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Guarding the Stories

Posted by Jenny Maloney on November 5, 2012 at 9:20 AM Comments comments (2)

 

from left: The Honorable Theresa Cisneros, Debra Gallegos,

Andrea O'Reilly Herrera, and Juliana Aragon Fatula

A couple weeks ago, I attended a beautiful event put on by the Pikes Peak Library District called Latina Voices. There were poetry and prose readings by my friend Juliana Aragon Fatula and Andrea O'Reilly Herrera, theatrical and singing performances by Debra Gallegos, and a keynote speech delivered by the first Latina Judge in Colorado: the Honorable Theresa Cisneros.

 

There was one piece that particularly stuck out for me and it influenced the rest of the presentations considerably. At one point Andrea O'Reilly Herrera was discussing how she'd interviewed her family for her book - and why she'd done it in the first place.

 

She wrote her book because she believed every generation has to have at least one person who will guard the stories. If there is no one to interview, no one to record, no one to do the hard work of presenting the stories, then all those experiences just kind of fade away. If you don't protect and present your own stories, what happens to them? They die.

 

This presentation struck a chord with me because my grandmother passed away earlier this year. She was my last grandparent. Her husband had died before I could meet him, and my father's parents were distant long before they left.

 

Years ago, I gave my grandmother a book called The Story of a Lifetime. It's a neat book with a lot of questions about how a person grew up, what they loved, what they hated. Basically, it asks all the questions you would want a grandmother to answer - just so you can have a little piece of her.

 

After she died, I got the book back. The only section she answered was the part about her early life.

 

Here's my favorite bit:

Q: What were the attitudes among teenagers about sex, smoking, drugs, and alcohol?

A: We tried everything there was to try. Thank God there were no drugs in our day. I guess we would have tried them too. We had very little money so there were only special occasions when we had alcohol. Cigarettes were cheap and sex cost nothing.

 

While this early-life section is amazing and Grandma was incredibly frank (as you can see) I couldn't help but feel sad at the sections that are gone. Sure, there are her old friends who are still around who can tell you how she met her husband and how she felt about her children. Yes, her children are around to tell about how she parented. Her grandchildren are around to tell you about useful Christmas gifts: socks, flashlights, and purse hangers.

 

But I don't know about how she met her husband. I don't know how she felt when her mother died. I don't get to know what she would've thought about my stories. There is this huge, yawning gap.

 

Still. I will always have "Sex is free."

 

I think the best way to guard stories is to tell them.

 

As I was listening to the Latina Voices presenters, I kept thinking that here are the stories. All four of these women were presenting their lives through different mediums. Juliana through poetry - which tells a story in and of itself. Andrea through her family histories. Debra through monologue and song. And Theresa Cisneros, a judge who claims no kinship with creativity, told the true-life story of her alcoholic, abusive father - who raised five kids on his own and no one got left behind.

 

Through their stories I got to know them and so many other people: Juliana's son, Andrea's great-aunt and uncles and a lot of Cuba, Debra introduced me to friends and coworkers, and Theresa gave me her father and siblings.

 

So, if you're a storyteller - get to telling, friend.

Margaret Atwood: Better than Cold Duck Pieces

Posted by Jenny Maloney on September 17, 2012 at 7:15 AM Comments comments (5)

In Negotiating with the Dead, Margaret Atwood said: "There's an epigram tacked to my office bulletin board, pinched from a magazine -- 'Wanting to meet an author because you like his work is like wanting to meet a duck because you like pâté.'"

 

Well, since I got to meet (or, rather, see up-close) Margaret Atwood her-very-own-self this past Friday...all I can say is: "Mmmm, pâté."

 

She was brilliant. And much more eloquent than pâté.

 

Atwood was asked to come and speak as part of the All Pikes Peak Reads Program hosted by the Pikes Peak Library District. She participated in a pre-speech reception that included foods inspired by her book Year of the Flood...and let me tell you, that struck me as a risky business. (Hadn't these people read the books? Spa food leftover for five years? Canned food meant you were lucky.) But it turned out safe enough. Then she gave a talk at Shove Chapel on Colorado College's beautiful campus. And finally she signed books.

 

Mostly what I took away from this experience was that I will never, not if I researched, studied, and wrote for a thousand years, be as smart as this woman is.  She has a lovely, refreshing, logical way of looking at the world.

 

One of the most enjoyable parts of her discussion, for me was when she was talking about her research - especially since John just talked about research overload on Friday. She has file folders full. And judging by the amount of information she presented during her speech I would be willing to bet there's some kind of photographic memory associated with that.

 

Apparently she does not suffer from Research Overload.

 

I also took away that a sense of humor goes a loooooong way. She was so charming. Her smile lit up the big chapel space. I'm sure the people in the waaay back could see it, even without the huge presentation screen. She spun tall tales of Roman adventures in Manitou Springs, how she named her characters via Name Your Baby books (don't we all?), and took a couple well-aimed cuts at 'legitimate rape' politicos.

