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.

😊

the twelve paintings

The day after the rain stopped, the girl came upon a kind of cave. It was a makeshift shelter built from the natural deepening of the rock. There were twelve paintings or groupings of markings inside. 

It was evening and the light from the moon was the only way she could see inside. Tracing her finger over each symbol and picture, she wondered…

who made these?

She had never seen anyone in the forest, but here were all these paintings and so far away from any of the towns she knew around. How did it get out here and why put it so far away from everywhere else people would see it? 

Some had very intricate designs and details. It must have taken a long time to do this. She walked from one to the next staring at faces. Birds and plants. An animal she had never seen before – one she didn’t know the name of, but looked very intimidating. She watched the animal for a while and it reminded her of something she could quite figure out.

As she stared at the paiyings she followed the lines from one to the next. Her eyes felt heavy. She heard a low hum a high-pitched buzz and then suddenly, silence and a flash. 
an old woman tending to a fire
part of her face hidden in shadow

outstretched wings of a bird

looking up to touch a feather

then night

the deepness of the air

a drop of water plunks into a pool

and the circles

the ripples form

drop of water, as if suspended in time

motionless

lying in a bed waking from fevered dreams

looking to the arms 

seeing they are drenched in sweat

a yellow flower

old woman laughing

and the animal lunges

teeth

clutching arm

red spots on green grass 

rustling brown crumpled leaves

a lantern

a trail of incense 

and tall trees

thunder

light in back of clouds rolls across the sky



And she blinked. She looked around. The paintings were still there.

all at once

She lied back onto a great grey speckled boulder arching her back against it closing her eyes to the sun. Its surface was warm, smooth and comforting, grounding her back into the present. Being against this great rock, it was as if she could hear inside the rock to its soul. Like a vibrating whisper, she could feel its energy. Deep within the rock at the innermost part and back through to the surface, she listened. What was it telling her? She put her hands on the giant rock trying to get something from it.

All around – all at the same time – from every direction, she heard the sounds of the forest competing for her attention. Birds calling, cooing. Rustling in the trees from small creatures. In the bushes, a predator lurking waiting to strike. The sounds of wind and trees extending up to the sky. Of insects buzzing. Everything singing all at once. Including the giant rock. In fact, the rock seemed to joyously laugh at the symphony of the forest. Something about felt a bit overwhelming to the girl – a huge release followed. She caught herself from crying and instead only whinced at the lump in her throat. Gone, as quickly as the feeling emerged. And then, lying back she stretched out her hands on the great boulder and watched clouds roll across the windows the branches made. Watching the sky, she settled into peace.

the five questions 

To get back to the stream from the mountains and through the forest. Back nearby the old small house where incense sometimes drifted from the windows. Back to the place where she would float on top of the water. Where she would skip stones across the flat surfaces of side pools of water that collected off the main path.

To get back, she needed to walk a very long time. It took days. As she kept to the path burned into her memory. Yes, this tree and that rock and that scraggly bush. As she kept walking, she couldn’t be sure, but it was the feeling as though someone was following her. Yet, every time she looked back, there was nothing. Just air. Sometimes wind blew through the trees during those moments as if to laugh at her vigilance. But there was nothing there. And so, she continued.

Climbing over large boulders. Dodging low-hanging branches from fallen trees still growing. Dust piling up under her fingernails, her feet. And sometimes it was simply to hot to be in areas with direct sun. She found shelter under jutting rocks, bushes and waited until the ground didn’t burn her feet any longer. During these times, thd coolness of the rock and the warmth of the air from the sun made her sleepy. She often nodded off in these moments.

Walking steadily, she listened attentively for the sound she madeas she moved. She paid so much attention to it that it was hard to distinguish what was outside those steps. Everything wrapped itself together, blending into a cacophony of little sounds. In the moments where she heard a twig behind her snap, she had to ask herself five times is this truly outside of me? before turning to meet nothing. Anticipation building so that every turn seemed to be the one where she would catch it. 

She felt sure of it. So sure that she let the feeling creep up closer and closer. Raw and palpable like she could feel its breath or the warmth of skin. She lowered her eyes during these times and walked slowly. Her breath was slow. Slower still. Deeper. And instead of everything tightening to brace herself against the interaction. She let go further and further. Each release was dizzying and though her heart sometimes raced, she slowed. Occassionally to a halt. Then the five questions and she turned.

