In other news…

I’m double-posting here, because that’s what us self-marketers do.

From Lichtenbergianism.com:

It’s almost here! On Friday, November 17, you will be able to give me money via Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and other venues!

In return, of course, you will be receive your very own copy of Lichtenbergianism: procrastination as a creative strategy, first edition!

BUT WAIT, THERE’S MORE!

As a special promotional deal, anyone who buys the book from Amazon on launch day will receive a couple of bonus gifts. From me, you will receive an autographed Official Lichtenbergianism Precepts Bookmark and an invitation to join the Lichtenbergianism: Doing the Work group on Facebook, where you will have access to my advice and guidance on any of your ABORTIVE ATTEMPTS.

Also, several of my friends are offering freebies of their own: things like chapters from one of their books and other goodies.  You’ll have the opportunity to request one of these.  (A page listing these goodies is forthcoming.)

How do you avail yourself of this treasure trove?

  1. Buy the book on Friday, November 17, on Amazon.
  2. Email your purchase receipt or a screenshot of same to dale@Lichtenbergianism.com.
  3. I’ll send you a link to the form to claim your bonus items. Easy!

This is so exciting! Start spreading the news.

A memory

We’re rearranging about half the house and in doing so are coming to those decisions one comes to when one has a metric tonne of stuff.

You know what I’m talking about: those tubs of t-shirts and sweatshirts that commemorate things like shows you were in or GHP summers or (now) burns.  I understand completely that I have not worn any of them in probably a decade and I am not likely to wear them ever again.  Even I understand that they need to go, even if it means — to me — cutting the ties to that event.[1] 

But that’s a discussion for another day.  Today let’s look at this sweatshirt, which we made to advertise the Newnan Community Theatre Company’s production of Comedy of Errors, back in 1993.

First of all, I am still delighted when I see my tagline: deadpan hyperbole of obvious truths that say nothing about the quality of the show itself. (One of the younger cast members asked, quite sincerely, “How many twins does Macbeth have?”)

We had done Tartuffe back in the spring of that year.  Jeff Bishop directed, and he wanted to do it in straight-up period style, so we built a raked stage with wings and all those costumes.  I love costumes, I love period costumes, but these got to me for some reason, and one day as we were all furiously cutting and sewing, the subject of Comedy of Errors came up: would we do Elizabethan costumes for it?

Aghast, I joked that no, we would put everyone in sweatpants and be done with it.

And then I thought: why not?

In a play about identity, what could be more appropriate than a mise en scene where all the characters are identical? So I decided that everyone would wear grey sweatpants and sweatshirts, and that each character would have a different color of facepaint.  The twins, of course, would have the same color as each other.  (We came to refer to the show as “the Smurfs do Shakespeare.”)

This concept had the advantage of being astoundingly cheap, of course, but it came with a cost.  As I explained to the cast as we began work, the facepaint would obliterate any but the wildest facial expressions.  They were not going to be able to rely on subtle glances or grimaces.  This was going to have to be the broadest slapstick ever, with Shakespeare.

This was the first time that I auditioned a show and didn’t cast it right away.  The actors and I spent a couple of weeks working with the text, playing with it, and developing a physical language, a shorthand that we could call on when we began putting the show together.  Finally, the actors began to panic and demanded that I assign roles, mostly so they could start learning lines. Fair enough.

Somehow it all worked.  The actors all became extremely free in their physical work, and that spilled over into their ability to interpret the text as well.  One night I had to leave rehearsal for a short meeting, and I told them to play around with the scene in II.2 in which poor abused Adriana, wife of Antipholus of Ephesus, confronts the wrong man in the marketplace with her complaints.  When I got back I was presented with the astounding spectacle of Judy (Adriana) doing the entire long speech pursuing Mary (Ant. of Syracuse) as if they were in a professional wrestling match, ending with both on the floor.  Mary dragged herself free, panting, stood, and barely gasped out, “Plead you to me, fair dame? I… know… you… not.”  Brought the house down.

More: Blue (Pinch) being flipped on his back by Jeff (Ant. of Eph) in a cloud of white hair powder.

More: the performance when Jeff, refused entry into his own home, hurled himself at the door three times during his long speech (with the elders of Ephesus nodding complacently behind him)—only this performance, on the third run he suddenly grabbed Brady (Dromio of Eph.) and hurled him at the door.  Brilliant.

So yes: the sweatshirt is a physical reminder that we did good work.  But it has to go.  If nothing else, I’ll need to make room for my Peter & the Starcatcher sweatshirt, won’t I?

