Monday, September 29, 2008


I feel like I'm ready to start keeping tabs on my creative work again. With that in mind, I've added up what I've been doing over the past week or so. Starting weekend before last, I began outlining and writing some new scenes. Since then, I've done the following:

3.332 all new words (1,106 of that today)

4.762 words in outline or synopsis form

Lots of arc-shaped drawings and hand-written notes

Lots of reordering, outlining and freewheeling revising on Scrivener

That's not bad for a week's work, especially the outlining, which consumed at least three full days and felt very scary. I feel good about turning in my next packet this Friday and good about moving forward. Not perfect, but good.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Plays about death

A friend of mine used to joke about the need for a daily catharsis having led him to acting, and at the time I related to that. I'm no longer in need of a daily catharsis, but this weekend I saw three plays about death. Maybe it's fall. Maybe it's me. I enjoyed all three plays immensely, but that's a lot of cathartic action in one weekend.

Thursday: The Hypocrites' Our Town. I've made the bold statement that this might have been one of the top five audience experiences of my life. Easily top ten. This was the right play for me at the right time, which is a gift from the universe, but from the Hypocrites too, because I'm convinced it would be the right play for a lot of people at any time. I left feeling full -- not wrecked but open and optimistic and a bit overwhelmed. I wanted to be surrounded by people afterwards, which made for a long night, but a nice one.

Saturday matinee: The People's Temple at ATC, all about Jonestown from the creators of The Laramie Project. I'm glad I saw it, though I left the theater feeling a bit dizzy. It's hard to wrap your mind around so much pain, especially when there are living survivors who've been coming to see the production. I can't imagine being able to do that in their place. Can't imagine being in their place, not really, though I can imagine getting myself into a situation like that under the right circumstances, and that's scary. The play reminds me of the documentary Capturing the Freedmans in that you leave as mystified as you entered as to what transpired and what went on in the minds of the central figures.

Saturday night: No Darkness Round My Stone at Trap Door, winning the prize for weirdness (a compliment). This piece is full of yearning, dissatisfaction, constant death and reanimation. Over and over, couples seem on the brink of a connection and then crash into the walls and fall down dead.

One of the actors cuddles and pets another for a long time during the play, and I felt jealous of them during the show. Petting seems like the kindest response to so many dark thoughts floating around.

Oh, and while I'm on plays about death . . . I loved R.U.R. at Strawdog, which I saw last Sunday. It's playful and sunny in comparison with these other three, and it scratched my apocalyptic itch. Trivia of the day is that the word "robot" originated with this play, and I adore that from the first conception of "robot," we're thinking about them taking over.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Never Cry Wolf

I'm a little late, but I just read "Drill, Drill, Drill" by Eve Ensler on Sarah Palin. At one point she refers to Palin shooting wolves from the air. The image that raises in my mind comes from the movie based on Farley Mowat's Never Cry Wolf. I've not seen the movie since childhood, but the image of dead wolves and blood in the snow wrecked me then and has stayed with me. There are so many other reasons to dislike and fear Palin, but this one rips me up at my core. I can't trust anyone who would engage in that kind of carnage for sport.

We're not talking about hunting. I'm from Alabama. I have friends who hunt -- I believe that anyone who eats meat should be prepared to kill their own food. This is different. The practice violates the Federal Airborne Hunting Act of 1972, except by a loophole in which it's allowed for population control. And if you buy the idea that this is legitimately done for population control, in Alaska's vast wilderness, in an ecosystem that's gotten along fine without human control until recently, watch this, which I took from here.

From Slate,
Palin tried last year to have the state pay $150 for every wolf killed, but the state superior court shot that down as an illegal use of bounty payments, which were outlawed in that state in 1984.
Want to fact check?

Here's a taste of Ensler's piece, but go read the whole thing.
Sarah Palin does not believe in evolution. I take this as a metaphor. In her world and the world of Fundamentalists nothing changes or gets better or evolves. She does not believe in global warming. The melting of the arctic, the storms that are destroying our cities, the pollution and rise of cancers, are all part of God's plan. She is fighting to take the polar bears off the endangered species list. The earth, in Palin's view, is here to be taken and plundered. The wolves and the bears are here to be shot and plundered. The oil is here to be taken and plundered. Iraq is here to be taken and plundered. As she said herself of the Iraqi war, "It was a task from God."

