All Kinds of Stuff


So, much going on in the past month. First off, Ernie and I finished our semesters at IUSB on May 7.  My class presented their awesomely creative group projects–their productions of Oedipus Rex.  We had one set at Woodstock, a sci-fi production set into the future, a production set in the world of LA gangs.  And a Greek tragedy meets Dr. Seuss.  The parallels are actually quite fascinating with that last one. 🙂  I had another solid group and I felt things went well even as my focus was split there for a while between packing and everything else.  I received my last pay check from the university last Friday, so now it’s really over.  The teaching, my coursework, the experience was an amazing (if sometimes bumpy) ride that I’m feeling will be better served in more private reflection.  Whatever the ups and downs, I don’t regret our time in “the SB” one bit.  I’m glad we did it, and I’m beyond glad we’re back.  Sometimes I’ll be riding my bike home from work and think Wow, I live here again.  And the last 3 years feel like a dream.  Like that season on Dallas when Pam walked into the bathroom and Bobby was in the shower and he wasn’t dead after all–and the next season they had to pick up from the one before.  Crazy!  Like I almost have to pick up  my Chicago life from 2006.  And then there’s the finale of Newhart when Bob wakes up with this previous series’ wife.  That whole Vermont thing was just a whacky dream.  Yeah, I feel like that sometimes.  But I know I contributed for real.  For real.

Both Fiction and Creative Nonfiction/Solo Performance work inspired by my time has a Hoosier has already begun….

“Operation Chicago Re-Boot” is going well. I’m actually looking forward to what I’m referring to as “Operation 2nd Wave.” A friend is buying my futon which used to be in the guest bedroom at the Country House.  It currently lives in our storage unit.  Once she is able to take it to her new place, we’ll be able to tidy up around here–put some stuff downstairs.  And do some cleaning.  That’ll be good.  I’ll feel more settled then.

I’m figuring out my post-South Bend masage.  Grad school, teaching, both moves, etc.  It’s all in my neck and shoulders and the rest of me can use a tune up too!

I’ve been focusing on two stories this past month.  First, Playing Guns, a piece about childhood play, friends, family, war, stories, etc.  I made a recent submission deadline.  Yay!  I won’t say who or what cos I’m supersticious like that.  *Fingers crossed* just in case.  I’m not really focusing on Is Jimmy Stackpool Singing Too? for Solo Homo 7. We open in just shy of 3 weeks!  Click on the link for more, though I know I’ll be giving it its own post soon.  I’m also co-producing/co-directing as well.  That’s been a lot of good behind the scenes grunt work.  Love that I have the opportunity to do it.  It fits peachily into “Operation Chicago Re-Boot.”  It’s been fun and we have an awesome group.  Can’t wait to see the culmination of all our work!

Finally, I recently finished reading Kevin Wilson’s short story collection, Tunneling to the Center of the Earth. I got a copy in my Easter basket from the in-laws.  I love it!  I appreciate the quirkiness that to me does not slide into ridiculousness.  Many of his characters have–unique–occupations and I love how he explores them and connects them to their lives.  His fantastical elements are grounded in reality and sense, a balance I work to achieve as well.  I wish I’d written some of them!  One of his stories, “The Museum of Whatnot,” deals with similar themes to one of my works in progress–our relationship with objects–but they’re still, you know, different.  🙂  While all the stories are different, you can definitely sense Kevin’s sense of humor, his voice, etc.  If I had to pick a favorite, I’d go with “Mortal Kombat,” which interestingly is one of the less “quirky” ones.  It’s an honest and raw piece about two high school friends in the early ’90’s and their relationship and discoveries.  A looked forward to event is the release of the home version the Mortal Kombat video game.  What an amazing cultural phenominon to connect to their lives.  That one got me reaching for some tissue.  I look forward to reading more of his work down the road….

Other reading material this summer will include the 3rd book onward in the Sookie Stackhouse novels.  Can’t wait for the 2nd season of True Blood to start!  I also have my Walt Whitman to read, other story collections.  Etc.

When I’m finished with working on my current Creative Nonfiction, I’m looking forward to diving into some of my own fiction.  I want to make stuff up again.

