Viva The Crowdsourced Art Revolucion!

The moment has finally come.  Someone is getting frustrated with my income. Last year I made just over $8,000, teaching arts classes at the high school, and yoga at the YMCA.  This accurately reflects my dedication to this blog and all its spin-off projects which currently earn me zero dollars.  Long ago I vowed to remain dedicated to creative making.  And I've always believed that if I remain dedicated, I will be able to support myself, though I've never known how that would happen.

What I do doesn't fit into the traditional market. But in the new world of crowdsourced art, I just might have a chance.  If you ever read this blog and find yourself wanting to share it with a friend, or curl up in a corner and cry, or both, support your whimsy and mine by becoming a Secret Admirer for $25 a month, a BFF for $10 a month, or a Friendly Neighbor for $5 a month. I will send you a left-handwritten thank you card and occasional tokens of my esteem.

Be part of the new revolution.  

Support crowdsourced art.  

And subscribe to A Terminal Case of Whimsy.

thank you


Lessons From Mrs. Watson's Banjo CD Release Party

@ The Green Gecko.  February 25, 2014.  Appleton, Wisconsin.

1) Always hold rehearsal on the eve of the show.

2) Don't be surprised when "someone" quits the band during said rehearsal.

3) Stand for songs.  Sit between, and talk to Tad.

4) Don't say the songs were hard to learn.

5) Wearing red overall snow pants is a good idea.

6) Make Tad play loudly at sound check.

7) Prepare mini-stories for each tiny song.

8) Get close to the mic.

9) If improvising a tiny song, limit the lyrics and hear it before jumping in.

10) Give Bob his hootenanny.  Teach everyone to sing, "Is That A Real Song?"

11) Record a "bonus!" track for Josh's podcast.

12) Ask Josh to make a hootenanny video for "Is That A Real Song?"

13) Always bring scraps of paper and pens for group lyric writing.

14) When at a loss, blow the train whistle.

15) Go nuts on the tambourine.

16) It's okay to screw up.

art by Roseanna


Wife and Husband Stories: Year 14

The husband is annoyed with the wife because he has been stuck doing all the shoveling.  The wife is annoyed with the husband for being annoyed because recently she has been doing all the work in the kitchen.

The wife says she'll walk the dog early in the morning.  Instead she sleeps in.  Now the husband, who has gotten over his annoyance about the shoveling, is newly annoyed with the wife for not following through on her commitment to the dog.

The wife is annoyed because she feels she has been making a great effort to be kind and generous, and this is how she is rewarded?

The wife, while making forays into Buddhist philosophy, is disturbed to discover that the root of her annoyance is not the husband at all.  It is she who is allowing herself to be annoyed, repeating the plot lines that prove how annoying the husband is, to friends, to strangers, to reflections in the window.

So real these stories become, that they shadow whatever truth they sprung from.  Sometimes she is even annoyed when he is being nice.  If only it were easy to be grateful and appreciative, she would certainly be so more often.  As it is, she forgets.  She's annoyed at her own inabilities to be more loving and understanding.

The wife excitedly tells the husband about this new way of thinking, of how she is now accepting blame for her own annoyances.  She suggests he give it a try himself.

This annoys the husband, her being so self-righteous.

This annoys the wife.


Name the Band at the Green Gecko

color by Eleanora

from Mrs. Watson's Banjo:
Tad Neuhaus, banjo; Joanna Dane, banjo and vocals, Emily Dickinson, words


How Many Paragraphs Does It Take to Make A Poem?

This poem used to be a paragraph

Before I divided up the lines.

I don't know if it's better

Now than it was before,

Or even if it matters.

I know what Adam will say.

He thinks poetry is boring.

And frankly, I do too.*

I'd rather read a letter, or a story,

Or an essay about how to tie a shoe.

This will make some poets mad,

As it rightly should.

Until you accept that if it is

Just a matter

Of arbitrarily dividing the lines

Or not,

Then what I or he or we or they

Think about what

You've written,

Should not be taken into account.

*Except notable exceptions


Profile of a Commenter

Our most prolific commenter here at A Terminal Case of Whimsy is Grandpa John.  A retired archivist and avid bicyclist, Grandpa John wanders the globe with Mrs. Claus in search of historic landmarks, choice cuts of meat, and fine wines.  Since retiring from the Smithsonian's American History Museum, Grandpa John has turned his talents to art works including, but not limited to: miniatures, archivist noir novellas, avant-garde street performance.

Under the guise of entertaining his grandchildren, Grandpa John torments his own children by decorating selections from his extensive postcard collection with voice bubbles and stick figures. Recently, his children gathered before a display of his work on the family refrigerator curated by his daughter-in-law.  Grandpa John's children saw them as a sign that the old man is definitely losing it. The daughter-in-law disagreed. Her brother asked, what if our dad was sending these. Well, that would definitely be a sign of senility, but with Grandpa John, it's just his long repressed literary genius bubbling to the surface.

