The Truth and the Narrative in Beauty: Compagnie Marie Chouinard’s “The Golden Mean”

To the slow, pounding, pulsing kettledrum, its waves of sound hitting the audience, the two sheen-fabric wrapped shapes on the stage slowly writhe and discard their stiff shimmering sheaths.  So begins Marie Chouinard’s The Golden Mean, restaged for another amazing tour.  I would have a hard time describing what happens.  It’s modern dance, but the performers are all wearing golden wigs, masks, and tassles that run down their legs, at first.  They resemble fauns.  But this isn’t Prelude to “the Afternoon of a Faun”—the music sounds a bit like a science fiction chorale, voices, drums, chorus, building, sustaining, crashing, wincing and dodging, always aching with long-note beauty.

There are maybe twelve dances in the 80 minutes, and each one provides a chance for the viewer, the audience, to participate by bringing their own meaning to the dance.  Perhaps this was intentional; perhaps not.

The dancers, part ballet-part something deeply, bodily organic–they tiptoe, launch, lurch across the stage, always flowing in rhythm to the music.  They are all lovely to watch.  For the first few numbers we feel as if we’re seeing the birth of a civilization, a whole society; toddlers walk across the stage, learn to laugh and cry together, have first few sleeps; ensemble pieces involving the whole company break up the solo, duo and trio dances.  I was most captivated by the two dancers who seemed to be acting out a first relationship—a man who dates the pliable woman, the one he fits into any shape he wants; he is aggressive, demanding, sexual, and she is passive, not quite even awake in the dance.  He discovers how wonderful it is to slide her hand down his face, his chest, his groin; and she starts to fight him, pushing away, and they twist each other back and forth, as she starts finding her own inner aggressor.  They have tortuous sex, or the dance version of it, always moving, stretching, twisting and flexing those dancers’ bodies.  I was captivated too by the narrative I was creating out of the dance–the story I gave that dance, that I’m even giving that dance now in this essay.

We can’t help it.  Human beings, when we see two or more humans interacting with another, we come up with a narrative, a voice over, maybe, but at least a set of actions, reactions, motivations, based on the expressions, the movements that we see in front of us.   Try it at your local mall.  Watch people for any length of time and you give them a narrative.  You can’t help it.

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Is there no Sincerity in a Marketing Director?

Do you trust this man?

I was lucky enough to get a dream job: being a marketing director for the Yukon Arts Centre.  The Arts Centre is a venue for a lot of non-local acts (and does host lots of local acts and artists as well) that come through Whitehorse, and into the communities.  It encompasses not only the actual Arts Centre, up on the hill, but the Old Fire Hall, the Yukon Arts Gallery (adjacent to the mainstage), and various venues for workshops and talks around town.

Before I got the job I was a Waterfront Trolley interpreter, a guide for the Beringia Centre (our ice age/mammoth museum), and a vaudevillian.  I told you about some of these jobs.  Mostly, I talk about writing, and I talk about the cool things that happen in Whitehorse.  I always have.  Most of those arts centered events happened at the Yukon Arts Centre.  And I raved about them because I thought they were good.  I wanted to share what I’d found.

As it happens, I now get paid to promote the Arts Centre.  Does that change my sincerity?  Not in the least.  If you got paid for what you love to do would it change the way I view what you say or do?  No.  I just happen to love what I do.

For the purposes of this blog, my thoughts are still my thoughts.  I intend to still tell you about all the cool things that I find, and I don’t think that should stop suddenly because I get paid to promote one organization.   I’ll critique movies, talk about writing.  I’ll still promote good local plays, from local playwrights.  And I’ll still find great things from the Yukon Arts Centre too.  I probably won’t be negative about a Yukon Arts Centre event, but you would expect that.  I’m not really into being negative anyway.  There’s too many good things happening here–I want you to see them.

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The Observer Observed: Kelly Richardson’s Twilight Avenger

I got a sneak peek at the opening of the Yukon Arts Gallery show today.   I wanted to see what was happening…the ad my predecessor had put together for the show was intriguing.  It had a green stag in the forest looking at you.  It’s Kelly Richardson’s installation.  I went into the room where the seven minute video plays, where the stag moves onto the screen, and keeps looking up at the viewer.  It’s magical.  It had a little Harry Potter feel to it–it glows green with a green fire and smoke coming off it.  Check out this Vimeo 50 second excerpt.  Imagine it across a full wall.

