Songs for the Struggling Artist


In Which I Read that Dragon Book, Part Two

This is part two of my journey of reading When Women Were Dragons. If you want to know why I’m reading this, catch up with my questions around plagiarism here. If you want to read Part One, start here. And I’m just a fountain of spoilers so skip this one if you’re wanting to be surprised by anything that happens in this book.

Now PART 2

September 4

I can really feel how Barnhill is a children’s book writer. I’m actually surprised this book is being sold as one for adults. The narrator is a child, looking at this event from a child’s eyes. Sure, there’s some violence and a lot of child abandonment but have you read work for children lately? Some of it is quite dark.

I mean – listen – maybe she really means to be writing for adults and just can’t help making work that feels like it’s for children. That happens to me all the time so I’m sympathetic. I make some piece that I feel very clear is not for children and then someone comes to see it and says, “This would be great for kids!” But I do wonder why an award-winning children’s book author wasn’t sold in the market she has already succeeded in.

I also feel like I’d have a lot more grace for this book if it were a children’s book. Or YA! YA is full of dangerous stuff these days. Why isn’t this a YA book?

Anyway – I read more than I meant to last night, mostly because I was hoping for something to pop out at me that I might tell you about here in this accounting. My feeling that this is really a children’s book is all I have, I guess.

September 5

The kid in the book is now thirteen and has lost her friend due to a homophobic panic from her father. It would appear that he also evicted his daughter’s friend’s grandparents. This father better get eaten or immolated by the end of this book is all I got to say.

So far the only satisfying dragon moment was in a brief list of dragon activity where some dragons seem to have eaten some asshole strike-breakers.

This section of the book was not particularly compelling but it did make me very nervous about my own work. I also have quite a bit of after the fact reporting of dragon events. I worry that my own work could feel as dry and perfunctory as the list of dragon related incidents in this book did to me. I hope these sorts of moments in my work are full of the person who is reporting them so that it’s not just the report but the human need to share things that have happened to them. I think I’ve done that but one can never be too sure. So for a moment that chapter felt like a cautionary tale.

If my library app is accurate (and I concede that it hardly ever is) then I’m not yet halfway through this book, though I AM on Chapter 19.

September 6

So it turns out the girl’s mother hadn’t turned dragon for the two months she was away – she just had regular old cancer, which then kills her when the protagonist is fifteen. Then the father turns out to be an even bigger piece of shit than he was before (and he was a GIANT piece of shit before) by moving the kids to an apartment to live on their own while he moves his pregnant mistress into their house. Maybe this is why this is not a children’s book?

I don’t know. I know it’s the 50s but could a father really get away with abandoning his kids like that then? The dragons I can accept. Children living like kept mistresses on their own in a shitty apartment stretches the bounds of credulity somehow. Oh, I sure hope somebody gets eaten soon!

September 7

Ok – finally, we get someone who is a dragon who wants to do dragony things – and it is a child.

I suppose one of the things I’m finding frustrating about this book is that the narrator is on the outside of a dragon experience and is judgmental of dragons and is learning about them through censored experiences. It’s just – frustrating? I wanna go flying through the air with dragons; I don’t want to experience the gaslighting around them. Just put me on a dragon’s back or something already. The doctor’s description of being on mic with one in the air as she transforms is not enough.

September 8

I suppose you have to make a guy a real big villain so we’re chomping at the bit to have him set on fire – but I’ve been rolling my eyes at how awful this father is. I suppose it’s because he’s awful in a cartoonish way. So despite having shown some tenderness to his wife, he just seems like a cartoon bad guy. Set him on fire already, dragon child! I mean, I know it’s the 50s and he feels like a king and doesn’t see what he’s doing but…I don’t know. It’s like – Bret Kavanaugh is an awful human. He’s petulant and whiney and he felt entitled not only to sexually assaulting women in his youth but also to his position on the Supreme Court. And yet – he is a human man, not a cartoon villain. He has done terrible things and if a dragon ate him, I wouldn’t complain but I also understand him. I grew up with boys like him. I know where he’s coming from. I do not know where this kid’s dad is coming from. It feels like the answer is: The 50s! But that’s not enough.

It’s really not that hard to make people want to have a dragon turn a person into toast. They’re not real people. They don’t have to be extra awful for us to feel like he’s asking for it.

I feel like I’d prefer the alternate world in this book, the world where the dragon ladies are flying around having a fabulous time in the mountains or wherever. Instead, we’re stuck in the world that was so terrible, they felt like they had to leave it. Take me to the dragons instead!

September 9

So far in this book, the only anger we ever see is almost entirely misplaced. We saw the mother slap her daughter when she was mad at….the dragons? Her husband? I don’t remember but her kid had nothing to do with it.

Now we have the kid getting very mad at the librarian for talking about her aunt and dragons but she’s not really mad at the librarian deep down. Then she also gets mad at her kid sister/cousin for no reason.

I know people do this but it is not very satisfying to read about. I just want to yell, “You’re all mad at the wrong people! Open your eyes and get it together! Call on the dragons already!”

I have little patience with this.

