Books vs eReaders: A writer’s argument

Books vs eReadersSweating under the old Ra-born Egyptian sun, workers beat together layers of cross-layed papyrus… A medieval lamb is slaughtered and stretched into vellum for an illuminated manuscript (so often immortalizing another Lamb)… In Gutenberg’s press, each letter, carrying its own weight, brands its ink deep into the page… With 48 words, I have just given you 26 minutes of my life. My words are not cheap. Some writers thrill in the process, but I’m not one of those 2AM keystroke masturbators. Sure, I’ve let out the occasion (brutally embarrassing!) orgasmic coffee shop exaltation when a chapter comes together. But for a sensory creature like myself, translating an entire viable world of colours, tastes, and textures into incremental contrasts of black and white is an exhausting exercise in intellectual masochism. So why bother? I write because I have to. Without this medium, I am alone in my ideas; I become mute, a helpless slave to a poorly fitting paradigm that leaves me badly blistered by the end of every workday. I’m writing to escape this cold little office and the passive, slow death it represents. OK, admittedly I’m having a bit of a shitty day here at work – let’s get back on topic. I work because I have to, because I love a man who is everything except a sugar daddy. And I write because I love myself enough to know that this is not enough. I want. I want!! When I climb down after taking my fill of pleasure from that man, I can’t help but revel in naughty glee that my love has left its marks. I was here. I took. I gave. I loved! Throughout our history, words have been born of passion and violence in both form and function. And now what? We take our fill and then turn off the screen? Blank. Nothing. No evidence of our pleasure. No reciprocation of value by the offering of space on a shelf. A denial of value and a denial of time… a denial of ourselves. When you take away the value of words, you take away their power to change. I want my books to remember me. I want to leave them sweaty, ‘red’, and desperate for air – the way they leave me. I want the responsibility for their care and ownership. I want to hold their futures in my hands. And I want them to feel time the way I do, because my own words cost me so much. I want my books wrinkled and scarred, with wayward bugs entombed and immortalized between their pages. But what if you go on vacation? Isn’t an eReader so much more convenient? Since when have words been about convenience?! The last time I opened an Agatha Christie, a small dribble of cottage sand spilled out onto my pillow. I rubbed it between my fingers as I flipped the pages and drank in my paperback’s delicious, comfortable mustiness. Suddenly I was back on the beach, savouring an old friend page by page, memory by memory. Yes, with an eReader or tablet, a Kobo or Kindle, you can bring an entire library with you on vacation, but it only takes one real book to bring the beach back home. I rest my case.

Are you a Neal Cassady or a Jack Kerouac?

Neal Cassady Jack KerouacHumanity, at its most raw, is heroic. We celebrate those among us who live the glamour of our extremes and brave the consequences. When sensations and emotions are freed from social conventions to engage with the paradoxical poles of existence in an honest dialogue… well, you get On The Road.

Jack Kerouac typed his seminal Beat scroll in three mad benzedrine fuelled weeks in 1951 after seven years riding alongside its hero, Dean Moriarty – his friend Neal Cassady. Through chronicling Cassady’s untamed (let’s be honest – adolescent) humanity, Kerouac became our hero. For more than 50 years we’ve been wanking off to Kerouac’s rhythmic angst and Cassady’s inspirational intensities. But what happens to our heroes?

Jack Kerouac drank himself to death hiding away with his mother. Neal Cassady stumbled into oblivion… literally! Words have caught them at their most luminous, in that one brief brilliance when an exceptional adult intellect can sing true to its child’s soul, before the brain is forced to mature or push its truths into death. Awful, really.

Sensitive? Overwhelmed? Are you a Neal Cassady or a Jack Kerouac? Do you live your extremes or document them? Do you give of yourself, or your production? The pain is the same, and the joy, but the difference is what is offered up to time and to the broader human system. But here’s the thing. Our heroes don’t give a shit – not about legacy, humanity, or even (through legacy and humanity) immortality. Their brains care about feeling good and whatever story supports that truth – just like ours. But fame and fortune don’t matter to our heroes, social awards and ‘doing the right thing’ don’t feed or sustain – that’s why they’re our heroes!

