I’ve just updated the “Entry by Entry” section under Telling Tales, which now links to the current set of stories (arbitrarily named as “volume II,” seeing as I’ll be releasing volume I in a few months). As of today, I’ve got about 3 weeks of stories written out in front of me, which is useful for a number of reasons. I’ve gone through about a two week stretch of not knowing how to continue the story, and to have the buffer in place so that I can give myself some room has been fantastic. (more…)
Part 114 (posted yesterday) marks the end of the first collection of folk tales. Not everything is wrapped up and I’m going to continue writing it for the foreseeable future, but this point marks the reasonable break for “volume I” of this serialization. I’ll be self-pubbing this later in the autumn with illustrations from Brooklyn Henke and with some copy-editing from some other fine folks.
That’s it. Back to carpentry now.
I’ve been offline a great deal over the past two weeks – a little bit of travel and a great deal of work, as I’ve been temporarily picked up as a carpenter on a TV show. It’s good work with great workers and some pretty freaking long hours, so my time at the computer is much more limited for everything.
My fantastic illustrator, Brooklyn Henke, continues to do dynamite work on the images that will find their way into the published version of Telling Tales this autumn. Which, incidentally, needs an actual title. If you’ve got an idea, feel free throw something into the ol’ comments below.
For obvious reasons, I haven’t done any editing recently and very little new writing. However, I’m on layoff for a few days and decided to try and build up the buffer again. This, in turn, has resulted in some minor changes in the Telling Tales drop-down menu at the top of the page. All stories through part 114 are now on the page “Volume I” and parts 115 on will be collected in the new “Entry by Entry.”
And that’s it for now. My wife is home from Detroit and I’m on layoff, so it’s probably time for a martini.
I am sorry to see the close of Rachael Harrie’s Campaign Builder, Sommer Leigh‘s month of Monstrology, and the Rule of 3 (hosted by 4, but who’s counting), but at the same time it’s been a busy busy month and it’ll be good to hunker down and get back to fiction writing. Besides, there’s always updating the Occupy Writers website and working with dedicated volunteers if I need something else to eat up a lot of time.
Two weeks ago I wrapped up the first draft of The House of Clicquot and got preliminary feedback from Lisa (aka “Beta Reader number Alpha”), which I can sum up as “Too much secrecy makes it too confusing. Simplify and introduce some of the major characters in their original guises earlier.”
may have noticed been unable to avoid noticing if you follow my Twitter feed, I’ve been on a bit lately about Occupy Writers, the online expression of support for the Occupy Wall Street movement that is now shaping up to Occupy Many Places. It began as a fairly modest endeavor about this time last week, the brainchild of Jeff Sharlet and Kiera Feldman – Jeff put out a call for volunteers over the weekend as he had some family world to attend to, and I was one of a couple of people who said sure, love to help. And it’s become a Bit of a Thing since then.
I’ve focused on writing and grief on this blog much more than I have performance or politics. For today at least, that’s changing up a bit.
And now, I indulge in a bit of snark in which – I have to admit – I’m totally boxing out of my class. (more…)
I’m participating in two more blogfests in October, which could be madness.
One is Sommer Leigh’s MonsterFest 2011, which seems to be a create-your-own bestiary kind of thing. There’s a calendar at the link identifying who is writing about what and when. I’m up on October 9 with the ouroboros and October 25 with the sphinx. Be sure to visit the other beasts from other writers, too!
The next is a shared world scenario, three posts of 500 words or so each, in the Rule of Three. I don’t expect to be using any of my WIPs for this, but I will probably try to work with the overlapping timelines. Good practice.
The last challenge for Rachael Harrie’s Campaigner fest is coming up this month as well – that’s the flash fiction I’ve been using. The character of Kevin is the central one in Effigy and Jack (from the first story) is the primary antagonist for the bulk of the series. “Eyebrows” (from the second story) may not ever show up.
I’m also going to try and keep up with regular posts on structure to keep developing that idea, write the odd review or two, and increase some character studies (a la Latter Day Punk).
In other writing, I knocked out another chapter of Effigy in the past two weeks, and starting tomorrow I’m back on The House of Clicquot, which I think I can wrap up by the weekend, first draft style. Which means next week is Effigy again.
