Tag Archives: arts

Put Down the Weston, and No One Gets Hurt

SometimEmpty Buildinges, before a photo shoot, I’ll grab something like B&W Magazine and just look at the photographs: randomly turn the pages and let my gaze float. Away from the house, I might arrive a little early and look through photo.net on the phone. It’s kind of like a runner doing stretches or a musician playing scales. I sometimes think of it as “tuning up the eye.” I start seeing regular life as images. Maybe it lights up the brain’s photo neuron pathways.

For one thing, you start seeing the world in shapes—a triangle here, a rectangle there—and the relationships between them. The empty space becomes a shape of its own. Like Miles Davis, you start playing the space between the notes. And you start to see tones. You look at scenes to spot that 18% gray for the camera’s meter to latch onto—especially important if you’re using a spotmeter. (I find that my Canons read more like 12% gray.) A frame begins drawing itself around the everyday. Once you begin seeing that way, it’s sometimes hard to shake.

In almost any art, it’s vital to experience the work of others. If you write plays, read plays (or reread favorites). Play guitar? Listen, even if the guitarist works in a form that leaves you a bit cold. The country Telecaster picker can teach the Ibanez-wielding shredder a few things and vice versa. Take photographs? Look at pictures. Lots of pictures. All the time.

A point comes, however, to put down the book or magazine or close the website. Obviously, if everything you shoot comes out looking a bit too much like your favorites, it’s at least best to look at someone else’s work. Sometimes, though, it’s best not to look at anyone at all. The tank fills. In fact, particularly if you’re feeling stuck, it’s best not only to put away the big Weston collection but to stop looking at photographs altogether. Just for a stretch. Do something else. Anything else. Maybe not go to the movies (as they’re moving photographs), but go for a drive. Listen to music. Dig in the garden. Go for a walk and leave the camera home. Let the photo brain take a rest. The same goes for whatever art you’re engaged in.

A few art forms lead themselves to this. One of the things I like about writing for theatre is that it takes two forms. The first comes when you’re composing, whether that means conducting research or actually putting down words. The second comes when you have a production or reading, and you collaborate with a director and actors. You get the introvert and extrovert time. Even so, really making a concerted effort to stop thinking about your form, much less practicing it, not only can make you happy—it can keep you sane.

That is, we kind of get locked into our art. Sometimes it’s unavoidable, especially when you’re facing a deadline. Other times, it’s a symptom of the artist’s obsessive side. People often ask me how I can write every morning before work. They praise my discipline, but, really, it’s a mixture of habit and bloody-mindedness: I can’t think of anything else. And my brain’s become so conditioned that it starts coughing up ideas around 6:00 and won’t let go until I shake some words loose. (It’s worth noting that some of those dedicated writing hours are spent staring into space and sipping coffee to kick the brain into working order; other mornings, I just give up and read something: the brain’s hung up its gone fishing sign.)

This won’t necessarily be easy, especially if you’re locked in deep. If you practice multiple arts, whether professionally or as a hobby, working in another form can distract the mind—shiny, shiny!—and give your overworked gray areas a breather without going into total withdrawals.

Strangely enough, the tension you may feel not working on your chosen art may be a good thing. It’s a sign that your unconscious mind is throwing its weight around, churning under the surface. Because, realistically, you’ll never stop working. It’s just not going to happen. You’ll start dreaming about it. You’ll experience intrusive thoughts that will make you want to run to the pen or the camera. But if you can get to the point, where you’re not in acute discomfort and you’re enjoying something else…like life…finally returning to your form can bring more than relief. You might find that you’ve improved. That you’ve been able to do something that, previously, you could not, whether it’s automatically spotting that 18% gray or playing a guitar riff that’s been eluding you.

Though a seeming paradox, sometimes you have stop to progress. You have to give your unconscious time to run. Often, it’ll surprise you. If nothing else, you’ve had a break, a little vacation from the Effort That Never Ends. And that’s never a bad thing.


