is a communication infrastructure, a virtual web connecting beings and entities. But I find Brechner’s notion immensely appealing. And accurate. The idea that I could make a promise to the Internet might have seemed trite in another time, another context. But Brencher’s story and her promise kept, More Love Letters, is proof positive that the Internet is infinitely more than the sum of its parts. The Internet is a being. A universe. A god.

And then there’s the tribute to handwritten correspondence.

Many of you who know me personally (and even some who don’t) have received a handwritten note from me at one time or another. Usually written with green ink and barely legible handwriting. For no reason other than that I love green ink, and — though my penmanship is poor — I wanted to share some words with you. Smudges and all. Don’t get me wrong, voice mail and email and text messages and social media updates and pokes and tweets all have their important roles to play, but increasingly rare handwritten notes are special. They are real and enduring and intimate in a way that digital notes are not.

Last but not least there’s that exciting gulp feeling you get when you watch Brencher’s TED Talk. Maybe even a joyful tear. And it’s not because she kept her promise or the Internet’s a god or you’re getting sepia-toned nostalgic about paper and ink. It’s a gulp because what she’s built is good. Really good. So good that it’s gone viral and created a global tribe of benevolent love letter planters.

I tip my proverbial hat (or fountain pen?) to friend and frequent inspiration, Athena Roth (Pinterest) who shared Hannah Brencher’s “Love letters to strangers” with me. Roth’s song and aesthetic sensibilities are gifts not altogether unlike Brencher’s love letters.

Monday Blues? Mini-Golf!

There are days and there are dazed days, Mondays and weeks full of Mondays.

For times like these, when the burly blues blot out the best, I turn to Improv Everywhere for an emergency dose of sunshine. This morning’s synchronized swimming flashback was just what the doctor ordered!

Improv Everywhere performs a 16-person synchronized swimming routine in the fountain in Washington Square Park. Posing as the official New York City synchronized swimming team, the Olympic-hopefuls compete in three inches of dirty water in this unauthorized event. Will the judges reward their effort? (Improv Everywhere)

Although this is a digitally snazzified rerun from 2004, the London Olympics timing is perfect. And as good things often lead onto more good things, I couldn’t resist the temptation to wander from synchronized swimming to the Mini-Golf Open which smeared a grin across my mug so wide sunrise mistook it for the horizon. And I don’t even like golf! Well, not like golf anyway…

Thank you, Improv Everywhere.

 

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