Monday, October 29, 2012

No Longer Waiting: Writing

Thanks, emmabutterfly for this image

Today is the day.

I've decided today it is time, once and for all to take action. To put my money where my mouth is. Or, since I have no money to speak of, to put my writing where my mouth is.
For those friends learning English who are unfamiliar with this cultural expression:  this is what I mean.
It is time to do it. To stop avoiding it. To stop talking about doing it. To stop making lists about how to accomplish it. To stop seeking therapy for not being able to do it (okay that's new and could be a good idea).
What am I talking about? What is the it I mean?
Let's put it this way.

Today I decided to write more. To write definitively. And to go for a career in writing and performing original work.That means something has to go. In order to write definitively, say 2 or 3 hours a day, I realized I would have to cut something out. I need to work:  that is, write.

But, my JOB gets in the way of my WORK.
And my JOB pays the bills.

But, like I said, I'm putting my (non-existent) money where my mouth is. I expressed to those I work for my intent to transition into a more creative career. 

Granted, that statement is bound to piss someone off. It would piss me off if I were in the position of, well any position in this stinky economy in which I kept a job I didn't love in order to keep my children in pantaloons and pancakes. It makes me feel a little guilty that I feel I have the freedom to go for it.

And, I'm foolish enough at the age of 39 to try for something else. To, and I dread to write it as much as you dread reading it, to go after my dreams.

Is this Hurricane Sandy or the full moon talking?
Have I been listening to too much Alicia Keys?
Or, is this some sort of late adolescence...a kind of Run, Rabbit, Run syndrome?

Maybe all of the above.And something more.
I stopped waiting for support. I decided to take heart, not grow weary, have a little hope, and go for it.
As soon as I took action, the weirdest thing occurred.
After making the decision to stop waffling and move forward however I could today, I had five students drop their advising spots...for those not living in Academia...I now miraculously have five hours MORE in my week.

I'm free to write. I'm also a bit under the gun...meaning, I have to make this work. Or else, I'm out on my hiney. Nothing like a little threat of homelessness to grease the wheel and get an artist working. If I do lose my job, I've always got my work.

What's the worst that can happen? Not a bad question.

How about, what's the best?

Stay tuned for more from the Radical Middle:  upcoming events, NANOWRIMO begins November 1. Write the novel you always dreamed of. Also, stay tuned for the winner of Subject4Change Contest #1...because I'm still processing the flood of zero entries. So, I've written two acts of a play for you!

Sunday, October 7, 2012

What Do You See? Contest #1

OK, here we go. Subject4change stats time.
It's been five months and 1,397 views. On average, views happen here at a rate of around 400 per month.
To the right, you'll see a collection of 7 Followers, meaning 4 people from Tim's Facebook page who wanted to wish me a happy 39th birthday, 2 friends I asked to join, and Tim.
I hate that word, followers. But, settings are what settings are. If I had my way, I'd change Followers to Guests. Or Visitors. Or Teachers or Artists or Coffee-shop owners or Mothers or Cousins or Sprites, Brownies, Fairies, Lost Boys in Never-land. 

To be more accurate, I'd change Followers to Imaginary Friends.
Because not to sound pitiable, but I have a hard time believing people out there are actually reading.

Now viewing is another matter. What I believe is that the universe that is Google insists on redirecting you poor wayward Internet travelers to my bloggy swamp and before you disentangle and hyperlink away, you take a look around.

What are you thinking? What do you see?

Oh weary hyper-traveler, I wish I could create a place for you to rest your quicksilver mind.

If I could write code and if code were imagination, I would paint you such a world you would not want to leave...not before exploring, before calling out in a nervous voice: "Hello? Is someone there?" to hear the creak of tree limbs and see, and see...gulp. To see something so strange as to make the hair on the back of your neck stand up. See something so mysterious you couldn't help but investigate.

What world would you uncover if you visited here? (Other than sentence fragments) Who or what would you find?

These flights of fancy aside, today I've made a decision. I can't stand not hearing from you. I hate doing this all by myself. My whole life I've written in journals, in books, on computers for someone I'll never hear utter a word...for some unknown other. Someone I can only call you. No wonder I behave like a schizophrenic in my daily life. Worse than talking to myself, I am writing to myself.

And I am tired of waiting for someone to write back.

