Saturday, March 11, 2023

Words are hard.....

 This year, I told myself I was going to dive back into writing. It had been gnawing at me, various ideas percolating, bubbling, screaming to be let out of my head and onto the page.

So of course, as I decide I'm going to write, all words leave my brain. I've felt foggy, sticky in the mind. It's even been hard to simply sit down with a book and make it past the same page my bookmark has been on for more than a month. Several different varieties of chaos may be to blame. Or maybe not.

My mind hasn't been in a words-kind-of mode right now. It's an unnatural state for me. Even when I wasn't writing productively in recent years, I'd post several hundred word rants about anything and everything on social media. Words are one of my most natural states of expression.

It's uncomfortable that I am not even a little motivated to write right now. Even this little snippet here feels taxing and clunky.

And yet, I want to make stuff, work on design, getting ideas for patterns, videos, how to implement different ideas. Colors and fibers I want to use. I'm even thinking about ideas to modify and customize my shoes. I'm on my phone researching how to stitch things onto shoes. The words aren't there, but the "make stuff" side of my brain is in overdrive.

I heard once that the healthiest artists were always sculptors. I don't know the truth of that or if there's data to back it up. But I bet I could name at least a dozen writers who suffered from addiction, depression, and other mental illness in less than a minute. Plenty of painters suffered similarly. So maybe there is something to working with your hands, making things, physical objects rather than transitory words or two-dimensional images, that keeps a mind healthy. Maybe not.

Maybe my brain pushing me into the physical end of creativity is the same way that my body craves a diet of fresh greens after a holiday sugar binge--inherently, my body knows that I need a specific kind of nourishment and tells me to seek it out to balance some of the more unhealthy choices or circumstances of late. Rather than fight it and try to do something I'm not in a frame of mind to attack at this moment, maybe the best course of action is to dig in where it feels healthiest at the moment. Set the story and poem ideas aside for a bit--not forgotten or thrown out, just saved and stored for a more opportune moment. And trust that everything will come around again when I'm in a better place to receive the inspiration for it.

Friday, February 24, 2023

Find your magic

Maybe magic exists in all of us.

Maybe the magic isn't only for a chosen few, but it is an essential part of being living, breathing, human, physical, and spiritual beings. We misunderstand that it only exists for a small handful of superstars and creative geniuses, when in truth it exists inside of all of us.

Maybe the magic is actually a poison when it is inside a person. Maybe that magic was never really meant to be inside our bodies, flowing through our veins, permeating muscles and organs, infiltrating every cell of our beings.

Maybe the only way to live a fully healthy human existence is to get the magic out from inside of our bodies and put it out into the world.

Some people exorcise their magic by playing sports or engaging in other physical feats.

Some people paint or draw. 

Some people invent new technologies. 

Some people teach. 

Some people heal and take care of others. 

Some people write. 

Some people play music. 

Some people sing. 

Some people have the unbelievable ability to love every human being they come into contact with. 

Some people cook. 

Some people build. 

Some people fix and repair. 

Some people plant and garden and farm. 

Some people care for animals. 

Some people care for the earth. 

Some people stitch. Some people wire circuits. Some people create curriculum. Some people minister. Some people pray. Some people carve and sculpt. Some people clean and tend. Some people organize and simplify. Some people connect people with other people, or connect people with the things and services they need. Some people innovate.

And everyone has something--and probably multiple somethings--to let the magic out.

Because when we hold it inside, when we never let it out, it fouls our blood, it turns into illness and stress  and meanness, a hardness to the world.

When it is stored inside of us, it turns rotten. But when we release it through any one of the hundreds and thousands of actions that people are placed on this planet to do, it becomes not only inert, but it transforms from a poison into an actively positive force in the world, bringing joy to others and inspiring them to find ways to release their own magic.

Sunday, January 29, 2023

Stop Feeding the AI

I remember reading an article maybe a decade or so ago about the impending automation revolution, describing self-driving cars and other technologies that seemed (to me) impossible at the time, but are very real now in 2023.

One of the things mentioned in the article was how the automation of those kinds of tasks (jobs) would free up humans to do other things. At the time, I thought, “What ‘other things’ are you expected to do if that was how you made a living?”

Now I understand the idea was that people would be freed from monotonous or even physically harmful tasks in order to pursue endeavors that truly mattered to them. The leap from point A to point B is maybe not as smooth as that old article made it seem, especially when we’re talking about the livelihoods of tens of thousands of people that would be outsourced to ‘employees’ that can work tirelessly 24/7 without break, salary, or benefits. But who wouldn’t love to have a robot scrub the bathtub for you, wash and fold your clothes, or clean your windows? How many people already have robots in their houses (still imperfect though they may be) that will mop and vacuum their floors?

The implication is that when we would be freed from these tasks that consume so much of our time, humanity would enter this new age of enlightenment, a digital era renaissance, in which we would have the time to write symphonies, paint masterpieces, and finally write that great American novel. Freed from drudgery, we could dream and create. After all, it is a true tragedy to imagine how many Beethovens or Picassos were lost to factories, fields, and plantations over the history of humanity, and how much richer would our lives would have been if they’d had the resources for their genius to shine.

