Author, Journalist, Photog, Poet Living in Los Angeles

Photos in the pool

Posted on October 24, 2014

I’ve been living in my apartment now for the past two years, and I always walk past my pool and see how images reflect in the water. Sometimes it seems beautiful. I’ve often thought about taking photos of what I see in the pool. So today I finally did. I also snapped a photo of the perfect sky we have here in California. I think I love reflections in water because of Van Gogh’s painting and Claude Debussy’s composition, “Reflections in Water.” There is just something stunning about the distorted mirror image. I hope one day to capture it.

 

Lunch Poem, October 21, 2014

Posted on October 21, 2014

I’m about to move out of my apartment. It’s the place I’ve been living for the last two years. I’ve seen the change in seasons here. I’ve seen the trees in front of my home dump down cotton and pink petals. I’ve seen friends move away and strangers move in. I’ve seen a black widow hanging from a web. I’m starting to see poetry here, but for the first time in my life, instead of only writing it down, I’m starting to take photos. I took the shots above during my lunch break. I’m trying to think about contrast, lines, and composition. These are my lunch poems.

A weekend in San Francisco for Litquake

Posted on October 19, 2014

Photo Credit: Joseph Lapin

Photo Credit: Joseph Lapin

This weekend my wife and I flew up to San Francisco for Litquake, the literary festival/pub crawl where writers from all over the country come to share their work and join a community of scribes who usually only communicate over social media.  We stayed with Joe and Justine Clifford, and I read at their event Lip Service West, which tells real and gritty stories. I told a story about trying to find a way to convince a mental patient to willingly enter an ambulance in order to find  a higher level of care, but I think next time I read in a bar I’m going to tell the story of how I got in a fight with a little person in St. Petersburg, Florida, or how I almost got in a fight during a community theater presentation of Macbeth in South Beach. Of course, when you read in a bar, you have to expect anything, and I’ll tell that story a bit later.

Photo Credit: Joseph Lapin

Photo Credit: Joseph Lapin

This was my second reading in San Francisco, and the last time I drove up the coast I wrote about trying to rediscover the California Dream for the LA Weekly and then read at Lip Service in the Tenderloin. San Francisco has always been one of those cities I’ve felt at home in — a sort of Boston transposed to the West Coast. The landscapes are stunning, and there is just so much water everywhere. I was able to shoot some solid pictures, and the Cliffords took us to Telegraph in Berkley, where I was able to find some colorful moments. It was cool to hang out with Joe, who is the author of books like Junkie Love, Wake the Undertake, and the newly released Lamentation.

The reading on Saturday during Litquake took place in the Mission, which is quickly becoming one of my favorite parts in San Francisco. There is just so much life down there. The streets are crowded and filled with people crawling to the next pub or looking for the next best restaurant. In fact, last time I was there, Joe Clifford and I actually saw a guy being arrested outside of pizza joint because he pulled a gun on someone.

I almost made us late to the reading, because as Joe, Justine, and Heron were walking quickly to get to the venue, I was stopping everywhere to take photos of the murals. Everywhere I looked, there was another incredible piece of art. Check out the images below:

The reading took place at a bar called Blondie’s Bar and No Grill. I’ve read at bars plenty of times in the past, and I know that almost every time something is going to be different and out of the ordinary, especially for a literary event. Honestly, that’s how it should be. Literary events can be so freaking boring, and it would ensure for more interesting readings if the crowd was more involved or if the groups of people grew rowdy. So you always have to be prepared for that when you’re reading.

The crowd at Blondie’s was fantastic, however, and they were ready for a reading — some raw and gritty stories — and they had a ballot with some fantastic writers, including Tom Pitts (who read a story about shooting up mice shit), Joe Clifford, Sarah Heady, and Renee Pickup. I’ve been looking forward to this all week, and Joe Clifford asked me if I wanted to be the first to read. Some people have a hard time reading first, but I honestly don’t mind it, but this time it was different. (Some of these pictures didn’t come out great because of the lighting. Some photos were just unusable, including some of the other readers. Sorry guys!)

