“Dance of the Ring” in Midwestern Gothic

MWGissue11Midwestern Gothic  is a quarterly print literary journal based in Ann Arbor, Michigan dedicated to featuring work about or inspired by the Midwest, by writers who live or have lived here. My essay Dance of the Ring is part of Issue 11 (Fall 2013) their first devoted to Creative Nonfiction. I originally presented this Mad About You-inspired  story as part of Solo Homo 8 with NewTown Writers in June 2010. The now defunct Q Review published it online in June 2011. I’m honored to be a part of this exciting issue and to have it as the new literary home for my story.

Pick up a print or digital copy at MidwestGothic.com. Cheers.

Update of an Artist in August

It’s almost the middle of August, and summer is definitely trucking along.  We had a delightfully cool July but are definitely feeling some dog days this month.  A hot summer makes the relief of Autumn even more special.  For those who know me, Autumn is high holy season around here.  It’s my first back in the city.  I’ll definitely miss Indiana for it’s Autumness, but will seek out the city’s delights–but that’s a nerdy post for later.

To follow up on my Band of Brothers Revisited post, shortly after I posted it, a fellow WordPresser lead me to Alan Sepinwall’s blog, What’s Alan Watching?  He’s the TV critic for the New Jersey Star-Ledger.  This summer, he did an amazing series on Band of Brothers. I recently finished going through his posts and many of the comments.  Had I known about it (we were watching it at the same time!), I would’ve definitely joined in the conversation.  Alas, he wrote his last post about the same time I wrote my own BoB post.  I still want to comment on his final entry.  The whole thing is a wonderful in depth conversation for BoB nerds everywhere!

I’ve spent part of the last month haunting neighborhood used book stores (plus my indie bookstore down the street) looking for Malarkey’s and other related books. I think I want to read at least Malarkey’s before I borrow my brother’s copy of the BoB book, which I still haven’t read.  I want to despite the gnawing voices of the Ambrose haters on Amazon (which does have everything I want…).  I should stop reading things like that.  Just upsets me. 😛  I’m also interested in reading E.B. Sledge’s With the Old Breed, which is one of the sources for the upcoming The Pacific film.  How exciting that Sidney Philips will be a character in the new project!

I’ll save my WWII reading for the Fall, as I’m trying to focus on other reading this summer. My “To Read” list is growing with older and newer books (like, I still need to get to Sarah Vowell’s latest!), recent acquisitions, and books on Ernie’s shelf.  I’ve taken a couple times to sit outside–even go to the lake–and read my Walt Whitman collection. Perfect for summer on a blanket on the grass with the lake’s breeze.  Definitely won’t finish it this summer, but it’s good to have at my side when I’m inspired.  I also have the Best American Short Stories 2008 collection at my side when a dose of short fiction is in order.  I finally finished the 3rd (with six more to go!) Sookie Stackhouse book, Club Dead, and totally loving the new season of True Blood!  My current non-fiction reading is Michael Davis’ Street Gang: The Complete History of Sesame Street. What a joy!  And it had me in tears in the first paragraph of the prologue for real.  I’m three chapters in, which is a fascinating account of the history of children’s television in general.  The Captain Kangaroo stuff is cool.  I’m trying to make more time to read actual books.  Less sitting in front of this computer and more reading, yo!  But the computer is good too.

On the writerly front, I’ve been focusing on two short stories this past month or so.  I’ve also been working to organize all my works in progress.  I’ll always be adding ideas, but I’m trying to focus on further developing my most developed work so I can start taking it to the next level.  One story is inspired by my neighborhood in South Bend.  I really love this piece (which I started in November for my short story edition of NaNoWriMo) and am getting more and more into it.  It’s also been good to harness my Indiana experience creatively–something I want to continue.  Another story is more fantastical and quirky and inspired by an Indiana friend of mine.  That’s all I’ll say for now. 🙂  These stories are written in 1st and 3rd person respectively, and if I’m going to flip flop between strories, I like that variety.  On the CNF front, I made it through the first draft of a story about Truman’s bar in Indiana.  I’ve also rebounded from Playing Guns rejection and am preparing it for another submission–to a place that’s perhaps a better fit.

I’ve also typed out my grandfather’s journal like I said I wanted to.  Very cool.  With that, I’ve registered another WordPress site which will be more family oriented.  Not sure how public it will be, but it will definitely be a cool place for family and friends hopefully.