Those creating these automation technologies–I have to believe–are doing so with that intent in mind, the intent to free humanity for true greatness

Enter the AI bots.

Over the last few months, my social media feeds have been bombarded with AI generated images that are vibrant and amazing with their apparent “creativity”. Their advent was swiftly followed by a chorus of voices telling us that this new technology is harming them, many artists who know for a fact that their works were stolen and used without their permission to train AI bots, bots that were now generating art based on the labor and creativity of real humans. If you haven’t seen or heard anything about this controversy, just google “AI steals art” and you’ll find almost 5 million search results. At the very least, AI art is harmful, unethical, and quite possibly prosecutably illegal.

While I understand the potential good of robots that perform physical tasks for humans, thinking about these “robots” designed to perform the mental and creative labor of humans seems like nothing but heartbreak to me.

If robots that sweep the floor or save a factory worker from injurious repetitive motions are supposed to be able to give us the time to engage in meaningful work, I would love to know how in the world a bot that can generate an image in minutes for free–an image that takes a human hours of dreaming, labor, and planning–is helping humanity?

The AI bots are not only stealing the work of the artists it uses to “learn”. They’re stealing the joy of creation, which many of us would say is the purpose of being on this plane of existence in the first place.

Yes, I hear you screaming that YOU as an artist/writer/painter/designer/musician will continue joyfully to plug away in your own chosen medium regardless of what the robots do.

I’m not suggesting we can’t still create art. But think about how much of what we consume every day is art. Clothing, shoes, tv shows, movies, music, video games, furniture, not to mention books, visual art, even company logos. Until now, those were all designed and created by people. How long before CEOs decide they no longer need to pay a marketing team if they can buy an AI program to do the work? How long before newspapers and magazines no longer pay journalists to write their content? How long before every bit of entertainment we see and hear is being generated by something that was told over and over what we like until it finally spit out the Oscar-winning movie of the year. How long before the majority of art that feeds into our everyday experiences bears absolutely no trace of human creativity?

The bots aren't creating anything especially good. They are learning how to recombine images that already exist in ways that we think are interesting and will make us click “like”. It isn’t actually generating any new ideas. It isn’t creating new art. When new ideas are no longer put out into the world, I worry for the next generations and the possibility of people learning to think for themselves.

The purpose of art–all art, as I understand it–is communication. And when it ceases being about communication and shared experience, it’s dead, it’s no longer art. While I acknowledge that the AI bots are here to stay, and will likely continue getting “better” at what they are doing, they will still never have what human-to-human created art has: shared experience. It's my hope that eventually we will come full circle, back to recognizing that this robot-generated art is not the shiny new toy we thought it was, but is dead, void of any human experience behind it. And when people begin to see the soul behind art created by humans, we will circle back around to truly valuing the work, physically, mentally, and emotionally, of our fellow people, our fellow creators on this planet.

Friday, February 25, 2022

Not quite a poem

10 Things War Can Cure

1. Longevity.

2. Peace.

3. Education.

4. Abundance.

5. Home.

6. Family.

7. Lagging gun sales.

8. Quiet.

9. Sovereignty.

10. Writer's block.

Wednesday, February 23, 2022

A Question

Am I even a poet anymore?

One thing people don't talk much about with a breakthrough case of COVID, especially if during your illness, you're trying to isolate from the rest of your household, is the depression. Fortunately, after the end of the prescribed quarantine, most of those dark thoughts dissipated for me. But one lingered: am I even a poet anymore?

I've heard many poets over the years say they NEED to write, that they write because it is as necessary as breathing to keeping them alive, that they will write regardless of whether or not anyone is reading or listening. 

I believe there are some people who sincerely feel that. I'm not one of them.

I write because it is fun, or because I need a vehicle to share my words and ideas and thoughts. I write poetry to communicate in a way I normally wouldn't, with people who normally wouldn't  hear what I have to communicate.

But it's been a while since I've felt that I had much to communicate, that was not already being said elsewhere, more eloquently, and with more urgency. Over the past year, or two...or ...three? I've written a few poems, but most of them were an assignment of one kind or another. I've done very little recent writing that wasn't to submit on a specific topic, or to any other call to which I felt obligated--even if that obligation was only to myself. I haven't written just because I had something to write. And so this pervasive, "Am I even a poet anymore?" has been bothering me. Can I be a poet who doesn't poem?

I know a lot of people have strange reservations and feelings about self-labeling as a poet. I once encountered someone at an open mic reading who told me he couldn't call himself a "poet" unless he was doing it to make a living. Some people worry that the word "poet" is too precious, that calling yourself a poet is hubris, that calling yourself a poet is an act of holier-than-thou.

None of that baggage around the "poet" label ever bothered me. A poet is someone who writes poems. But can I still be a poet if I haven't been writing poems?

