Saturday, August 27, 2011

North Carolina Beach

This morning when the alarm went off I was dreaming I was on a North Carolina beach, sitting in the way of people trying to play softball. I've never been on a NC beach, though I've been to the state many times, on business. Driven through it, stayed in a couple of the cities, enjoyed the scenery. But last night it was on my mind for a different reason, of course: Hurricane Irene. I don't know why I dreamed about NC when I went to bed thinking about all my friends in NYC. Maybe because Irene is actually still in NC? In my dream the beach was beautiful and warm and filled with happy people just trying to have fun.
Katrina hit six years ago. My son and his family have never recovered. Their home was only ever partially restored because they never received enough money to restore it. My son suffered two major heart attacks and was never able to return to work. My daughter-in-law's job took ages to return to full capacity, and she wasn't reimbursed for any of that. They had to file bankruptcy. My granddaughter's grades suffered. My son and daughter-in-law divorced. My son eventually went into rehab, and is now living in a single room. And they are only one family. Their damage was minimal compared to tens of thousands of others.
So, yeah, I'm concerned. I'm concerned about my friends on the East Coast. More than they know or could guess. I'm concerned for all the people I don't know, for the animals and wildlife, the flora as well as the fauna.
All this on the heels of an earthquake that rattled the emotions of many, though it did little physical damage, and coming up on the tenth anniversary of 9/11/01. People in NYC and DC are fragile right now. A disaster is not what they need for their anniversary.
What they need is a nice warm beach holiday, like the one in my dream. If only I could give it to them. Instead, I will send love and light and all best wishes for their safety.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Currency and Value

Question of the day (from the Story Charmer) is: what are your currencies, what do you value? I often think about what my own value is to my family. Once a person in this country retires from her day job, she begins to lose value like a new car driven off the lot. When I last worked a full-time job I made the most money I had ever made in my lifetime of work, and I began working at age 13. I worked full-time from age 17 on. When I returned to school at age 29 to go to university, I quizzed out of freshman year entirely, and worked 3-5 part-time jobs while going to school more than full-time so I could finish as quickly as possible and owe as little as possible.
All throughout my lifetime I gave presents, loans, supported as many people as I could, and managed to save money for retirement as well. I do not regret a single cent I ever gave or loaned or spent. The recession ate up more than I spent, and I regretted not having spent more so Bernie Madoff didn't get that little bit of my retirement savings. He wasn't who I loved.
So nowadays my currency, my personal value is no longer cash money. I give what I can of myself. And still sometimes, I feel a bit useless. I recognize how much perkier I am when someone asks for my help. Whether it is to show them how to sew on a button (my grandson), or to edit a script, sit with a dog, or work at one of my part-time jobs, I perk up more than when I'm working on my own writing projects. I enjoy helping others, and may find more value in being helpful than I do in my own creativity.
These are deep thoughts and not all that pleasant, to be honest. I find great conflict here. Isn't my writing as valuable as helping someone else? Do you suffer from this syndrome? Is it a syndrome? Is it even a problem?

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Good Grief

Pema Teeter, the Story Charmer, is doing an amazing and beautiful series on her blogsite ( to commemorate the tenth anniversary of 9/11. What she is doing is genius, and is breaking my heart daily. (I'm pretty sure I'm not the only one.) This is a good thing.
My dad died when I was seven years old. He dropped dead of a massive heart attack when he was only 42, leaving a 33 year old widow with two young girls. It was 1951, and I lost not only my dad that day, but also my mom who then had to go out and work two jobs, and also our home to renters, while we moved into a 15 foot camping trailer. My sister was ten days away from being two years old, and we were days away from Thanksgiving. Christmas was a 15 cent coloring book and lots of sad faces. Tears were discouraged.
I spent the next two years praying every night to die and join my dad in heaven. If I hadn't been raised in church and taught that suicide was the only unforgivable sin, I would have killed myself. Instead, I spent a lot of time trying to trick God: staying out in the cold trying to get pneumonia, walking too close to Hwy 66 trying to get sucked under the wheels of semi-trucks, staying too long on the railroad tracks hoping I'd trip as I jumped out of the way of the freight trains that came by across the road from our house. None of it worked. Only time caused me to give up my quest for death at such a young age.
I think it was the death of my first step-father that shook me out of my deep depression, because my mom was already going out with the next man she would marry. And when she married him we were going to move into town. That was going to radically change my life.
I may have moved forward a lot sooner had grieving been encouraged in any fashion. Instead I was told not to cry, to forget about my dad. We severed all contact with my dad's family, all those aunts, uncles and cousins I had grown up with to that point. All were now erased from my life. Mom remarried only four months after Dad died. Today I realize she did it so we could move back into our house, and she could work only one job instead of two. Then I thought she was trying to replace my dad, and I hated my stepfather and withdrew from my mom.
Grieving is good, necessary even. When we repress those feelings, they do not go away, they just go deep. I believe I'm carrying about fifty pounds of tears in my body to this day. Will this be the year I let them go?
What are you holding on to?

