Remembering David Bowie

 

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How do you write about someone whose entire body of work has been showered with superlatives, and when those superlatives have been exhausted, we simply coined new ones? How do you write about an artist who’s on the very very short list of artists that have influenced generations to follow their instincts, go against the grain, and dare to challenge.

Many words will be spilled to mark, sadly, that David Bowie has died. His life in the coming days will be commemorated, and deservedly so. That doesn’t hide from the fact that his death is something devastating, something that, like what he did in his glorious, fearless-driven life, knocked the Earth off its axis.

I won’t lie. The news of David Bowie’s passing knocked the wind out of me. There were rumors he was sick, fueled even further by the ruminations of death and mortality on his most recent album, “Blackstar,” release just three days ago, on his 69th birthday no less. His time on Earth was coming to an end.

Still, this brings me no comfort. I feel extremely empty today. Yeah, yeah, I know, I’m not related to David Bowie in any way, but he’s been a big part of my life for several decades; it’s almost like I can’t remember a time when there wasn’t David Bowie’s music, his words, his fashion, his iconoclast ways, in my life and everyone else’s I knew.

Like most people my age, I came to David Bowie through “Let’s Dance,” both the monster title song (it’s an instant classic, one that even my eight-year-old daughter adores) and the album itself. From there, it was a rabbit hole, discovering his vast discography, confused at first, but understanding there was something larger than life about David Bowie. He was a non-conformist about his artistic endeavors, yet he was no stranger to mainstream success.

His songs were the soundtrack to my life, and so many millions more. “Space Oddity,” “Changes,” “Rebel Rebel,” “Golden Years,” “Ashes to Ashes,” “Under Pressure” (his brilliant collaboration with Queen), “Let’s Dance,” “‘Heroes'” these are songs that will continue to stand the test of time, and be the music I consider essential. His albums embody the mindset of an artist forever chasing and engaging in a musical muse that led him so many times out of his comfort zone, and into creating worlds of musical landscapes that will forever stand the test of time. Seriously. I’ve been listening to a lot of Bowie’s output recently. The glam-soaked punch of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars and Aladdin Sane can still be heard today. The experimental nature of Low and “Heroes” still influences so many independent-minded artists today. From today’s current pop landscape, and previous landscapes, the following can easily trace David Bowie’s influence into their bodies of work: Madonna, Lady Gaga, U2, Kanye West, Marina Abramovich, Joy Division, Arcade Fire; even Bowie’s son, the gifted filmmaker Duncan Jones, has widely acknowledged his father’s artistic influence.

Hell, even David Bowie the actor was fascinating. My mother once reminded me of when she saw him on Broadway as the Elephant Man, and how she was impressed by him. My mother’s cool factor shot up after that. Bowie had screen presence to burn – I loved his turn as Nikolai Tesla in Christopher Nolan’s The Prestige, and, hell yeah, he was utterly fucking awesome as the Gnome King in Labrynth.

Bowie was always acting, wasn’t he? Whether he embodied the messianic rock star Ziggy Stardust, or the cynical, coked-up Thin White Duke, or Major Tom, and the several other personas he embraced throughout his career, Bowie was never the same role twice. This is, to this day, an important lesson he taught us creative types: what worked yesterday won’t work tomorrow, embrace uncertainty, leave nostalgia for others.

I’m listening to “Lazarus,” one of the tracks off Blackstar, which kicks off with the line, “Look at me/I’m in heaven.” He sings of being free like a bluebird; knowing what we know about the cancer diagnosis he kept secret, “Lazarus,” is a cry of relief, a man coming to terms with his mortality, even perhaps sharing a joke with the Grim Reaper.

Most musicians, or artists for that matter, would recoil at the mere notion of death, no less again. Not Bowie. Throught the fucking phenomenal Blackstar, Bowie jumps into the flame of excitement, knowing he was facing death head on, and he was going to mine this for all its artistic worth. Morbid, perhaps, but Bowie was never like you or I. He was never shy about facing challenges.

And that’s the thing about Bowie: he was never afraid, never afraid to search, never afraid to ask, never afraid to demand, never afraid to fail. It’s these traits that made Bowie’s body of work such an irreplaceable part of the pop culture canon – witness the legions of musicians, actors, directors, artists that have not just paid their respects to Bowie’s passing, but whose works have been influenced in large parts by Bowie. His successes are breathtaking: Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars; Hunky Dory; Aladdin Sane; “Heroes”; Low; Lodger; Station to Station (my personal favorite); Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps); Let’s Dance. Even his failures  bore the marks of a restless, forever seeking soul.

I’ll end this with a quote from Bowie that’s been oft-repeated:

“I don’t know where I’m going from here, but I promise it won’t be boring.”

Thank you for the music. Thank you for the words. Thank you for being an iconoclast when the world demanded comformity.

Thank you for being David Bowie. Wherever you have gone, may resting in peace be foreign to you; that would be too boring now, would it, restless soul?

The Rumors of My Demise Have Been Greatly Exaggerated…

It’s been a while, I know. Almost a year since I last posted something on this blog that’s been abandoned.

