Tag Archives: robin byrd

Succinctly…

The things that make us who we are and the fodder that fills our pens can be some very scary stuff.  

‘Succinctly’, that is not a word that describes how trauma behaves in the lives of the traumatized.  It is not a brief episode; it will not go away momentarily.  Trauma lingers for a lifetime informing the world of those affected by it and it is not neat – it leaves dregs all over the place.

I like to write about secrets, this has been mine.  Not that it unknown just not something I shared openly, outside of a story or a poem.

Recently I shared that I suffer from PTSD (Post-traumatic Stress Disorder).  Decades after the traumatic events that caused it, I said it out loud in a full sentence – “I suffer from PTSD.”  One person asked me, what caused that?  My next words were, “I am a rape survivor – a several*-time rape survivor.”  I have no idea why after 40 years (from the first event) that I suddenly could say that PTSD is a factor in my life.  It is a breakthrough for me and a big one.  Dealing with trauma is a 24/7, 365/day affair.  One cannot put a band-aid on it, take two aspirins and call it life.

It is never that simple. I came into puberty fighting off hands…

The first 5 years after the rapes, I suffered horrific flashbacks every day.  I would sleep run…  I found myself on a few occasions in the middle of the road in front of my father’s house, dashing toward the busy street lights.  Mid-stride I would stop in the pitch black, not knowing why I was running, what I was running to, and how I got out of the house.  I really had to pray about that.  I prayed that God would wake me up and He did, I started waking up at the door, then in the room and then the running stopped altogether.  Flashbacks are few and far between because I know to try hard to veer away from triggers.

Flashbacks show up in my work.  I was once told that writers should not use flashbacks.  I am unable to follow that rule.  Writers tend to write what they know.

It is a journey – a long one.  There is a book, “When Bad Things Happen to Good People” by Harold S. Kushner, that I read, after the dung hit the fan, that kept me from dwelling in the land of, “Why me?”  This book has some good points in it.  Another book, “The Body Keeps the Score (Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma)” by Bessel Van Der Kolk, M.D., that I have read recently, several times, has been instrumental in me getting to the point of being able to claim the monster.  In the section titled “Breaking the Silence,” Van Der Kolk says, “If you’ve been hurt, you need to acknowledge and name what happened to you…  The critical issue is allowing yourself to know what you know.  That takes an enormous amount of courage.”

I am striving for a fierceness in my work and that takes courage to do also.  So, what now?  Same as always, I continue to press toward the mark…because I refuse to stop…

I am writing my world whole…

To others on this or similar journeys toward wholeness…Blessings…

 

 

Shaking Off This Sadness…

I have been wanting to talk to Mommy, forgetting she is gone.  Such an odd thing to have a thought, “I need to talk to mother about that” then remember as soon as the thought hits space, that I can’t because she is gone.  That whole week between the date of death, her birthday, and the date of burial, I longed for her, could not get out of bed the day before and day of her birthday.  I have a blanket of hers that I have begun to wrap up in, lay my head on, carry in the back of my car – just to be near something of hers.

Trying not to lose myself, I took a seminar in poetry – not sure if it worked.

Mommy.

This shaking off of depression is hard.  One year later and I still can’t believe you are gone.  Thanks for coming to see me on your birthday.  I know I can’t stay here.  Seems counter-intuitive – I know you are in a better place.  I just did not know how much I loved you and that the hole would be so large.

I did not know you were like air and heartbeat

And blood and bone to me

That the touch of your skin was home to me

(the child who was not breastfed because you had an infection – that used to bother me but mothers must always do the best for their children or at least try.  it did not make you love me any less – the old wives tale that breastfed children are closer to their mothers – just not true…)

I am needing to crawl up beside you and kiss the north, south, east and west of your face

I am needing you

And all the remembrances

Needing to shake off this sadness

Writing About Death…

by Robin Byrd

Death, spirits, the ghosts of memory, these are the things that turn up in my plays.  I used to think that I was weird, not that weird is a negative word to me.  I am peculiar and I am okay with that.  In Proof by David Auburn, Catherine states while talking about her dad, “He’d attack a question from the side, from some weird angle, sneak up on it, grind away at it.”  I love that sentence, it’s all we can do in our world of doing art – attack from our perspective and grind away…

