Wednesday, December 29, 2010

New Year's Playlist

It's probably time to get started on your new year's resolution, which is to shake it. And if that's not your resolution, it should be.


flashvars="" allowScriptAccess="always" wmode="window" />

Tuesday, December 28, 2010


Please visit my 100% non-outdated website, now available at!

Upcoming Classes!

My goal as a teacher is to help you access your body's own style of dance and open the doors to your creative intuition. I teach Fusion Bellydance to this end, to allow students to develop their own approach to bellydance. I want to help you dance in a way that isn't just safe for your body, but makes you feel beautiful inside and out. My classes are centered around your experience; I am always open to your requests, criticism and suggestions. Come out and see what your dance can be!

My next session of classes at World in Motion is starting soon! For more information on how to register, please visit

This session will run from January 15-February 19 (six weeks of classes with no breaks). Classes are on Saturdays.

Please note that I must have 5 people registered for a full session of each of these classes in order to run the class sessions.

Fusion CORE Swiss Army Choreography 1:00-2:15 PM
In CORE, we will be learning a choreography ready for solo or group performance that also integrates critical movements into sequences that can be used in place of or in addition to traditional drills to help students improve their dancing at home. We will combine core isolations and shimmies with a variety of traveling patterns and arm movements to create dynamic combinations that can be simplified or complicated based on your personal preferences and comfort level. Students of all levels are welcome in this class. Expect to see some core conditioning exercises and to receive specific individual feedback.
Drop-ins are welcome but because this is a choreography class it is recommended that students attend as many classes in the session as possible.

Fusion FLOW Stagecraft for Soloists 2:30-3:45 PM
In FLOW, we will be switching over to a seminar format for this next session, which is designed to help solo performers of all levels of experience improve their stage presence and refine their dance technique. All students will be asked to present a 1-2 minute solo performance (choreo or improv or a mix) in front of the class twice during the session. During the session, we will use concrete and thorough exercises exploring musicality, tension and release, and visual composition of movement to improve our solos and help everyone develop their own unique creative voice. Performers or aspiring performers of all levels are welcome in this class. Expect to receive a lot of individual feedback and to have the opportunity to participate in discussions and critiques.
Drop-ins are welcome but because this is a seminar class it is recommended that students attend as many classes in the session as possible. Drop-ins may demonstrate their performances for the class if they ask me about it beforehand (i.e. at least the day before the class they plan to attend).

Register online at .
Find more information about class prices and policies at .
Get directions to the studio at .

Feel free to email me with any questions at skbeaman at gmail dot com.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Weekly playlist

This is what we're playing in the lobby here at the SKB corporate headquarters.

flashvars="" allowScriptAccess="always" wmode="window" />

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Progress update

Image from A Journey Round My Skull.

The third draft of my novel is done! I finished the final chapter earlier today while listening to Mastodon's album Crack the Skye on repeat. Very motivational, let me tell you.

The new version is 92,585 words long-- over 20k words less than the first draft! I do plan to write an epilogue, but I that will take more than 5,000 words, so I should be able to get everything done in under 100k. SUCCESS!

The next thing I will do is print it all out and attempt to read it as if it was someone else's novel. Then I will think about it for a while, following which I will most likely decide to do a fourth draft.

I've edited at least 2k words every day for a good while now, at least the last two or three months. I never had to force myself to do it. I enjoy this work more than anything else I've done in my life. I hope that someday I can make it my vocation.

The third draft is now available to test readers for free as a single PDF. Please email me if you are interested!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Dreams for the future

Image from A Journey Round My Skull.

I am typically the kind of person who sets goals (e.g. tasks I can complete through hard work and perseverance) rather than dreams (which I tend to view as asking the universe for favors). I don't consider myself a pessimist, nor an optimist. I prefer to avoid thinking about what the world will churn out in the future, instead focusing on the small list of things I can directly affect. I believe that good things can happen to me and mine, yet I operate under the assumption that if I'm not making them happen, they probably won't.
Just like everyone, I have things I wish for in secret, little miracles and such, but I don't spend much time contemplating them-- maybe out of fear that, should they never come to pass, I'll feel a greater sense of loss or regret for having paid them any attention.

As I grow older I'm beginning to realize the flaws in my way of thinking. I wonder if my unsentimental pragmatism wasn't part of the reason my recent attempt to make my way in the world as a professional bellydancer was such a disaster. Looking back, I realize I started out with the assumption that I would most likely fail, which was no way to go about pursuing something so unorthodox.
Perhaps if I'd spent some time indulging in some fantastic vision of how it all could go, I would have had a better idea of what I wanted out of the experience. Maybe I would have had a fire underneath me that would have propelled me to work harder and to think of elegant solutions to my everyday problems.
Maybe I would have failed anyway. Who can say? Either way, my pragmatism couldn't save that endeavor. I learned a lot from what happened and I don't feel bitter about it, but I can't help but wonder how things might have gone if my outlook had been different.

I think it might be time to admit to myself what I'm wishing for, to say it out loud and make the risk of hoping. I feel nervous about writing any of this down, but maybe it'll get easier as I go. What do I really have to lose?

In 2011:

I want to find a job that allows me to support myself without draining all my energy. The lower stress the better, with a steady paycheck (it doesn't have to be big).

I want to start selling out at least one of my Saturday classes. Max capacity at the studio where I teach is 12-13 students.

I want my health to continue improving.

I want to have at least one of my short stories published in an anthology, magazine, or online publication and get paid for it.

I want my family's dance studio to be a financial success.

and most of all

I want to find an agent who's excited about representing my novel.

Monday, December 13, 2010

This week's playlist

flashvars="" allowScriptAccess="always" wmode="window" />

Gloomy music for the season.

I'm so vain.

I had to share this picture of myself from a performance at the Pinhook. I'm not used to seeing performance photos of myself wearing so little makeup, but I kind of like it!
The photographer is Paul Cory.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

November recap and goals for December

Let's see how I did with my November goals!

-Finish third drafts for 1/3 of the remaining chapters of the novel.
I actually managed to do this, despite it being tons of work!!

-Keep practicing new solo choreographies and work on solo improv.
I made a half-assed effort vis a vis the choreography, but, still, that's better than nothing. I also did some solo improv I didn't hate for the first time in ages!! This was really exciting. I have been utilizing the time honored techniques of: 1. not beating up on myself and 2. not giving an eff how things turn out, to great effect.

-Do more dance-related strength training.
I did this. I don't know if I can feel any difference yet, aside from being sore and physically miserable, but I'll keep trying.

-Work on promoting my new classes at World in Motion.
This didn't happen at all. I'm usually pretty bad at promoting classes that are already in session, so perhaps I can force myself to be motivated and promote the crap out of my January and February session.

-Update my website. (this is a big one.)
I have updated files waiting to be uploaded, but technical issues with my host are keeping me from finishing this project. Sad life.

-Start working on the Christmas present situation. (I always give handmade presents to my family and friends, usually because I am totally broke, and every year it is a huge time investment.)
This information is confidential.

-Make some more costuming items to sell.
Yeah, I totally didn't make anything. I've got to be honest. My sewing machine is still broken, and I don't really have any interest in sewing things by hand I could otherwise sew on the machine. I don't know, I just haven't been feeling crafty lately. I've been feeling wordy and dancy, and that's fine with me so whatevs.

So now that I've done that victory lap slash walk of shame, here are my goals for December:
-Promote my January classes at World in Motion. NO, FOR REAL THIS TIME.
-Update and simplify my website.
-Practice all of my choreographies from 2010 so I don't start to forget them.
-Come up with some new combinations.
-Prepare a performance for Blue Moon's Winter Hafla (i.e. avoid doing this two days before the actual performance).
-Blog more regularly about things that other people may actually find amusing.

I'm not even going to bother making 'edit some of the book' as a goal because that is all I have been doing in my free time lately. I don't need to tell myself to do it any more; it's all I want to do. If anything, I need to slow down a little, stop neglecting other areas of my life and avoid letting my obsession become too pathological.

That is all. Let the cold dark winter season descend, enveloping us all in its bleak embrace.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

My editing process

I am knee deep in my third revision of my first novel. I just finished editing the fourth chapter of the book for the second time and I'm about to start on the fifth. There are fifteen chapters in total, but the last few chapters are much shorter than the first, so I'm about one fourth to one third done with the third draft. I figure I am going to need to do a fourth draft and perhaps also a fifth draft, but it's getting more enjoyable to work with the manuscript after every pass, so I'm not particularly upset about that.

