Michaeline: Random Writing Advice

Do you ever take a book, and just let it fall open, put your finger on a paragraph, and read it . . . hoping to find advice and guidance? This is a very, very old fortune-telling technique, and while I don’t believe in fate, I do believe that the sudden juxtaposition of random nonsensical elements can make a lot of sense.

Brian Eno did juxtaposition with his cards of Oblique Strategies (today’s advice on Twitter: “What are the sections sections of? Imagine a caterpillar moving”).

David Bowie did juxtaposition with his music and his cut-up technique, which he borrowed from William Burroughs who used it in the 50s and 60s. (Burroughs was well known for his writing about the Bohemian subculture he was involved with; Jack Kerouac was one of his Beat buddies.)

I like just opening up a book of writing advice, and seeing what “the universe” wants to tell me. Of course, it isn’t “the universe”. It’s my own subconscious. If “the universe” tells me nonsense, I ignore it and go on. But if I like the paragraph, or if the paragraph really bothers me and refuses to let go of my imagination, I pay attention to it.

Today, I was looking at Creating Short Fiction by Damon Knight. The book has been in my backpack for the past three weeks, and last Monday I placed it in the bathroom, hoping I’d finally take a minute to start reading it again. I’m still not ready for a re-read, but opening the book and picking a paragraph at random gave me this:

“Notice that it isn’t enough to be interested or informed; it takes both. If you are interested in your subject but know little about it, you can’t satisfy the curiosity you arouse. If you know a great deal about the subject but are not passionately interested in it (like some scientists and teachers), you will put people to sleep.”

Since we were talking about research this week with Jeanne on Tuesday, I thought it was timely advice. I’ve got the third edition of Knight’s book, which was revised in 1985. It’s got a lot of practical advice for any writer, and can be read from start to finish, as well as being used for diving for pearls of wisdom.

So, I’m off to do some guilt-free research! If it interests me that much, surely I can make it interesting for at least some niche audience!

Michaeline: Lots of Ideas and No Plot

Pre-dawn, March 2, 2018. Outside my kitchen window, on the day after the snow. (Photo by E.M. Duskova)

It’s one of those days, when my head is swirling with ideas, but there’s no obvious (or even non-obvious) plot line. So, I’ll just lay them out, one-by-one. Maybe one of them will lead to a plot line for you.

ALMANAC: Terrible snow in northern Japan, Britain and the east coast of the United States. They have been killer storms, in that at least one person has died. The story of one of the deaths in Hokkaido is a peculiar one. An NHK television reporter on his day off was driving in the forest, hunting deer, according to the Mainichi Shimbun. Three roadside assistant workers set off to rescue him after he got caught in the blizzard, but both of their trucks got stuck. They called for a snow plow, but it didn’t arrive, so one of the workers left to the car to check his surroundings, and he got lost in the snow and died. Snow is no joke, folks. If your hero and heroine are stuck in a snowed-in cabin, don’t send them out to look for help unless they’ve got a long rope tied to the front door. And if they are arguing in a car that drives into the ditch? Make sure they clear the exhaust pipe so they don’t get carbon monoxide poisoning. Unless, of course, they want an unhappy ending.

ALMANAC, PART 2: Cheerful news! Today is the Doll Festival of Japan. Families with young girls typically set up a diorama (that can range in size from a small cabinet to a 5-foot high staircase of decoration) depicting an imperial wedding in the Heian era. The full set has all the props – the bride’s sewing kit and rice cooker, all the way up through the Ministers of the Left and Right, the musicians and three hand-maidens, all topped by the bride and groom on the top tier. It’s like Barbie on steroids, with a good dose of historical drama. Traditionally, children could play with the dolls, but these days, the fancy sets are upwards of $1500, and for display only. The dolls must be promptly put away tomorrow, or superstition says the girls in the family will have trouble finding marriage.

RANDOM JAPANESE IMPERIAL TRIVIA: Murasaki Shikibu wrote The Tale of Genji during her time in the Japanese imperial court during the Heian period (she wrote between 1000 and 1012). According to Wikipedia, Continue reading

Michaeline: Cosmic Horror and Dread Cthulhu

Polish political poster featuring a Cthulhu in a suit carrying mystical paperwork.

Cthulhu is here. Artists in a lot of different countries have begun to think, “Why choose the Lesser Evil?” (Image via Wikimedia Commons; Wikipedia credits the drawing to Wieksze Zlo, and says it was photographed by Jakub Halun)

Cthulhu is here.

