Storytelling is like…

Pretty much all storytelling is summed up in this gif.

Bullshit GIFs - Find & Share on GIPHY

Guy is enjoying regular stuff like drinking tea.

He experiences problem (hearing something that’s bullshit) and RUINING the tea!

Takes in the total impact of the situation, realizes he MUST do something!

Obstacle #1:it’s far away!

Solution: doesn’t matter, he can fly

Obstacle #2: there’s a door

Solution: throw it open

Final battle: confronting the bullshit in it’s tracks and calling it out.

Perhaps the only thing that’s missing is the resolution, but perhaps that’s the laugh you give when you realize how spot on this is…

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Writing Progress

All right, so yesterday I finished a draft of my latest play, NANNA-SIN, inspired by the Ancient Sumerian myths of the god of the moon.

The story goes that two teens are the sole survivors of a village attack decimating their village. They make a pact to travel to the city capital to the temple of Nanna-Sin. One has a connection to the divine and the other seeks revenge. They cross paths with a priest in the House of Nanna-Sin, a lead orchestrator, who sees the potential to use their skill to make a political upheaval. The high priestess of Nanna-Sin is the one with the power, however misuses it to gain control over the people.

Anyway, without giving away the whole of it, which is what the reading on 10-14-17 at the EXIT Theatre is for (mark your calendars! 😉), I'm reflecting on a couple things I did differently this time around that I want to remember and perhaps expand on for next time.

You see, previously, my process of writing mostly involved swirling down the drain of imposter syndrome while simultaneously self-flagellating until the deed was done enough. After a recovery period of varying length, I'd say, "hmm there must be an easier way." But then, I'd return to the same old process and shrug that, "it must just be my process."

Well, how wrong I was about that! Here's some things I did differently this time:

1) Outline

Instead of diving into this good idea I had, I held myself to completing the outline. Well, at least 90-95% of it. The last 5-10% I was okay with coming up with in the process of writing out the script.

This helped SO much because when it came time to write, I didn't have to hold two different things "what happens next" and "what specifically they do or say in each moment" in my brain. I could get to the big story points and color in the details along the way.

The other thing was that if I discovered a new direction that didn't match up with a story point in the outline, it was easier to make a decision about what was the right way to go because I had choices. Not "this is the only thing at can think of"

Way more relaxing. Gotta do that again.

2) Collaboration and Constraints

I spoke with my director truthfully about where I was in the process and told her the story as I saw it.

A screenwriter friend recommended telling more stories as practice in… telling stories. I know, right? Like why did someone have to tell me this? But all I can say is that it wasn't obvious to me that doing this would have any positive impact on my storytelling abilities. Now it seems like a "duh" moment. Oh well, live and let learn.

So two aspects — talking through the story made me realize right away where I needed to work out some story holes and other challenges. For instance, one thing we acknowledged right away was that this story was way bigger than I had time allotted. So constraint #1, tell this epic story in 30 minutes and hit all the points. We talked through some ideas of how this could be possible. The story turns and transitions may be quick. I had it on my radar. Constraint #2, out of respect of my director's timeline and when she wanted to initiate rehearsals, it was going to be best if I finished by a certain date. Deadlines are always a good thing for me at least — though I am not nearly as good with self- imposed deadlines as when a deadline comes from someone else — especially if I'd be letting down another person or group by not fulfilling my end of the duty. Being on deadline gave me the ability to get it out despite it not being perfect. It made me make decisions that I couldn't worry too much about — should I really bring this element in or will people think that's hokey? Nope, gotta move on and get done.

3) Bring Yourself (Play to Your Strengths)

When you get into the nitty gritty of the story — this is where I shine once I'm in the flow. I knew I would be fine and could go for as long as I wanted once I got there. The outline and the deadline helped put a slight bit of pressure and narrowed the focus. Then, worries about what to say or how to transition from one thing to the next? Nah! I'm in the flow!

Flow Time!

And then everything is just calibrated to keep me up. Music helps me with my pace and to keep going. I personally prefer atmospheric dance music that doesn't have a lot of lyrics. Sounds strange, I'm sure, but there's something about moving my body to the beat that every so often helps me get back into it full force.

This story has a lot of ancient elements that I didn't know about — so research helped. Cool things that I learned like how the first author was a high priestess of Nanna-Sin. She wrote poetry and hymns. So interesting because when you read them, I was expecting more sort of exaltations of mystery but really there was a lot about being victorious in battle against their political enemies? Whoa, that could be useful. File that away for later.

