Where does inspiration lie? Everywhere!

This is my attempt to pounce on and then shape the words I breathe.

Please join me with your comments and make this a dialogue . . . and visit Susan's Poetry!

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Did I say I wouldn't have time to write until Easter?

File:Rembrandt, Hendrickje schlafend.jpg
A Young Woman Sleeping by Rembrandt (1654)

I seem to be always tired.  Especially when it's my time to write.

It is now Thursday, the 7th of April, two days after I created the above title and typed the following confessional narrative. Which is really for me, but I am trying to be open. 

Didn't I say I wouldn't have time to write until Easter?

Uh huh, I said after Easter. I was talking about my novel-in-progress, but here it is Tuesday, the 5th of April and I haven't written a blog post either. I've attempted a poem a day as April is national poetry month, but the real time consumer is being back on Facebook. I've got to get back on schedule! The early writing, half-hour worship, settling down to the computer until lunch, etc--all that worked!

This is why I arranged with my friend Jennifer to start Friday writing again, though she is still far away and engaged in parent care. I'm typing here the question and outcome of last Friday's writing, because if I can't get down to writing, maybe copying out of notebooks is where to begin—even a week after I actually wrote this.

What's Next For Alice?

My pen skipped when I began to write, a great symbol to begin with. I think that must happen for Alice.  She writes all of her known stories and she can't write more until the end of our time together when a story comes to her at the reunion.  Oh, yes, of course, she goes to the reunion, though finding a reason to go that will overcome all of the reasons not to is major.  I haven't discovered it yet. 
Maybe the story she tells at the reunion will be "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs." I could write this ending next, I think, letting her find out that the dwarfs—the women she used to know—are just regular people after all. The dwarfs will not be dwarfs when the film is off her eyes. Is it the film of self-absorption and stuck-ness in the past? Something more than that. 

The Snow White who was sent out into the world by the dwarfs to be with her Prince had to learn to stand up for herself. They all had to learn that, actually, even the Prince. (That's been covered thematically in the musical Into the Woods.  But that show did not use Snow White's story.)  The dwarfs will all take new names. 
In the original Grimm tale, the seven dwarfs were unnamed. Using the names from the familiar 1937 animated Disney film (AKA first Disney film), they begin as Doc, Grumpy, Happy, Sleepy, Bashful, Sneezy and Dopey.  And as in the Pixar film Inside Out, these separate characters can all be seen as parts of one person. I haven't determined the new names yet, but, for example, Sleepy could become Alert; Grumpy could become Happy ; and Happy could become Grumpy. 

Snow White will also undergo a transformation and take a new name. I don't know what yet. One thing is she'll learn that she has been Snow WHITE, a lesson in privilege that doesn't end. Will she learn to love the mistakes in her life that led her to her new knowledge?   Mistakes like taking the wrong side of European Imperialism in This River of Women when it came to the plays of ntozake shange?  Will she be content to get home again and stay there?  I think she'll still prefer to live alone in the life she's created for herself. She'll choose to be who she has always beenthe lovable companion to Miracle Kitty who we met at the beginning of the novel.

Have all ties to home died now that Alice's cat has died? OOHHH! I've leaked another bit I haven't written yet.  This is the huge tragedy of the second half of the book.  Given Miracle's place in Alice's life, what can matter after this? Will she still have her young friend Ricky? The one thing that all the women Alice reunites with have in common is animal companions. 
When Miracle Kitty dies, Alice's friend Sybil is there. I'll use the disease and feelings around Milla's death that Sheila and I actually experienced together in Berkeley, CA. I'll have to ask her what the cancer was.  

Moving backwards from the end of the novel, how does it happen that Sybil is with Alice? They haven't seen each other in decades. (And those long solitary vacation times I spent with Sheila—who is the model for Sybil in the novel—may be a sore spot. I’ll explore the ways it is both wound and blessing to have such a long-time friend.  Bits of Nancy and Tree are in there too.)  

Alice calls Sybil because she has now opened the boxes she's been storing in her locked closet. Alice will call Sybil to see if she is going to the reunion and if so, if Sybil will visit her on the way. This is approaching the climax of the main plot, and it is where I am stuck now.  

Why is it so hard for her to open the past? 

And why open it now?

I think I've established her love for boating on unruffled waters. She has been loving her life.  But now, her storytelling has had to change, and now there is Ricky.  His pain and openness and visit open doors that give Alice insight and courage to face her dead. She is able to step in to one of her stories.  I have to go back and be sure I've established enough suspense around this as I zip this lady open. But first I must write through this bump in the road.

