Monday, March 29, 2010

When you least expect it.

Hey, Kids!


So, I'm writing my morning pages this morning and commenting on how totally monochromatic, misty and mooshy gray the lake is when whaddaya know? Not just one pink balloon, but a big bouncing bunch. Bozo was here. As usual.

Keep your eyes open this week. Life is full of amazement and serendipity. Be sure you get your share.


Saturday, March 27, 2010

Dueling Artists

Please play the banjo theme from Deliverance in your head. I'm answering Viv's Wayward Artist post.

And Viv, if you think I have solutions for that "how come she's so self-congratulating and I'm just standing here on the platform watching the dragon leave the station without me? Again?" angst -- well no. I don't. Some days I've got somethin' for that, some days I don't. Some days I'm right there on the platform next to you.

I have been waiting my entire adult life for the Glamour Makeover that would make me the woman of my dreams: energetic, organized, calm, centered, gorgeous, published.... Well, maybe tomorrow.

I believe, though, that if you're down, you're not off track or in the wrong place. The Zen folks would say it's the Down that gives us the Up. As a distinction. The front of the hand, inseparable from the back of the hand. No hand at all without it.

They would also say, more adroitly than I can, that every moment -- good, bad, dumb, tragic, fabulous, boring, messy, whatever -- is the access point to truth. The way in to authentic,unvarnished experience.

And about that Big T Truth, we're all, whether we know it or not, on the same page. It is what is. And every work of art that's worth anything starts where it is.

Not in how it feels. Because it feels crappy and then it feels ecstatic and then crappy and so on until the sun burns out. You know that. We know that. That's why we're so drawn to the fairy tale of happily ever after. And so bummed when we turn the page and see some wayward unhappiness.

Here's something else. Our Julia is not immune to these concerns of yours. Oh, yeah. She rode the dragon. But I've read almost everything she ever wrote and, baby, the dragon dumped her off a bunch of times. Don't read Finding Water if you can't handle the truth of being an artist or a human being. Lady is struggling. She'd like a Glamour Makeover, too. She's getting older. She worries about the money running out. Her life is finite, just like everybody's. She could really use a drink. And yet she just keeps on. You could cry. You could pray. You could worship what she's up to because she tells her truth with courage and dogged determination.

Unless I've missed the point completely, the creative life is a footrace, a dance, a stumble, a slog, a bog. But it beats the dickens out of the other kind, where the innate creativity that lives inside everybody, maybe even serial killers for all I know, gets denied or subverted into something deeply unsatisfying.

So, that's my banjo. Your banjo is an honest report on where you are -- or where you were last night. Honesty like that is a gift and we thank you for it.

Great weekend, people, one and all! Onward to Chapter 11.

Friday, March 26, 2010

The artist wayward

Twelve Weeks to Creative Freedom. Now on Week Ten. Time’s dwindling down, and here I am: near the exciting conclusion of The Artist’s Way at Work: Riding The Dragon, and I’ve just now noticed that the sub-sub title of the book reads Twelve Weeks to Creative Freedom. Sounds so promising and transformative. Truthfully? I have yet to feel the “luminous intensity” described on page 208, as in Julia’s words, “the dragon soars in heaven, this time trailing fire . . . with uninhibited access to its own creative energy . . . alive with joy, purpose, and the glorious knowledge of its own power.”

Wow. I must have been sleeping in class. Which goes to show that instruction is only what you make of it. Sometimes the magic works. And sometimes it doesn’t. (That line, if you don’t remember, is a direct quote from a scene with Chief Dan George and Dustin Hoffman in the 1970 movie Little Big Man ) “Am I still in this world?" he asks, "I was afraid so.” A colleague of mine, an art director here in Detroit, often used the magic quote. We’d laugh and move on. “Next? What other ideas you got?”

The brain is a shark. It never sleeps, but swims in a constant stream of thought . . . sometimes the magic works, and sometimes the mind wallows in the shallowest waters, wondering what’s next. And so here I find myself anxious about conclusions and self-congratulatory passages. At a loss in Julia’s twelve step plan, it would seem I’ve only been practicing for the real thing. I need to turn the page, move on, and start again.

