Tag Archives: story

Ending and Beginning…

by Robin Byrd


A few weeks ago, I put some things on my “to do” list that I want to finish or start before the new year and took a look around at the space I am in (physical, mental, and creative). I have been here before at this crossroad but didn’t stay long enough to make tracks. This time I am already knee deep in the snow, climbing for the sake of sanity.

I see story in everything. It could be called a haunting but it’s what I live for. Unexpectantly, a coworker and I had a wonderful conversation about writing and how most everyone has at least one story in them. We talked about oral storytelling and the way it becomes theatrical if done right. ALAP (Alliance of Los Angeles Playwrights) has an event called “In Our Own Voices” where the playwright must be the reader or one of the readers in 5 minutes of their work. I have participated twice and am always rejuvenated to the nth degree afterwards. This coworker is not a writer per se but stories are starting to peek out at him. I encouraged him to write them down.

I have work to do as well.


I have been torn between creating new work or tweaking old work but like reading my work aloud, creating new worlds and characters on the page is being reborn every time; it is flying high – up to meet the sun.


The end of this year finds me writing and reading and exploring new ways to hear my words out loud. How about you?

Have a happy and prosperous new year.

Dormancy and the Big Wake-Up…

“I’ll try.” from the last chapter in Teacher Man by Frank McCourt

by Robin Byrd

For years, I have been carrying around a story not knowing how it should meet the page but knowing that it had to get there somehow.  A few months ago, I decided it would be in poetry – carried the pages around with me trying to shake the order and the theme out.  No luck.

Then… a play I needed to submit somewhere refused to speak to me and I thought what if I take these notes and make it into a play.  Decided on the characters and began to write for three days till “The End”, proofed it, let a few close friends read it and sent it off.

The end result was as intense as the writing of it.  It struck me as odd that this story lay dormant for so years then exploded on the page like it did.  Out of order on my list of things to write and not in the genre I picked.  Dormant for 32 years then the alarm goes off waking me up from the exhausted sleep deprived state working too many hours on my day job has caused.  It spilled out in 3 days like nothing I have ever written before.  But then that’s the thing about writing each piece should be better than the last.  Funny to have a story shut down on you because another one wants the roadway.  I almost missed the signal but when I told friends I was not going to be able to finish the play I was working on but had this idea that I might be able to pull off in time, they each said, “go for it, what do you have to lose.”

I said, “I’ll try…”

I guess all you can ever do when you hit a wall is to try something else.  Timing is everything.  Who knew story notes had alarm systems attached?

 

Riding the Red Eye…

Saturday, I took the Red Eye home to see my mother.  My sisters were not sure what was going on with her – one minute she was fine, the next she was disoriented and feverish.  I could hear nurses in the background, uneasiness in my sister’s voice and when I finally got to say hello to my mother she made absolutely no sense at all.  By the third call, I was looking online for a cheap flight – with all my almost points, that miraculously expire before I can use them, I was left to the mercy of Priceline and not much choice. So, I flew in for Mother’s Day, surprising my mother who was up and dressed – for a while.  By 6:30 pm we were on our way to the hospital where we stayed till about 2 am the next day when we put her in a room.  Getting Mother somewhat situated, thankful to the doctors and nurses at Methodist for connecting dots, ruling out, and genuinely caring, I was able to think about keeping the flight plan to return to LA.  Before my mother went to her room, she told me I looked like a “thug” with my scarf on my head, my leather jacket and the way I was standing, which made everyone laugh. To that she exclaimed she didn’t know I was so short.  More laughter.  She was “in” again.  She told me to come back later and stay longer.

I got to see nieces and nephews, all my sisters, the new baby and the green of Indiana.  Concrete filled Los Angeles seemed like a prison sentence and I was out on parole.  Air without exhaust fumes – who knew?  The speed limit is 55 mph on the highway, there are about four of them, a few overlap – 465 circles the city.  Go either way, you’ll get there eventually.  Not a lot of traffic – none if you compare it to the 405.