Maybe we don’t have to choose. Maybe there’s another way. What if we make the exploration of our humanity the article of production? What if the act of life without limits becomes a chronicle in real-time that can only exist with continued participation of that life? What if we take Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle into our own systems? What if “look what I did” becomes “look what I am”? What if we let the act of writing, the mood of the day, even the choice of outfit, build our stories?

What if we dare to become our heroes?

How to know you’ve OD’ed on philosophy

playing catch with philosophyFor those of us whose minds and mouths seem so much more adept at forming questions than answers… For those of us who swing wide on the flexibilities of our viable worlds… For those of us who can never stop exploring… Is it possible to overdose on philosophy? If there is one solid answer in this world, it is to this question. And three days ago it smacked me upside the head… YES!

It was the last dream before the morning. In the boundless, though tremulous reality of my dream’s gestalted storyline, I am teaching a small toddling self to play catch under a purple sky.

“OK, here we go,” I said. “I’ll throw you the ball, then you catch it and throw it back to me.”

My mini mirror caught my light toss with expert ease. But then she hesitated, looked up at me and asked, with blue eyes wide and questioning…

“Why?”

The 7 habits of highly effective autodidacts

autodidact notebooksAre you a member of AA? We get no respect. No one understands us. We’re forced to sneak off alone to little shadowy (wi-fi equipped) corners to indulge our habits. We don’t get any sympathy, let alone accreditation, for our addictions. Don’t bother hiding your insatiables behind denial. Come on in and pull up a chair. Welcome to Autodidacts Anonymous.

Throughout history, self-directed learners have been responsible for many of our greatest leaps forward in math, science, literature, architecture… etc. I keep this impressive list of self-taught innovators in my back pocket to defend myself against everyone who has called me crazy for choosing to leave university one year into my degree, when I had a 4.0 (as in perfect) GPA and full scholarships for all four years. I know you’re reading this probably thinking, “Idiot!” Shock, disbelief, pure unadulterated horror – the reactions I got were akin to if I’d confessed to a habit of maiming puppies. Worse still, I followed up my news with, “…and I want to be a writer.” Oh the agonies on the faces of those I loved!

Ten years later and I’ve never regretted my choice. Ok, ok, maybe there were one or two brief moments near the beginning when I was on lumber cash at Home Depot dealing with splinters and grumpy contractors at 7:30 in the morning. Since then, I’ve loaded up this brain with a vast and varied cache of information across more fields than I can list, all by using the 7 habits of highly effective (title inspired by this classic tome) autodidacts listed below. How the hell I’m going to use it to make a living has yet to be determined, but I can say with confidence that I have a graduate level degree equivalent in what could best be described as ‘the evolution of ideas’. In school I could feel my brain closing, tightening up, and now I know why…

Standardized education isn’t just about encoding information, it’s about encoding it in pre-prescribed neural linkage maps. The patterns of association that have been formalized by academia dictate to the brain ‘what goes with what’, ‘what came before what’, ‘this is correlated with that’, etc. Oh sure, you can put together a novel thesis within these parameters, but stray too far into divergent thinking and your 1st year T.A. or PHD committee will give you a big fat fail. How did I achieve an A+ average? I wrote my lab reports and picked my projects according to the personality of who was going to be marking them. Talk about subjective!

Not only does self-directed autodidact learning let you maximize your efficiency by engaging your interest and letting your moods and energy levels personalize your self-teaching schedule, it also builds a uniquely uninhibited neural linkage map that will free your brain to make new exciting connections, interpretations, and value assignments. This map grows organically according to your research through time and allows your brain structure and the pattern/chronology of input to directly influence its design. Read on to discover the 7 habits of highly effective autodidacts…
schoolgirlHabit One: Autodidact mission statement
Are you a generalist or a specialist? Are you tackling a specific topic in order to build a new skill set? What is the purpose of your learning? Pure pleasure? Potential profit? An autodidact mission statement will keep you focused on your learning goals and prevent you from getting sidetracked. As a writer and generalist, my learning mission has been to build a knowledge foundation to provide the broadest possible source material for metaphors, plot, settings, and characters – with a focus on cultural paradigm shifts throughout history. What’s yours?

Habit Two: Vary your sources
We live in an autodidact paradise. This article gives a great list of learning tips, resources, and websites. But don’t forget about books, conversations, and tactile explorations. Always approach a topic from multiple perspectives by using multiple sources, especially when using the internet. And if you start watching TED talks, be warned, they are extremely addictive!