—————

[1] Yes, yes, I know: make a quilt. Now I have a quilt I have no use for and have to store. But that’s what I’ll probably do.

Unsilent Night!

It’s official—the Newnan City Council has approved my request to stage Phil Kline’s Unsilent Night in downtown Newnan on Friday, December 1.

Here’s what you need to know:

Background

  • Composer Phil Kline composed Unsilent Night in NYC back in the 90s, and it has become a holiday tradition ever since.  He wrote four separate tracks of new age music—people obtained one of the four tracks (on cassette tape in the old days, downloadable mp3s now) and brought their boomboxes to Washington Square on the designated night.
  • On the command, everyone started their boomboxes and then strolled around Washington Square Park.  The four different tracks played against each other in an evanescent cloud of chimes and angelic choirs.
  • After 45 minutes, everyone gathered back and waited for all the music to die away.

Simple, right?

How to take part

  • Go to unsilentnight.com/participate.html and download one of the four tracks.  Don’t everybody download Track 1!
  • Rig up some way to broadcast your sound:
    • Burn the track to a CD and bring your old school boombox.
    • Download the mp3 to your phone or tablet, then hook it up to a portable sound system.
    • Wagons are cool!

When/where

  • Friday, December 1
  • 7:00–7:30, gather in Greenville St Park.  Do not plan to park at Newnan Theatre Company—they have a performance that night!
  • 7:30, we start our music and begin moseying up to the Square.  You may head up either Greenville St or LaGrange St, on either side.  Stay on the sidewalk and obey traffic signals—this is not a parade, it’s a promenade.
  • 8:00, when the Courthouse chimes the hour, begin to mosey back to the park
  • 8:15, we stand until all the music has died away
  • 8:16, we whoop and holler for a job well done

But wait, there’s more!

  • On the first three Wednesdays of November, Backstreet Arts will host a lantern decorating workshop.  Come and make a lantern to go with the music! Details to follow.

All ages are welcome—let’s make this the first of a new annual tradition!

A free idea

If you’re sitting there trying to come up with the central idea for your next science fiction novel, have I got an idea for you!  Feel free to use it.  If it makes you rich, invite me to your yacht sometime.

Imagine a planet like Saturn, with huge gorgeous rings.  They would have to dominate the sky, right?

But imagine that this planet has a smallish continent at one of its poles.  (It’s close enough to its sun that it’s warm, etc.)  It’s isolated enough that they’ve never had any contact with any other cultures on any other continents on the planet.  And they cannot see the rings.

Viz.:

So they hit their Age of Exploration, and an expedition sets out.  (No, I don’t know why they’d go sailing off the edge of the world if there weren’t pepper involved, leave me alone.  I’m not going to do all your work for you.)

What happens when they sail south and these rings begin to slide up over the horizon?  What is their reaction?  What do they tell people back home? How do they explain and incorporate this thing? Is there religion involved?  How much might this affect their society and its worldview, so to speak?

Anyway, there’s the idea.  That’s all I got: the look on their faces when they first encounter the rings.  (Or maybe the entire novel plays out on ship, their society in microcosm…)

The book

Yes, it’s true, I have written a book.

The title is Lichtenbergianism: procrastination as a creative strategy, and yes I have a macro that types that out for me.  I was a little startled a couple of weeks ago when I started checking the blank spots in the text I needed to fill in and found that there were none.  I was, in essence, done.

Why haven’t you heard about this?  You have if you also read my other blog, Lichtenbergianism.com, where I have tended to shunt all my whining about creative work.  Even there, though, I haven’t really documented the travails of the process.[1]  It’s more of a marketing/social media tie-in for the book, the sales of which of course I expect to catapult me into the first ranks of Twitter like Austin Kleon and others.  Too much whining is not customer-friendly.

So why can’t you give me money this very moment?  Several reasons, and here you get to read me whine because THIS IS MY BLOG, KENNETH.

√ 1. I invited my fellow Lichtenbergians to proof and kibbitz the text along with a select few others.  Their input has been valuable, so thank you, guys!

√ 2. That necessitated—as it should—corrections and emendations of the text, and I’m about done with that.  I have two or three more sticky notes on my monitor to do, and then it’s on to…

3. I have to export the text from Scrivener, the most excellent authoring tool from Literature & Latte.  (If you are writing anything of any length, go buy this software and before you do anything go through the entire tutorial.  Pro tip: after the third time you’re thinking there must be an easier way to accomplish something in the program, take the tutorial again.)

