Wednesday, May 14, 2014

What do I look for as a reader, and what do I expect from myself as a writer?

When I read, I look for language that engages, that is verb-rich, and image-driven. I like humor and wordplay, but I also seek the metaphoric, and when I really enjoy writing the most it is when there is contrast, and an underlying message, a hidden key that my mind needs to find to unlock the meaning. I seek this in fiction, poetry, memoir, and plays. Meaning. It doesn’t have to be obvious, and I prefer when it isn’t. I like it when a writer trusts me as a reader to understand or make meaning. Tone can be humorous, obstreperous, sardonic, joyous. I expect sincerity in tone. Please don’t fake me out. Be genuine. Honest. I want to learn from what I’m reading. It can be a new word, or a way of folding a shirt, or a new perspective or opinion. Short, clear sentences engage me more than long rambly ones, and if a writer ends a sentence on the word “thereof” I am going to check out. The fragmentary intrigues me because I get to fill in the blanks. I love it when I read something and I think, “I could never do that!” because it challenges and inspires me as a writer. I know I’ve read a good book when I cry at the end – not for the content – but for the fact that I will never read the book the same way again.

When I write,  I want to connect with the reader, and I do my best to make that connection through clearly written observations. It isn’t always easy to be honest, writing the truth in memoir or poetry or a play, my truth, is difficult but it is the part of writing that I seek as a reader, so I expect it in myself. I expect to learn something when I write – about myself, about the world, about the way words click together or fall apart. I love it when I’m writing and something that wasn’t clear to me as I was writing suddenly surfaces, and it takes hold of the writing and states “I’m the theme.” Or, “Hey, metaphor here.” Surprise, surprise! I expect myself to be able to write to the point where that happens, to not give up, to be willing to let go for awhile and come back to it later to work on the craft of the language. I expect myself to work. Writing well is work. It’s excavation. If I’m only scratching the surface, I won’t discover any of what lies underneath, and neither will my readers. I expect to earn the understanding of my readers.

Thursday, May 08, 2014

There's a Unicorn in Here. It's Why I Perform.

It's 6 a.m. Glasses are necessary for me to see this thin line of eyelash glue. I tick off items on my mental checklist after I remove my specs and press a lash onto a crepey lid:

  • stuffed frog
    • lion
    • fox
  • dance ribbon
  • amp
  • 20 hoops
  • swivel chair
  • striped socks
  • sequin armbands
  • toy instruments
  • water bottle
It's all packed in my bag, and what doesn't fit will be lugged then tucked into the back of my VW Beetle. When I leave the apartment, I'm wearing butterfly leggings, cowboy boots, and the top half of a costume that was handmade by someone who can actually sew. As I drive to the school, I feel the familiar cloud of pre-show nerves that turn to half-hearted daydreams of having a job that doesn't include stuffed animals and hula hoops. I probably just need to hydrate a little more. I swig some water.

After I haul all my props to the gym and answer questions about my eyelashes to a lash-curious secretary, I get set up. The floor of the gym is my stage today. Three  hundred kids will sit behind the blue dashed line that marks the performance area. I rearrange the curtains that hide the stacks of gym mats and a large hockey goal cage, then set my props out. A parent volunteer introduces herself and her four year old son, who starts to climb all over the swivel chair. "Sorry, you can't play with that. I'm really sorry. I know it's tempting." I say. "Here buddy, take the Kindle," his mother says, and the boy parks himself against the wall with his digital dreampad. The stuffed frog and fox stare out at him with stitched on looks of "Are you flipping kidding us?"

I hate to admit it, especially to my impatient self, that I've been rehearsing the act I will perform at this school for a little over a month. Act development takes me forever. I love it, but I need time, and a lot of time, to create. Space. Plenty of room for screw-ups, flubs, bruises, popped off puffballs, getting stuck in hoop tangles, and complaining to my poor husband. Hours of videoing myself working the act. I share the rehearsal videos with my sister who I know I can trust for critical, honest, and very useful feedback. A sister will tell you when something isn't working. I develop the character, a little girl who has been banished to her room with her imagination, and create a 12 minute soundtrack. I polish the hoop choreography until my skeleton could dance it if my skin and muscles took off on a last minute vacation to Hawaii.

The boy with the Kindle is talking to it now. "I have gone to the most beautiful place! There's a unicorn in here!" His mother brings him over to the side of the stage where the amp sits. I've asked her to push play when I give her a nod from backstage. Kids file in from the hallway and sit by grade, the Kindergarteners in front. A few have spotted me waiting for my cue in the wings by the stack of gym mats and hockey goal cage.  The principal makes a few announcements, I give my nod, the soundtrack starts, and I'm on. They laugh and clap at the swimming on the swivel stool, the stuffed animals growling at my neck after I step on them too much, and during the hooping their "holy moly!" "this is so crazy!" and "ooooooohs!" push me further.

Two little girls break the ranks of dismissal after the show to say hello to me. "Hi! My name is Anna! This is Tristan! We love what you did with all of those hoops!" Their faces are so full of everything I remember about being eight years old. Total wonder. They look at me as if I'm a rockstar, and not some middle aged woman with a penchant for 70s sitcoms and chocolate chips. There is nothing like making other people happy. I've made 300 people happier this morning. Maybe even inspired a few. I have gone to the most beautiful place. There's a unicorn in here. That's why I do this.