Tuesday, October 28, 2008

We're Ba-a-a-a-a-c-k from DC and the WEDDING

I have much to say about the last six days, but so much that I can't really do it at this moment. Here's a little tidbit about my sister Jane, my niece Julia, and nephew Sam (Samuel ADAM).

From the Gazette (what Gazette I don't know)
Over Mount Vernon, VA …

By George, Mount Vernon family causes a stir at historic presidential site.

The odds of this may be even greater than one in a million:

The 1 millionth visitor to George Washington's Mount Vernon Estates and Gardens historical site in Virginia this year was from Mount Vernon, Iowa.

Actually, three people from Mount Vernon, Iowa — Jane Marshall and her two children, Julia, 13, and Sam, 11, officials at the site said. They walked through the gates of Washington's famed Virginia mansion and burial place at 10:45 a.m. EST Thursday.

"Oh, my gosh!" Jim Rees, executive director of Historic Mount Vernon, exclaimed to other employees after asking the Marshalls who they were and from where they had traveled. "They're from Mount Vernon, Iowa!"

"It was so funny," Emily Coleman Dibella, the site's director of public affairs, said today. "It was such a coincidence."

The Marshalls were greeted by about 50 employees of the site who lined up and threw confetti while a trumpet fanfare was played. A worker dressed in character read a proclamation and presented the Marshalls with a gift basket before the family got a VIP tour.

The Marshalls visited with friends from Chantilly, Va.

Dibella said officials at the historic site were please that people still are traveling to see the site south of Washington, D.C., overlooking the Potomac River, given the slumping economy. "We're just thrilled that people continue to come and are interested in George Washington," she said.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

How I got hit by the ARTS bus?

Someone asked how I got started painting. I'm almost positive I blogged about this before, but I'm posting what I said to my friend because it can't be said enough. Too many people allow fear of failure to keep them from the joy of doing what they want to do. They let pre-determined pain slap 'em down.

Yes, it be great if we could live out a period in our lives just as Bill Murray did in Groundhog Day where our stumblings and sour notes are immediately forgotten by those around us. Yes, we all wish we could become proficient in a skill overnight, but unfortunately, we can't. We have to pay for the joy of being good at something, first by being bad. And it's that fear of badness that paralyzes so many of us.

I've spent a life time repressing my desire to paint. I was all caught up in things being good enough. Writing has matured me about this. I now understand that if you work at making something better with patience and joy, it will turn out better than if you spend the same time feeling frustrated and inadequate. I'm just glad I figured this out while I'm still functional!!

I'm almost 60 so time has spurred me on and also helped me let go of "perfectionism." Better to do and be just okay, than not do and not do jack sh*t.

I decided to start painting in February of this year. Was on jury duty and if you are on jury duty in LA, you can get into the Museum of Contemporary Art for free on your lunch hour. So that's what I did. There were only about 20% of what I saw that blew me away. The rest seemed either stupid, sloppy, or merely adequate. So I thought, hmmmmm, I can be merely adequate, and I have no expectations of ever being in a museum. So what do I have to lose?

One picture really gave me an emotional jolt. I spent a lot of time in front of it. Turned on in the art sense. My thought, I want to do that. It was abstract and used wire and card board. I like wire. I like cardboard, especially corrugated cardboard, rapidly torn so that it appears half and half...

I went to Michael's and bought the cheapest stuff, a pack of Liquidex Basics acrylic paint with a 50% off coupon for 16.00, packs of miscellaneous brushes, gesso, and 16x20 canvases at 5.99 each, acrylic craft paint in metal colors, gold, silver, copper, and bronze because the painting I liked had a silver spot just off center that appealed to me. And most importantly, a color wheel because over the years I know about opposites, complements, etc and their importance in both visual arts and written arts.

Well, I went home, went out to the garage, and quite literally, played. And played for hours, days, and now months. I am shocked that people like my art. I paint to make myself happy, mostly experimenting with color and shape and the odd bits I pick up on the streets during my walks.

I hit a bonanza last week-end when visiting a friend who is a carpenter when he gave me carte-blanche to his workshop. It was a treasure hunt, not sure what I'd find as I pulled out each plastic drawer!!! I found some great provocative shapes. Fell in love with washers, bolts, chains, anything rusty, broken, or unfathomible.

My advice to any repressed, perfectionistic, fraidy-cats out there is go to a contemporary museum for inspiration. Start with abstraction. No mistakes can be made. Layer on lots of paint and keep going until just as you're about to lay on another color in the upper left hand corner, your eye tells you, STOP, this piece is done!!! And then stop and go on to another blank canvas.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Whoa BABY! Tagged AGAIN

This one is a nice compliment!!!

