Crossing the Streams: 10 Important Books

I was tagged in this thing on Facebook:

“I’ve been challenged to list 10 books that have stayed with me in some way and tag people to do the same. Rules: Don’t take more than a few minutes and do not think too hard. They don’t have to be the “right” books or great works of literature, just ones that have affected you in some way. Then tag 10 friends including me so I can see your list.”

I decided to tackle the request here instead so I could really get into it, so off we go…

1. Bridge to Terabithia (Katherine Paterson)

Bridge to Terabithia broke my heart. I don’t want to talk about it.

But yes you should read it if you have not already done so. And when you do, remember that it was written for children.

Sometimes pain can be cruel and beautiful.

2. Dune (Frank Herbert)

Dune ferret controls the spice

Dune ferret controls the spice.

In the beginning, there was Dune, and it was so stinkin’ good. And a bit talky. And super great. There are about 4 kajillion – give or take – books in the Dune series at this point and I’ve only read 7 or so of them so far, but I’m slowly acquiring them all on paperback so I can eventually read them  all* and admire them on my shelf and whisper sweet nothings to them when no one’s listening.

I actually had a pretty hard time getting into this book when I first tried reading it. I just couldn’t reorient myself into the right head space for it, and found myself re-re-reading the first handful of pages over and over again as I’d put the book down and forget what had happened in my previous failed attempts. But I’d watched the original movie version so many times before I tried reading the book (30 viewings? 40?) that I was committed to indulging in the rest of the story’s details, so I kept plugging away.

It wasn’t until I found the audio book version narrated by Scott Brick that I was finally able to break through that Getting Started barrier. Once he opened up the story to me however, I was hooked. I went on to listen to his narration of other books in the series, which I paired with readings from the hard copies I had immediately run out to acquire as soon as I’d finished the first book.

From the book:

“A world is supported by four things … the learning of the wise, the justice of the great, the prayers of the righteous and the valor of the brave. But all of these are as nothing … without a ruler who knows the art of ruling. Make that the science of your tradition!”
– a recollection of Reverend Mother Gaius Helen Mohiam by Paul Atreides

“Be prepared to appreciate what you meet.”
– Fremen proverb

*Even the ones The Nerds frown upon because they’re “not as good as the original.” I will enjoy my escape into this cool universe without you then hahaha!! *raspberries*

3. Earthseed (Pamela Sargent)

My fave version of the cover art for this book.

My fave version of the cover art for this book.

Earthseed is one of those “read it so many times I lost count” books for me, and if you have any way to put me in touch with Pamela Sargent so I can drag my friend Donna K. (who I think would love her work) along and buy her lunch and thank her and fill her up with questions and soak in her answers, let me know post haste!

I first read this book back in… I want to say it was during middle school? late grade school? It was a great “escape” book for me, sure, but it was also a total brain-rerouter. Between this book and Invitation to the Game (#5 on this list), almost everything about the way I daydreamed after reading this was completely flipped on end.

Not only was it set in space – in space! – but it featured young people being trusted with doing Big Things, something I hadn’t encountered much yet at this point. (Not to this degree, anyway.) And in another refreshing change of pace, the story was filled with people of color, and with women who got to be good and bad, who got to be tough, who got to save the day. It shook up everything for me. May I remain shaken.

You can download the first four chapters of the book for Kindle for free. You can also buy me Amazon gift cards so I can download the rest of the books and then come back later and gush about how cool they were.

Just, you know — so you know you have options…

4. House of Leaves (Mark Z. Danielewski)

House of Leaves, 1st ed. cover art

House of Leaves, 1st ed. cover art

My friend Sarah recently reminded me of this exchange between the two of us immediately after I finished House of Leaves:

Sarah: You finished that book somewhere in New Mexico in the back of an RV. I walked back to the “bedroom” to find you laying face down on the bed. I said, “You okay?” and without looking at me you just picked the book up, held it up so I could see the cover, then put it back down. Then I backed away. It was also at that point that I knew I wanted to read it.

Me: I have no memory of that moment. I’m glad you do, though, because… yes. That sounds about right.

Sarah: You were laying in there long enough that our traveling companions began asking if you were all right. I told them you just needed some alone time.

This book will mess you up. So yes, by all means you should read it immediately.

From the book:

“To get a better idea try this: focus on these words, and whatever you do don’t let your eyes wander past the perimeter of this page. Now imagine just beyond your peripheral vision, maybe behind you, maybe to the side of you, maybe even in front of you, but right where you can’t see it, something is quietly closing in on you, so quiet in fact you can only hear it as silence. Find those pockets without sound. That’s where it is. Right at this moment. But don’t look. Keep your eyes here. Now take a deep breath. Go ahead, take an even deeper one. Only this time as you exhale try to imagine how fast it will happen, how hard it’s gonna hit you, how many times it will stab your jugular with its teeth or are they nails?, don’t worry, that particular detail doesn’t matter, because before you have time to process that you should be moving, you should be running, you should at the very least be flinging up your arms-you sure as hell should be getting rid of this book-you won’t have time to even scream.”
– p. 27

5. Invitation to the Game (Monica Hughes)

Invitation to the Game is the one book I’ve undoubtedly read more times than any other. It came into my life at just the right time (right around when I first encountered Earthseed, #3 on this list) and it spoke to all sorts of areas in my brain that were newly reaching out to be understood. I was only 10 or so at the time, but I wanted to be Lisse, the  book’s protagonist. I wanted to move to a warehouse in the city with my friends. I wanted to read every book in the library. I wanted to train my body to be able to run and climb; to be able to fight and to jump over walls. I wanted – wanted so badly – to one day play The Game.

I still do.

6. Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe, The (C.S. Lewis)

I don’t recall when I first read The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. I only know that it’s been a known part of my personal universe since I was 7 or 8. I wish I could read it again for the first time – this book and the rest in the series – but maybe that’s what makes it so special in some ways; it wasn’t accompanied by a discovery experience so much as it was always a known quantity that I could rely on and daydream about.

7. Little House on the Prairie (Laura Ingalls Wilder)

Welcome to Super Awesome Nerd Girl Funtime Bookish Prairieland Vacation Mega Hotspot!

Welcome to Super Awesome Nerd Girl Funtime Bookish Prairieland Vacation Mega Hotspot!