There was a stage in the bar with a mic, and when Justine Clifford stood up on the stage to introduce me, she realized that the mic wasn’t really working unless you literally spoke with your lips touching the mic. Even then, it wasn’t really working. The bartender yelled out: “That’s the highest it will go.” I realized we were stuck. So I just went right up to the stage and read my story at full blast. I wasn’t sure if anyone could even hear me, but I went for it. I heard some laughter, and I have one freaking loud voice, so I knew that people would get the gist of my story.

Meanwhile, Justine Clifford is sprinting down Valencia, bobbing in and out of the traffic, trying to look for a mic or a PA system to help amplify the voices. And by the time she returned, I had finished my story and a new PA system was being set up for Renee. (Sorry you had to run for no reason, Justine!) The reading from there on out went on great, and I was glad that I was the first one to go, because I have a loud voice. But Joe Clifford felt bad, and he gave me an opportunity to close the night, so I read my poem Chinatown from The Rattling Wall Issue 3.

Photo Credit Joseph Lapin

Photo Credit Joseph Lapin

For anyone who reads their writing in front of an audience, then you know that feeling when you have everyone completely engrossed in your work. I looked around the bar as I was reading “Chinatown,” and I could tell I had everyone. They were into the dream that I had tried so hard to create. There is no better feeling. Writing can be so very lonely, and it’s a blessing to have an opportunity to connect with an audience. Thanks to the Cliffords for bringing me down. And thanks to everyone in that bar.

Well, I’m inspired to continue to write, and I’m making a lot of progress with new stories. Stay tuned. Thanks for reading. And always, your comments are appreciated.

Hello Goodbye Los Angeles: From the Griffith Observatory

Posted on October 12, 2014

Griffith Observatory-02 copy

Photo Credit: Joseph Lapin

Griffith Park

Griffith Park is one of my favorite places in Los Angeles. When I was freelancing and dealing with the highs and lows of full-time journalism, I would often need a break from the city, and I would head over to hike the trail behind the Griffith Observatory in Hollywood to find solace and peace. Sometimes I would go with my friend and fellow writer J. David Gonzalez. We would talk writing, NBA, and literature. Most often I went alone with my dog Hendrix.

Photo Credit: Joseph Lapin

Photo Credit: Joseph Lapin

It’s part of the reason why I see Griffith Park as a place of serenity in this monstrous city. Hiking in Los Angeles is important to L.A. life, and it’s something Michelle Meyering discusses in a trailer for The Rattling Wall 3. There is just something about being above Los Angeles and having the ability to look at it from a higher vantage point that makes you feel the city isn’t so large, so intimidating and that you’re not lost in it. At the same time, it’s rare that you can see through the haze, the smog, and there is an element of vagueness to the horizon, as if Los Angeles can never truly be seen. I’m thinking about these things as my move to San Diego approaches. I’ve been thinking a lot about how Los Angeles has changed me.

Design by Joseph Lapin

Design by Joseph Lapin

Over the next couple weeks, I plan on reflecting on Los Angeles on this blog. I’ve come to love this city. I’ve come to think about it as a second home, and I feel that I was able to grow as a writer tremendously here. I was able to publish in great publications like the LA Weekly, Los Angeles Times, Slate, Salon, The Independent, and more while I was living here, and I also published poetry and fiction. On the other hand, I’ve also had a lot of artistic failures with stories, which most people will never see. In the end, I’ve been a part of several fantastic L.A. organizations, and I’ve met so many people who will continue to inspire me. So how has L.A. changed me?

