Thurs. Oct. 1, 2020: Die For Tourist Dollars Day 134 — First Full Moon of the Month

image courtesy of Public Domain Pictures via pixabay.com

Thursday, October 1, 2020

Full Moon

Pluto, Neptune, Uranus, Mars Retrograde

Cooler

There’s a new garden post over on Gratitude and Growth.

The new furnace is IN. It took them almost all day to finish yesterday – and they were here by 7:15 in the morning.

The new furnace is impressive. Very fancy. With a big, complicated filter my landlord can’t expect me to find at the local building store. It’s a special order. The amount of new ductwork they had to build and run is astonishing.

The new thermostat is pretty cool, too. And the heat actually works upstairs, which it barely did all last winter, so there’s a nice change.

The crew had skill, knowledge, precision, and an eye for detail. They were nice to have around, and caused a minimum of disruption.

They explained stuff that needed explaining without mansplaining. They were friendly and neat.

Nobody ever sneer that these guys aren’t skilled or specialists or not worth the money, because they are.

So, while the office was not easy to deal with (mostly because they refused to communicate directly and I got everything second-hand), the actual crew that came out and did the work was stellar.

I worked from home for my client. It took a long time to get the next ad right. I couldn’t get the right look for it, but finally got something workable. It’s not as good as this week’s ad, in my opinion, but it works for what we need.

Remote Chat was fun.

But I was wiped out by the time the furnace was in, everything was cleaned up, the guys were gone.

The cats – they were hellions. Tessa was fine. She hung out in my room, the way she usually does, and ignored it all.

Willa and Charlotte had to be confined to their playpens upstairs. Willa managed to roll her playpen to the top of the stairs; I caught her before she tried to roll down. She taught Charlotte to roll her playpen, too, so the two of them rolled their playpens all day – sometimes into each other, which then caused hissing and growling.

It took them awhile to calm down, once everything was cleared out and they were let free. Then, they passed out in their favorite chairs, and that was it for them for the night.

I collapsed into bed early again last night. I woke up once, but managed to get back to sleep and slept through until a little after 5 (so, normal time for me). I’m still tired, but better.

This morning, I have the online meditation with the group from the Concord Library. Then, I have to run to Trader Joe’s. We need a few things that can’t wait until next week’s Big Shop. Then, I have to get some client work done; after that, it’s decorating.

Today is October 1, the first of two full moons we have this month. The Samhain decorating begins! I’m excited.

That includes taking down the lace curtains and putting up the spider web curtains. Decorating inside and out. Eventually, photos will be up on my Instagram account: @devonellingtonwork.

I have a feeling it won’t be finished today!

I managed to outline a suspense novel that I’d plotted Tuesday night when I woke up at midnight and couldn’t get back to sleep, and made some notes on a fantasy idea. I wish some of these could be short stories, but no – they’re all long.

I have to figure out how to integrate these other projects I’ve been noodling with those on deadline. I have a resistance to working on stuff that was on deadline before the pandemic. I have to get over it and get back on track.

But at least I got some updates done on my clips, which helps.

Late afternoon, we have another Knowledge Unicorns session. After that, I have an NYU alumni event via Zoom on food activism, and after THAT, I have a NEW YORK TIMES OFFSTAGE event with Broadway people (also via Zoom) about adapting performance to the pandemic.

A very Zoom-y day, and busy on multiple levels.

I hope you have a peaceful day.

Wed. Aug. 26, 2020: Die For Tourist Dollars Day 98 — Mail-in Ballot Issues

survey-1594962_1920
image courtesy of andibreit via pixabay.com

Wednesday, August 26, 2020
Waxing Moon
Pluto Retrograde
Saturn Retrograde
Jupiter Retrograde
Neptune Retrograde
Uranus Retrograde
Sunny and cooler

The Ink-Dipped Advice post will go up later today. I’m still working on it.

Had a fun Zoom meeting yesterday morning. We made it work, in spite of my idiot neighbor across the street deciding he had to start using his bulldozer before 8 AM, making enough noise and vibration to rattle the windows. I’m also tired of the view out of my front windows now being piles of gravel and dirt. If I wanted to live in an industrial area, I would have moved to a city that’s transitioning from mills to living space, shops, restaurants, etc. I shouldn’t have to be subjected to heavy machinery in a residential area 7 days a week.

The rest of the morning was given over to client work and LOIs. I got a lot more done in the space of a few hours than I expected, which was a good thing.

It got progressively hotter and more humid. Even with the fans on, we sweltered. And it’s not like we could keep the windows open with the idiots leafblowing dirt all over the place. I tried to work on the back deck, but then the people on the property behind us had TWO leafblowers going – on dirt, not leaves – sending up clouds of dirt. Plus, whatever fuel they used smelled so strong it reached across 1/3 of an acre and made me so nauseated I had to go inside, and thought I would vomit.

I’d woken up around 3 in the morning, yesterday, thanks to pandemic brain. So by 2:30 in the afternoon, I was wiped out. I tried to take a bit of a nap. It was more of a doze.

Reading a book by a new-to-me author that I like so far, but am not completely won over, because she’s using clichés for theatre people instead of treating them as, you know, real people. It’s not too bad, yet, but we’ll see where it goes. I like the protagonist and the situation and the relationships.

Will finish the book for review in the next couple of days to get that out, and also have a book to read for NYU’s virtual book club (which is fun). The book is very serious, but the virtual club is fun.

I’m not watching the RNC Hate Rally. It’s sickening, but then, the whole administration is sickening.

I still don’t have my ballot, the Town Clerk can’t be bothered to respond to any of my requests (no surprise there), and I’m not showing up as registered on the state’s website. But then, our Village doesn’t show up on the state’s website. The list of towns comes up very specifically (we are one of seven villages as part of the town) with the way it has to be entered in the search (village/town/county), but the village/town doesn’t come up as an option and I can’t type it in, and when I go for the town itself, it comes up as an error. I’ve been a registered voter for 10 years, I’ve voted in every single election, I checked my registration a few weeks ago, and I got the paperwork as a registered voter to request the ballot. What the fuck is going on? And why won’t anyone answer any questions? It’s unacceptable. The state site says I have to contact the Town Clerk – WHO WON’T GIVE ME THE COURTESY OF A RESPONSE!!!!

This is not a major city. This is a small town with very little going on – ever, except developers screwing over residents – and completely incompetent town government.

My mother isn’t feeling well. I think the change in medication she got last week was the wrong one. We have a call in to the doctor.

I’d like to just go back to bed, but that is not an option.

At least I have Remote Chat to look forward to. I have to go onsite to a client’s, which I am NOT looking forward to, as they’re laxer every day in following safety protocols.

Please share the information on Grief to Art with those who might need it. The death toll from the virus continues to climb, and no one in the administration gives a damn. We’re all collateral damage to their profit.

Grief to Art Logo

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. June 18, 2018: Follow Your Dreams — A Personal Story #UpbeatAuthors

Monday, June 18, 2018
Waxing Moon
Jupiter Retrograde
Saturn Retrograde
Pluto Retrograde

I’ve lived my life by that motto.

I knew I wanted to be a writer by the time I was six years old. I published in school magazines and newspapers. As a teen, I wrote plays, and I did press releases and other articles for local and regional newspapers about the high school music groups with which I was associated.

In college, I got away from the writing (although I wrote plenty of awful poetry) when I committed to theatre. I graduated high school early, tested my way out of freshman year, and entered Florida State University in Tallahassee mid-year. I took a stage lighting class. I was supposed to put in 20 hours of lab work in the theatre during the semester. I put 20 hours in my first week and never left the building until I transferred to NYU’s film and television program a year later. I got terrific experience at FSU, and even picked up a few side rock and roll gigs.

I transferred to NYU and got into the film department. My first day in film school, I met the guy who still, all these decades later, is one of my closest friends. But, because I was practical and a problem-solver, I wound up more on the production management level than the writing level. I had two brilliant professors, who encouraged me, and with whom I’m still in contact. One was my screenwriting professor, and I wish I’d studied more with him. I still use what I learned from him, in screenwriting, playwrighting, radio writing, and novels.

