Retiring Living the Liminal

Writing is not simply a way to express thoughts. Writing is, in a very real and literal sense, a way of thinking. Writing is also an embodied activity and to consider it as only a mental practice is to misunderstand the relationship between the mind and the body. There is not division between the two. Certainly there are subsystems that are unique to the brain versus those unique to the stomach or the knee, but we are never not embodied and material beings. Having recently completed my PhD comprehensive exams, I can attest to the fact that writing two article length papers in 48 hours is as much a physical endurance test as it is a mental one. Unfortunately, being out of shape, I ended up relying far too much on caffeine and cigarettes to get me through that particular mental/physical challenge. Because of this recent experience, of feeling, in my body the connection between writing and the embodied self, I have decided to begin a new blog and to retire—or at least to send on a long vacation—what has been my primary website/blog since 2005.

Living the Liminal has been a part of my “brand” for a long time. Subsequent accounts with Twitter, Flickr, Instagram, App.net, etc. have all used a variation of either “liminal” or “living the liminal.” There is a reason I picked that “identity”: I have always (or at least as long as I can remember) felt slightly outside of and hovering in between various aspects of life. I am often somewhere between the past and the future, rarely situated in the now or standing in the doorway between solitude and social, stuck not knowing in which direction I truly want to move. Part of this new project is to write myself in a new and different way. I am neither rejecting the liminal side of myself and my experience, nor am I necessarily aiming for a specific vision of the me that I am trying to write into existence. However, as I have been thinking quite a bit about the material effects of words on and through the body, I began to wonder if stepping back from the concept of liminality might prove to be, at the very least, an impetus to write a new me, if only slightly. In other words, I am interested in exploring how the materiality of words—a materiality borne from the embodied action of writing—may result in a re-inscription of my self.

Additionally, I recently came across several new platforms that are exploring a new way of using Dropbox, Markdown, and static text files to serve as a blogging/website system, one that does not require databases and that allows the content to live in one’s own Dropbox account. I have signed up with Scriptogr.am and have recently begun to explore ways in which I can use this new platform as space for a writing intensive website. Today I bought the domain name “reinscription.com” and will begin to transfer my writing to this new space over the next few weeks. Living the Liminal will remain, and the back-catalog of my thoughts over the past seven years will still be available for any and all who want to poke around the various essays, links, images, and ruminations that I have collected here over the years. And who knows, perhaps I will return here sometime in the future. For now, however, I will officially “retire” Living the Liminal on January 1, 2013.

The new site is still coming together. I need to make sure I can get the domain names pointing in the right directions and I’d like to do some edits to the theme so I can make the space more my own. I will update here when ReInscription is up and fully running. While I feel decidedly odd about moving away from Living the Liminal, I am excited by the move and am certain that, as a writer and as a person, this will be a productive and useful change for myself. I hope to also make it interesting and entertaining for others. Thanks for coming along for the ride.

Writing Challenge: 250 words for 25 Days

I’ve not been writing. Not creatively at least, and certainly not regularly in a long time. Mostly because I’ve been struggling with some emotional issues that have gotten in the way of focus, creativity, and discipline. While I still have those struggles, I think it’s time to give myself a small enough challenge that I can feasibly meet it, even with diminished energy. 250 words is a really small amount of writing to do and there is no reason I can’t manage to accomplish that for the next 25 days, even if what I write is stream-of-consciousness blather, I can make 250 words.

The last time I did a series of writing challenges like this they helped get me back into the habit of writing and I always feel better when I’m am writing and creating regularly, so this is part challenge, part therapy. So, from today until August 11, I will write at least 250 creative words (story, script, poem,, monologue, etc.) each day.

The start of something new

Starting a new story is like starting a new relationship: all giddy and exciting and fumbling. For my writing today (I’m trying to get back into writing at least 300 words every day—not ambitious but manageable while doing grad work), I started a new story called “The Lock”. I don’t think it will be a genre story, though most stories I start find their way into science fiction or horror somehow, but I think this one might be more, oh, I don’t know, New England Gothic maybe? We’ll see. For my daily sharing of joy, I’m going to give you the very beginning of a new relationship, a new story. It’s rough draft material and I won’t necessarily be sharing the process of writing the entire thing, but starting this made me feel good. A story is a fragile thing, however, and there is some risk in my posting this as often a story shared too early can self destruct. But I think the story has enough urgency to take that risk.

