Terras Irradient*

I’m visiting my college for a reunion – the first formal one I’ve attended, though I made my way back there once before at a critical turning point, which I’ll detail in a bit. And it’s got me thinking about learning.

Okay, I felt a lot of clicking away right there.

But that’s cool — I’ll try to make this quick. Because it may not be as melodramatic, absurd, sexy or hate-fuelled as the rest of the web this morning…  but what I have to write to you here just might save you, or someone you know, from wasting precious seconds of your life.

Fun fact: when we left college, we knew everything. Decades later, it’s our kids who know everything, and we’ve grown wise enough to know that the day that we stop learning, we’re dead.

Because that’s what literacy means on the twenty-first century clock.

Not what you’ve learned about words. Not what you’ve memorized about numbers. Not what you’ve mastered in media, culture and technology. No, not even what you know you know about people, places or things.

Literacy, simply put, means the ability to learn…  and recreate yourself.

Some call it information literacy, adaptive literacy, learning literacy. (Lotta trees perished so that volumes of scholarly work on the subject might see bookshelves. Lotta trees.) I just call it literacy.

Because that’s where literacy lives right now, and will live for some time – not what you’ve learned, but your ability to learn, to teach yourself. Including, at times, your agility when learning requires unlearning – dumping what doesn’t cut it anymore – and mastering a dance that’s new.

I once stood up during a freshman psychology exam, said loudly, “Everything you know is wrong,” and sat back down to continue writing.

Yeah, I was that kind of smart ass.

But the laughter that followed, and the surprise, helped us all clear our thoughts, relax and get to work. And more than that, I think I had the right instinct.

Because we create the future by rendering the past obsolete…  or at the very least, incomplete. We dump…  and dance on.

I mentioned at the top that I returned to my old school before. That story should illuminate my point: five years past my undergraduate degree, I was asked by a mentor, my former writing professor, to come talk to students about “a life in the arts.” I was seriously conflicted, I told my friend.

I was crashing.

My band was traveling to promote our first album, negotiating terms to record a second. But we were the indie act, the warm-up act, the grungy punks in the little bus – in the music business, indie wouldn’t have cachet and clout til a couple of years later. Worse, it was a frustrating strain dragging the band together to develop new songs through financial pressure and some ugly substance abuse issues.

And that wasn’t all. My other creative outlet was theater – chiefly, writing and performing off-off-broadway. But, I told my friend, I had hit a wall there, too. Twenty years ago, Off-Off-Broadway was vital, the place to create – but what was once revolutionary was now just the smaller, poorer cousin of dead corporate theater.

(Okay, I would learn later that vital regional theaters existed all over the country. They were rare, but very alive. But I was living and working in NYC, non-negotiable, so I missed out, there.)

In short, I told my friend I wasn’t  his dream speaker. I was a rock star in one neighborhood, a produced downtown playwright, okay, but broken and dirty and moving on. Looking for what was next. If anything, I was going to send his students shrieking to pre-med and pre-business disciplines.

“I should come back when I’m done recreating myself, you know, the whole phoenix from the ashes plot always works.”

“Talk to them about that,” he said.

There’s a reason I call him a mentor. Still do.

And so I told my story. I was blunt. Students later told me I was pretty brutal. But they got that I wasn’t going to waste any more precious seconds of my life feeling stuck. I had the ability – and agility – to remake myself, and with a little luck, I was doing it.

I hadn’t yet worked out my little theory, the new literacy, but I was putting it into action instinctively. What I had learned as a writer, a performer and a creator of dramas for the rock show and the live theater, I knew I could make that the foundation and energy source for two new kinds of writing: comic books and related media and storytelling within business.

I would unlearn what I had to, teach myself what I needed, and take the next creative trip with the same energy I had once given punk rock – take my writing as far as I could.

Hopefully, reaching more people. Hopefully, getting paid.

It began with Faust: Love of the Damned and a business writing consulting gig for an international bank. I lost a lot of sleep working on both…  and learned. At times, the only way to get through it was to think of it as a performance…  I played a person who knew how to write all that I had to write.

