How I Write a Poem Step 3: Editing as I Go

A buzz that will awaken the kaleidoscopic,
psychotropic colors and patterns
to cut through the pervasive fog.

A cream-colored mind,
thick and languid
in desperate need of some coffee
deep and gritty caffeine
in order to jazz, to liven.
Perhaps that jolt is all that will be needed
to fill the brain with wondrous things
never before contained.


Hope for A buzz that will awaken the kaleidoscopic,
psychotropic colors and patterns
to cut through the pervasive fog.

Shady palm trees in hues of puce
with their giant spiky elephantine trunks.

The mind is changed
from cream-colored
to utterly without hue.



Key:
wine-colored and with a strikethrough = removed from a previous “draft”
blue, unitalicized, and underlined = added since a previous “draft”
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When I write anything, but especially poetry, I do not end up with a series of distinct drafts. Rather, I make constant changes as I continue the writing process. I never have a “completed draft” that will be heavily edited. I’m not great at murdering my darlings once I feel like I have a draft of a poem that has been fully written. On the rare occasion that I have fully written out where I want the poem to go as a draft, but I feel like some major changes are necessary, I simply scrap the poem. If it is not good enough at that point, the chances that I will be happy with it at the end of some heavy edits are very slim. It’s not worth it to put in the work of slicing apart a full poem if I’m going to hate it by the time I am done with it. I have done it on a few occasions, only to post the poem and later remove it from my blog.

At this point, I am coming to doubt whether there are true “steps” of my poetry writing process. The transition from my Step 1 post to my Step 2 post and from my Step 2 post to this one really just involve the same thing: adding more. Granted, here I did take away a word and replace a phrase with a better one, but those changes are relatively minor. Dividing the work that I will do on this poem from this point forward seems silly because it will just be more of the same; I’ll keep taking a few things away and adding more. Thus, I think my post for Step 4 will be my final one and will showcase the poem in its “finished” state.

I will note is that only 2 days passed between my post about the idea for this poem and my post about expanding on that idea. Nearly a month has now passed since that expansion post in this series. Taking long breaks from poems is very common for me. I did not intend to capture that element of my writing experience within this series, but it happened naturally. Generally, though, once I start to approach the late-middle stage of a poem, the writing process picks up pace, so hopefully you won’t have to wait another month to see the final post in this series.

Peace out!
-Joy

Photo by Fiona Art from Pexels

How I Write a Poem Step 2: The Expansion

A cream-colored mind,
thick and languid

As I was writing my last post and putting into writing the connection between the first phrase I came up with and my aphantasia, I realized that my initial idea of “a cream-colored mind” is not that different from the phrase “milk voice” that Blake Ross described in one of the first pieces I ever read about aphantasia.

I actually did not mean for the “cream-colored mind” thing to be a metaphor or descriptor for aphantasia. I thought “creamed-colored mind” was a wild and wacky piece of imagery that would be accompanied by other wild and wacky pieces of imagery. As I have gone through this next step of expanded on that initial phrase, however, it has become clear that describing a mind as cream-colored is quite tame compared to some of the other stuff that I have come up with. It does make for a pretty good metaphor, so I am currently keeping it, but toying with the idea of dropping the colored part and replacing it with some other word. The only real issue how to use the term “cream” without it and not make it sound like a euphemism rather than a metaphor. Right now, the phrase will remain as “cream-colored.”

Thinking more about the phrase “cream-colored” and cream itself, I added more to the poem. Thinking about strange and incorrect imagery, I added even more to the poem. This is where it stands right now:

A cream-colored mind,
thick and languid
in desperate need of some coffee
in order to jazz, to liven

Hope for the kaleidoscopic
Psychotropic colors and patterns
to cut through the pervasive fog.
Shady palm trees in hues of puce
with their giant spiky elephantine trunks

The first and second parts (the lines underlined and in italics respectively) do not yet go together. I especially would like to add something to the last line of the first part because I do not feel like I truly finished my thought there.

Now that I have an utterly creepy and wrong image of a palm tree inserted into the poem, I need to make a decision of whether to make the rest of the poem like that or to circle back to the poem being more like the first part. I don’t know which one I am leaning toward more.

Photo by Tim Mossholder from Pexels

Roles on Rolls on Roles

On rolls on roles on rolls

Image by adamkontor from Pixabay

This weekend, I made some changes to my blog. I have been noticing that my website is incredibly difficult to navigate and having all of my poems listed on a page was just 1. hard to remember to update and 2. not cutting it anymore from the reader’s end due to the sheer number of posts I now have. I wanted to have a spot where I could place the categories that my blog posts could belong to, and there was not a very good spot for that in my old theme. That theme served me well, but it was time for it to go.

I changed it to my favorite theme I could find that includes a sidebar where I can put widgets. The one downside of this new theme is that it does funky things to the top of the post if an excerpt was including in the post settings, so I fixed that by just going through and removing all of the excerpts from all of my posts. I’m sure that there are other fixes, but I couldn’t find one quickly, and there were a few other things that I wanted to change in some of my posts, so I didn’t mind going through them one by one.

Sushi rolls
Photo by Polina Tankilevitch from Pexels

While I was looking at all of these old posts, I found a few that just didn’t match my website anymore or that I was no longer happy with. I kept a few of them listed, but reverted a few others to drafts, so if you were über-dedicated, you would notice that my post celebrating my 100th post is no longer my 100th post.

All of this took time, but not an insanely long amount of time. Nevertheless, it made me think about all the roles that I have on this website. Much like most of the people probably reading this, I am the author, editor, occasional photographer and graphic designer, and administrator of my website. I also am the one who reads and answers my comments and emails (at a very slow rate, sorry!) and the one who reads, likes, and comments on posts from other bloggers.

Dice rolls
Photo by Armando Are from Pexels

I like having all of these roles because of the amount of control it allows me to possess, but I definitely prefer some over others. I primarily think of myself as the writer of this blog and a reader of other blogs. Everything else that I do is just extra.

