It’s the New Year and yesterday it was raining! Hooray!
It wasn’t a big rain. There was a sprinkling on the windows and the roads are getting slick, but I’m not breaking out the umbrella yet. (I always keep one by my desk at work – an old habit.)
When I was a kid in Vancouver, B.C., Canada, rain was a good part of my life. I had a beautiful white slicker, red gumboots, and many different colored bandanas. Ready for anything, hoping for a squall.
One of the delights of childhood was in watching the worms in the rain puddles (cheap fun for all and of course, the boys would jump on them.) And it was so lovely and comforting at night, lying warm and cozy in bed, listening to the pounding on the windows.
No one ever said, “Help, it’s raining.” We said, “There’s a bit of a mist today. Better take an umbrella.” And we said that about seven months of the year. I remember more than one of those umbrellas being blown inside out by the wind and rain working together. Great fun!
One of my favorite movies of all times is Singing In The Rain!
Perfect casting, great plot, and dancing to die for. (I saw one interview with Debbie Reynolds, who said that they rehearsed the dancing until her feet bled.) Every once in a while, my brain starts “Moses supposes his toeses are roses” and I feel happy.
THE NEXT Day
Well, that was wishful thinking. It’s another beautiful clear day without a hint of mist! But I’m hoping.
I’ve always hated the term Kitchen Sink Realism. Not that I hate the plays that fall under the category but that’s not my reality. I keep coming back to this hard truth. The reality that I am a person who has lost love over dirty dishes. It is the most embarrassing reality I’ve had to face in my adult life, and I’ve endured some major failures. But this by far towers over them all.
So I want to write about it.
I used to consider myself a pretty clean person. It was clearly subjective, because of course I think that, I’m supposed to think that. No one’s ever like, “i’m hella dirty, lol, wanna live together?” That would be stupid. But over the years I’ve learned that being clean (or not so clean) is not only subjective, it can also be a response to trauma.
If you grew up in a working poor family and identify as a person of color, being home alone might feel like a for real luxury, because growing up, rarely ever was the home empty. Cousin need a place to crash until they can get back on they feet and there’s a couch and shelf in a closet so there’s space. Uncle just got out of prison and grandma begged your parents to take him in because her house is full and the foster people don’t allow former convicts in the house with kids anyways. Brother got his girlfriend pregnant and her parents kicked her out. And the babies sleep in the other room gon be there until we find where they mama or daddy is.
I grew up with at first two working parents, and then just 1. As my father’s physical health declined, he was forced to leave the workforce and remain on disability for a great portion of my life. From ages 11 until 23, I saw my dad cook, clean everything (or yell at us for not cleaning everything) and watch grandbabies. I was fortunate to get to see him in that way. See him all the time at home, watching tv. Even with my dad being at home all the time, we (whoever was living there) was expected to clean up after ourselves. Though, we did not.
The year was 1998. I was was 9 and my sister was 11. My grandmother fostered a kid who was between the age of my sister and I and at the time, we lived in my maternal grandma’s house, with a bunch of uncles and cousins. And of course, we were responsible for cleaning the kitchen. In my family, cleaning the kitchen is washing the dishes, every single one of them, cleaning the counters and stove top, sweeping and mopping the floor and taking out all the trash. Nothing should be left out. Nothing should be sticky. My paternal grandma, she didn’t play the whole dishes in the sink game. She didn’t play none that dirty shit. I honestly loved going over my grandma’s house in Oakland (paternal) partly because she let us eat whatever we wanted and I never had to clean the dishes. But my maternal grandmother cooked every meal and with so many people living in one house, the dishes quickly piled, spilling out the sink onto the countertop and floor like a neglected infection. From breakfast to lunch, it would look like a restaurant scene in a movie where the caught dine and dashers have to roll up their sleeves and bust some suds. And every evening, guess who had to clean it? The preteens. Not my brothers and older cousins who were in high school at the time, and not my little cousins who were too young to clean right. The big kids. Personally, as a 31 year old, I wouldn’t trust a 9 year old to clean dishes right. And I didnt! I would throw away dirty dishes to avoid cleaning them and not bother to even rinse off the stubborn fruity pebbles before I put the bowl in the dishwasher (yes I grew up with dishwashers) which doesn’t clean but santizes. I left all tupperware in the sink to “soak” and I’d always have to redo the dishes in the morning for doing such a bad job in the evening. And still, I was expected to do a good job. But this one time, my sister was washing, I was rincing, and Sean, (the fostered 10 year old boy) was supposed to be putting the dishes away and wiping down the counters, helping. But he was in the den with the bigger kids talking about some, “clean my dishes woman” and all them foo’s was laughing and carrying on. My sister was so mad. She said, “As soon as I finish this last dish, Ima just take off on him.” I was going much slower then she was and had already thrown away a few knives anyways so I didn’t care too much that he wasn’t helping. I knew my grandma was gonna give him a whoopin for showing out like that. I couldn’t wait to tell. But my sister was serious. After tossing the last fork in the murky rinse water, with soap up to her elbows, she went in there and beat his ass. I remember her shadow from the den, bleeding in the kitchen like a Kara Walker art piece that made you feel pain and pleasure. And all the big kids laughing at Sean getting whopped by a girl. She beat that boy so bad, my grandma had to take him to the hospital.