I actually enjoy editing quite a bit more than I expected to. Right after I finished the first draft, I felt a little dismayed as I looked forward towards all the work I still had to do to "finish the book". However, I've found that I enjoy editing and rewriting much more than I enjoyed writing the first draft of the novel, which was frequently grueling work and not amusing at all.

My strategy for writing the first draft was as follows: just keep writing as much as possible every day. It's all crap, but don't worry about that right now. Even when you don't think you have any ideas, just keep writing. Even when a scene seems impossible to write, just keep writing.

This worked quite well in that it allowed me to finish the first draft (which was about 120k words) in about three and a half months. Of course, much of what I wrote on that first pass really was total crap and has been completely reworked multiple times, but that's not the point. I couldn't have made it better as I went; I didn't have enough perspective. I had to finish the entire thing and then come back to each detail later.

My strategy for editing is a good deal more structured. Many of these ideas were inspired by Self Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne and Dave King, which gave me a sense of direction where I would have otherwise felt out of my depth.

While working on the second draft, I read each word of the book aloud and reworked awkward sentences and passages, making the syntax sound more natural and improving my word choice. I also deleted about 5k worth of completely extraneous verbiage. Excess adverbs and re-re-stated sentences represented a lot of what got the axe.

Now, while working on the third draft, I have printed out each chapter of the second draft and am working through them one by one using the following techniques.

First, I read through the entire chapter and analyze in broad terms what works for me and what doesn't. Having a hard copy of the chapter in front of me helps me to let go of detail-oriented issues and to analyze big picture stuff instead. During this phase I'm looking at scenes and groups of paragraphs, not individual lines.

I'm able to pick up on a lot of critical issues using this strategy. For example, when I read Chapter One in hard copy, I realized that my main character's emotional reactions didn't feel authentic given the heinous things that were happening in her life. This problem was so deeply rooted in the narrative that changing things line by line would have been ineffective. I'd written almost all of it back before I had any real understanding of the type of book I wanted to write, and I hadn't been able to improve it much with the second draft.

Once I've read through the chapter, I might decide to completely delete some scenes and start from scratch; others might get heavily edited, and others still might get by with only a few adjustments. I rewrite new scenes in a notebook rather than on the computer for reasons I'll get to in a second. For the edited scenes, I simply make notations on the hard copy. Once I'm done, I reread everything I've rewritten or marked up from start to finish. If some parts are still awkward or don't ring true, I work on them some more.

After the chapter reaches what I feel is an acceptable level of not sucking, I type all of it up in a new document. This takes a long time, but it forces me to evaluate every single thing I'm putting in the new version of the chapter-- if I feel like I can't be bothered to type something up, it must not be so great. On the other hand, I know passages are good when I can stay interested while I'm typing them up, even though I've previously written and read and rewritten and reread them over and over again. Using this technique I've also caught some spelling errors that spell check couldn't-- things like "break" and "brake" getting confused-- and I've picked up on sentences with unclear subjects or objects.

I've already learned a lot about editing in the past few months. For example, if I were to do this all again, knowing what I know now, I'd use my third draft strategy for my second draft and vice versa. Knowing that some scenes will need to get rewritten from scratch, I think it would be a great deal more efficient to work on big picture issues first before I go through the effort of reading everything aloud to work on tiny details.

I've started to figure out how to use syntax and sentence order to convey meaning and create clarity. I'm not a particularly poetic writer, so my ultimate goal is to make my words as transparent as possible, clear windows through which the reader can easily comprehend my meaning.

I've also started to cultivate my inner sense of what sounds authentic and what doesn't, what 'works' and what falls flat. It's entirely intuitive. When I read certain passages-- the good ones-- I feel a peculiar emotion I can't completely describe. It's something like satisfaction, but it's tinged with nervousness and physical unease-- let's call it wordlust. Mostly I feel this when I read other people's work, but I'm starting to feel it with my own writing.
Honestly, even if I never get published, the wordlust makes the entire experience worthwhile.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Love and money

Since resigning myself to the fact that I will probably never make a living bellydancing, I have grown considerably more comfortable with myself as a dancer. I enjoy creating choreographies more, and I enjoy teaching more. I've always enjoyed performing, but now I feel less anxious about it.
Why does everything seem so much easier now?
I know a lot of this is because I no longer feel like I have to market myself; I no longer feel like I have to always be at the top of my game and represent myself in the best possible light without fail.
In fact, I even feel less anxious about the idea of self-promotion now. I feel like I could put myself out there (whereever "out there" is) and say "Hi, this is me, this is what I'm doing" and not want to hide in a hole any more. All because I'm ready to accept that it's not my job any more (although I don't have another job yet, but that's another story altogether).
What I want to know is-- professional dancers and artists-- how do you manage your work psychologically? How do you keep the love for your work alive while still making money off of it? How do you keep the anxiety about putting food on the table from bleeding into your creative life?
I don't get it.
I'm secretly worried that, should my book ever get published, I won't be able to write another one because I'll suddenly feel pressure over it. I'm pretty sure this is an unreasonable worry to have, given a.) I haven't finished editing it yet and b.) I haven't sent it out to any agents or publishers and c.) the chances of me getting published are probably slim to none. And yet...
Is there something wrong with me, or is this a common malady?

Friday, November 12, 2010

Watch and learn

If you're an artist, everyone in this world has something to teach you, even people who are less skilled than you in a particular discipline-- even people with no training whatsoever. Once I realized this for myself, I've been able to learn so much about my two main creative areas of interest-- dance performance and writing stories-- through simply observing my reaction to the work of other artists.

This might sound kind of saccharine or sentimental, like "Everyone has something to share!" "Everyone has a unique and beautiful creative voice!" I do believe those things (for the most part), but that's not what I'm trying to say. What I really mean is that by being a mindful consumer of art, it's possible to learn things you can't learn in a classroom setting.

Allow me to provide an example.

Every time I watch a bellydance performance, I do the following:
-I pretend that I've never seen or heard anything about the dancer(s) I am watching before in my life, including the style of bellydance they normally perform.
-I try to ignore indicators of skill level unrelated to the actual dancing, such as the way the dancer is costumed.
-I try to abandon any feelings of competitiveness towards skilled dancers.
-I try to forget what I've been taught compromises a "good" versus "bad" performance, or even "good" versus "bad" dance technique.
-I try to pretend I know nothing about the current trends in bellydance (as I know that my natural tendency is to dislike trendy things simply because they're trendy, and that's not really fair).

As I watch, I try to think about the following:
-What stands out to me the most? What do I think I'll remember later?
-What do I think the dancer is trying to convey? What are their intentions for the performance? If I can't tell, why is it confusing?
-How is the dancer interpreting the music? Do I find it effective?
-When do I find myself losing interest or focus on the dancer? (i.e. when do I have an attention deficit moment and start thinking about bacon or the scientific method or somesuch?)
-When does the dance transcend a simple display of technique or skill? When does it have the ineffable quality that makes things interesting to me? When does technique (good or bad) stand in the way of conveying this ineffable quality?
-Does the dance make me feel anything (besides hungry or sleepy)? Why? Do I like it?

and, just generally speaking,
-What parts of the dance 'work' for me? What parts don't?
-How can I integrate what I've learned into my own performances?

Sometimes you will not be able to articulate why you like (or dislike) something, and that's fine. This isn't the same as dance criticism; you don't have to be able to support your feelings. In fact, your irrational likes and dislikes are really what make up your particular sensibility as an artist. It's important to recognize them for what they are, rather than ignoring them or trying to justify them with logic.

I have found that, more than anything else, this kind of exercise has helped me develop my creative voice as a dancer. By ignoring what I think I am supposed to like and searching for what I really respond to deep down in the hideous pitch-black depths of my abyssal soul, I have figured out what I want to convey as a dancer, as well as what I am not interested in pursuing.

I do not think I could have done this just by taking classes and watching videos of myself. Teachers can tell you what they think makes a good performance, but they can't tell you what YOU think is compelling, and most people are far too anxious about their own skills as a dancer to detach and actually learn things about stagecraft while watching their own videos.

I don't think that it's good enough to watch only popular dancers. In fact, if you only watch your favorite dancers, you've compromised the objective of this exercise from the outset. This kind of learning requires that you turn off the part of your brain that reminds you what other people say you should like so that you can learn what you really do. It's not about figuring out who is a good dancer and who is not. Remember that even amazing dancers present lackluster performances from time to time, and lackluster or neophyte dancers sometimes come up with amazing performances. Moreover, it's frequently easier to learn from a performance from a relatively unknown dancer, simply because it's easier to forget what you know about them if you really do know very little.

