Thursday, September 29, 2011

A set of lyrics worth sharing

I've been writing songs with my friend Ed Dobeas for about thirty years. Seriously. Ed's a multi-instrumentalist songwriter who now lives in Spain, so now our collaboration is mostly via email. I don't always hit it out of the park on the lyrical end, but I like this set so I thought I'd post it here.

In The Curve Of A Measuring Tape

I’m taking refuge
in the curve of a measuring tape.
I’m hiding from my fate
in the space between the numbers.

Count on me but don’t count me.
Count on me but don’t count me.

Johnny Damon
of the Boston Red Sox
hit a ball
at a certain velocity.
It rolled to a stop
on a precise point
in the misty ballpark
of XYZ.

He stopped at third
and contemplated numbers,
considered the dimensions
of hickory trees,
then he uttered a curse
and ran in the face
of the likelihood percentage
of a suicide squeeze.

Count on me but don’t count me.
Count on me but don’t count me.

Everything that happened
between you and me
reduced to its elemental parts.
Everything ordered
from the time of our birth
to the moment of death
to the five hundred thousandth
beat of our hearts.

Count on me but don’t count me.
Count on me but don’t count me.

Is a dance step predictable?
Is a stumble under account?
If I cry are the tears
measured within
the margin of error
of a predetermined amount?

Count on me but don’t count me.
Count on me but don’t count me.

I’m taking refuge
in the curve of a measuring tape.
I’m hiding from my fate
in the space between the numbers.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Print is dead. Long live print.

The magazine is dead. As a realistic medium, magazines are dust. In the ground and in the grave and never coming back.

That's why we're launching a magazine. Because death is the first step in new life.

When I say WE, I mean amazing artists, photographers, writers, designers and contributors like Lance Kagey, Art Chantry,Tyler Kalberg, Brian Hutcheson, Chloe and Chelsie Scheffe, James Stowe, Michael Sullivan, Eric Jacobsen, Dennis Flannigan, Mary Boone and others.

It's time to re-imagine the magazine, not as a news medium, but as the newest art form.

Join us for the launch party on Friday, October 14 at Fulcrum Gallery in Tacoma.

Long live the magazine. Long live print.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Shhhh...It's a secret!

I'm part of a new artistic project that I am so excited about, but can't yet talk about. it is the coolest thing I've become involved with, well, since the founding of Beautiful Angle.

The best part about it--just like the best part about the Angle, is that I get to work with such amazingly talented and fascinating people, including:

Amazing designers:

Lance Kagey
Adam Welch
Brian Hutcheson
Chelsey Scheffe
Chloe Scheffe
Waymond Hampton

Astounding photographers:

Tyler Kalberg
Sharon Styer
Dylan Priest
Kristen Tourtillotte

One luminous illustrator:

James Stowe

Remarkable writers:

Michael Sullivan
Eric Jacobsen
Dennis Flannigan
Art Chantry
Dan Voelpel
Tim Isaacson
Mary Boone

And brilliant people who get sh*t done:

Ken King
Dana Kagey

This project is coming your way very soon. One month, to be exact! You'll be able to see it, it interact with it, read it, and, of course, buy it. And you will want to own one for your own.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Art Chantry: Parkland is Burning!!!!!!

 Graphic designer Art Chantry has a show opening tonight at the best gallery in Tacoma: Fulcrum Gallery. I'm going to the opening and dragging a few kids along so they can get a thrill looking at Art's amazing rock posters and album covers and get another thrill hearing a regular grown-up drop F-bombs all over the room.

Tacoma, my home town, has an amazing arts scene right now. And an amazing writing scene, too. Being active in both scenes feels like such a gift. Time will tell, but it really feels like a significant place, a significant time and a significant group of people. Like Chicago during the Ashcan School days of the nineteen teens or Harlem in the renaissance days of the 1920s or New York and L.A. in the Pop Art days of the 1960s. Tacoma's scene is more industrial. As much craft as it is art. With grease stains, sweat stains and shot-glass stains fully intact.

Most people associate Art Chantry with Seattle in the 1980s. Grunge. The Rocket. That's fine. Associate away. But Art is the first to admit he is a Tacoma boy--or more accurately, a Parkland boy. And he's also the loudest and angriest to claim that most great cultural things the Northwest claims start in my town.

Tacoma is an incubator. Art happens to be one its best-laid eggs. Come check out the show.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

What is cool?

What makes a person cool? What does it have to do with looks? With dress? 