Photo Credit: Joseph Lapin

Photo Credit: Joseph Lapin

Listen to the City 

I went to the Griffith Observatory with me dog to contemplate this question, and when I got to the top of the trail where you can look out across all of Los Angeles and see from Downtown to Westwood, I just kind of sat there and listened. I heard a woman complain to the man she was with about her work problems. I watched a man walk by muttering to himself with the Hollywood sign in the background about how he hates his family, his identity, his religion. I saw two horses walk up the path, and I watched a couple take turns snapping photos of each other. I watched the helicopters move back and forth in front of the city like dragonflies. I heard the crickets beginning to hum mixed with the sounds of roaring cars on Sunset Boulevard. I took notes so I could write about these moments, these images, these sounds. I snapped photographs. I carried my Nikon and tripod up to the top of the trail.

Photo Credit: Joseph Lapin

Photo Credit: Joseph Lapin

The Diversity of Experience

One thing that I’ve learned about Los Angeles is that it’s impossible to truly know it all. It’s such a massive city with so many different neighborhoods that one life is not enough to understand the complexity. I love the diversity of experience. Today I went and had incredible sushi on Wilshire and then went to a mexican bakery and had flan and guava cookies. I walked to the Santa Monica bluffs and smelled the roses in the garden. I had beers in a bar where Cowboy fans cheered. I’ve also walked down the streets that most people don’t want to even admit exist. It’s not all beautiful in L.A. It can be ugly and devastating too. I’ve learned that I love the ugly and devastating sides, too. I don’t want to live in those places. But it’s important for me to know they exist. It’s important for me to write about them and see a city and place as a whole. It’s easy to only look at one neighborhood and forget about the rest.

Photo Credit: Joseph Lapin

Photo Credit: Joseph Lapin

L.A. Literature 

Before I moved to Los Angeles, I wasn’t that familiar with a lot of the literature that came out of this city. I had read a lot of Bukowski, Didion, and Raymond Chandler, authors who I had fallen in love with, but when I finally arrived here, I started to read Nathaneal West, Luis J. Rodriguez, Jerry Stahl, Mark Haskell Smith, Pynchon, James Ellroy, John Gregory Dunne, and countless others. I was also a sort of curator for the L.A. Weekly’s Greatest Novel Tournament. The literature of Los Angeles rivals any city, and at the heart of the writing, it’s about the search for identity. Whether that is a private detective trying to cipher through the shadows of the city or Chinaski searching for a way to define himself in the Post Office, Los Angeles literature is about sifting through the enormous amount of bullshit and ugliness in one of the most stunning places in the world to examine what is truly and authentically beautiful or ugly or true. I’ve started writing a novel and finished a draft of a novella set in Los Angeles. I love the way the city looks through words. I love the way the city is in black and white and in incredible high-definition in my mind. I love the emerging writers like Wendy Ortiz, Natashia Deon, Jeremy Radin, and the fantastic work of guerrilla literary events staged by Peter Woods, Jessica Ceballos, and Chiwan Choi. I love the literary criticism that comes from the LA Times, especially David Ulin and Carolyn Kellogg. I love BuzzFeed and Vice and the LA Weekly. I love the recklessness of it all, as if rebellion and grit are concepts that can still be real and true. I love the haze and the color that rests on the city. I love the challenge of capturing it all.

Photo Credit: Joseph Lapin

Photo Credit: Joseph Lapin

Multimedia Artist 

When I first moved to Southern California, I really only saw myself as a writer. That was my creative outlet. Words. Poetry. Scene. But now that I’ve been in Los Angeles, I’ve learned that I’m actually a multimedia artist — or just a general creative. I know that sounds a bit weird to say, but it’s true. I’ve come to love video, illustration, audio, photography, and I’m stating to learn how to use these mediums to create something fresh. I’ve never really been interested in Hollywood. I’ve never really cared about making movies or acting, but I’m working toward using multimedia in all of it’s facets to create. I love photography now, and I’m moving toward video. I sort of jumped into video over the last few months, but I’ve realized I need to take my time and bit and figure it out more. Learn the fundamentals and then move into another area. I’ve thought about video poems, and I expect to start producing them over the next year, as well as more video interviews. I’m just going to take my time. I’m excited to find out how I can harness this new energy. Lynda.com is really helping.

