Building Community by Featuring Followers IV

Time for a Stat-ervention? Checking you blog stats can become addicting. I challenge you to walk away for the month of Oct and see if you can refocus on the joy of blogging.

The statisticians here at “A Way With Words” have advised me some time to put out only one post a day, saying –

Your optimum visits-per-post ratio can best be achieved with a single, targeted daily post. 

I say,

Get a social life.

Tonight I’m in the mood to “share the love” and feature more of my followers, hoping to further build community and simply sow seeds of gratitude for having faithful readers.

To read more, visit my new blog address by clicking on the title below —

“Building Community by Featuring Followers IV”

Pleasure in (watching) Pain: “The Poetics of Aristotle – IV”, part one

In the first three sections of The Poetics of Aristotle  (which I reflect on here , here and here), Aristotle addresses the form (genre), the objects (characters), and the manner (perspective) of poetics (drama).  Section IV digs into the foundation for poetics.

      Poetry in general seems to have sprung from two causes, each of them lying deep in our nature. First, the instinct of imitation is implanted in man from childhood, one difference between him and other animals being that he  is the most imitative of living creatures, and through imitation learns his earliest lessons; and no less universal is the pleasure felt in things imitated.

We learn things by “acting them out”.  Acting things out also brings us pleasure, whether we are the actors or the audience.  I remember from way back playing school with my uncle Geoff.  He always had to be the “teacher”, which was fine with me.  I found pleasure following his lead and acting out my part.

Aristotle continues —

We have evidence of this in the facts of experience. Objects which in themselves we view with pain, we delight to contemplate when reproduced with minute fidelity: such as the forms of the most ignoble animals and of dead bodies. The cause of this again is, that to learn gives the liveliest pleasure, not only to philosophers but to men in general; whose capacity, however, of learning is more limited. Thus the reason why men enjoy seeing a likeness is, that in contemplating it they find themselves learning or inferring, and saying perhaps, ‘Ah, that is he.’ For if you happen not to have seen the original, the pleasure will be due not to the imitation as such, but to the execution, the colouring, or some such other cause. 

Inside the Acting for Film & Television Campus by vancouverfilmschool

People are drawn to both drama and melodrama that acts out human misery.  From the agony of Oedipus killing his father and sleeping with his mother to the latest Jerry Springer episode which depicts, well, people wanting to kill their father and sleep with their mothers (or something like that),  we like to observe others facing moral dilemmas.  More than this, we enjoy watching actors struggle while we’re curled up in the theater seats munching on popcorn and leaning back in the recliner eating ice cream.

Aristotle goes on to examine two aspects of poetics —

      Poetry now diverged in two directions, according to the individual character of the writers. The graver spirits imitated noble actions, and the actions of good men. The more trivial sort imitated the actions of meaner persons, at first composing satires, as the former did hymns to the gods and the praises of famous men. A poem of the satirical kind cannot indeed be put down to any author earlier than Homer; though many such writers probably there were. But from Homer onward, instances can be cited,—his own Margites, for example, and other similar compositions. The appropriate metre was also here introduced; hence the measure is still called the iambic or lampooning measure, being that in which people lampooned one another. Thus the older poets were distinguished as writers of heroic or of lampooning verse.    

So basically, as a writer of classic drama, you could go in one of two directions.  You could take the “nobler” route, and write of the heroic deeds of gods and men or you could offer “lampooning verse” and playfully expose their weaknesses.

The question I would raise is – “Does the noble path still exist for the contemporary playwright?”  I honestly don’t know enough about modern theater to know how others approach it.  Speaking for myself, I firmly believe all human beings are created in the image of God and, though this image has been seriously stained by sin, there is still the possibility of redemption (and thus nobility).   Certainly, just as the Greeks praise their gods in hymns, we can praise God in songs, dialogue, and action.  So, yes, we can produce plays that imitate nobility.

And we certainly produce satire that lampoons flaws in human figures as well as the false images of God so prevalent in culture.  I just wrote a scene in “Liberty” today I called “An Earnest Faith Healer” that was based on a performance I saw in the freshman talent show at Hanover combined with a story I was told when I attended seminary.  I didn’t find much pleasure in writing it, as I was portraying a very true-to-life example that is so tragically wrong you have to laugh to keep from crying.

I will leave off here and pick up the latter part of section IV in a later post…

(image “Inside the Acting for Film &…”  from vancouverfilmschool, some rights reserved)

Interview with Author and Playwright Rob Diaz II

rob diaz

I first encountered Rob Diaz when he commented on one of my posts.  I’ve since come to know him as one of the masterminds or partners-in-crime (actually, contribuing editors) of the community blog Today’s Authors that has publically opened the day of this writing.  I did an e-mail interview with Rob which resulted in the following –

What is one piece of writing (book, story, play, essay) that has changed your life?

