City-Scape Spirituality

Friday night I went see my friend Renee play a show at a local club. I hadn’t been to see one of a her shows in a while, and I love live music, so it was a great way to unwind and begin a weekend. I don’t know what your weekly routine brings you, but my day job is the antithesis of anything inspiring creativity. So, I rush for anything I can to start my synapses firing during my off-time. I got there early and was caught up in the pre-production buzz of sound checks and lighting checks and fog machine tests and cover-charge coordination. I’ve been part of that buzz a lot in my life, and never get tired of it, even in the instances when I’m not directly involved. There’s a rush that happens in the hour before the lights go up on a performance that I’ve never had duplicated anywhere else.

Just after the doors opened and the crowd was beginning to drift in and order their drinks, while only warming lights and fog were on the stage, I sat back in my chair and let my attention wander to the architecture of the place. Another friend owns the club, and he set the place up in a sort of unique space: an old warehouse complex that has been renovated. His club/coffee shop is immediately adjacent to a skating shop, and shares space with a church and a dance school. The ceiling still tells the tale of the industrial origins of the building in its rigging and ductwork and air conditioning units. There’s character in that. On Friday night, the coffee shop lights were dim and the stage lights were up and reflecting off of the fog, giving a unique flavor…a vibe, if you will, or an ambience…to the place.

I love places like this, especially under lighting like that, because it’s about the character and creativity that can be brought out of the old. Call it re-purposing, call it using what’s there, I just think there’s as much (or more) creativity involved in making an old space work for a modern use than in designing and constructing a sleek, modern, new structure. Don’t get me wrong, I love new architectures. I like sleek, modern designs, and I don’t oppose the architect’s art in bringing new life to an urban landscape. But there’s something about the personality of the existing urban landscape that will speak to you if you let it, almost as though its telling you stories of what its walls have seen and about the people who have walked through it.

I remember, when I was young, I took a piece of black poster board and some neon paints and began duplicating a magazine layout of a city skyline at night. I loved skylines: the multi-colored lights forming pulsing, living patterns on a dark canvas. I didn’t finish that painting as a child, but ever since I’ve been fascinated by skylines, and will have numerous photos of the skylines of every new city I visit. I think about how, within those skylines, are little places, like where I was Friday night, that comprise the entire living city as a whole: the new and the old living together, sleek and modern architecture side by side with old, industrial spaces that still hold life within them.

Artists still cling to these places…these old, industrial, spiritual places, not constantly desiring the new, not in need of more stuff. They feel the essence that isn’t conveyed by material things. They see…and feel…beyond the seen. They create. That pulse of creation is what I feel when I’m in places like those. It’s what I always feel in the theatre, whether on- or back-stage. It’s a sensation that inspires me simply by virtue of the space I’m in. It’s a buzz I can’t ever grow tired of.

Photo Attribution: Extra Ketchup 

Music and Memories

What would you do over?

I could list a handful of definites: things I think I would do over a different way if I had the knowledge that I have now. I think all of us can. All of those definites would, I think, place me completely into a different place in life than I am now. Others would have kept me away from annoyingly negative effects (for example, I would have driven more slowly as I came upon a certain police cruiser last week…).

Music had its power over me today. I heard one of those songs that form such a powerful association with you that you’re picked up and taken away from where you are and back to where you were…in this case, with a specific person. There are a lot of wishes I could make…some to do over, some to not do at all. In this particular case, I was just left wondering what ever happened to someone I knew years ago.

What happened to me today isn’t all that unusual, though. Honestly, it happens quite a bit. In fact, I have specific songs in my library because I know they will transport me like that, and I honestly just want to vividly remember the people and events of which they trigger memories. Music has an enormous associative ability to do so, and, as a result, music often leaves me pondering the exact question I was pondering today: would I really have done certain things over?

