Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Welcome to 2015 Choreographer-in-Residence Rebecca Bruno!

     photo by Safi Alia Shabaik

This fall, Choreographer-in-Residence Rebecca Bruno will be creating a new site-specific piece in the Courtyard of the Beach House, September 8-27, 2015. Tentatively titled Elemental Forms, her work will create a dialogue between dancers and the natural elements of the Beach House site – exploring the interactions between sand, water, air, sun, space, and people.

Join Rebecca at the Beach House on Wednesday September 16, 9-10am for free Beach Walk with a choreographer’s focus. Her final presentations will take place in the afternoons of Friday-Sunday September 25-27 (check out annenbergbeachhouse.com/beachculture for info and to make reservations.)

Rebecca Bruno is an active member of the Los Angeles dance community as a performer, choreographer and producer. For the last two years, her project “homeLA” (homela.org), has investigated dance process in interior spaces, presenting large-scale dance events in residences with hundreds of performers and thousands of guests. Rebecca has worked as a dancer and collaborator with Pablo Bronstein at the REDCAT Gallery and Le Mouvement Festival in Biel, Switzerland; as associate choreographer with Julien Prévieux at FAHRENHEIT Gallery and the Palais de Tokyo in Paris for What Shall We Do Next?; and as a member of the temporary performance company, WXPT, initiated by the artist taisha paggett. She is inspired by the tensions between public and private space, the strange and the familiar, and the possibilities presented by bodies in architecture and the natural world. rebeccabruno.net

In celebration of Marion Davies’ support of artists, and to further the work of artists in all disciplines, the City of Santa Monica created the Annenberg Community Beach House Artist Residency program. Several times a year a local artist works out of an office at the Marion Davies Guest House, sharing their progress with the public both in person and online.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Balancing a Writing Life

So, today is the last day. This residency went by all too quickly and I have loved every minute of it. I was here at the Marion Davies Guest House almost every day of my tenure. This was a perfect residency for me because it balanced my two sides: the introvert and the extrovert. I love to spend hours alone – and here I was able to look at the ocean while working, a definite perk -- but I also enjoy getting out there and sharing my love of fiction with other people.

Being asked to plan and run two community events when you usually spend most of your time at home in yoga pants can be challenging, but thanks to this residency, I got into the habit of suiting up every day and taking the introvert outside to play.

I think of myself as a commercial writer. I describe my book as light, but not so light that someone will have to scrape you off the ceiling. It may seem antithetical to artistic or literary purists, but I aim to please. I want people to enjoy my work. I love to make people laugh.

I don’t often have much control of a first draft and that drives me crazy. There are two sides of writing for me. The first draft makes me think that I’m either brilliant or insane. Then, I am comforted when all the revisions shape those initial ravings into something that might be conceived of as art.

For a writer, I’m a pretty outgoing person. I see myself as an entertainer, albeit not one who jumps around singing and dancing. I tell tales and I do it on the page and though I’m glad when I amuse myself – which is pretty often – I’m thrilled when I amuse others. I believe that my literary heroes: Jane Austen, Charlotte Bronte, Charles Dickens, Somerset Maugham, George Orwell, E.M. Forster, Elizabeth Von Arnim, Dodie Smith, F.Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, William Boyd, Ian McEwan, Nick Hornby, Raymond Carver, Toni Morrison. Truman Capote, Grace Paley, and so many others (okay, I realize that the majority of these are English) all wrote to be read. Many of them wrote for money and they weren't ashamed of it. Dickens wrote A Christmas Carol because of a pressing need for cash. He loved to perform in public, but when you look at how many hefty tomes he produced, you have to acknowledge that the guy spent plenty of time alone at his desk – and he was writing with a quill. Dickens balanced his extroverted and introverted sides and it worked for him. I would not compare myself with Dickens, but what I would say is that I, too, have been able to exercise both sides of my personality during my time here. This particular residency encourages community interaction; and, for me, that was a bonus.