What is in the boxes that would make her call Sybil? 

Alice will find the pictures of her and Sybil taking vacations together in Maine, maybe the actual Monhegan Island and Ogunquit that Sheila and I visited. Here is a friendship that wasn't dependent on the politics of the time.  Whether or not she goes to the reunion, she finds a yearning to see Sybil.  Her co-creator in theatre, Maya, was Sybil's sister.

What stories from each box should I tell?

Only the hottest and the sweetest ones, like the one I've already told from the Women's Music Festival.  

From the YWCA I'll tell two or three stories about (1) leaving so someone else will get the executive director job, (2) the conference of Women in the Arts and meeting both Bernice Reagan and Audre Lorde, and (3) Maybe include the story about the mission of the YWCA and the visiting members of a South African YWCA.

Stories from the Hagborn newspaper? I'm not sure. From the Black Hills Conference, only the story of my car going. More from the Women's Music Festivals? Maybe I've already told enough, though the story of Susan S and the crystals is also a good one. 

From This River of Women Theatre Company, I've already told the story of Maya and Alice conceiving of the company.  I've already told the story of the ntozake shange play, but I could tell the story of Susan Griffin's Voices which played at the Women in the Arts Conference at the Y.  Did I tell yet of It's Better to Speak? That would be a way in to talk about the Women's Encampment for a Future of Peace and Justice.

And from the Women's Center itself, speak of music and dances and coffee houses and reading poetry and the nearby bar and FUSE and what else is there in the boxes?  How can I make these as lively as the stories Alice tells that aren't in the boxes?  She's got to include some of her poetry in the book she is composing from her performances.

Oh! The self-portraits from those machines that make a strip of four. I used to make one a year—that’s something Alice seems too introverted for. But PICTURES! Of the male lover and the female one. And many of friends and cats—Rosa was Tree’s cat and Milla and Emily were Sybil’s and Grasshopper was another and I will remember more.  And dogs.  And birds.

I remember a line from Thornton Wilder’s Our Town when Emily wants to visit the land of the living after her death, and the Stage Manager tells her “Pick a day. Pick any day. But make sure that it is an ordinary day because an ordinary day will be special enough.” Emily picks a birthday. 

What would Alice pick first as a special day to return to? Would she go directly to her women’s community box or work around it? Would she go directly to the Women’s Theatre Company box or would she leave that one for last? Which box first? Perhaps the Music Festival because she’s already remembered it? And all of that festival time evokes her female lover. Leave Julianna for last? Leave the question about why everyone left her for being with a man for last?

Wait!  No one left her. She left them. Why? And why did she feel abandoned? Was she ashamed of what she had done? Or was she that hurt by the theatre company? Who, by the way, did everything in its collective power to help her, including taking a disastrous journey to NYC to do a scene from Fefu and Her Friends as an audition in front of Carl Weber, the director of graduate studies at NYU.

Good golly.  

Maybe I need to unpack my own closet and start sorting through and tossing stuff to make this all happen. Should I include the covens? The women I knew there? 

The Peace Encampment should maybe be first as that’s when my lover and I were estranged. Versus the YWCA which is when/where we met. I remember how disappointed she was when I left my job as Director of Women’s Programs.

Tremble, but then start.

So, well, Chast, can you make a viable narrative out of this complexity or not? Start somewhere, anywhere, and juggle the parts together in a different order later. You knew you were coming to the hard part, the floodgates part. Let your reader stand in the swelling flood, the tumbling house of cards from Alice Through the Looking Glass.

Open your heart to it. Why grow silent now? Enter the Maelstrom. There is no other way to the other side. Interesting that Tanya’s prompt for today (Friday, 1 April) was to do something that I am afraid of. Do it, do it, do it!

To answer the question of what is next for Alice is to answer the question of what is next for me! Enter the closet. Sort. Note the feelings and stories. Let Alice figure this out in a new chapter where she is sitting on her couch—Miracle Kitty watching warily from the Dining Room table or the window sill or the Rocker—knowing something is wrong, afraid that they are moving again. An upheaval is coming. Is in process. Maybe Alice will decide to take one thing from each pile.

So how to move forward? 

Maybe open a box a day to sort. At the least do three boxes a week. This all must happen before summer. 

And so, do not duck out of going to Emma’s writing retreat by the sea next weekend. Gather the objects I want to make a spiritual altar for my character Alice—or what one of her friends might keep about her.

Do it.


Pray about it. Pray in color. Do it.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Feeling Alive!

