Monday, October 31, 2011

My Favorite Things: "Soul Driver" by Bruce Springsteen

What a weekend! I found myself driving south to San Marcos, Texas, to see a play, then driving back... 24 hours for the entire trip, 10 of which I spent on the road. But I stopped for barbecue going south, and you know I love me some barbecue.

The rest of the weekend was cleaning house, putting closets and drawers in order because the autumn weather is FINALLY here and I am wearing sweaters and jeans and socks and warm jackets. Wow! I ahve all my windows open, so the house is chilly... but full of fresh, cool air. I wear thick socks and a sweater or sweatshirt indoors, and I don't care!

This coming week is all about finishing the mid-term grading, planning for the end of the semester, ordering books for next semester... and moving forward. I feel healthy and in a pretty good place.

In that spirit, I offer "Soul Driver" by Bruce Springsteen.

This is, hands down, my favorite Bruce ballad. Rare footage of rehearsal, and the best version available. I've never heard this live in concert. Also shows how very good a guitarist Bruce is, right up front.

In the recorded version, I love the moment when he laughs!

When I get married, this will be my wedding song. Down the aisle, first dance, whatever.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Three things I am happy about today...

1. Tonight is my night class: my adult writers are a great bunch, taking all sorts of risks. I love this class!

2. This week I wrote 15 pages of my novel-in-progress, and I'm not done yet.

3. I've been sleeping like a baby all week--no insomnia, no restless nights. Makes a huge difference in how my days go.

All this makes me aware that focusing on simple pleasures demonstrates how lucky I am.

10.27 -- John Cleese's birthday

OH. MY. GOD. Funny after 42 years...

This is an ex-parrot.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

10.25 -- Helen Reddy's birthday

Haven't heard this in a while. She wrote it as well as recorded it.


First Night

Last night I sat down with five women--three of whom I already knew--and plunged into our new short story discussion group. We're meeting monthly to talk short story--our first, "Why I Live at the P.O." by Welty.

Last night, however, there was no short story talk--only introductions that led to talk about husbands, kids, jobs, illness, depression, anxiety, isolation, and re-creating ourselves in midlife (everyone was 40-50). Sounds depressing, right?

Not at all!

We talked, laughed, shared, gabbed, drank $2 margaritas, and planned the next meeting--where we will surely discuss Welty's prose.

It was interesting to hear these other women talk about the same problems I've been dealing with for the last two years. And more. Gave me a better outlook on Tuesday than I've had in some time.

Here's a link to Welty's story online: hilariously Southern!

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Just for Sunday fun!

Have I mentioned how much I love French commercials and advertising?

Ooh la la! C'est magnifique!

Here are some more from the old version of this blog:

And my favorite:

Yesterday's Coup

Saturday, I made a coup at Buffalo Exchange here in the Big D.

Buffalo Exchange is a thrift store chain that buys and sells clothing, shoes, and accessories. I managed to get them to take two coats and three dresses, receiving in exchange scrip to use in their store. A decent amount, too. The rest of the stuff, that they didn't take, will go directly to Goodwill next week.

I've been meaning to check them out again for some time (in July I got shot down with an armload of coats). I am also told to bring said coats back in 2-3 weeks for successful sale/trade; I have two pairs of boots, too.


Part of my clearing out the closet action. These were clothes I bought and never wore, or clothes I bought and didn't wear because I felt wrong in them, or in one case something given to me I didn't particularly like. Three great reasons to unload clothing so someone else can love it. And Goodwill will take the rest.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Shaking it off... and moving on

Last night I took a friend to a departmental event. For the second time this semester, the friend turned to me and said, "Really? C'mon--really? This is it?" I had no answer. That was indeed "it." Disappointing.

The same friend and I had coffee this morning, and she told me to shake it off. Shake. It. Off. In other words, don't obsess about a situation I had nothing to do with, can't change, and can only get into a tizzy about.

She's right.

As I have been feeling all week, this is a signpost in the road. Now it has become a Big Glaring Red Neon Signpost...

The next step is an anvil on my head, dudes!

What does the sign say?

I want to avoid the anvil.

Friday, October 21, 2011

And the good news keeps coming...

Today I had three productive meetings. (I know: hardly seems possible!)
First, with one of my writers to talk about her play. Lovely meeting, lovely discussion. Very productive.

Second, with a colleague in French who is part of a conference bringing in an African playwright next semester. I have agreed to stage excerpts from one or both of her plays during the conference with our students; we might find a second staging and an opportunity for students from multiple departments to meet and question the playwright, depending on how my chair responses.

Third, with a colleague from Creative Writing with whom I hope to form an alliance to connect our students in projects writing across genres: plays, screenplays, prose, and poetry.

Great "first step" meetings, all of which will bear great fruit, I hope.

Great Fruit

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Let's try this again

Starting today and ending in one week, I will get my study in terrific working order! Yes, I've said it before, but now is the time...

Thursday:  Sort out paper clutter on tabletops

Friday:  File holding bin into filing bins

Saturday:  Buy new shredder and put it to good use

Sunday:  Clean out three old bins into new bins

Monday:  Hang art and bulletin boards in study

Tuesday:  Change closets for season

Wednesday:  Vacuum, dust, water plants

Thursday:  Re-organize shelves, notebooks, boxes

By next Friday, I'll be working in a newly-clean study.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011


I just got the excellent news that my three colleagues and I will receive a small grant each for a course proposal in our new curriculum, and that were are further eligible for a sizable grant for developing said course for Spring 2013.

This is huzzah! news of the highest order. First, because it will promote the very goals I am interested in as a teacher and scholar. Second, because I will be able to work with three colleagues I admire.

Third, of course, because My U is supporting our great idea and hard work with monies, thus not simply talking the talk but walking the walk.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

And... more news

Yesterday, I hired one of my former students to research grants for current projects. If we find some stuff to pitch, she'll help me write grants for funding or underwriting. I'm hoping we can find some monies to over-fund the department projects.

This is a great thing! She'll do the research, she'll help with the writing and the pitch, she'll be paid and earn creds for resume, I'll get money.

Downside? None.

And I'm giving her my Craigslist coffemaker (my dream coffeemaker!) and my Craigslist chair and footstool. Even more upside! These things will be out of my house, out of my life and happy happy happy with new people. Sigh... of pleasure.

Monday, October 17, 2011

News on the Rialto!

Just got off the phone with a former student of mine. Over the weekend I heard about a new resource that is going to be in place for my school by the end of this semester... and it triggered an idea in my head.

I touched base with this student--who was always a favorite!--to get his advice on 1/ whether he thought it was viable and 2/ whether he could help. Both answers were: Yes!


This will mean more grants and funding--because there is no free lunch (sigh)--but I can start small and move slowly toward world domination.

Or simply exciting possiblities.

Ah, technology... perhaps my paranoia is unfounded.

In this case.

Follow-Up: Glass Half-Full

In the spirit of optimism, I follow up yesterday's email of discouragement and astonishment with one of optimism.

If, as I believe, we are moving toward a period of disconnect between our academic pedagogy (or teaching) and free-for-all practice sans faculty, there are good things about this, for me, as well.

Like the opportunity to look outside my own department for collaboration. Right now, the projects I have built with colleagues from Medieval Studies and Creative Writing, from Music/Composition, from French, and from Film and Media Studies/Playwriting as well as the proposal for an interdisciplinary course including faculty from Music, Dance, and English to be taught in Spring 2013--all of these make me very happy right now.

Because of the chance to work with friends and new colleagues on exciting short-term projects.

Like the opportunities for my students I created and am creating. Getting my students into collaborations with professional actors and directors, with award-winning playwrights, with students from other disciplines, and even with each other. Getting my students produced and published. Getting my students into excellent internships.

Because of the chance to let my students test themselves in the Big World and to bring their writing to completion, in front of an audience.

Like the opportunities for my own writing and artistic work. The novel in pre-publication and the one being written. The three book reviews. The dramaturgy situation with a local theatre and playwright friend. The encyclopedia entries. The historical study in process. The two articles being developed from conference papers. The grants I hope to win for my own projects and the residencies I plan to earn.

These are short- and long-term projects that excite me, and that will make me a better writer/teacher/scholar/person.

Like the time to be spent with friends and family, instead of co-workers.

After all, one of my 2011 goals was to create a better, stronger community external to work. Which is all on me, after all. I've been doing pretty well, but attention must be paid!

All of this is made possible by the very argument of yesterday. Seen in this light, the glass is more than half-full.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

What am I doing, then?

Warning/Disclaimer: Serious Questions verging on Rant

Recently, I was informed (along with my co-workers) that the most important experiences of my students during their time in college come not from my classroom (or any classroom) or from their work in our mainstage performances, but from their own independent productions.

In fact, it was emphasized that their future success will come primarily from whether or not they direct, act, stage manage or design these independent shows. Not from anything learned from their faculty. Not from any application of analytical or critical work or study of literature. Not from any evaluation of projects, even to allow students to articulate their own intentions or aesthetics.

I found this... astounding. And quite unsettling.

It is agreed, further, that we put no guidelines or limits on their choices of material or how to handle that material. That there is no post-mortem to evaluate or even discuss how they did what they did, even when students use monies from school grants or divisional budgets. That there is minimal, if any, supervision. That encouragement is the only approach. And by "agreed" I mean "understood," a slightly different nuance, but the two words are interchangeable in this context, because the subject was never discussed.

What I hear, I think, is that despite achieving tenure, earning three degrees, and 24 years of practical experience as director, playwright, and literary manager, I may be completely useless to my students' educational process. And by "educational process," what is meant, it seems, is a self-organized series of student-driven and student-focused events without the outcomes of grading, analysis, critique, or review of any kind.

In fact, I strongly believe in encouraging students to take artistic, aesthetic, and collaborative risks, to expect them to challenge themselves by taking on unfamiliar and difficult material, and to move them toward interdisciplinary collaborations and mixed-media events. But I don't see the problem in also creating a rubric for post-event analysis, for articulate and public discussion before, during, and after the performances, and for faculty providing informed critique to their students on multiple levels. After all, that is why the university employs and tenures faculty, to hold those conversations in the classroom and out, if I am not mistaken.

If a student doesn't want or need these, why then is this person at university? Go West, Young Man or Woman (or East) and get thee to auditions! This, too, is a time-honored form of entering show biz--in fact, this is the one that is millenia-old, while university programs in theatre and theatre training haven't been around for even a century.

I'd love to take part in a series of conversations wherein students articulate and discuss their artistic, political, and interpersonal choices. Where they must recognize failure as well as success, on several planes. Because they'll have to do this, too, to get grants, residencies, financing, jobs and roles, as well as the time and space to produce their future work.

I also don't understand the statement of disconnect between the skills and techniques we teach in the classrooms (including those in history, dramatic criticism, and cultural studies) and production processes and outcomes.

After all, the faculty are members of (and paid by) an academy of learning--a university--which requires a huge amount of money per student per year to attend this specific program with the expectation, I would imagine, that students (and their families) pay so much money in order to study with faculty hired by the university as intellectual and practical experts. Not simply the opportunity to work in a variety of spaces with minimal resources without accountability.

And whether the money is paid by parents, scholarships from the university or other sources, loans from the government, or some other resource, the traditional notion is that while extracurricular opportunities are necessary and exciting, the tuitions and fees are aimed primarily at the chance to work with superior faculty--all of us--and to learn from a variety of approaches and points of view.

Or that's what the brochures say.

We know that students learn as much if not more from failure than they do from success, or from working within boundaries and limitations than they do from being turned completely free.

What if they can't even identify the difference between failure and success? or see how a failure is also an opportunity for success, or a partial success, or simply growth?

What if they have no accountability? How will that prepare them for working for someone else, or applying a grant, or thinking a process all the way through, or weighing consequences?

What if they can't articulate their goals, beyond "Let's put on a show!"?

What if they receive nothing but encouragement and positive support, where critique of any kind is seen as negative?

Then, to my mind, no matter how many shows they've put on to the applause of their peers and their family, we've failed them.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Career "something" for Saturday

Today's career move was actually "moves":

First, across my virtual email desk came a request for interest in turning the recent presentations for the Crime/Mystery Colloquium into a published volume of collected essays. I immediately returned my "Yes, please!" and an attached abstract of my paper, as requested.

Second, I contacted two former students about projects. The first one I hope to hire to write a couple of grants for me, to produce student writing with professional actors and directors (and pay them decent wages for said work!), and the second one to schedule some Skype workshops with my writing classes.

Just throwing it out into the universe!

Friday, October 14, 2011

Three times the reviews

... for books.

Delightfully, academics are often asked to review books for scholarly journals. I am currently reviewing three books for two different journals. "Delightfully" because reviews are a source of free books in the area of one's expertise--and scholarly books are expensive.

I am reviewing Women, Medicine and Theatre, 1500-1700 for a historical journal. The author links the appearance of women on the theatrical stage with their roles in medical mountebankery... if that's a word. I'm enjoying the book and will turn in the review this weekend.

My next two reviews are for a theatre history journal, both due separately in November. One is of the study Moliere, the French Revolution, and the Theatrical After-Life, and the other Women on the Stage in Early Modern France. Both are by scholars I respect. Which means, I hope, that I will enjoy those reads as well. One is by a retired expert in 17th-century French theatre, and one by an emerging scholar in 18th-century French theatre.

One of my mentors once said to me, do something for your career every day. I think that's mostly good advice (how about, "five days a week" instead of "every day"?), and try to remember that that means doing things not for your career, as well.

Yesterday's "something" was taking on a dramaturgy project by a local playwright (and friend) with a local theatre company, where the play's director is someone I've known for a long time, as well. This is pretty exciting, in fact, because I'll be working hands-on in a new theatre project with two people I really like: the playwright and director.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Binging... in a good way

As I noted last week, I recently participated in a submission binge with other playwrights. Throughout the month of September, fellow writers and I shared submission opportunities as well as advice, support, and cautions.

I chose to focus on submitting only short pieces: monologues and ten-minute plays. I did so because I knew I had one monologue and two short plays ready--in my opinion--for submission, unlike the longer pieces I have written. All of these different pieces are older, not written recently, and because I didn't really plan ahead, I hadn't read and "rid up" the longer pieces. And I thought that with only a few short pieces I'd be more able to determine what I should send where: only short pieces, with certain styles or subject matter, or number of actors, or minimal set.

What happened was a surprise, on several levels. First, I ended by submitting one monologue and eight different ten-minute plays to a total of thirty-nine different sites, with a total of 54 submissions. Since my goal was 30 total submissions, this was far and away a success.

Second, although I started out planning on submitting only one monologue and two plays because they were "ready," I ended by making minor and major fixes on six more plays and sending those out, too. In one case,only to one site, but still: that's one play to one site more than I had done in August.

Finally, this was good for my writer's morale, since I hadn't felt much like a playwright in some time. I'd been concentrating on the novel and the conference papers-turned-articles, and mutli-tasking as a writer is difficult, as I've learned. It's not the writing itself that is difficult, but keeping the energy of the different genres and subjects focused and moving forward, as well as finding depth in each piece when you're splitting your attention. But now I've thrown out 54 submissions into destiny's wind, and I'm waiting for the results.

Of course, it will be two to six months before I hear from most of them, and up to a year for a couple. So being ready to send more submissions as they roll across my desk (and I'll be checking every Friday and Saturday among various sites)... which they certainly will.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Conference Paper: Willliam Gillette

The paper I gave last month was on an American actor, William Gillette, who was a very popular performer during the last quarter of the 19th and into the first four decades of the 20th.

Gillette came from Connecticut, where his father was a crusader for a  number of causes--among them abolition--and his mother who was descended from Puritan leaders. And before you jump on that, it was the Puritans who brought intellectual depth to the country from England... as well as a number of other things.

Gillette began an apprenticeship as an actor at a young age, coming in contact with Mark Twain. Twain became his mentor. he was not immediately successful; it wasn't until he was 28 that a job with the Frohman brothers allowed him to incororpate skills as a playwright, actor, and director (at low pay). But his first production carrying all three roles was enough of a success that he co-authroed another with the famous novelist Frances Hodgson Burnett, author of The Secret Garden, The Little Princess, and Little Lord Fauntleroy, some of which titles ought to be familiar.

Wikipedia notes that Gillette is best known for his inventions to the world of theatre (I disagree!), but these include "realistic stage settings, and special sound and lighting effects." He also wrote about realism as a style of acting and staging, articulating for the American theatre what the European theatre already knew--which is not a bad thing. Typically, during Gillette's lifetime American theatre lagged the Europeans in staging avant-garde styles--which realism was, at that time.

Gillette came to international success as the playwright and lead actor in The Secret Service and Sherlock Holmes, in the mid- to late-1890s.

And this is where I came in. My presentation was about Gillette's "creation" of Holmes as an enduring and iconographic character. Gillette co-authored--or authored, depending on how you slice it--the first successful Sherlock Holmes performance script (mixing 7 different stories); his co-writer, perhaps, was Arthur Conan-Doyle himself. Gillette was the first actor to use/wear the deerstalker, the Inverness cape, the bent pipe, to use the words "Elementary" and "Hunt's afoot!" I researched and wrote about Gillette's creation of Holmes as a character on paper, but more importantly on stage: the start of a character image used by scores of actors and writers since, including the most recent actors Downey, Syder, and Cumberbatch.

The crux of my paper was the development of this character by Gillette, and its subsequent development by other actors, films, playwrights, TV writers, comic books, and fanzines... The immediate image of the detective has become incredibly pervasive in our culture, affecting writers like Chandler, Hammett, Grafton, Crais, and Child.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Student writers at work

This semester, I am teaching three courses at My U for playwrights/dramatic writers, with three different populations. One class is junior undergraduates/all majors, one class is senior undergraduates/all majors, and one class is non-tradition students/adults.

I am cooking up or have cooked up some nice projects for these groups.

My senior playwrights are writing a full-length play, which will become the basis of our spring playwriting festival. As a part of this, I am coupling each one with a student composer, who will write original music to go with the performance, probably in taped (rather than live) versions. I have also coupled each one with a professional mentor who will work with the student during the semester on this full-length project by Skype in four meetings.

I have also arranged an inter-disciplinary project whereby each playwright will work with our screenwriting professor to transform a 10-minute play into a ten-minute screenplay as an exercise in format and form.

For both juniors and seniors, I am organizing another inter-disciplinary event celebrating the birth of Joan of Arc. Happy 600th, Joan! For this occasion, each playwright will write a short piece (a monologue or a ten-minute play) that might be selected to be performed in a staged reading at Joan's birthday party next spring in April 2012. Alongside their work, will be readings and debates by students in a Medieval Studies course on the History/Biography/Image of Joan of Arc. All three classes will be celebrating together, and sharing the writings each class brings. We may also open it up to the Creative Writing area in general: I have a meeting about that next week, which means more poets and prose writers possibly coming on board.

Some rockin' 600th birthday for the Maid!

I am also organizing our 2012 playwriting festival: three full-lengths, as I said, but this year I want to invite the students who dropped playwriting in favor of other courses to have the one-atc plays they wrote last spring (2011) performed in our reading series, directed by students and acted by students. The full-lengths will, I hope, be directed by professionals from the area, as some of them were last year. And the casts include professional actors. This is my Next Big Project.

For my adult students, I am looking for ways to cross them with my undergraduates. No projects defined yet, but I hope to find something to show off the work they're doing so well.

This is truly exciting, because in dramatic writing, it ain't done till you perform it for an audience... and getting it to an audience is surprisingly the tricky part.  

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

News: Novel

So... yes, I am going to be a published author for fiction. I've already been published as a scholar, but this is new territory for me. I've written a novel, that's due to be published in 2012. I'm waiting on a specific date, because I'm just about to start the editing process with my official editor.

When I know more, I'll pass it along. I am very pleased and excited about this: it is certainly what I would term a "popular" novel, not intended to be considered great literary fare. But I wrote a compelling story with interesting characters. In my opinion.

And frankly my aspirations are not to be literary--which I consider in most senses to be pretentious--but read.

Many of my favorite authors "aspired" to the stature of popular or "low culture" status: Charles Dickens, George Sand, Edith Wharton, Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett, Robert Crais, and J. K. Rowling, for example. And every playwright prior to the advent of the avant-garde in the late 19th century.

A wonderful gallery of colleagues.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Goodbye, September. Hello, October!

Well, so much for good intentions! Although I enjoyed writing about my delightful meals in Savannah I got nowhere with my plan to blog about food everyday. One of my favorite topics, from any standpoint, and I still couldn't get myself on the page. What gives?


Warning: whinging ahead! I am actively soliciting your feedback and suggestions on how to "get on with it."

I have been surprised by the number of challenges September brought to my life from all directions. If you've been trying to follow my blog this month, I have been more notable by my absence than my presence.

Why? September!

Work challenges! This first month of classes and administration and student interaction has been a series of uphill sprints.

T-shirt armor

Just when I thought I was done and back on level ground, uphill again... full speed!

Before I get into full-speed whinging, though, let me point out the following:
  1. my first novel got bought this summer and I hope soon to have a publication date from my publisher;
  2. in a recent binge, I submitted 8 short plays and 1 monologue to 54 different site for production or competition;
  3. I've got my senior undergrad playwrights involved with student composers, nationally known writing mentors, and, soon, local professional directors and actors;
  4. I've got my junior and senior undergrad writers involved in a Spring 2012 celebration of the 600th birthday of Joan of Arc, where their original writing will be featured in public performance;
  5. I'm writing three reviews of scholarly monologues for two different journals;
  6. My recent conference paper went smoothly and offers yet another possible article, with some rewriting and development;
  7. I'm writing encyclopedia entries for French theatre (17th-19th centuries), due in December, by invitation and for remuneration;
  8. I've been invited to help form a local short story "bookclub" with some women I really like.
This is all good stuff that's happening: improving my community, working on my creative projects, supporting my teaching, and certainly developing my career credits. And the list above all makes me happy... countering:

Challenge #1: Not becoming sucked into an All Work/All The Damn Time situation. This is a constant challenge for me, and always has been. I tend to immerse myself in my work, and this year (2011) is supposed to be about finding balance. Making work 20% of my life, instead of 95%.

This requires me taking the time to schedule time with friends, making new connections across campus, and using the 15-minutes-per-task approach to house maintenance and grading. I am certainly more conscious about getting other things into my day; I have also realized that I have to set boundaries for myself about putting time into preparing classes, grading, and my own writing.

And yet! (Devil on my shoulder, here...) I am trying to infuse new thinking into my classes, which had begun to feel "old" and boring. To break old habits of putting off grading until the "night before" and to keep the classroom lively and fresh. This requires consistent time invested daily: for my class meeting Tuesday and Thursday, for example, I am spending time on the class on Friday, Sunday, Monday, and Wednesday, beyond the in-class time or student meeting time. Too damn much!

Challenge #2: My absent colleagues. Seriously. I work in a graveyard, where the colleagues on my hallway (five men) all keep their office doors closed all the time. I see my colleagues once monthly, at our faculty meetings. I share no committees with my colleagues--because we have no committees. Seriously? In an academic department? Grant you, I don't want more meetings per se, but I am in our building four days out of every week, and I see 1-2 colleagues weekly. In a department with 17 faculty members.

Not in my hallway!

This is just... weird. We never socialize; for instance, right now we've just welcomed three new colleagues and a guest artist with... nothing. Pointing them out at faculty meetings. The guest artist is with us through October and I've yet to see him. All email, all the time. This mostly just makes me feel disconnecte
Challenge #3: Return to Drah-Ma that comes with being back in classes and the few small meetings. Email seems to heighten Drah-Ma, rather than diminish it. Moments of over-reaction, over-acting, and under-empathy. Sigh.

Challenge #4: Maintaining the good eating, sleeping, and creative habits I flourished with this summer. Keeping the fridge stocked with fresh vegetables and fruits, then remembering to eat them (ah!). The Lazy Me emerges, looking for the quick grab-and-eat stuff of the past, the extended nap, the "do it tomorrow, Scarlett" attitude I worked so hard to nix.