Thursday, September 30, 2010

hildegard's music

I've been meaning to post a link to a bit of the music Stephen and I sang as part of the big chorus for performances of Ordo Virtutum this past weekend.

Take a listen here.

The first two lines of this sequence were sung by a soloist, and we came in on postea viriditas descendit. Later, greenness sank away. If you push it ahead to 312, you come to another part where the chorus sings. Including the veeeeeery long porigat at the end--well, the po... being long and the rigat being slow and final and immensely satisfying.

There were a lot of parts of this that were very satisfying coming up from your body and out of your mouth. Including the non-singing parts, which were the chorus playing the role of the Devil. The Euge part, which I talked about in an earlier post, was lovely satisfying because we kicked it out in a big, loud, low bellow. The pleasure was also in the rhythm and sound of the words.

Quis est tantus timor?
et quis est tantus amor?
Ubi est pugnator,
et ubi est remunerator?

Lovely repeats and serendipitous rhymings, the rhythm and the periodic breaks in rhythm - and we performed it in its own repeat, with one member shouting each line and the rest of the chorus shouting it back... I hate to keep using the same word over and over, but this was so satisfying to recite.

It was interesting feeling that great enjoyment of words for mostly their sound, without the usual instant recognition of meaning. When we were delivered the cue sheets on Friday, they were nothing but words on a page. A heap of sound. By Saturday, as we were bellowing them out in performance, they were a kind of music.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

how i prePARE for SHARE

I can't believe SHARE is coming up on a year already. If you don't know, SHARE is a bi-monthly event in Portland that brings together a group of artists - different every time but often with returning guests - to create in a shared space. Create in every possible realm. They have writers, painters, musicians, sculptors, dancers, actors... any creative discipline that can be contained in one studio loft (or sometimes spilling out into the hall).

This Saturday, SHARE will be having its First Anniversary Show - a night of exhibits and readings and even a bit of SHARE's usual program--in which artists are given a prompt and then set to doing their art for a specified period of time, and finally they share their work. Pieces created there on the spot during the event will even be put up for silent auction. It promises to be a night of rampant artistry!

I've been to two SHARE events, and if I had more time, I'd be going to them all. The first one I attended was SHARE number two, and the prompt that night was temporary. As a writer, I allowed myself to run all rampant artist with that word and that concept, and then when I finally got down to business, I wrote a short prose poem about a spot of sun on a bed. I'll be reading the piece as part of the festivities at the anniversary event, but I also did a little homemade book-making in order to include it in the art exhibit.

Since the piece is about bedclothes, I decided to make the pages of the book out of sheet. A pillowcase, actually, which I cut up...

and then I arranged the story around the printed flowers.

I made a cover using board and more pillowcase. And stitched the pages together and into a paper encasement that I could glue up against the inner lining of the cover, like in a real book...

Then cursed a bit because it wasn't working right, and I couldn't get it to open and close correctly. Then I was cutting new paper and getting the needle and thread going again. When I finally had the science figured out satisfactorily, it turned out nice. It will be on exhibit Saturday night along with a lot of amazing, creative pieces of art spawned during this last year of SHARE.

When I work on the less thinky parts of art, like cutting and measuring, I like to throw on some music or a movie I know really well for some background noise. Here is who presided over my work that night:

SHARE is the brainchild of Portland writers Kathleen Lane and Margaret Malone. The SHARE First Anniversary Show goes from 6 to 10 this Saturday night at the Goldsmith Building in Old Town. NW 5th and Couch.

Friday, September 24, 2010


Been trying to get familiar with the Latin text Stephen and I got in rehearsal last night, which we'll be reciting tonight and Sunday in performances of Ordo Virtutum. When we sing, we'll be "souls imprisoned in our bodies," and when we recite (intone, whisper, shout) we will be the Devil.

One of the cue sheets for the Devil's lines:

First thing I thought when I saw the first two words was how Coco used to call Noni "Euge." Of course, he pronounced it differently — like Yooj. And in a way it sounded like he was calling her Huge all the time. But it was a special nickname because it was only used by my grandfather to my grandmother. That word belonged to them. Always felt strange to hear it, in a way, since Eugenia was my name too. Although, I wasn’t sure I'd want anyone to call me something that sounded like Huge. Now looking back, seeing that word on the page, it’s an instant lovely memory. Of the way Coco would say it — that bit of vaudeville in his voice — and always with the sound of matter-of-fact love for her. And here, I come to find out it’s also a word in Latin. Although it’s pronounced with three syllables. E-oo-je. And look. It means bravo!

spotlight on sheila ashdown

To coincide with the release of issue #3 of the Ne'er-Do-Well Literary Magazine, I thought it would be fun to do an Employee Spotlight display on publisher Sheila Ashdown, who is also not only a writer herself but a member of the marketing department for Powell's Books. [i also thought it would be fun since i happen to have an essay in #3...] I loved the answers she gave me to my interview questions, especially the one about whether she'd had any particular experiences or made any discoveries as she sifted through submissions for this latest issue, which is subtitled Working-Class Stories and, according to the press, "casts a fresh light on the absurdity, banality, and redemption of contemporary wage-slavery."