     The phrase “changed your life” makes this question pretty difficult for me to answer.  My initial gut instinct was to say that the book that changed my life was actually a math book given to me by my fourth grade math teacher when I was bored with the regular curriculum and wanted more challenging work (math was and continues to be a passion of mine).

But math books tend to be boring prose, so what my real answer to this question will be is:  Foundation by Isaac Asimov.  I read this book for the first time when I was in fifth grade, about ten years old.  It is the first book in my memory which made me want to read another book.  And then another (and not just the books in the Foundation series, either!). It was also one of the first books I ever wanted to read a second or third time (I’ve probably read it a dozen times now).

The book focuses on the math involved with Psychohistory and its predictions of the downfall and rise of the Galactic Empire.  As I said, math was a passion of mine from an early age and to see it have such a prevalent role in a masterful book such as Foundation, it changed my outlook on reading and, in turn, on writing.  I would certainly be a different person today if I had not become as much of a lover of words as I am a lover of numbers.

How is seeing your plays produced different (and/or similar) to producing other forms of writing?

     Scripts have a special place in my heart and in my writing.  It’s not that I prefer them over other forms of writing, it’s just that at the time I wrote my first script (when I was a freshman in high school), I had been on the verge of giving up on writing at all.  A teacher of mine encouraged me to participate in a Playwrights Workshop that was being held in my school and despite my hesitations I did so.  And I loved it.  The positive feedback and interactions with the other writers and the instructor were so amazing that it rekindled my passion for writing in many ways.

The first script I wrote was horrifically bad (though it was incredibly funny at the time).  The second one I wrote, Bad Impressions, was produced on stage at my high school when I was 16 in a series of one acts (mine and four or five professional scripts were done).  It was incredible and nerve-wracking.  I’ve had two more scripts produced since then and the feeling has been the same: super levels of excitement to see the words and stories transposed onto the stage coupled with lots and lots of anxiety about the audience reaction.

I think the difference for me is simply that when I have a story published in a book, the audience is disparate.  Readers can be anywhere and everywhere and for the most part they are not in one place, reacting at the same time.  A script that is being staged, however, has an audience of many, sitting and experiencing the story together for the first time and at the same time.  For me, I find myself worrying when something I found funny in the script doesn’t get the volume of laughter I expect or something I found dramatic doesn’t get the collective intake of breath that I expected.  Does the audience not like it? Do they not get it?  Do they regret their investment of time and money to see it?

Similarly, I feel energized when they do laugh or catch their breath or applaud.  Honestly, I have all the same fears and excitement with other forms of writing. I suspect the reason it feels different with plays is just the fact that there are so many more people reacting at the same time and in the same place.  The reaction is more real and more direct, if that makes any sense.

“Today’s Author” is now officially launched.  What are your biggest hopes and greatest fears for this blog?

      My hope for Today’s Author is probably much like the hope of everyone else involved with it: that it can be a safe place for writers and readers to interact, that it can be a source of inspiration and entertainment and that it can be a place to share our collective knowledge and experiences with the written word.  Honestly, if we can inspire even just one person to take a chance with words – to tell their story and let the world see it – then I’d think Today’s Author is a success.  I think the openness of the editors and contributors on the site to share their successes, their failures, their hopes and their fears will lend itself to encouraging our readers and participants to do the same.

On the flip side, I think “fear” may be too strong a term for my feelings but I do worry. I worry about making sure that we at Today’s Author are providing content and prompts that are relevant to our readers and useful enough to keep readers coming back.  Readers and participants of the site should drive the direction the site takes as time goes on, so I worry about making sure we read and understand the feedback we get to make sure we react and anticipate the needs of the community we are building.  Ultimately, if we don’t build an engaged and vibrant community, we won’t have the success I hope to have with Today’s Author.

Thanks, Rob, for devoting some of your New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day to conduct this interview.  Look for more of Rob and read a generous sampling of his work at his blog Thirteenth Dimension.

(picture of Rob from Today’s Authors, used by permission)

Five Favorite Movies for the Christmas Season

watching movie

First, a disclaimer…

The last time I went to a movie theater was to see “The Lion King” in its first run.  Not only do I not have movie channels, I haven’t owned a TV in over 20 years.  When I recently moved out on my own, I got a trial subscription to “Amazon Prime.”   But, instead of watching movies, I watched the first 3 seasons of “My Name is Earl”.

Still, I say even a widowed octogenarian can write a review of great sex (even if it’s been years).  It doesn’t have to be the latest to be the greatest.

