Friday, April 27, 2012

Word Play

Word play isn't just for kids, but they're definitely the best at it.  For the past 2 weeks, poet Eric Hull of the Vox spoken-word chorus has been doing a residency in my classroom.  Bringing a poet into the classroom has unlocked the sheer joy of playing with words in some beautiful ways.  Kids who have been notoriously reluctant writers all year are suddenly inspired.  The energy in the room is palpable.  They're beaming with their creations and rushing up eagerly to show me.  What's perhaps most surprising is how little it took, really.  Some time spent on rhythm and meter, a lesson on alliteration, one on similes and one on rhyming couplets.  

With all the focus we have on state testing and improving the basics of writing (spelling, capitals, periods 'til we're all blue in the face), I guess I've lost sight of the fun of words.  Poetry always gets the shaft in the curriculum for the sake of expository writing and longer narratives that will get at the kind of sustained writing expected by the state standards and the tests.  I'm saddened and mad at myself that I've let that thinking rule me.  What a breath of fresh air to remember how fun it can be to play with words!

I think this is a lesson for my writer self, too.  When I'm bogged in the slog of submissions and the killjoy of queries, maybe it's time for an internal rhyme or a little alliterative literature.  Even us serious writers need to remember to play with words.  Who knows what fresh visions the muse might conjure when caught up in the joy of word play?

A few samples from my kids:
"Murky muddy mighty mushy mountains."
"Oregon tastes like peanut butter."
"Oregon looks like a giant blob with two right angles."
"Oregon has a lot of beaches, but Ms. McGean still teaches."
"Oregon is as salty as the beach."
"I saw a raccoon that ruined my cocoon."

And the one that caused a giant grin to burst across one too-often sad boy:
"When there is a brain drain,
Ms. McGean goes insane."

That one made me laugh out loud.

Promise to self:  remember to play and have fun with words and with learning, no matter what "accountability measures" might be breathing down your neck.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Today On the Society of the Inner Ear

Tune in today at 2:00 to the Society of the Inner Ear at KZME Radio 107.1 FM to catch some awesome audio theater, including an original piece by yours truly called THE ST. JAMES SISTERS, inspired by the classic song The St. James Infirmary Blues, with a dark whiff of the Grimm's story The Twelve Dancing Princesses.  THE ST JAMES SISTERS was written for the award-winning Willamette Radio Workshop.  Other featured pieces include THE YELLOW WALLPAPER by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, starring Agnes Moorehead, and TURNSTILES, a short award-winning piece by Portland writer Carole Oberholtzer.  I thought it would be airing on Mother's Day, but it's airing early.  Enjoy!

Friday, April 20, 2012

How I'm Learning to Love Literary Fiction

Remember when I posted about that {censored} term "literary fiction"?  I'll admit, I was a bit snarky about the whole concept.  After I wrote that post, I found I couldn't stop chewing on the question of literary fiction.  I had also entered a phase of submitting and resubmitting my short stories to various markets.  And I happened to have a big stack of gift cards to Powell's Books courtesy of the Teacher as Writer workshop through Wordstock.  (Sidebar - if you ever get a chance to participate in that workshop, take it!  Best writing workshop I've ever been in!)  Anyway, I decided to pick up a copy of Tin House, a Portland-based publication focusing on literary fiction that has developed a terrific reputation.  And I learned something.

Not everything in it was my cup of tea, but there was no denying the power of the language, the way the authors used words and imagery to fresh and evocative effect.  I found myself savoring phrases, lingering over images, in a way that I just don't do with a "page turner."  My favorite pieces draped a curtain of tension over the story from the very beginning, and allowed the tension to hang in the air while the story proceeded forward in careful, contemplative fashion.  I was reminded what a difference a well-chosen word or phrase or image can make, how the poetic element can transform a story.  Literary fiction chooses to shine a spotlight on those qualities.   My own writing could benefit if I spent a little more time wandering the world of literary fiction.

So, literary fiction, I offer a humble apology for my past snarking and now acknowledge your value in a too-rushed, Hollywood-driven world.  I shall visit you again.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Escape from the Abyss, and More

Well, I guess the end of the nasty cold has allowed me to rise out of the abyss and get back to writing.  So all you folks who cheered me on and reminded me that the abyss would pass, you were right.  Even my latest rejection letter didn't manage to suck me back in.  I guess the bottom line is that I want to write stories and the writing itself will always call me back eventually, whether the external validation is there or not.

On a mildly related note, one of my audio theater pieces, THE ST. JAMES SISTERS will be airing on Mother's Day via The Society of the Inner Ear on KZME 107.1FM as part of an homage to women in audio theater.  I wrote the piece for Willamette Radio Workshop as part of a collection of pieces inspired by the blues classic, St. James Infirmary Blues.  Mine is set in the Civil War and based not only on the song but on the Grimms fairy tale of the Seven Dancing Princesses, with a darker underlying theme around the impact of war and the issue of survivor's guilt.

The other featured pieces are Agnes Moorehead performing Charlotte Perkins Gilman's THE YELLOW WALLPAPER, and TURNSTILES by Carole Oberholtzer.

Thus endeth the self-promotion.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Into the Abyss

I have had two highly unproductive weeks.  I have no words of wisdom about it.  I sent off a bunch of stuff and the waiting game has been going and going and going.  I worked on some new stuff.  I wrestled with some structural things on novel #3.  I got sick and couldn't manage my usual 5 AM writing before teaching.  Every spare moment seems filled with the demands just to keep the basics of body and soul together, with no energy, brain power or waking time left to write.  I know I am not alone.  I know others have been here before me.  I know I will eventually get to write again.  Hell, summer vacation is coming.  But just at this moment, I am staring into the abyss.  It doesn't feel like I'm germinating ideas or  doing anything but pure survival, with no fuel to draw on.  Stalled out and ready to abandon the damn car on the side of the road.

Call it my "dark night of the soul."  I will try to trust that this will pass.  Maybe when I get the taxes done the abyss won't seem so deep and dark.

This blog post is me calling "hallooo" into the abyss and waiting for something more than an echo.

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