*Warning: here be spoilers. Do yourself a favor and take an hour or two to read the original short story, “Call of Cthulhu”. You may not enjoy it, but at the very least, you’ll be familiar with an important piece of pop currency. NB: I’ve only read the story this week myself, and haven’t read anything in associated universes. So, any opinions I have may be under-funded in the Cthulhu Canonical Knowledge department. Feel free to correct me, argue with me, or spoil me.

Last week, Jennifer Crusie posted a piece about the importance of Cthulhu to her current work-in-progress, and something tapped into my own deep anxiety and sense of cosmic horror.

Cthulhu is here.

Or at least, it’s an active force in popular culture, and it probably always has been. H.P. Lovecraft just identified it and shaped it into a story to wrestle with his own personal problems, and wrote that story in such a way that many people can use the idea to wrestle with their own unreasonable dread.

At the heart of Cthulhu is a conspiracy about something that can’t be Continue reading

Michaeline: David Bowie and the Borrowers

1974 David Bowie playing guitar with his hair in that fuzzy mullet.

A screwed-down hairdo, like some cat from Japan. (Image via Wikimedia Commons. 1974 AVRO’s TopPop. Licentie afbeeldingen Beeld en Geluid Wiki)

David Bowie has been part of the world-wide cultural conversation ever since the early 70s, and even though he’s been gone for more than 15 months, he’s certainly not forgotten.

He was a man who did a lot of things well. Music was his mainstay, but he also made his mark on fashion, art, video and how we think about people who are a little different. For me, his genius lay in how he would notice how various concepts – often originating from other people – bumped together, and then he would artificially reinforce the congruence, strengthen the bond until the music (or video or other new concept) held together and made something new and fresh. He was a packrat of ideas, he acknowledged his influences, and somehow he knew just how to retrieve the right bit at the right time. What a mental filing system the man must have had . . . .

He borrowed. And people borrowed from him. And so the circle goes round.

This April, two huge ripples in pop culture took place that reminded me of David Bowie.

Japanese guys in wigs with swords, duelling. Bowie is said to have been inspired by Japanese wigs like these for his early-70s hairdo.

Some cat from Japan. (Utagawa, via Wikimedia Commons)

First, there was the lipstick-smearing thing on the infamous Kendall Jenner Pepsi ad that first aired on April 4, and was pulled on April 5 for being tone-deaf. I don’t know; someone certainly had their head stuck firmly up in the early 70s, and I wonder if the ad was simply Too Early. People are mad and unhappy in 2017, and still have a lot to say about the injustices happening.

I’m sure most of our Ladies remember when we all wanted to buy the world a Coke. (Dailymotion clip of the commerical) That peace-loving anthem came out in Continue reading

Michaeline: When They Don’t Deserve the Happy Ending, Part II

A young handsome man in a turban.

Jazzin’ for Blue Jean? Jose Rodrigues, self-portrait at age 19. Image via Wikimedia Commons.

Today, I’m taking a good look at David Bowie’s 20-minute music video, Jazzin’ for Blue Jean. Spoil yourself, spend the time on David Bowie’s official YouTube channel here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DXvAaNcXNzI and enjoy!

Or allow me to spoil you. I knew the ending before I watched it, and the short film was still full of lovely little surprises and layers. David Bowie plays two parts: an ambitious billboard installer who falls in love (hard) with a girl on the street, and a neurotic but fabulous rock star. Boy meets girl, boy hustles for the girl who barely acknowledges his existence, girl flits off with different boy who either 1) didn’t have to do nuffin’ to pull this bird, or 2) spent 20 years becoming a rock legend so he could whisk girls away with a simple “Come home”. Depends on your perspective, really.

Vic, our everyman, is really quite energetic. He spins a web of BS to the girl, the bouncers, the scalpers – anyone who might be of use, really – and manages to get what he thinks he needs to “win” – tickets to the Screamin’ Lord Byron concert, and even an aftershow interview with the guy. But the ending, where the girl chooses Lord Byron, comes as no great disappointment. Vic doesn’t deserve this happy ending, on a lot of levels. One, Continue reading

Michaeline: Random Thoughts of May

Young Japanese woman holding an umbrella, biting on a scarf.