Photographica: Late Afternoon and into the Past

Late Afternoon, Modish Building, Portland, Oregon

Late Afternoon, Modish Building, Portland, Oregon

A late winter afternoon–after a stretch of rain, the air still thick. Winter in the Pacific Northwest often limits you to shooting detail, given the long overcast stretches. But, when it clears, it gives you this full, rich light and color more akin to the semi-tropics, plus long shadows. Maybe the moisture content in the air; it somehow bends the light.

Here we have the golden hour plus: the warm light tinged with winter blues. The photo’s seem some post-production work, mostly to render it the way I saw it. Or at least how I remembered it. There’s no telling how far that can stray. Memory’s it’s own kind of filter.

The site–the Modish Building in downtown Portland–holds a special meaning for me. My first play–Controlled Burn–was produced on the fourth floor, in a sort of underground art gallery, with the artists squatting on site…not us, we came in as guests. Very punk, man! Kind of. They did throw some great parties. They also had limited gear available. The sound system was fantastic, and there must have been 50 cues, but our lights consisted of slide projectors and flashlights with colored gels over the lenses (and a silver plastic balloon that served to create a very cool watery effect). We took our set up in a rickety industrial elevator than ran so slow that you could reach out and touch the wall as it passed. We called if the David Lynch Memorial Elevator. We had to bring audiences up to the fourth floor in batches of ten. Luckily, the fire inspector never visited us.

With time, you learn. Back then, I had no idea. I remember Kyle Evans (who helped found Pavement Productions) and I attended PATA auditions when looking for actors. We knew nobody in the theatre community, nobody knew us, but they treated us as equals, and we ended up working with some very cool people like Sherilyn Lawson, Marty Ryan, and Catherine Egan (as a shamanistic dancer).

That’ll be 25 years ago this coming September. First play. Birth of Pavement Productions (I certainly had no idea that would last for 18 years). And my first review–the Oregonian compared me to a young Sam Shepard. They also said the play was kind of a mess–really, it was more performance art–and dubbed it “Uncontrolled Burn.” And thus the pattern: the critic give, and critic taketh away. Still, they couldn’t have made me happier unless they’d compared me to Beckett or Ionesco.

Funny that the piece really was a series of interconnected monologues, and I’m currently playing with a series of interconnected narrative poems–which could be performed as a series of monologues. I don’t know whether that means the circle comes round or I just have a limited number of ideas.

(Shot with a Canon 70D, 18-55mm zoom lens, processed in Adobe Lightroom.)

P.S.: This marks my blog’s 500th post.


Tales from the Ice(pack)…continued

Where we last left Luke Murphy, he’d been seriously injured playing hockey, did not know if he’d ever return to the sport, and began to explore his alternatives. One of those involved taking up the pen…

Dead Man's HandFrom Professional Hockey Player to Published Novelist, Part Two

I really enjoyed the process: coming up with a plot, developing characters and organizing a setting, problem and conclusion. It only lasted a couple of weeks, and once we were done, I kind of missed inventing, creating my own little world and characters.

I remember walking to my bedroom one morning and seeing my roommate’s laptop sitting on the desk, and I thought…why not?

I sat down at the desk, took the characters my girlfriend and I had created, and wrote an extension to the story we had written together.

I didn’t write with the intention of being published. I wrote for the love of writing, as a hobby, a way to pass the time. Even after my eye healed up, and I returned to hockey, I continued to hobby write through the years, honing my craft, making time between work and family obligations.

Then I made a decision to take my interest one step further. I’ve never been one to take things lightly or jump in half way. I took a full year off from writing to study the craft.

I constantly read, from novels in my favorite genres to books written by experts in the writing field. My first two purchases were “Stein on Writing”, a book written by successful editor Sol Stein, and “Self-Editing for Fiction Writers” by Renni Browne and Dave King.

I read through these novels and highlighted important answers to my questions. My major breakthrough from Stein’s book was to “Show don’t Tell”. I had to trust my readers. I even wrote that phrase on a sticky note and put it on my computer monitor.

The Self-Editing book helped me learn how to cut the FAT off my manuscript, eliminating unnecessary details, making it more lean and crisp, with a better flow. I learned to cut repetition and remain consistent throughout the novel.

I continually researched the internet, reading up on the industry and process “What is selling?” and “Who is buying?” were my two major questions.

I attended the “Bloody Words” writing conference in Ottawa, Canada, rubbing elbows with other writers, editors, agents and publishers. I made friends (published and unpublished authors), bombarding them with questions, learning what it took to become successful.

Feeling that I was finally prepared, in the winter of 2007, with an idea in mind and an outline on paper, I started to write DEAD MAN`S HAND. It took me two years (working around full time jobs) to complete the first draft of my novel.

The first person to read my completed manuscript was my former high school English teacher. With her experience and wisdom, she gave me some very helpful advice. I then hired McCarthy Creative Services to help edit DEAD MAN’S HAND, to make it the best possible novel.

I joined a critique group, teaming up with published authors Nadine Doolittle and Kathy Leveille, and exchanging manuscripts and information. Working with an editor and other authors was very rewarding and not only made my novel better, but made me a better writer.

When I was ready, I researched agents who fit my criteria (successful, worked with my genres, etc.) and sent out query letters. After six months of rejections, I pulled my manuscript back and worked on it again. Then in my next round of proposals, I was offered representation by the Jennifer Lyons Literary Agency.

After months of editing with Jennifer, and more rejections from publishers, my dream was finally realized in April, 2012, when I signed a publishing contract with Imajin Books (Edmonton, Alberta).

Even today, a year after publishing my first book, I’m stall amazed at the direction my life has taken. Never in my wildest dreams would I have believed I would someday get paid to write books. Sometimes life can be impossible to predict.

_________________________

For more information on Luke and his work, go to: www.authorlukemurphy.com, or check him out on Facebook www.facebook.com/#!/AuthorLukeMurphy or Twitter www.twitter.com/#!/AuthorLMurphy

 


Tales from the Ice(pack)

Luke MurphyThis post brings a little something different to splattworks: a guest post by novelist Luke Murphy (right). He tells a good story: that of a writer discovering the craft a little later than many of us (who began producing chapbooks in crayon); and he set his goal, stuck to it, followed the recommended steps…and it paid off. Imajin Books published his novel Dead Man’s Hand in 2012.

 I felt Luke’s story fit well with one of splattwork’s missions—to serve authors and to discuss the trade—as it to serves as kind of a tonic for the many writers, slogging along, who wonder if the work will ever pay off. And it’s also kind of hair-raiser, dealing with one of those low points in life where the clouds look pretty dark. But Luke tells it better than I do; so I need to hand him the wheel.. I’m publishing Luke’s piece in two parts, to give him room to lay it out. Thanks, Luke, for the kind offer to step in and for putting up with me as an editor. 

The good Mr. Murphy lives in Shawville, Quebec, with his wife, three daughters, and a pug. He played six years of professional hockey before retiring in 2006. Since then, he’s worked a range of communications jobs, from sports columnist to radio journalist, before earning his Bachelor of Education degree (Magna Cum Laude).

 For more information on Luke and his work, go to: www.authorlukemurphy.com, or check him out on Facebook www.facebook.com/#!/AuthorLukeMurphy or Twitter www.twitter.com/#!/AuthorLMurphy

From Professional Hockey Player to Published Novelist, Part I

It can almost be said with certainty that I didn’t follow the path of the average writer. As a child, I never dreamed of writing a best-seller, never aspired to write the next classic novel, I wanted to be an NHL superstar…period. In fact, the only time I ever thought about writing was when my teachers at school made me.

 In 2000, my second year of pro hockey, after a decent training camp with the Louisville Panthers of the American Hockey League, I was sent to play in Oklahoma City. I know, hockey in Oklahoma, who would have thought, right?