So if you can read, write, speak, sing or dance,
if you can paint, breathe, sculpt, make babies or teach,
if you have ever observed a thought in your head which is errant and untraceable,
ever flirted with destiny,
ever wanted something more than what you have,
ever wondered who you are, what you are about or where you are going...
if you have ever found yourself wandering far from home and discovered you are in no hurry to get back
if you've ever watched yourself live
watched yourself dream
saw yourself flying, laughing, walking, breathing or moving at the speed of light
if you've been embarrassed at saying too much or regretted saying too little,
then it is you: you are the friend I've been waiting to meet.  Talk to me.


The rules are simple. In one week or less from the time of this published post, email to your artistic response (as a pdf, jpeg, .gif, or youtube video) to the conversation I've started below:

(We're) On the Verge of Something New

(We're) On the Verge of Something New

Responses may be any genre, medium or type:  from writing to photos to whatever you can think of.
Keep your content appropriate for General Audiences. English is optional.
Written responses, if a play, should be around ten minutes running time. Same for videos. Photos must be sent in a format I can post. Contest Winners will be published under a Creative Commons Copyright:  Attribution- Non-Commercial-Share-Alike-3.0-Unported on the Subject-4-Change site next week.

By the way, I'll keep writing to myself.
If no one enters, I'll post what I wrote and we'll keep moving forward.

Hope to hear from you soon.

Yours truly, Radical Middle

Saturday, September 22, 2012

The Spider in My Bath

Tegenaria Duellica (AKA Tegenaria Gigantea)

NEW! Click on the title below to access the audio version (wma file), read by the author: me.

The Story That Waits

About two weeks ago, I discovered a larger version of this beautiful terrifying spider, (bigger than my entire palm if I were to hold it, which I didn't!) crouched adjacent to the drain in my bathroom sink. She and I stared at one another. It was hardly a showdown. She won. In fact, after I attempted to take a picture with my phone (it did her no justice, so I hyper-borrowed this pic from a British blogger,) I hustled my two young boys away a safe distance into the living room, where we discussed our options, brainstorming as pensively as Mensa on the verge of a world war.

"Wash her down the drain."
"No way! She's bigger than the drain! She'll just scuttle to the top if I turn the water on...What else?"
"Use a book to smash her."
I imagined crushing the spider, the sound of crunching bones, and turned a little green. I shook my head no.
Besides, we couldn't kill her. In Native American legend, Spider is the Weaver, carrying stories to the people. In Greek myth, the storyteller Arachne was turned into a spider after she wove a tale superior to that of the goddess who tested her. Spiders mean the return of stories.
I'd recently returned to my all-encompassing job as a teacher, trailing behind me a summer of story-threads. With my 39th birthday, I'd objectively watched my dream of writing plays slip can I write stories for an invisible audience of make-believe friends when a very real job serving very real people demanded all of my time? The amazing, wonderful, vibrating web of imaginative stories would...just have to wait. I penned ideas in a notebook to get them to stop bugging me. I shelved my new iPad in a dark, high corner. Encased in the tyranny of Now, I could barely move for family, much less to eat or sleep or exercise. What room was there for stories?
And yet now, here she was. A gift from a creator God who knows my every thought...this hairy lady symbolized a kind of lurking determination...a stalwart unchanging, unyielding Story standing her ground.

"Will you pay me if I catch her?"
Since June, Oldest son has been saving for an I-Pod. Wow, I thought. He really wants that I-Pod. iPod.
"That's called an exterminator. And yes, child, I will pay you handsomely."
I was prepared to pay him fifty, but he naively accepted my first offer.
"Five dollars?"
He breathed deeply, shaking his hands like a shot-putter. His services were cheap, so I kicked in my support. Let's do this. Get her out.
We roamed the premises in search of a "Spider-Kit", a cup large enough to transport the beast in her emigration to my lawn, before wisely settling on the vacuum extension as an alternative. We brandished the Dyson's yellow tube as a unit:  firemen inching closer to the flames. The youngest hid at the end of the line, assuming I'm sure, the meatiest of us would go first. Having no knowledge of German-engineering, he noted the tube's diameter was insufficient for the spider's girth. I quickly considered the physics of this. How confident was I that the pull would be enough? Germans are smart, yes. Reliable. Thorough, even. But, did they test for spider strength in the factory? I imagined the spider gripping the circumference of the tube, her body creating a seal, imagined her resisting until the machine popped and gave way with a puff of gray smoke...We froze the advance. Then, wisely, we ceded the territory.
Youngest son suggested,  "Let's move to another house."  But, being a bit short on a deposit just then, I tiptoed into the front bathroom, turned off the light, snugly fit the door into its frame, and plugged the space below the door with a rolled-up cotton bed sheet. I hoped my blockade would provide a detour and discourage the girl from gobbling us all as we slept.

