What’s Next?

Tomorrow begins a two-day affair in which I will receive an honorary degree in letters from the University of Vermont, my new best friend. It’s a lovely honor meant to acknowledge a body of work, especially as it relates to my abiding interest in the creative process.

The university has supplied details of what to expect, including the specifics of the hooding ceremony, a ritual dating back to medieval times, involving velvet—presumably white to reflect the arts. The only color velvet I’ve worn for the last thirty years has been black. This alone causes me to reflect.

The event includes some beautiful meals, parking passes, bar-coded tickets, an escort, hotel rooms for my guests, a citation, a twenty-four page script, two pair of shoes, and speeches before a very large crowd. I will be quoted as having said that “what’s next is what matters.”

That brings me to what’s next for this blog—recently hacked (!), recently honored. Soulofaword has evolved from infancy to headstrong toddlerhood, incapable of fear and impervious to reason.

These posts will continue but irregularly—which yes, I know, breaks all the rules. And they will remain fixated on the nature of creative work, as if there is a choice when you are  dealing with obsession.

And what’s next for this writer?

Well, I could, maybe, write Book A, that I’ve been contemplating for a mere twenty years, and that a writer friend encourages as “getting that monkey off your back.”

Or I could write Book B, aimed more commercially but still with a voice and perspective that another friend—okay two friends—have called “twisted.”

Or I could write Book C, combining the two. Like a tinkerer who wanders the aisles of a hardware store in search of everything and nothing, I could just set off and see where I end up.

Here’s what I know for sure about the creative process:

You need a very big trashcan and a sense of humor. Uncertainty is your friend. Turn something on its head. Perseverance pays. Curiosity matters. Do no harm. And keep an open mind.

I’ll let you know how it goes. Meanwhile, thanks for stopping by—and be in touch. I always answer.


Comments welcome and edited to include first names only, and website, if provided; never your email. Photo of glass of champagne by viticulture-oenologie-formation.fr.

How to Innovate

Happy accidents can set you off into new and dynamic directions, but intentionality is also a path forward and one more in your control. Consider this example.

Music-video maker Chris Milk had begun to feel his medium, which includes YouTube, was stale, when he met up with web star Aaron Koblin who was also frustrated with the limits of his medium: digital art.

They started talking, their skills and perspectives mixed, and before they were done, created something new—a kind of storytelling that fused animated images with real-life emotion. Drawing upon audience participation (crowdsourcing), the pair combined music and visuals with startling results, such as “Sheep Market” composed of blended images of sheep from thousands of artists, and “We Used to Wait”, which allows the viewer to “drive” to his or her childhood address while the music plays.

To create something new, the collaborators—as well as any of us who seek to create— needed three things.

First: they needed an appreciation of what had come before both in the tech world and musically. Every medium at first imitates the last. Koblin notes: “The first radio is people reading books; the first photographs are similar to paintings; the first films were of the theatre.”

Second: they needed a willingness to give up the constraints of the old. Says Milk: “When cinema started, nobody saw it as ‘the Godfather’; no one saw it as closeups and music and creating shots in color and dialogue and emotion. It grew to be that. . . fooling around in the dark.”

Finally: they needed a healthy curiosity. They had tools that knew no limits, like the web and computer animation, so they went off exploring. They asked, is this good? Could it be better? The result Kolbin characterized as “experiments on what this medium will  eventually be.”

It seems to me that we writers are on the same voyage.

We seek to create, to innovate, to take an ordinary word and use it so remarkably as to make it stand for an entire world. (Vagina Monologues comes to mind.)

We start with what came before, which is where we learn, and then we leave it behind on a personal, intense, but please Lord playful journey of discovery. Is this good? Could this be better? We ask the same questions. And in the end, we hope, like the collaborators, to have to have created something compelling.


For the full story, see Tom Vanderbilt’s, “The Director and the Techie” (WSJ Magazine, May 2012).

Comments welcome and edited to include first names only, and website, if provided; never your email. Photo of the illuminated light bulb by MartinPhotoSport; shattered bulbs by nate2b (catching up).


Is the Postcard Still Worth Anything?


Here are three postcard stories. Decide for yourself.

While a sick (now robust) friend of mine was going through cancer treatment, another friend sent him a handmade postcard every single day. He kept them displayed on the kitchen counter, and some of us sneaked a peak when we dropped off meals. Snooping is within the rules of postcards, which are, after all, open to inspection—and more private, when you think about it, than an email or blog bounced through all the time zones all over the globe.

Each was a marvel, as you might expect from an artist’s hand—a tiny treasure the patient turned to for cheer and encouragement, and I had no doubt they aided in his recovery.


The next involved a mother and daughter with an ocean between them. The ocean was no accident, for they didn’t much get along. Still, for decades, whenever one traveled, she sent the other a postcard. This small act spoke of a connectedness that the women could not otherwise express. And, the postcard endured—on a desk or a countertop, or tucked into a book, or pinned to the bulletin board for the indefinite future. In the deliberateness of the gesture and in its tangible persistence, it functioned like a gift.

The final story was my own recent experiment. On vacation, I sent postcards to my sons who were hard at work at their respective colleges. From the schlocky to the provocative, the beautiful to the comic, I had a grand time picking them out. Penned at leisure in cafés and beer halls, I kept it short.

“What they can do with a potato around here!” “Great news about your internship!” “Have you fixed your bike yet?”

They were funny, even ridiculous—especially in volume. There must have been a dozen apiece before I was done. But, as it turned out, both my sons were long out of the habit of checking a physical campus mailroom—where dust and dinosaurs collected—so I had to prompt them along.

The Ohio missives arrived before the Massachusetts ones. And I was home a good week before the last one turned up, a tiny postcard featuring a restaurant. The stamp took up a lot of it.

“Steak frites tonight. The real deal.”

It was an inside joke, a reference to a longstanding family debate on the proper presentation of this dish.

What’s the value of a postcard?

A laugh. A keepsake. A connection. A pause in the hectic day. This is enough for me. Besides, as writing goes, it doesn’t get much better than one choice sentence and you’re done.

Comments welcome and edited to include first names only, and website, if provided; never your email. Photo of postcard by fugue; steak frites by umami.typepad.com.



Apologies if you haven’t found me. I’ve been hacked!  Just about back together and with a new look.

See you Friday, same time, same place. Thanks for stopping by.

~ Denise