September 10

Things are kicking into gear with the dragon professor and the heroic librarian. Now, if you’ve listened to my audio book for kids, you’d know that I am a particular fan of librarians so I don’t object to this librarian being amazing. I will say, though, that she seems to be a little too heroic. Like she manages to do EVERYTHING? She’s the star witness of the HUAC committee, the benefactor and head of a whole library system, the leading sponsor of dragon research and she has time to look out for a little girl? I mean. I’m down with dragons existing but superhuman librarians feels like a bridge too far.

The kid now seems to be starting to accept the dragon reality so I suspect I’m going to start liking this book a little more once she actually gets into dragons. It’s like, you chose a book about trains and they spend the first half of the book denying the existence of trains while hinting at them just out of view every so often.  Just get to the trains already! That’s what I’m here for!

September 11

One thing that is driving me absolutely bonkers about this book is the withholding of information. We have a protagonist who seems to want to know what is going on – and in her youth, she is presented with a trove of information and explanations. She has letters written to her, an explanatory pamphlet and the correspondence of her aunt, who she was so curious about.

And this girl puts this stuff in a secret place, doesn’t read it and promptly forgets about it. When she finally remembers it, many years later, she goes to get it and ONCE AGAIN does not read it. Maybe I just don’t understand how a person could not read their own correspondence when it has been explicitly written to them and would provide answers I was seeking? Again, I find dragons easy to accept but to introduce a plot device with a box full of answers and not open it? Come on. Just discover the box later or something. Why you gotta tell me about the documents in the secret compartment if you’re just going to leave them there? It’s very frustrating. Like, I was so relieved when the protagonist finally remembered they were there and went to get them – but then she didn’t read them again?! And then later – when she sees her dragon aunt, her dad gives the kid a box for her from her mom and guess what she doesn’t do AGAIN?! Good lord. What is this child’s problem? She can’t open things??! She can mother her cousin/sister and take college courses in secondary school but she can’t open a goddamn letter or a goddamn box?

Gee whiz. This book is due in two days and I’m at 70%. I could knock it out but maybe I should follow the protagonist’s example and just not open it.

September 12

I am astounded by how this writer has taken the teeth out of dragons. She’s given them handbags and knitting. She has them help out at church picnics. They seem to be just a bunch of nice mid-western ladies who happen to have taken dragon form. Their main gesture is to put their hands /paws to their hearts. Blech. I would prefer to read about one of them tearing a man apart with her talons. But instead, I’m reading about a bunch of nice dragons chaperoning the high school prom. The protagonist’s date seems like a real tool – maybe they’ll burn him up by the end of the night? A girl can dream.

September 13

The book was returned to the source (Queens Public Library) last night. Digital copies just disappear, really. You can’t just hold onto a copy and pay the fine later like you could with a physical copy. So – I think I got to about 75%? And there are now 34 people ahead of me in line for this book. It’s so popular, my library bought two more copies. This is both good and bad news for me. Good, because if dragon content is becoming popular, if people like women turning into dragons, they might end up at my artistic door at some point. Bad, because it’ll be months before I finish reading this book that makes me so mad.

The thing is, I’m realizing maybe folks just aren’t ready for a story where women have genuine power. I’m also reading Nightbitch right now and there’s such a strong prohibition to that protagonist feeling her own rage that she turns into a dog. In that form, she is able to indulge her fury and tear into meat the way she wants to. I have not heard anyone talking about this book but I like it loads more than When Women Were Dragons, despite them sharing an annoying special interest in mothers. But still – all these stories are within the confines of continuing to live in the current messed up patriarchy. It’s possible that a lot of people are not ready to imagine how that might turn around. Ah well. I mean, I am. And so are a handful of people I know. But –

Anyway – temporary conclusion until I move up 35 places in line – I do not think Barnhill stole my idea. Or if my work was somehow her source material, she completely missed the point. Knitting dragons!?! Church picnic dragons?! Pah. Excuse me while I go set something on fire.

You know what this dragon is NOT doing? Knitting. Not that I don’t think knitters are bad-ass. I just – prefer my dragons more dangerous.

This post was brought to you by my patrons on Patreon.

They also bring you the podcast version of the blog.

It’s also called Songs for the Struggling Artist 

You can find the podcast on iTunesStitcherSpotify or wherever you get your podcasts.

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Every podcast features a song at the end. Some of those songs are on Spotifymy websiteReverbNation, Deezer and iTunes

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Do I Make Media?
June 15, 2022, 10:15 pm
Filed under: art, podcasting, writing | Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

For jury duty, we had to fill out information about ourselves that the lawyers then used as conversation points during jury selection. The first lawyer looked at my occupation (writer, podcaster, theatre maker, performer, Feldenkrais practitioner) and said something that I couldn’t understand at first. He said, as a statement, not a question, “You work in (unintelligible).” As I tried to work out what he’d said, he asked, “You’re a podcaster?”