Kev-lar tagged me, and everyone I would tag. Thank goodness my sister isn't part of this crowd! Here arethe rules of the tag. I think I've messed them up. But I think they were messed up before:

1. Display the award. See above!
2. Link back to the person who gave you this award. That was that shameless red-headed boy.
3. Tag at least 7 other blogs. (Thanks, Kev!)
4. Put links to those blogs on your blog.
5. Leave a message on the blogs of the people you've tagged.
6. Copy, answer, and post your answers should be here to the questions below

You can only answer in one word:
1. Where is your cell phone? Purse
2. Where is your significant other? Work
3. Your hair color? Hidden
4. Your mother? Missed
5. Your father? Hmmmm
6. Your favorite thing? Life
7. Your dream last night? Jumbled
8. Your dream/goal? Awareness
9. The room you're in? Temple
10. Your hobby? Unanswerable
11. Your fear? Confusion
12. Where do you want to be in 6 years? Italy
13. Where were you last night? Home
14. What you're not? Sentimental
15. One of your wish-list items? Perserverance
16. Where you grew up? SoCal
17. The last thing you did? Walked
18. What are you wearing? T-shirt
19. Your TV? Off
20. Your pet? Spider
21. Your computer? Addicting
22. Your mood? Mellow
23. Missing someone? Jane
24. Your car? Zooooooom-zooooom
25. Something you're not wearing? Shoes
26. Favorite store? Target
27. Your summer? Insane
28. Love someone? Many
29. Your favorite color? Red...gold...red...gold...red...gold!
30. When is the last time you laughed? Tagged.
31. Last time you cried? Weeks

Thanks for the meme, Kevin.

Now I must figure out seven bloggers to tag, not include Erin, Alex, M, and Sarah,


That's all the people I know who might conceivably do this. If you don't want to play, it's no sweat, no worries, and no skin off my nose. (where the heck did that last expression come from?) I understand and hold not a thing against any of you. Unless that thing is me, and we're hugging.(Kev actually said this corny part, not me. I'm NOT sentimental, just too lazy to erase it).

Friday, October 10, 2008

If it doesn't speak to me, let it be

Robert, don't quit the forums (fori? forae?) and certainly don't let anything I've said, or Kevin for that matter, be a big deal to you. Our writerly egos and fears are involved, and therefore, we've got to say to ourselves "If it doesn't speak to me, let it be."

Writing about individual process always stirs people up. And makes for a lively discussion which is always to the good. The process is something we all want to understand. We strive to learn tricks, pray for shortcuts, hope and wish Jessica Lange or Andre Ethier will show up and be our muse. Anything that might our task easier. At least I do.

When something worksand someone else shares his secrets, we often want to put our hands over our ears and sing "la-la-la-la!" We don't want to know that what's working for us isn't right.

The irony is that it's all right. There is NO WRONG WAY, no wrong philosophy.

We choose our direction at each sign post and hope that it's going to lead us where we want to go. Sometimes something learned works forever. Sometimes we hit a deep box canyon with no path to the top. Yet it's hard to turn around and retrace our steps.

If one writer cares about other writers, and about the art and craft of writing, she sharea the reasons for her chosen path. Why?

If I've figured out something that works, just a tiny part of the process of writing (I don't pretend to more because I don't know a millionth of what there is to learn and know), I don't want someone I know to struggle to find that same answer if I can give her some information, a hint, a trick, a 3 minute muse.

I've been writing a long time, and only now am able to write 1000 words that someone just might say they enjoyed. Maybe I should've given up. Maybe I wasn't always listening. But I didn't quit because whenever I got really stuck, the universe dropped a book in my lap (Jerry Cleaver, Natalie Goldberg, Stephen King), delivered a Writers Digest, alerted me to a workshop, or blessed me with an astute and honest reader.

So now I'm always listening, but I'm also filtering. Using what I tantalizes me and/or what I can believe in, and ignoring the rest.


For you, Kevin, since you can't come to the show.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Art thou ready?

To come and see my art? As unbelievable as it may seem, my art is hanging right at this very moment at The Masters Hair Studio and Gallery at 16 North Mentor in Pasadena. Email me for hours.

The show is called "Testing Mettle," all puns intended. I use acrylic, wire, plastic, netting, fabric, and the metal street sweeping bristles I've gathered from the byways of South Pasadena. My commentary reads,
Gay Degani's art focuses on alienation, discovery, reclamation, and growth from both personal and universal prospectives. Is there hope? Maybe.
Here's a little sneak peak:

Naked under the sun

My friend Robert at Every Day Fiction brought up an interesting question today. Here's what he asked me:

Gay mentioned that “there are no new stories in the world, just each person’s unique way to tell them.” I’m wondering, Gay – do you really believe this?

Personally, I think this is a pessimistic viewpoint. Because when I hear writers say that there is no such thing as originality anymore, that every story is influenced by another story which was influenced by another story, it makes me ask then what’s the point in even writing to begin with. I’ll agree, everything is influenced by everything else (both consciously and unconsciously) but I think it’s our job as writers to try to tell new stories, keep originality alive, etc.

Here's my response:

Very good point for discussion, Robert. I probably should have used the word "plot" instead of story. Story combines all the compenents a tale weaves together to give the reader a unique experience. However plot is a single element or thread to the story's "structure." I should clarify here.

I consider that all stories have three overriding building blocks: content, structure, and language. Content is the actual meat of the story, the characters, the setting, and of course how the character react to specify events or plot of the story. Structure is the organization of the story, when the events happen, when the reader learns certain information, and the "plot." Language is how this is all said and includes tone, attitude, and word choice.

