Monday, March 31, 2008

Movable Type

Just as any surface can become a canvas for a painter, any stationary or moving object may become the page for a writer.

Consider: cars!

Okay - so I admit that I have Google as my home page when I open Mozilla. I've even customized it to iGoogle, with a changeable banner across the top, the phase of the moon, a little calendar which I can change the background to match my mood, and an assortment of little boxes with information. Among the nuggets of news bytes and trivia I selected is a "how to" box. I don't know why, except that there are the occasional tidbits which inspire me to a rant of humans declining ability to think for themselves or a fascination of seeing how do they make those little toilet paper roll covers out of Readers Digest - like watching a car wreck and being unable to turn away. For example, right now I see "How to Make a Diaper Candy Holder Favor" in the box on the bottom of my screen. It took me a few minutes to even figure out what the title meant; I'm trying to restrain myself from even looking at that one, though I am assuming it has to do with baby showers (I hope).

One day I noticed a link in the box, "How To Create an Art Car". I've seen various art cars around town for several years; some mild and super funky and some outrageous and built up and out. One a little scary looking, unless you're into metallic evil clowns, Extremo the Clown. This was one of those train wreck moments and I had to take a look. Step one, according to WikiHow, is to select your car, with the warning that "if you're planning to drive your art car on a regular basis, you'll want one that is in good mechanical working order." And thus I've proved my point about catering to those who prefer not to think. Meow.

As I looked at a Cheshire cat and back to back VW bugs, I remembered reading about a local art car with a twist. "Trixie" I mentally shouted! And went in search through cyberspace. I don't know whether to say that Trixie is owned by, or companion to, gl, of Scarlet Star Studios, in Portland, Oregon.

Trixie is the dynamic poetry car about town. She sports giant magnetic poetry - like you see on the refrigerator, only bigger. gl even set Trixie up with her own blog page where you can see "trixie poetry" created by people who come across her. One of my favorites is the "neighborhood poetry program" at the top of the page.

Thinking of Trixie and her magnets I have a new meaning for "open mic poetry." Or maybe of poetry by and for the people.

If you could, where would you write your message? Or, if you were to write your message to the world on a car, what type of car would it be? Would you write a poem? Would it be an art car or a poetry car or a blending of the two? What would it say?

top left: Trixie at her second Burning Man
bottom right: one from the Trixie archives

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Published at 6S

A quick note: my short short (six sentence) piece, Slice of Heaven, is published today at Six Sentences (6S). Take a look and see some of the other little gems.

Monday, March 24, 2008

returning to center

I just returned from a few days at the coast. I thought I would be spending five days there. That was whittled to four due to the need to get all of my tax information in order for my accountant before leaving town and it taking far longer than I planned.

I delayed my target leave day of Thursday afternoon until Friday morning; then stayed up all night - completing my tax organizer and submitting it, with all of my notes, at 5:30 am. Ouch. I slept two hours and was awakened by the alarm. The first words out of my mouth were, "I don't know how I'm going to make the drive on only two hours sleep." My partner answered, "you're not; go back to sleep." I did.

I woke up about three hours later, tossed clothes, laptop, book, and more papers to grade and videos to watch into the car, and we headed to Eugene. Where I was going to nap in the car and read my book while my partner and brother-in-law went through their father's belongings to see what to keep and what would be disposed of. What I thought would be maybe three hours starting around noon, when we'd decided on this plan earlier in the week, became about six hours beginning at five in the afternoon due to a late start and it just taking longer. Not a problem. I had a good book and could use the sleep. And we had great pizza and homemade beer. And arrived in Newport at one in the morning.

I awoke to a rare beautiful and calm day on the Oregon coast around noon. I made coffee, plugged in the laptop, connected to the internet and opened up Mozilla. Oops - DNS error; cannot connect to server. I tried again. I'll spare you the details. I spent a couple hours trying to figure out what was wrong: was it the laptop or the connection? Luckily my Blackberry had internet access so I could try to troubleshoot the problem. Unfortunately the Blackberry couldn't log me into Blackboard to retrieve student scores or into the grading system to post grades once I had the information I needed (which also included the scores from the other half of the class I was co-teaching). I did a search through my Blackberry and found places in Newport with WiFi. Bingo - among them was the public library.

I love the library! Not only did they have WiFi, but they also had public computers. So I took my laptop (in case it was the connection and not my computer) and headed to the library for what ended up being three hours. And it was the connection. Whew! I love the library for their books, as well ...but on Saturday, I loved them even more for giving me access to my students' information.

Grades done. Dinner at one of my favorite sushi restaurants, Sada's. Then back to the condo to finish up the distance students feedback (other than videotaping that information for them, which I will do Wednesday and Thursday and mail on Friday). To bed about 1:00 AM.

Sunday I woke up around 11:30 to pouring rain, high winds, and 45 degrees. But it didn't matter. I was at the coast. Made coffee, toast with peanut butter, and Morningstar sausage, with a Jazz apple. Sat on the sofa, opened the curtains, and watched it storm.

Ahhh. I love the coast. And I didn't have internet access so the laptop stayed off. I watched the waves pounding the beach and the wind blowing the seagulls backwards and a lone para-surfer on the beach. His red and black sail pulling him up and down the beach, once being lifted from the water (or so it looked from the warmth and dryness of my view), and slick and smiling in his wetsuit.

Today it was sunny, again.

And now I'm home.

Not as relaxed and rejuvenated as I'd hoped I'd be at this time - but definitely more centered from having a little time away. And my taxes were in on time, my grades were in on time, and my feedback is ready to be taped. Before I started this writing, I looked at my schedule and blocked out another long weekend in the not too distant future. I hope to plan a little better so I will have a day to just chill and read and sleep and then do some long hours of writing. I started a piece at the coast this afternoon and realized I just need a day or two offline to bring me back toward my center, the source of my creativity.

I remember a line I read when I was making a collage last night, something I just happened across while I was randomly selecting pictures: "and this is the wellspring where language bubbles up." Sometimes I need a little stillness to be able to hear it.

Fat meaty starfishes cling to a rock

Sunday, March 16, 2008

For just a moment...

It's the end of the term for my brick and mortar classes and I have been grading tests and giving feedback on videos and making final preparations for the last final exam I'm giving at 8:30 tomorrow morning. Ah, nearly done. So I took a break and went to my PO box to discover that the virtual students I mentor just sent me more videos to watch and assignments to grade; I thought I had another week. And so it goes.

And goes.

I skipped my writing group today because I was overwhelmed with other activity. It wasn't easy to give up the writing companionship and time - but I knew it would only cause more stress to go and I would be further behind with what I need to accomplish. (And I hear my Alexander Technique teacher saying "that's end gaining" and, with a nod of agreement, vow to revisit that topic after I'm done with this bout of flurry. Thank you, Lauri Elizabeth; I remember.) And tomorrow I have my Write Around Portland group - which is one of the other things I needed to finish organizing today.

My promise to myself was that I would take a little break and do some writing and then I decided I'd post something here. Again, other responsibilities are encroaching on my creative time and energy - and I just keep remembering that it is only temporary. I'm still looking for that balance of teaching and working and writing and having a home life. Oh, plus sleep and exercise, the other two things I keep forgetting.

I have two other posts I want to write and have been taking grading and tax preparation breaks to gather information and links for those. But they're not ready, yet, and I don't want to rush them *smile.

Check back soon for posts on Art Cars (including a poetry car from around the Portland Metro area courtesy of Scarlet Star Studios creative advocate gl) and on poet Lucille Clifton. I have some things I'm excited to put into those writings and am looking forward to having enough time to write them up right.

But now my other duties are calling me back. And I feel better for having at least made the connection to creativity and writing - I know it's still there and I'll have time, soon, to hang out with them and see what I can do.

Mouse Teapot & Cups by Dot.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Diptychs and Corpses

There is a bi-coastal encaustic project, The Diptych Project - A Collaboration in Wax, with artists from Portland, OR and Portland, ME which will be showing in April. This has been in process for several months between members of the International Encaustic Artists Guild on the west coast and New England Was members on the east coast. The members were randomly paired. Each artist made one original work, which was mailed with a blank foundation of the same size to her partner. So the original pieces crossed mid-country and arrived at their destinations, where the partner's project was to make a companion piece. The meaning of companion was left to the individual artists. Some of them are mates or a second half; some are more call and response. The next step will be for each coastal group to show the diptychs in their possession at a local gallery. The diptychs here are the originals from Portland, ME, and the response from Portland, OR, and they will be on display and for sale at the Brian Marki gallery April 4 - 30.