It’s fun. 🙂

Recent Writerly and Otherly Goings On

Frank & Julia

Since last time I posted some photos of WWII era photos of other people’s grandparents, etc, I thought I’d post one of my own. These are my grandparents, Frank & Julia, in front of my grandfather’s family store in Detroit circa 1942. It’s one of the ones I’ve actually scanned. One of eventual goals is to gather ALL these photos and get a digital archive going–as in bringing the laptop and scanner to Grandma’s house and go crazy. Not sure when that’ll happen. But it’s a goal.

One of my goals I did reach in conjunction with watching The War was finishing the transcription of the interview tape a couple of my brothers made with my grandparents in 2004. Last summer, I went through the tedious process of listening, playing, rewinding, etc, to get it all down. Last month, I went through and re-listened to some trouble spots, reformatted the document, did some fact and spell checking with my grandmother, and got it all together. Right now, it’s a simple word document laid out in standard play script format. It isn’t anything too fancy right now. When I do get more of these photos scanned, I could do something shiny with a publishing program or something. But I did get nerdy and include web links within the text to give some background info on various names, places, etc. That was fun. Next up is going through a tape with my uncle about my mother’s side of the family. That should be another trip!

Working on this also inspired a couple new story ideas which I’ve done some free-writing and thinking about. One is inspired by my grandfather’s bathroom at the basement at their last house in Detroit with all his golf magazines. I also had to laugh at one point while listening to the tape while my grandmother talked about driving through New Mexico with my uncle and some friends and how it was hard to find just “plain food” without all the spices. My grandmother’s head explodes if there’s an ounce of any kind of flair. I say this lovingly. 😛 It just made me think about where I come from and how this meat-potatoes-n-carrots diet translated into other things.

Other short stories are in various stages of development as well. I’m really digging the short stories. Not that I’ve never considered them before, but they are what my writerly brain is focusing on–and that’s not a bad thing. Trying to read more of them, too.

In familyness, our “Baby Tour ’08” is now complete. Earlier this summer, we spent some quality time with our niece, Morgan. I’m also her godfather–that was a special weekend for us. Ernie and I just got back from our trip to North Carolina to visit our nephew, Will. Yes, two of my brothers are daddies. Crazy! Will’s my buddy and I wanted to hide him in my suitcase. Since he’s further away, we don’t get to see him as much. The babyness inspired an assignment for my Creative Nonfiction class last semester, a piece called Progeny. I knew it was a piece I really wasn’t going to develop further until after they were born and I’d met them. So I’ll have to revisit the piece again. I do still have Australia photos to sort through and perhaps a few more posts.

The semester is starting up again in a couple weeks! It’ll be busy, but different for me this time around. I will get into all that next time.

Hoping your August is brilliant….

The War

Quentin C. Aanenson

One of my goals for the summer was to finish watching Ken Burns’ World War II documentary, The War. Last night, I reached that goal. I DVR’ed the film this past fall when it premiered. I was able to watch the first 3 or 4 parts (out of 7) over Christmas break. Then the new semester started and my time was shot out of the sky. So, after our trip down under, I started over. While I remembered much, it was still a good refresher and would help me with the through lines into the remaining parts.

SO good.

I’ve had a slight obsession of late with WWII. My family’s always been particularly interested in history. My brother, Steve, was a history major, and is a bit of a Civil War nerd (while others wrote song lyrics in their notebooks while bored in high school, he wrote out the battles of the Civil War. In order. And I think circled who won. 🙂 ) A few years ago, borrowed Burns’ Civil War documentary from my brother, which he has on VHS. I also borrowed his DVD’s of the amazing Band of Brothers film, which I adore. Watching that inspired me to purchase David Kenyon Webster’s Parachute Infantry memoir, which I read last summer. I realize it’s nothing that extraordinary to be interested in WWII. There are some hardcore–I don’t think “fans” is quite the right word. Hardcore enthusiasts–there, that’s better. And everyone has their reasons and niche interests.

