Friday, September 30, 2016

A Letter to the Upcoming Generation, inspired by a recently completed MFA class called "The Rock Star Poets and Writers"

Dear teenagers of 2016:

If I were truly an authentic, this letter would be handwritten, in a red spiral notebook, Kurt Cobain style. I’d write it in crayon, like Jack White did his receipts when he worked cutting fabric and stapling around the corners of sofas. Or on hotel stationary like I was Bob Dylan and it was 1961 and I was playing shows in Greenwich Village.

But I'm lazy and this is a blog, so typed it is.

In true “Chicken Soup for the Teenage Soul” style, here’s my advice for you upcoming poets and rock stars.

1. Find inspiration everywhere.
Read Shakespeare, and Rimbaud, and Dylan Thomas, and Jack Kerouac. Listen to Iron Maiden, and Pete Seeger, and David Bowie, and Prince. Let all of their words and melodies tumble around inside of you. Let yourself re-tell their stories. Try on their style. Write a poem in the cosmic style of Walt Whitman. Try writing a beat poem and perform it like Allen Ginsberg. Turn on Nirvana, and scribble your thoughts as it plays in the background. It’s like visiting a thrift store…everything has already been used, but you can try things on for size, make alterations, create new combinations. Some things will fit you better than others. But you might discover that something unexpected looks amazing on you. Something that, on the hanger, doesn’t seem to be your “thing.” But it could be that you ROCK those billowy sleeves. Just try things on. Impersonate those who have come before you. You’ll find your own style eventually.
Pete Seeger wrote a song based on verses from Ecclesiastes. Simon and Garfunkel wrote a song based on the poem “Richard Cory” by Edward Arlington Robinson. But you could take more indirect inspiration as well. Lana Del Rey drew inspiration from Walt Whitman’s “I Sing the Body Electric,” and wrote a song playing with some similar themes and images. Paul Westerberg’s song “Crackle and Drag” is inspired by Sylvia Plath’s poem “Edge.” You could “translate” a poem by just adding music, or draw your inspiration from one or two lines.

2. Your poetic voice can support the status quo, question it, or be a part of the human machine that destroys it.
Your words can be Woody Guthrie’s guitar…the “machine that kills fascists.” Don’t feel like you have to stifle your rage. Write about black lives in America. Write about college rape culture. Write about abortion, and Wall Street corruption, and redlining, and the public school system, and the shitty way the United States treats Native Americans. Poetry is not limited to noiseless patient spiders and suicide. Let your anger flow from your spine into your pen. Scratch deep into the paper. Shout about the way things are until they change.
Sisters of Mercy wrote “Dominion/Mother Russia” about the Cold War. Siouxie Soux adapted Abel Meeropol’s “Strange Fruit,” a harsh look at the treatment of black Americans in the South. Plenty of these artists also wrote about love and breakups and the usual pop topics. And that’s fine. But you don’t have to limit yourself to those topics.

3. Don’t let stereotypes destroy your creativity.
You don’t have to be Hemingway, piling up empty bottles. You don’t have to open your heart or legs to violent passion like Rimbaud. You don’t have to make a permanent stop in the woods on a snowy evening like Cobain or Plath or Sexton. Beware the harsh light of fame. Despite the viciousness of the artistic life, fame is far more destructive. You set the terms. Guard the terms of your fame fiercely.
I think Kurt Cobain both wanted and didn’t want fame. I think he wanted to be known and loved, but didn’t want to be the symbol of his generation. (Same with Bob Dylan.) It can be easy to get caught up in those tensions, but you don’t have to. Just follow your voice, even if it leads you away from the spotlight. Your work is more important than your fame.

4. On a practical note, be intentional about stanza length in your work.
Many poets insert line breaks where they “feel” them in the content, where there’s a natural pause. (And by “many poets,” I mean me, specifically. I’ve been writing poetry consistently since 1998, and this is the first time I’ve considered that even in free form poetry, line breaks make a difference.) This has an effect both visually and rhythmically, one that you may not intend. There is something powerful in being consistent in stanza length. At the very least, be intentional. If there is no pattern to stanza length, make sure you have a good reason for it. Is the work supposed to be disjointed and chaotic? Or tidy and clean? Don’t let line breaks distract from the message and meaning of your poem. Stanza length is another tool in your poetry writing kit…it’s like clothing. You’re saying something about yourself, whether you intend to or not. If you ignore your clothing, you’re sending the message that you don’t care. Same with stanza length.

