Writing Through a Crisis of Happiness

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The following was originally published in the WCDR Wordweaver in the spring of 2014.
WRITING THROUGH A CRISIS OF HAPPINESS
It’s been ages since I’ve had a daily writing regime. I was fanatical about my sacred hour of writing before the rooster crowed. Then life changed. Drastically. I came down with a debilitating Crisis of Happiness™.
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A Lazy Trip through the Canals of Suzhou, the Venice of the East.

          I write from darkness. I’m a writer because of my misery-laden psyche. From darkness comes creativity. Remove darkness, and the urgency to write evaporates. Happiness equals a dry well.
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An Evening Stroll in Wuxi Shi, Jiangsu Sheng, China.

          While on my recent vacation to China and Hong Kong, I planned to re-institute my early-morning writing hour. I thought it’d be easier to get back into my regime while vacationing. But Beijing was breathtakingly beautiful. This made for great writing fodder, but also ramped up my Crisis of Happiness™.
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A Day of Shopping in Shanghai.

          We travelled almost every day. We went from Beijing to Shanghai to Suzhou to Hangzhou to Wuxi to Shanghai to Hong Kong. Most mornings I awoke in a different hotel room than the morning before. With 14 days to re-establish my habit, I persevered.
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Boating in Hangzhou Shi, Zhejiang Sheng, China

          Writing is a discipline. We must take it seriously in order for it to have importance in our lives. I had been using it as a crutch to prop up the rest of my life. One early morning in Shanghai, I considered a change of perspective. Write from a place of joy. Such an easy concept. If I could write from a wounded psyche, I could also write from joy. I embraced the pre-dawn vista of Shanghai spread out before me like a frenetic wonderland and I picked up my pen. I wrote. I was back.
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Tiananmen Square, Beijing, China (Selfie-Capital of the World!)

          I can’t, however, write about the place I’m in. Amid the unsurpassed beauty of Suzhou—Venice of the East—I wrote about how, atop the Eiffel Tower, the blinding Paris sunsets distort the views of the beautiful city below. Having spent the previous day boating through Suzhou’s beautiful canals, I happily wrote about
Paris sunsets.
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A Tipsy Night in the streets of Hong Kong.

          This morning, I awoke with a vivid memory of a tipsy evening in a restaurant atop the peak overlooking Hong Kong’s Victoria Harbour. I wrote about being down in the harbour earlier that day, and how water lapped at the hulls of the ancient heritage boats precisely the same way it lapped at new boats. The ancient ones were festooned with Chinese lanterns and decorous accoutrements, but their seaworthiness seemed questionable. The powerful
new motorboats were sleek, sexy, and clearly capable of seafaring adventures.
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I see a ship in the harbour…and boats, too.

          I wrote about how perspective changes a person. I used to be one of those rickety old boats swaying in the wake of the newer models, always fearing that today is the day I sink. Oh, how I tried to write my way out of sinking. But I realized one need not be the shiny new boat to stay afloat. One need only move the pen across the page.
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Write. Bear Witness.

          Writers are witnesses not only on the days we’re miserable and tired. We must also be witnesses on the days we’re overcome with joie de vivre. We must bear witness every day.
          It’s 5:00 a.m. Can I get a witness…

A Playwright’s Dream – Trafalgar 24 by Driftwood Theatre

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THE FOLLOWING ARTICLE IS ONE I WROTE FOR THE WCDR WORDWEAVER NEWSLETTER, FOR THEIR MAY/JUNE 2009 ISSUE. It describes my very first foray into play-writing. It’s a little aged today, as I have now had 10 short plays produced…6 of them for Trafalgar24. I just wanted to give a little flavour into the experience from a playwright’s POV. It’s an amazing experience.
Following the article, I have posted some info on this year’s (2017) Trafalgar24 event. GET TICKETS! I promise you, it will be an experience you’ll never forget. One of the best nights out of the year, for sure.
Here’s the article:
A Playwright’s Dream – Trafalgar 24 by Driftwood Theatre
 
 
 
It’s Friday the 13th and we are in a dark basement corridor of a haunted 19th century castle. Out of the eerie silence come the first ear-shattering shrieks.
 
 
          “Margo! Margo!” A girl runs towards us. She is lost, panicked and terrified.
 
 
          So begins the unfolding of one of my lifelong dreams. The girl’s shouts are words I penned twenty-four hours earlier when I was locked into that basement and forced to write a 10-minute play.
 