We left her alone.

Two weeks later, I'm still alive. My children remain uneaten.

Having each packed one bag with the barest of essentials, we escaped to my office. We all live there now. When school is not in session, we huddle together under my Executive-issue Mahogany L-shaped desk, sharing soy-based peanut butter crackers in cellophane packages as we circulate the iPod and recount Our Timely Escape over charming bottles of water from volcanic springs in Fuji. It's crowded sleeping here with the Dyson, but in a comforting kind of way. We all agree, it's sort of like sleeping with your bodyguard.

Back home, ha ha, what used to be home, they tell me the house teems with tenants. Hemingway, the ass, moved in and mounted a Swordfish over my husband's hand-tiled Italian fireplace. Christa Reinig. Parker, Durang, Letts. They're in and out. Some anonymous parson from the fourteenth century circles the place, cawing, unraveling his soul. Kingsolver picnics there whenever she drops in the village. Of course, no one thinks to mow the yard. Annie Motts, Thorton Wilder, Loren Eisley:  they drink cheap red wine and chase each other like teenagers on the wrap-around deck we had restained in Cherry #405A the summer before last. Someone could pick up a pair of hedge-trimmers. I assume the neighbors are horrified.

Justifiably, I'm sure.

Want to join a cultural-bridging movement? 
Comment on this story with your answer to the question:  How do you deal with the tension between art and life? Stay tuned for more real-life experiences, Lord-willing, from the Radical Middle.

Listen to the story read by the author HERE

Friday, August 3, 2012

Where Do Ideas Come From?

Melody Sheep's (aka John Boswell) movie on Quantum Theory:  The Symphony of Science

"Often we deem ourselves originators of thoughts and ideas, feelings and passions, actually inspired by some group. Our agreement with those about us is so complete that we vibrate in unison, ignorant of the real source of vibrations." Maurice Halbwachs on Collective Memory

"Where Do Your Ideas Come From?"

In my daydreams when I'm interviewed by PBS' Bill Moyers, this is the question that stumps me. 
I handle other questions thoughtfully, master the small talk with ease, but when this question makes its way to the front of the conversation queue, I balk. "Uh...Why do you ask? What have you heard?"

This fear is partly due to a sour personal history in a college freshman Brit Lit class, when the professor pulled me aside to discuss issues of plagiarism on my first, and best, paper in her class. Despite meetings where I defended my answers with multiple rough drafts, going so far as to show her papers I had composed in high school, the professor never rescinded her opinion. Instead she offered the kind observation that although she couldn't prove it, I had unwittingly absorbed the perspective, rhythm, and style of other writers and was claiming their viewpoint as my own. Because of my refusal to give in I earned an A on the paper, but that wasn't what I wanted. What I wanted was to be lifted up and admired for my ideas, my insight, my effort. I wanted my star sticker, a desk plaque that read "Genius Award: Best Writing By An Entering Freshman I've Read."  Face it, I wanted credit for my originality.
At first, it seemed the only way to prove originality was to develop as much of an individual perspective as I could. I avoided reading contemporary works for fear that they would influence and form me. I stopped agreeing with people in conversation. I tried my best to become what I knew I was born to be: an individual, separate, different, and hopefully by default, better. Valuable to the masses for my priceless, rare, one-of-a-kind point of view. Then I got smart, and gave up. Not only is it an impossible task, fruitless and unnecessary, it's lonely.
Although since that time, neurotic fears of hidden plagiarism still haunt me and ruin my fantasy telecast interviews with Bil Moyers, by popping my little bubble, that professor gave me a tremendous gift of insight.

Individuality is a myth. And that's a good thing.

The myth of fingerprints in action

"Five years from now, you’re the same person except for the people you’ve met and the books you’ve read." (John Wooden, Legendary Basketball Coach)

Paul Simon, one of the artists whose creativity and perspective astounds and inspires me, touches upon this idea in his song,"All Around the World or the Myth of the Fingerprints"  [Track 11,  on Paul Simon's Graceland album, released in August 1986] About people all around the world, he sings: "I've seen them all, and, man, / They're all the same." 