After moving out of my grandmas house (that time) we got a little two bedroom apartment. I have 7 brothers and sisters. At any given moment, with cousins, friends and girlfriends, we would have up to 13 people staying with us at one time. Again, a lot of dirty dishes. My parents tried to assign days and weeks but it didn’t work. They’d come home to not one clean cup to drink water from. They would go off on one of my brother’s and he would go off on me. Toss me around. Force me in the kitchen and block the entry way until I cleaned every dish. I’d throw things at him and punch him as hard as I could but he wouldn’t budge and he wouldn’t let me out until I had to take out the trash (again, full of dirty dishes). And no matter how many times they told us not to at church, I knew then what hate felt like. I hated being in that kitchen, screaming and crying until I lost my voice. And I hated my brother for forcing me to stay there.
My sister and I often reminisce about our first apartment together, “I hated living with you. You never cleaned the kitchen.”I argue with her and tell her that it’s not true. That I would clean the kitchen all the time and didn’t have a problem with cleaning it and she retorts “when you feel like it. NOT when it needs to get done.” which is true. I don’t like to be forced, (ya think?!) but I didn’t have the language then to explain something as simple and real as my feelings.
Later in life, my housemate at the time (and my favorite cousin on my dad side) would talk to me often about cleaning up after myself. She would never yell or anything but I’d get really anxious and start accidently breaking dishes and scrubbing them really fast and hard to the beat of my heart.
In undergrad, I had a housemate who brother lived with us on campus. She would clean up after him and sometimes we let the dishes get crazy (no dishwasher). I remember calling a house meeting to strategize what would work best and she just started cleaning everything all the time. I think she felt bad that her brother was kind of messy and he was living there rent free. So she went into overdrive and became really clean and particular about everything. He moved out after the first quarter and I felt like it was because of me, or she felt like it was because of me. But instead of talking about it, she just got upset when I left dishes in the sink or smoked on the balcony or had friends over. But it was all taken out on the dishes that I didn’t clean.
For a long time, I thought I was just lazy. That’s all I had known lazy was, a person who didn’t clean up after themselves. I accepted but I didn’t feel like a lazy person. Maybe messy, but not lazy. I had issues with being told or forced to clean up after myself. When I lived in an international housing community for a few years, we also had days of the week where one person was responsible for cleaning the kitchen (though we all were responsible for taking care of our dishes and our guest dishes). It sometimes worked and sometimes it didn’t. Maybe I had finals and wouldn’t even think about doing my day, or a different housemate who was a teacher, would not even bring her dirty dishes from her car the first few weeks of the school year. So we didn’t expect her to clean the kitchen and because there were 6 to 7 people living there, we were pretty flexible. It often got dirty but never too dirty, restaurant dirty. Every Monday evening after dinner, we all cleaned the kitchen together. All of us. One washing, one drying, one collecting dirty dishes and one putting away the leftover food. We would all clean the kitchen and I never felt angry, or hate or forced. I honestly felt good. Whenever I go over a friend’s house, I always offer to clean the kitchen, like I want to do it. I love serving them in that way, especially after I ate all they food. I didn’t feel lazy then. But I felt lazy in my home.
Lazy- feeling your heartbeat out your chest and being so exhausted with the thought of being in the kitchen that you need to sleep it off for a while. Work up some courage.
I didn’t have the language then to know that I was responding to a traumatic experience over and over again. It wasn’t until my last housemate (and one of my best friends) moved out and though he didn’t tell me, I know it was partially because of how fucked up the kitchen would get and for how long it remained that way. I’d sometimes wake up in a panic, feeling like I needed to clean the kitchen before he saw it, just to see that he cleaned it already. I hated that he cleaned the kitchen, I mean I was grateful he was doing something I didn’t (and sometimes couldn’t) do, but in a way I felt like that was a soapy fist to my jaw. I’d swear to myself it wouldn’t happen again, like a triflin man trying to get back with his girl after breaking what’s left of her heart, “baby please, I won’t do it no mo’!”…until I do.
My housemates had nothing to do with my trauma, though I can see how they must have felt disrespected by my lack of action. Maybe even like I was trying to attack them personally when I was just trying to defend myself. I had no clue. I didn’t mean to. I honestly just thought I was lazy.
In a workshop I attended led by poet Morgan Parker, as a writing prompt, she asked us to write about the room we were in. It could be any room from any time and we had to write a poem about it. What it looks like. How it smells. I was transported to the hall leading to the kitchen I was trapped in as a child. All the doors were shut and the black trash bags of dirty clothes enveloped me. It smelled like mildew. The only safety was the kitchen. A tiny window on the wall for fresher air. I thought I’d rather be here, but I should have known.