Over time I have also learned to distinguish between things that I enjoy and things that really resonate with me. I don't emulate everything I enjoy. I can't-- I don't have enough time. I have to spend my time working towards what I deeply want, not the things I have a passing interest in. I'm also learning that some things work excellently for one dancer and terribly for another-- even if both dancers have roughly the same skill level-- due to factors like personality, training, body type, and physical limitations. There are things I wish I could do, or that I wish would somehow start 'working' for my body, but I can't or they don't so I spend my energy elsewhere.
Remember-- unless you are a true prodigy, you can typically choose to be great at a few things or mediocre at a lot of them.

Through observation, I've learned that I don't care about style or genre any more. I've become an omnivore. I tend to really enjoy the performances that make me stop thinking about technique. When I watch some dancers, I feel like the actual physical movements they perform become transparent and almost disappear, becoming a window to a deeper kind of communication. I enjoy the same thing in books-- when I forget about the words I am reading and feel transported into the raw experience, that's when I'm really hooked.

So, that's my creative goal-- to create this experience for other people, this kind of post-analytic state of pure enjoyment. You might find (or you might already know) that your objective is entirely different, and that's awesome. This goal isn't THE goal, it's just my goal. Watch quietly, and hear your inner voice tell you what yours is.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Goals for November

Well, I didn't even post any goals for October. Perhaps I somehow knew that I would get next to nothing done? All right-- to be fair, I've been working on responsible, "real life", adult kinds of things, like trying to find a job and getting my passport renewed (which was a three week long saga of intrigue and horror).
Note: I did manage to choreograph a new solo and rewrite chapter one of my novel, so I can't say I accomplished nothing in October. I also read my new favorite vampire novel (Let The Right One In, OMG OMG OMGOMGOMG so good so good) while on a return flight from England.
In any case, I've resolved that while continuing to try to be responsible and turn my Hindenberg-esque life around, I'm also going to accomplish some creative goals in November. I will just have to stop having leisure time altogether. That's okay, right??

Here are my creative goals for November:
-Finish third drafts for 1/3 of the remaining chapters of the novel.
-Keep practicing new solo choreographies and work on solo improv.
-Do more dance-related strength training.
-Work on promoting my new classes at World in Motion.
-Update my website. (this is a big one.)
-Start working on the Christmas present situation. (I always give handmade presents to my family and friends, usually because I am totally broke, and every year it is a huge time investment.)
-Make some more costuming items to sell.

And here's my responsible adult goal:
-Apply to a million jobs.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Art and Cheese

It is not a secret that many of the things that I love with a love from my deepest heart are kind of cheesy. Slightly hokey. Perhaps not to be taken totally seriously.

Let me enumerate with some examples, some of my very very favorite things in the world:
-Also, dungeons.
-The combination thereof.
-Bellydance. (I understand that many of you may not find it cheesy, but I think it's hard to argue that it doesn't at least have the potential to be cheesy.)
-(some) Anime and manga and (some) American animation and comic books.
-80's pop music.
-Drag queens.
-Science fiction.
I could continue, but I think the point is clear. I love cheese.

Now let's be clear, while I love cheesy things, I don't love them because they are cheesy; I love them because I love them, regardless of their hokeyness. After all, I don't love all kinds of cheese. No-- I have the refined palate of someone who has been a cheese enthusiast for many years. Sub-par cheese is quite offensive to me.
While I love all of these things without taking them too seriously, I don't love them to be ironic. My love for them is genuine and pure-- perhaps purer than it might be if I did consider them to be Serious Business, since I can evaluate them frankly and look past their flaws. My adoration absolutely does not contain the taint of mockery. I think there's something a little cruel in being an ironic fan of something, to be honest. Doesn't that trivialize the sincere enjoyment of true fans?
After all, why should we judge each other-- or judge ourselves-- for what we like? Why should we feel we need to apologize for where we find relief from the drudgery of everyday life? I think we shouldn't. It makes me truly happy to recognize genuine interest in passion in other people, even if it's for things I can't really stand (such as football, Dave Matthews Band, or Naruto). I'd much rather be friends with someone who genuinely likes stuff I don't care for, even stuff I kind of hate, than someone who is bored with everything and pursues things only with an edge of irony, a detachment to protect their personal coolness quotient or whatever.

As much as I love cheese, sometimes it's hard to work exclusively in fields I know are cheesy.
As you might know, I am a bellydancer. I take my dance training and my role as a responsible, ethical member of the professional bellydance community seriously. I take my work seriously too, to an extent. I practice and I try to produce the most genuinely enjoyable performances that I can, performances that will engage bellydancers and the general public alike.
However, it's difficult for me to escape the fact that I get up on stage in nearly as much makeup as a drag queen wearing a revealing costume and perform in a style that represents a fantasy of an Orient that never exactly existed. In the end, it's kind of not serious. It might be emotionally affecting at times, but more often it's just fun, sexy, and cheesy entertainment.
There is nothing wrong with that, not until you start asking to be taken seriously. Here's the thing-- I don't really take myself seriously, but I sure as hell want other people to respect me for what I do.
How do I make that happen?
I'm also in the process of writing a novel. Well, to be more accurate, it's written, and I'm in the process of editing it a million times. This novel is about vampires. Because that's what the world needs-- another vampire book. What can I say? They say to write about what you love, and OMG I LOVE VAMPIRES. Can I help it that I don't really have any interest in writing serious literary fiction?
I need to take this endeavor seriously, because I want my book to be the best it can be, but I can't take it too seriously-- or I will step back from myself, forget my genuine love for the undead, and think Oh My God What Am I Doing, I Am Writing A Book About Vampires.
The book comes up in conversation from time to time. It usually sounds something like this:
"What have you been up to lately, Sara?"
"Well, I just finished writing the first draft of my first novel."
"Oh, wow! What's it about?"
"Well... you know... .... ... *coughhackvampires*."
And then I change the subject.
Once I finish working on it, I am going to need to try to con someone into publishing it for me. I am worried that my cheese-related shame will be an impediment. How can I sell something I'm embarrassed to even talk about?

I can only think of two solutions:
1. Convince myself and others that what I have produced is NOT cheesy (i.e., lie to myself and others for the sake of self-promotion), or
2. Convince myself and others that this stuff is cheesy, but also Art with a capital A and worthy of serious consideration.

Let's hope that #2 is possible, since I'm not a very good liar.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Return of Saturday Classes!! (and introducing a new class!)

At long last, my Saturday classes (CORE and FLOW) are starting up again, and this time they have a new and much more fabulous home: World in Motion Dance, Movement and Music Center in Morrisville! YAY!
World in Motion is a new studio dedicated entirely to world dance-- I think it's probably the first world dance studio to open in the Triangle! It's co-owned by Sashi and Emily of Blue Moon (also known as my mom and my sister) and Heather Murphy of Twilight Tribal and Bella Luna. I am so happy for them-- and for me, because now my classes have an awesome new (mold-free, mildew-free, clean and pretty) home!
I will also be teaching a beginner's class at World in Motion on Monday mornings at 10AM.
World in Motion is literally less than ten minutes away from the old CORE/FLOW location. Please don't let the idea of it being in Morrisville scare you away! It's right next to RTP-- it shouldn't be much of a hike for anyone living in the Triangle.
All three of these classes will start in early November, and you can sign up for them NOW! You can find out more about and/or register for any or all of these class offerings on the Classes page of the World in Motion website.
Starting in November, I will be teaching at World in Motion exclusively. This means that my Sunday classes will be going on permanent hiatus. I still need to update my website to reflect all these changes-- hopefully I can manage to do that soon. For now, please disregard everything on my website as it is all hideously outdated! (I'm ashamed of myself!)
If you're a fan of world dance, please take a moment to tell some people about World in Motion. This is an independent business, a labor of love for its owners, that was created out of a genuine desire to improve life and culture in the Triangle. Visit World in Motion on Facebook and help them out by becoming a fan, or tell your friends about the studio in person. Help us make the studio a success!!
World In Motion is having a grand opening celebration on January 8, 2011, featuring back-to-back workshops (I'll be teaching one of them!), refreshments, and fun activities for the whole family. Information about the grand opening will soon be available on their website.
I'm so happy to be a part of this endeavor and I hope you will join me there!!