 
          Forced is an exaggeration. The fulfillment of my dream actually began a month earlier when I wrote a hesitant e-mail to Ruth Walker. I had received a WCDR e-mail calling for playwrights for Driftwood Theatre’s 6th annual Trafalgar24 event and I ruminated over whether or not I should apply. Actually, I painfully agonized. I asked Ruth if I was completely crazy to even consider contacting Jeremy Smith, Driftwood’s artistic director.
 
 
          When I received Ruth’s encouragement (instead of the expected laughter), I sent Jeremy an e-mail. I began with the truth: I am not now, nor have I ever been a playwright. I followed my confession with much pleading and begging. You see, I had always imagined myself as a playwright. Imagination is a wasted gift when not forced into action.
 
 
          Much to my surprise—and horror—I received the following reply from Jeremy: I am delighted to inform you that if you still have an interest in staying up all night in a haunted castle between Thursday, March 12, and Friday, March 13, we would love to have you.
 
 
          Fast forward a month and here I am in the dark basement corridor, in the back row of a standing-room-only, sardine-packed audience. The young woman is lunging toward us, shrieking out her lost friend’s name. I’d like to say I wrote a dramatic play that would move my audience to tears—I went in there with visions of Blanche Dubois meets Phantom of the Opera—but that would be a lie.
 
 
          When we arrived at the castle twenty-four hours earlier, we playwrights were each given a sheet of paper. Mine included three things: headshots of my actors, the room I was assigned to and the play’s theme—Friday the 13th in a haunted castle. I took one look at my actresses and I knew what to write. I sat on the floor of the basement corridor and attempted to bring my newly acquired vision to life.
 
 
          Within an hour and a half, I victoriously announced: Done. Comedy. Now I can relax about deadline & edit.
 
 
          Throughout the hours of edits that followed, I was comforted by one fact: Lucy Brennan was upstairs. I interrupted her and commiserated with her a few times throughout the night. We even went on a Tim Hortons’ run with some of the other playwrights. She was my unwitting rock. She had no idea how much comfort I took in knowing she was a mere staircase away.
 
 
          Come morning, the playwrights were allowed to go home. As we drove to our beds, the actors and directors swarmed the castle. They only had a few hours to read and rehearse the ten plays we had left behind. It was all very The Elves and the Shoemakers if you ask me.
 
 
          Opening night! The Trafalgar24 play-creation festival is a fundraising event for Driftwood Theatre. What’s special about Driftwood is that they bring professional theatre to Ontario communities for pay-what-you-can admission. Trafalgar24 helps to make this possible. The event had a wonderful silent auction and a dessert table to rival every dessert table ever assembled on this or any other planet. It also had a dizzying array of talented actors and actresses who poured their hearts into roles that did not even exist less than 24 hours earlier.
 
 
          I was now an audience member. Each person in attendance viewed six of the 10 plays. I saw some incredibly heart-wrenching performances. I travelled from the library to the cathedral to the piano room and beyond—Lucy Brennan’s was my favourite! I was mesmerized by the beauty of the night—flawlessly orchestrated by all—including the stage director, WCDR’s own Nancy Melcher.
 
 
          I made my way to the basement. In the hushed moments prior to my character’s screams, I noticed the evening’s emcee standing to my left. Neil Crone, the man who has given me years of poignant laughter, was about to watch my words brought to life. I was suddenly more terrified than I had been when faced with the impossible demand of writing a play in eight hours. But I had forced my imagination into action. I was now a playwright.
 
 
          ‘Lucy‘ made her way onto the set and was startled, poked and prodded by the wickedly playful ‘Margo.’ Neil Crone laughed! I will beg Mr. Smith to allow me to be a part of the next Trafalgar24. If he doesn’t grant me the incredible honour of being playwright, I will be there in the audience watching another year of magic unfold. Only a fool would miss it!
 
END OF ARTICLE
Want to learn more about the 2017 Driftwood Theatre Trafalgar 24 Play Creation Festival? FOLLOW THIS LINK TO READ ABOUT THIS YEAR’S PLAYWRIGHTS, JUST ANNOUNCED!
 
 
HERE’S A LINK TO THE DRIFTWOOD THEATRE WEBSITE. Don’t miss Trafalgar 24 2017. You’ll love it!

INKSLINGERS – Destination SCOTLAND! Writing-Yoga-Discovery Retreat

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Come and steep yourself in Scottish literature and landscape. ~ So goes the new call to arms (to pens?) on The Inkslingers’ website.

