Monday, December 18, 2017

Randomly Returning to Inklings

I haven’t posted to this blog on anything close to a regular basis, and nobody reads it since it was meant as a place to experiment and record random thoughts. I have a lot of random thoughts. Somehow, I missed all of 2016 on this blog. Not much of a shock, since I was finishing an MFA and writing a thesis. 


Random thoughts for today, to post something because I want to post something:

  • Snow stinks. It is beautiful from inside a house, for one day, maybe. Then, snow becomes the original Hell of various mythologies. 
  • MFA programs are a scam, but not entirely, but they are. There are lots of MFA programs, and they exist primarily to make money on non-traditional students with a desire to be artsy.
  • Blogging was killed by the death Google Reader.
  • Cats and tea make most days better.

Maybe I’ll most a real blog entry soon. 

Monday, January 16, 2017

Testing a Timeline of Typography

The following should be a test of my timeline of typography. This is part of an academic collection on the rhetorical nature of typography.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Starbucks and the Artist

Today I learned that more than half of the people with whom I went to graduated school (MA/MFA/Ph.D) are not teaching full-time on the tenure track - but that was the goal for many of us. That's either an indictment of the system or we were deluded and thought, "Yeah, the market is lousy… but I'm a special snowflake and will be treasured by a school."

I'm going with the totally deluded option.

Thankfully, I have freelance writing gigs and some other projects.

Yesterday, I was seated near yet another Starbucks barista finishing a humanities degree. Seriously, too, not a cliche. A genuine art student in a black t-shirt and torn jeans.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Garden Departments in June

My wife and I like to garden. We have flowerbeds around our house and a vegetable garden in the back corner of our yard. I love flowering plants and plants with interesting foliage.

We live in Western Pennsylvania. Here, unlike our native California, May is unpredictable. It is not consistently "good" gardening weather. May is a month with days of snow flurries and days that hit 80 degrees.

Yet, May is when the national chains expand their garden centers into the parking lots. Walmart, Home Depot, and Lowes place young trees, shrubs, and lots of annuals outside their fenced-in and covered garden areas.

It promptly freezes two or three nights in a row. The injured survivors are placed on clearance racks. I've purchased a few of those weakened survivors, with mixed results. Still, clearance is clearance, and plants aren't cheap.

The local Master Gardeners suggest planting after Mother's Day, which is usually the last freeze. This year, Mother's Day was over 80 and humid. It was horrible. And now, just a few weeks later, it was in the 50s and cold enough that people are in jackets again.

Local garden shops at the national chains should know the region.

Instead, the local garden shops are downsizing this first week of June. Just as we finally enter the predictable planting season, the plants start to vanish.

This is Western Pennsylvania, not the Southwest.

You see the colorful annuals, the early perennials, and you want to plant them. But, knowing they will die or at least go into shock, you wait for the first week of June. You drive the Jeep to the garden center, all ready to trade green paper for green leaves. The plants are gone. Not moved. Not on clearance. Gone. So you drive to the next garden center. And the next.

The best places to buy plants, we've discovered, are the local businesses. They get it. Maybe they have a deal with the distributor or something, but as the chains shrink their garden areas, the local nurseries and landscaping suppliers expand.

At least the chains' ignorance of local climates is great for local business.

Friday, June 5, 2015

Unemployed = Full-Time Writer

The only way to be a full-time writer is to be unemployed.

Writing means spending hours skimming online postings of contests and other submission opportunities. Screenwriters and playwrights have to network, too, which means attending events and meetings with directors, production companies, actors, and other writers. You have to pursue pitching your works almost with the same energy you invest in writing.

Treat writing like a business, if you want to earn a living at it.

Last September, I declared my intention to become a published, real paid professional playwright. I was going to clean up the existing plays and submit things to various producers and publishers.

And then reality happened.

Nope. Nothing publishing.

I did have a new show produced, after swearing I wouldn't write a new script, and it was a good experience… but I'm still not published. Still an amateur, I suppose.

Writers and other artists have to be the most secure insecure people on Earth. We don't stop trying to pursue our crafts, confident we have something worthy of being shared. We also never stop doubting the very convictions that compel us to create.

My passion, as the post from last September indicates, had waned after mixed reviews and no publications. By the time I started to want to write again, I was teaching an overload schedule with no time to read through submission opportunities. Now, I have time to pursue writing again. For better or worse, I'm not planning to teach full-time in the coming school year.

Without other work to distract me (or to pay me), I should be pretty motivated to make this writing thing work. At least, that's the plan for now.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Hitting Pause on (New) Playwriting

It's nearly 1 a.m. on a Monday night in August, and I find that insomnia is yet again winning the nightly battle that is my quest for sleep. Although much of its power is derived from my physical situation (back pain beyond words), the real power of insomnia is self-doubt. Used against a perfectionist, self-doubt crushes the spirit and causes emotional paralysis.

It was about two hours ago that I realized I needed to reboot my writing. It was time to accept what I've been denying for a couple of weeks: I need to hit pause on writing any new stage plays and devote more energy to the other unfinished works in my life. And, if I do feel the need to start a new project, it should be a screenplay, a short story, or something other than a stage play.

Theater was good to me this year, with three full productions locally. The shows have been good, and the actors, crews, and house teams put everything into making the shows successful. The audiences seemed pleased, even when a critic wasn't. (And one critic not liking the shows isn't too bad, when ticket sales were okay, especially for one show.)

