Report on The Last Ekphrasis

IMG_3748Last night we enjoyed one another’s company for the last time — at least, it was the last time that Ekphrasis will gather under my auspices with its regular purpose of sharing and critique, since I’m moving to Texas to start my PhD at Baylor. It was a magnificent meeting! There were food and flowers, hilarity and drama, literature and art. In attendance were myself, Sharon G, Devon W, Eric M, Richard B, Curt D, Laura W, Andrew S MacD, Betsy G, Jeff H, Amanda L, and two newcomers, Thaina D and Diante R.

Even though it was a sort of a going-away shindig, it was really just an ordinary hard-working meeting. Lots of people shared excellent work.

IMG_3744(1)At the beginning of the meeting, Thaina and Devon shared the hot-off-the-press Spring 2016 issue of Xanadu, Lehigh Carbon Community College’s literary magazine. Thaina and Devon, along with Diante, are student editors of the magazine this semester, and I’ve been a faculty adviser to it for six years. This semester’s may have been the most professional issue of the magazine we’ve ever produced: the design is streamlined and debonair. Diante has a poem published in it; Thaina has a few poems and several pieces of prose.

indexThen Sharon G read another chapter of her Robin Hood novel adaptation, Mercy and Justice. This chapter included a sad story of a poor, cast-off, single, expectant mother, helped by Marian and Robin, which was a good way of revealing their compassionate character. Sharon has completed about half of this novel and hopes to draft the rest of it this fall, after finishing her current novel-in-progress, Chrysalis!

13184680_1014038361966917_2053915199_oRichard B and Eric M each showed pieces of their artwork. Richard is writing and illustrating a comic book starring his Jack Windsword character. Eric is working on drawings he’ll bring to the Baltimore Comic Con. Their work is somewhat similar–both depict heroes, villians, mythic, archetypal characters with bold lines and swift action–but their techniques are quite different. The black-and-white image to the right is from Richard’s book. The colored images below from Star Wars and Star Trek are some of Eric’s works of art.

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Then we moved into a sort of stage-like area we had set up, in order to watch several theatrical scenes.

First up was a stage adaptation of a bit from a Brandon Sanderson novel, by Betsy G. It was a scene packed with secondary-world-building, lots of neologisms and names and cultural references. In it, an experienced con artist is teaching her apprentice how to fool her potential victims by posing as a foreign princess. The prize? Her dupe’s boots. 13184742_935769666536853_1112604979_o

Next up was a selection from Jeff H’s recent full-length adaptation of Kenneth Grahame’s Wind in the Willows, which was recently produced by Players of the Stage. This scene was Toad on trial for causing a motor car accident–which is really just a cover for his enemies to lock him up and take his ancestral mansion.

Then came my short play, Galatea Awakes, which I wrote for my creative writing class at LCCC, and from which I previously posted a selection. It’s a retelling of the myth of Pygmalion and Galatea, and I’m exploring themes of the artist’s isolation and relationships, the idea of the art as a child, issues of voyeurism and objectification, questions about the nature of beauty, etc. It was admirably performed by Richard, Andrew, and Sharon, and much hilarity ensued–sometimes when it wasn’t in the script, such as when Pygmalion whispers to his animated statue to “scroll down, scroll down” for him so he can read his script!

We got to see another play from my creative writing class, too: this one by Thaina. It is a side-splittingly funny drama entitled Why Deals With the Devil Never Work (And You Should Always Read the Fine Print). I’ll give you just a tiny snippet here to give you an idea of how funny it is:

ASH: Look man, I just really want my soul back. Please? Pretty please? Have a heart.
SATAN: What part of Lucifer, Demon, King of Hell, do you not understand?
ASH: I know you’re Satan and all, but that doesn’t mean you have to be a jerk!
SATAN: Do you listen to yourself when you speak?
ASH: Hm? Of course I do! My soul is gone, not my hearing!

Yup, it’s all like that. With a great twist at the end.