Saturday, August 20, 2011

One More Stop: Book Review

"One More Stop"
Lois Walden
Arcadia, 2010
9781906413613 245 pp

Author Lois Walden has an impressive résumé as a singer/songwriter/producer. This debut novel, written in the first person, is a fast read. Her protagonist Loli is at mid-life, still searching for herself. She has an unsatisfying relationship with Simone, who leaves her to work at her career, which sometimes results in long absences. They have an open relationship, which Loli doesn’t remember agreeing to, or doesn’t recall why she agreed to it. After twenty years together, Loli is trying to sort out her feelings for Simone. Interestingly, her mother committed suicide almost twenty years ago as well, and now Loli is battling her own mental illness. Her mother’s voice appears as nursery rhymes, even though neither Loli nor her older sister recall their mother ever reciting rhymes to them.
One of the rhymes Loli hears is the Irish song Molly Malone which turns out to be the name of a bright young student Loli meets in Beatrice, Nebraska. Loli gets hired by a theater company to teach in schools across the country where arts programs have been cut. This is good for them and good for Loli – if she can keep her head together. She struggles along, looking forward to Beatrice because that is also her mother’s name. And when she gets there, there is Molly Malone. Molly has a beautiful mother. Married. But unhappy! In fact, the guy is a real jerk. Maggie and Loli have an affair, keep it secret from Molly who is finding her creative and scholarly self under Loli’s guidance at school. After Beatrice, Loli returns to New York, leaving Molly behind to deal with her bad marriage, and Maggie to continue her struggles in school. She herself has to come to grips with her relationship with Simone, as well as her escalating mental illness in the form of her mother’s voice. Her father is dying. Everything comes to a head, and is resolved.
This reviewer cringed at the ethics (or morals) of messing around in Molly and Maggie’s lives, especially as the protagonist barely knew them and wasn’t going to be around when things got ugly. The author created a protagonist with no apparent awareness of the realities the vast majority of people – particularly women – face in today’s world. This tale is set in a time of budget cuts, and the theater company who hires Loli is struggling, yet Walden writes of daily psychiatric visits, spur of the moment flights, and shoplifting candy bars with her grown sister before jumping into their BMW as if these are routine events available to (and desired by) anyone. It may be Walden’s intent to test the consciousness of her readers. Readers can’t presume the protagonist is anything akin to the author. This is fiction, not memoir, but it may rankle.
One reviewer slammed Walden for writing “unsex[y] sex” but on that issue I have to disagree. While I sometimes thought the sex was gratuitous – I found it realistically sexy, and I was happy to read a drama with a somewhat butch protagonist.
"One More Stop" was a finalist for the 2011 Lambda Literary Award for debut drama. Given Ms. Walden’s track record in her other ventures, her next novel will no doubt be more original, have a swiftly moving plot, and be more mindful of her audience’s realities. I will keep the faith.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Asylum No More

Asylum No More is the title I'm trying out today for my new play. One of my playwright friends suggested Asylum. I like it. I like a few more words.
When you see the above title, what do you picture in your mind, or hear in your head? Do you think no more sanctuary? Or the end of an insane asylum? Maybe both? Both would be ideal. Either one is good.
The one word title could be good as well. Because it means both things: sanctuary and loony bin. My protagonist works at the State Asylum. She helps people escape. By the end of the play, she will leave the asylum forever, and she will also try to put an end to the hospital itself.
I've decided on which characters are necessary for the play. I've outlined it. I've done the 15 beat sheet. I have a working title. In the next couple of days I will begin writing scenes. Today I have a murderous migraine that I can't treat until late tonight because I have an event I cannot miss. The young woman I mentored when she was in high school has finally returned to college as an adult and is graduating from college tonight, and has invited me. I wouldn't dream of missing this special occasion. So today, I'm working on the title only. I'm wondering what your thoughts are about my title? Any suggestions or comments?