My dad read Little House on the Prairie to me when I was 8. I have a picture of him reading it to me on the couch – him in his construction clothes, me sleepy in my pajamas. I wish I could find it. It so perfectly encapsulates my experience with that book, with growing up, with my parents…

Years later I went on a road trip with my mom, during which we visited the Ingalls homestead in DeSmet, SD. It was like the books had been turned into a ride where there’d never be any real speed, but there’d also never be any real long lines to wait in.

I made a rope and a corncob doll there and I was 8 all over again. 8, and every other age I’ve been when reading the entire series through from start to finish. Every time it’s quaint, and every time I love that little girl out on her prairies.

8. Maniac Magee (Jerry Spinelli)

My fourth grade teacher read Maniac Magee to us in class and it really stuck with me. (She also read us James and the Giant Peach, and The BFG, and introduced me to keeping a journal, and to writing stories, and to creating poetry, and to the idea of women having short hair in a cut other than The Mom Cut. Influential? To say the least.)

Maniac Magee marked one of the first times I read (or in this case, had read to me) a story that was centered on a kid, but in which everything wasn’t happiness and light. There was loss, and there was racism. There was pain, and there was death. But there was adventure, too, and friendship. There was learning and growing and exploring — and I loved it. Even though it wasn’t like the other books.

Especially because it wasn’t like the other books.

9. [Unnamed transformative fiction…

…that is among my favorite works of fiction and which was exciting and beautifully written and absolutely scared the crap out of me and should be adapted into a movie but never will be and it’s our collective loss that it won’t happen because wow… *shivers*]


10. Wrinkle In Time, A (Madeleine L’Engle)



I felt a bit as though I was getting away with something when I first read A Wrinkle in Time. I was 8 years old, and there was just so much happening in the story that I was sure it was intended for older readers than myself, and feared that when it was discovered I was “reading outside my age group” I’d get in trouble. Or worse – that the book would be taken away before I had a chance to finish it.

I was also a bit nervous about the cover art getting me in trouble…

I shouldn’t have been so nervous, of course. The Time Quintet is a classic of children’s literature – of literature in general – but I had no idea. I had just moved to a new country where I didn’t speak the language and had only just started making friends. I was cut off, isolated in the worlds of my books. I didn’t know where they stood in society at large, only where they ranked on my personal bookshelf.

This one ranked mighty high.

I went on to read the rest of the books in the series, and to incorporate L’Engle’s mythos into my own fantasy world-building. Tesseracts, kything, girls being heroes – this book had everything!

And now so did I.

Other super formative/influential books I didn’t think of until after I’d thought of the 10 listed above: The BFG, A Game of Thrones, Harry Potter (series), A Grief Observed, Where Is God When It Hurts?, What’s So Amazing About Grace?, A Tale of Time City

Got a list of your own? Consider yourself tagged and leave it in the comments below!

Talley’s Folly A Success!

Talley’s Folly at SummerStage just opened last night, but the positive reviews are already pouring in!

“Better than Phantom!”

– My grandma, who had just seen the Marcus Center’s production with my mom the night before

“That was really good honey. We’re so proud of you.”

– My mom, who suspiciously did not reference the show’s quality in comparison to Phantom

“This is my favorite part!”

– Random guy during a silent, tender moment one minute from the end of the show

A giant, heartfelt THANK YOU!!! to all who joined us on opening night!

Performance #2 begins tonight at 7:30 pm on the SummerStage grounds at Lapham Peak State Park in Delafield, WI (1 mile south on Hwy C off exit 285 on I-94). It drizzled a bit this afternoon, so if you’re coming to tonight’s show, plan on bringing lawn chairs, or if you’re planning on sitting on a picnic blanket, you may want to bring along a tarp to lay down beneath it.

Click here for full details.

Talley’s Folly Opens TONIGHT at SummerStage!

It’s finally here! Opening weekend of Talley’s Folly at SummerStage!

As long as I’ve known our director, Dustin Martin, he’s been talking about wanting to direct this show. After years spent hearing him praise the piece, there was part of me that started to feel like it was my dream too – even when I didn’t know a thing about it except how much he loved it.

Then I read the script in college, and that was all it took: I was officially hooked. Fast forward *mumble mumble* years and here we are — opening weekend at last!

Talley's Folly

I’m especially excited to be sharing the stage with Phil Stepanski for the first time. Somehow in our making the rounds through various local theatres we had yet to ever work together. Finding ourselves  now in a two-person show we’ve surely made up for lost time!

Area theatre-goers may remember most recently seeing Phil as Gary in WCT‘s Spring production of Noises Off!, and Soulstice Theatre‘s Follies earlier this Summer. He will be appearing as Max in WCT’s Lend Me A Tenor later this Fall. Congratulations on your continued success this season Phil!

Some things to know before you go:

About the show: “Set in July 1944, TALLEY’s FOLLY is the story of one evening in the courtship between two unlikely lovers. Matt Friedman (Phil Stepanski) is an accountant from St. Louis and has come to rural Missouri to woo Sally Talley (Ruth Arnell) in her family’s dilapidated Victorian boathouse. Through persistence, charm, and humor, he courts her despite her fears that her family would never accept him. But for romance to bloom, each must work through their innermost secrets together. TALLEY’s FOLLY won both the Pulitzer Prize and New York Drama Critics Circle Award for best play of the season in 1980.”

Dates/Times: Thursdays through Saturdays at 7:30 pm;  July 24 through August 9, 2014

Location/Directions: Lapham Peak Unit – Kettle Moraine State Forest, W329 N846 County Highway C, Delafield, WI 53018

  • Take I-94 to exit 285 in Delafield, WI (20 min west of Milwaukee); there will be a brown state park sign on I-94 signaling your exit.
  • Turn right (south) off the exit ramp onto Hwy C.
  • Follow Hwy C straight for about a mile.
  • The entrance to the park will be on your left.

Tickets: $17, $15 for Seniors and Students, $7 Youth. Can be purchased online, or at the park starting one hour before the show.

(The park requires a $5-per-vehicle entrance fee (normally $7) for all vehicles without a WI state park sticker.)

