Friday, September 6, 2013

Hard Hat Gala

A few weeks ago, my husband informed me that he'd bought tickets for us to attend the Blue Ridge Regional Hospital's Hard Hat Gala.  (They will be building new medical offices to attract the slim 3% of folks who say they want to practice rural medicine... and BRRH aims to be competitive.  We've got some of them most beautiful country in the country & now they'll have a beautiful new facility too.)

My husband knew what he was going to wear to the event:  his Steeler's hard hat.  I suspect the main impetus for his attendance was to further remind as many people as possible the uber-status of his fandom for the Pittsburgh Steelers.  (OK.  So, he's on the hospital board and that's probably the real reason we were there.)  My point in all this is that his "outfit" was a piece of cake.

"What am I supposed to wear?"  I asked him.

"Google hard hat gala and figure something out.  Buy a roll of caution tape or something,"  he said.  I think he temporarily forgot who he was talking to.

I bought caution tape.

Fortunately, I watch entirely too much Project Runway for my own good and figured I could handle an "Unconventional Challenge."  (And, mind you, I did it on a Project Runway time-table too:  I began sewing Wednesday morning and the gala was Thursday evening.)  So, I took inspiration from two of my favorite designers: Michelle (her quilting techniques -- and the way she did extravagant vests) and Melissa (who always has fabulous necklines/collars).

So, I dug up an old pattern for a suit-coat that I'd picked up at the Humane Society's Annual Flea Market for 10 cents and used it as the base pattern.

I will have to say, the "model fitting" was pretty frustrating.  I don't own a form, so I had to pin the vest and adjust the seams on myself.

Once I had the pieces the way I thought I wanted them (the collar was a complete guess and I just crossed my fingers on the back), I began quilting the caution tape onto the compact batting.  I channeled Tim Gunn's make it work and commit to it as I tried to figure out how to place the words and angle the tape.
 Fortunately I keep random scraps of quilt batting and black satin sitting around the house for such occasions.  As I sewed, I was struck by the diaper-like quality and sound of my fabric choices... so opted to make two of the back vest panels out of the satin to help the piece move better.  The same went for the inside of the high collar, since it would touch my face.  However, that left me with some ragged edges to conceal, so I actually cut and made my own bias edging for the first time in my life.  (woo hoo)

Somehow I managed not to burn my fingers while ironing the bias and finished the piece properly without cutting corners.  I even lined up my chevrons in the back with Nina Garcia's voice in my head.  The end result was remarkably close to what I'd imagined--which doesn't happen very often.  And off to the gala we went.  (Not sure what in-laws thought when they came to watch the kids...)
I wanted to wear this with a fabulous pair of heels, but as I have turned both of my ankles in the last month on the exact same patch of perfectly smooth driveway, I opted for a flat pair of leather boots.  I swear I wasn't even chewing bubble gum at the time.

Everyone at the gala told me "Oh!  You win the prize!" which had me totally giddy because I hadn't known they were giving out prizes, but looking around, I was pretty sure I would indeed win the prize--if there had been prizes, which there weren't.  It was just a phrase people were using to be nice.  Duh.  If there is a prize, it's that I have a crazy-fabulous vest made of caution tape that I can only wear once a year for Halloween.  Unless... I become a Hard Hat Gala crasher.  Hmmmm.... google search....

photo courtesy of hospital CEO Oscar Weinmeister

Thanks to the fashion consult provided by Erin MT who recommended a big bun.  This was the best I could do.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Walking the Walk

I have gotten some great responses to the previous blog post (thanks to everyone who linked to it or shared it), and I'd like to invite you to share both examples of what you've done to help teachers OR other ideas you may have.  I know one woman who, though she doesn't have children of her own, donated a ream of colored copy paper and some other goodies to a local school.  Her email and her actions brought tears to my eyes. (I'm doing my best not to read the note she included!)

Here's what I've done so far:

1.  I made a giant pot of soup and froze the extra... I haven't given it to a teacher yet, but it's earmarked.

2.  I made thank-you bouquets for several of my kids' teachers and delivered them to the school.
Granted, this was primarily an excuse to buy the roses.  But who could blame me?  Look how beautiful they are!  The red ones are even slightly variegated.  I walked into GoGocery and there they were, beaming at me, for only $7 a dozen!  I had to buy them... so then it was just a matter of coming up with a reasonable excuse.  Teachers!  (The hosta and mini-sunflowers were from my own place.)

