Wednesday, October 29, 2014

377 Days - Blog #93, change of the mundane

 I always like to look at photos of abandoned places.  I shouldn’t say that.  I don’t mean abandoned.  I mean places that have been reclaimed by nature or left for time and decay to take over.  I’ve always liked the thought of a house that has been locked up for years with treasures buried under layers of dust. (Check out this Paris apartment.)  I was lucky enough to work in such a house for almost a decade. 

And of course, the treasures aren’t rubies or gold (although I also think the idea of a pirate ship buried in a cave – thank you Goonies - is also pretty romantic).  It’s that frozen human experience – a life and the memories are imprinted… kind of frozen in the space even as the ivy and bittersweet and trees grow up around it.

I think it makes a great story.  It’s great because it is incomplete, with just enough clues for my imagination to decide how to piece together.  That’s why I loved Beauport, because there were plenty of clues, but equally as much mystery to satisfy my imagination.

But I can’t live like that.  So long as I have the option, I can’t even keep my couch in the same place for a year.  If I do, that means my life is stagnant.  Frozen.  Like I am stuck in that time and space of a memory, even as the world grows around me.

Last night I moved my couch.

I move furniture when I’m stressed.  Mostly, I move it when I need to change my world view.  So now I’m viewing my television from the other side of the room.  Truth be told, that was a main provocation as there is an elliptical going near the couch.  But, no matter the reason, it does change the pattern.  Of where I sit.  Where I rest my water bottle.  How I walk into the room when I come down the stairs each morning.

Little changes.

But they say, change your mind and you change the world.  Or be the change you want to be in the world. 

It’s nice to visit or glance at those petrified places.   I am glad, though, I have the option to alter how I see my day and its mundane.

Tonight, I am going to move my desk.


Tuesday, October 28, 2014

377 days - Blog #92 the business I own

Last Saturday, I had the unexpected pleasure of speaking to the Massachusetts Federation ofBusiness and Professional Women.  It was a request that came through email over a month ago and something to which I said yes, only to find myself dreading it as the interruption of a potentially lazy Saturday morning came closer.  I don’t generally freak out about getting in front of groups of people.  Over ten years of being a tour guide helped me to squash those fears.  But, it usually helps if I am genuinely interested in what I want to talk about. 

What I had to talk about was me as an independent writer.  I actually have these conversations and discussions and monologues quite a bit.  I find the conversation/discussion option works ten times better, which is why I invited a fellow author to come along with me.  I was lucky that they were an audience who liked to ask questions and did so until the time was up.  That’s the best kind of ‘teaching’, the kind when the learners ask and make me think about what I know… or better yet, don’t know. 

The morning was a success overall.  Not only because of the friendly discussion, but also because I discovered this group of women.  They offered the two of us memberships to the group, as well as the gift of a bottle of wine.  I like those kinds of meetings.   

The discussion brought me to talk about something that is always in the back of my mind, but something that I don’t own completely.  My writing is a business.  My novel and - to some degree – this blog is a product of my manufacture.  It requires skill that goes far beyond knowing how to put words together or what is a likable syntax.  It requires an understanding of so many things, things I didn’t realize I have been learning… and again, still have yet to learn.  But the handful of which I was confident to say I had gained knowledge included marketing, technology (formatting a book in MS Word is a ‘fun’ sort of challenge), branding, and the lesson I was putting to action… networking. 

I confess a little smugness about this list (there are many other things I can add to it) after seeing some very untrue and unkind assumptions about writers last week in the context of Nanowrimo.  I long debated the act of publishing my book on my own before I decided to pursue it, but have been grateful that as time passes the stigma of vanity publishing disintegrates into an appreciation of the new world of books and writing.  At least, my new world – that has become full of other independent writers, aspiring writers, librarians, readers, and fans – Canadian fans (I mean how AWESOME is that?).   But, of course, there are still people who declare anything not traditional is unprofessional.   

I hate the word professional in case you hadn’t noticed.  Before these 377 days are over, I am going to toss it in the dumpster and hope you will, too. 

I know… of course I know that chasing after that old prejudice is a lesson in futility.  And… whatever.  It shouldn’t matter now.  Because my life is so rich with friendships and nights where we sit in my house and write and share a meal.  That is a success that goes well beyond any imagination of a New York Times bestseller list or approval of the New York Review. 

So, no, writing is not a livable source of income at the present.  But my writing  – the making and success of a book – is much more than typing up words on a document as I do for a blog every day.  The manuscript itself has a lengthy process.  That is only just the first step.  The rest is running a business. 

A business I realized, when I sold five books that day, I am starting to understand.  At least a little bit.

Monday, October 27, 2014

377 days - Blog #91, Remember remember to plan for this November

Well, it’s a Monday after the busy weekend and the start of yet another busy week.  I suspect November isn’t going to have much for downtime, so I think I am going to take a bit of it right now and watch the first episode of Death Comes to Pemberley.

But, as a quick blog post, I am going to create a mini list for this month in the year plus of 377 days.

By November 30th, I hope to achieve three large things:

1. Complete Nanowrimo.  In other words, write a 50,000 word draft of a novel.  Yup.

2. Start an exercise routine.  Adding writing time is more sitting and computer time… so I need to make a concentrated effort towards some more activity.  I just bought an elliptical so I can multi task as I watch those episodes of Gilmore Girls on Netflix.

3. Make a theater calendar.  I have a feeling after this pretty minimal year of theatrical involvement, 2015 is going to be much more involved.  I need to draw some lines in the sand now before I start bad habits anew.

In between all that, supper club and writeins and family birthdays… and of course the grand family day of Thanksgiving.  