Trauma is the worst! My friends who I lived with, who I don’t talk to anymore and who I once called love, I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean for my trauma to get on you. I’ve always hated the term kitchen sink realism anyways. They say it as if kitchen is a neutral location. A place where women gossip and men eat and ponder big decisions. But what about the fights that broke out over stained pots and pans? The punches thrown with no resolution? After the food’s gone and the audience has left, who’s stuck with the mess?
I have so many stories that flood my memory about fights breaking out over in the kitchen or over some dirty dishes. First fights and screaming matches that on stage would feel like a bad play you wanna get out of. I don’t have a healthy solution. Other than writing and going to therapy, I often have to remind myself that if I do it wrong or later, I won’t be punished. I ask for help if I need it and try not to get upset. I put on music and dance, liberating my body’s inner child and soaking last night’s dinner plate, telling her, “see it aint so bad sometimes.”. Decolonizing the space and my body that has to be there.
There is a cost for everything – the biggest question is how much do you want to pay?
Lately, I have been researching a lot of things that seem random and disconnected – history, geography, post-traumatic stress, women’s issues, world class lies, isolation, and COVID. As a writer, mining for story is a regular event. The problem, this time, is the mass intake of information and not knowing what it will be used for. With all this extra knowledge, I feel like I should map directions to a new project. I am just not sure what that project needs to be. There is usually an arrow that lights up “go this way” but this time there is no arrow just continuous downloading of information.
Questions, I am asking myself:
If you find out something was a lie, how do you handle the material that you wrote based on that lie? Is it now considered a fictional account?
Do you settle for what you now know to be false and leave it as is or do you correct it?
What will it cost you to leave it? Sleepless nights, self-esteem, integrity, or simply a ripple in time…
What is the price of settling, if you do nothing and just move forward?
What is the cost if you go back with what you know now and rewrite? Rewrite. That’s a word that triggers anxiety, it’s like losing your whole identity. Paradigm shifts are hard especially when they are tied to your life and your work.
The act of writing can be an act of purging… I just want to always write my truth even when it changes, even when the bread crumbs that have just now become visible lead me to a place I had no idea existed.
I guess the price of settling to me is worth revisiting… it’s more about getting a sure footing in order to move forward and less about what it costs to get that sure footing…
A year ago, I don’t think I had ever heard of Covid-19. When I did hear of it, I knew it sounded nasty. Why 19? I looked it up. It’s an acronym that stands for coronavirus disease of 2019.
Now, suddenly, everyone’s heard of Covid-19! Should it be Covid 19-20? I hope not Covid 21!
It looks like this:
According to a report on my computer’s last update, October 21, there were 41,104,946 confirmed cases and 1,128,325 deaths in the world. Astounding!
When I was a child, we heard about the bubonic plaque. Horror stories were passed about in school and I remember one story about a woman in France, who knocked on a door, went inside when the door opened, and WAS NEVER SEEN AGAIN. There were sayings, “He avoided me as if I had the bubonic plaque!
(It’s still around, apparently but can be cured. It’s not the Black Death of old.)
And then there’s that new old word Zoom! I have always thought that Zoom was something that the road runner did – beep, beep, and then he’d zoom far out of Wiley Coyote’s reach!”
Well, I looked it up! The word means whizz along, which is certainly what the road runner does.
1886, of echoic origin. Gained popularity c. 1917 as aviators began to use it. As a noun from 1917. The photographer’s zoom lens is from 1936, from the specific aviation sense of zoom as “to quickly move closer.”
Then, of course, I had to look up “echoic” – adjective – of or like an echo.
I have a very old motheaten Oxford dictionary which I’ve kept for sentimental reasons. I haven’t looked at it yet to see what it has to say about zoom.
It’s such fun to work on a computer because you can zoom! And learn things so fast!
However, I still like to find a good book and curl up in a chair and read. When I was young, we had a big floral living room chair that I loved and I could sit there for hours with my nose in a book. My brother loved to see me sitting there and when all was quiet, he would creep up and suddenly shout, “Boo.” And I, of course, would shout, “Mother!!!!” And someone would say, “Leave your sister alone.”
I no longer have a big floral chair but I still like to curl up and read. Today, my husband and I went for a walk and came across one of the delightful kiosks of free books. And had a look, of course. We found Famous Father Girl, A Memoir of Growing Up Bernstein, by Leonard Bernstein’s daughter, Jamie. Joy!
So, I’m off to read!
Sending love and wishes for a Happy Thanksgiving to all.
What do you do after you’ve finished writing your script?
Well, you can have friends read it, which these days can be quick and easy. Just read it on Zoom. A reading is helpful because after weeks of reading it to yourself and laughing at your own jokes, it’s time to let it out into the world to see if people think you’re as funny as you think you are. I say this, because I have found the play and fun again in writing a script.