We can take comfort in the fact that individuals by default exist only in community. And, good ideas are created not for individual, but for community use. Unfortunately, in community there is competition for limited resources, as well as a demand for recognition and fair recompense.

“Creativity is knowing how to hide your sources”

Albert Einstein

The origin of ideas is not so much debated as it is rewarded. In a postmodern American culture creativity is a game of competition, production and attribution which generates some of the hottest, most profitable, popular and useful ideas around. An idea gains traction when it has been adopted. And once it has been adopted, there is money to be made. For this reason attribution quickly becomes a serious matter, more than a guessing determines to whom the check will be sent. Ironically, the story that haunts Simon's song is one of a lack of credit attributed to the originators of the Myth of Fingerprints melody, an East L.A. band, Los Labos. They created the song and Paul Simon took credit.

Most likely, Los Labos gave up their rights to the song when they walked in the studio as "Work For Hire". If so, then Paul Simon was legal owner of the songs on the album. Although the band didn't see money from the songs they contributed to the album, their studio did. And the world saw a fantastic album. Unfortunately, acting within our rights doesn't build community:  what's legal isn't always what's right.

"Consider the rights of others before your own feelings, and the feelings of others before your own rights.”
John Wooden

Legendary Basketball Coach John Wooden
Sometimes this notion of intellectual property becomes laughable, as in the case of the song, "Happy Birthday."  Although two sisters in the early 20th century are credited with creating the original melody, "Good Morning To You" to greet their kindergarten classes, the melody most likely reflected popular songs of the time and a group of five and six year olds adapted the lyrics without being named or paid. Since then, the copyright for "Happy Birthday" has made millions in royalties for its conglomerate owners.

Or, think of the legal process of applying for a U.S. patent as another example. Although hundreds of people may simultaneously work on development and research of a particular idea, the person or team who claims ownership first will be the one receiving credit and earning residuals.  In a capitalistic society, the underlying assumption is that competition produces better ideas faster. Eventually, we hope, the world benefits with inventions like peanut butter (misattributed), the electric lightbulb (misattributed), the cure and medical treatment for diseases, an explanation for quantum theory... But is competition truly helpful in building community over the long haul? And if the goal of art (religion, education, science and even political diplomacy) is to benefit mankind and bring people together, what would happen if competition, attribution, and ownership were taken out of the process?

“It is amazing what you can accomplish if you do not care who gets the credit.”
― Harry S. Truman

Strangely, Truman's quotation is misattributed often. Great sayings, like great stories, and even the song "Happy Birthday" become a part of our daily lives, a part of crowd wisdom. Art and creative artists should aim for such an honor as to become so useful to the common good that ownership is no longer an issue.
But, as the recent anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima bears witness, not all ideas that make an impact in the world are beneficial to the common good. And (as Truman knows) our actions will follow and define us whether we want credit or not.

"Collective amnesia may be more dangerous and powerful than collective memory" (John Allen, The Omnivorous Mind
So, where do memorable ideas come from? Artists, scientists, leaders in innovation often agree:  they don't know how they came up with the idea. They just know what they did with the idea once it came to them. The source and true end of a good idea is not within the individual but between: the Love-of-All-Loves. Poet Rainer Maira Rilke writes,

How can I keep my soul in me, so that
it doesn't touch your soul? How can I raise
it high enough, past you, to other things?
I would like to shelter it, among remote
lost objects, in some dark and silent place
that doesn't resonate when your depths resound.
Yet everything that touches us, me and you,
takes us together like a violin's bow,
which draws *one* voice out of two separate strings.
Upon what instrument are we two spanned?
And what musician holds us in his hand?
Oh sweetest song.
From 'Ahead of All Parting:
The Selected Poetry and Prose of Rainer Maria Rilke'
Edited and Translated by Stephen Mitchell

Material possessions, winning scores, and great reputations are meaningless in the eyes of the Lord, because He knows what we really are and that is all that matters.  [John Wooden (again)]

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

How to Write a Play

Imagination Cultivation by Nanami Cowdroy
This summer I volunteered to host a local workshop with as many kids as were interested in writing, illustrating, and shooting scenes for a digital sequel to my Underground Railroad play, MotherUnderground.
Five girls between the ages of 8-10 showed up. Four stayed. The mini-scene that follows barely details how in three days four young girls taught me more about imagination and process than I thought possible.

