I made very little progress on fiction this year, which is okay.

In years past I was kind of defensive about my lack of fictional productivity—I think because I’d bought into the idea that a fiction writer writes fiction, and if I’m not writing, maybe I’m not a fiction writer anymore. But my experience is that making myself write something that I don’t want to write is no fun, nor is it particularly productive.

So of late I’ve just gone with it. On days that I feel like writing fiction I take a stab at something—I’ve started two new stories and worked on several old ones over the course of the year, in addition to working a little on the novel. Essentially none of that work has borne fruit in the sense of producing a finished story, but none of it was wasted either, in the sense that I did it because I wanted to, and only kept at it as long as I was enjoying it.

I don’t know whether I wrote more or less because I gave myself permission to write only when I wanted to, but I definitely enjoyed it more.

I did a bit more writing for Wise Bread this year, all concentrated toward the end of the year. Posts that appeared in 2016 were:

I’m pretty pleased with all of those. The first one did quite well in terms of reads, getting a pretty good response to my tweet “It bugs me when people mock millennials for not following the game plan that worked for the boomers.”

As a bonus, none of them is a listicle.

I wrote a typical amount here on this blog, averaging perhaps a post a week.

A big reason I didn’t do more writing this year is the amount of time I spent doing other things. I spent a little more time this year than in recent years with the local Esperantists. Jackie lured me into joining her on some of the volunteer stewardship work days she’s doing as part of becoming a Master Naturalist. The biggest was movement—that will get its own “Movement in 2016” post.

As a side note here, because although it’s not writing it is a creative endeavor, I bought myself a drawing tablet for the computer. (I got a medium Wacom Intuos tablet.) I’ve produce my first painting with it, and a second is almost done. I’m thinking I’ll share paintings here on the blog from time to time, but I wanted to get these 2016 review posts done first.

Noted Zen artist Shozo Sato gave a talk on black ink painting and calligraphy at an open house for the Japan House on the University of Illinois campus.

It was a wide-ranging talk, starting with his own history at the University and at Japan House and his earlier work here with kabuki theater. Then he went on to talk about black ink (the same ink is used for painting and for calligraphy): how the blocks of ink are made, about how there are two colors of black ink (a slightly red warm black and a slightly blue cool black), and about how an electron microscopic image of the brush strokes of a piece of calligraphy looks distinctly different from a similar image of the artist’s signature (even though they’re made with the same ink, same brush, and by the same hand).

He talked about and demonstrated some painting techniques involving crumpling the paper—wadding it up to make random crinkles, and then painting the peaks of the crinkles to show a texture like a rocky surface, or folding it up and painting the edges of the folds to show a texture like clefts in a mountainside. (Then you can dampen the paper and the folds will relax.)

Calligraphy is going to be the topic of his next book, and he demonstrated that briefly. He showed us how to hold the brush (vertical, with the elbow high). Then, after pausing for a long moment, he quickly drew a few Japanese characters with bold strokes.

After just that one calligraphy example, he finished by talking about traditional Japanese and Chinese black ink painting. He showed us the basic brush strokes—thick-to-thick, thick-to-thin, and thin-thick-thin—and demonstrated how you can use them to draw a bamboo plant. (He even showed us an ancient Chinese secret: You can easily paint a leaf that goes behind the stem by masking the stem with another piece of paper as you paint.)

After the talk, he autographed copies of his new book Sumi-e: The Art of Japanese Ink Painting. (That page at Amazon has a video of Shozo Sato demonstrating black ink painting techniques.)

After the talk, walking through the Japanese tea garden, I wrote a haiku. In the original Esperanto it is:

La majstro staras
brosho en mano kaj jen!
Rapide skribas.

It doesn’t work quite as well in English. A literal translation would be:

The master stands
brush in hand and behold!
Rapidly writes.

It was a really interesting talk. I actually have a little Chinese black ink painting set—ink stick, grinding dish, brush, and a book of techniques. I think I’ll get it out and do a little painting.