Archive | creativity RSS feed for this section

Somewhere between the worlds of men and make-believe: thoughts on ‘flogging’ and interactive fiction

16 Feb What if I told you I'm not really a hippie?

I’ve been preoccupied with duality of late, particularly that of reality versus illusion and what has seemed to me to be a rapid blending of the two.  Recently my son started a thread on Facebook about the glitch in The Matrix, a thread that I can barely understand, except that it proves that our DNA and wavelengths are sufficiently entwined so as to transcend the 5585 miles between us.

" . . .like the songs that the darkness composes to worship the light. . . "

” . . .like the songs that the darkness composes to worship the light. . . “

I went to bed with all this on my mind and when I awoke this morning, the line, “Qui peut dire le faux et le réel?” (“Who can tell illusion from reality?”) from Dan Fogelberg’s “Dancing Shoes” was in my head, reminding me that questions about the blending of reality and illusion are not new, not even to me. I realized it has been years since listening to the album Nether Lands was part of my Sunday ritual.

I dug out one of the three copies I have ( I don’t know why I have three copies. Have I ever claimed to make sense? No, I have not.) and remembered again how fascinated I always was with the dualities that permeate everything from the album art — the dark and light of the chiaroscuro cover photograph – reflected in the self-portrait on the inside cover, the references to night and day, sun and moon, darkness and light, winter and summer, earth and sky, and most of all to reality and illusion.

Some of the reality versus illusion imagery is evoked even in song titles, “Nether Lands” (not Netherlands, but instead an in-between place that is not real and is not a dream); “Once Upon A Time” (the classic fairy tale opening); “Scarecrow’s Dream” (Scarecrows aren’t real; neither are dreams; the song is dedicated to Don Quixote (the dreamer), Walt Disney, and the Wizard of Oz); “Sketches” (depictions of actual things and people); and “False Faces.”

Visionaries and dreamers freely flow between reality and illusion. That's the point of having visionaries and dreamers.

Visionaries and dreamers freely flow between reality and illusion. That’s the point of having visionaries and dreamers.

There are frequent lyrical references to confusion, being lost “between the worlds of men and make-believe,”  to not knowing “what is real and what’s illusion,” with “pleasure . . . a thin disguise,” to being “certain of nothing,” not to mention plenty of references to faces reflected in water, including streams which appear to be frozen that “thirst for the thaw but they’re running still.”  (I love that conceit.)

If you’re a fan of The Eagles and you don’t know Nether Lands, it features appearances by Don Henley, Joe Walsh, and John David (JD) Souther, and the liner notes also thank Irv Azoff, who(m) you might remember from the recent “History of The Eagles.” Azoff and Fogelberg started out together, striking out from Peoria and heading to California, where the rest is, well, the history of The Eagles.

If you’re an Elvis fan or a Jimmy Buffett fan or just a music fan, Norb Putnam is also featured.  When I went looking for a link, I saw that he has an autobiography either pending or recently published. In December, Oxford American Magazine featured an excerpt about his relationship with Elvis, which you can read by clicking here.

All that got me to thinking . . .

The lyric from “Dancing Shoes” first came to mind during a long walk in the snow where my thoughts meandered to the hypothetical idea of a fictional “flog.”

A flog (the blending of “fake” and “blog,” which in turn is a blending of “web” and “log,” which just underscores my notion that blending is all the rage), also known as a “flack blog,” is defined as  “. . . an electronic communication form that appears to originate from a credible, non-biased source, but which in fact is created by a company or organization for the purpose of marketing a product, service, or political viewpoint. The purpose of a fake blog is to inspire viral marketing or create an internet meme that generates traffic and interest in a product, much the same as astroturfing (a “fake grassroots” campaign),” (Wikipedia).

Flogs are considered by the public relations status quo to be less than ethical means of promoting products or services, but what if your product is a novel or your service is fiction writing?

It has been said, and I agree, that all memoir is fiction. Every personal blog is the telling of a person’s life story as she or he experienced it.

Sometimes I come across a blog that has a “Choose Your Own Adventure,” interactive  feel to it, where the blogger feels like a main character and the commenters seem unwittingly to suggest the next course of action. The blogs are well-written, so much so that they could be the work of a professional writer.  Some storylines are so dramatic and entertaining it’s as if the blogger is a protagonist ripped from the cover of a romance novel or from the screen of a Lifetime movie event.