"How did you do that?" Iris, an erudite nine year old demanded of me following a bout of storytelling. The hazy fog of story sharing dissipated to reveal four girl-faces, all lifted expectantly to me, the storyteller and teacher of the group. I resisted the urge to fumble or equivocate, knowing group confidence invested in a new leader is fleeting. Prove it or lose it, I said to myself. And be honest. Kids sniff out lies that most of us allow ourselves to believe.
"Hmm. I guess, I think to myself...what happens next? And I don't necessarily pick the first choice that comes to mind. Once I make a decision, from there, I watch how the story grows."
They waited. They thought. No one moved. Well, maybe a little bit.
Then, inspired by their absolute faith there exists such a thing, I also presented them with a simple answer. "Okay. Here's how you do it. Five W's and an H."
We wrote the letters on the board, like this:

Then we filled in the rest. 

WHO does the story happen to?
WHAT does he/she WANT but can't have?
WHY can't she/he have it?

WHEN does the story begin? obstacles=high stakes

HOW does she get what she wants? OR, does she?
What happens next?

By demanding a simple explanation, these girls gleaned from me a formula for writing a play that I think works.

Motivating Desire as an Attribute of Character (Who and What)
"Okay, let's try it. Who is your hero? What are his or her characteristics? Umm. Let's take a look at Spiderman. Who is he? What does he want that he can't have? Remember Spiderman starts out as Peter Parker. Pete is a shy teenage orphan who wants to date the most popular girl in school, Mary Jane. Why can't he have that?"

Obstacles to Attainment (Why)
The girls laughed. "He's a dork!" "He wears glasses." "She has a boyfriend." "He needs a car."
"Right. All of these things...storytellers, and playwrights, call obstacles. These are obstacles to getting what he wants."
"But Spiderman wants to stop Green Goblin and save people-"
"You're right. Hmm. What happens to Peter Parker that starts all of that?" I waited to see what they knew.

Inciting Incident that sparks the Major Conflict (How)
"He gets bit by a spider."
"Not just any spider, girlfriend. A radioactive spider from Osborne labs. And then what?"
"And then..."
"And then, Peter Parker wakes up with powers. Cool powers. But we forgot something. Where does all this take place and when? Does it matter to this story?"

"Can I go to the bathroom?"
"Yes. Go, go. Anybody else? Alright...where were we? Exactly!Where were we? Get it? Anyway..."

Locus as High Stakes (When and Where)

"Peter lives in New York City. His best friend is the son of Dr. Osborne, a scientist who experiments with radiation and ends up as the villain, Green Goblin. When they meet that's when the story gets intense. Peter is going to have to learn how to become Spiderman in order to save everyone he knows and loves: his girlfriend, his Aunt, his best friend, and all of New York City from the Green Goblin. Oh! And then don't forget, his uncle is killed by a burglar and that's when he decides to fight crime..."

I lost them.
"Hmm. Okay. But all of that is "What Happens Next." Go back to your own ideas and our job to add onto the play you watched. Remember your main character, Sofia? She is a runaway slave on the Underground Railroad. She wants what?"

"To be free." "To get to Canada!" "Can I have a snack?"

"You got it." As I passed out beef jerky, trail mix and poked straws through Capri Sun juice pouches, I  hounded them with questions.
"Now, how does Sofia go about getting what she wants? And who or what is going to get in her way? Remember, the more difficult it is for her, the better the ending becomes. You've each picked your square from her quilt, her map to Canada. So start there:  that's your Where and When. You've got the Sailboat, so she's going to have to somehow get on a boat and cross the river. You have Drunkard's Pass, so she's going to need to zig-zag to escape those on her trail..."

"Are there more snacks?"

And from there we started our session of "On the Run" a What Happens Next? digital storytelling adventure.

By the end of three days, I was astounded by how much 8-10 year old girls can eat in three hours, but especially by what their imaginations could do. We wrote new stories, shot scenes, illustrated a comic book, and on the final day took turns shooting a mini-movie as a sequel to MotherUnderground.

They got it. They definitely got it.

Remember the question that started it all? My answer didn't satisfy me. So, the day following this lecture, I answered their question again by showing them this video. Now I'll share it with you.
How to Write a Play is best answered, in my opinion, by a personal hero of mine: Mister Rogers, in this beautiful remix/mash-up by melodysheep: Imagination. Use it.