I used to canvas for IL PIRG, used to be a "community organizer" if I can say that without getting sneered at, and one man I spoke to in Elgin still disturbs me. When I asked him about his position on an environmental issue, he told me, "Christ says, 'Be not of this world.'" He had a nice house, and an SUV, and expensive shoes on his feet. He looked to be "of this world" to me. But he doesn't care about this world, because he's looking forward to heaven. I don't believe that many Christian people share this scary, fundamentalist point of view, but I think Sarah Palin does, and that terrifies me.

And if you'd rather I be talking about John McCain than Sarah Palin, okay, fine . . . He picked her. Actually, I don't even really believe he picked her. I think he went along with a cynical and irresponsible choice made by his campaign, which might be worse.

I'm always hesitant to post anything political on this blog. I try to be open-minded. I'm registered as an independent. I don't want to be labeled by an affiliation to a political party. But I take the issues at stake in this election personally, and I hope, hope, hope that people who do identify as conservatives won't approach this election with the blind, sports-team-style loyalty that afflicts people on both sides of American politics.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Chatting leads to working

So, YES, I had a giant "yes" day yesterday. I worked for, oh, just about all day, on a new outline, envisioned some new scenes, and started playing with the idea that my novel is shaped like an hourglass or a dammed river. We'll see how that plays out, but for the moment, I feel like I once again have a sense of direction.  

AND, I'm no longer convinced that my book is two books. Maybe I was being greedy. I think I can simplify and enrich and all those good things and still keep most of the elements I've been working with. I still have a major revision on my hands, but that's as it should be. As I've said before, I don't really count drafts, because I've drafted some parts of my book so much more than others. But I think this next go will be about the third FULL draft (the first one being really raw). I'm hoping this draft will lead (in a surprising but inevitable way) to its conclusion, but I'll be pleased if the thing makes sense and reads like it's all of one piece. 

Around 11pm last night, I got on Google chat with my rockstar classmate Varian. We made a deal that he would keep reading if I'd kick around my outline for a bit longer. I did, with some of the best results I'd had all day. Yay for online school! 

Currently reading: The Painters of Lexieville by my former advisor, Sharon Darrow. I read through all her feedback on my novel last night, and it was so nice to reconnect with her as a mentor that I want to hear her voice in my head some more. 

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

"Yes" day

A friend told me last night about an idea one of her grad school colleagues picked up from a book on time management for artists -- I'll credit it (and read it) as soon as I can figure out what it is. It's something I already do -- some of the time -- and something I want to make a point to do more. The idea is that there are "yes" days and "no" days, and it's best to decide early on which sort of day you're going to have. Otherwise, you're in a "maybe" day, which doesn't do anyone any good. 

Yesterday for me was a "no" day, and a good one. I taught all morning, got a lot of other work done, including some reading for my program, just not any work on my novel. By the afternoon, I was exhausted, and any work I had done would have reflected that, so I took a long nap. Then I had a nice night with friends, and I don't regret a second of it. It makes it easier for today to be a "yes" day. I've committed to it. It's going to be sweet. 

I just finished The Red Shoe by Ursula Dubosarsky. It's set during a political scandal in Australia during the Cold War, but the scandal's only a backdrop to the personal experiences of three young sisters. And it's amazing. 

Monday, September 22, 2008

Middle management

I took a nice long break from the internet this weekend in order to babysit a friend's pet, Bruno. I'm not sure, but I think he's some kind of horse. He eats huge bags of raw meat and has his own giant chair, pictured below. It could easily seat two people who don't mind being cozy The perspective in this shot doesn't do him justice, but he's about eight times bigger than Parker, and he's still a puppy. I mean pony.

He is not allowed on the couch, but when he decides you look like you need a backrest he will climb up behind you and do his best to make you comfortable. He won't move when you ask him, but he's happy enough to be dragged.

Meanwhile, my novel(s) is(are) driving me crazy. I did a lot of experimenting, rewriting, rearranging this weekend (when Bruno made room for my laptop), and I'm full of ideas but no clarity. 