Are you going to answer the call? It’s always a good idea to invest in your writing life. You owe it to yourself to explore your craft with the same passion with which you explore the world…total immersion. No better way to do it than to do the two things together. Let Inkslingers, along with the literary landscape of Scotland, take you on a writing adventure this July! Wanderlust and Writing are perfect partners…and with Inkslingers guiding the way, you cannot go wrong.

The INKSLINGERS are taking a group of writers to SCOTLAND for a retreat of immersion in words and place.

From July 15 to 23, 2017,

Inkslingers will be offering

a writing/yoga/discovery retreat

in stunning, storied Scotland!

Writers will explore Glasgow, Ayrshire, Fort Augustus on the shores of Loch Ness, Dunkeld, and, Edinburgh. Yoga Classes will be offered by Yoga instructor and Poet, Kate Marshall Flaherty, and the writing sessions will be led by Sue Reynolds, with additional support from Kate and James Dewar. There will be a tour of a distillery, a sheepdog display, the Peter Pan Museum, Edinburgh Castle…and much more. Be prepared to be fully immersed in your surroundings! And you will have the finest writing workshop facilitators guiding your writing experience along the way.

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The copy on the INKSLINGERS’ website says it all:

It is Inkslingers’ mission to deliver writing workshops and retreats that enrich the experience and strengthen the craft of each participant while building community and keeping each writer safe in their creativity. ~ INKSLINGERS

I have been a recipient of their ability to deliver on that promise. Both James Dewar and Susan Lynn Reynolds have made me a better writer.

Who are the Inkslingers? Susan Lynn Reynolds was my initial introduction to the Writers’ Community of Durham Region. I originally took her memoir workshop at a library in Durham Region back in 2002 or 2003. From there, I followed her all the way to Uxbridge, Ontario, the very next day to attend a regular on-the-spot writing group she facilitated at the library there. And I never looked back! Sue is an amazing teacher/facilitator. With her exuberance and passion for writing, and her understanding and knowledge of the craft, she makes an exemplary mentor. After attending her on-the-spot group for a couple of years, I later took an extended workshop on novel writing with Sue…and it got me on my current path of novel-writing. YOU CAN READ SUE’S BIO HERE.

James Dewar is the poet who gave me my first introduction to open-mic and poetry performance. He took a chance on me as a spoken word poet before I was ready…and he ignited a passion in me to strive to be a better poet and a better speaker. He’s a natural teacher/mentor. I also attended a poetry workshop led by James, and it was phenomenal and enlightening. I’d recommend them to anyone. You can read about my experience at James’s POETRY SANCTUARY HERE. The sanctuaries are so worth the drive north of the city. YOU CAN READ JAMES’S BIO HERE.

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Last year (2016) The Inkslingers took a group of writers on a retreat in IRELAND. The whole adventure is captured in their online diaries. You can read all about that retreat at the Inkslingers’ website, to see the detail and care they take in planning their writing adventures:

THE INKSLINGERS IRELAND DIARIES

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James Dewar and Sue Reynolds are The Inkslingers (Ireland, 2016)

This 2017 writing retreat to Scotland has an EARLY BIRD PRICING DISCOUNT for those who book before MARCH 31st. VISIT HERE FOR PRICING AND REGISTRATION INFORMATION

Scotland is the home and inspiration of a number of the great influences of Western literature: Robert Louis Stevenson, Sir Walter Scott, J.M. Barrie, Arthur Conan Doyle, Dorothy Dunnett, Ian Rankin, Ali Smith, Muriel Sparks, George MacDonald, Samuel Johnson, Kenneth Grahame, Louise Welsh, Josephine Tey and J.K. Rowling, and the iconic Robbie Burns! ~ INKSLINGERS

I am Tartuffe – It’s 1664 and the Curtain Rises. Or, the Evolution of a Writer.

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I am Green Eggs and Ham. I am Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. I am Little Women. I am The Great Gatsby. I am Tartuffe.

I don’t know if all writers are the same or not. But for me, there were always signposts along the way. I know precisely the signposts that gave me direction to the writer I have become.

  1. Green Eggs and Ham
  2. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
  3. Little Women
  4. The Great Gatsby
  5. Tartuffe

These are the stepping stones I climbed to get here. These are the cornerstones that support the burden of my creative existence.

I vividly recall the electricity I felt when, at first, Green Eggs was read to me by my father. I wanted to be this. Whatever this was. I could not yet voice the thing, but I knew. With all my heart, I knew.