I have been reading The Art of Death: Writing the Final Story by Edwidge Danticat. What I mean is I have read it several times 4 and a half times to be exact.  I am working out the processing of my mother’s death.  She left this earth in April of this year.  It has been difficult to write it yet write it I have – to request to drop classes I was in at the time of her death, classes I have had to repeat and get past the point of her death in each of them. One, I made it through, weary but victorious, the other, I am still weathering.  It is amazing the depth of grief.  I read somewhere that grief causes forgetfulness, that and the lack of sleep…   Except I know the forgetfulness of sleepless nights well and this thing – it is scary and it is a demon whose head I am chopping off with a twice dull blade.  I will be rid of it.  I have found comfort in the stories that Danticat shares in The Art of Death; at one point, she asks her mother, “Did you rage enough?” this in response to Dylan Thomas’s poem “Do not go gentle into that good night:

“…Do not go gentle into that good night. Rage, rage against the dying of the light.” by Dylan Thomas

Similarly, before the thin veil of denial left me, before I bought the ticket and made the journey home, I spoke to my mother’s spirit, “Mommy, do not go gentle into that good night wait for me, I’m coming home…”  And, I watched her fight until the end unsure of the road…  She almost died 3 days before, we sat in the nursing home around her bed for hours but she would not leave.  She wanted a reprise.  She wanted to be bathed… Almost like a baptismal service, two young nurses, bathed my mother from head to toe in preparation for the day.  She lay there knowing it would be her last bath with breath in her body, resolved to meet the day…clean….  Clean from the blood that had begun to seep from her body in clots of pain, clean from the last of things no one can carry with them into the presence of God. I took to sitting through the night with her, on guard.  I did not want her to die alone.  I blessed the room and sealed it (in the name of Jesus) from anything that was not like God…so she could rest in peace until that appointed time. I had asked God to let me be there and had traveled from Los Angeles on a ‘red eye’ to make sure I was there the entire month of April.  I asked Him, rather demanded that He let me be there, “I want to see her when she leaves, not in a dream, like with Dad, and the others, I want to see her!  I must be there, it will not be alright if I am not there.  I do not want to get that call.”  So, there I was by the grace of God, sitting beside my mother’s deathbed…taking notes in my spirit… and then it happened, and God let me see:

I saw her when she left, the lift off, her eyes shown like glassy circles of pure glee, the hologram of her Self barely visible but not her smile, it was wide and happy because she knew I saw…my mother, my mother – the wind of God…

I wrote and read a poem on behalf of my mother at her funeral titled, “Getting it Right” – the thing my mother had on her mind the last days of her life.  I had sat by her bed every day from April 1st till she passed at the end of the month, 2 days before her 83rd birthday.  She continually told me to “Pay attention Robbie, you’re going to have to write about this…  We got to get this right.”  How could I fail?  “A mother’s song should be heard in the voices of her children”…it should never be lost to time.  I found her song in the space where breath had left her and became her voice for a time…  I could feel her there with me… adlibbing…

Part of getting it right is forgiving and letting things go.  We all must do it…

It is difficult…these days… not because I do not know that my mother is with Christ…

“…We are confident, I say, and willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with Christ.” Paul the Apostle, II Corinthians, chapter 5, verse 8

It is difficult because the moments have germinated and taken root and are sprouting trees so tall it is hard to see the sky.  It is renewing and stripping but best of all, I did not lose on the moments that the last of things said to me by my mother set in stone her confidence in who I am – a Writer…

 

Words from GLO 2015 Playwright: Robin Byrd

GLO (Green Light One-Acts), featuring 5 new plays by local women, runs at The Miles Memorial Playhouse November 5-15th. For more information and tickets please visit: www.greenlightproductions.org.

 

Why Fiddlin’ on the Mountaintop…  by Robin Byrd

Lulla Bell Jury has lost her momma; all she has left is the fiddle her mother gave her and the beauty and pain of life in the Appalachian mountains. Sometimes you lose so much it’s hard to see what you’ve gained. Fiddlin’ on the Mountaintop is an Appalachian tale of music, loss, family, and land.

Robin Byrd
Robin Byrd

About Fiddlin’ on the Mountaintop: The piece began as a short story created while I was a student at Indiana University; it consisted of only the first scene which you will see here in GLO 2015 (Green Light One-Acts), the remainder of the play is scheduled for development, so stay tuned.

The short story was written in a creative writing class. Writers tend to work out things in their writing as a way to find answers and closure; I was working out my own sense of loss and Lulla Bell became my voice. In a very broad sense, this piece is semi-autobiographical. Universally, it is a story many can connect with as we all struggle with loss and the journey that life puts us on after that loss.