Writers often take ideas from somewhere or someone else and build on them. Or we write in response to something we see or hear or smell. But what if we found another writer with whom to create a written diptych? Each person write the beginning of a story, exchange them, and then the other person finishes it up. Or two poems, or the first 5 minutes of a 10-minute stage script. There are several variations on this for writing. One example - which can be really fun, especially with a medium size group (around 10 people) - is the "exquisite corpse" exercise : each person writes down an opening sentence from the same word prompt. Then all the paper is passed to the right (or left, doesn't matter) and the second person adds a line. Then person two folds the paper backwards just so the first sentence is not visible and the paper is passed to the next person. This continues until you are back at the beginning (one group I did this with, each person put a symbol they would recognize in the bottom right corner of the paper so they'd know, since the first line is no longer visible). Each person turns the paper down so that only their sentence is available for the next person to work with. When it is done, go around the group and read the creations from beginning to end. This is a great group cohesion exercise and can be a lot of fun with lively and wild stories.

Diptych by Serena Barton, IEA (top) + Dawna Bemis, NEW (bottom, "What If They Find Out", 36" x 18"

Monday, March 10, 2008

6S update

Last week I wrote about 6S, the Six Sentence online publication, and included the piece I submitted. I heard back from them today (yep, in six days from date of submission) and they are going to publish my six sentence story, "Slice of Heaven." It will appear on March 29th at SIX SENTENCES.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Students Say No to Censorship

This was originally posted on Portland Dramaturgy Cabal

There was a story in the news this week about a middle school theatrical production which was the target of censorship just before their opening last month. The students refused to succumb to the request to edit the play to make it more acceptable to the administration and will, instead, be performed this weekend in downtown Portland.

I support theater as a great avenue for social change and learning about the wider world - but this process of standing up for what they believe in and having their teacher support them in their quest to do this production is invaluable. The students did not give up nor give in. They held on to their principles and believed in their ability to follow through and present the production they worked hard to prepare. And they had continued support from a teacher who believed in them, as well.

The cliche about "children are our future" is true, whether we like the phrase or not. This story of determination and commitment to speak a truth through theater does give me hope: theater is alive and kicking and these young students did not let themselves be bullied into backing down. If theater can't talk about all aspects of life, then it loses its power. These young students already know the power of theater and didn't take "no" for an answer. I say, good for them!

Here is the story from KATU, followed by a response from local actor and former school district drama teacher, Wade Willis.

"Controversial School Play Will go on After All"

PORTLAND, Ore. - A middle school play that turned out to be a little too racy and was canceled by the school's principal will now be performed at a venue in downtown Portland instead.

The students at Sherwood Middle School were set to perform the play on Feb. 21 at the school when the principal canceled it at the last minute and asked that they make it a little tamer.

This spurred up hot discussion between parents and students.

"They're thinking we're just immature brats who can't take this kind of thing," said student Freddie Grant.
"The subject matter is too mature for the ages of these children," said Missy Wetzker, a concerned parent.

The play, called 'Higher Ground,' deals with bullying, race issues, body image and sexuality. Students rejected the proposal to rewrite the script.

The play will now be performed on Sunday [3/9/08] at 2 p.m. in Brunish Hall at the Portland Center for the Performing Arts and students will be accepting donations at the door to help with the production costs.

The response from Wade on pdxbackstage:

What we greatly lack in our public school systems is educating character; what it means to be human. What a great lesson the students have just learned about their own strength of character. And I am sure they recognize just how very small minded and uncourageous the administration was/is by banning this piece, not standing up for the students, rolling over because of a couple of loud parents, and making the drama teacher a scapegoat for their own lack of leadership abilities.

What a great lessons this drama teacher has given her students. She has given them the choice to do what they are told even if they don't agree with it, OR to stand up for the integrity of the piece and themselves and to make the statement: "We are ready for this kind of material. In fact we wrote it because we think we need it!"

It truly deserves as much support as we as a community can rally.

Wade Willis

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

time poverty

I'm still grappling with the concept of brevity and shorter is better and, in order to keep up with the international (national?) trends and keep the modern audience, we must condense and write everything in fewer words. Or we'll lose them. Flash fiction. Short shorts. Books that can be downloaded almost instantaneously to an electronic device which doesn't even need wifi because it runs on the same circuitry as mobile phones and is thinner and weighs less than a paperback. More in less time and less in less time and when can we pencil in that latte, no make it an espresso because I've only got five minutes in which to see you.

Yikes. Do we always have to do more better faster in a microsecond? I read the phrase "time poverty" on the website Slow Movement and knew I had to write something about the need for speed, even if I wasn't ready to delve deeply.

