Tag Archives: lynda barry

Life List #58 – Part IV

If you check out my life list, you’ll see it’s a work (life) in-progress. #58, See every show/lab in an entire season at the Vineyard Theatre, is ongoing. This is the fourth post in the series on #58. You can find the first post here, the second one here and the third one here.

The Vineyard lab productions are some of my favorite ticket buying gambles. They can be really awesome and inspiring works or they can be a seed of an idea that still needs to undergo germination and several growth spurts until it’s ready to bloom. The lab productions are unique in that they offer the audience an opportunity to see a work-in-progress. The labs operate on a small-scale, limited run that allows the creative team the opportunity to develop a new piece in front of a live audience, and for audiences to witness the creative process at work. The production values are simple and actors hold scripts on stage, since the creative team will continue to write, revise, and cut scenes throughout the run. Anything that reveals someone’s process, how they do what they do, is a treat and an inspiration. Combine that with the fact that this year’s lab, entitled Now. Here. This., was a new work from the collective brains of people I know and had previously interviewed, was just another example of Vineyard karma (another “k” word to add: Kismet. When I returned for the closing performance of this show, I eavesdropped on a conversation between the guy sitting next to me and the older woman sitting next to him. He introduced himself to her. I recognized his name. He was the author of a NYT Modern Love essay I optioned with my writing partner almost six years to the day ago).

Cast/Creative Team of Now. Here. This. Photo by Dirty Sugar Photography

Before I saw this production, I had to write about it for an online publication. I interviewed Hunter, Susan, and Jeff at Camp Vineyard while they were rehearsing. I transcribed our interview. I wrote a first draft of the piece that was way too long and very very first drafty. I rewrote it. I left it alone for a day, then tweaked it before sending it to my editor. He called me and asked the one question I couldn’t answer: “What is this show actually about?” I didn’t know. They really didn’t know what they had up on stage and how much rewriting they would do over the course of the run, so we had talked about the production in the most general way possible. So the question remained, what was it and how was I going to convey it to readers? I tore apart my second draft and laid out 12 pages of the transcribed interview on my bed to see what I had. At 1:30am, I finally saw the angle: the creative process is more important than the final product. Take the reader through the process of developing a new genre of production (dubbed the theatri-concert) from the perspective of the book writers and the composer/lyricist. If this was a roller coaster, I was going to tell you how it got made. By 4:30am, I had my story and my third and final draft completed.

When I saw the production two days later, I had a way more emotional response than I ever expected. The stories were both specific and universal, funny, raw and sometimes cut deep. It was like watching a brand new baby take its first breaths of life. It has the potential to be something big and great and wonderful, it just needs time to grow. Like a new baby, the show really makes you think about your self, your life (the parts you’ve lived and the parts you have yet to live), your place in the world. There were moments that reminded me a lot of Lynda Barry’s workshop (both in the way the stories were told and my visceral reaction to them). It explores ideas like how to take risks and celebrate being our true selves, but even more than that, it looks at the moments where we find happiness, how we stumble upon those moments and haven’t yet mastered the art of hanging out in the “Now. Here. This.” If you were too lazy to click and read my piece (you are forgiven), here’s one of my favorite quotes, from the super sound bitey Susan Blackwell, who describes the idea behind the Now. Here. This. theory:

There was this monk, Thomas Merton, who said that if you can get to the intersection of Now: this moment in time; Here: exactly where you are; This: exactly what you’re doing—if you can get to the intersection of those three things, then there’s nothing to fear and you can really appreciate your life. 

I should add I cut this quote off right before her next line, which was: “but we suck at this.” The quote reminded me of a conversation I had one summer with a friend as we sat on a fake lawn overlooking a fake Santa Barbara house in the middle of soundstage in Brooklyn. He asked me if I thought this, everything that surrounded us (in both its real and fake forms) was happiness. Could this make someone happy? I will never forget my response to this question, because I’ve thought about it ever since: I think it provides moments of happiness. I don’t believe there is a complete state of true happiness that last for extended periods of time. It’s pockets and moments. It’s bigger than us and smaller than us at the same time. Sometimes, we don’t even realize it was happiness until we look back on it later — we were happy only comes we when learn new levels of unhappiness or differentness. But that’s what makes it so special. That’s what forces us to live. We want happiness, we strive for it, we work for it, but the reality is, it usually finds us when we’re not looking for it. The trick is to recognize the moment just as it finds us. That’s something no amount of money, set dressings, make-believe worlds, or people can duplicate. It just is and you are just in it. In other words, that monk was right.