Cool is something that cannot be worried about. Those who worry about how cool they dress are, nine times out of ten, not cool. They are posers. They are mannequins for their own fashion. The cool folks are the ones who simply do their thing and look the way that comes naturally to them.  They don't worry about their "personal brand," but mayhaps they develop one anyway, simply because they are true to themselves.

Case in point: Bill Evans.
This is a photograph of pianist Bill Evans, one of the coolest guys ever. I listen to Bill Evans all the time when I write. His music is way at the top of my list. It moves me and makes me sad. He's the only white member of Miles Davis' famous sextet in the late 1950s and early 60s. His style was the single biggest influence on Davis' seminal album, "Kind of Blue." But look at the guy. He looks like an accountant who somehow wandered up on stage. Like he works hard to look as square as he does.

Here's another photo of Evans. This time he has a cigarette. How much does that help? This is the primary reason why people smoke, right? Because it looks cool.

Here's a third picture. This one shows Evans with, from left, John Coltrane, Cannonball Adderley and Miles Davis. Three of the coolest cats to ever walk the earth. So Evans is cool by association, right?

This is Evans at the height of his career. Honestly, he looks like a dork. If not for the word "JAZZ" on the cover, you'd think this was an educational record on the dangers of venereal disease.

Here he is in the 1970s, much later in life. He had been seriously struggling with drugs for more than a decade by now and his career was more of a struggle, but look at him. You'd never say this guy didn't look cool. Ironically, the guy in the earlier pictures--the one who looked like a dork--that was Evans when he was at his best.

The moral of this story: Don't ever worry about cool. Cool is simply oppression in a black turtleneck.

Monday, September 12, 2011

The value of story telling by Leo Leoni

I'm gonna stick on the philosophical bent for another day. What is the value of storytelling? Does it put food on the table? Does it get the dishes done? Does it make money? Mostly, no.

My favorite explanation of the value of story comes in, of course, the form of a story. When I was a wee little kid, my sister Jan and I had a picture book called  Frederick. It was about a mouse who sat around dreaming the summer away while his mouse brothers and sisters worked to store away food. When they accused him, he said, “I gather sun rays for the cold dark winter days." On other pages and on other days, Frederick gathers colors and words. Winter comes. The mice eat the grain. So does Frederick. But the grain finally runs low. Frederick gets them through their despair by sharing all he stored. He tells them of the sun, of the colors of summer. He does this with words. He tells stories.

The author, designer and illustrator, Leo Leoni, gathered his own colors and words and told this story. It's still a remarkable book all these years later. The pictures are all simple paper cut-outs. The pages are mostly white. A few mice. A few words. More like a cave painting than a video game. Beautifully stark.

Friday, September 9, 2011

What's it all about, Alfie?

This is a painting by Giorgio de Chirico, a surrealist Italian painter. I love his work because it is an external expression of the internal.

I spend a lot of time in my own head. I can get really moody. I can feel really burdened by self-doubts. And then I can feel amazingly motivated by self-doubt as well, as in, "Heck yes, I can do this. I am gonna prove it to myself and the world that I can." I'm going through one of those doubtful periods right now.

I have one book out. The Tilting House. It did pretty well. Got really solid reviews. The sales were good, but not enough to make me feel completely rock solid in my success trajectory. I have another manuscript being shopped. Letter Off Dead. My agent, the esteemed Abigail Samoun, loves it and is shopping it around right now. She keeps telling me not to worry. But I worry. I'm a worrier. I come from a long line of worriers. It's what we do. We're good at it. And I have another complete manuscript that is close to the copy edit stage. Is it good? I think it is.  Will publishers like it? Will readers like it? I really hope so.

One of main reasons I want to be an author is because I think the work is so valuable. Not my work. Just the general work of telling stories. There is little in life that is worth more than a really good story. The media of story telling may have changed: from cooking fires and cave paintings, to epic poems told with goatskins full of wine, to tragedies performed in togas, to traveling minstrels singing songs of green-capped heroes and royal outlaws, to hunting songs and songs of lost loves, to poetic plays performed in the round, to folk songs of sailors and heartbroken widows, to serialized novels so popular that you'd dive in the water to greet the mail boat, to pulp fiction about cowboys, detectives and shiny robots, to musicals to movies to television miniseries to video games. A video game and a campfire story may look different, but the value--the soul-touching, self-losing, story-telling value--is very much the same.