Then about a week ago, I found myself giving two readings within a few days of each other. The first was part of the Poetic Inventory of the Cuyahoga Valley National Park, which is a beautiful project seeking to collect poems for every plant, animal, and insect species native to the CVNP. I felt relieved to be reading with other poets again, hearing this inspiring collection of voices. I encourage everyone to check out this project. 

Then I had the joy of reading virtually for Jonie McIntire's Uncloistered Poetry out of Toledo. It felt so good to be putting my words into the world again. 

And after all of that, I'm starting to feel, that, yes, I am a poet. Again. Maybe.

I still haven't felt pushed to return to the page, just yet. But I did feel an impetus to return here to this space. That is a start. And I will accept it as a little gift from the muse.

Thank you, friends. Life, love, and light. - TGB

Friday, April 16, 2021

One more aspect of pandemic fatigue: the curse-blessing of too much

Yep, this is a post about too many virtual things and this is a picture of too many physical things, representing too many virtual things
When the pandemic started, and everyone believed that it would be a short few weeks of unexpected vacation time, the sudden proliferation of online events felt almost magical. Someone is taking me on a tour of a museum I've never visited! The zoo is hosting lunch breaks with a different animal every day! One of my favorite bands is broadcasting live from their living room this weekend! It was a fun random way to spend the weird hours of void.

But in the year since, the cornucopia of virtual events has exploded. There are poetry open mics everywhere, everyday. I can read at an open mic across the country through the magic of the internet. But there's also a lecture at the same time with world renowned scientists about climate change. And my cell phone plan is offering me a free online class that I feel obligated to take advantage of. And meanwhile there are four other lectures, table readings hosted by a local theatre, online film festivals, don't forget to watch the solstice at Stonehenge, an organizing meeting about every important cause I have ever cared about, a friend is performing an online concert with new songs, my inbox is filling up with announcements about virtual concerts and classes and talks and readings, there's a poetry gala with all kinds of amazing people attending, there's a free writing conference, and finally that union meeting I've been meaning to attend, and...

This pandemic was first a curse, then a blessing in disguise with the expanded access we all have to virtually, feeling like a curse of too much. I want to attend EVERYTHING, and most nights, I end up on the couch binge watching West Wing anyway. Because I forget. Followed by the next day when I realize that the thing I really, REALLY wanted to watch was last night and I couldn't remember because time doesn't exist anymore, and I get angry at myself for feeling like I abandoned a friend's performance, or am a bad citizen of the world because I didn't watch the Very Important Lecture. After all, there are no more excuses for not going somewhere, because I literally don't need to go anywhere.

I think that's part of my problem. Going somewhere requires a tiny bit of planning. I'm going to a reading on Tuesday night, so I look up directions for the venue ahead of time, plan to eat dinner early, and pick out something cute to wear. I'm going to the baseball game this weekend, so I need to decide if I need to bring a hoodie or a rain poncho, which shoes will be best, figure out where the good parking lots are, and decide if I'm eating before the game or at the game. 

Real, in person events require a little forethought, a little planning, and with it, a little anticipation.

I know that complaining about access to too much is a stupidly-privileged, first-world problem. But it reflects what I think most of us miss: the connection of being physically present somewhere.

I don't believe we are a people meant to only interact with the rest of the world inside the equivalent of a video game. I don't think virtual events will every leave us again, but I sincerely hope they don't need to become a permanent substitute for the real the thing. They're great as something extra, but they shouldn't be our only. We're physical beings in a physical world. I hope we can all safely return to that world soon.

Stay safe, wear your masks, keep your distance, get your vaccines. We're so close, friends. We're so very close.

Friday, April 2, 2021

On the power of words, and the wasting of time

The pandemic, the loss of my last grandparent, totaling my car, looking ahead to one of those round number birthdays--all of these recent events have started making me feel my mortality, and with it, the very real understanding that I have no desire to waste another second of the limited time afforded to me on this earth doing something that only gains me frustration.

That is why, a few months ago, I decided I would no longer waste my words on a conversation, written or otherwise, with someone who refuses to give me the same careful consideration I try to give my own interactions with others. My time is too precious. My energy is too precious. My life is too precious.

I know for a fact that a well-written and supported opinion matters. My parents would never consider themselves activists, but they are the kinds of people who would write a strongly-worded letter to the newspaper or a politician about issues important to them. Before we had a computer, my mom would set up the electric typewriter and copy out a handwritten missive. I internalized that power of the written word, and started writing letters to City Council and the school board by the time I was in high school. I have always believed in the power of the written word as a way to express myself, confide in others, impart my experiences, and sway opinions.

But the truth is that if engaging with someone is consuming so much of my time and mental bandwidth that I can't find the space for myself, and then that person won't give my words the same respect I'm giving theirs, it's not worth it. 

People have often told me this, but I couldn't internalize it until my thoughts of impending mortality made me realize that I didn't want to spend the rest of my life that way: frustrated, consumed, and trying to find just the right way to make one more point.

It's not worth it.

My time is worth more. My life is worth more. My joy is worth more.

My words are worth more.