Your Place Autobiography
In this week's Drop-In Writing Workshop at The Cabin, we wrote the story of our lives in using place, images and people.
We started by reading Jam Hale's poem "(people &) PLACES, an autobiography."
It's a long, winding poem with several vulnerable, heart striking moments.
I'll include the beginning here, but look HERE for the full version.
(people &) PLACES, an autobiography
by Jam Hale
Seattle, Washington and Yachats, Oregon
It's the ephemera that drew my attention
How a gin & tonic looks pale turquoise
In evening light--
A perfect marriage of
The concomitant blue bulb at the strike of a sulphur match and
The flash of green on the horizon
Silver City, Idaho or Bear Valley Springs, California
I can spend hours hand feeding a horse
Watching her strong jaw
As I massage her neck
Her lips inspect the palm of my hand
For more apple, celery, green beans
The sound of her giant teeth chomping baby carrots
Could put me to sleep
The breath from her nostrils
Is sibling to the comfort of a hotspring in winter
It wasn't until years later that I learned
Some suckling horses are called
Trail Creek, Idaho
It wasn't until years later that I could look at a hotspring
Without filling up on a sense of loss
I'm saving all my broccoli stalks and trimmings of asparagus
For the horses
I'm dirtying dishes just to have something to wash
A few dashes of tabasco
I'm not eating much these days
I will wash my glass
Between each drink
I'll wash my glass a dozen times a night
When my hands are soapy and wet
They are occupied with an empty glass
This is why I'll never quit smoking
This is why I'll wash down crumbs of tobacco
(stuck to my lips like burrs on horsehide)
With one more glass of whiskey.
What do you notice in this poem, so far?
What images, phrases, moments stand out?
What places stick with us most?
How does it make you feel, emotionally?
Close eyes. Breathe.
Cast back on the places you’ve lived.
The places you’ve spent time, that impacted you.
Maybe a small, short-term town you passed through.
Maybe a city you spent most your life.
Maybe a gas station that meant a lot to you.
Try to look back far.
Your whole life. See it all. See now. See close-up.
Each place that bubbles up.
What are the images that capture that place at that time?
Who are the people that shine through the most, that space and moment?
What were you feeling then? What do you feel as you look back at then?
Try to let all the meaningful places come forward. No rush.
When you feel that is done, make a list.
List all the places that came up, in any order.
And any that you’re just remembering now.
Some places may come up multiple times, for those of us who go back and forth.
Stay true to that. The back and forth, the returns, the repetitions.
Once you’ve listed all the places that impacted you through your life,
by each place, write or draw an image/symbol that signifies that place,
and the person who most impacted you, or with whom you spent the most time.
People can also be animals.
Also note any significant events.
Now, this list is your map. Use it, but you don’t have to follow it exactly.
You can change your mind, change the order, the places, images, people.
Using your map,
write your autobiography as seen through places, people and images.
This can be a poem, an essay, a story, a play, a long cartoon.
You can go back for inspiration from Jam’s poem
or cast it aside and do your own thing.
If you start to lose inspiration or clarity, take a walk.
Collect images from here/now.
Come back, continue.
Share what you wrote with someone.
How did that go? How did that feel?
Thank you for writing with me!
Have you ever considered going into prostitution to get the next buck?
What it would be like to sell your body?
Have you ever held a sign?
Thought about writing sharpie on cardboard?
Have you ever thought with envy at the dancing sign holders
outside cell phone stores and tax commissions--
at least they have work?
I think as I walk past the homeless,
how quick to cross over that line.
How I've been there.
Not as long or as hard, but I know that side.
Climbing out of that nothing,
first I shielded myself
I can't afford empathy for you right now.
I've been there but I'm not there right now.
I can't give you a thing.
The man I was with when I was like you
used to give away anything we earned.
So we didn't eat.
So the bankers
the angry voices
as he's making hand outs.
I won't look at you,
I'm getting further from that point.
Never forget how close.