Habit Three: Develop a personalized learning system
Are you a visual, auditory, or tactile learner? Develop your learning system to maximize memory encoding efficiency. Highlighting and once-over reading are bullshit. Unless of course, you’re one of those lucky buggers with a photographic memory. I’ve designed my own handwriting font and symbol set for maximum speed and readability. Writing down quotes and important facts gets more of the body/brain involved in the process and turns auditory information into visual and tactile. Taking notes also gives you a record of your autodidacticism. Source memory is easily corrupted, therefore, personally, I don’t bother too much with noting sources. I also recommend drawing pictures and diagrams to maximize your interaction with the topic and get your right brain involved. The more you can load up your associations for a concept, the more the circuitry is strengthened.

Habit Four: Test through application and socialization
Test your knowledge by commenting on related blogs, searching out conversations with people in the field, or by problem solving within your topic. Use the skills you’ve read about in real-world situations. Quiz yourself. Identify patterns across subjects. These patterns will also help in organizing how these topics are encoded in your brain.

Habit Five: Risk the knowledge path less traveled
Yes, the more passionate you are about a topic, the easier it will be to learn. But don’t wuss out and stick to old favourites. Sometimes you will need to hunker down and tackle what I call Bridge Topics. These are the connecting links between topics that don’t immediately engage your attention but will expand your understanding of your favourites (eg. study loom history and not just haute couture). Randomize!! Take advantage of the suggestion list on Youtube. Follow seemingly unrelated topic strings concurrently. Switching it up is a great way to find new patterns and linkages. Tackle Newton for an hour then take on Victorian kitchen gardens!

Habit Six: Respect the importance of words
We encode through interpretation rather than actual word for word. Knowing this, get fierce about the specific words used by your sources, especially quotes. Otherwise, you’ll be learning through a shallow, stagnant perspective and will miss out on the true depth of your study topics. Identify words that repeat across topics. Also, this skill will help you start to pay attention to the actual words used in conversation – especially handy when ‘negotiating’ with your spouse.

Habit Seven: Revisit and review
Periodically revisit and review source material from early in your topic study. Has your perspective changed? Do more layers appear? Does the information seem more nuanced? In terms of perceived importance, which facts stick out as ‘loud’, which are ‘quiet’? Ideally, this pattern will have changed since your first encounter, as your understanding will have evolved. Have you developed your own theses about the topic? Do these challenge the original source but hold up to argument? If so, give yourself a pat on the back. You’ve learned something. Which, I believe, is the whole point.

Inside the process of how story and math change our world

historical geniusesHeisenberg’s uncertainty principle applies equally to particles, parabolas, and prose. To describe – which is the common goal of any story or mathematical formula – is to influence the object of observation. Our reflection of reality becomes our measure of the world. isaac newton caricatureBut while Heisenberg’s electrons were thrown off course by photons, the change in our reality is essentially rooted in perception. And because perception is our brain’s only way of interacting with the universe, a change in perception equals a change in our world.

Truth is variable according to our experiences. Our experience of ideas, concepts, and proofs come together to pattern our perception of the truth of our reality. ernest hemingway caricatureWhen not individualized through direct sensory exposure, this ‘experience’ is communicated to our neural networks through a language of symbol: story through words, math through numbers. Both math and literature humanize a universe fraught with chaos by translating it into patterns of information compatible with the structure and function of our brains.

The only difference between story and math is the path of emotional access. Both words and numbers are symbols loaded with meaning and expectation of pattern of connection (eg. sentence structure/ B.E.D.M.A.S.). albert einstein caricatureHowever, words have broader associations and are linked with emotions that, when activated, open and extend our logic parameters to create new suspended realities. We can choose to incorporate these new worlds into our own (The Globe and Mail, religion, this post) or simple abandon them when we get to the last page (fiction, Calgary Sun). Mathematical symbols have a much stricter pattern of expectation that, upon entering the brain, must first be vetted by the logic system in our prefrontal cortex before giving us an emotional response/release in the form of soothing contentment (eg. simple beauty of E=mc2), or that sick feeling you get in your stomach when a formula turns out to be bullshit (eg. string theory… don’t get me started!).

virginia woolf caricatureInterchangeable except for path of emotional access, every story and mathematical formula use a shared humanized language of symbol to communicate novel patterns of perception that, if adopted as truth, change our world.

