Book Launch For My Latest Book
For those in the North Bay area, I’m pleased to announce that a local independent bookstore will be holding a launch for my latest book, Going Home: Cycling Through The Heart Of America. I’ll be reading a few short excerpts from it and signing copies.
It will be at Gulliver’s Books (157 Main West, North Bay, Ontario) on Thursday, February 6th, from 7:30 to 9 pm. More information can be found here: http://www.kenstange.com/NOLL/events.html
Gulliver’s has been supporting local writers for 25 years, as well as bringing in writers from elsewhere in Canada for book launches. The founders are Suzanne and Bernard Brooks, who are now retiring. However, Gulliver’s is still open and soon ownership will be transferred to a co-op devoted to supporting independent bookstores and their personal commitment to their customers.
More information about Gulliver’s can be found on their website: http://gulliversbookstore.com
Writers’ Traits (Quirks?)
When I was still warping young minds in my “Intro Psychology” course, I tried to emphasize the fact that we all have personal ‘issues’, problems for which psychologists have a label. It is just that the degree to which the problem is serious varies greatly. Unfortunately the label usually doesn’t include any such qualifier. So when describing someone by that label, the implicit implication is that he or she is at the extreme end of the scale.
We all get ‘depressed’, but it isn’t necessarily severe or chronic enough to need treatment or lead to repeated suicide attempts or complete withdrawal from the real world. We all have addictions. We all have memory problems. We all have learning problems. We even all have hallucinations, but not so constantly or intense as to motivate destructive behaviour, as with someone who has schizophrenia.
Some of those ‘problems’ (which are better described as behavioural tendencies) are more common in certain occupations. (Or genders or countries or income status.) Writers are known for some specific ones, which often are assumed to be related to their creativity.
I’m hesitant to generalize, but I think I’m reasonably aware of my own tendencies. And I’ve been thinking about how common they are to other writers.
Writers’ Traits: Allegedly Common Ones
I’ve taught a course on the psychology of art (and creativity) for several decades, and I’ve always been interested in the nature of creativity. One of the course topics is what personality traits are frequently attributed to creative people in different fields and whether there is actually any supporting empirical evidence for the typical stereotype, for often stereotypes do contain a grain of truth.
Some of the less favourable characteristics (included in the DSM, the psychologists’ diagnostic manual) that frequently are assumed to be typical of writers include the following.
- Anti-social behaviour
- Depression or Bipolar Disorder
- Attention Deficit Disorder
- Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder
How valid are these associations?
Writers’ Traits: Generalizations
Generalizations are dangerous. Forgive this didactic digression from the topic, but you can take this lecturer out of the lecture hall, but you can’t make him stop lecturing. Ask my long-suffering wife.
Generalizations are dangerous because they are often misinterpreted. And they are misinterpreted because people don’t know (or appreciate) what an average means, and they have no knowledge of measures of variability or how they are absolutely essential to understanding the meaning of an average.
Quick example! Consider the difference between these two sets of exam grades.
· 10%, 20%, 30%, 40%, 50%, 60%, 70%, 80%, 90%
· 50%, 50%, 50%, 50%, 50%, 50%, 50%, 50%, 50%
The average—at least the commonest ones reported (the mean and the median)—is 50% for both groups. However, the variability is obviously very different. But you wouldn’t know that, or assume that, if you only knew the averages.
If I were to report to my students that their ‘average’ exam mark was a 50%, many of them would assume 50% was a typical score. (At least before I gave them this lecture!)
So before I dare make any generalizations about writers, I wanted to emphasize this. I strongly suspect that the variability among writers is extremely substantial. As I blithely make generalizations, I constantly think of writers I know that fail to fit them. These are not “exceptions that prove the rule”, but they are a caveat about assuming that I’m assuming little variability. I’m not.
Writers’ Traits: Anti-Social Behaviour
I don’t mean ‘anti-social’ in the sense that criminals are anti-social. I’m just using it to mean not being very sociable or being annoying to many people for their behaviour in a social situation.
Loosely speaking the term that psychologists use for not being very sociable is the trait of introversion. It has common into common usage, and most of us could say whether they think someone is introverted or extroverted. The actual attempts at researching whether (on average) writers are more introverted or extroverted seems to strongly indicate introversion.
