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6527212 January 17, 2013

Who Am I in This Crowd?

I don't want the burden of feeling that it's my job to smooth things over with everyone in every situation. I don't want to feel that they are right, and I am most certainly wrong, that they are all surely better, smarter, wiser, more talented, kinder, gentler. That they know what is best for me.

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6527212 November 09, 2011

CALVET and Art: Isn't This What They Told Me About Jesus?

Okay, I realize this may be controversial for some folks; I may be struck down by the hand of God at any time today, but lately it's occurred to me that art provides many of the things that Jesus is supposed to give me ... redemption, purpose, love, meaning, joy, healing, etc.  Of course, I don't know that art can give eternal salvation, but I do know that it can save a soul.  It did just that for my friend, artist Jean Marc Calvet. 

I met Jean Marc a year or two ago through Monkdogz Urban Art (NYC).  We struck up a friendship after I interviewed him on Aberration Nation.  I later also interviewed Dominic Allan, the film director/producer, who was so taken by Jean Marc's story that he spent four or so years making a documentary about the artist's incredible life. 

This weekend, I finally saw the film, CALVET, in its entirety.  I knew a lot about it before hand.  What I didn't know was how deeply I would identify with certain aspects of Jean Marc's tale. 

We all have some sort of story; we have our own personal demons, although for some of us those demons are more terrifying than others.  The question I most often ask myself is how many of those demons were tossed at me, and how many did I conjure up myself.  And for those that I did create, how in God's name could I have avoided it? 

When I watched Jean Marc's story, and took in just how simultaneously tough and gentle he is, I could so clearly see how the circumstances of our lives turn us into monsters.  I wondered what makes a man look into the mirror and decide that he no longer wants to be monstrous, and if a true monster even has such thoughts.  Perhaps the true devils just keep on being monstrous until they finally drop dead and go to monster hell. Perhaps it's actually the fallen angels of our world who can recognize the demons inside and find the courage to battle them.  Like the incessant drive to create, maybe it's a simultaneous catch and release.  Good news and bad.

Some days I look in the mirror and see a monster.  Maybe you do as well.  I don't want to see it but I know it's there. I hide it.  I chase it. I squelch it and cover it up.  And in that never ending game--that dysfunctional relationship I have with myself--I sometimes love it, too. If I didn't, the whole stinking business wouldn't be so difficult.

For Jean Marc, it was ultimately the language of art and a profound love for his son that propelled him back to life.  This theme was brilliantly seared into my heart during a few pivotal scenes in the movie.

In one episode, Jean Marc recounts how he listened to his parents fight each night when the lights went out.  How he tried not to listen, but also wanted to hear what was being said.  How he buried his head in his pillow and then tried to forget the terrible things he'd heard when he woke each morning.  Jean Marc's expressive explanation of how this emotionally influenced him as a child slammed me straight back to my own small home where my parents fought 24/7.  Yelling, screaming, hitting, crying .... deposit after deposit of heightened emotional turmoil into the heart of a child.  How can we possibly avoid those early monsters ushered in by the adults we love?

In another scene, Jean Marc describes how as a teen / very young adult he was violently raped by a large, brutish stranger.  The audience sat holding our breath as we listened to Jean Marc's moving confessional.  How he sat outside on a park bench for two days after the incident, numb and dying inside, angered by those who had hurt him.  After the rape, the monsters in Jean Marc came into full force, determined to not only hurt others but to also hurt himself.  It's a punishment we need to inflict on ourselves.  Somehow we blame ourselves as a way to hide, to push the pain we can't bare away.  Let me feel this and that and whatever other horrible thing I can so as to wipe all this other stuff away.  In the end, it's an emotional trap.

At Monkdogz' exhibition of Jean Marc's work (which runs through tomorrow), artist Esther Barend and I talked about the scene and I said to her, "I've never been raped like that ....but I feel like I have." 

Isn't that a ballsy thing to say?  Should I be ashamed? 

No, because perhaps you and I haven't experienced exactly what happened to Jean Marc that terrible day, but we may have felt some of the same emotions.  Being used, physically hurt, and/or severely mistreated by someone bigger, stronger, and domineering causes a universal pain.  Jean Marc had the guts to tell us how it feels and as we listened, we knew we were hearing something profoundly honest.

The third scene that indelibly sticks with me is one in which Jean Marc describes how he stumbled upon art, and how doing so saved his life.  This is the part that reminds me of Jesus. 

