Rebloggy Friday

Rebloggy Friday Part 5: Flow Art Station

There are so many awesome blogs out there…  So I thought I’d plug some of my favorites!

I learned about Flow Art Station a few weeks ago from the incomparable D. Wallace Peach (who is another awesome blogger, by the way). And, well, I’ve been scrolling through the site’s stunning images ever since.

Flow Art is a blog that will make you say “Wow” a lot.

It is also a blog that will make you say: “Oh! Look! Rats playing instruments!”

These are a few of my favorite things…

Check out other Rebloggy Fridays here.

Do you know a blog that dazzles you? Let me know in the comments!

On Writing

The Age of Aquarium

dorypicThere are two types of writers: Music-Playing-In-The-Background Writers and Shaddap!-I’m-Writing! Writers.

For most of my professional career, I fell squarely into the Shaddap camp.

That’s not to say I can’t write with background noise. When I was a newspaper reporter, I was surrounded by it. I don’t think that environment prompted great writing, exactly, but I was prolific, and, once in a while, I’d come up with a story I was proud of. (I still love the articles I wrote about the nutty lady who kept pigs in her house.)

But the Shaddap writing philosophy was what I had always sought out.

Last summer, my employer moved me to a new building and, in it, a modern, glass-walled office. Working in what could be described as an aquarium would not have been my first choice – or even my 20th – but I adapted. (The installation of shades aided the adaptation process considerably.)

I even found ways to have fun in the new space; for example, I grew particularly fond of writing little witticisms on my glass door in marker:

Please do not feed the Editor. He is on a special diet of bacon and wine.

Glass, however, isn’t very good at muffling sound. And, unlike my days at the newspaper, I had difficulty tuning the noise out.

The noise I experienced in the newsroom, though loud, was always the same type of noise – a constant, dull, indistinct rumble of a half-dozen people simultaneously saying what sounded like “rhubarb” into telephones.

The noise in my new office was not constant, dull, or indistinct – so it could never quite morph into white noise. Every word I heard was crystal clear. What’s worse was that most of the words I was hearing were being uttered by teenagers:

“Ohmigod, did you hear what Cathy said to Kennedy when she saw her in the Math center?”

“Oh, my Gawd, I know!”

“She goes, she goes…”

“I know! I was, like, there! I was, like, ‘Oh, my Gawd!’”

Being distracted is one thing. Being distracted by this can cause physical pain.

So I converted. I am a Music-Playing-In-The-Background Writer!

My only challenge was figuring out a good musical fit.

The music needed to be bright and appealing, but couldn’t call too much attention to itself. So lyrics were out. I tried polka and bluegrass, but they were too toe-tappy. I discovered that Enya should not be listened to while either writing or operating heavy machinery. The Penguin Café Orchestra, a group I love, was a near miss; its songs kept me bright eyed, but prompted more humming than writing.

And then, success!

SchroederGod bless the beautifully bombastic Beethoven. I’ve always been fond of the fellow, but never more than now. His tympani and brass cancels out every trace of teen angst loitering outside of my door. What’s more, his music keeps me more alert and energized. So that’s one less cup of coffee I need every day.

Thanks to this fine composer my new office suits me just fine.

So powerful was his impact, I now play my old Beethoven LPs when I write at home. The music hasn’t improved my productivity much there, but it has made me more polite. After all, when Beethoven is on, I no longer need to shout “Shaddap! I’m writing!” to my loved ones.

Do you listen to music when you write? If so, which artist gets your creative juices flowing? (Feel free to post YouTube links in the comments.)

On Writing

My Pest Friend

I don’t have a Best Friend. I don’t yearn for one, either.

I do, however, have a Pest Friend – and he is a treasure.

Pest Friends, if you need a definition, are friends who harass you into doing things you don’t want to do but know you should do. In their irksome, persistent way, they (metaphorically) make you eat your vegetables.

I’ve known My Pest Friend — also named Mike — since we were undergrads at Carnegie Mellon University. He and I first met in a playwriting class and the roots of our friendship began to grow once we admitted that we found each other’s scripts funny. This is about as good a way to begin a friendship as any. In fact, it is possibly the best way.

At that time I was taking playwriting very seriously. I wasn’t a good playwright, not even close, but I was serious. In fact, I shunned a number of social opportunities to read every last play that could be found in Hunt Library’s extensive collection. And when I wasn’t reading, I was writing. Not only did that allow me to hone my skills, but it also allowed me to indulge my Sullen Loner instincts.

Mike was different. He did not take playwriting seriously. He also was more of social animal than I. But he, too, exploited any free moment he had to pursue his passion – musical composition – with a rigor that equaled and perhaps even surpassed my own.

After graduation we continued our pursuits. Mike moved to L.A. and became a composer of some renown, and I went back to New Jersey where, by some kind of miracle, I learned how to make a decent living as a writer and editor.

Both of our passions evolved over time. I shifted from playwriting to children’s books. Mike, in addition to scoring movies and video games, began to drift into musical theatre. His drift in that direction, however, was slow, almost glacial. By the time he was fully committed to the idea of writing for the stage, I was no longer there to welcome him. Theatre didn’t interest me much anymore.

My actions, I’m afraid, vexed Mike. From that day to this, Mike became my Pest Friend.

Mike used to live in New York so, once or twice a year, he heads to the East Coast to visit his family. Once he arrives, we set up a time to have lunch.

I always look forward to these lunches, but, I must admit, I dread them a little, too. For one thing, Mike does not have children – or, to put it another way, his mind is not addled. His intellect and wit are every bit as sharp as they were in college. I used to be able to keep up with Mike’s lightening quick conversational skills, but those days are long gone. My mind is now as sharp as a billiard ball, and the closest I can come to “witty” these days is when I trot out my impressive collection of poop-related humor.

I also kinda dread these lunches because I know where our conversation will eventually lead. Mike will pester me into writing a short play.

First he softens me up. Mike always was one of my biggest fans, and he goes on for a bit about how I’m turning my back on my natural talents. This flatters me because I know he is sincere.

Mike then observes that a 10-minute play does not require a major time commitment. Which is true.

Mike then points out that online theatre databases make it easy for me to find acting companies that would produce my stuff. Which is also true.

Mike then reminds me that there is no financial outlay. This, too, is true. Unlike the old days, I can submit my scripts via email (so no snail mail costs). I also no longer need to pay dues to The Dramatist Guild.

“And you make money, don’t you?” he asks me.

Indeed I do. Usually, anyway.

Oh, I try to negotiate with Mike as he works me over. “Tell ya what,” I say. “I’ll write a new play as soon as you marry that girlfriend of yours. And, to sweeten the deal, I’ll write a full-length script as soon as you two have a baby.”

But these counteroffers roll off Mike like water off a duck’s butt. He knows they are just the ravings of a man who has already lost.

He also knows that I would never lose if I didn’t, somewhere deep down, want to lose.

“Writing for kids is great and you’re good at it,” he says to me telepathically. “But you, Allegra, need to write for grown-ups once in a while. Poop humor is fine, but your sense of humor used to make people bleed. You miss it.”

And, ugh, that’s true, too. Damn that Mike and his razor sharp brain!

Long story short, I’m writing another short play and Mike is the pestiest pest I know.

And, well, I don’t think I’d want it any other way. Thanks, buddy.