Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Writing About Writing (More or less)

I realized something yesterday.  For the first time in almost two full years, I don't have a writing project ahead of me with a deadline attached to it.  In September of 2011, I agreed to write a Velveteen Rabbit adaptation for the Players to perform the following February.  As I was finishing that, I also agreed to write an Easter script for my church that didn't happen, partially my fault and partially computer problems. Shortly after VR opened, I had agreed to pen two new plays for this season.  Over the summer, I asked if I could turn one of them into my first musical, and so I began discussions with the composer--my first collaboration--in July sometime.  Also during the summer, I taught a week-long class and used it to write out an idea I'd had for a script for a few months.  That one I wrote late into the night and early in the morning for about three days so it would be ready in time for class. 

Thumbelina was hard.  Finding time to write was difficult.  Writing out of sequence was different for me.  Coming up with lyrics I could live with was tricky.  Working with another artist was an adjustment.  There were a ton of challenges, and I finished the script more or less at the last possible minute.  And even then it required massive trimming to fit a manageable time for what the theater wanted.  The end result was very solid, however.  It was just more of an undertaking than anything else I'd done, writing-wise.  Once that was up, I made good (one year later) on my promise to deliver an Easter drama for the church.  (We're rehearsing that this week)  Then I set to work on Jungle Book and got that one done with more time to spare than I'd had for Thumbelina, but still much later than I'd hoped for.  So I chatted with my friend at the Players' about what I wanted to do for next season, and he was on board with it.  Finding writing time was (and is) still very difficult, but Kim and I worked it so that I could go in and write on weekdays when she could be off work, and over three or four or so of these days, I finished up a new (more accurately, re-worked) Hero Squad adventure for next spring. 

That, my friends, is more like it.

It has been a hard couple years for writing.  When I worked full-time at the Players, I could write at my desk as part of my day-job.  Watching Isaac, that doesn't work so well.  Often the only time I have to work at home is after everyone else is in bed, and most nights I'm too exhausted and/or wound up to really get much done at that point.  It has truly been work just to be able to work, for Kim, for the boys, and for myself. 

And yet, as I came to realize just yesterday, in that difficult span of time, I've managed to put out six finished one-acts that, if I may say so, have all been pretty darn good, at least for their intended purposes.  Three have been produced, two are currently in rehearsal, and one will hopefully see the lights of the stage sometime in 2014.  Some of the deadlines have been stressful.  I failed to meet most of my self-imposed deadlines.  I failed to meet one deadline altogether.  But for the most part, as time has gone on, I've been getting better about figuring it out.  Nevertheless, the realization that I don't have a "finish script x by date y" hanging over my head for the first time in a long time was a refreshing one. 

For about eight hours.

Then I realized I'm not working on anything, and I discovered that I am most happy when I have a project.   Maybe I'm a workaholic.  Really, though, I just think that I never feel as "right" as I do when I'm writing, or thinking about writing, or yes, even stressing about writing.  I know I may not always have the opportunity to pursue this interest, but for now I do, and I thank God for it because I can see what a blessing it is.  The opportunity as well as the craft itself. 

I do have a couple projects in mind, by the way.  I know which one I want to tackle next.  I will not give any details (either here or in person, sorry!) because I don't know if it's going to happen yet or not and because, quite frankly, it intimidates the heck out of me.  Plus, I need some cooperation from a certain organization to even get started.  I will only say that, if I start down that path, it'll be easily the most ambitious thing I've ever attempted.  (Artistically, of course)  Which means maybe now's the time for it. 

Before another pesky deadline pops up ;-)

Friday, March 22, 2013

Feature Friday: Only in the CHL

I thought that I was likely done with this feature, given that I've only actually attended one Central Hockey League game in the past eight years and I've used most of my good CHL stories already.  Thanks to the ever-watchful Internet eye of Yahoo!'s Puck Daddy blog, however, that glorious symbol of my youth keeps finding its way back to my awareness with awesome things like turkey-hunting-turtle jerseys.

