Thurs. March 14, 2019: Pi, Coyotes, College, and Hungry Schoolkids

Thursday, March 14, 2019
Waxing Moon
Mercury Retrograde
Cloudy & chilly

Happy Pi day!

When I worked for a library, we used to serve pie on Pi day, along with a display of fun facts about it.

Yesterday was fine at the client’s. It was quiet – for most of the day, I was on site, but I was alone on site, so I could be as productive as I would in my home office. I’m working on a couple of big projects for them, so it was good to have that time.

Coyotes woke me up having a party in the yard around 5 AM. Better than 2AM. Quite the pack. I’m pretty sure one of the pups that was raised under my deck a few years ago is now Leader of the Pack. Especially since he takes such pleasure in standing on the deck to call them.

The local coyotes and I have a deal: I don’t act like a dumbass and they don’t eat me. It works for us.

Plus, they don’t use my yard as their toilet. They’re very clean and respectful that way. No coyote scat. They do that in the yards that use chemicals.

I’ve been mulling over how personally angry I feel about the college entrance  scandal. It’s not that I don’t know that the system is already rigged in favor of wealthy white students. It’s not that I don’t know that rich families have bought their kids slots in good schools since rich families and good schools exist.

It’s much more personal than that for me. Both because of my own journey, and because some of those accused are people I considered colleagues.

I was the not-rich kid in the rich town. I didn’t realize the extent of our financial struggles; we always had books and enough to eat and laughter. We didn’t buy stuff all the time, but we did stuff. Went to libraries and museums and historical sites. We often packed a picnic lunch on our trips. I was an adult before I realized it was because we couldn’t afford to go out to restaurants. I always thought the packed lunches were fun.

I did well in school. I wanted to graduate a year early. I was one-half credit short – in GYM, of all things. One HALF credit. Even though I was in the National Honor Society for academics, in advanced classes, and already going to college part time.

The high school principal refused to let me graduate early. I wasn’t allowed to take an extra gym class or to have one of the several college dance classes I took count. I had to stay an entire fall semester my senior year of high school for ONE HALF CREDIT.

While I took classes as SUNY Purchase, which was close by. I’d taken dance there since they opened; I also took literature classes.

Meanwhile, as a junior, I’d taken both the SATs and the ACTs. And I ran around visiting schools and interviewing. In the SATs, I did very well in the verbal and squeaked by in the math. In the ACTs, I got in the 98% percentile of the country, including the science section. When that was brought up in college interviews, I pointed out that to me, math made perfect sense in context with science, but when it sat there as a math problem, it had little relevance to me and I struggled with it.

I was also very active in a variety of clubs and organizations, taking college courses part-time, and writing for the local paper.

I got into EVERY school to which I applied. Including the Ivy Leagues. But I wanted to have more of a traditional college experience.

I graduated in January with no fanfare. I spent a few weeks in the UK. My first trip to Edinburgh, where I first fell in love with it. The first time Lindisfarne captivated me.

I started college in March, at Florida State University, in Tallahassee. Definitely not ivy league, but a great campus and a solid “this is college” experience.

I had tested my way out of freshman year, so I started as a sophomore. My transcripts, testing, and classes at SUNY Purchase mattered to the colleges to which I applied, even though my high school principal had forced me to stay an extra semester in high school for a gym class.

I planned to go for a journalism degree. I took a theatre lighting class as an elective. We were supposed to spend 20 hours in lab work in the theatre in the semester. I spent 20 hours my first week and never left the building for the following year.

I worked through the summer semester, always taking as full a course load as I could talk the registrars into letting me take.

I was a scholarship student and tried to find a workstudy job on campus. I wanted to work in the magnificent library, but they never hired me. They kept hiring social science majors. I wound up working theatre and music crew jobs in local clubs, which led to working rock ‘n roll gigs around the area, some with big names. My theatre teachers let me take some of the grad level classes.

I loved working in theatre, but learned pretty damn fast the rock ‘n roll life was not for me.

I also was savvy enough to know that, while I had fun at FSU and had some terrific teachers, it couldn’t give me the launching platform I wanted or needed to have the career I wanted in the business. There are plenty of hugely successful FSU Alumni, but I knew I couldn’t do what I wanted and needed there after my first year.