Tanya speaks my mind.  
This is her prompt for today, Day 76 of her 365 day challenge:

There is nothing like performing on stage.
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Day 76: Why We Do Solo Theatre, Tell Stories, and Create Performing Art
“The light. The light is so bright that all that remains is you and the darkness. You can feel the audience breathing. It's like holding a gun or standing on a precipice and knowing you must jump. It feels slow and fast. It's like dying and being born and fucking and crying. It's like falling in love and being utterly alone with God; you taste your own mouth and feel your own skin and I knew I was alive and I knew who I was and that that wasn't who I'd been up till then. I'd been so far away but I knew I was home.”
― Russell Brand on performing for the first time
Do you want to feel alive? There is no other experience like performing. None. Nothing else. Nada.
For those who have walked the long walk onto the stage…It has changed all of us, intrinsically, forever.
 Assignment for Today:
Create a monologue or a rant for performance.
Use “whatever I most want to avoid” as your topic for the day.
Improvise it and record it OR write it.
For the love of story,
Try it! Truly, there is nothing like it--except teaching at times. Singing and storytelling are performance, too.  

My character Alice is a performer of story partly because this is something I have experiential knowledge of and partly because I love telling a story that tells a story. I love telling stories that are both literal and allegorical, both logical and associative.  I like how multiple story both progresses as in familiar narrative overlaps and also piles up as in collages and the workings of a single mind. Minds are too connected to heart, body and spirit to work on a single plane.  They are singular only in being one of a kind.  

So, to work with Tanya's topic, "whatever I most want to avoid," I'll start with a free-write rant.  I'll start here and now.  Then I may shape it a little immediately.  Then I'll stand up and dance with it, continuing a creative process that I have given Alice and I have been trying to articulate in the episodes (chapters) of my novel.

The Free Write

          I most want to avoid falling on my face.  I mean that literally.  See this tooth?  It's an implant.  And see this chip?  Implants are expensive so I learned to live with the chip.  These are the remaining scars of two separate falls, both of which also broke my glasses, cut my face, scraped flesh off my knees and ruined my clothes and my composure. One happened in front of a movie theatre and drew that date to a close.  The other happened in San Cristobal de los Casas in Chiapas, a state in Mexico.  That one was very costly even without fixing the chip. The first was more embarrassing as getting an implant occurs in stages--surgically removing the rest of the tooth that broke below the gum line and living with a temporary plate for several weeks before the surgeon embeds the screw and the dentist sculpts and attaches a new porcelain tooth. That temporary plate fell out several times while I was teaching, revealing me to my students as the gap-toothed witch that I truly am deep inside.  Talk about vulnerability and fear! No. I want to avoid falling on my face most of all.            And I wouldn't mind not falling flat on my face in other ways as well.  Like, I don't want to fail and make a fool of myself when I publish the novel I am writing.  I don't want to have to defend what I know is a shoddy piece of work.  I want to be proud of it; I want it to be note-worthy.  And I don't want to publish it myself like I had to do with the poetry books.  I want it to be wanted.  Pride goeth before that kind of fall.          And I don't want to catch myself counting my chickens before they hatch.  And I don't want to resort to cliche--though it may be safer to say things that were successful before.  Aargh.  I see the Catch 22 here: Wanting to live on the edge of risk and not wanting to risk anything at all.            I most want to avoid writing recognizable characters and opening up controversy--but I want the types to be recognizable amid real places like the Women's Center and This River of Women Theatre Company and the Michigan Women's Music Festival and the Women's Encampment for a Future of Peace and Justice.   And I think I can't have one without the other.          I may want to avoid finishing the book, therefore. Hmm.  It was fine to read aloud in front of people who don't know me or the movements involved.  What about ones who do know?   I most want to avoid being silenced when I am enjoying myself so much.  I'm even enjoying the jigsaw puzzles of collage I am building to keep real folks and their friends from seeing themselves in my words.  They may certainly see a resemblance and suspect they are the model, but I can honestly say that except for in one major case--that of the director of one of the theatre pieces--no character is molded from only one real live person.

OK, that's 15 minutes of simply writing without a plan, free writing.  I see I could go back and talk about the aborted date in the first paragraph.  I could say why I was in Chiapas. Those would be fine reasons for divergence, but would stalling in these spots be useful?  Should I return to them later instead?  I could talk about my encounters with the craft in the second paragraph.  Hmm.  I could explain my identification with characters in Heller's novel Catch 22.  I could physically get smaller and smaller until I have to find a way to get bigger again--in body and in voice.  I'd love to show a spirit growing from a peanut into a glowing bell inviting me to ring and to sing.  But of course, this writing is unfinished.  It warmed me up and revealed a danger--a hard truth--to me, but it is still a free write journal entry.  