Part of my family originates from Appalachia which I only learned of in the last few years when writing another story set in the area and looking at the map of the Appalachian region of the United States. One of my grandfathers and an uncle worked the coal mines before migrating to the Midwest. My other grandfather still has family as well as a family cemetery located in the region. I think my comfort of putting Lulla Bell on a mountain came from an ancestral/genetic memory of place; it’s like muscle memory for a violinist/fiddler, any musician – there are songs that come through my fingers that I have forgotten I knew how to play and sometimes that I have only sang and never played before but they start to play themselves because the memory of these songs is more alive than even I am fully conscious of.

From short story to stage play: Ben Harney (Tony Award Winner for the original Broadway production of “Dreamgirls”) developed the short story for performance (at the time, aptly entitled “Me, My Fiddle an’ Momma”). Upon reading the piece, Ben suggested that it was a theatre piece that should be staged and I should perform it. It was at this time, Lulla Bell Jury’s story became stage worthy. Ben encouraged me to rework it and flush out areas that I eluded too but did not go into fully. He taught me to attack it from several point of views – the audience’s, the actor’s as well as the writer’s – making sure that the scenes were rearranged in the right order. I learned as much about writing as I did about acting. The exhilaration of performing her on stage was as wonderful as creating her on the page. I am forever grateful to Ben for his mentoring.

Expansion: Over the years, Lulla Bell Jury has made it known to me that she was not finished talking. Taking my cue from Lulla, I began to expand the piece which became Fiddlin’ on the Mountaintop. In Fiddlin’…, I tune back into Lulla Bell Jury to see how her life is going and how she has weathered the storms. In Fiddlin’ on the Mountaintop, I would like to share just what weathering storms means…

About the Playwright: I am a product of the Midwest, mine is a Midwestern voice with flavors of the South. I am a playwright, poet, screenwriter and actor. I love to incorporate authentic regional flavor into my work. Growing up in Indianapolis (sometimes referred to as the northernmost southern city), attributes to my affinity toward southern themes and language in some of my pieces. My work also deals with things of the spirit; I am known for sifting through memories and ghosts and other intangible things for stories… I have studied acting to enhance my voice as a writer. I play the violin; I am more comfortable calling myself a fiddler.

 

(Article written by the playwright:  Article also (posted/to be posted) at “Lightbulbs” on the Green Light Productions website www.greenlightproductions.org.)

Dramatists Guild National Conference: #writechange – Presenting at the Conference

by Robin Byrd

July 16, 2015 at the National Dramatists Guild Conference.  We were exhausted and exhilarated and ready for the rest of the week.   Our workshop presentation Using the Senses: Character and Story Creation cover sheet and bios  went really well.  I don’t know about the other ladies but the content of some of the sessions, I attended, had me spinning.  Such profound insight and resolve to do the best work and create the best art – just to be in the room with these artists was inspiring.

Robin Byrd, Laurel Wetzork, and Debbie Bolsky sitting in on the opening presentation after our workshop "Using the Senses: Character and Story Creation" at the Dramatists Guild Conference: Writing the Changing World, #writechange.
Robin Byrd, Laurel Wetzork, and Debbie Bolsky sitting in on the opening presentation after our workshop “Using the Senses: Character and Story Creation” at the Dramatists Guild Conference: Writing the Changing World, #writechange.

Some of my favorite sessions were The Global Impact of Diversity on our Stages with panelists: Lydia R. Diamond, Rehana Lew Mirza, Mike Lew and moderated by Christine Toy Johnson and The DG Fund Presents: Beyond Emerging: The Stages of a Writer’s Life with panelists: Lydia Diamond, Christine Toy Johnson, Mike Lew and moderated by Seth Cotterman.   Will talk about those later.

Speaking of the Dramatists Guild Fund, they gave away free T-shirts in exchange for a bit of encouragement sharing.  I got a T-shirt with “Always try to do more than you know you can.” – a saying by Edward Albee that can be found in his interview in The Legacy Project: Volume 1.  After writing our saying down on a sticky, it was placed on the DG Fund Encouragement Wall. (#KeepWriting)  Totally awesome!  My saying is “Always be writing…”

 

 

Dramatists Guild National Conference: #writechange

This is the first day of the Dramatists Guild Conference in La Jolla, CA.  Such an empowering day!  LA FPIer’s Laurel Wetzork, Debbie Bolsky and I presented a very successful workshop: Using the Senses: Character and Story Creation.  John Logan’s One-on-One with Joey Stocks was wonderful.  He gave some wonderful insights to his journey as a writer. The regional reps met with their group members and the conversation was about getting to that next place as artists and how to use community to do so — the community of writers  who make up the regions.

