Month: March 2009

Tech Logic

Here’s a great example of play in its best video sense. If ever there were a definition of modern, 21st century creativity, this would be it. Wow.


Outfront, Way Ahead, Gone Under

It was with great sadness that I learned a national radio program in Canada will be ending.

Facing a huge budget shortfall, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation yesterday announced a number of major cuts to its programming. Some I understood -poor ratings, lack of focus, difficult timing -but one cut I could not -cannot -understand is axing Outfront.

For those who’ve never tuned in, get it while you can. Outfront is a unique bit of radio, giving listeners the opportunity to share a personal story. I shared mine in 2006. After several meetings with the program’s Executive Producer and a number of ideas that came and went, rough drafts that were best left unfinished and anxiety over the personal/professional divide (I was working there freelance at the time), I put something together that hit at a fairly deep, dark place. Hitting the send button, I took a deep breath.

When the producer walked down the hall late on a Friday afternoon, he had a small smile.

“We’re going to go with your story.”

I leaped out of my chair and hugged him. It meant I had been given the chance to travel to Hungary to see my father, whom I hadn’t seen in ten years. The trip was tough, taxing, emotional, and important. All kinds of things came up, both during and after my visit. I worked long hours with the (amazing) producer I’d been assigned, choosing clips, narrating, recording, re-recording, choosing music, finding clips, editing and re-editing. The finished piece premiered the first week I was living in a new town, having started a new job. I sat on a stack of boxes, wine glass in hand, listening to the odyssey I’d undertaken only months earlier. Everything had changed.

My father passed away this past December. He never got to hear my work, and I never got the chance to see him again. Without Outfront, there’s a very good possibility I wouldn’t have gone at all. It was as if that “yes” was a divine sign -a marriage of passions and history, purpose and feeling.

Outfront matters because it gives people the chance to share their stories, yes, but it also allows for some vital personal-karma-burning that translates, down the line, into a magic grace everyone who hears it recognizes. The nature of the show -collaborative, inclusive, earthy, real, worn, and lived-in -also points to the symbolism of such a program for a national broadcaster: we’re here, telling your stories, sharing them, because this is yours. And because we think it’s important. It is.

Alas, Outfront will be missed. Kursunom.

Old Anew

Recently, I’ve had an urge to go through my old journals. Perhaps part of it is narcissism, but a much larger part is about returning to a time when writing came easily – when it wasn’t a job, but a joy. Creative writing -poetry and prose -were my forte, and in the 90s I was on fire with inspiration. Thanks to a few points in the right direction (courtesy of some rather incredible people, poets and writers themselves), I immersed myself in waves of words -I swam merrily through the oceans of worlds created by Allen Ginsberg, William Burroughs, Delmore Schwartz, Jack Kerouac, Charles Bukowski, WB Yeats, Pablo Neruda, Gwendolyn MacEwan, and a fine Irish poet by the name of Rhoda Coghill (and that’s a really, really short list).

I can’t say what changed between then and now -I still write occasionally for myself but I find a much greater sense of peace, fulfillment, and wordless, “winged joy” (to quote Blake) in painting. It’s probably no accident that my interest in visual art came about as a result of my passion for writers; I even wound up working in an art college in 1998. My passion for writing lead directly to my passion for painting; words lead to the wordless. It makes sense.

Still, in finding a sought-after journal of mine from ’98 this morning, I was struck by a mix of feelings. Nostalgia, of course, was one reaction, but it was the writing that hit me; here were the breathless words of a young woman in her 20s, trying to make sense of an evolving identity in a strange environment. It feels so good to look back at an older/younger version of yourself, to accept that version unconditionally, and appreciate how far you’ve come since. Growth is really measured in small moments.

Here’s a little nugget that made me laugh: I am not profound. I am merely wordy. That was then; now, I’m wordy for a living, but profound? I’m not sure I care anymore -which somehow seems like some kind of growth. And to quote Rumi, “your grief for what you’ve lost holds a mirror up to where you’re bravely working.” I like that.

Talking, Past

Spending this Sunday prepping for a busy week, I received an email from a Toronto artist and photographer who shared a recent experience shooting a visiting celebrity. It lead to a series of exchanges around the nature of fame, the demands of blogging, and the ways some artistic disciplines translate visually. Expressing his frustration with photographing theatre, he wrote, in effect, “they were just talking. How is that interesting?” Good question -not just for photographers, but for audiences, theatre directors, and companies. He continued:

Maybe I’ve just seen too much theatre recently, but the monologuing of character interaction – where two characters talk past each other rather than to each other – and the lack of passion, emotion, or even dramatic moments seems to be areas where someone could be writing something different.

Don’t you sometimes come out of a play thinking it wasn’t really any different than many others you’ve seen?

Surprisingly, I found myself agreeing with him -though I reminded him that the Robert Lepage work Lipsynch is coming in June. But still, yes, on a personal level, I am sick of talk, or talk-and-shock. I’ve seen some great works, unquestionably, but they’ve been very text-centric, and indeed, after a while, they do begin blurring into one another. To me, theatre is more than talk, and good directors will understand the myriad of possibilities at their disposal. Regardless (or sometimes because) of budgetary limitations, creativity and inventiveness are always the hallmarks of great theatre.

So it was with some interest that I came across this recent post about Operation First Casualty. Visceral, immediate, timely, and unabashedly milking the idea of spectacle, IVAW gave San Francisco residents something to talk about. I have a feeling this kind of theatre affected those who experienced it on a far deeper level than words could ever reach.

Screaming Muppets

Muppets. Death metal. What a mash-up. Maybe I’d have a greater appreciation of death metal if it’d been presented this way to me as a kid.

I adored The Muppets as a child, and to this day, it remains a firm favourite in the pantheon of cherished childhood television programs which included The Incredible Hulk, The Dukes of Hazard, Three’s Company, The Bionic Woman, old episodes of The Twilight Zone, and last but definitely not least, Wonder Woman (I lashed more than a few limbs -mine and others’ -attempting to perfect my lassoing skills, and was committed to wearing my star-covered underpants outside my trousers, much to my mother’s chagrin).

Thanks to the good folks at Transbuddha for pointing up this vid, and kudos to the playful spirits behind it.

Gardening = Playing

Gardening is work. Digging, planting, watering, weeding, fertilizing, and chasing various pesky creatures away (through sprays, gates, and other means) can be a pain. But the results can be so good.

As a kid, I remember having a huge, sprawling garden in the backyard. We lived in what was then country, and we had the luxury of having a huge yard with few neighbours and even less traffic. Cucumbers, peppers, tomatoes, zuccini and squash, along with raspberries and strawberries, plus fruit trees in the front yard (apple, peach, pear and plum), meant that we didn’t need to go up the road to the farmer’s market too often (except, perhaps, for cherry and blueberry pies… mmm). My great uncle, who tended everything, was a salt-of-the-earth kind of guy who didn’t believe in commercial spraying or fertilizers, so everything was organic by default, and using compost was just the norm.

Living in a more urban environment now, surrounded by development sprawl, the idea of having a backyard garden hasn’t been much of a consideration, until recently. I’d wanted to plant a few things last year, but then I got busy with other projects. This year, I’m determined to try. Being a foodie and a closet gardener (okay, not anymore…), it just seems to make sense now. I know it’ll involve a lot of digging-up and roto-rooting, composting and aereating, but I have faith. There’s something deeply satisfying to me about getting hands (and feet, in my case) dirty with food you’re growing to eat yourself (and share). It’s good for everyone, and everything. Food, in itself, is part of culture; the symbiotic relationship it has in terms of care, process, tending and development, isn’t that dissimilar to other art forms.

I can’t wait for the performance to begin.

Stimulate The Future, Argues Florida

In a brilliant piece in this weekend’s edition of The Globe and Mail, Richard Florida argues that investment in the arts is an integral part of solving the current economic crisis. As I swallowed down rivers of tea and tried to mind the bad news exploding from every corner, recalled Obama’s past support for the National Endowment for the Arts. All things considered, Florida’s argument makes a wonderful kind of sense:

What drives the economy today is not the old mix of highways and single-family homes but new, idea-driven industries. They range from software, communication devices and biotechnologies to culture and entertainment – and importantly the convergence of the two.

What I love about Florida’s writing is that he isn’t into finger-pointing and blame so much as solutions and ideas. Seems like that’s just what the doctor ordered. Now if only I could figure out a way to stop getting colds.

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