Wednesday, March 30, 2016

The Opposite of Energy

Last week I was talking about energy, and the interactions that help me feel more usefully energetic.

This week, I still have the cold or whatever, and I still carry tissues, and I have practically no energy. (I did, however, open our last box of tissues and when I said to my husband, "We're down to our last Kleeneck," I laughed for a long time, far beyond all reason.)

So this will be a few random thoughts from someone whose sole energetic activity seems to be carrying piles of used tissues to the trash can.

1. Write Everything, or Set Down My "Pen" Forever? I'm (still) (always) catching up on issues of The New Yorker and I happened on a lovely George Saunders short story (a redundant phrase) from February of this year. On one hand, I am ungracefully chuffed that it took him four years to write it. What a regular guy he can be. On the other hand, man, that voice! That sensibility! That--wait, where did he take this?--plot! For more information about this story, here's an interview.

2. Owls seem to be having a cultural moment. Also foxes. Or maybe it's just this guy's art. Robbie Craig has lovely photos and images inspired by them, and the northern lights, and the north. (It's not just this guy's art, but I do love his art.)

3. Aha! I knew it wasn't just Robbie Craig who filled my Facebook timeline with images of birds. Here's Meg Sheepway's Dog Paw Pottery, which just this morning showed me a plate with a bird's hunting track.

4. When All Else Fails, There's a Cliche. I may write more about this later, but I've also noticed that the change in seasons reminds me of something ELSE my mother was (annoyingly) right about: "be careful what you wish for." I had forgotten that longer and warmer days + precipitation = driveway lakes = nervousness about driving back up the driveway after leaving the house = always carry wellies = good excuse for being a hermit = hey not a bad time to be sick, either.

Goodbye, March.
Wednesday, March 23, 2016


I'm doing that thing where I might have a cold and I might have just allergies, but either way, I've got a box of tissues with me at all times.

I'm not really REALLY sick--even if it's a cold, I'm not, like, seriously sick. But I AM much more aware of energy.

Energy, as in, what activities give me energy. Whose company I leave feeling energized--I may be tired, but I have a sense of possibility, of good things happening. And, on the flip side, what activities and whose company leaves me feeling hopeless, annoyed, or frustrated.

And I'm writing it down. Because the seasons are changing (hi there, Spring!), and someday our snow will melt. I'll spend more time outdoors on projects (noodling around as well as chores) that I can't do in the winter. I'll need to be even more aware of what (and who) helps me grow, and where I can contribute with the most integrity and effectiveness.

Now, please excuse me while I ignore the dishes and the errands in favor of a brief nap.
Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Word Made Flesh

One of my friends, a really excellent writer, is in the throes of a fun time. Her first novel was accepted by an agent and she's been in talks with editors and publishers. In the middle of all of the excitement and stress and "yikes" feelings, she said, "It's so odd, kind of neat but mostly odd, that other people now have opinions about my characters."

I knew what she meant! I haven't (yet) written a novel accepted for publication, but a few of my short stories have appeared in journals. Every time one is accepted, I get a little thrill on behalf of the main character: "Oh, s/he's got a friend! I'm so happy for her!" In fact, almost every time I start a story, I label it with the name of the main character until the story title emerges. It's all about that character and telling her (or his) story to the best of my ability. Letting go of that person can be wrenching.

Here's (I think) another facet of that phenomenon.

For the past few years, some highly talented and dedicated artists in Thunder Bay have put on 10x10, a developmental project culminating in a festival of ten-minute plays. Ten-minute plays are a "thing" now, with InspiraTO in Toronto and festivals in Australia too.

Thunder Bay's project focuses on developing playwrights (though it provides cool, short-term, "why not take a risk?" opportunities for new and experienced directors and actors too). After workshops about writing and revising plays, local folks submit their best ten-minute plays. A jury picks ten of them for production; those whose work wasn't chosen still have the chance to have their plays read aloud. All of the playwrights can receive jury feedback to help guide their revisions; those whose work is chosen for performance can work with a dramaturge to make their play even better.

Revision is magic enough--I'm so happy and a little stunned when I finish a good revision of a story or essay--but there's more.

Then a director gets involved, and a new kind of magic begins--someone else has an opinion about your characters, someone who has the power to help bring them to life. The magic continues through the production, as more people become involved and some actually walk around in your characters' skins.

It's all kind of amazing and magical.

Again, I haven't seen this first-hand. My husband is the playwright of this household (so far), but I will admit to standing behind him while he does early revisions. On occasion I say inappropriately intrusive things like "Omigod take THAT out or it'll hijack the entire play" and "He really needs to be a bigger jerk" and "Seriously? That joke is funny only to you." Sometimes he listens, and sometimes he's just wrong. (Kidding!) (Mostly.)

