Not Writing

Credit: Deepak Nanda/

Credit: Deepak Nanda/

Where are you?  Yes, I continue to occupy my space on this planet.  No, I have not stopped writing although it may seem that way since I haven’t written here in weeks.  I have not written anywhere in weeks.  I’ve written e-mails and signed release documents.  I’ve written notes to myself, and grocery lists.  But I have not been able to write any essays or fiction.  Why?

That reminds me of a story I heard or read — I don’t know from whom or where now since I didn’t make a note of it — about the writers Andre Dubus and Tobias Wolff.  Dubus had stopped on a freeway to help a motorist whose car had broken down, and a car hit him.  I don’t recall if it stopped or not.  But Dubus was grievously injured and had an extended recovery.  After several months, he wanted to return to his writing but found that he couldn’t.  He talked with his friend, Tobias Wolff, complaining that he couldn’t write.  Wolff replied that Dubus had suffered a terrible physical injury that needed time for healing, and he’d also suffered a terrible soul injury that also needed time for healing.  Once his soul had healed, he’d write.

Normally, I stay away from writing here about personal concerns.  However, at this time, I believe I owe my readers an explanation.  So….

About January 25, I fell ill with what I thought was the flu.  I expected a week in bed, but I began to feel better after three days.  Then on day 8, it hit me again with a vengeance, knocking me off my feet for another 3 days.  During that time, I decided that I needed to go to the doctor, but I had to wait for confirmation that I was covered by my new insurance.  I received that on Thursday, and I went to my doctor on Friday. She told me that I needed immediate treatment and admitted me to the hospital.

I could barely breathe, and I was coughing all the time.  In the hospital, the doctor diagnosed pneumonia and ordered IV antibiotics.  He also ordered some other tests that revealed my kidneys were in the process of shutting down, my blood calcium level was sky high, and my lungs looked to be scarred.  The first two issues were easily reversed with fluids.  The last was something we discussed, but he chose to focus on stopping the pneumonia infection.  He was successful with that, and I was discharged 4 days later.

The following week I was recovering well from the pneumonia, but then my condition took a turn.  About 2 weeks after my discharge, I ended up in the Emergency Room of the large University hospital, barely able to breathe.  The ER doctor thought that the pneumonia had returned and put me on oxygen and IV antibiotics.  He admitted me to the hospital and I acquired an Internal Medicine team who’d work on my case.

The IM team fairly quickly concluded the issue wasn’t pneumonia, and most likely wasn’t even an infection.  They called in Pulmonology for a consult, and my life took a truly unexpected turn.  I underwent blood tests, a CT scan, a bronchoscopy including biopsies and lavage, and then a heart ultrasound.  It was intense.  Meanwhile, my appetite came back which was a good thing — I’d lost over 10 pounds since this whole situation began. Fortunately, this hospital’s food was OK.

This time I was in the hospital 7 days but we got a general diagnosis: Interstitial Lung Disease (ILD).  There are several types of ILD based on cause, and we’re still trying to find out the cause(s).  The bottom line for me is that I have lung disease.  It may be possible to reverse some of the scarring, but I will now be susceptible to lung infections, especially flu and pneumonia.  This time when they discharged me, they sent me home with a tank of oxygen, and  an oxygen supplier arrived shortly after I did at my apartment and set me up for home oxygen.

Photo: Vasillisa/

Photo: Vasillisa/

I am recovering from the pneumonia and the ILD flare-up.  I am still enmeshed in the medical world more than usual and still very much in a primal survival mode.  As a result of all this, my energy is quite low and I sleep a lot; my appetite is fine and I’m craving protein, especially fish; and my concentration is terrible.  Last evening was the first time since the end of January that I wanted to read, and I was able to read without falling asleep.  I have not written in my journal for weeks, haven’t written blog posts, haven’t done any work on essays or fiction.  My body is still recovering from its terrible battle and cries for help.  I wonder how long it will take my soul to recover…..


What does being an Artist mean in 2015?

a_readers_advice_to_writers-460x307Writing is an art and a craft. Storytelling is a universal human characteristic. The art is often in how the story is told.  The craft is in the mechanics. Wasn’t it Stephen King who famously commented that his stories may not be literary fiction but he worked hard for them to be written and told well.  Literature, of course, falls under The Arts, along with sculpture, painting, drawing, music, dance, theater, and yes, even movies.  There is the art of cooking, the art of macrame, the art of baseball, but none of these are considered to be arts.  Writing, however, is because it’s literature (in the broadest sense), so writers are artists.

What does that mean?  There was a time in human history about 500 years ago


Glass-blowing artisan Photo:

when it meant being a worker bee.  You would have been called an artisan or a craftsman.  Shakespeare, for example, was an actor and a playwright, a writer who fashions plays as a wheelwright fashions wheels.  You would have served as an apprentice under a master artisan to learn the craft and the tradition of your art.  While some masters could be highly esteemed by society and/or the aristocracy, their social station was in the middle or lower middle class, just below the merchants.  In other words, while art was prized and creativity respected, you would not have been thought of that highly.  Only master artisans could claim some measure of fame and maybe a little fortune.