About the space:

  • The park sprays the stage area for mosquitoes every Thursday during the run, but bring your own bug spray too just in case!
  • The seating space is an open, grassy area, so bring a chair or blanket to sit on.
  • Arrive early and bring a picnic to enjoy on the lawn or at the tables under the SummerStage pavilion tent! There will also be a food truck on site.
  • Guests are free to bring in wine and beer, and additional beverages (including wine and beer) are available at the concession stand.
  • There is a bathroom in the building by the parking lot, and port-o-potties at the stage area.
  • The walk from the parking lot to the stage is a short one, however a shuttle will be available to transport anyone unable to make the walk.
  • If recent weather has left you cool in the evenings, don’t forget to bring along a jacket or lap blanket!
  • If it should begin to drizzle, the show will continue. So if it looks like the sky may turn, bring along a jacket/hat/enchanted cloak just in case.
Welcome to SummerStage!

Welcome to SummerStage!

How To Fill A Winter

I’m having one of those “so much has happened since my last update that I feel too overwhelmed to even try to cover any of it, let alone all of it, so I’d rather just not even try” moments.


So here’s my list-y attempt at sharing some of what’s been important in my life since my last post:

Sunset Playhouse - Murder on the Nile

Sunset Playhouse – Murder on the Nile

1. I closed a play. Murder on the Nile at Sunset Playhouse. Gosh what a swell group. I’ll be working with one of my MotN castmates in my next show, I Hate Hamlet

2. I auditioned for a play. I Hate Hamlet, also at Sunset Playhouse. I was cast as Deirdre. I’ll (hopefully) post something or other about it here. At some point. Maybe.

Oh God I’m such a failure at this blogging thing lately oh oh…

3. I auditioned for another play. Talley’s Folly at SummerStage, an outdoor theatre in Delafield. I was cast as Sally. I plan on Instagramming the crap out of the rehearsal and run process. The practice hall and performance space are just so cool.

If you don't watch the show, this will mean nothing to you. Feel free to ignore it; I promise I won't mind.

Meaningless if you don’t watch Hannibal. Feel free to ignore it; I promise I won’t mind…

4. I watched Hannibal an unhealthy number of times. I didn’t start watching Hannibal since my last update, but I don’t think I’ve mentioned it before so here I am. Mentioning it.

Basically: It’s lovely. I mean – it’s kind of horrifying, yes, in that it centers around a guy who eats people… – but don’t let that fool you. It is truly one of the most beautiful shows on television right now. The writing, the visual aesthetic of it all (from the cinematography to the set decoration to the costuming (!!!) to the way the food is displayed (no kidding)), the directing, the performances — it’s an incredible piece of work.

They’re three episodes into Season 2 right now, but for it to really mean anything you’d have to watch Season 1 first. It’s available through Amazon Prime, and then the three most recent eps are available to watch through

Oh man. Just thinking about that show makes me smile. And that’s saying a lot given that it’s, you know, about a people-eating serial killer, right? I’ve watched all of Season 1 six times now, and have no doubt Season 2 will fare much the same for me.

Plus: It stars Mads Mikkelsen. I’m sorry, but there’s just no topping that guy. Like — jumping between stuff like After the Wedding to Valhalla Rising to The Hunt to Hannibal? That’s just — naw dude. You’ve got to like this guy’s approach to the craft of acting. You can’t not.

5. VIKINGS! Speaking of shows I’ve recently started watching, I’m also really digging the History Channel’s show Vikings. It’s worth checking out as well before they get too much farther into their second season.

6. I attended WMSE‘s Rockabilly Chili Cook-Off Fundraiser. Wow, dudes. I ate so much amazing chili that day. No future chili-eating experience could ever compare. I went with some of the kids from Radio WHT, which of course made it extra fab.

My birthday gift from my friend Bob. My friends know me so well.

My birthday gift from my friend Bob. My friends know me so well.

7. It was my birthday on Wednesday! Oh gosh, you guys – this year was just– it was The Birthday That Kept On Giving.

The Saturday before my birthday, my friend Jenny hosted a Supernatural themed party at her house, complete with show-themed decor, and a dinner of burgers, fries, onion rings, and beer. There were games (SPN trivia, and “Pin the Demon In the Devil’s Trap“), episode viewings, and most of the gifts were SPN (or Hannibal! woohoo!) themed.

The Friday after, a bunch of other friends met up at my buddy Spence’s house for games and pizza and couch-sleeping and it was a blast I’mma just tell you.

Then today, my sibs came over with their families (minus my sister-in-law, boo :\) for mom’s homemade pulled pork sandwiches, par broiled ribs, and a homemade ice cream cake. It was *sniffle* magical

8. We got a nice list of roofs to bid on at work. This makes me happy. Not the way that homemade ice cream cake or Supernatural themed birthday parties make me happy, but certainly a kind that is still very much worth feeling. I’m spending the week helping put together bid packages (something that always takes longer than I estimate it will take; you’d think I’d’ve figured that out by now), and daydreaming about road-tripping to the farther job locations if the proposals come through. *dreamy sigh*

9. I went to the gym. I went an embarrassingly small number of times so far this winter, but I did go – and that’s crazy hard for me (because that is the breed of doofus that I am) – so I’m kinda happy about that.

So yeah, man – all told it’s been a pretty sweet coupl’a months.

Time to get in some reading and then hit the sack. Up bright and early tomorrow to spend the day with friends. Yeah – on a Monday. So stoked.

Happy Spring everybody! :D

Philip Seymour Hoffman

He will always be Philip Seymour Hoffman to me.

My various dashboards are currently filled with Tweets and excerpts from interviews with people who worked with the man, who knew him personally, who called him Phil.

Phil Hoffman.

And I don’t know what to do with that.

Phil Hoffman sounds like he should be a branch manager for an inter-state credit union. He should be the person in charge of scheduling equipment deliveries to construction sites. He should be the consulting accountant brought in by the local zoo as a temporary addition during tax season, his final paycheck mailed in an envelope thick with parking passes and free admittance lanyards for his kids.

A guy named Phil Hoffman would definitely have kids.

Philip Seymour Hoffman had kids. Three of them. Had a long time partner, a woman named Mimi O’Donnell. He was an actor, a director. He was loved, he was respected. He seemed happy, excited about his work. He was passionate about what he’d found to do with his life. He was an artist. He won awards. It was inspiring.

I hope eventually I will remember him only for those things. They are worth remembering. They are worth lauding. They hold up to the status and the weight of being an all-three-names celebrity.