This I knew what to do with. Yes. I am a podcaster. And in the meantime, my brain had managed to process the word he’d said earlier, which was “media.” I have never, in my life, thought of myself as working in media, which explains why it threw me for a loop. I suppose it might technically be true in that “media” is a kind of broad category but conceptually, it is so far from how I think of my work that he might as well have asked me if I work on Planet Earth. I mean, I do. But that’s not how I usually think about it. I was struck by the discrepancy of the confidence he had in proclaiming that I work in media and my own complete bafflement by the category. And I mean, sure, he’s a lawyer who works on civil cases so maybe overconfidence in categories is an occupational habit but I am genuinely confused by this categorization.

I suppose to his mind, people only work in large categories. He works in law. He’s pursuing a malpractice suit so he’s watching out for people who work in the medical field. He sees “writer,” he doesn’t think “Art,” he thinks “media.” And I guess media was an approved category for him because I got selected for jury service. (More on this in future posts!)

But while I make things that I suppose might be called media, in that I make things in one medium or another that might make their way to the public, when people rail against the media, I don’t even feel slightly implicated. I suppose because I am entirely independent and generally just make things because I feel like it, not because anyone told me to.

But what this experience has made me realize is how foreign my self-identifiers are to the bulk of average Americans. This lawyer would never look at my list of occupations and think, “artist!” For him, I would guess the only artists he thinks of as artists are the ones with paintbrushes and berets. And I think there are certainly more of him than me.

I live in a kind of artist bubble where I hang out with other artists, where I talk with people who actually understand artists even if they’re not artists themselves so I can sometimes forget how the rest of the world tends to operate. Artist isn’t an occupation for them. The expectation is that you have an employer and you do labor for them.

The other juror form we filled out for this situation offered no category for freelancer on its list of types of jobs. It was full time, part time, per diem/commission or unemployed. This is a whole system (that every citizen is likely to make some contact with) that misses out a giant (and growing) category of the work force. It’s not just artists who freelance, of course, but it’s an equally baffling category for a form within such a big system.

You start to see how systems are built and how easy it is to exclude people with categories. Or to include them in categories with which they not only don’t identify but that don’t even make sense to them.

I can see how this lawyer landed on “media.” Probably the only podcasts he’s listened to are Serial and The Daily. Maybe The Joe Rogan Experience, lord help us. To his mind (and a lot of people’s) – podcasts are just another channel from major news outlets. They’re not something a person might make with a mic and a laptop while sitting under a bed. (It’s a loft. But still.) The picture this guy has for what I do is very different than the reality. He thinks I make media. I think I make art and work about art, which okay, I guess is technically media – but I sure don’t think of it that way.

Is this media? It’s certainly using MIXED MEDIA. It is somehow connected to a larger organization so it may be a message for it?

This post was brought to you by my patrons on Patreon.

They also bring you the podcast version of the blog.

It’s also called Songs for the Struggling Artist 

You can find the podcast on iTunesStitcherSpotify or wherever you get your podcasts.

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Every podcast features a song at the end. Some of those songs are on Spotifymy websiteReverbNation, Deezer and iTunes

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Want to help me make “media”?

Become my patron on Patreon.

Click HERE to Check out my Patreon Page

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If you liked the blog and would like to give a dollar (or more!) put it in the PayPal digital hat. https://www.paypal.me/strugglingartist

Or buy me a “coffee” (or several!) on Kofi – ko-fi.com/emilyrainbowdavis



Every Word I Wrote
August 29, 2021, 6:32 pm
Filed under: art, Creative Process, writing | Tags: , , ,

After the death of an old friend, I went on an excavation of old writings in my computer. I went back 24 years to find a poem I’d written about this friend and waded through so much writing I hadn’t thought about in decades. The thing that stood out to me about this process and encountering the self that made it all was how much I used to believe that what I made would eventually be read or seen. I didn’t necessarily think all those poems would be published – certainly I didn’t feel that poetry was my best medium – but I did think, oh, one day I’ll have a partner who’ll want to read everything I ever wrote or some writerly soul friend who’ll comb through my entire oeuvre and help me bring things to light. I used to imagine that everyone would want to hear every detail of my trip abroad, as well. People used to give slideshows of their journeys overseas!

Now I can’t imagine burdening anyone with all of that. There is no one who wants to read every word I ever wrote. It’s too much reading!

I think I used to think that my true friends would be the ones who listened to every song, read every poem or play or essay or novel I might write. But I have several very dear friends who have never done most those things. Most of my closest friends don’t listen to my podcasts or read this blog. Twenty-four years ago, I would have taken that very personally. Now I know that everyone is very busy and I am very prolific and no one has time for all that.

I used to imagine that theatre companies were sitting around wishing for the perfect play to fall in their laps so they could produce something new and undiscovered. Now I know too much about how the sausage is made to imagine that such a thing could happen. I’d have a better shot of having my work performed somewhere if I were a reality TV star than if I had all the best playwriting credentials. (I also do not have all the best playwriting credentials.) Almost all places that take submissions for plays do whatever they can to limit the numbers of plays that come to them. Folks in powerful positions in the American theatre for the most part do their very best to avoid having to read new plays by undiscovered writers. Everywhere that counts would 100% prefer to NOT have to read my plays than read them. In the old days, I thought someone would read something I’d written, say, “I LOVE this! Where can I read more?” This has never happened. In fact – the numbers of times someone has asked me to send them a play they could read and then after I sent it, never mentioned it again, far out numbers any other count. Do they hate it and just not want to say anything? Possibly. But I think it’s more likely they just never read it. Because even people whose job it is to read plays for a living don’t have time for all that.