I think it's important work. As important as anything and far more important than almost everything. But it's hard to get a story told and shared. And it's hard to make it really good. Can I do it? Are my stories good enough? Can I withstand the bone-grinding process of idea to book?

Ask me tomorrow.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

How do you choose which projects to do? Ask Bruce Mau.

I work a full-time job and have four kids. That's plenty for normal people.

I also coach soccer, play bass, and teach Sunday school.  But still, any involved parent might do that.

I'm half of a street art project called Beautiful Angle. Lance Kagey and I create an original poster each month and hang it around Tacoma.

Then I do this book writing thing. One published. Two others written and being shopped. One more underway. And I blog and tweet as well.

But on top of all that, I'm still asked to get involved in other projects. And sometimes I say yes.

The best guideline I've found on whether or not to get involved in a new project comes from design guru Bruce Mau, one of my personal heroes and most common sources of rank plagiarism. So let me plagiarize Bruce again and share his Four P's, as reported in Fast Company Magazine:

"[Mau] is clear about what kinds of projects he wants to work on. "We have what we call the 'Four Ps' checklist," he says. The four "P"s stand for "people," "project," "profit," and "plate." Mau evaluates whether a client is someone he'd enjoy working with. He asks whether the project is one that BMD could learn from, as well as whether the firm can make money doing it. Finally, he considers how the project would fit onto BMD's plate: What impact would it have on the already-overcommitted team?"

Think about this for yourself when you're considering a project: Will you be working with people you like? Are you likely to learn something from the project? Are you likely to make money or get some other kind of reimbursement, like great connections or career advancement or personal satisfaction? And will it fit on your plate?

OK, honestly, I do pretty good with the first two: people and project. But my plate is always overloaded and I rarely make any money on my side projects. So maybe I only have two P's.

I never liked P's anyway.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Great characters and dialogue - in a video game???

I'm not a big gamer, but I have one at home. My son Abel thinks of games as the primary medium of his generation. I'm pretty sure he's right. Based on numbers alone, gaming has been generating more money than movies since 2005 and more than music since 2007. It's gaining while the others are losing. Then again, books still make more money!

But set that all aside for now. Book lovers think of games as mindless violent wastes of time. That's changing. Case in point: L.A. Noire by Rockstar Games (the company who made the controversially-violent Grand Theft Auto series). L.A. Noire is still a violent game for the uninitiated, but for the most part it sets violence aside in favor of plot, characters, sets, acting and dialogue. This sounds more like a book or movie, right? Well, the game plays like a book or movie. It's set in post-WW2 Los Angeles, and follows the struggles of a clean cop trying to solve murders in a violent city. The set is based on historic photos and maps. The characters are created through a motion capture technology (think Beowulf or Gollum) that does an impressive job even with facial features. And the dialogue, more often than not, is simply damn good writing. Let me say that another way: The writing in this video game is often great. Better than many movies and books.

So far the game is not an overwhelming success, but it points to the future possibilities of gaming and how the medium might begin to woo the more cinematic and (gulp) even more literary among us.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Ways I've made money as a writer

hundreds of print ads
dozens of bilboards
hundreds of audio scripts
hundreds of video scripts
hundreds of web pages (maybe thousands)
dozens of live speech scripts
dozens of talking point scripts
dozens of on-hold messages
dozens of call center scripts
hundreds of brochures (maybe thousands)
dozens of environmental signs
hundreds of bylined articles
dozens of white papers
hundreds of press releases
dozens of tv commercials
dozens of radio spots
hundreds of trade publication articles
dozens of magazine articles
hundreds of newspaper articles
hundreds of resumes
hundreds of corporate blog posts
hundreds of powerpoint presentations
dozens of menus
hundreds of event themes
dozens of packages
hundreds of posters book (so far).

I've generally made a pretty good living with my English degree. Books pay the least by far (so far). I've got a great writing-based day job. And my hourly freelance rate is north of one hundred bucks. Book writing, I figure, pays significantly less than minimum wage (so far). So why do I obsess over it so?

Monday, September 5, 2011

The history of Labor Day

In 2011, Labor Day is simply seen as the last long weekend of summer. We forget that it is a day set aside to honor The Worker. We forget the blood that was shed to end the exploitation of child workers, factory towns and exploitative monopolies. We shouldn't forget. And we should keep a close eye on the distribution of wealth in this great country of ours.

To that end, I'm taking a day off blogging today to honor the workers. Instead, I'm reprinting this article from PBS about the history of Labor Day and how we have unions and radicals to thank for this holiday. Hail hail.

