Film Marathons

Okay. I’m probably not the only one watching a lot more TV these days.

When all my mental energy is consumed by stress, I enjoy not having to decide what to watch next. So watching TV shows with 10+ seasons is helpful. But with movies, it’s trickier.

I like having movie nights. But I hate the exhausting decision of browsing 5 different streaming services and deciding between dozens of good options. So I’ve been rewatching some film franchises. Lord of the Rings. All the Marvel canon. The Dark Knight movies. Every Star Wars movie in one day.

I’ve seen a lot of posts of similar marathons over the past six months. But there’s one collection of films I have yet to see people binge-watch. There are over a dozen film and television adaptations of the Robin Hood legend. And I happen to have almost all of them on DVD.

In undergrad I developed the curriculum for an entire class on Robin Hood in Cinema during a Pedagogy course. Partly because I love galivanting through forests and I look fantastic in green tights. But also because the legend is surprisingly adaptable, and the manner in which it is retold says a lot about the storytellers.

Over the next month, I’m going to revisit each and every one of these retellings to dive into what Robin Hood can say about cinematic storytelling from 1920-2020. Tally ho!

Food for Thought. Thought for Food.

Here’s the thing about food.

For lunch, I had a fresh Cavatelli pasta with goat cheese, sauteed kale, and toasted almond slices.

For dinner, I scooped tuna fish out of a can with Ritz crackers.

And they were both good.

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This is the photo on the recipe. Mine was decidedly less photogenic.

I’m thinking a lot about food these days. The theater and art and work and projects have stopped. What I have instead is food. So all the tools I have for the creative work are coming down on the process of making food.

Much of what makes a good theater experience isn’t what is seen onstage. The show changes based on who you’re seeing it with, how your day went, whether you hit traffic on the way to the theater, how the show was advertised, whether you got a drink before you went in…

Art is context. And so is food.

I’ve eaten plenty of sourdough before. I’ve thought it was good. But I never thought it was miraculous. Until recently.

I, like so many others, grew my own starter to bake sourdough in quarantine. I had to look into options, pick a technique, compare notes with friends and family. I had to check in on my own little yeast culture in a jar and feed it like a pet. I spent four hours kneading and proving and flipping and proving and baking my loaf of sourdough. And only at the end of all those weeks, when I saw to my surprise that it had worked, did I embrace how cool homemade sourdough is. And I enjoyed the heck out of that bread.

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This was my firstborn sourdough baby. And she was truly beautiful.

Good food isn’t just excellent preparation. It’s connection. Sometimes the food is good because it’s fulfilling a specific nutritional need. Sometimes it’s providing nostalgic comfort. Sometimes it’s supplying a time intensive project. A way to provide for someone else. To spend time with friends. Sometimes it’s a surprising new way to get rid of that weird bag of vegetables from the back of your freezer. Good food changes you from what you experienced along the journey.

Food is just a story that you can eat. Goodnight.

Day 9: Are we having fun yet?

14 Skills for 14 Days a.k.a. Stay Home, Learn Skills.

I spent a significant portion of my morning sorting an entire jar of loose change to find out if there were any particularly rare coins in there.

coins
Look at this stuff. Isn’t it neat? Wouldn’t you think my collection’s complete?

I discovered that in fact, I have:

Isn’t learning fun?

I was planning on writing about puppets today, but instead, I’m writing about something else. Because after a week and a half of staring at the same three rooms, I’m ready to really mix it up. Break the mold. I mean, do something just absolutely WILD.

So I baked oatmeal raisin cookies.

And I’m not even going to talk about the recipe I used (plot twist – it’s the one on the quaker oats website). No, I’m going to talk about why I made them.

I have not left the house in a week and a half. There are things I love to eat that I’m starting to run low on. Tortilla chips. Fresh salad. Chamomile tea (I clearly live a wild life). But I have a LOT of oatmeal.

Here’s the thing about oatmeal.

It makes sense on paper. It is cheap. It stays good for ages. It’s a great part of a balanced diet. But I just don’t like it.

And because it makes sense on paper, I keep thinking it’s something I need. I’ll be in the grocery store, and think “oh, I haven’t bought oatmeal in a while. I probably need more.” And I’ll buy some. And I’ll get home, and reach up to put it in the cabinet to discover another container of oatmeal is already there, and it has been used exactly once since I bought it four months ago.

On top of that, oatmeal is on every single recommended supply list for if you’re looking at stocking up on groceries. In fact, these lists are stuffed full of items that look good on paper. None of the major lists address the fact that everything you’ve stocked up on for the month appears to be beige and bland. You know what should be on those lists? 32 oz. containers of red pepper flakes. Family size bags of cheetos. Cans of diced hatch green chiles. If you’re holed up inside for a very long time, make sure you also have ingredients that make you WANT to eat.

All that to say, I now have 3 separate containers of oatmeal, and I may very well retire before I finish eating them.

So I did what everyone always does whenever they need to put a dent in their supply of dense, beige, practical-on-paper food. I paired it with something that actually tastes good. Butter. Brown sugar. vanilla.

And we all know that raisins are in the recipe due to the same problems, right? Someone way down the line was like “man, I need to clear out the back of this cabinet. It’s jammed up with 4 mostly full containers of oats, and 17 individual serving size boxes of raisins.” And before you know it, oatmeal raisin cookies were invented. (I’m also convinced the dirty martini was only invented to give everyone a reason to use up that jar of olives in their fridge door.)

But you know what? Once you throw in all of the ingredients for a birthday cake, this healthy survival food isn’t so bad!

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Day 6: Breakdancing

14 Skills for 14 Days a.k.a. Stay Home, Learn Skills

Day Six: Breakdancing

I can only speak for myself, but when I think about breakdancing, I think about dancers in contact with a hardwood floor swinging their arms and legs around wildly. Most of these maneuvers take a lot of training and/or redbull. For the armchair enthusiast, here are a couple moves that fit that description that can potentially be achieved on your living room carpet after eating half a pizza.

The Coffee Grinder

The Six Step

 

If that’s still too much, you can always stick with some toprocking, the showy on-your-feet stuff where you don’t have to so much as crouch down.

As for that, the only real trick is the attitude. Because if you have the attitude, it doesn’t matter if you have limited mobility. Teeny little arms. An oversized scaly head. All you have to do is have the confidence that you’re the king.

 

Two Kinds of Writing

I now have a 50 page document on my computer that did not exist on October 31st. I’m not exactly sure what’s in it, but I think it means NaNoWriMo is working.

As I dash out words for this challenge, I can see clearly that there are two distinct kinds of writing for a first draft: Transcribing and Generating. I wrote my first ever NaNoWriMo novel largely as an effort of transcription. I had planned out the whole story in my head. I had an outline for where the story needed to go each day, a road map to arrive at a conclusion. I simply needed to log enough hours of typing to get all those ideas written down.

This year, that is not the case. I started with a title and an idea for the first sentence. I have a vague notion of where I want to go, but I’m making decisions on the fly and letting the discoveries surprise me. I’m writing in order to generate ideas that I don’t have yet. Fortunately, writing 50,000 words in a month is equally helpful as a generative exercise as it is as a transcriptive one.

NaNoWriMo calls these styles “Planning” and “Pantsing”. I think planning is sometimes a strong word. The longer you’ve been sitting on a story, the more ideas you might have for it. Sometimes you start writing and you realize all the ideas are there just under the surface. Even without a formal plan, you’re tapping into a well of pre-formed ideas.

The most important thing to understand is that neither of these systems will deliver the final product. Both will generate a draft for you to look at. The ideas will be down on the page. Then the real work, revision, begins.

 

 

10 Years in the Making – A NaNoWriMo Face-Off

It’s less than 24 hours until November. The notorious month of binge writing.

NaNoWriMo Mug

For anyone unfamiliar with National Novel Writing Month, it’s like drag racing for books. It’s a crazy idea, shouldn’t be legal, you’re probably not equipped to do it properly, but WOW the adrenaline rush.

I first attempted this wild month of writing ten years ago. At 18, I had never written a full draft of a manuscript before. After one month, I had a fresh new 200 page novel sitting on my printer. I’ve succeeded during three other NaNoWriMos since then (including once for this blog), with three more failed attempts or false starts.

This year, I’d like to make my batting average an even .500

Better yet, I’d like to one-up my teenage self. As an eighteen-year-old, I wrote 65,000 words in a month. I surpassed my word goal every single day. I never missed a day of writing. I defeated the villains, saved the day, and finished the entire intended plot.

Now, I’m 28 years old. I have a Masters Degree that says “writing” on it.

"Writing" Degree
I can’t believe how hard I worked just to get someone else to write the word “Writing” for me.

Surely I can do an even better job now, right?

Right?

Let’s find out. I’m going to try to surpass my attempt from ten years ago. And I’m going to blog about the whole goshdarned thing. I’ve calculated my odds of success. It’s a bit of a toss up.

IN FAVOR:

  • 10 years ago, I’d never even taken a creative writing class. Now I’ve taught them to college students.
  • I’ve done this many times. I know how it works now.
  • I’ve seen I can write 10,000 words in 12 hours if I need to. I can write SO fast.
  • 10 years ago, I didn’t drink coffee.
  • I have an OFFICE now. For WRITING. How cool is that.
  • I own five dozen emotional support dinosaurs now. That’s got to count for something.

Some casual emotional support dinosaurs
Never underestimate the power of emotional support dinosaurs.

AGAINST:

  • I have bills to pay now. No more youthful frolicking and late-night writing sprees. I have to get up in the morning and go to work too.
  • Not only do I have to work, I work in theater. My schedule is not what I would call ‘streamlined’ for this sort of project.
  • My internal editor is FIERCE now. Merciless. Very hard to ignore.
  • I’ve seen I can write 10,000 words in 12 hours if I need to. This encourages last minute scrambling.
  • My Masters degree is in dramatic writing? Do I know how books work any more? Lets find out.
  • I really shouldn’t take any pride in one-upping an 18 year old. I can’t just barely win. If I win, I have to blow my previous attempt out of the water.
  • AND, like I said. I’m going to be writing about the attempt on this blog as well.

Place your bets everyone.

Spotlight: Warhol’s Raphael

Warhol loved making works based on other people’s art. Sometimes, he got sued for it. Other times, he riffed on works well within the public domain.

Warhol’s painting Raphael Madonna-$6.99 is hard to miss. It’s 14 feet tall, and hangs alone on an entire wall of the Warhol Museum’s 4th floor.

Raphael Madonna- $6.99

The silkscreen painting is a recent addition to the 4th floor art. It was hung last month in preparation for the exhibit Revelations featuring Warhol’s religious artwork. The painting is so large, it cannot be stretched and cleaned inside of the museum’s Conservation Studio. It had to be hung up in the two-story tall gallery in order to receive its first conservation treatment in 26 years. The conservator spent ten days cleaning the surface of the painting from a scaffold, using a tool the size of a q-tip.

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There’s a couple of prevailing opinions about the significance of the 6.99. The one that I stand by is that Warhol saw the painting on display in Dresden. Then he saw the poster for sale with the price sticker on it, and decided he liked that one even better.

Fun fact: while Warhol’s painting was being cleaned, a LOT of people asked me if we were “finishing painting it” for him.

Dinosaur Screen Test

Recently, I’ve been working as a Gallery Attendant at The Andy Warhol Museum.

It’s a lot like working as a Parking Attendant. If the cars were worth millions of dollars. And never moved.

I spend a lot of time staring at Warhol’s art. Enough time staring at art while thinking about my own art, and the influence seeps through. Sometimes pretty directly.

Warhol made hundreds of screen tests. Short film reels of people sitting in front of a camera trying to act naturally. He’d slow the film down, play it back, and call it art. You can do it yourself in the museum, and watch the results online.

I’ve also been spending time doing object puppetry. How much movement does it take to make something seem alive? How many life-like features does an object need before someone can empathize with it?

The connection is simple. Screen tests for inanimate objects. Test how they live and breath on film, see how much a viewer will project onto a simple, silent, black and white clip of the object.

My first attempt, my plastic dinosaur/succulent planter, Susan the Terrible.

Interdisciplinary Performance

What does it mean to work in interdisciplinary performance? It means this week, I’m working on an immersive computer science show, a puppet opera, and a piece of aerial dance-theater.

It’s easy. Mash the names of two disciplines together. If it sounds like something you’d watch, do it!

  • Juggle boxing
  • Lawn darts ballet
  • Bicycle jousting
  • LEGO musicals
  • Real estate disco
  • Fire debates
  • EDM tea parties
  • Vegetable orchestra symphonies

Now you try!

Top 10 Books of my MFA

I read and write a lot. I went to grad school. Where they ask you to do *even more* of both of those things.

How much more?

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This much more.

I’ve compiled a list of the top ten books I read during that time (excluding plays, they’re a whole separate… thing.)

These are not the most literary works of grad school, or the most recommended. Only three of these titles were mentioned to me by professors. No, these are the books I’m most likely to talk to other humans about. These are the books that if you sit next to me at a party (in the corner, behind a potted plant next to the host’s dog) I will assuredly end up mentioning to you.

  1. Making Your Life As an Artist – Andrew Simonet
  2. Design is Storytelling – Ellen Lupton
  3. Syllabus – Lynda Barry
  4. What It Is – Lynda Barry
  5. House of Leaves – Mark J. Danielewsky
  6. The Mystery.doc – Matthew McIntosh
  7. The Vision – Tom King
  8. Spinning – Tillie Walden
  9. Furiously Happy – Jenny Lawson
  10. Then We Came to the End – Joshua Ferris

The most inherent through line for this list is that I’m now obsessed with visual storytelling. Only two of these books are straightforward “text tells the whole story” sort of books. All the rest use image and format as powerful communication tools to supplement text. We can talk more about that later.