I wonder if this sense of perspective is a sign of artistic maturity. I shudder to think about all the things I shared with people, expecting something, hopeful for some words of confirmation of my genius or whatever. But I also know that that young artist made a lot of things with the passionate belief that she was making gold and that belief really kept her going. I know no one needs me to make the things I make and only a handful of people want to see/read/listen to/experience a handful of the things I create. It’s not nearly so hopeful and gimlet-eyed as my younger self’s experience but it’s also a lot less raw. I’m a lot harder to devastate than I used to be. I am so accustomed to indifference; I can walk forward in the face of it and it will not stop me. I don’t take it personally any more. People are busy. Most will never read, experience or listen to my work. Doesn’t stop me. Won’t stop me. Just ever forward like a shark.

I suspect that mature artists mostly don’t thrust their work in the arms of those who do not want it. We’ve all seen the looks of terror on someone’s face when we ask if they’ll read a play or our novel or screenplay or whatever it is. I’m sure I have made that same face. There is no terror like the terror of having to give someone feedback on a terrible piece of writing. But – if you want to get into a writer’s good graces, you could ask to read something and then actually read it and then say, “I LOVED this! Can I read something else?”

Actual image of me keeping going. Ever forward.

This post was brought to you by my patrons on Patreon.

They also bring you the podcast version of the blog.

It’s also called Songs for the Struggling Artist 

You can find the podcast on iTunes, Stitcher, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts.

screen-shot-2017-01-10-at-1-33-28-am

Every podcast features a song at the end. Some of those songs are on Spotify, my websiteReverbNation, Deezer and iTunes

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Want to help me make things people want to read?

Become my patron on Patreon.

Click HERE to Check out my Patreon Page

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If you liked the blog and would like to give a dollar (or more!) put it in the PayPal digital hat. https://www.paypal.me/strugglingartist

Or buy me a coffee on Kofi – ko-fi.com/emilyrainbowdavis



The Benefits of No One Caring About Your Work

When a friend of a friend asked me for some advice about starting a blog and Patreon, I told her the truth – that most writers struggle to find an audience and the internet is largely indifferent to our work. I realized after I hit send, that this might not be the kind of advice a writer might want to hear. I mean, I know I expected that the internet would fall at my feet and deliver me instant recognition when I first began writing and posting music there. I think imagined that there were people who spent their days just running their fishermen’s nets through the internet’s wide oceans looking for gems. This is what I thought despite the fact that I never used the internet that way myself, nor did I know anyone else who did. But I suppose hope springs eternal? Anyway, there are no gem finding internet fishing boats and putting things up on the internet is largely like going outside in a thunderstorm and shouting your latest sonnet. It’s not likely to be heard or even noticed. Very few people, besides the ones closest to you, are likely to care about a piece you put up on the internet.

This might seem harsh but there are benefits to no one giving any fucks about your work. I mean. Let me pause for a second to say that a lot of people care about my work now. Not all of it, for sure – but I have been at this long enough that I am no longer operating in total anonymity on the internet in most places. I don’t want to underplay my own success. But I do have a lot of things on the internet that in all the likelihood no one has ever seen. There are over a thousand posts on my Hamlet blog that no one has ever clicked on – or at least that have never registered as viewed. They’re mostly the tiny words, which are actually my favorite posts – but no one has a reason to click on them, so they remain as invisible as any other neglected post on the internet. And I have a following. That Hamlet blog has over 107,000 views altogether. But…even so.

But I was here to tell you why it’s good when no one cares. It’s good because you can really grow in peace. The pressure of publishing where a person MIGHT see it means that you’re working on your writing (or your art or whatever) and growing it and developing it outside of what can be a bright spotlight.

It is exciting when posts go a little viral. It is a roller coaster to watch stats and comments roll in. But it is also a distraction from writing. When no one cares what you write, you can develop and share your own voice without worrying so much about what people are saying about it.

And in retrospect, I’m very glad that no one was reading the very first blogs I wrote here. They weren’t that good yet. I think being out here all the time without too much push back has led me to discover my own particular style and confidence in my voice.

There are a LOT of gems in my internet corner and many of them have never been caught in anyone’s net. This one is still one of my favorites and it never got the attention I felt it warranted. And I love this little bit from The Hamlet Project that has only two views. But somehow even though not everything gets seen – the gems do sort of add up. And occasionally one will get caught up in a random google search and become accidentally popular. For example, I tossed off a piece called How to Congratulate an Artist a couple of years ago and now it gets a handful of views every day. I could not possibly explain it to you. It’s not because it’s a great piece. It’s not. It’s just accidentally google-able and the more people click on it, the more people click on it. I guess google is the internet fisherman.