3.  I wrote two thank-you notes.

I don't share this to be all braggy-miss-braggy-pants.  I guess I just want to show that I'm not just coming up with ideas for other people to do.  In the words of any two-year-old:  I do it myself.

But what about you?  What ideas have you had?  Teachers?  What have you done?

Friday, August 23, 2013

5 Ways to Help NC Teachers

I've been thinking about public school teachers a lot this past week.  My daughter started middle school and my twins are in separate classes for the first time in their lives: their teachers are going to make a huge difference in how they are able to cope with these transitions.  I also attended a Moral Monday gathering in Burnsville and felt slapped in the face by the stark reality of how the new laws cut our teachers off at the knees.

Moral Monday in Burnsville, NC.
Yes, I can grumble loudly.  Yes, I can write letters to my representatives.  (We all know how that goes.)  Yes, I can vote in the next election in two years.  And judging by the widespread, non-partisan outrage about what is being done to our public education system, I believe things will get better in the future... but until then, dear Heavens above, we need to do what we can to make sure our teachers do not give up hope and quit their jobs.  We need to encourage, despite the dismal outlook, our best and brightest to go into education (though the NC Teacher Fellowship program has been cut).

I often say I have more ideas in a day than are good ones, but here are
5 Ideas to Help NC Teachers Right Now:
(and thereby really helping NC children)

#1  Parents, all that stuff you just signed saying you'd do with your kid this year...  DO IT.  And for crying out loud, get your kid to school on time.  If the teacher asked you to read 15 minutes with your kid every night... Do it.  Wish you could pay someone a dollar to listen to your kid read sometimes?  (We all get there.)  Well, are there any middle-schoolers in your neighborhood or extended family?

People without school-aged kids:  Ask a parent how you can help.*  Can you invite a neighbor-kid over to read to you for 15 minutes every Monday? Can you Skype with your niece/nephew/grandchild/church-friend and have them read a book to you every Thursday at 4?  Can you come 15 minutes early (or stay late) at a Church event and have a kid read to you?

Teachers feel successful when their students succeed.  
The ultimate goal is not "teacher success" but "student success."

#2 - That wish-list the teachers sent home?  Get something on it.  Already feel maxed out financially on the basic back-to-school expenses?  Don't throw that list away, tell a *Non-Parent who wants to know how they can help and maybe they can get something on that list or donate it.  (EYMS could use reams of color copy-paper.)

#3 - Write a thank-you note.   Do you know how terrible we have become about actually taking the time to hand-write notes -- and because of that, do you know how much it means to a person to be thanked?  So often we think we "deserve" a good public education and good teachers -- which is true -- but we should be thankful that we have that expectation and we should pass on our gratitude to those who are doing the hard work.  I sub in a few of the elementary schools, and I'm hear to tell you, I do not know how an elementary teacher survives a day without an assistant (these are vital positions budget cuts are reducing every year).  Even the "worst" teachers go above and beyond to deal with the high expectations that have been placed on them, despite waning resources to accomplish the desired goals.  So, take five minutes out of your day to write them a thank-you note.  I'll bet 90% of you could not do what they are expected to do every day.  I did at one point in my life, but I'm not sure I could any more.

#4 - Make sure you are registered to vote (and I can't even get into the new voter restrictions in NC...) and pay attention to candidates' former voting records and their position on educational issues.  Listen to teachers and teachers' organizations when they tell you what are helpful and unhelpful reforms and laws.  When we help our public schools, we build a stronger nation.

#5 - Take a teacher a meal.  The beginning of the school year is not unlike having 20+ new babies, and we all know how we respond to people with new babies-->We bring them food.  (I would recommend doing this for someone you have a personal relationship with, obviously.)  Often teachers are mothers/fathers themselves -- and if you're teacher on an NC salary (46th lowest in the Union), there's no way the other parent doesn't have a full-time job too. So, teachers stay late at school (coaching, leading clubs, attending meetings, planning -- all while trying to force encourage their own children to finish their school work) and get home to a cold kitchen and hungry kids.  Meal preparation is one of the first things to go.  (I know one teacher who, over the summer, has put up something like 30 frozen meals in anticipation of the school year. Not everyone is that crazy organized though.)

So, do you have a teacher who lives in your neighborhood, is in your extended family, goes to your church, is in book club with you, or has a kid on your kid's sports team?  Do you have a co-worker whose spouse is a teacher?  Don't ask them if they'd like a meal, tell them you are bringing them one.  Or just hand them some containers of home-made but frozen something-or-other that they can save and heat up after a long day.

