Four ways of destroying to create

I’ve recently started a creative practice called erasure or blackout poetry. (Follow me on Instagram to see more.) Basically, you take a page of text or prose and create your poem by removing words from the text. Here’s one I did recently:

it isn't brokenAs someone who loves process and improvisation, this kind of exercise has just enough structure to be challenging, and also extremely liberating. And I’m interested in how much creating is about destroying.

  1. In this case, I quite literally destroyed a book by tearing out the page, then destroyed the page by using my very permanent sharpie to cover up the original work underneath. I was surprised at how difficult I found it to actually rip this book up (a rather compelling read titled Ten Things I Learned from Bill Porter: The Inspiring True Story of the Door-To-Door Salesman Who Changed Lives by Shelly Brady), a thrift store book I should have no emotional attachment to.A book, any book, seems like such a final, permanent product. And yet it’s not, nothing’s ever permanent. Whether you take the book and use it as a coaster for your coffee mug, or throw it in the dumpster to get jostled with banana peels and used tissues, the book’s finality is perhaps not what it seems. Eventually, like a creative band-aid, I just tore that page out Ten Things knowing that it’s all part of the process.
  2. The process also included that bittersweet, destructive creation tool called editing. Editors are notorious destroyers! In this case my process went something like: What word grabs me? What word goes with that word? Shall I go with a verb pattern? How about that phrase? O now that word doesn’t work anymore. What themes are emerging? How does choosing a different word, change the work? But, I like that word! What if I switch the order? Where does it start, and where does it end? Is that the right ending, or is this the right ending? Oh, it’s what time? I’ll just find one more phrase. End process. Begin sharpie.
  3. Once I chose the page for erasure, I had to embrace the limitations of the text, sacrificing a whole universe of choices for the few in front of me. In the worlds of improvisational arts, these limitations or structures are gold. One of my teachers, the great Ruth Zaporah, wrote in the introduction to her book Action Theater: The Improvisation of Presence, “These rules open pathways that lead into unexplored territories.”
  4. After I completed my blackout poem, I just couldn’t leave well-enough alone. I actually started playing around with using it as a jumping off point for a physical improvisation, extending the creation process into another discipline. Or, more precisely, an erasure of the erasure, destroying the poem in order to create a new piece.

The destroying and creating cycle has endless possibilities.

Want to check out any of my favorite books on the creative process and support this blog? As a Powell’s Books Partner, we’ll will receive a small portion of any sales that come directly from links on this page. Thanks!

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Hanging with the K & P

A friend posted recently about how much she loves Key and Peele. They are definitely among my favorite comics at the moment. So thrilled that they’re able to do their ridiculously smart comedy that plays in and around race politics with hilarious and astute style. I think the other reason I relate so well to their writing – especially Keegan-Michael Key who is almost exactly the same age as me (he’s 7 days older) and from the neighboring home state of Michigan – is because they nerd out about the same stuff I do. (Others I appreciate in this vein are Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, Simon Pegg and Joss Whedon, but not many are tackling race as well as K & P.) Plus, I can see how their work is rooted in great improvisation. It’s what makes their comedy go beyond jokes into great stories and interesting characters.

Here are a few of my favorite clips:

A new vampire challenges the sexy vampire status quo

Dude can’t get a word in, even in song

Colorful code names causes offense amongst superheroes

Lots more from their show on the Comedy Central website, including full episodes.

My cooking strategy: small tasks + improvise

In my house, we’ve ended up dividing our chores in a way that I am the primary brains behind meals and cooking. My husband does a LOT of other household tasks so please don’t think I’ve got the raw end of the deal. And he often is happy to prep mise en place (thank you Top Chef for teaching us that awesome phrase we abuse daily) and sometimes even execute my ‘executive chef-ed’ meal ideas (HT again to Top Chef). Plus I care about what we eat and I do enjoy the creativity that comes with cooking.

But, it is also a big source of stress. This past summer the ante was upped because our toddler’s summer Montessori program — which serves snacks and lunch each day during the regular school year — did not serve lunch. So, not only did I have to make sure we were all fed each evening for dinner, I needed to have meals for lunch. And the toddler lunches had to pretty much be served cold.

The well-placed meal planning white board in our kitchen cruelly taunts.

The well-placed meal planning white board in our kitchen cruelly taunts.

I was on a pretty good meal planning kick for a while, but recently my kitchen spirit has become utterly non-committal. Our genius meal planning white board in the kitchen taunts.