I picked up theatre jobs here and there. In other words, I started earning my living in the arts when I was 18. Any non-arts job I ever had was only temporary, and in between shows, for the cash. I knew I wasn’t suited to an office job or anything the fearful call “a real job.” Honey — working in the arts is about giving EVERYTHING and leaving it out there. It’s far more real than ANY office job. So shut the eff up.

When I graduated from NYU, I moved to the west coast for three years to work in regional theatre. I knew I needed experiences outside of New York. I loved it, but I also knew that if I was going to realize my dream of working on Broadway, I had to be in New York. While I was west, I spent some time in LA and knew it wasn’t for me.

I came back east, initially to help with a family issue, for two months. I immediately landed a stage management job and worked my way up in the off-off-off-off Broadway community. (I had worked as a stage manager and production manager in San Francisco, and as a props person in Seattle). I switched to wardrobe (as a stage manager in small SF companies, I’d often both stage managed and handled quick changes). I worked my way from off-off-off Broadway to off-off Broadway and then to off-Broadway. I did some work in New York as a stage manager and an associate production manager, for the Pearl Theatre and for Manhattan Class Company. I did wardrobe for the Vineyard, and then spent several seasons at Manhattan Theatre Club, which led to open-ended runs rather than repertory.

While I was still working off-off Broadway, I spent three years working during the day for an art book publisher. I learned an enormous amount that has served my writing career well, working both sides of the table. I worked in the development offices of the Neuberger Museum and the Guggenheim Museum. At the latter, I spent my lunch hour walking the museum, immersing myself in the art. I worked part-time for five years for the Stage Directors and Choreographers Foundation, when it was so small the staff consisted of the Executive Director and me, putting on seminars and support groups and roundtables and award shows. I learned so much.

It was at Manhattan Theatre Club where I had the honor of working with Arthur Miller and Athol Fugard within the same six months. I’d started writing again. Even though I was the wardrobe girl, Athol respected that I wrote, that I was starting to define myself as a writer. He invited me to sit in on rehearsals any time I wanted, to ask any questions I wanted. I did, and I learned an amazing amount from him. He directed what he wrote, but he kept his writing self and his directing self separate.

On the first day of rehearsal, in his opening remarks, he said, “I have good news and bad news. The good news is that the writer is dead in this process. There will be no revisions during rehearsal. The bad news is that I promised him you chaps would speak every line exactly as written.”

I loved it. He demanded respect for the words. No paraphrasing (which American actors tend to do more than any other actors, claiming to be “in the moment” when, in reality, most of them simply haven’t bothered to take the time to memorize).

I worked with Arthur Miller within the same six months (their plays were produced one after the other in the season). I adored him. He was one of the most vibrant, vital, intelligent people I ever met. He used to hang out in the wardrobe room during the show sometimes.

At the time, I was getting back into writing. Monologues for actresses with whom I worked, who couldn’t find good monologues for auditions. Who landed the job every time they used something I wrote for them. I was also working on a short story, for a themed competition.

I wrote the first draft on butcher paper in between cues in the wardrobe room. I typed it up and worked on revisions between cues (there were long periods where I didn’t have any quick changes with my actors). I hid the pages in the room, but Arthur found them one evening when I was on the deck doing quick changes.

I was mortified when I returned to the room and found him reading the pages. He was Arthur Miller! I was, well, me.

He looked up and said, “This is good. What are you doing working backstage?”

“I like it. Plus, you know, I like to do things like eat. I have to pay the rent.”

“You need to write full time. You’ll never be the writer you can be, find your full potential, until you rely on it to pay the bills.”

David Mamet told me something very similar when we worked together.

Arthur gave me some suggestions on the text. He never treated me like “less than” because he was Arthur Miller and I was a wardrobe girl scribbling in a corner. He always treated me like a colleague. We kept in touch until his death, and he always pushed me to do better, be more — and only write.

It was quite a few years before I had the courage to only write — and it was AFTER I’d accomplished my dream of working on Broadway.