One of my works-in-progress, the Creative Nonfiction/Solo Performance piece, Playing Guns, addresses this obsession as I try to figure it all out and make personal connections. In it, I write about my childhood friend, Danny, whose dad was in Viet Nam, about his attitude about playing guns, a staple of kids’ play. I write about my dad and his dad and their involvements (however indirect). I’ve written extensively about this piece in my post, Workshopping “Guns”, so I’ll not repeat myself too much here, and refer you to that entry.

Watching the film has gotten me thinking about the piece again, and I may even pull up the file once I post this. Lots of “family projects” to think about. Listening to the interviewees made me think about my own grandparents, especially my grandfather who’s no longer with us, and how I do regret not talking to him more about things. All is not totally lost, though. So I just need to work with what I have.

The film totally achieves what it set out to do–take a look at the war from the “bottom up,” focusing on the people who fought it along with their families. The bigger picture was a part of it, but not the main focus. The nitty-gritty political nuances and controversies and all that were not part of it. Those things are for other works. Burns and his right-hand-woman, Lynn Novick, found amazing people you just fall in love with. Especially Katharine Phillips, who’s kind of like a southern version of my grandmother. A segment with her brother, Sidney, is the only one where we hear the interviewer (Lynn herself perhaps?) ask a question. Sidney talked about returning home and re-learning how to speak with people, because in the middle of things, they mostly kept to verbs and nouns–and few adjectives. When (Lynn) asks her what adjectives, he smiles and says something like “Oh, I can’t say. My wife would reach down from Heaven and twap me on the head.” So funny! 🙂 Quentin Aanenson as pictured above is very eloquent and soft spoken in a way you’d expect someone from a Norwegian gentleman from Luverne, Minnesota to be. Such chilling and amazing insights. And dare I say, I had a little crush on him.

Which hopefully doesn’t make me sound pervy, or anything. But there’s something so romantic–in all the word’s various connotations–of the old pictures of the guys in their uniforms and all. Makes me think of Evan Bachner’s At Ease photography books, which depict (mostly Navy) men of the time being natural, peaceful, and innocent. I remember reading one review (maybe it was even on the display card at UnAbridged bookstore) which talked about how the photos remind us that our fathers and grandfathers were once young, good-looking guys at time when they probably didn’t really think about how good looking they were, which gives them that innocence. Especially in their interaction with their friends. I think it’s also that these guys are men becoming men and we are witness to it with these photographs and stories. And we think about when we became men and how the generation gap presents similarities and differences. Which is a “whole nother” level I could incorporate into my piece. Or not. Or at least let it influence it indirectly. Now I’m overwhelming myself. 😛

So now, I need to burn the film onto DVD’s, though I did lose a few minutes of a couple episodes when the DVR “burped” for some reason. I can always check them out from the library to see if I missed anything major, and to check out the bonus features–though PBS did air a couple behind-the-scenes bits which were cool. I have both soundtracks already. And if I can get a discounted copy of the book, that’d be good too.

I’ve learned, I’m inspired, and so we’ll see what happens….

Katherine and Sidney Phillops

Katharine and Sidney Phillips

Many Burners on my Stove

{This is not me. It’s this guy.}

You are all on my mind, and I love you all. At the moment, you’re also competing with the various projects that are bouncing around my head. Since it’s late and I’m too brain dead to actually write them, I’ll write about them. It’s still writing. Right?

Fictional: The Fall 2007 semester seems like a zillion years ago, doesn’t it? After the past semester’s Creative Nonfiction class, I’ve been a little like, “I don’t feel like dealing with myself right now; I want to make some shit up.” I just finished re-reading Peter Selgin’s wonderful fiction writing book, By Cunning & Craft (though some of it could help with CNF as well). I re-underlined, remembered, and re-remembered some important stuff. I made smiley faces brighter (or darker, I guess, since I used my pencil). I’ve made new notes and I feel like Peter and I are new BFF’s. Thanks much to Kelcey for assigning it!

Mine and Ernie’s student, Samantha, recently went through her books and gave me her copy of Anne Lamott’s Bird By Bird. I first heard of this while reading the Selgin. I know, I’m a little behind, right, especially as one web site said that reading it was this whole huge rite of passage for fiction writers! This theatre guy needs a little catching up on things literary it seems. But hey, it all goes into the same creative pot. Oh, and Kelcey also made available the optional Arthur Plotnik’s Spunk & Bite , a response of sorts to Strunk & White’s Elements of Style, which I also need to read. Both of them, that is. Yoy, maybe I shouldn’t be admitting all my literary greenery in such a public forum, but I’m going to celebrate my writerly journey where ever and whenever I am, so there.

