Even nature can have fun dressing up

concentric japanese
fig. 93: leaves of the japanese maple have been used as hypnosis aides for millennia.

Although most of the blogs I read have to do with writing, I like to give my eyes a treat once in a while. So one of the blogs I subscribe to is Serenity in the Garden, which gives me something pretty to look at.

bullseye maple jpg
fig. 87: leaf of the bullseye maple

Today it featured Norm Magnusson, this very fun artist who’s done a series called “Decorating Nature.” Not only is his art fun, but his captions are too. Some may say that nature is already beautiful, but there’s nothing wrong with a little enhancement, is there?

 fig. 81: spectrumcirculitis on a London plane tree outside Paris' Faculté de Médecin.
fig. 81: spectrumcirculitis on a London plane tree outside Paris’ Faculté de Médecin.

An excerpt of the artist’s statement from his website:

This current body of work is on a theme that has informed a great deal of my work over the past couple of decades — mankind’s complicated and vast relationship with nature.

This series, “Decorating nature” is about all that and is also all about beauty….Lastly and maybe most importantly, this body of work is meant to be fun. I hope you feel I’ve succeeded.

I think he has!  See more at his website: http://decoratingnature.blogspot.com/

It’s About Time a movie like this came out!

About time

I was lucky enough to get two free passes to a screening of the movie About Time. I knew nothing of the movie except that it was supposed to be a romantic comedy from the people who created Love, Actually, which I enjoyed. And I figured since they were free tickets, there was nothing to lose. But it wasn’t just worthwhile—it was phenomenal! Writer/director Richard Curtis has created a gem that is sure to become a favorite.

Rachel McAdams is always delightful, and her role here allows her to be adored. I’m a big fan of  Bill Nighy, who gets to play the father that everyone would want to have, and he does so beautifully. My daughter’s favorite character in the movie was Kit-Kat, the always-barefoot, sweet younger sister, who is a true free spirit, And I discovered that this actress also played a small part in Never Let Me Go with the actor who plays Tim (Domnhall Gleeson, who was also Bill Weasley in the Harry Potter movies).

father & sonThe story is centered on Tim, who discovers he has the power to return to any point back in his life. When his father asks him how he plans to use this unusual skill, he sheepishly answers that he’d like to get a girlfriend. Here’s where screenwriter Curtis could have given in to cheap lowbrow humor in an effort to lure the lowest common denominator to the theater, but his writing is better than that. This movie has real heart, and Tim uses his powers wisely. We get to see him relive moments with the advantage of hindsight.

And what a wonderful tool that would be! If you could go back and redo those events in your life, knowing what you do now, think how much you could do that was positive. Of course Tim does discover that not everything can be fixed and so learns the true lesson that his skill teaches him: to enjoy every moment of every day, even—and especially—the ordinary ones.

I highly recommend this film. But beware—along with the laughter come tears. Just like life.

Find out more at the film’s IMDb page: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2194499/

Literary Death Match Is LitQuake Highlight

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Last year I kind of went LitQuake crazy, and I had planned to do the same this year until I was struck down by a nasty cold. My calendar was marked up with ten of their events, but this year I only made it to two.

AT Zuniga
LDM emcee Adrian Todd Zuniga

The celebrity judges were award-winning author of The Impossible Lives of Greta Wells, Andrew Sean Greer, Beth Lisick, author of Yokohama Threeway and Other Small Shames, and Olympic figure skater, Brian Boitano.

First up were contenders Pulitzer Prize–winning author Jane Smiley and Sam Barry, author Jane Smileyof How to Play the Harmonica and Other Life Lessons, musician, and member of the Rock Bottom Remainders. Jane read an excerpt from a forthcoming book and Sam played some mean harmonica and led the crowd in song. As one of the judges pointed out, it’s hard to compare a reading to a harmonica performance, but the fact that Jane piped up and sang harmony during Sam’s song gave her the edge that put her over the top in the judges’ tallies. Both the passage Jane read and the song Sam played reminded Andrew of his childhood.

So Round 1 winner was the author of A Thousand Acres, Jane Smiley.

Sonya Renee TaylorRound 2 pitted local author Seth Harwood against Sonya Renee Taylor, a performance poet, activist, and founder of The Body Is Not an Apology. Although Seth tried to charm judges with his white track suit and bold attempt at a Russian accent, Sonya made her way down into the audience and wowed everyone with her take-no-prisoners attitude and killer heels. And of course both performances reminded Andrew of his childhood.