I grew up being told that Jesus is the answer to everything.  I know there are millions of people out there who believe and will testify to the healing power of that message.  I've heard all the testimony.  I was spoon fed the information for year upon year, the same years that my own monsters were developing. 

Jean Marc describes how he stumbled upon some buckets of paint during the lowest point in his life, a time when he was literally taking his own life.  In a drug induced rage, he "fought" with the paint and the surfaces nearest to him as if it were all an extension of his misery, anger, and hopelessness. 

In my own way, I've experience a similar struggle.  I channeled life into something inanimate and then struggled with it.  I fought with it as if to save my life somehow.  In a fit of rage, I once sat in my car on the side of the road and violently ripped an entire bulky textbook apart into tiny pieces as if it was all that I hated, all that I wanted to conquer in myself that I couldn't pull forth and destroy.  Instead the book became something alive that I could hurt and once I started, I couldn't stop; I ripped every single page to shreds as if it were the flesh and blood of a person being ripped from its spine, and then I ripped the front and back covers from the stringy, tight center. It was in that same week that I also attempted to take my own life.

Such was Jean Marc's nightmarish battle times 1,000, and in the end, he stepped back and saw his emotions.  I too, saw my emotions in the mutilation of something I loved most in the world (books).  Maybe in some way, you've seen yours.  For Jean Marc, it was magnified and redemptive because in that moment he found salvation. 

He found art.

Jean Marc's remarkable discovery was the scene that brought back to me the idea of art being like Jesus ... the reason for the season.  The end of the road, the pot of gold we search for in all our suffering and flight from whatever monsters and demons life has shown us, and from those we've created for ourselves.

We're all apples and oranges of some sort, but in our heart of hearts, we're all human.  The depth of our capacity to experience love, shame, hatred, joy, degradation, etc. likely varies but our ability to feel it, to recognize it, lies deep in the kernel of who we are. 

Dominic Allan's CALVET takes one man's struggle and shows us our own.

I'll continue to think about art being like Jesus, and wonder if it could ever give us eternal salvation. It's a perplexing question because for Jean Marc, it just may do that.  His may be the testimony heard through the ages. The call others continue to hear when they seem to have nothing left.

If you get a chance, go see the movie.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wwoy3oocw9c]

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6527212 September 15, 2011

Penn Jillette: Magic Hole Puncher

"I don't have any powers others don't have; I just have a different job."

Yesterday afternoon, I rode the train into Manhattan to spend a few hours at Monkdogz Urban Art, the gallery that represents my art.  In my arms I carried a roll of my recent paintings, all on unstretched canvas secured by two large rubber bands.  The plan was to share some of my new work with gallery owners, Bob Hogge and Marina Hadley.

The good news is: they liked it; they handed me a drink, gave me a cookie, and didn't fire me.

The bad news is: I left New York with a profound empty twist in my gut. It was wrapped around the gnawing truth that, in the end, no one can provide validation.  Sprinkled on top was the disgusting realization that I've known this for years, yet I can't shake my addictive pursuit.  External approval of all the creative things I work so hard to achieve will never fill the holes punched in my psyche.  I realized that if the overwhelming need to paint has become my main source of therapy, then I must paint a deeper truth. My friend, artist, Jean Marc Calvet wrote to me about this today.  He said, "Go inside the hole (don't be afraid) and you will find what you lost," and I know he's right. Otherwise it all becomes a meaningless, time filling duty, a job no one wants.

In looking at the work with Bob and Marina, I was jittery and uncomfortable.  I'd brought a few pieces that hold less meaning for me, and as we gazed at them, they wilted and grew lifeless.  On the other hand, the ones that have profound significance left me feeling exposed, as if we were all staring at my naked body in the worst sort of light. Those were the monstrous ones, and as I looked at them, I saw myself, a living, breathing freak, simultaneously full and empty.  But I knew there was much more where that came from; it wasn't enough.

If I can't put myself fully on the canvas than there's no point for me in art. Finding a way into the hole is why I'm driven to paint.  I need to take a deep breath and get on with it. I'm not sure why yet or who gave it to me, but that's my real job, my life's work.

With that in mind, I went home, spread my fingers through the paint, and literally felt my way into the start of a new painting.  It's messy, juvenile, and ugly but it looks like what I am, and I'm determined to push forward in that direction.

