What’s our mission?
Writers are artists. It’s important to find our mission as artists. On Tuesday evening's Drop-In Writing Workshop, that's what we tried.
Constantly, and especially at the end and beginning of every year, I think about why I do what I do. For me it’s a useful tool, focusing my creative work and connecting it to my life as a whole. Why I do what I do helps guide what I do. I think it’s important for all writers and artists to have mission statements. Knowing our mission helps us as writers.
First, I shared the short version of my artist statement:
As a playwright and theater maker, I love the space between words. I bridge gaps dividing genres, humans and my own disjointed fragments. Studying the distance between us, I seek true connection. I write to root into earth and find present weight in each moment. Aiming to the global impossible through the immediate, tangible here/now, my plays examine how we meet our nature in time/space.
Using diverse media to develop dramatic blueprints, I play with text, image, video, music, movement and puppets. As several aesthetic languages inform my work, so do the brain, the body, relationships, landscapes and intricate complexities of human behavior. I physicalize my hardest moments and pour in stories collected through devised collaborations, interviews and observations, submerging our rawest parts together. Cathartic release brings breath.
My art looks at the worst of us to locate the best in us. I rip into past with controlled passion, for future’s sake, so I can hold out a hand and sit with you through your own struggle. It's hard being human. My plays are quests for empathy. On each page, I long for so much muchness swimming beneath every word like an ocean. I want to feel the volcano underneath while standing grounded on shore. Orchestral dynamism and rhythm builds to choreographed enormity that accelerates to a stop.
Through theater, I want to connect with strangers, loved ones, people I don’t like and people who turn away from me, leaning in and asking how we can live better.
Then we got into Andrew Simonet’s book and exercise:
We spent the majority of our evening using Andrew Simonet's amazing book (Making Your Life As An Artist, available for free or purchase here) to write our own mission statements. Even if you’ve written a hundred already, I think this is a valuable practice in re-centering who we are as artists. Writers are artists, after all.
I’ve gone through his process on my own, but haven’t had much chance to go through the process with others as Simonet details, so that's what we tried. Go download the book right now and look at the Mission section. That's exactly what we did, working in pairs/small groups, solo and as a big group. Check it out NOW!
Read the Mission chapter, then try writing yours with a friend or a group or alone. Whether you start solo or with a friend, share what you write with a collaborator as you continue to craft and revise your mission.
Then, can your writing continue to live out this mission? If not, do you need to change your mission again, or refocus your writing? Good things to keep thinking about as you grow as an artist.
We finished by reading Nick Jaina’s stirring essay Courage, after which we wrote our own statements about the writers we want in the world right now.
Nick Jaina • September 10, 2018
I want writers with courage.
I want writers who will have a conversation with their own heart, even if it's an argument.
I want writers who mend their wounds with willow leaves. I want writers who carry pictures of their heroes in their mind to help them through the hard times. I want writers who make markings on their body in a language only they can understand.
I want writers who feel pain, who feel around the edges of pain, who locate and map the shape of that pain, and instead of walking away from it, they dive into the center of it.
I want writers with courage to dissect the language around them, to assess the words clattering all through their day, to divide those words and resurrect them, to cross examine them. To ask those words, "How did you get here? Who brought you? What do you represent?"
I want writers who want to be journalists, who want to investigate an emotion, track down its origin, look through emails from that time, look at the newspaper headlines, wade through the many feet of microfilm. I want writers who want to be poets, who will polish a phrase like it is a mottled rock in the belly of a glacier, waiting for millennia until the right moment to spit it out. I want writers who want to be architects, who will build scaffolding for their whims, who will clear a city block of traffic to construct their dream. I want writers who want to be choreographers, to move a human body, every limb a pipe cleaner, to push a dancer past their own conception of their body, to lead them to climb on a pillar of air.
I want writers who have a heart and a brain and a body and a stomach. I want writers who write from the bottoms of their feet. I want writers who vomit on the tundra in freezing rain and crawl back into the tent alone. I want writers who will stare at a mountain as the sunlight shifts by degrees down the parabolic sky, activating kaleidoscopic facets of colors in the rocks that you won't be able to see again until the same moment the next year, if the clouds part again, if there's even a next year.
I want writers with courage. I want writers who are willing to lose friends, willing to lose toes, willing to lose their comfort and their style, willing to lose what is familiar and recognizable. I want writers who are willing to lose everything they thought made them who they were. I want writers who are willing to see what they can live without. Can you live without a pillow? Can you live without television? Can you live without dinner?