I have much more to say on this topic. But, for now, three writing prompts and some music to go with them. I was poking around for music to counteract or help transition from the hectic to the contemplative. I discovered the Jeff Ball Band, which is Native American flute, hang drums, and guitar. I'm inserting one YouTube video and a couple of click and go links.

* If I had one more hour in each day ...*
* The morning air along the river ...*
* She decided to blow off all her appointments that day ...*

More music from the Jeff Ball Band:
Ancestors in Daguerreotype
Improv by Jeff Ball & Ted Natale
Lost on MySpace

Monday, March 3, 2008

I can write that story in ....

In 1953 there was a television show called, "Name That Tune." (Don't worry if you remember it but swear you aren't that old - there were several incarnations of the show during the 70s into mid- 80s!) It was a contest to see who could identify a song in the least number of notes.

Several times over the past two weeks I've run into articles or conversations about writing where the goal is something like "I can tell that story in..." some minimal number of words. The most extreme was an article I read last week about an entire book of six word biographies. Then, again, yesterday at the writing seminar the topic of abbreviated story telling was raised. The facilitator started us off with a story about someone challenging Hemingway to tell a story as succinctly as possible. Hemingway said he could do it in six words and wrote: "For Sale: baby shoes. Never used." Hmm!

The seminar facilitator did not challenge us to do it in six words. He did challenge us, however, to do it in six sentences and gave us 30 minutes to write. There is a website, Six Sentences, which publishes pieces that are, obviously, six sentences long. So we wrote and I had a basic story flowing. I had the closing idea, but not the exact structure at the end of the 30 minutes. Perhaps that is my next step: to do some practice at sketching out a short write quicker and then go back to fill out the details and tweak the "colors". I like that process in art, the quick sketch to capture movement and impressions, then add the layers while maintaining the initial gut-level laying down of the vision. We left the seminar with the challenge of developing a piece over the remaining time together which is six paragraphs; I haven't started that one.

This morning an email from the facilitator urged me to tighten up - or "snap," as he put it - the end and then submit it to the website. I will admit with minimal embarrassment that the email was needed and, once again, synchronous. Because of the reminder, I stuck the nearly completed six sentence story in my bag and headed out to my various appointments today. One of them was to facilitate my Write Around Portland group - always a boost of creative energy and something I love to do. Even if it's a day with things happening in the room which prevent me from going deeply into my own writing, it primes the pump for creative juices later. Which is what happened today.

I left the writing group with enough time to get to my next destination and to grab a cup of soup and some coffee. I thought I'd take a look over the six sentences and see how I could convey what I wanted more concisely. I was in line behind a person who couldn't decide between the raspberry jammers or the cheese danish. My phone vibrated once, signaling a text message. It was the student interpreter I was supposed to be observing shortly telling me that the client wasn't going to attend tonight, so we needed to reschedule my observation.

There it was - the extra time I needed. I decided to just order coffee and go to one of my favorite writing spots where I knew I could spend two hours, if needed, to finish up this little piece. And I did. It didn't take two hours, although if I count the thinking about it time while I ate dinner, it was two hours. I wrote it up at the restaurant, then came home, typed it up and submitted it. Now I get to wait - I bet you can guess - six days to see if it is accepted.

It was a good exercise. Some of my sentences are longer and filled with visual detail. I did it.

There is more to come on this topic of short shorts, flash fiction, and our very busy lives. But, for now, I wrote a piece in six sentences and it contains all the elements of a story. Good for me. And I wonder...

Slice of Heaven

by Dot.

Billy Jo reached into his brown paper lunch sack and pulled out the expected unidentifiable sandwich in a pleated baggie. He sat down on the metal beam, dangling his legs over the edge, and balanced the sandwich on his left knee. He peered into the mouth of the bag to see what else Doris had managed to scrape together: a too purple Red Delicious apple, a bag of Granny Goose potato chips, a can of Select cola, and a pair of her godawful oatmeal raisin cookies. Billy Jo removed the soda and dropped the sack between the beams, where it would join the unwanted remains of previous lunches and piles of construction debris. With the first bite of sandwich his gaze moved from the cars and cabs and buses below to the sumptuous feast in his hand: braunschweiger with stone ground mustard, red onion, and butter lettuce winked back at him. Without looking he knew Doris had found the ten dollar bill hidden in the lining of his wallet and with the second bite, he didn’t care.

[top] Bamboo : a Sumi-e painting by Dot.