How close STDs, pregnancy scares, cancer, health collapse, car wreck.
Don't forget everything's possible.
Don't live on guard.
know how little you make
how very little,
be willing to fight
to earn more.
Don't be dumb.
Avoid thinking about money.
Try to stop.
From 2015, I think?
I thought I forgot how to love him but it's all magnified.
The grey. Burnt embers. The moon makes us ashen.
Can we find water?
I don't remember singing.
It's always this way after a panic.
That heavy ache where my leg is supposed to be.
Stillness like funerals.
Here is the smallest moth, white stardust shimmering in rainlight.
Single soprano over violin and piano.
The spot of light in deepest chasm.
A letter passed between them in secret.
This is my chance.
Side by side this togetherness a community a village of song.
Before today, there was no thought of loss.
At least, no loss spoken.
What Fuels You?
Happy New Year! At Tuesday's Drop In Writing Workshop, we wrote poems, short stories and essays based on the word “fuel” that we could revise and submit to The Cabin's Writers in the Attic anthology.
Every year, Writers in the Attic is an opportunity for Idaho writers to get their work published, inspired by a theme word. This year, the word is "fuel". Learn more about Writers in the Attic (including submission guidelines) HERE.
First, we wrote in list form, coming up with ideas:
What is everything you think of when you hear the word “fuel”?
List all the words, ideas, images, memories, dreams, characters, stories...
Anything you can think of.
What does “fuel” mean to you? What fuels you? What do you fuel? What is fuel?
Ten ten minutes and get out all the possibilities, warming up your creative brain.
Next, we brainstormed as a group.
Let’s share some of the ideas you came up with.
I’ll write them on the board.
When I say “fuel” what comes to mind?
Share ideas you came up with, but you can also build on those, add to them.
Get inspired by the room’s ideas and build some more.
Note – whatever you share is fair game to steal, generously*.
But don’t worry – your interpretation of your idea will still be wholly yours, unique.
*As in -- all artists are thieves, but we take several ideas from many heroes,
put them in the blender as core ingredients and add in our own ideas,
rather than lifting whole ideas from another artist.
We came up with a lot of great word/idea associations with fuel as a group, like:
the open road
(to name a few)
I like how some don't make literal or cognitive sense to me right away.
Now, how do we turn these ideas into something bigger?
Let’s look at other writers’ use of the word “fuel”.
We’ll stick with poetry, because it’s easier to get variety with short poems.
But you can write a short story, persona essay or something else.
Third Poem for the Catastrophe
BY JOYELLE MCSWEENEY
melting rainbow that embrace this roof
giving us nothing, leaves its muck in the water
expects us to be knocked out by its fine colors
weren’t you nothing too, weren’t you
crunched down into fuel
and when that eggshell roof busts through
mama’s gonna buy you
a rainbow ride for free
an illumination, an inflammation
hyperion flame headdress
dream pins in the fuel
balloons of Koolaid burst down to cool
the sticky baby’s head
plus a credit card a glock a new bible
a princess dress
a mermaid princess dress
so you’ll be twice submerged
or an erased Indian princess
pajama set now go to sleep
BY EMILY BERRY
In the nighttime house I don’t know where you are
My allegiances could change
How can I stop my allegiances from changing?
Morning is a gown put on at midnight, but no one’s coming
I don’t know what your secrets are
You say you have no secrets but I can feel them,
they’re bumps under the blanket
You do not let me in
This mood kept me up all night, like stars in my face,
like the burning fuel of dead stars burning right through my face
So now I have my own secrets
This voyage at nighttime, these burning holes
I can’t take you with me —
I don’t know who you are
You say it’s me, but I’m dreaming,
I can’t recognize anything except someone else’s song,
which sounds like a kind of siren,
it’s calling me, it puts a light on
Give me three reasons
Oh, you think I test you?
You think I work you too hard?
You think it’s too much to make you master the task
on your blue-black knees at 3 am?
BY CATHY PARK HONG
I can no longer blush. Half-face towards the starchy scape.