Spent the night (wee hours of the morning till my flight back to LA on Monday) talking with one of my sisters; got to see her new grandson.  Got to have some White Castle burgers, wish I had gotten to go to the (farmers) Market.  Sleep deprived, I drove off into the sunlight, promptly missed my exits had to turnaround three times, turned into incoming traffic, had to drive over the center divider because I couldn’t back up.  A miracle, I got to the airport on time and safe.

The whole three days of travel, I kept getting “that would make a good play” thoughts in response to something I saw or heard.  I had a chore staying present to visit with family while waiting on results of tests for my mother.  But, I’m a writer so I am aware of story even when I am preoccupied.  Story can be triggered by anything – the visual, sounds, emotions…

My mother always asks me what I am working on.  She gets real excited when I say I am researching things.  She has every confidence in my gift.  My regret is that she wasn’t well enough and there wasn’t enough “in” time for me to read her some poetry.

I found story on my journey, none of which will pass the “b” test but if I, as playwright – because I am female, am not only limited by the male dominated theater-world but also by the female constituency because of the content of my work, who gains?  Art should not be held under dictatorship.  I have a distinct voice and my stories are universal in scope.  I am a playwright, I am of color and I am a woman and I tell damn good stories.  I face racism daily – in America – and must shake it off like sand continually.  Truth be told, when I send out my work, I don’t think I may not get picked because I am a female, I think “I hope they don’t ask for a picture then they will know I am of color”.  I have to decide whether or not to send a play that would be considered too ethnic.  I have to say on conference submissions whether or not the characters have to be played by ethnic actors which in some cases can limit or put one out of the running altogether.  I count yellow/brown/red faces on theater company rosters to see if my work will even be looked at in the first place.  I had an actress read a page from one of my works who was shocked when I told her I wrote it for a blond-haired blue-eyed woman, just like her.  She liked the universal story but had assumed the character was written as a woman of color because I am a woman of color.

I want to tell my stories as I find them, how I hear and see them and be able to take them straight through to the next level based on their substance and craft, not my lack of a dick and my failing of the “b” test no matter how many times I take it.

As a habit, I write through the night, so in a sense, I am always riding the Red Eye…

Writing “Crazy”…

I have been working on writing “crazy”.  There has to be a way to write it where it can be intense and alive off the page.  Not the crazy way out there kind of crazy but the almost perfectly sane, breaking beneath the surface kind of crazy.  I have been working internally on this for over a year now because I don’t really rewrite and know that if I haven’t solved it inside, it ain’t coming out any time soon.  Yes, I said it.  I am one of those.  I am not completely averse to rewriting but I haven’t had a play to date that has warranted me rewriting it.  I do tweak here and there.  My plays live internally so long that by the time they come bursting out I am in need of some serious Kegel exercises to get myself back to the place where I can begin again – conceiving/growing another play…  I have never seen a parent of a new born cutting limbs and shoving things in odd places on their newborn so I can’t see doing it to mine…  The sheer exhaustion of pushing out a play is enough to make me feel “crazy” without reorganizing parts. Never apologize for how you get the words to your page.  I am a firm believer that one of the things that makes Art – art, is how it is filtered through the artist…

I have heard Edward Albee say the following in person regarding rewrites:

Edward Albee: I don’t rewrite. Well, not much. I think I probably do all the rewriting that I’m going to do before I’m aware that I’m writing the play because obviously, the creativity resists — resides — in the unconscious, right? Probably resists the unconscious, too — resides in the unconscious. My plays, I think, are pretty much determined before I become aware of them. I think they formulated there, and then they move into the conscious mind, and then onto the page. By the time I’m willing to commit a play to paper, I pretty much know — or can trust — the characters to write the play for me. So, I don’t impose. I let them have their heads and say and do what they want, and it turns out to be a play.

You can read the rest of this interview at the Academy of Achievement website : http://achievement.org/autodoc/page/alb1int-4

I adore Edward Albee.  He’s a big reason why I work so hard on my craft.

Back to writing “crazy” – I saw “Silver Linings Playbook” today (David O. Russell, screenplay; Matthew Quick, novel, also directed by Russell).  What awesome writing! What a story…  The different levels and forms of crazy that people can be…it was like being in a “how to” seminar. And, the actors were phenomenal – all of them. This film answered a lot of questions about how “crazy” can be realized through story fearlessly.

Regarding my story — the one I need to write crazy in — I was afraid to let Valpecula have her full say…afraid I would edit her before her words could find air — something I never want to find myself doing because then, I’d have to rewrite.

Here’s to “crazy” and writing it fearlessly…

Things from the Writing Box…

In the early nineties, I began my quest to look at my heritage and find more pieces of what makes me who I am.  I imagined that any journey toward that knowledge would be good for my little box of things to write.  One day while home from my day job, a man stepped out from between two cars in front of me.  I had to swerve to miss him.  Later that night in my apartment, I had a visitation from the man in the street. Not his physical self but his spirit or so it seemed.  I write about things of the spirit a lot in my work…it just shows up – like he did.  I have been trying to put the vision I had that night in a play but am not sure when, where or how to enter as I really do not want a literal interpretation of that experience.  I want to capture how I felt in those moments…  Over the years, I’ve tried different things but can never quite get that, “this is it” feeling.  Two years ago, I wrote this poem:

the Medicine Man

he stepped out from between the cars

with his staff

magnificent, authentic, ancient, familiar

he was tall like my uncle huron

with chiseled facial features

in headdress/ high moccasins/ native attire/ regal/ warrior-like

the feathers hanging from the staff caught my eye first

they were real

and i wondered if they were eagle

then i noticed that he was looking directly at me as i approached

our eyes locked for an instant/ for an eternity

my car seemed to be driving through a time warp

as i slowly passed him there in the street

looking through me to some place

we must have met before

in the rearview mirror

he turned his entire body to watch me drive away

i could not watch the road for watching him

he was a shaman/a medicine man, i knew

but why was he looking at me

did he know me/ daughter to native ancestors

i should have stopped/asked

later that night as i lay on the floor in prayer

i could hear and feel footsteps vibrating on the floor

moving toward me

a hologram in moccasins was all that i could see

his…

he placed one foot on the back of my head and pushed me into a vision

of the past

afraid/ unable to resist/ unable to move from the floor from the smoke

what is that?

i could hear the rattlers and sounds of war

the screaming women and children

i could smell the smoke and see its fog

then it lifted just enough for me to see

i was there dressed in buckskin

lying face down in the rubble

watching the boy as he searched through it for

his family

i was there

he knew me, daughter to native ancestors…

he knew me…

As a writer, do you ever wonder just how long a story can germinate before you can write it?  Have you ever come up against any story that just doesn’t seem to have an “in”? What do you do?  One of the greatest things about theatre is that the playwright doesn’t have to limit their approach to conventional ways in order to write their story.  Stuff just needs to be pulled out of the box, lived with for a while and looked at it from several angles…

 

 

Stones in the Garden…

I’ve always wanted a garden even though I don’t know much about growing things.  I have destroyed a rubber plant twice and they’re supposed to be hard to kill.  I keep thinking that if I have a designated place for plants, they will grow well with water, air and soil and maybe a few stones here and there.  Certain plants need more or less sun than others.  I don’t know the exact planting season for each plant – hope it is on the package of seeds.  What I do know, is the smell and feel of good soil, played in enough of it as a child while digging up ant hills and worms.  I could always find at least one worm under a dug up stone.  The worms were always found in the best part of the soil.  Why did I spend so much time in dirt?  Feeding the pet ants of course!  Yeah, yeah, they didn’t know they were our pets but me and my big brother visited them all summer long with crumbs and water and ice cream so they were “pets.”  And, if we were careful, we could see the tunnels virtually intact once we started the excavation.

The observation and excavation skills I learned those summers work well when I’m writing or collecting moments for my writing.  I have to see the inner workings of things mainly because I believe there is a reason for everything and what’s on the inside affects your outside world more than you know.  So, when I say “does not cry” it is because I am hinting at a backstory to that character not trying to direct the actor.  I am lifting stones to get to the worm-filled soil.  My mother used to tell me that the worms made the soil good; at first sight a worm can appear to be an icky thing but ultimately the icky-ness is what enriches the soil or story…  The simple smell of it is as wonderful as spring rain on pavement and the feel of it in the hands always takes me back to the beginning of things…the place of possibility…

The subConscious…

Last night I was dreaming about writing Fiddler’s Bridge.  I was dissecting the connections and characters and what their deals are.  I kept running through what was going on in my story all the while trying to sleep.  I awoke this morning wondering why in the world I was dreaming about my darn story.  This is not something I do in the early stages, it usually happens as I approach the end of Act One or the beginning of Act Two.  I was still tired so I tried to go back to sleep.  All I wanted was fifteen more minutes to make up for the interrupt – but that interrupt just continued right on through my extra fifteen minutes. 

“Okay, okay, I see the point where she takes her moment.  I won’t forget.  Yes.  I hear the silences.  Now, can I have my fifteen minutes?”

Thus went my conscious conversation with my subconscious.  It has got a whole lot to say about the structure of the subconscious world of the play.  How does one do that – write the subconscious world?  I try not to think about those kinds of things too hard; it normally takes care of itself without me having to be so aware of it.  My guess is that I have to approach this piece in a new way (along with some of my old ways).  This is about the only place in my life where I can embrace change without too much kicking and screaming.

I trust my subconscious – like hearing from it – it’s free to be…  Sounds like a dream, feels like a dream but doesn’t need interpreting.  It’s always pretty clear and sure of what’s needed to accomplish the task.  It abides in the secret place with my spirit man and is more in tune with the deep flow of things because it is uncensored and un-distracted by life and sleep… 

So on to the sub area…

Stealing Time to Write

Everyone does it: sometimes in a restroom, in a corner of a park, in your bedroom, hell – some people even do it in a public cafe.

We all steal time to write.

I say steal time because it feels selfish, inward, private.

And it just feels so good. Especially when it feels horrible during the process, it feels so good when you’re done. Writing is very much like spinning class in that way.

The true reason we steal time to write, though, is because we find it so easy not to write.

There’s laundry, the dog, the kids, the love interest, the season finale we could consider research, the day job, sleep, Facebook, Twitter, blogs about writing – no matter how you add, multiply or divide the time, these only equal procrastination.

I recently learned the hardest part about being self-employed: when deadlines aren’t met, you mostly disappoint yourself.

When I don’t write, I only disappoint myself.

Time to stop talking about it and start doing it! See you later………

The Thought My Soul Appalls

buddhas celebrate My childhood playmates were Gilbert & Sullivan*.

My family saw shows together. That’s what we did. We saw and       produced shows. We subscribed to ART (American Repertory  Theatre) in Cambridge and The Huntington Theater in Boston. We traveled hours to see the College Light Opera Company and drove back the same night. On vacations, we’d squeeze the Baseball Hall of Fame in between Glimmerglass Operas in Cooperstown.

If Gilbert & Sullivan played within three hours of us, we saw it. We bundled in the car, return trip full of patter songs and arguments on the character interpretation or a set piece. I auditioned for NYU with Pinter and was accepted, mostly because I astonished the Dean with my resume, listing only male roles and whores.

Not finding my voice in New York City, I got my license – didn’t really learn how to drive – and ended up in Los Angeles. List of jobs in roughly chronological order: QA for a lotion and scrub factory, personal assistant, Equity Stage Manager, customer service for adult products while stage managing, staffing assistant, director, staffing supervisor, clutter-clearer, recruiter at a not for profit school for kids with special needs, teaching artist, playwright, artistic associate, producer, bum, outreach chair, representative-at-large, career coach, resume re-vamper, consultant, writer.

