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Monday, November 25, 2013

Jack London

"You can't wait for inspiration.  You have to go after it with a club."

Jack London
American Novelist / Adventurer
1876 - 1916

Do you write or paint only when you are inspired?  Or do you make a habit of writing or painting every day?  If you wait for inspiration, you will produce very little work?  If you write every day, you will be surprised by how much you create in your lifetime.

Set yourself a goal.  Write or paint for 3o minutes a day . . . 6o minutes . . . four hours.  Or 200 words a day.  A thousand words a day.  Commit to doing a little bit every day.  Most of us will never have the time where we can devote 3 months to working on our novel.  We have to write a little bit every day.

Jack London committed himself to writing a thousand words a day, good or bad, and he produced many novels, non-fiction and short stories.  He wrote and published over 50 books in the last sixteen years of his short life.

Creative Practice
This week commit to writing or painting a certain amount every day for a month whether you are inspired or not.  

Flora Wellman
London's mother
Jack London was born in San Francisco, CA, the illegitimate son of Flora Wellman and William Chaney.  Chaney left before Jack was born and was not involved in his life.  Even later, when as a grown man, Jack wrote to him, Chaney denied being his father.  His dominating mother later married John London, a Civil War veteran, from whom Jack took his last name.  Jack was also raised by Virginia Prentiss, an ex-slave, who was an important influence in his young life.

The Londons were poor and Jack worked from a young age, helping to support the families, often for $0.10 an hour in canning pickles and often for 12 to 18 hours a day.  Child labor laws did not exist at the time.  At thirteen, Jack became a oyster pirate and late worked with the California Fish Patrol to capture pirates.  

Although he finished grade school, London was mostly self-taught.  Ina Coolbirth, a librarian at the Oakland Public Library, encouraged Jack to read and guided his early education.

At sixteen, Jack sailed with the Sophie Sutherland, a sealing schooner, to Japan.  When he returned in 1893, the nation was in a recession and there were not many jobs to be had.  London became a hobo, riding the rails across the country, meeting people who would be friends for years.  He was arrested in Buffalo, New York, for vagrancy and spend 30 days in jail.

When Jack returned to Oakland, he entered high school and contributed articles to the school magazine.  He won a $25 prize for an article he wrote on his sailing experiences and it was published in a San Francisco newspaper.  At 20, Jack was admitted to the University of California at Berkeley but left in 1897 and never finished.

At 21, Jack joined the Klondike Gold Rush in the Yukon.  He developed scurvy and was forced to return to Oakland.  While on this trip, he committed himself to becoming a writer.  He was paid $5 for his first published story and $40 for his second.  His first novels, The Cruise of the Dazzler and A Daughter of the Snows, were published in 1902.  The Call of the Wild appeared in 1903.  The Sea-Wolf was published in 1904.  White Fang came out in 1906.

Jack and Charmian
in Hawaii (1915)
London married Elizabeth Maddem on April 7, 1900.  They had two daughters together, Joan and Becky.  After divorcing Bessie, London married Charmian Kittredge in 1905 and they remained together for the rest of his life, but had no surviving children.  Charmian and Jack traveled extensively including trips to Hawaii and the South Seas.  Jack learned to surf in Hawaii.

In 1905 London purchased a ranch in Glen Ellen, CA which became his home for the rest of his life.  While he traveled often, he would always come back home.  He build a stone mansion on the ranch that was destroyed by fire before they moved in. 

Jack London died on November 22, 1916 at the age of forty.  He was suffering from dysentery, uremia and late stage alcoholism.  He may have accidentally caused his own death with a morphine overdose.  London has been quoted as saying, "I believe that when I am dead, I am dead.  I believe that with my death I am as much obliterated as the last mosquito you and I squashed."  Yet, Jack London continues to live and inspire others with his stories and novels.

Haley, James L., Wolf. (I recently finished listening to this excellent biography of Jack London and recommend that others read it.)

Novels & Short Stories Online:

To Build a Fire

Gutenberg ebooks

While I have seen some of the movies based on Jack London's work, I have never read any of his novels or short stories.  

Monday, November 18, 2013

Bill Moyers

"Poets live the lives all of us live with one big difference.  They have the power to make the experience of life both magical and real.  The life they reveal is our own."

— Bill Moyers
American Journalist
1934 -  

While Bill Moyers is talking about poets here, I think his statement applies to all creative and artistic leaders.  Creative people are normal people with the challenges, opportunities, successes and failures that all people face.  The difference is that creative leaders see the world through magical lenses and are able to show others what those lenses reveal.  The power of magical lenses rests in what the lenses reveal about the world and those who inhabit it.

What do your magical lenses reveal about the world?  What do you see that others cannot?  What is your unique vision of how things should be?  What doors can you open for others?  What gifts are you giving the world?  What insights are you sharing with others?

Creative Practice
Follow your vision and reveal the world as seen through your magic lenses.  Paint that world.  Write about that world.  Compose the music of that world.  

Bill Moyers was born in Hugo, OK and grew up in Texas.  His father, a laborer, was John Henry Moyers and his mother was Ruby.  He began his career in journalism as a cub reporter at the age of sixteen.  When he was twenty, Senator Lyndon B. Johnson hired him as a summer intern.  He graduated in 1956 from the University of Texas with a degree in Journalism and worked for radio and TV stations owned by Lady Bird Johnson.  In 1959 he earned a Masters Degree in Divinity from the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.  He served as a Baptist minister in Weir, Texas.