Are you with me?

Week 10. Yes, it is.

Ten of Twelve!

This is the home stretch.

My Artist's Date (since I'm coming up a little short on those of late) was my fabulous creation of that awesome numeral 10. Here's how I did it:

I chose a font in Word. (Britannica Bold. Not my dream font, but I had to pick one.) Made it size 200. (I could also have changed the percent size of the Word page, but I didn't do it like that.) Colored it red. Took its photo on the screen of the laptop with the iPhone. Emailed the photo to myself in gmail. Saved it to the desktop. Dragged it into iPhoto. Messed with it in the Edit box. And made it so cool. I coulda cropped it better, but really, I'm supposed to be doing other stuff today.

I'm getting questions about what week it is. And having some small trouble responding. I was pretty sure it was 10, but not positive enough to spend time on that big numeral above without checking.

So. Now I'm focusing. Here's my personal life lesson from Chapter 10 and our Julia.

"Fame, the desire to attain it, the desire to hold onto it can produce the 'How am I doing?' syndrome. This question is not,'Is the work going well?' This question is, 'How does it look to them?'"

I don't know that I'm obsessed with fame per se. I would say that I want to be published because I want the pleasure (and no doubt possible pain) of interacting with readers. By being for someone else what writers have been for me: i.e., gatekeepers of imagined experiences that have enriched my life. And do I also want to see myself on the cover of The Rolling Stone? Yeah. Probably. Sue me.

But as Julia also points out, "The point of the work is the work."

Look how freeing that is. You discover your creative voice or medium and you pour yourself, your time and your life -- as much as you can spare from the tasks of survival and the nurturing of assorted key relationships -- into it. And the work is its own reward.

What did you learn from Chapter 10? I figure it's something different for everybody. But the magic of The Artist's Way is that everyone will find something worth considering, something that could be life changing, in every single chapter. I don't know that Julia guarantees that. But I do.

Get yours from 10 and get ready for 11.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Oh, the places you'll trek

Would you ride a bicycle to get here?

My husband, Malcolm, shot the photo on the right in the town of Volterra on a Trek bike tour we took through Tuscany last October. Best trip ever! But not without hard work. Climbing those hills. The Trek people billed the activity level of the 6-day tour as “moderate.” I suppose if you spend your life on a bike, riding the hills of Tuscany might be considered moderate.

From the moment we met our touring companions, I knew I was among avid riders. Ten out of our group of twenty were biking buddies from Southern California, climbers all. Three were Trek dealers. Two were marathon runners. One a semi-pro cyclist. And another, an adrenalin junkie on holiday. And there was my husband, soaking it all in, happy to be in his new, rarified element, flying up and down the narrow roads, miles ahead of me. My personal objective on the trip was to stay upright. To stay on the road. To pedal without complaint. And to live to see another day in beautiful Italy. And I did, indeed. Riding at my own pace, I proved to myself that I was capable and crazy enough to do almost anything, especially for guilt-free gelati, pasta and biscotti consumed in abundance every day. And did I mention the museums, restaurants and shopping in Florence? All sublime.

Cycling is a passion for some. An addiction for others. For me, uh, not so much -- though admittedly it was an extraordinary way to see Italy. I find riding is a lot like writing. There will always be those who are stronger and more skilled. Those who will always outdistance me seemingly without effort. The only way I imagine I could survive the writer’s life if I were to pursue it now would be to spend more time in the saddle. “In the saddle” is an expression cyclists like to use, referring to training or some such nonesense involving hours of sweating in spandex, pedaling obessively, either on the road or in stationary position hooked up to computers, measuring stuff like speed, cadence, heart rate, distance... Blechhh! It’s all in the details. And so it is with writing. It can be scary, especially in traffic. It takes persistence, focus - and it takes exercise to build those climbing legs for the hills. But oh, those hills! They can be beautiful once you get there.