All is not lost, though. I’m actually a trained (and ingrained) improvisor. I’ve dabbled in comedy, theater and movement improv forms. And now I embrace kitchen improvisation. That combined with breaking meal-prep into small tasks (chopping, roasted, pre-cooking) whenever we can fit them in during the week, it’s how we roll, for better or worse. I’ve also embraced Costco, and keep things like chicken stock, canned tomatoes, garbanzo beans on hand for inclusion at a moment’s notice.

Some recently improvised meals:

Chicken sausage, kale, garbanzo soup – In a Dutch oven, brown some chopped onions, then add chopped garlic stir in pan for a minute, add chicken sausage (I like to use uncooked, no casing sausage) and brown until fully cooked. (I added some spices I had on hand here, too.) Add chopped carrot cook until soft.  chopped kale and cook until soft. Add garbanzo and cook for a couple of minutes. Add a can of diced tomatoes. Mix it all up. Then add a box of chicken stock. Simmer and then season to taste with salt and pepper. So simple, super yum and kid friendly. Easy improvisations I might try in the future: use kidney beans (thanks to Costco, a little heavy on cans of kidneys in my basement), swiss chard, meatless, winter squash, noodles.

Slow-cooked beef short ribs over rice – In a dutch oven or skillet brown all sides of short ribs. Line bottom of slow cooker with chopped onions and garlic. Top with browned short ribs. Add fresh parsley, bay leaf of two, tomato paste and can of diced tomatoes. Add 2 cups of dry red wine. Slow cook for 7 hours. I’ve done similar with pork shoulder. Easy improvisations to try: create more of a rub and cook in dutch oven; create a sauce deglazing with wine; serve with potatoes instead of rice.

Beef quesadillas – Weeknight meal made from short ribs leftovers. Cheese, corn tortillas, beef, fried (no oil needed) on a skillet. Need I say more? Serve with side of guacamole and salsa. Easy improvisations: taco salad, burrito, taco bar with fixings.

Roasted butternut squash soup – Chop squash into bite sized pieces. Toss with a little oil, salt and pepper. Roast in the oven at 400 or so for 40-45 minutes. Meanwhile chop and then brown onion and garlic in a dutch oven or stock pot until soft. Add any spices you might like (curry, cumin, cilantro, cinnamon work well – improvise!). Add roasted squash and mix well. Add stock or broth. Mix well and simmer. Puree using and immersion blender (my favorite kitchen machine) or in batches uses a traditional blender. Easy improvisations I’ve tried: add cream or coconut milk at the end; add roasted carrots or any other roasted root veg.

If you have easy improvise-able meals you like to do, please share!

dinner theatre for families!

For those of you in the Portland area with school age children, there’s a great family event benefiting a great children’s theatre company (admittedly I’m biased, as I’m on Portland Theatre Brigade’s board of directors – but really it is wonderful!).

Details:
Sunday, November 21
4:00pm
Curious Comedy Theater, 5225 NE MLK, Portland
Tickets: Kids under 16 $7, Adults $12
Pre-purchased tickets include grilled cheese and tomato soup! Purchase tickets here.
Sponsors: Curious Comedy Theater, The Waterbrook Studio, CheezyFlicks.com, Dave’s Killer Bread

The performers include two local actors and three professionals from across the country who all specialize in story theatre, having studied with the venerable Paul Sills, son of the godmother of improvisation Viola Spolin.

More details about the company and the dinner theatre event on the Portland Theatre Brigade website.

Friday’s A to Z: the "Boundary" Edition

Keeping with a theme from earlier in the week, a list of words from A to Z. I’m working with the loose theme of “boundary,” a little research for possible exploration in improvisation. I actually broke out an old-fashioned printed dictionary book for this one: Webster’s Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary, published in 1990. Wow, it’s hard to believe 1990 was 20 years ago. That’ll have to be a whole other list (the A to Z list of things that makes me feel old)… also consulted my Roget’s 21st Century Thesaurus from 1993.

abut vb 1) to touch along a border or with a projecting part; 2a) to terminate at a point of contact b) to lean for support / vt 1) to border on; touch; 2) to cause to abut

boundary n something that indicates or fixes a limit or extent; a bounding or separating line, point, or plane

compass n 1a) boundary, circumference b) a circumscribed space c) range, scope; 2) a curved or roundabout course; 3) a device for determining directions by means of a magnetic needle or group of needles turning freely on a pivot and pointing to the magnetic north

door n 1) a usually swinging or sliding barrier by which an entry is closed and opened, also, a similar part of a piece of furniture; 2) doorway; 3) a means of access

edge n 1a) the cutting side of a blade b) the sharpness of a blade c) penetrating power d) a noticeably harsh or sharp quality; 2a) the line where an object or area begins or ends, border b) the narrow part adjacent to a border c a point near the beginning or the end d) a favorable margin, advantage; 3) a line or line segment that is the intersection of two place faces (as or a pyramid or of two planes

freestyle n a competition in which a contestant uses a style of his choice instead of a specified style

game n 1) activity engaged in for diversion or amusement, play; 2) a procedure or strategy for gaining an end, tactic; 3a) a physical or mental competition conducted according to rules with the participants in direct opposition to each other b) organized athletics c0 a situation that involves contest, rivalry, or struggle

husk n 1) a typically dry or membranous outer covering of a seed or fruit; 2a) an outer layer, shell b) an emptied shell, remnant c) a supporting framework

ictus n the recurring stress or beat in a rhythm or metrical series of sounds

jalousie n 1) a blind with adjustable horizontal slats for admitting light and air while excluding sun and rain; 2) a window made of adjustable glass louvers that control ventilation

kern n a part of a typeset letter that projects beyond its side bearings

latchkey n a key to an outside and especially a front door

myopia n 1) a condition in which the visual images come to a focus in front of the retina of the eye resulting in defective vision of distant objects; 2) a lack of foresight or discernment, a narrow view of something

n@font-face { font-family: “Times New Roman”; }@font-face { font-family: “Century Gothic”; }p.MsoNormal, li.MsoNormal, div.MsoNormal { margin: 0in 0in 0.0001pt; font-size: 12pt; font-family: “Century Gothic”; color: black; }table.MsoNormalTable { font-size: 10pt; font-family: “Times New Roman”; }div.Section1 { page: Section1; }é adj 1) used to indicate the original, former, or legal name of a man; 2) originally or formerly called

obstruction n 1a) an act of obstructing b) the state of being obstructed, especially a condition of being clogged or blocked; 2) something that obstructs

pattern n 1) a form or model proposed for imitation; 2) something designed or used as a model for making things; 3) a model for making a mold into which molten metal is poured to form a casting; 4) an artistic, musical, literary, or mechanical design or form; 5) a natural or chance configuration; 6) a length of fabric sufficient for an article; 6) the distribution of shrapnel, bombs on a target, or shot from a shotgun; 8) a reliable sample of traits, acts, tendencies, or other observable characteristics of a person, group, or institution; 9) the flight path prescribed for an airplane that is coming in for a landing; 10) a standard diagram transmitted for testing television circuits 11) discernible coherent system based on the intended interrelationship of component parts; 12) frequent or widespread incidence

quay n a structure built along the bank of a waterway for use as a landing place

regimen n 1a) a systematic plan, especially when designed to improve and maintain the health of a patient 2) a regular course of strenuous training; 2) government, rule

symmetry n 1) balanced proportions; 2) the property of being symmetrical, especially correspondence in size, shape, and relative position of parts on opposite sides of a dividing line or median place or about a center or axis; 3) a rigid motion of a geometric figure that determines a one-to-one mapping onto itself; 4) he property of remaining invariant under certain changes

transparent adj 1a) having the property of transmitting light without appreciable scattering so that bodies lying beyond are entirely visible, pellucid b) fine or sheer enough to be seen through, diaphanous; 2a) free from pretense or deceit, frank b) easily detected or seen through, obvious c) readily understood

unbridle vt to free or loose from a bridle, to set loose, free from restraint

village n 1a) a settlement usually larger than a hamlet and smaller than a town b) an incorporated minor municipality; 2) the residents of a village; 3) something suggesting a village; 4) a territorial area having the status of a village

wall vt 1a) to provide, cover with, or surround with or as if with a wall b) to separate by or as if by a wall; 2a) immure b) to close with or as if with a wall

xenophobia n fear and hatred of strangers of foreigners or of anything that is foreign

yielding adj 1) productive; 2) lacking rigidity or stiffness, flexible; 3) disposed to submit or comply

zenith n 1) the point of the celestial sphere that is directly opposite the nadir and vertically above the observer; 2) the highest point reached in the heavens by a celestial body; 3) culminating point, acme

Small Space, Big Stories tonight

I’ve been directing three improvisors for a show we’re calling Small Space, Big Stories. Our venue is a very small, intimate space (hence the title), Nisus Gallery. Tonight we’ll explore themes of place, relationship and constraints, in the first of what we hope will be regular improvised theater performances at Nisus. There is just the tiniest amount of seating so get there early (doors open at 7:30) to ensure you’ve got a spot.

More details about Small Space, Big Stories here.

You’ll also get to see the visual art exhibit up at Nisus, “Barbie” by Claudia Porter.

Friday’s A to Z

Building on yesterday’s post, here are some things I ♥ right now:


A – APA Compass. We did a show this morning. We’ll have archives up in the next couple of days.
B – Boots.
C – Community. One of my favorite TV shows right now with one of my favorite characters on TV right now Abed. One of the best episodes of TV ever is Modern Warfare from Season 1, Episode 23, directed by Justin Lin.
D – Danny’s Auto on Halsey and 60th.
E – Energy.
F – Farmers Market. Only 2 more weeks!
G – Gabriel’s Bakery’s herb cheese bagels.
H – Harry Potter. I know, I’m a late bloomer.
I – Improv Theater. Shameless promo: We’re doing a show next week Small Space, Big Stories.
J – Jackets.
K – Kissing hubby.
L – The Library.
M – Milani Nail Lacquer “Cappucino” – described “Light Coffee with Gold Shimmer”
N – The Great Northwest.
O – Owls.
P – Piano. I feel very blessed to have one of my very own. I recently learned how to play “Don’t Stop Believing” and “Here Comes the Sun” on YouTube. Amazing.
Q – Maggie Q, star of Nikita. I watched the show as homework for our APA Compass radio discussion about APAs on TV, and now am fully sucked in.
R – Rest.
S – Slings and Arrows. More on this next week.
T – Time Traveler’s Wife.
U – Upper Horsetail and Triple Falls at the Columbia River Gorge.
V – Vodka Martini. A little dirty.
W – White Tea. Specifically Vanilla Apricot White Tea by Tazo.
X – Extracurriculars. (Close enough to X!) My life is all extracurricular it seems right now.
Y – Soft Yolks. I had my eggs over easy this morning and it was yum.
Z – Portland Zombie Walk.

“A” image is by me.
“Z” image found on Wikimedia Commons: Route sign for Missouri Supplemental Route Z. Based on Image:MO-supp-K.svg by User:PHenry.

on creativity

Here’s a fascinating article by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman from Newsweek about the decline of creativity in the US:

The Creativity Crisis

The article uses reports from professor E. Paul Torrance’s creativity tests as a jumping off point about measuring creativity, how creativity manifests and why it’s important. Early on the author’s define creativity (not sure who has “accepted” the definition, as I might wordsmith it some myself):

“The accepted definition of creativity is production of something original and useful, and that’s what’s reflected in the tests. There is never one right answer. To be creative requires divergent thinking (generating many unique ideas) and then convergent thinking (combining those ideas into the best result).”

On the one hand, the authors posit that “creativity should be taken out of the art room and put into homeroom.”

“The age-old belief that the arts have a special claim to creativity is unfounded. When scholars gave creativity tasks to both engineering majors and music majors, their scores laid down on an identical spectrum, with the same high averages and standard deviations. Inside their brains, the same thing was happening—ideas were being generated and evaluated on the fly.”

On the flip side, it does seem that artists do have a leg up in the creativity category. Using an example of a study done at University of Western Ontario neuroscientist Daniel Ansari and Harvard’s Aaron Berkowitz, the article highlights the value of right-brain/left-brain process in creativity:

“They put Dartmouth music majors and nonmusicians in an fMRI scanner, giving participants a one-handed fiber-optic keyboard to play melodies on. Sometimes melodies were rehearsed; other times they were creatively improvised. During improvisation, the highly trained music majors used their brains in a way the nonmusicians could not: they deactivated their right-temporoparietal junction. Normally, the r-TPJ reads incoming stimuli, sorting the stream for relevance. By turning that off, the musicians blocked out all distraction. They hit an extra gear of concentration, allowing them to work with the notes and create music spontaneously.”

The whole article left me pondering creativity vs. arts and really how we can provide opportunities for more, more, more. This means rethinking everything: arts education, education reform, community development – all of it. To me empowering creativity is empowering individuals to be critically engaged in our world and our environment.

A2Z September 2009 Edition

a) My ankle is bunk. I had a Spice Girls incident years ago (tripped over my own platform shoes)(OK I know, why the hell was I wearing platform shoes? What can I say, it was the 90s.) and ever since my right ankle has been sensitive on an on and off basis. This week, on. 😦
b) Fall means Back to Blog! I shall blog regularly again after my unexpected summer hiatus.
c) Our poor Corolla has a whole slew of problems right now. Nothing serious, but annoying enough. On the list: driver side seat belt is failing; dome light doesn’t work; window rattles; some weird noise when we turn (okay that might be more serious). If anyone has a good mechanic in Portland let me know.
d) Dog or no dog? That is the question.
e) Egg Salad. I want to make egg salad today.
f) Excited to dabble in the film world again. I recently joined a small collective (if you’re knowledgeable about the local film scene and interested in getting involved let me know!) producing a new program at KBOO called Behind the Screen. Listen in the last Thursday of the month.
g) I’m gazing out my window and the skies are gray. Or is it grey? Actually grey is the British spelling. So, now you know. Madonna would definitely use “grey.”
h) House! Enough said.
i) Now that it’s fall, I’m committed to doing more improv! A group of us gals just started meeting to play together. Hopefully that will get going on a regular basis. I founded a rad all-woman improv troupe in Chicago years ago called RED. One of the other members of this group was in Southern Oregon’s Hamazons: Warrior Princesses of Comedy. Other improv opps I plan to partake in: Jumping Off Place and Curious Comedy‘s Open Court.
j) Didn’t get to finish Jhumpa Lahiri’s The Namesake before I had to return it to the library. I’m putting it on hold again.
k) Just watched Project Runway Allstars on DVR. Korto Momolu was robbed! Just goes to show that white man making an “edgy” collection that can be worn by twig-sized teens gets more respect than a woman of color making bold, well-crafted beautiful designs for women of all sizes.
l) I’m into my Burt’s Bees’ Lip Shimmer. Shade: Peony.
m) I’m excited to dive into the slo-cooker pork mole that Matt made. Yummy!
n) Check out the newly designed Bitch Magazine. The stalwart feminist pop culture rag took a break to regroup and are looking better than ever in “The Consumed Issue.” They’ve also got a new Executive Director Julie Falk who we hope will continue to help steer the Bitch boat in the right direction. Call them Bitch Media now and enjoy not only the magazine, but their offerings of audio, blog and more. Support Bitch by joining their B-Hive!
o) Open auditions for Portland Theatre Brigade are happening starting next week! All young actors ages 7-15 invited to audition for this fabulous, empowering, young people’s theatre company.
p) Pens I’m into right now: Uni-Ball Gel Grip Pens, 0.7 mm, Medium Point; Uni-Ball Vision Elite Liquid Rollerball Pens, 0.5 mm, Micro Point; and always the magical, wonderful standard Fine Point Sharpie.
q) Quip: 1. A clever, witty remark often prompted by the occasion.2. A clever, often sarcastic remark; a gibe. Courtesy of Free Dictionary.
r) RIP Richard Francis, host of KBOO’s A Different Nature. I didn’t know him well, but I know he was a sweet soul and well-loved at KBOO. Here are nice articles about Richard on the Kill Ugly Radio and Baron Landscape’s Broken Hour blogs.
s) Super Project Lab, my hubby’s improv troupe, has a whole bunch of shows coming up. This weekend they’re doing “Old Flames” at Curious Comedy and they are sharing the bill with Canoofle. And Matt (my sweetie) directed the show!
t) TBA! TBA! TBA! Here’s an interview I did with curator Kristan Kennedy for Behind the Screen.
u) Okay, nearing the end of the alphabet and feeling a bit stuck… I always wanted Wonder Woman Underoos. It seems they still make them.
v) The Verdana font was designed by Matthew Carter specifically to be read on a computer screen. Here’s more from fonts.com.
w) Speaking of Wonder Woman, did you know that Joss Whedon started writing a live action film adaptation of Wonder Woman? Too bad it never came to fruition.
x) Xi is the 14th letter of the Greek alphabet. It is preceded by Nu and followed by Omicron
y) I’m a full-time working stiff now. Luckily it’s at this marvelous place, Young Audiences.
z) Zee End.

Today’s A 2 Z

A: Angry Asian Man
B: Blogorrhea
C: Chocolate, dark and bitter is good
D: Dr. Horrible
E: Elliot Smith
F: Fonts
G: Grace Lee Boggs
H: Hamblog
I: Improvisation
J: Juice, carrot-orange
K: KBOO
L: Lost, yes I’m enjoying it again
M: Colectivo La Malagua
N: Naomi Iizuka
O: Octavia Butler
P: Parks
Q: Quince paste and manchego cheese on a nice cracker
R: Racialicious
S: Spectacles
T: T, the letter
U: Ursula K. LeGuin
V: Vernal equinox
W: Word games, puzzles
X: Malcolm X
Y: Yam, roasted, but not candied
Z: Ruth Zaporah