In a a blog post about the issue, she wrote: "Your job might seem as boring as a rock, but lift up that rock and the soil beneath is probably teeming with the stuff of stories."

[ooh! wiggly!]

Here's the interview. You can find the display [plus copies of all three issues, plus copies of the Ne'er-Do-Well's two-color, limited-edition poster] on the Mezzanine at Powell's City of Books.

What is your position for Powell’s and how long have you worked here?
I've worked for Powell's for three years, first at the customer service desk at the City of Books, and now as a marketing coordinator for

What inspired you to publish a literary magazine?
My first inspiration was altruistic: I love helping writers shepherd their work into the world. There are a lot of lit mags out there, but there are far more good writers who are struggling to get published in a tight market. I figured one more publishing outlet would be a good thing.

My second inspiration was selfish: I was sick of sitting on the publishing sidelines, where my role was almost completely passive: submitting my work to other people's magazines and waiting for them to pass judgment—or, "ordering some rejection letters," as my friend Kelly says.

What inspired the Ne’er-Do-Well theme behind it?
I was a middle-school misfit. Seriously, that's pretty much the basis of my literary aesthetic. I love stories that explore the experience of being an outsider, but are also able to showcase our shared humanity.

I love the idea of gathering working-class stories into one volume. Did you have any particular experiences / make any particular discoveries choosing these pieces?
It was an eye-opening experience. While most of the stories in this issue are written by members of our Powell's union (we have a wealth of talented writers who work here), I also took submissions from the general public—and I was floored by the stark difference between the two. The submissions I got from non-unionists generally portrayed the working class as lazy, shifty, drug-using, and trashy. It was extremely disheartening! Luckily, there were enough proud working-class writers out there to supply me with the smart, fun, heartening stories that ultimately made it into the magazine.

What is your favorite aspect of publishing a literary magazine?
I love connecting with people, and frequently find myself overwhelmed with gratitude for those who volunteer their stories, time, brainpower, and enthusiasm to the magazine. When I was putting together this latest issue, I seriously had a few sleepless nights where I was just too keyed up with gratitude to calm down and fall asleep. It's such a positive and empowering experience.

Which book has made a profound impression on your life?
Virginia Woolf's A Room of One's Own. I read it at a very formative time in my life, when I was just starting to take myself seriously as both a writer and a feminist. Obviously, some of its lessons aren't applicable to a 21st-century gal, but I often invoke its spirit when I need a reminder to focus my energy on my own writing.

And then there's Denis Johnson's Jesus' Son, which totally lit my eyeballs on fire.

What are you reading right now?
Right now, I'm reading The Whore's Child: And Other Stories by Richard Russo. That man is a god. He can create the most captivating story out of the most subtle situation.

Are you willing to identify a cheesy book that you like?
I'm fascinated by self-help books, though I'm slightly embarrassed to admit it. The one self-help book that I actually own is Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway by Susan Jeffers. It's all about taking risks and making "no-lose" decisions. It blew my mind.

As a writer yourself, what is your ultimate goal in your writing life?
My ultimate goal is two-fold: to write as much authentic, well-crafted fiction as I possibly can—and hopefully get some of it published.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

banned books week 2010

Banned Books Week is coming up at the end of the month. Powell's always recognizes this with displays around the store, and this year a creative member of my merchandising team, Christopher Johnson, suggested the theme for the window display. He made me three sock monkeys, positioned in see-no-evil, hear-no-evil, speak-no-evil stance. Look at these guys!

Obviously, I created a backdrop to look like a zoo or jail cell, and we used the monkeys graphically in the shelf talkers in the rooms (that's what's pictured above) and physically in the window. Here's a window shot...

I love having cool, creative minds on the team!

*Christopher Johnson has worked over twelve years in independent bookstores, including a colorful month-long stint at New York’s famed Strand. You can currently find him at Powell’s Books on Burnside in the Blue Room, sweating over the letter S.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

dw army - huzzah

Frozen Moment submission is off and away. This has been a very particular experience - a very nice experience. Having the whole writing group submitting for the same project, you'd think there could have been some tension. The difficulty of getting published out there in the modern publishing world, the very strong want... need... that I think every writer has inside. But I sensed no tension these last few months. In fact, it's been just the opposite, and even though, in a way, I would expect that out of this group, I'm also very impressed.

Stories have leapfrogged across the e-mail universe for comments and critiques between us. And then there was Kevin opening his home up for special Frozen Moment workshops. All of us around the table helping each other work toward the same goal, knowing that in essence we are competing against each other. Not caring about that at all. An experience like this is quite a gift.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

preparedness month

Found out that September is National Preparedness Month and thought I'd have some fun with that at Powell's. With the recent rash of books on how to be prepared for the zombie apocalypse, the alien invasion, the robot uprising, along with a whole section of books for surviving in the wild, I figured it was a good time to take being prepared to the next level.

Here's the top panel I put together...

I was able to reuse an image I'd created for my First Contact display a while back...

There on the left side is my version of the letter-to-the-editor that Billy Pilgrim wrote in Slaughterhouse Five--one of the number of alien-related books I was displaying along with First Contact. Here's a blog post on that display which shows the original use of the letter. And here's an earlier blog post about the display in which I explain how to create an alien out of a cat and George W. Bush.

Then I found some blueprints and played around a bit with them to simulate some sort of plans for hiding and evacuation during the zombie / robot / vampire / alien apocalypse. Made quick work of it because part of that area of the display was going to be blocked by books. Here's a picture of the final display--including the annoying shine from the window glass and excluding the book that someone removed at the request of a customer that day. The customer bought the book, which is good, but I always have mixed feelings when I see those empty book holders. Yay - the display is effective... boo - now I have to go get another copy to put in the window. I've had a lot of that with this display, actually, and I've heard there are a lot of people asking questions about the books. I wonder what it is that people are getting more prepared for... survival in the wilderness or the undead.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

call to [ancient] arms

Alright, what singers out there in Portland want to indulge in the chance to be souls trapped in your bodies?

Be a part of a megachorus and gain a very particular intimacy with an amazing piece of medieval music. Ordo Virtutum, written circa 1151 by Hildegard of Bingen, is the oldest known morality play in history. It's full of excellent archetypal tropes* (the soul, the virtues, and the big guy himself, the Devil) and a music so different and quite fascinating--more fascinating the more you get to know it. Stephen and I were part of the chorus when this was produced in February, and it was a really great experience. Local arts impresario Stephen Marc Beaudoin is mounting the show again this month, and here is his call for singers. Check it out...


*is that redundant? are all tropes archetypal?

Sunday, September 5, 2010

norma night

Listening to Norma as I worked on a project this evening and Stephen painted across the way in the studio. I told Stephen after: supering for Norma was one of the closest things I have to Christmas as an adult. A magic like the magic that attached itself to colored lights when I was a kid. Always takes me a bit to "come down" after the last amazing piece of music in that opera. Bellini was a master of tension. Gadzooks am I glad I got to get burned at the stake to that music.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

ne'er-do-well working class stories

The #3 issue of the Ne'er-Do-Well Literary Magazine is out. Just. It hasn't quite reached Powell's but is on its way. I'm looking forward to getting my contributor's copy and reading all the "working class stories" in this special edition whose proceeds benefit the strike fund of the International Longshoreman and Warehouse Union. The magazine is edited by Sheila Ashdown and includes writing by, among others, Willy Vlautin (Motel Life, Lean on Pete) and Kevin Sampsell (A Common Pornography). Check out this cool wrap-around graphic created for the cover by artist Christina Mackin.

Here's a quick excerpt from my story "Sylvester." I cut out a bit of a middle part to keep it short...


I never knew who I’d get from week to week. Town to town. In Wichita, it might be four guys who never said a thing and the only way I knew they were listening was by watching the spotlights sweep, on my cue, from juggler to high wire. In Omaha, it might be four guys who talked nonstop through the performance, their voices loud through the earphones of my headset, making bets on whether the trapezist would make the triple somersault and cracking lewd jokes about the thirteen-year-old girl riding the elephant. Our circus didn’t have a regular team of spotlight operators. We only had a lighting director—me—and we picked up a new crew of spot ops from the stagehand’s union in each city.

There were generally four spotlights in each arena we played, so there were generally four spotlight operators to man them. They were way up there, stationed along the catwalk at just about the ceiling. Meanwhile, I sat at my light board, down on the arena floor, sidled up to center ring where I was in constant danger of being trampled by elephants or peed on by tigers. But to me, it was those guys up there on the catwalk who were brave. I couldn’t even see them. Glance up in the middle of the show, through the arena darkness, and at each corner of the building all I saw were the white glows of their spotlights, like nickels flashing in a glint of moon.

I controlled the spotlights by speaking commands into the headset.

“Stand by to hit Bulgarian acrobats in Ring Three — flood and cover… and… go.”

Even with all the hoopla — jugglers tossing fire torches right in front of me, the ringmaster calling theatrical strings of alliteration into his microphone, the thud of elephant feet resonating through the floor and vibrating up through my shoes — it was easy to detach and feel like nothing but a voice, floating through that wide space, bouncing from one corner of the arena to another.

And spot op voices bouncing back. Telling secrets in our parallel universe...