Grandpa John's most recent work

Thank you, Grandpa John, for all your observations and insight.


The Small of Big Things

Vernon was talking about his philosophy, about how artists are big people, big brave people with big ideas.  That's why he paints on enormous canvases.  That's why he is looking for affordable studio space.  To his left, Meredith with her book of poetry "Small Things," and to his right, us with our tiny songs, and John with his minuscule photographs.  And look here, a CD I bought at a concert last week by drummer Don Nichols, "Station of Small Sounds," and a literary journal asking for submissions to their next issue with the theme of (what else?): Small Things.

If Vernon is right, and artists are big people with big things to say, why are we all feeling so small? Could it be this new frontier we hold in our palms?  It used to be that we only felt the vastness of the universe when we stared at the stars. Now it's so close, we can touch it, every voice altering the course of a global conversation so vast, we've learned it's possible to give each voice only a few moments of our time.


In Ekphrasis Class The Best Plan Turns Out to Be What Wasn't Planned

What is planned is to play the recording of Stanley Tucci reading Etgar Keret's short story "Creative Writing."  What is planned, is to have the students write about it.  Write what?, they ask. Write anything, is the response.

The plan is that they will all be very inspired. The story offers so many possibilities! Within one five-page story lives: A society where once in a lifetime, a person can divide into two beings, each, half the age of the original; A world where you can only see the people you love, where it slowly dawns on a husband that his wife can no longer see him; A woman who gives birth to a cat that the husband suspects is not his; An enterprising fish who gets turned into a man who becomes so successful he forgets he ever was a fish.

What a bold writer to take four fascinating story ideas and waste them all on one very short one, a writer confident that the world will continue to deliver ideas!

The students frown at their papers.  Some start to write, some don't. Several minutes pass. Cassie asks to use the rest room.  Barbara sighs and rolls her eyes to the ceiling.  Arthur taps his forehead with his pencil. A bird flutters by, a fairy of a shadow dancing across the room.

What is planned is to have the students share their inspired pieces. Bill declines, but Nancy agrees to read. Anthony reads his with a British accent.  Grace, with the laptop, apologizes; she is working on an essay for civics.

Not according to plan, Elliot in overalls stands and says he has something to write on the board. He takes the chalk and draws x/y axes, like Kurt Vonnegut and his x/y axes of storytelling, Worst Despair to Unbelievable Happiness; Beginning to Electricity. But Elliot labels the y-axis: Broadness of Assignment, and the x, Specificity of Source.  With such a specific point of reference (Etgar Keret's short story "Creative Writing"), but with such a broad assignment ("Write anything"), Elliot is at an impasse, and just like last week, feels blocked.  He puts a dot on the graph to illustrate.

What is not planned is to ask Elliot to think of a proper prompt that will place him at a more opportune point on his graph. He suggests writing alternate reality stories, where something that is impossible here and now, is accepted as perfectly normal within the context of the story. He writes a description of a society where people have four arms.

What isn't planned is that Jacob writes a near perfect little story about a young man who has only 18 words left. What isn't planned is that the class suggests that Elliot could make his description into a story by showing a character with four arms living in a society of four-armed people, similar in spirit, they say, to Jacob's.


W.o.W.* Meeting**: Sunday, February 16th, 3pm, 609 E. Hancock, Appleton

One wombat is a very nice thing,
but a wisdom of wombats churns the stream
and up comes the pebbles and minnows and bees,
and out flows marvels that no one dreams
when huddled alone before a single candle
desperate to find in its flame, an inferno.

One wombat makes a rustle in the night,
but a wisdom of wombats strikes a cacophony of delights
as the song birds fly and the oceans roar,
together we'll harvest this bounty of noise.

**We will be planning for our interactive springtime pop-up gallery.  Join us!

*A collective of Fox Valley artists mutually supporting and enabling cross-genre exploration.


On Being a (Foolhardy) Late Bloomer

It took me a great many years to write millions of words, a mountain of story starts that refused to solidify, so many, it is embarrassing to look at all those files, but sometimes I do, after seeing an announcement, a local fiction contest perhaps, 4500 words or less, offering the winner a chance to be recognized at the spring book festival (and $300!), right here in town, and I think, I must have a story, buried among all those false starts; with so many years of diligent work, there must be one little gem I've forgotten all about.  So with great hope and a heaping bowl full of masochism, I spend the morning opening one file after another, reading a few paragraphs, a sentence, a word, before clicking each shut, my hope quickly draining, replaced by a familiar nausea rising from the strain that leaks through the lines I crafted under the duress to achieve perfection, stuffing my creative urge into the prepackaged form of late 20th century American short story, not because of a profound love necessarily, but because that's what you do if you are a serious writer intending to get published in a highly respected journal. I wanted to see my terse bio on the contributor's page. Of course, I had read a lot of advice to the contrary, the well-seasoned writers cautioning: Examine, most carefully your motivation, and follow, not a desire for attention, but for expression.  I, of course, remained foolhardy, honoring more the perch from which they advised, than their words.  Deep inside I knew my motivation was flawed, but I didn't know what else to do.  How to change course when you are so firmly entrenched in a well-defined rut?  What would have happened if I had been brave at 28 and done something radical instead of following the familiar?  What if. . . so many things, I can't even begin to innumerate?  One thing is fairly certain: If I hadn't spend all those hours struggling to write short stories that never went anywhere, I may never has been able to arrive at what seems to be my proper diagnosis of being inflicted with a terminal case of whimsy.