Winner of Round 2: Sonya Renee Taylor.

The competition was fierce during the literary Pictionary lightning round. Emcee Adrian Todd Zuniga gave volunteers from the audience the titles of books to draw while Jane and Sonya took turns trying to guess. The Road was pretty easy, but I think we were all pretty impressed when Jane got A Confederacy of Dunces from the drawing of cones atop circles.

I’m sure Jane Smiley equates this victory with her Pulitzer.

But even if she doesn’t, it was a lot of fun.

Can I rise from the ashes of despair to do it all again?

Okay, I’m willing to admit that my headline is a bit on the dramatic side. But that’s how I feel.

On Monday, October 21, PlayGround Theater Company pays tribute to local theater legend, Barbara Oliver. I had attended Monday night’s intensive, led by casting director Annie Stuart and culled what gems I could from the guest speakers, actresses Stacy Ross and Rinabeth Apostol. They warned us against too much stage direction, imploring us to trust the actors to bring our characters to life, and assured us that one important detail about a character (she has six prescription bottles in her purse) goes much further than a handful of adverbs insinuating themselves into the dialogue.

I took this tip to heart and boiled down my protagonist’s predominant characteristic with a simple casting note—the old woman could be any race or build but needed to have a twinkle in her eye. This I hoped would get across the mischief and passion of a woman who had lived fully, had steered toward adventure, and was not about to go quietly into that good night.

Both Ross and Apostol spoke of the scarcity of juicy roles for women outside the standard fare of ingénues and mothers. My main character did have motherhood on her c.v., but she also lists a string of husbands and lovers to show that her children did not define her. And rather than sink into dementia hidden away in a bedroom of her son’s house, she chooses to run away with her imaginary lover and plans to kiss him openly on the train to give other passengers something to “meditate on.”

Thornton Wilder
Thornton Wilder, playwright and Berkeley High’s most famous literary graduate

On the Thursday night preview session with artistic director Jim Kleinmann and actor/director Soren Oliver (who is also Barbara Oliver’s son), I took copious notes on their presentation that covered the lives of both Barbara Oliver and her favorite playwright, Thornton Wilder. I listened to letters that Wilder wrote and an intro to his lesser-known but critically acclaimed play The Skin of Our Teeth. I learned how Oliver had switched rather late in her life from being the “queen of Shaw” (a devotee of playwright George Bernard Shaw) to becoming what I secretly dubbed a “Wilder woman,” who discovered her great love for arguably Berkeley High’s most famous graduate. (Or at least most literary graduate. I don’t want hate mail from Andy Samberg fans.)

I rushed home, pulled out my laptop, and started writing. I pored over my notes, internalized all the information that had been presented, basically reread the script of Our Town (Wilder’s most-performed work)and crafted what I felt was the perfect one-act play—A Wilder Woman. It had everything—it captured Barbara Oliver’s and Thornton Wilder’s spirits in a mere nine pages while creating a juicy female role with some heft. Poignant, funny, and dark—not only was I sure that my play would get chosen to be staged for Monday Night PlayGround, I was imagining the teary heartfelt words of thanks from Barbara Oliver’s family and possibly even a congratulatory note from the Wilder estate. I was practically penning the acceptance speech for my first Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle Award.

All week I was laid low with a severe chest cold, but I knew that on Friday I would get the jolt of energy I needed because the list of selected plays would be posted. So this morning when I double-clicked on the email from Jim at PlayGround, my whole being was pounding with an anticipatory beat. I scanned the short list, knowing my name would be there. But it wasn’t. I actually double-checked in case I’d overlooked it in my rush of excitement.

The judges had spoken: my masterpiece was not deemed worthy of production.

But the thing about PlayGround is that I have five more shots at getting a play produced between now and May. The question is, can I do this again in November? And what if I don’t get selected then? Do I keep repeating this process every month until I either make it to the stage or…I don’t?

And of course the answer is yes. Because that is what writers do. We pour our hearts and souls into every project, whether it’s a poem, a short story, an early-grade chapter book, a middle-grade novel, a song, or a play. And then we submit to magazines, agents, publishers, contests, and theater companies. And 99 times out of 100, we get rejected. That is a writer’s life. But we keep writing. Sometimes we rewrite that play or start a new novel.