My guest today, Penn Jillette, of the famed Penn & Teller, says he has no creative powers that others lack; he just has a different job. Speaking of powers, Penn has written a book that seems to effortlessly punch holes in religion. He escorts us into that space many refuse to acknowledge or explore. My mother would likely burn this book based on the title alone: God, No!: Signs You May Already Be an Atheist and Other Magical Tales.   In the book, Penn takes readers on a roller coaster of exploration and flips conventional religious wisdom on its ear to reveal that doubt, skepticism, and wonder -- all signs of a general feeling of disbelief -- are to be celebrated and cherished, rather than suppressed.

I have no magic either nor do I fully understand where creative ability or drive comes from, who gives it to us, or how we can be rid of it once blossomed.  I'd love to believe that God gifted me with the same special packet Picasso, Pollock, and Kandinsky received on their way to Earth. Maybe he did and maybe he didn't. 

The point is: we're all made of the same basic biological building blocks. Those complex blocks usually get dragged through some level and form of crap as we make our way.  As the dark, stinking mess we're struck with races up our noses, splashes into our eyes, and seeps between our teeth, we reach into our packet and yank out whatever seems as if it can save us. Even if I did get Picasso's packet, a million other people may also be toting around the same bag of tricks. 

Who's fully utilizing it and what does it all mean?  Whose job is it to find out?  I'd love to sit down to dinner with Penn and discuss this at some point. 

Maybe someday it will happen.  After all, I do believe in magic.  I'm a freak.


What's your story? How did you end up in the comedy / entertainment field, and are you surprised by your success?

I'm from Greenfield, a small factory town in Western Massachusetts. I learned to juggle when I was 12 and got good. I met Teller while I was still in high school and "got out" (not really graduated) of high school on a plea bargain. I wanted to be a great existential writer and live in Paris, but I went to Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Clown College instead. I hitchhiked around the country and hopped trains, did a lot of street performing, and put a show together with Teller. I gave up on Paris but not on being an existential writer. I'm more successful than I ever dreamed I could be. The first person I met in showbiz was me. I didn't know this was possible for anyone, never mind me.

You've have an interesting, successful career that seems to be going well. What made you decide to write a God, No!: Signs You May Already Be an Atheist and Other Magical Tales?

Glenn Beck challenged me to write about atheist morality. I got carried away.

With regard to the book, was there an "ah-ha" moment you can tell us about?

Yeah, when I realized that proselytizing really was very good thing - the backbone of the marketplace of ideas.

Each novel I write seems to change my life or create a shift in my thinking or perception in some way. Did writing the book change or impact your life in any way that perhaps goes beyond other creative work that you do?

Yes, I've talked to a lot of religious people because of this book and the more I talk with them, the more I like them. I respect and love people, even when I don't like their ideas.

In general, how does creativity factor into comedy writing? Where do you get most of your ideas?

I rarely write jokes. I never wanted to be in comedy. It just seems when I tell the truth, I like to tell it funny. But, I don't ever like to do any joke that isn't true to me.

Do you believe some of the various attributes related to being creative have caused you aberrations (issues) in life, helped you deal with life's aberrations, or both? How so?

I don't think "creativity" is anything "magic" or even special. I think we're all just doing our best. I don't have any powers others don't have; I just have a different job.

Have you ever had to deal with people in your life failing to understand some of the personality traits, interests, or drive that go along with being creative? If so, can you tell us about it and how you've dealt with it?

It's kind of the same answer. The people who don't understand when I get jacked up and rant and pull focus . . . are right -- that's just a lack of self control on my part. It's sometimes hard for my family to understand that I need to sit and think to do my job. But, that's hard for me to understand, too. It might be a lazy lie.

Have you developed a specific process that enables you to meet your professional goals? If so, can you tell us about it, and also share any thoughts you may have on the role of discipline and organization?

I do the opposite of procrastination, to a fault. I leave my "in box" empty. I do everything when I'm asked to do it. As soon as I can. This request came in and I wrote it. I didn't wait until I had time to do it. I try to be early on everything. I fail now and again, but I try to just do it.

"You've got to do it, till your through it, so you better get to it" - Elvis Costello.

Were there specific challenges to writing the book that you can share with us?