And all of the things do add up to a rather substantial body of work, which is maybe the biggest benefit. I have written a LOT of things and the evidence is right there on the internet. Some gems, some fish, some old boots. But a substantial body of work, regardless. Benefit #1.

This post was brought to you by my generous patrons on Patreon.

They also bring you the podcast version of the blog.

It’s also called Songs for the Struggling Artist.

You can find the podcast on iTunes, Stitcher, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts.

screen-shot-2017-01-10-at-1-33-28-am

Every podcast features a song at the end. Some of those songs are on Spotify, my websiteReverbNation, Deezer and iTunes

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Want to be one of the jewels of the ocean?

Become my patron on Patreon.

Click HERE to Check out my Patreon Page

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If you liked the blog and would like to give a dollar (or more!) put it in the PayPal digital hat. https://www.paypal.me/strugglingartist

Or buy me a coffee on Kofi – ko-fi.com/emilyrainbowdavis



Charting the Journey of a Creative Ship
January 24, 2020, 12:18 am
Filed under: art, Creative Process, theatre, writing | Tags: , , , , ,

Even as I wrote the piece that shortly follows, I knew it was going to be true only for the moment. I knew that whatever happened before, I would feel differently after. I just didn’t know how. I wrote this about a month ago before a reading of my work and you can be in the future with me and know that it went as well as it could go. I saw very clearly what needed to change, as well as what format it should probably take and this story has a happy ending. But I thought it would still be worth sharing for those of you who might be standing at that precipice I was standing on when I wrote this.

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Tomorrow I will hear actors read the piece I’ve spent the better part of this year working on. I’m weirdly nervous. I’m not worried about what the people there will think or what they might say. I’m worried that I might discover that it’s not what I think it is – that it’s terrible.

As I wrote it, I never thought it was terrible. I was excited about it, actually. I never tell people about what I’m writing but this one, I blabbed about to several people. It evolved from what I thought was a short story into a novella or maybe a play. I’ve been with it all the way and never questioned it. It’s flowed the whole time. The other piece I’m writing right now is a different feeling entirely. I sweat every scene. After I finish one I think, “Wow. This is terrible. This play is garbage.” I write through that feeling because I’m convinced enough by the idea to suffer through some garbage drafts. I hope that by writing some garbage, I will find some jewels. There is no one way to be in a creative boat, trying to get somewhere and I suppose there has to be a “It might be terrible” moment, no matter how well the piece has gone from the top.

Coupled with the fear that my work will be terrible is an excitement around it. Being engaged in a creative process is the best feeling on earth, as far as I’m concerned and that good feeling also includes the terror that it will be terrible. The best part is when it’s really cooking and you’re in the middle of something exciting, when the piece is full of possibilities.

There’s a real possibility that this new thing the actors are reading tomorrow won’t translate – that what I imagined I created isn’t what’s on the page. In forms I’m more comfortable and familiar with, I have a clearer idea of how a thing will go down. I am more or less able to predict how the comedies I write will go down. This new thing is a new form for me – so I don’t know for sure. I think it’s gonna be good but it’s possible I’m wrong. Standing on that line in the middle of wondering is part of the joy of creating as well as the terror. Where’s it going to fall?

And how much work will it need to salvage it? Will it be a total overhaul or a little fix up? Or will it be unsalvageable? This is unlikely – though certainly a possibility. But even if it is unsalvageable – it will have been worth it. The pleasure and excitement I felt while making it were more than I’ve felt in a while and for that alone, it will have been worth it.

This post was brought to you by my generous patrons on Patreon.

They also bring you the podcast version of the blog.

You can find the podcast on iTunes, Stitcher, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts.

screen-shot-2017-01-10-at-1-33-28-am

Every podcast features a song at the end. Some of those songs are on Spotify, my websiteReverbNation, Deezer and iTunes

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Want to help me navigate the rough waters of the creative life?

Become my patron on Patreon.

Click HERE to Check out my Patreon Page

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If you liked the blog and would like to give a dollar (or more!) put it in the PayPal digital hat. https://www.paypal.me/strugglingartist

Or buy me a coffee on Kofi – ko-fi.com/emilyrainbowdavis



All the Times I Wrote My Last Thing

As I thumbed through the first draft of the zine that I make every year for my Patreon patrons, I thought “I actually wrote some good stuff this year.” In the same breath, I thought “That’s probably all I have. I’ve written all the best things. The well has run dry. I’ve just been coasting the last month and I don’t see how I could possibly get my mojo back. It was nice while it lasted but all I have left to write are sad documentary posts about the rejections I receive.”

I’d worry that I was in the middle of writer’s block if I hadn’t felt this same way many times before. I have felt this way and then a few months later, wrote something I was very proud of. It is normal, in fact, when you’re not feeling particularly inspired to be convinced that that feeling is permanent and you will never be inspired again. I felt it when I finished my novel. I feel it whenever I finish a play. I feel it about a couple of times a year with the blogs. Every time I write a song, I’m sure it’s the last one. Last year, I wrote a lullaby, brushed off my hands and said, “That was a good one to end on.” But just a few weeks ago, I wrote a song for the year’s final podcast.