Spring is almost here, and along with it, a new trek. The bike awaits.

John Pritchard is so pissed at me.

Never heard of him?

That's why he's mad. He's the protagonist of a novel I wrote entitled Twice As Dead. Except old John is Three Times As Dead because after he survived all sorts of adventures, including a brush with his own personal nemesis on that icy lake in the photo there, I killed him. Me.

And that's not the worst of it. I killed off a couple of nice kids, too. Perrin Summers who saved a great deal more than the world in A Parsnip Universe. And Tim O'Neal, too. He saved, oh, I don't know, all of Time? In Motes? Hard working heroes all. (160,000 words between them.) And I starved them to death. Walled them up in the basement of my Word Processor like that evil guy in The Cask of Amontillado. What's up with me?

Well, now that I've finished Chapters 9 & 10 of The AW, I kind of remember. Oh yeah. I'm a nutcase. I sent Parsnips to just about ONE publisher. She LOVED it. Wanted the protagonist to be older. I said okay. And then went to sleep like a princess in a fairy tale. And all the time said, "Well, there's obviously something wrong with that woman. Or that publisher. Or me." I finally rewrote it. The lady had moved on. The young guy who took her place was lovely to me. Gave me good advice. And then decided that the book wasn't for his audience. Which it wasn't. So, I put it in the digital equivalent of a drawer and moved on. Motes, which was the next one, is essentially done. Needs about a month of work. Drawer, too. Sorry, kids.

Then Twice As Dead? Well, I sent it to a lot of agents. Maybe 12. Possibly 15. One requested more pages. (This is a very good sign in the agent world.) She didn't want it ultimately. Sorry, John. Drawer for you, too. You hot, old, black, ex-CIA operative, you. You, I decided, I wasn't "up to." Drawer. And drawer for the 35,000 words of your second adventure, which I really loved. But what do I know about writing a) men b)black men c) black ex-CIA men. Really. Four Times as Dead and counting.

So, now we have Allie, don't call me Alice, Harper and Tom the blind bombshell and their $256 million in MondoMillions winnings -- and their cast of murderers and thieves. Poor Allie and Tom. They don't know how dangerous it is in Ann Land. I have come to "the conclusion" in the last couple of months that Somebody's Bound to Wind Up Dead needs about 15,000 more words. I'm not writing those words, you understand. I've got them pulled down around my ears like a &^%$%^ blankie.

But now, with God, and you guys, as my witnesses, I am not going to chicken out again. I'm going to start querying agents again and simultaneous look into those additional scenes. My guys have only been without oxygen for about 3 minutes. They can be revived.

So, you wonder what blocked looks like? It looks like that. For me. How's it looking for you? Which of your dreams is pissed at you right now. If it's NONE of them, weigh in and make us all feel encouraged.

And if you need a witness for your promise to go forth and kill no more, bring it here.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

My Life as a Spreadsheet

A producer often has a fetish for a nice spreadsheet. What's not to love? It's organization, clean and pure... so I reduced my entire biography to a spreadsheet format. Addresses, schools, births and deaths, world events, favorite movie at the time. If you e mail me at, I'll send you the genericized excel document so you can do the same- it's good for hours of fun! Maybe a nice Artist's date to sit and fill in the blanks.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Special gifts

The starry-eyed girl in pink is my grand niece, Lauren Miller, as she appearaed this past weekend in the role of Gabriella in Disney’s High School Musical Jr. - a production of the Special Gifts Theatre for children in Chicago.

(Not to brag or nothin’ but) Lauren has played two leading roles since joining this remarkable children’s theater group four years ago. At age 10 she brought us to our feet - in the title role of Annie. A curtain call I will never forget: when Lauren took her bow, then threw off her wig (itchy!), beaming and waving triumphantly at the audience.

