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SubVerse Aphrodesia

A writer's blog by Alicia Grega

prompt folder … duh

It’s not that I’m unorganized but like any writer or other creative person, I have scraps of inspiration that I haven’t processed all over the place.

Mainly, I have photos and screenshots removed from my phone in bulk and dumped into folders to be sorted out at a later date.

This morning, I found myself weeding through these files looking for theatre photos to share with my students in the coming weeks. Part our lesson plans is to share a little about our work as creative artists – this is what I’ve done – but with lots of photos for 2nd and 3rd graders.

resolver-1
This photo of Vietnam protesters near the University of Scranton in 1970 makes my brain buzz. It’s one of the many cool bits of inspiration I captured and saved and never processed. Content hoarding or raw materials patiently awaiting a rainy day?

I have so many folders. Folders for time periods, for projects, for portfolios, for freelance work, for volunteer work, for current work, for each class I teach and for resources I might be able to use in the future etc. etc.

So what’s one more folder? It occurred to me to slide all the clips of text and photos that made me feel something into a prompt folder. And then, write a series of poems in response to the ephemera. Not that I actually have time to do this. But if I can make time to exercise 30 minutes plus 15 minutes mediation plus an hour walk, I should be able to find 30 minutes to respond to a prompt.

For now, these lesson plans are demanding my attention. I don’t wish I could half-ass things, but … it is unfortunate sometimes that I have set the bar so high and stretch and stretch and stretch until it hurts.

I am fortunate that I love this work. I do love teaching. I love finding fun and engaging ways to bring students into mind-expanding exercises. I love to pull back the curtain and demystify the art, breaking it into tiny accomplishable steps that anyone can do. And I love seeing what they make in response to the inspiration.

But I can’t let myself love it so much, become so consumed with it that I stop making my own art. These prompts will help.

They might also help me get back on track with projects I’ve begun and then neglected. My series of “Role Model” essays for example … I just found notes from a chapter about Doris Day in a book I read (well, skimmed) last summer. I had forgotten all about those pages, about her, about the movies that changed my pre-conceived notion of who Doris Day was, what her characters must have meant to women then, and what they could mean to us now. I remember talking at length about Doris Day on Troubadours and Racounters but all of this had slipped my mind.

I have so much work to do. -ag

to be fair, it’s a “journaling” prompt

I’ve learned that when something really annoys me, makes me squirm in my chair and wrinkle my entire self into a disapproving frown,  I should take a closer look.

What is it about this that’s ruffling me the wrong way? (I’m just going to leave those mixed metaphors there.)

I read about Elizabeth Gilbert’s “magic journal prompt” at YogaJournal.com last week in an article penned by the author, but headlined as if she was talking about herself in the third person.

(People talking about themselves in the third person is one of those things that makes me squirm.)

The prompt is supposed to help the reader “access the divine, unconditional love that’s within us all.” The idea of unconditional love makes me squirm. I believe the beautiful goodness humans are capable of, that power we call “God,” is in our DNA.

We are born with a need for nurture – before we have the awareness necessary to give love, we need to be cared for in order to thrive/survive. Most children receive a blend of nurture mixed with harsher lessons – neglect, resentment, frustration, impatience. I don’t believe I have been loved without condition. Ever. By anyone. Argue with me if you want, but this is honestly how I feel. So how bold would it be for me to assume I am capable of giving love, without restriction, in return?

I feel immense love for hundreds of people, including those who have wronged me. But I suspect there are limits. I have learned the hard way to put on my own oxygen mask first.

Back to Gilbert. She writes:

Every single day, I write a letter—a dialogue between myself and Love. It’s shockingly simple and radically life changing. All you have to do in order to respond to yourself as Love is imagine what you wish somebody else would say to you, and write it down. What have you been longing to hear another human being say to you your entire life? You write that.

Every day? Who has time for that? Oh, yeah. Elizabeth Gilbert does. And here we see my resentment bubbling up. Let me confess that I disapproved of the author before I had read a word she wrote. See my Goodreads review of City of Girls. I am one of those who assumed her guilty of “priv-lit” and therefore could not bring myself to read words that would salt my wounds. People like me, restricted by my budget and responsibilities to children, could never live the unencumbered way Gilbert’s protagonists seem to take for granted.