And have y'all see this site?  Pretty cool if you want to get super organized about it:  Take Them A Meal


On Monday, her first day of middle school, I dropped my daughter off in the drizzle. A male teacher waited for her with an umbrella that she stepped out under. "You nervous?" he asked. "A little," she admitted. "You've got no reason to be," he assured her as he passed her off to the next teacher who waited for her with his umbrella. "I got her," the next teacher said, keeping the umbrella over her until she reached the overhang. 

What a beautiful metaphor for the beginning of the year and what our teachers do for our children. 

How can we be the umbrella over their heads?

Wednesday, May 29, 2013


So, the day after she wore (for the first time) her beloved brand-new Easter dress, girlchild went careening through the house with it, snagged it on a door knob and ripped a five inch gash in the neckline.  As it has a completely lined bodice, there was no easy fix...
So, I zigzagged the rip the best I could.  Then she and I decided to use some scrap black satin to cover the rip and swoop up into the sweetheart neckline.  We'll see how it holds up in the wash, but now the dress is wearable and beautiful again.
More than that, the dress is now unlike any other - full of flair and individuality.  I suppose there's a larger metaphor here.  Lots of times in life things get broken, rent, or ruined.  We can toss those spoiled dresses in the trash and move on, sure.  Or we can leave them to languish on the sewing table, intending to get to them eventually, but never taking the time.  Sometimes, though we've just got to sit down and do the work of mending.  Don't be fooled, this project took time:  planning, patterning, cutting, ironing, machine sewing and meticulous hand work.  If it were easy, would it feel so rewarding?

Here's to finding the time and strength to mend something yourself.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Warm Weather

I am so thankful for the warm weather... It prompts me to start digging up the garden, hauling out compost, and, best of all, planting.  Today, I did one of my favorite summertime activities:  buying seeds or starts at Troy's Greenhouse.  Whispering to me from their brown paper packages on the kitchen table are sugar snaps, wondo peas, kale and beets.  Now if I can just tear myself away from the computer long enough to turn the soil.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Letter Writing

Recently I had an interesting exchange with my NC House Representative Michele Presnell (R) that I shared with the Raleigh News & Observer.  However, by the time the blog post ran the bill had already been killed. This story also implies that the exchange happened more recently than Friday's decision.  But, to be clear, the exchange happened before the bill was killed.

How she responded is represented accurately in my view.

Also, it is unclear what exactly Rep. Presnell is referring to in her final email which states "No, you are wrong.  Have a nice day."

The email I composed that directly preceded that response was this.

Dear Michelle Presnell,

I am saddened that you make a leap from Allah to terrorism so quickly.  My point about asking if you personally would be comfortable with a prayer to Allah is precisely why we do need to take a stand for religious freedom.  Your response seems to indicate that you are not comfortable having a state or a state representative honoring a religion other than your own.  So you seem to be saying that you yourself are not comfortable with the fundamental premise of the bill.  What the bill proposes does whisk away religious freedom.  If the state sets a precedent of choosing one religion above others, we have to be prepared for any religion to be chosen as the preferential one. 

Thank you for considering this,

Britt Kaufmann

Friday, March 29, 2013

YAY! It's Good Friday!

I know.  Not quite the right sentiments.  It's kinda along the lines of the inward chuckle I do when the Southern Baptists say, "Oh, we don't celebrate Lent in our church."  (Uh, we don't either... ) But honestly, this has been a particularly lenty Lent, and I'm over it. Guess I'm a part of the crowd yelling "Crucify him!" and let's get to the good stuff.

I'm ready to roll away the stone and get on with life.  I'm ready to take something that looks dead, like a rock or an egg, and paint it up purdy or hatch from it.  Bring on the Easter.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Quotes to Haunt My Writing

Yesterday's poem made reference to the quotes/mottos I have put on the wall next to my writing desk this year.  You may recognize something you said, so feel free to claim it.  I also claim it as something that resonates with me, an idea I need to ponder as I create.
You can barely see the Tibetan prayer flags hanging from the shelf above.
I have become especially fond of doodling owls lately.
The yellow post-it says "Imply a question and they will read for the answer." 

 I also have my Aunt Rachel to thank for all the cool stamps.  When she retired from teaching elementary school she gave them to my kids and we spent an afternoon stamping things and having lots of fun!

What quotes do you keep at your writing desk?

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

a poem for playwrights

This is for all the other playwrights out there going through the submission process.