I want writers who will sacrifice. I want writers who will be honest about what they think is sacred and what they think is profane. I want writers who will describe what the vase in front of them looks like. Not what they think the consensus opinion of the vase is, not what they think someone else would say about it, but what they see when they look at the vase, having walked through all the decades of their life, the lost hope, the severed hearts, the dead-end discussions, the plans b through z. I want writers who will walk us through all of that and then let it go and be willing to tell us plainly what they see before them. If they are willing to do that, which by the way is the easiest thing and the hardest thing in the world to do, then they are qualified to be a writer. Which means that everyone is qualified to be a writer. Which means that no one will actually really actually do what they really actually need to do to actually be a writer. Which is to have courage. Which is just to have courage.
Thanks everyone for writing with me! Have a wonderful end of year.
Parents, friends, teachers, family of children ages 6-12, would you help me with a bit of research?
I'm starting a play where two 12-year-old kids living near the equator (and some animals in the north and south poles) work together to save their homes, help their planet, protect polar bears from drowning and penguins from losing their land. They'll break impossible odds to accomplish more than the adult humans around them even try to do. I'm not sure they win their fight or even get close, but they do above and beyond what we imagine possible.
That said, would you ask the young people in your life -- if they could do anything to help out the planet, to stop the poles from melting, to slow down the disastrous effects of climate change on all living beings, what they would do?
Before asking, you can find out what they know about climate change and/or share any details you know, whatever they should know to help answer this question, whatever can prepare them.
Then, would you listen and share any answer(s) you're willing to share with me? Click HERE or comment below to share (or tell me in person or over the phone, if we know each other and that's our best method of contact). Feel free to share this request far and wide!
If the young people in your life are a little under or over 6-12, that's okay too.
Magical, superhuman, fantastical answers welcome.
The more impossible the better.
Though I'd love to know what they think by early December, there's no deadline to respond -- I'm happy to hear whenever, even after the play is written. Maybe it will start your first conversations with your children/students/favorite kiddos about climate change and conservation. So much the better!
Again, no answer too big (or small), too weird or outlandish. I want to problem-solve this play for young audiences about climate change like someone who can't reach the top of the refrigerator without climbing onto the counters (or someone who doesn't speak human, but those are harder answers to gather -- however, if your cat or dog or whatever has ideas worth sharing, I'm all ears).
I may or may not use these answers, or parts of them, in this play -- called Polar Opposites: An Impossible Tale. The main purpose of asking young people's ideas is for inspiration, to help me see from their perspectives, shed an adult brain attitude of what's possible and allow in sparks for dreaming beyond my everyday habits and patterns. However, if I end up using your young person's idea(s) and they are not submitted anonymously, I will let you know.
Whether or not I use the ideas tangibly, they are all useful. Moreover, I am interested in hearing these ideas beyond their specific usefulness.
What am I not saying about this request that makes you curious? Feel free to ask me, either by commenting below or clicking HERE.
Thank you! I so appreciate your time and help! And big thanks to the little ones for their gigantic imaginations.
If you're interested in seeing the play and live in Boise, Idaho (or can get there easily), there will be a staged reading of Polar Opposites February 17, 2019 at Boise Contemporary Theater, through their Children's Reading Series.
This is the third play in my Animal Trilogy, a trilogy of plays for young audiences that use animals as a way to work with big subjects like grief, displacement and climate change. If you're interested in reading the first two, Rajpurr: Tale of a Tiger and Slap: A Beaver Tale (and/or Polar Opposites: An Impossible Tale when it's drafted) contact me HERE, or read more about them HERE.
Thanks again for asking, listening and sharing, and Happy November!
I think about the way the universe is made up. And what I heard on an NPR break the other day, with a scientist an astrophysicist I think, saying this is how he is going against the grain--
I believe we matter as human beings in the universe.
Not a popular opinion, after Copernicanism.
The universe with its stars, all of them,
more and more discovered to have planets,
and it gets more likely that these planets have life.
And so we matter not because we are different,
because we are unique and the universe revolves around us,
but because we are part of the tapestry of life.
Beings who can protect life.
And we matter,
our responsibility in mattering is to take care of life.
To keep it. Protect life and guard it.
That is huge responsibility.
One we are forsaking.
(A paraphrasing, original source forgotten.)
looking back on looking back
From September, 2015 (and I'm still working on becoming)
Feel how the emotions change now, heart rate and face tension, after reading the entry I wrote the day after Dad's spinal surgery. Time is all now.
I feel the tingle.
When I'm in lows, I focus my writing less on process and why I do what I do.
I think less about the big picture.
More about what's happening on my insides.
Less about sensory detail.
More about raw emotion.