The drive in was 3 hours, one wonders how there is traffic at 1:30 am but there was.

Happy 5th Anniversary LAFPI Blog!

by Robin Byrd

Today is the 5th Anniversary for the LA FPI Blog.

My excitement over the diverse voices that frequent this blog never wanes.  Pick a few bloggers and read their articles.  Tell me what you think.

  1. Jessica Abrams (past blogger)
  2. Tiffany Antone
  3. Erica Bennett
  4. Nancy Beverly (past blogger)
  5. Jenn Bobiwash
  6. Andie Bottrell
  7. Robin Byrd
  8. Korama Danquah
  9. Kitty Felde
  10. Diane Grant
  11. Jen Huszcza (past blogger)
  12. Sara Israel (past blogger)
  13. Cindy Marie Jenkins (past blogger)
  14. Sue May (video blogger)
  15. Anna Nicholas (guest series blogger)
  16. Analyn Revilla
  17. Laura Shamas
  18. Madhuri Shekar
  19. Kimberly Shelby-Szyszko
  20. Cynthia Wands

 LAFPI Blog 3

 

 

SWAN Day Action Fest (Saturday, March 28th 2015): a Festival of Women Playwrights & Directors

 

SWANDayLogo2

Action Fest line up:

 

BOX by Robin Byrd, directed by Julianne Homokay

Synopsis: Elpis and Pandora are sisters.  There has been a death in the family.  What if they could have one last chance before they have to seal the box?

Elpis: Shanel Moore
Pandora: Gayla Johnson
Mother: Marlynne F. Cooley

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THE PROPOSAL by Carolina Rojas Moretti, directed by Laura Steinroeder

Synopsis: Benny was lost before finding his True North, but can he stop himself from destroying the compass?

Benny: Andrew Loviska
North/Lily: Renee Ulloa-McDonald
South/Mother:  Melanie Alexander
East/Employee:  Daniel Coronel
West/Niki: Megan Kim

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THE MIXING BOWL by Leslie Hardy, directed by Gloria Iseli

Synopsis: Stephanie thinks her partner Alicia’s parents are simply coming for a visit.  She’s in for a surprise.  Sometimes the ingredients of our lives do not make for a great recipe.

ALICIA: Trace Taylor
STEPHANIE: Amy Stoch

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MANKIND by Beverly Andrews, directed by Alexandra Meda

Synopsis: New parents have a serious discussion by the river’s edge and reaffirm the people they really are.

Elizabeth: Kat Johnston
Mitchell: Eric Toms

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THE MISSING STAIRCASE by Morna Murphy Martell, directed by Lane Allison

Synopsis: The Staten Island Ferry passes Ellis Island. A strange man tells about a staircase there that changed his life. One woman knows the secret of the missing staircase.

Woman: Constance Ball
Girl: Nili Segal
Man: Dean Farell Bruggeman

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ILL INFORMED by Raegan Payne, directed by Courtney Anne Buchan

Synopsis: Owen is bad at stalking. Olivia is bad at living. It’s fortunate they are meeting.

Owen: Tim Stafford
Olivia: Kristina Drager  

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Micro-Reads Actors:  Dylan Quercia, Pauline Schantzer, Anna Simone Scott, Tippi Thomas, Harriet Fisher and Tinks Lovelace

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 Come join us this Saturday, 28 March 2015 from 12 – 6 pm at City Garage Theatre located in the Bergamot Station Arts Center
2525 Michigan Ave., Building T1, Santa Monica, CA 90404

For more info: http://lafpi.com/events
FB Event here: https://www.facebook.com/events/898010020244015/
If you tweet we’re @TheLAFPI; we’re also on Instagram @thelafpi.  #SWANDay #LAFPI.
Also connect with our hosts, @CityGarage (Neil LaBute’s Break of Noon opens April 3 http://www.citygarage.org/). 

The LAFPI Blog Celebrates 4-Year Anniversary!