With all this Indiana talk, I did take the time to reflect on my time there.  Here’s an excerpt from my Friends Only blog:

It was this random, amazing, frustrating, weird, beautiful, creative, inspiring, annoying experience in our lives. While we can definitely tell our “Indiana stories” boiled down to some laughable cocktail party tales, I get a little Stockard Channing at the end of Six Degrees of Separation where she seeks to make sure her experience truly becomes a meaningful part of her life. I know I will continue to do this myself in my work–whether in short stories, solo pieces, journal entries, or what have you. Just like I try to do with everything else. I can’t deny the new perspective our time there offered.

All the wonderful people I met along the way–those I’m still in touch with and those I’m not–will not be forgotten. 🙂

Finally, in NewTown Writers news, after a successful Solo Homo 7, the Fall 2009 event is in the works.  We wanted to do some sort of short plays event, and it looks to be gearing toward a Reading event with some brand new works.  I’m currently working with a number of members on developing their pieces–and looking to include a few more.  I’m wearing my producer & director hats on this one so I can focus my writerly energies on other things.  We’re looking to go up mid-October.  Will post more later!  I’ve also started attending the bi-weekly literary meetings.  I’d never done that before, mostly because of my old work schedule and not living in the city for a few years.  It’s been fun–I’ve been able to workshop one of my current stories as well as hear some of the work in progress for the fall.  And now that meetings are looking to be at the Center on Halsted, that’s a bonus since I can walk there.  Awesome!

Upcoming fun things are in the works. Looking forward to them and to getting more work done.  Will tell  you all about it….

Onward—->

All Kinds of Stuff

mk2-cast

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. 🙂

Back to School

August, in addition to my posting the fabulous coffee poem which has brought many people to this site via search engines (that and all the people looking up Kip Winger! I didn’t realize so many people were searching for him. They’ve all ended up here. All of them I think.) Um, anyway, I say to everyone, stick around.

That’s a bundle of fragment sentences up there. Where was I going? Right. August. We did some traveling–visited our nephew in North Carolina and saw our niece again in Detroit. Baby Tour ’08 rocked! We also hit up Stratford for the Shakespeare Fest. Interestingly, I didn’t see any Shakespeare this time around, though Ernie and his dad did. I could get a post in there about all that. We’ll see.

It’s been a bit of a whirlwind since our return. That week between our travels and the new semester was, well, all about the new semester! Getting ready for it. This time around, I am not taking classes. Ultimately I decided to take some time to make some money, do some writing, ponder, etc, and we’ll take it from there.

As it turns out, my “professor hat” has gotten a good tightening. I was set to teach my class out in Elkhart, but I picked up a section on the South Bend campus as well. I’m teaching Intro to Theatre again, and so far so good. I have a little over 50 students between the two sections. Not sure if any of them have found this site at all, so Hi gang! The calendar is a little wonky this semester. I blame leap year. But I think I have a solid schedule that will probably change somewhere in there. Having last year under my belt has been a help in getting this year together.

For this semester, my goal is to evolve as a teacher (instructor, professor?) and hopefully inspire at least a handful of my students. Staying organized and on top of things will keep me sane. And I think I got everyone’s names down now. 🙂

I do also have my stories floating around my head. Some of it has made on paper these past few weeks, but I’ll get back to business in earnest soon enough. I re-read a more developed story I’ve been working on all this summer (“The Mail Slot” in case you’re keeping track). Lots of good stuff in there that’s all connected, but it may need a little boiling down before I expand it. Much to think about….

So that’s what’s going on. In case you were wondering. I enjoyed the rainy day this afternoon as I sat on my couch and re-read Oedipus. It’d been a while since I’ve actually read the thing. Quality stuff. I found a 2004 translation online that’s pretty accessible. The ones I have in print are pretty stodgy. We don’t want that.

While I’m here, giving a shout out to all my classmates and profs from last year.  Drop me a line!

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. 🙂

End Scene

Well, got that paper done and turned in. Wednesday night was my last official activity of the semester. My Creative Nonfiction class held a reading where we shared excerpts of our portfolio revisions. Great work, everyone! Drinks at the Oaken Bucket afterward (downstairs, non-smoking). Cool.

Now for the NEXT focus….

Workshopping “Guns”

This past Wednesday, the 20th, we workshopped my Creative Non-Fiction piece, Playing Guns. That, at least, is the working title. It’s not a very exciting one, I know. It’s a piece I’ve been working on off and on for a while now. It has its origins in the solo show class I took at Chicago Dramatists with the fabulous Arlene Malinowski in the fall of 2005. I started putting something together called The Sounds of Play, which included the sound effects for cars, Transformers, Dolly Pops (I had my gal pals too!), and of course, playing guns. Bang Bang Rat-a-tat-tat and all that.