5. Cut the extraneous stuff.
Listen. I know. These are darlings and it’s hard to kill them. This is the lesson that I have to relearn over and over and over again. Maybe you’re used to prose poetry, or maybe you just make pets of pretty, docile words. As an exercise, try this: Write a poem, then let it sit for 24 – 48 hours. Don’t even look at it. Don’t re-read it, don’t leave it out where it can be glanced at. Then go back and cut it by a third. Ask yourself: “If an editor demanded a word count limit that’s less than what I have, what would I keep?” Trim until the poem is tidy. Condense meaning until it’s compact and hard and dense. Say what you need to, and then get out of there.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Things To Do While 31

Hey, I had a birthday recently! And I've been doing a lot of thinking about my birthday goals. I think I want to continue this tradition, but I think I'm going to do 3 goals per year. The purpose of having these yearly goals is to help me move towards my mountains, and to do things I've always (or just lately) wanted to do and probably won't do unless it's on a list somewhere. But I don't want these things to DISTRACT me from other important progress. So we'll limit the list to 3 goals.

And I like doing things on my birthday instead of New Year's--New Year's doesn't feel like a natural time to make goals. It's in the dead of winter, in the middle of this time of hibernation. I like making my goals in September, as summer is ending, and I start to prepare the house for colder weather and come up with projects to motivate me when the days are shorter. Plus, I'm a rebel/hipster and I don't want to do New Year's Goals because EVERYONE does New Year's goals.

So here are my Things To Do While 31!

1. Read 1 script per month 
I want to write more scripts, and I'm a big believer that you should read the types of things you want to write. And I know there are thousands (TENS OF THOUSANDS) of amazing scripts out there that I just haven't gotten to yet. I want to have read 12 new scripts by the time I'm 32. They can be TV episodes, screenplays, plays, etc.

2. Write a spec script
I have zero intention of publishing or sending out said spec script. I consider it purely an exercise in writing. It's a good way to start--it's kind of like fan fiction. The characters, world, and format already exist...I'm just creating a different story. I'm bowling with the gutter bumpers up, so to speak. I'm thinking "The X-Files"? I'll keep you posted.

3. Complete 1 painting
I've had this on my list before, and I've had a few different ideas for paintings floating around in my head lately. I think I'd like to make one of them a reality this year.

Friday, September 09, 2016

I don't know about some, but I'm feeling 31.

Hey, I'm 31.

It hasn't exactly been a great year when it comes to reaching my birthday goals. It's been a good year for progress in general...just not quite in the ways I had planned. Here's the breakdown.

As of Friday, September 9, 2016:
1 complete
2 modified
2 partially complete
5 incomplete

1. Create and distribute a zine!
Remember zines? I've been digging the idea of mixed media lately, and as a child of the 80s/90s, this seems like something I should do.
I did the brainstorming. I did the research. I did the planning. I just didn't quite get to the execution of this project. 

2. Non-paper Poetry Project (at least ten poems)
A month ago or so, I was sitting in a restaurant with a few friends, and a poem came to mind, so I scribbled it onto a napkin. The imperfection of it appealed to me...the unfinished nature of it, and how it captured both the poem and the setting in which I wrote it. So here's my idea: write at least 10 poems on anything but regular paper--napkins, cardboard, trash, cloth, etc. Then take a picture of it and at the end, put all the pictures together in a collection.
Poems complete: 5
This was a fun project. I'll do a separate blog post with the results.

3. Reduce BMI (body mass index) from 23.2 to 19.7 (goal weight = 115…down 20 pounds from current weight of 135)
My current BMI is totally in the healthy range. So is my goal BMI. So why bother with this goal? My reasoning is this: I spend a lot more time on camera nowadays, and it really does add ten pounds. Also, most of the work out goals I've had are things like "complete this many things." And after I complete them, I stop working out. I think it will help me to have an end make my goal "results-based." PLUS, this goal combines both exercise and diet.
MODIFIED. I made decent progress on this one: 

Oct 2: 23.1% BMI/135 lbs
Oct 10: 22.7% BMI/132.8 lbs
Oct 15: 22.5% BMI/131.2 lbs
Oct 31: 22% BMI/128 lbs
Nov 12: 21.7% BMI/126.8 lbs
Apr 12: 21.1% BMI/123 lbs

My FitBit was life-changing. And I learned that I CAN do things like diet and exercise and get a certain result. But at a certain point, the goal weight just became...less important to me. I'm still interested in living a healthier lifestyle, and the things I learned during this time were really valuable. My biggest lesson was that I CAN change my lifestyle. But I decided not to follow through all the way down to 115 lbs. Partly because I got mad about the fact that I felt like I HAD to in order to get jobs, and partly because I didn't want to have to buy new clothes. 

