Monday, May 18, 2015

Synchronous Moment: Writing in Our Time

Writing in Modern Times? In Our Time? In the Age of _________, fill in the blank. I couldn't think of a better way to say it so I went with what I had.

This is one of those times when different aspects of my life are coming together with the same or a similar message. Meaning, in my opinion, pay attention.

I am now in week six of the seven weeks IWP online MOOC poetry class. The topics have been interesting and, while I am still not fond of the online classroom platform they've chosen for this round, it is still working. I just ignore what doesn't work and keep to my workarounds, and respond as I have been and read much more than I write on the boards - and it's fine.

Last week's IWP topic didn't resonate with me. It felt like a "duh" and I didn't get as much from it. I think some of that was because it had to do with "turns" in poetry and I think, as primarily a fiction and creative non-fiction writer, "turns" are commonplace in the stories. It was interesting to read about the different styles of turns in poetry, with some excellent examples and exposure to new poets, but it didn't spur me to write more poetry. And I will admit that the activity and busy-ness of the week also interfered with me jumping into it as heavily as I have been; so there is probably something to that as, well.

But this week's topic is inspiring. And right up my writing alley. And one of the video lectures mentions several of my favorite poets; the other video lecture talks about some of my favorite ideas and questions. I fell into this week's topic quickly and easily.

One focus of this week on the place of "anger" in poetry. "Anger" is a very general term - specifically they talk about politics and the personal. One of the "instructors" for this week put the question out on the boards if poetry can just be cathartic without leading toward a solution. It was a question to generate conversation and I think it will; it is still early in the week.

Another focus is on writing in the current times and all that goes with it - short and fast, hashtags, and the internet and tweets and posts; brevity. How does this affect us as poets, as readers? How do we physically experience our world and our work, our writing and our reading, with these new things. What does it mean to - or do we - embody this life with all of these things? When a "date" might be online and not in person. When we text or tweet or Skype rather than calling on the phone or stopping by or meeting in person in a coffee shop? Questions ... no answers.

Then I saw an interview with Charles Baxter for Tin House. And the section quoted reminds me of the topics and lectures and discussions this week in the MOOC. Which is what led to this piece of writing, although it took me this long to get to the point. Click through to read the whole interview, if you have a couple of minutes; if not, come back later and check it out.

Questions about time, our times, and writing.
"Everything now is supposed to go fast; everything is supposed to be so efficient. Since when was fiction supposed to submit to time-and-motion studies? Impatience and distraction are our great enemies and must be conquered somehow. We all know that some of our most profound moments happen with a kind of languor: pleasure and love and sorrow and prayer take their own sweet time." -- Charles Baxter, in conversation with Susan Tacent
Read the whole piece by clicking here: Urgency and Momentum: An Interview with Charles Baxter.

graphic from Tin House link for the Baxter interview

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Dorothy Allison Reading in Port Townsend

Dorothy Allison is reading at The Writers' Workshoppe & Imprint Books on Saturday, May 16th, at 7:00 pm. She is also presenting a workshop Saturday and Sunday, but that has long been full.

Go to The Writers' Workshoppe website to get more information about the location of this event. It's a sweet place for a reading, and Port Townsend is a short drive away and a beautiful place to spend a day or a couple of days.

It will be worth the drive!

from the sponsor's website:

Dorothy Allison is an American writer and nationally known teacher and lecturer with a strong emphasis on memoir and storytelling, and a profound bias toward pushing past fear into creativity.  Her writing includes themes of class struggle, sexual abuse, child abuse, feminism and lesbianism. 
Allison's first novel, Bastard out of Carolina was one of five finalists for the 1992 National Book Award. Graphic in its depiction of Southern poverty, family ties, illegitimacy, child abuse, and rape, Bastardwent on to win the Ferro Grumley and Bay Area Reviewers Award for fiction. The novel has been translated into over a dozen languages. A film version, directed by Anjelica Huston premiered in 1996 on Showtime. Cavedweller became a national bestseller, NY Times Notable book of the year, finalist for the Lillian Smith prize, and an ALA prize winner. Adapted for the stage by Kate Moira Ryan, the play was directed by Michael Greif, and featured music by Hedwig composer, Stephen Trask. In 2003, Lisa Cholendenko directed a movie version. 
Allison’s book, Trash: Short Stories, a collection of semi-autobiographical short stories, won her two Lambda Literary Awards.Trash includes the prize winning short story, “Compassion” selected for both Best American Short Stories 2003 and Best New Stories from the South, 2003. 
Allison says that the early Feminist movement changed her life. "It was like opening your eyes under water. It hurt, but suddenly everything that had been dark and mysterious became visible and open to change."

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

MOOC Poetry Class Update

I am participating in an online poetry class, a MOOC (Massive Open Online Courses) offered by The University of Iowa International Writing Program. There are thousands of participants from around the world. The online platform is clunky and can be overwhelming. But I have developed a system to decrease the technology frustrations so that I can enjoy the amazing videos from skilled poets and teachers, learn about new forms, practice writing more poetry in sometimes new or different ways. The content each week is wonderful. Oh, and it's free.

We are in week four now and I haven't shared anything I've written. I decided it's time to put up one of my poems. It's interesting that I chose this one because this week's focus is meter and form. I tend to write free verse poetry, but I do enjoy experimenting with structure and am often happily surprised at the results. 

This poem is written with the Pantoum structure. This is a form I had not heard of before this course, which is one reason I chose this form. 

Working the Night Shift 
a pantoum
by Dot Hearn 
the look of a face at sunset 
when light switches form,  
the trees pull up roots, 
and life, as we know it, ends. 
when light switches form,  
inverting shadows, highlights, thought 
and life as we sense it begins. 
we prepare for vision and insight. 
inverting shadows and highlights, through 
closed eyelids and flickering minds, 
we prepare for vision and insight. 
the rocks float and rivers rumble. 
closed eyelids and blinking minds, 
the bodies wander familiar strange roads 
as rocks float and rivers rumble, remembering 
the look of a face at sunset.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Philip Glass - NPR Interview

The day before the first interpreted performance of "Cyrano," I finished Philip Glass' memoir, "Words Without Music." It was a pleasure to read about his process, the challenges he didn't let keep him from pursuing what he knew was his path, and the amazing other musicians, artists, theatre people he encountered and worked with and studied with along the way. Who influenced his music and his development; how he thinks.

He was interviewed on NPR and you can listen to it from the website: "The World Music Education of Philip Glass." There is a transcript available if the audio is not accessible.

I'm taking an online poetry class right now, and this week one discussion thread is about inspiration (it's more complicated than that - but the basic premise of this particular discussion is about what inspires us as poets). For me, Philip Glass' music can be an inspiration for writing poetry; sometimes other types of writing, as well - but when I listen to his music, poetry is what tends to come out, or prose written in a more poetic style.

Yes, I am still a Philip Glass fan.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Philip Glass - Memoir + A Video

I am currently reading Philip Glass' memoir, "Words Without Music." If you know me or have followed my posts for a while, you probably know that I am a big fan or his work. I even made a trip to Berkeley a few years ago when his "Einstein on the Beach" was being performed, because that was the closest to home on the tour.

His memoir reads more like a biography in my opinion. But he does have some good stories to tell, he met and worked with some amazing people on his journey. I am enjoying learning more about his beginnings, his passions, his day jobs, and especially more about his music. How he approached his life's work, meanings, how he developed his style, his sounds.

So since his book is my primary read outside of the theatrical scripts I'm preparing to interpret, I've also been listening to his music.