I can admit hearing the loving words I have been denied could be life-changing, but the idea of writing a self-love letter to myself every day is an absurd luxury.

The thing I wanted most for much of my childhood was to feel loved by my father. And then, long after I let that obsession go, when I was 47 years old, he moved into my house and hugged me and told me he loved me every day. Did it feel good? I don’t know. It’s possible I was suffering from depression, but I remember feeling frightened by my coldness. I had learned to get along without this. I didn’t know what to do with it now.

What is it I long to hear? I suspect I’ve stopped wanting because it’s the desire that’s painful. I’ve had to work a long time to accept the world as it is and not long for it to be otherwise.

Are the dreams still there? It is honest to think they have vanished because I’ve learned to shift perspective away from selfish desire.

Would resurrecting those dreams allow me to reach them or will I be setting myself up for disappointment? Do I really want what I always thought I wanted? What if I’ve come to terms with mediocrity? Is it possible that I’m happy enough sleeping alone in an unglamorous rental, driving a 15-year-old Subaru, working as a community college adjunct with two part-time jobs, slowly writing scripts that are not marketable enough to be produced by the map makers?

I don’t like these questions Elizabeth Gilbert.  And perhaps that’s why I should be asking them. Asking the hard questions, coming to the truth about the dark parts of ourselves we’d rather not spend time with, is what writers do who want to create resonant work, who want to connect with readers who are lost and scared and looking for comfort in story.

Look, I went first. Tear open the wound and let the blood flow. We will heal again. That’s what the body does for us. It knows how to heal itself. That magic, too, is in our DNA.

writer’s blocks

Sometimes when I want to write but my brain is tired … I do this instead.

untitled (i will not write any cornonavirus poems)

Do you remember, child?
Hiding in the magical elsewhere of books
Seeking adventure on unsupervised bike rides
No one wondering where we were.
Then, like now, we walked wooded cemetery paths
Less afraid of the dead than the boredom of adulthood.

It would seem I spent a lifetime preparing for these sheltered days.

Weekends at the lake we made up games out of earth air fire and water
Lullabied after dark by cricket armies, parents full of beer and crackling bonfire,
Waking to the bossy cries of crow after crow after crow
in time to watch sleep’s misty blanket suddenly dissipate in the sunrise.
We swam alone from one shore to the other, hiked for blueberries,
Breathed to the pace of Phillies games on am radio,
and prayed it wouldn’t rain.
We ate the corn on the cob they gave us – no menus, no requests. No use in complaining.

We moved to the country before high school –
no cable TV or friends within walking distance.
When we could finally drive we didn’t know where to go
Rode around in the Camaro listening to The Cure, smoking cigarettes and drinking Dr. Pepper.
Grunge era college kids didn’t go clubbing. We passed the bong and drank bottom shelf booze in dorm rooms listening to Lollapalooza bands and rocking with the riot grrrls.
There was no World Wide Web; we didn’t know we were missing anything.

Spent my 20s at home turning babies into toddlers into clever little girls who watched us make life; not just consume it.
Compared to abuse, divorce, evictions, living with no hot water for months, no car for years, baking in a toaster oven, sleeping on a mattress on the floor until cancer surgery earned me a bed… these weeks of uncertain waiting are nothing if you haven’t got the virus.

If we are not fighting on the front lines of health care or life sustaining servitude, the only appropriate words are “Thank You.”

America, I fear your privilege is showing.

So many of us have only skimmed the surface of the pleasures you are so anxious to return to-
We have held our breath for decades, just barely getting by – this sacrifice is not a big deal.
Today, we stay home because it’s noble, not because we’re on house arrest. I’ll gladly take pajamas over thrift-store maxi skirts meant to hide the ankle bracelet from strangers.
It was painful to pull away from the bar in early sobriety but the party’s not worth it if it’s going to kill people.
More than seven years later it’s easy to say I’m happier than I’ve ever been.
I know I am not supposed to like this time – and I am flooded with compassion for the sick and the morning and the exhausted and the scared – and yes it’s going to get worse before it gets better –
but today, there’s a part of me that doesn’t want to go back.

My daughter didn’t ask for cooking lessons before the virus. She spent her tips on take out with no fear of rainy days.

Every cough is an alarm. I keep taking my temperature, paranoid to pass on a silent sickness.
And yes, there is stress in pingponging back and forth from inspired gratitude for our better angels to the disgraceful political ego show.

But I don’t miss the frenzy of packing four bags to work two jobs, feeling guilty if I don’t fit in 45 minutes at the gym.
Working from home is an introvert’s dream. Extroverts keep your numbers, there is safety in solitude.
I will miss the luxury of daily walks when distancing is over.
The simplicity of limitation like a siren, the attraction of peace and quiet bringing me to calm.
I will miss the surprising intimacy of Zooming The Rooms in Brady Bunch squares.
I will always be grateful that shy students, too afraid to speak in class found the security to speak through cameras from within their comfort zones.
I will long for these days when so much was so freely given – free workouts, free yoga, free plays and concerts – so much talent and art bubbling up, we can’t take it all in.

Let’s save our complaints to advocate for the poor who are getting poorer, for the vulnerable at risk of losing their way, for the exploited who can’t stay home one day.
We are getting to know each other better from behind closed doors, seeing each other more clearly from a distance than we could in the crowd.
And there is some beauty in letting go of the illusion we are in charge. I saw a news anchor cry and politicians humbled. Finally, mental health matters.

It is okay not to be okay but the silver lining shines so bright – it would be a shame to miss it.

-ag
april 1, 2020

$35 Round Trip: a Coronavirus micro play

Grega.35dollarsRoundTrip.CO1MPF

Grega.35dollarsRoundTrip.CO1MPF

Simon Stephens’s Daily Automatic Writing

On episode three of season four of the Royal Court Theatre Playwright’s Podcast, Simon Stephens tells guest Stef Smith about the daily automatic writing process he developed with Chris Good.

Every day, he writes, in notebooks, as such:

4 minutes on “Things I remember.”

4 minutes on “Things I notice.”

and 4 minutes on “Things I imagine or intend to do in the future.”

Do you have a daily writing prompt?

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Playwright Simon Stephens at work. Photo via https://officiallondontheatre.com/news/in-pictures-playwrights-at-work-268221/

 

 

It should be clear how the use of such a tool to stay practiced, keep the juices flowing, and just create without the pressure to create within the boundaries of a specific, current work in progress could be helpful to any writing practice.

How much do we see and experience that we just let slip through our fingers that could be woven into great material? Notebooks full of such daily detail and remembered artifacts could be mined on a rainy day when you’re feeling otherwise uninspired. Or what patterns might emerge? What themes?

Try it for a month or if a daily writing practice is not possible within your present circumstances (e.g. you have three jobs, like me), try this prompt instead of not writing at all at the end of a long day when you realize you should sit down to write, but don’t feel like you have the brainpower left to work. Or, if you’d love to write before work but didn’t wake early enough to spare as much as a full half-hour before you have to leave … try it – you only need 12 minutes to connect to your craft and will have an easier time calling yourself a writer in between those open windows of real productivity that result in pages.

-ag

Joypoem: Happy Solstice

End of an era – five years of maddeningly repetitive nonfiction

I am going to miss these notebooks …

Found them at Ollie’s for $1.29 years ago and bought the whole case. At first, I used them for various notes but in time they became more precious – designated for emotional outbursts and to write my way out of madness. Less frequently, I took care to note occasional victories or moments of joys. Here and there, evidence of bliss can be found, but more often the words are frustrated, sad, angry and betrayed. They throb with the pain I had to exorcise from my body in order to function.

On one volume, I actually noted for my future dementia-brained self or whatever poor ancestor might have to decide what to do with this mess after I’m gone – “Remember: I only write when it hurts.”

Happiness, humor and hope – the words of my better being – preferred forms of poetry and social posts – not afraid to be seen in public.