But I’m not there yet. I acknowledge those things, I am in awe of them, but I cannot divorce them from the subject of today’s tweets and interviews: Today, February 2, 2014, Philip Seymour Hoffman died alone in the bathroom of his Manhattan apartment of a heroin overdose; a partner, a father, and an artist known to his fans by all three names.

I can’t believe he’s really gone.

And I don’t know what to do.

Thoughts From Backstage

Updating from the women’s dressing room at Sunset Playhouse, mid-Act II for Murder on the Nile.

The ladies of "Murder on the Nile," L to R: Carrie (Louise), Paula (ff), Me (Kay), Deanna (Christina), Julia (Jackie)

The ladies of “Murder on the Nile,” L to R: Carrie G. (Louise), Paula G. (ff), Me (Kay), Deanna S. (Christina), Julia S. (Jackie)

What a happy, fabulous, funny, friendly, delightful group of women. I’m so pleased! I’M SO PLEASED!

I can’t imagine a life that does not involve spending months at a time with friends and strangers-who-become-friends, all directing our focus on solving the murder of a fictional socialite. Would I cruise the Nile circa 1936 with these ladies? You bet your Baedeker I would.

Submitted for your viewing pleasure…

I’m sitting here cracking up all alone in a cold room while a crushing winter wind freezes the world outside my bedroom window in total contrast to the warmth of all this hilarity.


By which I mean to say: I’m in the middle of a rewatch of a web series I was introduced to this past summer – Research – and even now on my second go ’round I’m laughing at it like a crazy person.

Yes. That’s right. Barry Bostwick and Doug Jones. No lie.

Research is the brainchild of the folks at Mildly Fearsome Films, the same people who brought you Sudden Death! (“Finally, a musical where everyone dies.”)

Listen: I would not. steer. you wrong. Okay? Just press play. Trust me. Shh, shh… It’s okay, it’s okay…

Deep, Strong, Weird, and Aforementioned

Preferably from your other *other* cell.

Preferably from your other *other* cell phone.

Since my last regular post I have discovered, fallen in love with, and watched all seven and a half seasons of Supernatural. (And by “since” I mean “within the span of 11 days of extremely dedicated Netflixing.”)

I won’t get into the show too much here as my aforementioned love is deep, strong, and weird, but I will go on record as saying it has made it to my Top 5 Favorite Shows of All Time list.

In no particular order (because who can rank love?), the list is as follows:

1. Star Trek (TNG is my Trek, but I love ’em all)
2. Doctor Who
3. Xena
4. Supernatural
5. Maude

Yes, compadres: It is fun enough to stand amongst giants.

Side note: Mom just took the dog outside, and I can’t tell which of them is barking.

In other news, as good as roofing has been to me, lately I’ve been looking to shuffle off this construction coil. To that end, last week I applied for two positions with the same company, both of which I would 1) be great at! and 2) have a blast doing. They’re the sort of gigs that would provide for plenty of photo ops and fun blog fodder, so any fingers you’d care to cross, prayers you’d care to send up, or candles you’d care to wish on on my behalf, feel free. I shall keep you posted should I receive any good news on that front.

In other other news– boy, a lot of other others ’round these parts today, eh?– I will be traveling to LA next week to stand in a dear friend’s wedding next Saturday. It will be my first time back in California since I left in 2006. So many new people to meet, so many old sushi places to visit; I hope I  can fit the wedding in. And of course, an hour on the for next week’s episode of Supernatural…

Coursera: So far…

Earlier this summer I registered to take a poetry class through Coursera, a “company that partners with the top universities in the world to offer courses online for anyone to take, for free.”

“Hot diggity,” I responded, as I Facebooked and Tweeted my findings. “I’mma get in on this sweet, sweet learning action lickety split!”

The first class I signed up for, Modern and Contemporary American Poetry (ModPo) is taught by Al Filreis through the University of Pennsylvania, and the course description sounded right up my alley:

This course is a fast-paced introduction to modern and contemporary U.S. poetry, from Dickinson and Whitman to the present. Participants (who need no prior experience with poetry) will learn how to read poems that are supposedly “difficult.”

Fast-paced? Poetry? No experience necessary? Wahoo! All that would be required to complete the course would be submitting four short essays, commenting on other students’ submissions, passing weekly quizzes, and participating in the discussion forums. Easy peasy, and fun to boot! If, you know, you enjoy writing essays, commenting on things, taking quizzes, and participating in discussions.

Which I totally do.

As do thousands of folks who are still learning English, and a bunch’a weirdos intent on dumbing down the Facebook end of the experience…

Things I Have Learned From Joining ModPo’s Facebook Group

1. There Are Not Enough OTE Mods/Admins

For about one hora gloriosa the other semana, I played make-believe as a Spanish-speaking T.A. for a handful of Facebook group members who are using ModPo in part as an opportunity to work on their English. It’s an admirable goal with the unfortunate side-affect of making me feel like a useless layabout for never having attempted any such thing in an effort to work on my Spanish.


It was fun getting to know a few of my ESL classmates a little better through that experience, and I enjoyed it on both a social and an educational level. Still, I couldn’t help but wonder how the lack of Other Than English mods/admins throughout the Coursera universe might be impacting the experience of those students hoping to use Coursera as an English exercise.

Mostly I’m picturing hands being thrown in the air “I give up!” style across the globe, Google Translate tabs slamming closed in browsers worldwide.

I wouldn’t go so far as to say Coursera “should” or “must” provide OTE support, particularly since Coursera doesn’t market itself as a “work on your English” resource, so it’s not like it’s failing to supply something it promised in not having live translators on hand for real-time assistance. Plus I have no idea how it is being funded or how much money it is actually making, and real-time human translation services are notoriously expensive. I think it’s perfectly legitimate to offer a website and services entirely in English, or Dutch, or Guarani… I’m just wondering if such an effort- providing OTE mods- would be possible for some of the classes with higher numbers of students, and if expending that effort might pay off in the long run for Coursera and similar sites.

2. Even Poetry Attracts Trolls

Trolls: Making ModPo Poets Less Great since 2012

Hoping to engage in a thoughtful discussion about a question someone raised about the poem everyone is currently reading? Too bad!

but I inform: if, I will see in essays in context something about : word-killer, precious stone and poem, diamond and poem or else, what I have written, I will shame you for all over the world.