Another thing, I decided to include both movies that are about Christmas or have Christmas scenes in them as well as movies that convey Christ-like themes and have an overall inspirational component to them.

One the nice things about this list is you won’t find anything new.  You won’t have to bundle up and shell out $10 at a theater (minus the popcorn).  You won’t find any new releases you have to wait for (and pay more for) at the video store.  If Netflix and Amazon can learn to work together, you can get a free trial subscription to either of them and stream these for free.

So, here goes, in no particular order…

A Christmas Story – The endearing tale of Ralphie and his longing for a treasured “Daisy Red Ryder 200-shot Carbine Action BB Gun”.  It’s a fun-filled timeless treasure for imperfect families (like yours) to watch together.

Simon Birch (loosely based on John Irving’s A Prayer for Owen Meany).  The story of one special boy and how he persistently and methodically discovers and carries out God’s purpose for his life.  Simon is no saint, however.  His hormones get the better of him in the hilarious Christmas pageant scene that literally brings the house down.

Tender Mercies – As the movie opens we see Mac Sledge (played by Robert Duvall) hit rock bottom.  We then follow his path toward redemption, one step at a time.  Nothing preachy, here, just the good news in real life.

The Mission – Robert Deniro and Jeremy Irons play a mercenary and a missionary (respectively) who, after a dramatic conversion encounter, wind up working together for the good of a remote South American Indian tribe.  Ultimately, however, they must decide how to battle forces beyond their control.

I Confess – In this lesser-known Hitchcock film, Montgomery Cliff plays a young priest who chooses to face trial for murder rather than break the sanctity of the confessional.

How about you? What are some of your favorites I might check out this holiday season?  I still have a little time on my free trial!

(photo “Watching Movie” pinpricksome rights reserved)

*****

– Introduction to “The 12 Posts of  Christmas

– In the first post of Christmas, I truly gave to you…. “God is With Us (a Christmas Story based on Matthew 1.18-2.12)

– In the second post of Christmas, I truly gave to you… “Assaulting a Felon with a Fruitcake.”

– In the third post of Christmas, I truly gave to you… “Some of the Best Christmas Blog Posts for 2012

– In the fourth post of Christmas, I truly gave to you… “I Wonder as I Wander

– In the fifth post of Christmas, I truly gave to you – “Be More Like a Child at Christmas (and beyond)

– In the seventh post of Christmas, I truly gave to you – “From India to Indiana: My New E-Pal

– In the eighth post of Christmas, I truly gave to you – “What Sam Found in His Backpack After Break (A Prompted Poem)

– In the ninth post of Christmas, I truly gave to you – “The Precise Dilemma: A Book Review

– In the tenth post of Christmas, I truly gave to you – “Potentially Praiseworthy Poems Posted on WordPress

Trevor Jackson: My (soon-to-be) Famous Cousin (once-removed)

 trevor jackson - xmas eve 2012

(copyright indytony, some rights reserved)

Today I went to two family Christmas gatherings.  The first (my dad’s side) had a special guest.   Well, not that everyone there isn’t special, but this person is becoming very special to very many people thanks to his charismatic personality, his artistic abilities (singing, acting, dancing) and his charming good looks (at least that’s what I’m told – he’s not exactly my type – nor am I his, I’m sure).

Trevor Jackson is the son of my cousin Cam Baxter, the grandson of my aunt Rosialene.  He has been performing since a very early age.  He got his first big break when he was cast as Young Simba in the Broadway National Tour of “The Lion King” (2005-2008).  My family went to see him when the play was in Rochester and I was amazed at Trevor’s gifts, his composure and almost total lack of precociousness on stage.  He was up there having a ball and doing a great job.  And his voice was beyond belief!

Trevor and his mom moved to Hollywood when he aged out of the Young Simba role and he has been actively building up his career with various commercials (Honda, T-Mobile, Microsoft, NBA, just to name a few).  He landed parts in two films – “My Life in the Ocean” and “A Beautiful Soul”.  He was then contracted in the regular role of Kris McDuffy in the SciFi channel’s “Eureka” as well as Disney’s TV movie “Let It Shine” (for more on Trevor’s acting, check out his IMDb page).

While keeping busy in the acting industry, we’ve been hearing snippets from my Cousin Cam and Aunt Rosialene that they were very close to sharing some “big news” about his music career.  Before long, we received word that Trevor had signed with Atlantic Records.

Needless to say, we’re all very proud of him.  One of the (other) great things about Trevor (apart from his performing abilities) is that he has a good heart and (I believe), a strong faith foundation.  My son has Down syndrome and is a very good judge of character.  He immediately took a liking to Trevor and Trevor was not above playing and attending to him, “letting his face shine” just like he now does for some many others in the world.