That said, I think I would have a really hard time passing those other roles off to other people. This blog has been mine and mine alone since its first day. It has had my fingerprints all over every aspect of it, and that makes me very happy.

Egg rolls
Photo by RODNAE Productions from Pexels

I am nowhere near considering changing this from a one-woman-show, so those fingerprints will continue to be seen all over the site, but if I ever do decide to take on other team members, I think the first thing I will give up is the editing. I know for a fact that I miss things when I edit them myself because I have gone back to old posts that I read through many, many times before publishing them and found spelling and grammar errors that I did not catch. After that, I would probably look for someone with far more coding knowledge than me to customize the site layout more.

What are your preferred roles for your blog? Are there any that you would gladly pass off if you had the opportunity?

Roller skates
Photo by Laura Stanley from Pexels

What’s the Point?

Even though I write about creativity, compassion, and positivity, in real life, I am very much inclined to resign myself to futility.

Photo by Matt Hardy from Pexels

Has this ever happened to you? You’re using a colored pencil to draw when all of a sudden…SNAP! The tip breaks off leaving you with a useless shard and an imprecise, blunt drawing instrument. You decide to sharpen the pencil, but it’s not working. The wood is too soft or the lead is too fragile, and the tip keeps breaking off before you can taper it as much as you desire. Eventually, you give up because continuing to sharpen it is not granting you the results that you want. I mean, what is the point?

Photo by Markus Spiske from Pexels

Sorry, I couldn’t resist. But now, on a more serious note…

Even though I write about creativity, compassion, and positivity, in real life, I am very much inclined to resign myself to futility. In fact, one could argue that the reason why I try to put such a positive, helpful spin on the articles that I write is to convince myself that altruism isn’t futile. I practice positive talk in my written words, hoping that I can incorporate more of it into my thoughts and the words I speak.

It’s hard sometimes.

It feels like the more you learn about any particular topic, the more you realize that change usually happens small and slow, without much impact coming from any single individual. Forget the Dunning-Kruger Effect with its “valley of despair.” Looking into any issue will at some point leave you in a valley of futility.

I had a brush with these negative thoughts last week shortly after I published my article A Self-Planned Education: What Would You Learn in a Decade?. I was nervous posting that article, but I quickly began to receive comments from people who enjoyed reading it and wanted to engage in interesting conversations about personally driven education. And then, just a few hours later, I received a notification that someone had linked to that blog post. This was not a share or a reblog. It was not someone who was inspired by my article and decided to write their own response to its fundamental question. Nor was it someone who disagreed with me who wanted to write about those differences. No, this was someone who had copied my work, changed a few of the words and phrases (many of which were changed so that they were no longer correct), and reposted it to their own website that was not in any way affiliated with WordPress. My copyright had been infringed.

I was frustrated, and that frustration prompted me to write this blog post, requesting advice. I wanted to take action.

I also knew that I should give myself a little while to actually consider what my next move should be. I always make kinder and overall better choices when I have given myself time to calm down from my initial emotions.

The next day, I did more digging into the website where my content was reuploaded, and found that this was the way that they get all their content. I couldn’t find a single article that was originally written for this website. I also couldn’t tell whether any of the people who post to this website hold the copyrights on any of the material.

In that moment, I felt a sense of futility. I could pump hours and hours into getting my post taken down and still not make a dent in the stolen material on the site. My efforts likely wouldn’t prevent the same website from stealing copyrighted content in the future. I don’t have the ability to take any sort of legal action right now, either, so the results of any action I could take would be small at best. What was the point of pouring my energy into this if the best-case scenario consequences would be so tiny?

Like I said, this feeling of futility is common-place for me. I presume that it’s very common for a lot of other people, too.

Here’s a different example: consider the low-waste movement. One person switching from single use paper coffee cups to bringing their own reusable cup to the coffee shop is not going to make a big difference. What’s the point if my individual actions only save a single tree from being cut down throughout my whole lifetime?

Photo by gypsyugal from Pexels

Dig into these ideas further and the perceived futility can even increase. For example, opting for single-use plastic grocery bags might actually have a smaller environmental impact than purchasing reusable cotton ones, even if you use those cotton ones possibly up to hundreds of times. And when you throw in the human element and attempt to make changes regarding issues like medicine, addiction, or education, the uselessness of individual changes seems greater.

To me, it seems counter-intuitive that digging into the research about social, animal, and environmental issues could have the effect of dissuading me from action rather than encouraging it, but that has been my experience. In our modern times, even well-intentioned actions can reap negative consequences because of how complicated and interconnected the world is. (No spoilers, but The Good Place explores this issue in a really fascinating and entertaining way. I highly recommend that show.) What’s the point of taking positive actions when they might have negative repercussions, anyway?

There are several points, but I’ll only speak about three of them. First of all, a lot of small actions can lead to much bigger changes. If large numbers of people each eliminated the need for a single tree to be chopped down for their paper use, that could add up to a whole forest-worth of trees that no longer need to be felled. If every content creator who had their work reposted on the same website as mine took action, we could cause the website to shut down or at least pivot to original content.

You can’t do all the good that the world needs, but the world needs all the good that you can do.

Shelbi from Shelbizleee on YouTube

Secondly, standing up for yourself and your values has its own intrinsic worth. I’ve noticed that when my actions align with my ideals, I feel better. I have more self-esteem.

Finally, people who see you taking positive actions in kind and relatable ways might be encouraged to take their own small steps. Most people want to do good in the world, but it’s hard to know how. Your example might be the thing that prompts them to action.

In a poem that I wrote for this blog but never ended up posting, I crafted the lines “I know that it’s not enough just to say these words./I know that my thoughts and prayers are just as empty/As those mouths that they promise to feed.I constantly need to remind myself that good intentions are not enough. They must lead to good actions.

With my stolen content, saying that I am against copyright infringement is not enough. I must actively try to get the copyrighted material removed.