Today I remembered the Pledge,
   dusted off and shined my writing desk,
   hung a new motto on the wall to haunt myself,
   and set about the business
   of offering myself
         a piece of my mind
         a quadrant of my pulsing heart
         a tendril of my spirit
   to the world:

With a final push today, I have completed my submission goal and am content now to wait.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Theatres Don't Say "YES" to a Play They Don't Know About

I decided a long time ago I'd just have to suck an MFA out of my own thumb.  But when I resolved in 2013 to become more connected in the theatre world via social media etc., I had no idea the path I was setting myself on.  What an education I have had in the last three months.

First, I've discovered playwrights, directors & dramaturgs who also blog.  They have become a valuable source of perspective and inspiration.  I would recommend the following:

  • Gwydion Suilebhan - @GwydionS - in particular, his "Advice to Young Playwrights" 
  • Melissa Hillman - @MelissaImpact - in particular, her "Why Your Play Was Rejected" 
  • Brian Doyle - @writeplay - he will submit a query or script 365 days for one year 
Melissa has challenged me to think about how I represent women in my plays-- to make women drive the action of the play by their choices, not simply react to the men in their lives.  She has also made me wonder about how to garner feedback from those Artistic Directors and Literary Managers who my read my plays but reject them (for whatever completely legitimate reason).  I'll be doing some research into Survey Monkey and potentially giving it a whirl and testing the waters.  (I'll let you know how that goes.)

Gwydion has reminded me that it's ok to come late to the playwrighting party.  Not only that, he has brought to the forefront an idea that has been there for some time:  I do have a Dangerous Idea.  Now, where did I put it?  Ha!  But it does make me think danger instead of safe or palatable or popular.  It reminds me that I can do a brilliant thing even out here in my Appalachian holler, far far away from the hub of anything.

Brian Doyle, as noted above, is submitting every day for a year.  It's a reminder every time I see his tweets pop up on my feed that theatres will not, can not, say YES to a play they don't know about.  I shouldn't say NO to myself by letting my plays languish on my hard drive.  If I want to see my work produced again, it is up to me to get it out there, as disheartening as it can be.

And it is disheartening.  Here is the crux of the submission turmoil:  to send something out, the playwright must believe in it, have hope that it will find a new home, while simultaneously steeling herself against what will 99.5% of the time be rejection (with no explanation)--so therefore, disown hope.  One should just submit and forget.  No blame.  It's just the way things are.  Learn to live with the tension.

I also stumbled upon (via a Twitter retweet) Patrick Gabridge's blog post about his 11 year-old Yahoo! Group of playwrights who "Binge" twice a year.  During a "Binge" they each set themselves a submission goal and seek to support each other in meeting their goals by posting opportunities playwrights might not know about otherwise.  It seemed too serendipitous to ignore that I learned of this group right at the end of February.  So, I joined in with the goal of submitting my plays to 31 different theatres/contests/opportunities.  (Or making queries about submitting.)

Thus far, I have made 27 inquiries or submissions in March.  More than I ever have in a single month before (even including poetry submissions).  I have also made a few new connections with other playwrights.  Also, I have put in a ridiculous number of hours researching theatres, reading through their particular requests (unpublished, unproduced or open to 2nd runs, cast size, missions, 10 page sample, full script, production hisotry etc.)  I've crossed out more as "not good fits" for my work than I've circled as potential matches.

Submission really does call to mind a humbling stance-- head bowed, eyes downcast, script offered up.  Yet, I have gained strength too, if I look closely enough.  I can feel proud of myself for meeting my submission goals, educating myself by reading and engaging in virtual discussion, and developing relationships with other playwrights.

Nonetheless, I will be glad when March is over and submitting isn't my priority anymore.  It is taking its toll.  But I'm putting my head down and leaning into the wind.  In April, I can get back to my first love: writing.  Spring is just around this snowy corner.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Strange Dreams (not so strange)

The other night I had a very vivid dream:

I was a new hire at a hash-slinging greasy spoon breakfast joint.  I reported for my first day already into the morning shift and was helping out with some other task (rolling silverware in napkins,  maybe?) when they suddenly got slammed and I was sent to a full table that had already been sitting for a while.

I dashed to the waitress station, checked that I had a pen in my apron, and fumbled through the box of half-used order pads to scribble customer's choices on.  The order pad I chose had an unusual message on the top: "a feminist works here" was emblazoned in redish pink across the top of every sheet.  That's fitting, I thought and headed over to the 10-top, complete with several kids.