Eventually, people began regarding artists as geniuses.  Why geniuses?  I suspect because they could think of and create things no one else could.  Johann Sebastian Bach, for example, was considered a master and a genius, while he thought of himself as a hard-working artisan.  This notion of genius accompanied a time when patronage was common.  All artists sought the patronage of someone in the aristocracy.  Ludwig van Beethoven, in Vienna, won the patronage of the Kinsky family at one time.  He, clever boy that he was, worked as a piano teacher to the children of the aristocracy making powerful connections in the process.  Despite this, he was never a rich man, but he was considered a genius, even in his time.

Ludwig van Beethoven        Source: Wikipedia

Ludwig van Beethoven Source: Wikipedia

In the 19th century Romantic period, the artist as genius blossomed into the artist as solitary genius who toils in an unheated garret without the money to buy his next meal.  This Romantic notion persisted also throughout the 20th century accompanied by the idea of art being a calling from a divine source.  Good grief.  That certainly raised expectations unreasonably for anyone creating in the arts. But this is the image and idea that we are most familiar with when someone says, “She’s an artist.”  A word about the solitary part of this image: for many artists, solitude is a necessity for them to create.  It no longer remains a requirement, however.

By the end of the 20th century, with technology burgeoning, a major change occurred.  In the past, artists relied on someone else to distribute their art, i.e. publishers for literature and music, galleries for painters and sculptors, etc.  For performing arts like music and dance, there is another layer of distribution, i.e. the performers who bring the music or dance to the general public.  This distribution system is not at all like that of the artisans 500 years ago who hustled for business like any of their fellow craftsmen.  And guess what?  Technology has returned artists to the artisanal way of doing things.

Laptop Computer: a tool of the writer in 2015

Laptop Computer: a tool of the writer in 2015

What does it mean to be an artist in 2015? It means living and creating during a transition period regarding distribution of our art.  For writers, it means becoming also a publisher, marketer, distributor, and publicist.  In other words, we writers are not only writer-artists, but also we are now writer-business people. Or entrepreneurs. I see this strongly in my own life.  What I hope is that writer-artists or any artists for that matter will not fall back to the artisan-craftsman one below merchant class level.  I think that within each of our creative lives we are artisans, craftsmen, geniuses, and artists worthy of patronage.

If you would like to read a rich, literary article on this subject, William Deresiewicz’s “The Death of the Artist and the Birth of the Creative Entrepreneur” in the January/February 2015 issue of The Atlantic, lays it all out in artistic black and white text.  I know I’ll be thinking about this article for a long time.

At some moment in my life, I heard someone say that living life is an art which makes everyone an artist…..

Future Classics 2015

classicalmusicRegular readers of this blog know that I am a huge, huge fan of the Minnesota Orchestra’s Composer Institute and Future Classics concert.  Since 2006, I have missed only one of the concerts, in 2009, due to surgery.  This past Friday evening was the Future Classics concert for the 2014-15 season and it was absolutely astounding.  Which is what’s usually true for this particular concert.

The future of classical music interests me, of course, because of the Perceval series which is set in the near future in the classical music world and because I love classical music.  The characters in the series include an orchestra conductor (Evan Quinn), a composer (Owen te Kumara), and the orchestras that Evan conducts in each novel, among other characters.  The Minnesota Orchestra and the American Composers Forum are even more interested in the future of classical music, coming together to hold the Composer Institute for nearly a decade now.  Attending the Future Classics concert, the culmination of an intense week of workshops for the participating young composers, may give a glimpse of what the future has in store for classical music.

The challenge for me each year has been to see if any of the showcased works have what it takes to earn more performances.  This year there were three in the group of seven outstanding scores that struck me as having the depth and breadth to enter the regular orchestral repertoire immediately.  What do I look for when I’m listening?

Demonstrated knowledge of the orchestra and what an orchestra can play: This can be the immediate stumbling block for composers.  It’s hard to compose for an orchestra. It consists of at least twelve different instruments, often more, plus percussion, and each has a different sound with the potential for different sonic colors that need to be blended and balanced.  How a composer writes for each section, how she blends or contrasts the sounds, and how the composer maintains a musical momentum all demonstrates knowledge of the orchestra.  This year’s group of composers did an excellent job, and I think it’s been true that each year the composers have handled this challenge better and better.

Music Score by the blue deviant fox

Music Score by the blue deviant fox

The musical material: This is where a composer reveals his “voice,” his musical imagination, as well as a knowledge and skill at composition.  None of the composers failed to rise to the challenges inherent in this area.  What I look for, however, is a composer’s use of tonality, melody, counterpoint, and if there’s a theme or motif that’s developed.  Sad to say that contemporary composers tend to shy away from writing melody that is developed.  This group actually came close in a couple compositions, but there was really no theme plus development which is just as challenging as dealing with disparate motifs.  What astonished me was the continued (from previous years) exploration of tonality and dissonance.  I don’t like dissonance used for shock value.  What I admire is when dissonance is used in contrast to consonance, or when dissonance is used to create tension that’s resolved.  There was a mixture of all three in several pieces.  I still left the concert craving melody and its development.