During the 1960 Presidential election, Moyers served as an aide to LBJ and also served in both the Kennedy and Johnson administrations.  He was the White House Press Secretary from 1965 - 1967.  After his experience in politics, Moyer worked for PBS, CBS and NBC.  In 1986, he and his wife started their own company and produced documentaries such as Joseph Campbell and the Power of Myth.  

Moyers has written several books of non-fiction including The Language of Life: A Festival of Poets, transcripts of his conversations with 34 poets. 

Here is the trailer for the Language of Life video.

Here is the trailer for Joseph Campbell and the Power of Myth.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Oscar Wilde

"The best work in literature is always done by those who do not depend on it for their daily bread and the highest form of literature, Poetry, brings no wealth to the singer." 

— Oscar Wilde
Irish Poet, Novelist and Playwright
1854 -1900

Have you ever had the desire to write full time or paint full time?  If you answered, no, then you are probably not serious about your art.  Most beginning writers dream of being able to write full time.  It was my dream for over 30 years — something I longed to be able to do.  Only now that I have passed the sixty mark is it no longer a serious desire.  I spent a lifetime working to provide for my family and myself.  I have also spent a lifetime writing.  And one can do both if one is committed.  

Even if I suddenly had the financial means, I don't think now I would write full time.  And soon, in a few years I am retired, I don't believe I will write full time.  Oh, I will continue to write — probably until my dying breath and beyond if there is pen and paper in heaven.  

Oscar Wilde was born in Dublin, Ireland, the second son of Sir William Wilde and Jane Francesca Wilde, Irish intellectuals.  His mother wrote revolutionary poetry and a lifelong Irish nationalist.  His father was ear and eye surgeon who was knighted for his services.  He also wrote books on Irish archaeology and peasant folklore.

Wilde was educated at home until he was nine.  He learned both French and German at a young age.  He studied and read the classics at Trinity College in Dublin.  He also studied at Oxford.  After graduating from Oxford, he returned to Dublin unsure of what to do next.  

Oscar Wilde explored various media for his creative work.  His first book of poems appeared at the age of 27.  In his early thirties he contributed journalistic articles to various journals.  At 33, he became editor of The Lady's World magazine.  He published his first collection of short stories in 1888 and two more in 1891. His novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray, first appeared in a magazine in 1890 and a revised version appeared in book form in 1891.  His play, Lady Windermere's Fan appeared in 1892.  His last play, The Importance of Being Earnest, was performed in 1895 and published in 1898..

Monday, November 4, 2013

Morgan Freeman

Acting means living, it's all I do and all I'm good at. If I weren't getting paid well, I would still be acting in a small troupe somewhere.

-- Morgan Freeman
American Actor, Film Director
1937 - 

The question all creative leaders must face is whether they would still create if they didn't get paid for their work.  And the answer is in the affirmative for true artists.  Many of us will labor for a lifetime without financial reward or recognition or fame.  The joy we find in the creative process in the end is our reward.  

Do you find joy in the creative process?  Can you get lost for hours creating a story, a painting or a poem?  I find the creative process in and of itself very rewarding.  I feel good.  If I go for any period of time without creating something, I find myself feeling down.  My mood is impacted by whether or not I have spent time creating something.  The creative process brings me joy in a negative, hostile, crazy world.

Why do you think successful writers continue to write?  Why do successful songwriters continue to write songs?  Why do successful painters continue to paint?  Why do successful actors like Morgan Freeman continue to act?  Why do movie stars who are paid millions for some of their films take roles in plays that pay them peanuts?  The answer is the emotional high they find in creating something.  Creative leaders are blessed with the joy of creating.  

Creativity is a gift that we have been given.  Enjoy the gift for itself.  Don't fret over whether you will make any money.  There are other ways to make money.  Just don't give up on your gift.  Keep creating even when you are surrounded by darkness — even when your world is collapsing.  For only in the creating to we find salvation, healing and joy.

Creative Practice
This week create something for the sheer joy of creating — a poem, a painting, a story.  Enjoy the process and don't worry about publication, selling or perfection.

Morgan Freeman was born in Memphis, Tennessee to Mayme Edna, a teacher, and Morgan Porterfield Freeman, a barber.  He moved frequently in his childhood, living in Mississippi, Indiana and Illinois.  Freeman made his acting debut at the age of nine in a school play.  He won a statewide drama competition at age 12.  He turned own a partial acting scholarship to college to join the US Air Force.

After the Air Force, Freeman lived in Los Angeles, San Francisco and New York, finding work as an actor in various plays.  He made his off-Broadway debut in 1967.  The following year he debuted on Broadway in Hello, Dolly!  His first film appearance was in 1971.  He had TV roles in the soap opera, Another World and the kid's show, The Electric Company.  He has supporting roles in feature films in the 1980s and closed out the decade with powerful roles in Driving Miss Daisy and Glory in 1989.  He played Red, a convict, in The Shawshank Redemption in 1994.

Freeman has received 4 Academy Award nominations including Best Actor nominations in Driving Miss Daisy and The Shawshank Redemption.  He won Best Supporting Actor for his performance in Million Dollar Baby.