“We feel lost and we feel found…”

Some songs just stick with me, sometimes. I don’t know why that is.

It seems like songs — well, some songs — are more like places. They occupy a physical place in my mind. They’re snapshots of the geography of my dreams. And I find myself returning to them again and again — a place where I’m safe, protected.

The word haven means “a place of shelter and safety; refuge; asylum.” It comes from the words for port and harbor — it means a place you can go, to escape the stormy seas.

At any rate, here’s “Sleep” from Amanaska

Happy Tunesday everyone…

“I go under the earth and listen to the dead people talk…”

“…they tell stories, they know it all. They tell stories of you.”

Odd little synchronicities have been forming around my next book.* I’ve been struggling with the story a bit, trying to find traction. Discovering this song is the latest little nudge that I’m on the right track…

* Technically, it’s my next-next-next book. The Red Boy will be out this fall. Then 430 will follow. And then after that, it’ll be this new book that I’ve only been referring to as The Dish.

“I wish I knew where to start, how to give what you dream…”

For whatever reason, some tracks just stick with me. They become a touchstone. This is one of them.

For me, this song is always going to evoke Christmas 2011, those cold winter nights right before my two oldest children returned from five months in Ghana.

I’m coming back to it now because, well, they’re leaving again. One is heading back to Ghana, the other to Hungary. And it will be Christmas before we’re all together again.

This doesn’t make me happy. But this song has a comforting shape I can hold onto, something to keep in my pocket and take out and run my fingers over it when I need to.

So here’s Pelbo’s “Join Their Game”

“It must be my lungs you were breathing from…”

Happy Tunesday, everyone!

(Yup. I’m not above a pun. I won’t apologize.)

It’s been a bit quiet around here lately, mainly due to the fact that I’m pinned under a massive amount of work right now and, as the man says, “my dreams they got to chase me ‘case I don’t get sleep.”

My buddy Chez has a daily fixture on his blog where he shares the latest music that’s caught his ear. I really like finding new music — one of the reasons why I like the radio feature on Spotify so darn much — so I thought I might swipe Chez’s idea and put it in place here (at least, on a weekly basis).

He posted the video for Maya Jane Coles’ “Everything” earlier this week. Which then led me down the rabbit hole of all things related to Maya Jane Coles. Which means all I’m listening to right now is Maya Jane Coles.

So, here’s “Everything” (featuring outstanding vocals from Karin Park). Great song. Mildly disturbing video.


The Kitchen Sink Post

(The weather has drifted down into the cooler temperatures, slowing everything down a little bit more each day — including this this blog post, which I’ve rewritten and added to three or four six times to reflect the changing reality over the past couple of weeks month. And so, I’m hurrying to post it before anything else happens again to force another rewrite.)

Sharing your work with people online produces a variety of outcomes. One of my favorites is waking up to fan mail from someone on the other side of the world. One of my least favorites is waking up to rejection notices, like I did a few mornings ago.

In related news, my “Chimera” project is on the market for anyone looking for a good science-fiction/action series. Otherwise, it’s going back in the file cabinet and will likely serve as raw material for the novel I’ll write after I finish the one I’m going to write after I finish the one I’m writing now.

Go ahead and try diagramming that last sentence, kids. But don’t blame me if your head explodes.

Speaking of recursive oddities: The advertising agency I work for specializes in differentiation — that is, helping our clients identify and promote the things that make them stand out in the marketplace. Our corporate tagline is “Exactly Like Nobody Else” and the company bought all of us very nice Land’s End shirts with the logo and tagline embroidered on them. The irony of everyone here having the same shirt reading “Exactly Like Nobody Else” wasn’t immediately apparent, but it’s now impossible to ignore — particularly on days like today, when seven out of the ten employees all wore our shirts. The atomic weight of such recursive irony could collapse around us and form a black hole. Of shirts.

In my last post, I mentioned I was finishing up a new play called “Drawing Away”. Well, it’s all done and you can find out more about it (and download a copy) on the Works page. If you do give it a look, let me know what you think.

