Remembering Steve Jobs—Richard Geller

If you are one of the people whose life was somehow changed, even transformed, by an Apple product, you’re likely deeply saddened by Steve Job’s passing; I know I am. Like you, I have my own story about how Steve Jobs and Apple made my life better.

When I was a poor graduate student at the Poetry Writer’s Workshop at the University of Iowa, my first big purchase was an IBM Selectric. It was an amazing machine, because it gave me the ability to switch type fonts and correct without Wite-Out.  Next, I heard about the first Wang word processors that only large corporations could afford. (I wanted one of those so badly!) But in the early 80’s the first personal computers appeared, and I bought an IBM PC and ran WordPerfect. My first Apple was a IIci, and it (and subsequent Macs) changed my life again and again with: desktop publishing, video editing,  the internet, online marketing, self-publishing, and audio recording.

The bottom line for me is that, for over a quarter of a century, Macs have been at the center of my creative life—a key enabler of my dream of getting my work further out into the stream.

If you do one thing, watch Steve Job’s 15-minute graduation address to the Stamford Class of 2005. I promise you it’s worth your time. Thanks, Steve, RIP.

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Only Those Who Need To—Richard Geller

I spent an interesting Sunday in New York catching up with an old friend in from LA to try to raise finishing monies for a new show. My friend is a documentary film producer/director, who, over the years, has produced a string of breakthrough shows that have contributed to our world to a degree any artist might truly envy.

Our day concluded with an intimate dinner at an old-style Italian restaurant, Gene’s, on the edge of the Village—close to where we went to college together. At the table, were an assortment of seasoned professionals: one very accomplished, funny Hollywood editor, a brainy TV and magazine writer, a whip-smart intellectual property lawyer, two more high achieving indie producer/director/editor types and some kids—just getting started.

The talk at some point turned to the business and how eff-ing tough it’s all becomehow there’s really no clear path anymore for kids starting out, how it’s all a “blooming confusion.” And it’s true.

I remembered something else—something I was told perhaps back at the Iowa Writers Workshop as another old order was busy collapsing; a writer pointed out that almost anyone could be a writer if he or she worked at it hard enough, but only those who really needed to would.

And, that said, it’s good to be among your own—sharing a meal somewhere toward the remains of the day.



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My Afternoons with Margueritte—Richard Geller

Every so often a little film comes along that is so very lovely that it makes you want to tell everyone you care about to go see it if they can. “My Afternoons with Margueritte” starring Gérard Depardieu and Giséle Casadesus is such a movie. It’s a beautiful, hopeful little tale about an illiterate village oaf (Depardieu) and a 95 year old woman (Casadesus) with a passion for words, who meet one day in a park and the tranformative effects of their developing friendship and love. The trailer, while not one of the best or worst, perhaps gives a small taste of the world you’re being invited to visit,  and this film delivers moments of genuine magic and artistry to be savored long after the last scene fades to black. On the night I saw the film, the audience applauded—not that common an event in America—and almost everyone seemed reluctant to leave the theater and have the spell broken.

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Google’s New Wallet—Richard Geller

Wired  magazine describes a new smartphone AP from Google that will allow you to have virtual credit cards in your smartphone. You won’t need to carry plastic cards around—just wave your phone in front of a reader and poof! your transaction’s completed. Okay, there are still some bumps in the road, but it’s a quick read and worth knowing about.

Mobile electronic transactions in all sorts of formats will undoubtedly be in the mix somewhere up ahead. That really doesn’t take that much of an imaginative stretch. What amazes me is our deer-in-the-headlights tolerance of the credit cards themselves—their predatory business practices, usurious fees and interest charges of up to 36%.

They’re 50-ton, parasitic financial dinosaurs squatting in our collective kitchen, and they are what needs replacing with an eCurrency system that adds-value and is actually in our interest. The technology clearly exists already, so focusing on minor nifty things you can do with a smart phone seems beside the point. The real, innovative leap forward will come when all electronic transactions have a simple buyer/vendor fee in support of a stable, sustainable society (say underwriting universal healthcare or education). Kicking those card sharks to the curb; now that’s a story I’d like to read about in Wired.

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Swannanoa Gathering 2011—Richard Geller

I just got back from my eighth Swannanoa Gathering at Warren Wilson College just outside Asheville, NC. The Gathering consists of five week-long events devoted to different forms/genres of acoustic music. I attend the Contemporary Folk & Guitar Week in late July.

For one week, student writers and players of all ages and levels of accomplishment get to rub elbows and take classes from world-class singer-songwriters and acoustic virtuosos. If that’s your thing, it just doesn’t get any better than this anywhere. And at the student open mics that conclude the week, many get to share the stage supported by these same performers.

It’s Brigadoon—at least the closest thing to it. Once a year, a community of artists assembles and magic, inspiration, service and love are fully palpable for five long days and nights. People flower in its light; we bear witness to each other’s incredible capacity for growth, forge lasting friendships, and experience just how fine things can be here on earth. And everyone is welcome…everyone.

