Saturday, November 10, 2018

Meanwhile, elsewhere on the web . . .

Hello reader, how's it going?

Thanks for stopping by! If you're enjoying what you read here, you might also like some of my writing elsewhere around the web:

Fiction (Short Story):

Essay (about a favorite Grateful Dead song):

Fiction (Romantic Comedy novella):

Song (the most recent addition to my youtube channel):

Monday, October 22, 2018

One Step Ahead of the Storm

New song on my YouTube channel, click the link!

I remember a friend of mine, years ago, saying that it’s a miracle anybody lives to be five. We were talking about all the crazy risks that little kids take on account of fearless ignorance, stuff like being drawn to high and treacherous places, or how toddlers will automatically reach for shiny bright blades, and all the other things like that. 

And it continues! As a species, we drive too fast, don’t always wear seatbelts, play dangerous games with fire, and who knows what all else. We take chances. This is one of the deep truths about being human. I bet there are people who still smoke in bed. What the hell, man? We are slow to learn our lessons. Mostly we get lucky, till we don’t. 

This past summer, my youngest son Harrison and I went on a beach trip with my cousin Lynn and her family, and while we were at the beach, we went out on boats a couple of times, to go fishing. On one of these trips, we were on Topsail Sound, on this relatively small boat. We were near the south end of the island, getting ready to head through the inlet and out to the ocean, when the boat’s captain said, hey y’all, my radar shows a ton of weather coming right at us, like right now. So we hustled back, made it to the dock just in time, with dark clouds right on top of us, and I mean two minutes after we were off the water, the sky burst open and the rain hit as hard as you can imagine, so much force! The title line for this song just jumped out at me . . . Wow, we were just one step ahead of the storm! That afternoon I started noodling with the guitar, and had a lot of the chorus done right away. 

My cousin’s husband, Tyler, is a really good musician, and also a good friend of mine,  and he chimed in with a few ideas. The conversation turned to all the close calls we’ve all had. He was remembering going out with friends in high school, walking across these slippery rocks at the top of a steep waterfall, how easy it would have been for anybody to make one wrong step and plummet to their death. Or maybe someone eventually DID make a misstep on those kinds of risky misadventures, but they were miraculously okay, just broke an arm or whatever, and had to wear a cast for six weeks. I can think of many times my brother drove his Buick at insane speeds on dangerous roads, with me and my friends in the car. And you, reading this, I bet your mind is bringing up example after example of times you had close calls. So our conversation, and Tyler’s suggestions on some of the lines, as well as a couple of musical ideas, very much informed the song. 

The whole trip was largely launched from the fact that my cousin and I used to spend a lot of time every summer at Topsail Beach at our grandparents’ cottage. Our moms were sisters, and we’d all vacation together a lot. We'd be there with all our siblings -- my older brother (who passed away in 2003; proof positive that some storms do in fact catch up to us) and Lynn’s two younger sisters. Then, you know, time passed, and all of our adult lives got going, and we scattered, and our grandparents sold their beach place, and life kept moving forward. Of the people that used to be on those family trips, we kids are now middle-aged, and most of the adults have passed on to whatever comes next. 

Anyway, there we were, working on this song, when Lynn remembered something the captain had said about Topsail Sound, that while the water seems pretty placid, this current runs through it, just like a river. And Lynn suggested that line for the end of the third verse, and it’s my favorite line in the song. 

I like the way “current” means more than one thing, you know? And this idea that in the midst of all these other lines about close calls and change and risk, danger bearing down on us all the time, the way all of us are lucky to even still be here, that there are also these steady forces moving everything forward, even when they’re hard to observe. What we see and notice are the big storms that blow in. But this other, subtler, steadier stuff is always happening too.

On our way back to Texas, Harrison and I stopped for a night at their place in Atlanta. Harrison is pretty tight with their kid, Ty, which makes me happy. I had finished the song by then, and Tyler and I recorded it in his home studio (Tyler is SUCH a good player, singer, and recording engineer). This song is very much a family effort, and my daughter Cassidy, who is a filmmaker and makes the videos on my channel, put the visuals together on this. Thanks, Cassidy!

And so here it is, a new song that comes out of an old truth about danger. Sometimes we court it, sometimes we find it, and sometimes it finds us. This literal storm happened, but of course I also mean it as a metaphor for all the things we’ve all survived ... coming in off the water, one step ahead of the storm. 

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Science does not cling to tradition!

You know how you might not think of something for years and then it comes back with a powerful force?  I was in a conversation the other day that turned to long-runway projects versus quick, reactive projects, and I was nudged to remember writing this video script. It was made when the science curriculum I’d been writing was suddenly in need of revision due to Pluto’s being kicked out of the planet club.

We turned this video around ridiculously fast, and I’m still proud of the work. Not only does it explain WHY Pluto is no longer classed as a planet, it ties the change to a broader way of thinking about science: change is good! It means we’ve reached an improved understanding of something. Sometimes we’ve got to Change Some Definitions!

