Writing Exercise – “You left something behind”

I haven’t posted one of these exercises in a while. In fact, to my surprise, it has been well over a year!

To recap: My longtime writing group (we’ve been together since 1991!) does short exercises to share each time we meet, and in December 2020 I decided it might be fun to start sharing some of mine here on my blog. After about five posts I must have gotten busy in real life and forgotten to post, or maybe we cut back on exercises to make more time to talk about our own ongoing writing projects. In any case, my last “Writing Exercise” blog post was dated March 14, 2021.

Fast-forward to today. This week’s exercise prompt was the phrase “You left something behind.” I always enjoy seeing the very different responses we all bring to our meeting based on the same prompt. I had a lot of trouble thinking of something to write this time.

I’ve been working on an article about creativity and design that focuses on what has been lost by the shift toward psychology and the more linear, “scientific” process of “design thinking.” But that’s a really complex topic. I was overwhelmed thinking about doing something for writing group related to that, even though it would fit the “left behind” idea. It’s a lot of work to produce clear, simple text about a complex subject.

I then started thinking about a short story I’ve been working on. Some of my exercises have been snippets I eventually intend to stitch into that story’s overall “whole.” But I couldn’t think of anything at all related to my story to fit with this “left behind” exercise prompt.

I was starting to get desperate. Time was running out, and I had not yet begun to write anything.

Suddenly at the last minute (pretty literally), I was inspired to try my hand at poetry. Specifically something super short, like maybe haiku.

Now, I know that haiku is far more complex than just its form (three lines of five syllables, seven syllables, and five syllables). I also know that its subject matter is traditionally nature related, which my poem is not. I did, however, try to approximate the little thought break at the end of the second line that’s supposed to help you gain new insight on the relationship between the first two lines’ subject and the last line’s image or action. Amazingly, once I had the form of haiku, I was able to generate a response to this week’s prompt very quickly.

Everyone at writing group was very kind and said they liked my poem. Karen (who is a poet herself) told me I should post it on my blog.

So I am. And here it is.


Pieces of myself

Severed by fate, now useless

Breadcrumbs left behind.

(Sort of my own, lesser version of Robert Frost’s brilliant “The Road Not Taken” 🙂 )

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I don’t know what kind of tree this is, but I have to admire the tenacity with which it continually regrows branches/suckers that have been cut off.

You can see scarred burls from years of pruning all along the length of the trunk in the photo of the whole tree.

When you take a closer look, you can see the tiny beginnings of larger future growths, where skinny little twigs have emerged from the mounded remains of the first round or two of pruning.

The tree’s continual sprouting reminds me of the Hydra, that serpentine monster of Greek mythology that grew back two heads for every one that was cut off. Just a relentless life force.

Which, now that I think about it, makes me wonder: Shouldn’t we all be taking a few pointers from this tree? 😀

Posted in Creativity, Life, Nature | Tagged , , , , | 5 Comments

An Ironing man at work in his mobile cart by the street side, Virudhunagar, Tamil Nadu, India

An Ironing man at work in his mobile cart by the street side, Virudhunagar, Tamil Nadu, India

An Ironing man at work in his mobile cart by the street side, Virudhunagar, Tamil Nadu, India

I love—absolutely LOVE!—the colors in this photograph!!!

Posted in Art, “Reblogged” posts from other writers, Creativity, Photography | Tagged | 4 Comments

A podcast series worth listening to

I stumbled across a page I’d bookmarked months ago and gave a listen. Really enjoyed it and thought I’d share here. The podcast series is by “Team Deakins,” aka legendary Academy Award winning cinematographer Roger Deakins and his wife, James Ellis Deakins, who interview various people in the movie industry about their jobs and how they wound up working in film. The people they talk with (for example, actor John Turturro) are really interesting and very down to earth. Of course, they also mostly seem to have have worked with Roger Deakins on the many, many films he’s done cinematography for, so that may partly explain why the conversations seem so friendly, informal, and truly fascinating.

First, here is the podcast episode I had originally bookmarked. It’s an interview with sound designer Mark Mangini, whose film credits include Blade Runner 2049 (for which Deakins won one of his Oscars, the other being 1917). I especially love Mangini’s account first of how he gained entre to the film industry as an outsider with only the vaguest notion of how it all worked and what types of jobs even existed and then second how he slowly made the most of opportunities that came his way and developed a sense of himself and a career direction that was right for him.

Sadly, it appears that after 163 episodes, the series has gone on hiatus. The last episode I see on Spotify, from October 2021, is a discussion of Deakins’ then-new book, titled BYWAYS, containing some of his portrait and landscape still photography. Here’s that episode.

