Tag Archives: truth

In defense of obstinacy

This post continues Week 3 in a series of posts on topics that relate to writer’s residencies. Find other posts here and here. I am counting up towards the residency.

tree trunk bearing sign saying "there is a tree behind you and it will not move for you"

CC image “Mission San Miguel: Where the Trees are Obstinate” via J Maughn on Flickr. Some rights reserved.

I’ve been thinking about obstinacy. Obstinacy is a word with low approval ratings. Merriam-Webster defines it as the quality or state of being obstinate; stubbornness; the quality or state of being difficult to remedy, relieve, or subdue.

People in my family are obstinate. Sometimes they look like they are engaging in one-upmanship: I can be more obstinate than you! I know a lot about obstinacy on a personal level.

I’m working on acquiring obstinacy on an artistic level.

Obstinacy among artists isn’t always highly prized by their colleagues. Audiences are happy to consume the fruits of creative obstinacy, but that doesn’t make them want to hang out with obstinate artists.

What sets artists apart

According to a Norwegian study, the artistically inclined differentiate themselves from others by being less “sociable” and more emotionally “unstable,” among more virtuous descriptors, such as associative thinking, desiring originality, being inwardly motivated, and ambition (see a short article on this discussion here).

Emotionally unstable? I’d say this is where the legacy of famous “wild” or “tortured” artists has left its mark: Hemingway, Plath, Faulkner, Woolf, Van Gogh, and so on. Look up “tortured artist” and voila! — find lists and discussions of writers, poets, and painters who had known addictions and known or speculated mental illnesses.

Then we have the sociability issue (I’ll excuse you if you read this as anti-social). In fact, what the article defines as low sociability is a tendency to be “inconsiderate” and “obstinate.”

There’s that word again.

Why being obstinate is an advantage

Frankly, I think obstinacy is under-rated. When faced with a long and daunting task (like writing a book, or pursuing any kind of creative career, for example), it pays to be obstinate. When you need to finish a project, it pays to close the door behind you and keep other people out. The opposite of obstinate is “irresolute.” Yeah, that sounds like a bonus! Another word for irresolute is “indecisive.” Definitely my go-to person. Want to accomplish a goal? Talk to someone who’s obstinate.

Other antonyms for “obstinate,” according to thesaurus.com, include: obedient, pliant, soft, submissive, surrendering, and yielding.

Can you imagine a list of more passive adjectives? I have a hard time myself, and I’m an associative thinker (rimshot). None of these adjectives is an agent of their own destiny. They only want to sit around and be loved.

By contrast, synonyms for “obstinate” include: headstrong, steadfast, tenacious, dogged, indomitable, persistent, relentless, self-willed, strong-minded, and unflinching.

Yes, I am cherry-picking: if you look up “obstinate” you will find plenty of unsavory synonyms. My point is that we overlook the valuable aspects of obstinacy in favor of the more socially “acceptable” modes of being. Obstinate people aren’t perfect, but they DO stand a better chance of accomplishing their goals.

They are agents of their own narrative.

Obstinacy and getting past artistic adversity

Think of Stephen King and his spike. How many rejections did he accumulate before ever being published? Now he is a by-word for literary success. He didn’t get there by surrendering and being pliant.

I’ve wanted to do a writer’s residency for years, but I was always afraid to apply because I didn’t think I had the credentials. Here’s a secret, though (and I’m working on grasping its slippery tail every day): you get credentials by going out and getting credentials.

I’m going to finish this project by being obstinate. I might include some of those lovable adjectives in my book. When I’m done, they might even be me. For a while.

Join me — discover your own artistic obstinacy. Feel free to tell me about it. I’ll celebrate you.

Violating trust and artistic integrity

I'm looking at you, Yahoo!

hamsters playing tug of war with a carrot

CC image “Stealing” courtesy of ryancr on Flickr. Some rights reserved. NOT a commercial license!

Recently, it’s come to my attention that Flickr is doing something new with its users’ photos. Or rather, Yahoo!, which owns Flickr, is doing something new. They are doing it WELL below the radar. As someone with a Flickr account, I never even received an email notification*, something even Facebook is good at doing, with its recent news about the updates to its privacy policy.