The Lock

Betcha you won’t. Betcha I will. Nuh-uh. Yuh-uh.

I was ten that day, or eleven. She was a year older than me. I can’t remember what I looked like then, not really, not without a picture. But her, I remember her like a story: skinny and always in motion. Even when sitting, she was jiggling her left leg or twirling her sun-bleached blond hair that was always wild and tangled except for Sundays when her mother took a brush to it before Church. Or she’d be picking at scabs from whatever recent scrapes she’d accumulated running around the woods behind her house or down at Lander’s Beach which wasn’t a beach but rocks that she loved to explore and was too impatient to not slip and fall on a regular basis. Her skin was darkly tanned and often bruised. Her nose was small, slightly upturned at the end and her grin … Her grin was wide, electric. The kind of grin that made you excited and brought butterflies to your stomach and made you want to do something to make it happen again. I loved her. I realize that now, but I never thought that then. She was just Julie and we hung out a lot and yeah, her older sister would tease us, saying we were in love and we should get married, but back then Julie was just so much herself and I was far more naive than kids now that … Well, I just didn’t know.

I used to think she probably didn’t either, but sometimes I remember looks, small things she said, and wonder. There are days, now, when I wish desperately I could again love a person with such an unconscious clarity. No sexual baggage. No expectations. No hopes. Just a day to day exploration of the world with her at my side, leading me on, urging me to run faster, climb the tree just a little bit higher, swim out just a little bit further.

A Problem of Translation

Is there a voice for the junkies and the homeless and the lost in contemporary literature? In theatre? And not a patronizing middle-class “oh look at the poor folk” voice, but one that takes the time to live in that world, to respect the lives of those in the streets and trenches that make up our war on drugs and who live the poverty that makes wealth possible?

Is our contemporary theatre anemic, in part, because we write and produce only for a middle- to upper-class demographic? Would they be interested in seeing something that is not a reflection of their world or a perspective on other worlds (ethnic, economic) that serves to ease their conscious and make them feel like they are part of a solution through voyeurism?

I don’t think so.

I sit here in a bus station, listening to fragments of lives that are full of pain and anger and fear and resignation and a strange strength that is both alien and frightening to my middle-class, highly educated, white and male privileged life, and I wonder who writes for these people? Is it even possible to tell their stories without exploiting them, without stealing them?

Our culture fantasizes, in books and movies and comics and tv, about various post-apocalyptic scenarios. All the while ignoring that many people are already living in a world that is constantly hostile and where each day is a battle to merely survive and who understand that the smallest joys can be the biggest of victories, but that victory is a perishable commodity and there are no guarantees it will come ’round again.

I sit. I do not listen to my music through noise-isolating earphones. Instead I listen to the people around me. I wonder. I have no answers, no solutions, only questions. I have learned nothing. But I have heard, if only in snatches and only for an hour, the language of another world.

In the end, I also wonder just how much privilege and pretension is apparent in these wonderings and questions.

Writing Contests

Any LtL readers who are writers might be interested in these:

  1. Kaleidoscope Arts Festival: “a regional arts festival hosted by Slippery Rock University, seeks submissions for new works to be produced in April of 2012. Winning submissions will be performed as part of Brave New Plays, a festival of world-premiere drama under the auspices of Kaleidoscope and the Slippery Rock University Department of Theatre.” I can’t seem to find information online about this so here is the email I received:

    Submission Guidelines One-Act plays of any style or genre. Plays should be 45 minutes to an hour in length, with 4-5 roles suitable to college actors. Manuscripts should be formatted in Times New Roman 12 point font with 1 inch margins. Each script submitted must include 2 separate cover pages: Play Title and Casting Breakdown. Do not include Name of Playwright. Play Title, Casting Breakdown, Playwright Name and Contact Information. Eligibility The mission of Kaleidoscope Arts Festival is to bring free or low cost, quality programming to an underserved region. There is no submission fee. Eligible playwrights must be residents of Western Pennsylvania. Manuscripts not selected for awards will be returned to the playwright. Awards 1st Prize – A fully-mounted production at Slippery Rock University in April of 2012, which will subsequently be toured by the SRU Department of Theatre to the 2012 Edinburgh Fringe Festival in Scotland. Playwright will also receive a $1000.00 honorarium. 2nd Prize – A fully-mounted production at Slippery Rock University in April of 2012. Playwright will also receive a $500.00 honorarium. Deadline September 1, 2011 Please send a hard copy of each submission to: Brave New Plays Search Committee c/o Colleen Reilly, Director, Kaleidoscope Arts Festival 300C Miller Auditorium Slippery Rock University Slippery Rock, PA 16057

  2. “The Robot Felt . . .” Science Fiction Story Contest: “Start your version with “The robot felt…” Finish with “In the end, the robot felt nothing. He wasn’t programmed to.” The up-to-2000 words in between are all yours.” More information at PaulMalmont.com

UPDATE: I just noticed that the winner will be selected only after writers get friends and family to vote for them – the top five with the most votes will be considered. Not worth my time, so I’m not even going to make an attempt.

  1. Amazon Studios: New contests with awards totaling $430,000 for filmmakers and writers, including a horror-specific script award and two awards for dialogue tracks, which are a key building block for test movies. The awards are: >Three $100,000 Best Test Movie Awards (July, August and September) >Two $5,000 Best Dialogue Track Awards (in June) >Five $20,000 Best Script Awards (two a month in July and August; one in September) Amazon Studios Blog

I am planning on entering a new one-act called “The Dreamscape of Young Silvestri” in the Kaleidoscope Arts festival and I’m going to work on some ideas and hopefully get a story in for the science fiction contest by the end of this month.

If You Want to be a Writer You Need to Listen

This morning, as I am occasionally wont to do, I stopped at Kiva Han to get a breakfast burrito and a coffee before heading in to do my marketing hours for the department. I took out my earphones when ordering and then didn’t put them back in while waiting for my food or for the short walk to the Cathedral of Learning. At the corner of Forbes and Bellefield, as I was waiting for the signal to walk across the intersection and standing quite close to the curb, I heard a voice next to me say “back up, hey watch it.” I turned to my right to see an older man, about 6’1” who looked to be in his mid-50s I then turned to my left to see that a bus was approaching and beginning to turn onto Bellefield. I knew immediately what the man was referring to and while I did not step back from the curb because the bus was in the left lane and wasn’t making a tight turn, I appreciated his concern.

If I had been wearing my earphones, I either would not have heard him or I would have gone back to my isolation after acknowledging him. As it was, since we were walking in the same direction until we reached the Cathedral, I actually, of all things, talked to him. We chatted about the busses and how fast they sometimes go and the danger of the lane of 5th Ave that is one way for everyone but buses in that special bus lane and he related the fact that he’d been at a city meeting once and a number of people had suggested that the drivers slow down sometimes and drive more safely and the Port Authority representative saying that they couldn’t do that and that they had a schedule to keep.

Then we parted ways and I went up into my academic ivory tower. But as I did so, I realized something about a whole lot of young (or in my case, youngish/middle-ageish) writers are spending a considerable amount of time completely disengaged from the world and from other people and from strangers and, most importantly, from various rhythms of speech that surround us on any given day.

Let’s be honest, most of us spend most of our time with people in our general socio-economic-ethnic background. Our interactions on buses, in subways, at airports, grocery stories, etc., are some of the only times we are around people who are coming from different backgrounds, especially socio-economic. If writers engage this world and these places stuck entirely in their heads, cocooned with music or podcasts or audio books, will they encounter enough of the variety and random inflections that make up the music of individual voices that a writer needs to hear in order to write in rhythms not stuck in his/her own cadences? If writers don’t listen to the world around them in all its noisy chaos, how can they capture that chaos and transmute it into compelling characters?

This is as much a reminder to myself as to others: If you want to be a writer, you have to listen. Unplug from your media and let the music and discordance of life in. The alternative is to be stuck writing your own voice over and over again.

Current Script Writing Solution for the iPad

So hi. It’s been a while. I’m not even feeling all that guilty because I’ve been, you know . . . busy with the PhD and all that. I promise I’ll write more starting in May. However, I’ve been trying to figure out a solution for writing scripts on my iPad without going through all sorts of annoying syncing issues. You’d think that at least Final Draft and Movie Magic Screenwriter would have developed iPad Apps by now, but you’d think wrong. There are a number of solutions, but nothing that really felt like it was working for me.

Until I remembered that I recently purchased LogMeIn Ignition and that I can do this:

iPadRunningScreenwriter.png

Yep. That’s my iPad connecting to my computer at home and using Movie Magic Screenwriter to write while I was at a coffee shop with just my iPad and my bluetooth keyboard. It’s not a perfect solution, but it was certainly responsive enough to draft nearly five pages this morning. Until Screenwriter comes out with a dedicated app that will sync easily between devices, this is definitely going to be the way I work on script when out with just the iPad.

365 Days of Writing

InkQuill

Last year, I took a picture every day for 365 days. Well, nearly so. I did miss a few, but even though I didn’t make 100%, I managed to keep the intention and the habit going for the entire year. While I didn’t want to do another Project365 immediately after ending that one (though I am positive that I will take up the challenge again in the future), I did want to create another daily habit. This time, instead of taking a picture every day, I decided to challenge myself to write every day. Not just any writing (which I’ll be doing plenty of in my PhD program), but specifically creative writing: fiction or drama. Knowing that I will be stressed and busy as I start grad school once again, I am completely aware that if I’m to rise to this challenge of being a writer, I needed to pick a goal that was achievable in even the most difficult or busy of times. 365 seemed a good minimum goal: easy enough to achieve in 20-30 minutes of time, enough so that I can feel a sense of progress through weekly word counts, but not enough to be daunting.

This was my first week in my 365 for 365 Challenge (1/52 of the way done!), and I’m pleased to report that I’ve written every day since last Monday and have a total of 3192 words written, mostly on a new horror short story. Nothing I can share with you here at this point, but I will be sharing my weekly stats as a way to, hopefully, inspire other writers who may need to see how a small amount of words, done daily, can add up to stories in less time than you might think.

I will also, occasionally, write about what this process is like for me as I get busy with academics and teaching and the ways in which I make myself meet my daily word goals.

But really, it’s also just a way for me to share my pride in myself for doing a thing that always seems impossible to do when you aren’t doing it, i.e., becoming a writer.

Taking the Stage at Blood from a Turnip

Last night I did something I haven’t done in something like 8 or 9 years. Sing and play guitar for an audience. Additionally, last night I did something I haven’t done in probably close to 20 years: perform live with another musician.

How’d it go? All things considered, it could have been much, much worse. But let me back up and provide some context.

~~~

Blood from a Turnip is a late night puppetry salon that is hosted by Perishable Theatre. It happens every two months, September – May and usually presents 4 – 6 short puppet shows. Now these aren’t your children’s puppet shows and, sometimes, you might even end up asking yourself just exactly how what you saw was a puppet. The productions can range widely in artistry, with some being finely crafted performances and others being experimentations still in search of their final shape. The evening is loose and friendly, with the audience being a very sympathetic and kind one. Every show also includes a musician or musicians performing in between puppet shows to serve as a bridge for the set changeovers and to pack in even more entertainment value for your $5.

Perhaps because I’d been watching too much “Dr. Horrible”—wait, is there such a thing as too much “Dr. Horrible?”—upon returning from a BfaT show last fall, I decided to write a series of songs that would provide a kind of origin story for the existence of the program. Over the space of 3 days, I’d written 4 songs: “Paradise Falls: the Legend of Steve,” “When Puppets are Your Friends,” “Evelyn,” and “His Puppet Shows.” These songs introduce the town of Paradise Falls and the main characters: Steve and Evelyn. I started talking to Perishable’s Artistic Director, Vanessa Gilbert about the possibility of presenting this song cycle at one of this season’s BfaTs and she agreed. Several months later, I finally found my next song for the cycle and wrote “Her Name Was Sophie,” which tells the story of why a curse is placed on Evelyn. This curse is the cause of Steve’s final, heroic act which explains the reason the program is called “Blood from a Turnip.” At this point, I presented the material to those involved with curating BfaT. The response was positive and also helpful and we decided to present “Paradise Falls: The Legend of Steve” at the final show of the season. At this point, I was still imagining that I might find someone other than myself to perform the songs since, while I was . . . am proud of the piece, I recognize my limitations as a performer. However, it turned out that the performance was indeed going to be led by myself, along with Vanessa Gilbert on accordion and performing the vocals for Evelyn and the old woman who places the curse on Evelyn. Over the past few weeks, I wrote the final two parts, “Steve’s Final Show” and “When Puppets Are Your Friends, Reprise,” as Vanessa and I began rehearsing.

If I am confident in my abilities as a writer of words and even songs and a certain limited style of music, my technical abilities as a guitarist and singer are only serviceable at best and rather shaky when it comes to live performance. Still, I had a lot of fun working on the music with Vanessa and actually playing music with someone instead of just being stuck in my bedroom with my guitar and my computer.

So, last night, I performed.

