Friday, October 15, 2021

Dancing my ass off in private

Last year I discovered the joy of putting on rock music and dancing my ass off.  It was a way to move, to exercise, to lighten my spirit and forget the anguish that accompanied the twin catastrophes of Donald Trump and COVID.  Last year's Granny Owl thought it would be so cool to post videos of me, in my pajamas, 68-69 years old, overweight, dancing with abandon and joy, with no care taken of how it looks.  I thought it would give everyone, young and old, every body size, the idea that dancing around the living room can be fun and wonderful and carefree, the chance to be funky and silly and happy.

I'm not so naive that I didn't know I would be judged, and probably often very harshly.  I had already composed a response to those kids who called me ugly or fat or ridiculous or whatever.  I was going to write a post in which I told them that I hoped for them, if they were lucky enough to live as long as I have, that will they have people around them and support them and cheer them on.  I was going to change the world.

This year's Granny Owl is glad I never had Sweet Hubby make videos of me dancing to post on YouTube. These last couple of years have revealed even more blindingly than ever before how cruel, angry, and ugly people can be toward one another, the accusations and put-downs and threats they will hurl at friends, at family, at strangers.  I want nothing to do with any of that.  I don't need to be famous and I don't want to be judged.

So I'll just keep dancing for my own damn enjoyment.  I know I'm cool.  Sweet Hubby knows I'm cool.  That's all I need.

Tuesday, October 12, 2021

The voices in my head

I recently returned home from Goshen, IN where I was guest of Goshen College as winner of their 2020 Peace Play Prize.  As part of the prize, I was given the chance to speak to several theater classes as well as conduct a playwrighting workshop.  I also got to see 3 performances of my winning play, with audience talkback after each performance.  So all in all, I spent a lot of my time there talking about what it is to be a writer, specifically a playwright.

"Where do you get your ideas for plays?" was the most common question, especially "Where did the idea for this play come from?"  I don't always remember when each play was born, but I do remember exactly how this one came about.  I was tutoring a very talented 10 year old who was already a rather scarily good writer.  I suggested that we both create a character from scratch.  She wrote an entire one page story, which ended with an older woman happily, peacefully strangling herself with the chain of her locket so that she could be with her beloved dead son.  I discovered Lucinda Celeste.

I say 'discovered' because Lucinda emerged on paper that day almost fully developed.  She already had a name; I could already picture her (in her 50's, short gray hair, wearing old clothes); I knew her son had been used against her in some ghastly way; I knew she was going to have to make a choice about whether to capitulate to the government or fight back.  I had not been thinking about any of this, and was not at the time (probably mid to late 90's) politically active nor aware at all, although political activism was Lucinda's life and eventually became part of mine.

It's a strange thing to be asked to talk about the writing process.  It's so hard to describe how it happens: the rush of energy when a new play is flowing out of my pen; when loads of raw material is heaping up in a great, messy, glorious mound; when the un- or sub-conscious have opened themselves up unfettered.  It almost never feels as though I'm doing anything at all besides taking dictation.  I'm fairly sure the material comes from me, but it doesn't feel like that.  It feels as though I am a vessel, a conduit, for something that exists outside of me and wants expression.  Even though I work on my plays really hard and often for a long time, I can hardly ever say about them "I did that, I  made that happen".  It's more like "I allowed that to happen, that happened through me".  But that can be difficult to convey to people who want some sort of concrete answer.

"What do you write about?" is another frequent question, also difficult to answer in any sort of tidy way.  I don't write about things so much as I inhabit worlds which are different from mine, sometimes greatly so, sometime only a bit.  Even when a play is based on people I know or on direct experience, I'm not writing about those people or those experiences.  I'm living in a world peopled with characters who are full-bodied and complete.  I can hear their voices, I know their surroundings.  All I have to do is understand what they want, these characters, what is driving them, and what is getting in their way.  I often have no idea how their story ends when I begin.  But those stories are so real to me, so tangible, so vivid.  How to talk about all of that in a way that makes sense?  Or in a way that can teach anyone else to be a writer, because each writer has to find her own way of accessing imagination, her own way of inhabiting the world of the story.  I don't know that the way I write could or does resonate with anyone else, but it's what I know.  No, it's not something I know; it's something I simply surrender to.

Monday, September 27, 2021

How long for a song?