In the case of the website that reposted my copyrighted content, I don’t think that enough people will request their own take downs from them to make any real change. After all, most of the articles they steal come from big news sites that likely have much larger and more pressing legal issues to deal with. However, standing up for myself and getting my article removed sends them a message that I am not okay with them taking my content, and it tells me that I am willing to fight for my rights as a content creator. Leaving up the post that talks about my stolen article shows other people that they are not alone in having their content taken, that the WordPress community will support them in their efforts to stand up for their rights as copyright holders, and that standing up for yourself in this way will (hopefully) result in some actions from the people who stole the material.

A story that I read at the end of last week, “The Best of All Summers” by Bobby Stevenson, contains these words “‘Don’t you ever believe that what we did was in vain, son. Never think that…Nothing is in vain. Always, always remember that. Everything matters.'” (I highly recommend reading the whole story for the context.) Actions that align with your beliefs and values matter. They produce effects. Those effects might be smaller or different than what you want or expect, but they are present. All we can do is to keep taking these actions to become better people and make society better, monitoring the results of those actions, and changing our approach when it isn’t working. That is the point.

3 Month Check In

Thanks for everything!

She clicked “Publish,” and her whole world changed.

How’s that for an under-10-word short story?

In all seriousness, I just want to say that if you are reading this, thank you.

I’ve posted some writings to other platforms in the past, and WordPress has by far the most welcoming, encouraging, and lovely communities I’ve seen.

The poetry community on here is especially wonderful. My original intentions for this blog did not include poetry whatsoever. In fact, when I first started The Yellow Brick Ave, it had been years since I had written a single poem. My transition to a majority-poetry blog happened entirely by accident. One day, early on in the life of this blog, I was struck by some inspiration and I decided to write it down in verse. I posted it without any expectations. That poem, “You Are”, received such a swift and supportive reaction that I decided to write another poem. Then another. Then another. Now, poetry makes up 2/3 of my posts on here, and I plan to keep it that way. And though my technical poetic writing skills definitely need some practice, putting that work in has so far been so fulfilling. Thank you for sticking by me as I experiment and change and (hopefully) improve.

I feel so incredibly lucky to have stumbled into this type of writing and this community so early on. From what I understand, finding your blogging niche is one of the most difficult and time-consuming parts of getting started. I don’t know for certain if I will continue down this particular path for the entire life of this blog, but it was very humbling to discover within my second week a little corner of the internet where I felt like I belonged.

Now that all that gushy stuff is out of the way, I want to talk about my intentions for the future of this blog. I’m going to keep all of this kind of vague because, though I do have ideas that I want to execute, I don’t have timelines for any of those ideas, and I don’t want to make promises that I can’t keep.

First of all, I have been keeping a schedule for the past two months where I put up two poems and a longer-form blog post every week. I like that schedule a lot because, as it says on the picture on my homepage, it is “consistently inconsistent.” However, though I do intend to continue having multiple types of writing on here, that weekly blog post (to which I have been referring in my head as my “Free Friday” post) has been kind of all over the place. I think I want to continue using “Free Friday” to write about a variety of different topics (keeping the “free” in “Free Friday” so to speak), but I want to iron out the tone, so it doesn’t change so wildly from week to week. This improvement will happen when it happens (I think it’s another thing that I just need to stumble into), but any feedback that you have would be very helpful to maybe help me stumble quicker. Is stumbling quicker a thing? Maybe I should make it a thing.

Secondly, I want to be more active with commenting on other blogs. I know how gratifying and encouraging it has been to receive positive comments on my blog, and I want to provide other bloggers I admire with similar feelings. My other reason is a little more selfish: I’ve heard from a variety of sources that active social media use has a lower correlation of depressive symptoms than passive social media use, and simply liking posts does not seem to be enough to qualify as active use. I know that correlation does not imply causation, and that there are a plethora of reasons why this particular correlation may exist, but there doesn’t seem to be any harm in commenting more. Especially if doing so may make someone else’s day.

Lastly, as I said in another early poem of mine, “Light,” “I hope that one day/I can find a way/to reflect the light.” I adore blogs that use their platform to lift up other creators, and I would like to do that myself. I plan to do this slowly and in stages, but if you have any advice/suggestions, I gladly welcome them in the comments. For now, I’m just going to leave some links to blogs that I already follow that come to mind when I think about writers using their platforms to support other writers. (Note: This is not a comprehensive list.)

H.R. Phoenix of Penable

PoojaG of lifesfinewhine

Phoebe, MD: Medicine + Poetry

Once again, thanks for reading, thanks for following, and thanks for supporting. It truly means the world to me.

Peace out!


Image by Alexas_Fotos from Pixabay

What Are You An Expert In?

write what you know

It’s a question that I often ask my students, trying to ascertain what interests them and which accomplishments give them the most pride. This is useful to 1.) get to know the students better in order to establish a relationship and find ways to make the curriculum more relevant to them and 2.) have an arsenal of ideas for each of them when they inevitably say, “I don’t know what to write.”

After all, the cliché “write what you know” gets touted to would-be authors both young and old. And though the phrase is both overused and sometimes misused, its basic premise has sound logic. You do need a baseline of knowledge about what you are writing in order to fill your work with truth and emotion (not to mention to make it make sense).

Children seem to find this “what are you an expert in?” question surprisingly easy–they’re an expert in multiplication or basketball or taking care of their younger siblings or reading a book. They can rattle off a litany of skills that they have acquired over their few years, and, in my experience, their self-described expertises are usually true.

It might seem silly to label a six-year-old as an expert at reading a book, since they will inevitably learn so much more about reading as they grow older and read more, but I don’t use the word “expert” to inflate the student’s ego or imply that they have mastered a certain area. Rather, I use the term to make them think deeply about their strengths and to acknowledge their background or cultural knowledge about a particular topic. (That was education jargon that means that every student enters a learning situation with a variety of family and life experiences that inform what they already know.)

