Wednesday, October 18, 2006

better vocabulary through pop songs

Today I heard a song from my high school senior year and I was reminded that this song had an educational aspect for me. The lyrics in question are:

"I wanna tell her that I love her, but the point is probably moot."

Yes, Rick Springfield introduced the word "moot" to my vocabulary. I distinctly remember seeing that word on the lyrics sheet and asking a girl from the class before me what that meant.

(Because dictionaries aren't cool. Or something.)

Man, that was a catchy song. It's been in my head all afternoon. C'mon, sing along with me:

"you know I wish that I had Jesse's girl . . . "

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Corpus Christi report

This seemed important to blog about.

I had my first Barnes & Noble signing this past Friday night. It went well enough. We didn't sell a bunch of books, but I'm still at the stage that getting to do signings is success enough. I'm glad I did it and I'd do it again. There are many reasons for that, but one in particular stays with me.

A young girl--I didn't ask her age and I'm not good at guessing ages, but let's say somewhere around 11-13ish?--came up to talk to me as we were winding down. She was very serious and her family left her to fend for herself with the author doing a signing. Her mom did hide around the corner of some bookshelves, keeping an eye on the interaction. I imagine it was to make sure her daughter wasn't bothering me as well as to make sure I wasn't some creepy guy. I found it all quite charming.

The girl was, of course, a young writer and she wanted to talk to an author. We chatted just briefly, but I asked about what she wrote and if she was showing it to anyone, teachers at least. She said yes and that she hoped to get something published. I asked her if she was familiar with Stone Soup, and she said she was not. I told her to look it up, as they are a magazine that publishes young writers. I also suggested she go to her public library and just start looking though the Writer's Market, to see who was publishing what. At her age, I had no idea either of these things existed and I hope just this knowledge will help her see her own possibilities.

I wrote these things down on an Able to... postcard I had with me and signed that for her. Her brother came to get her and she said, very politely and seriously, "Well, I won't keep you." I waved to her mother, still watching us, and wished her well in her writing.

And as much as I enjoyed that interaction, there are things I wished I had said and done.

I wished I had gotten up from my table and walked with her (and her mother) to the newstand and looked for Stone Soup. Barnes & Noble usually carries it and it would have been good for her to actually see it. It's not as if I had a line waiting for me to sign books.

I wish I had told her to not give up. Too many people are put off by rejection letters and I wish I had told her that as disappointing they can be, they are part of the work. They have nothing to do with her talent or the worthiness of her writing. I wish I had told her that the story I just got accepted was written 4 years ago and has gone through a few rejections---and revisions---on its way to publication.

I wish I'd told her that I got my first rejection letter the summer after I was in 8th grade and hadn't gotten my first acceptance letter until I was well into adulthood. Well, that may be daunting for a young person to hear. Maybe it's just as well that I didn't say that. Unless I also told her that there were a few years in there when I did let the rejections get to me and I didn't seriously put things out there until I was much older. Maybe that's the thing I should have said. I should have said that getting rejections early in life made me give it up for a time or else just treat it as a hobby. I wish I'd told her not to follow my example in that. I wish I had told her to never give up being serious about writing because only a very, very few hobbyists ever get published.

But maybe what I did say and what I did do was somewhat helpful. I think I can put myself in her place and feel the excitement of someone who has published. Just seeing a real person who does this thing can be an encouragement. I don't think I met a published writer until I was in college. I'm pretty sure I hadn't. I've sometimes wondered what it might have done to/for me had I known a writer as a kid. I think it would have made being a writer seem a lot more possible, would have made "writer" a real person instead of a creature I read about, which made them as real as unicorns, superheroes, and Martian princesses.

This girl lives in (or near) Corpus Christi, which is much larger than where I grew up. She has a Barnes & Noble that has author signings regularly. I may not be the first author she's met and I certainly won't be the last one she has access to in her teen years. But I was glad to have been there that night to talk to her, even as briefly as I did.

Because, in truth, I felt a little validated, too. She came to me because I was a published author and I suddenly have a different appreciation for the responsibility that status gives me.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

NYC Reflections, part three

As noted early in the blogging venture, blogging is hard. The NYC trip is over a month in the past and I still haven't said all I wanted to say about it. Well, this is the last entry on that adventure. (Finally, they all said under their breath.)

My last day in NYC was pretty uneventful. I was staying out in Brooklyn and so I just sort of wandered around the neighborhood there. I kept trying to remember an old Neil Diamond song but could only remember "two floors above the butcher, first door on the right." Of course, Neil Diamond was pretty much all a farm boy from Paige would know of Brooklyn and everything was new to me. Maybe not entirely, but somewhat. Walking under a freeway overpass is not much different from doing so in Chicago or even Houston. Some of the empty buildings and lots have some visual affinity to Chicago. But I was a little surprised at how different from Chicago it all "felt." I kept wanting to transplant my experience from living in Chicago to this other major city, and I have to say, each city has a distinct flavor, a particulary spirit to it. The achitecture is subtly different, even if they are storefronts with apartments over them. Even the new condos going in, while having a sort of sterile appearance next to the older buildings, are a different sterile from the Chicago condos. I find it hard to qualify beyond an intuitive feeling. I think I could be blindfolded and set down in either city and know almost immediately which city I was in.