But some things have happened in the meantime…bought and moved into a new house, spent too much on new furniture, saw the new Star Wars movie three times, built a pretty sweet vinyl record collection – that’s a blog for another time, promise! – and turned 44 years old.

Oh, and my cat died. I miss him terribly.

Oh, and Donald Trump happened. Fuck that guy.

I would love to regale you with swashbuckling tales of literary madness, that I wrote a novel-length manuscript, got an agent, sold said manuscript to a publisher, and did a book reading tour in support of the book.

No, no, nope, and no. None of that happened. In fact, I stopped writing altogether.

I had some harsh conversations with myself about my writing. In short, I came to the realization that I don’t have the discipline (read: attention span) to write a full-length novel. Or a novella, for that matter. My writing comes in bursts, short threads that I can work with within a smaller confine, but this writing approach doesn’t work well when you’re trying to write 50,000 or more pages, then edit the fucking brute.

I would have seemed hypocritical from me to continue posting stuff on my blog about the “writing process” when I was failing miserably at it. About what little progress I was making. About how frustrating I found writing becoming.

So I gave up. No, not writing; posting on my blog.

What I did learn, much to my eternal surprise, is that I have a knack for poetry. Yup, poetry.

Why is this surprising? Because I used to hate poetry. HATE poety. HATED HATED HATED it. Honestly, it was personal biases that got in my way. Poetry always seemed soft and quaint, in the words of John Keating, something “to woo women with.” It wasn’t until I started reading what you can call “outlaw” poetry, i.e., the Beat Poets, Richard Brautigan, Sapphire, and, of course, Charles Bukowski, that I saw writing in riddles and codes, dancing with metaphors and similes, that’s when I was able to unlock why poetry matters.

I did find a community of poets and writers on Instagram, of all places, that willingly and openly shared their work. Since I was there already, I figured I would jump into the pool. My first attempts were tentative, small attempts at mimicking what I knew. The more work I read on IG, the more I felt confident about posting my own words. In the year or so that I began posting my poetry and micro-poetry on IG (more than 700 posts!), I’ve garnered a pretty sizable following, and have made strong connections with the poetry community on IG.

Time, then, to also start showcasing my poetry here.

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I have no bold plans for this blog, nor do I have bold plans for my writing. I’m still writing poetry, which I will be posting here frequently (and thank you in advance for reading it; critiques are welcome, unabashed fandom is greatly recommended), and I’ll update my site on random thoughts and observations that come to mind. Just not politics, though; my political ranting days are over, and, besides, with the public cannibalism that goes for presidential campaigning these days, my teeth-gnashed rants are not the sort of thing I want to contribute. I’ll wear my politics on my sleeve and go about my business.

(Team Bernie, in case you’re wondering…)

I can’t promise exciting things, other than I’m helping out on an anthology that will hopefully see the light of day this spring, and putting together a collection I will self-publish before the year is through.

And fuck Donald Trump.

Thanks for reading. Talk soon.

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Using Instagram to Break Out of Writer’s Block

I haven’t been doing much writing lately. Who am I kidding, I haven’t written but a few pages here and there since the end of last year. I could easily say life’s gotten in the way, but the honest truth is I just haven’t felt inspired. And what is the writing life if you’re not inspired?

Inspiration, breaking yourself out of a self-imposed writer’s block, can come from some most unusual sources. Take social media for example. I’m not talking about websites like Writer’s Digest or any other writer’s magazine, chock full of well-intentioned but obvious advice – “A writer writes!” – that often times can leave a writer more discouraged than inspired. I’m talking about leveraging Instagram.

Instagram? You mean that app where people like Miley Cyrus and millions of others post selfies, or pics of their cats? Yeah, that app. I’m on Instagram, and I’m just as guilty of a few selfies as you are. But in between the selfies and cat pics are writers and poets posting snippets of their work. I’ve found these writers, thanks to Christina Hart, aka Daily Rants with the Bitch Next Door, and some of the writing I’ve been reading has been nothing short of profound and daring.

So I decided to take the plunge into the Instagram writer’s community pool and post some of my work:

Call it micro-fiction, or even poetry, but it’s me flexing my writing muscles again. You can’t cycle up a mountain without getting on the bike and hitting a few short roads first, no?

Question for you, dear reader: do you use other social media sites to motivate or inspire you or your writing? Share your results below!

In Praise of Late Bloomers

For those of us who are in our 40s and are constantly reminded that creativity is best suited and served for by those younger than us (see Forbes’ annual 30 Under 30 List), here’s a reminder that just because you’re 45 and you still haven’t published that novel (or, worse yet, finished it) doesn’t mean you’re a failure.

In Praise of Late Bloomers

The history of literature is rife with so-called “late bloomers,” writers who had the desire and the inklination to write, but never had a major work published until they turned 40 or later. Charles Bukowski didn’t publish his first novel, “Post Office,” until he was 51. Toni Morrison was nearly 40 when her first novel was published. You get the idea.