See above, all of my challenges are time. I have so much more that I want to do than I can do. I don't ever get to sit down and write a book. All of my books have been written in stolen moments. When I have 15 minutes -- I write. I can't warm up and put it off. It's all done in the spaces, and I love it that way, but I sometimes think of what it would be like to have a 10 hour writing day. It seems great, but maybe I couldn't work that way.

Will there be more Penn Jillette books?

Yes, whether published or not, I'm always writing. I love it. My sister always said that she saw me first as a writer, and she knew me better than I know myself.

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6527212 July 29, 2011

Minya: A Creative Lifestyle

"Creativity is a lifestyle. I think that at some point in life one has to decide if he or she wants to follow their creativity and search for alternative ways, or to accept solutions and decisions that have already been established."

Einstein said, "The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and all science. He to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer pause to wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead, his eyes are closed." 

This is particularly comforting to me today.  I've been sitting here worrying about the fact that I'm still a mystery to myself after 45 years.  I won't share the details but I've recently been reminded (once again) that despite all my education and achievements, I have the spirit of a child.  She dominates when she should be off frolicking in some back corner of my mind, picking imaginary, sun-drenched daisies while she hums a happy tune. 

At times, I'm confident that the little girl who won't go away is responsible for my ability to create interesting artwork, think outside the box, break rules (most of the time in positive ways now), get blissfully lost in my imagination, and in conjunction with my mature brain, make connections others do not.  I love that aspect of her resistance to stand back.  I just wish the world were structured in a way that would enable the two of us to be more comfortable.  I wish we could have our cake and eat it, too.  Most of the time, she's eating the cake and I'm starving. 

My guest today, artist Minya, notes that all children are in some way artists. At an early stage, the vast majority of us danced, sang, colored, banged on pots and pans, and pretended to be all kinds of things.  I made salads out of plants; played house for hours; colored a thousand pictures with crayons and magic markers; pretended I was chewing gun when I couldn't sleep; and made a mansion for my paper dolls out of flattened boxes ... among other things.  As Minya says, all children explore their imagination, but sometimes I think I went overboard out of necessity.  For some of us, especially those wired to be highly imaginative, pretending offers a unique brand of solace in the midst of dysfunctional situations.

I didn't fully emerge from my early flight of fancy until I was about twelve.  When I finally peered into reality, I didn't cope very well.  As a child, there was a part of me who was sucking life in, processing, and analyzing.  That girl filed a tremendous amount of information away with the idea that she might deal with it later.

Hello!

Now I realize why the kid is so strong and the other so often weak. I realize why I'm still more comfortable in the role of the playful, imaginative girl whose willing to notice and take in what swirls around her, but prefers to shove it to the side, sending it to the auto processing file rather than deal with it. 

My goal is to keep aiming to balance myself while embracing the creativity that still fuels my spirit.  Several years ago, after fighting it, I decided to choose creativity as a lifestyle.  It suits me best and feels right.  I'm still transitioning in many ways.  I'm evolving just as I did when I chose as a young adult to put limits on my creativity, to squelch it so that I could live the type of life everyone expected of me.  Doing so had its rewards, but finally I realized there is no true choice, only a battle.  We are who we are, and it's best to accept the wiring we were allotted on production day.  

Minya tells us that her paintings symbolically illustrate the journey mankind has made – from prehistory and cave painting, to modern technologies and ways of communication used today (computers, TV, phones).  Her work metaphorically comments on actual events and contemporary life.  Maybe at a philosophical level, Minya's work somehow expresses how I've evolved from the day I decided to lump disproportionate paper dolls made by different toy companies together (because that's how real people are, thought the little girl), and play out their lives on a 6' x 6' detailed cardboard blueprint of the home I wanted to have.


The week I spent making the paper doll house was like any other.  I could have chosen to play outside.  I could have watched television all week.  I could have done anything but I didn't.  I had an idea, a concept, and was driven to create something that was unique and unavailable to me by any other means.  I didn't care that nobody wanted to do it with me.  I was willing to do the work, and I made it a reality.

But as Minya points out, it's important to understand that the work is never completely finished.  I see that now; I won't stop again.   
    

Have you always know you would be an artist? How has your artistic life evolved?

I believe that all children in their early stages when they start communicating with their environment, are in some way artists! They express their deepest and most sincere emotions in a straightforward way: by dancing, singing or drawing. Some of them continue to analyze their feelings and environment throughout their life by expressing themselves in some form of art. I am one of those! My artistic expression has changed and evolved during my growing up: my artistic research became more complex and articulated following my interests, and so did the materials and techniques I’m using.