If you’ll remember from an earlier post, I would write in a situation for my play that may have nothing to do with the story, but had to be present. That for me was a shirtless man. I’m not sure why that started, but it made for interesting storylines and justifications on why this character had to be on stage the entire time. Lately, I’ve found other things that make me giggle and may not make it into the final script, but to get me through the first draft, I need something. Which helped me get through a first draft. But when you have a reading of your play, your listeners may not understand that particular line and don’t find the joy in it that you do. For me that conversation came in the form of working with a dramaturg. I had included a line from a country song as part of dialogue and the dramaturg pointed out how it made her feel about the character and their relationships. Which was interesting because all I was hearing was the complete song with was more than cheating, which is what my dramaturg got from it. With further discussion I found a line that was even better and I imagined it being said out loud.
After the first read through of the script, the dramaturg asked questions of the actors of their understanding of the play. This was supremely helfpul because I was thinking “no one is going to get what I’m saying”, but they did. Success. As I fielded questions and comments from the actors and dramaturg, the storyline became ever more obvious to me and a few more tweeks would satisfy me.
I have one more meeting with my dramaturg, in which we’ll discuss some of the notes she took during the reading. While looking at them, I think of them from the perspective of an actor. I wonder how much of my own story am I bringing in my character decisions that actually are in no way related to the script at hand.
This first read through was also helpful as I have been having a love hate relationship with stage directions. After taking a writing class earlier this year, where the instructor made us keep our stage directions to a minimum, I was all in. Set the scene and let ‘er go. But now, I am adding some back in. Tell me, does it matter that the lines I wrote there is an argument happening, and as the actors read it, it was so tame. Do I need to add she moved aggressively towards her to make the point of a fight? and will the director care about that? will the actors see the fight coming? Do I have to add more !!!!!!!!! to emphasize the point I am trying to make?
Oh, did I mention this is just a 10-minute play. 10-minutes that I felt I really had to stretch to make happen, but after the meeting with the dramaturg I’m up to 11 pages. Woo hoo! You mean you can’t read my mind and see what I’m trying to say? That’s probably better anyway. Right?
So I am off to complete my edit so they can start rehearsal. But there’s just one thing. What’s another way to say “hill of beans” because right now I’m making up colloquialism I’m sure exist. Suggestions appreciated.
Earlier in the week, I worked on a rewrite of a 5-minute play (my contribution for the upcoming Los Angeles Short Play Festival, What’s Going On?, produced by Company of Angels. For more info on this festival, please visit: https://www.companyofangels.org/whatsgoingon) that shouldn’t have taken too long to work on but, in fact, took me almost the whole day. It’s not like re-writes come easy to me (an overthinker) but more so than that, my brain has been a little fuzzy as of late. It’s not hard to believe that with all that’s going on, and is continuing to develop, we (because I’ve heard this from other folks too) might not be as focused on the writing/work before us.
Fortunately, I am working with a really wonderful director, Sylvia Cervantes Blush, who quickly picked up what I was going through and gave me a writing exercise that really helped SPARK (hey, hey, there goes the title of this post!) something for me. This all started making me think of some of my favorite writing exercises that have, in this instance, helped me with the development of a current project, or some of which have just been super memorable because they allowed me to reflect and/or think outside the box. I’d like to share some of those here in hopes that it might help clear your fuzzy brain.
To help me clarify what the message of my play was (because trust me, I lost it for a bit), Sylvia offered an exercise to me that consists of three parts. Part 1 asks you to take 20 minutes to go through your play from beginning to end, including stage directions and highlight the words/phrases that HAVE TO BE IN THE PLAY.
It should be noted that 20 minutes was more than appropriate to actually go through an entire 5-minute play. If you’re working on a full-length, well, than of course, give yourself an appropriate amount of time to go through the play but not so much that you have the time to dwell over every word/phrase you possibly can (assuming you’re an overthinker like me).
Once that time is up, comes Part 2! Here, you will take half the time you took in the first step—so for me that was ten minutes—and re-write the play with just those words. Don’t fret, Dear Reader, you’re not starting from scratch! Essentially, you’re blocking out everything you DID NOT highlight and then observing the play in its new little Frankenstein form.
I have to say, this was personally my favorite part. Reading the words/phrases I highlighted from my 5-minute play, blocked off from all the other clutter, sort of felt like diving into some poetry.
Now, Part 3 made me a bit anxious. Part 3 asks that without looking at your original and Frankenstein drafts, you re-write the entire play! My hands just got sweaty typing that…
I did this third part in 30 minutes. Again, for folks writing full-length plays, you’re going to want to adjust that time appropriately.
The draft that was developed during this phase was most definitely not the final draft of my play BUT it was super helpful in going back to work on it, as influenced by these new interpretations of it.
While part of the Son of Semele writers group, fellow member, Lovell Holder, gave us an exercise that made me start writing a play I often think about. For this exercise, we were asked to write a two-person narrative (play, prose, or poem—whatever you choose). Through out our writing, the proctor (in this case, Lovell) called out random words that we were to use in our piece. Of course, if you were already on some train of thought with your writing, then the random words were bound to throw you off, but on the other hand, it could also drive your story somewhere pleasantly surprising, which was the case for me. Definitely a good lesson in rolling with the punches.
