Four ways of destroying to create

I’ve recently started a creative practice called erasure or blackout poetry. (Follow me on Instagram to see more.) Basically, you take a page of text or prose and create your poem by removing words from the text. Here’s one I did recently:

it isn't brokenAs someone who loves process and improvisation, this kind of exercise has just enough structure to be challenging, and also extremely liberating. And I’m interested in how much creating is about destroying.

  1. In this case, I quite literally destroyed a book by tearing out the page, then destroyed the page by using my very permanent sharpie to cover up the original work underneath. I was surprised at how difficult I found it to actually rip this book up (a rather compelling read titled Ten Things I Learned from Bill Porter: The Inspiring True Story of the Door-To-Door Salesman Who Changed Lives by Shelly Brady), a thrift store book I should have no emotional attachment to.A book, any book, seems like such a final, permanent product. And yet it’s not, nothing’s ever permanent. Whether you take the book and use it as a coaster for your coffee mug, or throw it in the dumpster to get jostled with banana peels and used tissues, the book’s finality is perhaps not what it seems. Eventually, like a creative band-aid, I just tore that page out Ten Things knowing that it’s all part of the process.
  2. The process also included that bittersweet, destructive creation tool called editing. Editors are notorious destroyers! In this case my process went something like: What word grabs me? What word goes with that word? Shall I go with a verb pattern? How about that phrase? O now that word doesn’t work anymore. What themes are emerging? How does choosing a different word, change the work? But, I like that word! What if I switch the order? Where does it start, and where does it end? Is that the right ending, or is this the right ending? Oh, it’s what time? I’ll just find one more phrase. End process. Begin sharpie.
  3. Once I chose the page for erasure, I had to embrace the limitations of the text, sacrificing a whole universe of choices for the few in front of me. In the worlds of improvisational arts, these limitations or structures are gold. One of my teachers, the great Ruth Zaporah, wrote in the introduction to her book Action Theater: The Improvisation of Presence, “These rules open pathways that lead into unexplored territories.”
  4. After I completed my blackout poem, I just couldn’t leave well-enough alone. I actually started playing around with using it as a jumping off point for a physical improvisation, extending the creation process into another discipline. Or, more precisely, an erasure of the erasure, destroying the poem in order to create a new piece.

The destroying and creating cycle has endless possibilities.

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The art of the music video: OK Go

I’m generally a fan of many art disciplines from theater to visual art to film. But, as a art buff with a limited budget and never enough time, I’ve sort of placed music lower on my priority list for things I spend time on. In other words, I’ve not bought any new music in probably 10 years and I rarely go to see live music.

I’m no connoisseur of music, as I’ve already stated, but I like OK Go’s music. Even more, I do fully appreciate their music videos. For a fun behind-the-scenes, Nerdist (fun podcast for tech and comedy nerds) did a nice podcast with the OK Go guys here.

They’ve just released their newest video – freakin’ gorgeous stop motion toast animation for their song Last Leaf. Check it out:


Last Leaf

OK Go | Myspace Music Videos

Other favorites…

That awesome Rube Goldberg machine one, for This Too Shall Pass:

And then there’s that other This Too Shall Pass, the original I believe, featuring the University of Notre Dame’s marching band:

Finally, one of the earlier amazing videos, Here it Goes Again:

Slings and Arrows, for the arts administrator

To ring in the new Gregorian year, I’d like to recommend this series…


I stumbled across Slings and Arrows somehow. Someone along the way recommended it to me (thank you, whoever you are!!) and I’ve finally finished the three seasons on DVD. A perfect show for those arts administrators amongst us, the delightful comedy extolls the foibles, earnestness, absurdity and glory of bringing arts to the people.