And then when that “I don’t know what to write” phrase is uttered, I whip out my list of strengths that the student came up with themself and tell them to choose one. These expert areas can inform not only how-tos (tell me how to play basketball), but also narratives (write a story about basketball), and essays (detail the pros and cons of a particular rule in basketball or choose a famous basketball player to write about).

Image by Lubos Houska from Pixabay

In which areas do you possess an expertise?

I was introspecting on this question lately, and I had a realization: I don’t know how I would answer it.

I mean, I have some simple, obvious answers. I’m an expert in comedy T.V. shows (but not The Office, which, I know, shame on me). I’m an expert in writing for this blog. I’m an expert in being myself. (Just know that as I was writing that last sentence, I had a big, cheesy smile on my face.)

As an adult, coming up with an “expertise list” is not that easy. Perhaps it’s because of my own hangups or perhaps it’s because of the frustrating “valley of despair” part of the Dunning-Kruger Effect, but I can almost always find a reason why I’m not an expert in any given area. I have definitely put in my 10,000 hours for writing, but I can think of countless other writers (many of whom are WordPress bloggers!) who are leagues and leagues better than me. I know a lot about linguistics, but I didn’t study it in college. I did study education in college, but I don’t have a PhD in it, nor do I have decades of teaching experience.

The truth is, I’m a bit of a dabbler. I listen to podcasts about economics, I read news stories about politics, and I watch videos about filmmaking. I don’t have a singular passion; in fact, I would consider striving to know a little about a lot to be my primary passion. I’m very fickle with my interests and I love a lot of different topics. That’s also the main reason why I’m so drawn to teaching: because I, myself, adore learning and I want other people to like learning, too.

I would say that phrase “jack of all trades, master of none” applies wells to me.

This lack of a singular focus can be pretty aggravating sometimes. The whole reason why this question popped into my head is because a few days ago when I was thinking about what I should do for this blog post, I couldn’t think of anything of substance to say. Much like various students that I’ve had over the years, I didn’t know what to write. How can I “write what I know” when I don’t know anything as in-depth as I want to?

At the very least, I guess I can rest easy in acknowledging that I am enough of an expert in not knowing things to crank out a whole blog post about it.

Image by Gina Janosch from Pixabay

So those were my whining, self-deprecating thoughts. But I would never talk to someone else the way that I just wrote about myself, so I’m going to flip the script now and engage in some positive self-talk.

Did you know that there is a longer version of the “jack of all trades” phrase I quoted above? It reads “Jack of all trades, master of none, oftentimes better than master of one.” (Some sources even say that this longer version is the original one.) “Jack of all trades” can be used as a praise rather than an insult.

I can choose to view my fickle, dabbling nature as the thing that makes me well-rounded. It allows me hold my own in a conversation about almost anything, be it physics, language acquisition, or the first few seasons of Keeping Up With the Kardashians. And a variety of innovations and inventions came from someone who realized the connection between two seemingly separate arenas in which they had an interest, so I think I’m in pretty good company.

In the first part of this post, I mentioned that my use of the word “expert” with my students is not meant to say that they know everything there is to know about an area; it’s meant to make them think about the knowledge they already possess and how that allows them to talk about that topic with logic, truth, and emotion. While I don’t necessarily think that as an adult I should claim to be an expert in just any area where I possess knowledge, I shouldn’t allow myself to be scared away from a topic simply because I don’t have a PhD. in it. In fact, I should allow that desire to know more about more to help me in my discussions of topics.

Thus, I don’t need to narrow my focuses to be a be a better blogger or person. I only need to utilize the diverse knowledge that I have gained through dabbling to inform my future writings. I will try to keep that in my the next time I say to myself, “I don’t know what to write.”

What Am I an Expert In?

Here’s a more extensive list of some of the very specific (and silly) areas where I would proclaim an expertise:

  • remembering things for other people
  • plant-based home cooking (just ask me about egg substitutes)
  • making to do lists (but not so much at executing them)
  • making toast without a toaster (I have two different methods!)
  • making a bat out of construction paper, tissue, paper clips and decoupage
  • recognizing the formula of stand up comedy
  • connecting education principles to the world of national intelligence (I took a course in national intelligence in which most [if not all] of the other students were majoring in something relating to the political sphere, and the professor assigned us an essay about how intelligence was related to our future careers. I don’t want to brag, but I did get an A on that writing and on the course.)
  • using a dictionary
  • sorting color tiles based on tints, shades, tones, etc.
  • hula-hooping (but only around my waist)

After that somewhat self-aggrandizing list, I want to know what do you think you are an expert in? Leave me a list in a comment. I’d love to read it!

Unlike most of my other blog posts, I relied on my previous knowledge to write this one, but I feel like I should include some resources (some of which are also linked in the post) in case you want to learn more, so here they are:

An article about utilizing and gaining background knowledge called The Importance of Activating and Building Knowledge

A short article about culturally responsive teaching

The Wikipedia page for the Dunning-Kruger effect (linked in the blog post as well)

The original study by Dunning and Kruger called Unskilled and unaware of it: how difficulties in recognizing one’s own incompetence lead to inflated self-assessments.(It’s behind a pay-wall because, of course, scientific papers cannot be accessible for all. [I mean, I do get it. Scientific journals need to make money somehow. I just wish that knowledge wasn’t so expensive.] You can always check and see if your local library has a catalog of journals. If you have a log-in for a university library, they will probably have it.)

A blog post about the Dunning-Kruger effect (from which I pulled the image that I linked to about the “valley of despair”)

This xkcd panel that references the Dunning-Kruger effect (this one isn’t necessarily informative, but it is funny)

This article about the benefits of positive self-talk (linked in the blog post as well)

The Wikipedia entry for the “jack of all trades” adage (linked in the blog post as well)

This Harvard review article about the benefits of both generalists and specialists (linked in the blog post as well)

This Innovation Hub podcast/article with Dave Epstein, the author of Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World

This lifehacker post about being a “jack of all trades”

This Tim Ferriss post about being a “jack of all trades”

Top image by Elien Smid from Pixabay

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Beauty in Mundanity

Found poetry, found objects, and found beauty

My favorite poem is “This Is Just to Say” by William Carlos Williams. Even if you don’t recognize its title, there’s a good chance that you recognize its content. It begins like this:

I have eaten
the plums
that were in
the icebox

If you’re interested, you can read the entire poem here.