How would you best describe your personality, and how your art relays that to the world.

I am, by nature, a person who notices and carefully studies their surroundings. I define my artistic expression methodically and with a lot of attention. My works represent, in a metaphorical sense, commentaries on actual events and contemporary life.

With regard to your current creative focus, was there an "ah-ha" moment you can tell us about?

Those “moments” do occur, they come periodically.  They represent turning points in my creative phases. They happen occasionally but do not come out of the blue! They are the result of a continuing work.  It has happened several times that, while working on one series of works, when I’m most satisfied and inspired, that “moment” strikes and suddenly a rather different painting comes out! That moment I recognize as a turning point, the beginning of a new series. That somehow happens naturally and easily and I know exactly what I need to do next, as if there is some kind of recipe I have to follow.

You do quite a bit of work on Plexiglas. Can you tell us a little bit about how you came to appreciate this medium and what draws you to it?

Plexiglas is a material that in a way imposed itself to me in past few years, as it is a perfect medium for expressing my artistic thoughts. It is, as a material, in contrast with the natural pigments I use for painting. With this contrasting effect I want to point out a very interesting fact: during history people always wanted to catch the moment they live in, to register what is happening around them at that instant. They wanted to record it and to send a message to the following generations. Through my paintings I symbolically illustrate the journey mankind has made – from prehistory and cave painting, to modern technologies and ways of communication used today (computers, TV, phones). In my paintings that is depicted with natural pigments on the smooth surface of Plexiglas.

I also like the transparent nature of the material. I apply pigments on both sides of Plexiglas but at the same time I take great care of areas that will remain transparent. When finished, my works are mounted on the wall with the distance of few inches from it, hence creating shadows behind painted parts that can be seen through transparent ones. This, as a result, creates the impression of visual depth and third dimension

Do you believe some of the various attributes related to being highly creative have caused you aberrations (issues) in life, helped you deal with life's aberrations, or both?

Creativity is a lifestyle. I think that at some point in life one has to decide if he or she wants to follow their creativity and search for alternative ways, or to accept solutions and decisions that have already been established. Naturally, rules and codes of conduct exist in every society, but it is for each individual to decide how they will relate to them. That is one of the aspects I like to explore in my works. With straight lines and arranged square forms I want to suggest those rules, control and regulations. On the other hand, free hand movements and paint drippings suggest the “human factor”: creativity, surprise factor, unpredictability, improvisation. I personally have chosen improvisation and creativity as my contribution to the society I live in.

In what ways does art sooth or inspire you during difficult or challenging times?

During the creative procedure, the artist is exempt from all boring, trifling, everyday rules and procedures that make life complicated. They are free to express themselves and act free of any social and bureaucratic constrains. The artist is completely alone, with their tool to create anything they want – that feeling is elating and makes you feel limitless.

Have you ever had to deal with people in your life failing to understand your creative personality, interests, or drive? If so, can you tell us about it and how you've dealt with it?

I was blessed to grow up in a family of artists, both of my parents are painters. I was surrounded by people who understand and appreciate art ever since I can remember. That experience prepared me and gave me ability to search and find an appropriate interlocutor through my life.

Have you developed a specific creative process that enables you to meet your artistic goals? If so, can you tell us about it. Where do most of your ideas come from?

For me, every new painting I create represents an individual research. It is primarily with relation to the technique, but also regarding the artistic concept. New discoveries, experiments but also new casual effects, contribute that one idea evolves through its transformation. My ideas breed slowly and before I present them to the general public they have to go through a complex process of maturation.

What do you believe places an artist apart from his or her peers? So many are highly talented, but what makes one stand out as truly gifted?

What distinguishes one artist from another, and sets them apart is their ability to present their artistic idea. It is important that an effort of research and study of a certain phenomenon is shown. Experimentation and research of new and original ways of expression, new materials and modern technologies are also essential. More interesting, intelligent and courageous those ideas are - more brilliant and extraordinary is the artist himself.

What is your primary motto or mantra in life? Why is this important to you?

I think it is essential that one never considers their work completely finished.

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6527212 March 11, 2011

Astronomical Odds: Douglas Preston

"I know some writers who like to talk about it more than they do it, who've been writing a book for ten years."