The monologues I wrote expanded to plays, the plays that would take me to fringe festivals in both Edinburgh and Australia. I found my work got a much stronger reception in Europe than in the US. It wasn’t angsty enough for the American audiences at the time; there was too much sharp humor.

I landed at the Public Theatre and worked with one of my idols, Hal Prince. Another person at the top of his craft who liked and respected everyone with whom he worked. The assistant designers at the Public were working on Broadway and took me with them when the show at the Public closed.

I found myself learning how to be a swing dresser on Broadway, on the production of MISS SAIGON, and in the union. Each series of cues a dresser performs during the course of the show is called a “track.” If you read my novel PLAYING THE ANGLES, set backstage on a Broadway show, my protagonist Morag is a Broadway dresser.

MISS SAIGON had 13 tracks. I learned them in 26 performances. You follow the dresser once to learn it; the dresser follows you as you do it. Within three months, after swinging every track on the show multiple times, the lead actresses who played Kim requested me when their regular dresser took another job. I stayed with the show for five years, until it closed.

It was an amazing, creative group. We wrote plays, songs, other performances, and all went to each others’ shows. Which took place at midnight, in various venues around the city. We put on our own shows, and hung out with the cast & crew of other shows like SNL at KGB. We did The Easter Bonnet Competition and Gypsy of the Year and Broadway Bares to raise money for AIDs and breast cancer. I worked the Tony Awards once and attended it twice over my years on Broadway.

I think I had four shows I wrote produced during that time, in small venues. Dozens of monologues and short pieces. A few short stories published. MISS SAIGON closed and I worked on other shows at other theatres: RENT, GYPSY (the Bernadette Peters version), FOLLIES, 42ND ST, SIX DANCE LESSONS IN SIX WEEKS (with Mark Hamill, who became one of my favorite people ever), URINETOWN, and then as a swing on the first 3 1/2 years of WICKED.

I loved it, but I knew I was aging out. Physically, it was getting tougher and tougher. Mentally, I was struggling to get the writing done and work full time on Broadway. They’re not kidding when they say, “The theatre is a jealous mistress.”

By this point, I was also day-playing on television shows shooting in New York. For the money. I could earn in one day on set when I earned in a week on Broadway. I liked it. I learned so, so much. But I didn’t love it the way I loved Broadway. I’m better suited to theatre production than television production. Which is a shame, from a financial standpoint.

I was also writing about sports for various publications. I covered horse racing and ice hockey. Thirteen years’ worth of Triple Crown races; traveled with a minor league hockey team for eight months as background for a book. Covered America’s Cup races and learned about sailing, although I can’t even swim.

By this point, the first Jain Lazarus Adventures were out, ASSUMPTION OF RIGHT, DIXIE DUST RUMORS, and a bunch of short stories and anthologies. I was writing for calendars and almanacs. I was doing marketing writing for companies. I was writing and teaching and working on novels and trying to build a writing career as the publishing world changed. I hit a point where I had to make a decision. I had to decide if I would stop writing or if I would give up Broadway.

I knew I couldn’t continue physically on Broadway much longer — heavy costumes, raked stages, blowing out my knees running up and down concrete steps carrying stacks of clothes.

I chose writing.

SPRING AWAKENING was my last show as a swing on Broadway. The last event I worked was a staged reading of ALL ABOUT EVE, which had a plethora of people I loved working with involved, AND I got to bow out by working with Jennifer Tilly, Keri Russell, Peter Gallagher, Annette Bening, Angela Lansbury, Zoe Caldwell, and more. It was a great way to leave the business. I’d heard so many stories about how wonderful Peter Gallagher is, and thought, “No one can be that great” — he IS that great, and even better. I’ve never laughed as much with anyone as I did with Jennifer Tilly, and I loved working with Keri Russell (we had five quick changes in a staged reading, which means walking around holding scripts).

I moved away from New York to write. There are challenges. I live in a place that is a prime example of how trickle-down economy does not work. I live in place that, if you’re a working artist who visits, they fall all over you, but if you chose to LIVE here, you’re considered a failure and should get a “real” job. Honey, this is a real job. Granted, most of the clients who pay me well are remote, but I’m working a real job. I’m writing material that helps businesses grow and spread their message. I’m writing books that I love. I’m writing plays and radio plays that invigorate people.

I have always made the choices to do what I love. To fight for what I want, to refuse to compromise and be forced into work I hate. I have made plenty of personal compromises along the way.

Every single one of them has been worth it.

Just because I love what I do does not mean I don’t deserve to be paid for it. Loving my work does not mean I don’t deserve to earn a living at it. I do. And nothing less is acceptable.

Those who don’t have the courage to follow their dreams often try to punish those of us who do.

They are not worth our time or our energy.

Do what you love. Follow your dreams. Make them your reality.

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.

Fri. May 31, 2013: Second Intense Day in NY

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Freedom Tower at Ground Zero

Friday, May 31, 2013
Waning Moon
Saturn Retrograde
Sunny and hot

Yesterday was another intense day. I’d forgotten that those are the only kinds of days that exist in NY.

It was all about downtown, from Battery Park up to the Village. Didn’t get in everything I wanted. My feet were still very sore from the previous day. I opted for comfort over vanity and wore my Timberland sneakers instead of cute shoes. Thank goodness I did.

We see a lot of photos of the Freedom Tower, but it’s a completely different experience to be there. The power of the building, and the love, care, and pride that went into it can’t be expressed in a photograph. I’m one of the people who didn’t want it built — I believe the entire site should be non-commercial, and I loathe the guy who has the lease on the property. Not once did he ever express sadness or horror at the tragedy of 9/11 — he only squawked about his money. He should not have been allowed to retain the lease on the property.

But the tower itself — the construction crew working on it understand what they’re doing. It’s not just a job for them. They’re pouring a lot more into it, and it shows. It affects the physical building and the emotional geography of the place in a beautiful way that it couldn’t if I bunch of guys who didn’t give a damn had been hired.

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The Bell of Hope at St. Paul’s

I was happy to see St. Paul’s — I’d been afraid it was squished in the buildings’ fall, but it wasn’t. I used to sit in the second floor Borders Cafe in the Towers and look over the ancient graveyard. Now, it has tributes to the fallen, and the Hope Bell, consecrated by the Archbishop of Canterbury the year after the tragedy.

Took lots of photos at Trinity Church, where a big portion of the harpy trilogy’s major turning point take place. I’d forgotten the odd layout of the church and how difficult it is to circumvent it. So I took lots of photos to get the geography right for those sequences, picked the spot where Kirval is murdered.

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Graveyard at Trinity Church

Found an interested grave of a young Naval Captain who died at 32 in a skirmish in 1813, and his widow, who lived to be 77. I will do some more research on them.

On down to Battery Park. Castle Clinton, the fort, is under renovation and not open to the public, but I got some photos of the exterior.

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I forgot how beautiful that waterfront is, with the Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island, and how the NJ waterfront is being revitalized.

Headed up through Battery Park, where Carey (again, from the Harpy Trilogy) lives, and the waterfront section where he runs and where he meets Sascha, the siren. So I’ve got that all photographed and mapped out for both physical and emotional geography.

Walked up through Tribeca and Soho, where I stopped for lunch at an Argentinean Bistro. Their wine list was fantastic, but with the heat and all, I stuck to simple iced tea and a turkey sandwich with mixed green salad. Who knew a turkey sandwich could be so good? Eavesdropped relentlessly on some of the other diners, and have a LOT of self-impressed individuals to skewer in future work.

I found some possibilities for Valerie’s building (again, the Harpy Trilogy). There’s one in particular, which used to house a thread company — if it’s now condos, hers will be on the top floor (even though the building doesn’t have a terrace and hers does). The other possibility is not to have her live in that area of Soho, but further west, on Greenwich St. Several of their buildings have terraces that look out towards the river. The thread company building– no way could you see the river.