If you’re looking for info about the film industry or just love intelligent, down-to-earth conversations about creative work, I recommend this series. Team Deakins interviews directors, cinematographers, actors, production designers, writers, editors, animators, agents, etc. Just all kinds of interesting people talking about their work and their own individual pathways to success in a “glamour” field that often seems opaque and impenetrable to people with no connections (friends, family) already on the inside.

This link should get you over to the podcast series page on Spotify: https://open.spotify.com/show/4MZfJbM2MXzZdPbv6gi5lJ


Posted in Creativity, Learning, Movies and film | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Geode cake tutorial

Okay, I’ll probably never make this, but I love rocks, took a year of geology in college, and think this geode cake looks like a lot of fun. How inventive!

Posted in Creativity, Food | Tagged , | 2 Comments

Why this year’s Best Picture award dooms the Oscars to irrelevance

The last film that students watch in my film and media studies course is whatever has won the Best Picture Oscar that year. I was a little nervous to see what won this year because some of the nominees were available only through a streaming service.

Unfortunately, my fears were warranted. This year’s Best Picture winner is CODA, which you can view only if you have a subscription to Apple TV+. I do not personally want the hassle of subscribing to and then unsubscribing from Apple TV+ just to view this film. Why can’t I purchase a DVD instead? And suppose I lived in an area where broadband service was limited and I could not subscribe easily to a streaming service? How could I watch CODA then?

The lead-up to the Oscars broadcast this year was quite controversial. The show’s producer decided to relegate several of the “less important” awards to a separate ceremony, which would be then be taped and spliced into the regular Oscars broadcast. The reason given was that the Academy wanted to make its awards show more relevant to, more enjoyable for a wider audience. Or something like that.

Well, the film industry is beset by many problems beyond its annual awards broadcast, and they are all somewhat exemplified by last night’s show, which was was a train wreck. The pre-recorded awards were thrown up so rapidly, just flashing in front of viewers and then quickly rushed off screen, that a few times I didn’t even know what happened. I saw the Oscar statuette handed over, I saw an acceptance speech delivered, but I had no idea which award had just been given.

However, the biggest problem of last night’s Oscars broadcast goes beyond the show itself. The film that won Best Picture will never be available for viewing for much of that wider audience the Academy was trying to reach.


That’s right. Not unless they subscribe to Apple TV+.

You can’t even purchase a DVD of the movie that won the big award.

I’m torn about what to do with my class. I could subscribe to Apple TV+, but I feel opposed to doing so for both practical and philosophical reasons.

First the practical. I don’t like walking into class without a back-up plan. Suppose Apple TV+ removes CODA from its service by the time we reach the end of the academic term in May. Suppose the Internet service on campus goes down on the day my students are supposed to view the film. Then what? If I own the DVD, then I can at least pop it into my DVD player and show the film that way.

Second, the philosophical. I sincerely hope the film industry takes a good hard look at itself. This year’s Best Picture winner and its Apple TV+ exclusivity is a symptom of larger problems that have ben exacerbated by the pandemic’s impact on cinema. The world has changed a lot since the dawn of this industry. But even now, even as technology continually alters our viewing habits, the film industry needs to examine its core value if it wants to remain relevant. Cinema is an art form that must resist relegation to “content.” Streaming TV services should not be considered part of the film industry (in terms of Academy Award eligibility) unless films those companies produce and broadcast are also made available to all the way a theater ticket is available to all or a DVD purchase is available to all.

I love streaming, don’t get me wrong. But the world seems increasingly divided between the Haves and the Have Nots. Making me subscribe to AppleTV+ to view CODA is hardly the most egregious human rights violation ever, but it is symptomatic of the film industry’s arrogance and its lack of connection to the audience it seeks in general. Worldwide far more people would be able to view this film via DVD than will be able to view it via Apple TV+.

If the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is truly concerned about connecting with a wider audience, it will take a good hard look at whether that audience even has the ability to view and enjoy the film that wins its highest award. The annual Oscars awards show, no matter how quickly organizers hand out awards or otherwise fiddle with format, will remain irrelevant and meaningless to people who aren’t able to see the winning films and performances themselves because they lack the privilege necessary to breach streaming paywalls.

Oscar-nominated films often have a limited theatrical release. Many people viewing the Oscars broadcast last night had not yet seen the Best Picture winner. (Like me, for instance.) Thanks to Apple TV+ and the Academy’s complicity, this year for the first time since movie viewing was globally democratized by widespread adoption of videotapes and DVDs, making it possible for Best Picture winners to be seen even in the most remote corners of the world, many people who viewed the Oscars broadcast and would like to see that film will never be able to.

The Academy dooms itself to irrelevance when it sanctions paywalls by allowing a film like CODA, unavailable in any other format to non-Apple TV+-subscribers, to be eligible for the Oscar. No one can alienate that “wider audience” the Academy is seeking any more than what the Academy is doing to itself. It’s hard to imagine what could be less relevant than giving an award to a film that your viewers can never subsequently seek out and watch!