Make love to the world or make the world’s perfect salad?

terry richardson perfect saladDon’t get me wrong, I’ve worked jobs in both industries, but there comes a time when a girl’s got to break free and make the choice to say THIS is who I am…

Yes, that is sweet potato, and yes, it was perfectly deliciousThis brain is blessed with the genetic trick to be able to translate the raw violence of our humanity into short black strokes on a page. Words. I’ve teased them, held them, rolled them around in my mouth until they’ve begged for release. But it is never enough.

The same brain, the creator of worlds, demands a physicality. I have clothed my body in my own designs, used objects and images to pull people into exotic, intoxicating paradigms – where I’ve teased them, held them, rolled them around in my mouth until they’ve begged for release. But it is never enough.

The same brain, the woman, craves the deepest connection. Love. Faith. Family. A loyalty and consistency so in conflict with the gnashing Rimbaud mind. Love. I tease him, hold him, roll him around… But it is never enough.

Yes, that is sweet potato, and yes, it was perfectly deliciousI live for ideas, and for story. I am an exploration, and I am a woman. There is no ‘happy middle ground’. So what then? Be Lee Miller? Blaze through my own physicality, run a bath at the high point, then submit to decay? Be Terry Richardson / Olivier Zahm? Run around with a camera in one hand and my manhood in the other? Flash a nipple once every dozen posts or so, just to keep my audience hooked? No.

Perfect salad?Do I blog my way to the world’s perfect salad? Harness my creative intellect and train it down, tame it down, to service the ultimate temporal/individual subjective? Just to make everybody else happy and safe? No. Not when the perfect salad is a frank impossibility, especially when compared to the tempting universality of the perfect blow job. NO.

Take ‘time’ out of the equation and the ‘world’ disappears. There is only this moment of interaction, you and I, giving and receiving. What if I told you I’ve found a way? Not to straddle, oscillate between, or deny these conflicting extremes of existence, but a format for their expression and a place to mediate alternative, individualized, solutions? Would you believe me? Would you dare? After a dedicated program of study in current brain science and the historical evolution of ideas, the time has come for me to say: “Let’s both have the balls to find out.”
good times?If the only way to draw instant creative  success in our current cultural paradigm is for me to dance naked down the street with BlankCanvasLiving.com plastered all over my body, then no. So it might be just us for a while. That’s fine with me. I’ll do my very best to tease you, hold you, roll you around in storied ideas until you beg not for release, but for permission to take our warm, close world into your own.

The exact moment I realize I’m wasting my life

Spinning with the Earth at 1675 km/h, we humans are always and only ‘falling through time’. We feign power and control over our most precious, non-renewable resource with an abuser’s vocabulary – using, taking, spending, wasting… killing. In contrast, the words associated with our time efficiencies and generosities have somewhat religious overtones – saving, making, creating, giving. We express love through the valuing and sharing of time. And if we love ourselves, deeply, truly, is killing time the ultimate betrayal?

Slow day at work… do I write my future or stall it through distraction? The word search is almost too easy to rationalize. The 60 words are 60 novelists, so I’m not killing time… I’m learning. Ya, that’s it! Schooling myself for writer street-cred name dropping with a two-birds-one-stone pleasant pastime, the very essence of intelligent efficiency.

endless wordsearchALCOT, AMIS, AUSTEN – there’s HEMINGWAY in the middle there – BAINBRIDGE… BUCHAN is taking some time, no matter, I’m leeearning. Oh, there’s ORWELL along the top, but where’s BUCHAN? I dedicate myself to BUCHAN with full intensity pattern recognition/scanning, picking out all the BU’s and CH’s. Minutes pass… I start to get the same sick feeling in my stomach I used to get after too many Saturday morning cartoons (and still get after too much celebrity gossip). Screw it, we’re going old school here, line by line…

I do this twice. There is no BUCHAN! WTF?? This is so wrong it hurts. But just as stubborn as Rihanna going back to Chris Brown (don’t get me started!), I deny the atrocity and jump right back in. Sometimes the universe sends you a message, and sometimes that message is ELIOT with one L in the list, but two in the grid!?? This is officially BULL! with two Ls anywhere you find it!