Hiroshige’s Spring Night, under the cherry blossoms, in a driving rain. Image via Wikimedia Commons

May is such a great time of year, in the northern hemisphere. Spring is almost here in my little latitude. The cherry blossoms are blooming, people are picnicking, and the trees are all that lovely fresh color of green, just before they put on their summer frocks. Call it lingerie green – the slip just before the grand unfolding.

Meanwhile, down in the southern hemisphere, it must be a little bit like David Bowie’s “Warszawa”. Gloomy, lonely, maybe with just that little bit of snow, speeding towards an inevitable winter.

Flip of the globe, flip of the coin. Whatcha gonna do? It’d be a funny old world if we lost a whole hemisphere because Continue reading

Michaeline: David Bowie and Motif (also: Artistic Licenses)

Persian carpet with various repeating motifs, such as horses and stars in square forms. It's tattered on the edges, and very, very old. Reminds me of the line from the Bowie/Queen song, Under Pressure. Keep coming up with love but it's so slashed and torn.

Motifs add interest and rhythm to a work of art, and subtly point out what the important themes are. (Image via Wikimedia Commons)

David Bowie knew a lot about motif. It’s one of the things that made him a great musician, and it also made him an excellent comedian. He knew the power of the call-back, the reminder of what went before.

I’ve found two clips of him with US late night show host Conan O’Brien. (“David Bowie – Late Night with Conan O’Brien 18 June 2002” [anecdote starts about 3:10]) We start out with a very charming story of how his baby daughter discovered the moon for the first time. He repeats the word “moon,” and he says it in different voices as the context changes. And then he starts talking about something else, but Conan brings it back to the moon, and David catches the ball and joins in, like a sort of harmony. At one point, they are both pointing at the stage ceiling, howling, “Moon! Moon!”

Many people claimed that David Bowie didn’t repeat himself, but he did. He was just smart enough to change the dynamics. It didn’t get boring because Continue reading

Michaeline: 1990s Bowie Talks About Commercial Creativity

And the mice from their million hoards brought the artists gold coins. (Image via Wikimedia Commons)

And the mice from their million hoards brought the artists gold coins. (Image via Wikimedia Commons)

This week, I discovered a charming little gem on YouTube about being creative. Hermann Vaske, a director, author and producer who is a member of the German Art Directors Club (according to his website), interviews David Bowie in the mid-nineties. The almost six-minute black-and-white clip is interspersed with cuts; the interview is mostly conducted with Bowie on a sofa facing the camera, and Vaske with his back to his subject, looking out the window in that not-confrontational-yet-confrontational style the Europeans do so well. The visuals are intense – don’t take your eyes off the screen, or you will miss an important by-play. (See video on YouTube here.)

I found the content was a starting point to provoke my own thoughts about creativity and style versus meaning. I particularly liked this exchange: Continue reading

Michaeline: Under Pressure

two people in pressure suits showing oxygen tanks.

Under pressure, we use a lot of weird defense mechanisms, but the best one is often the old-fashioned one: love. That, and remember to breathe!

End of February, shortest month of the year, and one of the most stressful times in Japan. Everyone is under pressure. It’s smack in the middle of exam season, and for my daughter, the really important one is coming up next week. Kids are graduating in a few weeks, people are moving. Everything turns over between March 31 and April 1, but now is the darkness before the dawn. Nobody knows anything except “maybe.”


(a mashup of concert footage from Queen and David Bowie at the Freddie Mercury tribute concert; the mix is pretty close to the classic Queen/Bowie song, the description says)

It’s like the beginning of the third act in a novel. Continue reading

Michaeline: A Meeting of Minds and Hearts

a couple embrace passionately on the streets

A meeting of mind and hearts is more than first attraction and admiration of one’s beloved. (Image via Wikimedia Commons)

So, tomorrow is the big day! St. Valentine’s Day, when we can indulge in all sorts of sentiment about love and loving: soppy poetry, vinegary commentary, a wistful look at what was or could have been, and a belly-laugh about what silly old things we humans can be when under the domination of love.

I met up with a friend this week for tea, and she pointed me to “The Ideal Marriage According to Novels” by Adelle Waldman in The New Yorker which talks about the different ways men and women write about romance. Basically, Waldman says that women like Jane Austen or Elena Ferrante have an ideal partner in mind who is the woman’s match in intellect and feeling towards the world. And men tend to describe romance as a mysterious thing, and the ideal partner provokes feelings in the male breast. She’s pretty, and her intelligence is a crowning glory (but what she says isn’t really the point; it’s her fitness to be his partner that is the important thing). Continue reading