Photo Credit: Joseph Lapin

Photo Credit: Joseph Lapin

The L.A. Light

Now that I’m pursuing photography more, I’ve learned to pay more attention to light. And as I was on the top of the trail looking out over L.A., I couldn’t help but be in awe of the colors changing and the softness of the light as it rested on the paths.

Photo Credit: Joseph Lapin

Photo Credit: Joseph Lapin

The sun brings so much color and vibrance to this city. When I was up at the top of the trail, I was enjoying taking shots of the light creating contrasting tones out of the Hollywood Hills. But as soon as that sun started dropping, I could tell that I had a few minutes before my window of the golden hour was gone. I’ve come to understand the importance of shooting in the golden hour, right before sunset, and I started running around the hills, hoping to find the perfect shot. I was running back and forth with my tripod and trying to hold onto my dog on the leash. I was taking photos everywhere that I could, hoping to buy a few more shots before the sun set. Then it hit me.

Photo Credit: Joseph Lapin

Photo Credit: Joseph Lapin

I was in a panic to take Los Angeles in the same way that I thought I was losing the light. It was hitting me. I was going to leave soon. I only had so much time left in this Golden Hour of Los Angeles. But then I thought of a novel that I loved, and I realized that the sun was also going to rise again tomorrow. I’m going to come back to this city all the time. I’m only two hours away. And I’m going to be writing about this city, hoping to understand it, perhaps, a bit more from a short distance away. There are too many Rattling Wall and Dirty Laundry Lit events I need to go see. I leave at the end of this month. Hello Goodbye Los Angeles.

How to Find a Home: 5 Lessons from Finding a Place to Live

Posted on October 5, 2014

house blog-02 This weekend I drove down to San Diego to start looking for a place to live, and I thought about how every city I’ve ever moved to has its own renting culture. Los Angeles apartments usually don’t come with a refrigerator; Boston you sometimes have to pay an extra moth of rent to the realtor; South Beach you can move into a place the day you start looking; and Long Beach you better not have a Pit Bull. Each city has its own way of navigating the renting process, so when we drove down to San Diego, I expected there to be a learning curve. I also didn’t expect to find a place on the first day. I remember when I moved to Long Beach  my wife and I were looking for a month, and we were driving up and down the streets, trying to locate “For Rent” signs in front yards, and it felt like we would never find a place. I understood the struggle of finding the right place, and I expected to have to haggle with landlords. I expected to be forced to choose between our budget and what we wanted. And I expected to have enough tension and controversy to write an interesting blog post. But after looking at four places, Heron and I found a place we loved. We told the landlord how much we wanted to live there, sent over the credit check, paid the deposit, and we now have a rental. King of killed my blog idea. It was incredibly easy, this time, to find a place to live, and we’re actually thrilled with the results. So this started me thinking about all the times that I’ve moved across the country, and I thought about what it’s been like to look for a home, for a place to belong. I thought about all that I’ve learned by just looking for places to live. Here are five lessons I’ve learned over the years.

Design by Joseph Lapin

Design by Joseph Lapin

5. Watch Out for Desperation

When we were looking for places to live over the weekend, we came across a home close to North Park, San Diego. It was a single family home, but another tenant was living in the basement. The front yard had mulch instead of grass. There would have been plenty of room for my dog, but as soon as I knocked on the door and met the people living there, I was instantly suspicious. In turned out the current tenants were looking for someone to take over their lease. They had their three dogs locked in cages, and the dogs looked like they were trying to be on their best behavior, but if someone had opened their cages, then I would have regretted stepping foot in that home. The current tenants told us that they were moving out because they wanted to live closer to the beach. They had just moved from Kansas city. Four months were left on the lease. Now I couldn’t figure out why they would be in such a rush to get out of their apartment if they had four months left on their lease, and I could understand this idea if they were buying a home instead of renting — perhaps they landed a great deal — but breaking a lease or trying to sublet an apartment to live near the water, which is only ten minutes, sounded suspicious. I could smell the desperation to find a way out of a situation, and I didn’t want to be stuck in someone else’s trap. When I’m looking at places to live, I realize I’m being sold on a product, on a life, on a home, and like Odysseus on his way back to his wife, there are many detours and islands along the journey that are illusory when trying to find the place you belong, but you have to learn to separate false homes, false journeys, from the authentic ones.