If you are interested in hearing an advance sampling of Trevor’s music, before his music is widely distributed, check out this Michael Jackson tribute video he did a couple years ago (when he was 14).  I also encourage you to follow him on Twitter, Facebook (where he already has over 28,000 “likes”) or his newly emerging website.

Personal message to Trevor:  I’m sorry I didn’t get the chance to talk to you much at the gathering today, as I had to move on to another one.  I’m very proud of you (we all are) and I pray that you continue to put your gifts to good use to inspire others and give glory to God.  On a purely selfish note, I want to let you know that I am currently available to write your official biography.  I don’t want to pressure you or anything, but if I don’t hear back from you in a year or two, don’t be surprised if some “tell-all” about “Terrible Trevor” comes out and sells millions.  Just kidding.  Keep the faith.

Christmas in Prison – John Prine

John Prine at Bonnaroo 2010

Christmas In Prison
©John Prine 

(lyrics found at the Prine Shrine)

It was Christmas in prison
and the food was real good
we had turkey and pistols
carved out of wood
and I dream of her always
even when I don’t dream
her name’s on my tongue
and her blood’s in my stream.

Chorus:
Wait awhile eternity
old mother nature’s got nothing on me
come to me
run to me
come to me, now
we’re rolling
my sweetheart
we’re flowing
by God!

She reminds me of a chess game
with someone I admire
or a picnic in the rain
after a prairie fire
her heart is as big
as this whole goddamn jail
and she’s sweeter than saccharine
at a drug store sale.

Chorus:

The search light in the big yard
swings round with the gun
and spotlights the snowflakes
like the dust in the sun
it’s Christmas in prison
there’ll be music tonight
I’ll probably get homesick
I love you. Goodnight.

Chorus:

 

I have been a John Prine fan since I first saw a PBS documentary on him over Christmas break in 1982.  The guy is amazing and he’s still going (relatively) strong in his 70s.  I was going to post a Youtube video of him performing this song at a concert in 2011, but I wasn’t sure of the copyright laws.  If you want to check it out (for entertainment purposes only), click here.  If you haven’t heard it, check it out before you read on.  Art should always be appreciated first before it is analyzed.

The song title and opening line sets the stage for a melancholy mood.  The closest I’ve ever been to being in prison at Christmas was when I was separated from my family, staying with an older couple while I went through some treatment.  There were no bars, no guards (but the food was real good there too).  Oh, and there was also the time I was in the psych unit over Christmas.  I was confined there (and the food wasn’t even that good).

Prine’s absurdist humor comes through almost immediately (turkey and pistols carved out of wood).  On the live video clip, someone laughs (probably hearing it for the first time) and you almost miss the next lines (a danger you face when going to a Prine concert).

Prine abruptly shifts from absurdist humor to tremendous longing, as the prisoner dreams of his lover (even when I don’t dream) and finds himself bodily attached to her, though physically far separated.  This lover’s paradox appears as well in another of Prine’s songs “Donald and Lydia” (find lyrics here).

The chorus then shifts the focus slightly to a more spiritual realm.  The inmate is hoping to outlive his sentence, that love (in the form of his lover) would come back to him.  Prine’s doesn’t hesitate to introduce God into his songs, but his theology is rather elusive.  He seems to prefer common phrases “by God” that could suggest a simple expression, but it also opens the door to a strong connection to the divine.

In the second verse, the inmate poetically describes his lover as someone who is intelligent and life-giving, with a love that can not be confined.  Lest he turn his prisoner into Wordsworth, however, Prine then has his narrator compare his lover’s sweetness to “saccharine at a drugstore sale“.  You can’t get much sweeter than that in prison.

The final verse brings the dreaming inmate back to the reality of his imprisonment and separation from his lover.  The only light is coming from the searchlight swinging round with the gun.  Snowflakes, which remind many of the joys of the season are only spotlighted “like the dust in the sun”  It’s hard to know where the music will come from (maybe in the reverie of the narrator).  He concludes with a woefully understated summary – “I’ll probably get homesick.  I love you.  Good night.”

In yesterday’s post I reflected some on my own loss this season as I face the death of my marriage.  Even with that, I can’t begin to imagine the grief and longing of those whose loved ones have died, children who are permanently separated from their parents, or people in prison or war-torn countries desperately wishing they were somewhere else.  My hope is, if any of you should happen to stumble onto this, you would find hope in your seemingly hopeless situation.

We are rolling.  We are flowing.  By God.

(photo of John Prine from wfuv – some rights reserved)