I sit staring at the word search in numb disbelief. This is against all the rules! The contract of trust is broken. How can I ever commit to a word search again? Maybe crosswords aren’t even sacred! Two more go-to distractions tainted. But this is a wake-up; I can feel it in my bones. I can’t waste any more time.

I do the only thing that’s ever made my stomach stop churning. I put the story into my own words.

Risking everything to get from Here to There

Once, on stage, I blanked out. I stood there stupidly, holding a silent, quivering flute, cantilevered out into nothingness.

Once, before a deadline, I blanked out. I sat there stupidly, hating my hands for shaking, this time over a keyboard, poised over an article that would never be written.

Now I sit here risking everything promised by our current paradigm, but my hands are steady. These words are my own. There is no fear beyond the slow, mild panic of a human engaging her humanity. There is no composer’s melody to forget, and no interviews to transcribe. There can be no ‘blanking’ out because this is Blank Canvas Living. This is a living dialogue. This is a brain exploring, within and without. This is freedom.

Who are you? Who do you want to be? Risk asking.

But more than that – risk knowing.

And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom – Anais Nin

To blossom in this world takes a sharp act of will, fierce and unwavering. There can be no permission. Blank Canvas Living’s  tips/techniques, personal style guide, creative living exercises, and experiments in engagement are designed to loosen our jumbled neural associations and give us the freedom to learn our brains, love them, and blossom according to our most primal coding. Backed by a five year dedicated study into the evolution of ideas (from prehistory through to today), and ongoing philosophical field testing, Blank Canvas Living is an interactive forum for passionate people who share a high need for cognition and sensory/sensual involvement.

Blank Canvas Thinkers: Robert Ludlum quote about writing for an audience

When Robert Ludlum turned 40, he went rogue. Not an easy age for any man, Ludlum’s crisis was compounded by the ugly realization that he could no longer support his family through his theatre work. What happens when doing what you love won’t pay the bills? Deep, unremitting, soul crushing despair, and then you move on; most to a staid mediocrity within the system, but some, like our hero Ludlum, just say ‘to hell with it’ and pick up a pen – because writing is so much more lucrative than acting… suuure. When he told his wife he’d been thinking about writing for a living, her response was this: “You’re either going to try it or you’re going to regret (not trying) it for the rest of your life.”

The man gave it his all – how could he not with such saintly support? Just imagine them lying together in the dark, both stressing about money, and he rolls over and suggests writing as a solution – miracle she didn’t smother him out on the spot! But she must have known the secret, his edge in an age of self indulgent novelists, that a true entertainer can work his craft in any medium. And so, like his best known literary creation, Jason Bourne, Ludlum used the skills, talents, and training of his past life to find a new creative identity within a different world.

Click Here to watch an excellent short biographical documentary on Robert Ludlum… bestselling author, master of suspense, chronicler of heroes, and one of the luckiest husbands in human history.

How to choose the right header image for your blog

The visual ingredients for your blog’s best/perfect/ideal header image may be right in front of you, literally. Essentially, a great header should communicate your viewpoint and give atmosphere to your blog, while giving you the freedom to explore a wide variety of subjects and moods below the banner. A blog is an online reflection of its author, and there’s a good chance you’ve already created your perfect header on the ‘real-world’ side of the mirror. Where else in your life do you “explore a wide variety of subjects and moods”?

I looked up from my desk and saw my ideal header staring back at me. My wall at work is a collage of inspirational pictures/drawings/quotes, bits of my brain playfully arranged as an external representation of my creative process. After previous indulgences (involving a rather humiliating self-photoshoot in a Saturday morning park in front of curious children and their visibly concerned parents) it was a relief to find that most of the work had already been done.


This time it was my coworkers’ turn to be curious, and visibly concerned, when they found me perched precariously atop a stepladder shooting a composite collage to fit the proportions of my chosen blog theme template. After cropping, and some minor photoshopping, Blank Canvas living had its personalized header.


Note: Besides my office wall, my sketchbook sacrificed many of its pages for this project. Tragically, Aristotle’s creepy stone eyes prevented him from making the cut. Another missing player was the quote from a rescued Al-Qaeda prisoner: “When you know you’re going to die, it’s different from wondering whether or not you might die.” I can’t quite explain why, but I’ve always found this quote particularly inspirational.