It’s just a thought. That happens when I walk.

Most memoir writers — which by extension can include personal bloggers — embellish or to some degree reconstruct or reconfigure reality in telling their stories.

But what if, in this boundary-pushing age, there were writers who created blog characters from pure fiction based very little on reality  — or perhaps on a composite reality gleaned from the stories told by the personal bloggers in their following.  What if the blog itself were  really more a novel-in-progress?

This led to my wondering how folks would feel if they found out a really fantastic blogger was in fact a fictional creation.

What if I told you I'm not really a hippie?

What if I told you I’m not really a hippie?

What if, say six months or a year into following someone’s wildly entertaining stories, a writer stepped forward to say that you’d been reading  the narrative of the protagonist to his or her new novel, thanked you for helping guide the plot, and invited you to buy the final work to see how it ends?

Would there be a sense of betrayal? Would you applaud the performance art? Would you feel honored to be part of some sort of pre-fan fiction experience?

Would it make a difference if the blogger/character endured life challenges similar to your own and the plot details were drawn from your experience?

Would it make a difference if, instead of a commercial endeavor, the flog were an academic project for a sociology class? For a creative writing class? For a marketing class?

Would the time that you’d followed the blog before the revelation make a difference?

Would the contrast between the blogger/character’s identity and the writer’s identity make a difference. That is to say, might your reaction to the revelation be different  if you were following a young, vibrant heroine who turned out to be the fictional creation of a young, vibrant female author versus finding out she was the fictional creation of David Shields (who advocates for blurring the lines and pushing the boundaries and co-author of the recent biography with “new revelations” about J.D. Salinger, the recluse who craved privacy) or James Frey (notable for having written a memoir that wasn’t entirely fact-based, duping Oprah Winfrey) ?

Would the experience change your own writing or your approach to blogging? Your interaction with other bloggers?

If you are a fiction writer or an aspiring one, would you yourself consider creating a fictional blog for one of your characters?

As with many questions I ponder while walking, I don’t know what my own answers to these questions would be. Certainly, the comments section is space-limited for sharing your answers to all of them.  If you’re interested in writing a related post, feel free to post a link here.

Meantime, I have more walking to do and perhaps a marathon viewing of The Matrix before calling my son.

Sometimes a blueberry muffin is just good enough.

15 Sep ???????????????????????????????

A couple of weeks ago when blueberries were plentiful and inexpensive, I set out to make some blueberry muffins.  I don’t do a lot of baking these days. I was happy to have a reason to spend a morning in the kitchen.

Since it had been so long, I had to search for a recipe through the many dog-eared recipe books and magazines from back in the days when I could whip up something for the heck of it (baking is therapeutic for me) and take the final product to the faculty lounge, where it would be gone before second period.

For the past five years I’ve worked with a nice enough bunch of people who’ve been together for many, many years.  When I would bring something in to share, they were kind enough in thanking me, but always made sure to give props to Nancy, because Nancy is the real baker in the group. Nancy’s so good at baking. Have you ever had her (insert name of whatever I’d made)?

Eventually I stopped taking things to share because I was getting the message that only Nancy was allowed to bake or to receive baking props.

Teachers aren’t nearly as loyal.  If it seems edible and you leave it in the faculty lounge, they are most appreciative, if evidenced only by the fact that it will be consumed immediately and with gusto, no matter who made it. If you do something nice for teachers, they make sure you know you are more than good enough.

I’ve recently changed to working with a new group of people. Same place, new department. Among the many things I like about my new colleagues is the fact that they are young.  They don’t yet have a Nancy or any loyalty thereto. And they are in that sweet spot of their lives where metabolism and freedom from life’s bigger responsibilities allows them to eat whatever they want because if they haven’t already run 10 miles or put in a couple of hours at the gym, they will be later.

Doughnuts, cookies, home-made PopTarts, bags of candy are in constant rotation. They go on daily milkshake or Slurpee runs. . . There’s a constant stream of sugary-goodness all day long and they are all fashion-model thin.

I would resent them if I didn’t remember my own sweet spot of life so fondly.  Being around them brings those days back to mind. Despite all the time I spend at the gym, and all my will-power in avoiding a high calorie lifestyle. I’m not that which I once was. But, I’m good enough and that will just have to do.