Live in the Now. be in the Here. and go see This.

If you like hearing about/seeing the exciting work the Vineyard Theatre is contributing to the theater world, check this out: They recently received a grant from Bloomberg Philanthropies in recognition of its mission to develop and produce new plays and musicals, and to support artists. Bloomberg has challenged The Vineyard to match the grant of $75,000 with new donations. They’ll MATCH your donation. This grant makes your gift work twice as hard, so your support is worth even more. Please consider participating in the Vineyard’s NOW. MATCH. THIS. campaign. 

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Monday’s Watch, Listen, Read

Watch

Lena Dunham, the writer/director/star of TINY FURNITURE has created a movie that feels both very specific to downtown New York and entirely universal at the same time.

Aural, the film’s main character, graduates from college, moves back home, tries to get a job and figure out her place in the world at large. It’s an overwhelming task. It brought back pangs of how I initially felt upon graduating and, how I still feel today. It’s also the story of how sisters relate to each other, how mothers and daughters go through growing pains of their own and how there isn’t a map (but maybe, there’s a diary) to help us all navigate through our tumultuous 20s. This is very much a 20-nothings story. I felt like I was watching someone without skin walk around in public, nerves, muscles, veins, tendons, and bones all exposed. Lena Dunham has made a beautiful and poignant movie that recognizes a generation no one seems to know what to do with. A generation that’s continually being rearranged and used for decoration, much like furniture.

Listen

I am the proud owner of a crazy CD of Christmas music called “Hipster’s Holiday.” This is my favorite track — because who doesn’t want a five-pound box of money for Christmas? Christine Ebersole does a rendition of this tune that rivals Pearl Bailey’s original.

Read

I’ve written about both Lynda Barry and Maira Kalman before, most recently about Maira’s book, “And The Pursuit of Happiness.” Last week, I attended a conversation between Lynda Barry and Maira Kalman at the 92nd St Y. Just the combination of those names was enough to make my brain explode and had me purchasing a ticket to this event back in September. Two friends joined me (one from Canada and the other from the far away land known as Hell’s Kitchen). Before their conversation, Lynda and Maira were able to spend 15 minutes each giving a Powerpoint/slide presentation of their books and talk about their work.

The moment they sat across from each other, I felt as if I was watching both side of my brain in conversation. Maira was the epitome of a polished New York artist, in back pants and a black jacket. Lynda, the Midwestern, rough-and-tumble kid at heart, dressed much like her collage-style work: cuffed jeans, Pocahontas braids, a black hat, and motorcycle boots. Lynda is Wild Turkey. Maira is coffee.

Despite their physical differences, the two share a similar approach to their work: They both rely on memories and observation to combine their handwritten text with their images. Maira’s images are more realistic. She works directly from photographs (most of which she takes herself). Though there’s still a bit of a surrealist quality to her work. At one point, Lynda said to Maira, “your pictures look like frosting. Sometimes I just want to eat them.” She’s not so far off.

Lynda’s work digs deep into the state of play we all lived in as children. Her medium is yellow legal pads, Chinese ink and brush, used magazines, and characters she created for her long-running comic strip. Her latest book, “Picture This: The Near-Sighted Monkey Book,” is a companion to her last book/work book, “What It Is.” “Picture” delves into how and why we draw and the importance of creating something that involves both our hands and minds. Barry’s book is part story, part hands-on work book. When it comes to art, drawing and writing, she’s a suggester, not a forcer, but her message is so enthusiastic, strong, and kind, you would do anything to hear her positive reinforcement, including drawing a hand turkey.

Life List # 13: Memories of the Unthinkable

After nearly nine months of being on-call 24/7, it was time to unplug and recharge. Or, as my co-workers, called it “rehab.” I took my rehab up at theOmega Institute in Rhinebeck, NY. where I spent every day of last week writing the unthinkable (and drawing spirals). Omega is, for the most part, a cell phone and internet-free zone. When people walk along the paths of the lush grounds, they engage in conversation with each other, and with passersby. No one really knows anyone else, so everyone takes the opportunity to introduce themselves at mealtimes (all vegetarian, natural, organically-grown and delicious foods are served). When you get down to brass tacks, Omega is hippie camp for adults. I attended during their annual “Arts Week,” where the workshops ranged from mask making and life casting, to figure drawing, dance & music, flying trapeze, gospel singing, comedy, and writing. My class was called “Writing the Unthinkable” and is taught by Lynda Barry. There wasn’t much of a course description, but after having followed her series of 100 Demons!, being seriouslydevoted to her books, keeping up with her website, and with a little extra push from a fb friend (who rocked Lynda’s workshop a few years back), I signed up for the Unthinkable.

On the first day, Lynda got up in front of the class to introduce herself. She looksa bit like a cartoon herself, wearing a white button-down shirt (to “hide the sweat,” she said) blue jeans, hipster-looking glasses with coke-bottle lenses, red lipstick and a red bandanna tied on top of her red curly hair (which is twisted up into a bun or worn wildly down her back). She told us how much she loves teaching her workshops, but that she also gets very nervous. So, she was going to do something that made her even more nervous to break the ice. She was going to sing for us. And, she did. After her song, she got us to sing her the Ramones’ “Sheena is a Punk Rocker.”

For five magical days, I went from hearing the evil editing voice in my head to complete silence from that part of my brain. Instead, a wave of words and memory swept over me. It was truly a sea change. By Wednesday I could write in our seven minute spurts completely uninterrupted by any horrible thoughts or with a single question about my choice of word or phrase. In that time, me and my 60 classmates wrote our truths, the good, the bad, the ugly, but they were all ours. We listened to each others’ stories, while drawing spirals. The only feedback we heard was Lynda’s “GOOD, GOOD” when we finished reading a piece out loud. Seven minutes of writing is like letting down a drawbridge to the back of the mind.

Footbridge to class

Footbridge to class

We couldn’t talk about our writing or the class for five days, and, because you’re really not looking at people (or sitting in the same seat or next to the same person more than once) you really don’t know anyone. But we managed to find each other, in front of our classroom, in the dining hall, the dorm and walking across the campus. We were raw from exposure, but swelling with a warm gooey-ness from Lynda’s pure joy and humor.

She started every morning off by getting us all to sing this song and calling us her lovely, fabulous, wonderful, bad-ass class. Almost every evening ended with a movie. But even after the day was over, I would return to the theater where class was held, to write. I didn’t know how long the silence would last for, so I took advantage of it and just kept my pen moving. Only by the act of writing will you find the story.

Nearly every night I was the only on in the theater with Lynda (and her assistants). We traded stories and laughs. She gave me gentle advice and was always available. She never made you feel like you were asking or doing anything wrong. Everything that came out of her was true and real. As she said after cracking up over a story I told her about my job, “See? This is amazing and it’s REAL! You cannot make this stuff up!” She also reminded me that the passage of time allows stories to come out. What I might not be able to write about now may take on another life in my writing in a few years. Allow the story to come forward.

In five days, I wrote about 75 pages of memories; of the beginning of stories prompted by words on note cards or photographs torn from Lynda’s old NAT GEO magazines. These compilations of words now sit in my green binder waiting to be opened and revisited. Fleshed out and turned into 3-D. And, the funny thing is, that voice hasn’t returned yet. My mind is still quiet, the images still swell and crash against the surf. I can’t catch them all, but the ones I can, I do my best to put out my bucket and capture every drop. Babies are vessels filled to the top. Your job is to make sure none of it spills. That’s what images are like. Writing (and your mind) is your vessel.

Every morning before we entered the theater, Lynda drewcartoon on big sheetof paper to greet us. On the last day of class, she was running late and didn’t have time. The paper was left blank. Perhaps this was a way of saying we are ready to fill it with our words and expressions. So, we did. With words of thanks to our amazing, genius, lovely, awesome, bad-ass teacher, Lynda Barry. Right on! Write on.

More Lynda Barry-isms from a stage full of note cards can be found herehereand here.