~~~

It didn’t suck. At least not much. And I cannot stress enough just how fortunate I feel that Vanessa wanted to work with me on this project. If I had been by myself on that stage, I would have been far more nervous and my mistakes would have been far more obvious and the music would have been far thinner with just me and a guitar, and, truthfully, I would have had far less fun on the journey from writing to performing. So she has my sincere gratitude for her part in this project and last night’s performance. My dissatisfaction in the experience was actually ameliorated by her presence and talent and insight and support.

That said, I didn’t exactly have fun, nor do I feel particularly good about last night’s performance. Mostly because I really like these words and these songs and this story and feel that they deserve better than I could offer as a musician. Ideally, I would love to hear this whole project done by other people would could bring it to life in ways that are simply beyond my technical means. I think the spirit of the piece managed to get through to most of the audience, and I don’t think anyone suffered too much from my wrong chords and occasionally off-key singing. I would like to hope that I was able to offer a few moments of humor or joy or beauty last night.

And so, I am ok now with it all. Last night I was a bit down about my performance, even while I kept telling myself that, given how long it’s been since I’ve done anything like this, I did pretty damn well. Still, I do wish my songs could have been delivered with a bit more polish and expertise and that will probably not change no matter how much I make peace with my own flawed but sincere and heartfelt performance.

~~~

So where does “Paradise Falls: The Legend from Steve” go from here? Who knows? When I wrote it, I always wanted to provide a richness to the town and the people in the story that might inspire someone, sometime, to take a character or two and create their own stories. Perhaps a “Paradise Falls: Sophie’s Tale,” or “Paradise Falls: The Adventures of Evelyn.” I still hold out hope that someday I might be able to hear better musicians present it. But until then, I will share it with you.

The following recording is actually not from last night’s performance, but from our rehearsal the day before. Because we didn’t have any sound system for rehearsal, I recorded it on my laptop using a Blue Snowball Mic which, while not stellar, did a pretty good job of recording our work. I’m not posting the performance recordings for several reasons. First, the mics we were using weren’t the best and so the mix is not great. Thanks to Dave Higgins for doing his best with the limitations we faced, but the recording levels are just too heavy on the vocals and light on the guitar. Second, and more importantly, I was nervous and not having fun, whereas the night before, even though there are a few flubbed lines and some flat singing, I was really enjoying myself and it comes through. Despite the mistakes and the fact that I wish I had a bit more presence on Vanessa’s vocals and accordion in these recordings, the rehearsal versions came out better than the performance.

If you are a fan of Perishable’s Blood from a Turnip, or if are involved with puppetry and want to use this work or create your own spin-offs from it, please feel free. “Paradise Falls: The Legend of Steve” is released under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 license.

Creative Commons License
This work by Peter Wood is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License

Thanks again to everyone who helped make these songs and this story happen.

Enjoy.

~~~

Paradise Falls: The Legend of Steve

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Paradise Falls: The Legend of Steve Lyrics