And sometimes we spill our sorrows in a blog post, take some cold medicine, and continue to go on living.

Binge-watching is the new black

The thing about Netflix releasing a whole season of something all at once is that there are TV junkies out there who are going to fall prey to binge watching. Especially if that person is in bed sick. And the thing about binge watching is that when you watch 13 episodes of anything in three days, you’re going to catch continuity flaws and be more aware of loose ends.orange is the new black

For instance, in Orange Is the New Black— SPOILER ALERT!—did it bother anyone else that when Piper gets out of solitary, she didn’t try to peek into the cell next to hers to see who had been talking to her through the grate? I mean weren’t you half-expecting her to ask the prison guard who her next-door neighbor was just to be told that nobody had been in that particular cell for years because some crazy inmate offed herself in some way that made the cell unusable? Because I was. But Piper never even mentions it.

And what about when Nicky is having sex with the cute little Rosie Perez sound-alike behind the altar in the chapel and the chaplain and the nun and Pennsatucky walk in? It doesn’t show them getting caught or waiting it out while they have their meeting. It just drops the storyline completely. Didn’t that bother anyone besides me? It makes me think that there is some editing going on and the continuity director got laid off. Don’t get me wrong—I love the show, but I’m just sayin’…

Did anyone ever explain why Pennsatucky is called Pennsatucky when her name is Tiffany Dogget? Is she somehow from Pennsylvania and Kentucky?t?

And while we’re talking names…why is the main character named Piper Chapman when it’s based on Piper Kerman‘s memoir? Why swap “Ker” for “chap”? What’s the point?

Another thing that was never explained to my satisfaction was why inmates come in wearing orange but then after a few days start wearing beige. That doesn’t make any sense.

In my desperation of having no more episodes of OITNB to watch, I’ve resorted to fan trivia…

m-lamar-laverne-cox-orange-is-the-new-blackDid you know that the person who plays Sophia has a twin brother who portrays her as the man she was before she had a sex-change operation?

Another interesting tidbit: the scar Nicky has is a real scar from Natasha Lyonne‘s heart surgery.

How will I survive until Season 2 comes out?!OITNB

Got my wish?

orange is the new black 2

It’s a cliché, I know to say how busy one’s life is and how it’s so hard to find time to write. Yet in the last 52 hours of having what I’m now guessing is the flu, I binge-watched six episodes of Orange Is the New Black, updated my Facebook status several times, updated my Facebook profile, and even changed the pictures on my home page and on the background of my laptop.

To be fair, I did write a nine-page play on Friday. But that’s because I had a deadline and was greatly inspired to do so. Which makes me realize that I am a creature who needs deadlines.

I managed to write a poem every day but one for Poetry Month, but the promise that I made to myself to rewrite my early chapter book in February has fallen by the wayside.

quill in handSo maybe I’m not currently making strides in the world of kid lit, which I thought was my home base, but I’m writing and submitting plays, posting on my blog, and writing my monthly column for my club newsletter. I mean I’m busy, right?

But with a really good excuse not to do the laundry and grocery shopping, shouldn’t I be using my sick time to redouble my efforts in the genre that I’ve been sorely ignoring for months?

I think what’s stopping me is the sheer size of the task in rewriting a book. The cognitive energy required to launch such a project is daunting. Especially when I just wore myself out brushing my teeth…

It is nice having quiet time in bed without worrying about all the undone tasks around the house. And Dave (my husband and employer) has been kind enough to greatly reduce my workload, so I don’t even feel the burden of half-proofed projects waiting for my return to the office. (Which now that we’ve moved the business home is only a few feet away from my bed.)person reading a book

So what will I do with this precious time?

I think I’ll do something else I always say I want to do more of—read!

Embarking on a new path


A few months ago I learned from a friend that PlayGround was looking to expand their pool of playwrights. The application process was fairly simple—write a short play and submit it. I figured I had nothing to lose, so I wrote a play, sent it in, and kind of forgot about it. Then I got the email that I had been accepted as one of their new playwrights! I’m going to be a part of a whole new writing community!

Tonight the playwrights all get together to learn about something (it’s still a secret) that will help us in the writing challenge that we’ll get tomorrow. At that time, we have four and a half days to write a ten-page play. That’s right—they’re due on Tuesday.

So I’m going to be quite busy for the next few days. I’ll let you know how it goes.