The glow from a Gathering can last a year or more. For many, it’s come to mark the ending of the old creative year and the beginning of the new one. And, while the students and teachers might disagree about who gets the most from the week, all seem to leave inspired, grateful, strengthened, and resolved to the road that’s always before us.

As I head home, inevitably, I wonder how I could possibly make my day-to-day a little more like these and why it should be so.



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First Time Ever (On The Radio)—Richard Geller

It’s funny how things happen. Looking back, there seems to be a kind of inevitability to it, yet that’s probably the historical revisionist in me trying to impose order on something resiliently mysterious.

Last summer at Swannanoa, my friend Sally, a world-class dobro player, told me to “get off my ass and start playing out”—that I was unlikely to improve much just playing at home. (That’s a big part of our friendship—giving each other much-needed shit.) And so I started making the rounds of local open mics, which led to more open mics, and, recently, to an invite to be on a local college radio station this past Tuesday, during which most everything that could go wrong did. And it did not matter one bit.

We were barely into what was supposed to be a 35 minute set of songs and talk, when the power went out in Middletown. So we waited in the dark and, later, tried to follow the station engineer’s phone instructions to get ready if and when the power ever came back on.

In the end, three of us crowded into one tiny studio; we never did get the other studio working where I and Tim Sparks (who had kindly agreed to play along with me on some songs) were supposed to be. But none of it mattered. No nerves, we just had the most fun and if anyone was listening, I’m reasonably sure we sounded pretty good. Most importantly, we all enjoyed the moment.

So, I ended up having my first experience of being featured on the radio, got invited back, and realized maybe I had learned a thing or two by playing out—losing my radio cherry in the process. So thanks to everyone in an impossibly-long chain of encounters and events and, especially, Jennifer, Tim and Sally.

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We Are Not Mistaken—Richard Geller

We Are Not Mistaken

We are not mistaken
By our belief in God
Or Truth or absolute reality

We are not mistaken
By our disbelief in God
Or Truth or absolute reality

We are mistaken
By our certainty

from Living On The Outskirts Of Heaven by Richard Geller

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The Ungiveable Gift—Richard Geller

The Ungiveable Gift

Not sorrow exactly
A dull sadness
Or disappointment
That persists

Having at last found
Something priceless
And therefore worthy of all—
Discovering it almost
Impossible to share
An ungiveable gift

Like some fabled jewel
That disappears
As soon as you
Open your hand to offer it

©PressForward Publications, Madison, CT, 2011

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With Experience—Richard Geller

With Experience

With experience
And reflection

The refinement
Of desire

Is inevitable
As is

The refinement
Of dissatisfaction

Two sides
Of the same coin

The thickness
Of which is illusion

from True Worldly Things by Richard Geller

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75th Anniversary Iowa Writers Workshop—Richard Geller

It’s strange being back after 46 years; the simple truth is that I recognize practically nothing about Iowa City, so there’s no great flood of nostalgia. I guess you can’t go home again. And I do think of the Iowa Writers Workshop as a kind of home, as it was here that I first felt I’d become a member of the tribe of writers. And as insubstantial or illusory as that might seem, it’s a feeling that has persisted and sustained me through the years. Some impressions of the celebration:

I’m in the Iowa Memorial Union in the vast main lounge—listening to a panel discussion on “The Writer As Outsider” —generally having a hard time with the sophomoric topics selected for this gathering. As I listen, I realize I’d forgotten just how cerebral a group we writers are. I can practically hear the wheels of our minds whirring at a fine, high pitch.

I don’t attend any more panel discussions the first day. Instead, I hang around the margins—having one-on-one discussions with others who are also avoiding the one panel discussion after another format. Only a few from my years of 1965-67 seem to be in attendance.

I take a walk though town with another poetry workshop graduate; no question, I definitely do not recognize anything.

Significant encounters with others start happening—sort of like popcorn—at first nothing seems to be happening. Then, one kernel pops, then another and soon there’s nothing but the sound of popping. That’s how the celebration ends up feeling.

I attend more panel discussions on the second day—just to listen to writers speak about writing; I no longer care about the topics. I just enjoy listening to the way their minds work.

I am not nostalgic, but I am feeling waves of affection for my fellow writers.

On the morning before I head home, I hear a story from someone who lived at Black’s Gaslight Village in 1965. I had initially rented a basement apartment there that year, but felt within a few hours of moving in that I’d never be able to work there and left. I learn from her that someone later hung himself in that same basement apartment that year.

The Hamburger Inn I patronized no longer exists. I go to Hamburger Inn #2 instead for breakfast twice. The second time, I feel I have partially reestablished some tenuous connection to this Iowa City. I have a conversation with a local; I spot one of the panelists from “The Writer As Outsider” having her last breakfast there too. We are, perhaps, a sentimental bunch. I’m ready to leave.

I asked practically everyone I met, “Why did you come back?” And practically everyone answered, “I don’t know, and…I’m glad I did.”

I’m glad I did.

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