One of my readers suggested I need to develop the middle manager part of my brain. The guy who's boring but steady and organized, the guy with the thankless job of making sure my plot has enough sense and pace to keep anyone reading past page 5. But every time I ask Middle Management a question, he says it's his coffee break and I look peakish, why don't I take some iron and a short nap? Which makes me wonder if Middle Management's been hanging out with my mom. 

Currently reading: The Red Shoe by Ursula Dubosarsky

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Kid count

This week, I taught 84 kids and performed for maybe twice that many. No way to compare that to a word count, and I shouldn't try. One has tangible, in-the-moment impact . . . the other's slow and solitary and only a tiny drop in a giant bucket, and I have to have faith it's worth the time and energy that takes me away from more blatantly beneficial things.

On the other hand, when you're teaching in classrooms so stuffed that the kids can't stand in circle without stepping on each other, you can start to feel like teaching's a drop in the bucket too.

I'm proud of how I spend my time, and I believe in it, regardless of whether the tiny ripples I'm sending into the cosmos peter out or turn into glorious tsunamis.

Not that tsunamis are glorious. It's the butterfly flapping wings thing.

Forgive me. It's been a long week.

The performances were to kick off the Words @ Play program that Barrel of Monkeys has worked with for the past two years. I love, love this program, and they seem to love the monkeys.

This is my favorite poem that made it into our show at the Chicago Humanities Festival last year, by a girl named Mana:
Silent ice lamps cannot talk or
their warm breath will melt them.
Silent ice lamps cannot think
or their lights will bust.
Silent ice lamps have to stay cold
or they will melt.
Silent ice lamps can be used as ice cubes.

On my own writing front, I spent the last two days reading my novel (all 293 double-spaced pages of it) and scribbling lots of notes. I know I have too much stuff going on in my story, but it's all tangled up, sticky, like spider web. Wish me luck.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Fire it up

I wrote 914 yesterday on my Mermaid story. The amount and quality of writing is not remarkable. What is remarkable is that this is the first longish stretch of creative writing I've done in about three weeks. I've had laser vision on the critical thesis, but it's time to get back to the novel, and working on the short story is my way of warming up to doing that.

It's been brilliant to have some days away from the thesis, catching up on cleaning and sleeping, though the foot of my desk still looks like this:

Can't wait to make the last changes to my thesis and get these back to the library.

Honestly, my novel terrifies me. It's been a long time since I touched it. Having the time lapse will be good for looking at it with fresh eyes, but I find myself putting that off. I'm a little scared of what I'll find. During residency this summer I had the revelation that I might have too much story for one novel, that I might have been writing about two different protagonists even. Back then, in mid-July, I felt fired up about taking my work apart. One of the faculty told me if I could do that, tear it up and piece it together again, then I'd really be a writer. By tomorrow night, I intend to have taken a big step towards reclaiming that fire.

Meanwhile, the Monkeys after-school program starts today, and I teach at another school tomorrow morning. I'll be fired up for that once I get in the classroom, but at the moment, what I really want is a nap.

Currently reading: The Penderwicks by Jeanne Birdsall

Friday, September 12, 2008

Guat, like guac, only prettier

I just purchased a ticket to this place:

It's real. I'm going to Guatemala this December.

I've gone through a bit of a journey making the decision to take this trip. Even though I'm going for a wedding where I will know plenty of people, I experienced days of irrational fear that I would end up sleeping alone on a beach, unable to communicate with the locals, and having my organs stolen.

I know that sounds horribly naive and ignorant. It is. I was being a baby.

As with all things that make me anxious, doing hours of obsessive research made me feel better. And it also reminded me of how adventurous I can be when I make the choice to be. My friend Larissa and I planned a month-long trip a year after college that took us all around the coast of Ireland, sleeping in hostels (and sometimes sketchier locations). I spent the first week of that trip completely alone in London and Edinburgh, and I didn't blink. I had one of the best times of my life.

Sometimes I feel like an old soul. I don't have a lot of wanderlust, but when I do travel, it reminds me I'm young. That I always will be as long as I stretch myself.

