Sunday, March 1, 2015

"Bride-ing in the Square Today"

BFF Martin Buber & Amanda Palmer: They must be cousins.
If you can calm yourself down enough to get over yourself, then you'll start to remember why you're there in the first place--to share your love.

Here's the thing. I love these people, I mean, truly love them. And it's all because they loved me first. Sounds familiar...
Today's trip to Blog-ville is daunting. How can I possibly do this topic justice? I think I'll do what Zora Neale Hurston did before she wrote her big novel...I'll transcribe. Let me take you back in time, to the transcription of a talk I presented February 8, 2015 at the beautiful grand church connected to our University campus while their pastor was visiting Israel. I wrote it at 4 in the morning and had the pleasure of watching the sun rise over snow in my backyard.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Solving for "x"

After a brief existential [read x-istential] breakdown this morning, I found myself thinking. Again. Ironically, thinking may be the source of my problem.
I have such an active mind, a divisive mind, that I often find (too late) that I've thought myself into a proverbial corner.

Consider this (literally) proverbial corner:  "x ...keeps the demons at bay."  Solve for x, my friends.
For me, the integer x in this equation is writing. That x is what I'm missing. I mourn the missing x.
Whether you believe demons exist as a construct or an actual reality is unimportant to this equation. What is important I realize, is that my thinking creates rifts in the fabric of my universe. And, writing helps to mend the rifts. My husband-y friend seems to understand that about me.
My husband, clever and a good friend, was able to see right through the smoke clouds I was throwing up during my breakdown about life, truth, God, identity and purpose to the truth of the matter.
He felt that my demons were attacking because I am not writing. He felt that I had such angst due to my calling and my vocation being at odds. He felt that spiritual warfare was and is at play...saying I must be doing something right to register on the demons' scale. The problem is still...I am not doing something right. Writing. Connecting. Seeing. Trying. I am only thinking about it.

Aside from inactivity...the other problem is the proverbial corner itself. The demons are kept at bay by your pursuing of  your "call". (If you are unfamiliar with the lingo of post-modern Christendom, your "call" is what you were created to do in service to goodness, truth, humanity, and Love...your God-given purpose.)

But solving for x does not remove the risk. Demons depart for multiple reasons:  they see they can't win, so they leave (perhaps for reinforcements); or, they are satisfied with the work you are doing to condemn yourself. In other words, we can make their job easy.

Or, like my husband believes, they appear at the first sign of a good fight and then leave at the first sign of resistance.

Let me tell you about both.
I finished reading two books since I last blogged to you:
1)The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace (by Jeff Hobbs)
2) The Art of Asking (by Amanda Palmer)

In Robert Peace's story, his friend Jeff, tries to make sense of his friend's life and call. How could it be that Peace was gifted with so much, but failed to overcome his unfortunate destiny?
In Amanda Palmer's book, she deals with the same question, but comes in through the backdoor. How can it be that artists who are brave enough to live and love and ask for help are still so criticized?
Both books are at their heart, acts of love.
Both writers are working away at their chalkboards, searching for x.
Both young writers have examined their beautiful life-stories (so far) and written them down...for what? To share, to see, to attempt to be seen, to remember, to connect.

I guess they've done their share to keep the demons at bay.
Today, maybe, so have I.  X-istential Crisis averted. Or, if not averted...postponed.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

New Story "MORNING"

He was watching Oblivion. 

A movie with Tom Cruise where Tom fights himself for a girlfriend from another time reality, then accidentally shoots her. I don’t like Tom Cruise because as an actor Cruise shows no depth. Good looking but nothing interesting, human, authentic. Cruise plays to get paid. I’m sure of it. 

So I made him watch with headphones on. 

I was reading a book by McCourt about teaching and writing and thinking. TeacherMan. It was a book about my life, though I’m not Irish, never lived in New York, and probably won’t drink a pint of beer in a bar until I’m a widow. If I make it that far. 

I finished the book about my life and sat in its mist.

The youngest son, he played a game at my computer that teaches him to take orders for wings, chicken wings. Papa’s Wing-aria. He said, watch me. I stepped to him and put my nose in his hair and inhaled. He said, I love you. Me, too.

The older young son said, those aren’t even wings, they’re legs. Chicken legs.