Stay Tuned for more from Melody Sheep as we discuss Imagination and Collective Memory, in the next installment of Subject-4-change posted by the Radical Middle-  "Where Do Ideas Come From?"

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Pony Up


Where have I been?  To those readers who keep up the steady trickle of views to Subject4Change, I have two things to say:
1. Thank you.
2. Sorry for neglecting you and our cultural movement.

You know, when I see it written like that, I have to wonder what in the world could possibly take precedence? C'mon. Who can spark a cultural movement by hanging on the sidelines? Even the term "cultural movement" is starting to sound like something requiring probiotics. And, as a weekly blogger who hasn't posted in four weeks, I feel that makes me in your eyes appear, well...full of shit.

Luckily, I have a segue in mind. Ponies. Don't make me explain it.

One project that has been occupying my time is a non-fiction memoir Out of the Kill Pen, recently pitched to A-- Press, Inc. If they turn out to be interested in Copper Horse Crusade's founder, Julie Copper and her quest to revolutionize horse rescue, then I'll be a very busy girl. Our plan is to get her story down as it occurs. Here is our description of this book:

Throwing off social conventions and bucking the establishment, since 1996 visionary Julie Copper has successfully relocated hundreds of horses which would have been sold for meat. Her philosophy on horse slaughter and euthanasia clinics meets with opposition from the traditional horse rescue community. Her refusal to hobnob in high brow horse arenas causes a ripple of resentment in the professional horse world. Her utilization of livestock auction (e.g. “kill sales”) reduces Copper Horse Crusade’s chances for achieving status in established equine circles.  

Facing down naysayers with her shrewd business sense and renegade tenacity, Julie Copper blends the best of the old with the new, focusing her efforts on establishing a stronger, national horse rescue community through social media outlets of Facebook, Blogger, and Twitter. 

With a new marketing approach to horse enthusiasts, Out of the Kill Pen shows sustainable horse rescue is possible and with the help of an online community, the kill pen isn’t the end of the line.
(Pictured At Top: Julie Copper rides Razz, rescued from slaughter)

Other than to prove to you I have been doing something productive with my time, why mention this project?

1. Copper Horse Crusade offers a great example of how to spark a cultural movement
2. It gives me a chance to cut the crap

Today I am full of blogger guilt, two reason lists, and apparently puns about poo.

First, Copper Horse Crusade, and Julie's story, aside from deserving worthwhile promotion in outer circles (like Christians or artists, hello? hello? anybody there?), also deserves our attention. Because, if you've ever wondered HOW to start a movement, and you didn't have access to Ted Talks to find a solution, this cow-girl's blazing a trail. Fortunately, she's my friend so I have the low-down on the throw down. (I don't really know what that means, but it's onomatopoetic in a Western Way, so...) Here's the solution, straight from the horse's mouth (no I won't stop):  Start a movement by gaining the support of like-minded people for what you are trying to do.The trick is, understanding that is STEP TWO.

(And yes, the capital letters do mean I am myself. In my basement. Alone.)

STEP ONE TO STARTING A CULTURAL MOVEMENT IS DOING SOMETHING WORTH SUPPORTING. Profess an idea. Define a cause. Stick to your guns. Research to see who else out there is already doing what you thought you might be trying to do, and ask yourself if they are doing it better.And if so, maybe you should be promoting them.

So, to review: starting a cultural movement requires (another two-point list!)
1. A Worthy Cause You Support With Action and Research
2. People
Now it's time for me to "pony up" with the second reason I am featuring the Out of the Kill Pen project, remember? [Or have I lost you in the myriad two-pointers?] I get a chance to "cut the crap." Do you remember how this all started? Let me take you back to "What the hell?"(originally what the f***), the first blog launching Subject4Change. Here is an excerpt where I blame God for a bird crapping in my mouth (no joke, just a foul mouth and poo) and then introduce my cause.

C'mon God, what the hell?
And that is how change works both in our culture and ourselves. Look at the picture: the middle passage. From slavery to freedom...think it was easy? Hell, no. It was powerfully, crazily, horribly hard. It was a kind of death. I don't remember anyone ever teaching that death is easy. So why did I ever think death to an old way of life, an old way of thinking, a place of security and slavery to the status quo would be a cakewalk to Canada?
Transformation? I've got a bad feeling about this...