Usually the right here right now vague feelings and cyclic thoughts.
And I record. And I process. And I sit. Observe.
And I think -- at the core, this is why I do this.
To take care of me.
To get the notes out about what it's like right here right now.
To get more exact, articulate and less desperate.
To trust my mind. To let go and share.
There are big picture thoughts that go with it, that have to do with audience and what I'm trying to communicate why with whom for what purpose. But at the base, this is the foundation. I write to connect with me.
It doesn't always make me feel better, but it gets the howling more manageable.
When I do this every day, it makes me stronger, more powerful as a human.
Yes, I don't make much money as a writer.
I have to think a lot about how can I squeak by.
I spend a lot of time doing this practice, completely financially unpaid work.
Yes, my logical brain tells me it's important: to practice as an artist, and then my panic practical brain says but so much? It's important to get financially stable and how can you with this? And what are you contributing to the world?
But in a larger term scope,
in taking in the truth about my history and my trajectory,
I see that this is what it takes for me to get through the day.
The alternative, I see, is me in hospital, me medicated, me living dependent, me out late every night making bad decisions. That me is contributing a whole lot less and spending more. Or...Here.
I need to write and I feel it these days
when there is burning in my chest
and I notice the tension build and fall in shoulders.
When I see the weight. And hold it.
And it draws my mouth downward.
When the throat and the gut and the head dive.
When I open up my brain to exposure and I get caught wrestling inside.
When I read about the day Dad's results came back,
detailing all the organs where his melanoma spread:
brain, spine, liver, lungs, kidneys.
When I notice how panic and overworking shielded me from feeling for years. Everything task oriented. And now I'm unleashing.
When I got back from the M.E. experience of homeless abuse and un-me-ing,
I didn't want to show any awful side of myself.
I wrote about it yes, but didn't speak about it.
The way I wrote about it in pieces I released veiled the truth enough
that yes I felt exposed but the art felt separate from me.
There was my work and my private life. Fractured. Compartmentalized.
This left me cold and armored, still denying myself.
Now this, this is hard too, this pure feeling, but it is real. Unmasked. Familiar.
And this is my reason to write as much as any lofty ones.
I can only get to the point where I am opening up connections,
speaking to the silent if I allow myself to speak and listen, too.
I exist. I matter.
And so do you.
When in a crisis, look out for someone you can help.
I am working on listening.
On asking questions and listening for understanding,
not to teach or show or judge or show contention, show how smart I am.
This listening is difficult and requires attentiveness, energy and effort.
It requires an attitude that wants connection and empathy to build,
even when I have something to say that will mean something right now.
Stepping back and truly observing.
This space is white.
Consider Everything an Experiment
On Tuesday I met with writers at The Cabin's Free Drop-In Writing Workshop, where we explored ideas, processes and words by Sister Corita Kent and Marie Howe, using them to experiment with our intention, focus and questions in creating something we need to make right now.
We started by reading Some Rules for Students and Teachers, which is often accredited to Merce Cunningham and John Cage, but was originally developed by the nun and artist Sister Corita Kent, who used art and teaching as a way to make the world better.
It's the start of the fall school semester for a lot of us.
These rules help me think about how we can be life-long teachers and students.
And how writing is a way of being a perpetual teacher student.
Is there a rule here that reverberates especially with you today?
As an artist and writer in general? What speaks to you about these rules?
Right now we'll focus on some of my favorites:
“Consider everything an experiment.”
“Don’t try to create and analyze at the same time.”
And: “Save everything.”
Corita Kent had her art students cut out "finders":
Out of pieces of cardboard.
"Kent encouraged all of her students to carry a 'finder,' or a piece of cardboard with a rectangular hole cut into it. The inexpensive tool, which can be made by anyone with cheap and accessible materials, acts like a lens to home in on specific facets of a given environment. 'You can then view life without being distracted by content,' the book explains. 'You can make visual decisions—in fact, they are made for you.'"
Take a sheet of paper (or cardboard), fold it in half, and cut a small box in it.
Smaller than your eye or than a glasses lens is good
But you can experiment with the size of your box too.
Spend 10 minutes looking through your little box at the world
Or spend 20 minutes, an hour, whatever you want/have.
Look through your box inside as well as outside. Look close up, far away.
Don’t so much look FOR something as let the world impact your seeing
And let the frame impact your way of seeing.
Write down everything you saw.
Let yourself be surprised by what you remember, what you write, how you write it. What you saw, how you saw.
Let it go from there too – how that seeing impacted your body/mind/heart,
What you felt, observed from other senses,
What it made you remember and discover and wonder about…
No censoring yourself, no editing, no analyzing...