However, we judge people we know by selective (and thus biased) sampling, in this case, by when we’re with them. Here, I can speak from personal experience. I suspect most people who have been in my company would say I’m fairly extroverted. I’m not. I need my solitude and get cranky when I can’t get away from other people and be alone—even people I love. But when I’ve had my solitude fix and venture out of my study, I happen not to be shy or withdrawn. Then I actually savour social interaction, and probably give the impression of being quite outgoing. I’m sure my situation isn’t unique. Writers have to spend a lot of time alone. Writing is a very solitary vocation.
And when it comes to writers being annoying to many people, I think it’s fair to say that is true. (I know I can be.) All creative people, in any endeavour, are bound to be, for creativity always involves challenging convention in some way. And this has to annoy a lot of people. You don’t win any popularity contests by such deviation, for it is an implicit criticism of those who conform.
So as to writers being ‘anti-social’, no and yes.
Launch For My Latest Book
Gulliver’s Books (157 Main St. West, North Bay) is hosting a launch for my latest book tonight, Going Home: Cycling Through The Heart Of America. It’s at 7:30, so I’m thinking more about what excerpts to read than about writers’ traits.
Your Man Friday’s Ideas: Everything Can Be Faked
How do you find reliable evidence of anything at all? Memories are notoriously unreliable, and there is plenty of scientific research showing that eyewitness evidence is not to be trusted. (For example, see the studies by Elizabeth Loftus.) YouTube has thousands of examples of the ease with which audio recordings can be altered. But the evidence we probably were most accustomed to trusting is photographic. But not anymore!
Man Friday links here: http://kenstange.com/yourmanfriday/?p=1568
The Book Launch
The launch at Gulliver’s Books on Thursday for my book, Going Home: Cycling Through The Heart Of America, went well. Like doing a literary reading, these events involve leaving the secure solitude of one’s study and suddenly being the centre of attention. Naturally some relish this, but others are very uncomfortable in that sort of social situation. Having taught for 40 year to classes (sometimes of as many as 200), I’m fairly comfortable. (Although some of my students certainly weren’t always giving me their undivided attention.)
At these book launches you have to, at least in some ways, take on the role of a sales person. Although presumably you sincerely believe in the value of your product, it still is a difficult role for many writers to assume. It certainly is for me, for I couldn’t sell a glass of water to a man dying of thirst.
Like all self-promotion, it is something that writers often are not very good and as well as very uncomfortable doing. (I fall in that category.) But it is valuable for increasing readership—which does matter to writers.
Unfortunately, the opportunities for doing it are decreasing as the number of independent bookstores diminishes. It is just one more reason to mourn the passing of the independent bookseller. All readers should support the remaining local bookstores, just as they have supported local writers.
Gulliver’s is a fine exemplar. The owners, Suzanne and Bernard Brooks, have been wonderfully supportive of the local literary community for over 25 years.
Writers’ Traits: Depression And Bi-Polar Disorder
If you read about the lives of many writers, you might be left with the impression that they’re almost all crazy. The problem is with defining ‘crazy’. But even if one focuses just on depression and extreme mood swings, these seem atypically common. But then the definition problem is simply narrowed. Everyone sometimes gets depressed and has extreme changes in mood.
This problem of definition extends to psychology. Where does one draw the line between what is normal and what should be considered ‘mental illness’? (The DMS tries to, but the criteria are quite ambiguous.) Surely depression that leads to suicide is severe enough to be considered abnormal? But apparently it is usually a temporary condition, for relatively few people who attempt suicide and fail then decide go on to give it a second try.
Nevertheless, actual research to determine the validity of the assumption that writers are at least statistically abnormal from the majority of people do seem to indicate they are indeed more prone to depression and extreme mood swings. But this really shouldn’t be surprising.
One of the causes of depression in anyone is an unreliable income, and that is certainly the case for most writers. Another is dependency on anything that is personally important and also unreliable. Writers are very dependent on their ‘muse’, and she can be as fickle as any lover. What creative person doesn’t worry that his or her creative well might run dry?
Extreme mood swings unrelated to actual life events have come to be defined as ‘bipolar disorder’, and the validity of this definition seems to be justified by its successful treatment with the drug lithium carbonate. So again, recent research suggests that in fact it is more common among all creative people.
Oh well. Everything has a price.
Writers’ Traits: Attention Deficit Disorder
ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder) or ADDH or ADHD (Attention Deficit Disorder with Hyperactivity) are—like bipolar disorder, dyslexia, and autism—more and more frequently diagnosed. Whether all—or even most—of these diagnoses are valid is often quite justifiably questioned. You name it, and I can assure you that most people have some of the defining characteristics to a greater or lesser degree. But, nevertheless, having a term for this cluster of characteristics can be useful.