One of my favorite moments came last weekend when a nineteen year old woman (we'll call her Zoe) came to the guest house with her parents during my office hours expressly to meet “the writer in residence.” We talked for about forty-five minutes while her parents toured the house. We covered why, in the story Zoe was currently working on, her character runs into the Devil in a dark alley and then we segued into whether Zoe had ever written with a pen instead of a computer.
            “A pen?” She looked at me as if I had just asked her to write with a dinosaur bone dipped in blood.
            “Well,” I explained, “sometimes the action of using a pen and moving your arm can quiet the mind or just give you a different perspective.”
            On the first day of the residency, I bought myself a neon green pen holder and a dozen matching pens. I took one out and handed it to her. “Keep that,” I said. “Try it.”
            After a while, Zoe’s mother, a lawyer, dropped in and since I secretly believe that all lawyers are closeted writers (since I was one myself), I asked her if she was interested in writing.
            “Oh, no not me,” she said and she went away so Zoe and I could finish our conversation.
            It was then that I explained how writing was like the Vulcan Mind Meld, guessing that everyone, even nineteen-year-olds knew about Star Trek. Zoe gave me an odd look. I pointed to her forehead and then to mine. “Writing is like communicating brain to brain. Anything that enhances that communication is probably good writing and anything that makes you wonder if you should go get that piece of chocolate cake in the kitchen probably doesn't work so well. Sure, there are rules and there are tricks, but they are all to send you in the direction of the Vulcan Mind Meld.”
            Zoe nodded, thanked me heartily and walked off with her pen. A few minutes went by and her mother popped her head in.
            “Could I have one of those pens?” she asked, as if this particular bunch of neon green pens had something special about them.
            “Of course,” I said, handing her one.
            Maybe that was my favorite moment in the whole residency, the one in which I seemed to have been able to convince this mother and daughter that there was power in these pens, even something magical about them.
            And by convincing them, I convinced myself. After all, one of these pens can create a whole world.

            I am extremely grateful to everyone who made this residency possible. If anyone would like to contact me in the future, please do so at inklingslit@gmail.com.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Mystery Panel -- Feb. 10/ 6:30

Don’t forget to sign up for Tuesday night through the Annenberg Website.
I am thrilled to be hosting the mystery panel at the Annenberg Beach House tomorrow night. Part of it is selfish. When I sent  my application to the Powers that Be to get this residency, I sent in a piece of a mystery, so I am poised to ask the panelists a million questions. Tell us your tricks. Reveal how you pull rabbits out of hats. Show us why you love Los Angeles as a setting. Do you revel in this place as much as I do.
At the moment, I am sitting here, watching the sunset over a rough ocean. The sky is strange tonight. It’s pale blue at the top, then fades to white, to yellow, to orange, to a layer of clouds that drop into a roiling sea. The colors are pastel, quiet; the vibrancy isn’t going to arrive tonight. The sun will go down without fanfare.
But back to tomorrow and the panel: All four of our panelists have experience in film, television and fiction. Richard Rayner has also written non-fiction about LA crime and has a thorough knowledge of all the true dastardly deeds that gave rise to the noir of Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hamett, and others. Southern California, despite the complaints about traffic and superficiality, has traditionally offered great riches -- gold, oil, entertainment, weather, breathtaking landscapes. It’s a place where the Bird of Paradise and Hibiscus are ubiquitous enough to seem like wild flowers (are they?). LA has enticed strivers and dreamers to come here. What sometimes looks ordinary in LA, appears extraordinary in those places from which many of us have come (writing a book. making a movie.). When I first moved to California from Boston, I heard, “LA? Why would you go out there? There is no culture.” I don’t think anyone could say that with any conviction today. And if they did, they would be showing an ignorance that comes from not knowing who we Los Angelinos really are. Our culture does not just exist in our theaters and museums (which rival the best in the world), but in our out-of-the-way galleries and in our unique stories.
The Marion Davies Guest House (where I am lucky enough to have an office during this residency), is a place where docents volunteer time to explain the history of a building that originated in a love affair. These docents revel in the history of their city; they understand well that culture is contained in everything from a city’s history to its commitment to contemporary artists. Sometimes, I feel that Marion Davies is wandering the halls, looking in on us all, and smiling.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

A Room with a View

So, I am sitting here on an overcast day. The sky is white, and the sea is a different shade of white. I’ve always had fantasies of sitting by a window writing and looking at the ocean, and now here I am. Is it as wonderful as I imagined? Oh yes. Even better.