Be sure to read the article "Enjoying God and The Transformation of Culture" to understand my neurotic aims to embark on a journey to disregard self-love for true virtue, and probably a hilarious? lesson for humans everywhere.
Wait. A journey to disregard self-love for true virtue? Didn't a wonderful guy named Jesus already do that? And why have I set out to fail? What is my cause? I guess my cause is...finding you. And changing together. I will fail if I try to do any of that alone. Loving others with story, with not just doing art for a worthwhile cause. It's doing Art as a worthwhile cause, to bring people together. Writing as an act of love, as the start of a true relationship. Can art do that? Can it bring people together in search of what's true? Is art like prayer?

For weeks, since this blog has begun, I've been treading water, feeling around in the dark for a community of supporters. I'm sorry. I am apologizing again. Why? Aside from the fact that I have millennial guilt, I have not until today taken the time to find out who you are.  Ironic, considering this is about "disregarding self-love for virtue", in other words, getting over myself to find you, to find us.

Who are you?  

As for me, I feel like Alice (pictured here) as she answers the caterpillar: "I hardly know Sir, just at present for I'm not myself, you see." I've been so many different sizes today.
Let's get to know one another with a barrage of questions I feel coming on.

Are you an artist?  Do you ascribe to a religious worldview?

What are you looking for? Are you looking for God? Are you seeking something else, too?
Where is our cultural movement? WHAT is our cultural movement? Is it happening already?

Comment. Anyone. Let's do what you want (I think). So long as it pursues truth, celebrates beauty, and we do it together. To see what I mean, please read this letter by Pope Benedict XVI written after the Twin Towers came tumbling down. He titled it: "Bound to Live Together." We're all in this together, so let's change the world. Or, at least, not blow it up.

Back to Copper Horse Crusade. I'm so glad to know a gal with perseverance, chutzpah, taking the lead to rebel against the status quo where she sees it causing harm. Julie is a great leader of this movement to rescue horses from the meat truck. But one principle she and I are realizing together as we write her story is this. When starting movements, "leadership is overrated." It's the movement followers who matter.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Life On The Fringe; Theater Reviews and Stories

Question: What do you get when you cross a solo American female blogger determined to review an entire Fringe Theatre Festival in just three days?
Answer: A "blogress" (that's ogress with a blog)

"Grr. Don't talk to me! I'm fringing."

I came, I saw, I took no prisoners. I filled my brown canvas over-the-shoulder festival bag with advertising cards, programs, autographed tickets, and even a CD or two of the performers and groups that piqued my interest. With a quest to see as many shows as I could make it to for the opening weekend of the London Ontario Fringe Festival, I bought tickets for more shows then I attended. Why? Because I'm often hopelessly late? That, and...

Fringe Time

At a Fringe Festival, performance length varies and regardless of purchasing general passes, supporters must still pick up tickets as the venue box office opens, generally 1 hour before showtime. Factoring time to travel between venues and for basic functions like eating, drinking, using public restrooms and getting lost becomes important. Also important to consider are the unexpected lovely conversations with friendly performers, local "fringers", and fraternal witnesses for each passing performance.  Determined to retain my human form and avoid metamorphosis into a "blogress", I kept space open for the entire fringing experience, even when it meant closed theater doors and stern refusals from volunteer ushers. Still, three days for a mini-festival go by fast.

by alegri /

Two weeks later, it's still a blur.

Since that time, an unusual occurrence has taken place. I've discovered it's not as hard as I previously thought to find seats for new, original work for the stage. After my exodus from the London Fringe Festival, I attended Immediate Family in Chicago and Bloody, Bloody Andrew Jackson in Cleveland. I can't stop attending new shows. More, my postmodern heart begs. MORE. And I intend to feed it like the pot-bellied pet pig it is. But, new is not necessarily fringe.
Why? Finding self-produced plays where the audience plays a supporting role in the development and revision of new works is something unique to the Fringe Theater Festival genre and of vital importance to building a creative ecosystem in a postmodern culture. 

What can you expect to see at a fringe theater festival?

"Is It Your Art?"

"Is It Your Art?"