The simplest blueberry muffin recipe I could find had nutmeg in it.  I was surprised to learn that I didn’t have nutmeg on hand.  This was when I started to realize that, although I don’t think I pay much attention to the cooking and baking competition shows on television, they have started to affect my sense of baking self-worth in the same way that every facet of media has affected every other aspect of  my self-image.

There was a time, before repeatedly being told that I’d never be Nancy, that I felt good enough about my baking abilities. I made things. People ate them with gracious approval.  I felt good about baking things and sharing them.

In those days, I’d have probably just skipped the nutmeg. Now here I stood, frozen with indecision, contemplating the possibility that these muffins would not be good enough.

Should I make the effort to go to the store to buy nutmeg or should I try to find some other substitution?  Should I use cloves or allspice or cinnamon?  What kind of baker doesn’t know which one of these is an acceptable substitution for nutmeg?

Suddenly every batch of everything, every cake, every pie, any piece of lovin’ that had come from my oven had not been good enough. It had been created by someone without the proper baking credentials. I thought about all the cakes I’ve decorated, going all the way back to my first job in a bakery, and how they wouldn’t come close to what you see on television these days. I was not

Is the cinnamon obvious?

Is the cinnamon obvious?

good enough.

It occurred to me that I’d seen enough of these shows to know that creativity counts and I’ve been told I’m creative. Sure, that’s probably a euphemism for bat-dropping crazy, but whatever. I decided I wasn’t giving up!  I challenged myself to look through the cupboards for something different, something to make these reality-show worthy blueberry muffins.

It was when I stood there seriously considering whether to go with BOTH the lemon-pepper AND the chocolate syrup that I decided sometimes a blueberry muffin should be just a blueberry muffin and that should be good enough.

But I did toss in some cinnamon, just in case.

When the muffins came out of the oven, my new inner reality-show critic piped up:

Oh, they didn’t rise consistently. They don’t look uniform. I’m going to have to take off points for presentation.

When I tasted one, it wasn’t for the joy of biting into a warm, freshly baked blueberry muffin.  It was to check the sponge. I don’t even really know what “sponge” is, but it was a big deal on The American Baking Competition, one of the few shows where I’ve sat through an entire episode.

I carefully peeled away the baking cup, watching judgmentally for how much crumbiness there was.

You might be a good enough baker if Paul Hollywood likes your sponge.  -- photo from CBS, "American Baking Competition".

You might be a good enough baker if Paul Hollywood likes your sponge. — photo from CBS, “American Baking Competition”.

I’m not sure what the standard for crumbiness is, but I figured I’d know if they were sub-standard.  I took a bite of the muffin and — I am not making this up — waited in suspense . . .for my own decision.

How was the texture? Did I get it right? Too moist, too dry? More baking powder? Less? What? WHat? WHAT???

My inner reality-show critic is brutal. These muffins were just not good enough. There was no consistency in appearance. There was nothing special about them, nothing that made my taste buds pop.

They were just muffins.

I took them to work anyway and left them in the ever-rotating snack area.  An hour later they were gone.

Despite the fact that they weren’t uniform in height. They might or might not have had the proper sponge. They didn’t have nutmeg or lemon pepper or chocolate syrup or hot sauce. They weren’t good enough.

One of my new colleagues, the tall, graceful. swan-like one, turned to see me walking past and gushed, “Did you make those muffins?!? OMG! They were SOOO good!  Did they have cinnamon in them? I thought I tasted cinnamon.  That was brilliant!!!”

Hmm.Turns out sometimes a muffin is just a muffin and that is good enough.

Bonnie’s Blueberry Muffins

– from my dog-eared copy of the April / May 1994 issue of Taste of Home Magazine. I don’t know Bonnie, but her blueberry muffins are more than good enough.
2 cups all-purpose flour
2/3 cup sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 eggs
1 cup milk
1/3 cup butter or margarine, melted
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups fresh or frozen blueberries*
Additional butter or margarine, melted
Additional sugar 
In a mixing bowl, combine flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. In another bowl, beat eggs. Blend in milk, butter, nutmeg and vanilla; pour into dry ingredients and mix just until moistened. Fold in blueberries. Fill greased or paper-lined muffin cups two-thirds full. Bake at 375 degrees for 20-25 minutes. Brush tops with melted butter and sprinkle with sugar. (*If using frozen blueberries, rinse and pat dry before adding to batter.) Yield: 1 dozen.

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 2,372 other followers

%d bloggers like this: