Tell me if you’ve heard this one.

A large headed man with a halo, The Apostle Paul by Aidan Hart
The Apostle Paul by Aidan Hart

There’s a joke that’s been coming back in my mind for a while, now. I can’t remember the details, and it makes me crazy. I don’t know if it’s a joke, or one of those academic urban legends, or both. Here’s what I can remember.

Students in a theology course at a prestigious university spread a rumor amongst themselves. The rumor was that the class was very difficult, requiring a lot of reading and study, but the final exam was easy, provided you had some inside information. It was rumored that the exam was only one question, a long essay, and the question was, “describe and explain the life and times of the Apostle Paul.” This was a lot of information, true. But if you were ready for it, you could narrow down a ton of your studying, and sail through the course.

finalsSo far, the rumor had turned out to be true. For many years, the students came in, sat down, and were presented with the final exam question: describe the life and times of the Apostle Paul. Students told their friends, “dude, you gotta take this class, it’s not totally easy but you really only have to know this one concept for the final, you can sleep through all the lectures on whatever else.”

Finally, one year, the professor who taught the course got wind of the rumor. When the students came in for the exam, they were provided one essay question.

“Explain the existence of God. Cite examples. Use both sides of the paper if necessary.”

The students stared in disbelief. They hadn’t prepared for anything resembling this. Some of the students walked out immediately. A few tried to scribble out a haphazard answer, before shuffling up to the front of the room and sheepishly putting their papers on the professor’s desk. One student, however, did something different. The student started at the question for a long time, then started writing. The scratching of the student’s pencil was slow at first, but gradually it gained speed, in the way that comes from confidence. The student carefully filled both sides of the paper in small, neat handwriting, using proper paragraph and essay structure.

When the exam time was almost finished, the student brought the paper up to the front desk. By now the room was almost empty. No one was left but the professor and the lone student. The kid’s pencil was chewed down to a nub. The professor had stopped doing other work and had just watched the kid scribbling away, with a bit of amazement. No one else had even hung in there and tried to complete the exam.

“Listen,” said the prof, “You’re the only one who hung in there and took this exam seriously. I mean, there are a few half-hearted tries that were handed in, but nothing even came close to a reasonable exam answer. I’m giving you an A+ for the entire course.”

The student said, “You sure you don’t even want to read it?”

“I don’t have to,” said the professor. “Students like you are the reason I teach. Have a great summer.”

“Are you positive?”

“I’ve got my grade book right here. Look. A Plus. That’s ink. It’s done. Now go on, get out of here, so I can go home. Go play frisbee on the quad or something, you’ve earned it.”

(I heard this story in the 80s.)

The kid said, “Okay,” and skedaddled out of the room as quickly as possible.

The professor looked down at the paper, thinking about how he’d happily put an end to the rumor about his easy exam, and thought maybe this would mean he’d get good students next semester. Good students, like this kid. Right?

“Explain the existence of God. Cite examples. Use both sides of the paper if necessary.”

The kid ‘s opening paragraph read as follows.

“Who are we, as mere mortals, to explain the existence of God? Such hubris goes against everything we have learned this semester. Therefore, I will take this time to describe and explain the life and times of the Apostle Paul.”

It bugs me that I might not be telling this joke correctly. Maybe the message I’m taking away from this story is something I’ve mis-remembered and made up, not the real intention of the story. I’ve tried looking for it in theological humor message boards, academic humor message boards, so on and so forth. The punchline has been popping up in my head a lot lately. My friend Nick  and I were discussing this joke recently. I said I couldn’t figure out why it kept sticking to me. He suggested, “Write what you prepared, not what they demand. ”

Mme of Gloria Anzaldua that says, 'you should be writing."There’s more to it than that, but Nick summed it up pretty well. Lately I’ve been not writing as much. I worked on writing and rewriting Season 2 of Jarnsaxa Rising for about a year,  and now we’re in the editing and production stage. I’m feeling a little bit guilty right now for taking time away from doing dialogue assembly. The itch to write gets answered by the demon of doubt, saying, “who would want what you write?” And I worry a lot about writing what people want, as any playwright will tell you. After three or five or seven full-length plays, there’s only so much looking within you can do, without looking outside. With a social media infested world, by the time you get together enough information for a reasonable play idea, it’s become last year’s meme.

But, honestly, if you want to write about The Orville or incentives to recruit volunteer firefighters or Westworld or kitten season, it doesn’t really matter if someone else wrote about it first. As Kerouac said, “it ain’t what you write, it’s the way atcha write it.” Actually, I don’t know if he said that, but a friend of mine had a coffee cup with that quote on it attributed to him, and we both worked at Borders at the time, so it’s not too far-fetched.

So, why can’t I toss out a bunch of pop-culture observations, like R. Eric Thomas, and still write good plays, like R. Eric Thomas? Actually, these days I’m writing audio drama, but the reason for switching is a thorny one, and I’ll save that for another time.

So, anyway. My point is, does anyone remember this joke? Does anyone know anything about it? Am I getting the message correctly, or is the story something else? Am I mis-remembering The Three Little Pigs and thinking, “wow, the pig that built the house out of sticks was a genius?”

My other point is, I disagree with Joanna Robinson, I don’t think Terminator Dolores and Evil Young William are all that bad, because characters have to start out horrible for their eventual redemption to mean anything. But I like listening to Joanna Robinson.

Really, my point is, we should all be writing with fearlessness, and reading with fearlessness. Tennessee Williams used to write “Avanti!” at the top of the page when he started writing for the day.  Onward and upward.

 

 

 

 

 

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Want to help us make a story?

Lathgertha_by_Morris_Meredith_WilliamsIn six days, Vince and I are going to take A Big Risk. We’re going to get on a plane (Vince hates flying) and go to Minneapolis, Minnesota. There we’re going to hand a script to a room full of people, most of whom I haven’t met (first-draft readings take a pint of my blood), and we’re going to read it, rehearse it, record it, and make a serial podcast out of it.

This is Jarnsaxa Rising.  Ancient Norse Gods use humans as pawns to battle each other. When an ancient giantess takes human form to engage in eco-terrorism, a corporate team tries to stop her, and learns who the real enemy is.

Vince testing our portable recording setup.
Vince testing our portable recording setup.

The script is stylistically different for me, in narrative and in craft. I’ve never written science fiction or fantasy before. Adjusting to audio drama is also new for me. Vince has done a lot of sound engineering and still experiments with it for fun. He’ll be performing all of the sound engineering and writing all of the music. We made a sketch comedy podcast episode to prove to ourselves we could do it. Now we’re getting involved with other people and going on a journey.

Carin Bratlie believed in me enough to produce Traveling Light years ago, and now we’re going to go take a leap of faith together again. She’s assembled a solid, smart cast, and she’ll be directing.

Now’s your chance to be part of our trip.

We are 14% funded on the Indiegogo campaign that will fund this project. The podcast will be produced and be available online for your listening pleasure this autumn, whether we reach our funding goal or not. As I write this, twenty-one people have said, “Hell, yes, I want to support this story.” You can join us.  

They say life is a bowl of cherries in Minneapolis.
They say life is a bowl of cherries in Minneapolis.

Right now I feel like my viscera is all clenched up in the center of my chest from excitement and anxiety. I’m rewriting the big final battle of the story, and I want to make everyone proud.

Things are looking up!

Georgia O'Keeffe, photographed by Alfred Steiglitz. Good things are happening.

I’m pleased to announce that Wide Open Spaces will be read as part of the Philadelphia Women’s Theatre Festival this summer!

Wide Open Spaces is the play that I wrote about Georgia O’Keeffe, and her personal changes that made her the painter we know today. It has forty-some odd characters played by eight performers, and takes place in one room and all across America over three years, so this is going to be a good experience. I’m really excited about this, and grateful that the festival coordinators see what I’ve seen in this story.

Philadelphia’s never had a theatre festival specializing in work created by women, before this year. Ms Fest at Plays & Players was a huge success, so the energy of supply and demand is high for a women’s theatre festival.  Currently, the PWTF is raising funds to make the festival happen, and you can support this project.  They have four days left to meet their fundraising goal, and donations are tax-deductible. 

I know so many people who complain at being left out of opportunities. There’s so much “they don’t want me because I’m too (x, y, z) for them” that I hear, and I want to be in a culture of saying “yes, and.”   This is one of those times where we can step up and build the sandbox in which we want to play.

Speaking of building your own sandbox, progress on Jarnsaxa Rising continues. In addition to the script, I’m working on “meet the artist” posts for the podcast’s blog. Every time I open up my e-mail, see the performers’ headshots and read their bios, I get all warm and giggly inside. This project is going to be Really Good.

And, of course, if science-fiction-fantasy podcasts are your thing, you can join us on the journey.

IMG_3686 And last night it rained, finally, so the garden is getting wild again. The red lilies are blooming and doubling and trebling, and the morning glory vine has started to fight with the lavender, but they’re no match for the mint, so I have to get in there and break up some of this battle.

 

 

Mint vs. Lavender vs. Morning Glories. QUIEN ES MAS MACHO?
Mint vs. Lavender vs. Morning Glories. QUIEN ES MAS MACHO?

 

 

 

Orphan Black Is My Personal Trainer

Not only are the Sestras of Team Leda my personal trainers, but also, as a result, I can survive car crashes, get stabbed through the side with rebar, run, fight, shoot with accuracy, and dig a grave through a cement floor. Impressed?

Don’t be. I may be exaggerating. Let me back up a bit.

During the summer of 2013, I lost about eighteen pounds. This happened through a combination of hopping up and down on an elliptical machine at Planet Fitness, and eating mostly blueberries and almonds in order to win the respect of  [popular Philadelphia actor and local vegan] Doug Greene. It was fun, for a while. Then,
a) I learned that Doug Greene’s kindness is so vast that he really doesn’t care if I eat things which can not be easily foraged, and

b) The televisions at my local Planet Fitness succeeded in driving me out of there. That’s right. The terrorists’ televisions won.

Here’s the battle. I had a pretty good system for making regular exercise part of my life. Roll out of bed, pull on the pile of work out clothes I thoughtfully placed [okay, dumped] on the floor next to the bed the day before, put earbuds in ears, and with my gym only a few blocks away, I’d be at the gym and on the elliptical, chugging along to “Doctorin’ The Tardis,” before I really woke up.

OB1-596x335  Unfortunately, the Wall Of Televisions across from the elliptical machines were extremely distracting. The morning parade of anorexics, invented health scares, and celebrity bullshit which passes for news drove me far away from sense and sensibility. One day I saw Olivia Wilde, being interviewed about her role in a movie in which her character allegedly liked to drink a lot of beer. I thought, she doesn’t look like she’s ever touched a beer in her life. She’s as light and luminous as a snowflake. She probably eats nothing but organic arugula and pure mountain spring water. Then, some weird part of me thought, you could look like that if you ate only twelve handfuls of almonds a day. It’s possible. And just look how much better her career is than yours.

Fortunately, some reasonable part of my brain (the part that likes eating, moving around and having cognitive function) said, NOPE, that’s not a healthy mind set. I got my priorities in order. After that, the televisions at the gym made me so angry, that I stopped going to the gym. Music wasn’t enough to keep me going, with TV flashing and flickering away in front of me.

OrphanBlack_S2Ep10_251-596x335 Recently, I was talking with some friends about how I wanted to write a Tv drama spec script for my portfolio. My co-worker Kevin suggested that Orphan Black might fit my sensibilities. I hate sitting and spending copious amounts of time staring at something without doing something else along with it, so I thought, I’ll watch it at the gym. I bought the iTunes season pass for the first two seasons, and away I went on Leda’s Big Adventure.

This show is absolutely ideal as a companion for cardio, especially if you’re stuck indoors at one spot*. Its style, as a one-hour adventure-sci-fi-drama- is ideal for a 45-minute workout.

ob121-596x335  TV writing is formulaic, even for a genre-defying show like Orphan Black. Dan Harmon’s narrative structure method shows this formula best. Essentially, with a 40-45 minute show, you’re going to have moments of tension every five or six minutes. Every other moment of tension will be a major moment of tension, and they will increase in intensity throughout the story.

To try to make things simple, these are your big turning points of story.
1) A person is in a place of comfort
2) But they want something
3) They enter an unfamiliar situation
4) Adapt to it
5) Get what they thought they wanted
6) Pay a heavy price
7) Return to where they started
8) Having Changed.

OrphanBlack-Ep5-1-596x335In the case of a serial thriller like Orphan Black, you’re not going right back to the beginning, necessarily, you’re only back to square one in the sense that you’re still fighting The Bad Guys. Your favorite clone makes progress, but not enough for her to win freedom for herself and her family.

So, when you’re working out, these points of tension will make you move faster. The first ten minutes or so, even if they start with Sarah or Cosima or Allison or Helena in a major pickle, are at least a pickle with which the viewer is familiar. The episode is establishing itself, and this gives you time to get warmed up. After about ten minutes, our heroine gets presented with a new difficulty, and that makes the tension pick up. Usually, by about fifteen minutes into the episode, there’s a bar fight, a critical code to be cracked, or a chase that makes the viewer more tense. So, the natural response is to do what? Move faster. Each conflict increases the tension, leading to a plateau, and then another increase, until the inevitable cliffhanger ending, which leaves the viewer wanting more.

OrphanBlack_S2Ep9_20-596x335Mirror Neurons being what they are, we can’t not get tense along with our favorite characters. Every time they get into trouble, we do what they know they should do; tense up, and run, or fight. It’s a perfect thing to keep you going when you’re at the gym. There are some exceptions, however. When Paul pressed the stolen (spoiler object) into the palm of Felix’s hand, I hauled on the brakes on the elliptical foot pads so hard that I almost fell off of the machine. So, be careful. This show is not to be taken lightly.

It’s true that many television shows follow this formula, and probably any one-hour drama or police procedural could fit the bill. Why not just go to the gym a couple of hours after dinnertime, and catch one of the many variations on CSI or Law & Order? Because this is Orphan Black, and it’s a whole new modus operandi in story.

251-596x335
The more things change, the more they stay the same.

One actress, Tatiana Maslany, plays the main characters, all of whom share the same DNA, but are as different as chalk and cheese. Each of them has secrets, and has to pretend to be something she’s not. Anyone who wants transformation, or has just had a very bad day (why else would you get on an elliptical machine?) can empathize with Clone Club. The clones battle and support each other in similar but unique voices, much as different facets of one human’s personality. Yet they all work toward a common goal; independence and safety for themselves and their family. Because one actress plays all the roles, the viewer gets pulled into the concept of transformation. The body becomes immaterial; what matters is the clones’ desires, actions, and manners of self-expression. For someone who’s trying to get more exercise, this hits home. Ultimately, the premise of Orphan Black is, “Is biology destiny?” Is our body all we are, or can be? For all women, we want to feel like our bodies are less important than our personalities, thoughts, and desires. In the case of Orphan Black, the human body is a part of oneself, but not the entire existence.

OrphanBlack_HelenaGallery_02-596x335  Having this show accompany me as I work out makes me more excited to go to the gym. It makes me think about the body in terms of strength, health and autonomy. It distracts me from all of the usual chatter in which we engage, concerning fitness and working out. Maybe I’m not doing this because I want to look like the women on The Today Show or Good Morning America. Maybe I’m doing this in case I ever have to dodge a sniper’s bullet or run for my life or fight off a bunch of armed goons. The characters on this show are flexible but tough, capable of change, but focused, and always moving up. It’s the best workout companion I’ve ever had.

I have not yet seen Season 3, other than the occasional trailer or sneak peek. Like I said, I don’t have cable (although Episode 1 of Season 3 is available online. BUT FOR HOW LONG???). As far as I can tell, some of what the new season concerns is how big business (i.e., Dyad), can control the human body, how the government and military can get involved (such as in the case of copyright), and what people can do with their bodies. These ideas scares me, particularly since we see this all the time. We see it when women starve themselves to fit a business’ idea of what a clothing size is, when people make choices about food, self-care, residence or birth control based on what corporations say is safe and healthy. I’m glad this show is exploring these ideas, in an interesting and inventive way.

And no, I never wrote the spec script, because I was too busy being in love with the show. I probably will eventually, anyway. Wide Open Spaces made the semi-finalist level for the National Playwrights’ Conference at The Eugene O’Neill Theatre Center, so I can’t possibly be that bad at this whole thing, right?

Hide and steek

Today I took a huge risk, which un-nerved me to my very core, the name for which not even Autocorrect recognizes. I tried steeking.

Steeking, for those of you who aren’t knitting geeks, is the process by which knit material is cut and sewn to make it into something else or smaller or whatever. In my case, I had pretty much given up on the project, and figured I had nothing to lose by trying out the process.

I tried knitting a hat, using Plymouth Yarns’ Gina in 0001. I wanted a loose, slouchy hat which would cover my ears, without mushing my hair irretrievably flat against my head. So, I looked at Bohoknits’ Sockhead Hat (which is a terrific pattern) and modified it to accept the different gauge of this thicker yarn.

I also wanted a diagonal rib for the 4″ band at the hat’s brim, because I think it’s more interesting to knit.  Unfortunately, despite measuring my melon and taking careful notes, I ended up with a giant family-sized salad bowl of a hat.

My head is smaller than a 2-liter soda bottle. I promise.
My head is smaller than a 2-liter soda bottle. I promise.

In this case, a normal person who wanted a hand-made custom-fit hat should do one of two things:

1) Get an expert to make it for you.

2) Frog, or unravel, the knitting, and start over.

Unfortunately, when it comes to clothing myself in cold weather, I am more stubborn than rational. So, I know that if you run wool through the washer on a warm cycle, it will shrink. This process is sometimes called felting, and sometimes called tragedy.  I decided that this hat was so big it could afford to participate in an experiment in shrinkage. So, not only did I run it through a clothes washer on a hot cycle, I ran it through a hot dryer.

diagonal rib and stockingette stitchesFor what it’s worth, let me show you how pretty the stitches looked before felting.

Thank you.

I also have to say that this yarn is as soft as a baby lamb’s earlobe. I knew felting would take away that feel. But baby, it’s cold outside.

So, a risky hot water wash and hot air dry later, I ended up with a hat that felt more tightly knit, but, guess what, was EXACTLY THE SAME DAMN SIZE. This is truly a testament to the resiliency and durability of Plymouth Yarn. I’m sure they make a yarn specifically for felting projects. If you want a yarn that won’t get ruined in the wash by mistake, I recommend this. And yes, it’s 100% wool.

Meanwhile, I still had a fuzzy floppy fruit bowl.  I thought, I give up. I can’t frog it now, because it’s about 50% felted. I tried wearing it, and it flopped and any breeze threatened to blow it off my noggin. Finally, I folded up part of it and pinned it with a safety pin to make it fit more snugly.

Then I remembered steeking. I’d read about it in some knitting books, but never actually done it, nor seen it done. I looked up some YouTube tutorials on the process, and saw that it required more skill and foresight than I had for this project. Today, I said, screw it, I have nothing to lose at this point.

IMG_3287

 

I measured out how much had to go, turned it inside out, and sewed a row of stitches across the hat, making a dart.

IMG_3289Then I took a pair of scissors and a deep breath, and cut the extra part off.

And here’s what I got:

me wearing my hat, after steeking.
Yes, that is a giant Darth Vader Pez Dispenser on our tchotchke shelf.

 

I like it. It fits, it’s comfortable, it looks cute. I am running it through another hot wash to see if I can get the new stitches to felt and mush with the rest of the yarn, so that seam will be more durable.

So, yeah; it’s been a while since I’ve last posted here. I’ve been applying for jobs and submitting scripts to opportunities. My track record has averaged one submission a day since last May. So far I’ve had a few good things come back (for example, The Wreck Of The Alberta had a reading with Athena Theatre Company, and it went Really Well, they’re good people). But it must be reading season, because I haven’t heard much lately.

Stay warm and safe.

Are you in Southern California?

If you are, or plan to be, in the Los Angeles area on Thursday, November 13, you owe it to yourself to head down to Casa 101 Theatre in Boyle Heights to see Teatro MOZ.

@Jules Dee Photography 2014. Jeanette Godoy and Katie Ventura in rehearsal.
@Jules Dee Photography 2014. Jeanette Godoy and Katie Ventura in rehearsal.

Tickets are now available for a showcase of Latino-American love for the man whose voice helped redefine masculinity, Morrissey.  The short plays are all culled from a nationwide call for submissions. I took a gamble with my friend, DJ and cultural connector, Rhienna Renee Guedry.  We wrote a play about bicycles, not having sex, and woman-loving-women who love Morrissey, and sent it in, crossing our fingers and clapping our hands because we believe in fairies.

A few weeks later, we were fortunate enough to have our play, Pretty Petty Things, chosen as a finalist.

Unfortunately, I’m unable to get to Los Angeles from Philadelphia right now. BUT, if you can, you should! The cast is not only talented and skilled, but also gorgeous. The show promises to be a tour de force, complete with live musical performances and a lot of sweet and tender hooliganism. It’s only playing for one night, Thursday, November 13, at eight pm.

@Jules Dee Photography, 2014. Jeanette Godoy and Moises Rodriguez in rehearsal.
@Jules Dee Photography, 2014. Jeanette Godoy and Moises Rodriguez in rehearsal.

How often do you get to see a theatrical event that combines Latino contemporary life and California culture with the Anglophilic pop sensibility of the former frontman of The Smiths? Come to Casa 101 Theatre, 2102 East First Street, Los Angeles, California, 90033, for a singular dramatic event.

Tickets available at this link!  Go get ’em, Tiger!