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One of the paths Carey runs near Battery Park in the Harpy Trilogy

Walked up to the Village. Absolutely sickened by the way NYU has torn apart the neighborhood’s historical buildings to build boxy, ugly, soulless behemoths. There’s no reason that a creative architect couldn’t refashion the historically valuable buildings of the area to work for the school. But, no, instead, the design is similar to the South Bank of London’s ugly buildings of the 1960s, only they front it with brick to pretend they’re trying to keep it in the tone of the area. Disgusting.

My favorite cafe (where I wrote many papers, many stories, and had many assignations) is now a cheap, ugly Mexican restaurant (there are plenty of wonderful Mexican restaurants in the city — you can tell this isn’t one of them). Since I plan to keep using my favorite cafe in that location in my work, I will have to put an author’s note in those books.

Wanted to hit Strand Books, but couldn’t stand the thought of walking much more. It was in the 90’s and humid (good thing I remembered the sunscreen). Instead, I slipped into Grace Church to regroup. Except some dunderheads were doing construction. I’m sorry, but it’s NEVER appropriate to swear in a church, and use your INSIDE voice, dumbasses! If it’s open for contemplation during renovation, YOU must work around that. That’s what they’re doing at St. Patrick’s — there are renovations going on (with scaffolding, et al INSIDE), but the workers are being very sensitive to the fact that they’re working in a CHURCH. If it bothers me, who is not a churchgoer, it must truly hurt those who belong in there.

The Cathedral of St. John the Divine, one of my favorite places in the world, is always under construction (because we, as humans, are never “finished”), and their workers are always aware of what they’re doing and where they are.

Headed across to Knickerbocker’s, a nice place on University and 9th, where I had a wonderful catch-up session with the guy who was my college professor and advisor. We had a GREAT time. It also made me realize how much he and my other favorite professor helped me find the language to articulate my beliefs and values, and gave me the tools I needed to pursue my passion — even if I wasn’t always sure what that was.
Great time.

Headed back on the subway, picked up Chinese food, and was back at the brownstone in the early evening. Pretty much collapsed after dinner. Wrapped my feet in cool washcloths, and dozed off and on until Imp got home. The Puerto Rican Street Cat was worried about me, and checked on me every few minutes, taking up sentry duty at the door. Heat exhaustion, I overdid it.

During the bouts I was awake, I re-hydrated as best I could, and rested.

Slept well. My hosts have a sad situation here that has to be dealt with this morning, so I moved my appointments to later in the day in order to stay here and support them.

It will be another busy day and tomorrow — I get to go HOME. I’ve had a wonderful trip, but I want and need to be HOME.

PS — Thanks for all the shoe support! Or should I say, shoeless support!

Devon

Thursday, March 17, 2011


Ashumet Holly Sanctuary

Thursday, March 17, 2011
Waxing Moon
Saturn Retrograde
Supposedly sunny
St. Patrick’s Day

Well, yesterday was full out, but it was fun. Got some work done in the morning (although not enough — familiar refrain).

Out the door on time, dropped something off for my mom, wound up at the Cotuit Library early, but they were kind and took me in out of the rain. I stayed in a corner looking at books until they were ready for the event (I could have offered to help, but they have a system, and it would have slowed them down, at that point).

Anyway, the lunch was terrific, and the event was a lot of fun. Author Carol McCleary talked about her new book, THE ILLUSION OF MURDER. She writes a mystery series featuring one of my personal heroines, Nelly Bly, one of the first all-round investigative journalists and a champion for women and children’s rights. When I saw this in the events calendar I had to go — I’ve got the first book still in a box (the box is marked TBR, but, well, it’s still a box), and already had the second book on pre-order. So I was very excited to attend. Carol is a lovely, lively, smart, funny woman and had the whole audience with her for each moment. Makes me even more eager to read the books. And, of course, the lunch spread was great — it always is. And I met some really great people and there was some talk about future events and my possible involvement. I love supporting fellow authors and celebrating their new releases — when one succeeds, it brightens the future for all of us.