What is Yahoo!/Flickr doing? Yahoo! is exploiting other artists’ work for their personal gain. I can put this another way. Yahoo! is stealing.

Not that I found this out from Yahoo! mind you. Thanks to the glories of social media, I found out about it from a friend who also uses (used?) Flickr, far more intensively than I do.

You won’t see Yahoo! saying anything remotely like “stealing,” of course. Yahoo!’s official position on this (once I went to the trouble of hunting it down; as I said, I didn’t receive any notification from Yahoo! A search under “Yahoo selling Flickr photos” which is as close to what’s happening as a search query can get, didn’t even turn up a press release on the first page of results. In fact, even when I went hunting specifically for a press release or official announcement, I didn’t get any information. I finally found a link to Yahoo!’s Tumblr through another article on The Daily Dot. That’s great outreach, Yahoo! *snort*), is as follows:

Yahoo announces printing of commercially licensed photos

screen grab from Yahoo!’s Tumblr

Yes, you are reading that correctly. Yahoo! is posing this whole situation as a boon to the consumer of photo art. Indeed, I think it IS a boon to the consumer. Only recently I came across this awesome artistic rendition of a Language Family Tree by Minna Sundberg, and really wished there was a poster available for it. The image is beautiful — appealing both to my inner language nerd and my wannabe-artist. Judging by the comments, I’m not the only ready-made consumer, either. However, I feel that Yahoo!’s move is no boon to any but the most select photographers. I think this move violates trust at a basic level, and thoroughly mauls artistic integrity and choice.

(See the bottom of this post for links to additional information on this issue)

Basically, Yahoo! is offering the printing of images from two sources: selected photographers, with whom I presume they had a conversation about this arrangement before the announcement went live to consumers; and a number of Creative Commons commercial-use-licensed images, which I doubt had any prior notice. They are offering two payment schemes, one to each group. The pre-selected photographers get to keep 51% of their profits.

The Creative Commons-licensing photographers get zero.

While I think 49% is a steep commission, let’s face it, those photographers had the opportunity to discuss the deal and accept the terms. I’m much more concerned with everyone who licensed their photos through Creative Commons, who are now being treated like shabby work-for-hire widget-makers, only without the hiring part.

Yahoo! is under its legal rights to do what it is doing. However, legal does not make right. Morals and the law might intersect sometimes, but this is far from a given. I am incensed with Yahoo!’s hubris on behalf of artistic and creative folk everywhere. Someone else has done the work, had the vision, and then expressed their joy in sharing what they’ve been able to create. Yahoo!, who had absolutely nothing to do with this creative process, decides to cash in. On work that isn’t theirs.

That is crap, Yahoo! That is real crap.

I can think of a number of more thoughtful ways of pursuing the idea of making beautiful photos accessible to people who want the art. What all of these ways have in common is that a) they take more time, b) they take more work, and c) they involve dialogue with the artists who’ve created this opportunity in the first place.

I can imagine that reaching out to all the creators and setting up a dialogue has the potential to create any number of administrative headaches. But the payoff is almost without price. People are posting their photos on Flickr with Creative Commons licenses — or they were; that’s certainly changing — because they WANT to share their work. If they are sharing their art for free, they are certainly there for recognition, and given the opportunity might jump at even more recognition! On the flipside though, remember they are offering their work for free. How can you presume to take that as a tacit agreement for you to charge for it? And keep all the change?

The gall is breathtaking.

Yahoo! has acted unilaterally and way overstepped its boundaries. You could argue that Yahoo! is serving the consumer, but in the process, the artist gets screwed. Almost no one has a problem with this, except the artists themselves, but in reality we all suffer. How long do you think someone whose work is so disrespected will continue to create work, or if they create it, to share it with anyone else?

When we drive creators off the stage, we all lose.

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*If you are a Flickr user with Creative Commons-licensed images, and you received an official notification from Yahoo! about this, I’d love to hear from you. I haven’t licensed my photos, which right now I am profoundly relieved about. Perhaps notices only went out to those who were affected; I want to be accurate and level-headed and not make any unjust accusations.