I eventually took the guns part and paired it with my idea of writing about my grade school friend, Danny, whose hippie parents wouldn’t allow him to play guns. I’d wanted to write about Danny and this seemed like a perfect marriage.

From there, it evolved into musings on war and war stories and my own parents, especially my dad and grandfather (which may be part of the source for my pretty much neglecting the fact that girls played guns too, as pointed out in my class, but with no sisters and pretty much just my guy friends growing up participating, its a very male-centric piece, which I may or may not amend. We’ll see….) I did a major push on the piece this past summer in anticipation for this semester’s class. I was also in the middle of reading David Kenyon Webster’s Parachute Infantry: An American Paratrooper’s Memoir of D-Day and the Fall of the Third Reich. Webster was portrayed in the HBO film, Band of Brothers, and it was interesting to read moments and dialogue that made it directly into the film–and the liberties that the filmmakers took.

I talked to my dad and did a little fact-checking about the technicalities of his not being drafted into Vietnam. We also talked about his growing up post-WWII and how the family reacted to Vietnam. One of my other projects this summer involved transcribing a cassette tape discussion my brothers had with my grandparents a few years ago. My grandfather since passed away, and though I have some of the facts, I know there are things missing. That missing has made its way into the piece as well.

I eventually hit a wall with it. Couldn’t add or subtract a comma. I needed my class! We had a good discussion. I appreciated the comments and questions. One of the general topics we discuss is what is the piece About? I’m still not completely sure. It’s about a lot! It still needs some focus and shaping. I have all the response essays from my classmates, but I’m not quite ready (nor do I have the time!) to really go through them at the moment. Maybe over spring break (not that I won’t have other reading to do then!) I have my next piece to focus on for workshop #2. Thankfully, I had “Guns” under my belt, but one of the pieces has to come from one our three preliminary assignments. I spent a considerable amount of time this week living in 1994….

One of my classmates suspected the piece’s “performance” voice, and I was like You got me! I’ve struggled with Literary Voice vs. Performance Voice in the past. But the intention for “Guns” will be performance–but I do also want it to feel alive on the page, which I think it does. The plan is for it to be a part of my full length solo show, Battles With Boys, which will include many of the pieces listed on the Solo Performance page. That’s the plan anyway.

Hm, so my point to all this? I guess: Workshopping Good. 🙂 Seriously, though, I love this whole part of the process. I’ve had my solitary loner writing time, and this gets it out there a little, especially surrounded by cool peeps. The next one may be a little intense, I don’t know. It’s not due for a couple weeks. I have a draft done, but I can’t look at it right now. I need these couple weeks to be away from it before I turn it in–and I’m sure I’ll wince at a few things before I do so.

Alright, must get ready for work and read some of my classmates’ writings for next week…..

He’s a Writer AND a Fighter

Back on January 30, despite school being closed due to the lovely weather we’re been having here in the South Bend area (or “The SB” as Ernie and I call it) , the English Department went ahead with the planned visit by Sam Sheridan, author of this book:

Yeah, that’s him and his blood on the cover. We read the book for my Creative Non-Fiction class, and through various connections, we were able to get him to visit from his home in LA. It’s a pretty good read, but it was interesting to hear from Sam how there are parts he would love to rework. Goes to show that even if something is published–doesn’t necessarily mean it’s finished.

The week before the reading, my class discussed his more journalistic approach and the distance that sometimes entails. I appreciated that element, but of course still enjoyed the more personal sections. He got in the ring and wrote about the life, the people, the business, etc. He frighteningly covers dog & cockfighting in Asia, and waxes philosophical about masculinity, aggression, etc.

He was really cool and talked some about the writing and publishing, but also a lot about fighting. He also brought along one of his MMA (mixed martial arts) buddies, Rory, who’s 14-4 I think. You can tell he’s been beat up a few times.

So, um, dig the pic of me and Sam? He was like We have to do a fighting pose. Either a fist or the index finger. See how butch I’m trying to be? Ernie was like, You look so SMALL next to him. Seriously, his hands are as big as my head.

My prof, Kelcey, mused some in the following week’s class about fighters and writers, and how Sam’s discussion of the training–physical, mental, spiritual–could be paralleled with a writer’s life. I dig that. I’d like to think this whole grad school thing is a part of all that. 🙂

So when I get overwhelmed and discouraged, I should just picture myself in the ring and think either Do it! Or look like the cover of Sam’s book….