I tell you, the days may be getting shorter in theory, but I think they are going to be much fuller with activity in November.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

377 days - Blog #90 - The Most Dangerous Woman, or how I spent my Saturday night

There have been times in my life when I’ve waxed nostalgic for other times and wished I could have lived in another generation.  But that’s all codswallop.  Besides, this is a great time to be on this earth.  Specifically, this little part of the earth in Central Mass.

I came back here over three years ago because I knew there was an excitement I hadn’t noticed in the Worcester environs when I was in my 20’s.  About art.  About music.  About theater.  About the city itself and how it can be part of a change in the larger universe.

Just about the time I came back here, a friend of mine and some other local artists decided to start a new theater company, 4th Wall Stage Company.  I have been able to witness it from near and through conversation as it has grown into the community of Worcester theaters, as well as taking some bolder steps for the stage that several of its peers might not.  

Last night I went to see the first show of their fourth season.  I went mostly because my friend was the star.  And by the star, I mean she was it.  Two acts of a one woman show.  That in and of itself is an accomplishment worth noting and supporting.  The woman she portrayed was Mother Jones.  The story is one that I’m very glad I spent an evening to see.

I had the privilege of sitting with the son of the playwright during our after show drinks and got to learn some details about how this play came about.  Ted Eiland wrote this script originally as a screenplay.  It actually earned a reading and polite decline from Joanne Woodward, after which he turned it into a play.  The play won a contest and performance off Broadway.  Since then it has been staged twice, in Sturbridge several years ago.  And then again this weekend.  Hopefully that is a spark to something else.

I confess most of my association with Mother Jones is the magazine I follow on Facebook.  I actually find their journalism to be pretty decent.  Granted it is an authentically liberal leaning piece of reporting… but only because it, like the woman for whom it is named, sheds light on the social injustices of our country.

And holy cow, this woman did some pretty fabulous stuff.  In the years of her life that could just as easily have been spent embroidering or reading by the fire.  Especially at the end of the 19th and start of the 20th century, when forty was old age.  This woman lived for a century.

I won’t give you her whole history.  I will note a few things, though.  I had a pretty shitty week, mostly for no reason.  Then I heard the narrative of her losing four children and a husband to yellow fever when she was roughly my age.  That certainly puts the approach towards forty into a different perspective.  Especially when I consider what she did after that.  Instead of letting life get her down, she started her own business.  But then it burned down.  So she went out and championed for the workers of this country.

Yeah, that’s some pretty kick ass living.

The production utilized some media – images that would flash across a screen as Mother Jones related the details of her fights.  A lot were about children working in mills.  Horrors I knew about in some vague recess of my memory of history… but pleasantly push aside in pursuit of the more romantic details.  I found myself thinking about those children with hunched shoulders or lost fingers and wondered what adults they grew up to become… if they could even do that.  Am I the descendent of any of those souls hardened before their bodies grew to maturity?

People like to dis progressivism. This is what it’s about, not the destruction of the American Dream.  But we don’t remember.  We don’t remember Mother Jones.  I know we studied labor and the strikes and all those fights in US History.  But it was dull and… not romantic.  Because, somehow, I’ve decided in my brain that war is more romantic.  So… in a way… isn’t that a victory for the robber barons and millionaires billionaires that we deem this story dull and don’t pay attention to it?  So we forget it and just take for granted that children were never are never exploited in this way.  And yet they still are, aren’t they?  I thought about the polyester clothes I was wearing, wondering what child in another country was subject to unfair conditions to make them.


But that’s not fun to think about.

Although I am going to go on a slight tangent here and correct myself.  One of my favorite BBC movies is about textile mills and uses a love story to showcase (and quite fairly, I think) the hardships of the worker vs. the need to be responsible business owners.  In fact, as I listened to Mother Jones, I imagined that beautiful horror of the fluff from the cotton mills in North and South.

Anyway, I’ve strayed away from this production.  Then again, I think that speaks to the strength of it.  To me, that is really good theater.  A show that stays with me as a member of the audience and makes me think about something larger than myself.  Something that provokes in me a need to examine myself… and be more conscious of those clothes I buy.  


And to get me there, it was a well done production.  Again.  A one woman show.  Two acts.  Once upon a time I used to count the number of lines I had to learn and find disappointment in a small number.  Now I count them and get overwhelmed.  I consider the memorizing of an entire play a feat of which any actor can render herself proud.  But to learn them and speak them with the truth of the story and the character is even more impressive.  Then again, there were points when I lost track of the fact she was alone on the stage.  She described conversations and altered the voice of another character to give just enough nuance to take one out of the monologue.  

And man, it’s not like there was a lot of comedy.  There were a lot of facts.  A lot of dreary history.  I didn’t feel somber. I mean I know I’m there already, but I felt moved to think about and do something for these injustices.  That’s a pretty important way of inhabiting a character.  More to the point of inhabiting, the actress is not an old lady… and yet I believed the age that was not there with how she made her steps and sat and made expression.  A job very well done.

The play was performed at a local museum (Huzzah!).  (The Worcester Historical Museum is a beautiful space.  It is a really valuable collection that showcases all the unexpected but truly amazing things that come from Worcester.  So you should go there.)  It wasn’t a traditional theater space.  It worked well for the piece.  The wood paneled walls helped to transport you to another time.  It was also a nice setup with tables and the option of some refreshments – so you could have a drink after looking at those depressing pictures of children.  The media added a nice dimension to the already vivid script, with the images and some sound and light to shift one’s focus.

So, yeah, it was a night well spent.

Sad to say that was the closing night, so I can’t urge you dear Readers to go see this.  I can, however, urge you to go learn about Mother Jones and contemplate her battles and how we can still fight her good fight today.