And after a summer of eating out more than we’re used to, Lisa and I are talking a good game about Eating Right and Exercising.
Let’s see how this all shakes out. Seems a wee bit ambitious.
I didn’t catch on to the 10-things post circle, but I see that Jessica’s running another round, so I’m coming in on this one.
This is my second blog – the first began as a means of describing shows I was seeing at the Prague Fringe Festival in 2009. Sometimes I write about theater and performance or if I’m producing an arts event like Motionary Comics, and recently it’s been a lot about writing. Last year at this time, my partner Andy and I had just cancelled our second performance set of The Heart of a Dog and I was going up to Minneapolis to visit a friend with brain cancer. So I was doing a lot of writing about slow grief. This post captures a lot of the activity without having some of the harrowing details that other posts do.
Your Lips Are Flapping, But You’re Not Making Any Noise (more…)
I’m taking part in a blog-building campaign that runs through October. It’s organized by the fearless Rachael Harrie at Rach Writes. I haven’t done one of these before, so I expect it will mean a little bit more dramaturgy in content, in addition to the series I’m just starting.
She holds the occasional “challenges” – an example of which was the A-Z Challenge this past spring – one post per day titled and themed around sequential letters of the alphabet.
I’m a little leery of what this means in terms of work and the time it will take away from actually working on manuscripts, but I’m hoping that it will add some structure, discipline, and readership.
Off we go!
Got a lot of work done this week, but very little of it was of the paying sort. Enough to keep me in Chicago, certainly, but not enough for a round of huzzahs. Really, though, this is more about what I did get done.
One beta reader finished A Watchful Eye‘s current draft. No criticisms, lots of enthusiasm and praise. Thanks, Mom!
The gutting of Manuscript #2 continues. First 48 pages sent off to beta reader for a test-drive. Does it make sense? Can you tell who the main character is? Etcetera and so on. Since then, I’ve made another 21 pages – this is less impressive than it sounds, because I’m hardly doing any original composition – I’m re-ordering and re-structuring lots of already-written stuff. I have to write one solid scene right now, then I can step back into Concatenation Mode and leap ahead a magical 6 pages. It will be magical. Then I’ll do what I did with those first 48 pages, which is go over them two to three times, reading for continuity, sense, typos. And I’ll probably have to make a lot of changes. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
I think I discovered a character that needs to appear in this book that I hadn’t considered before. Damn it? Hooray? I’m not sure.
I’m going to try and wrap my head around another Query Letter for AWE over the weekend, looking to post it next week.
Other writing: I’m trying to get into the habit of writing some reviews (not that this will be a review site – too much unpaid work already) and posting them over at GoodReads. So with the end of Harry Potter comes the beginning of The Hunger Games (click for the fancy motion poster).
Here are my reviews:
I’m working on the next manuscript again today. Again. Today. I spent three-ish months in the spring drafting the story, and it was okay. Unfortunately, it was a better story than it was good storytelling. When I started work on the house, I began to re-imagine how I might improve that storytelling. I’ve since cut probably a third of the text, overhauled the structure, strengthened the motives and operations of the Bad Guys. It hurts a little bit, it’s so much better than the first version. I made some good discoveries.
The thing: just because it’s better than the first version does not make it good storytelling. Now I’m wondering if I’ve overplayed my hand in terms of narrative devices, even as I work through the new story parameters I’ve created by making the changes I’ve made. I’ve sent out the first 48 pages to a reader who’s completely unfamiliar with the first manuscript (very important not to have inside information), and while the narrative devices should be okay (the non-linearity in particular), I’m not sure that it makes sense. Stupid non-linearity. Whose idea was that? I’m not sure if it’s clear who’s the main character. But I believe I’m on the right track.
I’m not a fan of this guy (wait for the connection, it’ll come).
1) Imagine the piece, i.e. a balloon dog! But huge! Made out of steel!
2) Contract with fabricators
3) Pick up huge steel balloon dog
4) install in museum
5) collect wealth and plaudits; feed off naysayers’ naysaying. mmm, tasty.
Based on talking with a couple of “conceptual sculptors” (their words, not mine), I believe Jeff Koons is one of them. He’s an IDEA MAN. He’s commenting on art and on the idea of art while creating “art.” Part of me wonders why there’s still a market for this after Dada, Duchamp, and Warhol, but that’s the free market for you. Invincible and evaluating things at their proper worth (that’s a joke, son). For Koons, there is simply the IDEA. There is no discovery.
When I was contracted to build a costume that looked like a guy in a giant powerball (the lottery, doncha know), I had to figure out how to make him look like this (note: I had nothing to do with the locker room):
Red arms and legs. Yellow hands and feet. Giant red ball body. Yellow starburst head. Human face. BALL text. Those were my instructions. Someone else had the IDEA, and I was just the fabricator. I made many, many phone calls. I hired specialists who wouldn’t have my learning curve with fabric (we had to dye the gloves and shoes) and who were faster than I am at sign application and painting (the text letters). I made a couple of discoveries. It was a lot of fun to build.
When the Spouse produces commercials and films, it’s a bit like assembling a jigsaw puzzle with moving pieces that keep changing their shape. The challenge and the delight in the better jobs is the juggle, keeping it all together. That’s not to say that discovery is a necessary and sufficient quality to the artistic process, but at least that process is made more delightful when there are discoveries to be had, like you just came across a bit of gold.
Of course, the actual excavating can be a drag. And as I slog my way through my next round of edits to create a readable, understandable, captivating, and page-turning first act, I keep reminding myself to look for the discoveries of gold.
By the way – got a comment? Please leave it here, not on the facebook feed. I’d rather have conversations on this page than on Mark Zuckerberg’s. Thanks!
The master builder (with no apologies to Ibsen).
Week one. I brought up clothing so that I could go running if I felt ambitious. I brought up writing in case I felt ambitious. I neither ran nor wrote.
It’s not so much that the list of things to do on the house is immense – it’s big, sure, but a lot of things are small, such as adding the final 10 3/8″ of trim in the dining room, running the rest of the base shoe, hanging the doors on the built-ins. All of this work requires some degree of preparation, and most of that I did over the autumn and winter. I’m contracting with my former company, so no worries on the getting-stuff-done front. But the weather is killing me. Everything that requires either warm (above 40 degree temps) or dry is being stymied by Wisconsin spring. I’m getting a lot of the indoor work done, though.
I’m also screwing up my shoulder.
I’ve got a great crew of people helping me out, none of whom I ask to climb up to the peak of the gable, although I do require them to help me set up the 40′ extension ladder to get up there.
On a map of the city at the cashier’s office was a big fold-out map of the city – with three X’s aligned vertically across the front. I had been telling Mark about them while we headed past Damrak and he immediately began seeing them everywhere – on the metal traffic barriers that prevent cars from heading onto the sidewalks (no curbs in some places). Three X’s in a row in cobblestone, designating no parking. Faced with the map, I asked the guy selling us our tickets what they meant.
He laughed and explained that most people assumed (as I had yesterday) that it just meant Amsterdam is a triple-X, heavy porn city, but that they are St. Andrew’s crosses, and the three of them represent the three destructions of the city – to fire, to water, and to the plague. And now, it also means porn.
I’ll tell you what I do know – they’re called St. Andrew’s crosses because that’s the shape of the cross on which Andrew was crucified pre-canonization.
I’m stuck on the line between doing, action, and performance.
Basically, the problem is trying to write something that relates to an artistic performance and not necessarily how we act in our daily lives. Because I’d really like to think about some other things besides my friends dying, and I suspect other people would, too.
Part of what I’d like to perform for you is Competence. I don’t have my form down in this different vein, so rather than subject you to something to long, I’m going to sit on it for a while and leave it at this: if you’re in the Twin Cities, go to the Fringe, go see many, many shows, and include in your selection Your Mother Dances at the Southern, which I saw tonight. Good, fun, sexy.
Dream of competency.
Yesterday was the 33rd anniversary of my brother’s death, and every year we mark the occasion with homemade tacos. My dad gets curry on his anniversary. Such is the luck of the draw and whims of family.