Photo Credit Joseph Lapin

Photo Credit Joseph Lapin

4. Neighborhoods are Brands

The photo above is a shot that I took of a man playing a guitar in Montmartre, Paris. I think it’s one of the best neighborhoods in Paris, because I know Macel Ayme, Picasso, Van Gogh, and many other famous artists lived in Montmartre; they created in Montmartre; they loved in Montmartre. It’s a neighborhood synonymous with art and a joie de vivre — a perfect epoch of inspiration and creativity. I still associate those elements with that part of Paris, and honestly, I don’t even know if that’s true. What I’ve learned by moving to different cities and various parts of towns is that every neighborhood is a brand. We recognize those parts of towns for the demographics they appeal to, and, unfortunately, we judge people based on the parts of town they live in. Now that I’ve lived in Los Angeles for a couple of years, I’ve come to understand the stereotypes that are placed on each neighborhood. When I meet people in L.A., I usually am asked where I live, because it’s a way to make small talk, but it’s also a way to learn so much about a person. It’s kind of embarrassing to tell someone else where you live in Los Angeles, because it feels personal, as if you’re trading with them your banking information or cultural tastes. So when I move, I’m aware that the place I live will potentially reveal something about who I am to a stranger. But it never reveals anything true and authentic. It’s just something to be aware of. Just like the brand name clothes you wear or the friends you associate with, your neighborhood will speak for you, too.

Photo Credit: Joseph Lapin

Photo Credit: Joseph Lapin

3. Don’t Settle

It’s really easy to want to quit when you’re looking for a home or a place to live. I’ve spent hours looking on Craigslist or Zillow or on whatever new site is out there for rentals, and I’ve quit looking because I couldn’t find a place that felt like home in our budget or near the area of the town that we wanted to live. But I’ve always just kept on searching, and I almost always find the place that feels right. It’s so important to understand, for me, that if I settle for something that I don’t trust or want or need because I’m tired and about to quit, then I deserve a shitty home. No matter how much you want to throw in the towel, keep looking. Believe that the place you belong is somewhere out there on the web or just down another streets, because I’ve always found the places that were perfect when I was just about to give up. That goes for writing, too.

2. Sacrifice

Everyone knows The Rolling Stones song, “You Can’t Always Get What You Want,” and almost every human being understands this message. No matter how hard we want something, it just might not be in the cards. But usually if you’re patient and hard-working and creative, well, you find what you need. That’s what I’ve learned is so important to keep in mind when looking for a home. Sometimes you’ll find the perfect house with a beautiful kitchen but with terrible neighbors. Sometimes you might find ugly walls and a small apartment, but you then find that you’re a part of an amazing community. Perhaps you find a place without air conditioning, but there is tremendous ventilation. The place you’re looking for will never be perfect, and if you cling too hard onto what you want, well, you’ll definitely miss what you need. I’ve never been completely satisfied with the place I’ve lived, but I’ve always been happy and safe. That’s not to say I don’t have a dream of owning the perfect home one day. For God’s sake, that’s part of the American Dream. But I don’t really know what the home I want to raise my family looks like. I don’t have a vision of the future in my mind, but I’m building the next place from the memory of every other place I’ve ever lived.