If you've been following my blog, you know that I've been writing novels for over twenty years.  I've also been working full time, among other things that tend to suck up time.  One thing I can say for myself is that I've been consistent and dedicated.  Over the years, I've fought diligently to find time to write. 

And I have won that battle.

When I began painting three years ago, I viewed it as a crazy experiment.  With that said, I had a powerful urge for it.  All I wanted to do at that time was experience the feeling of sliding a brush dabbed in gooey paint across white canvas.  I wanted to know what that would feel like because I had so vividly experienced it in my mind.  It was similar to the desire for food, water, sex ... deep,  urgent, and animalistic.  I never believed I had the ability to create visual art despite my sometimes alarmingly active imagination.  I grew up assuming that every mind contained the same dynamic world that exists in mine.  That everyone could envision the detail, color, and complexity that I create and see in my head. 

I came to realize that's not the case. 

Just when I was beginning to think that I had pieced together the puzzle of who I am, I picked up that paint brush and bam! I realized I had only been focusing on one area of a puzzle that is much larger and more complex.  I'm still trying to understand and define my creative place in the world, but after twenty years of writing and only three years of painting, I realize that it's not exactly what I thought it was.

I don't know how many years my guest, bestselling author Douglas Preston, has been writing.  What I do know is that he's written over twenty successful books. 

In his interview, Douglas shares how he got his big start.  He was working at the American Museum of Natural History when he got a call from Lincoln Child, an editor at St. Martin's Press, asking if he'd be interested in writing a book. 

Twenty-five books later ... the rest is history.

What are the odds of that happening, you ask?  They're likely astronomical.  However, something similar happened to me.  When I was working at Johnson & Johnson, an editor from McGraw-Hill called to ask if I'd ever thought of writing a book.  The result was my first book, Six Sigma for Business Excellence.

So the immature, emotional child in me asks with a pout on my face, "How does Douglas now have twenty-five books published and I have only two?" 

The adult visionary in me replies, "Who cares?  Things happen for a reason."  I'm content with my journey, no matter how hard fought it may be.  My philosophy is that if I keep moving down my own personal road, I'll eventually reach my destination.  I don't care how many years it takes.  It is what it is.  I am who I am.  I don't need to be Douglas Preston, or any other fantastic author out there.  I'd only fail where they succeeded. 

I have failed where they succeeded.

After just three years of painting, this month my work is being shown in an international art show in New York City curated by Monkdogz Urban Art, one of the top contemporary art galleries in the world.  I've been told that the odds of that happening are beyond astronomical. 

My third book, Centerpieces, will be launched this summer. 



What's your writing story?

I had been writing a column in the magazine Natural History, published by the Museum, where I worked. An editor from St. Martin's Press named Lincoln Child, who had been reading my pieces, called me up and asked if I wanted to write a history of the Museum. I said yes -- and that became my first book, Dinosaurs in the Attic. After the book was published, I gave Linc a tour of the Museum -- at midnight. I showed him all the best places in the Museum to which I had access--the dinosaur bone storage room, the collection of 30,000 rats in jars of alcohol, the whale eyeball collection, the preserved mastodon stomach with its last meal inside, and a lot of other unusual things. We ended up in the Hall of Late Dinosaurs around 2:00 a.m., with only the emergency lights on, the great black skeletons looming in the darkness around us--and Linc turned to me and said: "Doug, this is the scariest damn building in the world. Let's write a thriller set in here." And that was the birth of Relic, and of our partnership.

Was there someone in particular who inspired you to love books and/or take an interest in writing?

There are certain teachers and librarians who encouraged me -- most particularly the late Darcy O'Brien, who was a professor at Pomona College where I went to school. He was writing his novel, A Way of Life, Like Any Other, when I took a creative writing class from him, and he shared with us the drafts of his novel. It was an extraordinary experience. His novel was rejected by 26 publishers and finally published--and then it won the prestigious Hemingway Award! So he was both a great teacher and a lesson in the perversity of the publishing business.

Where do most of your creative ideas come from?

They come from every direction -- from personal experience to articles in magazines, news stories, factoids on the web, and most of all from my extensive world travels. The key is always being open to a new idea, because we are surrounded by a sea of brilliant ideas, if only we can open our eyes and see them.

With regard to your current creative focus, was there an "ah-ha" moment you can tell us about?