I transferred to the film program at NYU. I had done the spring quarter, summer quarter, and then the following full year in Tallahassee. I received my acceptance letter dated April 1 from NYU and called them to make sure it wasn’t a joke.

I started as a film student that June. And continued to work in theatre. And I had a work/study job at the Interactive Telecommunication and Alternate Media Center, where we did some of the first video conferencing that existed. And from there, built my career in local, regional, off-off, off, and up to Broadway.

What’s the point of this?

I took my own damn tests. I studied all night if I had to. I had scholarships and jobs and loans and EARNED IT ALL MY DAMN SELF. When I turned down the Big Name Schools that had accepted me, they were shocked. Because it was hard to get in. But I got in as MYSELF – not because I had connections (I didn’t). Not because I had money (I didn’t). I got in because I was smart and talented with good grades and great essays and lots of interests and experiences and completely out of the box and blew the interviewers the hell out of the water in the interview (and was told that in EVERY interview).

So when I see this entrance scandal, and see some entertainment personnel I liked, respected, and considered my COLLEAGUES involved – it’s an insult. If anyone had tried to buy me into a school, I would have been so damn mortified, I don’t know what I would have done. It was important to me to EARN IT MYSELF. With good grades, hard work, scholarships, workstudy, student loans, and finding my own gigs along the way.

Not only is it unfair to better qualified students without the financial means to allow richer parents to purchase slots, it’s a slap in the face to the students whose slots are purchased. Probably a lot of them don’t care; they know they wouldn’t get in anyway, and it’s just another entitlement with which they sail through life. But it completely negates and discards any work any of them have done or might do.

Along with denying those who would make better use of the opportunity the chance in the first place.

These parents are insulting their own kids while insulting the kids who have earned the right to those slots and are denied them because their parents can’t afford the right bribe. The parents purchasing these slots aren’t helping ANYBODY. In fact, they are hurting everyone involved, while some scumbag “recruiters” or “consultants” get rich.

There’s a lot in our educational system that needs to be changed and fixed, from pre-school all the way up through PhD programs. But I found this, with allegations against people in my own field who KNOW BETTER and whom I expect to BEHAVE BETTER – infuriated me on multiple levels.

Just now, as I’m writing this, they’re discussing it in the library. One man talked about how his son was accepted into Dartmouth and was so excited – he had great grades, etc. Then some man showed up at the house to tell him that his son had to give up his spot in order to make space for the son of an alumnus. The kid was heartbroken, and the man currently speaking threw the bum out of the house. The kid went elsewhere and went on to a good, successful life, but it still hurts.

The fact that it has been going on for centuries doesn’t make any of it right. It’s time to make positive changes.

Yesterday, a teacher mentioned something about kids and hunger and lunch problems on Twitter. I asked for ideas how I, a random taxpayer with no kids in my local system, could make a contribution and make sure that it went to feed the kids who needed it, and not appropriated by the school for something else.

My feed exploded with so many good ideas that I’m gathering them up and going to put together a resource sheet. I’m not sure on which of my websites I’ll put it, but I’ll put it up somewhere.

So far, there was only one mansplainer about how my taxes are paying for schools and how I need to vote and military spending is the problem. In other words, trying to hijack the thread for his own agenda. I have been politically active since I was 15. Once I was eligible to vote, I’ve voted in EVERY election at every level, especially local. I’m in almost daily contact with my reps, from local to federal, so he can stop the hell trying to lecture me about voting responsibility.  30 seconds on my timeline reflects that I take the responsibility seriously. There’s always one, isn’t there? I’m sure he will come back with something else defensive and mansplaining, and then I’ll block. I’m not arguing, and anyone who’s read my timeline knows I take my voting rights seriously. Hijacking a thread about trying to help hungry kids in school to bitch about military spending is inappropriate.

Some other trolls will probably show up, too, and they, too, will be blocked. Meanwhile, I’ll gather the positive info and put together a resource list. That way, maybe some other people who are feeling helpless can find something they can do.

Also, for me, it’s important to donate anonymously. I deeply believe that genuine philanthropy is anonymous.

Enough for one day – I need to get back to the page.

Published in: on March 14, 2019 at 9:56 am  Comments Off on Thurs. March 14, 2019: Pi, Coyotes, College, and Hungry Schoolkids  
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Mon. Oct. 1, 2018: Persistence — How Badly Do You Want It? #UpbeatAuthors

Monday, October 1, 2018
Waning Moon
Neptune Retrograde
Pluto Retrograde
Uranus Retrograde

There are five Mondays in October, which means I have to sort my thoughts on persistence into FIVE posts. Yes, that will take persistence!