1. You Know Home When You See It

HendrixThis weekend, when I walked into our new place for the first time, I met the landlord, and I shook his hand. I talked to him for 30 seconds, and then I looked around the apartment. I knew right then and there this was my home for the next couple years. I saw my wife and me cooking breakfast; I saw my dog running through the doggy door and into the backyard; I saw myself in the office working on my book; I saw a home. It’s amazing how you know where you belong, sometimes, the moment you see it. I’ve learned to trust that more and more. I’ve learned never to turn away from the place or even the direction that you feel most at home. This move is still going to be tough in a sense. I’m going to leave behind a city and friends and a community in Los Angeles that I’ve come to love. But in my life, home is a feeling that has always been moving, and I’m chasing it South now. I can’t ignore it.

Wine and Photography in Walla Walla, Washington

Posted on September 28, 2014

Walla Walla farm house 2

This weekend, I fled Los Angeles, work, and all my responsibilities and jumped on a jet plane to Walla Walla, Washington. I have never been to Walla Walla — or really ever heard about the place — but my family, who do enjoy wine tastings, raved about the town that is five hours outside of Seattle and closer to the Oregon border than you might expect. Honestly, I needed to get away. I’ve been anxious, trying to find the balance between my professional and creative life, and I thought spending time in a town where the only thing to do was farm or drink wine would provide the cure. So I went there with the idea that I would eat, drink, and take photographs. You’ll see some shots below.

Photo Credit Joseph Lapin

Photo Credit Joseph Lapin

We stayed at a winery called Abeja, and we had the most fantastic rooms and the most incredible breakfast. I remember the last breakfast most distinctly. They brought over a baked egg seasoned with a bit of thyme, parmesan cheese, sea salt, and some light cream. Then they brought out bacon with sourdough waffles covered in fresh apples with a dollop of whipped cream. We drank their wine, too, which was good, but I have to be honest with you: I don’t know anything about wine. I wish that I did, but when I taste four or five different wines it’s really hard for me to tell the difference. I’m trying to learn and respect the craft, but one thing that I have learned from my family and friends is that all you have to do is say something descriptive like “minerality,” “apricot,” or any other floral or fruit taste, and people might actually think you know what you’re talking about. The people I was with knew wine, and it was fun to learn, but I was more interested in the sights in Walla Walla. And of course, the company.

Photo credit Joseph Lapin

Photo credit Joseph Lapin

What I loved most about Walla Walla was that everywhere I looked there was a different landscape photo opportunity. It was close to the high plains desert, and every piece of land was used to grow crops. It reminded me of a place Jack Kerouac would have loved to wander through, and he would have written about the people who worked the land. Because it was farmlands and they were growing different crops, the colors of the Earth altered as much as the contours of the landscape.

Photo Credit Joseph Lapin

Photo Credit Joseph Lapin

Behind the bed and breakfast, there was a river, and the photo above is what is directly on top of the river. The river cuts through the trees, and the water is clear and cold. The river runs next to a red covered bridge, and it is peaceful. I sat on a wooden chair for much of the afternoon, and I took my shoes off to feel it against the grass. It was nice to be so far away from a city. I had forgotten what it was like to only hear a river running and no other sound. I grew up near rivers and wide-open spaces, and I found myself missing the countryside. I found myself thinking about Wordsworth and his suggestion to take a scene in nature, almost chisel it into your mind, and recall that scene again during a moment of tranquility. Over the next couple weeks while I’m still here in L.A., I’m going to recall that river.

Photo Credit Joseph Lapin

Photo Credit Joseph Lapin

The trip also afforded me an opportunity to work on my photography. I haven’t taken as many photos over the last two weeks, choosing instead to work on Illustrator, but now that I have figured out how to use Adobe Bridge, it’s really helping with my photography work flow. I love this photo above, which I took right outside of our bed and breakfast, because I was able to experiment a bit with shutter speed. I love motion. I’m fascinated by the way my camera interprets motion. I love the long exposure. I love the sense that you can play with time.