I was out of town for the first year's production, but the past two years have been really fun and interesting. Sitting in the audience, hearing people cheer or gasp when characters do something--when you've known those characters since they existed in pixels on a screen--it's, yep, odd. Also, very neat. I can only imagine how much more intense the experience is when you knew the characters in your own brain, before they became pixels.

And (back to the writer and her debut novel) a little frightening. Letting go of a character can leave writers (to say nothing of directors and actors) vulnerable.

So, back to something I first heard recommended by Craig Mazin on the Scriptnotes Podcast (recommended last week): how about approaching someone else's art with generosity of spirit?

Because those characters? They're people. And behind those characters is another person, perhaps several, through pixels and back to another person.

In fact, it's people all the way down.
Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Stories about Stories

So many stories, so little time. And then the stories about the stories.

Here are a few podcasts that have kept me company on the treadmill for many hours this winter. (And, given that ice follows snow in this region and walking remains treacherous in our neighbourhood, for more hours to come.)

They're all, in some way or another, meta-podcasts. Stories--and also stories about stories. And I think they're great, in different ways.

The one I've listened to the longest: Scriptnotes, a podcast about screenwriting and things that are interesting to screenwriters, by John August and Craig Mazin. I'm actually not a screenwriter but these guys are so incredibly generous with their time and their knowledge, and I learn something new about story, writing, professional behavior, research, accepting feedback, and tough love (not to mention two "one cool thing"s) every week. You can subscribe! You can buy all the episodes ever! And maybe you should!

The newest-to-me one: Gangrey: The Podcast. Interviews with people writing interesting things (mostly journalism-ish things), produced by the journalism and digital media program at Ashland University in Ohio. Interesting and different interviews, I might add. And, this close to International Women's Day, here's a good interview with women about women in journalism.

The one I resisted for the longest time: Serial. Yup. I didn't want to be hooked on something that wasn't complete, something I couldn't experience at my own pace. But then I listened to the first season (not all in one setting, but in a relatively brief time period), which was especially interesting because of the post-season discussions around ethical issues of re-opening old stories and talking about them in real time.

About Serial's second season, I thought, "Meh, not interested." Then one evening when my eyes were too tired to read and I wanted to be told a story, I listened to the first episode. And now I'm that person who really wishes she hadn't done that until all the episodes are up and she can control the pace. Because the voices and stories are just so interesting. I mean, really--who knows YOU, the whole you? How many facets to your personality are there? In what sense are we all characters in a giant story we're presenting to the world about ourselves?

Here's a bonus non-podcast (aka a regular website), also awesome, because it lets you see behind the stories. Nieman Storyboard, especially their Annotation Tuesday feature. But I highly recommend looking at the rest of the site, too.

I've wondered why podcasts are so popular--but I think it's pretty simple. Who doesn't love to be told a story?

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Facing Facts

You know those giant, daunting projects that you know you should be working on but they kind of freak you out to even think about, so you're not?

I'm finally within spitting distance of finishing a logistical project that has been hanging over my head for far too many years. No, not the novel that's still mid-revision. A family thing.

After several months (*cough* years?) of just moving it from one month to another's MUST DO THIS list, this morning I spent some time figuring out exactly what information I'd need. And then in an hour, I found the information. (And, bonus! I've semi-organized the piles I had to get through to find it.) And then I did some calculations. And finally I think I have the information I need to finish this thing.

(Something we are NOT THINKING ABOUT is completing this project means several others are now possible and should be dealt with. But we're NOT THINKING ABOUT THAT TODAY!! We're instead reveling in the near-finishing of THIS ONE!)

One thing I've learned about this type of yucky project is that when you finally start working on it, you often find resolution and finish the job pretty quickly. This thing that's been wearing you down for so long? Gone. And you feel so free! And you wonder why you waited!

This time, I haven't been so lucky. Yes, I have the information. It's not as cheerful as I'd hoped, but I do have it. I don't have that "Hooray! Freedom!" feeling about this project--perhaps I never will. But it WILL be done, and I WILL be free of it, even if I don't I feel it.

Which makes me think of that mid-revision novel. In the past few days, I've been madly finishing or near-finishing many short pieces and dealing with other stuff and haven't even cracked open the novel's file. Nevertheless, my unconscious has apparently still been working on it. I've been struggling with one character in particular, and through the experience of the past day or two, I have greater insight into who she is and what she'd really do.

I thought I had all the information I needed to do a good revision on this novel. But what I've learned in the past week or so (about all the characters, not just this one) means I was wrong. And although I don't have that "Hooray! Freedom!" feeling, I'm happy to have more information.

Now this revision will bring the novel significantly closer to the book I think it can be. That's a bonus benefit to finishing this project. I'll take it!