Monday, December 30, 2013

Pitchblende Fundraiser Sestina #1: Greg, The King of Hell

Greg, The King of Hell 

Below the bowels of earth, a dark lord reigns
o'er a horde of writhing, wretched wraiths
who tear at their own flesh to drink the blood
that seeps like poison honey from their veins.
Above this dismal sea of hopeless screams,
atop his throne sits Greg, the King of Hell.

As Greg surveys the barren blaze of Hell,
that smold'ring void where time no longer reigns
he tries to separate the shrieks from screams
and count each soul within the swarm of wraiths
that floats inside the gush of open veins,
a tangled bath of intermingled blood.

They fill each other's mouths with their own blood
and share each other's flesh. This feast of Hell
has raged since first Cro-Magnons spilled their veins.
Each lonely frontal lobe clenching its reigns
awaits its fate among the soup of wraiths
to be a voice lost in the choir of screams.

They never change their amplitude, the screams.
The rushing, rolling, boiling stream of blood
has never gained or lost an ounce. The wraiths
can absorb the millions into one. Hell
may be a place eternal sorrow reigns,
but nothing's held inside the heart or veins.

Greg watches as the tangled, violent veins
of sad souls lose themselves in brutal screams,
their skins seared off by sulfur streams. He reigns
in one small, flustered tear. Says it's just blood,
a drop splashed from the gory brine of Hell,
but quietly, he's jealous of the wraiths.

The King can't differentiate the wraiths
and feels the scorching throb of his own veins
enclosed forever in the slough of Hell,
one solo voice among the choral screams.
Greg surveys his empire of blood
and hums a common song. The brimstone rains.

He never screams. He never lets his blood
join with the wraiths that thrash their toxic veins.
This is his private Hell. Alone, he reigns.

Jade's notes:

This is the first sestina I finished out of the commissioned sestina from the Pitchblende fundraiser. It was a request by a total stranger who happened on our campaign by chance. I HAD to write it first because his request was so fun. Greg rules! Here are his requirements:
Q1: Request your topic, plot, intention, specific word inclusions, and other instructions here.
Something dark! Vampires, heavy metal, the devil, whatever!! I'd love to have my name, Greg, in it, as a bad guy.
Q2: Do you have rhythmic/metric preferences?
  • Yes! Iambic pentameter, please! (The classic!)
Q3: Any other comments, instructions or special requests for Jade?
Like I said I'd like to have it dark, so please have fun with it!! Thank you for this awesome opportunity!!

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

How Not to Write About Women: A Guide for Men

A few of my friends and I made this in response to a spate of unintentionally sexist poems I kept hearing at open mics.

Friday, July 26, 2013

TEN: the novel, Jade's author notes

The novel companion to TEN, the film I cowrote and starred in, is now available! (Order a copy.)

This book was really fun to write. One of the big themes of the film is identity construction, so when Launch Over asked me to write the novel companion, I decided the best way to tackle it would be to write the book in ten chapters––one from the perspective of each of the main characters. This pleased me as a structure nerd, and it allowed me to underline the different ways each character processed the same information and reacted to the same experiences. 

If you know me, you know that The Sound and the Fury is one of my favorite books. I've always wanted to write a novel from multiple points of view, so I was thrilled to have this opportunity, but I couldn't have imagined how challenging it would be to write ten distinct voices in one book. I told Michael and Sophia I almost went crazy during this project––too many voices in my head! But in the end, it was worth it, at least for me. I hope you'll agree!

From the Launch Over website: The TEN film companion novel tells the story of TEN from the perspectives of the ten characters. Each of the ten chapters presents the perspectives, perceptions, and back stories of one of the visitors to Spektor Island. The novel serves to expand the world of TEN and present thematic reinforcement that enhances the TEN experience. 

Book blurb:

Ten women find themselves in a vacant mansion on Spektor Island in December, 1972. Each believes she's traveled to the house on business, but they all agree that something seems strange. For one thing, the entire house is full of pictures and statues of pigs.

The women all come from drastically different walks of life. None of them would have chosen to spend the night together in such an eerie place, but the last ferry for the mainland has just left, and a terrible storm is rolling in. Trying to make the best of an unpleasant situation, they raid the mansion's wine cellar and throw a party. As the night creeps on, however, it becomes clear that someone--or something--has lied to get them in the house. It's not long before someone mentions that Spektor Island is supposed to be haunted.

Of course, no one in the house believes in ghosts. At least, not until the first murder.

What do an actress, a religious zealot, a renegade, a coed, a model, a singer, a medium, a real-estate investor, a historian, and a doctor have in common? None of them is who they seem.

Monday, May 13, 2013

OMG the Kissing Oscar Wilde cover is awesome!

Derrick Brown sent me the cover to Kissing Oscar Wilde the other day. I'm giddily in love with it. They got the blazer and the boots right and everything.

The book won't be out till October, but you can read an excerpt here. Also, I made a Facebook page for it. Please like it if you like.

More news coming soon, including a very exciting save-the-date for the AMAZING RELEASE PARTY happening in Cambridge in October. 

Whew. Lots to do, but all good stuff. 

Thank goodness it's spring. Tallyho.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Yes, the Marathon Bombers ARE "One of Us"

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev

Today, I am in lockdown in my apartment in Cambridge, just a few blocks from where the suspects lived. There are helicopters circling overhead, and a constant stream of sirens in the streets. My Facebook feed is open and awash with news. They found the two who did it, allegedly. One is dead, and one is on the run.

I spent most of this week nauseous and emotionally exhausted thinking about the Marathon bombing. Everyone I know wanted to know who did it and why, as though putting a face, a name, and some sort of manifesto to the act would make this tragedy make any more sense.

I hoped they would be Americans. They were not. They were a pair of Islamic Chechen brothers who'd gone to Cambridge Rindge and Latin, a local high school. One was twenty-six. One was only nineteen.

I'm listening to interviews with Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev's friends, family, classmates, coaches, and teachers. Of course, they are all shocked. They were such normal boys, they say. One was "a sweetheart," according to a former teacher. Their uncle, in heartbreakingly broken English, says he can't believe his nephews could be involved in "such terrible thing." This is to be expected. When someone you know turns out to be a murderer, the usual response is, "But they were so normal."

When a murderer is someone you don't know, on the other hand, the usual response is to point out how different they are from you. One of my Facebook friends posted a link to Tamerlan Tsarnaev's (probably fake--but it doesn't matter) twitter feed, laughing about how suddenly silent it was, with hashtags that were something like #freak #seewhereyourfilthymoralsleadyou. Another one posted a long status about how the "terrorists"** were "NOT one of us. They are NOT our neighbors. They are NOT our friends. They do NOT share our memories, our celebrations of Life, our cohesiveness in the face of unspeakable tragedy, nor any other of our ups or downs. They are NOT you, they are NOT me."

The thing is, they are. The reason this is so unsettling is because we know that really, these men were not so different from us. Any one of us could have made a bomb (there are instructions online, for godsake), carried it to the finish line in a backpack, and set it off. Any one of us could chose to channel our negative emotions into violence. We have all been hurt. We have all felt lonely and scared and desperate. Many of us have probably fantasized about hurting others, emotionally or physically. I know I have. When I was in middle school a couple years before Columbine, I wrote a long poem about coming back to my class reunion and shooting everyone. It was satirical, sure, but satire is just an exaggeration of what's really there.

Almost everyone I know has joked, at one point or another, about bombing the building of a job that fired them, shooting a person who cheated them or disagrees with their ideology, or setting fire to an old school. Yes, these are jokes, but they are funny because we all have a part inside of us that wants to react to our own hurt by hurting others.

The bombers made a terrible choice. It was a choice that killed innocent people, hurt many more, and caused fear and sadness in the lives of countless others. However, just as the bombers had the choice in how to channel their own pain and suffering, we now have the choice in how we will react.

I could have done this. You could have done this. The only thing that makes us "different" from the bombers is that we have chosen not to react to our anger with violence. I make that choice every second of every day, and so do you.

Now our choices are how we're going to move forward. Are we going to let this incident increase racism and fear in our country, or are we going rise above it? We get to choose, starting now.

**I wish we could not use the word "terrorism" around the bombing, especially until we know more. No matter what the dictionary definition says, because of how it's been used for the past twelve years, the word suggests that the bombers were acting in accordance with a larger group, and, since the suspects happen to be Islamic, it encourages the othering of all Muslims, and the idea of an evil, global, Islamic conspiracy. Please, chose your words carefully.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

TEN Novel Progress: the Halfway Mark

I've been a bit of a hermit since getting back from the TEN movie shoot in December. Aside from performing and teaching the odd yoga class (and my yoga classes are odd), I feel like I've barely left my house. (Sophia actually gave me some crap about never going out when I'm not performing. This is a fair accusation. The amount of time sitting alone in a room it takes me to write anything of value is staggering. This is especially true for large prose projects.)

One of the biggest projects I'm working on is the novel version of TEN. It's not quite a "novelization." Rather, it's intended to be a companion piece for the film, expanding and deepening the themes.

Writing a novel is a ton of work, even if the plot and most of the dialogue is already written. However, after working on writing the script for the film with Sophia and Michael, I felt like there was a lot of [vegan] meat [substitute] leftover that I wanted to explore, and there simply wasn't time within the structure of a film.

In one of those great mind-meld moments that happens with my favorite collaborators, S&M emailed me on Thanksgiving Day and asked me if I'd be interested in writing the novel version of the film. They know I'm a full-time artist, and offered to give me a small advance to help me not starve while I undertook this project. Money for art that I want to create anyway is, honestly, awesome, and I was super-excited to continue my involvement in this project, and to continue to collaborate with Mike and Sophia. Plus, writing novels is fun and challenging, and it's something I used to do a lot. In fact, when I first moved to Boston, I called myself a novelist.

The form I'm using (multiple first-person) is an especially challenging one to do well, but I feel it's the best way to deliver the themes of the work. As I start to write each chapter, I hate everything, myself, and writing in general for about three days, then I have an epiphany moment when I figure out what I'm doing, then I write joyfully, crazily, and feverishly for another three days, then I feel smug and brilliant and self-satisfied, take a day off, and start on the next chapter.

I'm about at the halfway mark right now. The insane, unreasonable deadline I set for myself was March 1st. It looks like it'll be more like March 15th (a murderously auspicious date), or even April 1st (a hilariously auspicious date), but the reason I always give myself insane, unreasonable deadlines is because stuff always, always takes longer than I plan for, so if I tell myself I'll finish a whole novel in two months, I might do it in three, and that's still pretty fucking good.

Okay, back to noveling.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

How do I beat writer's block? I imagine dying.

I received this in a Facebook message, and I asked the writer if I could answer it on my blog. She kindly said yes (thanks, Amanda!), so here it is.

"Jade--I am taking a class on creative nonfiction, my first creative writing class ever, and reading your writing has made me want to capture the kind of fragmented humanness that comes out, though I still have no idea what to write about, and the worst writers' block. I never write as consistently or as deeply as I plan to--always just spurts of stream-of-conscious narrative, dates, intersections, meals, addresses, recordings of snippets of my life. I'm sure you get this question all the time...but what do you do when you have writers' block? How do you write when you're depressed or scared or lazy or unmotivated? I guess that's a pretty big question. But I am curious." - Amanda H.

Hi Amanda.

I think everyone who writes can relate to the feeling of sitting at their computer and feeling depressed, scared, lazy, unmotivated, or scattered. I know I feel at least one of those for at least a little while every time I sit down at the computer. The key words, I guess, are, "for at least a little while." 

I practice a lot of yoga and meditation, and it reminds me that the experience of "me" is constantly in motion. I may feel like the most pathetic failure on a planet hurtling lamely toward its own annihilation, but sure enough, wait twenty minutes, and I'll feel like I control the movement of stars. 

Being kind to yourself when you can't write, or when it's appropriate to do something else for your mental well-being, is a good thing. I need a good amount of quality time with my friends and family, as well as exercise, theatre, good food, live music, schmoozy parties, microbrews, oceans, and performance art in order to feel okay. It's not always procrastination. Sometimes it's just living, and you need to live to have something to write about.

Then there's procrastination. I procrastinate all the time. Sometimes I stand in the kitchen and eat half the loaf of challah bread my roommate brought home from the good bakery in Brookline. Sometimes I sweep the whole apartment, or reorganize furniture, or go to a yoga class, or go grocery shopping to replace the loaf of challah bread I ate (SORRY, EMILY). Sometimes I spend hours article-jumping on Wikipedia, or engaging in witty banter on Facebook with other witty artists and writers. Sometimes I answer questions about writer's block on my blog. Sometimes I stand in my pajamas and stare at the floorboards and do absolutely nothing for like, twenty minutes. 

In meditation practice, I've learned to watch the way my mind travels away from the focus (i.e. breath) without assigning value to these travels. It doesn't make me a bad person or a failure because my mind wanders away from focusing on my breath, but noticing it does mean I can remind myself to bring the attention back. This can be more difficult than it sounds, but if you just sit with the discomfort for long enough, eventually, it changes. Some of the same techniques work with writer's block. If you just sit with your blank screen long enough, something will change. 

But sometimes, just the act of sitting, of carving out so much of my precious life to sit alone in a room arranging words (for what??? for whom???) seems tortuous. I think of what else I could be doing. Going to the movies? Getting a real job? Shopping for clothes? Taking up a new addiction? Quitting an old addiction? All of these seem like valid choices with a lot more immediate payoff than writing.

In the type of Buddhism I like, you're supposed to think about your own death a lot. That sounds morbid to a lot of Americans, who try to avoid thinking about death at all costs, but it only means you're supposed to live your life with the goal of a peaceful death. That is, you want to make choices you can feel good about on your deathbed. 

At these moments of wishing I were doing anything else, of wishing I weren't even born a fucking writer, I think of myself on my deathbed. It's an outwardly peaceful one. There are loved ones, family, and friends. There's not a great deal of pain or anger or grasping. Everyone, including me, has pretty much accepted that it's timely, even if sad, for me to go.

The only difference is, in one version, I've written. In another, I haven't. 

To a certain extent, we all get to choose our deaths. I choose a death having written over a death not having written every time.  

Monday, January 14, 2013

I Don't Really Hate Polyamory

Saturday night, I performed as my hip-hop side project, Madame Psychosis at a well-attended, well-recieved show at Johnny D's in Somerville. The other acts were What Time Is It Mr. Fox, Sarah RabDAU and Self-Employed Assassins, and Johnny Blazes and the Pretty Boys

Yesterday I received a thoughtful email from someone who was at the show who was offended by a lyric of mine. The song in question is "Better Than You," which is the third song I ever wrote for Madame Psychosis, all the way back in 2009. The lyric in question is:

And polyamory looks like a scam to me. 
An adolescent chauvinistic fantasy. 
You do what you want with your man but I ain't sharing mine 
just cause polygamy's cousin's read some Gloria Steinem. 
The short answer is, I don't hate polyamory. I've been poly myself, and mono myself, and an awkwardly bisexual bachelor monk for much of my life. Madame Psychosis is a character I play sometimes who is supposed to be an over-the-top hypocritical hipster. I dress in femme drag. I wear a wig, a sequined Union Jack dress, Christian Louboutin shoes, fur, and speak in a fake English accent. 
The longer answer is more complicated. I wrote that lyric four years ago in reaction to a very specific thing I saw happening among some of my friends. Basically, I saw a lot of people being pressured into a poly lifestyle for whom it wasn't healthy. Within a certain community, it seemed like it was becoming a proselytizing-type of thing. A thing a person wasn't allowed to question. When I see something a bunch of people seem to accept without question, be it in religion, politics, or love, I want to offer a devil's advocate position. 
I also wrote that lyric before I really knew what I was doing with Madame Psychosis. At first, I was envisioning her as pure hyperbole, a hypocritical gadfly of hipster culture. Over the past three years, I've refined the character and made her (I think) more subtle, nuanced, and interesting. However, that means that the earlier songs I wrote don't always land the way I'd like. I wasn't sure about performing "Better Than You" for that audience, but I thought I'd try to make the rest of the show so ridiculous (selling kisses for whiskey and calling it "acts of small prostitution," offering to go down on a married friend of mine from stage, etc.) that it would make the lyric be taken with a grain of salt, and give the audience something to think about. I'm not sure if it worked (and the fact that it requires a lengthy blog post in order for me to sleep tonight suggests it didn't), but artists make decisions and go with them, and sometimes they don't hit the way we'd like.
When I originally wrote the song, I was only performing it to friends who already understood its context. Now that I'm performing it in rooms full of 200 strangers, who don't necessarily know me, or my politics or history or even my other projects, it means something different. It's a constant process of learning, growing, and readjusting. I'm also a very sensitive person. I get hurt easily, and while I like to challenge people and stir things up, I never want to make anyone feel hurt or ashamed of who they are. If you happened to be at that show and felt I crossed a line, I am really sorry.