The woman sitting next to me was a fellow NYU grad, fascinated by film, daughter a librarian in NY, used to attend the Y where my mom used to work, goes to the track in Saratoga with her current (third) husband — one of those great synchronicity things. She told me some great NY theatre/opera stories from the times slightly before my own — I’ve filed them away in the brain, and I’m sure I’ll use them one day. It was a great conversation.

It was a lovely way to spend the late morning/early afternoon, even in this miserable weather. I also found some great books in the library, which I checked out and lugged home.

And, when I got home — I did my follow-up. I’m always emphasizing to my students how important quick follow-up is when you meet new people, and then I putter around and put it off. Not this time — I did it properly! 😉 And I even heard back from Carol a few hours later — it’s great to find kindred spirits, as Anne of Green Gables would say!

Came home, did my follow-up, commented on some of the student work, made the business cards and post cards I needed to take to the dinner.

Drove to the dinner, felt rather at a loss because I didn’t know anyone. Not one familiar face in the room. And I’m not a naturally outgoing person. I’m shy and awkward around people I don’t know. But a table full of friendly fellow writers invited me to join them, and we were off to lots of good conversation and interesting stories. They also taught me how to do things like pronounce “Cotuit” properly.

I also got to meet J. Bean Palmer, who writes the children’s series featuring the Cape Cod Witch. I first found the books at the gift shop in the National Marine Life Center in Buzzards Bay and think they’re absolutely delightful, so it was great to meet the person who wrote them!

Jim Hill was the speaker, with a lively presentation on the uses of social media. And I met another charming woman who is also the chair of the New England Chapter of the Herb Society of America, who has one of the best and most inventive ideas for a children’s book I’ve ever heard. And she lives only a few blocks away — talk about synchronicity. There was another lovely woman whose first book is published next week — I meant to get info and didn’t run into her again. I told her to schedule something for release day so it’s not depressing if her publisher doesn’t fuss over her appropriately! A release day is a celebration!

All in all, a terrific evening at a rather odd chain restaurant that dealt with a larger-than-expected group of lively writers as well as they could.

What I love about people here is they don’t get all defensive about their writing — people are happy to talk about it and happy to support each other. Because we ARE all in this together, and when one of us is successful, it’s good for all of us. People NEED stories — it’s hardwired into us. Publishers and marketers can pretend there’s a limited need, but they’re looking at their own agenda, not how people are built.

I look at my students’ work in the current workshop — every single one of those books is unique enough and creative enough and intriguing enough to deserve publication. And I bet the bulk of the work the writers at tonight’s dinner is the same. We just have to keep at it, encourage each other, and use each individual victory to make us all more determined.

I’m going to schedule this to publish now, and try to tackle some more student work before bedtime — I will be out of the house and headed to Boston to the Flower Show early tomorrow, and I don’t want to leave my students dangling. Oh, and I did the post-dinner follow-up immediately — I better walk my talk, right?

I took a wrong turn coming home — down Phinney’s Lane instead of ShootFlyingHIll Road (locals will get a chuckle out of that) — in other words, I took the long way home through the fog. I hate driving in fog, but this is the Cape, and there is FOG, so I better learn how to fucking deal. 😉

Onward.

Devon

Join Lori Widmer and me on March 26 for the one-day online seminar The Confident Freelancer. More info here.

Wednesday, July 6, 2010

Tuesday, July 6, 2010
Waning Moon
Pluto Retrograde
Neptune Retrograde
Uranus Retrograde
Hot, humid, sunny, sticky

The humidity wasn’t a problem yesterday until later in the day, although the heat soared. Today, I doubt we’ll be that lucky. Now they’re saying we’ll break 100. That’s pretty rare around here.

I wanted to put studio time in, but the website wasn’t updated, and no one answered the phone, so it was a pretty good bet they were closed.

I got out a couple of queries for the plays. I finished the draft changing BEHIND THE MAN from a three-act interactive piece to a two-act proscenium piece. I expanded it a bit in Act I and have to add some more in Act II — it’s still a little short. And I need to work on the new material. It’s not yet seamlessly integrated with the other material.