Note: I use a lot of Flickr Creative Commons-licensed images in this blog. I always use photos that are not commercially licensed, and I provide links back to the Flickr page and credit to every photographer. I appreciate everyone whose images I’ve been able to use, and their gracious permission to do so. Strictly speaking, my ability to find images this way should not be impacted because the license is different than what’s under discussion here, but you never know. Folks may pull out of the license altogether. I feel like I am making a conflict of interest disclosure, which might be overdone… but I want to be transparent.

Note 2: Links. You may already be informed of the issue discussed in this post. If you aren’t, feel free to type in a few search terms. Here are two more links that I turned up, in case you are interested in diving deeper:
Wall Street Journal


You Must Submit! (to doing your art)

Yes, we’ve got a theme here

lego figure under a glass

Trapped by art! CC image Help! courtesy of fisserman on Flickr. Some rights reserved.

For those of you who saw my last post about submitting (sending out our work to be judged… I mean, for consideration to be published or made public), the topic clearly has more to offer. For one, we didn’t talk about actually making the art.

(Yes, I do things backwards sometimes.)

We think about our art in relation to other people. We want to share our work (at some point). We want to know what other people think (nice things). We think about it being finished.

Every time I think about submitting my work, I feel a mental nod coming on. Yes, that’s a good idea. I should. I want to.

After all, that’s how people are going to read it, right?


Followed by more irrefutable logic: I will never be published [by anyone other than myself] if I don’t ever submit my work.

Once I sit down to actually, physically take on the task of submission, a lot changes.

I’m not nodding anymore. I’m fighting.

Resistance, in fact, sweeps over me like a hurricane. The winds lash me, the rains drench me, I’m afraid I’m about to be swept away. The best I can do is hunker down and wait for the storm to subside. Then I walk around gingerly, on tip toe, for a while. I don’t want to rouse the demons yet again.

Sound familiar?

Submitting and writing are not the same thing

Art first needs to be made. This submission concept is really frou-frou, like frosting on brownies. Before the frosting can go anywhere, we need to bake brownies. Then we can agonize about what flavor frosting we want.

The act of making the piece, or even editing the piece, is separate from the submission storm, although the storm does bring up writing debris.

The making brings up its own resistance.

Say I am not even thinking about making a submission. I am working on a first draft. Better yet, I’ve just had an idea, and am running down the track after my idea, trying to determine what species it is, what habitat it likes, whether the idea wants the shade or a river, what it likes to eat, and if it prefers the pen or the computer. Even here, I have to deal with a storm of resistance. And dealing with resistance here is much more of a dicey proposition than at the submission stage. If I wrestle too much at the source, I’ll be distracted with my struggle while the idea gets away.

Hop-hop-hop. Nothing doing. Do you know this dance?

Resistance is everywhere

The siren voices of resistance at the writing stage are the usual menagerie of rabid self-judgments. A selection: This is awful. Where is this going? You can’t say that… So-and-so [famous, published and wealthy] would never say that. So-and-so is better than you.  That’s why So-and-so is published, and you’re not.

Sometimes the eye-rolling pedant in me gets a word in edgewise. Example: I also won’t get published if I never WRITE anything until the end…

Storm voice: Maybe that’s the way it should be. No one wants to read drivel.

Then there is the distraction ploy. For example: I’m hungry. My ankle itches. Listen, I haven’t done laundry in a week and I’m running out of socks.

Finally, lest we forget, there is resistance posing as the voice of logic. Actually, this isn’t the best time to be doing this (writing). You should prep for that meeting. Or wash your hair. This isn’t a quiet spot. You’re going to be interrupted. What a waste of your flow! You’ll get started and then disturbed right at the crucial moment. What about going somewhere else? You should choose a quieter time of day. You should choose a more secluded location. You should sit in a chair that doesn’t turn you into the Hunchback of Notre Dame.

Dear Reader, do you recognize this mess? Do you feel familiar with the scenarios I have just sketched for you? Fear not — I have a diagnosis.  The sickness is this:

You aren’t submitting (to your art).
I am not submitting (to my art).