When I teach, one of the first questions I ask is, “How badly do you want this?”

The students who will gain the most out of my classes are not those who prefer “having written” to writing. I am strict, and demand a high level of productivity and commitment.

Because that is what you need if you plan to have a career in the arts.

High productivity.

Ever-increasing skills.

Commitment.

Persistence.

I spent most of my professional life earning my living in the theatre. I worked my way up to Broadway, production managed some indie films, and day-played on network television shows.

I made the decision that was what I wanted to do quite young, and started working professionally when I was 18, and still in college.

Did I ever do other things? Of course. I temped all over the country. I worked at nearly 200 different companies. I worked at many non-profits. Some of them were great experiences, like the Guggenheim Museum and the Neuberger Museum. I did a three-year stint for an art book publisher during the day while working off-off Broadway at night. I did five years working for the Stage Directors and Choreographers Foundation part-time, as I worked shows at night, moving from off-off Broadway to off-Broadway. Eventually, I worked enough off-Broadway to just work theatre, and write, and pick up some extra cash between gigs playing the horses at Aqueduct and Belmont and as a tarot reader.

Then, I worked at the Public Theatre for some people well-established in the field, who recommended me up the ladder to Broadway because they liked my work.

I made the leap.

At the same time I transitioned to Broadway, shows I wrote were produced in London, Edinburgh, and Australia, so I took time off from the transition in order to be with those shows in those locations.

When I worked on Broadway, I wrote. I had shows produced in small theatres. I collaborated with fellow artists.

I started getting back into writing not just plays, but short stories and novels again. I took workshops. I learned how to pitch. I learned more about effective pitching from working with film acquisitions people at conferences than anywhere else, and it is what I learned from those film people that honed my skills so that my novel pitches started to hit.

I made a tough decision that much as I loved writing scripts, I did not want to relocate to LA and start at the bottom of the ladder again. I didn’t want to do what was necessary to achieve a spot in a writer’s room. I respect writer’s rooms enormously, and the collaboration that goes on there. It is not an environment where I would thrive. Do I still write and pitch scripts? Yes. But I’m not going to earn a spot in a writer’s room of a television drama in LA. My career trajectory isn’t going to go there. I’m at peace with it. Most of the time. 😉

When it was time for me to leave Broadway, because the physical demands of the backstage work were too much, and mentally, I needed to stop splitting my focus between working on other people’s shows and my own, I left New York — and moved far enough away so that I wouldn’t be tempted back.

I dug in, and through a mix and match, and a lot of pain and frustration, made it work. I shifted and expanded what I write and how I handle my business in order to make a living. Unfortunately, I live in an area that talks big about celebrating artists, but doesn’t actually support working artists. Are you a visiting artist who likes the beauty and history of the area? They’ll fall all over you. Have a summer house? They grovel. But move here, live here year round and try to work? The attitude is that you must have failed elsewhere, so the expectation is for you to work three part-time jobs at minimum wage without benefits and do your art for “fun” because “we don’t pay for that.”

So I don’t work for them. I have some local clients I enjoy and value, who value me in return. I expanded my client base beyond the bridge, and reconnected with international contacts. I network here, sure, but have redrawn my boundaries, and when the demand is made to work for free, I say no. Because this is my business, not my hobby. I’m not living off a trust fund. I’m not writing for pin money. I am not supported by a corporate husband paying the bills.

This is my profession.

I talked in earlier posts about how if you don’t respect your own work, no one else will, either.

Saying “no” has done more to expand my business than saying “yes” to the wrong situations ever did.

Is my life perfect and without struggle? Of course not. I am still building the life I’ve always wanted. I will always be building the life I want, because life changes, breath to breath. You can either insulate yourself and pretend it doesn’t, or rage that the world refuses to change to suit you. or think on your feet and make the decisions that support your choices.

I knew, when I was six years old, that I wanted to be a writer. Once I fell in love with theatre, I wanted to do that, too. I had a dual career as long as it worked. While I have a multi-pronged writing career, it is also what I want. I like doing different things, having different facets and challenges.

Years ago, I thought I wanted an ivory tower existence. I imagined something quite different from what it is.