I started the same transformation on THE MATILDA MURDERS. My dilemma there is that one of the jokes in the interactive version is that all the characters interact/acknowledge the audience except Nate, and he starts to wonder if he’s crazy or if they’re crazy. I’ve been trying to make that work in the two-act structure, but it doesn’t. I may have to lose that whole element. That makes the gap between the three-act and two-act versions wider, which is a good thing, but means I have to come up with extra business to replace the business I’m cutting, and, again, make the play longer.

It’s a fascinating process.

Finished Susan Turnbull’s ALMOST FRENCH. In many ways, it works better for me than Elizabeth Gilbert’s overpraised EAT, PRAY, LOVE. Don’t get me wrong — I think Gilbert’s writing is beautiful. But, to me, she went on this incredible journey and ended up in the same place she started. The man was a different individual and the location was different, but she hadn’t really made progress. The entire focus of her existence was still on a man. Yes, she spent time on her own, but one never got a sense that she developed as an individual. It was always in how she related to the men on her journey. And then, the second book of hers that came out a few months ago, is a justification as to why she agreed to marry this new guy after swearing she’d never get married again. Don’t plan to read it. It’s none of my business. It’s her life, not mine. I don’t care what she does, and if she wants to change her mind, that’s up to her. But she’s doing it publicly, and in my opinion, she’s being well-paid to be a hypocrite. It doesn’t matter on a personal level because we are not a part of each other’s lives. I think it’s great she’s a success, good for her, it’s hard to make a living in this business. So, she found out her “ethics” on the matter of remarriage weren’t all that strong when push came to shove and she’d have to make actual compromises for her supposed “principles.” I don’t need to spend my hard-earned money reading her justification. Turnbull, on the other hand, although she comes to Paris because she’s fallen in love with a guy, actually builds a life AND a partnership, and, for all the growth and change she manages during the six years before her marriage, she also stays true to an essential core of herself, even when she makes mistakes, even when it’s not always pretty, even if she’s not always right. And I really like and respect that about both her and her book. She doesn’t make excuses or justifications. She simply IS. She’s doing the best she can, she’s learning along the way, and she’s taking joy in the journey. For a memoir, there’s not a whole lot of naval-gazing going on, and yet she has a wonderful journey of self-discovery.

Roughed out two comedy sketches, one political, one more universal, about scumbag landlords. They still need work — the political one needs more zap leading to the end, and it’s very vicious. I may need to dial down the viciousness, yet still be witty enough to get my point across. But they were fun to write. I want to write two more, polish them, and that will be my first bunch sent to the comedy group.

Started reading Adriana Trigani’s LUCIA, LUCIA, which is a lovely novel. I’m throughly enjoying it. Although most of it is set in the Greenwich Village of the 1950’s, enough of it remained when I went to NYU in the 80’s to enjoy the landmarks. Some of them are still there, but NYU is rapidly buying up all the lovely historical buildings, ripping them down, and building soulless dormitories. I’m sometimes embarrassed to be an NYU alum; it used to mean something, one could take pride in it, but now — they’ve been such poor stewards of the grace and history of the Village for the past twenty years that it’s disgusting.

Will try to get some writing done and read at least a bit of the play sent over by my acquaintance before it gets too hot to work and I have to shut off the computer. We have to “conserve power” — either the air can be on or the TV or the computer. Let’s see, now, Con Ed raises our fees by 17% every year, but can’t provide the power we need. Something’s not only twisted about that, but fraudulent. Their JOB, their reason for existence, is to provide the power we need because we’re paying for it. Fingers crossed they don’t screw us like they usually do — there’s no place I can take the cats to cool down if the power goes out.

No studio time for me today. It’s not even 7:30 in the morning, and I feel like I’ve been hit by a truck. I do not do well in heat and humidity. I am a Winter Girl all the way!

Elsa is hanging in there. She’s not making huge progress, but she’s eating better and interacting more and making decisions. She’s not backsliding, although the heat and humidity are tough on her, too. Still waiting to hear back from the vet about her new medication. Getting a little tired of having to wait at least a week every time I make contact.

Stay cool, stay hydrated.

I’m going back to the page.

Devon