It follows the creative and administrative teams at the fictional “New Burbage Festival,” a Shakespeare festival, not unlike our fine state’s Oregon Shakespeare Festival (though I believe it’s really modeled after the Stratford Festival.) Complete with lots of great Shakespeare, star-crossed lovers, intrigue, ghosts and great accents – thank you Canadians for your most excellent comedy!

on creativity

Here’s a fascinating article by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman from Newsweek about the decline of creativity in the US:

The Creativity Crisis

The article uses reports from professor E. Paul Torrance’s creativity tests as a jumping off point about measuring creativity, how creativity manifests and why it’s important. Early on the author’s define creativity (not sure who has “accepted” the definition, as I might wordsmith it some myself):

“The accepted definition of creativity is production of something original and useful, and that’s what’s reflected in the tests. There is never one right answer. To be creative requires divergent thinking (generating many unique ideas) and then convergent thinking (combining those ideas into the best result).”

On the one hand, the authors posit that “creativity should be taken out of the art room and put into homeroom.”

“The age-old belief that the arts have a special claim to creativity is unfounded. When scholars gave creativity tasks to both engineering majors and music majors, their scores laid down on an identical spectrum, with the same high averages and standard deviations. Inside their brains, the same thing was happening—ideas were being generated and evaluated on the fly.”

On the flip side, it does seem that artists do have a leg up in the creativity category. Using an example of a study done at University of Western Ontario neuroscientist Daniel Ansari and Harvard’s Aaron Berkowitz, the article highlights the value of right-brain/left-brain process in creativity:

“They put Dartmouth music majors and nonmusicians in an fMRI scanner, giving participants a one-handed fiber-optic keyboard to play melodies on. Sometimes melodies were rehearsed; other times they were creatively improvised. During improvisation, the highly trained music majors used their brains in a way the nonmusicians could not: they deactivated their right-temporoparietal junction. Normally, the r-TPJ reads incoming stimuli, sorting the stream for relevance. By turning that off, the musicians blocked out all distraction. They hit an extra gear of concentration, allowing them to work with the notes and create music spontaneously.”

The whole article left me pondering creativity vs. arts and really how we can provide opportunities for more, more, more. This means rethinking everything: arts education, education reform, community development – all of it. To me empowering creativity is empowering individuals to be critically engaged in our world and our environment.

Seth’s Quake

Here’s a short story I wrote a few years ago. I had developed this exercise inspired by some work Matt and I were doing at the time. “Oppstacles” we called them – opportunity-obstacles. I created four buckets to inspire some flash fiction – 1) Word/Object, 2) Place, 3) Relationship/Character, and 4) Song (lyrics). For this particular piece, my randomly chosen items from these oppstacle buckets were: quake, parking lot, obsessed, Bizarre Love Triangle.

Seth’s Quake
Seth was sick and tired of being the “bad” brother. Sure, Osi was righteous and all that, but geez can a brother get a break? Osi has a beautiful wife and a son, and what about Seth? Nothing. Torrents. Terror. Destruction. Again, he’s lonely sitting here at the Costco parking lot for the 100th day in a row. Why? To see if Isis will appear again. She doesn’t show herself often, but Seth knows that Isis can hardly resist the wholesale quantities like a crate of fresh strawberries or that 24 pack of toilet paper. Seth has loved his brother’s wife since third grade when her voice cut through the torrent of anger and humiliation he endured as Osi yet again found victory at the school spelling bee. Isis told Seth, “You spell fine, but your real talent is to move the earth with your heart.” And from that point on, Seth did just that. His first natural disaster was a landslide in Peru. 18,000 died. Another kicker was the monsoons in Thailand. 10,000 died. Seth felt great power and shame. Osi, meanwhile brought food to drought stricken Ethiopia. He clothed poor in China. He built houses for homeless in Guatemala. Seth and Osi were like two sides of the same coin. One couldn’t exist without the other. It’s just that Seth’s side got such a bad rap. How can being so good at something be so bad? Finally, in the 23rd hour of the 100th day of waiting, lovely Isis appeared with her perpetual baby boy in a sling. Seth slowly rose up from his waiting spot in parking space 301. Each movement from Seth snowballed into a thundering rumble and shaking of the ground, as he reached forth to his unrequited. Before he could reach her to tell her of his undying love, she fell through the cracks of the broken ground slowly floating, like a feather in the wind. She waved as she always did, the broken record of missed connection between one who loves and one who is loved.

Day 8 NaBloPoMo done. Quarter of the way there.