But what “is” is better, in many ways, than the roads not taken.

And the road I hope to build in the coming years will continue to improve. Not without obstacles, pain, and tangents — but if I persist, I can build something good.

I got here because when I asked myself, “How badly do you want this?” — my answer was, “Badly enough to do what it takes.”

 

Published in: on October 1, 2018 at 3:55 am  Comments Off on Mon. Oct. 1, 2018: Persistence — How Badly Do You Want It? #UpbeatAuthors  
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Inspiration from Place #UpbeatAuthors

Note: This was a previously-committed to post for the #upbeatauthors group. If you want to read about my response to Hurricane Harvey, it is the post above this one. I am not ignoring the suffering.

Trish Milburn‘s topic for the day is “Places that Inspire”. That covers a lot of ground. I can find ANY place I visit inspiring. I keep detailed travel journals when I go anywhere, and write up the details, especially sensory details. I collect maps and historical information. I collect contact information for chambers of commerce and tourism boards, so when I write about a place, I can go back and get the emotional geography correct.

Because setting is a character in my work (and I teach courses on it), it’s important to me to get the physical and emotional geography of a place correct. I’m pretty good at discerning when an author hasn’t visited a place and hasn’t done enough research to understand its unique feel/personality. Yes, it’s fiction, and it’s important to use imagination. But, if you are going to use a real place, or do what I call “stretching geography”, where you add the fictional places that support your story into a real environment, you need to get the physical and the sensory details right.

That’s a lecture for another day. 😉

For today, I am going to share with you some of the places that have inspired specific pieces of work. I’m having trouble posting photographs, but clicking through the links will get you all kinds of great images and information.

New York City
I grew up in a suburb of New York City, and spent plenty of time there. After a year of college elsewhere, I transferred back to NYU for film and television production, and then, after two years in San Francisco and a miserable year in Seattle, I moved back and worked my way up in theatre until I worked on Broadway. I loved the city, especially Central Park, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Natural History, the various New York Public Libraries, NYU itself, and all the neighborhoods. I lived through 9/11, in which 42 people I knew (firefighters, mostly, and cops, and people I’d gone to school with who worked in the towers). New York is an important part of my work.

It’s the primary setting for the Nina Bell Mysteries, which are in the 1990s, following a college graduate trying to build her life in the arts. She lives on E. 6th Street, and is an NYU alum, and works at theatres similar to the Public. I use my diaries from those years to make sure I have the geography right, and the events and how they affected those of us trying to ignore said events.

It’s where TRACKING MEDUSA, the first Gwen Finnegan mystery starts and ends. The book starts in the Gramercy Park area, and has major events at the main New York Public Library and a chase scene inside the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
(The book re-releases in January 2018. Visit http://gwenfinneganmysteries.devonellingtonwork.com for more information).

PLAYING THE ANGLES, the first Coventina Circle mystery, releasing on October 2, takes places in various NYC locations, most of it in the Broadway neighborhood, since much of the action takes place backstage on a Broadway show. So that’s midtown. I used to live in the area, on the corner of 42nd St. and 8th Avenue, over a strip club which is now a comedy club, across from the Port Authority bus terminal, and a short walk to the Broadway theatres at which I worked. I’d regularly walk back from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, so I could spend time in Central Park. ANGLES also has scenes in Greenwich Village and Morag’s Upper West Side apartment. The second book in the series, THE SPIRIT REPOSITORY is mostly set in Greenwich village, around the publisher for whom Bonnie works, and the bookshop that Rupert owns, with forays to the Upper West Side and down to the Bowery. Most of the books in the series will have NYC locations, although I plan to get them out of the city at times! (http://www.coventinacircle.devonellingtonwork.com)

SAVASANA AT SEA, the first Nautical Namaste Mystery that releases in November, starts in New York City, at Union Square, where yoga studios have bloomed in the last few years. It also has locations at the cruise ship piers, and Sophie shares a brownstone in Brooklyn, inspired by one owned by a friend of mine.

I love the city deeply; I just don’t want to live there any more!

SCOTLAND
I have a deep love of Scotland. Two of my shows have been produced at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, and I lived in Edinburgh for a month at a time with each. I’ve visited the city frequently, and travelled a good deal throughout the country: St. Andrews, Skye, the borders, but especially Ayrshire, where I’ve rented an apartment in Culzean Castle through the Scottish National Trust a couple of times.