4. I have to edit that Word file, applying styles to paragraphs and terms so that I’ll have a slightly easier time of it when…

5. I import the text file into InDesign to lay out the book.  I expect this to be an orgy of moaning and whining.  I’ve done a little work already, but I’m not really happy about any of it.  For one thing, the font I thought I was using for the main text doesn’t really work for me, so I switched to a simply sans serif font, and now I can’t find a contrasting font for headings and quotes that I like.  Ugh.

5a. I have to go back and make sure that all the images I’m using are at least 300 dpi for publishing purposes.

6. I have to design the cover.  Again, I’ve done some work but hate all of it.  (My placeholder design, which I’ve used as an image in several posts, doesn’t even have my name on it.)

7. I have to export all of that above and send it to my estimable publisher, fellow Lichtenbergian Jeff Bishop at Boll Weevil Press, where he will publish it via our Lichtenbergian Press imprint.[2]

Then you can give me money.  Two weeks, maybe?

—————

[1] Aren’t you glad I didn’t write “haven’t logged my slog”?  You’re welcome.

[2] Jeff’s most recent book, Agatahi, is a marvel: the Cherokee Removal, aka The Trail of Tears, told via first-person accounts of the Cherokees themselves.  Go buy it.  It is profoundly moving.

Dear Mr. Dickle, I fixed it for you.

The other day my good friend Pilliard Dickle (no really) showed up in my labyrinth and gave me a copy of his new book, Avocado Avenue.  It is published by Boll Weevil Press, who will also publish Lichtenbergianism: procrastination as a creative strategy in a few short weeks.

It is, like all of Billiard’s work, inventive and twisted and funny and highly entertaining.

However,  I have to say that after reading the first eleven pages I was fully expecting that it would end in cataclysm and flame.  It only made sense, given the subtle buildup of absolute stasis on Sally and Rodney’s front porch.

I was severely disappointed, then, when it failed to live up to my expectations.  It was much the same when George Lucas failed to end Episode III: Revenge of the Sith in an appropriate manner.  Or when Peter Jackson made three Hobbit movies instead two.  Or when Michael Bay made movies.

This time, though, since Dilliard is such a dear friend, I am able to fix it for him.

And now, the exciting conclusion of Avocado Avenue

BACK ON THE PORCH, LATER, AND WHAT HAPPENED THEN[1]

Sally opened the front door.  It was long past midnight.

“What on earth are you doing out here?” she asked. The old man was standing there, agitatedly staring out into the dark.

“It ain’t right,” the old man muttered.  “It ain’t right.”

“What’s not right?” asked Rodney, who had wakened to find Sally gone from their queen-sized bed.  Rodney had actually wanted a king-sized bed, but their bedroom wasn’t big enough handle a mattress of that width.  It still nagged at him.

Rodney never found out what was not right, because at that moment the old man trotted off the front porch into the night, picking up speed as he ran.

Sally and Rodney stared at each other in shock as they listened to the cries of “It ain’t right” diminishing in the distance.  Rodney fleetingly wondered whether the old man’s bedroom would hold a king before he too ran off into the dark.

“What on earth…?” Sally said, then she too began to run.

The old man was standing in the back yard of Doris and Delores’ house when Sally and Rodney caught up with him.  He was weeping openly.

“Whatever is the matter with you?” Rodney gasped as they ran up.  The old man turned to them.

“This…” he began in a hoarse whisper, but what he said next was overwhelmed by the sound of an explosion behind them.

Sally and Rodney never had time to realize that their house had exploded because Doris and Delores’ house was now similarly engulfed in a roaring fireball.

“Just like in the movies of Michael Bay,” thought Rodney, or at least that’s what he began thinking before thinking was no longer an option for him or for Sally.

“This is for you, Horace!” screamed the old man as he plunged into the conflagration.

Then there was only the night and the flame.

No one ever saw the lone female figure escaping into the darkness.  If they had, they might have wondered why she was nude.

There you go, Gilliard, a proper ending.  You’re welcome.

—————

[1] You should probably read the book first before reading this.

To our children we shall say…

There is a piece of music running through my head, and I do not want to write this blog post.

In the early 80s, probably 1983, I ordered a pre-bundled set of Newbery Award winners for the media center at East Coweta High School, because the collection I had inherited in 1980 was particularly weak on fiction.[1] One of the titles that I pulled from that box was the 1982 winner, A Visit to William Blake’s Inn, by Nancy Willard.  I was a little nonplussed.