That’s right. If during the course of the discussion any of the participants should draw similar conclusions from reading the same poem, and if any of those shared conclusions should appear in any of the participants’ future comments or essays, there is no other possible recourse for this particular troll but to shame the alleged offender on a global scale for stealing their ideas.

Or if you are participating in a thread and would like to point out that you think Classmate A and Classmate B “are very inspirational locutors“? Be prepared to be informed that you are wrong because, frankly, “they are absolutely standart thinking people -it’s complitely boring.

Say that in a meatspace classroom. Please. I dare you.

And don’t bother asking these self-righteous poetry trolls to stay on subject, to keep non-productive and exclusionary comments to themselves, or to behave like adults. Your requests will only be met by such gems as “this idea everywhere is in internet…about innovation. may be your own ideas?” Or the dare to “block me. any perssonmay just block.” Or perhaps it’s time for the “how many Universities have you graduated from ?” challenge.

Wheaton’s Law: It also applies in poetry forums, ass, and you are breaking it with fantastic regularity.

Things I Have Learned From Reading ModPo’s Official Forums

1. Whatever you wanted to say in the forums? Yeah, it’s already been said. About 10,000 times.

I’m having trouble tracking down the exact figures, but the last estimate I saw for the number of registered ModPo students was hovering somewhere around 30,000. That’s right: 30,000 people from all over the world participating in discussions on the course’s forum page, submitting essays, and taking quizzes.

On the one hand: This is awesome and encouraging and crazy and inspiring and gives the international poetry community an approachable and familiar feel and I love love love it and am so glad things like Coursera exist and that people like Filreis are so excited about blazing new trails in online learning and I can’t wait to see how this model develops in the coming years.

On the other hand: Anything you think of to say in a discussion thread? It’s been said. Any question you want to ask? It’s been asked. Any idea you find yourself puzzling through? Spoiler alert! It’s been unpuzzled, and if you are participating as directed you will come across myriad possible conclusions, including your own. Any thought you were developing has already been written out- short form and long form- by literally hundreds, even thousands, of your classmates. So that “participate in the forums” part of passing the class? Maybe you’ve got something new to add, Genius, but me? Yeah, ain’t nothing I can add that’s not already in there a hundred times over, and more clearly and eloquently expressed than anything you’d ever wring out of me.

Presenting an idea or question first isn’t necessarily an ideal solution either, however, as whatever you have to ask or add will be met by the same trollish horseshit (please pardon my French, Christie) addressed above.

For example (using actual quotes from discussions in the Facebook forum) (I know I know the Facebook forum is not the official forum):

Classmate A: (Fascinating, thought-provoking musings, questions, and insight into today’s assigned reading.)

Classmate B: (Thoughtful reply offering up gratitude, further exploration, and new questions.)

Troll: poor Emily [Dickinson], she couldn’t even imagine that her brilliant poetry will be dissected into small bones and this brilliant monolithic poem will be broken into separate words…God..poor Emily. dig, dig dig with dissection her poetry, losing it’s spirit…dig to nowhere..good luck :) Could you be so kind and tell the meaning of this popem using two sentences ?

Classmate A: (Two sentence reply offering a well-constructed summary of the piece.)

Troll: I have asked to depict , to show your idea using two senteces.Sorry, I will not even read this. good luck. how to say the truth in a soft way , in rush way : you are daun and stupid. How it will be on your opinion with YOUR interpretation of E.D. how to tell truth to people ? LOL, know what wanted Emily Dickinson? have you been on spiritualistic seance with E.D. ? I have asked you a very concrete question and wait your answer on it

Classmate B: I am going to assume that you are not meaning to be rude, since English is not your first language. However, your previous comments are coming across as extremely rude and insulting.

Troll: I have already blocked about 5 idiots, who are really mentally retarded))..I am just enjoying of stupiiidity, reading all this ))) what are you doing with E.D. brillian poetry I am FRANK and complitely DIRECT

See, now that’s your problem right there: You’re a mentally retarded idiot whose replies are stupiiid and you are unable to deal with fellow classmates who are simply being frank and direct with you.

I’m sorry, but who wants to participate in a discussion when trolls are interrupting conversations, derailing threads, mocking fellow participants, and decrying attempts to dissect poems even though THAT IS THE POINT OF THE CLASS?

I don’t mean to say the environment is always this hostile. While there is certainly a sad abundance of awkwardly inappropriate participants (here’s lookin’ at you, Facebook trolls), there is also a tremendous number of people in this course who present such brilliant ideas and feedback it’s a wonder they’re not teaching their own poetry classes.

I do mean to say I think a classroom- whether IRL or online- is not the place for this sort of behavior and my personal opinion is that participants like this, whether in official forums or officially sanctioned forums like the one on Facebook, should be given the ol’ heave-ho so they can stop wasting everyone’s time and making our “classroom” ugly every time they sit down at their keyboards.

And by “everyone,” I of course mean THIRTY-THOUSAND PEOPLE required to offer individual insight after reading thousands of others say what they were thinking.


2. Words, Words, Words

We recently received the question for our first essay writing assignment, and  have been advised that we are expected to write at least a 500 word response. 500 words? Awesome. Short, sweet, to the point. A totally reasonable expectation.

For the students, that is.

‘Cause that’s 500 words (minimum) x 30,000 students for a potential total of at least 15,000,000 words being turned in for this assignment. Assuming an average reading speed of 250 words per minute, it would take 60,000 minutes, or 1,000 hours just to read all the essays if every student participates as directed, let alone the time required to weigh in on them. For comparison’s sake, there are 168 hours in a week, during which time the professor and the TAs are also expected to participate in the forums; prepare, administer, and grade quizzes; record, edit, and upload videos of themselves discussing the assigned readings; and teach and attend other classes.


If Coursera has developed a way to make this work, that’s great. And probably also magical. But I can’t help feeling like this is a an implausible load to lay on any professor, regardless of the subject matter. Regardless, even, of the fact that this isn’t an actual college class offering college credit. I almost feel like I need to offer my condolences with each essay I turn in, along with links to stress relief tips and pictures of the candles I’ve lit for the TAs.