This is a rather divisive poem; in fact, it divided my family (I mean, not in a big way, but still). While I was running around the house quoting this poem from memory, my mom was bemoaning its simple nature, lack of many poetic devices, and unconventional subject matter.

The reason why I love this poem so dearly is the same reason why many people dislike it. The poem reads like a note between spouses, family members, or roommates. In fact, Williams probably did transform a note from his wife into a poem to create “This Is Just to Say,” making it a “found poem” (Matterson, 2015). (A response by the name of “Reply” was later published by William Carlos Williams’ wife, Florence Herman Williams.) This type of poetry shows that even something as simple as a scribbled note can be poetic. Beauty exists, even in mundanity.

In this way, Williams opens the door for a debate. What is poetry, really? If this note is poetry, then are the words that I jotted in the margins of my favorite book poetry? Is my receipt from my most recent trip to the grocery store poetry? Is this blog post poetry?

As it turns out, Williams was not the first person who sparked this type debate (and for all I know, the following example was not the first case, either).

Nearly two decades before “This Is Just to Say” was published, a sculpture by Marcel Duchamp shocked the art world. His piece, titled Fountain, is a “readymade” sculpture–an already existing object that was repurposed to become art. “What was that already existing object?” you might ask. Why, it was a urinal.

By Man Ray – This file was donated to Wikimedia Commons as part of a project by the Metropolitan Museum of Art. See the Image and Data Resources Open Access Policy, CC0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=57861001

The Society of Independent Artists (SIA), where the piece was first submitted, chose not to display Fountain with the rest of the submissions. Duchamp, disagreeing with the SIA’s decision, resigned from its board (Tate, 2020). Fountain defied the idea that works needed to follow classical ideals in order to be considered “art.” Duchamp wanted to make a statement about the definition of art, and chose an object as mundane (and, let’s face it, a little obscene) as a urinal to do so.

So is Fountain art? Is “This Is Just to Say” poetry?

I am not an art or literary critic, nor am I a profession artist or poet (yet!), so I don’t possess the knowledge or life experiences that would allow me to answer that question for you, but I can answer it for me.

When I read “This Is Just to Say,” I feel something. I feel warmth and the loveliness of a close relationship. It feels like the midway point in a much longer story about marriage or friendship or how small grievances can lead to larger rifts. I feel the same way about it that I feel about so many other poems.

And though I have never seen Fountain in person, I did see this piece, titled Still and created by Damien Hirst, at The Art Institute of Chicago. When I looked through the glass casing (that is itself part of the sculpture) at the medical and lab equipment it encloses, I felt something. I felt cold. I felt the sterility of medicine reflected in the metal tools that are used for that purpose. I recognized the juxtaposition between the frigidity of surgical tools and the warmth of the humans that utilize them. I felt another juxtaposition between the stillness of the tools and the bustling of a hospital that might use them. I felt about it the same way that I felt about so many other pieces of art that day.

Much like how the author John Green said in this tweet that “Books belong to their readers,” art belongs to the audience, however the audience wants to see it.

It seems that the gaze we use matters more than the creation we are viewing. The attitude surpasses the object.


But what does that mean for me as a lay person? Surely, this way of viewing the world should not solely belong to poets and artists. I, too, want to see the beauty in mundanity.

I decided to challenge myself to see the charm that constantly surrounds me. I succeeded in this challenge whenever I noticed splendor in the ordinary in my life, and I took a picture each time so that I could share those experiences with you. (A lot of these are cat-centric, so if you’re not a fan of cats, I apologize.)

One of my roommate’s cats, perched for some reason on top of our toilet.


A small collection of plants in our windowsill


That same cat from earlier, sleeping on the couch. He likes to sleep with his head as upside down as possible, for some reason.


Part of “Afterword: Jesuits in Space” from The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell. I loved these two lines in the middle!


Part of my closet. It’s not particularly neat and tidy, but it has been color coded for years, and I took a moment to appreciate how aesthetically pleasing that is.


Same cat in what we lovingly call his “turkey” position: head ready to dangle, front legs tucked to look like turkey wings and butt high up in the air.


And here’s the other cat, doing a weird dangle-thing with her front legs. She likes to do this nearly every time she lays in that basket.


I have taken
most of the pictures
that appear in
this blog post

and which
are probably
hard to
look at

Forgive me
I am an amateur
and the lighting in my apartment
is terrible

P.S. In my research, I found this Vox article about a Twitter trend a few years ago that used “This Is Just to Say.” The tweets are a few years old, but the still hold up (even as meme culture changes so quickly)!

References

Duchamp, M. (1917). Fountain.

Green, J. (2014, February 1). Retrieved from https://twitter.com/johngreen/status/429797089569439744

Hirst, D. (1994). Still. Chicago: The Art Institute of Chicago. Retrieved from https://www.artic.edu/artworks/229374/still

Matterson, S. (2015, October 19). Stephen Matterson: On “This is Just to Say”. Retrieved from https://www.modernamericanpoetry.org/criticism/stephen-matterson-just-say

Ray, M., & Duchamp, M. (1917). The blind man. New York City: The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Retrieved from https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=57861001

Romano, A. (2017, December 1). This is why there are jokes about plums all over your Twitter feed. Retrieved from https://www.vox.com/2017/12/1/16723210/this-is-just-to-say-plums-twitter-baby-shoes

Tate. (2020). ‘Fountain’, Marcel Duchamp, 1917, replica 1964. Retrieved from https://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/duchamp-fountain-t07573

Williams, F. H. (1982). “Reply”. Retrieved from http://www.writing.upenn.edu/~afilreis/88v/flossie.html

Williams, W. C. (1938). “This Is Just to Say”. Retrieved from https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/56159/this-is-just-to-say

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What I Learned by Trying New Things (And Why You Should Try New Things Too)

What evidence exists to explain why trying new things is good for me?

