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J. J. Brown, Wordslinger

"I Sling Words As I Go Along."

So, another favorite high school memory would be 3rd period art class…..

…..and it’s not just because I got to draw or paint for forty minutes, three days a week and for almost two hours one day a week.  [1]  And while I could just expound on that fact alone, there were far too many moments of sheer and utter delight that occurred in that class for me to consciously limit myself to just one.

There’s a reason for that.

It’s because I got to spend that time with three of the best friends a person could ask for.

We laughed and cracked jokes while we painted.  It was in this third period art class that I began writing a short story about a true life adventure, that really, actually, never happened (but should have).  That short story led to more wacky adventures and even a theme song (The Lion Sleeps Tonight), and with lyrics that were specific to us.  [2]   And during this class, there was an incident involving an oil painting left to dry that wound its way into one of those stories. [3]

Before I had even graduated high school, I had a general outline of what happened and how and who the supporting players were (because obviously, my friends and I were the leads).  Music from the Fifties played a huge part in determining mood and there was a sense of hilarity and whimsy throughout.  The stories covered our years from the seventh grade until senior year in high school, with side trips into summer school.

And that’s pretty much where I thought those stories ended.

So imagine my surprise when, fifteen years after graduation, I went through those stories and realized that they had more to tell as grown ups.  Having two different series involving the same characters at different points in their lives is an interesting experience.  Especially since I had laid the groundwork without realizing it in the earlier stories.  [4]

As I write this post, my thoughts are turning to those stories.  I wrote them because we had so much fun coming up with things to do that we never actually did (like stealing a mannequin from the local department store and chasing it all over town because we had put roller skates on it).  I continued writing them and working out the timelines, characters and incidents for the better part of my life, more so than any other writing project.

These stories are important to me in a way that my Novel Now Finished and my Ancient Greek Comedy are not.

When I write these stories, things have a strange way of coming true, if not in the actual how, then in the actual what.  On more than one occasion, I noticed that many similarities happened in the lives of the fictional us and the real us as we grew up.  An example would be that, five or six years after graduation, one of us ended up working in that very department store we’d plotted to steal the mannequin from.

Part of her job description?  Carry a mannequin from one store to the other for display purposes. [5]

These stories carry a certain weight and responsibility for me and they need to be written just right.  They were a gift from my friends and I want to do right by them – both the stories and my friends.  Thus was born The Hey! No Problem! Gang.

And it all happened in third period art class.

 

[1] Well, okay, that was pretty much in the top five of excellent reasons.

[2] With much apologies to the Tokens.

[3] It’s easier to tell in person, complete with re-enactments and dramatic music.

[4] I’m still trying to shape into a cohesive narrative.

[5] True story.

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So, while revising my Ancient Greek Comedy……

…….I made creative decisions about some of the characters in terms of gender, personality and role in their mythology.  Since they’re basically archetypal, it was easy to do.

An example would be the character of Catamitus.

In Greek myth, Catamitus is male, one of Zeus’ many lovers and a cup-bearer to the gods.

Title and cast list of Hotel Mt. Olympus.

In my play, I ultimately chose to change Catamitus’ gender to female and remove the lover aspect, but the character is still a cup-bearer to the gods.  Sort of – she’s the manager of the hotel that caters to the gods and goddesses of all mythologies.

Which now leads to the name.

Catamitus is Latin, from the word catamite. [1]  Although I had changed the character from male to female, I did not alter the name.  The “-us” is for the masculine, while the “-a” is for the feminine.  In a flash, I had fixed the problem of a running joke in my play.

Many of the characters never get Catamitus’ name right, often referring to her as ‘Cal’.  It never really quite worked, even though I kept it in.

But.

If I change it to Catamita?  Oh, the possibilities!! The puns!! The gnashing of teeth!!

“Catamita done that” sounds close to “Cat might have done that”.

I can’t wait to dive back into my play and see how that works itself out.

Catamita, on the other hand, might just tender her resignation.

 

[1] The definition of catamite can be found here.

So, one of my favorite high school memories……

……occurred during lunch, while I was waiting for my fifth period class to start.

The class was Spanish I and, if I recall correctly, I was either reviewing or finishing up some homework that was due that day.  Most likely the latter – I wasn’t exactly the most-on-top-of-it student.  I was a junior and more interested in writing my stories or doodling horses in the margins of my notebook than anything else.  [1]

Don’t get me wrong – I enjoyed my Spanish class and would write quotes of the day on the chalk board – sometimes in Spanish, sometimes not – with proper attribution.  I just…..wasn’t that much of a dedicated student.

Maybe ten minutes before the bell rang to end the lunch hour, a girl walked up to me.  I don’t remember her name, only that she was blonde, wore a long, black dress, that she was probably a sophomore and that we shared the same Spanish class.  What was I wearing?  Jeans, a T-shirt, sweater and sneakers.  [2]

It was with some curiosity that I watched the Girl in the Black Dress approach.  We weren’t friends, barely even friendly acquaintances, so I wondered what she wanted.

It didn’t take long for me to find out.

Suffice to say, I was subjected to a list of things that made me (in her eyes) undesirable – I was boring, no one liked me, I was ugly and on and on.  You know – the usual sort of thing one does to establish dominance in the pecking order of high school society.

I didn’t know exactly what to do, other than listen – it was kind of a shock to be disrupted from my classwork and be subjected to that.  Her parting shot was cruel, more than what she’d actually said up to that point.  I’m not going to write what it was, because that’s not really the point of this story.

After she’d left, I turned my notebook to clean page and began to list all the things that I was interested in.  I filled two pages and was still coming up with things.  I looked at those pages and thought, ‘If I’m interested in that many topics, then I’m interesting.’

Something to that effect, anyway.

I don’t remember if I cried.  I do remember being upset and discombobulated.  Writing that list helped to center and ground me.  When my teacher arrived to open up the classroom, I was fine.  I had already chosen a quote for the day, but due to that encounter, I decided to change it to a quote from Young Sherlock Holmes (1985). [3]

Sidebar – In that film, Young Sherlock is challenged by a classmate (Dudley) to find a missing trophy using his wits and deductive reasoning. As the bell chimes out the last few seconds of the deadline, Dudley makes an assumption that Young Sherlock ought to give up, since he had not found the trophy.

To which Young Sherlock replied, “Never assume anything”, marched over to a shelf, picked up a vase and, with the final chime ringing, drops it to the floor. The vase shatters and the missing trophy is revealed.

“Never assume anything” became that day’s quote for Spanish I.

Class had been going on for about twenty minutes – the teacher was lecturing in Spanish, some of my classmates were either responding to the teacher’s questions in Spanish, passing notes or dozing – when a voice loudly declared,

“Oh. My. God.”

The teacher stopped, bewildered.  The dozing classmates stirred.

The Girl in the Black Dress pointed at the blackboard and asked, “Can I erase that?”

Not quite sure of what was going on and only interested in continuing the lesson, the teacher just nodded.

The Girl in the Black Dress got up, erased the board and on the way back to her desk, shot me the dirtiest look that, to this day, has yet to be matched. [4]

I only smiled.

Message received.

So, why is this one of my favorite memories?  Because I handled a situation in my own way, that kept it between us and did not diminish either one of us.

Which, if you think about it, is pretty cool, no matter what age group.

 

[1] I scraped by enough to graduate.

[2] I hid a lot behind sweaters, T-shirts and jeans back then.

[3] Of course, it would be Sherlock.

[4] She didn’t approach me again.

Note – I don’t know what happened to her after high school.  But I hope that she did well for herself and that, whatever triggered her insecurities that led her to approach me that day, she was able to overcome them.

So, I’m aware of the alleged controversy…….

……surrounding the American Library Association children’s book award being removing Laura Ingalls Wilder’s name.  What a to-do – an award’s name being changed to better reflect diversity and inclusiveness that it seeks to honor!! The horror!!  Oh, the humanity!! [1]

The Laura Ingalls Wilder Award

What followed was a great gnashing of teeth and rending of hair, accompanied by faux-outrage videos that reduced its argument to insults and name-calling.  The asinine responses would be truly amusing and delightful……if they actually knew what they were talking about or if it was being presented as satire.

Many reduced their arguments to insults and derogatory comments, rather than do any actual research to discuss why they disagreed with the American Library Association’s decision to re-name the award.  This shows a singular lack of respect for other viewpoints, a severe lack of empathy and a definite lack of intelligence.  Those kinds of posts are designed to rile up and cause arguments, with a good amount of bullying thrown in.

There is the mistaken idea that doing so is white-washing history (it’s not); that the award committee was bowing to political correctness (they weren’t – they had been considering changing the name for more than a decade – read their statement here); and the reactions have been as vitriolic as if the books themselves were being banned and burned (they aren’t).  What most people don’t understand is that Wilder herself white-washed her own history, with the help of her daughter, Rose Wilder Lane.  The Little House books began life as Wilder’s autobiography, but it was Lane’s editorial help that shaped the books into the classics we know today.

World Fantasy Award.
Designed by Vincent Villafranca

This is not the first time that an award’s name has been changed, to better reflect the values, the diversity and the inclusiveness as proscribed in its mission statement. Until 2015, the World Fantasy Award had previously been known as the H.P. Lovecraft award.  Lovecraft was a racist bigot and made no apology for it.  However, fantasy and, in particular, science fiction has always taken a more inclusive and diverse view of the world around us.

Bust of HP Lovecraft, the previous award.
Designed by Gahan Wilson.

It is extremely problematic for an award to claim it is about diversity and inclusiveness, only to be symbolized by an individual who is the antithesis of that.  But to cry “White washing history!” for simply changing a name to better reflect the diversity that is out there to be represented is to ignore the very real problems that exist today.  In both cases, neither author was banned from schools, libraries or otherwise censured nor are they being thrown onto pyres and set aflame – which would have been cause for concern in terms of censorship.

The attitudes of Lovecraft and Wilder are of their times, yes, but they are still alive and well in 2019 and are still doing some serious damage.  If all you see is political correctness run amok, then you’re not paying attention.

And f you find yourself saying, “I hate being politically correct about (fill in the blank)”, then please do yourself a favor and substitute ‘politically correct’ with ‘respect’ and ’empathy’.

You might be horrified to hear yourself.

 

Recommended reading:

Pioneer Girl – Laura Ingalls Wilder; edited by Pamela Smith Hill
Prairie Fires – Caroline Fraser
I Am the Providence: The Life & Times of H.P. Lovecraft – S.T. Joshi

 

[1] Please note the dripping of my sarcasm.

So, while writing Secrets & Howls……

……my first self-published novel, I chose to set the time frame in 1978 (with occasional flashbacks to 1852).  I did this in part because I didn’t want cellphones or the internet in the story.  Technology that we find useful today would not have been useful in my story, which I had purposely left without a specific time-frame until an editor suggested I do so, because it wasn’t clear to her when the story took place.

Also, I was kind of lazy and didn’t want to adjust the story to suit the cellphone/internet.  Which sent me to the library for books on the seventies, since I only had a rudimentary recollection of the decade I grew up in.  The books, however meticulously researched, were deadly dull and did nothing to help me gain a clear picture.

So I did the next best thing – I turned to music.  Going to my local music store (long since gone), I scoured their classic rock section for music specific to the seventies.  There were a few disco CDs and, looking at the playlist on the back, I remembered ever single song playing on my mom’s VW hatchback.

Naturally, I bought them.

Which brings me to my Ancient Greek Comedy.

Apparently, music from the seventies fits right in with the chaotic hijinks of the gods and goddesses of ancient myths.

Who knew?

So, around this time nine years ago……

……I was preparing to move out of my tiny studio in Long Beach, CA back to my artsy and somewhat trying hometown. [1]  I wasn’t exactly thrilled by the prospect (I mean, really, who is when moving back to a town where everybody knows your name?), but I was willing to be open to it and to accept any opportunities that came my way.

Well, long story short, a lot of shit happened to derail that sense of optimism. [2]

For the last few months, I’ve felt out of place and out of sorts, that I no longer belonged in my hometown for whatever reason.  But while I have no real reason to stay here, I have no real reason to relocate to someplace else.  All other locations I’d considered over the last few years sound and look just as good as any other place.

None of them stand out as being The Place.

As I mentioned to a close friend just a month ago, since I’m already here, I may as well embrace it and do what I need to do, to make myself happy, like pursue my writing and develop new skills for both personal and professional reasons.  Eventually, the reason for me to go (or to stay) will reveal itself to me and I can move forward.

Until then, que sera sera.

It was only recently that I realized I had circled back to where I was, nine years ago.  It seems like a lifetime ago and so much has happened since then.  I am not the person I was nine years ago – I’m a little wiser, a little more cautious in who I let in, a little more reserved.  If a door is shut, I’m content to let it remain so.

I’m also more willing to be open to new experiences and new environments, something I would generally shun, being more of an introvert than a social butterfly.  However, I recognized that growth comes with discomfort, and so I found opportunities to stretch my boundaries, find what was acceptable and what was not.  In the meantime, I was able to find my voice and speak up when my boundaries were not respected.  This did not always go down well and I eventually found out what was true and what was not.

And this is a good thing.

🙂

[1] If you grew up in a small town and find yourself living there again, you’ll understand what I mean.

[2] It’s really boring, if you want to know.  At least, it is now.  Suffice to say, shit happened and I managed to wash it off successfully.

Evening Thoughts (8)

1. I know exactly what I want for myself, both personally and professionally.

2. When you know what you want, settling for less is not an option.

3. Holding true to that seems both simple and easy to do.

4. It is simple, and no, it’s not easy.

5. There will be days when you feel worthless and insecure, unsure and hopeless.

6. You will probably over-think things and give yourself a really bad headache.

7. ^^^ Don’t beat yourself up about it; just breathe, get through it and get active.

8. The thing to remember is that you don’t have control over how things will unfold.

9. ^^^ I know, that’s really annoying.

10. Just have faith, patience and focus on what you can do, like rearranging your room or create a new work of art.

11. ^^^ I know, easier said than done.

12. The alternative is to compromise yourself and your values; in short, to settle for less.

13. Don’t settle. Hold out for better, even if at this moment, you don’t think you deserve it.

14. You deserve it.

So, I finished the first revision of my Ancient Greek Comedy….

…..and I feel pretty good about it.  There’s still some work left to be done on it, places that need polishing, and characters that need a little more development, but overall, I’m satisfied with what I’ve written.  My next step will be to send it to a local director for a clear eye and suggestions, and from there, that’s anyone’s guess.

But I’ve got some definite ideas.

Title and cast list of Hotel Mt. Olympus.

Should it go forward and find a stage, a cast and a choreographer [1], it will be the culmination of a dream – to see a work I wrote take on a new life in front of an audience.  Will I consider myself a playwright?  Only in the loosest sense of the word –  this is a fairly comprehensive list of playwrights that deserve the title.  Each of them have a body of work that will forever be in production.

I think this is my only work to be written specifically for the stage.  I won’t say that I’ll never try it again, but my specialty is writing in the narrative form.  This was a fun and, at times, a nerve-wracking challenge.  I’ve removed characters, added them back in, re-wrote dialogue and new scenes and then, when all seemed lost, a piece of music would send me back in with renewed vigor.

In the process, I realized that the story I wanted to tell (using LOTS of humor) required me to use the stories of the gods and goddesses I chose to be characters in my play.  Interestingly, their stories tied into many of today’s social issues and, while I was pleased, I wasn’t entirely surprised by this discovery.

After all, their stories have been around for centuries – they are very human concerns that transcend time and place.

[1] While this is not a musical, per se, it does have some song and dance numbers.

So, it’s a New Year and a New Start…..

…..where the dust of the last three hundred and sixty-five days can be shaken off and the next three hundred and sixty-five days have yet to be written.  I often find some kind of inspiring quotes and themes to use as a springboard for what’s to come.

Last night, I found this particular theme floating around.  I rather liked the challenge it presented, because, 1.) who doesn’t have a book lying around; 2.) sometimes there is a truth to be found; and 3.) it’s actually kind of fun and silly.

So I found the nearest book at hand (literally, not even a foot from me) and opened it to the named page.

“So say it.”

At first, I thought it was just a throwaway sentence in Elizabeth Gilbert’s book, Big Magic, that nothing important to be found in just three words. I was tempted to slide past it to the third sentence, which also rang true and which I do anyway. [1]

But the more I looked at those three words, the more I realized what power they had in their simplicity.  People often dismiss simplicity as unimportant. But I’ve found that simplicity can be the most potent magic ever devised.  ‘Please’ and ‘Thank you’ are simple words and yet, they can open doors you never imagined were there.

“So say it.”

Speak your truth.  That’s what those words, in their utter simplicity, are charging me with for the year 2019.  This is not a new charge – in fact, speaking my truth had been a huge part of 2018 and the changes it wrought had a major impact in many positive ways.  So, I’m interpreting this as a sign that I’m on the right path, that by continuing to speak my truth, the way will become clearer.

So.  Grab the book nearest you and open it to page 119.  Find the second sentence.  Use that as your challenge and task for 2019.

You’ve got this.

 

[1]  If you want to know that third sentence I was tempted to use, find a hard back copy of Big Magic and turn to page 119. Those who know me will recognize its truth and that I live it every day.

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