What is the dangerous truth? I have to watch out for familiar voices of mine telling me that I probably can't and I maybe shouldn't finish and publish and disseminate this book. I could act out these voices on stage as well.  I know most of them well, though sometimes I forget:  "Don't embarrass the family."  "Don't reveal private matters you could be arrested for someday."  "Don't talk about gender, sex, lesbianism, cohabitation, women's community, where you were last night, etc." I'm writing about all of these things and more.

I can't shape this into a performance now, but you can imagine the voices and dialogues all portrayed by one solo performer.  I'm going off to think about the revelation above.  Because I haven't written since I left Pendle Hill, and I won't until I return from visiting my family.  And I worry.  I guess I will not read sections to them as easily as I did to strangers.  But truly, I doubt anyone will ask.  That thought is consuming.  And relaxing, too.  

I'll write more as way opens.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

My Pendle Hill Presentation

I made an outline and cut the chapters I read to the coreand I liked them so much that I think the originals need this cutting as well.  This was the outline:
Rd Ch 1 and 2 
Pause for a summary of the major conflicts and events: 
                        —the invitation and losing her job
                        —the laptop and Ricky’ visit
Rd Ch 22, 25, 26 
Discussion:      Helen as linear narrator
                        What’s like me, what’s different
                        Vertical 4-D writing
                        What I learned here
                        What I take home
2 weeks before I can write again!

And this was my prayer:  

Many Pendle Hill staff people came and two interns and and two guests!  Let me see if I can walk my way around the table: (From my left) Lloyd, Jesse, Amy, Anne, Laura, John, Amadeus, Ricardo, Helene, Joe, Shirley, Steve, and Angela.  I wish I had taken a picture or asked someone to take one.  And I am not yet able to record the responses except to say they were generally positive, very positive.  Gosh.

I addressed my entire outline with a little prompting from Jesse to talk about the role of prayer in my writing and to talk about the space in which I worked.  

Here is the "discussion" part of the presentation in a much more organized form than my actual talk.  I wrote this earlier in the afternoon while planning what to tell folks about my work as Writer-in-Residence:
Ive been thinking a lot about how narrative writing grows.  In my novel Alice in Wonder, I started with my own solo performances, making the character I once played be the core persona of the drama in a semi-autobiographical semi-historical novel. 
I made her 10 years older than me and financially independent.  I replaced my life as a teacher with hers as a storyteller.  I replaced my need to reveal what radical feminist community was all about with her reluctance and resistance to returning there—but otherwise we share a lot.  I was involved with women’s communities and did find Quakers first at the Women’s Encampment for a Future of Peace and Justice.  Alice’s lovers are quilted from my own and those of my friends.  Her experience working on racism and discovery of her own racism are my own.  My own spiritual life has deepened by exploring hers.
Here at Pendle Hill, I continued to write in a linear narrative, letting Alice’s conflicts and catastrophes lead me forward, but as I worshipped more and more I began to write vertically as well as horizontally, as if I were switching to 4-dimensions and exploring the depths and dimensions of single moments.  I hope the chapter I read aloud illustrates that. 
Essential elements of my time here included leaving home and its involvements, joining daily worship and starting daily prayer in three different modes—silent, in writing and in color drawing.  Also the food and its consistent scheduling--including my time with the kitchen crew around the dishwasher-- contributed a lot.   My weekly consultations with Jessie kept me on track, made me aware of creative patterns I can take home with me, and often eased anxiety as well.  She’s careful to meet when she can be fully present.  She’s a good listener and a skilled mentor.  
Finally, the events I participated in and the people they brought me in contact with expanded me—including my lunchtime writing sessions, the three sessions of readings I did before this one, the Monday talks and book signings, the Commencement ceremony of Radical Faithfulness and last weekend’s full conference on Transformative Justice in Community.  Wow.  Without the residence program, I feared there might be too little conversation and dialectic, but in the end it was just right.  I’m so happy that the last event of my residency will be Marcel Martin’s book signing event for Our Life is Love.  That is providential! 
According to Tanya Taylor Rubinstein, the Global Story Coach:
          The world has conditioned us, whether we are coaches, writers, artists, business people or other kinds of creative folks, that we need to always be moving outward.          [But] we don’t.  [We can center and then] from a place of deep abundance, we truly can remain open, and receive what is meant for us. This is the point of attraction and power. It is not a passive path. It is not a hermit’s path either. It’s one of powerful intention and receptivity.  And, it’s one of conscious awareness of being led by something greater than the individual self.
I have been reflecting today on what I take away from Pendle Hill, and Tanya's assertion is one of them.  To have a chance to learn this experimentally is a great blessing. One of the first things that Jesse said to me was that despite what I said I would be doing here, I should see what is on my heart right now and let it lead me. 
I find I stop writing to pray often about both this world and the fictional one.  I thrive in the writing cave and morning schedule I’ve made here and will build those in at home.  I also take back with me the uses of my weekly check-in with Jesse and have begun to gather a spiritual support team to read my work, to ask me questions about both the work and the process of writing, and to worship with me.  I think we’ll meet once a month.  But I would love to hear from others about what they have found supportive.
Finally: It’ll be two weeks before I can return to writing.  Obligations I’ve put off have crowded in—shopping Friday, sessions Saturday, Upper Dublin Sunday, Doctors Monday and Tuesday, and then Wednesday a drive to upstate New York family.  It will be March 28th before I can become writer-in-residence in my own home!  I have to look into this business and figure out a way to get a well-cooked meal at least once a week back here at Pendle Hill.
I’m hoping to finish Alice in Wonder this year, even if writing about her wonder leads me to more books or more wonders and avocations.  I don’t know yet whether writing is the calling or the path to another calling.  
But I thank God and everyone for this stop on the road.  
I will write more as way opens.