Last month, I challenged myself to try something new every day for 30 days. I started this challenge because I know from experience that I tend to be happier when I am open to new experiences. And doing it paid off! I felt so engaged and fulfilled while the challenge was taking place.

I wanted to know why, though. What evidence exists to explain why trying new things is good for me?

The Science of Trying New Things

One major benefit of trying new things hinges on the keyword of “neuroplasticity.”

The word “neuroplasticity” combines the root “neuro” meaning relating to the nervous system (in this case, the brain) and the word “plasticity”, which in this case means “capacity for being molded or altered” according the Merriam-Webster dictionary.

You may have heard that your brain changes when you learn new information. That is exactly the phenomenon that neuroplasticity is describing. When we provide our minds with new information, we create or strengthen pathways in our brain. If we then reinforce that new information with similar experiences, we strengthen those pathways even more (Wingeier, 2018). This can improve your ability to complete a task successfully or can increase the automaticity for that task (like how you don’t have to think too hard while you’re driving once you’ve been doing it for a few years) (Stevens, 2019).

When I was having new experiences, I was learning new things and making connections to other things that I had done before. Therefore, I was creating and reinforcing neuropathways, which is awesome!

This challenge was not optimized to encourage the most neuroplasticity (but with some adaptations, I’m sure it could be!). Any neuropathways that I built while learning German, for example, likely will not get used with any regularity and may even disappear. For learning’s sake, I would have been better off practicing French or Spanish, two languages that I encounter more frequently and for which I have a better baseline of knowledge. But I wanted to try learning German, guys! I wanted the experience!

This leads to the second benefit of trying new things: we most often remember experiences pleasantly, and having pleasant experiences is a good thing (“Health and Happiness”, 2007). In fact, studies find over and over again that, absent depression, about half of our past experiences are viewed pleasantly while only about a quarter are viewed unpleasantly (Walker, Skowronski, & Thompson, 2003).

Trying new things means gaining new experiences–new experiences that will likely be pleasant ones. And, in the case of a challenge like this one, the person doing it can be somewhat in control of the pleasantness of those experiences by choosing activities that will likely be enjoyed. Further, having more pleasant memories makes us happier (Fredrickson, 2004).

So, that’s the science. Now, let’s get on to the anecdotes.

Some Silly Lessons I Learned Along the Way

Day 1: Chocolate pancakes tend to be kinda bitter because, duh, cocoa powder is bitter. Make sure you add enough sweet to counteract that. (I cut out the applesauce from the recipe that I was loosely basing my creation on, and that turned out to be a major mistake.)

Days 2, 3, 7, 9, 11, 12, and 13: Listen to recommendations about movies, music, etc. from random people on the internet. Those suggestions are often good.

Day 10: Do not listen to every suggestion you get from random people on the internet! Sometimes those suggestions are terrible!

Days 4 and 16: Learning a new language is hard, but not that hard. What really seems to matter is dedication. I was not dedicated to either of the languages I tried during this challenge. (But I am dedicated to French, and I’m semi-dedicated to Spanish, and I’ve seen such growth in my ability to speak, read, and understand those.)

Day 5: Frankenstein is a good book so far.

Day 6: I love writing poetry. Outside of one month-long stint of doing it half a decade ago, I hadn’t really tried writing poems until just over a month ago. It’s really fun!

Day 8: I’m not good at winged eyeliner yet, but I’m getting there.

Days 14 and 21: It seems like a really quick and simple thing to start using a new app, but sometimes, it isn’t. But just because they aren’t easy to learn doesn’t mean that they are bad.


Days 15, 17, 18, 20, 25, and 28: Exploring your town and its various streets, parks, restaurants, etc. is really fun! I hope to invest more time into doing that in the future.

Days 19 and 23: Talking and reading about kindness and compassion isn’t enough–but it is something. I just need to remind myself to go and do kind things in addition to thinking about them.

Day 22: Making a good chicken and waffle sandwich isn’t as easy as it seems!

Day 26: Tetrachromacy in humans is real…but the online tests for it aren’t.

Day 27: Some days you can do a lot, and some days you can’t. It is necessary to forgive yourself when you have an off day.

Day 29: I don’t like working from home as much as working in person. Which seems like a weird thing to say writing a post for this blog–a blog that has exclusively been written from the comfort of my apartment. Still, it lets me know that however my work changes in the future, I need to make an effort to go out and interact with other people (once the pandemic is over, that is).

Days 24 and 30: It’s okay to try things, even if they serve no real purpose and even if you plan to get rid of the creations you make. You might not know how much you like doing something until you try it!

I can tell you that I enjoyed vast majority of the experiences from this challenge while they were happening, and even the ones that I didn’t like in the moment, I look back on fondly. And I don’t think that I’m an anomaly here; I think that between the fact that I tried things that I thought I might like and the tendency to view experiences pleasantly anyway, a positive outcome to the challenge was almost guaranteed.

But I didn’t just appreciate this challenge intellectually; I actually liked doing it. I liked waking up every morning and thinking “What new thing am I going to try today?” I liked exploring. I liked learning new things about the world and about myself.

While I don’t plan to continue this challenge in its fullness, I do want to keep trying new things when opportunities present themselves.

In this tumultuous time, I am sure that we are all doing new things or doing old things in a new way. Let me know something that you’ve learned recently while trying something new.

Peace out!