4. Run a 10-minute mile, 3 separate times
I know I just talked about these kinds of goals, but look, this is sort of PART of the above goal. And I want to do it. I know a 10-minute mile seems absurdly slow. But I'm absurdly slow.
The last recorded time I have is from Nov 12 - 14:57. And I really started to love running. (Between my FitBit and the Zombies Run 5K app, running became REALLY fun.) And I think I'd still like to reach this goal someday. I just didn't make it this year. 

5. Go without soda for 1 month
Bleeeeggghhh. I hear this is really good for you. I just really like the carbonation. I don't even drink soda very often...maybe once or twice a week? Still. Maybe worth giving up.
DONE! Month of October. 
As of October 10th, I'm still going strong. 
October 15th, half-way there! The cravings are still strong, but I'm still on the wagon.
November 1st: BOOM! MADE IT! (Now time to celebrate with some soda!)

6. Go on 5 new hikes
Every time I go hiking, I think to myself, "I've got to do this more often." And now that I live in a place where I'm surrounded by HUNDREDS of hiking opportunities, I'm going to hike more often.
1. Living Room Trail, November 3 - Hella windy and steep. Amazing views, but too close to the city. I could still hear and see construction work going on. Oh well.  
2. Thayne Canyon, August 21 - Lovely! Steep going, but gorgeous.  
I've still got lots of time to keep exploring, and that's just what I'm going to do. (I MUST go to the Timpanogos Cave!)

7. Nude modeling
I never got to this goal for my 29th year, but I'm still interested in it. I want to be a model for a figure-drawing class.
One day. Someday. 

8. Get paid to write at least one thing (published online, in a magazine, etc)
I have no idea how this is done. But I want to figure it out and do it.
I'll be honest...I didn't really try. 

9. Complete temple work for 3 family names (baptisms, confirmations, initiatories, endowments, sealings)
Hooray for the spirit of Elijah!
I have no excuse. 

10. Go stargazing
I do this all the time, just in the sense that I look up every time I'm outside at night. But I want to actually go out to someplace with little light pollution with the express purpose of looking at the stars.
I didn't go star gazing. But I DID go up into the mountains to watch the lunar eclipse, and did some star-gazing while I was up there. 

Notably, while I didn't reach a lot of the goals on my list, I DID do a lot of important, awesome things that WEREN'T on my list. I started grad school. I got a speaking role in a film for Lifetime, which made me SAG-Eligible. I played a romantic lead in a comedy at a major Utah theatre. I joined an improv troupe. I landed a speaking role in an HBO mini-series directed by Stephen Soderbergh. I watched the entire series of the X-Files, while personally making over a dozen cross-stitched gifts. I completed another year of NaNoWriMo, bringing my list of novel manuscripts up to three. I got a new job...two new jobs, actually. I made new friends and new connections. I redecorated our living room with a teeny tiny budget. I braved LASIK surgery (which is one of the best decisions I've ever made). I deepened my relationships with important people in my life.

Because it's been such an unexpected, unusual year, my instinct is to change the way I do these birthday goals. I didn't accomplish a lot of the goals on my list simply because I was busy pursuing others. But those other goals aren't as easy to track in the same, tidy ways...things like "make progress in my career" can sometimes depend on the decisions of other people, and those don't make good specific goals, although they make great general goals. I'm wondering, too, if maybe I should change how I number things. The "9 Things While 29" format was cute, but it's becoming a little impractical. Maybe I'll just do three things each birthday year.

I'm still debating. My new birthday goals are on hold until I make a decision.

I've also got some thoughts about growing older in general, but I think I'll save those for another entry as well. Here's to another year on earth. It was a crazy one, but I'm grateful for it.