31 December 2018

National Choreography Month Preview

Next up, on 'Things I Used To Do With M That I'll Never Be Able To Do With Her Again,' we have National Choreography Month (Nachmo for short).

Before she died, I had hoped to put together a longer show, telling a story through dance. Like maybe a half-hour or so. But now I have one day left to plan and I have no cohesive ideas. I have any number of thematic, abstract ideas, but no concrete plotline or way of connecting the different pieces or developing characters. Does it matter though? I'm a solo performer... no dance team or stage partner to create other characters on. Is it worth even trying to dream big? For as much as I rip on hipster music, I see why the market is so saturated with it -- there are no other options. For financial reasons it's impossible to put together a band, even if you could find anybody you work well with in today's individualistic culture. It's so hard to create good art when you're forced to do everything on your own.

I have a list of songs, of course -- more than usual actually. I literally just threw any and all potential song options into a playlist. I haven't even decided how many to shoot for. It looks like I'll have slightly more time this semester to get in the studio to work on stuff, so maybe I'll even have time to film something... but what? I have no location, minimal costume options, and no money to obtain either.

I really want to finish Bobby. This was my goal for last Nachmo actually, but I was horribly sick for a week and a half and then I had school to worry about. I didn't do a thing for Nachmo last year (January is a really horrible month for it actually).

Reckless might be my warmup piece. I have some solid ideas for it... just a fun large-group tap dance, in the vein of Uniform Of Youth (which I also haven't done yet, but really want to).

I would really love to film Tired Eyes. But I need much more flexibility. It's a very adage-like piece. I enjoy adage, I'm just kind of terrible at actually making it look good.

Mr X is another one that is like to film that I probably could film in the studio, come to think of it. It would definitely challenge my character development and storytelling both in just the one song. (It would also challenge my style -- I tend to be a loud, heavy, dig-in, 'trick' choreographer, and this piece lends itself to a lighter, more subdued/nuanced patter style.)

I have a general idea of a clap-beat for This Disco, but I'm not sure how to execute it without getting repetitive/stuck in a rut.

I've always wanted to try choreographing tap not in 4/4 time (I've done some ballet in 6/8 and 9/8, but never tap), and so far all I can come up with is Eatonwood Green. This has been on the to-choreograph list for quite a while, but I always chicken out. I have such a hard time finding the pocket in 3/4 time, even singing, never mind when you get into trying to make your feet subdivide it and make it sound good.

I actually pulled quite a bit of inspiration from my novel playlist for this past NaNoWriMo... mostly tap.

I half-choreographed Dream On this summer for Kyrie and would like to develop it more. I'm shying away from it though because it's going to be two solid minutes of allegro and for some reason I've been avoiding allegro. It just uses up my energy SO quickly and then it's hard to clean the dance when I can only do it a total of twice before I collapse. It feels like it's not even worth trying.

I wanted to finish and film Where Are You Christmas before Christmas this year -- for M's family, on their first Christmas without her -- but I had no location or costume, plus the choreography wasn't finished (though I think it's over halfway).

Down, like Beating Heart (which I still haven't filmed though I have the dance pretty well down and actually have a costume), could have come straight from my heart if I had any songwriting skill whatsoever. This could be another patter piece...

I've also wanted to choreograph Church Clothes for some time. It speaks to my experience with my former church. Also, I'm fascinated with the idea of tap dancing to rap music. I've experimented with it a bit (I've choreographed at least one other Lecrae song), but this one lends itself to more character development and straight-up sass.

I just looked in my idea binder and found notes on three or four long-form shows... I might need to look more closely at those. Maybe I could get a start on one of those at least. Filming would be a nightmare -- I already know two of them would require at least a dozen dancers -- but I might be able to get even a short show out of the other two. Something like Ayodele Casel's 'While I Have The Floor.' Two of them have been percolating for years now (mostly on the long drives between Alberta and Saskatchewan), but those are the ones that need an actual cast...

30 December 2018

Emotional Tourist - A Retrospective (2018)

This year, I lived.

Not as in 'survived,' I lived. From February-August I was either rehearsing or performing at least one show (An Ideal Husband, Pygmalion, Anne of Green Gables, Oklahoma!, and Mary Poppins), and then in mid-October I started rehearsing the next show -- hopefully the first of another good long stretch again. I have never known joy and excitement and the thrill of being alive like I did during the Mary Poppins run -- to actually be a part of a story I'd loved since I was three years old was truly special.

And I traveled. Quite a lot. I've never really thought of myself as much of a traveler, but I actually quite enjoyed it. I went back and forth between my parents' place and mine many times, I went to the city and explored a few times, I went up north for a wedding, I went to southern Alberta for an audition... and I took pictures of most of it on film, which somehow makes the experience richer even though 90% of the pictures suck.

I made friends with other performers. I stayed up till one in the morning talking and eating and dancing with these friends -- these people I might never have met. I watched them all grow and succeed and laugh and cry and look out for each other and stick together.

I made more impulsive decisions. Like driving seven hours to an audition in a city I have literally only seen twice in my entire life and then crashing on my dad's cousin's couch for the night. Or like going for coffee with one of the musicians I'd literally never spoken to before at 10.30pm after a two-show day. Or going to the city and shooting a whole bunch of film because I was bored. Or going to see local theatre productions because I wanted a night out. Or skipping two days of school to drive out to my dear friend's funeral. Or attending NaNoWriMo write-ins, for the first time EVER in my ten years of NaNoWriMo. Or doing a ten-hour round-trip to a three-hour wedding and only getting back in at 1.30am, surviving the dark, late, relatively boring drive only by the grace of God and loud driving music.

I began seriously rewriting Kyrie, and I actually got a bit of a system going. I've written some additional scenes, and rewritten a handful of pre-existing ones. I'm starting to figure out a more detailed timeline of events.

 I began writing original fiction again, for the first time since my cousin died in April 2015.

I began fighting for myself more. I began to realise (mostly through my experience with Mary Poppins) that I AM talented, darn it, and not one of you is going to tell me I'm not. I will prove you wrong. I've done it before and I'll do it again, with or without your support. I began enjoying life and giving less of a crap what people think I should be doing or can do.

I started learning Thai, mostly for the heck of it. I took a college class outside of my program for the first time since 2016 and I met some really great people there. I started learning piano and found that I love it.

Life is rich, and full, and sweet, and I tasted just the edge of it this year.

22 December 2018

On the Advent

We celebrate this time of year as the time Jesus -- God in the flesh -- came to earth to save us.

To save us.

From what?

What did we need saving from?

Don't give me the Sunday School answer that means nothing to you. Give me the answer that resonates in your heart. What do we need saving from? Do we need to be saved from a dire financial situation? Health concerns? A smaller house than we'd like? A job we hate? Something else entirely?

Let's phrase this another way: What is the ultimate problem in our lives that needs resolution? What is the biggest thing that needs fixing? Advertisers can tell you it's a thousand different things, but out of all those possibilities, which one cuts the deepest? Which one hurts the most? Which spot in our soul do we build the highest walls around, protect most fiercely? What is the sore spot that needs a salve? Is it really a material lack? Is it really financial?

Let's dig deeper -- why do we want all these material things in the first place? 98% of the time, if we're perfectly honest, it's so we can 'look good.' It's to keep up with the Joneses. It's to keep up appearances. But why do we feel this need to keep up appearances in the first place? Will anybody really die if we don't? Since the answer to that is 'no,' maybe the lack isn't money or things. Maybe we're just using the lack of money as a scapegoat, a cover story for the deeper thing we're really lacking.

Allow me to argue that the lack is soul connection. More specifically, love. Not romantic love (necessarily), but the deep love of a close friend or relative.

Did Jesus lay in the manger clutching a ten-step plan to get out of debt? Did God-With-Us hold in His hand keys to the latest high-end car? Did He bring us an interview for a less-crappy job? No? Then what did He come with?

Nothing -- except the heartbeat of God. The love of God, coursing through the veins that would one day be drained dry in an effort to communicate just how intense, how all-in, love is. He came -- to forgive our sins, yes, but to forgive our sins so that we could be reconciled with God. We know sin separated us from God, creating the void inside us to begin with. And we've tried to fill (or at least distract ourselves from) the void with money and prestige and sex and Netflix. But what we needed was not, in fact, money or prestige or sex or Netflix. What we needed was companionship, or, dare I say, love. Others might love us for a while, but the permanent, lasting love comes only from God and that deep, permanent love is our deep unspoken longing -- even if a lot of us haven't been able to pin it down yet.

The most important thing, the thing we lack, is a truly loving relationship, a deep connection and trust with someone. It's love and companionship that is our deepest need. Flash back to the garden, where God literally created woman because, in His words, "It is not good for the man to be alone" (Gen. 2:18, 20-22). The second person was not created solely for sexual benefits (though in the case of Adam and Eve, sex was certainly a part of their relationship), the second person was created so that the first person would have a companion. Someone to love and be loved by. God didn't give the man a million dollars or time-saving devices/apps or a vacation in the Bahamas or the CEO position of a highly-profitable international company. He gave the man what he really needed, whether he would ever have realised it or not -- a companion. A friend.

What, then, is our great need? What did we need saving from?

Our terrible, tyrannical, unspoken loneliness.

(This also implies that we -- especially any of us who call ourselves Christians/children of God -- need to show love to others/each other, not just throw money and a politely-veiled insult at them and hurry in the other direction, but that's a WHOLE different blog post...)
(Also, I'm not trying to be all holier-than-thou in this post -- I honestly have a VERY hard time believing God does truly even notice me let alone love me. I'm not trying to be preachy and it's not that I don't know how hard it is to even hope that God might love me too. It's SO hard, and honestly I'm having a hard time believing some of the things I've said in this blog post.)

03 December 2018

Post-NaNoWriMo Debrief

This was the hardest novel I think I've ever written.

Mind you, I don't particularly remember the trenches of writing my other novels. But usually I have a pretty good sense of which novels are decent and which are... not. And this one is trending to the latter camp.

First of all, my plot only percolated for about 36 hours before I started writing it (usually it's simmering in my brainpan for five or six months by the time November hits), so I felt like I didn't really know the story. It was like trying to eat an unripe fruit. It might have been good, but I was asking too much of it prematurely. My mystery story was a mystery even to me, and in fact, the plot grew murkier as the book went on. When I started the story I knew exactly who the murderer was, and by the time I hit 50k I had narrowed it down to three people. (No, that's not a typo.)

It was also hard writing without M. Even in the years when she didn't write a novel herself, she still commiserated with me as I wrote mine because she knew from the inside the madness that is writing a 50,000 word novel in thirty days and got, more than anybody else, the strange heady mix of elation and hilarity and angst that co-exists in the speed-novelist in those thirty days. But this year, I couldn't message her my characters' latest escapades and have her laugh along with me instead of taking a vague 'smile, nod, and back away slowly' approach like most everyone else does. I didn't have any of her insightful/funny comments on my NaNoWriMo Facebook posts. I never got to see her dramatic updates of her own novel. I didn't get to offer her ludicrous ideas and steal ridiculous plot points from her.

Artists -- true artists, who follow their calling with such passion and intensity -- are so rare already, and although we are often perceived as working alone, the fact is we can be pretty closely knit and when we lose one of our own, it's like taking a support beam out of a building. Although M and I worked on our novels in our own separate rooms, communicating almost exclusively online, she was integral in my own creative process and now that she's gone, my own work has grown paler, simply because she's not a part of my life anymore. They say it takes a village to raise a child, and I would also argue that it takes a village to create art. Take one person out of the picture, and the whole composition of the photo is altered. Colours are missing -- the blue eyes, the blonde hair, the bright clothing. The light is different -- the reflection of the sun on her face, the sparkle in her eyes. The shape is different -- one less figure, one less shadow, the loss of shape and symmetry, a literal hole where there used to be a whole fascinating personality. You can tell me to get over it because she was 'just' a friend all you want (as opposed to a spouse or a child), but the fact is, she coloured my life and by extension my artistic output, and now with one of the arteries of my art severed, my art -- and therefore I -- can't help but suffer.

I digress.

I did make 50k though. I completely filibustered the last 10k. I had about four plot points of any kind, so I basically dropped one in every 10k and then milked it in great repetitive word-padded detail for as long as conceivably possible (and then some) before dropping in the next tiny plot point and milking that cow absolutely dry and so on. I lost my motivation somewhere around the 25k mark and honestly it was sheer force of will that got the book to 50k (I'm not calling it 'done' because nothing's wrapped up because I don't know how to wrap it up). I have never been so thoroughly, consistently uninspired for a novel. Even my 2016 novel (which only made 37k that November) wasn't this difficult to write.

Maybe in eight months when I get around to re-reading it I'll feel differently about it, but right now I'm not looking forward to that day. I can't complain too much though... my main goal coming in was not to write an amazing book (although that would have been nice), it was to write 50k in a month for the first time since 2015. And I did that.

Next writing project: back to revising Kyrie.