I don’t know why this is a pattern. But I don’t think I’m alone in this. The fear of dry wells may have something to do with respecting the capriciousness of the muses. They’re not always going to show up and they’re not going to always give you your best. Sometimes I write good things. Sometimes I write mediocre things. On some bad days I write bad things. I show up at the page every day and write something whether I feel inspired or not. Sometimes something that I think is pretty routine catches fire in someone else’s imagination and goes. Sometimes I write something that I think is marvelous and it disappears like a puff of smoke.

I know it is not up to me to decide what is good or bad or even what comes out of me. I just write and release. I make the paper airplanes and float them out the window. Sometimes they fly because I’ve expertly crafted them but most times they fly because a powerful breeze appeared at just the right moment. I won’t stop making my planes just because I don’t feel inspired. I often feel that the plane in my hands will be my last…but it never is. I’ve made enough Final Planes to know that I probably won’t make my final final one until I make my final one, if you know what I mean.

Anyway – if you’re sure your well has run dry and you’ve made your final piece of art, just know that I understand, I sympathize and I don’t believe it for a second. It’s not over til it’s over.

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You can find the podcast on iTunes, Stitcher, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts.

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Every podcast features a song at the end. Some of those songs are on Spotify, my websiteReverbNation, Deezer and iTunes

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Applying to More Stuff Means More Rejections, Natch.
October 31, 2019, 12:41 am
Filed under: Rejections | Tags: , , , , , , ,

Because they don’t have deadlines, I’d gotten a little bit lax about submitting my book to literary agents. (Also, my fire for it kind of went out.) But I had a good chat with a fellow querying writer and it inspired me to get back to querying. Lately, I have been querying a new literary agent practically every day. I have found that habitualizing things is the only way to get stuff like this done.

I write everyday because I write every day. There are many other things that I do every day because I have set up that I do them every day. Querying literary agents can be one of those things.

If I can keep this up, I expect to reach my goal of 100 rejection notices this year before the year is out. But the question is CAN I keep this up?

The problem with this new habit is that it yields me a whole lot more rejections. Round about the fifth or sixth rejection, I sort of lost the will to keep doing this every day. I’m going to have to figure out a way to keep at it in bursts, I think.

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In other rejection news:

The Willapa Air rejection sent an email declaring some email trouble as the reason they were attaching their rejection rather than just sending it.

Just what I wanted – a two step rejection revealing process.

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I appreciate that the UCross rejection notice has the rejection right in the first line so I don’t even have to open the email to know it is a rejection. “We regret to inform you” is all I needed to know what was in there.

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I wrote a story about a circus because this contest wanted stories about circuses and it seemed like something I could do. So I did. Months after I submitted it, I still hadn’t heard anything so I went ahead and submitted that circus story to a publication with a ghost theme. (My circus story featured a lot of ghosts.) Still haven’t heard from the circus contest but the ghost publication has already sent their rejection notice.

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I entered a couple of writing contests for fiction. The Santa Fe Writers Project and Craft both sent their rejections recently. I had no expectation that I would win them but sometimes all the No can be a little bit relentless.

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*Wondering why I’m telling you about rejections? Read my initial post about this here and my patron’s idea about that here.

 

This post was brought to you by my generous patrons on Patreon.

They also bring you the podcast version of the blog.

You can find the podcast on iTunes, Stitcher, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts.

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Every podcast features a song at the end. Some of those songs are on Spotify, my websiteReverbNation, Deezer and iTunes

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Finishing Things
August 22, 2019, 5:50 pm
Filed under: art, Creative Process, writing | Tags: , , , ,

When I first started making things, I thought the hard part of making things was the making of things. I was always reading about people who never wrote their novels or their plays or songs or whatever. From reading all these creativity books, I got the sense that just FINISHING something would put me ahead of the pack. This sense is often reinforced, even now. Just the other day I was listening to a podcast about writing and the guest and the host agreed that 95% of writers don’t finish their manuscripts. They made it sound like, just by finishing something, you were already well on your way to success.

But I’ve been finishing things my whole creative life and I’m no closer to the front of the pack than I was when I began. Despite a large body of work behind me, I still feel like I’m running like mad to keep up.

I finish things. It’s not that special. I’ve got, just sitting on my hard drive – four novels, six short stories, three children’s picture books, twelve full length plays and eight short ones. There are also a couple of complete series of poems. I finish one of these blogs approximately every five days and record a song and podcast for them once a week, as well. Given all the hype given to finishing things, I think, early on, I thought a marching band might burst through the wall and play me a congratulatory fight song every time I finished something. But that has yet to happen.

In fact, if I want to see any kind of acknowledgment for ANY thing I create, I have generally had to create some kind of structure for it myself. Wanted to see my plays on stage? I had to produce them. Wanted to share my novel for young people with more people than I could read it to at a time? I recorded a podcast of it.
Wanted anyone to read my thoughts about struggling artistry or the state of the arts or feminism or whatever? No one would publish such things – I had to start a blog.