What happens on stage in the productions of the Special Gifts Theatre is nothing short of magic. Building confidence, sharing successes, each child is paired and “shadowed” on stage by a peer mentor teen - to ensure that a full length play goes on without a hitch. “On the ground,” working back stage and in the orchestra pit, are 20 to 30 adults - professionals and volunteers - choreographers, speech therapists, occupational therapists, drama and music coaches. All in it together. Founded in Chicago, the Special Gifts Theatre has recently won national attention and a grant from Disnesy -- with the likelihood that it will roll out as a national program -- a dream-come-true of its founder and exec. director, Susie Field.

In Lauren’s Thank You speech someday, she will have a long list of people to thank -- starting with her twin brother Zach, who has been pushing her and challenging her since birth. Beyond the theater, Lauren has followed in her brother’s footsteps. On ice! While Zach plays hockey, Lauren has found her niche figure skating in the Illinois regional Special Olympics where she’s won gold medals three years in the running. With her connections to Special Olympics, Lauren has had the opportunity to make a number of presentations, including an interview on Radio Disney. In the role of “ambassador” speaking out for children with special needs she had developed a speech about the R word (retard) based on an experience at school. She finishes her speech with the words: Remember R stands for Resourceful and Respect.

Lauren. Never fails to amaze and inspire me. No telling what the future will hold for her. She once told me, “Someday, I want to change the world.” I believe she will.

Friday, March 12, 2010


As a third-timer to The Artist's Way I'm participating on a want-to-do-whenever basis. Today I read Chapter 7. I have no idea what week I'm supposed to be reading, but it's Chapter 7 for me and it's Friday. Such a rebel.

However many years ago, probably six by now, when I read Chapter 7 for the first time, I actually did the exercises. It was fun reviewing what I said back then and I was particularly struck by my answer to this one: My artist has started to pay more attention to____. My answer was "my instincts."

That was then. It's true today, too, and made more significant by a note given to me by the director of my most recent play. He is a master motivator and confidence-builder. He told me that one of my greatest strengths as an actor is my natural instincts and to keep trusting them. Needless to say I LOVE this director. And I love Chapter 7 for its message about perfection and letting go of the fear of looking foolish. I know embrace looking foolish.

That's me far left in the white hat in this too small picture. Having a ball. Looking foolish. But not nearly as foolish as the dude center stage in the dress. Maybe some day.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

A terrible beauty is born

All changed, changed utterly / A terrible beauty is born. (Yeats, Easter 1916)

It was the new World Trade Center then, still under construction in 1974, the talk of New York, when on that muggy morning in August, Philip Petit took to the sky. Suspended on a wire between the Towers, 110 stories above the ground, suspending all disbelief, he walked, he ran, he skipped a beat, dancing between life and death.

“Those who saw him hushed.” From its opening line, Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann holds us in rapt attention to life in the big city and its people living on the edge.

In ten interrelated stories, McCann draws characters firmly planted on solid ground, feet on the street, moving through the “thrum of the subway,” peering out from office windows, sipping tea in a Park Avenue penthouse, stopping for a powder in a fleabag tenemant, careening off the road to oblivion. McCann’s characters -- prostitutes, priests, judges, artists, computer hackers, mothers in mourning, sons killed in Vietnam -- collide and crash and touch one another in unexpected ways.

Count on an Irish writer to capture the spirit of America on the brink of change. Evoking the innocence and hope of a time not so distant, when the internet was ARPANET still taking baby steps, when AIDS was a mysterious disorder of the blood, McCann leaves the reader to flash-forward. We know all too well how the story ends: it’s not the skywalker, but the Towers that fall.

Eventually, inevitably we all fall. And therein spins the tale. McCann’s contemporary Joycean narrative spins, but never settles on the tightrope walker in the air. Rather it asks what sort of tightrope do we walk on the ground and how hard do we fall.

Wayfarers, Let the World Spin is a heart-stopping, drop-dead gorgeous must-read of a book. Synchronicity at its best. If you haven’t yet picked it up and fallen in love, please do!

Saturday, March 6, 2010

God bless this mess.

Key West is a mess. Mixed up. Turned loose. Out of control. Not tidy. Not regularly dusted. Not polite. Nobody seems to be coloring inside the lines in Key West.