LTA/LA WRITERS CIRCLE EXERCISE
As a former member of the Latino Theatre Alliance/LA’s writers group, we would have notable LA playwrights visit our sessions and give us master class/workshop of their choice. This next exercise is from that time BUT, I honestly CANNOT remember WHO gave us this exercise. K sad (“How sad” for all my non-Spanglish readers).
This two-part exercise required that we draw ourselves in a place of emotional significance, but additionally, we are to include someone in that image who may or may not necessarily belong to that space. The second part of the exercise then asks that we then write dialogue between both people in that image, taking the space into consideration. To start you off, the first line of dialogue should be, “Do you really think you know everything there is to know”. Going back to space very quickly– I hate to admit this but I’m not always so good at following directions during exercises like these, either because I didn’t fully grasp what was asked of us or because… I just didn’t want to. I say this because NONE of my dialogue had nothing to do with the location of my play. I can’t say I was a rebel for going against the rules of this exercise, in this instance, I more so just didn’t listen because I got distracted. In any case, this was a super memorable exercise for me because I got to draw myself (in my preferred pants-free state) in my assigned dorm room at the University of Sussex when I was studying abroad. Not to brag, but mine was the BIGGEST dorm room on the floor, so yeah, I was having solo dance parties in there FOR SURE. But back to the exercise… Included in my drawing was my sister’s dog, Lita, who has long been over my shit, so the dialogue portion of the exercise was fun and biting.
This assignment, overall, just did the job of taking me out of my fuzzy brain and putting me in a good mood, so at the very least, I would recommend it for that.
Anyway, if you are experiencing fuzzy brain, I hope that you feel inclined to try one of these exercises. If you do, I hope you’ll let me know how it went.
I seem to have forgotten – stuck here like I am in the hardly bearable heat of these walls and the “go nowhere” doors from sun up to moon down. I tell myself that I am not going to faint or lose heart, that I am going to subdue this beast one hour at a time, one day at a time, by the Grace of God…
but I really want flight, I yearn for air… I want wings and I want wind to ride. I been looking for signs of movement, looking for a great big wind to come skip-to-my-lou all through this mess, dislodge some rivers for baptisms, root up healing herbs and toss some around for everybody to have.
I want to relax, I want to float like a leaf and land picturesquely on the grass showing off the beautiful colors of my whole self. I don’t want to apologize for nothing not for floating, landing or seeking air. If I push myself, I bet I can land far enough away from here so I can breathe new/fresh pockets of wind…bet I can land somewhere east of here, near appalachia, up where lavender lilies bloom, where rose of sharon sings…
I can’t breathe here no more in this heavy porous atmosphere, it’s dropped down way too low, to the little grassy piece of earth I live on and I just can’t breathe. I thought I was imagining it but it’s real – the air is thick; thick and sticky like a glob of peanut butter caught in the throat daring you to drink water, threatening to thicken regardless…
I need air and space and
God cracking the skies…
Oh, God, blow on us, shower us with rain and the latter rain, deliver us, heal this land…
Heal the land, Father… we humble ourselves and pray
We dream of riding the night winds again, of sleeping well and waking rested
send Your wind, help us fly
lift us up high enough to catch hold
let us mount up with wings as eagles — send the wind, Lord, send the Wind…
But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint.
Where has the time gone? In March I was poised, full of energy chomping at the bit to write a post, with a week’s worth of ideas and thoughts and here it is the weekend and my time is almost done. I am always at a loss of what to share and what to write about playwrighting. But this go round, I have so much to say I can’t contain it and it is coming out in bits and pieces.
I never really thought much of the difference of Introverts and Extroverts, thinking of it as if it were some placebo affect that I was feeling and acting upon. I didn’t want to read of what an Introvert was because then, of course I would think I was. And I really never thought of myself as an Extrovert, but could certainly embody some of the characteristics should the occasion present itself. But with the world closing its doors and forcing people inside the definitions came screaming out. People needed an outlet to share their energy and ease their anxiety. I could clearly see the defining line in people and myself and how we are dealing with it all.
Depending on the class I’m in, I wonder how this would be different if it were in person. Does it change the dynamic of the class because we can see each others faces as opposed to sitting in classroom style. Do people hesitate to talk and be the first to talk because they are truly an introvert, or are they just feeling the effects of quarantine.
I hesitate to share my joy of writing as I know of others who have be stymied by this time. The weight of the world on our shoulders and anxiety of it creeping in. For me writing during this time has been marvelous. I have always been a stickler for rules and following how-tos, so the mechanics of playwrighting always hampered me. I am thankful for the teachers out there who reached out and shared their classes I would not have otherwise been able to attend. The joy of sitting at home in L.A. and attending a class in NYC with far-away friends was freeing. Being able to connect with people outside of my sphere and being able to explore writing has been a treat. So much so that I have written two short plays. I found the joy and laughter again of why I want to write. Tips and tricks to get past the rules of structure I suffered with and to just sit down and write. A mantra I try to repeat to myself as a quiet motivation and just now realizing the flippantness of the statement.
