- the process of being mentally stimulated to do or feel something, esp. to do something creative
- the action or power of moving the intellect or emotions
- the act of drawing in; specifically : the drawing of air into the lungs
Week 2: Cultural Rhizomes and Intentional Communities
Alexs Pate (University of Minn)
Author information: http://alexsdpate.com/
A confession: I have been known to choose courses based on stock photos of instructors.
For a typical week at SWP, I read through the offerings, culling course possibilities according to description. Anything “Performative” is out. Anything promising excursions “outdoors” is in. I’m like a three year old that way. Often, this step alone is enough to fill the month’s schedule. In the event, though, that I really can’t chose between class A and class G, I turn to the instructor bio. How this works has evolved over the years, as I went from terrified middle-aged woman reentering the academic scene on the wrong side of the podium, to giddy middle-aged woman impatient for a month-long retreat into the alternate reality that is Naropa. The first year, I specifically chose Jaime Marquez because he looked kind. That his class title also contained my favorite topic, “death,” nudged me in his direction, but the relaxed, curly-headed visage staring out from a 1”x1” photo cinched the deal. As my confidence built, safety became less important, as did knowing the instructor and his/her work. Challenging my beliefs, expanding notions of creative process, and honing my ability to discuss and debate social, political, and artistic issues became paramount. So, by this year, I was all about stepping out of the box. Any box. (As long as I didn’t have to sing or dance my way out.)
Reading the title of Alexs Pate’s class, “Engaging the Good: Community, Writer, Character,“ I was immediately sucked in. Who wouldn’t want to sit in a classroom for hours discussing goodness? Still, I have to admit to a certain amount of hesitation in pulling the trigger. Not due to Pate’s lengthy list of accolades (see intimidation, noun; the state of being timid; filled with fear; the feeling of discouragement in the face of superior fame or wealth or talent) or his wildly arcing hair and all black clothing, but because I was also really interested in another class being taught by a writer I knew and had worked with once before. I weighed the two in my head. Known or unknown? Stepping out or stepping up? In the end, I chose Pate, in part because his bio photo looked like that of a crazy man. A really nice crazy man.
Imagine my delight, then, in ascertaining, within five minutes of walking into the classroom, that he was a BRILLIANT crazy man. Even by Naropa standards, Pate is an out there genius, waving his arms, jumping around, shouting at us to stretch, to work and write and love the process, tossing the agenda aside to ask us what WE wanted to learn, offering a totally new perspective on… well, for me, everything.
Here are just a few of the ways Pate inspired me.
- Aristotle (again!): Whatever moves us, physically and emotionally, to express and achieve our good in the world is good. Presented by Pate in relation to the idea of community. Good is not in opposition to evil. I have pages of notes on this subject, all clumped under one heading: WORKSHOP IDEA. More on that later.
- “The Black Monk,” by Anton Chekhov. Is it better to be mad and happy, than sane and miserable? Is it better to be mad and know you are mad than to be mad and think you are sane? And, in my view, who is the real madman/woman? Read the entire, wonderful story here: http://www.online-literature.com/o_henry/1270/
- Story triangle: You’ve seen versions of this triangle (such as Freytag’s Triangle) since high school. Here’s my interpretation, as dictated by Alexs Pate. Well, maybe not. I can’t get the damn thing to load. Here’s a written explanation instead, using, or horribly mangling, high school geometry and algebra! Point at top=A; Right Side=B; Left Side=C. Bottom=D. Now, replace for: B=Tension (imagine a bunch of squiggly lines crisscrossing this line, representing all hell breaking loose); A=Crisis (moment when the outcome of the story becomes inevitable-nothing else could possibly happen). C=Complicating factors (occurring throughout the story to prolong tension by distracting reader from crisis). And D=All the problems that arise in the course of story. This explanation sort of sucks–the graphic is much better, I promise. Let me know if you’d me to email you a copy.
THINK ABOUT THIS (all quotes from Alexs Pate unless otherwise noted)
- Following the rules: “If you aren’t going to play the game, you’d better be damn good at your own game.”
- Life: “Be a professional human being.”
- Details: “Details are opportunities to provide subliminal information that builds the story (or scene or crisis) to a conclusion, an understanding. Readers don’t even know they’re being set up for the sucker punch.” Must be subtle and organic to be effective. Invisible.
- Sublimation (in your story): Surrender to beauty; beauty captures the audience. THEN step in with politics.
- “Writing is a sociably acceptable form of schizophrenia.” EL Doctorow.
- As a writer, how can I best express my goodness?
- How can I create characters who best express their goodness? Ask: What does s/he need to carry out her/his mission?
- Think of characters as constructions first, then make them people.
- How can I create stories that lead people to ask questions?
LOOK THIS UP:
- The Domino Project: (http://www.thedominoproject.com/about) I love all things book, and so had high hopes for Seth Godin’s project, tagged, “A new way to think about publishing.” I can’t say I was disappointed, as it turns out Godin is indeed trying to look well beyond traditional publishing to engaged both readers and writers. And who can fault a project that lists this gem among its core beliefs: “Reward the sneezers who stand up and spread these ideas.” Nice. What’s not to like? The prominently displayed “powered by Amazon.” I’m an indie kind of girl, and I cringe at the mention of Amazon the same way I do Walmart. Both have their place, I know. Still I can’t offer a whole-hearted endorsement for The Domino Project without balancing what I can’t help see as somewhat negative retail juju with good. So, here’s a link to my two favorite indie publishers.
- Small Press Distribution http://www.spdbooks.org/
- Ugly Duckling Press: http://www.uglyducklingpresse.org/about/udp-story/
Thanks for reading. Hope you found something of interest here. Please feel free to add your own favorite notes of inspiration.