 

Her passion for the enviornment came out beautifully - though we only got details on saving the oceans. I'm sure if we started discussing the land and air we would still be listening. That wouldn't be a chore, however.  I think I could listen to her talk forever. But I'm sure even Margaret Atwood has to sleep....

 

And pictures!:

 

Margaret Atwood!

 Jenny Maloney, Shane Preston, Margaret Atwood (!), and Deb Meldrum

Margaret Atwood (!) with John Ridge

Bragging Rights: Theatre d'Art Produces John Ridge's Play - Bottled Buddahood

Posted by Jenny Maloney on August 22, 2012 at 1:55 AM Comments comments (0)

A big congratulations and huzzah! to UGWPian John Ridge.

His play "Bottled Buddahood", based on a short story he wrote right here with us, has been produced by Colorado Springs theatre company Theatre d'Art as part of their season kickoff, Theatregasm.

This is the sixth installment of Theatregasm and it features a ton of local talent. Since it would be impossible to list everyone's name and accolades, and because we're writers, we're just going to give a shout out to the local playwrights, including John:

"Through the Eyes of the Director" by Meg Hodorovitch

"We Are Waldo" by Jeff Keele

"What is That? Parts 1,2, and 3" by Adam Blancas and Michael Lee

"Bottled Buddahood" by John Ridge

"Serial: Pop" by Roy Ballard

"Blood and Beer" by Michelle Sharpe

"Twelve Angry Birds" by Michael Lee

"Nirvana Slouched" by Christian O'Shaughnessy

"Apartment H" by Elijah Atkins

"Another Day in Polkatopia" by Phil Ginsburg

and

"The Republican Report" by James Reiter and Mathilde LeMoine

Congratulations to all of the writers! Now, if you haven't had a chance to see this and you're in the Colorado Springs area, Theatregasm is playing for one more weekend. Here's the pertinent info:

Friday, Saturday, and Sunday at 8:00p.m.

128 North Nevada Avenue

Colorado Springs, CO

www.theatredart.org (which has info on reserving tickets...which might be necessary - the show I went to sold out and they had to bring in extra seats)

719-357-8321 for more info

An Evening With David Sadaris at The Pikes Peak Center by Debbie

Posted by Jenny Maloney on May 14, 2011 at 4:55 PM Comments comments (2)

David Sedaris is a best-selling author and radio contributor, a keen observer of human interactions, and a very funny man. At the Pikes Peak Center recently, a very appreciative audience was treated to a live reading from several of his works, followed by a Q&A session and a book signing.

 

Reading or listening to his work, I am constantly amazed that the people who inhabit his world are so different from anyone I know and yet so very familiar. That is the beauty of a David Sedaris story/essay. You’ve seen these people. Maybe even know a few of them. But you’ve never looked at them in quite the same way that he has.

 

There’s Mrs. Munson, the woman who steps into the Starbucks line right in front of you when you’re in a hurry. She leans back and reads the menu board. “A latte’,” she says to her husband, “Is that one of those things Sheila gets?” You cringe, and maybe whisper the same expletive as Sedaris. Or you may sympathize with Mrs. Munson, the vacationer who is trying something a little different. Sedaris manages to do both.

 

As I wiped my eyes, wet from both laughter and pathos, I wondered how I would put together an article about the show. About Sedaris, the writer. “He’s just funny, and brilliant, and funny,” I thought. How does that help another writer?

 

Then I realized his show is a lesson in writing. Here are a few of the highlights.

 

Inspiration

 

Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk: A Modest Bestiary is Sedaris’ latest best-selling book. It is a collection of fables with titles like “The Mouse and the Snake,” “The Parenting Storks” and “The Vigilant Rabbit.” He introduced “The Cat and the Baboon” by telling how he came up with the idea of a book of fables.

 

He was reading a book of South African myths and fables about anthropomorphic animals. “I can do better than this,” he said, “These are terrible.” So he wrote 25 stories over two years. Only 16 made it into the book. Which, I guess, is also a lesson in editing.

 

Sedaris’ subjects are usually much more human. He often writes about strangers and the odd acquaintance, but more frequently the Sedaris family and David’s friends are front and center in his stories.

 

During the Q&A, an inebriated woman asked, “How’s the rooster?” but her words were so slurred that he mistook it for “How’s your brother?” Sedaris explained that he is uncomfortable talking about his family in public, because he doesn’t have their permission. He gives his family copies of his work before it’s sent to the publisher. If they want something cut, he does. It seems they don’t cut much, but it’s nice they have the chance.

Word Choice/Perspective

 

Sedaris talked about walking out of a store and seeing a frail, white-haired lady struggling to get into her car. It was parked in one of the handicapped spaces, and he felt sorry for her. Then he noticed the bumper sticker. “Marriage = 1 man + 1 woman”

 

He continued, “As the brittle old hag pulled away . . .”

Revision

 

Sadaris told the audience that after every reading he revises the stories, based on audience reaction. Even with the huge base of critics he has, it must be much like any critique group. Not everyone is going to react the same way. He still has to be the final say in what stays and what goes. But he tackles it. Sometimes every single night.

 

Maybe that’s why the stories are so good when they make it into books.

Listen To Your Audience

 

No one in my group remembered to bring a book for David to sign—By the end of the evening, we were on a first name basis—and a couple wanted to get home early. So we didn’t go through the line to meet the author.

 

But I’ve seen interviews with him about his signings. People tell him jokes. All kinds of jokes. And he listens politely, and laughs or groans.

 

Then he uses the best ones, and sometimes the worst ones, in his show.

 

If you haven’t read anything by David Sedaris, start by going here: David on YouTube 

 

You can also find links to stories he’s read on This American Life (TAL) at their website: This American Life

 

I first heard him on TAL so it’s his voice I hear whenever I read a Sedaris book. It makes the stories even funnier somehow. Listen and see.

 

Feel free to visit Debbie's Member Page or her blog: They're Making Me Blog.

Thoughts on Readings and a Poem by John

Posted by undergroundwritingproject on April 28, 2011 at 11:20 AM Comments comments (3)

A couple weeks ago, John and I had the great pleasure of attending an open mic hosted by the Colorado Springs Writers Reading Series at Black Cat Books in Manitou Springs. I heard about the event through my writing buddy Iver Arnegard, who was the featured reader for April.

 

The layout goes something like this: first half hour or so dedicated to anyone who has something to read, then a break to mingle and make friends, and then the last half hour or so dedicated to a featured reader. Check out the series website here to keep posted on upcoming events and whatnot.

 

First off, let me say that Iver did a smashing job—which isn’t surprising because that’s just what he does. Plus I was pleasantly surprised because the whole group that read did great. And that can really be hit-or-miss during open mic time. (We’ve all been there, right?)

 

As I was sitting back being impressed by everyone I tried to think of things that make for a good reading. A lot of writers, seeing as how we’re always head-down with our noses in our keyboards, are uncomfortable giving readings.

 

And, dare I say it?, a lot of readings can be boring. That’s because we writers don’t always understand that readings are not about the writing, they are about the performance of the writing.

 

The next time that you have to give a reading, dear writers, here are a few simple, simple, simple things to keep in mind. You don’t have to be an American Idol, but you do need to:

 

1. Smile. Even if you’re reading something depressing, there will be a moment or two to smile at the audience.

2. Professional appearance. Now, I’m not saying that you have to wear a suit and tie, but you should be what I like to call First Date Presentable. Would you meet your first date with a stain on your shirt or your hair/teeth unbrushed? Probably not. Remember that you’re trying to seduce readers…and you can’t be seductive without deodorant. ’Kay? ’Kay.

 

3. Know your material. You don’t have to memorize it (but if you can, that helps). You don’t want to be stumbling over words that you’ve worked on for years. It makes it look like you don’t know what you’re doing. Plus you want to get your nose-out-of-notes remember? Look at the people who are looking at you.

 

4. Speak clearly. If you’re mumbling or not enunciating, the audience doesn’t know what you’re talking about. You could be telling a wonderful story or a beautiful-language laced poem but the audience will fall asleep if they don’t understand a word coming out of your mouth. Warm up with tongue twisters. Practice.

 

5. End strong. After many readings there’re opportunities for Q&A. Which is great. Audience participation and all. However, never end on an answer to a question. Know the last thing that you will say. If it’s one more poem, great. If it’s a quote, awesome. But don’t leave the last thing the audience hears out of your mouth to chance. It’s the impression that resonates the most.

 

There’s my thought process on the subject. John has a much more creative response—and we’ll end on that because resonance is what we end on, right?

 

Thoughts on a Poetry Reading

By John Ridge

What goes in a Poem?
Should it rhyme? Have a cadence?
Who counts syllables?
(That was a Haiku)


Where does the line reside between Prose and Poetry?
Is it blurry? Is it distinct?
I’ve heard people read Essays.
I’ve heard people read Poems.
I’ve heard people read Short Stories.
I’ve heard people read bits of their Novel.
To be honest,
I could only hear the Poems for their rhyming phrases.


Let me ask you this:

How do you read out a line that’s on this side of the page?

Do you lean over this direction?


What about here?

Do you lean forward on the podium?

Or should everyone be leaning on this side?


Hear me, Calliope. Hear me, Erato. Hear me, Polyhymnia. I beseech you, O Muses of the Ancient World, what is the way to a Poem? How can a mere mortal conquer the sound of thought? How can the sweet caress of your inspiration be called upon during the marriage of ink to paper? What are we to do?


I’m willing to bet the answer is something similar to:

Whatever you want.


Talk about whatever you want.

As long as it’s important to you.


Words, when especially spoken, need time to sink into the human brain.

So don’t throw Spaghetti against the wall.


Unless you really like throwing Spaghetti.

Then have at it.


Don’t talk too fast.

Don’t talk too slow.


Be abstruse, adroit, ardent, audacious.

Be eccentric, eclectic, efflorescent, eloquent.

Be impertinent, impetuous, incisive, ingenious.

Be obstinate, ornery, ostentatious, outright.

But, most importantly, be you.