So when this video came along, I thought, "Yeah, that might make a decent Only In the CHL post."

Admittedly, I know nothing about Harlem Shake other than it seems to be one of those things that everybody hates despite the fact that everybody seems to love it.  But watching an entire team break it down at center ice post-game to the delight of the home crowd is a fun thing to watch.  And it's the Rapid City Rush of the CHL, for crying out loud.  Where tacky is kinda the rule and really, it's all about having a good time.  So I'll give it a pass.

This next entry, on the other hand...

Okay, first off, if you're not familiar with the fantastic Herb Brooks Pregame Speech scene from the film Miracle, go get acquainted.  It's a great scene from a great sports flick. 

A few years after that film, four-year-old Josh Sacco watched the movie so many times he actually memorized the entire speech, so his dad recorded it and posted it on youtube.  It was (and remains) one of the greatest things on the Internet.  The kid was on Ellen and was invited to sporting events around the country--hockey, football, baseball--to do the speech for fans and athletes.  He even gave the speech to the US men's Olympic hockey team back in 2010 in Vancouver.  It's probably not a stretch to say more Americans know about Brooks' inspirational speech because of Sacco than because of Kurt Russell. 

What does any of this have to do with the CHL?

Wellllll, the Allen (TX) Americans apparently had an evening presented by McDonalds, with special jerseys and everything auctioned off after the game.  ("Special" jerseys are unbelievably abundant in the CHL)  And...and

Just watch.


Yeah, I'm done. 

Monday, March 18, 2013

The recovery blog, I guess

Currently blogging on my laptop while stretched out on my couch while watching the Wild/Canucks game on my phone.  2013 is awesome.  I'm so glad the world didn't end in 2012. 

My last blog post ended with "Duty calls, folks." I've often thought that, if I am still blogging until the day the I leave this life for the next, my final blog post will have some sort of fitting sign-off.  For example, when my boyhood pastor passed away (December of 1999) he had been working on a sermon for the last Sunday of the year.  The title on his sermon notes was "Jesus is coming--are you ready?"  And the Bible on his desk was open to the verse about keeping watch, since you never know what hour the Lord will come.  Maybe one day (preferably after meeting my great-grandchildren :-)) I'll end a blog with something like, "and if that's all I'm remembered for, all these years later, I can be happy with that."  Or, knowing me, something much simpler and more appropriate, like, "Dang. I'm tired."  And then that'll be like my Internet last words.  Either one I'd be fine with. Either would have its own sense of poetry.  And really, don't we all want a poetic end to our days? 

Side note: I really want to read Gilead again.  Actually, I really want to read anything again.  I have yet to finish a book in 2013, though I've started many.  What a strange year it's been.

Anyway, as you could probably guess from the last blog about my family members getting sick and then no Friday Features blog (I even played half an hour of Ecco the Dolphin for a RNGOTM--and yes, I know Ecco isn't Nintendo, but then again the feature isn't monthly either, so what's in a name?)--holy cow, Clayton Stoner just scored.  That happens, like, once a year--I got sick over the weekend.  Basically, we all traded stomach bugs.  Actually, I started with a head-cold and some congestion, but I didn't get a chance to tend to that because Kim and Isaac got really sick and so I had to take care of them until I got really sick.  It actually started to look like Robbie had dodged the proverbial bullet (now they're giving Charlie Coyle credit for the goal--sorry Stoney!) when, at about 2 p.m., we got the call from his school. You know the one.  The one that goes, "Please pick  up your kid, he's throwing up."  Poor guy.  He's pretty broken up about it.  He told me today was a bad, horrible, horrible, terrible, awful, bad day, and that he doesn't have enough words to say how bad it is. 

So, more taking care of sick family members tomorrow, now that I'm (mostly) over my own bout.  Wednesday we have our first audience for Ballerina, and then we embark on our three-bookings-a-week schedule.  All kinds of adventures ahead between bookings and baseball season. 

It is good to be alive, friends. 

(Oh, and a quick recap of Ecco: I imagine this game was developed by a man whose children were constantly bothering him about how much fun it would be to be a dolphin, so he finally got sick of it and made this game to show them that it would not be fun at all.  Actually, I think what happened was I played a bad ROM of the game, because the youtube footage I saw looked much smoother than the version I played. It's actually a pretty innovative game for its time, but I can see how it gets boring quickly.  I did Wikipedia the story of the game, though, and it gets crazy. Like, time-traveling-dolphin crazy, and then some.  The sound was a little grating on the ROM that I played.  Every time Ecco would get hit by a jellyfish he emitted this ear-piercing shriek.  Which is probably true to life.  It was kind of funny, because I had the screen door next to my computer open while I was playing, and every time I'd get hit and Ecco would wail (pun only slightly intended), it would drive some dog downstairs absolutely crazy.  True story. 

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

My kingdom for a good night's sleep!

Well, we're all sick. Nothing gross, just sick, tired, congested, and all that crud.

Okay, that's a bit of an exaggeration.  Kim's not sick yet.  But she did have a migraine tonight, so she's miserable, too. 

I noticed it at about 11:00 this morning and it just sorta got worse as the day went on.  Around bedtime, Robbie started coughing quite a bit, and listening to him sleep I'm fairly certain he'll "have it" by tomorrow.  And Isaac just woke up about half an hour ago feverish and crying quite a bit.  I held him and we watched Veggie Tales until he calmed down.  Now he's in the pack and play watching the rest.  I'm hoping it'll put him to sleep.  Otherwise, Steam Powered Giraffe may be my only hope. 

I did manage to finish the latest Hero Squad script yesterday.  I think it'll be pretty good. Hopefully we'll get a reading done here in the next few weeks so I can get to sacrificing all my favorite jokes in the name of a slightly shorter running time. 

Whoops, Isaac is up and at 'em again.  Duty calls, folks!

Monday, March 11, 2013

Well, this one pretty much got away from me...

There's a dry erase board by one of the busiest walkway intersections at my old workplace.  This board could be used to relay useful information, but I think people usually just used it to write clever phrases or post cute pictures.  At one point, someone wrote the phrase "FREEDOM IS NOT FREE" on the board.  This phrase stayed their for quite some time.  Eventually, another coworker got cute with it and changed "NOT" to "FAT", which was pretty funny. Apparently it didn't amuse the original poster, because it was soon changed back to "NOT" and left alone for another couple of weeks.  Eventually the whole thing was erased and replaced with something work-related, and that particular message never came back. 

For some reason, that reminds me of the time I went into the restroom at the same former workplace and saw a slip of paper that said "You're looking handsome today!" taped to the mirrors by the sinks.  (I'm pretty sure this had something to do with a campaign the local Christian radio station was doing at the time)  I wish I could say that it made my day or lifted my spirits for even a brief moment, but really it just sort of puzzled me a bit. If it'd been a verse of encouragement, say, from scripture, or even the sort of positive-thinking saying you'd see on a motivational poster about looking for the best in each day, then I could have gone with that.  But a random slip of paper complimenting my appearance?  It just seemed sort of random.  Now if an actual coworker would have looked at me and then said I looked nice, I might be a bit flattered, or at least appreciative that they'd taken the time to say something nice to me.  But you, random slip of paper?  You can't even see me.  You don't know what you're talking about.  (I'm pretty sure I even said aloud, "How do you know?" after looking at the paper every time I washed my hands for a few days)  Yet no one took the papers down because whoever posted them had meant well and because nobody wanted to possibly offend whoever had gone to the trouble to try to brighten our days. 

And to this day, I should mention, I really do appreciate the intent of both of the above examples.

Anyway, back to the papers.  One day, my ornery side got the best of me.  I enlisted the help of a female coworker and posted new complements in both the men's and women's restrooms (after confirming that the ladies' room had also been rather complimentary the previous week or so).  Now anyone washing their hands after a successful trip to the loo were met not only with "You're looking handsome today!" but also with "Your penmanship is most favorable!" 

A couple days later, all the slips of paper were removed, and ever again were random compliments taped in public places at work. 

This is not what I originally sat down to blog about tonight.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Sunday Specials: Haiku

Since I missed Feature Friday this week, I'll do a late-night Sunday Special.  Then it's off to bed, because tomorrow is a Writing Day!

My heart yearns to dance.
Hemmed in it is on each side.
Lungs and ribs and such. 

Dolphins always look
like they're so gosh-darned happy.
Bottle-nosed, that is.

Carrots grow below.
Wolves run in the untamed wild.
Men like to eat beef.  

Use your umbrella
When it rains, or when you need
Shade.  Not for dueling.

Blogger keeps giving
an error message.  I don't
know what it is for. 

Have you ever tried
to knock someone out?  It's much
harder than you'd think. 

Emotion drifts like
the ice you never see but
know is there somewhere. 

I'd like to ride in
a hot-air balloon. No, I
don't really want that.

The lion and the
unicorn, fighting for the
crown.  The hippo won.

I keep stepping on
all these dang toys.  Why are there
so, so many toys?

The last line on that
last haiku was kind of a
cheat. Oh well. Who cares?

How would you describe
the taste of the inside of
your mouth?  The world turns...

"Actors will be paid
a stipend" is code for "You
might make thirty bucks."

I should start a new
feature called, "Things seen this week
on Theatreport." 

I've always wanted
to make friends with a penguin.
Won't happen, though.  Sigh.

If monkeys and apes
are so smart, why haven't they
learned how to steal cars? 

Red.  Color of love.
Green.  Color of a thousand
frogs.  Popcorn is white.

La da da.  La da
da.  La da da.  La da da.
I wrote a pop song.

I never learned how
to play the  harmonica.
Shoot.  I would be rich.

Still getting the same
error message from Blogger.
I need Tron. Where's Tron? 

Put on a creepy
robe. Pop some popcorn.  Sip on
some herbal iced tea.

This will be the last
haiku I write tonight.  So
goodnight. I'm for bed.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Don't mess with hippos....

...because they are freaking terrifying.

Anything that can make a rhino turn tail and run is bad news.

Not impressed?  Check out this hippo relentlessly thrashing a large male crocodile.

I won't post the video of a hippo basically biting off a lioness' head, because ew.  I will, however, provide a link for the curious

Hippos are regarded as one of the most aggressive animals in Africa. They also apparently hate humans, as they've been known to attack fairly regularly and without provocation. In a land of crocodiles, lions, and rock pythons, the locals consider hippos to be the most dangerous creature. Let  that sink in for a minute.

I found a website that offered some tips of how to avoid a hippo attack.  They all pretty much boiled down to "stay away from hippos."  My favorite tip said that "Yelling and waving your arms won't do much good against a rampaging hippo."  Ya think???

Now, LONG-time readers of this blog will know I've been trying to warn the world for years about the eventual Humboldt squid war on mankind.  However, now I'm a little frightened that hippos may beat them to the punch. They've already got the advantage in that they can travel and attack by both land and sea.  (Well, rivers, anyway) 

FOMW Nightmare Fodder of the Week: the dreaded Humboldt Hippo! 


I need a happy thought after that:

Monday, March 4, 2013

The Lord is my....oceanographer?

...I shall not want...for great shots of sea turtles?

I had a pretty good Monday.  Well, one unwanted call from a bill collector harassing us for a payment that wasn't sent because the invoice wasn't sent to the right address a year ago notwithstanding.  Beautiful weather, good rehearsal, good opportunities for the next year.  Some dog-tiredness, but that's to be expected in my world.  All in all, though, I can't complain.  Or at least, I won't. 

Keeping this short tonight, because I've got some work to do yet and it's already  midnight.  I've had this song drifting through my head most of the day.  It's quite lovely and soothing.  I'm passing it along in the hope that it brings at least a moment of calm into you Tuesday.  We really don't have "calm" anymore.  We have moments of inactivity, but they're rarely peaceful.  So hopefully this helps.

I don't know why the video is comprised entirely of ocean videos, but I like the ocean so we'll let it slide.  Besides, fish are calming, right? 

Friday, March 1, 2013

Top 7 House of Heroes tracks

As a teenage, you always wonder why your parents are still listening to the same music they liked back when they were teenagers.  And then you go to college, and then you graduate college, and you realize you can't buy four CDs a month like you used to, so you stick with your old favorite for a little while, and before you know it you can't figure out why all the new stuff that's popular is so terrible and you wonder why they don't still make awesome music like they did ten years ago.

And then one day you remember wondering why your parents never moved past their decade of choice, and suddenly you get it.

I don't think many of us get very many new "favorite bands" once they get to be about 30 years old or so.  Or if we do, they don't really reach the same elite status in our minds as our favorite bands from when we were younger. I've made an attempt to discover new Christian rock artists I can get into, but for the most part there just aren't many.  I'd say this is because the genre is suffering lately, but the truth is it's always been pretty thin on quality and I just wasn't very picky back in the day.  (Not to say there weren't a few gems, and one day Robbie and Isaac will wonder why I'm still listening to them)  One band that I've discovered fairly recently who I actually would lump in as one of my favorite bands is the rock group House of Heroes. I'd heard the name bounced around a few places, but what got me to check them out was an interview I read with Five Iron frontman Reese Roper, who commented that HoH was one of his current faves.  Reese and I have had pretty similar taste in music in the past, so I checked The End Is Not The End out from the library next time I was there.  After about three tracks, I was hooked. 

It's difficult for me to tell you what HoH is like, because I have three of their albums (plus a few Christmas tracks and an EP of Beatles covers) and they're all drastically different.  The often-lighthearted Suburba is a collection of rock anthems nostalgically recalling the triumphs of youth in the suburbs, while the preceding The End Is Not The End (one of my very favorite albums) is an intense, often emotionally-charged collection of songs that are mostly themed in the post-World War II era for some reason.  The most recent album, Cold Hard Want, is more of your "typical" rock/alternative record without following any specific theme.  I love the band's harmonies, I love the aggressive guitars, I love the epic feel they bring to their faster stuff, and I appreciate the delicateness with which they handle their ballads.  Many of their tunes also have a strong sense of storytelling to them, which of course is always a selling point with me. 

While HoH is considered to be a "Christian band," they carry the name in the same way that, say, Switchfoot does: very few of their songs are strongly, overtly faith-based. Instead, you see them examining life through the lens of their faith.  There are a few earnest songs which I'd consider worshipful, but very rarely do you hear the name of Jesus.  (This seems to be a trend with my favorite artists)  The lyrics are often laced with biblical imagery, and you might miss the reference if you're not familiar with the scripture. For example, my favorite stanza from the song "Constant" features the lyric "We always want time to hoard up our treasures and bury our dead/ It's true what he said, the foxes have holes but the king has no place for his head."  Stuff like that. 

And full disclosure: I am a johnny-come-lately with this band, so I don't know any of their indie stuff from before The End.  Sorry if any true HoH fans come across this.  You can call me a poser if you want.  

Anyway, it's very difficult for me to narrow this down to seven, partially because I like a lot of their songs and partially because the albums are often complete pieces (sorta like what I've said before about Switchfoot's Hello Hurricane CD) and it's difficult to break them into pieces, at least in my mind.  Nevertheless, here are my personal


 #7: Constant
from Suburba

I pray for relief
But relief doesn't come, just the will to press on
With only your song, 
Your love makes me strong when all hope is gone.

I know I just said they don't have a lot of overtly faith-based songs, but this is probably one of the few, and I consider it very worshipful.  A modern-day psalm, if you will. 

Aaaaaand I don't know that there's really much more to say about it.  It's very pretty. I like it.

#6: I Am a Symbol
 from Cold Hard Want
First man through is an easy kill
But no one's safe if we all stand still
So let my life be a song
And let that song carry on.

This is a very dramatic song, which is of course one of the reasons it sticks with me.  This is one of those which is clearly written from a believer to a believer, but the truth inherent in the song goes beyond just the realm of faith.  I love the way the song keeps building, I love the epic chorus at the end, what can I say, I love the song.  This is also the song that closes out the CD, so it's a pretty cool way to go out.  

#5: The Cop
from Cold Hard Want

The rain falls on the blessed ones
The rain falls on the damned
And you've changed my mind
And I love you more than I love myself

Here's an example of HoH using a song to tell a story.  This is a pretty short song that manages to tell an awful lot in its three minutes. It's both sweet and sad, both solemn and celebratory, and sometimes it still manages to get me to brush back a tear.  But the bottom line is it's a love story about a guy who's been disillusioned by his years serving on the force and the young woman who helped him find hope again.  It sets it up, gets you to care, leaves you with something to think about, and then it's done.  Plus it's pretty.  All in 3:10.  

#4: If
from The End Is Not The End
I could be in love if you wore that dress every day
With your hair just so and your eyes of gray
You make a beautiful bird on a line

Yeah, it's just another song about a guy pining for a girl he doesn't have, and yeah, the lyrics are a little strange.  (He calls her a "beautiful bride of Frankenstein."  Is that a complement?)  But you know what?  It's ridiculously catchy and really dang sing-along-able, and I cannot get enough of it.  

#3: God Save the Foolish Kings
from Suburba
Midnight at the school behind the bleachers
Oh, there's gonna be a rumble,
But the cops won't be notified...

All right, official music video!

This song is incredibly cheesy.  It's this massive epic about two gangs meting to rumble under the bleachers at high school while their girlfriends at home beg them not to do anything crazy.  The song is a rock anthem celebrating the adrenaline-pumping idiocy of youth. "We were young, we were dumb, we thought this was the biggest thing in the world at the time, and something about it was awesome."  Musically speaking, this song is just a monster.  It flat out rocks.  It always makes me grin and brings to my mind the phrase We are always the hero in our own story.  This song is Just For Fun, and while there are many who believe that Christian artists always need to have Something Significant to say, well, I disagree.  Sometimes it's fine just to be epic and awesome.  

#2: By Your Side
from The End Is Not The End

And we were soldiers then, our bodies in the sand
And like that sand through our hands go our grandest plans
And just to see your face for one moment,
I'd cross the ocean again
The end is not the end...

Okay, are you ready?

Another story song about two brothers who grow up together in the plains, go off to war together, where one dies.   This song is the surviving brother grappling with life, death, faith, and the pain of losing his brother.  It is a sad, hopeful, beautiful song.  Plus, it comes right after #1 on this list on the album, and together it's one heck of an emotional sock-in-the-gut.  Now, it may just be because I'm the father of two boys myself that this one hits so hard.  But even if that is the case, this is my list, so that's a valid enough reason to put it at #2.  

Seriously.  I love this song.  Almost enough to make it...

#1: Code Name: Raven
from The End Is Not The End
I saw their black coats forming lines
They hit our beaches running
We're on our knees, but not to pray...

I don't really even know where to start with this song. It's the combination of everything I've lauded elsewhere in this list.  It's big, it's aggressive, it's got the epic chorus, the tight harmonies, the storytelling, the philosophy of sacrifice, and the emotional pull.  It practically assaults the listener with drums and guitar straight out of the gate. It builds suspense. It's exhilarating.  And it just doesn't sound quite right unless it's played very loudly.  To me, it's just about everything that I love about HoH packed into about four minutes of music and then shaken like a can of soda.  

So there you go.  A quick look at one of my New Faves.  Hope you can find something in there that ya like.