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

News from the Sara zone

Life got real, you guys.
My husband's car needs an engine replacement. We don't have the money to fix it, nor do we have the money to buy a new car. Since we both need a car to get to work, I've been driving him to work and picking him up every day. This wouldn't be so bad, but he works 45 minutes from where we live, in the opposite direction from my work. As a result, I've put myself on a No Procrastination Campaign because I have Not A Lot of Free Time Anymore. I am also on financial lockdown, defcon 5, in which I buy nothing that I don't immediately need, sell anything I can that I no longer use.
I tried to start doing a second pass at editing the first chapter of my book and decided that I hate the first chapter. All of it. So, now, I am rewriting the first chapter. All of it. I hope I won't feel compelled to do this with all of the book at some juncture or another, but I feel that it's necessary for the first chapter. I'm having fun with the rewrite, so that's good, at least.
I also got into playing Minecraft since my last post, perhaps as a way to escape my car-related worries. It combines pretty much everything I could ever want in a videogame into one thoroughly addictive package. However, even when I play it on the lowest graphical settings possible, it overheats my computer on a regular basis. When this happens, everything I've done in a given game will get corrupted. So I've resolved to quit. I should probably feel lucky; it was devouring my brain like a zombie, but not one that lights on fire and dies during daylight hours. I'm not sure if I would have had the willpower to stop if it hadn't been actively destroying my computer.
Oh well. You gives some, you takes some.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Source material: Shoujo Kakumei Utena

One does not simply become weird overnight. I have cultivated my taste for the bizarre for my entire life, developing my peculiar and particular sensibilities through the consumption of a wide array of counter-cultural artifacts. This entry is the second in a series cataloging my most beloved of those books, films, television shows, and other forms of media.

Spoilers are happening in this article. FYI.

Okay, so, full disclosure: from seventh to ninthish (perhaps also tenth) grade, I was totally obsessed with Sailor Moon, an extremely (perhaps unreasonably) popular manga and anime series about a slackerish middle school student named Usagi (shown below) who fights monsters from outer space with the help of her talking cat, who is from the moon.

Without delving into a lengthy discussion about the series, let me confirm that the show is pretty much as bizarre as its premise makes it sound. It's ostensibly a children's show, but somehow, by the end of the series, it manages to work in all kinds of nuggets of surreality and quirkiness, perhaps the most infamous example being the rock trio "Three Lights", who show up in the final season. The Three Lights are all teenage boys, but they periodically turn into latex-clad girls to help Usagi and Company fight space villains. (They are, themselves, also from outer space.)

For me, Sailor Moon was the equivalent of the "gateway drugs" people my age learned about in those D.A.R.E. videos in Health class. Basically, I consumed too much Sailor Moon at a very young and impressionable age. Eventually, its particular formula of strangeness didn't have any affect on my warped synapses any longer, so I had to seek out something harder and weirder-- something with more permanent side effects-- something like Shoujo Kakumei ("Revolutionary Girl") Utena.

The director of Utena, Kunihiko Ikuhara, also directed Sailor Moon for a few seasons. Ikuhara allegedly left his position as director of Sailor Moon because the producers weren't giving him enough creative freedom, e.g., they were not allowing him to use the show as a vehicle for his unique, majestic brand of ridiculous nonsensical bullshit. So, he set off on his own, forming his own creative team and ultimately producing what remains one of the quirkiest and most obtuse anime series ever.

(The following is a fan-made remake of the series' opening credits sequence, just to give you a taste of what this show is like. I decided to use it here in place of the actual opening credits, because it illustrates the unique aesthetic of the series while showing just a fraction of the insane stuff that happens in the latter half of the story.)

Utena follows the exploits of its namesake, a pink-haired middle-school girl named Utena Tenjou, as she gets up to various things at Ohtori Academy, a boarding school for all ages.

Utena refuses to wear a standard girl's uniform; instead, she wears a modified version of the boy's uniform, much to the amusement of her fellow students and the chagrin of the school administrators. You see, Utena had a formative experience as a child with a prince on a white horse. To condense what is actually a fairly complicated story, ultimately, she decided that the prince was so awesome that she wanted to be like him-- to wear princely clothing (never mind that her outfit features short-shorts. no big deal.) and to help rescue other girls from peril. The prince also gave Utena a ring with a rose signet. Utena's not sure if that makes them engaged or not, and she's kind of in love with him but also kind of doesn't know who the hell he is.

In any case, in the first episode, Utena happens upon a violent argument between a girl, Anthy Himemiya, and a boy on the Student Council, Saionji, whom Utena assumes must be Anthy's boyfriend. Saionji backhands Anthy, which pisses Utena off. She challenges him to a fight after school. Knowing that Saionji practices kendo, Utena brings a bamboo training sword to the fight, and is totally prepared to kick his ass. She follows Saionji to the grave-mound-shaped forest behind the school, where students are forbidden to go, and then up an insane flight of stairs to this weird platform in the sky. Totally normal, no reason for alarm. Anthy places a rose in Utena's lapel, then in Saionji's; whoever keeps their rose on longer wins the fight.
Then this stuff happens.

(The purple-haired one is Anthy, the green-haired one is Saionji-- yes, he's a boy.-- and the pink-haired one is Utena. The red-haired one, also a boy, is a manslut named Touga. Got it?)

It turns out Anthy is the "Rose Bride", the key to some fabulous power which may or may not revolutionize the world but will for sure give you a really cool sword. The Student Council members at Ohtori are embroiled in a series of duels-- known as the "Rose Duels"-- all over Anthy, who becomes "engaged" to the victor of the most recent duel and will basically do whatever they say. They all want Anthy's miraculous power, or maybe they just want Anthy. Whatevs. Doesn't this kind of thing happen at most boarding schools?

After Utena wins the fight against Saionji, Anthy insists that Utena is her new fiancee. She moves in to Utena's dorm room, bringing a weird mouse thing (Chu Chu, her only friend) with her, and starts deferring to Utena in her every decision. Utena is not sure how she feels about this arrangement, but when the other Student Council members start challenging her to try to win Anthy back, she tries to fend them off, ostensibly for Anthy's sake.

All right, so that's the initial premise of the show. In fact, most of that stuff is revealed in the first episode. I would have to write a dissertation in order to even attempt to explain everything else that occurs in the show's 39 episodes-- and I'm pretty sure any such attempt would fail.

Despite supposedly being a children's show, Utena is fairly difficult for most adults to understand. The show is rich-- no, rife-- with symbolism, metaphor and allegory. Some plot elements are handled only through symbolic references, making it pretty much impossible to say with any certainty what's actually happening in any given episode-- especially those at the end of the series. In fact, despite repeated viewings, I'm still not exactly sure what happens at the end of the series.

Not only is the plot super ambiguous, so are the players. Some of the characters are ghosts, but that's never made clear when you meet them; some characters only exist in the minds of other characters, and they don't bother to explain that either. Even the characters who are neither ghosts nor figments of someone's imagination are hard to pin down. Everyone is morally ambiguous-- no, really, everyone-- and everyone has major secrets they are hiding from everyone else. On top of that, nearly everyone's sexuality seems to be at least somewhat mutable; there are countless "are they or aren't they?" situations and relationships.

Utena is at times high-camp shoujo soap opera, not-quite-postmodern fairy tale, and psychosexual melodrama, exploring issues of gender identity, sibling rivalry, eternal adolescence, and emergent sexuality. It fluctuates without warning from extremely dark and questionable territory (incest, abuse, fratricide/sororicide, mass murder) to absurd and adorable interludes with anthropomorphized mice and cowophomorphized (bovinomorphized?) girls. Half of it seems to be done totally tongue-and-cheek, while the other half is deadly serious. It's a grab bag of delights, a festival of horrors!

Some of the sex in Utena is shown on its surface, illustrated as frankly as possible for a (children's?) television show. Far more seethes underneath. Depending on how you choose to read the show's symbolic elements, the antagonist, Akio, is sleeping with either two people-- Utena and Anthy-- or with virtually the entire cast at one point or another. Now, before you scoff, we are not talking about 'reading the story' in the imaginative sense, the kind of speculation fanfic writers engage in; no, we're talking about whether or not you choose to assume that Akio's wildly homoerotic photo shoots with Touga and Saionji end up leading anywhere once they've all taken their clothes off.

Fun for the whole family!

So, once the television series was finished, since it made so much sense and would be so easy to streamline into a two-hour feature film, Ikuhara and Co. made it into a movie. An awesome movie. With even more bizarre delights for obsessed fans like me to sink our teeth into. Here's a scene from near the beginning of the movie-- part is a retelling of the other scene above.

Plot issues aside, if you can't at least enjoy the movie's visuals, you probably don't have eyes.
Many people complain that the movie makes no sense. I don't exactly disagree with them, but, in my opinion, complaining about the fact that the movie makes no sense is absurd; it's like bitching about a Dali painting for not being an accurate representation of reality. Of course it makes no sense! That's the entire point. Just shut up and watch the pretty girls have duels with the pretty boys and then turn into cars.