I have many writing fantasies, but none include a computer or even a typewriter. Perhaps, the warp and woof of my dreamscape is a product of my place in time. The electric typewriter was invented in my lifetime. The widespread use of the personal computer didn't happen until after I was out of law school.

When I imagine myself writing, I am doing it on smooth paper with an expensive fountain pen, yet I have never been able to write even so much as a short story that way. I typed even my first terrible attempts at fiction.  

Jane Austen wrote on a small table in the corner and hid her work when anyone came in. Edith Wharton wrote every morning on lap desk in bed. She tossed her drafts onto the floor for her servants to collect. The prolific Anthony Trollope wrote on a desk he contrived to use on the train. All of these rituals appeal to me more than sitting behind a computer screen. Computers no longer make much noise, but the pure sound of a pen scratching a page has nothing click-clacky about it.

When I edit, either my work or other people’s, I come up with different comments depending on whether I’m using track changes or a pen. So, the question is: does our equipment affect our thoughts? I am writing this on a computer. I write almost everything on a computer, but I still dream of pen and paper. A pen never talks back or changes a word without your knowledge. A pen doesn't encourage me to roam the wilds of the Internet or check my email. And, as for editing, I cannot see the same things on the computer that I see on the page. Maybe, my eyes just get fed up with the screen, and want to range over a piece of paper and see white space.

There are those writers who claim that they need to sit in a basement and stare at a wall, that a view distracts them. I am not one of those. I think I have always been searching for an ideal writing situation: a Motel 6 off the highway, a generic room in a Las Vegas hotel, a cabin on the coast, a desk under the eaves of a barn in Vermont, a guesthouse in Montana. I think I should be able to settle down anywhere to write – no excuses, but my imagination is a wanderer. When I was a child, I wrote on blocks of colored paper. I wrote my published novel on a laptop at a desk in my living room while staring at the wall. I still don’t know what is the best writing process for me, but I have learned that having an office to come to every day enhances both my mood and productivity. So, a big thank you to the Artist in Residency Program. Check out the opportunities on the website.

Monday, January 19, 2015

To Workshop or Not to Workshop -- That is the Question

It's a beautiful Martin Luther King Day and from my perch at my desk I can see people biking along the bike path. I am finding that an office makes me feel more legitimate than writing at home in my pajamas. 

Today I want to talk about some ideas I have about workshopping and getting feedback from others. In our workshop at Beyond Baroque inVenice, I came up with an idea: I asked each participant how finished they thought their piece was -- on a scale of one to ten. A one meant that had just ripped it fresh from the printer and it had barely cooled. A ten meant that they had done multiple drafts and they felt it was polished and ready for publication. As we went around the room that evening, everyone said where they thought their work fell on that scale.

Trust me, there was a point to it all. I think each writer has his or her own optimal number when it comes to when to get feedback. I noticed that most of the people in our workshop bring in twos or threes. I think this allows you to be more flexible in receiving feedback. I, myself, tend to bring sevens when I workshop. This can be detrimental in that I may have already worked so hard on the story, I’m not terribly enthusiastic about receiving criticism. I should, perhaps, force myself to bring in a three, even a four, so I don’t feel like the piece is set in stone.

Once we started to use this device, it became part of the common language of the group. Someone, would come in and say, “this is two,” a short hand way of saying, “this is fresh, don’t judge me too harshly.” As someone said in our group the other day (and I paraphrase): if something is a little sapling, you want to make sure no one stomps on it and kills it.

These nascent ideas, the fruit of our inner selves, are delicate things and, as much as writers benefit from criticism, they also profit from nurturing. You can get as much out of seeing what you are doing right as from being told what you are doing wrong. The parts of a piece that shine are just as important, if not more so, then the lines that land with thud.  

So, whatever you are doing on this holiday, I encourage you (writers and non-writers alike) to go out and praise someone for a particularly good turn of phrase – or for anything else that strikes your fancy.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Second Day -- Risk and Writing

This is a glorious spot and, from my office in the Marion Davies Guest House, I am looking out onto an orange and yellow sunset over the Pacific. They are going to have trouble ousting me from this place. I want this residency to last forever. Each room here has the original tiled bathrooms and although you can't use them for anything remotely bathroom-like, I think it might be a lark to take a nap in the tub or write while sitting on the vintage toilet. If you come over to see these bathrooms, you'll understand.

The short story event last night was outstanding. Thank you to everyone who shed their inhibitions and got up to read. I had some audience feedback and people were very impressed. Being a writer -- one who wants to share your writing with others -- subjects you to a lot of judgement. You write a piece and bring it to a workshop -- JUDGED. You send it out for publication -- JUDGED. If you are lucky enough to get an agent, don't worry -- you'll be JUDGED. And if you're even luckier and get a book deal, even your editor will, no doubt, suggest changes. Learning what to listen to and what to ignore is part of the process. I have had to learn to put on a thick and scaly skin. I fear being judged more than almost any other thing. Last night I may have looked like I was accustomed to reading a story that had only been seen by a few people and had no publication to give it inherent credibility, but, I can assure you, this was not the case. Still, I got out there, just like you got out there. It's a risk, but I've found that my life is always better when I take them. Congratulations to all of you who took the risk with me. And for you who couldn't care less what other people think -- I applaud you, too. Maybe you can impart your secret to the rest of us.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

The 250 Word a Day Challenge

On Tuesday, I start my residency at the Annenberg Community Beach House. Blogging is, apparently, part of the gig. I haven’t done much blogging so, at first, I thought: what on earth am I going to write about. Most of my daily excitement takes place between my ears. I was also reticent because of my tendency not to share anything I've written unless I’ve gone over it at least sixty-seven times. I don’t think that’s going to work for a blog since the idea is to get something out there for someone to click on and read while sipping a latte.

So, what does a nascent, fraidy-cat blogger write about? And then it hit me. I’d write about writing. Duh! I live, breathe, and eat writing. Such a life may not sound too exciting, but it has its moments. The romance, murder, betrayal, humor, and heartbreak happens when I sit down in front of a blank page (if I'm lucky).

Recently, in our fiction workshop at Beyond Baroque in Venice on Monday nights, I set out the 250 word a day challenge. We were each going to do 250 words a day for a month. That's not much. Only about a page. Infinitely do-able. The only criteria was that it be fiction. The minimum word count was 250, but if you got on a roll, then the sky was the limit. The pieces that resulted were energetic and inspired. We all had a sense of community and fed off the energy of the combined effort. It worked so well, and we loved it so much that I am offering the 250 word a day challenge to everyone who reads this. We will begin on Tuesday, January 13, 2015 and continue until Tuesday, February 10, 2015. I will be blogging about my progress, and you should feel free to email me about yours at beachhouseair@gmail.com. All those, who complete the challenge, can get together when it’s over and celebrate the experience. (I’d say -- my treat, but that depends on how many people succeed.)

I look forward to seeing everyone on Tuesday night at The Evening of the Short Story where I will work up the courage to read from a work in progress. A rollicking discussion to follow. We will also have about forty-five minutes of open-mike time. Short fiction only. (Five minutes or less.) We will all be sizzling with literary fervor. (At the very least, we'll have a good time.)
There are still two spots open for the fiction tutorial which will begin as a group on Saturday -- Valentine's day at 11:00 AM --  and continue individually after that during my office hours at any time that is convenient for each participant. All you have to do it email me at the address listed above.
I look forward to this opportunity and am delighted to be the writer in residence this winter.