So now it's passport, and shots, fretting about sleeping arrangements, and, assuming I can find my LA Public Library card, practicing my Spanish on their access to Rosetta Stone.

A good day, in spite of my confusion about the political climate of my country

I turned my thesis in, on time, around 6 am Wednesday morning. Then I slept.

Got a response back today. It was well-received. I'm trying to resist exclamation points, but seriously . . . this is sweet!!!

After a few small changes, I will be DONE with critical work for my program. Next packet I get to work on my novel.

And today I planned a daring trip to a beautiful place, and ran into some old friends, and saw the play in a pool again. And as to the disclaimer in the title of this post -- I'm in such a good mood, we're not even going to talk about it.

Currently reading: Annie on my Mind by Nancy Garden.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Love and lollipops . . .

. . . to Cesar Torres, who's getting a short story published! We like to read each other's things, and I read an earlier version of this thing, and I'm really excited it's found a home! Hoorah!

Cave to cave

I needed the weekend in the woods. It did me good. Even with it raining through both nights.

We holed up in a tent and played cards and Blair Witch Project.

Parker made me proud. She climbed glaciated boulders like a mountain goat, pranced through the muck and then rolled herself dry in a meadow turned bog, and as soon as the sun went down, she scraped on the door of the tent and put herself to bed while the rest of us made dinner over a soggy fire. She gets how nature works.

The tent was cold, but it made a cozy cave for a couple of nights. Now I'm back in the thesis cave, and that plinking sound is not rain but me tapping endlessly on my MacBook keys. Wednesday morning. That's when it's due, and I hope, hope, hope that it won't need major fixes after that.

As long and winding as this project's been, it's actually got me thinking about academia again. I like caves.

Currently reading: The Night Swimmers by Betsy Byars

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Devil's Lake

I'm off to Devil's Lake, and I'm running late. I'll be quiet for a few days.

Yes, now you mention it, Devil's Lake does sound like the title of a cheesy YA thriller. Probably I will:

A) Lose my virginity

B) Encounter either a crazy curmudgeon, or a deranged brother I never knew existed, or an angry ex with a tragic secret (someone male and threatening anyhow)

C) Fight B to the death

Firefly summer

So this happened on Sunday in parks around Chicago . . .

Pics by Abe Mendoza

It's part of a public performance series called The Summer is for Fireflies. I didn't get to see it, but they told me about it on NPR.

I didn't realize until I went looking for pictures that my friend Sarah's involved. That's her looking for birdseed.

Like I said, I didn't get to see it, but hearing about it on the radio (twice today) nearly made me cry. This is public performance intending to induce wonder. One of the bystanders said, "It was nice to have a little bit of that fantasy kind of brought into the everyday reality that we have. It was nice to have something unexpected and fantastical happen."

That's exactly what my critical thesis is about, or at least what inspired me to choose my topic -- the desire for the marvelous in everyday life. It's here. It's here.

The impulse behind these performances reminds me of Improv Everywhere. I've never been so lucky as to see them in person either, but watch this and tell me magic isn't real.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Missing the Cade McNown Memorial League

This is nifty. Apparently, playing sports, and even watching sports, helps your brain do language more better. They found out right here in Chicago.

So maybe all those times I got hit in the head with the volleyball in high school JV helped me get into grad school. And I did rank at the top of my class that year I did swim team.

And theoretically, you don't have to be playing the sports for it to help -- even watching and talking about them makes a difference. The indoor kids can do it too!

So, theoretically, I should not have dropped out of my fantasy football league in order to simplify and concentrate on school. Theoretically, all that football knowledge I collected over the past five years is helping me write my thesis right now. Theoretically, if I really want to be a good writer, I should spend all weekend in a football coma on my couch.

Science is smart.

Currently reading: The Willoughbys by Lois Lowry.


Remember that picture I posted of the DO NOT OBSTRUCT sign with the anarchy symbol below it?

No? Well, fine, because you know I'm just going to show it to you again.

I only just now noticed that below the DO NOT OBSTRUCT ENTRANCE, someone's written what I think says, "to your heart."

I'm trying not to, random anarchist. I'm really trying.