What will classical music sound like in 2048, the year in which Perceval’s Secret is set? I don’t know for certain, of course.  I think it’d be interesting to contemplate a musical backlash to the music we have now, as I explore a backlash to futuristic gadgets and developments.  One thing I do know: classical music will continue to exist.  I am very, very glad, also, that the Minnesota Orchestra, Osmo Vanska, and the American Composers Forum continue to support young composers and perform their music.

Want to read my earlier posts about the Composer Institute and Future Classics?  You can find them here, here, here, and here.  And if you’d like to read about how I learned to love modern music, I wrote about my experience at ClassicalMPR.

Author Etiquette for Contacting Book Bloggers


As part of promotion for “Perceval’s Secret,” I will need to approach book bloggers for reviews. Thanks to Leona Henry for finding this post at Tricia Drammeh and re-blogging it on her blog. I know that I will benefit from the advice in this post!

Originally posted on Tricia Drammeh:

Hello, everyone! It’s me again with another author advice post. Warning: This post isn’t for everyone. If you’re an author who finds etiquette posts tiresome, this post isn’t for you. If you’re already an expert on book marketing, this post will probably seem pretty basic, but I hope you’ll read on and add your advice in the comment section. This post is for people like me – people who came into the writing world with limited social media knowledge. It’s for people who didn’t realize book bloggers existed until they were told to go out and promote their book. If you’re intimidated or overwhelmed by the idea of contacting reviewers and bloggers, or if you’ve sent requests to bloggers and only received a lukewarm response, this post is for you.

  1. DO read the blogger’s FAQs, Policies, or Submission Guidelines. Each blogger is different. Some bloggers want you to contact them by email. Others have…

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“Darkness at Noon” by Arthur Koestler

N. S. Rubashov and his pince nez first entered my life when I was in high school.  At the time, I had no idea what a powerful influence his story would have on my life, my thoughts, and my writing.  What is so powerful about this novel?

book cover Darkness at Noon

It’s not in the prose style.  Koestler’s prose tends towards dense thickets of words in parched soil.  Thick and dry.  There is a formality to the tone that makes the novel like an official document.  When Koestler describes prisoners tapping on pipes or walls to communicate with each other, it’s the official story.  Yes, this really happened.  In fact, Koestler based Rubashov on his own experiences and on a combination of people in his life, friends, who had been arrested in the USSR and put through what Rubashov experiences with one important difference.  Koestler’s friends lived to tell him what happened to them.

My recent reading of this book was done in spurts, but that didn’t detract from the flow of the story for me.  Not much happens, really.  The story opens with Rubashov having just arrived in his prison cell.  Koestler takes the reader into his mind to process with Rubashov his surroundings and what he thinks about them and how he landed in prison.  The reader stays in Rubashov’s mind, with only two or three breaks, for the duration of the novel.

Koestler’s achievement is in peeling away the layers of Rubashov’s thought processes as he examines his belief system.  It is his belief in the Revolution, i.e. the Revolution as it was originally conceived not the present version led by No. 1, that has landed him in that prison cell.  Koestler reveals the fragility of the human perception of truth and reality through Rubashov and his confrontations with Ivanov and Gletkin.  How they manipulate his thinking is a masterful example of thought control like George Orwell wrote of in 1984. Koestler’s concerns are political.  But this thought control can also apply in social situations, and even within a family.  So we have domestic abuse and cults.

And it’s possible for an Adolf Hitler to gain power in Germany with a message of Aryan power.  It was possible for Lenin to gain power through revolution in Russia with a message of the power of the proletariat.  In either case, the leader says one thing while in effect doing the opposite.  Did the proletariat ever really have any power in the USSR?  No.  The power was in the Communist Party, in the leaders.  But the leaders are careful to “educate” the people about the goals of the Party as they relate to them, the proletariat, to create the illusion that the people have more power than they do.

Arthur Koestler

Arthur Koestler

Toward the end of Rubashov’s story, Koestler describes his thoughts, his reaction to his own behavior and words at his show trial, concluding:

It was a mistake in the system; perhaps it lay in the precept which until now he had held to be uncontestable, in whose name he had sacrificed others and was himself being sacrificed: in the precept that the end justifies the means.

“The end justifies the means.”  This is the core belief of communism, and of any dictatorship worth its salt, whether that dictatorship is within a family or a country.  It is the core of Rubashov’s story as he remembers, throughout the book, situations and people from his past.  In each memory, he acts in accordance with this core belief.  So how can he fault the current regime for being true to its core belief?

For me, the power of this novel comes from the horror in the realization that thoughts can be manipulated, experience controlled, reality created to suit whoever is in power; and in the seductiveness of the core belief that the end justifies the means.  We are as vulnerable now as during the 1930’s when Koestler set his novel….