One alternative is that there is no actual expectation that the profs and TAs will read all the essays, but in that case I find myself scratching my head about the point of requiring the assignments in the first place. Sure it gets students thinking about the subject matter, and who doesn’t benefit from a directed writing exercise? Lord knows I do! But why bother developing the infrastructure of tracking assignments when most of them will, of necessity, go completely by the wayside? I wouldn’t call it an exercise in futility, necessarily, but perhaps a warm-up…

Another alternative is that they’re counting on most of the students to not fully participate. But that sure seems like a shaky bet around which to plan a semester in a system that is still being developed. And I’d rather believe they’re not banking on most of us slacking off, even though, ya’ know, we probably are. I mean– I know I am.

Third alternative: Peer evaluation? I just hope it’s the thoughtful students and not the trolls doing the evaluating…


Ah… but I still love poetry. I still love the idea of online learning. And I still want this class to work- for Coursera, for Filreis, and for me. So I’ll keep trying. I’ll return to the forums, dive into the boards (ignoring the fact that accusations of plagiarism have already garnered us an official memo on the subject), submit my essays to the (potential) void, and enjoy the fact that at the very least I tried something new and saw it to completion.

And I’m a big girl! I can flag the trolls and move on. I can enjoy essay writing for its own sake. I can even ignore the perpetual TMIers. (Hi! I’m Linda from Seattle and I’m deaf because of injuries I sustained when a co-worker pushed me in front of a car, which I forgave him for because my therapist says I’m trying to compensate for my uncontrollable flatulence and psychosomatic allergies to all animals, which just kills me because I have dedicated my life to rescuing animals and cannot imagine parting with my eight dogs, four cats, six rabbits, twelve birds, or my goat. Also I love poetry.) (That was neither a direct quote, nor an exaggeration.)

But for now I think probably the most realistic description of how I’ll use this course is as a passenger-seat test-drive of how this whole “online learning” thing works. I’ve got a busy weekend ahead of me, so the likelihood I’ll finish the essay on time is low, and as much as I enjoy being on the internet I have never gotten into forums or message boards, so the likelihood I’ll engage in that fashion is even lower. But for the price of Free? I’m up for a test drive.

Vroom vroom, Coursera…

ETA: A ModPo member just posted this link to a very positive, pro-Coursera write-up on edcetera. If you’re considering signing up for a class through Coursera, I’d strongly encourage you to check out this link. It discusses a lot of the strongest points of the Coursera format and will be sure to get you excited about your upcoming studies!

Sunset Playhouse Q&A

Sunset Playhouse‘s annual Event I Can Never Remember the Name Of is coming up this Saturday. I’ve turned in my ballot for Best [___], and chosen which dress I shall wear (grandma’s cast-off), leaving naught else to do save answer the following questions that arrived with my invitation:

“Tell us something about you… your favorite story from the season, how you found Sunset, why you volunteer, what you love about Sunset, funniest backstage antic….”

“Tell us something about you…”

Well for starters I’m a Pisces, Year of the Dog. I don’t put any stock into that sort of thing, mind you. I just thought you should know those things about me in case they mean anything to you. When I was three years old a dog bit me in the face, leaving a row of short scars from my eyebrow to my chin. One day I’d like to rent a cottage in the Appalachian Mountains for a few weeks and just write. I like my pizzas deep dish, my theatre community, my screwdrivers sonic, and my sagas set in space.

Also: Ferrets.

“Your favorite story from the season”

I was only involved in one show at Sunset this past season- 6 Degrees of Separation- so I hope you’re up for tales with a limited scope.

  • I don’t think I’ve ever eaten as much fancy-pants candy as I did during rehearsals for 6 Degrees. Every day we’d show up to a decadent sugar buffet courtesy of Jim Santelle and Sendick’s, and every day we’d clean that sucker out. And then there were the people there like Donna Daniels, man. They wear their little khaki pants, you know? And their little cardigans? And they drink their tea and they eat their veggie snacks and you think they’d never belly up to a processed sugar smorgasbord. But wouldn’t you know she totally did every time? Admittedly she wasn’t matching the rest of us bite-for-bite, but I will say this: Girl is not afraid to put away a few sweets. Admirably so.
  • And then there were the nights when it was time to go home, but it wasn’t time to go home. It was time to congregate outside the door to the back parking lot to shoot the breeze for an hour over bottles of Red Stripe while the bad kids smoked and the short kids had their pictures taken next to the tall kids.
  • The good times weren’t restricted to post-practice rolling, much to our collective great fortune. I can’t tell you how many times I pulled into the parking lot before rehearsal to find our director, Jim Farrell, sitting out in the grass with Spence Mather, the two of them swapping stories and guitars. As our 7pm start time ticked closer and more cast members arrived, the number of lawn hippies would increase. The stories that went around the circle are theirs to share, but I will offer you a prompt: Track down Joan End some time and ask her how not to dispose of a cigarette while traveling. Bad to the bone, that one.
  • And then there was the party at Jim Santelle’s. Oh Jim Santelle, sender of eloquent emails and hero of high-school smokers everywhere: You are great! And your stove is great! And your books are great! And I love your taste in fruit trays and cheesecake decorations!
  • Then there was the time after we opened when I dreamed my mom and I gave JFare and his non-existent elementary school-age daughters a ride back home to their Tuscan villa in a community of theatre folks, all tucked away past miles of farms and fields and hills. The girls wanted to show me their room and their books, then wanted to share their cake. I’m more of a brownie person, but that was some mighty fine cake.
  • Plus we acted in a play, which was pretty cool. (This’un is mighty good for monologue mining for anybody with auditions coming up.)

“How you found Sunset”

Turned left at Greenland.

I’ll be here all week.

But seriously, folks…

I graduated from Carroll University- though we called it Carroll College in those days- back in aught-four. Toward the end of the school year an event was held honoring department chair Dave Molthen, complete with a snack table and places to sit, so naturally plenty of Carroll theatre alumni came to call. Among them was Mark Salentine, the fella who’d directed me in The Nerd my second semester at Carroll. A bit of a nerd himself, I quite liked the man. One of those sorts you can’t help but smile about. So when I learned he’d be directing Cabaret at Sunset that summer I decided to have a go at auditions, in spite of my being neither a singer nor a dancer. And wouldn’t you know the fool cast me?

And that was it. One show was all it took. Cabaret came and went and left me hooked, and I’ve been going back ever since. Occasionally racing head over heels toward my own disaster. Ask me some time where it still hurts from Noises Off!