Again, nothing. But somehow that felt like a victory in it of itself.

The stuff legends are made of

It is easy to practice

To give service

When everything is just so

Nice calm day

Sunny skies

People smiling

Being respectful

Looking out for one another with compassionate hearts

When you hear, feel, and see the value of the good work you do

On those days, practice and service is a joy

Is a welcome opportunity to shine

To reflect light

Where the work doesn’t need to be recognized or lauded 

for it to feel impactful

Important
On days when it’s a struggle to get up

Get going

See your own reflection in the mirror

When you collide continually with disgust

Hate

Distrust

Selfishness

Competition

Worse yet

When because of the weight

It’s like you can’t get it off you

When even writing a word 

Or taking a step

Takes tremendous effort
All I can point to is our past stories, myths and legends

Whether true, embellished, or complete fantasy

To look at our heroes

Our guides

Our ancestors

Who whatever the circumstances

Whatever the challenge

And facing some very real stakes

Consequences

Like if this doesn’t happen now things could get very bad

Our heroes

Ou guides

Our ancestors

They found a way

In that moment even if only that one moment

They found a way
To you I give you now

I recognize and remember your sacrifice

Your hard work

This moment is for you

Thank you

the thought that became a word that became a song that became a chant that became a prayer that became a dream that became real

There was a giant clearing where the earth sloped to rise smoothly up then dipped back down into a pool of clear, flowing water. A waterfall rushed down from above and birds chirped at one another. Everything here was lush, full, and teeming with life. When the girl stepped into this this space, she felt her heart, her mind, her body become quiet. It was strange because all around her everything was moving. But she felt so still. How was this?

She decided to sit on an upward curve of a slope very near the water. She watched the water move. And her eyes became very heavy. Everything did. Everything felt as though it took such a great effort. Rather than struggle against it, she decided she’d wait. And as if calling to past, present and future spirits all at once she thought to herself, 

yes i will wait for you

Water could not disturb her now. Neither could the chirps of birds. The creeping of animals lurking in the forest. And the ones that stepped softly before they pounced. The birds of the sky who carried messages to the far corners of the earth. The bright blue sky and the shining sun who watched over all day by day. All were brothers and sisters to her now. All the forest leaning in as she thought to herself the most simple, delicate of thoughts.

As if weaving a new reality into being, the girl sat and thought about how noise could never scare her. How nothing really could. How all of it was only as real as she wanted it to be. 

so if this is it

all  i do is wait for you 

as i return

to quiet

As it happened whenever the girl began to think deeply, things began to shift. The words cycled and repeated. Changed form. Changed meaning. Changed order. They became a song. She could hear the tones and she could see what they meant. She could feel it. And that’s when she discovered how true it was.

And for a very still moment, the world became quiet as the girl sang from within her heart.

message from the stars

One night a star felt to earth in a distant lake. It arched down over the land with a fiery tail and all at once it was gone. For a while there wasn’t sound until gradually the world exhaled. This star was an omen.

When people say that they usual expect bad things, but this time, they would be wrong. You see, the distant shining falling star was a sign of great things to come. It was like someone said to the people of the land, “Hey, keep a look out! Great things are building!”

The people of the village were intrigued, but mostly went on their business. No one believed in the language of stars anymore. For the ancient ones, the story was different. Some, expectedly, looked for bad things. Ill will. Drought. Scarcity. Starvation. Death. You know, it was typical of the way that some felt the pressure of deep ingrained fear.

There were others that were skeptical. They didn’t believe one thing or another. And so, these ones went about their day — never impressed, but ultimately never satisfied. From there, the people spread far and wide with their perpective of what it meant. Some were angry after a week had gone by that others were talking about it. There were some that used it as a selling, swindling point to drum up more resources, play the people. Others were satisfied to be played, shifting directly into fanaticism. Easily manipulated and controlled by those who would chain them with ideas, words, thoughts they couldn’t get around.
In the village, there were very few who happened to think it was what it was — a good sign from the language of the stars, a message. The two you could point to were neighbors. They were the little man and an old woman. they said nothing while the crowd was in varying levels of hysteria, but silently watched the sky. The woman turned to the little man and her eyes smiled and danced. The little man smiled back and nodded. They knew without saying anything what was coming. 

quiet thunder by the water

The crack of thunder. Low rumbling. Purple grey skies, and it was raining. Not the kind that hurt or splashed into your eyes, but a steady thin stream from everywhere as if to be cleansed.

The girl walking through the forest cast her face to the sky. Listening to the quiet thunder. Distant rumbling. The sound vibrated through her and she stopped to look at her hands. Outstretched to the sky where raindrops fell and cascaded gently down her palms around her wrists swirling down the curve of her arm until it got lost.

It had been so long since she had felt rain. Felt water. In the dry uplands, distant dusty mountains. Rocks, mineral, gravel rolling underfoot, were her friends. But down here in the forest. Deep within the dark green lush branches reaching closer and closer to her, to each other and creating a kind of ceiling. 

She quickly stepped along the path. Careful footing. No slipping. She moved with speed, but every moment she was treasuring in her mind. As she went sround the bend, she saw it.

A beautiful pool of water. Still except for the plunks of raindrops punctuating its surface. With one look, she ran up to it and jumped in all at once. In one go. Sinking down beneath the water’s edge. Bubbles and bubbles surrounding her like a garment. She exhaled and one by one, the big ones trickled from her nose up to the top.

Then, pushing herself up to the surface as she chased them and up out of the water back to the rain.

She kicked her feet up.

She closed her eyes.

She floated on the surface.

For quite sometime.

As the raindrops slowed.

As they dropped upon her eyelids.

As the water let her rest.
  

music preferences for those in the know

Quiet, warm music with a clear pulse. Music that had an element of slowness and subtle change in temperature. Music that was all-consuming and that could be felt deep within.

This was the music that June liked best. And there were two spaces and times she knew where to find it:

-before midday in the beginning of the work week while everyone was off on their way to jobs, school, just the moment after the commute traffic had started to die down and lunch time trafgic had begun. There was a small shop and it was somewhat hard to get to — only in that you had to know what you were looking for or at least be observant enough to see a half hidden sign from the street — Hard to Find Records. Yeah, no kidding. The place itself was like an intellectual’s self-amused bad joke. Merely there to express that they knew what good music really was. Not you. And if you were intimidated by that, good. Fuck off, goodbye! And if you weren’t initially intimidated, be prepared to have a good reason to be there. Be prepared to show what you were made off. All this bravado gave the place a certain weight, but she didn’t care about any of it. The only reason she was there was to hunt. And discover. And happen upon emotional transcendence in the form of round black disks with grooves in them. The people who owned and frequented the space were collectors. But even the act of owning the records was less interesting to her than the collection of moods she sought. Go here at the right time and you wouldn’t have the inane conversations distracting you from the deep, yet low background music the store employees played. And from the space and ability to freely explore with whatever was in the store today. She got really good at flipping through stacks with ease until she found her holy grail of the day and to the listening station lets you enter another world. 

-the second place she knew she could count on to find more of this music was harder to enjoy. It was in a club – a space not exactly known for the lack of social interaction, but the opposite. However, down the hallway from walls vibrating thumping bass as you walked into pure blue light into semi darkness and magenta spinning little lights ob the walls and floor and ceiling of this cool back room. A dj in the back plays. There are loungey couches and a bar opposite the dj. Mostly that’s where the people gather – avoid that. Instead move closer to the dj or off to the sides. And if you could ignore the few other people in this room. Think of it as warm rather than stark. If you could ignore the couples making out or possibly having sex. And the randos on drugs or completely wasted. If you could find a spot and disappear, fade into the darkness, fade into the scenery so as not to be obstrusive. You would hear the gems that someone else found, mixed together and you could ne content to just listen as the fly on the wall. And allow yourself to melt into sound.

in the deep

Under the water is a menagerie of beings glowing bright. It is like ballons under the water. 

When you sink down to the bottom, you hold you hands up and feel nothingness (which feels like something).

It makes you want to cry, but not because of pain — from something else.

And the quiet listeners

And the quiet whisperers

And the quiet wonderers

They are around you in the dark thunderous noise of the deep.

They put their hands on your shoulders so you can do this collectively.

These beings…

That float through the deep…

They surround you and helpyou to see beauty once again.