As for which film to show at the end of this academic term to students in in my film and media studies class? Well, we’ll see. I haven’t decided yet, but I am leaning toward having students watch Parasite, the film that won Best Picture two years ago, accompanied by an explanation of why I’m breaking with my annual tradition of showing the current winner.

P.S. As long as I’m ranting, let me add that I have a low opinion of Apple TV+ ever since they tried to take Charlie Brown away from children by purchasing rights to the much-loved Peanuts holiday specials and making them exclusively available via their streaming service. Only after much uproar and backlash did Apple allow PBS to broadcast the annual TV specials, as well.

Posted in Creativity, Higher education, Media studies, Movies and film, News, Popular culture, Television | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments

Fifty Years of the Corleone Family Onscreen

Tonight is the Academy Awards broadcast. I saw somewhere that there’s going to be a reunion of The Godfather cast tonight, as this year is the 50th anniversary of that film’s release. Fifty years! What a masterpiece. And this movie is still widely viewed and discussed in a way that Citizen Kane is not, which in my book means it’s the better film, not to take anything away from Citizen Kane, which I love and which is itself an achievement of astonishing genius in every single shot.

Ten years ago, one of the first blog posts I ever wrote (and the first one to get a “like,” which was confusing because I didn’t understand the WordPress ecosystem enough yet to realize that other bloggers could “like” posts and leave behind their avatar as a calling card, so to speak) was this reflection on one of The Godfather’s most iconic scenes. Seems like a good day to repost. Hope you enjoy it! 😀


Posted in Media studies, Movies and film, Popular culture | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Oh dear, more Tosa Turkey drama!

Here in my old-school Milwaukee suburb of Wauwatosa the turkey drama continues. Now the flocks are dogging delivery trucks and pestering/threatening delivery drivers. I remember watching aggressive peacocks at the zoo about this time of year when my kids were little. The only time I’ve ever seen so many peacock tail feathers in full NBC “living color” spread, like little satellite dishes surrounding the poor beleaguered females. Mating season, apparently. Could that be what’s happening with the turkeys right now? Or are they finally beginning to recognize their collective power and assert new dominance over their Tosa dominion? Here’s a link to a local television news story.


Posted in Life, Milwaukee, Nature | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

Happy Accident

An accidental photo I took of a carpet. Not really sure how it happened, and it’s blurry because my hand was moving. (I intended to take a picture of a faraway sign so I could then enlarge the photo and read the small print on the sign, LOL 😂 )

Instead I got this rainy-day, impressionistic image and decided I kind of liked it.

Posted in Creativity, Photography | Tagged , | 6 Comments

I can change my life!

I woke up before my alarm today. With faint morning light warmly hinted at through closed eyelids and still in that drowsy, relaxed process of awakening, I slowly became aware of a thought running through my consciousness. A thought fully articulated in one continually looping, complete sentence:

I can change my life.

CC BY-SA 3.0, Nick Youngson (http://www.nyphotographic.com/), Alpha Stock Images (http://alphastockimages.com/)

It’s like I was hearing someone else saying it, except it was also kind of me. You know how dreams can be so strange and sometimes a person will somehow be two people at the same time. Or you’re talking to someone in one place but then as the dream moves on, you realize that this place is also some other place. Or maybe it became some other place but the transition happened without you noticing, except that it didn’t really change, because it’s still that other place, too. I love how dreams occur in a world governed by quantum physics, LOL.

Now, if I were living in the Old Testament, hearing a voice like this would probably mean that God was speaking to me and I was about to become a prophet. However, as I’m living in 21st-century Milwaukee, a more likely scenario is that I was halfway between wakefulness and sleep and somehow thinking I was conscious but not actually there yet.

Here’s something interesting, though. About twenty minutes later, as I was drinking my first cup of coffee, checking the weather forecast, and playing Wordle (😄), that sentence kept popping into my head.

I can change my life.

And then the whole time I was in the shower, that recurring refrain switched over to sort of a call-and-response thing.

You can change your life.

I can change my life.

And then a whole series of calls/responses in which different words were emphasized.

YOU can change your life. I can change my life.

You CAN change your life. I CAN change my life.

You can CHANGE your life. I can CHANGE my life.

You can change YOUR life. I can change MY life.

You can change your LIFE. I can change my LIFE.

Okay, this was starting to be a little weird. Usually my shower time is spent planning out various things I’m going to do that day, so I’m not exactly sure why all of a sudden this morning I’d be thinking about how I can change my life. I’m actually pretty happy with how my life is, thank you very much.

But, upon reflection, I suppose my life is not ideal. (Whose is?) And maybe it would be better if a few things were different. So I’m going to work on improving those areas.

Because apparently I can change my life!

And I’m guessing that you can, too 😄

Posted in Creativity, Life | Tagged , , , | 5 Comments