Let the observations guide what you write.
Write for ten, fifteen, twenty minutes.
SINGULARITY by Marie Howe
(after Stephen Hawking)
Do you sometimes want to wake up to the singularity
we once were?
so compact nobody
needed a bed, or food or money —
nobody hiding in the school bathroom
or home alone
pulling open the drawer
where the pills are kept.
For every atom belonging to me as good
Belongs to you. Remember?
There was no Nature. No
them. No tests
to determine if the elephant
grieves her calf or if
the coral reef feels pain. Trashed
oceans don’t speak English or Farsi or French;
would that we could wake up to what we were
--when we were ocean and before that
to when sky was earth, and animal was energy, and rock
was liquid and stars were space and space was not
at all — nothing
before we came to believe humans were so important
before this awful loneliness.
Can molecules recall it?
what once was? before anything happened?
No I, no We, no one. No was
No verb no noun
only a tiny tiny dot brimming
with is is is is is
All everything home
What do you see here? What do you notice? What hits you?
Read again. Read it out loud.
Consider what you saw in the finder frame as you were looking.
Consider what you wrote and what you saw as you read.
What does this rereading cause you to think about what you saw?
Notice how questions guide this poem, how the images come from big questions.
Consider one of the rules of Sister Corita Kent.
Use that as an intention as you write your next thing.
Consider your questions for the world. Big questions.
What do you want to ask the world?
Consider the images you framed in your walk.
Bring all of these together
As you write a poem, a story, a reflection, an unnamed ungenre-ed thing.
Allow yourself to break all the rules
And write/create the thing you most need to make right now.
Use everything. Save everything.
Write for fifteen, twenty minutes, more...
And maybe at the end, find a few phrases that stand out especially,
Maybe these become the tiny framed image, the molecule, the haiku
Of everything else you wrote.
Share what you wrote with someone.
Thanks for writing and exploring with me.
Contact me if you have questions, thoughts, ideas.
Share your writing with me if you want!
chili from Mom's kitchen, best second day
twelve climbing trees, maple, birch
marsh pond with beavers chewing
tide pools by the bay, orca song
dusty tumbleweed soaked by unexpected storm
brother jumps off porch overhang
Bandit collie dog
Rajpurr the tiger
attention to detail
piles of comic books
old land rover
perch on hearth, on furnace
Ramona Quimby, Russian lit
starry eyes behind turtle shells
Memory: No Metaphor/Metaphor
On Tuesday I met with writers at The Cabin's Free Drop-In Writing Workshop, writing a memory in different ways to discover two, three, 20 ways of seeing the same moment.
We started by reading from The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime, which was part of my fun summer reading this season.
From The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime
by Mark Haddon
I find people confusing.
This is for two main reasons.
The first main reason is that people do a lot of talking without using any words. Siobhan says that if you raise one eyebrow it can mean lots of different things. It can mean “I want to do sex with you” and it can also mean “I think that what you just said was very stupid.”
Siobhan also says that if you close your mouth and breathe out loudly through your nose, it can mean that you are relaxed, or that you are bored, or that you are angry, and it all depends on how much air comes out of your nose and how fast and what shape your mouth is when you do it and how you are sitting and what you said just before and hundreds of other things which are too complicated to work out in a few seconds.
The second main reason is that people often talk using metaphors. These are examples of metaphors
I laughed my socks off.
He was the apple of her eye.
They had a skeleton in the cupboard.
We had a real pig of a day.
The dog was stone dead.
The word metaphor means carrying something from one place to another, and it
comes from the Greek words μετα (which means from one place to another) and φερειν (which means to carry), and it is when you describe something by using a word for something that it isn’t. This means that the word metaphor is a metaphor.
I think it should be called a lie because a pig is not like a day and people do not have skeletons in their cupboards. And when I try and make a picture of the phrase in my head it just confuses me because imagining an apple in someone’s eye doesn’t have anything to do with liking someone a lot and it makes you forget what the person was talking about.
My name is a metaphor. It means carrying Christ and it comes from the Greek words χριστος (which means Jesus Christ) and φερειν and it was the name given to St. Christopher because he carried Jesus Christ across a river.
This makes you wonder what he was called before he carried Christ across the river. But he wasn’t called anything because this is an apocryphal story, which means that it is a lie, too.
Mother used to say that it meant Christopher was a nice name because it was a story about being kind and helpful, but I do not want my name to mean a story about being kind and helpful. I want my name to mean me.
What do you think about Christopher's idea of metaphors? That it’s a form of lying. Is it? To you? I'm not sure I agree, but it's an enjoyable perspective.