In the passages above, I have given what seems like a multitude of reasons to dislike Utena. I fully acknowledge that everyone else in the world would have good reason to hate this show; nevertheless, it remains one of my favorite television shows ever.

Utena could have been trash. Certainly, my description makes it sound trashy. It's not even particularly original-- it owes a huge debt to The Rose of Versailles and probably countless other works. Its story is absurd, erratic, and at times next to impossible to follow. But by sheer chutzpah, not to mention a considerable amount of artistry and skill, the production team took what could have been an absolutely abysmal series and transformed it into something that completely transcends the sum of his parts.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Breaking news!

I just finished the second draft of the novel. YAY! YAY! YAY! OMG YAY!
...Okay, well, sort of. I've decided that it needs some kind of epilogue, or maybe even a Chapter Sixteen, because right now the end is extremely abrupt and not terribly gratifying.
And of course I still have a ton of editing left to do, even once I'm finished with that.
But still. Yay Yay Yay!


It is a new blog design, sort of. I drew the header.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Lack of progress report

Well, September's already more than half over. (what?!) Let's check in and see how much progress I haven't made towards my September goals!!

Finish the second draft of the novel. Okay, so if you don't count a short part of Chapter 11 that I haven't been able to finish for various reasons, I only have chapters 13, 14 and 15 left to edit! I even have Chapter 13 pulled up in Chrome right now, because I was going to work on it, but gdocs is being a problem. Whatever, webertubes! It's not like I was going to be productive tonight or anything.
In any case, I might actually be able to finish the second draft by the end of the month. Of course, I'm not done. Haha, no. I am planning on doing a whole ton of additional editing once the second draft is complete. YAY!

Read a novel about vampires and a novel about something else. I totally haven't read anything; I've been drawing and playing videogames in my leisure time. Oh no!!

Get back in the habit of doing morning pages. I was actually doing this regularly for a while, but then my husband's car decided it needed to spend three weeks at the shop, so now I get to drive him in to work every morning. I haven't been able to work up the motivation to wake up early just to do morning pages, sleep being one of my only sources of solace in this sick sad world. (Just kidding. I just really love sleeping, and I'm lazy! tee hee!)

Work hard on choreography at least 3x a week for at least 2 hours at a time. Uhhhh.... I did choreograph something! I have about... a minute... of rough choreography... Okay so I haven't been keeping up with this goal at all, maybe because it's totally unrealistic.

Write a damn pitch for the book. ...yeah. I have to be honest-- this isn't going to happen.

Keep blogging regularly. I shared all kinds of depressing facts about myself and also some other things! Mission Accomplished!! YESS

To be fair, I've been trying hard to accomplish some real life goals as well (things too boring to chronicle here), and they've been taking precedence over some of these creativity type things, so I don't actually feel too bad about myself.

As my sister says, "you gives some, you takes some".

*sigh* So true.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

My creative process

I'm always fascinated to read about how other people do creative work. Everyone seems to have their own unique process; oftentimes, a person's work style is highly evident in their creative output, or it reflects their personality, or both.
My work style is almost more an expression of my personality than the things I produce are. It's simple and difficult, just like me.

My creative process can be summed up fairly easily:

1. Work
2. Do not think about any of the things on the forbidden thoughts list.

1. Work
In order to accomplish step one, I have to do things.
This is frequently a lot harder than it sounds. I often dread getting started on new projects for some reason, especially new choreographies. I also have trouble maintaining creative inertia with projects after the initial phase, especially with craft projects.
However, if I force myself to work, it works. There isn't a whole lot else I can say about it. I essentially agree with Yoda; there is no try.
I don't usually do any planning for creative projects unless planning is absolutely and completely necessary. When doing choreography, all I do to prepare is listen to the music over and over again. When making a new costume, I only think about the structural elements ahead of time; none of the decoration is preconsidered. I only outlined plot elements for maybe ten percent of my novel.
Whenever I can, I improvise everything. If I start to think ahead, I get mired in the thoughts from my forbidden thoughts list. I have to start working and let things emerge unfiltered, even if they are really, really horrible and worthless, and then slowly work on cultivating them into something I actually like.
Moreover, I can't understand what I want to do until I actually start doing it. If I attach myself to a preconceived notion of how I want a project to go, it does not work. I can never accurately predict what I will encounter over the course of a creative project; if I tried to force myself to stick to a plan, I'd have to ignore all the factors I didn't anticipate. The few times I've tried to work this way, the final result has seemed contrived and mechanical.

I recently read Daniel Raeburn's interview with Chris Ware (which you can read for free at Raeburn's website) and found out that Ware works pretty much the same way I do:
"Most cartoonists plan their strips ahead of time by preparing thumbnail sketches or a script. Chris, however, insists on ignorance. Every week he takes a white sheet of Bristol board, a blue pencil, and begins drawing in the upper left-hand corner of the page with no real idea how he will end the strip. Basically he makes up everything as he goes. Although Chris is careful to add that he usually has a vague idea of what is going to happen in each week’s strip—and that he knows how he will end the entire novel—unknowing is still the basic way he works.
'Just start writing,' he said by way of explaining his output. 'That’s what writing is. Writing and drawing are thinking. We’re told in school that they’re skills but that’s wrong. Drawing is a way of thinking. It’s a way of seeing. That’s why my way is improvisatory for the most part. I may have a vague idea for the week’s strip, but I personally couldn’t write out a script ahead of time and then illustrate it. If I did that, I’d just be illustrating a vaguely-imagined and quickly thought-out thing. When I draw a picture it always suggests a number of possibilities that I never would have thought of if I was merely writing out a script.'"

For those of you who have never read Ware's work, he is known (among other things) for his extremely clean, precise drawing style; his illustrations are perfectly balanced, providing enough detail to convey subtle nuances but never so much detail as to distract the reader from the story. Apparently these economical, spare illustrations begin their lives as intuitive scribbles on bristol board.
(OMG SOOO AMAZING! I can barely stand it.)

The only other aspect of my process involves what I do not allow myself to do; more specifically, what I do not allow myself to think.

2. Forbidden Thoughts Which Must Be Avoided (You Will Think Them But When You Hear The Thoughts Don't Listen)

"Is this good?"
"Will anyone like this?"
"I suck at this"
"Actually I suck at everything"
"yeah omg I really suck at life in general"
"This is probably too weird/obscure/personal/normal/cliche/overdone/pedestrian/intellectual/..."
"No one is ever going to read this shit anyway."
"I'm probably wasting my time"
"What is the point?"
"Ugh, no, this sucks, I better throw everything out and start over"
"Oh man, really, this sucks so bad I should probably just give up entirely"
"No one is going to think this is interesting"
"Oh shit, what would my parents think if they saw this?"
"I don't have any right to be doing this. Who do I think I am?"
"I'm not a dancer/writer/artist/whatever. I am really not anything except a loser, because I suck so bad at everything."
"I'll never make money doing this"
"Everyone is going to think I'm a freak"

and finally
"What could I do that would make people think I'm cool?"
NO ONE SHOULD EVER ASK THEMSELVES THIS. Trying to be cool is not cool. Trying to be cool just makes you anxious and sweaty, and that is the opposite of cool. Do whatever you can to stop caring about being cool. It's a losing battle.

In any case, the bottom line for me is do, don't think. I try to think as little as possible about my projects until I am done with the first draft or version. Even during the revision process I try to avoid value judgments and thinking about coolness or lack thereof at all costs-- instead, I try to ask myself questions along the following lines:

Am I interested in this?
Do I feel like it "works"?
What could I do to make this more of what it wants to be or to make it work better?
What parts are unnecessary?
What parts are missing?

Then I have to resist the urge to hide everything that I do or make because it might not be awesome and make people think that I'm cool.

That is all.

It works pretty well for me.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

More dancing

This is the second video I shot last weekend. I have to say, watching these multicamera videos of myself is strangely compelling. I feel official or something.

The first half of the dance is choreography, the second is improv.

I hope you enjoy!

Friday, September 10, 2010

Two sketches

I made two illustrations this week. They have nothing to do with one another, but together they're a pretty awesome study in contrast.
The first may or may not have something to do with my book. The second is going to be a gift for a friend.
I hope you like them!

(pen on watercolor paper)

(marker and watercolor pencil on watercolor paper)

They share the same arm angle. It's a coincidence.

Body of work

I have had Fibromyalgia syndrome (FMS) for over a decade. I was diagnosed with the condition when I was thirteen.

I'd love to be able to write an inspiring little story about how I've overcome my symptoms through hard work and determination. Unfortunately, at the risk of sounding morose, the truth of the matter is that the syndrome has altered much of the course of my life and continues to dictate the vast majority of my creative and career decisions. For someone who hates being told what to do, and doubly hates being defined by such mediocre parameters, mine is a frustrating predicament indeed.

There are upsides and downsides to the restrictions the FMS imposes on my existence-- but mostly there are downsides. This being the case, I alternate between feeling sorry for myself and feeling a zen sort of detachment from my predicament, a fatalistic acceptance of all the things I've learned I'll probably never be able to change (otherwise known as 'whatevs who cares anyway').

Everyone with FMS has a slightly different profile of symptoms; mine include severe cognitive impairment (otherwise known as "brain fog"), fatigue, sleep disturbances, fatigue, muscle and joint pain, hypersensitivity to everything (exercise, pressure, kinesthetic sensations in general, temperature, barometric pressure, the way my meals are timed, the angle of the sun, noise, and, you know, existing in the world), fatigue, brain fog, and memory nonexistence.

Fibromyalgia is a disease with no cure. There are drugs for FMS-related pain, but many of them cause additional fatigue as a side effect. Convenient! To mitigate FMS symptoms, patients such as myself do all kinds of things, including being super vigilant about sleep habits, eating only the healthiest of foods, and keeping a regular exercise schedule-- of course, too much sleep is bad, and too much exercise is also bad for people with FMS. Too much food is probably bad as well, although I haven't come to accept that reality quite yet.

People with FMS appear to the outside world like normal humans who just can't seem to cope with modern life for some elusive reason. (fun fact.) Also, despite the fact that we have all kinds of fascinating MRI images to show that FMS' sufferers' brains function differently than those of normal humans-- especially in response to pain-- as an FMS patient I have suffered under the misconception that the syndrome is primarily psychological in origin-- i.e. that I am a hypochondriac. I'm sure other FMS patients get this as well. This misguided idea creates all kinds of exciting opportunities for me to educate my peers, employers and healthcare providers about the fascinating world of an FMS sufferer. I'm always totally excited to talk about my condition with people that think I'm crazy! Who wouldn't be?!

Not wanting to seem demented or high-maintenance or to get too many questions about my condition, I spend a lot of energy trying to hide my symptoms from the world. In the past, I've also tried to hide my symptoms from myself, in the hopes that ignoring them would make them disappear. Despite several attempts, this strategy has always proven futile-- but I'm sure that as soon as I start feeling semi-normal again, I will be tempted to pretend that I was never sick and that I can totally do whatever I want with my life.

Case in point: in the summer of 2009 I quit my full-time job, a clerical position at a nice university with nice people that was stable and responsible and mindcrushingly boring. I had two goals in mind:
1. to get my health under control;
2. to spend more time on bellydance.

What ended up happening is that I did absolutely nothing towards goal #1 because I was too busy scrambling to make ends meet and, even with health insurance, DOCTORS ARE SO EXPENSIVE OMG. Especially specialists. I'm not saying anything anyone isn't already aware of here, so I won't go into details, except OMFG WHY DOES IT HAVE TO BE THAT WAY.

I spent a lot of time on goal #2 in some really inefficient ways. Between classes, private lessons, and troupe practice, I was dancing at least 10 hours every week, usually more; not a day went by that I didn't dance. These 10 hours do not count all of the other administrative stuff related to a career in bellydance that all bellydancers must do-- maintaining a website, promoting yourself even though you'd rather die than promote yourself, sewing costumes (only for other people, though, because you need money, and maybe if you keep cycling through different combinations of the costume pieces you own no one will notice you haven't worn a new costume in a year and a half).

Of course, I also had a side job. Everyone has a side job, unless their significant other makes a ton of money or they're international superstars of bellydance.

Due to my ridiculous lack of stamina (which no amount of exercise has ever proven able to alleviate), I was usually so exhausted that I never had any energy to practice on my own. In other words, was spending all of my ATP doing stuff for other people (or simply making money so I could pay rent) and saving virtually none towards making myself a better dancer or working on my own choreographies.

Psychological and creative burnout was starting to set in at the time that my entire body basically threw a blue screen of death. It turns out that my schedule was simply not sustainable for my physical system-- nor for my financial, psychological, or creative existence. I got sick over and over again, I injured myself at least once a week, and I had chronic insomnia due to the stress. I was running around exhausting myself and still losing money every month. I was teaching myself to hate teaching, troupe practice, and dancing in general over what it was doing to my life.

I slowly came to realize that I will never be a professional bellydancer. Barring a miracle cure, there is no way my body will ever be able support my dance goals.
Financially speaking, it doesn't matter how technically proficient I become. Even if somehow I trained a million hours a week, promoted myself out the ass and became hyperpopular (assuming I could ever work up the confidence necessary to do that!) I know I would never be able to tour; I can't sleep in hotels, and any alterations to my schedule make my body shut down. Moreover, when I have to teach workshops all day and then perform in the evening, my performances suck. It's not rocket science, but it took me a while to figure out I can't not suck when I'm totally exhausted. And I hate sucking. Hate.

I can and will keep teaching classes locally, but I can't teach enough to live by. Besides, adding classes to your schedule causes diminishing returns-- the more classes you teach, the fewer people show up to each class-- especially when, like me, you teach Weird Fusion Bellydance and are already catering to a very specific, very limited market.

Once I came to accept this reality, I felt really awful about it for about a week. Now I feel okay with it. I will need to limit my involvement with bellydance in the future so that I don't run myself ragged again-- but that means I will be forced to evaluate everything I am doing and only do the things I am driven to do from a deep sense of creative need. Perhaps that isn't a bad thing. Now that I am pursuing other ways to support myself financially, I don't need to do everything I can pack into my schedule in order to survive. I respect anyone who can create art under those conditions, because I've come to realize that I can't. Art doesn't grow well in an environment of frenzied desperation, or at least it doesn't for me; if I can relax and let my dancing be what it is, rather than stressing endlessly over how to market myself and be constantly awesome so I won't starve, I'm sure I'll be a better dancer for it.

I'm 'downgrading' (not really) to hobbyist status in order to save my sanity and my creativity. There is no reason to keep chasing a goal that will leave my entire being drained and listless. I'm hoping to eventually create a life for myself where I have enough time to do whatever Weird Fusion thing I'm into, take classes, and keep growing as a dancer.

It's going to be awesome. Thanks FMS!!!*

*partial sarcasm implied.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

New choreography video

This is the first of two videos I recorded last weekend during Hannan Sultan's performance DVD shoot. Hannan graciously let me use the stage while she was taking a break between performances.
This was my first time being filmed by a professional company. I think the final video turned out really well!

Thursday, September 2, 2010

What the...

I just noticed that one of my videos, embedded below, has somehow amassed over 100,000 views on YouTube since I posted it in 2006.

I'm posting this not because I want to brag, but because I'm amazed and humbled and more than a little confused.
I performed this dance live in front of perhaps eighty people, ninety at most. I was unsure if anyone would like it-- I was worried it'd be too "over the top" for everyone's taste. I remember watching the video afterward and sort of hating it. All I could focus on were the rough edges around my technique.
I put it on YouTube just so I could post it on and get some feedback from other dancers. If I had imagined that one hundred thousand people would end up watching it-- some of them professional tango dancers, many of whom were offended by it!-- I very well might have left it offline.
Now I watch the video and I enjoy it in the same way I'd enjoy someone else's performance; I have enough distance on 2006 Sara that she's practically another dancer to me at this point. I'm proud of what I was able to accomplish at the time, given my limited skill set and lack of experience. Despite its technical problems, I think that the dance 'works' because I was committed to what I was doing, I prepared more than enough ahead of time, and I knew my music really well.
If nothing else, I think the fact that I love the song enough to marry it comes through loud and clear. I like that.
What I take from this experience is that it's not always all about skill when it comes to making art; sometimes passion is enough.

Goals for September

It's September already. I'm so glad to be nearing the end of summer here in North Carolina and entering the season of the spooky. Autumn is my favorite! I need to start getting my Halloween costumes together...
Just as in August, I'm going to list my goals for September. I will try my best to actually stick to them this time. Only time will tell if I'll be successful!

Finish the second draft of the novel. I just finished my second draft of Chapter Nine, so I have six chapters left to edit. They get increasingly shorter as the end of the book approaches, so I don't think this will be too difficult.

Read a novel about vampires and a novel about something else. Next in my stack of vampire books is Let The Right One In by John Ajvide Lindqvist; it comes highly recommended and I'm excited about it. My husband also wants me to read The Bachman Books by Stephen King. So, that's currently my plan. Next in my tour of fine vampire literature I think I might try to read some Anne Rice, just because. We will cover that in October.

Get back in the habit of doing morning pages. Morning pages are a tool for developing creativity described in The Artist's Way by Julia Cameron. I was doing morning pages for bellydance for a while last year, but abandoned the practice due to lack of gumption and/or sticktuitiveness (a quality the Japanese refer to as ganbaru). I need to get my ganbaru back, and I hope this will help. I have found that training ganbaru is like training a muscle: it gets easier when you do it more and harder when you slack. Knowing this doesn't make it any easier to work at it, however, especially when I'm so out of practice.

Work hard on choreography at least 3x a week for at least 2 hours at a time. I have shows I need to prepare for and I am not a fan of sucking. That means choreography and choreo practice are necessary. I hate choreography; I love choreography practice. Whatever. I have to do both regardless of my feelings or preferences.

Write a damn pitch for the book. I could whine about how I don't want to, but instead I should channel all of that energy into making it happen. But... uuuughhhh I don't want to... --SARA! NO!

Keep blogging regularly. I get a pass for this last week and a half because I was busy preparing for and then hosting an AWESOME workshop weekend with Mira Betz, who is basically my bellydance spiritual guru at this point. Is that creepy? Perhaps. Do I care? Not even a little.

Those are good goals. If I can get that much done, I'll be happy with myself. I'm more employed now than I was this summer, so I don't have quite as much time to stare at my words in my glowing rectangles. Nothing a few responsible habits and time management strategies won't fix. Ah, semiadulthood.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Book pitch haiku

I am trying to figure out how to distill the themes in my book down to a one-sentence pitch. This is the result.

Amnesiac girl
Is taken on a road trip
By new undead friends.

Her resemblance to
a strange man's blood relative
left her bleeding out.

She doesn't complain
about her predicament;
her tongue has been tied.

Having ingested
the blood of a vampire,
she glimpses the past.

Her dreams indicate
that her poor career choices
created this mess.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Progress on August goals

Well, believe it or not, August will soon be over. It's time to check in with my goals for the month and see how I'm doing so far!

Goal One: Edit five chapters
I have edited SEVEN chapters! That's about half of the book. Gold star!!

Get the word count down by at least 5k.
I think I was insane when I made this my goal. I have only managed to cut out a little over 4k words. Still, that's almost enough to reach my goal. Silver star!!

Research how to write a good summary.
I haven't worked on this at all! No star!!

Write a pitch.
I've thought about this a few times and haven't written anything down. Demerit!!

Blog regularly.
I've blogged more than I've ever blogged before in my life-- at least once a week. Unicorn sticker!!

Read a book about vampires.
I read one book (Dracula) and started on another (Lost Souls by Poppy Z. Brite). A+!

I still have a few days left to attempt to do something about the summary and the pitch. Notice how I have a mental block about the stuff related to submitting this book for publication? Hmm.
I have a feeling that both the summary and the pitch are going to be difficult.I think condensing the plot to a summary will make it sound like all my characters are on speed or PCP. It is not a dreamy, atmospheric book. It is a book in which many things go down, and often.
The pitch is even scarier. For one thing, the book has two non-concurrent storylines and two(ish) protagonists. Do I just pitch the "main" storyline and have the other one be a secret? Even if I do this, the concept of the main storyline is sort of odd. The idea of condensing it to a sentence or two makes me apprehensive.
I didn't set out to write something so complicated, but I've come to find I am like the King Midas of complication-- everything I touch gets ambiguous and intricate and obtuse.
Oh well. I'm certainly overthinking this.
Are any of you lovely readers out there good at writing snappy copy? Any advice?

Friday, August 13, 2010

Mini progress report

The second draft of Chapter 4 is done. Yay! Now I get to work on Chapter 5, which, in my opinion, was one of the best chapters to begin with-- it has two of my favorite scenes in the book. I am excited about getting to work through it again.
So far I have managed to cut 3033 words from the manuscript and I don't miss any of them. I've only been cutting things I'm 100% convinced are extraneous; I could probably cut more in the long run, but I'd have to really start thinking about what I was doing. I don't want to cut too much and leave the text feeling dry and anemic.
I have been getting some great feedback from my test readers. It's so helpful to have more eyes on the manuscript. They tend to catch things that have blended into the scenery for me because I have read this stuff so many times by now.
It is, of course, never too late to become a test reader!
I am considering putting some excerpts up on the blog, but I'm not sure how that works vis a vis the submission process-- I don't know if it would affect my chances of getting published. I will have to look into it. Dear readers, do any of you know?

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

The urge

I saw this quotation today in a Facebook post by Otep Shamaya:

"If it doesn't come bursting out of you in spite of everything, don't do it -- If you're doing it for money or fame, don't do it. If you're doing it because you want women in your bed, don't do it -- If it's hard work just thinking about doing it, don't do it -- If you have to wait for it to roar out of you, then wait patiently. If it never does roar out of you, do something else."
-Charles Bukowski

Reading this, I realized that I have only experienced the phenomenon Bukowski describes once in my life, and it has been with this book. Never before have I felt like I had to make or do or accomplish something despite all common sense and reason. Never before have I felt like I would be driven insane if I let a creative urge go unrealized.

I don't completely agree with Bukowski's quote; I think that sometimes creative work feels like pulling teeth, not giving birth, but that doesn't necessarily mean the results won't be compelling. Prior to now, I think most of my creative endeavors have been like gardening: planting seeds and watering and watering and watching carefully and hoping to God that something worthwhile will eventually emerge from the dirt. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. It's usually not very exciting, although it can be gratifying in a quiet way.

I didn't start writing because I've always wanted to be a writer, or because I wanted to have the experience of writing a novel, or because I wanted to make money selling stories about vampires. (Although, if I could make money doing this, I'd obviously be ecstatic.) Nothing about the book was premeditated or contrived or forced.
I started writing because I had an idea that was clawing at the insides of my skull, desperate to be born into the world. If this hadn't been the case, I would have stopped before I was halfway done, I'm sure of it. Writing is a pain in the ass. It's hard. Writing a 100+k-word novel is a ton of work and I am really not the kind of person who would stick it out just because. The only reason I stuck it out was because I had to. The characters were holding me hostage.

This isn't to say that I didn't plant seeds for the story, but I planted them all by accident.
As you might already know, I'm a big tabletop RPG nerd. I love playing roleplaying games, mostly because I love creating characters and interacting with other people in a way I wouldn't do as my own self-- character stats and combat and experience points or whatever are just icing on that cake for me. I become totally involved with creating my characters' back stories and imagining their hidden motivations.

Last year I created a character for a Vampire: the Requiem game. His name was Adam and he was a socially awkward Ventrue.
At first I hated playing him. He was crap at mostly everything he tried to do because I had spent all of his points at character creation on things like the Medicine skill (as it turns out, vampires don't need first aid), and it wasn't super fun playing such an introvert. I almost decided to ask the storyteller to kill him off so that I could start over, but instead I decided to try working on his story and psyche so that I could feel interested in playing him even knowing that he'd probably continue to suck (no pun intended). So I worked on giving my soulless (in V:tR, vampires do not have souls) character some kind of spark.

I'm not exactly sure what I did, but it worked. It worked all too well.

I went from disinterested to obsessed. I started thinking about my character while driving, while at work, while cleaning, while I should have been sleeping... I started thinking about my Vampire: the Freaking Requiem character more than I was thinking about my bellydance career.

What a flagrant disregard for creative priorities.

Soon I came to resent the arbitrary restrictions the rules of the game were placing on my character-- not because I wanted him to be able to accomplish whatever he wanted and shoot lightning out of his fingertips, but because I was sick of being told how he should behave or what he should want by some stupid book.
My character was becoming too autonomous, too independent of my own control, for me to try to impose the rules of the game on him. I tried to make him conform, but he wasn't doing what I was telling him to do any more.
At some point, I stopped thinking of him as "my" character any more, since I'd lost control over him. Shortly thereafter, he started telling me what to do.

This is where my account starts to really make me sound insane.

He started keeping a journal. I was only the scribe; he told me what to write and I wrote it verbatim. I had some downtime at my babysitting job while the baby I was caring for was taking her nap. I'm sure I could have been reading or doing whatever else during that time, but, instead, I let Adam write in his journal. Terrifying vistas of reality began to emerge.
Based on these entries, I started to realize that my initial design for his character was almost completely inaccurate, based on a series of assumptions that no longer made any sense whatsoever. The rules of the game had started to seem less like arbitrary fetters imposed on him and more like vestigial growths full of cancer.
Still, my obsession deepened. I was watching it happen from the outside, powerless to call an end to it. I tried to stop caring about the character-- the level of devotion I'd developed was starting to seem pathological-- but I couldn't. I felt frustrated and at a loss, having dumped so much energy into what seemed like a creative dead end.

In early May, I accidentally found a release valve for all this obsession. In game, my character had just "purchased" an human assistant by means of experience points (yes I know this sounds ridiculous. perhaps because it is.) and I decided to write a short story about the two of them-- just for fun, since the scene wouldn't be something we could play out at the table.
This was either the best or worst thing I could have done. It took writing this silly little story to realize that I could actually just keep writing and not stop --and OH MY GOD I wouldn't have to adhere to the rules any more. I could rewrite the rules! Oh, my God, and I could create an entire cast of characters and a setting and a storyline...


I ruminated on this for about a week and a half. I wasn't a writer, I told myself. I didn't want to spend a whole lot of time on something that plagiarized elements from previously published work, either.
"This is a terrible idea," I said to myself. "It will be a huge waste of time and I already feel totally overwhelmed by my life."
Then, like magic, I suddenly found myself with enough free time to proceed with my nefarious deeds. I lost 3 ESL clients in the same week and I got a sinus infection, forcing me to stay home from the rest of my jobs.
"Well, okay," I said while high on cold medication. "I'll have to start by making an alternate vampire mythology-- otherwise it'll all be wasted effort. But I'm still not a writer, and this is all probably stupidness, so I won't tell anyone about it."
"Fair enough, Sara," I agreed with myself. "We'll keep it secret for now."

I started planning. I found other characters inside my head to become autonomous beings who bother me with their capricious demands. I came up with my own unique vampiresque undead type of thing to write about. At the time, I couldn't figure out what to call them, but I pressed on with the faith that I'd eventually figure something out (which I have, and which I am very pleased with).
Soon, I started writing the first chapter. That was in mid-May. I finished the first draft in late July.

Now-- I can't say whether or not what I have written is "worth anything" or if it is "good" or even "publishable". I put all these terms in quotations not to sound prickish but because they're totally subjective qualities and I'm not sure I'll ever be qualified to make those judgments. What I do know is that I would have lost some or all of my sense of self if I had refused to write it.
It seems totally absurd to say that this, my embarrassingly hack-y first novel-- about VAMPIRES, for Christ's sake-- is the purest and most authentic creative work I have ever produced, but it TOTALLY IS. It came into my brain from out of the ether, as if by magic, and all I had to do was force myself to shut up and write it.

Even if it never gets published-- even if I never finish the editing process (perish the thought!)-- the experience of birthing this weird thing that was clawing at my insides, begging to be brought into the world, has been one of the most meaningful and transformative experiences of my life, and I will always be grateful for it.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Progress report

I just finished the second draft of Chapter Three. Yay! So far, in my opinion, it is the most improved of the chapters-- it went from being one of my least favorite chapters to one of my most. Go Chapter Three!
I also submitted a micro-short story (1000 words) to a publication yesterday-- well, it's sort of a publication. It's actually a podcast-- a horror fiction podcast, to be specific. This isn't the first time I've submitted a short story to be published, but it's the first time I've submitted something I'm actually proud of. I'm proud enough of it that I will still like it if and when it gets rejected, which I'm sure is the likely outcome here. Of course I'm hoping it won't get rejected, but I won't mind if it does.
I'm hoping to write some more short shorts soon. They're fun to write. I like the challenge of trying to create a compelling story within a tiny wordspace.
All this and I also worked on some choreography this weekend. That's why my house is so hideously messy! Yay!

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Questioning Tribal

Above: The author in Indian drag

I guess I'm a tribal fusion bellydancer or something, so I will write about that now.

I have been grappling with my label and genre for years. The depth of my identity crisis is abyssal. I have enough creative angst for seventeen dancers.

I cannot seem to find any nomenclature for what it is that I do that doesn't feel grating. Most of this is because I spend too much time thinking about what it is I'm doing-- with dance, with my work, with my life-- than actually doing it, which I know is a problem; but some of it is also due to the fact that the genre is based in some weird ass historicopoliticocultural stuff, of which I have seen too much.

What has been seen can never be unseen.

I find the word "tribal" to be particularly problematic. Frequently I drop it entirely from my bio, and refer to myself as a "fusion bellydancer" instead, but I can't decide whether this the right thing to do or just confusing for the audience.

I feel compelled to share my questions about the genre with you, dear Interwebs, not because I can claim to have found answers-- but because I can't.

Please feel free to disagree with me, leave comments disagreeing with me, send me emails disagreeing with me, become resentful of my pseudointellectualism (I know I am), throw things at your computer monitor, etc.
Just remember, I'm not trying to tell you want to think, just to think about what you think.
I think.

Question One.
What do we mean when we say "tribal"?
It seems like, in using this word, we could be referring to one of three things:
-tribal in the sense of community-oriented;
-tribal in the sense of ethnic;
-tribal in the sense of primitive.
It seems reasonable that American Tribal Style and other group-oriented forms of Tribal can claim to be using the word in the first sense, at least in part (although this doesn't explain our costuming; see below for more about that). However, if we are talking about solo-oriented Tribal Fusion bellydance performance, it's clear that the word is being used in either the second or third sense.
Which brings me to my next question.

Question Two.
Can the word "tribal" do justice to the roots of our dance?
If we are using "tribal" to mean "ethnic"-- well, what ethnicity are we talking about? (Assuming there is no such thing as an a priori, essential "ethnic-ness" that we can refer to. I think it's a fair assumption.)
Well, let's look at our dance.
We are doing a conglomerate of movements from North Africa, Turkey and the Levant, assembled in California, while wearing shit (I mean-- beautiful textiles and jewelry) from India, Pakistan and Afghanistan. (And China, and San Francisco, and elsewhere.) Slapping a simple label on this complex melange seems to obscure the actual origins of its components.
Do you have any idea what you are wearing, where it came from, and what it meant to the people who wore it (or things like it) there?
Do you have any idea where the movements you are doing came from, and what they meant to the people who danced them there?
Do you care? Should you care?
I have noticed a trend in interviews and discussions with various 'top name' Tribal Fusion dancers towards claiming that Tribal is an inherently American dance form. This is, in my opinion, both so true and so false. Many of our movements came from American dance forms like hip hop, sure, but the base of our style, as far as I can tell, came from Jamila Salimpour and other American dancers in the 60s and 70s-- whose dance came from the Arab (and Turkish) diaspora in the twentieth century. It was not created from whole cloth in America. Can we stop talking as if it were?
Now, dance is art. Art can't survive if it can't evolve. I am NOT suggesting that we all need to be doing only "traditional bellydance" (what's that mean, anyway? whose tradition, from where and when?). I am NOT suggesting that Americans haven't contributed to the dance form. Of course we have-- even if not everyone can agree over whether what we've contributed is positive or negative. (I think it's positive, because I like diversity.)
What I'm saying is that we didn't manufacture all the building blocks we're playing with, and there's something a little icky to me in obscuring their various places of origin, even when done unintentionally.
What are we hiding and why?

Question Three.
What if we just mean 'primitive' when we say 'tribal'?
Let's say we do mean "primitive" and not "ethnic". Let's say our dance has nothing to do with any specific culture, but rather an aesthetic and a state of mind. To me this is a stretch from the outset, but I'll let it slide for the sake of this argument.
Is primitive a time or is it a place? Or is it a state of being?
Who is more primitive than whom? By whose measure?
Why are we using Near Eastern and South Asian images, ornaments and movements to convey this meaning? What are we saying about those cultures when we do this, intentionally or accidentally?
Do we really mean "atavistic"? "sensual"? "primal"? "spiritual"? "feminine"?
If so, this is modern Orientalism. In supporting this legacy, we are summarizing, simplifying, stereotyping and in many cases fictionalizing things about a complex and very real group of cultures. Not too far down this road lies a subtle and silent kind of racism, one that's all too acceptable in American culture.
I know, I know, you're not trying to represent Arabs (or whoever else) in your dance. But do you think your audiences understand that? Sure, your bellydancer audiences do, or at least they probably do. What about the rest of the world?
I'm not so sure. Are you?

The question from here is, are these the images we want to continue to portray in our dancing and in our discourse about our dancing-- or do we want to come up with something that doesn't lump our dance's cultures of origin into one faceless, voiceless gestalt? Knowing that we can't control how our audiences interpret what it is that we say, do we want to call our dance by an ambiguous and possibly inaccurate term?

I believe that what we call our dance matters, and it has implications.
I'm not sure I want to call mine "tribal" any more.