The poster for the original production, designer unknown.With that out of the way, the next revision on my list was some long-overdue refinements to my adaptation of “The Odyssey”. A week or so back, someone who worked on the original production at Northwestern College contacted me to see if the script was available for production at a theatre in Illinois . . . which put just the right amount of heat under my efforts to get things cleaned up. I got everything done just in time to send it off to their selection committee last week and I’ve also put up a copy here for everyone else. As always, let me know what you think.

It was interesting, coming back to those scripts after such a long time. As I said in my post last week, “Drawing Away” is a reboot of the first play I ever wrote — taking the basic premise and reworking it around a slightly different plot and cast of characters. I ended up using much more of the original dialogue than I’d planned; through no grand planning on my part, it just seemed to fit better into the plot than I expected. All in all, I like this version better. But check back in another twenty years.

Tightening up “The Odyssey” presented a different set of challenges. By the time it got to the rehearsal process, I’d done nearly fifteen drafts on the script. The original text, of course, is a massive and wandering story — and I spent most of my time trying to figure out how to do it justice without getting lost forever among the twist and turns. Coming back to it now, I was pleasantly surprised at how well I’d managed on the whole thing. Here’s hoping the selection committee agrees.

(The production at Northwestern was a lot of fun. The music in particular has stayed with me. The composer did an excellent job with the score and I’ve always regretted losing touch with him before I could get a copy of it for myself. Reading back through the script again, I could still hear the haunting voices singing . . . fortunately, I have a DVD of a brush-up rehearsal and was able to pull the scene out and share it here. These, of course, are the sirens…)

…deur’ ag’ iôn, poluain’ Oduseu,
mega kudos Achaiônn, nêa katastêson,
hina nôiterên op akousêis.
ou gar pô tis têide parêlase nêi melainêi,
prin g’ hêmeôn meligêrun
apo stomatôn op’ akousai,
all’ ho ge terpsamenos
neitai kai pleiona eidôs…

The next major revision will probably be an adaptation I did of Calderon’s “Life is a Dream” from a few years back. Once I catch my breath, I mean.

It seems strange to think of it now, but there was a time when I was convinced that I was only a playwright. With the exception of the occasional poem or short story, everything I wrote was meant to be performed by live human beings in front of live human beings. This wasn’t by design or even preference, however. Everything that took shape in my head naturally seemed to gravitate towards the stage. There were a couple of odd things here and there — good ideas I still haven’t figured out how to write in any form — but it was overwhelmingly obvious that I was a playwright, first and foremost. For whatever reason that was where my creative energy naturally flowed (some people have offered their theories about this but I won’t get into those here).

Somewhere along the way and 30+ plays later, the tide has shifted . . . well, broadened might be a better way to describe it. There are a lot of different tributaries branching off of that flow now. If anything, it’s the theatre branch that’s the weakest these days (the same theories mentioned above provide a compelling reason for this as well).

I’m not complaining. But it does leave me with a lot of work that’s never seen the light of day . . . yet.

Recently I went through my files and cleaned everything up, reorganizing forty years of detritus as best I could. There were lots of fun discoveries — plays and stories and poems I’d forgotten about, most of which were forgotten for a good reason. And there were plenty of little scraps from past lives that left me cringing — but like the bad writing, it’s all just prelude to where I am now. And here is good.

But there was some good stuff, too. As well as a surprising number of things that I just flat out don’t remember writing at all.

Which has left me wondering what to do with it all. Apparently I’m not the only one. My colleague Tony Delgrosso recently posted he was gathering up all his oddments at The Half Empty Moleskine and it’s pieces like this one that make me glad he is.

The Gospel of ThomasThe regular (and patient) readers of this blog know I’ve been making noises for a while about a new podcast. The good news (pun intended) is that it’s out there and now you can hear some of those literary orphans that have been hiding in the back of the file cabinet.

There are a few episodes already, ready for download. If you want the fancy .M4V iTunes version, click here to subscribe. If you’re more interested in the RSS feed, you can get that here. If you want to get your grubby little mitts on the individual files or an MP3 version, they’re right here waiting for you. And if you want me to come to your house each week and perform it live in front of your closest friends and/or housepets, then make me an offer. No freaks.