That wasn’t the last time I hit a wall creatively. And I know I will be in crisis again someday. But with practice, you perfect that literacy we all need today – the literacy of learning in order to recreate yourself.

*Terras Irradient is NOT Latin for “Cover Your Ass” or “Fake It Till You Make It.”

It’s “Let them bring light to the world.” Kind of an ancient way of saying, ”With great power comes great responsibility.” That’s the motto and mandate of my old school, and on my good days, I try to live that. Have a nice Memorial Day Weekend – I’ll be back in two weeks.



We Ain’t Got Money, Honey, But We Got Rain; Charles Bukowski Wrote That

Faust: Love of the Damned, by David Quinn and Tim Vigil is 25 this year

To make the writing life work, you simply focus on the work in front of you – in any weather. You get all the business lined up…  for the pleasure and privilege of the writing itself.

This week began with the weekend’s MoCCA Fest, a lively international alt-comics show in NYC. Besides seeing and working with my diverse, talented collaborators in this arena, I was also pleased that That Respected Editor (AKA TRE, name withheld for his own good) stopped by the Not for Children Children’s Books table.

Michael Davis and I have been developing a project or two for TRE for over a year. We’re convinced he’s the right editor for our story, because he gets what we are trying to do and sees his job as helping us make sure we grab as many hearts and minds as possible. He’s not a frustrated writer out to hammer our story into his own… he’s a keen reader who can nudge and pull and cajole us to tell the story we want to tell better than if we were left alone. That’s a quality that’s much rarer in comics and other media development than it should be.

I’m paraphrasing a bit, here, but TRE mentioned that he had pitched our story as one of the most original and exciting points of view in heroic storytelling since (Howard Chaykin’s) American Flagg, and if the decision-maker would only read my treatment, TRE didn’t see how he could pass.

I was in a good mood after that.

That, in the writing life, is the good weather.

But like I said, it’s not about the weather. It’s about focusing on the work in front of you, doing your best, whatever the weather.

So, a bit exhausted from the con – hey, I am a word-guy and a work-at-home dad, I don’t usually talk to people that much – it’s time to get my ass in the chair and polish off two white papers for a marketing services client. Basically, I am doing for my client what my editor promises to do for us – understand their story that they tell about how they work, and help them tell it powerfully so their “thought leadership,” reputation and business grow.

That’s not the weather. It’s the work. But when I am done, I think I’ve made solid improvements, so I pass the documents back to my client for review and run to my daughter’s school bus.

Time to give Olivia a snack and help her with her reading and Mandarin language. This can take a lot of energy, but it sustains itself. Helping my daughter learn is even better than good weather. It’s a job that matters.

The next day, the press starts to hit on our 25th Anniversary Celebration of Faust announced on Ain’t It Cool News and the positive feedback and interest that lights up the web is once again good weather.

Of course, this being the web, there’s a little hate in with the love. A few little head explosions of righteous geek venom when Rich at Bleeding Cool comments, “There was Watchmen. There was Dark Knight. And there was Faust.

But there’s actually not as much sniping as I expected, actually. It’s overwhelmed by readers genuinely pleased by the news – and down for Quinn and Vigil’s Faust finale. Several big-hearted colleagues trumpet and retweet the news. (I know our little DIY adult comic will need all the attention we can get when the Faust trade collections come out again starting this summer, and the final two issues hit this fall.)

Good weather?


Must be my day to strap in to the dentist for some long overdue dental surgery. Uncomfortable weather. Followed by a chance to take Olivia to a park. Carpe Diem weather.

And when I’ve recovered from that, it’s Friday morning: no notes on the white papers from my client yet, so I have some time to write this blog and work on some song lyrics for my virtual zombie punk band, The Romeros.

Has TRE has landed our project? Godspeed, but I’m not even thinking of that right now.

To make the writing life work, you simply focus on the work in front of you – in any weather. I remind myself. You get all the business lined up…  for the pleasure and privilege of the writing itself. Look at the writing life that way. Just don’t get blown away by that weather.