My mother looked a little beaten up yesterday from when she picked me up at the airport until bed. She told me that the day is hard, every year. She didn’t make a big deal of it – no rending of clothes, ashes on head, nothing dramatic. She just seemed a bit tired and fragile.
At dinner, my sister asked me if I was disappointed not to be a part of the Minnesota Fringe that’s going on right now. The vehemence of my “very much,” seemed to surprise her a bit.
The words are just information. I miss you. I’m upset. I love you. I care. They’re supported not just by everyday actions – a phone call, punching the wall, flowers – but by the conviction with which we perform our words. My mother doesn’t perform her grief over my brother’s death. I don’t perform my disappointment over The Heart of a Dog being done and not performing here. If we didn’t perform and denied our emotions, you’d say we were in denial. But we acknowledge, just don’t make a big deal.
So how do you know how big a deal it is? And how inappropriate is how big? The performance needs to be proportionate to the scale – somehow.
My mother did her dissertation research comparing widowhood between caucasian, Jewish, and African=American women. The period of mourning was a topic that arose in the course of her work. What used to be “wear black and be officially in mourning for a year” for the white community has become, after a year, “don’t you think you should move on with your life?”
So here’s a question. If performance makes such a big deal in our face to face communication, what is filling that gap when we’re reading these words and there’s no one to perform?
If there’s a single phrase that suggests in our common language that we perform ourselves, it is “out of character.” If we do or say something that is not typical, we hear, “That’s not like you.”
I like performing, but I also like my time as the center of attention to be limited. I really, really enjoyed doing THE HEART OF A DOG with Andy. I loved teaching. But I don’t want everyone looking at me all the time. I like the anonymity of being a guy in the city and not having to worry about someone recognizing me. And if they did, it’d be basically just a novelty anyway. Jonathan West, former artistic director of Bialystock & Bloom and current managing director at Sunset Playhouse, once had someone recognize him in a coffee shop. Said fan was so enthusiastic about whatever she’d seen him in, that she gesticulated his coffee right on to his computer.
See? A little anonymity goes a long way.
I did something screwy to my knees yesterday, and today I’m walking around in constant mild pain. It’s more of a drag than anything else, but combined with whatever was bothering my stomach, I felt like hell by the time we were heading back from the dog park this morning. Lisa commented that my eyes looked glassy.
I can’t perform that – glassy eyes. I can limp, or I can try not to. I can hide some symptoms but not others. I can be sick without acting sick. When we feel like it, we recognize that there’s a qualitative, existential difference between someone who is an asshole, and someone who is just acting like one. My father-in-law has a list of several of these people.
This is the “low affect” question with Anthony. For me, at least. How much of his depression is performed and symptomatic, and how much is generated by his body? The tremors, the tics, those are all symptoms of the disease – or, I don’t know, maybe the drugs that are supposed to be alleviating other things. Anthony is not like anyone I’m used to. He’s articulate and can talk immediately about his lack of threshold between complacency and anger. And because he’s articulate I expect him to be able to do something about it, and I watch as he snaps from complacency to anger, unable to do more than observe behavior in himself that he doesn’t like.
It’s not that the performed “sick” is less true. If I don’t limp, then my performance is a lie by not indicating my discomfort. There’s no more inherent relation between performance and truth than there is between words and truth. We can lie or convince in all kinds of ways.
Today I was, in no particular order, pack leader, husband, handyman, landlord, erstwhile colleague, and patient.
I got to thinking about this while sitting in the ophthalmologist’s chair and he’s looking at my dilated pupils and we’re talking about how Lasik surgery is going to be so 5 years ago in about 5 years, given what’s coming down the pike. He’s checking on the pressure in my eyes. What are we talking about here? He answers, but without saying what he’s talking about. No, is there some liquid in there? Yes, he elaborates in slightly more detail, there’s different liquids in the front and back of the eyeball, and points to one of those doctor posters you see in offices everywhere. Vitreous humor, I ask. He’s surprised. Yes, the other is aqueous humor. He’s okay using big words since apparently I know them, too. I feel no need to explain that I came across these in a comic book.
