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.

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

400 Words/40 Days Challenge: Conclusion

InkQuill

So Friday, November 6 saw the conclusion of my 40 days challenge and my totals were, I think, respectable: 24903 words written in total with a daily average of 621. In the 116 days since I started my first 25 day challenge, I’ve written on 95 of those days with a total 47532 words written. While these challenges may seem artificial, I can definitively state that they work for me. As a way to get myself focused and working, these short term, low word count challenges add up to doing what it is that makes a writer and what it is that makes a writer get better: writing.

At this point, I’ve decided to not go into another writing challenge for myself as I am going to start focusing more on my PhD applications for the next couple of months and will take some time to go over what I accomplished since July 13 and do some editing and work on second, third, and forth drafts of short stories so I can start submitting my work.

If you end up challenging yourself using some of the strategies I’ve developed for myself, I would really appreciate you leaving a comment and letting me know how it went.

Good writing to you!

Writing Update for October 18

InkQuill

Today marks 21 days into my current writing challenge of 400 words for 40 days. I haven’t been as focused on my novel (yes, I’ve given up pretending and have accepted the fact that The Devious Astrolabe is going to be my first novel), as I might like, however, I have been writing quite a bit. Without going into details that I don’t want to share here, I seem to have found myself a muse of sorts for a kind of storytelling that I’ve never explored before and found myself writing quite a bit last week, finishing the first draft of one new short story, completing 3/4 of the first draft of another, and starting a new story that will probably run 10,000 – 12,000 words.

Now, I just need to get to editing some of this output!

Stats so far:

Week 1: 3950 words / average of 564 per day
Week 2: 5910 words / average of 844 per day
Week 3: 3776 words / average of 539 per day

I have several stories out to magazines, but still no publication luck. After this challenge, I plan on taking 2 weeks to really focus on editing some of these stories and finding markets for them.

In other news, I’m assisting a friend who has started a new website called The Dueling Quill, which offers writers a chance to get into the habit of writing. The site will suggest a title, a maximum word count, and a genre and writers will have a week to write something that then gets posted. Readers will vote on their favorite stories and the winner of the duel will get . . . lots of praise and the knowledge of a job well done. Ok, so not much of a prize, but if you are struggling to make writing a regular habit, you might want to check it out.

How’s your writing going?