I am wondering if I am an Extrovert because of all the classes I’ve been taking and all of the participating I have been doing. My head is full of information and my computer holds bits and pieces from a variety of classes. My notebook, that I usually carry with me and takes months to fill, has only a few blank pages left. Full up from a month of opportunity and ideas and unfinished scenes.
Lessons learned during this time:
Set aside 15 minutes to write and do it daily. Consistency helps.
If you’re looking for something to write about – think “what am I curious about?”
Think of the intention of every scene. What do your character(s) need?
What is the action of your scene? Your character needs something from the other.
Now when I get lost in the weeds, I just start out with a random line that I’ve collected from the books I read. I usually write these sentences down because as I’m reading them a voice is commenting on them in my head and they speak to the subjects of my current writings. As I write the scene I consider what do the characters want to get to the end of the scene. The plays that I have finished during this time had constraints that had to be included in the play, which made it fun and I included things that made me giggle, like lines from 80s movies.
I gotta go. I have to finish some homework for class and I’m entering another #Bakeoff and it’s due tomorrow.
For the final installment of my “Creatives Check-In” series, we welcome and hear from…
Before we get into the interview, I just want to say how thankful I am to everyone who participated in this series. I know that the times we’re living in are not easy and we’re all in taking in the days as best we can but I am so thankful that you took the time to share your story with me.
Featured Creatives – A Short Bio:
Lelde Cauka – Bracken is a Latvian born visual artist living and working in Los Angeles, CA. Lelde comes from a background of classical fine art training since the age of 10. Her work ranges from a realistic still life and portrait illustrations to exploration of color and shape. Her current work voices abstractionism and simplicity. It is deeply rooted in her northern European upbringing while intertwining with the exposure of her surroundings. Mostly working with watercolor and acrylics, Lelde finds these mediums the most soothing allowing the audience to connect and find harmony through her work.
Nahal Navidar is an Iranian-born playwright raised in upstate New York. Her plays are motivated by the exploration of social issues while employing magical elements to embody the expanse of human emotions. Nahal’s plays have been developed at Boston Court, Silk Road Rising, Ensemble Studio Theatre LA, The Vagrancy, Rogue Machine, Coeurage Theatre, Pasadena Playhouse, Playwright’s Arena, Troy Foundry Theatre, The Last Frontier Theatre Conference, Golden Thread Productions, Company of Angels, The Kennedy Center, and The University at Albany. Nahal holds an MFA in Dramatic Writing from USC and is a member of the Dramatist Guild of America.
Maia “Vik Floyd” Villa is a fifth generation Chicanx Los Angeleno, most at home between taco trucks and boba tea. They’re a lifelong performer and writer, particularly in love with sketch comedy, ancestral reparation, and rock’n’roll. Passionate about liberating marginalized voices through creative expression and cultural enrichment, Maia has worked with various non-profit arts organizations throughout Los Angeles to empower others through storytelling. You can catch them in sketch/improv shows in Hollywood and performing rey metalero drag all over the Eastside—after quarantine that is.
Instagram: @maia.villa (For Maia stuff and comedy) and @mx.vikfloyd (For more openly queer, mentally ill stuff—oh and drag!)
How have you been spending your time at home during the quarantine?
Lelde Cauka – Bracken (LCB): Quarantine has certainly raised awareness of what is essential in our lives. Whether it is food or a creative outlet to sustain your mental wellbeing. The current time and circumstances we have discovered ourselves in, is simply another reminder that the beauty of life is its unpredictable ways. Yes, the future may seem uncertain, especially if one’s routine has been disrupted, but it has always been this way! This is how I continue to look at my day-to-day life in the creative field as well as in my domestic life. I try not to put a pause on everything simply because we are leading a more simple and isolated life. In many ways, I find it more inspirational and motivating than ever before despite the crisis. With that being said, I am also aware of the negative side of this virus and the different degrees of impact it’s leaving on so many lives around me – seeing so many people around the world including my family and friends be so deeply affected is heartbreaking without a doubt, but we also have to find a way to function for ourselves and others. I feel like we have been given an opportunity to re-establish values for ourselves and decide how we want to continue this journey. I am a strong believer in “less is more”. Letting go of what I have no control over, is my gasoline that keeps me moving forward. It is also strongly reflected in my artwork.
This might sound cliché, but I’ve been focusing more on my mental and physical health by staying active through late-night running and my continuous yoga practice as I did before the quarantine. Once you discover it in your own unique way, it really does wonders to your body and mind and this is something I put a big emphasis on because all of these aspects are connected and play a tremendous role not only in my happiness but also in my creative flow. I strongly recommend it!
Being lucky enough to have full-time job during this pandemic, I have also taken the time to get back to my roots and focus more on cooking. I grew up in the luscious Latvia and preparing your daily meal with homegrown ingredients runs in my DNA. It has always been a passion of mine, but now that my current “office” is around the corner from my kitchen, it makes it that much easier and brings me so much joy. This time has most certainly brought renewed love for many simple things in my life and has made me appreciate what I have and how far I have come.