Three More Days

Kevin is simply a musician I love, so I bring him to you.  

Tomorrow I give my 4th reading--this one a final presentation less than an hour long--and this the hardest of all because I have to pull it into clear boundaries without slopping over or forgetting to say something essential.

Where to begin?  Where to end?  How to begin again?

Let Alice enter to tell the Helen story.  
Read an excerpt from these posts about the residency.  
Read the last chapter--the one I wrote during this long weekend of stories on the theme of transformative justice at the Beyond Crime and Punishment: Fostering Transformative Justice in Community Conference here at Pendle Hill.

That's all folks.  The end.  Any questions?

I've timed a bunch of sections today; I've picked up a costume and a few props from home.  Now I need to make a check-list and then print a few pages and stand up to rehearse.  That's all.

And then I take the paraphernalia of my trade home, hollow out wall space to put my work up in place of Grandmother's and Mom's.  And then, call in a committee to keep me accountable.

I'll write more as way opens.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Week Seven: Pointing Toward the Promised Land

My hardest audience was last night when I took my work, prayer, and preoccupations to my Buddies of Jesus meeting.  Actually, three Friends of that support and study group came here to my work cave (see pictures HERE), which made me doubly vulnerable. Here was the first group that I have an incredible investment in as I've been meeting with them weekly for almost three years.  And so I showed them my visual prayers and we read 4 chapters.  All through I kept thinking, "Oh we forgot to pray" and "Oh, these are not very exciting chapters" and "I haven't given enough information" and "I've given too much detail."  The reading was intense; the room was close and hot; and I couldn't tell so I kept praying my gratefulness for the group and for the leading and for the words.

          I felt that if anyone could tell the emperor (me) that she has no clothes (substance) that would be someone in this group.  But I couldn't tell, really couldn't.  And then we didn't pray at the end.   And we cancelled next week's session.  And after the hugs and the Alleluia on the door step, I stood there bewildered.  I felt so drained I went straight to bed.  

And then I woke up to read this most wonderful message from Julian, which I am putting here to save, to contemplate and to share.  Quote:  "BEING in the promised land is not the thing. Knowing what it looks like AND pointing yourself toward it, heading that direction... that is the thing":
On Tue, Mar 8, 2016 at 10:25 PM, Julian Brelsford wrote:
 "we've got some difficult days ahead but it really doesn't matter with me now, because I've been to the mountaintop. I've looked over, and i've seen the promised land" - MLK
I enjoyed hearing a bit about your past living in a community of radical feminists. In particular, what caught my attention was the part when you said something to the effect of "we thought we were going to re-make the whole world"
In my mind, where I went with that is...
BEING in the promised land is not the thing. Knowing what it looks like AND pointing yourself toward it, heading that direction... that is the thing.

Having a big picture vision is my thing (sometimes) and it's not particularly radical or great,all by itself.
But what I loved about your story today was that in my hearing of it, there was a sense of turning toward God, walking toward/with God toward the promised land...but it was the walk that was important and not the arrival. God wants us to have a good time getting there (you had a good time writing and I had a good time listening!) and without that, some imagined final destination is,well, not our paradise
 "i may not get there with you but i want you to know, tonight, that we as a people will get to the promised land"

Words of wisdom, dear Julian.  I needed them very much and feel God in you blessing that of God in me.  That of God in all of us.