Sweet Hubby and I watched "Bohemian Rhapsody" last night, and it got me thinking: I wonder what it actually looks like when someone writes a song.  In movies, it's always made to look so easy.  Songwriters in films come up with one phrase or a few notes and suddenly have the song in their heads and down on paper.  But my experience as a writer is not like that at all.  The closest to the real thing I can remember seeing is Jane Fonda pounding away on a broken manual typewriter in "Julia".  

I've only written a couple of songs, but they are of the "A-B-A-B-A and so on" variety, with about as much nuance as a Sousa march, clump-clump-clump.  What does it take to come up with a song a real song with verses and chorus and bridges, a song that builds in intensity or tells a story, a brand new arrangement of a very limited number of notes and possible tempi?  

I know what it takes to write a play, at least the way I write a play.  At first it's almost always being caught up in a spark, an excitement, the dazzling promise of a new story or character idea that flows onto the paper in a rush until the heat has cooled.  The next day, reading the initial draft can sometimes ignite the same fire.  If it's a short play, sometimes two days (for some people two hours) is enough to get down a rough draft.  Full lengths take longer, but not much longer when the fever is upon me.

But then comes rewriting, editing, refining, polishing, exploring, trying trying trying.  A completely different part of the brain has to come forward and make itself heard.  Conscious choices have to be made.  Characters have to be forced to do what the story needs them to, not just whatever impulse inspires them to.  Delicious lines have to be cut and new lines need to be invented, and they have to have the same flavor, the same passion, the same flow as those first impulses.  There are readings, feedback from fellow writers, more rewrites.  Writing a play that's as good as I want it to be can take a long, long, long (I really don't want to admit how long for some of them) time.  So I do wonder, does it take that long, take that much work and sweat and thought, to write a song?  I'll have to ask Stephen Sondheim, should I ever run into him.  "So Stephen, how long did it take you to find a way to rhyme 'raisins' with 'liaisons' in a way that would scan correctly?"  I do wonder.

Monday, September 20, 2021

Dancing and death and stuff

As I was dancing my ass off recently, it occurred to me to tell Sweet Hubby that if I should happen to drop dead while dancing, he is to remember that I died completely happy, fully alive, and full of joy.

But when I think about our deaths, mine and SH's, I realized with a cold shudder that someone is going to have to clean up after us.  Someone, probably a niece or nephew, is going to have a come into our home and make a decision about every single tchotchke, scrap of paper, utensil, t-shirt, earring, photo, etc.  To whomever she or he or they end up being, first of all, my deepest apologies, and second of all, my deepest thanks.  Do what you like with all of it.  Keep it, share it, sell it, donate it, throw it away.

I've hoped that someone might enjoy our vast DVD collection, but now I realize the younger generations stream their movies.  Same for our CD collection.  Same for our book library.  Our stuff is the stuff of an older generation, a different time, already artifacts.  It's hard to imagine anyone will want any of it.  It's too bad just to throw it away, but if someone keeps it who doesn't want it, then it is clutter and a burden. 

Sigh.  I wish we had less stuff.

Is it all just going to end up on a trash heap?  Or worse, in the ocean?  Even if we start lightening our load of possessions, as we do in very small increments, it still goes somewhere on the planet.  SH does his best to find someone who wants what we're giving away, and that's reassuring.  But most of it is going to outlive us even after it has outlived its usefulness.  I am painfully aware of how all this stuff burdens not just us and those who come after us, but the planet as well.  It already exists, so me getting rid of it just moves it someplace else.  

Why do we have all this stuff?  My closet is full of clothes I don't wear.  Every article is nice and fits and is perfectly fine, but I tend to wear the same clothes over and over, so too many garments hang there unused.  I keep photos I don't look at and books I haven't read (yet, is what I tell myself) and scraps of paper with ideas for writing and mementos of occasions I barely remember.  And that's just my stuff.  SH's stuff triples the load.  I feel terrible for whomever has to deal with it in the end, and even worse for this poor planet who will have to deal with it into eternity or until full decomposition, whichever comes first.

I think we humans hold onto the artifacts of our lives, maybe partly because we want to remember our pasts, but mostly because we don't want to become nothing, don't want to face how ephemeral we truly are.  Our stuff says "I was here, I was this kind of person, I did this, I owned that."  This is a first world problem; not only a problem plaguing members of the first world, but a problem with which we first worlders plague the rest of the world.

Monday, September 13, 2021

Simple - but not easy

 As insipid a saying as it is, and as often as I sneered at Nancy Reagan for promoting it, finally it does come down to just saying no.  I'm speaking specifically about kicking an addiction, but the same simple wisdom applies to making all kinds of personal changes.  Say no to playing one more round of Candy Crush.  Say no to eating unhealthy foods.  Say no to being an asshole.  Say no to putting up with what you hate.

Join all the programs you are drawn to, go to rehab and therapy and meetings.  It will still, finally, come down to that moment when you say no.

If all that no feels too negative, then say yes.  Yes to taking a walk through the woods, to reading a book, to calling up a friend, to getting around to mowing the lawn, cleaning out the refrigerator, visiting Grandma, learning a new language, sitting quietly with a cup of tea or glass of wine.  Yes to eating what you know is good for you.  Yes to being more patient with your kids.  Yes to quitting the job you can't stand and trusting yourself to find another, better one.

It always has and always will come down to me - and you - making a decision and making it stick.  It's that simple.


Wednesday, September 1, 2021

Observations about Randy Newman. Also Dumbo.

A friend recently, and rather inexplicably, sent me the first season of Saturday Night Live on DVD.  I'm not sure why.  We hadn't talked about it, and I was never a consistent viewer.  But I thought it would be fun to take a look at this phenomenon, this long-running show, to see what all the fuss was about.

In the first episode, Randy Newman was one of the musical guests.  He sang his lovely "Sail Away", a song I've heard many times.  For some reason, I'm not sure why, perhaps because of my growing political awareness, I heard it with sharper ears this time, and discovered an element of the song I'd previously missed.  I don't know if it was the lyric "You'll be as happy as a monkey in a monkey tree", or the refrain "We will cross the mighty ocean into Charleston Bay" that made me perk up and pay attention, but I suddenly understood that this song is sung from the point of view of a slave trader trying to convince Africans to come to America, where they would, of course, not be as happy as monkeys in monkey trees but would be sold in auction, Charleston Bay being a notorious slave trading port back in the bad old days. 

I've mentioned this observation to friends since then, and for some of them it is a revelation, as it was to me, and to some, it is more "You're just now recognizing that?"  Sly Randy Newman, hiding a harsh, devastating message in a lyrical, sweet-sounding song.  Makes me wonder what else I've missed, in Newman's songs and in other artworks in general.  Artists always have something to say; pretty pictures are never pretty only.

And speaking of observations, this next one is from a bit longer ago and has not been accepted by everyone I've shared it with.  I grew up watching and delighting in the classic old Disney animated films. and as an adult have collected them on DVD.  Many of them contain cringe-worthy moments or characters, such as the awful "What Makes a Redman Red?" musical number from my beloved "Peter Pan".  As a child, of course, I had accepted that song as a fun characterization of Indians.  But watching and hearing it as an adult, I actually gasped at how insulting it is to native peoples.

Anyway, when I purchased "Dumbo" and watched it for the first time in more than a half-century, again watching with more politically awakened eyes, I saw something which once again made me gasp with understanding.  The adult elephants in the movie all have small ears, which makes them Indian elephants.  These are the female elephants who ridicule Dumbo and his mother, Mrs. Jumbo.  Dumbo, of course, is ridiculous to them because of his big, floppy ears.  Those ears mean he is an African elephant.  Oh my gosh.  Mrs. Jumbo had sex with an African.  

Could it be that this is the actual reason he and his mother are unacceptable and unaccepted?  Was this racist element conscious in the minds of the writers?  It seems pretty obvious to me now, and there are those characters the crows, clearly supposed to be Negroes, to cement my belief that this story is racist in the most casual, and therefore the most dangerous, way.  Which is exactly how racism has lived in this country for centuries: acceptable, unexamined, usually not even conscious, and all the more insidious because of it. 


Friday, August 27, 2021

Everyone has been imported to the new system

Sweet Hubby, again.

I've imported all existing subscribers into the new email subscription system, so you will likely get this email from both google AND from Please confirm your subscription via the email from, per the previous posting (and the instructions at the beginning of that email). Shortly I'll be shutting down the google subscription system for Granny Owl.

Also, in related news, the site has a new Subscribe form

with which one can sign up to get informed of new posts.

That should do it. Shortly things should return to normal with only Granny Owl's poignant and insightful postings, and I'll just be the nice guy that get fondly talked about now and then.