I was doing research on potter's fields when I came across a strange factoid: that in New York City, sometimes limbs amputated in hospitals are not treated as medical waste, but are placed in a small coffin and buried on Hart Island, New York City's enormous potters field. I called up Linc and in twenty minutes we had worked out the basic plot to Gideon's Sword.

Do you believe some of the various attributes related to being highly creative have caused you aberrations in life, helped you deal with life's aberrations, or both? How so?

Both. It may have made me difficult to deal with at times, but I find the writer's life to be ideal, for me, if a bit lonely, and I have no regrets.

Have you ever had to deal with people in your life failing to understand your creative personality, interests, or drive? If so, can you tell us about it and how you've dealt with it?

Sometimes people don't respect a writer's working time. I've been interrupted by people in the middle of the day for various trivial things -- people who, for example, would never call me in the middle of the day if I were a corporate lawyer or an auto mechanic. But that's rare. My family has always been very supportive. They get it.

Have you developed a specific creative process that enables you to meet your writing goals? If so, can you tell us about it, and also share any thoughts you may have on the role discipline and organization play in reaching creative goals?

Writing is like exercise or playing the violin: you have to do it every day. You have to carve out uninterrupted time. And then you have to have the discipline to stay at your desk and write, write, write. I know some writers who like to talk about it more than they do it, who've been writing a book for ten years. Sorry, unless you're writing Ulysses I don't buy it. Discipline is huge. Even after twenty five books, I find myself looking for every excuse not to write.

You're written both as a solo author, and as part of a team. What are some of the advantages and disadvantages of both scenarios?

Writing with a partner has a lot of advantages. You have someone to brainstorm with, bounce ideas off, not to mention a partner who shares your triumphs and tragedy. Writing is a lonely business. The downside is that you share credit for a piece of work. But for me, that's not at all a problem. Linc is the best writing partner anyone could ask for.

You've also written both fiction and nonfiction. How do you see creativity playing a role in nonfiction?

Creativity plays a huge role in nonfiction. Real life is messy, formless, sprawling, and mostly boring. The key with nonfiction is to extract the story from this formless mass, to boil it down to its key elements, to order it so the reader can follow it--and on top of that, to be absolutely accurate both in fact and in spirit. This to me is more difficult than fiction and it takes a great creativity.

What's next for Douglas Preston?

I'm working with Linc on a new Gideon novel, Gideon's Corpse. We're having a wonderful time writing this book.

What is your primary motto or mantra in life? Why is this important to you?

Compassion. The word says it all.

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6527212 November 22, 2010

The Mind of an Artist: Karin Perez

" ... almost every single "normal" person has a hard time understanding the way my mind works."

Lately a few folks have asked me to describe how my mind works.  To address the question, I focused on things such as how I can zoom from detail to big picture and back to detail, or how I can manage to do a variety of different things at once while heads spin around me.

I didn't go into detail about how I sometimes notice things other people don't, but then miss the obvious element the crowd is busy focusing on.  That aspect is often tough to explain; I summed it up by saying that I'm creative.  Over the years, I've struggled to understand myself so that I can make the most use of my skills in a world that seems to best support the top of the bell curve. 

My guest today, artist Karin Perez, says that most "normal" folks don't understand how her mind works.  This comment brings up my suspicion that artists have a unique mental capacity or brand of focus.  I suspect that most folks would likely agree.  Somewhat like the LGBT crowd, artists come in all varieties.  We long to live unhampered by so called "regular" folks out there. We hope to be understood. We support each other. Many succeed, but some of us struggle at times, in closets, behind closed doors, ... or everywhere.  We are yet another variety of the square peg in a world of round holes.

I've gone through several phases in my life when I wished I was just like everybody else. Of course, everyone is unique, but let's face it, there are subsets or types of people out there, some more common than others. Even with the best intentions, stereotyping runs rampant.

When I was 24-years-old, I relocated to New Jersey from Louisiana in the Spring of 1991.  I was immediately amazed and mesmerized by how brilliantly green everything was. One morning, I made the comment at work, "The grass is so green!"  A not-so-nice woman looked at me like I was an idiot, and said, "Yes, well, grass is green."  Everyone laughed and in their eyes, I became someone much less intelligent than I am. 

That was before I understood the artist in me, and why the green of Spring in New Jersey so captured my attention.  Why I would notice that particular aspect of my new environment.  Why I became so focused on it, and why I wanted to talk about it. 