There are different classes of patients in the same way that there are different classes of clients, and Nathan and I chitchat over how we’ve dealt with clients, me as handyman and contractor and him as computer IT guy. While we’re having this discussion, we’re in my garage, which Nathan and his wife are renting from me and my wife, and I’m stripping a door whose paint started coming off in sheets. His wife Jessica has the tenure track version of my old teaching job. Our interactions are fraught with potential.
In the spirit of TMI and as an homage to Meredith, I offer you the following story about my vasectomy, which is what being a patient today weirdly reminded me of.
I need to begin by saying that there is nothing in my lived experience to prepare me to be awake while a man and a woman, medically trained both though they may be, shave my testicles. Nothing.
Yes, I was surprised, too. Goffman calls this a “negative frame,” if you care, but what’s relevant here is that we try to fill negative frames with SOME FRAME OF REFERENCE. Any one will do.
Naturally, I try to demonstrate that I’m a chill dude, and what better way to do that than to engage in idle conversation. No, I don’t remember if I asked him how his weekend was, but I guarantee that whatever I asked, it was equally dumb. What I learned from this particular incident is that, try as you might, you cannot make an abnormal situation normal. You really can’t. I tried. It didn’t work. My guess is that although this is a new situation for every man on the table, it is completely normal for those two individuals. For all I know, they’ve created a taxonomy of behavior for how people behave, ranging from “freaked out and declined procedure” to “exhibited gender or sex-negative behavior due to the presence of either the male or female medical practitioner” to “totally failed to convince us of his chill-ness by pretending that this is no big deal and people shave his nuts for him all the time.” (For the record, they don’t.)
All of those things that I was today are just roles. They’re not me precisely, but they indicate bits of me. Each one is a predictor of sorts for you, as are other things like my music tastes, my friendships, if I’m habitually on time or habitually late. Or the odd predictor that I just shared this story with you.
This from a friend of a friend: “Why are you doing this, exactly?”
I was at a house-warming party, and it was just four of us left, including the hosts. Tim, who’s been in remission for his own cancer for over ten years, had asked some question or another, and I mentioned driving up to see Anthony. The friend of a friend made the odd challenge. Why am I doing this, exactly?
“This,” in this case, means driving five and a half hours (now seven-ish) to see Anthony, maybe put in some actual labor (painting, mowing a lawn), then driving back. And, for the past four visits, it’s meant getting sick. Psychosomatic issues, anyone? Well, that’s what antibiotics are for.
I’ve got strong feelings regarding the idea of friendship, even if I toss the word around more casually than I used to, when I used to feel strongly and was fussier about word choice. And admittedly, those feelings are in a state of evolution. Stasis for a long time, then an Incident, and a re-consideration.
For example, bad behavior. On my part.
Four good friends, two couples, I’m a part of one. The other couple, David and Mary, break up, but work on staying friends. Agh, but not disastrous, as evidenced by the fact that they’re still on good terms and still stay in touch. Shannon and I break up, also work on staying friends. Also Agh, also in touch, though not as closely as David and Mary.
We’re not terribly old when all of these events take place. And we’ve all been hanging out together all of the time. The long and short of it is that David and Shannon eventually hook up, and a year or two later, so do Mary and I. No big deal, right?
Not so much.
My friend Richard has never forgiven a mutual acquaintance for a similar offense. It meant too much to him at the time, and even if the hurt is not quite so raw now, I expect the memory of the pain is still vivid. Similarly, I don’t think David’s ever really forgiven me – even if he was the one to hook up with my ex-girlfriend first. That would matter if I were talking about precedent, but I’m not. David loved Mary in a way that I didn’t love Shannon, and I hurt him in a way that he didn’t hurt me.
I had a chance to learn from this incident, and on another occasion with someone else I forewent the hook-up that probably could have happened in the interest of not hurting someone else. Which is great for me, but it does nothing for David. My offense against him doesn’t change.
I do what I do for Anthony because we’re friends. I visit because it means something to him. How much, I’ve no idea, but I’ve long been convinced that what he’s lacking is precisely a greater presence of more people in his life, less time on his own. Is he easy to be with? Not always. But we didn’t sign up for easy.
I do it because it doesn’t just help him, it helps his wife. There’s someone else around, maybe doing work, maybe just hanging out and hopefully bringing some extra air into the room.