The family I was waiting on was perfectly nice despite the fact that they'd been sitting there for a while and had kids... but I found myself floundering because I couldn't give recommendations or answer their questions adequately.  I need to be sure to take a menu home and study it tonight, I thought.  I wanted to be able to do my job well and felt frustrated I hadn't been better trained, and frustrated too, that my poor performance might reflect negatively on me (not my fault!) and the restaurant that hired me.  It was nobody's fault, really, but the situation was not one that lent itself to a satisfying experience for anyone.  I kept a smile on my face, and just adopted a "get-'er-done" kind of attitude.  Why am I working here? I asked myself.

When recalling the dream the next day, I had to wonder what it all meant, so did a little perusing of my favorite dream-sleuthing site.  And here's what it had to say:

Waiter To dream that you are a waiter or waitress indicates that you are too busy catering to the needs and demands of others, instead of your own. You feel that you are underappreciated as you wait on others hand and foot. You need to be more assertive and stand up for yourself. Consider the quality of service that you are giving for additional significance.

Oh, that made a lot of sense considering some of my current involvements (other than being a mom).  The "quality of service" part is what really struck me.  And it also made the choice of my order pad all the more metaphorically loaded.  I knew in the dream, like I know in my waking life, that I need to stand up for myself -- that's the essence of being a woman-feminist.  So why aren't I doing it?  Why do I persist in sublimating what I want?

I just couldn't get that order pad out of my head.  It's a powerful image for me anymore. But it doesn't exist anywhere -- so I had to do my best to recreate it.

Thanks to Brad Thomas, who let me use an image from his very cool steampunk etsy shop, I was able to at least recreate a digital version.

It haunts me just a little, the implicit irony.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Lent I: What I gave up

One struggle with living in a rural place is the lack of connection with other people, which is one of the things I love about social networking and facebook.  I get to stay connected with old friends states away and even stay up to date with friends in my small town who I may only see once a week.  But as with anything, too much is not good... and I was finding myself trolling through posts, links and pictures as a way to divert myself and escape.

So, I gave it up for Lent.  We'll see how that goes.  I do feel the twinges of withdrawal already, but find myself with noticeably more time.  Had I the option of futzing around on fb or writing this post, I know which I'd have been doing a week ago.

I'll probably go back to using fb after Easter, but I hope I can do it in a more cognizant way -- cognizant of what goals I'm accomplishing by using it (continuing relationships with family and friends) and which of my goals I am sacrificing on its digital altar (being present with my family and my writing).

Monday, February 11, 2013

Design for the Literary Festival

So, I finally ordered the new batch of Carolina Mountains Literary Festival Bookmarks.  They should arrive sometime next week and you can expect to see them cropping up around town and in the libraries.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

When What You Read Bleeds

Sometimes, the order and jumbling of books that come into our lives cause their meanings to bleed into each other, creating something entirely new that no author could possibly have intended.  I want to read into such experiences, feel somehow I'm being told something no one has found the words yet to say, but here, the universe offers... here are three books and what you need to know comes in between them, like overlapping colored plexi-glass discs.

For the last month or two I've been reading Brian McLaren's A New Kind of Christianity (one chapter a week) and trying to separate for myself what the "church" has taught me religion/Christianity is and what the text/Jesus really says.  I know many people think he's a heretic (McLaren, not Jesus... although, I dare say Jesus is pretty heretical to many Christians) and discount him, but as in anything I read, there are some things that have jumped out at me.  One is the notion that as Christians, knowing how many people in this world go hungry/thirsty, and how many of our world's resources are given for meat production --shouldn't Christians choose to be vegetarian?

Additionally, I've also been increasingly put off by heaven and hell.  The Jews don't/didn't believe in them, so why is Christianity so wrapped up in them?  Punishment/Reward.  (Frankly the church has used abused them in the past for financial power, as well as other power.  Anyone think they still might be?  Have you been saved?)  Heaven and hell reduce our goodness.  They diminish our actions if we are only motivated to do good because of a reward or to avoid punishment.  I'm a fan of altruism.  So, I think what I'm going to do is behave as though they don't exist--that the kingdom of heaven is here now and it's up to me to do the work of making it real--real for myself, but more importantly, for others.  (I'll happily turn that "me" into "us" if anyone else would like to be so motivated.)

That's where The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery comes in.  No religious talk in this book.  But what it comes down to is summed up at the end.
"It's as if those strains of music created a sort of interlude in time, something suspended, an elsewhere that had come to us, an always within never.
Yes, that's it, an always within never... Because from now on, for you, I'll be searching for those moments of always within never.
Beauty, in this world."
I love this.  This is my new favorite notion of heaven.  The moments in this life of Beauty.  Whether that Beauty is created through art, music, human interaction... but it takes noticing, it takes work and creation.  And there, there, is another wonderful notion to me... creation.  I like to believe that's how we are created in God image, because we have the ability, the desire to create.  I think, when we remove afterlife, we focus on this life in a new way.

both covers are simply marvelous

Our emphasis doesn't need to be selfish and hedonistic just because we focus on life.  We can (should?) think about quality of life, quality of life for others (plants, animals, future generations)... our collective lives, our communities.

Here comes the other random book that has influenced these thoughts:  Deathless by Catherynne M. Valente.  No religion here either, but some wild (to me) Russian Folklore featuring Koshi the Deathless.  He's also known as the Tzar of Life who is in constant war with the Tzar of Death dividing the world into domains separated by a  hairsbreadth.  Their hold is all consuming, tenuous, bloody, painful.  There are eggs, and death, and resurrection, and keys, love, daughters, betrayal and it's all recycled, twisted like a pretzel and kept from the hungry so that the snake may eat its tail.  But how tenuous this life is while the only sure thing is our death.

So how do we come to terms with death?  Our inevitable death.

Hell, I don't know.  But I think it's somewhere in here, in valuing life, creating and appreciating Beauty, finding those moments of always within never -- that is our eternal life, creating heaven here, now, in this life.  Perhaps then, we can go graciously into death when that time comes, knowing the consequences of our life and choices are eternal in the life still living.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Writing Weekend

What a difference 24 hours can make...

I've set my intentions.  I've done my morning pages.  Shoot, I've even gone for a run.  So, now it's time to get off the internet and get at the work of revising, dreaming, and writing something new.

Discipline is the bridge between goals and accomplishment. ~ Jim Rohn

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Recent Reading - Review(ish) of Beth Revis' *Across the Universe* trilogy

I met Beth Revis when she came to the Carolina Mountains Literary Festival this fall and since I'm a closet sci-fi lover (always have been), I picked up the first of her books and got it signed. However, I loaned it to my father, the reason I'm a sci-fi reader in the first place, before I had a chance to read it myself. He especially likes sci-fi written by women with strong female characters. So, it wasn't until I went to visit my parents this Christmas that I got the book back and read it.

The absolute best way to read a trilogy? Start with book one (Across the Universe) less than a month before the third book's (Shades of Earth) release date! (I did this with the Hunger Games series too.) The book ends with a cliff-hanger? Fine. I'll pick up (or download onto my Nook) the next one.

Here's what I liked about the series...

As with any YA book or series, the main characters are teens (naturally) and, as protagonists, must act and drive the plot with their choices. They (and others) must suffer the consequences of these choices and learn from them. But the teens/children must be the actors. So many YA books take place in (boarding) schools, or in like-age grouped arenas, or authors choose orphaned/abandoned protagonists because there is this pesky problems in real life of adults being in charge, and that undermines the protagonist's ability to act independently. As a parent, I am not keen on the parents-being-killed-off method of solving this plot problem. I admire what Revis does in the first novel that keeps this same formula, yet keeps the parents alive: they're frozen. They're as good as dead, but they're not, freeing Amy to make decisions on her own. Elder, though, doesn't have parents. This many seem to follow the more traditional formula, but Amy and Elder are the youngest people on the ship. Here Revis puts them right back into the situation she just avoided by not having parents present. It's a nice twist.

Amy is clearly the main character despite chapters written from alternating points of view.  Even though Elder is the one who will eventually become the leader of this ship, it is interesting to note that she is not merely his "side-kick" nor is he hers.  For being the youngest ones on the ship, though, they are forced to make some heavy decisions for themselves and for everyone else.

There is a nice tension in book two between normal/abnormal, people's roles in life, where dreamers and artists belong in society, the importance of hiding and revealing information, leadership... Revis does not delve deeply into the many big issues her books touch upon (especially A Million Suns), but she does raise many good questions that are worth discussing.  I became particularly interested in the role that singular and collective dreams make in the direction a society takes.  Partially because so many of us right now are dreaming of a society free from gun violence, free from hunger and poverty... one where we trust that the government is being transparent and caring for all its people without lies, half and hidden truths.  So, in the three days I had to wait for book three to release, I read the play Comic Potential by Alan Ayckbourn. This quote (from a "robot" or actoid) jumped out at me, because it fit so nicely the choice Amy and Elder have to make at the end of the second book.  Further, because my mind works this way, I couldn't get the idea of the koi fish swimming through a field of stars.  That too seemed to visually sum up A Million Suns  for me.  Here's the result.

One of the true gifts of sci-fi is there are truths about our current existence that can only be highlighted by the audacity of circumstances presented in the fantastical.

But onto the recently released Shades of Earth and back to my original point.  Amy's parents wake up in book three.  (This is not a big spoiler, we all knew it was coming from the first chapter of book one.)  Once again, Revis turns the convention on its head.  She effectively removes the overarching parental influence from the first two books and we see Amy move abruptly into adulthood in many ways.. then, boom, her parents return.  The autonomy that scared her so much is now the rug jerked from under her feet.

What we see now is the difficult situation I believe many parents and teens feel.  Amy and her parents clearly love each other and are relieved/delighted to see each other again.  But there is the inevitable tension.  Who knows what is best for whom? Amy has had to make difficult and important decisions in their frozen absence, and they don't know about it or value it.  Teens today also have to make big decisions for themselves (especially when parental figures are absent) that their parents may also not know about -- or know to value.  In this way, Revis gets it right and real.  How much better would things have gone if Amy's father had trusted Amy and Elder as competent leaders?  How much better if he himself had been a trustworthy leader... As a mother staring down the barrel at soon-to-be-teenaged children, this is a "note-to-self."  Trust, honesty and transparency are vital in this relay-race where I will have to hand over the baton.

Another thing I appreciate so much about the Across the Universe trilogy was the change of landscapes.  So often in sci-fi, I feel the author spends so much time creating her universe that she gets stuck there, even when the dynamic plot has run its course.  Book after book unfold in the same "universe" just because the author is compelled to let us in on the back story, history, continents she invented, but the plots of the previous books didn't land upon et cetera ad nauseam.  Not so in this case.  We start on the confines of the ship Godspeed, but the third book brings an entirely new landscape, an entirely new universe that isn't what we'd been led to believe it was.  Now, will I be upset if Revis returns to Centauri-Earth for another trilogy and the inevitable clash with Fed-Ex?  Not in the least. 

Stay tuned for my mash-up of thoughts on The Elegance of Hedgehogs by Muriel Barbery, Deathless by Catherynne Valente, and A New Kind of Christianity by Brian McLaren.  Yes, all in one post.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Writing Resolutions - Part 3

    Here it is, the crux of it all. Writing goals. It has been important for me to (attempt to) distinguish between writing as a "hobby" and writing as a "job." It's easy for me to see it as a hobby, especially since it's an occupation that doesn't pay. Yet. Or ever. We'll cross that bridge when we come to it, because I'm not at all opposed to the idea... Regardless, I need to approach writing as a job. And I can start by reminding myself that writing can be a priority and other things can be put on the back burner. The deadlines imposed by writing for the theatre certainly helped, but I am now in the position where I need to discipline myself.
When blog-trolling for other writers' resolutions, one blogger said she didn't like Resolutions because it just led to inevitable failure and why highlight that? Another blogger countered she wanted to "fail more" because that meant she was trying more. I also happen to know there's a lit journal out there called Fail Better. My go-all-directions at once approach to 2013 definitely falls into the second line of reasoning (if there is reason involved in creating an insane agenda).

To those ends, here are my goals for 2013:
  • Pick up my many unfinished projects and work on all of them in fits and spurts. Instead of saying no to three projects to focus just on the one, I'm simply going to take turns and follow my whims. Diana Gabaldon writes this way, and while her work is not my favorite, she seems to have done pretty well. So, that means writing poems (+submitting monthly), picking up the chapter-book, flesh out and plot two play ideas, and blog.  
  • Also, while I've done Artist-Way-based morning pages for some time, I want to start using them to do more creative work instead of simply listing tasks to do, tasks accomplished, and whining.
  • In 2013, I want to become better connected in the writing/theatre world. To that end, I started a twitter account. (This was also prompted by good writing-friend Katey Shultz's post about publicity.  Oh, yes, and you're welcome to follow me. I have yet to master contributing pithy sayings though.) Because of my rural location, it is very difficult to make theatre connections--but that's what the internet is for, right? So I mean to use it. Social networks aren't just for pictures of baby animals and arguing. Although, this photo slays me. I want a pet owl so bad.  Like Pigwidgeon. 
  • I also want to start having some of my writing friends guest-blog here.  By doing that, I can help support and promote the writers I know and strengthen the writing connections I do have.  The more I can convince other people I'm a writer, the more they'll reflect it back to me and I'll believe it, become it. (I may be contacting you...)
  • Finally, as un-fun as it is, I will continue to promote my work, making contact with theatres near and far, submitting to contests, and asking artistic directors to read my scripts.  I will set aside time each week for this.
  • Read more.  Plays in particular.

So, there it is.  I'm putting it out there to be accountable.  Maybe I'll fail in front of everyone and that's OK, because what I can control is the trying and I mean to try more and accomplish more

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Parkway Playhouse Graphic Design

You get a little break from my Resolutions, though I still have to proclaim my writing goals.  Here's what I spent the day doing: finalizing some web-graphics for the Parkway Playhouse.  It's fun to try to capture in a singular image the essence of a play.  Clearly some are more successful than others, but I enjoy the mental challenge -- though trolling and morguefiles can be overwhelming.  Believe it or not, the one the artistic director and I struggled with the most was Peter Pan.

I also really enjoy searching for the right font.  So, if you're curious, here are the names of the ones I used (I believe they can all be found at

  • Peter Pan -- Loki Cola
  • Sherlock Holmes Returns -- Sea Dreams
  • A Few Good Men -- Wartorn
  • Dancing at Lughnasa -- Celtic MD (for caps) and Ramsey SD (for lowercase)
  • The Mystery of Edwin Drood -- Euphorigenic
  • A Personal History of Burnsville -- Clive Barker

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

NY Resolves: Health -- Part 2

One area of my life in which I'm going create some new patterns is in my physical health.

Exercise:  I often approach exercise in fits and spurts, but this year I would like to be better about maintaining a level of fitness. Frequently I'll be in shape during volleyball season, or in preparation for a 5k, but then slack afterwards.  So, I'd like it to become a part of my on-going weekly commitments.

Food:  It's been coming at me from all sides (from Brian McLaren's challenge in A New Kind of Christianity to facebook shares from friends):  I need to examine the amount of meat I eat.  For those of you who know my husband (his best hobby is preparing meat) I'm not sure we could ever completely commit to vegetarianism.  But we are making a start with Meatless Mondays at our house.  Already we make a concerted effort to buy locally-raised meat, but it seems like I should go further.  This little clip that made its rounds on facebook points out that the amount of energy expended to produce meat is irresponsible in regards to the needs of the people on this planet -- and McLaren postulates that it might even be un-Christian to continue consuming meat in light of that.   Fascinating to think about.  So, watch this little video.  You can totally stand to do it because of the narrator's awesome accent.
More on Meatless Mondays Here:

Water:  I need to stay better hydrated (my almost 39-year-old skin is showing me so, sigh).  So, more water from the tap.  Less coffee.  More green tea.  (Less coffee tomorrow.  Last night was brutal.)

None of these are particularly difficult changes, but I think one of the values of New Year's Resolutions is taking stock of where each of us are and reflect on the prospect of where our life choices are taking us -- and if that's where we want to go.  Any time is a good time to reflect on our choices and prompt ourselves to make better ones...  Even a week into the new year.

Monday, January 7, 2013

New Year's Resolves - Part 1

Stated simply, for 2013, I've decided to go all directions at once.  However, this doesn't make for concise and streamlined blog posts.  Believe me, I've been reading all sorts of writer/blogger/parenting advice about the idiocy of resolutions, how to make them, of what kinds to make and on and on... (And several blog posts about how to write better blogs.) There's a good chance I spent more time reading about resolutions than I did making my own.  Wasting time reading other writers' opinions was also advised against in a blog I read.
I will begin, though, with the overarching theme:  Go All Directions At Once.  It flies in the face of everything I've read.  The Artist's Way says Baby Steps.  Blog gurus say stick to your area of expertise, market your brand, and hone it down to six things you want to be known for. Publishers say pick a genre.  My kids say, Come see my house on Minecraft.  I reply Very cool! without looking at the screen.  (But that opiate-of-the-small-masses is a blogpost of its own.)  There's even the old Keep It Simple rule.  Here's the thing:  I'm always going to make myself crazy regardless, so why not be wildly productive too?  I want to be good at everything, so that just means I have to practice doing everything.

One blogger advised to think of New Year's Resolutions not as "taking on something new" but as giving something up.  So here's what I'm giving up:

  • I'm giving up being unproductive after the kids go to bed.  The people I admire most work self-imposed long hours.
  • I'm giving up limiting creative possibilities.
  • And I'm going to try very hard to give up sleeping in until the absolute last minute before taking the kids in to school.  I intend to keep a work-world type day.
Today, I did get up at a respectable 6:30 am, submit scripts to three theatres, query one more, and write a blog post.  Now, for the next items on my to-do list:  get out of my pajamas and write morning pages.