Fringe mascot "Lucky" is the creation of Walter Sayers
For thirteen years and counting, in the second week of June the city of London (Ontario not Britain) welcomes new original works for the stage with its seasonal launch of the London Fringe Theatre Festival.
With ten venues, 40+ shows, and a small visual art display, the London Fringe Festival is a manageable size, and serves as a great introduction to "Life on the Fringe" for those who are ready to experience something unique, new, and original just the other side of Off-Off-Way Off Broadway.
As a first time visitor to the "Fringe" (or any fringe theater festival) I was impressed by the welcoming attitude of artists, staff, and volunteers who attack this week with a mixture of pride and verve. A solo female traveler from the States with a poor sense of direction, a tendency to panic, and just three days to see as many shows as I could manage, I engaged the assistance of many "fringers", most of whom were happy to make suggestions, give directions, and even escort me to hidden venues.

Venue #2 "The Arts Project" was easy to find. Located on Dundas street, it also houses the fringe office and "Visual Finge", a fine art display of 35 randomly selected painters, sculptors, photographers... the first lucky ones to enter get wall space.With their mixed media displays, two standouts in conceptual art, Marijo Swick and Walter Sayers caught my eye. These two artists for me embody the mission of "Life on the Fringe" with their provocative audience-centered pieces that move beyond spectacle or craft to create a risky dialogue between artist and public.    
Marijo Swick's "Double Helix"

Marijo Swick's "Double Helix" at first glance appears so clinical and corporate that I thought it was an  architectural feature, accidentally left behind by the previous owner in a doctor's private practice. A cleverly designed bland and featureless display wall of a human genome project,  it offers spectators a peepshow of a hominid future when we select and grow the features of our offspring as easily as we match carpets and curtains. Most interesting to note were inclusions that were available:  "short noses" "long noses" as opposed to those (one is to assume) most desirable characteristics which had already "Sold out" and exclusions like spina bifida, autism, depression...still available for selection.
Ms. Swick's work invokes a happy sort of urgency and a subtle critique of contemporary culture by asking the question: "Who are we?" What characteristics and attributes have we culturally determined as "beautiful" "desirable" or "eradicable"? Why would we wish to keep genes that determine obesity or cancer? What happens when we attempt to orchestrate a "perfect world"?

Walter Sayers' Waldoodles: an Alphabet Field Guide 2011

Walter Sayers, author and creator of the book Waldoodles: an Alphabet Field Guide, appears here in a plywood art "vending machine" adjacent to a wall display of "Waldoodles", colorful fun creatures of the imagination. In his vending machine/truck, Walt humbly initiates individualized art pieces for the child in each of us. From your impromptu scribble he watercolors an original Waldoodle for you to carry home. With each Waldoodle comes this artist and father of three's expressed hope that we rediscover the artist-child who lives in each of us and learn to "color outside of the lines" and "think outside the box."
Walter's temporary display could be snubbed as commercial or silly, but in the inclusive spirit of the Fringe Festival it stands instead as a way to approach art as the vehicle to imagination, a way to free oneself from old attitudes of perfectionism or elitism with the message, Anyone can be an artist. You can be an artist. You can buy art, appreciate art, hell kids, you can make your own art.
On that note, I'd like to relay how the art curator at the Fringe Festival Visual Arts Project, when asked if I could take a digital shot of Marijo Swick's piece (covered below) replied rather peevishly, "Is it YOUR art?" I regret to report I was cowed by her patronizing and obviously well-rehearsed speech on artist copyright, and thus tiptoed away muttering half-apologies. In the week since my return I have since fashioned a new scene. This is the way I see it happening if the time machine is invented in my lifetime.

May I take a picture of that piece?It's wonderfully complex and inspiring...

CURATOR (Interrupts)
Is it YOUR Art?

Yes. Yes, I believe it is. If art is a dialogue, then yes.

(PATRON snaps photo and is immediately escorted from the building. Later she is awarded the Nobel Prize)

I feel art is co-created by people, for people. As impressive as Swick's display is, it is our interaction with it, our creation of a dialogue with the piece which gives it appeal, value and meaning. Today I can download any image from Google, share and create and recreate, all to the free publicity and benefit of the artist. If I am not profiting (making money) from her work, or misrepresenting/distorting her work, then why invoke copyright? Reveling in limitation comes from a place of fear and caution, and dare I say, disrespect? It is dangerously holding onto an outdated attitude, an illusion of control in a new digital age of fast-paced social networking media. And, it ignores the vital role of the participant in the creation of the art. A Creative Commons copyright is one way to meet the challenges of a new artistic movement embodied in the question, below.

To what extent does the audience determine and own the art?