I just wanted to share one piece of his music. He has many. This was just a random video of something I found online - String Quartet No. 3 "Mishma," VI.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

[video] Dorothy Allison : The Power of the Writer's Voice

Today I was able to listen to Dorothy Allison read an unpublished story and talk about writing and life and politics and community at Mt Hood Community College. I am still digesting what I heard, letting her story and her words and her wash through me.

I can't share video what I saw and heard today, but I can share this video from the Chicago Humanities Festival. The first video is an hour long; below that is a 6-minute excerpt from the discussion, "Advice for Emerging Writers."


Tuesday, April 7, 2015


This has been on my mind recently: questions about and satire of the Portland OR culture. Questions about "counterculture" as it is here, or if the "counterculture" doesn't really exist in Portland.

As I often do, I started with definitions and then see where things fit or don't; what paths or rabbit holes appear to give me a deeper look at the things I'm researching or writing about. The first thing that came up was from Oxford University Press, so that would seem to be a reputable resource to quote. And here it is:

  1. counterculture
    [ ˈkountərˌkəlCHər ] 
      a way of life and set of attitudes opposed to or at variance with the prevailing social norm:
      "the idealists of the 60s counterculture"
    Powered by OxfordDictionaries · © Oxford University Press

Oh, let me say right now that if you are hoping I will give you an answer, I won't. I don't know where the counterculture is in Portland OR or if it exists.

I was recently in an online humor writing intensive with Ariel Gore. I wasn't the only one who poked fun at Portland in the course. In the short one week writing experience there were several pieces about different aspects of Portland "weird." I have also been preparing to interpret "The People's Republic of Portland" at Portland Center Stage this week, which is about just this topic. I laugh at some of the jokes along with everyone else - the ones I know are probably coming in Lauren Weedman's show and the improv sections I've never heard before despite having seen the show several times. I nod in recognition of the characters she energetically shows the audience and laugh and the sometimes only mild exaggerations; the show is funny and she is great. And I think, yes, this is Portland and it's not all bad; but is it "counter"? (Side note: the show is worth seeing and it is running right now; if you want to see the interpreted performance it is this Thursday, April 9th, at 7:30 pm. Get your tickets soon as performances are selling out!)

When does "weird" become the norm? What does that look like? What does it take for the self-consciousness of appearing to be "counter-_______" (fill in the blank) to become the standard? Is it counterculture when there is a right and wrong, when there is pressure to conform, when the individual becomes the mass, and when the focus is inward toward individual or group? What is the counterculture countering? Or has it become so commonplace that there is nothing to counter? Has the Portland Weird Culture become so mainstream that we need a counterculture to the counterculture?

Or is the idea of A Counterculture outdated and we should just look at diversity, instead? What is the role of a counterculture? What has the role of the counterculture been historically and is that still true or still needed? If we don't really need a counterculture any longer, what has replaced it in terms of keeping us alert and alive as people? What keeps us from becoming a bland homogeneous unthinking mass which just plugs in to a pod and melds?

I'm not talking about the extremists. I'm not talking about the mentally unstable or sadistic or the outliers.

And here I start going down the rabbit hole of "what am I talking about?" What do I think is wrong? If I think something is wrong then what is missing or what would make it right?

What I do know is that it feels like "Portland Weird" has become just one more thing to conform to or to resist. One more thing to say "yay, I love it," or "boo, I'm better/worse than you." One more thing to make you feel better or worse about who you are.

Do we need a counterculture? Can or does counterculture exist? Or is this one more label to separate the "them" and the "us?"


Thursday, April 2, 2015

Story Structure Video

* Even though this video essay is about making a video essay and about making film, it is also about storytelling. It talks about structure and moving the story forward, which also applies to written storytelling.

I am a believer in cross-pollination in the arts: visual and writing, film and written story, music and anything. This short video can apply to many creative paths, even though the creator's focus is on film and video.

And if you need them, it does have CC.

You can read the article which goes with this video essay here: "The 3 words that are guaranteed to make your writing better"