This was a picture book.  Surely the Newbery committee had made a mistake.  Then I opened it.

I will admit that the first thing that I loved about the book was the illustrations.  They’re beautiful, muted gouache paintings with deft architectural fantasies and adorable animal portraits.  (It was 2002 before I realized that Alice and Martin Provensen illustrated my favorite book as a child, The Color Kittens.)

Then I started to read it.

WHEN WE COME HOME, BLAKE CALLS FOR FIRE

Fire, you handsome creature, shine.
Let the hearth where I confine
your hissing tongues that rise and fall
be the home that warms us all.

When the wind assaults my doors
every corner’s cold but yours.
When the snow puts earth to sleep
let your bright behavior keep

all these little pilgrims warm.
They who never did you harm
raise their paws a little higher
and toast their toes, in praise of fire.

I was in love.

I began to set some of the poems to music.  “When We Come Home, Blake Calls for Fire” was first.  I know I did “William Blake’s Inn for Innocent and Experienced Travelers” and “The Tiger Asks Blake for a Bedtime Story” and “The Man in the Marmalade Hat Arrives” before I stopped.  After all, I did not have the rights to create a song cycle from this book, and having received a firmly worded letter from Dr. Seuss’s estate when I asked permission for my one-act opera version of Green Eggs & Ham, I was not about to ask Nancy Willard.  The work went into the “trunk.”

Fast forward to 2002, when I was retiring as artistic director of the Newnan Community Theatre Company.  Having decided to go out in a blaze of glory, I translated The Marriage of Figaro, which was every bit as hard to pull off as you might imagine,[2] so when my lovely first wife came home from her book club to say that Bette had a project she wanted me to work on, I snapped, “Not until November 10!”, which I repeated to Bette herself when she immediately launched into her pitch the next time we met.

The project was to audition/train/accompany a dozen young people, ages 8–13, to an international get-together in our sister city of Ayr, Scotland.  Other than airfare, all expenses would be paid.  Well, OK, sure, why not?

The deal was that the Scottish Opera had this little touring thing, two adult singers and as many children as you could cram onstage, based on their national poem, “Tam O’Shanter,” by Robbie Burns.  They had premiered it the year before, and Ayr was inviting all its sister cities to send kids to take part in it again.  We were there with students from Norway, Germany, and of course Scotland.  It was huge fun.

On the plane home, the adults in the party decided that Newnan could do the same thing, invite all our new friends to the U.S. to perform in some unidentified work.  I remembered William Blake’s Inn.  I opened my laptop, put on my headphones, and gave it a listen.

Hm, I thought, not bad.

When we got back home, we had a meeting of the interested adults and I played for them the pieces I had.  They liked it.  Let’s do it.

But that meant I had to ask Nancy Willard for her permission.

This inn belongs to William Blake…

I printed out the songs I had, made a CD of the fairly shabby MIDI realizations, and wrote a letter pleading for permission—or at the very least, hope that she wouldn’t sic her lawyers on me.

A couple of weeks later, there was email.  nawillard@vassar.edu.  I stopped breathing.  I may have cried.  I opened it.

Dale,  good heavens–of course you have my permission.  What a wonderful
gift appeared in the mail today–all those songs!

And that’s how I became friends with Nancy Willard.

It took me another couple of years to finish setting all the poems to music, and then I had to orchestrate it, so it was not until 2007 that we felt we were ready to put it front of the public.  The whole time Nancy was generous and encouraging.  And then we met her!

We had gone to New York and I emailed Nancy to see if she and Eric Lindbloom, her husband, could come down from Poughkeepsie to have lunch.  They did, and she was exactly in person the way she was in correspondence and in all the videos and interviews I had seen of her: funny, kind, super-smart.

We discovered many shared habits, including that of writing ABORTIVE ATTEMPTS at the top of new work (she used the term WASTED EFFORTS).  Finally, as we were parting, I pulled out the two copies of William Blake’s Inn, my original paperback and the hardback I had bought to put on display whenever we performed (so that I didn’t risk losing the copy I had composed from).

Oh, she said, she’d have to take them with her.  My heart sank.  What if I never got them back?

But no: she needed to take them home with her because she didn’t just autograph them. She painted in them.

Make Believe,
and make it strong and clear…

Finally, on May 3, 2007, we had a “backers audition,” where my intrepid group of volunteers sang the whole work, with what we called a “cardboard and hot glue” staging of “The Man in the Marmalade Hat Arrives” and “Two Sunflowers Move Into the Yellow Room.”  The idea was to get a commitment from various individuals/organizations in the community to actually stage the work for the international thing.