envelope paper by Beth Watson


Help Chase Away the Longest Winter Boo-Hoos

Make a Drink and Dine Date


Mrs. Watson's Banjo
CD Release

 @ The Green Gecko 
City Center, Downtown Appleton
Tuesday, February 25th, 5-7pm


How To Teach A Group of High School Students How To Write a "How To" Essay

1) Spend your weekend skiing and hanging out with friends and not planning for your nonfiction writing class.

2) An hour and a half before your class is to begin, rush to the library to find an inspiring yet brief essay that high school students will find enlightening and entertaining.

3) Finding none, begin to panic, not knowing how you are going to fill the hour and twenty-five minute class.

4) Arrive to class late and hungry since you skipped lunch in order to go to the library.

5) In a moment of spontaneous brilliance, calmly tell the students, that, according to plan, today we will write "how to" essays.

6) Ask the students to list topics that might be suitable for "how to" essays.

7) Write the responses on the board, misspelling at least one, just to see if anyone is paying attention.

8) Tell the boy who prefers to be called by his internet gaming name, that simply telling how to play his favorite video game is not adequate, though you won't necessarily be able to come up with a coherent reason why except that you do not care to read an essay, even a very short one, about how to play a video game.  As you try to explain that these are essays meant for a general audience, and that the interesting part of the essay is not necessarily what you are explaining how to do, but how you choose to say it, you come off sounding like a cranky old lady who can't relate to the younger generation, setting at least a couple of the students against you.

9) Wish that you had a very fine example of a "how to" essay written by a celebrity that all the students would admire.

10) Tell the students they have 20 minutes to write their own "how to" essay.  Remind them to just start writing, to not worry about whether or not they have a good idea, that ideas come from the physical act of writing and not from sitting and trying to think of the perfect thing to write.  Feel a little foolish saying it, since they have all heard it so many times before that they finish your sentences for you.

11) While some begin to write, sit and worry if it is even good advice to begin with.

12) Walk around and remind the students who have their phones out to put their phones away.  Feel like a cranky old lady again when they take out an earbud to tell you that they are just picking some music to listen to.

13) Squat down beside the morose girl with her head on the desk and ask her very quietly if there is something that she would like to write about.  When she says no, suggest a topic that you think she might like to write about since you have seen her drawing a particular animal in her notebook.  She says she doesn't know anything about that. You tell her she probably knows much more about it than most people since she once told you that she keeps several of those animals as pets. Tell her you think that would be a very interesting thing to write about.  Instantly regret saying it because from the look on her face you can tell that this news makes her want to write about it even less.  Still, encourage her to get out her paper and start writing until she finally does, just to make you go away.

14) When most of the students have begun to twirl their pencils and look exceedingly bored, suggest that it is time to share.  When no one volunteers, call on the student most likely to not refuse.  While listening intently, try to think of a pity and useful comment, but having thought of none, say, "Nice start!" Repeat until no one else is willing to share.

15) Talk vaguely about essay structure, hoping that will carry you to the end of class.

16) Realize that there is still 20 minutes of class left and try not to panic.

17) Be thankful that one of the students suggests that they keep working on their writing.

18) Sit down and keep your mouth shut until the bell rings.

19) When the bell rings and the morose girl rips up the paper she was writing on, think to tell her that all writers, no matter how experienced, have days when they feel their writing is shit, that it's just part of the process of trying to express yourself.

20) Instead, smile and say, "Have a nice day!"

21) Later regret not having said the thing which probably wouldn't have helped anyway.


Problematic Inspiration

The writer is not proud to announce that she is envious of another writer.  She found out about the writer she is envious of on the radio one day when she was in the car, waiting at a light.  The reviewer called the writer's stories "flashes of brilliance, like short bursts of fire," so she scribbled the name of the writer on the back of a gum wrapper and stuck it in her pocket.  Today, she refound it in the pocket of the coat she was wearing that day, a coat she hasn't worn since it turned cold.  She took the gum wrapper to the library and walked the stacks until she found the writer's book, squeezed in the cleavage of two mighty novelists.  She took the thin book from the shelf and checked it out.  Now she is carrying the book around with her, and though she loves the book, it also repulses her because she feels that the writer stole the stories that she would have eventually written but now can not because this writer wrote them first.