Recently the ADD characteristics have been linked to creativity. Supposedly it may be an aid to creativity. Highly efficient behaviour, and learning, requires focusing exclusively on the task at hand, no matter how boring. But not being distracted means you’re not noticing things that are more interesting to you, or unusual relationships between things. And what is metaphor, if not making such unusual connections?
Another characteristic of ADD is that there is concentrated focusing on what was distracting you, just not what you’re supposed to be attending to. I can say that this true of me. When I’m writing, it has my full attention, and I’m oblivious to what is going on around me—and time passing. (This includes meal times and appointments.) But other times I’m as flighty as can be. When I’m reading the news online or surfing the Net, I’m the guy who clicks on the sidebar links competing for my attention.
So I’ll just add ADD to my list of disorders. However, it’s nice to know that some researchers view it as an adjunct to creativity.
Writers’ Traits: Obsessive Compulsive
Another acronym from psychology that most people recognize is OCD, which stands for Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. Actual OCD is a very serious and debilitating disorder, but again like most psychiatric diagnostic terms its definition includes characteristics widely shared by completely functional individuals.
I often jokingly say that I’m OCD, and that I wouldn’t hire anyone who isn’t! This is because I equate it with conscientiousness. Is it being neurotically obsessive to double-check that you really turned off the stove before going out for the day? Is it neurotic to make a point of being on time for appointments or for meeting deadlines? Is it obsessive to proofread your manuscript a second time?
Of course, it can be extreme, and that is a problem. It is, if after double-checking the stove is off, you still worry after you’re far from home. Or if you get upset if you think you’re going to be five minutes late for an appointment. Or if you’ve proofread your manuscript four times and still are stressed out after you’ve sent it on its way.
I tend to be a bit overly obsessive, and it can be annoying to others. My wife has to put up with my insisting we be at the airport so early that we have nothing to do for an hour before our flight. And it can be stressful if you pointlessly worry about something long after you can do anything about it. I’m very reluctant to read something I’ve written once it has made it into print, because I’m sure I’ll see something I should have fixed or improved.
I can’t know if most writers share these tendencies, but suspect the good ones are obsessive at least about their actual writing—although a good editor can compensate for their not being. And obsessions don’t apply to everything in one’s life. I’m not obsessive about my appearance, which my wife insists on ‘editing’, albeit with limited success. (I’ll reluctantly change out of my dirty jeans, but I won’t put on classier pants.) And I know writers whose desktops are the polar opposite from mine. It would drive me crazy to work with papers and clutter surrounding me, but I know that working amidst such a mess isn’t at all unusual among many creative people I know—whose desktops look like a burglar had rifled through their files searching for something of resale value.
I think most people are obsessive about what they really care about. For the serious writer, it has to be the writing.
Writers’ Traits: Alcoholism
Writers have a reputation for being serious drinkers—although some are even teetotallers. And drinking has a bad rep—at least in North America, which still has a nasty puritanical streak. For 13 years, Americans put up with total Prohibition! But even now drinking as much as is typical in many other countries is treated as a ‘problem’. According to the NIH (National Institute on Alcohol Abuse) anyone who has more than 14 drinks in a week is considered a “heavy drinker” and “at risk”. If that’s taken as the definition of being a heavy drinker, it’s probably fair to say a lot of writers are heavy drinkers. (I feel better knowing I’m in good company.)
Of course there are people for whom alcohol consumption is indeed a problem or ‘abuse’, and this is unquestionably a very real and common problem. Alcohol abuse is usually defined as resulting in harm to one's health, interpersonal relationships, or ability to work. That makes sense.
There are plenty of examples of writers known for being notorious imbibers who damaged their health by their habit. Just one famous example is the great poet, Dylan Thomas, who drank himself into an early grave while on a reading tour.
And such writers as Hemingway offer amble evidence of excessive drinking damaging one’s interpersonal relationships. He had four unsuccessful marriages and ruined several close friendships by his drunken behaviour.
But whether it damages a writer’s ability to work is not so clear. It certainly didn’t seem to have that effect on Dylan Thomas or Ernest Hemingway. Nor apparently did it harm other great writers such as Faulkner or Fitzgerald or the many other writers whose drinking may have been a very serious problem in other aspects of their lives.