I already miss that mess. I miss roosters in the street and on the roof. Six-toed cats snoozing on Ernest Hemingway's bed. A bathroom wall collage of faces and labels off old records, so rich with images I took four photos. (That's a record for bathroom photography for me, in case you wondered....) Key West is drunk and disorderly, it flies in the face of convention, upsets the apple cart. There's way too much to see and think about intelligently, so a day gets to be a crazy collage in its own right.

Key West swept me so off my feet and out of my brain, that I got all the way to Thursday without realizing we'd left Week Six of the Artist's Way and entered Week Seven. I was still happily diligently counting, though Counting Week had passed. But I did my morning pages every day. By the pool. Wearing my coat. Brrrr.

Julia is reminding us to listen this week. To open a crack in our usual judgmental selves and let inspiration flow in. To recognize perfectionism as the Evil Ego and ditch it in favor of nurturing and accepting our creativity -- flaws and all.

In Key West, I heard a woman with a voice like Norah Jones and a hat big as a lampshade, sing a song I'd never heard before. Turns out it was written by Jerry Garcia and a man named Hunter. Those of you who've read my novel know its theme was synchronicity for me, but it could work for just about anybody, I bet. When I write the second one in the series, I'm putting this on the first page. I don't think I'd ever want to live in Key West, but I sure do love all the disorder I hoarded up in my soul against the coming of a tidier day. Enjoy.

Comes a time when the blind man takes your hand
Says "don't you see?"
Gotta make it somehow
On the dreams you still believe
Don't give it up
You got an empty cup
Only love can fill
Only love can fill

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

A big fan of Key West

Yup. That's the giant fan at Pepe's where we escaped a passing thunder storm by eating. What a plan. And, yes, so far, I, too, am a big fan of Key West. It's an artist date as big and overblown as those gigantic blades. The lady at Pepe's assured me the fan worked fine, but it would "blow us out of here" if they turned it on this moderately chilly day.

So, I love the chickens, especially those truly voluble roosters. I love the gaudy bougainvillea in shades of fuchsia, rose and orange. I even like the rumbling, grumbling motorcycles and the fat, tattooed, long-haired, leather-skinned old hippies who ride them. I admired a t-shirt the back of which said, "If you can read this, the bitch fell off." Such gentlemen, those bikers.

The Key West Artist Date is seeing your tame houseplant grown up taller than your head. It's an absolute homage to drunkenness. Turquoise water spread thin over pale sand. Trees, gnarly and tenacious enough to build islands in the midst of the sea. A culture of celebration, perched at the edge of a catastrophe of monster winds and tsunami storm surges. Key West is 100% found art, and it overloads your head with fresh beauty and strangeness.

I'm inspired by these things because they're new to me. They jolt my senses and wake up my imagination. And that's cool. But those of you adrift in winter limbo, open your vacation eyes and find art where you are. Viv has her jar of Fluff. (And her trip to somewhere really warm!) What have you? Weigh in! And you'll have to excuse me. There's a rooster hollering on the roof and I want to get his picture....

Monday, March 1, 2010

March. Onward.

After a cold and blustery February, what better reason to chill?

I take notice of an exuberance of words in my posts. Writing too much.

Spare writing spares the reader. Edit too much and the work turns to sand. Too fine, too dry. Writing is an act of faith, a discipline requiring a pact with the reader: to connect, to share, to inform, to transport, to amuse, to keep interest. To stay true. Words are the tools we use to navigate that vast stream of consciousness through which we drift and flow. Our insistent “inner voice” propels us forward. It also needs the balance of our inner ear: to listen and say: enough.

“In writing, you must kill your darlings” is the advice from William Faulkner, who borrowed the phrase from Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch. (More on that is just a google-search away.) Morning pages open the floodgates -- putting the detritus of fleeting thoughts into words. Those scribbles are useful, but only as a prelude to more pressing work: editing the noise. So onward. To brevity . . .

* * *

Killing my darlings. Please excuse the torrent of words. The stuff of dreams. Poof, they’re gone. Like so much fluff.