Everyone loved the music.  No one stepped up to take on the project.

I will be honest: perhaps I could have done what I always do, which is to just do it all myself.  But I refused.  For one thing, I had a son in college; I didn’t have the cash to throw at the project (like I did with Figaro just to get it done right).  For another, I was tired of all these “supporters of the arts” not actually supporting any arts.  I was resentful.  So we just put it on the back burner, where it has stayed.

Through the years, I’ve made a few feeble efforts: a friend gave it to the Lookingglass Theatre in Chicago, who passed it on to the Chicago Children’s Theatre, who passed it on to the Chicago Symphony, where I’m sure it was discarded.  I’ve offered it to UGA, to the Springer, to the Center for Puppetry Arts.  But no one’s interested.  It’s too short (40+ min) for a mainstage show, and too complicated for a children’s piece.  It was written as a song cycle for adult singers.  It can’t really be done with just a piano; the later pieces were written for orchestra without going through the piano first. There is no script, no plot; whoever did it would have to do an enormous amount of development to flesh it out—which I think is the most interesting part about it.  But I know it’s not an out-of-the-box piece.

And so it languishes.

Last spring, I emailed Nancy because I was working on Lichtenbergianism: procrastination as a creative strategy, and I couldn’t remember the term she used for Abortive Attempts. I got back an email from Eric, asking me to call him.  Nancy had fallen the summer before.  She was mostly bedridden and in decline.  I didn’t share with anyone what I knew, because it was clear they were keeping it private.  As Nancy said to Eric, “It’s not like it was before, is it?”

Then a couple of months ago I got an email from a teacher in Idaho.  I-DA-HO, KENNETH.  Could her small charter school perform William Blake’s Inn?

I wrote Nancy to tell her.  And then I wrote her again last month to remind her that although she had always demurred at discussing financial arrangements for when those huge royalty checks started pouring in, I was reminding her that I had decreed that we would make it a 60/40 split.[4]

I got a letter, dated Feb 18, from Eric.  Nancy was resting comfortably, still at home, but in hospice care.

Nancy Willard died the following day, Feb 19, 2017.

Part of my grief at losing her is that we never staged the work completely.  never staged the work completely. We never got to have her as a guest at the dazzling international premiere so that she could receive the tribute that she certainly deserved.  I’m angry at the world, I’m angry at Newnan, I’m angry with myself.  I failed my friend.

Now students at Moscow Charter School, in Moscow, ID, will be performing William Blake’s Inn in May. Are they capable of doing a fully staged production with orchestra?  No, but here’s what I learned from Nancy Willard: if you’re given the gift, you give it again.  Just as I was given the chance to create something new and beautiful from Nancy’s deeply meaningful poems, I look forward to seeing what those students come up with.  I’m hoping to work with them via Skype to bring their ideas to life.

We’ll start our journey as children,/but I fear we will finish it old.

Now “Blake Leads a Walk on the Milky Way,” the great central piece of the entire work, won’t leave my head.  Those opening chords, which return to such great effect in the “Epilogue,” keep up their chime, and the recapitulation at He gave silver stars to the Rabbit, with its unexpected and gorgeous major key take on the mysterious first theme—they’re on permanent loop, reminding me of the beautiful beautiful soul who gave me permission to create them.  I know that if I listen too carefully, I will grieve outright.  I’m okay with that.

My adventures now are ended.
I and all whom I befriended
from this holy hill must go
home to lives we left below.

Farewell cow and farewell cat,
rabbit, tiger, sullen rat.
To our children we shall say
how we walked the Milky Way.

You whose journeys now begin,
if you reach a lovely inn,
if a rabbit makes your bed,
if two dragons bake your bread,
rest a little for my sake,
and give my love to William Blake.

—————

[1] My predecessor had righteously sniffed that a liberrary was for research.  If the chillren wanted to read for fun, they could do that at home.  The fact that most of our clientele came from homes without books seemed to be irrelevant to this woman.

[2] What made me think we could even do such a thing? A hugger-mugger performance of Green Eggs & Ham at a Reading[3] several years previously—I stole the joyous ending of the piece from the Act II finale of Figaro.

[3] I’ll explain some other time.

[4] Her resistance to business dealings was extraordinary.  In her original email she pointed me to the rights department at Harcourt, the publisher of A Visit to William Blake’s Inn, where they explained to me that they didn’t own the copyright—she did.