Maia “Vik Floyd” Villa(MVFV): This is almost everything I ever wanted—but with a horrific societal landscape. To explain: Since I was preteen age, I had this recurring vision of a brick wall always slowly moving behind me, as I had to keep up and move forward. In deep spells of depression, I’d get the vision of my little body jogging slowly and getting tired—or worse, falling completely limp in exhaustion as the wall pushed on.
I grew to realize that this is not only a metaphor about time, but a metaphor on societal pressures—not to mention anything my young psyche had picked up from loving Pink Floyd’s concept of The Wall. 12 years later, I’m grateful we live among communities working and collaborating to decolonize. Now, before you think I’m just going to go into a rant about how white supremacists or capitalism is the root of all evil…well I slightly am, and also very much not. I believe that, in the lifetime of any society throughout history, more often than not the structures used to build a large scale society are the same structures that eventually stop working until the society collapses or revolutionizes itself.
How is this an answer to your question? HA.
I do not feel I have extra time. I still feel the wall moving. Above is the beginnings of the thoughts I’ve been having while trying not to let the stress take over too much. Despite being in a personally privileged position (I’m able to work from home, and I am grateful to have time at home because I’m normally running around all over the place), my arms are aching all the time and I do not feel as though I have any extra time to spend. I still feel like there isn’t enough time to release all the spinning thoughts, I still feel like there isn’t enough time to get ahead of that wall, I still feel all the pressures and anxieties — and the silver lining gift is to be able to observe those emotional patterns removed of some factors that normally keep me distracted and busy.
Did the quarantine affect any of your creative projects or plans?
LCB: It has most certainly left an impact – public shows in galleries might be out of the question for a while, but this situation has also expanded my creativity and made me search for alternative ways to make my art accessible to others, for example, utilizing the mighty worldwide web, especially social media has been a great tool. I am definitely very thankful for technology.
Daylight plays an instrumental part in my creative work and it has been wonderful to not spend any time in traffic and have easy access to it daily. So overall, I must say the quarantine has made a positive impact on my workflow.
Nahal Navidar (NN): The world premiere of my play My Dear Hussein was cancelled on what would have been the first preview performance. We were in tech week when we had the initial conversation about COVID-19 and things rapidly unraveled from there.
MVFV: It pushed forward a plan: to stop doing theatre. I’ve been a “Yes” person in the theatre world for 12 years, and funny thing is that a project was ending on March 10th. So all throughout February and beginning of March, I was telling myself, “March 11th, you start saying no; March 11th, you get rest and focus on your solo work. March 11th you start spending more time at home—“ and WHOOP! Look what happened!
I was about to say no to all creative projects so that I can narrow my focus to a dream that’s been dear to me for a very long time: I auditioned for and got accepted into Second City Hollywood’s Grad Revue. After 8 levels of improv, this is the final 6-month program in which you build a sketch show with an ensemble. I’m telling you, Zury, this is the number one fucking DREAM—the road to the dream—and I am tearing up that it’s been put on pause.
I work for a nonprofit I’m very passionate about (I’m an emerging actor who sees having a platform as an opportunity for social progress), so March and April haven’t been easy. Trying to catch relief fund opportunities like flying dodgeballs. I’ve been laughing about the March 11th thing; this is almost what I wanted…But it’s very much not.
How, if at all, has this time affected your creativity?
NN: With the cancellation of my production, I can’t anticipate when I’ll have the emotional fortitude to write again. As an immigrant, woman, and artist of color, getting a theater to commit to producing my work has been a grueling task. To come this close and then watch it fall apart during tech week has been devastating. Unearthing my childhood memories of war for the rehearsal process was intrinsically a trying experience, but the point is to share in the communal experience of catharsis with an audience. Otherwise, there is no release, like a hand is squeezing my larynx. My body is anticipating the breath, but my mind knows that air is not coming. I will channel this into my writing one day, but right now I am in shock.
MVFV: I’m being kind to myself. Of course I want to shit out the album, the solo performance, the comedy sketch that will break open our bipartisan divide…I want to create and release and produce all of that. But I can’t have that expectation when this time is uncertain and scary for all of us. It’s tiring.
I’m allowing myself to take everything slowly. To sit in my backyard and breathe, and instead of having the pressure to practice guitar via scales or metronomes, just deep listening to the sound and to the wind.
I’m part of the drag community, and I must mention how wildly impressive and beautiful it is how quickly and strongly and innovatively the drag community has created and produced digital drag nationwide. It’s fucking beautiful! It’s been frustrating for artists like me who have more theatrical skill than digital, but all of us punkass bitches at least are enjoying ANY quality of digital drag. I said no to some digital drag opportunities at start, and am now gradually creating some videos whenever I feel the need for release and have the time. What a beautiful action to use this time to join together globally.