We tend to romanticize this notion that youth is a requirement for producing major works of art, and while that may be the case in, say, music or visual art, it doesn’t lend itself that well to literature. Sure, you can write a great novel when you’re 25. But you can also write a masterpiece when you’re 50.

For more inspiration, there’s Bloom, “…for writers and artists of all ages and stages, for anyone who believes that the artistic journey is, and should be, as particular and unique as each one of us; that there is no prescribed beeline to literary achievement.”

I, for one, need to be reminded of this every day, and remember that it will never be too late for me to achieve what I want to achieve as a writer.

Uno Kudo Volume 4 is Here!

I’m pleased to announce that Uno Kudo Volume 4 is now available for purchase in hardcover over at Amazon.com.

You may recall I’ve spoken about Uno Kudo before. My work has been featured in both Volumes 1 and 2, and I also served as an editor for Volume 2. Not only did I serve as an editor for this volume, but my short story, “Anatomy Lab Class Assignment,” is one of the featured stories in this anthology of poetry, prose and art.

I have to say, without reservation, having read an advanced copy of this outstanding collection, that this is the best volume from Uno Kudo so far. Edgy? Yes. Daring? Yes. Refreshing? Yes. Definitely off the beaten path.

Do yourselves and those you love a favor, along with the terrific assortment of poets and writers documented below, and purchase your copy of Uno Kudo Volume 4 right now, just in time for the holidays. You won’t regret it, and you won’t be let down. Pinky swear.

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“Man of Clay” by CL Bledsoe – Virtual Book Tour

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Today is the last day of CL Bledsoe’s virtual book tour celebrating Man of Clay, a novel with elements of magical realism and a dash of steampunk. This funny, engaging story redefines what Southern Literature is capable of being. Man of Clay can be pre-ordered today!

 

I was raised by storytellers who recreated the drab, flat Arkansas Delta world as a place of legend. The smallest events could take on mythic status. Years ago, a farmhand worked for my father. He was a somewhat shiftless young guy, a nephew of someone who my father hired as a favor. One day, he was backing a truck full of soybeans, meaning to turn it around, though he’d been warned just to back it out. As he eased the truck back, he kept repeating, “Doin’ good, doin’ good,” until he backed it into a ditch and turned the truck over, dumping the harvest out. Forevermore, he became Doin’ Good, and the tales of his exploits were legendary.

 

Doin’ Good was a minor character, though, compared to the legend of my father, whose exploits could fill up a novel by themselves. From the time he learned a brother-in-law was a jogger, challenged him to a footrace in rubber boots, and won, to the practical jokes he and my uncles used to play on each other, my father was a larger-than-life character who imbued my childhood with a kind of magic. When he wasn’t acting out tall tales, he was telling them, from jokes he made up to stories passed down for generations.

 

When I wrote Man of Clay, I was inspired by these kinds of stories. I looked to the folk tales collected by Vance Randolph, Zora Neale Hurston, and others, as well as stories my father told me. One story trope, especially, stood out: the Big John stories. Big John is a trickster character, with origins traced back to the Anansi the Trickster stories that were brought over by African slaves. The spider, Anansi, became Big John, a slave who matched wits with Master, and almost always won, though often at great cost. (These stories further morphed into the more palatable Brer Rabbit stories). I thought it was important that I stay true to the spirit of the Big John stories, but that I make up my own for the book to pay homage.

 

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In Man of Clay, Big John appears as a symbol of hope for the slaves. Some of his stories are fairly whimsical—like the one where Master’s wife tries to seduce Big John, and he escapes by climbing a ladder up to the moon—and some are much darker, like the one about the time Big John dressed his daughters up like sons to hide them from Master. When Master discovers the subterfuge, he murders the girls, but not before being forever humiliated.

 

The great power of these tales is their tragedy. These aren’t Disney stories with happy endings; they are brutal, sardonic stories in which the only real gain is often a simple revelation of humanity, which might come at the cost of the lives of those Big John cared for most; instead of a Prince Charming or a golden castle, Big John simply wanted to be treated respectfully and recognized as a human being.

 

CL Bledsoe is the author of four poetry collections, one short story collection, and five novels, including the Necro-Files series. His stories, poems, essays, plays, and reviews have been published in hundreds of literary journals, including Cimarron Review, Barrow Street, New York Quarterly, Gargoyle, Nimrod, Arkansas Review, Pank, Potomac Review, and many others. He’s been nominated for the Pushcart Prize thirteen times, Best of the Net four times, and has had two stories selected as Notable Stories of the year by Story South’s Million Writers Award. Bledsoe currently lives in Alexandria, VA, with his daughter.

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(REPOST) – NaNoWriMo Is Upon Us: How to Get Inspired Even If You’re Not Participating

Hey everyone,

Sorry for the lack of posts here lately. Life’s getting in the way of blogging. Hopefully that will change soon.

I read this article this morning on Flavorwire, and was thinking of everyone taking part in NaNoWriMo, and those of us who aren’t:

NaNoWriMo Is Upon Us: How to Get Inspired Even If You’re Not Participating

Some helpful ideas to keep us writers engaged while we’re not participating in NaNoWriMo.