Part of all of this is that I am impatient. I do not want to wait to be discovered. I do not want to wait to submit to all the appropriate authorities or even wait to find out who the proper authorities are. I recognize that my “I’ll just do it myself” impulse is sometimes a block to finding someone to do it for me and therefore a block to a standard sort of success. Maybe if I were better at submitting and waiting, I might have found some other path after finishing – but waiting is just not my way. Finishing things IS. And I guess I feel like I was sold a false bill of goods at some point. Somewhere I got the idea that finishing things would make me so special that success would be more or less guaranteed. It is not.

I mean – sure – finishing stuff is important. An unfinished novel, play, screenplay, story, essay, whatever, is for sure going nowhere. But a finished thing can just as easily go nowhere. I guess a lot of people have to believe that the marching band will come in when they finally finish their thing – just to keep them motivated. But I have no such illusion anymore. I know that whatever satisfaction I have at the completion of a work has to come from the work itself and not whatever goodies I imagine it might yield me.

I read Marge Piercy’s “For the Young Who Want to” when I was young and wanted to and her line about work being its own reward has been strong within me ever since. Unfortunately, her poem didn’t tell me what to do when I finished something – so I had to work that out for myself. I’ll share it with you, in case you need that bit, too. Yes, finish something. Then start the next thing. And if you happen to get a marching band, enjoy it! Then start the next thing.

This post was brought to you by my generous patrons on Patreon.

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You can find the podcast on iTunes, Stitcher, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts.

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Every podcast features a song at the end. Some of those songs are on Spotify, my websiteReverbNation, Deezer and iTunes

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The Hamlet Project – ‘Tis a knavish piece of work

The café where I came up with the idea is long gone. I think it’s three to four businesses ago in that spot now. But the project that was born there took me through eight to nine years.

It started in that café out of a need to goose my creative practice. I was finding my writing process to be a little less smooth than I liked. When I turned on the faucet, the creativity didn’t always flow the way it used to.

I felt I needed a structure within my daily practice that might drop me in to a better state of flow. Hamlet came to me because – at the time – I was working toward playing the role. I had a goal of getting back to acting and Hamlet was the top of that mountain.

I thought if I wrote in response to Hamlet, I’d tackle two goals at once. I could prepare to play Hamlet while goosing my writing practice.

I didn’t play Hamlet, really, and now I’m probably too old for it – but I did perform a soliloquy for my friend’s Hamlet rave performance and my other friend and I organized a reading wherein I got to prepare for and read the part. So I scratched the itch, even if I never held Yorick’s skull in front of an audience.

As for the writing practice – well, it was always a practice for me. It was part of a process to get me into a state of flow for whatever I thought was my “real” writing for the day. So it served me very well in that respect.

I’m not sure why I decided to share the process, really. I think I figured that only a handful of people would read it, like everything else I put on the internet, so it wasn’t really a big deal. I think I was interested in a kind of transparency of creative process so why not?

As of this writing, The Hamlet Project has received 94,113 views – so, despite my not paying it much attention – it has become the most seen thing I do. Oh, the irony!

When I wrote the last line in my notebook a few weeks ago, I thought I might feel some sense of finality – like I’d just closed a show or something. But I didn’t, really. I gave it some ceremony – just to mark the moment – but the next day, I just began the same process from the first line of Cymbeline.

So what did learn from spending a little bit of every day with a line from Hamlet? First and foremost – I am not as close a reader as I would like to think. The thing is – I was already very familiar with Hamlet. My first acting job was in a touring production. I taught it fairly often in schools. The play was not unfamiliar when I decided to dive deep into it. But writing in response to single lines made it almost impossible to gloss over meaning in the ways that I was (apparently) wont to gloss. It became very clear that I had previously been pretty satisfied to just have the gist of the line. Working with single lines forced me to not cut those understanding corners.

The process of reading so closely led me to some surprising interpretative places. I developed a whole theory about Marcellus – which caused me to really wonder where he disappeared to. Previously, I couldn’t have made much distinction between Marcellus, Barnardo and Francisco. By the time I got through Marcellus’ scenes, I was ready to write his own play.

I also uncovered a fair amount of experiments I’d want to see. There are a lot of What Ifs. What if that scene between Claudius and Laertes were played as a Vaudeville routine? What if Horatio was the spy? Not just Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. What if Hamlet Senior had killed his father to become king? What if we saw that? What if Claudius saw it and we saw him see it? Do we develop sympathy for him?

There are so many imaginary productions and/or production moments that I found I wanted to see. This is kind of interesting because after all these years of seeing so much Shakespeare, I find it hard to get excited to see my twentieth Hamlet or seven millionth Romeo and Juliet. But it’s clear that I’d be 100% bought in to see any number of text based experiments.

Other themes that came up a lot were related to Shakespeare’s genius with the little lines. I was moved, over and over, by all the lines that seem like they’re no big deal but are actually packing extraordinary narrative or poetic punch.