I once had an encounter with a deer in the forest.  I was in New Mexico.  I’d just had a very disturbing moment with friends–it doesn’t matter what.  I was emotionally upset, and I ran out of the hotel we were all staying in.  And I ran right into this deer.  The deer just turned to me and looked at me.  Just being looked at by something wild, as it takes you in, is mesmerizing.  I remember that the whole encounter probably took only five minutes, but it felt like an eternity.  It felt like the deer knew me–or could see something in me that I couldn’t see myself.  It calmed me down.  I know that much.

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The Future of the Yukon (maybe): Radio Series “Yukon 2058”

We hear a lot about the future of New York, of San Francisco, of England.  Ever wondered what the NORTH would look like in 50 years? What would be happening, what kinds of trends here in the Yukon?  What kinds of possibilities?  Is it all going to be dark from climate change, or will we adapt as we go? I think it’s going to be a good Future if we can take better care of the Now.

Three years ago I created a five part series called “Yukon 2058” for the 50th anniversary of CBC.  They wanted something that celebrated their first 50 years, so I offered them a look at the next 50 years.  My theme was to eventually come back to why CBC is important, why local programming trumps National programming, why having a large staff in a small place like the Yukon is important.  I tried weave my opinions about what is good about CBC, and what is bad about the trends happening to CBC, into a narrative.  Yukon 2058 is the result.  5 parts.  The narrative of a CBC reporter wondering what his future will be, trying to find where he belongs in a rapidly competitive market.

You can go to the Radio Series page and look under YUKON 2058.

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*image is Joyce Majiski’s “Racing Uphill.”  See more of her work on her website.

Howls and Hell Yeahs: The Celebration of the Life of Reid A. Parent

I just returned from a beautiful service honouring the life of Reid A. Parent, a 25 year old man who touched the lives of tons of people before his untimely death in a car accident.

Reid was the main speaker at the event.  His words were all over the program–several of his journal entries revealed a creative, philosophical man who loved others and adored life.  His Sweater Video gave a discussion of how most people will lie and tell you that your sweater is beautiful, even if it’s the ugliest thing on earth, but that his own mother sincerely believes any sweater on him becomes beautiful.  I love the shock on his face when he realizes his mother honestly believes in the beauty.  Other videos of him rapping and singing were played.  Pictures of him showed a life of daring himself to be himself in all situations, and a life of making sure that he found “the goodness in other people,” as his stepdad, Darrell Hookey remarked.  His family and friends had the funniest stories about him–stories where he turned life into a beautiful game, and made every moment count.  Reid was there–all over the place–and he said his peace, and keeps saying his peace, through those who loved and knew him.

I am so glad there are celebrations of life–like participatory memoirs, we get a full picture of the life of a person, and get to celebrate what he gave that life.  It was horribly short, but it was grandly full.  And the proof was in the hundreds of people who showed up in Whitehorse, not to mention the hundreds that showed up in BC for the first memorial service.

His sister, Leah, another beautiful soul, said all she could do was howl–and so she invited us all to howl.  And we did.  All of us.  Howled like a pack of wolves who had lost their leader.  It seemed to me that Reid led a lot of people away from the brooding part of life into the happiness part.  Darrell Hookey challenged the crowd to live lives that took in every moment.  He didn’t accept our little silent nods.  He said we should answer that challenge the way Reid always did, with a “Hell yeah!”  And so he posed the question again, and pointed to us, and just like our earlier howl, we responded with a hearty “HELL YEAH” as we promised Reid, and ourselves, that time would not get away from us, that we would live full lives, and that we would love others as part of living full lives.

So many funerals can be much more final, more, shall I say, depressing, but this one was full of pain, yes, but was also full of celebration and promise–as Reid now inhabits all of us through his stories, his videos, his music, his writings, his friends, his family.  Reid goes on in particle form, or as the emcee said, he goes on in “seed” form…planting a renewed, and vigorous, life-living plant inside of us.

Go out there and howl, and let your yesses be Hell Yeahs. And give people enough of yourself that when you leave this Earth, you leave behind a garden of goodness and good stories.

God bless you, Reid Parent.  God bless you Darrell and Daisy, Leah, and all the relatives and all the friends who carry Reid’s seeds of joy.

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Another moving tribute from the Yukon News.

Saddam as Darth Vader: New Scientist and Tate Gallery Ponder Connections

Over at New Scientist, a fascinating article on a fascinating Tate Gallery, London, exhibition about the effect of pop culture–particularly Star Wars–on the late Saddam Hussein.  At first, you chuckle.  Then you hear some of the parallels–and you may still chuckle.