“Why you volunteer”

Yeah, I mean… I’m gonna keep doing it, I’m just sayin’ if they offered me a paycheck I wouldn’t turn it down, kapeesh?

“What you love about Sunset”

There’s nothing quite like having a hobby where the Venn Diagram of the cool kids and the weird kids is a circle, and Sunset has its fair share of both.

Thank God.

For me, Sunset has had a “home base” feel ever since the first time I crept off-key, and off-beat, through “The Telephone Song” for Donna Kummer, my heart in my throat, my throat in my sinuses, my brain long since flown into hiding so I’d never be able to fully reconstruct my memories of that particular part of the rehearsal experience. The rest of it, though? Not nearly as scary. Brilliantly fun, even. I’d never have believed you if you’d told me I could have such a blast doing so many new, difficult things in front of hundreds of people at a time for weeks on end. But then I did it. And it was wonderful.

It was all wonderful. Every show. There hasn’t been a single one that hasn’t fulfilled some acting dream, or given me a reason to spend countless hours plugging away at exciting work with lovely people, or proven to me that yes I can memorize a stupidly large number of lines. Shows like:

  • Bedroom Farce, where I got to run around in a nightie while talking with a British accent
  • Rehearsal for Murder, where I got to run around in a robe while married to Ken Smith
  • The Seven Year Itch, where I got to run around in a nightie while haunting Brian Zelinski
  • Jake’s Women, where I got to run around in flats while my boyfriend was haunted by Coleen Tutton
  • Noises Off!, where I got to run around in a nightie while talking with a British accent
  • It’s A Wonderful Life, where I got to run around in wigs while my husband was haunted by himself

Themes. I’m sensing themes…

Really it’s the people, though, that made those experiences so memorable for me. The directors, the designers, the crews, the other actors, the beautiful, beautiful audiences. I forget all my lines within two weeks of a show closing, but the people I keep with me forever, tucked away in random brain folds, smiling and laughing and shining.

I love how you all shine.

“Funniest backstage antic”

I– I mean I can’t… Aw geez.

I can’t even begin to think of how to answer this one. Randall Anderson’s slot machine anecdote comes to mind, and Jim Bloomingdale and Mark Salentine with sleeves full of shaving cream are floating around up there too. But as with most great “backstage” stories, the element that made the moment truly magical is lost in the retelling, especially if the tale can’t be acted out since most of the hilarity occurs in silence.

That is, you hope it occurs in silence.

I’ll tell you what: I’ll see what stories come up at Saturday’s Annual Theatre Volunteer Annual Event for Theatre, and if there are any that can stand on their own without the aid of miming and the quaking laughter of onlookers, I’ll post one or two of them here. ‘S’good?


*Read about 2009’s Annual Theatre Thingy here: The Jello Covered Grapes Annual Volunteer Choice Awards

Of Exercises and Escape Dreams


I was looking for a book at the library. I found it, but the cover art and dust jacket description totally turned me off so I took home the book next to it instead; I Could Do Anything If I Only Knew What It Was, by Barbara Sher. Don’t feel badly, Other Book; it happens.

I Could Do Anything… description from Amazon:

A life without direction is a life without passion. The dynamic follow-up to the phenomenal best-seller WishcraftI Could Do Anything If I Only Knew What It Was (the New York Times Bestseller) guides you, not to another unsatisfying job, but to a richly rewarding career rooted in your heart’s desire. And in a work of true emancipation, this life-changing sourcebook reveals how you can recapture “long lost” goals, overcome the blocks that inhibit your success, decide what you want to be, and live your dreams forever!

As many of you know I’ve been looking for a new job of late. There is always more than one reason to conduct such a search, and most of the time those reasons are uninteresting unless you’re a) the one experiencing them, or b) the one asking about them in a job interview, so I’ll spare you, Gentle Reader, by leaving them out. You’re welcome.

With my job search in mind I performed a few of the exercises in Sher’s book, then decided to go out on a limb- breaking every goal attainment rule in the process- and share my responses. I’m doing this because goodness knows I process information best when it’s weighed and measured in thoughtful discussion (I’m counting on you, Nerdfighters!), but also because I’m eager to read how youwould answer the following questions and can hardly ask you to share your responses unless I’m willing to share my own first. Right? Right.

Ready? Let’s go!


Chapter 3: Resistance, or What’s Stopping You, Anyway?

© Sam Brown

Exercise #1: Meaningful Work
Here Sher asks readers to write down what the world considers “meaningful work.” She goes on to say “…in the back of your mind is the thought that somehow you have to make a contribution to something, be acknowledged, do something that matters–or you’re just fooling around.” I wrote down what I consider “meaningful work” since, frankly, the idea of pursuing a path simply because the world considers it meaningful sounds exhausting and a little silly.

For work to be meaningful to me

  • It must involve creating something new, which will hopefully be acknowledged by its intended audience as 1) truly different from its alternatives, and 2) helpful.
  • It must involve working with people, either in person or through the written word, to help them understand something better, or appreciate and be enriched by something they hadn’t previously given much thought.

Exercise #2 Part A: The Job from Heaven
Sher instructs readers to include what the job entails, where it would be performed, and who it would be performed with, and not to “limit [themselves] with reality or practicality, because this is Fantasy Time.”


  • Blogging about every day life
  • Travel writing on back road gems, Americana road trip culture, and introducing readers to towns that barely make it to the map
  • Publishing interviews/mini-biographies on “folks” I meet along the way. Not the rich, not the famous, just the folks.
  • Reading to kids at the library, homeschool groups, churches, etc.


  • On my laptop at the table in my ground floor hotel room with the curtains open no matter how drab the parking lot outside
  • In a notepad during walking tours
  • On my laptop at a large, clean desk in a home office. A home office with a door that locks, plenty of natural light, a love seat, a coffee table, an electric tea kettle, and lots of green and wood and overflowing bookshelves and a giant map of the U.S. painted onto one of the walls. A home office outside the big city, on the edge of a small town– maybe even just outside of it– but with easy access to the city, the library, the theatre, and maybe a local museum or two.

With Whom…

  • When writing I need to be alone, but when traveling I prefer the buddy system

I think I may have missed the point ever so slightly because “Fantasy Time” this ain’t. Is it too late to tack on something like “…and spend every other week riding horses in India and make $80 gajillion dollars a year”? Or should I just be glad that my dream job is more realistically attainable than, say Ballerina or Astronaut?

Exercise #2 Part B: The Job from Hell


  • Processing bills. AP, AR, doesn’t matter. If I had my druthers I wouldn’t process payments.
  • Scheduling international travel itineraries
  • Customer service (for past-due payment collection) over the phone
  • Answering a multi-line phone
  • Being the final decision maker on things involving big costs and make-it-or-break-it deadlines
  • Business professional dress code
  • Long hours on weekdays, with lots of weekend shifts and mandatory overtime to top it off
  • Working for a company which creates goods or provides services I care nothing about, or which I actively dislike


  • In a cube farm surrounded by windowless gray or institution-green walls
  • In a large metropolitan area
  • In a building with more than four stories, or with a configuration that necessitates taking an elevator to my floor
  • In a room that’s always extremely loud or always silent
  • More than a half hour commute in bumper to bumper traffic

With Whom…

  • Intense, high pressure coworkers who start the day stressed out
  • Coworkers who are cool and stand-offish and who don’t want to sit with me at lunch or show me the ropes when I’m learning my job
  • Coworkers who are perpetually  dramatic, narcissistic, jealous, who harbor cruel opinions, and who are more mouth than eyes and ears
  • Screaming customers upset about issues I have no power to correct or change
  • So many coworkers I can never hope to know all their names
  • Supervisors who make politics part of the job, with the understanding that agreement is the first step to advancement

Two things struck me about the second part of this activity: 1) I was surprised (and slightly embarrassed!) at how much easier it was to come up with the things I don’t want, and 2) the “professional” skill set I’ve spent the last nine years developing lends itself to the kinds of jobs that fit this bill. Uh-oh…

Chapter 4: The Sure Thing

Exercise #1: What Are Your Escape Dreams?
Per Sher, “…make sure they’re true fantasies, and not practical in any way… Escape dream[s hold] a powerful clue to something you really need. It’s like a photo film negative of your life. Whatever in your life is missing, wherever a blank spot exists, it shows up in this fantasy. …[W]e should do something about what’s missing. Because if you don’t use that information to improve your life, you’re using escape dreams to help you avoid life.

Yeah, I can see that.

  • My escape dream involves having enough money in the bank that my needs are met; enough that I can afford to travel simply on a regular basis (road trips, trips to other countries where I could stay in friends’ homes or mid-range hotels); and enough to give generously to support charities and friends’ projects and dreams; all while being able to help family members in need and to put funds aside into a retirement account and into college funds for my kids.
  • In this dream I write, I read to kids, I act in plays, I road trip, I help community theatres in out-of-the-way towns to organize themselves and reach out to their communities, and travel throughout Latin America.
  • I live with my husband, kids, dogs, ferrets, and home library in a ranch house somewhere out West (not the coastal west; the north/central West) where the outside of my office door is painted to look like the TARDIS, and where we own acres and acres of land that will one day go to the kids. It’s land with hills and woods and open fields and creeks and animals you don’t want to run into at night, and there’s a fenced in area and a barn where I house transient livestock rescues for the local animal shelter, and a special room to house all my ferrets, and a tree which for some reason is always filled with crows.

My constantly recurring themes? Family, Security, and Writing. Okay you three, you’ve made your point.

Chapter 6: I Want Too Many Things; I’m All Over the Map

Exercise #1: Time Management for the Person Who Loves to Do Too Many Things
This exercise is geared toward people Sher refers to as “Scanners.” These are folks who “want to taste everything. … Because our culture values… specialization and determination, we too often think of scanners as people who simply won’t get down to work. This is a foolish cultural oversight. … We’re trained to believe that we only get one choice in our lives. But to scanners, one choice sounds like someone’s saying, ‘You can have a coloring book or you can have crayons, but you can’t have both,’ and they’re onto something. Scanners know that life is not stingy. If anything, life is too generous. The choices are dizzying. But there’s a way to manage the riches.”

Part 1. If you were ten people, what would each of you do with your life?

  1. Writer
  2. Teacher/Instructor/Guide
  3. Traveler
  4. Historian
  5. Actress
  6. Physicist
  7. Documentary Filmmaker
  8. Zoologist
  9. Wife and mother
  10. Something with independent ministry projects, focusing on providing education and technical training for children and young adults

Part 2. Quickly answer each of the following questions with one of your ten lives.

  • Which life can you devote yourself to this coming year?
  • Which life can you do when the first one is completed?
  • Which activities can you do for twenty minutes or less each day?
  • Which ones can you do on a weekend?
  • Which ones can you do once in a while?

Naturally I was able to match up bits and pieces- or sometimes even whole “lives”- to each of those questions. And that’s the trick, isn’t it? Being faced with the fact that if you really want to do something you can probably find- or make- time to pursue it? Given that I don’t have much of a natural inclination toward the sciences, and that some of these pursuits can take years just to get the degrees necessary to engage in them for profit and to create the necessary relationships and contacts to make them fulfilling, it’s clearly unlikely that I could pursue each of the above “lives” to its fullest professional extent. But that’s okay too, because if I achieved some of them on a professional level I’d have to spend a great deal of my time doing *mostly* those things, and that wouldn’t satisfy my inner scanner either!


The book is 322 pages long and I’m only up to page 187, so I can’t speak for the whole thing. What I’ve read so far, though, has provided a thoroughly worthwhile reading experience filled with useful advice and approachable anecdotal support for the author’s opinions. It’s a charming, simple enough read, and I’m looking forward to working my way through a few more of the exercises, particularly those in Chapter 13: A Rage Against the Ordinary, and Chapter 14: The Red Herring, or Trying Hard to Love Something You Don’t Really Want.

I’d love to hear your answers to one, a few, or better still to all of the above exercises. If you’re up to playing along you can leave your responses in the comments, or provide a link in the comments to wherever you’ve answered them elsewhere. I can’t wait to read what you have to say!

Xena, Weasels, and an IOU


1) A post about the final week of my trip to Paraguay.

2) A review of Stovall Weems’ Awakening so Blogging for Books will still like me.

3) A review of Leonard Sweet’s I Am A Follower so BookSneeze will still like me.

But seeing as how all three of those are a bit slow in showing up here, in the meantime I leave you instead with my own Juanita and the truth behind the Xena series finale (link contains series spoilers):