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Working on the new play

I'd like to be able to put the title of my new play as the title of today's post, but I don't have a title yet. My working title is "the sequel" because it's the sequel to "Blue Roses." Or maybe it's a companion piece to "Blue Roses." In any case, three of the characters from BR are also in the new play. I now have the story, the characters, the beginning, and the end. I have an entire cast of characters, some of whom will not appear onstage, and today I'm going to work out which of them are so critical to the story that they MUST appear onstage.
From there I will continue on building the outline, the 15 beats, and so on. And soon I will begin writing more dialogue. I have the opening image with its few lines already written.
This has been an exciting week, working on the new play. I have visited the ScriptLab website more than a few times, looking at outlines of films. I have watched films that are in the same genre as my new play. I am once again reading Save the Cat! as I religiously follow the rules for writing my script.
What are you working on this week? Do you ever write from an outline? I have found this to be the most freeing thing I've ever done in over 30 years of writing scripts. I always thought it would be the opposite, that it would hamper my creativity. Instead, it's like fashion design: know the rules so you can be free to create something beautiful instead of a hot mess.
I've asked before, and some people told me they never use an outline, but some use mind maps (I have before). Some let the characters show the way. What has been your most successful method? Do tell.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Life and Death

This week I visited with an old friend who is waiting to die. Those are her words. She was diagnosed with breast cancer 6 years ago, had radiation and was pronounced cancer-free. A year later it metastasized to her bones and lungs. She moved into hospice several years ago. She became one of the few people to live longer than expected. Finally she has been given 9-12 months to live, but she is eager for the 6 months mark so she can take advantage of Oregon's Death with Dignity law. Her doctor promised at the outset to help her end her life when she had only 6 months left. For a long time she still had enough quality of life left that she was in no hurry, but this week she told me she is marking time. She sleeps as much as possible to speed up the process.
This morning I learned that another friend, one I haven't seen in years, a much younger friend, died last week of a heart attack, and is at this moment being laid to rest. I missed the service because I learned of it just a little too late. She was a great talent and wonderful spirit. She directed my solo show on my 40th birthday, one I decided to put on for 50 of my closest friends to show "what forty looks like" to the total mortification of my teenage daughter. She had no idea I would strip naked. My director didn't judge me, she helped me do everything to the best of my abilities. I may have been my most creative self under her tutelage. She leaves a great hole in Portland and the world. RIP Carolyn Holzman.
And that is life.
Death. Dying. Holes ripped in our universe, scars left on our hearts as we experience loss of loved ones, and even of those we never knew. Consider 9/11. As we approach the 10th anniversary of the day the World Trade towers came down, the Pentagon was attacked, and Flight 93 was hijacked, we are reminded of lives that were lost, which reactivates all the grief we still have stored in our bodies, our minds, our hearts. My friend Pema Teeter is doing a beautiful thing over on her blog from now till 9/11/11 -- she's writing a story a day to help us all heal, and she's inviting you to write as well. Check it out:

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Blue Roses news and Poetry news. NEWS in other words.

I am busy lining up a director for my New York reading of Blue Roses at the Dramatists Guild Friday Night Lights series on October 28, 2011 at 6pm. Stop by if you are in Manhattan that evening. The play runs between 60-75 minutes. You can still make your 8pm show.
I will have finished a first draft of the sequel to Blue Roses by then, which I can pitch at will to anyone who shows interest, and maybe to strangers who will listen, just for practice. (Pitching your story is critical if you're a writer who wants to get produced.)
On the poetry front: I received a late night email from Binge Press and Productions. They want to publish my mini-chapbook "Invert Sugar" of lesbian poems. I'm quite happy about it. They produce these minis, not to make money, but to promote poets. I'll receive 50, fifty!, of these little charmers, plus 100 broadsides of one of the poems from the book to promote myself, and they will sell as many as they can at places like the AWP, book fairs and readings.
Serendipity much? I'll be giving away books and broadsides at my reading, won't I? And handing out business cards, of course. Speaking of which, my new cards sport ALL my social network info: google+, Twitter, blogspot, Facebook, website, email and cell. What do you include on your card?