Saddam had an unpublished fantasy novel (which I’m dying to read now!  Can you imagine that hitting the market–a Fantasy novel by Saddam Hussein??) and a few more than coincidental leanings towards the dark figure.  However, from the article in New Scientist, the threads are thin.  I would have loved seeing more than a few stretches of metaphorical underpinnings to Saddam’s tactics and beliefs.  While the helmets are a nice touch; as they prove to be Vaderish, so are WW2 gasmasks….  and we aren’t making Hitler/Darth connections (though I would say that Darth was modeled after Hitler, obviously— Brown Shirts and Stormtroopers, no stretch there).  Since the Darth mask was most probably modeled on a gasmask, I think the Gallery is taking a bit of liberty to say that Saddam had a Darth-fetish.  

Consider this point the author, Jessica Griggs, makes:

Could this all be coincidence? Perhaps, but you’ll be convinced otherwise once you’ve read about Sadaam’s private militia’s uniform. Before his son, Uday, handed over control of the Fedayeen Sadaam (translation: “Saddam’s Men of Sacrifice”) to his younger brother he wanted to give his father something to remember his work by. So he presented Saddam with their new uniform: black shirt, black trousers and a ski-mask over which a strikingly Darth Vader-esque helmet was placed.

It seems more likely that Uday had a Star Wars ideal in mind for his father–since there are few other instances of Star Warsian artifacts.  The upraised swords is, at best, coincidental, made more science fiction-y by the artist who makes the swords into light sabers.  The “lurid” fantasy posters are from a different genre of literature.  The fact that the artist is a friend of the person who designed the poster for Star Wars is called a streeeeetch.  The paintings in Saddam’s “Safe House” were both by a fantasy artist.  The link here. 

It’s a stretch to see these fantasy paintings connected to Darth Vader of science fiction.  Yep, Saddam might have been a fan of fantasy/science fiction…but beyond that is the artist’s license. 

It is not unbelievable that science fiction pop culture might have an influence on dictators.  Certainly their heroes have a powerful pull on the Western World; couldn’t their powerful dictators be enamored by fellow dictators?   Since few of them survive in Science fiction past their novel series, I don’t think ANYONE would want to model an empire on them.  

Unless, of course, you can make sure that you have no plucky twins, rescued and hidden at birth, lurking somewhere in the galaxy, ready and waiting to upset your glorious domination.

Now, I want to see the article on Saddam Hussein’s fantasy novel.

Morgan Whibley Shot Me in the Alley and All I Could Say Was This: An Essay on Writing Genre

Morgan Whibley, Alley Series #44Some stunning work by Morgan Whibley, a Whitehorse based photographer.  The Alley Series.  (Yes, it was stunning and fun even before I was a subject.)  His rules are simple:

One alley from sidewalk to sidewalk.
Ambient light only.
A different person everyday.
Seven days a week.

He’d been doing this for 43 days in a row when he ran into me.  Follow the link, get stunned by his work.  All Yukoners, all beautiful pictures, wonderful, fun people.  They are our stories.

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But my story got me to thinking about being a writer of genre.

Morgan tells me to come into his shop, Photovision, and when I get there he cuts a piece of cardboard from a box, slaps down two markers and says, Draw.  What do I draw?  He’s made a speech bubble.  “Whatever you want to.”  I have NO idea what to put there.  He wants the first things I think of.  I hem and haw a bit.  Suddenly, I just sketch out a design and draw Mr. Spock with a latte from Baked Cafe there.  We shoot the photo in the alley.

And then, it’s over, so I think.  And I’m halfway back to my truck and I think–“You fool!  You could have said something important about the value of words.  That words can be healing, or words can be explosive and destructive.  And what did you do?  You did something frivolous.  And stupid–and highly derivative.  Are you just a Trekkie? Is that all you are?”  These were the voices in my head.

So I ran back to Morgan, grabbed him by the shirt collar.  “We have to do it again!” I said.  Okay, maybe I didn’t grab his shirt collar, but I was insistent that we do it again because I’ve thought of something more important to “say.”  So he patiently carves out another speech bubble for me, and I draw out the symbol for Medicine (you know, the two snakes wrapped around the staff with wings–started by Moses, so long ago)–cause I’m going for “Healing Words”….

Yeah.

So, we go out into the alley so I can get shot again.  And we’re both thinking the same thing, and we’re talking…maybe we’re overanalyzing, we both say.

And we take the shots.  And they are highly thought out…  and they say the “right thing.”  But they seem orchestrated, forced.

I think, later, that THIS is the argument that every writer has with him/herself.  Especially writers of any genre: humor, science fiction, romance, fantasy, western, children’s, young adult, gay, hairy monster, etc.

We think that we must say something IMPORTANT with what we write.  That we have to use our considerable talent, and all writers have “considerable talent” with words, and say something like “WORLD PEACE, IDIOTS!”  or “Stop oppressing us!!” or “Global Warming is REAL!”  or “Whales don’t deserve to be SHOT!”  And who can argue with these messages?  Certainly they are important.  We all know that.  And certainly other people will consider you a much weightier writer, a writer with HEFT, if you can tackle Global Warming, or Teen Pregnancy, or something important, in your writing.  They often give awards in that direction (and they do it in film too….).

But who’s to say that the person who laughs at my first photograph won’t be healed?  Who’s to say that you can’t heal someone with words without broadcasting that you are HEALING them?  Who wants to be hit over the head with a message?  And why can’t REALLY good genre do everything that you need it to do–be a damn good story, with a subtle message and a lot of entertainment?

I think, as writers, we all balance between these two photos: the need to say something important, and the need to say something fun and frivolous.  And we see them as two different categories.  That we can’t be fun and important.  We see this in many other areas too (religion, politics, leadership), but for me it resonates as the battle I fight every day:  What value, I think, is Fantasy writing? How does it help the world?   Shouldn’t I turn my skills to Environmental Literature?

No.  You should only do that if you are called to do that.  If you try to write Environmental Literature and you were born to write Children’s Books about Rockets and Squid–then you will be a very frustrated Environmental Literary Writer.  Where is your passion?  If you find your passion, I think you get the package deal.  You will affect people in important ways by being yourself.

There is no real dichotomy between writings—there is only being true and not being true to yourself.  The truth is–we need comedy, romance, westerns, mysteries, radio dramas, children’s picture books with gorillas in them–we need to laugh to fight the absurdity, we need to feel hope in the face of injustice, and we need to fantasize about escape.  We need it All.

Write your part of the All.

Vincent Chong Launches New Blog and Art Book

If you’re a fan of Vincent Chong, and you’ve seen my post on him, you’ll be delighted to know he has a new blog and he has a new Art Book coming out.  The details are below.  

Vincent was commissioned to redesign covers for all of Stephen King’s books, and they’re stunning.  I’ve picked out a few designs I like.  I’m waiting still for the really cool werewolf one.  (But there aren’t really any good werewolf novels yet…gonna have to write one)

My new blog http://vincentchongart.wordpress.com is now online.  The blog will be updated regularly and feature posts including news updates, artwork, behind-the-scenes material such as sketches, insights into my working methods/inspirations, tips and info on life as a freelancer and much more.  There’s also free downloads including desktop wallpapers, so please stop by for a visit and check it out.  

I’m also excited to announce that the first art book collecting my work will be published by Telos Publishing.  Entitled ALTERED VISIONS: THE ART OF VINCENT CHONG, the book will be a 48 page, A5, full colour hardback edition. Further details can be found on my blog.

The book will be published 25th March and launched at the World Horror Convention 2010 but you can pre-order a copy now direct from the publisher’s website http://www.telos.co.uk under the ‘Original and Classic Fiction’ section.  Copies are expected to be limited so place your order now to avoid disappointment.

If you know of anyone else who may be interested in my blog or art book, please pass this information onto them.

Thanks!

Best
Vincent

Flash Mobs as Fantasy Writing: Some Tips from Mobs

Who doesn’t love a flash mob suddenly breaking out and dancing?  Below are many examples of the Flash Mob, some of my favorites.  I wonder if they could be called Fantasy Writing, in a sense.  A collaborative work that changes the reality of those watching into a fantasy version of reality.  It’s more honestly described as theatre—probably Guerilla Theatre,  and certainly it is based on “musical reality” where tough gangsters in Guys and Dolls dance, or thugs in West Side Story snap their fingers.  But I think the Flash Mob which has really gained popularity has a more recent common ancestor.

A film called, The Fisher King, starring Robin Williams and Jeff Bridges.  In that film, there’s a sequence where all the walking people in Grand Central Station suddenly turn into dancers.  It’s the essence of Flash Mob–to create a dream sequence.  It’s such a stunning moment that I often see it in mash-ups of film retrospectives.  And the fact that modern flash mob dance sequences take place in large public spaces–like Grand Central–nods, at least a little to “The Fisher King.”

Here’s the Fisher King sequence, and then following it a selection of some of the most entertaining Fantasy moments you’ll find, this side of Reality.  Following that is a short selection of tips I think Fantasy writers can pick up from Flash Mobs.

Fisher King dance at Grand Central Station

Michael Jackson tribute in Stockholm

Oprah and Black-Eyed Peas

Frozen Grand Central Station (the opposite of Fisher King)

And for more of Improv Everywhere–they do musicals in grocery stores and much much more!

What tips can Fantasy Writers pick up from Flash Mobs

1.  They know what their audience expects, and they do the unexpected.  Grand central is supposed to be busy and chaotic–but not when it’s choreographed or frozen in place.  Fantasy writing wants to both fulfill desires and offer something new.   If you have a dwarf, an elf, a ring….uh….we know what might happen, we know what could happen, and we may not wait for anything surprising TO happen.  Shrek and Princess Bride play off expectations.  They successfully surprise and entertain their readers—but they are parodies.  Creating completely surprising fantasy realms–with new creatures, new settings, no medieval setting–can also surprise a reader and make him or her want to read.

2.  Flash Mobs bring joy to their watchers, or a sense of wonder, by giving the mundane new life.  Subway commutes, catching a train, buying groceries–now that’s a list of first dates I wanna go on!  But if you give the mundane a new sense of wonder you can re-vitalize something that was boring.  Wish they’d do that with filling out registration for car insurance….  Fantasy writing can take the ordinary and make it amazing.  Look at how exciting a compass got in The Golden Compass (yep, an alethiometer!), or CS Lewis transforming a game of hide and seek in an old mansion on a rainy day, or tornadoes in Kansas….  Find a way to take something ordinary, an object, an action, and give it new meaning, new wonder.  Honestly, I want reality to be a little more like fantasy, a little more like a flash mob.

3.  Flash Mobs are Choreographed.  They look spontaneous!  But in reality, a lot of effort was put in to make them look effortless.  Same in writing.  In writing, you guide the reader’s experience.  It requires you to be more calculating and choreagraphical than maybe you’re used to, but that’s what an interesting plot is.  Imagine if the dancers in these sequences had done boring moves…  Plot is choreography–telling your reader where to move, and what to watch….

4.  But everyday flashmobbing would become boring.  If you saw this happen all the time, you’d start to think this was reality, and ignore it.  It’s the unusual nature of a flashmob–the sudden coming together of people doing the same thing–that makes it unique.  It has to stay unusual to escape being usual.  What does that mean for fantasy writers?  That we should only create one thing— nope, but variation is important.  If you only do one kind of thing, dragons, let’s say, then your reader may eventually become bored with what you’re doing–even your interesting fantasy might become mundane.  Imagine ten more books of Harry Potter.  HP had to have a story arc that encompassed a certain number of books.  Plan that arc, and then, it’s over.  Else you get a Wheel of Time that keeps on spinning.

Good fantasy writing changes reality—and ripples into your reality forever altering it.  

Okay, I could be analyzing too much.  Enjoy the damn flashmobs and stop thinking of writing….  Oh, look, over there, it’s a whole collection of random werewolves doing Bollywood!  Made you look. 

Seeing Things: a Captain Bly cartoon story of polar bears uploaded

IMG_0677I used to be a cartoonist.  I had a comic strip for 4 years in the local student paper, The Maneater, at the University of Missouri.  I found that a visitor to Whitehorse had kindly uploaded some of my strips from a book called Captain Bly, 1994, as a way to show off my nifty book.  Thanks, Aniko!  So I decided to upload a short 6 page story not included in the book.   (The pic on the left is actually a pastel of the same bears–these bears are reciting Shakespeare’s The Tempest)

I’m still working on those bears.  They appeared a little in my short story “Lemmings in the Third Year” and I’m trying to work on a novel about them. 

Below is a short story I did for a Comic Strip 101 class I had with Frank Stack, an artist and cartoonist teaching there.  He is credited with the first underground comic book, The Adventures of Jesus.  He was a great teacher.  Had us draw comic strips and pin them to the wall for critique and then he would go about busting us!  He thought we were a great class though.  Full of potential.  I’ve been playing with my cartooning roots, and working around in some other mediums.  But here is that short story.

 

Seeing Things, Page 1, Jerome Stueart, 1995
Seeing Things, Page 1, Jerome Stueart, 1995
Seeing Things, Page 2, Jerome Stueart, 1995
Seeing Things, Page 2, Jerome Stueart, 1995
Seeing Things, Page 3, Jerome Stueart, 1995
Seeing Things, Page 3, Jerome Stueart, 1995
Seeing Things, Page 4, Jerome Stueart, 1995
Seeing Things, Page 4, Jerome Stueart, 1995
Seeing Things, Page 5, Jerome Stueart, 1995
Seeing Things, Page 5, Jerome Stueart, 1995
Seeing Things, Page 6, Jerome Stueart, 1995
Seeing Things, Page 6, Jerome Stueart, 1995