The area is amazing — friendly people, beautiful scenery, great food. A basic conversation in passing can be the seed of a story.

A big chunk of TRACKING MEDUSA is set in a fictional town in Ayrshire, not far from Culzean, where Gwen and Justin confront Gwen’s past and discover the secrets of the Medusa statue.

Eastern and Western Scotland are very different from each other, in atmosphere, in geography, in sensory detail. The jet stream allows Culzean to grow tropical plants. The coast around St. Andrews can’t mistaken for the isle of Arran in the west. And the Highlands are a world unto themselves (not to mention that the signs are in Scots Gaelic first and sometimes English underneath). Someone from Glasgow speaks differently than someone from Edinburgh than someone from Skye. The cadence is difference, the timbre is different. Yes, there’s a “Scottish” accent different from English or Welsh or Irish, but there are also regional differences within it. Each one is delightful in its own way, but easy to pick up a false ring in a piece.

It’s very obvious when a writer sets something in Scotland and has never visited — it comes across more like a Rennfaire in upstate New York than genuinely in Scotland.

Northumbria
This is Hotspur Percy country, which is why I originally visited when I first graduated high school, and I keep coming back. The border shifted — it’s England, it’s Scotland, it’s England, it’s Scot– you get the idea.

Northumbrians have a thick north England accent, thicker than Yorkshire, but different from Scotland. They are very proud of their area.

My favorite places are Alnwick (now famous because the castle is used for Hogwarts) and Alnmouth. But my ultimate favorite is Lindisfarne, Holy Island, still cut off by the tide twice a day.

Lindisfarne has the ruins of a Priory, where illuminated manuscripts were created, and a castle. Two hotels, several pubs and shops, holiday cottages, a few people, a lot of sheep. When the tourists leave and the tide comes in, and it’s cut off, it’s magic.

I first learned about Lindisfarne when I was a kid, reading HIGHLIGHTS FOR CHILDREN magazine, when they had a story about monks saving the illuminated manuscripts. I vowed to visit, and did, right after high school. I can’t stay away. I have photographs that show the erosion of the ruins over the years.

A section of TRACKING MEDUSA is set there, at some of my favorite places, including the Abbey, the beach, and the kilns.

I’ve also visited the battle site of Otterburn. It was autumn when I was there; no one else around. I walked through the darkening woods, it got quieter and the birds stopped chirping. You could feel the weight of the dead. I had similar sensations when visiting Glencoe and Culloden in Scotland, but because Otterburn is smaller, more isolated, and more overgrown, it stayed with me more strongly.

Prague
Prague is an amazing city, centuries of history handled like they happened last week.

Locals sigh and talk about how nothing has been the same since The Battle of the White Mountain. I thought that was in WWII, and understood how it could still have an impact. Then I looked it up at it was in 1620! That gives you a good sense of the emotional geography of the place.

One also always has the sense of being watched. It’s not “Big Brother” or left over from Soviet occupation. It’s all the statues on the roofline that stare down at you.

I plan to use Prague as a setting for several pieces, but it’s in an upcoming serial novel about filming a television show, and part of the pilot is shot in Prague. There’s a lovely sequence on the Charles Bridge between Old Town and Mala Strana, because it’s so different on either side of the bridge.

Cape Cod
One of the reasons I moved here is because the place inspired me so much. My family’s visited since 1968. The National Seashore at Eastham and Race Point Beach in Provincetown are two big favorites, as is the Aschumet Sanctuary with all its holly trees, closer to where I actually live.

I’ve set a lot of pieces on Cape Cod. Morag’s family has a house here in PLAYING THE ANGLES. I’ve used it in quite a few short stories, and in an upcoming novel called THE TIE-CUTTER (Ayrshire, Scotland, is also heavily involved, as is Iceland).

Living here and visiting are very different, so I encourage any author who writes about the place to do more than a flying visit, if you expect me to believe your characters are more than summer people! No matter how many years I live here, I will always be a washashore, which is fine with me. It’s also a term I’d never heard in all the years I visited, but everyone made it clear to me once I moved in!

Any place can provide inspiration, if you look for it. Take time and get to know your home region. When you travel, don’t just post on social media and take video with your phone — experience the place directly, and then it will resonate in your writing.