Ch-ch-ch-changes ...

A big content development project I’ve been working on for over a year is almost at its end. It’s good work. I’m crazy-eager for the next thing. Fingers crossed that the next thing is this one particular opportunity that might happen. I’ll know soon.

Meanwhile! My new short story “No Shovel, No Bacon,” gets published later this week in a cool online literary journal (more to come on that) AND I’ll be performing/leading campfire songs at a Story Bar event Thursday evening (more later on that as well! I’ll certainly be doing this seasonally appropriate song:

Friday, October 5, 2018

Adios, Rabbit Heart . . .

For the last five years, the Rabbit Heart Poetry Film Festival has created a context in which poet/filmmakers, or poet/filmmaker teams, could bring cool visuals to poetry. This year is the last year, and I just want to say how awesome the festival has been.

Given that I’m a poet and given that my daughter, Cassidy Parker Knight, is a really talented and dedicated filmmaker, this was a very fun way for the two of us to do some collaborative work, and strengthen some creativity muscles by trying something different.

I like all the work we did for the festivals, but want to post this first one here today, not quite as a trip down memory lane, more like a message about growth, change, and moving forward.

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Have been re-reading lately, and this passage

made me laugh out loud:

“This would make a story if there was anybody to tell it,” Call said. “You want me to carry your body 

three thousand miles because you used to go picnicking with a girl on the Guadalupe River?”

“That, plus I want to see if you can do it,” said Augustus. 

Monday, July 9, 2018

The Pursuit of WOW! Also: Beer

Not just yet, but I’ll be talking about beer a little later in this post, so stay with me.

Once upon a time, when I used to teach a business communication class at the University of Texas, I would assign my students a group project, where they had to generate several different products — an annotated bibliography, a pitch presentation framed as “why-you-should-learn-more-about-X,” and an informative summary brief. I’d give them a broad topic, and then some options within that. One semester it might be about communication technology trends. Another semester it might be a deep dive into intercultural communication. The favorite, though, for them and for me, was about what I called the Creativity Biz. Each group would pick an author, an idea, or a business practitioner, and would work together to understand and communicate a particular approach to creativity in a business context.

One of my favorite books at the time was The Pursuit of Wow! Written by business guru Tom Peters (best known for In Search of Excellence), it’s written in short idea-bursts, is a fun read, and it’s got loads of examples about how businesses can harness creativity to add details that delight customers. For example, when a bottle of juice has a “use by” date, it breaks character for the brand, becoming bossy instead of fun, giving us a command, and raising the issue of spoilage in an unpleasant way. It’s so much better, Peters notes, to say something like “we hope you’ll enjoy this delicious juice by such-and-such date, while it’s still at peak freshness!” That’s the WOW that he's talking about. My students quickly grasped, and were drawn to the idea of, how to add more “wow” in creating messaging. Some of the best projects I saw in my teaching career incorporated that idea. 

When I was at Ignite! Learning, we employed this notion for our copyright protection notices in some science DVDs we produced. Instead of, you know, “this copyright is SO protected and you’re scum and the FBI will get you if you copy this, got that, slimeball?” or whatever the standard language is, we made topic-specific notices. So, for the biology dvd, it said something like “Mitosis is how cells replicate their chromosomes, but this dvd is our own copyright-protected material, so you shouldn't do any unauthorized copying or replicating.”

But I promised I’d talk about beer, so …

Odell is a very good craft brewery in Colorado. The other evening, I was enjoying a Myrcenary IPA, a beer of theirs named for Myrcene, a component of the hop flower, which imparts a particular flavor and aroma as part of the hops’ essential oils. The logo art for the beer, see the top of this post, depicts a soldier fleeing, with bags of money, which adds an engaging visual to go with the branding pun on “mercenary.” 

Bringing it all together now, stay with me, folks: The description on the can tells me that the beer has “a tropical fruit-like flavor, a pungent floral aroma, and a clean getaway.”  I actually laughed out loud at that; it’s so good! It was a pursuit-of-WOW moment for me as a consumer. 

Because the phrasing riffs off beer-nerd language like “clean finish,” it is a wink, a slightly-ironic way to access “you’re-one-of-us” tribal membership. It also tied the descriptive text back to the image in a way that locked in the brand impression. It struck me as funny and cool. It added to my experience of the beer.

And, importantly for creativity purposes, it reminded me of those long-ago discussions about Tom Peters and The Pursuit of WOW! Also, for me and I hope for you, this little moment reminded me that it’s worth it to add the cool details, even if most people won’t notice. Why? Because they can delight the very customers you want.

And do I even need to say it? This same idea applies across categories. It's as true for your novel, your song, your poem, the way you relate to people, the very sense of a self that you’re building and rebuilding all the time. 

Have a little fun, y'all. Make it at least a little cool.