Friday, January 22, 2010

burning to shine

Epiphanies are weird, and today I had two. I forget the first one (so it must have been an epiffle) but the second one was awesome. I realized that for the first time in my life, I feel as though there is not enough time in the day.

This is awesome not because I have suddenly discovered my inner workaholic, but because I have begun to discover a passion for making art and am realizing that despite my best efforts to use my spare time as well as I possibly can, I still seem to end up a little temporally short. It isn't that I couldn't find a little more time -  that I have become uber-disciplined to the point where I schedule my life down to the second - it's just that as events in my life have begun to allow me to laugh at my fears, I have started to have a whole bunch of mini-creativity-eruptions.

For starters, there is the previously-mentioned feature-length screenplay, which I'm only beginning to lay out because I have two screenplay-writing "textbooks" I need to pretty much memorize before I can proceed. Next, there are screenplays for film-shorts I am attempting to write in order to develop my "chops" - one of which is scheduled to be shot by actor Austin next month.

I also have an incomplete painting sitting in the other room, taunting me. Its siren song tickles my ears at night, competing for the ministrations of my artisty fingers with the filing cabinet full of children's book illustrations I am trying to get around to polishing so I can submit them to publishers.

Then there are the books. As I toil over marketing materials for my memoir, I realize that one of the first questions I will likely be asked by any agent or publisher is, "and what are you writing next?" They like to sign author's, not individual books, so I need an answer ready and you know what? It's pretty easy at this point.

There is the book about the Philosopher Jungle Man, for instance - a fellow who grew up in Peru as I did but pretty much stayed in the rainforest with one of the indigenous groups and would be there now, working on fish-farming projects, if not for his commitment to his ailing mother's care. He was once a guide for a National Geographic TV Special and is certainly not interested in that kind of spotlight any more, but I would love to convince him to let me tell his story as a way of exploring the effects of globalization on a marginalized group such as the Achuar.


Or there is fiction. Writing screenplays has whet my appetite for fiction, and I have been contemplating digging back into a fantasy novel I once started writing that was some sort of elaborate Christ-metaphor I couldn't figure out how to maintain.

And finally, there is tree planting. There are volumes and volumes I could write about tree planting, the hellish/euphoric alternate-universe Vietnam-without-guns I inhabited for ten summers. I would love to mine all that for the gold lying about in plain view, but I just don't feel I have the time. I got a call recently from a film producer who was looking for some storyboarding for a movie. This is paid, creative work with the potential to generate a lot more, but I had to redirect the project to a couple of pretty-much-genius students I have, because I had to make a choice and my greatest passion right now is my writing.

This a great place to be - too much passion-work, not enough time - but I'm starting to get a little anxious. I told a few of my colleagues at dinner last night that I can feel the frustration growing, and as much as I love teaching I just don't know how long I can sustain this before I lose my mind. Seriously. Sometimes I wonder if I am starting to go a bit crackers, or if I'm going to get smithereened by some large truck before I can actually finish something. I always seem to run up against some new, seemingly worthy distraction - like the short I'm helping Austin film this weekend, or the ukulele I am still trying to pick up at intervals, trying to learn how to play a song I wrote that I am supposed to be recording sometime soon with a friend of mine.

This has been a rambling whine-fest, I know. It isn't that I am not happy about all this. I love that I'm starting to at long last get excited about life and to treasure my moments enough to be concerned at their passing. The time will come when I will have to leave teaching and give my entire work-time to this, but for now I am still enjoying a pretty swank existence. In light of the struggles most people face in their lives, it seems rather stupid-dumb to be sniveling at you about this.

So I will end, instead, with something light and fluffy. It's a poem I wrote a few years ago to embarrass a treeplanting buddy, and I think it is a perfect example of the sort of outrageous characters who would make a book on planting so compelling. It is a (mostly) true account:




Ode to Nate's Toe

Here ye now a tale I have
both harrowing, yes, and bold.
A tale the likes of which, my friends,
your ears have not been told, been told,
A tale you've not been told.

There once was a man who - chances are good -
you could possibly even now know.
But this isn't the story of him, my friends,
it's the tale of his missing toe, his toe,
the tale of his missing toe.

Nate the explorer set out one day
to climb to the top of the world.
If only he'd known what fate was in store
I tell you his toes would have curled, have curled,
I tell you his toes would have curled.

When he put on his boots I betcha he thought
that in no time he'd come tromping back.
But he didn't know that when the time came
there'd be something he'd had that he lacked, he'd lack,
A piece of himself that he'd lack.

Conditions were bad (they were wicked in fact)
a blizzard was coming in thick.
If you or myself had been there that day
I'd wager we'd turn back and quick, so quick
I'd wager we'd do it so quick.

But Nate and his toe were bound for the peak -
so they laughed at the snow and the ice,
'til the mountain was filled with a mountainous rage
that made it do something not nice, not nice,
this terrible thing wasn't nice.

A rock in the way that his toe didn't see
sent Nate off a precipice tall.
He bounced off a ledge and then off two more,
then he plunged for a thirty foot fall, a fall,
he took a gargantuan fall.

Nate, mighty Nate, the manliest man,
the manliest man about town,
had at last met his match on the mountain that day -
that mountain that knocked poor Nate down, so down,
it knocked our poor hero far down.

He crawled for a day and he crawled for a night,
half-naked he crawled in the snow,
and all the day next, ignoring the pain
that was starting to shoot through his toe, his toe,
the cold that was claiming his toe.

With two broken legs and three broken arms
he struggled for two nights and days.
He came down from the mountain - but minus a toe -
and up on the mount it now stays, it stays,
it rests on the snow where it lays.

So remember the toe and the end that it met,
the tragedy of that toe's fate,
and fear for your life if you anger the man,
the manliest man that is Nate, is Nate,
the manliest man that is Nate.

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