I remember first opening Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. His grandparents all in the bed. The family’s squalor and despair. Charlie’s compassion and passion for the world. I wanted to capture that. But I couldn’t yet put into words how I would go about doing that. I just knew that it had something to do with creation.

Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy. I was granted a window into their lives. That window allowed for heartache, sorrow, joy, wonder. That I could feel all these emotions simply by reading words on a page. It was alchemy. I wanted to be that kind of a magician. I wanted to control the emotions of others with words.

East Egg. West Egg. Glamour. Lights. One little light, shining beacon-like across the water. Nick Carraway, the gentle observer of decadence. Removed, enticed, sickened. Gatsby became the template from which I have judged all novels since. None stand strong against it, though a great many have come close. You remember your first. That first moment when you know you have met with perfection. Even flawed perfection is made perfect by your own adulation of the thing. No matter the flaws that have been or will be pointed out to me in The Great Gatsby, it will always be that book. I will forever aspire to write THAT book.

With the exploration of words in full throttle, came the search for the perfect play. I had already read A Streetcar Named Desire. I was pretty sure I would not find another. It was my play. Then, somewhere between ninth and tenth grade, maybe. My memory fades. I stumbled upon a book called Tartuffe & Other Plays. Molière. First performed in the Palace of Versailles in 1664. Scorned by the Catholic Church. French. Paris (my lifelong love of the city drew me to anything in its periphery). I quickly discovered that pretty much ANY and ALL creative works frowned upon by the laughably reprehensible Catholic Church ended up being something I admired and liked. The swirling controversy surrounding Tartuffe made it REQUIRED reading for me. I read more about the play before reading the play than I ever read about anything prior to reading the thing for myself. The controversy surrounding Tartuffe when it first came out, culminated in the Archbishop of Paris announcing an edict warning anyone who watched it, read it, or performed in it total excommunication from the church. That’s serious shit. Then I read the play. And I laughed. And I laughed. And I laughed.

These are the books and creative works that formed me as a writer. My signposts, my evolution, my muses of creativity. I mention them today because of a little incident that happened on the way home from work yesterday. Or, perhaps not even an incident…but a happenstance. As I drove by the Scarborough Music Theatre (and I think Community Centre—I never really paid attention to what the building was) at Markham and Kingston Roads, I noticed a sign that has been there forever. On it was flashing the word Tartuffe. It rose above the din and caught my eye as it was meant to do. I got instantly and ridiculously excited. In all the years of re-reading the play, I had never actually seen it performed. It had never once come to life for me outside the page. Long story, short (too late)…I secured tickets for opening night. 353 years after its original opening night, I am attending a performance of TARTUFFE! Writers are such geeks, aren’t we?

From the theatre website:

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CLICK ON THIS IMAGE TO BE REDIRECTED TO THE THEATRE’S PAGE FOR TICKETS AND INFO.

The description of the play, from the Scarborough Theatre Guild’s Website:

It is 1699 in Paris and Tartuffe, claiming to be a religious man, is living as a guest in the home of Orgon. His true goal is to acquire his host’s fortune and to seduce his wife. Most of Orgon’s family can see through Tartuffe’s pretense at holiness. Orgon, however, is completely fooled and offers his so-called “friend” all his property and marriage to his only daughter. It is up to Orgon’s faithful wife, Elmire, to expose the evil of their hypocritical house guest.
Recommended for ages 14 and up.

March 10*, 11, 16, 17, 18, 23 and 24 at 8:00pm

March 12, 19 and 25 at 2:00pm.

*A wine and cheese reception will follow the opening night performance on March 10th.

Regular tickets: $22

For detailed ticket information, please see the Box Office page

I wonder if all writers have their building blocks to how they got there…to writer. Do they remember each stepping stone? Do they honour those stones? Do they revisit them? Do they aspire to them?

I’m going to TARTUFFE! If you’re in the area, it’s not too late to get tickets (see above). I promise, you will laugh at this farce. Yesterday was a good day. I see a lot of names in lights, but seeing Tartuffe rise up out of the din of my advertising-thick commute was a godsend I’ll not soon forget. It’s silly, but to see a production of Tartuffe has been an almost life-long dream. As Julia Roberts (as VIVIAN) said to Richard Gere (as EDWARD) in Pretty Woman BEFORE their evening out, I will NOW say to the performers at SCARBOROUGH THEATRE GUILD.

“In case I forget to tell you later, I had a really good time tonight.”