I realize that the above could only be written by someone who retains a certain naivete about big cities. They're all alike, right? Sort of silly to put it out there, that I was surprised by the differences. But then, when I was in Manhattan and seeing all those familiar sights from tv shows and movies, I also have a feeling of walking into a story book. "Oh, the Empire State Building is real, not a set piece." I think you could put me in the Emerald City of Oz and get a similar reaction.

Brunch was on my agenda and after walking past some really overflowing diner sort of playes (Brooklyn folks apparently love their Saturday morning brunches), I stopped in at a little place that, in retrospect, was probably too hip for me. It was a mild September day, so I sat out back, in their outdoor seating. I didn't recognize anything on the menu, so I went with the safest thing I could find, yogurt with granola and fruit. I'm not terribly adventurous with the whole food thing.

And once I ordered, I looked around the small seating area. When I first came in, there were only 6 other people, all at one table. They were all 20-something and they had two open bottles of wine on their table. As other people drifted in, I started to realize that I was close to twice the age of everyone else. Well, that's maybe exaggerating, I'm still in the first half of my 40s. But still, 15-20 years younger than me. I'd stumbled into a conclave of hip, cosmopolitan young people who had wine with brunch. Thrift store chic, tattoos, hair dye, and wine for brunch. Even with my long, post-hippie hair, I felt quite old and square. I mean, I don't even have wine with dinner. Luckily, I'm fairly secure in my lack of cosmopolitan sophistication and went about the business of eating my yogurt. (The yogurt, etc, was really very, very good. It was a generous bowl of it and the fruit and berries in it were fresh and flavorful. I do not regret going with the safe item on the menu.)

There were two young women who came in and sat at the table nearest mine. Eavesdropping is the work of a writer, and I soon discovered that one was a playwright and the other was an actress and, near as I could tell, budding producer. The producer chick was talking about how much she loved the script the playwright chick had written and how much she looked forward to putting this play onstage. I identified with the playwright much more, as she had a sort of reticent excitement about it all, an innocence about having someone like her work. She was excited and I enjoyed seeing that. The producer had more "slick" to her. She was very complimentary and encouraging, but she also had that sort of authority some theater folk get when declaring something good--and her age made that attitude appear to be more act than convincing voice. These were both Serious Theater Artists and I went back and forth between being amused by them (for I, too, was once a Serious Theater---no no--Theatre Artist), and admiring them. I loved their energy, their excitement about what was possible.

And that was the most interesting thing about my Saturday, I suppose. I wandered until I had to go to the airport. A day well spent, really.

It wasn't until I got back to Houston that I noticed something I hadn't noticed in the nearly 3 years I've been back in Texas. And it revolves around the overheard conversations. The Serious Theatre Artists at brunch on Saturday morning were part of it. So was a conversation at the Oscar Wilde Bookstore between a patron and the store clerk. I realize this observation is heavily influenced by where I was in NYC and my purpose for being there, and where I spend most of my time in Houston, which is at a job in the Galleria area.

In NYC, I over heard two extended conversations about working in theater, the struggles of putting up a show in an un-air conditioned theater which was so tiny it was sweltering even in February, the excitement of producing a new script (probably also in some tiny theater), of catching up about so-and-so who "did a show with us two years ago, have you heard from him--he'd be great for our next production." In Houston, most of the overheard conversations I hear are about "did you get the fax?" and "is he on board for this opportunity" and advice on investing and who is the real power player in this situation and on and on.

Very odd, I think, when NYC is also the home of Wall Street.

But, again, I didn't hang out near Wall Street. I hung out in book shops and hipster brunch spots. On the other hand, I do go hang out in coffee shops in more hipster parts of Houston. And I still don't overhear conversations about people putting up new theater or much of any creative endeavor. I still overhear the same conversations, perhaps the most creative being from some guys with a lap top discussing building a website.

Houston has a lot of arts organizations and an active arts community, but what it lacks, it seems to me, is the same sense of wonder and excitement I heard from the young women at brunch. They didn't talk about funding or how they were going to put up this brand new script. Some the producer's attitude suggested to me that she wasn't entirely sure of the "how" yet--but they were going to do it anyway. In Houston, I get the feeling that the art talk and excitement comes after the funding is secured and that happens in some more private space.

In other words, I came back from NYC with a sense that there is a lot more possible there. That's the real word: possible. There are possibilities there just because it's NYC and they're going to make art anyway. There's a sense of wonder and excitement that I don't find in Houston. Wonder is weighted down with the more practical matters of paying for everything.

Naturally, paying for a theater production is a big concern. It has stopped me more than once--I am Lutheran and we are a pragmatic people. And I'm not writing this to bash my current hometown.

But the NYC trip has helped me to see and understand some things, most importantly the type of culture and environment I want to create and be a part of here. Or, preferably, find.

But help create if it truly is missing here.

Art should be about wonder, excitement, and possibilities. That's today's manifesto. Check back to see how that all works out.