I know we all mostly are slashers (actor/writer/producer, for example), but this list just feels ridiculous.

As much as some of those day jobs were hated, they fuel my creative bank. Who doesn’t like a good story about temping in an adult products factory? Seriously. Everyone in LA has the crazy day job story. It’s a rite of passage here, like visiting the Getty for the first time or realizing you can’t get to the 101 south from the 134 west.

In May it all added up, when I started calling myself a Storyteller. The title encompasses all the ways I tell stories: outreach, novel, poem, play, PR, resume, blog, branding – and now, I tell stories all day. It’s pretty cool. Honestly, it’s the only thing I actually know how to do. (Did I mention both my parents are also librarians?)

Now that I love every hour of my work, I hope I won’t lose that connection to completely random people in Los Angeles brought only by the day job. That would be a shame. Most of my stories originated within the hours when worth is measured by a time-clock. At least that’s the story I tell myself when I need a temporary gig.

*in case you want more Gilbert & Sullivan – and who doesn’t? Click here.

Collaborating With Your Self…

Have you ever started writing a piece only to find out you could not finish it until you lived something out in your life? 

While writing “The Day of Small Things”, taken from Zechariah 4:10: 

“For who hath despised the day of small things? for they shall rejoice, and shall see the plummet in the hand of Zerubbabel [with] those seven; they [are] the eyes of the LORD, which run to and fro through the whole earth.” 

I realized that I had to personally know what “not despising the day of small things” meant in my life.  I had to live the answer – I had to know that to me it means pushing past all the little obstacles that are in my way as I journey to my goals.  The constant bombardment of stuff in the way and the unending task of trying to stay afloat can make one want to get past the “dumb stuff” and just jump ahead to the meat of the matter.  Then there are the “little victories” that seem to delay the big victories and one might want to forgo them as well for the main event – but one should celebrate them because a victory is a victory is a victory…  It’s the getting through all the “dumb stuff” and the “little victories” put together that result in the character needed to eventually reach the goals I’ve set for myself.  It’s the journey… I could have never written that play without them – the “dumb stuff” and the “little victories”…  After feeling like I had had triplets with no epidural, I started the play.  The main character was Robert Raikes, Jr. called “Bobby Wild Goose” by his adversaries – his real nickname.  Imagine all of the wonderful nuggets in that name – enough to spark the way into the story which happened to be about the start of Sunday school and Bobby Wild Goose’s journey to accomplish that feat.  A journey – the essence of which – I knew myself.

In Dream Catcher“, I knew that one of my beloved characters had to die.  I was unable to write any portion of the play that lead up to and encompassed the death of this character until I lost my father.  His passing is when I knew why I had to wait to write it.  I had put the play down for a year after my father’s death and the day I picked it up again, with urgency it seemed, I was able to collaborate more with my inner self and bring some of the new moments I had experienced to the scenes.  In some ways, it has kept those fleeting moments alive.  I had to deal with the “I don’t want you to leave moments” I had with my father the last time I saw him; we all have them whether we are conscious of it or not.  I had to deal with the dream I had of him the morning he died when he came to see me “we went to lunch” and then the phone call from my sister came, confirming what I knew but didn’t really want to know.  I had to deal with the tribute poem I wrote to the sound of his voice in my head and the secret it – the poem – revealed.  When I returned to “Dream Catcher“, I allowed my “self” to have her say in the telling of the character’s death and she – my self – was a wonderful collaborator – separate, yet fully part of me…

One never knows where the stories will come from, all one can do is listen and be active in the retelling of it.

As a rule, when I sit down to write, I am conscious of being open to hearing from my inner self.  Most times it is the deep reaction to something or someone else that ends up on the page but sometimes it is a piece or part of all the things in my life floating through the lines of story…sometimes it is my self having her say…