Happy Anniversary to the LA FPI Person of Interest Blog!  Today we celebrate four years of blogging.

by Robin Byrd

I have enjoyed our diverse group of voices.  I have enjoyed the moments when after reading these ladies or watching a video or film, I break out into laughter or tears – those moments when I am found….  There is nothing like being in a funk and have someone write “Oink! Oink!” or having to leave my desk to shake myself after reading “When Playwrights Get Old” which came about after “Too old?” left me numb and very contemplative.  When I look in the mirror, I see me and have to remind myself that the first set of students at the university where I work my day job have graduated and are in their thirties now.  The few that have stayed on in employment shock me when I run into them yet when I look in the mirror I don’t see age — I see me.  One wonders if after all the “Taking Stock” we do if a change is gonna come – ever – but we keep hoping and pushing and fighting for that “Stillness” that drives us.

Drive, She Said“.

How much more drive does it take for a woman to succeed than a man?  Can it even be measured?   Who cares?  Trying to keep myself moving.  No time to research how a man does it unless it helps me.

Writers are always “On a new path…” to stay motivated and to be able to encourage oneself to do one’s art which is supposed to lead to “When you hear your words in someone else’s mouth…”  You hope.  One hopes.

The goal is to be a working artist.  By that I mean, you don’t have to have a day job to pay the rent, pay for submission fees, or afford you food while you write.  Living in near poverty to be an artist should be against the law especially because that same art could end up being a national treasure; the following terms are not interchangeable:  “Working Artist – Donating Artist – Surviving Artist“.

 

Zora Neale Hurston author of  Their Eyes Were Watching God died in poverty; her work was rescued from a fire after her death (Florida had a habit of burning the belongings of the dead).  Zora Neale Hurston’s life work is a national treasure…

 

There should be no limitations or rules on where or in what form a writer creates story as there are no rules to who can be “The Happiest Person in America” or one of the happiest people – let us do our art and we are there…   Gender does not dictate what shared work will change the world in some way — “And The Female Play at the Tonys was…” and it should not dictate who has access to the stage, the screen or the bookshelf.  Great stories all start the say way — with words and the “Voice…” of the writer.  All are needed, each soprano, alto, tenor and bass…   There should not have to be “The Bechdel Test for the Stage“; there should not have to be a Bechdel test at all – why can’t all stories worth telling be treated equal?  Why can’t the journey be easier?  Why can’t handling “Our Expectations, Our Fears”  as artists be easier?  Perhaps even this tug-of-war on gender parity fits into the “Everything Is A Creative Act” category; it is, after all, fodder.

I especially like what Pulitzer Prize Finalist playwright Lisa Kron said at the last Dramatists Guild Conference “Having Our Say: Our History, Our Future” about what she does when something rubs her the wrong way “I’m going to write a play about this” — The Veri**on Play is what resulted.

 

Just wondering, do you have any favorite LA FPI blog articles?

 

Bloggers Past and Present:

Jessica Abrams, Tiffany Antone, Erica Bennett, Nancy Beverly, Andie Bottrell, Robin Byrd, Kitty Felde, Diane Grant, Jen Huszcza, Sara Israel, Cindy Marie Jenkins, Sue May, Analyn Revilla, Cynthia Wands and special input by Laura Shamas and Jennie Webb.

 

Bookstores and the Books that Live There…

 by Robin Byrd

Bookstores are becoming sparse; books are becoming electronic.  I wonder how to reconcile my love of browsing with the lack of things to browse.  If it’s not there, they will order it for you, they say with a smile ever so clueless to the fact that it’s the walking through the aisles searching the shelves for treasure that brings joy.  I can order it myself and not have to give up the getting mail part in the process – what can I say, I like getting mail…

I rarely come out of a bookstore without a book — this past weekend, I did — too much open space, too much of a lack of that library appeal without the constraints of utter and complete silence.  The space caught me off guard; it was bright from the lack of shelves and heavy from the lack of books.  I felt grieved in my spirit and had to leave the store.  Time is running out and I know one day I will have to go to a library if I want to browse.  My favorite spot is going…going…almost gone…  Better renew my library card.  Bookstores could possibly become plug-in shops to download e-books and my relaxation tool will be obsolete. My days of browsing for hours in my favorite store are numbered but I’m not going out without a fight and a few more books.  You never know what you’ll find in a bookstore.

Lucky for me I have more than one bookstore on my radar.  I found a book in Samuel French (my other favorite spot) called “Hoosiers in Hollywood” by David L. Smith.  This book is filled with over 600 pages of information on Indiana artists dating back to the silent era – a nice bit of history, fun, and encouragement.  When I found the book, I was in the middle of a thought about the Midwest and how it is underrepresented in the arts.  Guess I was wrong.

The really nice thing about books is being able to hold on to them and catching them on sale – a benefit of browsing.  The best part about books is they always inspire the writer in me to write…