Resources

Fredrickson, B. L. (2004). The broaden-and-build theory of positive emotions. The Royal Society, (359), 1367–1377. doi: 10.1098/rstb.2004.1512. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1693418/pdf/15347528.pdf

Health and Happiness. (2007, June 13). Retrieved from http://content.time.com/time/specials/2007/article/0,28804,1631176_1630611_1630586,00.html

Merriam-Webster. (n.d.). Plasticity. In Merriam-Webster.com dictionary. Retrieved from https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/plasticity

Stevens, A. P. (2019, December 3). Learning rewires the brain. Retrieved from https://www.sciencenewsforstudents.org/article/learning-rewires-brain

Walker, W. R., Skowronski, J. J., & Thompson, C. P. (2003). Life is Pleasant—and Memory Helps to Keep it that Way! Review of General Psychology7(2), 203–210. doi: 10.1037/1089-2680.7.2.203. Retrieved from https://www.apa.org/pubs/journals/releases/gpr-72203.pdf

Wingeier, B. (2018, January 26). What Processes Are Taking Place In Our Brains When We Learn New Things? Retrieved from https://www.forbes.com/sites/quora/2018/01/26/what-processes-are-taking-place-in-our-brains-when-we-learn-new-things/#463dae9b51f9

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The Do Something New Every Day Project

I’ve always said that I would try anything at least once.

I’ve always said that I would try anything at least once.

I mean that mostly hyperbolically…but not entirely.

I think that being open to new experiences has brought me some of the greatest moments in my life. This philosophy is the reason why I went skydiving. It’s why I joined in on a poorly planned trip to Canada. And it’s why I decided to go to a huge college with lots of opportunities for new things, rather than a small one where I felt more at ease.

This mindset also taught me a ton of lessons. For one, I absolutely hate rock climbing. For another, if you’re going to try to make a pie crust for the first time and you don’t have a rolling pin, you should use another cylindrical tool like a glass or a water bottle rather than just trying to press the dough down with your (clean, I promise you) hands. For one more, I am happiest when I spend time outdoors with my friends.

I know that trying new things makes me happy, but something has happened in the last couple of years: I’ve become complacent, not just with the big things, but with all the little habits that I’ve developed. I’ve gotten into a rut, and, in the middle of February, I decided to get out of it.

In this post, I’m going to share all of the things that I tried. On the next Friday post, I’ll talk about the science behind trying new things and the lessons that I learned along the way.

Day 1: Made Chocolate Pancakes (for myself for Valentine’s Day). These did not taste very good, but I also did not follow any one specific recipe, so that might have been due to user error. They do look pretty, though.

Day 2: Watched Booksmart for the first time. It’s a very well-done, funny movie. I would recommend it.

Day 3: Watched Fleabag for the first time. Loved it. There are 2 seasons, which amounts to a whopping total watch time of around 6 hours. Ah, the good old BBC and their super short seasons. I binged both in 2 days.

Day 4: Learned German for the first time. Ich bin eine frau. Obviously, I’m no good yet.

Day 5: Started reading Frankenstein for the first time.

Day 6: Posted a poem to this blog for the first time. When I did this, I wasn’t expecting to post so many more poems afterward, but here we are. You can find all of my poems here.

Day 7: Listened to BTS for the second time (oops!) and listened to Roddy Ricch for the first time. I liked “The Box” by Roddy Ricch, but not enough to save it to my music library.

Day 8: Tried my hand at winged eyeliner for the first time. Here are the results:

Day 9: Watched mother! for the first time. I really liked it. The film feels incredibly dreamlike since the sequence of events doesn’t flow the way one would expect them to. I liked the Biblical metaphors and the allusion to The Yellow Wallpaper.

Day 10: Watched Suspiria (2018) for the first time. I didn’t particular enjoy this movie. In fact, I needed to divide my watching of it across 3 days in order to finish it. (It also didn’t help that it’s 3 hours long.) I shouldn’t have been too surprised because I had previously watched the original Suspiria, and I didn’t particularly like that one either. In this new one, I found much of the graphic imagery superfluous, as well as much of the nudity. I did think, though, that it showed so much of Tilda Swinton’s range as an actor, since she played multiple characters.

Day 11: Watched Wonder for the first time. I’ve read the book multiple times and loved it each time. The movie is cute. I think I cried 3 times while watching it.

Day 12: Watched Howl for the first time (this is the last movie, I promise). I really liked it. It’s not super engaging, since the film is simply about the obscenity trial for Allen Ginsberg’s book Howl and Other Poems, as well as Ginsberg’s life experiences leading up to that point, but it’s a nice film to watch if you want some background noise. It was also really informative about Allen Ginsberg’s life, so if you’re into history about authors, you might appreciate it as well.

Day 13: Listened to the songs on U.S. Top 50 from artists I’ve never heard before (Lil Mosey, Trevor Daniel, Tones and I, YNW Melly, Jack Harlow, A Boogie wit da Hoodie, Surfaces, and more). I found 2 songs that I really like and saved to my music library: “Falling ” by Trevor Daniel and “death bed (feat. beabadoobee)” by Powfu.

Day 14: Tried the Let’s Meditate app for the first time. It was okay. I chose a sleep story, and it did, in fact, put me to sleep. It does seem to have an ever-changing selection of meditations. Additionally, it does not have separate meditations for free and paid versions, like a lot of other meditation apps do. However, the selection of meditations is pretty limited compared to other apps, even when you only take into account the free meditations on those apps. Additionally, I personally didn’t like the sound of the voice who narrated multiple sleep stories, and because there were so few to choose from, I had to listen to that particular narrator.

Day 15: Drove down some streets in my town that I had never driven down before. I found a new park along the way that I am going to test out later this month.

Day 16: Learned Latin for the first time. Ego sum femina. Once again, not that good yet.

Day 17: Drove down the remainder of the roads in my town that I have never driven down before.

Day 18: Went to a new park (different from the park I talked about on Day 15). I went down the wrong path at the beginning, which was an interesting experience in and of itself, but it also meant that I didn’t have time to experience the park as fully as I wanted to. I’ll have to go back at some point.

A tree with ornaments on it, even at the end of February. A true Christmas miracle.

Day 19: Listened to a new podcast (The Kindness Podcast) for the first time. It has a lot in common with the direction that I’m planning to take this blog. I’ve added it to my podcast playlist.