Just for fun, each show comes with a free PDF download of the readings from that week — just in case you’d prefer not to have to listen to me all the damn time.

And if that weren’t enough…

A few days back I was sorting through a number of things and realized that I’d never been “between projects” during National Novel Writing Month before. Usually when NaNoWriMo rolls around, I’m balls elbows deep in something and can’t stop what I’m doing to participate. And although I’m currently hard at work on my next novel entitled “Pantheon” (at least, that’s what my bio says), the truth of the matter is that I’ve allowed myself to get distracted by too many side projects over the past few months and “Pantheon” hasn’t really gotten the attention it deserves.

Which leaves me at a crossroads. Do I keep “Pantheon” on the back burner and fire up NaNoWriMo? Or do I use November to work on the thing that I was already planning on doing, which was going to leave “Pantheon” out anyways?

Very difficult decision. I’ve got a couple of good concepts that could fit nicely into NaNoWritMo. But then there’s the matter of the other November project I’d been planning.

Who know . . . maybe I’ll do both. It’s certainly possible but, either way, it seems that poor little “Pantheon” might just be getting short shrift once again. At least until November has come and gone.

As I said above, winter is here. We haven’t seen snow yet, but I’m told by Girija that in Hindu culture you sacrifice two goats and leave their heads at the gates of the temple, making a stew to serve to the first two strangers who happen through the gate.

As much of a fan as I am of snow, it seems rather hard luck for the goats.

And besides, the snow will be here soon enough.


boy-in-playground-0709-lgWhen I’m this busy, the first thing that invariably gets cut down is sleep. Next is reading. I can do without the first one but not the second.

I don’t get a lot of magazines (apart from the comics, of course) but a few years back I discovered Esquire at my older brother’s house and have been hooked ever since. Usually I spend thirty minutes or so with each issue some afternoon and then set it aside. But lately I haven’t had time enough for that. I finally caught up to the June issue and this photo accompanying the Stephen King story ‘Morality‘ took me aback.

I sat there staring at the page for a few minutes with an odd feeling at the back of my head, like someone’d snuck in during the night and burgled a few things and I’d just noticed.

I showed the photo to my wife and asked her what came to mind. She got it on the first try. It was like someone had taken a snapshot of the opening of my play ‘The Red Boy’ and I thought for a moment that my citizenship in Alan Moore’s IdeaSpace had been revoked.

However, once I got up the guts to read King’s story I was relieved. Not a bad story, overall. But from a completely different territory than ‘The Red Boy’ fortunately for my sanity.

But, boy oh boy, take a look at this picture and then go read the first few pages of this play. You’ll see what I mean.

zeroFreeHaving a long daily commute has made it easier to listen to books, fortunately. I just finished listening to Scott Anderson’s “Free: The Future of a Radical Price” and, I have to say, I found it to be a fascinating (and inspiring) study. Highly recommended.

On the strength of a footnote in Anderson’s book, I picked up a copy of Zero: The Biography of a Dangerous Idea, and am enjoying it a great deal as well.

And, here and there, I’m reading another book by my wife’s grandfather — the inestimable Ken Jones, that original Mad Men character I’ve mentioned here before. Like the last one of his I read, this one involves the Advertising business. Only this time around, it’s set in Singapore and somebody’s been murdered.

Ken just turned 90 this past weekend. Still writing every day, too.

I should be so lucky.

Garrick’s Lament and the Appeal of Milkweed

The new site is up and running, mostly without any major problems — thanks mostly to WordPress rather than my own skills. And I’m still picking off the 1,600+ blog entries from the past 8 years, getting those manually moved over from Blogger to the new format. If you’re really wondering what I was blogging about in 2004, you’re just going to have to be patient to find out.

The new project — working title: Pantheon — is still coming along slowly, due more to some genuinely frustrating time and schedule constraints than any creative issues. The lack of time to write is becoming an increasing annoyance — and not just for this project. It’s been this way for a long time. I cannot help but feel envious of the writers who manage to make the shift to full-time. One day…

For almost twenty years I’ve tracked my time during the day in fifteen minute increments which standard when you work at any kind of advertising or marketing agency. It’s also an interesting place to keep your head on a regular basis. Once that mindset becomes routine, it’s difficult to turn it off. During the day, that time is time spent (usually) in support of a client. It is productive time and (usually) profitable time. Meaning, we will invoice someone for it. Which is why it is tracked so closely.