Now I realize that not everyone makes such observations, or puts such emphasis on them. Was it important?  Maybe not to that sarcastic woman I worked with, but it was to me, a young person desperately trying to adjust to a new culture.  A home sick misfit who'd never lived anywhere other than the Deep South.  In that green grass, something unique called to me.  I'd found a jewel that made me believe I could come to love my new home, that I could be part of it, and that perhaps I'd come to the right place.  It signified new life, something I desperately wanted no matter how much I missed my old one. 

So a comment that made me the work-place laughing stock held a tremendous amount of passion, observation, and significance for me.  I was expressing exactly who I was, but they were blind to it.  Now I know that the blind can't help but miss these things just as much as I can't avoid seeing them.  That's the world we live in.

Now, like Karin, I no longer feel an intense need to explain how my mind works.  After years of generating laughs based on seemingly off-the-wall comments and strange observations, I now understand where it comes from. I'm proud to be me, even when a blind world laughs.

What's your story (in a nutshell)? How long did it take to establish yourself as an artist? Was the journey on a straight or twisted path? Are you surprised by your success?

It's so hard to tell one's story, though each and everyone of us has one thing at least, that defines him/her from the other. I started my artistic life as something completely different. Ever since I was a young girl I was dancing, and this passion and dedication made me a professional dancer. That motivation is certainly something that defines me, that gets me where I want to go. After studying visual communication (while dancing), I started working as a graphic designer, and continued as an artistic director in one of Israel most creative multimedia companies.

After giving birth and moving with my family to Paris, I felt like my creative desire needed to find a new path.  With with my husband's support, I started painting with an immediate appreciation and interest from people and professionals. That was seven years ago.  Right from the beginning I was fascinated by this new way of expression and interaction with myself and others. My voice found a new path.

With regard to your current creative focus, was there an "ah-ha" moment you can tell us about?

There were many "ah ha" moments, but one that is definitely significant was starting to work in figurative art. When I discovered the process of photographing nudes and self portraits, and started using them, that was very new to me and something I would never have thought I'll do ... a very exciting new zone...  Another "ah ha" was starting to work with the NY gallery, Monkdogz Urban Art, owned by two wonderful people, Bob Hogge and Marina Hadley. Bob is working with his artists on a different level of commitment, and by doing so I'm able to really let go and not think about other peoples thoughts about my work, being really a part of it and free.

For you, is art more about creation or expression? It could be both, but does one dominate with regard to your need/urge/desire to be an artist and why?

I think that weighing those two for me is impossible. Both definitely motivate me.

Many artist focus on one particular subject or style. How important is this for career development? Have you ever grown tired of painting the same types of things, and if so, can you tell us about it?

I think that for an artist it's very important to develop his own language, to create his own different world. It's like every human being has his own voice and nobody else sounds like him ... I believe that looking at an artist's work and recognizing it easily is a turning point. Once you have that,  you are unique.

Do you believe some of the various attributes related to being highly creative have caused you aberrations in life, helped you deal with life's aberrations, or both?

But off course it did! :-) Aren't we all (artists) a little bit scratched?

Have you ever had to deal with people in your life failing to understand your creative personality, interests, or drive? If so, can you tell us about it and how you've dealt with it?

Oh yes, almost every single "normal" person has a hard time understanding the way my mind works.  It's always about explaining (which I hate and usually won't do) my works, my decisions, my choices. I think that interesting art shouldn't be comprehensive from first glance, and should raise some questions in the viewers mind.  The viewers are participant of the work, which makes the work more interactive.

Have you developed a specific creative process that enables you to meet your artistic goals? If so, can you tell us about it. Where do most of your ideas come from?

Most of my ideas come from my restless mind ... from imagination and images that are voyagers in my mind, for a second or for a long time, they will find their way to the canvas.

What do you believe places an artist apart from his or her peers? So many are highly talented, but what makes one stand out as truly gifted?

I think that what makes an artist really stand out is his determination, passion, and motivation. As you stated in the question, there are so many talented people, so in order to stand out is really about how dedicated you are to your art, how much do you invest in it in terms of commitment.

What is your primary motto or mantra in life? Why is this important to you?

My primary motto in life is to live in the present because you don't really know what will happen tomorrow (how banal) ... I believe that in most of my doing I am truthful to this motto, yet off course
you have other obligations to other people, so you can't really live like that 100% of the time, but you can try.

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