SIDE NOTE, From Maia: I really would love it if people were able to catch the following drag shows, because I am releasing personal healing that I hope is good for everyone else:
May 5th at 7pm, Drag Kings of the World @dragkingsworld
May 7th at 7:36pm (full moon sunset time), Golden Hour @goldenhourdragshow
May 14th at 7pm, Mandemic by @mancandykings
*All streaming on Twitch
Personally, do you feel that it’s necessary/important to keep creative during this time?
LCB: Yes, absolutely! It’s part of my ecosystem. For me, personally, it’s something irreplaceable and essential. It has always been that way.
NN: No. I don’t think it’s important to do anything but follow the stay-at-home order, keep social distance, and be present with the shared trauma that humanity is experiencing. If one wants to process feelings through creativity, then of course, create, but a global pandemic shouldn’t be treated as an extended writer’s retreat. It’s an offense to the millions of people who have lost their lives, are sick, and to the essential workers who don’t have the privilege to stay at home and protect their families.
MVFV: Hell no. Priority is self-care. Society is not going to go back to “normal” — if you look at the natural course of history, you know that more painful change, more eye opening to weak structures—all of that is coming. We need rest. Only rest will make us stronger. If creative collaboration brings you rest, comfort, and strength—great! If spinning around your bedroom throwing paint at a poster brings you, rest, comfort, and strength—great! But is “keeping creative” necessary? Hell no.
What have you found most frustrating about this time, creatively or otherwise?
NN: I have a deadline coming up for a commission. I’m three scenes away from finishing the play, but what I need now is to process the fallout of production and digest the reality of the world around me. However, my integrity as an artist and commitment to deadlines are very important. It’s a frustrating conundrum.
MVFV: The crowds of people deeply believe that Newsom’s initiatives are a ploy to entrap us in a communist police state. That this can be a global issue—with multiple countries having shelter-in-place guidelines or restrictions—and I still have 2 MAGA family members on both sides who believe this is an exaggeration to fuck with Trump’s election. And even more frustrating, Zury, is that the Democratic Party is a fucking disaster, and I don’t blame anyone who decides to join the #WalkAway movement and become a patriot focused on freedom. Nearly every politician has some personal interest, some money to go into their pocket. I’m losing my mind because we have one side screaming about communists, and the other side screaming about fascists, and all the radicalists are either moving further to the left or further to the right—without anyone finding any common root belief or behavior.
Once our young nation has citizens who, during a GLOBAL PANDEMIC (geez, I have to say “global” when pandemic does mean global), are holding up protest signs reading, “Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death.” Oh, man, it’s over. This country was founded on the concept of Liberty (a false liberty) and no one even knows what liberty means.
I’ll continue to collaborate with people who will work tirelessly “until justice is truly for all” but I am tired and pessimistic.
What is something that you’ve learned about yourself during this time?
LCB: I have learned how adaptable I can be to this ever-changing life and cope with disruption. Instead of feeling frustrated about the current situation in the world and any other newness that comes my way, I simply accept the change and most often transform it into a case study, a creative process. Life is constantly full of hidden gems and other rocks. I have learned to appreciate them all equally.
NN: I’m too immersed in the experience and can’t see beyond the muck. I do feel exhausted and know that we will all feel the impact of this pandemic for generations to come.
MVFV: Observing my bipolar patterns removed of all the busying/distracting factors is pretty fascinating, and also a little scary. On the one week a month that I’m in an optimistic mood, I worry it’s going to spiral into mania, yes, but also my nervous system is just such a fucking nuisance. I’ve been breathing, grounding myself, staying patient and forgiving for the most part. I am in a safe environment, with little stress. Whenever I do have stress spikes where I act grouchy, I am grateful I’m with my family where we’re all just used to our behaviors and laugh at each other.
I am still worried about my anger. I have been for many years now. So I’ve said Fuck it to traditional workouts, and now I am essentially combining my “at-home gym” time with Viewpoints in order to release anger.
What is something/someone that has brought you joy during this time?
LCB: I feel extremely lucky to share this time with my partner in creative journeys and life as well as play with our always-comical husky pup. We actually got engaged the other week. This came as a wonderful surprise and is another great example of how to continue your life despite the quarantine.
NN: Making new Iranian recipes I’ve never attempted before. Reading. Practicing my violin. Consuming mindless content. Spending time with my husband and our new puppy, Pashmak. Checking in on my cousin, Emily, who is a NYC nurse and texting her silly gifs and YouTube clips. Being thankful every day for the health of my family and loved ones.
MVFV: My friend Daniel Luna reached out to our team for Borracho: Spanish for Drunken Bum (a play by friend Abe Zapata Jr. I directed in February—I fucking love that play; I’d be tired all over again for that beautiful, hilarious play—) so we could read a script he’s working on all together via Zoom. That was my fave. It was a very low pressure, one-time commitment scenario where we all get to enjoy Daniel’s comedy, and I loved it. (Shout out to @luna.tico and @abe_zapatajr — peeps should follow their work!) Also, I highly recommend taking an incredibly aimless walk around your neighborhood without any technology on you.