 I was having a very good preseason when in the third exhibition game, disaster struck.

 I was forechecking on a Tulsa Oiler defensemen, a seemingly innocent play. As he shot the puck out of his end, the blade of his stick came up from the follow-through and struck me in the left eye. I went down immediately from the contact. I don’t know how long I was out for, but when I came to, I was on all fours, staring down at a massive puddle of blood. There was no pain, but the shock of seeing the blood with my right eye, and unable to see out of my left, drew me close to panic. I was terrified.

 I later found out that the results of the injuries were: a broken nose, slit eyelid, scratched cornea and deeply bruise cheekbone. I went through surgery and was sent home with a patch on my eye.

 I was unable to practice or workout with my team, uncertain of my future, but all I could think about was, “will I ever be able to see out of my left eye again?” The doctors had no way of knowing until the swelling went down and the outside of my eye healed up. I was devastated, my dreams shattered, and I was at one of the lowest point in my life.

 The team sent me to live with a longtime season-ticket holder and friend. So as I was sitting at home, feeling sorry for myself, I decided that I would need an alternate plan. What if my eye never healed properly? I would certainly never play pro hockey again, that’s for sure. I needed to think of what to do next with my life, in case the worst scenario transpired.

 It sucked!! I hated the uncertainty. I hated not knowing if I’d ever see again, or ever play hockey again.

 So what to do? Because I was working with only one eye, it gave me headaches to watch TV or read books for extended periods of time.

 I had just started seeing a girl from back home that summer. She was attending French College in Montreal while I was in Oklahoma, so we communicated by phone and email. My girlfriend knew that I was an avid reader and loved books, so she asked me if I was interested in helping her write a short story for her English class. Since I had nothing else to do and a lot of time on my hands, I agreed.

 I really enjoyed the process: coming up with a plot, developing characters and organizing a setting, problem and conclusion. It only lasted a couple of weeks, and once we were done, I kind of missed inventing, creating my own little world and characters.

 I remember walking to my bedroom one morning and seeing my roommate’s laptop sitting on the desk, and I thought…why not?

To be continued….


Coming Soon

Stay tuned. Soon I’ll be introducing my blog on: theatre, arts, culture, the writing life, and, occasionally, politics (once a journalist, always a journalist). You can also visit my other blog: splattworks


It may be ceremonial…

…but it’s weirdly moving. It will also make some of us feel awfully old.


Sad News for the Portland Arts Community

Dancer/choreographer Keith Goodman dies after performance Saturday


Sign This Guy Up

Mir Hossein Mousavi, one of the Iranian opposition candidates for president (and some say the winner) is not only one brave politician; he’s also an artist. Here’s a statement about Mousavi’s artistic interests:

“A believer that art plays a secondary role to political engagement, Mousavi once wrote that ‘the paint brush will never take the place of the communal struggle for freedom. It must be said that the expressive work of any painter or artist will not minimize the need to perform his social responsibilities. Yet it is within the scope of these responsibilities that his art can provide a vision for a way of living in an alternative future.'”

If he doesn’t end up the president of Iran (and manages to stay alive), we could use him in the U.S. Senate. Below are a couple of his paintings.


A bad time for arts…

…a good time for entertainment.

This morning’s New York Times carried a story about a resurgence in moviegoing. With the economy so lackluster, people apparently are looking for the cheapest route to forget their problems for awhile, and a couple hours in a moviehouse eases the mind without inflicting extensive financial pain. (It didn’t break it down to this level, but my guess is there’s also an increase in matinee/discount hour attendance.)

So that’s good for folks who work in the movies (if their production companies can actually get financing with credit in the dumper), nor is it surprising: people have long turned to the movies when the world goes to hell. The Great Depression may not have been the best time for the arts, but it did give us screwball comedies, some of which are now classics. Nor is it surprising that attendance is up for lighter fare and down for serious films (or at least films tackling serious subjects). When everything seems to megasuck, it’s hard to crank yourself up for a couple hours of war, famine, plague, and over varieties of suffering. People don’t want to be reminded that they are mortal in a world rife with injustice; they want to fall in love, laugh, and, if they’re Americans, see things blow up.

But it’s further grim news for those of us who can’t forget war, famine, etc., and hence reflect it in our art. As the author of two very tough-minded plays about war (and another two in progress), it’s sobering to see them bounced on nearly a weekly basis, despite good reviews and strong production histories (re: “Waiting on Sean Flynn” and “Liberation”; “Next of Kin” is still in the rewrite stage and not yet on the market, and “Depth of Field” is mired down in a structural writer’s block, though I trust George Montgomery, my war photographer protagonist and a character I’m intensely fond of, will one day prowl the stage).

Even I’m feeling it. Though I don’t imagine I’ll ever be accused of writing fluff–it’s just not in my nature nor, honestly, my range of talents…it’s dark (but busy) in here, folks–I feel the fabulist side of my work calling. I’ve kind of bounced back and forth between gritty stuff about war and politics, and more surreal, dreamlike work, and of late, the dreamlike stuff has been drawing me. It still tends to be kind of heavy, but there’s usually a good deal of humor (attempted at least), and the goal is less about exploring the depths of human cruelty and more about playing with the underpinnings of psychology, the relationship between perception and the doings of the unconscious psyche, and the strangeness that grows from their intersection. As Hunter S. Thompson famously wrote: “When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro.” I’ve also been playing with taking “genres”–such as the noir detective world–and twisting it around with magical realism. Less Michael Herr, more Phillip K. Dick.

It’s not going to make a difference for awhile, I suspect. When your subscriber base is shrinking, grants are evaporating, arts budgets are being cut, ticket sales are down, and corporate and private donations are shrinking, theatres tend toward the familiar over the new, relying on plays with established track records or, if they’re doing new plays, choosing playwrights with established names. (I guess I’m an established name at this point, but I have a very short reach.) It’s not just Portland; I’m hearing this everywhere. Right now it’s more important to keep the patient breathing than happy.

But, as recessions don’t last forever, neither do periods of contraction in the arts. Inevitably, people tire of hap-hap-happy formulas or variations on favorite themes and want something that’ll challenge them. And, as we enter–for good or ill–a time of dynamic change, I think audiences will eventually need work that helps them understand a chaotic world rather than merely assures them that the world will continue for another day. For me personally, that probably means a fallow period for productions (or productions on smaller scales), but the relationship between writing and production is cyclical as well. When you’re not getting produced, you write to make up for the bum news; so I’m actually experiencing a creative upsurge, where I have so much stuff written in notebooks that I haven’t even had time to type it up, much less revise, workshop, and submit it. Those kinds of periods don’t last forever, either: you have ride them while you can. In short, I’m doing a lot of writing. And having fun with it because I’m relatively free to write whatever the hell I want. Freedom sometimes really is a word for nothing left to lose.

To my artist friends, especially those who don’t live or die by performance, I say: work, damn it. Survive, have fun, and lose yourself in the creative process; so that when things turn up, you’ll have fresh new plays and photographs and paintings and poems and songs to introduce to a world starved for the new. And for my performer friends, I guess this is a time to work on your chops, cherish and reconnect with your friends, and find solace in small projects. It’s not fun. It’s scary. And it’s going to be hard to keep the faith. But like the good times, the bad ones don’t last forever.

They just feel like they do.


NEA – Quick Note


Jesus…it’s taken a bit of sleuthing, but I thought I’d let people know that the $50million in stimulus money set aside for the NEA by the House survived the House/Senate conference intact. It takes some looking, but you can see a summary of funding here.

So…it’s a miracle. Whew. Now just pass the fucker, let Obama sign it, and let’s get on with our lives already.

S