Off-hours, however, the mechanism remains the same but I’ve found the mental tracking inverts. Instead of tracking productive time, I unconsciously note unproductive time. Even your normal (e.g. real life) activities are measured in those terms: Making the kids’ lunches, emptying the dishwasher, a phone call from a friend, watching television, writing this blog post . . . those fifteen minutes add up to a lot of time.

Which is rough when you live in a world where time not spent writing is time not writing. It’s lost and whatever might have been written is lost as well.

Early on in DC Comics Kingdom Come by Mark Waid and Alex Ross, we get a glimpse inside the life of The Flash — who has become so fast that he lives between the ticks of the clock. This has, in essence, removed him from reality. When I first read that, I couldn’t help but think “Yeah, I get that…” Or perhaps it’s just the Mercury helmet I relate to.

Possibly I’m just another whiny writer blogging about not having enough time — at least, some of the time.

Speaking of unproductive time, had a very nice weekend. Got a little bit of work done on Pantheon and the new podcast, as well as a considerable amount of noodling on the October Surprise (which has now grown into two separate and rather different surprises, so I’m trying to decide which one I want to do more).

Spent Saturday afternoon wandering through one of an antique mall in one of the dilapidated warehouses near my house. Approximately ninety-eight percent of the merchandise was there during my last visit six months ago, most of it junk. I did spend some time marveling over a remarkably well preserved Steiff Hitler. Toys and dolls of political figures are nothing new, apparently, but it was still odd to think of a child in their crib cuddling with little Adolph.

“There’s a story in that somewhere,” I thought to myself.

“Yes,” I replied. “And Rod Serling wrote it like fifty years ago.”

I did manage to turn up a couple of vintage fountain pens. They sounded like maracas when shaken, a sure sign that the ink and reservoir sacs within had disintegrated. But they were beautiful and quite inexpensive (likely due to their frozen levels and the crumbled mess inside), so I decided it was time I learned how to restore vintage pens.

Back home, Keeley took a nap and I spent a happy hour or so gently disassembling the pens — a Parker and a Welch — and cleaning out the petrified muck from inside the barrels. A few quick searches online, and I had an order in for replacement sacs and some shellac. Updates on my progress to (hopefully) follow soon.

Sunday we spent the afternoon with my wife’s grandparents out at Aurohn Lake — rapidly becoming my favorite place on the planet. Typically, I don’t get nostalgic for places but there’s something very special about this spot. Maybe it’s the determination of the beavers, doggedly blocking the spillway on the dam despite our efforts to keep it clear every few weeks. Keeley did the honors this time around, while I watched and took pictures.

Or maybe it’s the hill, just beyond Six Bar Gate at the edge of the forest. At the summit, there are spots where the waist-high grass has been matted down in gentle depressions by sleeping deer, like snow angels. And to one side there’s a large, wide hole that leads (I’m sure) deep into the hill where a badger in a waistcoat sits by a fire, checking his pocketwatch and ignoring the little showers of soil that fall into his teacup from my pacing overhead.

A card table and a folding chair, a few fresh pens and my notebook . . . sounds like the perfect place to spend an afternoon, writing and looking out at the view. milkweed

Then again, it’s probably just the milkweed pods — caught in the midst of their annual, slow motion explosion. We each did our part to ensure that they continue their dominion over the eastern edge of the lake.

Regardless, it’s a wonderful place and it was a good day. I spent much of it talking about writing with Keeley’s grandfather and digging through his old radio scripts from the forties.

Papercraft Poe
Rounding the corner into Halloween, I though it might be appropriate to share this little papercraft Poe. I’m considering the logistics of making hundreds of them and setting up an invasion on the lawn and porch for trick-or-treaters. Perhaps not.

After that, it’ll be time to vote. Here’s my official endorsement.

Winter will be upon us then. Much as I am looking forward to its return, this story has made me very sad. Here’s hoping Phoenix lives up to its name.