And we must, or we’re never going to be happy. Screw fame, publication, and wealth. Let’s back up to the first step. We’re never going to get out of this loony bin the way we’re going. We are bouncing off the walls: look at us!

This is important— no matter what else we do, we must always, always, always submit to our art.

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What happens when you don’t submit?

“Busy” is a great way to destroy your creativity

Too Busy and Important to write: the age-old excuse

graffiti art tag Busy

CC image Busy courtesy of Steve Rotman on Flickr. Some rights reserved.

Ah, dear neglected Blog, what strangers we have become. Seeing each other only rarely, yet remembering all the old fondness we had for each other, we have become shy in each others’ company and this keeps us from doing what we love. In this case, our words.

I can make many excuses for my neglect. Chief among them, this year, has been Busyness. Ah, the cardinal sin of Busy. Busy covers so much territory. It carries itself with moral rectitude. You can’t really assail Busy, because Busy involves good things, like:

  • Work. We like Work! Since we earn our own bread, we appreciate anything that helps us eat. Also: sleep indoors, and meet other obligations. For months now, we have been saying, “Gee, I am swamped with all this Work!”
  • Play. With all this Work going on, it’s imperative to also make room for Play. All Work and no Play leads Jill down the path of diminishing Work performance and returns. Funny thing, that. Play is necessary for Work. Also, Play is necessary for Writing. Sorry, Writing. We’re setting the stage for you here. Truly, we are.
  • Sleeping. This is a very underrated activity which also has an perverse correlation (up to a certain point) with both Work and Play productivity. The less we sleep, the less we get done. Ironic, no? I mean, this is why some of us pulled all-nighters in college. To get stuff done. Not me, though. My one attempt was a total disaster on all fronts (I fell asleep and didn’t actually finish the paper). I am a failure at all-nighters.

Depending on my train of thought, I imbue Writing (which encompasses Blog) with self-awareness, a personality, and desires. Writing could be a small child, or an insect, or Tyrannosaurus Rex. At this moment, Writing is kind of like the family dog, an older Golden Retriever mix perhaps, sitting by the closed front door with its leash dangling from its mouth. The dog follows me with its eyes, which I avoid meeting as much as possible. Whenever I walk past close enough, I hear a sad little thumping which is the tail against the floor, an irregular rhythm, still hopeful that soon, it will get to go out on that walk. No matter how many times I’ve passed by here before and then carried on with Other Stuff, the hope persists. Thump thump.  Thump.

But Busy wins. So sad.

These longing glances remind me of one of the big reasons I decided to begin working for myself in the first place. Freelance. The word “free” in that compound word is a dangerous crumb of vocabulary. We have a lot of good associations with the word free. Things like free candy (without cost), free will (yes, it’s all about ME!), free time (no one can tell us what to do).  The problem is, nature abhors a vacuum, and there’s always something ready to rush in to fill the void when we clear it out with “free.”

In the case of freelance, I’ve cleared out the boss… which makes room for me to be the new Boss.

I had no illusions that freelance would be a lot of work (I did have a good dose of ignorance, though). I’m good at organizing my time, too, so I didn’t think setting my own schedule would be a problem (this is true). If I have a project that needs doing, I get it done. What I realize I am struggling with is work exhaustion. I’ll keep doing and doing and doing, because I like being able to pay my bills. As a result, I get more and more tired, and Sleep takes over a lot more time in my schedule which I thought would be devoted to Writing.

My illusion about freelance work is that I’d have the time flexibility to work on more creative projects while handling my own business projects. Turns out, I just replaced one tyrant with another, namely myself. Now I work all the time and am too tired to write, and I have no outside party or situation to blame for my failure to make progress on my creative dreams.

I have only myself.

Now that’s an eye-opener.

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How does Busy show up in your life?

Some books are bad

And we should know about them.

black and white cat cuddling with novel

CC image courtesy of Leach84 on Flickr. Some rights reserved.