For some reason, that question almost always centers around my undergrad days, possibly because I’ve looked back on them with a certain mystique and nostalgia over the past few years. The answer that I’m left with is always the same: I’m not sure. For all of the positive changes that I could arrange for my life by somehow traveling back and preventing myself from doing things that were either overtly stupid, or things that just really seemed like a good idea at the time, I think that there’s also a sort of curse that would be associated with knowing the future, with knowing the outcomes of all of your potential actions before deciding which ones to take.

For all of my fellow Dr. Who nerds, you may recall that, when visiting Pompeii with Donna, the Doctor mentions that there are certain things in the timestream that can be altered, and others that are cast in stone. The ones that are cast in stone must be left to happen, regardless of his ability to change them, because they simply must be. His curse as a Time Lord was always being able to know which was which.

I’m not sure I want that curse, because, as disappointed as I am with my past decisions at times, I know that they were formative to who I am today. There’s so much about my life that I could never have predicted, that has turned out beautifully. There’s so much that I know still will, providentially, without my being able to see now how that might occur.

Even if I could have the ability to know or to have a “re-do,” I don’t think I would want it. I think its an issue of faith, because, even at the end of a Monday, I have to believe that “all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.”

I hope it turns out well with your week, also.


Just before I began to write this post, I typed out two quick status updates on two different social media platforms. One was a tweet, and I had to re-word and condense the update so that it would meet the 140 character maximum. The other was on Facebook, where I experienced the same problem. In fact, I had to edit the Facebook update twice to get it down to 140 characters.

Because of what I had been writing earlier today, though, I was already in that mode of thinking. I’ve been seeing a lot about the genre of flash fiction lately, and several writers I follow on Twitter have been publishing short pieces that way. Flash fiction is basically a short-short story, ranging anywhere from 500 to 1,500 words, depending on what definition (or which publication) you consult. There’s a market for this, including several science fiction e-zines, and I decided late this week that I would take a shot at my first flash fiction piece this weekend. I mean, its two pages…I write that in just over an hour on most productive evenings, so it can’t be that difficult, right?

Actually, it is. My friend Renee had dinner with Karen and I Friday night, and told us of an odd experience she recently had, laughed about it, and moved on. The experience stood out to me, though, and I saw imaginative, “what if?” sorts of possibilities, so I decided that I had the inspiration for my flash fiction. I wrote it between late Saturday night and Sunday afternoon in two sittings. Part of it is very easy (back story is left out, and only the climax of your plot appears…no rising or falling action). Part of it is deceptively difficult, though: every word of every description has to count, almost like poetry. The theme has to be left for your reader to grasp…you can’t hint strongly at it even if you want to. And character development is minimal to non-existent. At least, those my experiences in my first attempt.

I remember my first semester in grad school, researching a term paper for one of the most difficult classes I’ve ever taken in my academic career. The assignment description from the professor in the class syllabus included a statement that brevity would be considered a valued quality in reading the paper. Essentially, he meant that verbose discussion of a point to take up space wouldn’t be tolerated. I learned to make points succinctly in academic papers, because going over your page limit was not looked upon generously in my graduate program (if they said 30 pages, then, as a rule, you could expect severe grade deductions for turning in 32).

Fiction, though, has always been different for me, because its a free and creative process. I don’t feel constrained by this or that convention (at least not until I start trying to find submission targets). That’s what made this genre a challenge.

But it also makes me a bit uncomfortable.

One magazine that accepted flash fiction submissions stated that the editors considered this the future of fiction, because modern people want quick, short reading material that easily works into the rest of their schedules. The unwritten implication: no one really has time for a novel any more. I’m concerned about that, because I see the same slippery slope that has occurred in the abbreviation of language to make it fit 140 character status updates. I cringe when I see text message language used in status updates (actually, I cringe when I see text message language used anywhere other than text messages). I worry that the English language is devolving instead of evolving.

Writing a story in 1,000 words or less is a challenge that made me think and be creative. Should that word limit become the norm, however, then I think literature will devolve similarly, and we will lose the appreciation for great novels that sometimes reach into the 400-500 page mark. Already, I find myself feeling a bit exasperated when I begin reading a book and discover it to have 400 pages instead of 300. There was a time when I was more interested in the story, and not interested in how long the time to tell it happened to be. Perhaps I’m already infected with the very Andromeda Strain I’m expressing concern about.

So, have we lost our language? Are we losing our literature? Tell me what you think…

Photo Attribution: mpk


An odd thing about my family is that we were never all that interested in the past. By that, I mean that it wasn’t a priority for us. Perhaps it was the fact that our genealogy became largely untraceable after a certain point on my father’s side. Whatever the case, the present was always much more important, and the future so much more so. A few attempts were made to establish traditions through the years, especially around the the Holidays, but few of them ever gained any strong footing. We were always much more established in today, in what was going on now, and where it would lead…not at the expense of history (I was always taught well and knew the family’s past), but as a matter of focus. The past was over. Learn from it and move on.

As a result, I dwell very little on my childhood…at least, I did until I was married. Something about starting our own family brought me back to those times. I’m fortunate in that my parents still live in the home in which I grew up. So, returning there, I can experience quite a flashback of memories if I let it happen. I began to dwell a great deal on my high school and college experiences during that time.

Over the long weekend, Karen’s side of the family visited, and brought along my little nephew, who’s not quite two years old yet. I managed to teach him about light switches and at least one new word over the course of the weekend…I was rather proud of myself.

After the family left, and I was retreating into some much needed introvert time and processing the weekend, I started to think about how formative all of those interactions were to this little guy. Every time any of us interacted with him in any way, he learned something. I started thinking about memories that suddenly recurred to me that I hadn’t thought of in years…lessons I learned about life from my parents, good and bad, both in the form of advice and in the form of the “school of hard knocks,” all from my early childhood. These are times that I almost never recall.  I wonder at how my parents, or any parents, assume the enormous responsibility that is raising a child. I’ve seen it done wonderfully, and I’ve seen it done horribly. The interesting thing about the situation is that its fun…that the responsibility, while it should be taken seriously, shouldn’t weigh us down with indecision and panic. I confess the thought of having our own children has weighed me down with those exact emotions at times, but I think now of how playful the whole process is…playful in the sort of way discussed recently over at Transpositions: a theatrical, exploratory sort of play in which we all need to engage.

Someone told me this weekend that he has seen old couples stay young because they were unexpectedly raising a child…that something about the process preserves an emotional and mental youth. Perhaps all play is just that way, and we should all engage in that sort of play for exactly that reason, lest we lose our wonder, or our sense of adventure, or…dare I say…our innocence?

Here’s to staying young!

Photo Attribution: eschipul  

Pressing Pause

Do you remember the episode of Looney Tunes where Bugs Bunny pops up in the middle of a bullfighting ring, and the matador is running feverishly from the bull while Bugs tries to get directions from him? I’ve sort of felt like that this week.

Not that I’ve been spinning my proverbial wheels…I haven’t been. I’ve just been sleep-deprived and feeling as though I’m in constant motion, ticking off tasks on to-do lists and barraged by incoming media.

When I walk up the stairs to our apartment, I have a view over a lot of  treetops from the back of our building. After just getting off of the expressway, finishing a podcast that I had began after reading a few pages in a book earlier in the afternoon before having a conversation with a friend over coffee, and wondering what would be on the flat screen televisions in the gym later this evening when I went to work out, I thought about the constant information intake that I’ve been exposed to this week. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve been producing, also, but I, like the rest of us, have been taking in like crazy, and not all of it good. The afore-mentioned flat screen televisions have been tuned to a satellite radio mix of modern middle-school age hip-hop, and a reality show on MTV, respectively. I feel brain cells die when I think about it.

I looked at the trees tonight, and they were quiet. I think about the quiet, unplugged, amazingly relaxed time at the beach that Karen and I had a few weeks ago. I wish I had more time to just sit and be quiet. I actually do have that time…I just wish that I used the time, allocated the time for that purpose. That’s something I need to be more intentional about doing. Perhaps I’ll go and sit closer to the trees and soak up some of their quiet. Its not the beach, but, hey…its better than reality television.