Below you’ll see a photo of the open road. I don’t remember the last time I saw a road that was this empty. I even set the camera down directly on the asphalt. It was nice to be away from all the traffic in Southern California even for a moment.

Photo Credit Joseph Lapin

Photo Credit Joseph Lapin

I also started experimenting with taking photos into direct sunlight. I’ve always been pretty scared to shoot right at the sun, but I was walking down the road during sunset one night, and I just started taking some shots. You’ll see a few that I’m most proud of below.

Photo Credit Joseph Lapin

Photo Credit Joseph Lapin

Photo Credit Joseph Lapin

Photo Credit Joseph Lapin

Photo Credit Joseph Lapin

Photo Credit Joseph Lapin

And then here is a black and white.

Photo Credit Joseph Lapin

Photo Credit Joseph Lapin

Finally, I met some interesting people while I was in Walla Walla. The town had some incredibly hip restaurants and people, and I swear they were hipster farmers. Who knew they existed? But as we were leaving today, we went hiking in a park by a dam. There was an old man sitting on a bench, admiring the scenery, resting his head on a walking stick. I asked him if I could take his picture, and he said of course. What I like about this picture is that he’s left a lot of room on the bench, as if someone used to sit there with him.

Photo Credit Joseph Lapin

Photo Credit Joseph Lapin

Finally, you must have a surprise — something you didn’t expect to see in a million years — when you travel to Walla Walla, Washington. For me that was the museum of unnatural history. We were walking in the center of town, somewhere close to Main Street, when we saw the sign, promising Dada and other weird and offensive art. Of course, I wanted to go inside. That’s where I met Gerald Matthews, a former New York City comedian who moved to Walla Walla before all the vinters. He was on television and tried to survive in show business, but he got tired of the racket and opened up a small museum — which he called Dada because that meant, for him, he could do whatever he wanted — and he was funny. The art was strange, and I can imagine he scares a lot of people away. But I enjoyed his museum, and he would make a fantastic story. Perhaps I’ll write it one day.

Photo Credit Joseph Lapin

Photo Credit Joseph Lapin

Well, that’s my blog post for the week. Feel free to leave a comment. I’m gearing up for a reading at Litquake in San Francisco with Joe Clifford, Tom Pitts, and more. I need to finish the essay I’m going to write.

Three Painters Who Changed the Way I write

Posted on September 21, 2014

Three Painters Cover-03

I’ve been fooling around with Adobe Illustrator lately, trying to become better at my job as a creative director and learn to add more interesting content to my blog and journalism. It’s clear that if you’re going to be a writer in the digital age, then you should have an understanding of creative software like Photoshop, Adobe Premier, Final Cut, Illustrator, etc. (just look at BuzzFeed), and I want to improve my skills so I can create endlessly across multiple platforms. I’ve come across some great designers recently that have inspired me to work on the craft even more. I have a way to go, but that’s fine. My creative life is taking new shapes and forms, and I’ll follow this where it leads. Of course, my first love will always be the written word, but I have been finding design inspiration everywhere I look. The designers that have really inspired me recently are David Plunkert, James Yang, and Whitney Sherman.

Design by Joseph Lapin

Design by Joseph Lapin

As I begin to experiment in this new medium and look to other designers for inspiration, I understand that this is only going to take my writing to the next level because it will add a visual element to correspond with the text. (Of course, illustrations will not make the actual writing better.) But this train of thought brought me to a new idea for a blog post. I started to think about how painters have influenced my actual writing. When I was teaching freshmen composition, I would always bring in paintings to help my students understand how to create detailed and vivid scenes in their personal essays, and I would point to painters to illustrate the way that details can powerfully convey meaning. I started to “sketch” scenes in my journal, after reading Vincent Van Gogh’s letters to his brother Theo, and I kept them in my journals. In some ways, painters have actually inspired me to create stories and poetry more than some authors. So I wanted to blog, today, about three painters who have influenced my writing.