Day 20: Went to that new park I discovered on Day 15. I didn’t actually mean to, but the Day 15 park turned out to be connected to the park that I was planning on testing out. It’s really cool! The paths take you down by a river that runs through the city. I’m excited to visit there during the summer. I regret not taking a picture for you guys (or for myself).

Day 21: Tried a new podcast app, Pocket Casts. (Can you tell that I adore podcasts?) In terms of user interface and its discovery feature, it didn’t seem any better or worse than Stitcher, which is the podcast app I currently use. The one major benefit that I could see to Pocket Casts is being able to share specific snippets of podcasts with friends. I still need to weigh whether that feature would be worth the time I’ll need to spend to learn a new interface.

Day 22: Made a vegan chicken and waffle sandwich for the first time. It definitely was not very elaborate, since I just used frozen waffles and pre-prepared Chik’n patties, nor was it particularly good, but it was worth a shot. I think it would have been better if I had made my own waffles.

Bad photo, mediocre sandwich

Day 23: Read the email newsletter for Greater Good Magazine for the first time. I first discovered this magazine and website while I was doing research for my post about compassion fatigue that you can read here. If you liked that post of mine, there’s a good chance that you will be interested in checking out their website.

Day 24: I tried making music online for the first time. I was embarrassingly bad at it and, after just under an hour, I became too frustrated to continue. However, I can see this endeavor as something that I would enjoy if I can just get over the hurdle of learning how to use the program. I’ll try it again some time.

Day 25: Went to a park I hadn’t been to before. This one was pretty standard. Trees, trails, a boardwalk over the marshy parts. I didn’t get lost this time, so go me!

Day 26: Tried a test for tetrachromacy for the first time. I scored at a level that would indicate that I do have tetrachromatic vision. However the very blog post where I took the test was all about how online tests for tetrachromacy aren’t reliable (partially because this particular test wasn’t created by a researcher and more importantly because typical computer monitors cannot display all the colors necessary for a true tetrachromacy test). It was a fun test nonetheless. I scored a 37. What did you score?

Day 27: Downloaded a new mobile game on my phone. It’s made by the same people who made Candy Crush. It wasn’t anything that new or different, and I always feel a little bit worse about myself after I spend time playing a mobile game. However, on that day, I had a headache and couldn’t fathom putting much time or energy into finding something new or different to do.

Day 28: Visited a new park with my family who came into town. The park was really just a soccer field and some muddy ground, and the sign with the park’s name on it wasn’t even placed into the ground; it was simply leaned up against the side of a shed! Whoops! At least now I know that park is still under construction, even though it is technically open.

Day 29: Worked via Skype for the first time. I had worked online before, but I always used a different program. It took a little while to figure out how to do it, but I am grateful that Skype exists and allows me to do my work from home during this time.

Day 30: Recorded a podcast for the first time. I deleted it immediately afterward because I don’t have any plans for how to use it and it was just to test the equipment I do have (which is just a pair of busted earbuds, my laptop, and an audio program that I don’t understand how to use). I do listen to a lot of podcasts and I have been wondering what it is like to need to fill empty space with sounds. Now, I know. Perhaps I’ll give podcasting another go at some point in the future.

I had to balance my phone on a tissue box and my monitor to get this photo. I hope it was worth all the energy and talent I put into taking it, lol :).




It took a bit of energy to try a new thing everyday for 30 days straight, but it was so worth the effort. In my next post, I’ll go into detail about how I felt and what I learned, so for now I just have a few questions: What new things have you done recently? How did you feel after doing them?

I hope you’re having a great day!

Peace out!

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The Delight of Delight

Double delight

A picture of a rose with two-tone petals.
This type of rose is called the Double Delight! It is grown in a rose garden close to where I live.

Earlier today, I was listening to the latest episode of This American Life (that’s right, I’m a podcast nerd). They did a piece about a not-yet-published book called The Book of Delights: Essays by Ross Gay. Within the book, Gay provides small snippets of his life and shows the way that those moments bring him glee.

I was entranced by the podcast segment about this book. For one, they used the word “joy” a lot, which always makes me perk up because, hey, that’s my name! For two, the act of slowing down and really noticing the delightful things in life like Gay does in this book is exactly the type of experience that I want to write about on this blog.

I am not planing to change this blog to be a ripoff of Gay’s book, but I do plan to pop on here every so often to share a delight that I’ve experienced in my life. Here’s the first one:

The Delight of Not Overthinking

I overanalyze. It’s just a flaw that I have, and, despite my best efforts, I rarely overcome it. (For example, I rewrote the previous sentence about ten times before deciding how to word it, and I’m still not confident that I wrote it well.)

Overanalyzing prevents me from acting. I can talk myself out of doing just about anything, even going to the grocery store to buy food that I desperately need because I have some amount of food left at my apartment and shouldn’t I use it up before I go out and spend money on new food? (The answer is no because even though I do have some food left here, I am out of some essentials like oatmeal and spinach.)

Well, I got a little off track there, but I figure that I should leave it to provide a peak into how my thinking works.

Anyway, I especially hate when overthinking prevents me from being kind to people. I might think of a compliment, but then I imagine all of the reasons why someone wouldn’t want to hear that compliment right now, so I never say it.

Today, though, I overcame that for a moment, which was a small victory that felt great.

This morning, I saw a post on social media from a mutual. We don’t know each other very well at all, but we have interacted a bit in the past. This particular post of hers made me think of a compliment about how she really supports other creators. Without even giving it a second thought, I popped onto her direct messages to relay the compliment. I read through it only once to make sure that I was clear, and then I hit send.

And it felt great. I didn’t allow my anxiety and spiraling thoughts to control this interaction. I didn’t let them get in the way of doing what I believed to be the right thing. This whole exchange may seem really small, but it is a big deal for me.

The anonymity of social media may have made it easier for me to take that step without overthinking, but I am hopeful that this step in the right direction will eventually percolate into my face-to-face interactions with other people.

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