Archive | May, 2010

In Memoriam

31 May

My grandfather was a hunter. But when he came back from fighting in World War II, he no longer hunted. He found he didn’t enjoy it anymore.

Grandpa talked about some of his experiences in battle. Certain stories were family lore, especially the tale about how his life had been saved by a small metal-covered bible my grandma gave him just before he left for service.  He went in on D-Day +1.  Crawling around a hedgerow, he was surprised by a German solider who got the gun up on him first and shot him in the heart. The bullet went clean through that bible–which sat in his left breast pocket–but was slowed by it, getting stuck in a pack of chewing gum on the other side. As a boy, I marveled at the worn bible, a hole in it the size of my pinky.

Certain stories he didn’t talk about until later in life. After D-day, he was sent to North Africa, but he didn’t tell anyone this until he was in his 70’s, maybe feeling his age and the need to get it out.  He outlined the parts of the campaign that he was involved in, tracing his movement on a map in the yellow light of my grandparent’s dining room while my dad video’d him. But it’s still not clear what happened there to make him so reticent. It obviously affected him deeply.

Several years later, when his mind had been wiped clean by Alzheimer’s, I visited him at his new home, an assisted living apartment.  He no longer recognized his own wife, much less his kids or grandkids. Like a 2-year old, he babbled constantly, seeming nonsense. But as I sat there, looking into his dimmed eyes and holding his cool, smooth, leathery hands, it became clear to me what he was talking about: He was talking about war. Even after everything else had been taken from him, those fragments of memory stayed with him somehow, in his muscles and bones. Incommunicable.

In memory of my grandfather, Memorial Day 2010.


Wild Mind: The First Rule of Writing Practice

28 May

Every weekday morning, I practice writing for one hour.  It’s a lot more fun than the scales Mrs C- had me practice on the piano when I was 5, and the aim is the same: I’m rehearsing the fundamentals.  Writing practice is my trip to the word gym, the way I keep fighting (or writing?) fit and work on my technique.

But how does one practice writing? As posted earlier, I follow the 7 rules outlined by Natalie Goldberg in Wild Mind: Living the Writer’s Life.  They work for me.  There are probably as many different answers to this question as there are writers, considering those who don’t intentionally practice.  Yet I suspect Ms Goldberg’s first, most fundamental rule is a necessary one for any successful practice, and that rule is,

Keep your hand moving.

Why is this important? Continue reading

The Bay Area Storytelling Festival

26 May

I went to my first storytelling festival last weekend at Kennedy Grove Regional Park. It was a good festival to for my first. The Bay Area Storytelling Festival has been going on for 25 years, so they’re well established. They featured a diverse line-up with some heavy-hitters in the storytelling community. My favorite tellers were Diane Ferlatte and Ben Haggarty (from the UK).  Both superb. Willy Claflin and Connie Regan-Blake came in a close second place.

I was especially excited to see Ben because I had wanted to take a class from him while in London. Unfortunately, I was kicked out of the country before I had the chance. On Friday, he did an impressive 2-hour telling of Frankenstein. The talk he gave afterwords was even more exciting, as he laid out his feelings about the craft. I scribbled notes furiously.

The Monday after the festival, I awoke, woozy, a bit story drunk, and with this thought: Yes. I want to be a storyteller.

Star Trek vs. Monty Python

20 May

Re-edit, tell a new story.

Well done, sir, well done.

Words, Words, Words: Good Quotes on…Storytelling

20 May

“Speak as though you are under the power of the ultimate spirit in the universe, the ultimate mind, the ultimate force force…And speak to these people as though they represent the ultimate…We are singing in a chorus of our voices.  So listen with your entire being to these people.”

Brother Blue, Storyteller

Let’s Yourself Go and Your Mime Will Follow

18 May

I spent my weekend moving in a Neoclassical Mime intensive taught by James Donlon of the Flying Actors Studio in San Francisco. It was wonderful and comprehensively kicked my butt, putting the ‘intense’ back in intensive. That muscles-I-didn’t-know-I-had kind of sore.

The class gave me a large number of exercises in fixed point work, isolation, neutrality, energy, and the dynamics of creating physical work for the stage that went above and beyond conventional stereotypes about mime. Additionally, I learned a lot about myself, my strengths and weakness. A quick list:


  • Energy: I have lots of it (p’duh). This wasn’t surprising but I continue to learn how it differentiates me from others.
  • Clarity: I have the the ability to make my movement clear and precise and to tell a story.
  • Rapport: I’m excellent at matching and sharing energy with those I’m working with.


  • Economy: I make things too complicated and unnecessary. I often struggle to get to the essential.
  • Levels: Related to my top strength, I tend to default to full-tilt. I need greater dynamics and especially need to remember to start out low, so I have somewhere to go.
  • Neutrality: What I think of as body neutral is not. I lower my chin and tend to take a power stance when standing, and move my arms unnecessarily when walking.

I’m excited because I can already see how this is going to apply to my solo performance and storytelling work. The class was reasonably priced (worked out to about $11/hour) and a great survey of techniques and concepts.  Recommend it in a heart beat if your interested in performance work.


Writing Mindfully or Writing Entranced?

16 May

I do an hour of writing practice each day, following these guidelines.

One of my goals of late has been to focus on mindfulness while writing. Simple, in theory: Make writing into a meditative practice that builds awareness. At the end of it, I feel clear-headed, more stable and focused, a clarity that shows up in my writing. But I’m not sure it results in my best writing.

Today, I wrote a passage about my first kiss. I was totally lost in it. The memories flashed up in front of my eyes one after the other, and I grasped onto what I could, pulling them down from the mental ether, and stitching them to page with the black thread of letters. It was easily one of the more evocative pieces I’ve written, recently.

In your opinion: Does writing require an altered state of mind, a writing trance? Or is getting clear mentally the best way to get your thoughts out on to the page?