From PBS' Jim Lehrer Online News Hour:

Pullman, Illinois was a company town, founded in 1880 by George Pullman, president of the railroad sleeping car company. Pullman designed and built the town to stand as a utopian workers' community insulated from the moral (and political) seductions of nearby Chicago.
The town was strictly, almost feudally, organized: row houses for the assembly and craft workers; modest Victorians for the managers; and a luxurious hotel where Pullman himself lived and where visiting customers, suppliers, and salesman would lodge while in town.
Its residents all worked for the Pullman company, their paychecks drawn from Pullman bank, and their rent, set by Pullman, deducted automatically from their weekly paychecks. The town, and the company, operated smoothly and successfully for more than a decade.
But in 1893, the Pullman company was caught in the nationwide economic depression. Orders for railroad sleeping cars declined, and George Pullman was forced to lay off hundreds of employees. Those who remained endured wage cuts, even while rents in Pullman remained consistent. Take-home paychecks plummeted.
And so the employees walked out, demanding lower rents and higher pay. The American Railway Union, led by a young Eugene V. Debs, came to the cause of the striking workers, and railroad workers across the nation boycotted trains carrying Pullman cars. Rioting, pillaging, and burning of railroad cars soon ensued; mobs of non-union workers joined in.

The strike instantly became a national issue. President Grover Cleveland, faced with nervous railroad executives and interrupted mail trains, declared the strike a federal crime and deployed 12,000 troops to break the strike. Violence erupted, and two men were killed when U.S. deputy marshals fired on protesters in Kensington, near Chicago, but the strike was doomed.
On August 3, 1894, the strike was declared over. Debs went to prison, his ARU was disbanded, and Pullman employees henceforth signed a pledge that they would never again unionize. Aside from the already existing American Federation of Labor and the various railroad brotherhoods, industrial workers' unions were effectively stamped out and remained so until the Great Depression.
It was not the last time Debs would find himself behind bars, either. Campaigning from his jail cell, Debs would later win almost a million votes for the Socialist ticket in the 1920 presidential race.

In an attempt to appease the nation's workers,
Labor Day is born
The movement for a national Labor Day had been growing for some time. In September 1892, union workers in New York City took an unpaid day off and marched around Union Square in support of the holiday. But now, protests against President Cleveland's harsh methods made the appeasement of the nation's workers a top political priority. In the immediate wake of the strike, legislation was rushed unanimously through both houses of Congress, and the bill arrived on President Cleveland's desk just six days after his troops had broken the Pullman strike.
1894 was an election year. President Cleveland seized the chance at conciliation, and Labor Day was born. He was not reelected.
In 1898, Samuel Gompers, head of the American Federation of Labor, called it "the day for which the toilers in past centuries looked forward, when their rights and their wrongs would be discussed...that the workers of our day may not only lay down their tools of labor for a holiday, but upon which they may touch shoulders in marching phalanx and feel the stronger for it."
Labor Day: a good-bye to summer
Almost a century since Gompers spoke those words, though, Labor Day is seen as the last long weekend of summer rather than a day for political organizing. In 1995, less than 15 percent of American workers belonged to unions, down from a high in the 1950's of nearly 50 percent, though nearly all have benefited from the victories of the Labor movement.
And everyone who can takes a vacation on the first Monday of September. Friends and families gather, and clog the highways, and the picnic grounds, and their own backyards -- and bid farewell to summer.

Friday, September 2, 2011

I love me an ad that includes the term "ass imprint."

I've always been a fan of ads with lots of words, being a writer and all. But when a stock photography company does an ad with no photos in it, then you just got to give them their propers.

Check out this print ad by fotolia, as seen in the July issue of How Magazine. It includes the line: "Alternately, you could secure your universal legacy through your ass imprint on the vinyl seat at the local sizzler, but why?"

Thursday, September 1, 2011

The Twitter guide to typography

Are you a typography fanatic?

My day job surrounds me with graphic designers and font fiends. I also am half of a letterpress poster project called Beautiful Angle that is all about wood and lead type. So while I’m no expert, I love serifs, descenders and ligatures.

It turns out that there is a serious community of typographetishists on Twitter. The July issue of How magazine ( had this great list of type tweeters that you may want to follow:

Tiffany Wardle: @typegirl
The review blog: @typographica
The popular type blog: @ilovetypography
Typomaniac Erik Spiekermann: @espiekermann
Hoefler & Frere-Jones type foundry: @H_FJ

Follow away.