There have been many, perfectly peaceful and mundanely serene good days on which I forgot all about me. On some of these days, writing with a clear head and unburdened heart – fiction was born, pages of script were typed and edited. I am most proud of these days. I have worked hard to be free from the damage of chaos, neglect, manipulation, lies and other trauma.

Progress has been made but I am still healing and there will always be bad days. These notebooks have been my closest confidant, journal of tears and fears, hopes and dreams too embarrassing to speak aloud.

Preparing to start a new volume today, I discover there are no more blanks. I don’t know how I will replace them – the weight and quality of these hard cover books are as familiar to me as a lover’s body. Today, I scorn the notion of substitutes with teenage rebellion. In time, I will begrudgingly accept the disappointment of a new compromise. I can’t not write. To live is to continue the story.

I suspect there must be more, older volumes, in the attic – I have a terrible memory, you see, this is also why I write things down. It’s too much of a coincidence these volumes stacked in a corner of my home office should begin and end so neatly with this last, so significant era of my heart-life.

I could not bring myself to read word for word draft prose of the last five years this morning, but I skimmed enough while confirming dates to label volume covers – I have been writing the same story on repeat for five years. Asking the same questions, struggling with the same moral quandaries, praying for the same strength to accept God’s bewildering will and to do the next, best right thing.

There have been moments of variation, of course. But nothing close to shuffle play. The song was a damn good one, too – romantic as fuck, a real tear-jerker – and I still haven’t deciphered the unintelligible lyrics – but the grooves are worn out. The melody has become a warped, diminished version of what it used to be. It’s time to see what’s on the other side of the album.

-ag, one dec 2019

role models: melanie

Such a thrill to see the legendary Melanie perform at SteelStax in Bethlehem last night.

I had seen her once before at the Fine Arts Fiesta in Wilkes-Barre, of all places, with my mother, and probably my daughters. It was my mother’s album collection that first turned me on to Melanie when I was of that age we are when we are interested enough in music to start rummaging through our parents’ collections.

Melanie was a poetic and artistic influence in those formative years when I was seeking powerful women with whom I might identify. But she was also a key emotional support during those confusing years I first lived on my own at college. I had a lot of bad days back then – struggling with hormonal mood swings, low self-esteem, and undiagnosed mental issues including OCD (intrusive thoughts) and depression that lead to substance abuse. When I felt really bad, I’d close myself up in a room, blast Melanie records and sing at the top of my lungs. Like I had to expunge the emotions or I might explode. I recognized it when I saw Bridget Fonda listen to Nina Simone in the Americanized-version of La Femme Nikita, Point of No return. Melanie was to me what Nina Simone was to Fonda’s character.

melanie

It was more than kind of my mother to purchase tickets for her and I and my sister to experience Melanie live in the cozy Musikfest Cafe. My mother and I love each other deeply, but we often fail to connect.  Melanie’s music is a clear thread. We could agree on this thread even as I often hold my breath for fear of political landmine slippage. The fourth ticket went to an old friend of my mother’s who had introduced her to Melanie. A man known then by the telling nickname “Flower Power.” He’s the first person I remember talking to in person who was actually at Woodstock. And after we got to hear his wild story over dinner, we got to hear Melanie share hers between songs.

She was only 22 years old when she played at Woodstock. Filling in for the Incredible String Band who did not want to play in the rain for fear of electrocution, Melanie took the stage a nobody and seven songs later, left a celebrity. She told us about a spiritual experience she had after sitting alone in a small, empty tent backstage for hours before finally walking up the ramp to the stage. She left her body in front of all those people before opening her mouth to sing. I wanted to see it.

Why hadn’t I seen the footage of Melanie performing at Woodstock before, I wondered. Only fans have. Comments on the video below mention that she was cut from the movie. I didn’t shout out a request for “Tuning My Guitar” at the show last night, but it’s long been my favorite. I hadn’t realized she performed it at Woodstock 50 years ago. No wonder they fell in love with her.

This song has helped me tremendously over the years – to remember that it is okay to take time for myself. That I can and should take those moments of self-care, to make myself fit to be a person who can produce and thrive and on the best days, be a good role model myself.

Thank you, Melanie. Thank you, Mommy.

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