Birds limn the spindle trees, their Listerine-hued eyes dart
as they trill mechanical dirges tabulating not again, not
again / I can no longer blush. The flat arctic sky
boundlessly jogs to another hemisphere / She grows!
Or her pectoral grows or all her pectorals grow / A drop of body
oil the size of a water balloon splooshes down on a man as a graceless
anointing, atomizing into tears / How delicate the sounds are from
her height! Glottal roses wink out of their throats: their voices
tine/ Now I am blushing / Swamp moss draped over the arcades / Oh
she’ll topple. She’s making for the welkin / swamps massage
the plywood foundations of our houses / And speaking of / she shoots
up not like a beanstalk but a city erected quick-time / and speaking
of, I blush blood / Roiling up past 200 ft, dizzy from all that phosphagen / I
be damned where she gits all that nylon, the size of wedding tents!/ She
flexes for her audience / Naugahide. Fuel injection. A sawed-off
shotgun will do you nothing just the rat-a-tat-tat / Rabelaisian
bullhonkies hunker and tinker tents around her / Roiling,
flexing / are louts without a law to bless them / a shadow
overcast / a footstep is a swamp in which gators pop up like whack-
a-mole carnival games / what are they saying? do they marvel?/ I am
hemorrhaging flames! / she aims with her thumb.
After reading these poems aloud, we talked about how they use the word fuel
And how we might use these poets tactics in what we write.
How many ways do these poets use the word fuel?
A nd also...
What is surprising or interesting about each?
What are the tools, pairings, images, structure they use?
What would you want to steal, generously?
What would you want to do differently?
Next, we wrote:
A story, essay, poem, or multiple poems using the word “fuel”
Use your ideas from your first listing. Expand on them.
Add in other ideas, images, from the group brainstorm, and other resources.
Use images and inspiration from the poems,
even if you’re writing fiction/nonfiction.
You can title something using “fuel” and then the body springs from there.
You can use the word in the text as a metaphor, an image, dialogue.
The whole piece could be about fuel. You decide. Write, walk away, come back to it.
After you write a draft, come back and revise it.
We wrote for 25 minutes.
You can write for as long as you like.
Do this with a friend, share your work and offer feedback!
Invite others to share what resonates about each share.
And one thing the writer could work on before submitting.
How did that go?
Submission deadline for Idaho Poets is February 4 at noon.
Happy writing and good luck!
Happy New Beginnings, everyone! Here are some of my highlights from last year. I'm very glad to be in 2019, but there were some sweet moments to look back on from 2018, for sure, some that I'd forgotten.
Here are my three big goals for 2019 and 2020:
3 Big Goals for the Next Two Years:
2019 is my year of compassion, generosity and gratitude toward myself and others.
Why do you do what you do?
From 2015...still relevant, and I'm still evolving...
I do what I do to find firm footing.
I need art like air to survive and I know others do too.
I seek groundedness.
I write my story so I can speak it.
I share it so others can do the same.
I act with courage, write and speak with courage
so I can stop my constant shame cycle and change that narrative.
I share so others may do the same.
I expose my vulnerable bits to connect with others.
I experiment with empathy so we can find mutual connections
between everyone in a room together seeking how our lives aren't so different.
I'm skilled at bravery. Go deeper into that. Be bolder.
I write to connect my fractured parts.
To put my story into characters' bodies. And physicalize them. Make them seen.
To feel how everybody hurts sometimes and to find strength to move on.
I write to show stories of the silenced, the before-me and others,
to reveal the humanity of people we believe to be unlovable,
impossible to connect with,
a character who fits our definition of un-relatable,.
Can we connect with humans we shut out as the other, as unnecessary, a number?
The homeless on the street, the schizophrenic in the hospital, the jailed in prison, the sociopath with a cause, the kid who has a hard time in the holiday months.
Love them not by showing only the good they do despite themselves,
but by seeing with exactitude all their parts,
the brutal and the beautiful.
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.
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: