My homework for Children's Book Writing last week was to compose a 500 piece all about ACTION. The desires, character strategies and themes all had to be described through ACTION. As we've been practicing throughout the semester, we had to show and not tell. It was a good challenge. After reading my homework out loud in class, I have some editing to do. ------------------------------ “To the kitchen!”
The ant pack was steadfast in their escape from the hole in the wall behind the toaster. They flung off the kitchen counter all at once, like a flock of dolphins chasing a school of fish. Working as a team, they all knew the plan: Get to the Ho Ho crumbs.
If the ants were not ants, but say Lions instead, they would have thumped to the ground, blasting the ears drums in every ear for miles. But they were ants. And since ants are small and weightless, the pack belly flopped to the ground without so much as a wink from their arch nemesis, Wesley - a mangy, yellow-haired fellow who paroled the house on all fours.
“Only ten feet to the Ho Ho, lads! Let’s get a move on!”
The pack gazed ahead at the task before them. One shuddered. Some twitched. All salivated.
Gaping at the black crumbs glimmering against the afternoon sun, the ants were put in a trance. “After School! After School!” they chanted.
The white frosting clung to the floor, its sugars seeping into the ground with every second that passed. Hunger was but a close enemy soon to be exterminated.
The pack glided across the kitchen, maneuvering in and out of the light like skiers on a black diamond run. Figure-eighting their way across the linoleum, the tiny bodies drooled at the thought of the plastic Hostess wrapper.
“To the leeeeeeeeft! Wesley awake!”
The pack darted to the left, whacking bits of dust that stirred from kitchen crevices. Musty air ballooned their lungs. Wesley sneezed. “Hey guys!” shouted Desmond as he squirmed away from one of Wesley’s hoofs. “Oh it’s the rookie ant. Whadya want kid?” “Half of you, ahhhhh, dive underneath Wesley’s water bowl and knock it over. The other half, OMG, carry the Ho Ho back to the colony!” “Crazy…” “Great idea!” “Ummmm OK.” “Yeah right! You just want to Ho Ho all to yourself, newbie.” Desmond shook his little spine. His heart was as splattered as the Ho Ho. “Never! I just want us all to get out in one piece.” “Follow me, brothers!” Desmond redirected his path towards the water bowl, launching ahead. He had water bowl goggles; nothing could get in his way. Desmond weaved his little body in and out of Wesley’s stale breath. “No turning back now,” he thought. Desmond closed his ant eyes and prayed to the ant gods. Gazing upwards at the kitchen fan he realized his legs were wet. That silly dog had woof, woofed Desmond’s body all the way to the water bowl! “One! Two! Three!” The ants tipped the water bowl over, shattering porcelain everywhere. Ant limbs were drenched in dog spit and water, a simply smelly concoction. The ants’ eyes were a sopping wet mess, blurring the image of their ant-brothers chomping down on the Ho Ho so far away.
In-class assignment: "Write a scene in which a person is moving through a pitch black cave. The character should be alone."
The air is humid and sticky. Grace places each foot in a calculated spot - her moves are careful and planned. She's more tactful here than in math class. She likes the sound of the earth's crunchiness under the soles of her Rebook sneakers. After her heel is firmly planted on her chosen spot and she feels her calf muscle balanced, equally centered, the joy takes over: the freedom of her being alone and also the danger. It enables her with the motivation to keep traveling inward.
Grace uses the side of the cave for support, just in case her nerves take over. It's so dark within this naturally confined space, she doesn't need her eyesight. She's walking blind with her gut instincts as her seeing eye dog.
Eventually the humidity starts to subside and Grace gets a chill on her shoulders. She takes her zip up hoodie off her waist and puts it on. That's helpful.
Soon her footsteps start to encounter mushy ground, swamp-like without the perils of alligators and such. She hears the dripping of water in the distance and realizes she must be making some headway. "Who knows how long I'll be walking," she thinks out loud.
This past week, my homework for Children's Book Writing was as follows:
a favorite passage of a favorite children’s book (or a grownup
book). Pick a passage with no dialogue. Copy out a paragraph or two,
word for word. Just to see how it feels to write those words. Then write
a passage of your own on a completely different topic, emulating the
writer’s voice. Or: Write a passage on the same topic, this time using your own voice."
If you didn't understand the assignment above, the goal of this exercise is to emulate the author's voice, whatever that may be.
My attempt below. The voice I'm trying (desperately) to emulate: Neil Gaiman in Coraline (excerpt from pages 52-53). Note: the idea for my character and story was established before this homework assignment.
Essie took the thick book from the bookshelf and carefully
blew the dust off. Her grandmother said it was old, but Essie didn’t expect for
the dust to be this ancient.
Dust bunnies flew everywhere, including in Essie’s eyes,
which immediately became watery. It looked like she was crying, but inside
Essie was excited to finally discover
the secrets hidden within the pages.
Essie sat on the purple sofa next to the bookshelves and cautiously
placed the book on her lap. Her hands felt abnormally small. She traced the
outline of the title with her fingertip, echoing the rough imprints that for so
long had been quiet. Unseen.
The Baxter Files
She read the title out loud. Saying the name Baxter made her
feel giddy, like a first crush.
She opened the book to the index and saw the key words she
had hoped to find: The Mortimer Mansion Years. That chapter was over one
hundred pages and at least two thirds deep into the book. Clearly a lot had
happened to Baxter before arriving to this spooky place. She craved to know
everything. The mystery was killing her.
Essie started to flip through the pages at a rapid pace,
impatient for results, but still careful not to rip or dent any of the pages. She
skimmed past a lot of black and white illustrations that gave her the creeps. She
paused on a grim portrait of a girl who looked sad and lonely amongst the
trees. There was a tree swing in the background. Essie looked hesitantly
towards the window; she had been swinging on that same swing just yesterday. She was distracted by the depiction of the girl's solemn face, as if staring at the picture would provide her with any answers. Before
she reached the Mortimer chapter, she heard the sound of hurried footsteps enter the
library. They were walking towards Essie’s direction.
Her step-mother’s, she assumed. Lunch was probably ready. As
quickly as she could muster, Essie stuffed the book under the sofa. For just a little
while longer, The Baxter Files remained a mystery to Essie Mearns.
I had the opportunity to see Trisha Brown Dance Company last night at the
Brooklyn Academy of Music. Trisha is retiring from making new work, and
so I felt very fortunate to have been in attendance. TBDC will be
putting together a 3-year international "farewell tour" so if you missed
them at BAM this month, there's still time!
Typically before any performance starts at the Howard Gilman Opera
House, a voice echos through the theater reminding everyone about cell
phone and photography policies. Last night, the charming voice overhead,
in addition to her usual, brief speech, asked former Trisha Brown
company members and collaborators to please stand up for
acknowledgement. We were applauding history. Job well done.
My first exposure to the work of Trisha Brown came when I was a
dance major at The Ohio State University. I spent a quarter learning
from one of Trisha's former company members, Abby Yager. Her class was
a challenge. I had trouble letting go of my muscles and moving
with lightness and "less effort, less effort." Initiating from the top
of my head and finger tips were foreign concepts, and I easily became
frustrated. I was used to using core strength, deep physicality and overworking my quads. I
am not alone in this feeling. Many sentiments regard Trisha's work as
difficult, yet so satisfying when that release in your body is found.
It's like a light bulb going off in your veins. "Ohhhh that's what it's
supposed to feel like.....Eureka!"
I fully came to appreciate this "less effort, less effort" last
night. The dancers expel movement with such ease and grace, liquefying
their arms and moving through a serene pathway. This is post-modern
technique at its finest. The weight shifts and connect-the-dots
transitions look natural for this troupe - but any Trisha aficionado
knows they work hard to achieve it.
Last night was an education. I had seen "Set and Reset" performed by
OSU students while I was in school, but that was the extent of my
Trisha Brown experience. Watching "Set and Reset" took me back to my
college classes with Abby -- I thought
about what I could have done better, how I could have worked harder.
The last piece of the first half transported the audience back to the 1980s with "Newark (Niweweorce),"
created in 1987. I couldn't believe I was watching a dance that once
broke the mold with its use of analog sounds in dance performance. At
one time this was a really big deal. These days with all the
post-post modern weirdness and often-missed themes lacking in practice
and humility, audiences can get overwhelmed with the use of
digital technology and storytelling. The loud and purposeful droning
sounds in "Newark (Niweweorce)" were effective and hypnotic. The dancers were nothing
short of extraordinary, holding shapes and landing poses in plies that
made my mouth drop. "Hold it, hold it!" I thought for them.
The second half featured Brown's work from 2011, "I'm going to toss
my arms - if you catch them they're yours." The elemental Trisha Brown
aesthetics were all there in this later work -- seamless partnering, cool technique and effortless weight. But the live
pianist, barren stage and large industrial fans modernized it without
being cliche. It was poetic and quietly beautiful. The dancers disrobed
throughout the piece from their wispy, white outfits to colorfully
classic leotards. Bodies floated in between the winds of the fans --
they were like feathers blowing happily away.