I do it because I have an idea of what friendship means, and I’d think worse of myself if I didn’t work to match my own expectations. I let down David. I let down Jen, a friend about whom I wrote memory play last year, Decaffeinated Tragedy.
I’m okay with this not being an easy answer.
“My chair told me I should start dressing more like a professor,” said the grandmaster of my martial arts dojeng. In addition to being an 8th dan in both hapkido and tae kwan do (“Only 7th in hapkido,” he corrected me, “but either one is a can of whoop ass”), he was also a full professor in the law faculty at the university and had written a couple of textbooks. His response to his department chair, “Well, I’m a professor, and this is the way I dress, so professors must dress this way.”
Let’s hear it for syllogisms.
We’re supposed to look a certain way (dress for the occasion) or act a certain way (your age, to name one). When I used to be heavily into academia and would talk about “performing the self,” I got a lot of eye-rolls. “That sounds like bullshit,” was the intimation. Academic gobbledigook.
Don’t get me wrong, there’s a lot of academic gobbledigook. A LOT. We are a veritable gobbledigook machine.
The idea of performing the self was sketched out by a Russian named Evreinoff and detailed by an American named Goffman (among others). We have an idea of who we are, and that idea is what we perform. If you’ve ever seen me in a suit, you’ve seen me out of my element. I don’t know how to wear a suit , and you can tell. I am comfortable in jeans and t-shirts with a Leatherman on my belt (for the record: Leatherman vs. Gerber, I don’t care). “People can change,” we hear, and are treated to a conversion story about how the person became someone else – typically a better person. Yes, people can change, but mostly we don’t. Because we rehearse our performances every day of our lives and changing requires a new directorial vision.
RadioLab (a show some folks hate, I grant – I’m not one of them) did a show (it might have been Who Am I?) I podcast while driving out to teach at a suburban university last year about personality. One of the stories was from a woman talking about her mother changed after a stroke, and a neuroscientist they spoke with said, roughly, “Yep, we’re all just a bump on the head away from being someone else.” I was listening to RadioLab again yesterday on my now daily 90 minute commute (it won’t last, I’m happy to say), Numbers, and how we, people, naturally think “logarithmically,” and we learn to count by integers only between 3 and 4, by which they meant, we can repeat the words that stand for numbers, but we only really learn what they mean by 3 or so.
One of the things that came up while I was in graduate school was “aphasia,” which is the process by which people lose language. Linguists interested in language acquisition look at the reverse process for insight, and it turns out that there is a generalized, actual reversal. The hardest sounds to make, for example, are theorized as the ones we learn last. The ones we learn last tend to be the ones we lose first.
I wonder how aphasia plays out with performing yourself. What parts of ourselves go away? To hear Hana talk about her, Lucka never lost anything of herself in her last days. Anthony, meanwhile, between the actual brain tumor and all of the meds he’s stuck on, has what his battery of doctors calls “low affect.” It’s not that his personality isn’t there, but he’s not showing it as much. When does a lack of practice mean a bad performance?
After one surgery a few years ago, Anthony woke up inviting people to call him Tony and interested in football. Neither of those things is “Anthony,” and neither of those things lasted. Where did they come from and where did they go?
For the record, the grandmaster of my martial arts school still occasionally wonders if everything he’s experiencing isn’t actually a delusion and if he’s still lying injured in the mud in Viet Nam.
October 19 is the anniversary of my father’s death, and this past year on that date, at roughly 2:30am, my cat of 8ish years (and Lisa’s cat for nearly 10 years before that), died. Later that day, Augosto was born to our friends Michelle and Alvaro.
This past weekend, Lucie died. Today, our friends Alison and Simon welcomed their daughter Millicent into the world. They look exhausted and delighted.
Last week Andy and I were talking about getting THE HEART OF A DOG up on its feet again in preparation for the Minnesota Fringe when he got a job offer. The short version is that we’ve withdrawn from the Fringe Festival and don’t currently have any other performances of the show slated. On the upside, he’s got a great job. There was never any question as to what the correct decision was, as much of a bummer as it is.
Things don’t always come in pairs. Oftentimes it feels like it’s wave after wave after wave.
I’m appreciating these respites.