3. Vincent Van Gogh

Design by Joseph Lapin

Design by Joseph Lapin

I didn’t think much about Vincent Van Gogh when I was younger, but then my father and I went on a trip to Amsterdam and stopped at the Van Gogh Museum. I stepped into that museum without expecting anything other than a cultural experience, and I walked out completely changed. What I loved about the museum was that his paintings were curated in a chronological fashion, so as you moved throughout the museum, you would begin to see Vincent’s story take shape. It hit me hard, because like Theo, Vincent brother, I have also had loved ones who have been touched by mental illness. I won’t delve into too many personal details, but for the longest time, mental illness brought my family pain, and it was reassuring to be able to witness the same pain and suffering yet beautiful moments that Vincent and Theo shared in their letters and in Vincent’s paintings. From this experience, I was able to see that beauty and profundity could come from so much confusion and struggle. It put me on the path to start beginning to write about some of the incidents I’ve witnessed in my life. It put me on a path to defend the mentally ill. It put me on a path to tell stories.

2. Neo Rauch

Design By Joseph Lapin

Design By Joseph Lapin

I first came across Neo Rauch when I was studying at the Prague Summer Writing Program sponsored by Western Michigan University, and a local museum was featuring some of his work. I had never heard of Neo Rauch, but when I walked into the artistic space I had a similar experience as in the Van Gogh Museum. He was blending elements from comic books and suburban life from the 1950s with elements of science fiction and the surreal. What I admired most about Neo Rauch was that he was able to create universes in his paintings, somewhat like Kurt Vonnegut or Ray Bradbury in their fiction, that seemed fantastic and surreal but were governed by clear rules. The characters in his paintings are able to move back and forth between separate worlds (in the physical and mental sense), and this forces his work to exist in that weird space between the realistic and the absurd, because his images are rendered with an almost hyperbolic tangibility that can only be compared to having a dream where you know that you’re in a dream but everything is so clear, sensual, and defined that it feels like you’re awake. Ah, that was a long thought.

Neo Rauch

Neo Rauch

There is one painting that always startled me by Neo Rauch. It’s above. It seems to suggest that someone is sleeping, and I can’t help but feel the characters in their white coats are nothing but figures from a dream. They seem from another time. I want to be able to create stories where dream worlds and physical universes almost fold into each other. I want to find a way to write between the dream and the real world. Two writers that I admire who pull this off exceptionally well are Denis Johnson and Marcel Ayme. I want to find a way to capture this quality. I’m far off, but it’s a goal.

3. Norman Rockwell

Design by Joseph Lapin

Design by Joseph Lapin

Well, if you’ve been following my blog or my writing, then you might be aware of the project I created called “Rockwell’s Camera Phone.” Basically, it was trying to imagine how Norman Rockwell would have seen the world today. What really fascinates me about Norman Rockwell is that he was able to take the most ordinary moments of American life and make them universal. He was able to take a young boy sitting at a diner next to a cop and transform that image into one of the most iconic images in American history. He was able to make art and illustration speak directly to as many people as possible. But most importantly, he was able to find the poetry in the everyday. In a lot of ways, he reminds me of a poet like Frank O’Hara. Of course, they’re different realms and styles, but they were able to find the sublime in the old man sitting on the crate begging for change or just the general activity of a Main Street in New England. They were artists who were able to find the sublime in running to finish errand. They were the artists who found the sublime in walking down the street or on their way to pick up a sandwich for lunch. They were the artists who found that life, ordinary,everyday ritualistic life, was the sublime. I’m from a small town in New England. Art still exists in those streets. There is still poetry. There is still beauty, even if it feels ordinary. I would love to tap into that, and I’m trying.

So I’m not sure if this at all wraps up to a cohesive whole. But these are painters that I admire tremendously, and they’ve made me want to write. Okay, I’m tired and want to watch Boardwalk Empire. Leave a comment below and let me know some of the painters who have inspired you in your creative life.

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