It is helpful to me as a writer to understand that there ARE three building blocks to creating a story and that although there is much overlapping of these three key components, looking at them individually helps me to weave all of this together for the best effect. Theme emerges from, and is enhanced by, all three: content, structure, and language.

When I suggested there are no new stories, I was talking about plot in terms of its most primitive definition, in its most primitive form: What happens?

For example, in a love story:
Boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy battles to get girl back, boy wins girl back(American movies) or loses girl(foreign movies).

That's the plot. Three acts: Act 1, a longer Act 2 with two distinct halves, and Act 3. Personally when I'm working on structure I call these Act 1, Act 2A, Act 2B, and Act 3, each act roughlty equal in length. It's helpful to me to break down my story whether 1000 words or 3000 words into these segments. It give me a handle on the action, the pacing, and the emotions.

Yes this sounds like formula, but plot is formula, and not to be confused with what a writer is going to do with the deeper structure, the theme, the characters, the language.

In the example above, where boy meets girl, the story question or plot question or premise is: Will the boy end up with the girl? That's the plot of a love story. Period. What an individual writer chooses to weave in and out of her story to deepen it, depends on the writer's point-of-view, her language, her understanding of structure, the choices she makes in setting, character, and tone. This plot is about man v. whatever for the love of girl.

The key to the most elemental plot is Aristotilian: What will the protagonist struggle against and will he win or lose?

The most basic plot setups are man against man, man against society, man against nature, man against himself, and of course in our new space age, man against machine which is really bastardized nature. All plots can be reduced to this question once you clear away all the other layers writers put into their work.

So will the protagonist struggle against an adversary for the one he/she loves and win or lose him/her in the end? Romeo and Juliet, Wuthering Heights, Die Hard.

Will the protagonist struggle against the forces of society and win or lose? One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest, Hedda Gabler, Erin Brockovich.

Will the protagonist struggle against the forces of nature and survive or die? Moby Dick, Old Man and the Sea, Ghostbusters.

Will the protagonist struggle against himself, his own wretched nature, his own weakness, and win or lose? Anna Karenina, Dorian Gray, Hamlet?

From these basic premises, stem all plots, but as you can see from my examples , none of those stories turned out formulaic or linear because it is the writer and the magic of the details and attitude of the writer that transforms plot. Classics usually manage to combine some or all of these basic premises.

The reason I'm going into this (I hope clearly but maybe not) is that unless we understand the basic elements of any skill, we can never truly master it. I fumbled around for years because I believed if I was to be a writer, some force outside myself (God, talent, DNA) would make it happen.

This is true of geniuses like the Brontes, maybe, Jane Austin, William Shakespeare, but most of us aren't them. There is still the rest of us who have things to say in language that is valuable, touching, lyrical, magic, but most of us can't turn our back on the continual lessons available to us about the craft.

Robert, I'm not directing this at you. You ask the question we all ask and most of us keep asking. But what I want to forestall is the doubt and fear in developing writers when they feel they cannot think of anything new. Too often a writer comes up with a twist only to read a book the next week and find the same idea illustrated. However, these gets washed away when the writer impresses his own thoughts and personality onto his own piece.

Newness is not in the plot. Newness--uniqueness-- is in the writer himself. Everytime a writer sits down to write, if he worries about the story-as-in-plot being original, then that writer is going to eventually give up.

If, however, when he starts tapping the keyboard, he thinks about everything else, things he knows, things that interest him, people who live under his nose that bug him, if he considers the way his own street looks like on a Sunday morning at 5:30 with its overhanging camphor trees, the tiniest glitter of light behind the water tower, the small arch in the middle of the asphalt with its freshly painted yellow stripe--damn the city for that one--and oh, there's a woodpeckerknocking his head against the lifeless electric pole....

And once that writer gets all his own uniqueness down, if he then goes back and thinks about what he has said, what is the truth that's seeping out, and considers how to say it better and more beautifully, sharply, or angrily, then he's on his way to a story people may want to read.

Phew Okay. Sorry about that. Hope my rambling convictions clarify that my view is anything but negative. My view is to say, you can do it, just be you, write what you want to write, then make it better.

Thanks Robert! I have my blog for today!!

Friday, October 03, 2008

Editing Disease

I caught myself editing an LA Times headline this morning. Not the first time either. The only journalism classes I ever had were in high school. I was, of course, on the paper and thought that's what I'd be, the next Nellie Bly. You know, the kind of woman played by Rosalind Russell. But alas I didn't pick my college--I won't go into that--and it turned out NOT to have a journalism department. Back in the day, it never occurred to me that there was such a thing as J-schools for college grads. Actually, was there? I wouldn't have gone anyway. I wasn't into clear thinking or assertive behavior in those days.

Anyway, I learned all the basics in Mr. Ritche's class. (I can't remember how to spell it, that's how long ago it was). I understood how the inverted pyramid worked and why. I searched out words like "very," "just," "pretty," and eradicated them. I tried to avoid the prepositional phrase in favor of strong adjectives and the occasional, even stronger verb. I probably forgot a lot, but when I see unnecessary words, it bugs the **** out of me.