It’s snowing here right now. Big, wet flakes of spring snow. Which means I have the perfect excuse to cuddle up with some blankets, a mug of hot chocolate, and a good book. Or several good books, as the case may be.

I am a book glutton.

I go on library binges the way some people go on chocolate binges or shopping binges. I can never seem to stop at just ONE book. There’s just too much (potential) goodness.

Notice that cute editing trick I played right there? The parentheses? It’s because I caught myself saying “goodness” as if every single book was good. Or good for us. Which is not true.

Some books are bad.

Damn, that’s hard to say out loud.

I LOVE books. Books are the perfect conversation partner — they’re always going at the exact speed we want them to go. They’ll pause when we want to pause, and continue as we want to continue. Until we get to The End, of course.

But some of them, to be honest, are lousy.

Occasionally, when I get a little ways into a book I impulse-brought-home from the library, I’ll wonder what possessed me to grab it. Not often, but sometimes. This is my version of the bar crawl and associated regret.

I try to make excuses for the book, but sometimes it’s plain bad.

Enter the book review

I was thinking about the reality of Bad Books again this week. Not because I am in the middle of a lousy book. I was on Goodreads, researching a book I was considering bringing over for coffee. I was going over one rave review after another, and my eyes were glazing over. Can this be true? I thought. It can’t be. People here totally drank the Kool-Aid.

Sometimes books are bad, and we want to know about them. In fact, low-star and negative book reviews may be more useful than any other kind of review for helping us to weed out the crowd.

I found out that I appreciated bad reviews, at any rate.

In support of the “bad” review

There were a LOT of reviews for the book I was looking up. A LOT of POSITIVE reviews. I think book reviews operate on the reverse principle of the calls made to most customer service departments. Customer service departments tend to hear from people who are pissed. Sites for reader reviews feature the readers who are in love with the book they are reviewing. Neither of these scenarios gives us an accurate picture. Book readers, on the whole, want someone else to know how amazing the book was they just read! They can’t keep the information to themselves — they want to sing it from the rooftops!

All the positive reviews for this book began to look exactly the same to me. I was getting zero information.

(Side note: what is it about book reviews that makes people want to recap the plot? Not necessary! We already have the jacket flaps and the publisher’s blurb! Otherwise the information is just spoilers! But I digress.)

They were all the same, these reviews. They weren’t telling me anything I didn’t already know by the 3rd 5-star review — except what they revealed about the text itself (spoiling spoiling spoiling). I don’t care, I caught myself thinking. What if I met you (the reviewer) in person and thought you were a complete flake? This book review would do me no good whatsoever.

Then I got to the first two-star review.

Don’t tell me you “like” something. Tell me WHY you like it!

I felt as though someone had just opened a door to let in some fresh air. Finally, I had what I wanted: if there was an aspect of the book which might not thrill someone (and I’m not saying there always has to be or that the lack of thrill complaint is always valid), or which could be described as annoying, what would that be? Was this something which could bother me as well? I read on, first one and then another 2-star review, and I came across a few candidates for What Could Annoy.

I kept scrolling down through the pile of comments, giving all the 4- or 5-stars a pass. Sometimes, a 3-star would make me hesitate, but they appeared to be rare in this instance. I focused on the 2-star reviews.

Here’s the beauty of this approach: it matters not whether I agree or disagree with the 2-star review. Either way, I’ve learned something about the book by learning about the reader who disliked it. I can get a feeling for the book by checking to see whether or not I do agree or disagree with what annoyed this person. And that, gentle reader, helps me make a decision about reading the book.

Many people who like books forget to tell us why they like them. “Beautiful” may be descriptive because the word is an adjective, but it doesn’t tell me anything. I can imagine whatever I like under the word “beautiful” and my beautiful may have nothing to do with yours!

This is not to say that I want everyone to go out there and find some book to pan online. Rather, I appreciate the people who are not raving fans of certain works who took the time to share why.

This is my call to your customer service department, to say Thank You for a job well done.

…Now, for my hot chocolate and cuddle with my “good” book…. which I may or may not feel inspired to review…

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How do you feel about book reviews? Let me know in the comments!