Some writers even insist it is essential to their writing, because it gets the creative juices flowing. Or say it essential for their sanity in a world where their work is not valued sufficiently. I’m sure for them this is just a price worth paying for being able to work.
Time to again take a break from spending any time on these blog scribbles and totally immerse myself in my work-in-progress, Chicago Days: Growing Up Absurd On The South Side.
Your Man Friday’s Ideas: Enviable Uncommon Senses
It is easy and natural to assume everyone and every creature perceives the world the same way we do, but of course, this not true. A lot of apparently inexplicable animal behaviour can only be understood if we realize that they might have senses we can’t imagine—but can sometimes envy.
We have retained and developed those senses that evolved as useful for our survival, but they are different for other creatures with other needs. Here is a list of some amazing sensory capabilities that serve other members of the animal kingdom. (Any of them are worth following up on for fascinating reading.)
MAGNETIC FIELD DETECTORS AND INTUITIVE TRIGONMETRY
A surprising number of creatures can sense magnetic fields, including ants, bees, sharks, turtles, tuna, salmon, and homing pigeons, as well as many migratory birds. Even dogs, for some unknown reason, often poop in alignment with magnetic north!) And many animals seem to be able to do trigonometry intuitively. (No math course and calculator—or huge cerebral cortex—required.) Here is an amazing example of foxes using this special sense and their intuitive grasp of trig to get dinner. http://www.npr.org/blogs/krulwich/2014/01/03/259136596/youre-invisible-but-ill-eat-you-anyway-secrets-of-snow-diving-foxes
WE CAN’T KNOW WHAT A DOG’S NOSE KNOWS
Snakes have the equivalent of the olfactory epithelium we have in our noses (but tuned for different size molecules) called Jacobsen's Organ. A snake's forked tongue collects chemicals from the air and delivers it to this organ, which is located in the roof of its mouth! With it they can detect pheromones (which we can’t) that they use to find potential prey. Dogs have it too (but in their noses), and it partially accounts for their incredible sense of smell, which is estimated to be 10,000 to 100,000 times as powerful as ours.
Your Man Friday’s Ideas: Where To Read
Books are unquestionably the most portable of resources for entertainment and enlightenment. And they’ve become even more portable with the introduction of the eBook, which allows you to easily carry a huge library with you. But it’s interesting that we still often attach the personal significance of a book to where we first read it, just as we connect memorable moments in our lives with certain pieces of music. Here are some reading places that are memorable in their own right.
20 MAGNIFICENT LIBRARIES
30 BEAUTIFUL READING ROOMS
9 UNEXPECTED PLACES TO FIND BOOKS
Writers’ Motives: Money?
have stopped writing years ago if it were for the money.” I use this quotation
from Paulo Coelho as the header for this blog. I certainly don’t write these
blog entries for the money. So why am I lured back to continue with it?
I may not haul in the big bucks with my books, but it nevertheless makes more financial sense to just spend my time working on my next book. But then it also makes more financial sense for me to spend the time taking some job at minimum wage, for I’d be earning more per hour than I do writing.
Allegedly Samuel Johnson once said that "No man but a blockhead ever wrote, except for money." Well then, there are a helluva lotta blockheads out there. And clearly all poets are hopelessly blockheads, for even the most renown have to support themselves by other means.
So at least I’m in good company.
Writing is an excuse for many things, including traveling. One doesn’t “go on holidays”. One is “gathering material”. My bike trip with my son from New Orleans back up to Canada was the basis for my book Going Home: Cycling Through The Heart Of America.
Travel also acts a justification for the visual artist. My travels in Europe were the basis for a series of my digital artworks called Travellers In Europa.
Travellers In Europa: 01-Ursula In Avignon
Travellers In Europa: 02-Wolfgang In Berlin
Travellers In Europa: 04-Sophia In Istanbul
Travellers In Europa: 03 Karl In Copenhagen
Your Man Friday’s Ideas: The Idea Of Travel
The Holiday Inn used to have an ad promising “no surprises”, and one has to wonder why they thought that would have any appeal. The joy and pleasure of travel is largely in the surprises, even if some are less than delightful—such as a hotel room you have to cohabit with cockroaches. You would think anyone with any remnants of curiosity left from their childhood would remain fascinated by the idea of traveling to new and different places.
Man Friday links here: http://kenstange.com/yourmanfriday/?p=1588