My relationships with the characters didn’t change much (except for good old Marcellus.) I suppose I grew to sympathize with Ophelia instead of just being annoyed by her obedience. And I have some thoughts about that English ambassador who comes in at the end and I never paid him any mind before. There are a lot of characters who I’d enjoy seeing receive the Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead treatment – and getting their own plays.

Some of my favorite moments were the lines that inspired their own longer narratives – separate from Hamlet. There are stories about a carp, a monster and a witch that bubbled up out of the source. There’s also a list of rejected ways for Laertes to kill Hamlet with an organ that still cracks me up. I did a fair amount of making myself laugh.

Most of the lines ended up as just a conversation between me and the sentence. There are a lot of entries of me trying to work it out in front of you. I’m showing my work – like a math problem.

That’s probably the Shakespeare educator in me. I am never interested in explaining a line to students but I can happily take someone through a process of figuring it out. A lot of lines are just me figuring it out.

There’s a lot of project here. There are a lot of lines in Hamlet! But in a way, that’s why the internet is a good place for this. It is much too much to read all at once. I think it would be a rather relentless book. Words connected to line after line start to become too much after a while. But as a place you can just click around, it’s a reasonably fun playground. It’s a place where, if you felt like reading JUST Polonius’ lines – you could.

It’s done now. And also not done. I’m still uploading lines I wrote about two years ago. It may be a while before I reach the end of the play on the internet but my writing process is complete. The uploading goes on.

If you were one (or many) of the 94,113 views, thank you. It means a lot to be seen.

The rest is silence.
Or – actually – the rest just needs to be uploaded. Then it will be silence.

This post was brought to you by my generous patrons on Patreon.

They also bring you the podcast version of the blog.

You can find the podcast on iTunes, Stitcher, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts.

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Every podcast features a song at the end. Some of those songs are on Spotify, my websiteReverbNation, Deezer and iTunes

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I Am Literally Making All This Up

When I apply for artist residencies, I am almost always asked to describe the project I would work on while there. Sometimes a rather substantial word count is suggested for such things. I suspect that the application lives or dies based on my ability to pitch a possible project. (Mostly my applications die – so it would seem I am not great at this part. Either that or the application ACTUALLY lives or dies based on the résumé, in which case the project may not matter at all.) But the truth is, whatever I say in these project descriptions, I am just making things up.

When I say I’m going to work on my Witch/Hysteria play and then list all the things I’m going to be doing, all those things are things I made up as I wrote the application. The only exceptions are when I list things I have already been doing. For example, in the applications for which I’ve applied with this Witch/Hysteria play, (Failed to Burn,) I can tell them I’ll be reading Malleus Maleficarum and The Discoverie of Witches because I have already begun to do that. I’ve been applying with this play everywhere – not because it’s my top choice for development but because I think I have a decent pitch for it and that pitch is not one I have to make up anew.

As I write this, I am in the middle of one of my DIY writer’s retreats. My friend offered me her house for the week so I happily arrived without a single plan for what I would work on. I’ve recently finished several projects so it wasn’t clear at first what I was ready to dive into. I’m on the Waitlist for a Residency where I said I’d work on Failed to Burn there so I’m keeping that project in reserve. Just in case. That left me with 5 to 6 projects in various stages of abandonment. They were all equally sticky, tricky and in dire need of the gift of dedicated time. How to choose?

None of them was calling to me particularly. I tried to reason my way through it. Maybe I should choose the thing that was the least pitchable. Maybe I should choose the oldest. Maybe I should choose the one that had gotten furthest along. You can see how I might be able to spend my whole residency deciding instead of writing.

In the end, I found a random decision generator and put all the choices into it. WheelDecider chose a project for me and I was delighted with what it chose so I went with it. (If I found I was not delighted with the decider’s choice, I would have removed it from the selection and then spun the wheel again.) I have happily been working on it ever since. I don’t have a plan for it. There was no outline and no proposal. The play is telling me what I need to do. It is the optimal way for me to grapple with a creative work. If I were to retrospectively write down all the things I actually did to develop this project, I’m sure it would make an impressive project proposal but I’ve already done them and I could not have known what I needed to do until I was knee deep into the project.

There’s not a single thing I could apply for with this bit of truth. “I would like to come to your prestigious artist retreat without any particular project in mind and just spin the decision wheel when I get there to make the choice. Or I could spin the wheel before I come. That’s okay too. But not too long before. I’m not always sure what I’m going to be working on 6 months in advance.” That application would stand even less of a chance than my already slim chances.

But just once I’d like to able to apply to something with a list of possibilities instead of a well formulated “plan” for some work’s development. I mean, the fact is, for me – if I get as far as a reading list, or a plan, or an idea of how I am going to proceed, it will be very hard for me to not just go ahead and proceed. I don’t have plans for working, I just work. I am literally just making all this up. Just like the people who make up these applications for me to fill in. Just like everyone with everything. We are all just making all this up.

 

This post was brought to you by my generous patrons on Patreon.

They also bring you the podcast version of the blog.

You can find the podcast on iTunes, Stitcher, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts.

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Every podcast features a song at the end. Some of those songs are on Spotify, my websiteReverbNation, Deezer and iTunes

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