So, like, projects! I have two brand new short stories I want to give some love to. They are in various stages of early development (to put it kindly). One, The Other Corner (working title, natch) is a little more steeped in autobiography, and I’ve written about this relationship–with a neighbor growing up–before, but wanted to free myself from even the most liberal truthiness approach to Creative Nonfiction. It seems like these days, writers need to ask themselves whether a particular close to life idea should be explored by way of fiction or creative non. At least I do. There is that spectrum, and I feel like with this story, it would be too far from CNF for comfort.

The other (embryonic) story is my grabbing onto an image I’ve that’s haunted me for several years. Right now, the story’s called The Mail Slot, but I’m sure that will change. I have more questions than answers right now. This one is in First Person and the other is 3rd Person Serial, so it’ll be cool working with both approaches.

Now that I’ve announced these babies to the world, I better produce! 🙂

Of course, I want to work with my piece, The Smile of Light, a short story I wrote for Kelcey’s class last fall. It’s actually a partial adaptation of a play of mine, A Thousand Without a Word, my “problem child” play which I don’t think I even list on the Plays page. I re-read it again recently, and, well, oof. There is so much there with these characters and the story, but it all needs some work. The short story rather reads like a first chapter, since it’s almost a “prequel” to the play. I would definitely be interested in turning it into a novel of sorts. Or I could expand it far enough where it’s still a short story. I guess I can do what I want!

I know there’s debate out there about Can playwrights be fiction writers and vice versa? I’ll just leave it at (because it’s late) that I think having both of those brains can be helpful.

Another play-into-novel adaptation I’ve begun to explore is of The Eulogy Stalker. A play that’s near and dear to my heart, but still. Work! I recently re-read this one as well, and well, I’ve grown. It would also be interesting to see what I could do with it as a play, now that I’ve had some distance from it. We’ll see….

I want do want to get the short stories down, though, because I find myself having trouble with the short stuff sometimes. I’m always thinkin’ big! I really only have one complete “10 Minute” play. Others are so good at them, and I always wanted to be in it for the long haul.

Revisiting Rip: In addition to feeding kangaroos, there was much creative inspiration to be caught while in Adelaide. I’ve never thought of myself as a Theatre for Young Audiences artist per se–even after my collaboration with Ernie on a Goldilocks & The Three Bears script, many enough moons ago. After seeing some of the “older kid” stuff, particularly Angela Betzien’s absolutely AMAZING Hoods (which I’m feeling the need to devote more time to in the nearish future), I thought about what I do have in my personal canon and decided that with perhaps a few adjustments, my 2003 script, MisteRip, could score some TYA cred. I sat in our garden the other day and re-read it (it’d been a while). It’s not half bad. I cringed less than I feared (less than with the others!) It still needs work and input. Character and plot points need some love. For the shorter TYA format it would have to be trimmed. But something that could work….

I of course have my solo show, Battles with Boys, to work on (but that would, you know, involve dealing with myself) I have other fictional material to work with, including other course work, my NaNoWriMo 2006 monster, The Vacuum Inspector, that needs some serious picking apart. Oh, and my less than half-attempt at NaNo 2007 which never really took off because of that grad school thing. I’ve actually spent more brain cells on that idea than my “Mail Slot” piece, so I’m just going to slide these two fictional NaNo inspired goals right up next to my aforementioned short stories. They make a cozy bunch.

THEN. There’s continued Australia round up (a part of which I accomplished in this post–Yay!) both pictorial and wordly. I have various family oriented writerly projects floating around in there. Etc. There are new family members to meet and visit with too!

So that’s what I’m working on. Lists are good. I like seeing all this stuff all in one place. But tomorrow (well, probably not tomorrow, so much,) I will continue my adventures beyond the list.

Here’s to getting all our stuff done! Cheers, friends. 🙂