And then there was the part where I had to just give myself creative freedom and say, ok I may not get this right the first time and that's ok. Like is it historically accurate? No, but if I invent something based on what I know, it will take less time. And then there were other elements I knew I were going to incorporate like the characters have metaphysical powers so it's like a parallel world where these kinds of powers were not thought possible but are.

Tons of solutions to try to figure out but ultimately I used what I had closest to me as a tool. So, in this story I brought in my influences from yoga, internal martial arts, and Hawaiian healing. Like there are healing chants/songs, a power that one can feel, physical protocols and methods. Is it representational of those things? Oh god no. My teachers or staunch practitioners of these systems would probably frown upon me if I did that. But look, I'm just playing. I can play with stuff and also practice it more traditionally too. No biggie. It made it fun to play in the world of the play.

4) Technique

There were things I did to negotiate between the largeness of the story and the amount of time allotted. For instance, there are some moments where I had to represent a complex idea — like simultaneous time with different space/characters or advancing one character's arch with not a lot of pages. And through the magic of the form, I remembered that I can run both at the same time. I can have two places represented at once on a stage. People have the ability to listen to a story being told by one character and understand another person on stage as a character in that story. There's a point later on that I'm particularly proud of too for its low-budget, high impact way of representing multiple worlds. I use what I know is available in most theater spaces to make the relationship representational in a 3D way.

All sounds conceptual, I know, and whether I was actually successful in clearly articulating what I meant remains to be seen, though at least I tried. If it doesn't work, it doesn't work and we can come up with something else.

It's All Been Done Before
And yet at the end of the day, it's all been done before. Someone else has written thousands maybe millions of stories with these elements. So it's not being created purely from scratch. Not when you think of it like that. Epic fantasy story that needs to be told in 30 minutes? A lot of cartoons do that successfully for multiple seasons!

There's something about the idea that if someone else figured out something remotely similar to what you're working on, it makes you (or me at least) feel like, ok well I can probably figure it out. At least an aspect of it! I mean I'm not trying to be a super amazing great writer all in one go, but, you know, occasionally people laugh at my jokes, think I represented a particular scene or moment in life well, or opened their eyes to a new perspective. Those things are all things that not just my mom and dad have told me.

😊

My Experience With the Weighted Jump Rope

I started Muay Thai on Monday. Class starts with 10-15 min of jump rope before shadow boxing and then some combos into pads with the best partner in the world (Brent Kekoa Ramos). Then we switch.

So the first day I made Brent give me his jump rope because the ones available were all thick weird looking tubes and I felt like 😐 about it. The one I grabbed seemed way too long for me to use. I should've just brought my jump rope but I keep my jump rope at work since it's a nice go to for lunch time practice if I have the time.

Anyway, second day I feel like I should just use one of the ropes available. The thin ropes look way way too long so I grab the weird tube one. I start jump roping and at first it's all good. I'm like "oh, I guess this is weighted?" And one thing that was great was I kept going for a long time. At least it felt like that. Like easily 5-7 minutes straight in my mind lol. I'm like skipping and doing great. No big deal.

A while in, I'm like "phew, this rope really does get heavy." I stop for a second and then it happens. I keep hitting my $&@;! feet with the stupid rope! Everyone goes barefoot on the mats of this gym. So when I miss, IT REALLY HURTS!!! Like right on the top of your toes.

⚡️😤😭

And it's the same spot and same foot from there on out. To the point where it was like, "Barbara, get your shit together and don't cry in front of everyone on your second day. You're better than that." 😂😂😂😭

So I get through it, do the hard ass combos that made my brain feel so slow and other than my right foot still feeling the remnant of being whipped with that f-ing rope, I feel good. Really good like "yes, I love learning!" type of good.

Next day, do a little yoga. Feel tired, the day is not impossible.

Today: must sleep. Must not move. Must move like a sloth. My inner elbow hurts. I can't do anything I am normally capable of without issues.

Geez, it's one of those recovery cycles where it hits you harder the second day. Ugh. Okay, well, now I know.

You know, I don't mean to look at the whole thing positively but I guess my surprise keeps me coming back to 2 things:

1. I did that jump rope WAY longer than I ever have without stopping. I just feel like if I can do that then of course I can do way more complex things with it!
2. Even though that foot whip pain got to be extremely painfully intense after a while (combined with going past my threshold for cardio), after a while it faded and I forgot about until later in the evening. Then nothing. So, it does go away. It does fade.

I get the above lessons in martial arts all the time. Probably why I've stuck with it. Because would you still do something that would give you 1 if you had to go through 2? Maybe. I don't know. I suppose.

All I know is that next time I jump rope with my shoes on, I'm going to be really thankful for those shoes. 👟👟

Commitment

I took a trip to Minnesota recently that came with a lot of unexpected detours. I went to celebrate my grandmother's 90th birthday and as the second stop on the Jwanouskos Ramos Wedding Celebration Tour.

We had an amazing time seeing the beautiful lakes and forest areas. So green compared to California! However, the time was sadly overshadowed by my grandmother's decline in health.

She was a strong woman with a huge heart — one that unfortunately was born with a defect. Her breathing became more and more difficult during the time we arrived such that she was admitted to the hospital the day after we flew in.

She knew. We all knew what was next. Though I tried to avoid the conversations and the subtle shifts, she was dying. In my head, her death was something that would happen way far off. Not when I was there. As time went on, it was clear she wasn't leaving the hospital. So the best we could do is make her comfortable.

Maybe it's the wrong segue, but I depended on my practices during this time. I have her and my weary family members lomi lomi massage. As the pain medications wore off, I sang her Ka Lei Aloha I Na Kupuna – a Hawaiian chant and lullaby that Brent and I sang for the new expectant mothers preparing for birth. It is a song about being surrounded by the love of the ancestors and understanding that you too are part of that love. I talked to her about my tai chi practice and the book on Russian breathing systems I was reading. I read her my poetry. I talked to her about the business Brent and I hope to create. I talked to her about my step daughter — who she told me to give the beanie babies in her basement. And I practiced yoga in the early hours of the morning to the rhythm of her strong yet forced breathing. I even was able to bind in Marichasana D on my tight side. I think it was even the day or day before she transitioned on.

My Grandma taught me so much about pain, death, and family during this time. I tried my best as a visitor from California to be there and be grounded, be compassionate for my family. And it was hard to do that. It was hard to see them come apart at the scenes and feel like though you wanted to, you couldn't. As if something kept you from it.

I was named after my Grandma and she was one of the strongest ladies I knew, who got things done. She didn't fuss or make a big deal about it. She was a nurse and she was used to long hard hours and endless self sacrifice. At the same time, she was fun and laughed a lot while she called you on your shit. Up until the last days she was talking, she was cracking jokes and speaking her mind.

She transitioned on surrounded by her family and so much love. I knew by the end of the week I was in the exact spot I needed to be and I was giving what I was meant to give.

In the days that followed, I didn't know what to do or how to help. So I began my day with yoga and tai chi. I figured that maybe if I could keep steady, my family could keep steady.

My family on my mom's side is a range personalities and A LOT of feminine energy. For some reason, people look at me and they go, "well of course Barbara does this crazy artistic thing that we couldn't think of or do." And I just am so adamant that the answer to that is, "yes! You can do it. You are capable of more that how you see yourself!" I probably get to be a little airy fairy for people if I start talking about it, so I try to just hold my tongue and not say anything unless people ask me.

But then the strangest thing happened… People started asking me about meditation, tai chi, yoga, eating vegetarian, art, music, storytelling, social justice, keeping in shape, martial arts and breathing. What? Me?

"I just do what I do."

So I started connecting more with my cousins, aunts, and uncles and on Instagram and Facebook, I'd post snippets of my practice. Mostly because without regular access to my teachers, I wanted to see and understand for myself what I needed to work on.

I even watched a yoga practice session with my brother who lightly chided me for moving too fast. He said to take my time with it.

"Yeah, see, when I was practicing, I loved up dog, you should take your time with it more. You're missing out on that stretch."

My cousin would ask me advice about breathing in yoga and how to get started at home because she wasn't ready to start going to a class. Another two cousins and I bonded over plants and essential oils. She is growing the Oxheart tomatoes that come from my Italian great grandfather (my Grandma Barbara's dad), who loved these tomatoes for sauce and just everything. In fact, my Grandma still has two living older sisters (96 & 106) and she said that the secret to her longevity was to eat tomatoes and have a little brandy every so often.

Here I'd been so secret about these holistic and artistic practices, considering myself to be the family anomaly and just like most things, I was looking myopically. My family was so supportive of me. Not who I tried to be or wanted to become, just everything I was at that moment, they saw as valuable and worth emulating. For that I am eternally grateful.

Part of me wonders about the synchronicity of this experience and wonders what my Grandma may have been trying to say. While I haven't always called or been able to visit, I never doubted for a second that she loved me deeply and truly saw me for who I am.

A couple hours after she passed, I was sitting in the family lounge with my relatives enjoying the memory of her and what she gave us. I was going through my email trying to find something about her ancestry to give to my cousins and I came across a lot of forwards of prayers and wishes and beautiful pictures from her. Then, I came on a direct message from her to me. She saw an email I sent about my upcoming play production and was sending me some money and wishing me luck. Matter of fact, supportive, and loving. I read it and it was a confirmation of everything I already knew.

So, "my practice" has taken a turn because I can longer see it as just for me and a source for my comfort solely. I see my family, my friends watching me and taking something from the one thing I do think I'm okay at — continuing to show up. This has made all the difference to me and propels me forward in dark times so that I can see those faces saying to me that they saw what I did and tried it for themselves.

Thank you and thank you to my beautiful Grandma for showing me how to continue day after day through the hardship with only love to guide you.

❤️

ok fine i’ll write about martial arts and stuff 

You got me, Universe or whatever. I’ll write about it. Mainly because I need to get it out of my brain. I can only talk about it outloud so much before people’s eyes glaze over. No, you don’t understand! I really need an outlet, so you are it, blog.

It really shouldn’t be so hard to just throw this stuff onto a page, but I have worked myself into knots thinking I’d be capable of just shutting up and silently doing my own thing. But I can’t, okay? I am not capable of that. I’ll freak out. This stuff is just so endlessly fascinating. I could talk about it for DAYSSSSSSS 😍. 

And if you want to know the truth, I’m kinda constantly thinking about my various practices. It’s always on my mind.

Sometimes it’s how they work together. Sometimes it’s just sheer confusion of how can I get better at this thing I’m still not good at? Sometimes it’s the surprise I feel when I lost something I had down. And sometimes it’s the ease with which I’m able to jump back into it and beyond. It changes.

But I guess I’ll just start by starting…

THESE THOUGHTS ARE FREEFORM RAMBLINGS BY AN AMATEUR!! I’m just gonna go off but like I can’t be thinking every two seconds about how someone is going to evaluate me on how or what I say so anyway… the grammar and my terminology and all this stuff probably needs work thanks

So, I do Ashtanga now. I remember reading this comment on instagram by Sharath Jois (head of the main school, grandson of the founder) who was {paraphrasing here} saying how sometimes you can do a certain really hard posture and sometimes you can’t. He was saying how your practice morphs and changes.

I’m kind of obsessed with certain things like tai chi. But you know really I should say internal martial arts because I practice more than tai chi. I guess I could say energy centric practice like my teacher. I just like to say “tai chi” because I think most folks have a close enough reference point. Oh, but they don’t know… 

If they only knew!

That’s so annoying to say because everyone who is new to something has no idea. Gah, where do I get off? The experience of practicing tai chi tho, it’s like… It’s just really really cool. Really eye opening like whaaat? Like this whole time this is available to us? Why? How? Wtf? Yes, I think about this hourly. Ah, if only I got paid for these thoughts I’d be like Scrooge McDuck swimming in my gold coin swimmimg pool. 

Anyway, today I was really getting down on myself because I’ve sorta been lazy and not practicing as diligently as I usually do. I get this way with writing too. I think about it all the time and then if you don’t have a project you kind of scare yourself into thinking that writing is hard and onerous and you don’t have enough time to do what you want to do with it. All true. So so so very true… 😭

I had an “ohhhhhhhh THIS is why teachers tell you to never stop practicing do something everyday even if it’s a little bit” kind of realization (not new, I have these once a month if not more frequently). Man, it sure does takes a second to get back to where you were. I think you gotta be really diligent and humble and nonexpectant about it when you jump back in.

When I went off to school for a dramatic writing program I’d been doing martial arts for a year and some change. It didn’t happen overnight, but slowly my skill, my athleticism, physique, etc., etc., began to shift because my priorities changed. I had to focus on writing and recovering from the writing. In retrospect, being more disciplined about my practice might have helped me roll with writing shit that comes up and school stuff, but ah well so it goes. I didn’t do that then.

When I moved back, I expected to jump back in with all my skill in tact like hey! READY! Nope. Did not work that way. It took months and maybe YEARS to get and surpass where I was when I left. Gah! Never again!

Things are shifting again. I no longer have a school or even a regular time that I practice at. This is a problem. I am worried about losing what I have gained through focused yet short practice. So I must get it back.

What I thought about today is how with writing whenever I feel like shit this is not working, how just doing something that I truly love –like have so much fun doing, brings me back. Recallibrates me. Today, I was like no, i HAVE to do tai chi during my lunch hour. Say what you like, but I can take at least 20-30 minutes and do a couple things with that. 

I did some of the stuff I usually do like I often start with a timed quiet standing. I time it so I don’t have to think about whether I’ve done it long enough. But really I do it so I can make sure I can still feel something when I do energy centric practice. I do 2 minutes though I feel something instantly in my forearms. Cool, checkmark. Then I just see if I can extend the feeling beyond my forearms. I try that until I figure out that my timer is going off and I’m not paying attention to it. I move on to something harder to do after this. Well, harder for me to do at least…

I ran through the whole Zheng Manqing 37 form. I usually don’t do that. I pick out a section or postures. Sometimes a sequence. I don’t always do the form as a whole because I feel more of a sustained stronger charge when I do postures or drills. When I do the whole thing, there are parts that are somewhat physically challenging while trying to do what I’m trying to do. At those points, I can lose my charge and literally be going through the motions. Not fun. I am less interested in that. It’s just not my thing to go through choreography. Which is why I do smaller sized movements and try to go deeper with them. 

So here was the learning today– I can get trapped into thinking that because I usually get what I’m looking for from the shorter practices that I should just concentrate that for my practice. Like when I’m really diligent with a certain drill or sequence, I can get a lot out of it. It’s not beginner’s luck, this happens every time I practice. Then, I go through a form and get overly critical about the parts that I’m not that great at. Like in this ZMQ37, I’m really not good at the whole Weaving Lady part AND IT PISSES ME OFF!! Okay, well, maybe it’s not that serious, but I don’t get much there energy wise as I do in other parts of the form. Which is totally fine except that I’m a perfectionist, haha… No but, going through the whole form was interesting. It got me thinking about different aspects I hadn’t considered and ways I could revamp my training.

Then I did some xingyi and so that is always been hardest for me, but I like to see where I can get with it. I did this drill from one of my teacher’s recent books and I’m like huh, I think I’m getting better at this! I feel more of what I think I’m supposed to be feeling. 

The thing is that today, while not necessarily a sort of omg I made such amazing discoveries!! 😍sort of moment, it was nice to just do the form and experience what popped up as I tried my best.

All this to say, that sometimes with getting back into practice, it’s good to just do it and pick something you either really enjoy doing or you know gets you results. 

Okay, I can pause here… For now. 

as i sit

as i stood beside the rails

crack of lightening eminating to my fingertips

thinking of you

signs come to me

they say

“in case of emergency take this secret passage over here”

they tell me about another train

one that will pick me up when (if?)

we get stuck

and there is also the power trip sign i see

(take third rail for power trip)

i note this

may i need this(?)

too bad i can’t power the train with song

it would pierce through atmosphere

explosive

surprising

and yet hearts bending building

to the exploration at hand

to feet

i look down

i do not know who or what i sm most days

except in your company

heart beating

watch checking

(watch? no be real you don’t own that)

–because no one owns time–

(because you don’t wear a watch)

it’s true

hypnotic realism

bits of words that expound their meaning

like abstract pain upon canvas

i picture you looking into the shape of these words

and the flickering light of the train

like it gave all it had

still i could

in a moment between moments

track

i could find the point that becomes the thing

i could rest my fingers on the pulse of the unrealized moment

it wants to move

and yet maybe it lets go instead

and so i

in stillness

listen

watch

the beauty of the night

and only my words reach out

while i sit

quietly

 

random thoughts

i have not written in poet format in ages

but tonight i am listening to my space music

i am floating over obstacles

and it is magical

it is the only way

this is less of a poem

and more of a poetic description

incription

of what i will write

what will be

it’s more

hey these are the impulses to write

and less of what exactly

i have an ongoing list

i have a list within the brain

memory

each time i see the same welcoming faces

i remember again

oh yes

right

i had a thing i was going to say about that

i actually have words about that

a point of view i’d like to offer

(if you will)

without divulging the full contents of this cylinder of

circuitous thought

i will begin

to

transform

watch me now

i only do this once

hit by a poem

I was listening to Boards of Canada’s “Reach For The Dead” at work and out of the blue, lyrics. Words forming that wouldn’t quiet down or pass until I had written them down. 

Ok, poem. I hear you.


today I was 

plucked out of the 

oppression of time

and placed into

the void

vacuum of space

unconscious 

for seconds that 

stretched into

the expansive 

eternity looking into

the distant Eastern 

horizon 

a place where

floating I could 

see everything 

forgot nothing

remembered once 

I woke to the

operating room

and it was like I had

just

been

born


spring time

waiting for the lady in the mountains

whose footsteps reveal the greenery

vibrancy 

underneath and from the earth

whose voice echoes against rock and through canyons

who calls across distances to awaken 

who stirs the blood with eyes like fire

who welcomes weary travelers with springs of water

who points the way and shows how momentum grows endlessly 

waiting patiently until she reveals herself 

and then there is only brightness and laughter