Some people can think things through. Others like to talk things out.
I like thinking and talking, but if I’m to make any personal progress as a human being, I need to write. It’s my physical way of processing data, assessing facts and understanding situations. Writing is where I am most careful, most cautious and most concerned. Writing is how I understand a little bit more about myself and others.
Several years ago, I read Anne Lamott’s book Bird By Bird. Her brother had to do a bird project for his science class and procrastinated until the day before the project was due. Their dad said he’d help and they’d just go at the task “bird by bird.”
Since I read that book, I’ve gone “bird by bird” whenever I feel overwhelmed or even underwhelmed. It helps me break things down and build things up.
Similarly, when I struggle to understand a person, a personal situation, I like to write about it “word by word.”
This morning when I was walking Willow, I spied my first fresh mushroom of the season! I was so excited…until I took a closer look and realized it was a wine cork. In my defense, it was raining and my glasses were a little wet. I was disappointed, but not terribly so. It can’t stay cold forever. The earth is warming up and the mushrooms will be here soon!
When Angelo got home from school, he mentioned something about his “digital journal.” He keeps a daily diary for school. I did not know this! I asked if I could read it. He said I could. He started it in September and the last entry is today. It was riveting!
He had an entry in there about being backed into a corner by some bullies during science class. He wrote about how much he loves chess, cross country and track. He wrote about how much he likes skating “even though I’m bad at it.” He wrote about his goals. He had entries in there about reading at night, running with Fern on the weekends and making movies with Sam. He wrote about how much Jesse travels for work, how much he likes Roblox, The One and Only Ivan and The Grinch. He described our front yard as “bland” and how he wasn’t quiet during a “silent hike.” He wrote about how much he adores his oldest sister. The whole thing: freakin’ gold!
But back to my morning mushroom mishap. I noticed that he wrote about me in November.
“My mom is obsessed with mushrooms,” he wrote. “It’s strange.”
Oh. Well, note to self.
Angelo gave me permission to write about this and has approved this blog. Before I sign off, I want to say one more thing. It’s a freakin’ gift to be able to read your kid’s journal. Feeling very grateful.
Thanks for reading my Angelo-approved blog. -Connie
It was a beautiful day in Rockford. I know this because I looked out the window once or twice. For the most part, however, my eyes were glued to my manuscript and my buttocks were firmly planted in my seat; the same seat I am sitting in right now.
Connie: Buttocks, don’t be rude. Say hello!
Connie: Thank you, Buttocks. Dismissed.
Buttocks are confused and stay put. Connie changes subject.
I hope you like the picture. I took it yesterday at Rock Cut State Park. I’m using it for today’s blog entry because it’s a visual metaphor of my writing. Other than it being a dead tree, I don’t really know what I’m looking at, but I do like its shape and textures.
Writing all day isn’t a new sensation, but there is a special shame that accompanies me when a deadline is involved. That’s because other things get ignored in the process. Things like my chores and hydrating. My children. But the good news is I checked Facebook 14,097 times so at least I’m caught up there.
In case you are wondering what I’m writing: I am sharing scenes 3 and 4 of my full length drama Nothing Could Be Finer Than To Be In Southwest China at Tuesdays@9. I’m introducing a new character, Shan, with these scenes.
I hope you’ve enjoyed the peek into my process (and negligence). I suppose a haiku would have been a more economic approach.
guilt is worse than pain
when you spend the day writing
buttocks stuck to seat
That’s the long and short of it. Thank you for reading my blog. Inside or out, I hope you had a decent weekend. -Connie
There’s an old Latin phrase that serves as a mantra for artists who wish to keep it fresh. It’s “ridi, writi, looki.” It means “I read, I wrote, I saw.” Every year, I compile a list of the books I read, the shows I saw in person and the plays I wrote. Here they are.
susan, linda, nina & cokie by Lisa Napoli
Ida B. the Queen by Michelle Duster
Nothing Personal by James Baldwin
Reasons to Stay Alive by Matt Haig
The Midnight Library by Matt Haig
Smile, The Story of a Face by Sarah Ruhl
Mingling with the Enemy by Jeanne Martinet
Eurydice by Sarah Ruhl
Good Neighbors by Sarah Langan
Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
The Black Panther Party: A Graphic Novel History by David F. Walker and Marcus Kwame Anderson (Illustrations)
Beautiful Things: A Memoir by Hunter Biden
I Hate Running and You Can Too: How to Get Started, Keep Going, and Make Sense of an Irrational Passion by Brendan Leonard
People Who Love to Eat Are Always the Best People: And Other Wisdom by Julia Child
Dearly by Margaret Atwood
Habitat Threshold by Craig Santos Perez
Owed by Joshua Bennett
Let Me Tell You What I Mean by Joan Didion
Selected Poems by Arthur Gregor
The Shining Moments: The words and moods of John F. Kennedy by JFK, edited by Gerald C. Gardner with an introduction by Adlai E. Stevenson
Halfway Home: Race, Punishment, and the Afterlife of Mass Incarceration by Reuben Jonathan Miller
The Book of Delights by Ross Gay
Building a Movement to End the New Jim Crow: an organizing guide by Daniel Hunter
A Libertarian Walks into a Bear: The Utopian Plot to Liberate an American Town by Matthew Hongoltz-Hetling
The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander
Appalachian Elegy: Poetry and Place by bell hooks
Just Under Clouds by Melissa Sarno
The Perfect Nine: The Epic of Gikuyu and Mumbi by Ngugu Wa Thiong’o
R.U.R. by Karel Capek
Song for a Whale by Lynne Kelly
Letterman, The Last Giant of Late Night by Jason Zinoman
Appalachian Reckoning: A Region Responds to Hillbilly Elegy – Edited by Anthony Harkins and Meredith McCarroll
Blubber by Judy Bloom
The Elephant in the Room: One Fat Man’s Quest to Get Smaller in a Growing America by Tommy Tomlinson
It was a relief and joy to see live theatre and dance. Even ordering tickets is fun! I will never take seeing live productions for granted again. That’s not just a new year’s resolution–that’s a lifetime promise. Looking forward to seeing more theatre in 2022 and here’s what I saw in 2021:
These Shining Lives by Melanie Marnich at Winnishiek Playhouse in Freeport, IL. Years ago I read Radium Girls by Kate Moore. Though written after Marnich wrote the play, I read the novel first and it inspired me to see the play.
Macbeth by William Shakespeare at Rock Valley College Starlight Theatre in Rockford, IL. This was a sprawling outdoor, nighttime production. Side note: The first time I saw Macbeth was in 1999 at Jungle Theatre in Minneapolis, inside.
Eurydice by Sarah Ruhl at West Side Show Room in Rockford, IL. After I saw the play, I read Ruhl’s script and her memoir “Smile” about her experience with Bell’s Palsy.
Laughterreise by Fourth Coast Ensemble at The Annoyance Theatre in Chicago This performance included classical music, opera, poetry and sketch comedy.
Expanding Universe at Ruth Page Center for the Arts in Chicago (50-year Anniversary Celebration / dance in October).
Jeeves Saves the Day – Margaret Raether’s adaptation from P. G. Wodehouse’s “Jeeves” story / stories at Artists’ Ensemble in Rockford.
I also saw my kids’ spring, summer and intensive dance recitals, also in person at Ruth Page, but can’t remember the names of those shows, sorry.
I have been writing plays for more than 20 years. My first play was the 10-minute mother-daughter drama, The Mason Jar. It received a staging at Stages Theatre Company in Minneapolis, a staged reading at Chicago Dramatists and was a finalist at the Turnip 15-Minute Play Festival in New York City. I have lost count of how many plays I have written since then but I know I will never forget my first. Here’s what I wrote in 2021:
The Dumbwaiter is a 10-minute absurd comedy about hospice and ageism and it was read at Naked Angels Tuesdays@9 Chicago in February.
What Comes Next is a 10-minute drama about homelessness and it received a staged reading at Chicago Dramatists’ 48-Hour St. Patrick’s Day Play Festival in March.
I finished another draft of the one-hour play Feverland. It’s about Al Capone as seen through the female gaze. It’s written for an all-woman (non-binary) cast, including Al, and challenges our society’s obsession with gangster life. It received a staged reading with the First Draft program at Chicago Dramatists in March. I am still working on it and I hope to workshop it in person in 2022.
I conceived and directed the Quarantanniversary at Naked Angels Tuesdays@9 Chicago, also in March. I wrote interstitial dialogue as well as the character “Rhonda Ross.” For this event, 40 artists showed up as their twin and stayed in character for the entire night. This means that the writers wrote as their twins, actors acted as their twins, the musician performed as her twin and the hosts led the meeting as their twins. It was a vibrant and cerebral evening of thoroughly unique theatre.
I wrote and tested six episodes of Chicago-based mock show The Stormy, Husky, Brawling Show at Naked Angels Tuesdays@9 Chicago, April through May.
I wrote and produced five more episodes of The Stormy, Husky, Brawling Show in June and July. Episodes aired on Facebook and YouTube. My intention with this project was to create a show that bridged pandemic online theatre to in-person theatre. We filmed some of it on Zoom, the outdoor scenes in person, and the studio scenes with a skeleton crew of fully vaccinated, socially-distanced actors. We stayed safe, created new art and moved toward the new frontier of theatre. You can read more about it here.
I wrote the 10-minute ghost drama Dora’s Bait Shop in October. It was read at Naked Angels Tuesdays@9 Chicago as part of the Halloween show.
I wrote the 10-minute filicide drama Natural Life in November. It was read at Naked Angels Tuesdays@9 Chicago.
I wrote the 10-minute holiday drama The Lunker of the Lake in December. It was read at Naked Angels Tuesdays@9 Chicago.
I also wrote this blog and organized two outdoor artistic events that were free and open to the public. In October, I conceived and directed the Silent Hiking & Writing Retreat where writers met, hiked in silence, wrote and shared their work with the group. And in December, I conceived and directed Winter Solstice Poetry Caroling. Instead of Christmas Caroling, we caroled our friends, neighbors and family with winter-themed poems. Both “pandemic proof” events were artistic, intelligent and fun. I plan to continue these events into 2022 and beyond.
I owe a debt of gratitude to Naked Angels Tuesdays@9 Chicago for giving me the space to test and share my new work. This is also where serve as music and comedy director. If you’re a writer or actor or musician or comedian, and you’re curious but skeptical about checking it out, let me tell you something: This isn’t your ordinary theatre clique! It’s inclusive, safe and fun. It’s a mecca for writers, actors, directors and musicians. It is brilliantly led by creative directors Joshua Fardon and Patricia Mario. Check us out! Or if you live in New York (the original!), Los Angeles or Miami, check out those branches of Naked Angels because they are excellent, too.
Thank you for reading! Happy New Year! -Connie
P.S. “Ridi, writi, looki” is not really a Latin phrase. I made it up.
Hello friends and family! Here are the frequently asked questions about the hiking and writing party! I hope you come! -xo Connie
Q: What’s going on?
A: A silent hiking and writing party! There will be no talking from 9:00-11:00 a.m. except when I record you reading your new writing, which I’ll explain further down.
Q: Where is it?
A: It’s in northern Illinois, not far from the Wisconsin border. It’s two hours north of Chicago and about ten minutes from I-90. The specific location will be kept secret until you RSVP.
Q: Why so secretive, Connie?
A: Because it is the most consistently quiet place I have ever been and though I am eager to share this “secret” with friends and family, I want to keep it that way to protect the wildlife that thrives there.
Q: What if the silent hike clears my mind so much that I can’t think of anything to write?
A: When we meet, I will give you a writing prompt, if you want one. You can use it or ignore it, but you do have to write!
Q: What if I hate writing?
A: I don’t care. Write.
Q: What happens if we all show up at the same time? Won’t the trails get congested?
A: I will send you onto the trails in staggered times so that you have your own space. There are plenty of ways to spread out. It is easy to get lost on these trails and cell phone services is spotty, but if you simply keep walking, you will make it back to the trailhead.
Q: What if I get lost?
A: Then you will die in the woods, alone. Bobcats will eat your rotting flesh.
Q: How much should I write?
A: As much as you want! You can write a haiku or a tanka or a sestina or an essay or a story or song or a play or a monologue or whatever. I’ll record you reading up to three minutes (about 1000 words) of your new writing.
Q: Why are you going to record me?
A: I am going to include everyone’s recordings in a video. Then I am going to share our video through Zoom and Facebook Live on Halloween Night at 7:45 p.m.
Q: What if I bring something I’ve already written? You gonna be mad?
A: Hell yes I’ll be mad! This is a new event and your writing should reflect the new event.
Q: Does that mean I have to write about the event?
A: You can write whatever you want. It just has to be new writing. Like, don’t show up with your laptop with a manuscript you started in 1997. Or even something you wrote last week. Don’t bring something you want to “dust off” or I will sic the bobcats on you.
Q: That’s the second time you’ve mentioned bobcats. Are there bobcats?
A: Bobcats have been reported in 99 of Illinois’ 102 counties, so probably. However, they are very secretive and I have never seen one there.
Q: Is there anything lurking in the woods that might scare me?
A: Not likely, unless you’re afraid of whitetail deer. But there are fox holes and gopher holes, so it is truly important to look where you are going. There are also countless walnuts on the ground, so keep an eye on the trails so you don’t accidentally twist your ankle.
Q: What if I get hungry from all that hiking and writing?
A: There will be blood snacks! Jesse will be grilling halloweenies and I will be serving a gigantic charcuterie. There will be plenty of vegetarian options. We’ll have bottled water, too.
Q: What should I bring?
A: Please bring your own pen, journal, notebook, etc. Bring your own chair if you want to sit alone, and, if you like, a jug of water to wash your hands, should you need to use the toilet.
Q: The word “toilet” embarrasses me. Why are you even mentioning it?
A: Because there is only one vault toilet on the premises. No sinks.
Q: Jeez, how remote is this place? Will I be able to legally and easily park?
A: There is a small parking lot and another one nearby. I’ll help you get situated.
Q: What else is there in terms of comfort?
A: There are two picnic benches in the meeting area and one vault toilet. There is parking but no shelter.
Q: What if it rains?
A: If it’s lightly raining, we will persevere, but if it’s truly pouring we will cancel. I will make that call Saturday at 7:00 a.m. on Facebook and through email and texts.
Q: What time?
A: The in-person event is 9:00-11:00 a.m., on Saturday, Oct. 30 but Jesse and I will stick around later if anyone wants to break the silence and talk. There is also a nearby apple orchard and pumpkin patch for anyone who wants to really have a Midwestern fall experience.
Q: What if I get there early?
A: We will be there at 8:30 to set up and you are welcome to join us or get a head start on the lovely trails. Talking will be allowed all the way up until 9:00 a.m.
Q: What time will the video be shown?
A: The online event is Halloween Night from 7:45-8:30 p.m. I’ll send you the Zoom / Facebook information on Halloween.
Q: When will you send me the address to the secret location?