I love hearing about metaphors from a neurodiverse perspective.
Is a metaphor a lie that tells the truth? What else do you notice and pull from this short chapter?
Take a moment to find yourself in a memory.
This doesn't have to be the first that comes to mind.
Maybe it’s the third, maybe it’s buried.
Make it a strong memory. One that brings an emotional response.
Might be a favorite, might be a very difficult moment.
Might be a long time ago, might be very recent.
You can close your eyes and put yourself there.
See all around in this memory.
Notice everything you hear and feel and smell and taste.
Look forward, backward, up, down.
Pay attention to everyone there, every moment, walk yourself through this time.
Once you have this moment fully in you,
write about it in a way that Christopher might approve.
Use no metaphors. A simile might be okay, but try avoiding figurative language.
As much as possible. Metaphors, personification, hyperbole, idioms.
Try instead for very specific detail. Sensory detail. Exactitude.
Don’t leave anything out.
You can include emotions, but be sure to capture every moment.
Every moment and everything you can see, hear, taste, feel, smell.
A moment-by-moment, accurate, even objective view of everything.
Write for 20 minutes.
Great. Now let’s try for the opposite.
Take that same memory and write about it completely in metaphors.
Line by line.
The entire thing might be a metaphor, or maybe you try for one after the other.
A list of metaphors.
There can be other kinds of figurative language too.
The whole thing might be a giant fabrication, exaggeration.
You might create the myth or fairy tale version of your memory.
Or an apocryphal story.
Don’t be afraid to offend and confuse Christopher completely.
Write for 20 minutes, or as long as you can.
Which version do you prefer? Why?
Did you prefer the process of writing one version?
Do you enjoy what came out of that same writing or the other version more?
Now, write a version that blends the two, in a dealer’s choice way.
Write a new memory that’s mostly metaphor but a bit of exact detail.
Or one that is full of exact detail with a few bits of figurative language thrown in.
Two truths and a lie? Two lies and a truth?
Or take parts of what you’ve written already and combine into something new.
A blended poem or a very short bit of prose or fairy tale, based in truth.
You can use the same memory or a new one.
When you read back over what's been written, or share it with a friend,
What do you hear in what you wrote? What is meaningful? What resonates?
What is useful in this process?
What can you discover in seeing the same memory in multiple ways?
Thank you for writing with me!
Heads up: the first play of the Boise Contemporary Theater Season is The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime, based on Mark Haddon's great book.
I experienced funerals.
I found a place in school again.
I told myself 30 was a good time for new beginnings.
I didn't know how much of a fresh start that would be.
I felt a panic creeping in that heralded its way for years.
My ribs opened. I wanted to break through the armor.
I wanted to grow a billion acres inside me.
All I felt was a heart attack on its way.
The road between.
Our last trip together.
When Jeff and I broke,
when I moved out,
when I juggled and pretended to be good at it,
I waited in the bathtub for my heart to stop.
I figured it would, and what a pain it would be for Melissa to come home
to teach a cello lesson and deal with my dead weight.
But all I had to do was slow down.
All I had to do was wander and get lost.
I saw a lot of San Francisco.
And Simon said he hated me. A lot.
Then he turned 4 and decided he just hated my shoes. Or my hair. Or my socks.
Grief is hard on 4-year-olds too.
We learned to draw together
and finally I could hug him again
without his squealing no.
I blamed myself for taking care of myself in ways that hurt anyone else.
I found a big collie like a wolf -- he was everything to me.
I asked for him for years.
I moved. I moved. I moved.
I fell out of trees I climbed.
Men took advantage of me and some took me across the country.
I hurt people and I didn't mean it but that's how self-destruction goes.
There was a lot of cat hair.
I looked at stars. Stars looked at me.
My dad died.
My dad's mom was hard to deal with
but I think that's because I had to do her laundry
and fold her large silk panties
and she said I had a nose like a pig.
It's time I got over that.
I miss the relationship we never had.
Eating disorder treatment center.
And all the disorder before, after that.
Running away with a con man sociopath.
Writing saved my life.
A high school English teacher said my story was filth,
so I didn't writ another until ten years passed.
I turned to playwriting and prop mastery.
I made lots of mistakes.
I fell in love with everyone.
One for four years.
We played house.
Then it was too much.
Then I found the one I'd loved for years and years.
Process notes on a work in progress. This page serves to invite you into the way I work, with intermittent posts to show you the hows and whys on the whats I make, as well as prompts and ideas I bring to certain workshops. There will also be some raw, rough content found in notebooks written years ago, previously posted on: