How big is YOUR imagination? Penny from Cowgirls Don't Ride Zebras knows how to stretch her imagination to have tons of fun! And now that it's summer and school is out, what are ways you can stretch and strengthen your child's (and your own) imagination, and have a BLAST?
1. Read Books
Yes, it’s summer, but books, like bowties and fezzes, are very cool. Try one you didn’t know existed. Did you know there are 14 books about the Land of Oz? Or, grab one that’s been on your shelf for years, but you just haven’t gotten to it!
2. Story Cards
My son, Jack, loves these Create a Story Cards. Come up with your own story based only on the pictures of the cards. Shuffle the cards and the story completely changes! Take turns adding to the story, or let one person take center stage.
3. Trips to the Zoo
The zoo! The characters of Cowgirls Don’t Ride Zebras travelled there for inspiration, why don’t you? Ask an employee questions and actually read all those things posted about the animals.
4. Listen to Instrumental Music
Bust out the headphones and listen to some Mozart, Beethoven, Philip Glass, Danny Elfman, Ludovico Einaudi, Hans Zimmer, or your favorite film score. Make sure it’s instrumental. What do you hear? What patterns? What themes? How does it make you feel?
5. Fan Fiction
Yes, I am advocating for writing fan fiction! Did you just see a big, summer blockbuster? Why not test your skills and write the sequel? What happens next? Who do the characters meet?
6. Dress Up
Penny's friend Cassandra made a cowgirl hat out of newspaper. Dig out some old clothes and put together a fun, silly outfit! Find a paper bag and some construction paper and become your favorite animal!
7. Make Some Art
Paint, draw, just create some art! Sidewalk chalk? Yes, please! Do you have a whole bunch of magazines or newspapers to get rid of? It’s collage time! Cut them up and make something interesting!
8. Photo Walks
Take a walk, pull out your phone or your camera, and shoot some pictures. Take some close ups, take shots of walls and patterns you see, take some action shots, and see your neighborhood or city from a new perspective.
Move to the music! Dance like no one is watching! Can you move slow? Can you move fast? Can you dance with just your arms? Just your hands? Can you dance like an animal? How does a polar bear dance? Are there dance classes in your area?
10. See a Play
Live theatre hits you on so many different levels. There’s nothing like it. Check out a theatre for families and young audiences in your area. See what your local theatres are doing and go!
Change is upon my family. I got a new day job. My wife got a new day job. My son starts preschool in under two weeks. Change is very, very much upon us. And it’s okay. Things are going really well.
Work continues on Cowgirls Don’t Ride Zebras, in fact, I can announce that all the artwork for the book is finished! Here’s the proof!
I only need to create a cover image and work on the layout. I may also go in and make some edits to the text as well. Every time I am removed from the text for a time, I return to it and seem to cut and refine it more and more. That’s not a bad thing by any means. It’s evolving. It’s the first time I’ve created a children’s book, so I’m learning as I go. The idea for the book started very, very simply. There was very little narrative. When it became a play, I needed to flesh out the narrative. Since then, I’ve fallen in love with the narrative and the dialogue and the characterizations from the play, but they all can’t fit in the form of the children’s book. I’ve cut a lot out as I’ve turned the play into the children’s book. It’s getting closer and closer to the simple, non-narrative version from before. I may create a version of the book that is fully the early version and see what happens. Will I like it? I’m not sure. But I can try it.
I’ve been having an amazingly satisfying and frustrating time getting my artist hand back. I even had an injured shoulder from drawing... I was sitting on the couch, drawing for far too long in a position I shouldn’t have been drawing in. But I’m fine. The shoulder’s fine. I found my workflow, which was basically figuring out what apps and settings and brushes and colors I wanted to use. In the end, I chose Procreate, which allowed for the precise HEX colors for the characters, saving the color palette, and for easy rotation of the drawings as I went. It was perfect for “inking.” I still created the sketches in the app Sketches Pro. I just like the ease of it for getting an idea out onto the page. It feels most like my drawing book and less like an app. The less I put between myself and the creation, the better. The same can be said for writing apps. I have a hard enough time with writing, I don’t need an app to get in my way. That’s why I use Highland for my playwriting. It’s about getting text onto my computer. It’s clean and simple. And they didn’t pay me to say that.
I’m looking forward to finishing up Cowgirls, so I can concentrate on my musical. I want to get back into telling complicated stories and figuring out the story puzzle. It’s been wonderful to be so immersed in art, but my playwright self is really chomping at the bit.
In other news, auditions for the play version of Cowgirls Don’t Ride Zebras are taking place in Columbus in a couple of weeks!
Keep working and, as always, be excellent to each other.
I'm currently home from work on a 10-day vacation which I've dubbed my “loose ends vacation” in which I can take care of all the things I’ve been letting slide and haven’t gotten done, you know, like writing a blog post. I've done a lot of thinking about what I wanted to say in this blog post, and the topic that has continued to come up for me is “investment.” When I say investment, I'm not only talking about money, I'm also talking about how we spend time and energy and effort.
Part of the reason that investment has been on my mind lately has been the blessing of the CATCO and Greater Arts Council Playwright Fellowship. I'll have, as a coworker at my day job so crudely put it, “five G’s” to use to further my playwriting career. So, how can I make best use of this blessing? What does $5000 buy? What do I invest in?
In wondering about that, I've also been wondering the hierarchy of where time and effort and money should go in reference to my various selves. At my day job they often talk about “Work/Life balance,” which says that in order to be a functioning human being, you have to take time away from work to have a life. That life can be whatever you define it to be whether it's exercising or driving fast cars or sitting down and watching Archer or doing gardening or spending time with your family. The hierarchy of my life has my priorities in a very delicate balance. As a husband, father, and, of course, playwright, I find it difficult to juggle all the needs that emanate from each “self.” Oh, and forget that I'm also a worker bee in my day job. When I'm a father, I can't necessarily be a husband. When I'm a playwright, I can't necessarily be a father. When I’m at my day job, I can’t be a playwright. At any given point, I can only be one self. Now, I know that some people would argue that being a father and being a husband can happen simultaneously, and I do agree with that on some level, but, really, there are some things in being a husband that you can’t do while your child is watching. And I don't just mean that thing that you just thought I was talking about. I mean other things, too.
When I was getting my MFA, I had a different balancing act to do. I had classes, I had rehearsals late at night, I had reading assignments my theater classes, I had books to read for an anthropology class that I thought would be awesome (And it was, but very difficult and work-intensive), and I still had to find time to write plays, be a husband, and have some semblance of a social life. To get through it, I had to constantly assess what I was getting out of each activity. What was I getting out of the Anthropology reading and assignments that would be worth the time? But at that time, there was not a genuine hierarchy; everything was on the same level of importance, so what I was really worried about was scheduling. I was charting every single hour of my day, that was the only way that I could keep things straight. I didn't pencil in any social life or husband life or anything like that, but I was able to figure out everything else. And that's probably why the social life and the husband life took a backseat to being a student, writer, and my part-time day job. So, the process worked: I finished all my work, I wrote two plays each year, I had a reading or a production each year, and I was able to see lots of great theater from my colleagues. But now, outside of school, the balancing act that existed has intensified. Now the job is full-time, I don't have the same support group of fellow MFA students, and I'm still trying to write plays. However, I can see the hierarchy. I know now that there are things that are more important than others and that their respective importance can shift at any point.
I’ve started using an app called Clear that keeps track of all my “personal projects.” These “personal projects” are anything from doing dishes to submitting a play to cleaning the bathroom to charting what plays I want to write later on to crafting far away and long-term goals that I've given myself creatively. This is not an ad for Clear, I’m not getting any money from them, I’m giving you a tactic that I’ve been using. With Clear, I can simply hold and drag and change positions of which tasks are more important by moving them higher up in my list to the things that are less important by putting them lower on the list. I’m able to very quickly shift my priorities day by day or hour by hour. These are the projects that I have on tap for my days that are my own, when I'm myself, not when I'm a father, not when I am at the day job, not when I'm a husband, but me as a writer or as the guy who cleans the bathroom and does leaves in the yard.
That’s how I prioritize and handle the hierarchy of my life, let’s return to my “self” specifically as a playwright. The Fellowship has given me a lot to think about in terms of what will do the most good for me. Printer toner was very important to me, getting new report covers for submissions is great.. But what else? I've given myself part of the fellowship to have the week away from work before the reading of my play, Books & Bridges in June, so that's one thing. I've also booked a trip to Los Angeles to work on a screenplay with my friend and writing partner, Ryan Lacen, because it takes us forever to get our scripts finished because we’re each dealing with shifting hierarchies and responsibilities. This takes all those things completely out of the way for 5 days!
As playwrights and writers we have to figure out what we need to survive. We have to invest money in things such as a website (with a personal domain, too?!). We have to invest time in maintaining social media if need be. We have to do research for different submissions and take the time to follow the rules of each submission. We also might have to pay for memberships such as the Playwrights’ Center or the Dramatists Guild. Do these memberships do anything for us (Not to imply that they don't)? I've read through the benefits of both the Playwrights’ Center and the Dramatists Guild countless times, wondering what I would do with those memberships and whether the money I would pay for the membership (and their benefits) would be worth investing in, would be enough of a payout so to speak. I mean, we’re spending money on postage, paper, all these things take time and money, and how do we know if we are investing in the right things? Are we putting quarters, dimes, dollars into slot machines that will eventually payout? Or are we throwing money into the abyss where it won't amount to anything? These are the things I think about when I have enough time to think about them. Most times I'm just grabbing for those scraps of time to actually write.
As you can see from my list above, right now my priority is writing this blog post. After that, I'm finally going to revise my resume, and then I'll use the 63° weather to blow leaves that are in our backyard and have been in our backyard since Thanksgiving because of the various travels to visit my mom and dad for Thanksgiving in Albuquerque, to visit my mother in the hospital in Denver, and then to visit my mother’s grave in Santa Fe, the leaves just didn't seem important. I suppose that's the thing, you have to decide what's important at every given moment. When my son is home, It's important for me to sit with him and play with him and maybe teach him a new body part. Last night, he learned fingers, toes, and arms. He can identify the letters A, B, and C. Elmo, Ernie, Big Bird, or his favorite, Abby Cadabby, can’t teach him everything, nor do I want them to. My writing, again, is a very important part of who I am, but it's no longer the one thing that defines me. I know that I struggle with this shifting or priorities and doubt that I’m investing in the right things money wise and time wise, and I'm sure other people are struggling with it. What do you invest in? What are your priorities? What are those things that you have that are completely necessary that are non-negotiable?
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I think the leaves have just moved up on the list…