It’s fine, Leave him alone, I said. He’s training. I’d order wings at your restaurant.
This made us all hungry I think. I crave waffles. My husband makes wonderful waffles, very crispy. My second creative writing lesson on using adjectives with Mrs. Mrs. What was her name? my favorite teacher, Goddard? We ate waffles. I described them twice because I was in homeroom and English class with her. I was her favorite, but she liked Barb’s page. Held it up laughing because Barb had a breakthrough writing up and down the margins. I think it was Barb. Maybe not. My first lesson was a true breakthrough for me. I sat at the kitchen table struggling to describe a walk in the woods. My mother, the teacher, stood leaning one legged like a teenager against the stove, she was cooking spaghetti. I brought my paper to her and she helped me think about what it’s like, walking a path in the snow. Together we named things, like food I realize now…crunchy snow, crisp air.

The older young son says to me, I dreamt something.

Actually he said, I dreamed. I dreamed last night I had black wings growing out of my back. It was so cool.

Black wings, I thought. Not white wings? I chased shadow fears of demons away. Saw the big beautiful black wings…how they match his hair and stories of Cherokees we are rumored to have come from.

He continued, they were just there.

I asked him, what did you do?

Nothing. I sat there. He laughed. Made me smile. I saw this beautiful black-haired teenage boy sitting like a C at the kitchen table, content. 3 foot black wings protruding from his turquoise shirt, looking, not staring out the window.  

I thought, black like a crow, maybe. What do crows mean? My old Dad says he wants a crow. The snow disappears, and I see my oldest young son flying in the summer through our backyard, over the green utility fence beside the Japanese maple. Winging, swooping on a stream of air invisible to us.

Wouldn’t it be cool, he said to have black wings you could keep in another dimension. And maybe a sword that would grow out of your wrist.

Like an endless closet in another dimension.

It would be hard to sleep with wings.

Maybe not, his father said good-looking like Tom Cruise. You could sleep like a bird, with your wings folded around you. Yes, I agree and explain, you sleep comfortably, depending on your wings you sleep like you’re in the air. 

I want waffles I tell my husband. He loves this. Nothing else will do, I say. You want me to make waffles? Not if it will cause too much trouble I say. My husband talks a bit about dungeons and dragons when he was a boy and alternate dimensions and such.

I go to the window, remembering something about crows. Crows are illegal to have as pets. Crows are smart, very intelligent, can learn to speak. There’s something else…is it that they are magic? They can defy time and space, be like shape shifters? I’m a little bothered by this line of thinking. It feels tinged with darkness and untruth. Feels anti-Protestant. I think about doing what McCourt did. Teaching until I’m done. Writing a book. Writing a book about writing, who could relate to that? Probably many. How is that original? It isn’t very. But, it’s where we are isn’t it. 
 I imagine sending out a story. Someone at the New Yorker not rejecting it. Pursing their lips, faceless, hands on my story, them thinking maybe. Maybe there’s something here worth a second glance.

He can’t find the nutmeg. He’s fun like an Otter. Sweet, relatable. I say I think you are like Tom Cruise. You are good looking and afraid you have no depth. You are like Tom Cruise because you are afraid good looking and fun is not enough. I can feel him thinking about this. I can feel his feelings being hurt.

He finds the nutmeg. I kick the younger son off my computer. When they try to speak to me, I say not now. Not now. Once I get irritated and desperate at the oldest young son and tell him please stop talking to me!

Now, I’ve finally written something. He tells me, I love when you write. 
You do? I am surprised. I’m so mean to you all when I write. I don’t mean mean. I just can’t listen and write at the same time. 
My younger son wants me to sing a song at the computer and wonders if he’s in the story. I explain to my younger son that writing is like listening to your thoughts and looking at them in someone else’s mind, you have to think about what others will think when they read the thoughts you’ve written, maybe change it, maybe not and then try to write it all down. So listening to someone talk to you at the same time you write is too hard for me.

The younger son asks what are the gold marks in this bible thing? I look up. What? Oh, that’s not a bible. That’s a dictionary. A dictionary that translates another language into English.

I look up, around, take in the time of day and the light. It’s later than it was. Dimmer. I’m still in my bathrobe. There are waffles piled on my grandmother’s blue and white winter plates. I can’t remember the brand name of the china. The waffles are shaped like barn animals: a cow, a chicken. There are strawberries in chipped ceramic. Maple syrup from Aldi’s. A mug on the table where my husband sat. A mug I had handed to him this morning is the kind of mug the church he works for gives away to visitors. On the other side, facing away from me, I know what the mug says. “Sleeper awake and rise so the light of God may shine on you.” It’s a pun because it holds coffee. But, that’s okay because God has a sense of humor.

It’s scripture too. Not just a pun. That makes it true both ways.

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.