Oct 9 2016

Culture Consumption: September 2016

A lot going on the past few days, so I’m coming in a little late, but here’s September in books, movies, and more.

Books

Pixar Animation is one of my favorite movie making studios. Not every flick is my cup of tea, but they seem to approach each project with a sense of innovation and heart. How they manage to consistently maintain that level of creativity in an industry that tends to churn our generic blockbusters on a regular basis is presented Creativity, Inc. Written by by Ed Catmull (one of the founders of Pixar) with Amy Wallace, the book is simultaneously a history of the computer animation industry, a memoir of Pixar with all its ongoing success and challenges, and a guide for approaching the management of creative teams.

One of the main ideas behind his management philosophy is that it’s impossible for one person to know everything, and that, in fact, it is certain that there are things unknown that are influencing the flow of creativity. He writes,

“I believe the best managers acknowledge and make room for what they do not know—not just because humility is a virtue but because until one adopts that mindset, the most striking breakthroughs cannot occur. I believe that managers must loosen the controls, not tighten them. They must accept risk; they must trust the people they work with and strive to clear the path for them; and always, they must pay attention to and engage with anything that creates fear. Moreover, successful leaders embrace the reality that their models may be wrong or incomplete. Only when we admit what we don’t know can we ever hope to learn it.”

This acknowledgement of unknown factors influencing the dynamics of a creative environment enables the initiation of a process of self reflection and analysis — not as a one time solution but as an ongoing process of growth. As one solution proves to be successful, another litany of challenges will present themselves and it’s important to know how to navigate those new challenges and change tactics as they arise. One of the many things I love about this book is how it shies away from simple, trite catch phrases that are usually presented as rules for success. Phrases such as “Trust the process” sound wise at first glance, but can often come to be meaningless. The reality is that finding solutions often requires adaptability and a willingness to address problems, failure, and change.

One of the great flaws, he finds in many operations is how they address failure as something to be avoided at all costs, a believe that often stifles creativity and risk taking. Catmull asserts that failure is “a necessary consequence of doing something new.” The very act of forging ahead on a new project, whether creating a film or writing a book, means that there will be inevitable failures along the way. Rather than seeing these failures as doom, seeing them as inevitable enables people to work through the frustration of not getting it right the first time (or second or tenth). It’s something that I’ve learned (and am still learning) to accept as I’ve attempted and failed again and again at finishing my stupid novel — each failed attempt getting me closer and closer to understanding the heart of the story, getting closer to learning how to get it right.

I also rather likes what Catmull had to say about change (similar to failure, in that people tend to be terrified of it):

“Here’s what we all know, deep down, even though we might wish it weren’t true: Change is going to happen, whether we like it or not. Some people see random, unforeseen events as something to fear. I am not one of those people. To my mind, randomness is not just inevitable; it is part of the beauty of life. Acknowledging it and appreciating it helps us respond constructively when we are surprised. Fear makes people reach for certainty and stability, neither of which guarantee the safety they imply. I take a different approach. Rather than fear randomness, I believe we can make choices to see it for what it is and to let it work for us. The unpredictable is the ground on which creativity occurs.”

I could probably quote passages and passages of this book, and examine each one closely, but I would quickly run out of space here. Having listened to Creativity, Inc. on audio book (narrated by Peter Altschuler), I’m eager to buying a print copy so that I can peruse the text more closely to better absorb the information and examine it for concepts that might help my own creative life.

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Oct 4 2016

Writing in Chaos

Although I’ve pursued the more solitary act of writing poetry and fiction, I’ve been interested in the process of filmmaking since high school. The collaborative nature of the medium, in which a handful to hundreds of people with their own skill sets, come together to tell a story is fascinating to me. As an entry point into the medium, I’ve tried to write screenplays (both short and feature length) over the years and have even made some awkward attempts at directing with no idea of what I was doing and no understanding of the complexities involved in the process.

Other than the money and (more importantly) time aspects of the filmmaking process, the biggest obstacle for me over the years was trying to figure out how to track down a community of filmmakers to work with. I didn’t even know where to begin. So, I was stoked to discover MMTB – Movie Making Throughout the Bay, which not only provides that sense of community, but also has a “get in there and get movies made” attitude with workshops and challenges that focus on making moviemaking happen.

Over the the weekend, I participated MMTB’s first Writers & Actors Short Film Challenge. Writers showed up at the MMTB headquarters in Rodeo, CA — and interesting jumble of a building with rooms that can be staged in a variety of ways — were given a set of guidelines and four hours to complete up to three scripts. The guidelines were simple enough: keep the story under three minutes, include all three available actors, set the story using one of the rooms in the building, and no special effects. After four hours of writing, we gave feedback and voted on the scripts, and the top three scripts were filmed that night.

I managed to complete one script to my own satisfaction — which was not selected for filming. But I received a lot of positive feedback for my incredibly awkward bathroom scene, which starts out humorous and becomes a story about one of those unexpected moments in which two people connect. I also received some great feedback about how to make the short script better. (Someone said the script made them incredibly uncomfortable because it was set in a bathroom, which made me laugh because uncomfortable was what I was going for.)

In general, I was impressed with the number of quality screenplays that the group was put together and I had a great time sticking around to watch the scripts become films. All of the actors were equally impressive, memorizing their lines on the fly, getting into character, doing a rapid shoot, then switching up for the next one and doing it all over again.

On set at MMTB in Rodeo, CA.

ANNOUNCEMENTS!

I seem to have forgotten entirely about making any announcements in a while, so I’ve got quite a few of them to share. Woo!

First, I’m incredibly honored that the editors of Noxnbinary Review has nominated my essay, Beyond Shahrazad: Feminist Portrayals of Women in The Arabian Nights, for Best of the Net 2016.

Several poems from my forthcoming chapbook, Pantheon, have been published online. You can read three poems — “Harley Quinn,” “Rogue,” and “Ursula,” over at Issue 8 of Yellow Chair Review, and a fourth poem, “Sarah Connor: Our Lady of Self Determination,” within Issue 26 of Literary Orphans.

“The Tenth Sister,” a prose/hybrid poem that is part of a series based on the Twelve Dancing Princesses fair tale, has also just been published in the Write Like You’re Alive 2016 anthology from Zoetic Press, September 2016. The anthology, which I also helped curate, is free and full of tons of great writing.

And last but not least, “Because Her Face Fades,” a poem I cowrote with Laura Madeline Wiseman, was recently published in Faery Magazine #36, Autumn 2016,

What I’m Reading

China Miéville’s Perdido Street Station is amazing but presents slow, slow, slow reading for me. It’s a little too challenging for my overworked brain right now, but I keep pressing on.

Still reading Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott, as well.

What I’m Writing

In addition, to the script challenge I mentioned, I’ve also launched into the THE POEMING 2016, which my first three found poems based on Stephen King’s The Plant up at Tendrils of Leaves and ready for your reading pleasure.

Usually when creating found poems, I work in erasure (like this, for example), in which I take a printed text and blackout words until all that’s left is the poem. It’s a very restrictive way of doing found poetry, as you have to move down the page in such a way that it remains readable, but it also provides the ability to incorporated fun visual elements.

But I’m trying something different with THE POEMING, opening myself up to using any word on the page in any order. But since I’m still drawn to the tactile sensation of writing on paper, I end of creating wild intricate webs of lines and circles words (as pictured below). It’s a fun sort of chaos and somehow I’m still able to decipher it as I work through a page — despite sometimes getting temporarily lost in my own maze.

Goals for the Week:

  • Get all my required POEMING found poems written and posted.

Linky Goodness

“That book you’re writing is mewling again in the dark. It’s a half-formed thing — all unspooled sinew and vein, its mushy head rising up out of the mess of its incomplete body, groaning and gabbling about this life of misery it leads. Its life is shit because you haven’t finished it. It’s flumping along on stump legs, pawing its way through your hard drive, bleating for attention. It needs words. It needs plots. It needs resolution,” says Chuck Wendig in his post, “Here’s How To Finish That Fucking Book, You Monster

And since it’s a King month, here Why Stephen King Spends ‘Months and Even Years’ Writing Opening Sentences.

Also, 40 Jokes That You’ll Only Get If You’re A Grammar Nerd


Sep 20 2016

To Nashville and back

Last week, I took a business trip that took me through Nashville, northern Alabama, and into Kentucky. I spent quite a bit of this trip driving from location to location and with all the work meetings and industrial site visits, there was little time for hanging out.

I checked out the Nashville City Cemetery and would have loved to have explored it more, but it was sweltering hot and humid out and I couldn’t handle it. Not even in the shade.

So, I journeyed to the air conditioned realm of the Frist Visual Arts Center, which featured three displays that day — an exhibit of pottery and embroidery created by women at the turn of the 20th century, a collection of classic Italian cars showcasing the styling and beauty of the engineering, and a small exhibit featuring the surreal art of Inka Essenhigh.

Most importantly, I made sure to get my good eats on while at Nashville by visiting Hatti B’s for some great fried chicken and Biscuit Love for some bonuts.

The Nashville City Cemetery.

The Nashville City Cemetery.

Bonuts from Biscuit Love.

Bonuts from Biscuit Love.

What I’m Reading

China Miéville’s Perdido Street Station presents an incredible detailed portrayal of one of the strangest fantastical cities I’ve read. There’s a strange mixture of magic and science combined with a gritty seedy feeling — the entire city being filled with grime and refuse and other more disturbing images. It’s not a nice place to visit (or live), but it’s also beautiful in its way. The characters, too, are rather interesting — one being an artist pursuing a dangerous commission and the other a scientist of magic (it seems) who has been provided with a seemingly impossible challenge.

Still reading Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott, as well.

And I’m reading The Plant by Stephen King — an unfinished novel about a plant that invades the office of a small publishing house — for THE POEMING (which I’ll talk about below). I’m sure many sinister things are abound to happen in the story, although I’m not sure how deep into the story it goes before it just drops off into unfinished territory.

What I’m Writing

Due to the traveling, my writing was sporadic last week. I attacked some poems in an attempt to meet an anthology deadline, but trying to combine the submission process with being on the road stressed me out. So, I let it go for now. But at least I have a couple of solid poem starts that might find homes elsewhere.

At the moment I’m getting prepped for THE POEMING — an October challenge in which 50+ plus poets have been each been assigned one of the 50+ novels written by Stephen King. Each poet will write/create a found poem from their assigned novel (mine is The Plant) and will post one new poem per day in the month of October. All of the poems will be shared on Tumblr — my challenge page is Tendrils of Leaves.

Goals for the Week:

  • Work on that short story or one of the poetry collection projects

Linky Goodness

Carina Bissett beautifully shares her thoughts on Finding Beauty in Brokenness.

8 Female Surrealists Who Are Not Frida Kahlo

5 lessons I learned while submitting to literary journals, by Icess Fernandez Rojas


Sep 6 2016

Through the Walls

The Cito.FAME.Us open mic event last week featured a special screening of Through The Walls: A San Quentin Film, a documentary produced by Change it Up media about how inmates in San Quentin prison were (and are continuing to) use music to overcome loss and create change. POISE, a rapper and activist, presented the documentary and discussed his own time in prison and his work with music and activism. He explained that documentary was made in secret, using one of the rooms the inmates were allowed to practice and perform in.

The documentary follows a specific group within the prison that is attempting to not only change their own lives, but pledging to work to change the communities they grew up in once they leave prison. Part of the philosophy is that as much as music is a reflection of the world, music also has a powerful effect on the world — so the group is attempting to write positive lyrics that share the truth of the prison life they’ve lived and of the world as they see it, as opposed to feeding the fantasy of being a gangster, and hopefully affect change.

Through the Walls is still in progress — the plan is to extend 45 minute version shared at Cito into a feature length documentary. I hope it gets some traction, because it’s a great film. I think the movie could be an interesting tool in classrooms, where it could be shown in order to spark discussion with students. You can check out the trailer for Through the Walls behind the cut.

Continue reading


Sep 2 2016

Thoughts on the Whole30 Thing Now That It’s Over

Whole30 cat memeFor those who haven’t been reading the weekly posts, here’s the simple scoop on Whole30. Essentially, it’s a 30 day challenge to eat clean — as in no sugar, alcohol, grains, legumes, dairy, or certain additives (carrageenan, MSG, sulfites), or re-created junk food — as well as to detox, change, habits, and so forth. There’s more to it than that, lots of philosophies and perspectives and addendum and such that fill and entire website with essays and blog posts about the challenge, but that’s the essential gist.

I didn’t really have any expectations when I started this challenge, so it’s easy for me to call it a success — and on the whole, I’d say it was. I followed the rules for 30 days, even when certain family members begged me to quit so that I could drink with them, even when I sat helping a friend put together grab bags of candy while she ate cupcakes, even when I was getting really, really bored and feeling really, really over it.

I’m not going to passionately rave about how great Whole30 is, like I’ve seen other bloggers do. But I will say the experience was worth it for me. Three days after the challenge has ended, and I’m still feeling pretty good.

For anyone interested, my here are my week one, two, three, and four breakdowns of what I spent on groceries and so forth. My overall thoughts and feelings are below. It’s a little random, but that’s how I roll.

It’s Not as Hard as It Seems

Okay, I know I said I had no expectations going in, but I guess I had one — that it would be hard as hell.

That was one expectation I was glad to have proven wrong. The Whole30 did take more work, requiring time and energy to meal prep for the week and cook after getting off work. But when I looked for it, the willpower to say, No, to candy, chips, and other junk food was there. One reason was that I was in the right headspace for this. When a sister roped me into trying to do this two years ago, the entire concept annoyed me and I didn’t really try, which had me quitting at the end of the week (better than my sister, who quit after two days). This time around, I was ready to commit, which made things go smoothly. Another reason was that I had already stopped buying some of the things on the banned list (such as milk and bread).

The hardest part was reprogramming weird habits that are almost like muscle memory. Like grabbing taquito off of my nephew’s plate to take a bite and show him how good it is and that he should eat it, too (which never works). Or, snagging a piece of candy out of the dish at the doctor’s office. In all of these occasions, I didn’t even particularly want the thing I was grabbing, but latched onto as a reflex. I caught myself immediately, but was surprised how I could act without making a conscious decision to do so.

The other challenge was that eating Whole30 is more pricey — with my grocery costs at least doubling what they were before the challenge — although not too bad when you can buy things to last you a couple of weeks, such as bulk items and meats that you can freeze.

Feeling Clean

The best way I can describe how I feel after all this is clean. The best way to describe it is the opposite of when you eat fried food and junk, when you feel heavy and dragging and like your skin is producing grease. It’s a good, light feeling, one I’d like to hold on to — which is one of the reasons I don’t have any immediate urges to runout and consume copious amounts of junk food.

No Cravings

The only thing I desperately wanted to have in the final two weeks of this challenge was corn (specifically corn as part of a Chipotle said) and a beer. Not the worst things to be craving as things go. I am not, however, dying to have chips or cupcakes or chocolate or any of the other things I used to want to have ALL THE TIME. In fact, if a cupcake were set in front of me, I wouldn’t even really want it right now (although I would probably be tempted to take a bite, which would likely lead to more bites). It’s kind of cool and makes me feel more in control of

There’s Sugar in Everything

I kid you not. Read the labels. It’s added to salad dressings and lunch meat and all kinds of things you wouldn’t think sugar would be in. It was one of the hardest things to avoid.

Also, wheat, which is also in a ton of things — although since most of those things are processed food items that I wasn’t allowed to eat anyway, it was easier to avoid.

Apparently, I Can Cook Things

I have been known to be a lazy cook, the kind of cook that just throws pre-made frozen food into the oven and sets a tim, the kind of cook unwilling to do anything that requires even a hint of additional effort. My mom and sisters have consistently made fun of me (in a loving way) for my complete lack of interest in this regard, as they are all rather good cooks in their own way.

But on the Whole30, I had not choice but to prepare my lunches at the beginning of every week and cook my dinner every night. So, I planned out that required small amounts of effort and time and was able to come up with a number of good eats that often took me less than 20 minutes to make. This included super easy stuff like chicken salad wraps or lettuce-shell chicken tacos to slightly more complicated meals like sausage and zucchini-bell-pepper-cauliflower stir fry, baked salmon with brussel sprouts, and a beef patty and portobella mushroom burger. After three weeks, I was even starting to get a little creative, mixing together ingredients without double checking a recipe first.

My favorite meal was a sausage sweet potato hash with a friend egg on top (I do not have a photo of this, I’m afraid as I got lazy about taking food pics toward the end) — something I would never have thought to make prior to this challenge. This breakfast is sweet and savory, and I love the egg yolk mixed up in it all. It’s just so good and supper simple. (If anyone wants the recipe, then I’ll provide it, but honestly it’s just sweet potato, yellow peppers, and sausage in a pan with a fried egg).

I Freaking LOVE Almond Butter

No, seriously. I didn’t know how good this was, so blinded was I by the standardized peanut butter.

A Balance Between Healthy and Happy

Finding a good balance between healthy and happy is the next step. What this balance looks like is different for everyone. Theodora Goss has a great post on this concept and presents an example on what works for her. For some this balance may involve sticking strictly to something like the Whole30 plan, for others it may mean eating whatever the hell they want when they want, and for still others it might mean something in between.

balance

It will probably take some time to figure out exactly what sort of balance works best for me, but this is what I do know:

  • I want to stick to having most of my meals consist of primarily meat and vegetables, with an addition of some grains like corn, quinoa, and so forth. I feel like this would work well for me, since I probably need some additional carbs beyond meat and veggies in order to power my running. I’m also happy having various kinds of fruit for a sweet kick with dinner or whenever.
  • I want to keep the habit up of cooking my dinners most nights. It feels good to be in control of my own cooking and it’s great when I get a tasty meal just right.
  • I’m going to have beer, wine, whiskey, or other booze when I feel like it (even if Whole30 says its a no-no, as in never). Enjoying a drink from time to time is a part of what makes me a happy person, as long as I’m keeping it (mostly) in moderation.
  • I am not going to play an is-it-worth-it game every time I want to have something less than the usual healthy. That kind of game would probably just make me miserable in the long run, feeding the kind of guilt spirals I just don’t need.
  • That said, I don’t want to fall into the eating-junk-food-because-it’s-there trap, which was something I did quite often before I started this challenge.

I’m sure I’ll have to change things around and re-adjust in the coming months as I continue to explore what sorts of food works for me, and as I face peer pressure again. (It’s amazing how much easier it is for me to say “I can’t because I’m doing Whole30” than it is to say “I’d rather not.”) Already this week, I’ve had a glass of beer and some sushi and other non-Whole30 items — and I’m still feeling clean, still feeling good.  Let’s keep it that way.

Tell me about your own food journeys in the comments. Whether you’ve done the Whole30 things or have tried other kinds of plans.

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