And we were treated to a performance of a powerful slam poem by Diante, a tale of troubles and salvation. It is meant to become his final project for Creative Writing class.

Finally, Laura W ended our evening with a mind-boggling 2-min mystery: a piece of flash fiction in 500 words. Since Laura won most of the weeks of Signum University’s “Almost an Inkling” flash fiction contest, you won’t be surprised to hear that it was magnificent!

There were some amazing conversations, too, about the “Artist-as-inspired-romantic-genius” myth, about the use of profanity and taking the Lord’s name in writing and drama, about anachronism and style and craft. These are the talks on which my soul feeds.

So, yes: a fitting ending for, what, eight years, I think, of Ekphrasis meetings. I’ll miss you guys, and I hope you carry on!

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Come to the Last Ekphrasis

endOur Last Ekphrasis meeting is coming right up! I hope to see you there! This is an especially important meeting to me, since it’s the last one I will attend, so I hope to have you there. Here are the details:
Wednesday, May the 4th, 2016
Lehigh Valley Presbyterian Church, 31 S. 13th Street, Allentown
6-10 pm
potluck supper–please bring a dish to share–kitchen is available
sign up for a 20-min slot in which to share your work
Please do bring friends and family, as this will be our last hoorah! Let’s make it a shindig!

Galatea Awakes: A Play

PygmalionFranzStuckI wrote a ten-minute play. Here’s the first bit. Enjoy!

GALATEA AWAKES
a one-act play
by Sørina Higgins

CHARACTERS

PYGMALION                         A sculptor
ONESIMUS                            His assistant
GALATEA                              A statue

SETTING
Pygmalion’s studio. Maybe on Cyprus, maybe anyplace.

TIME
At the height of the Greek Empire. Or anytime, really.

___________________________________________________________________________

                                                SCENE I

(PYGMALION is working away at the statue of GALATEA, polishing it with a cloth.)

                                                PYGMALION
Here comes my comic relief. Now I won’t get any more work done today.

(Enter ONESIMUS.)

                                                ONESIMUS
Good morning, boss! Isn’t it a lovely—
(he gasps)
Is she finished?!

                                                PYGMALION
Not quite. It’s nearly complete, though. I’ll finish today.

(He stands back from the statue. They admire it from a distance, walking around as they talk.)

                                                ONESIMUS
She’s… she’s unearthly. No, that’s not the right word. Maybe if I stand on my head I can think of it.

                                                PYGMALION
As long as you’re out of the way when you stand on your head, I don’t care what you do. I have to polish it, and then it’s done. It’s good, isn’t it?

                                                ONESIMUS
Good!?! It’s divine! No, that’s not the right word either. Curse my memory; I can barely remember my own name. At least I don’t forget what life is for: food, drink, girls…. You seem to have forgotten those exist, boss. Now, what’s the word for her?

                                                PYGMALION
‘Perfect’? Is that it?

                                                ONESIMUS
No… I mean, oops, sorry. Sure, it’s a perfect work of art, no question there. You’ve outdone yourself. You’ll go down in history for this masterpiece! Can I get your autograph? Can I have a lock of your hair, or the finger-bone of your left pinky? I’ll sell it in my old age and retire rich.
(tries to grab PYGMALION’s hand; he slaps it away)
Or I’ll steal your statue and sell that. It’s sheer genius. But the girl herself? She is…hm. I don’t know.

                                                PYGMALION
Beautiful. Ideal.

                                                ONESIMUS
Well, she is a looker, I’ll give you that.

                                                (he moves towards the statue, dreamily, hand outstretched)

                                                PYGMALION
Stop! Don’t touch it! You know you’re not allowed to touch the sculptures!

                                                ONESIMUS
I… I forgot for a moment that she was a sculpture. I’m sorry, boss.
(snapping out of his daydream and stepping away)
But you know how I am with the ladies! They can’t resist me; I can’t resist them! Why, just today in the market, this flower-seller, she says to me—

                                                PYGMALION
It’s just a lump of marble, Onesimus, no matter how it’s shaped. No need to get worked up over it.

                                                ONESIMUS
I know. But somehow…. Pygmalion? Why do you call her ‘it’?

                                                PYGMALION
What?

                                                ONESIMUS
Why do you call your beautiful statue ‘it’? Why don’t you call her ‘her’? After all, I remember your sculpture of the young Achilles; you always called that ‘him.’ Remember those early days? You were always mooning about the studio—I mean, oops, sorry. I’m sure you were thinking deep artistic thoughts—but you were talking about ‘him’ or ‘he’ all the time like a girl cooing over her lover.

                                                PYGMALION
Ha ha. Very funny. Well, that was long ago. I am grown up now. No mooning over a piece of stone, or a girl, or a lover.

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What Happens When a Bander Snatches

banderI recently served on a jury. It was a powerful, intense, positive, transformational experience. Interestingly, since I’ve just read Diana Glyer’s Bandersnatch and am thinking about my upcoming keynote speech about Charles Williams and collaboration, the trial was about artistic collaboration and what happens when it breaks down. I won’t give any specifics, so as to protect the privacy of the parties, but here’s a generalized summary.

Several years ago, two creative guys got together and shared a great idea. It was snappy, original, imaginative, catchy, and cool. And it worked, for a while. But then personality conflicts arose. They had arguments over who owned the idea. Finally, one sued the other.

It was a complicated case. Each claimed he had invented the particular creative idea that was contested. But, under oath and under pressure from the lawyer’s questions, each finally admitted that he had invented exactly HALF of the idea. But both had been using the idea since then, so who owned it? Must one of them stop using it, even though that would break his heart?

Along the way, a few things struck me, hard.

I. The idea originally belonged to both of them 100%. Not to one guy 50% and the other guy 50%, but to both men 100%. The idea would not have emerged except in collaboration. They both got the idea while on the phone together. Neither man would have had it without the other. The thing couldn’t live if it were cut in two. Either they had to learn to work together, or one of them had to give up all of it and hand it over to the other. Art made in community has to stay in community in order to thrive.

II. The trial itself was a work of dramatic art created by all the parties present. It followed a definite narrative trajectory, with a clear arc of increasing tension. What started as a boring, technical discussion over the rights to use a specific idea escalated into serious accusations—of inappropriate sexual language, of threatened violence. The temperature in the courtroom rose. Voices were raised, tempers flared, fists were pounded. lawyerAnd each person played his or her given role: the lawyers, in particular, were Dickensian caricatures of themselves: one extremely tall and bone-skinny, with a skeletal face and a cruel, hard, bullying manner; the other short, quiet, grandfatherly, with a round, beaming red face and long white curls, soft-spoken, forgetful, disorganized. The drama fell into discernible scenes and acts, divided by breaks and behind-the-scenes drama in the jury room.

III. Art and Law, when they meet and clash, do not mix. The lawyer for the plaintiff knew how to break a man, and he did: he broke down his witness in the box with relentless, repetitive questioning, all about how many pieces the artistic idea could be broken down into and who created which little piece and who owned it. That’s not how art works. I left that scene of the drama in tears, saying over and over in my mind: “That’s not how art works. You can’t break it into those bits. They all have to work together, to live.” But when collaborative partners become enemies, that’s what happens.

IV. Powerful collaboration among perfect strangers is possible, and community can be created in the most unlikely places between extremely dissimilar people. At the start of the jury selection process, there were 70 strangers in a room. Over the next day and a half, we were whittled down until a jury was selected. By the end of the trial, that little group of humans felt like close friends—and most of us didn’t even know each other’s names. We worked together remarkably well, using our differences as an advantage.

This intense experience (staying in a hotel far from home for several days, living in this strange bubble so different from my ordinary life) taught me a lot about justice, society, law, and personalities. It was a really positive, enriching time. I admired the judge greatly, and I am confident that the right decision was made, from a legal point of view. But I was saddened to see that the creative people couldn’t work it out without the intervention of law.

Was Charles Williams a Bandersnatch?

owenThroughout, of course, I thought about the Inklings and their creative collaborations. I’m working on my keynote speech for the Colloquium at Taylor this coming June (where the great Diana Glyer herself is giving another keynote). My talk will be called “Charles Williams and Friendship sub specie Arthuriana.” I’ll be talking about the ways in which his love of the Grail and Logres intersected with his friendships. I’ll be asking: When did Williams work with other people on his retellings of the King Arthur materials? What did that collaboration look like? How did it work? How did working together affect what he wrote, how or where or when it was presented or published? How did working together influence the reception of his writings? What influence did his particular take on the Arthurian legends have on his friends, his family life, and his workplace? So the talk will be all about various kinds of collaboration.

Collaboration was important to Williams, because community was important to him. You already know about his doctrines of Co-Inherence, Substitution, and Exchange. He believed that people live in, through, and for one another. So it was natural, then, even for someone with his loner’s temperament, to involve others in his work. And these literary exchanges were usually fruitful. I’ll have to explore, of course, the times that it went sour: when he used his Arthurian mythos as a cover story for emotional abuse. But more often, I think, his Arthurian myth was among the healthier parts of his psychology. I’ll see as I go along. And I’ll also be looking at whether any theory of friendship or theology of collaboration emerges from his work. I’m looking forward to it!

And YOU can collaborate with me by leaving questions, comments, thoughts, suggestions on this blog and elsewhere on social media, and I’ll take them into consideration as I write my speech. But don’t let’s argue, split up, and sue one another, OK?

Twitter Fiction: “If Soap Operas Met Science Fiction”

The other day, I overheard someone talking about soap operas and suspended animation in the same conversation. So I said soap operas would be a lot better if they included SF elements. I tweeted out this story yesterday on @SorinaHiggins. Here it is in full.

If Soap Operas Met Science Fiction

“Darling!” He exclaimed, on his knees. “I’ll do anything for you! What do you want me to do? Leave my wife and kids? Run off with you to the Riviera? Buy you a yacht?”

“Hold out your arm,” she said.

“My arm?”

“Your arm.”

She put out one hand, and purple suction cups blossomed from each fingertip. Schlook! They squelched onto his forearm, sucking little bubbles of flesh up into their moist interiors. He hollered in shock, then the yell turned into a gurgle as he felt what was being vacuumed through his veins, out through his skin, into her body.

It was energy. Pure energy. She was converting his caloric intake, his body’s electrical impulses, and every ounce of stored-up fat into a stream of vivid energy, melting him, draining him.

As he went limp and oozed slowly to the floor, she turned to the wall of her penthouse—his first gift to her when their fling had begun. She pressed her suction-cup fingertips to the wall and exhaled, long and slow. The marble wall changed to silver metal. The windows flickered as banks of control panels blinked into life. Her sequined designer dress slid from her body, which was scaly and sinuous.

The last thing he saw as he dissolved into oblivion was her spaceship detaching itself from the top of the apartment building and soaring off over Manhattan, and the last words he heard were:

“Never mind the Riviera, darling. You’ve given me the stars.”

Easter sonnet #4

Here is the last of these old poems of mine for Easter. Enjoy–and don’t forget to read the story I posted on Thursday, about what would happen to the Inklings if the Germans won WWII.

John’s Testimony

The whiteness of the cloth and of His skin,
His body’s after-image–piéta–
pressed cold and eerie on the daytime dark
when our fumbling fingers shrouded Him.
The heavy scent of myrrh and aloes drips
unholy incense in my memory:
it stank of death, dark brown and oily,
oozing past the fragrant linen strips.
That black afternoon brought Sabbath dread,
yet somehow in its aching mists, this dawn
brought us a strange desire to see the dead.
I went, I looked, I saw and understood:
the linen lay still wrapped as He had lain,
the little cloth no longer swathed His head.