But, I only enjoyed the process sporadically. I haven't loved what I'm doing — and that's a problem. My health, my schedule, and not being more assertive earlier with the shows left me feeling disconnected from my words and the shows. Stretching myself too thin, and not just for theatrical projects (I did too many things, period), and pushing my body too hard was a problem this summer.

Theater is a collaborative medium, especially the development of new works. When that collaboration feels "off" in some way, it is like a relationship you know isn't working out and won't be saved. You realize you were better off as friends rather than teammates on a production. I share the blame for not being a constant presence during new show development, something I should have made a clear, non-negotiable aspect of developing new works.

If I cannot be present for the majority of development, working to fix issues with the script and to improve it, the process isn't fulfilling for me. This is something I feel about theater, exclusively, because of the nature of the medium.

I'm not abandoning theater, nor will I stop trying to get my existing works staged, but I'm going to follow a different path. And because that path won't be easy or likely to lead to many stagings of my works, I'm going to invest my writing energies elsewhere.

Film, I can handle the idea that you sell the script and that's life. Theater shouldn't feel that way. At least historically, it's a writer's medium. You listen to actors and directors, and you might take their suggestions, but the script is yours, as a playwright. You have the final say.

I'm not a great playwright. I'm good. My works need to be workshopped and revised. But, time and energy haven't really permitted that process. Short of directing or co-directing my own works, and self-producing, the limits of local theater aren't going to give me the development process I want or need.

Over the next few years, I'm going to finish and revise some play scripts. I'll send them to contests and theaters, hoping for productions. With more than 30 unproduced works, it isn't as if I lack for scripts to submit. Some are pretty good, and they should be produced. Ideally, I'll get to develop them and make them what they can be.

New works, though? No more plays until other projects are complete and my passion returns. If it isn't at least started, as little as an idea on a piece of paper or in a computer file, it isn't going to be a stage play.

And I do owe the actors, directors, and theatrical companies that staged my works a great deal. They liked my words enough to present them to audiences. That's really an honor and I am thankful. I learned much this summer, and that's a great thing.

It merely happens that one thing I learned about myself is that I need more control as a playwright. That reflects more on my creative needs and process than on the people producing my works for stage.

Screenplays are not stage works, as I mentioned above. You sell the script, and move on. You have to accept that it isn't "your" work. I've written screenplays and had two that production companies asked to read. Then, I stopped writing screenplays and focused on other projects. It is time to get some more screenplays out there and maybe update the ones that didn't make it to the next step.

When I was in college, I would fill a 70-page spiral notebook with poetry every year. I have nearly 1500 poems in those journals. The last journal was filled in 1998. That bothers me, since it isn't that I lost interest in poetry. I have tried, every year or two, to get back to the journals. Something hasn't felt right in 16 years, though.

I have novels started, lots of them, and need to select one and finish it. Just finishing one would be a good thing. I have outlines dating back to fourth grade that were good then and aren't bad now. It bothers me to see the half-written manuscripts, waiting for some attention.

A friend said that just as I stop writing new plays, the existing ones will start to find homes. I'd be okay with that, as long as I remember to assert more control. A lot of my difficulties with new works would be avoided if I had a more assertive personality up front… instead of waiting until I feel sick about things.

Now, I'm off to write some bad poetry.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Negative Reviews

"Doesn't the review bother you?" I was asked following a rather harsh criticism of a musical play that premiered this summer (2014). "It didn't even explain what the critic disliked very well."

Yes, the review bothered me, and I certainly agreed with my theater colleague that the review could have been more helpful, but every review is helpful to some extent. Some are simply more helpful than others.

A negative review tell you that something might be wrong with a work. It might not be, but critics at regional and national publications tend to know something about their specialties. In this instance, the reviewer is a playwright, so ignoring his views would be shortsighted. However, critics also have biases, and this critic hasn't demonstrated the greatest understanding of new work development in our small city. Shoestring theater seldom enables perfection, and even less often provides active development processes.

When you read a review, skip the snark. Reviewers seem to love demonstrating how smart they are, and how cynical they've become. Ignore the ego behind the review and focus on a list of concrete positives and negatives. Don't get lost in the flourishes of someone trying to impress his or her readers.

In this instance, the concrete claims appear to be:
1. Some of the musical numbers (tune and lyrics) were good.
2. The play was too long.
3. The three-act structure was problematic.
4. Direction lacked energy.
5. The play had little new to say.

As a playwright, I can't do much about any acting or directing issues, even with a new work. Things simply happen. Therefore, item four is beyond my control. Direction can also affect item five because a slow play without energy has no message, no passion. That means item five is likely a mix of problems with the script and the direction.

The length of the work and the structure are a problem. Reducing the snark to the core claim, that the play was long and oddly structured, I would agree that a new work usually needs more editing. As a writer, I tend to overwrite first drafts. Therefore, I can set aside the snark and admit the play needs another revision pass (or more).

I'm not sure I agree that the three-act structure is a problem, but it is if there are two intermissions in a modern play. Audiences want one intermission and quick scene pacing. The structure I wrote was applied literally by the director. I need to change the script — that's definitely my fault as a writer.

Learning to list the concrete claims made by reviewers is a skill writers and artists need. My final works are better because of this approach to "listening" to the critics.