Farewell in Four Parts

PART ONE: Celebrate

Congratulations! We made it, friends. We made it to December 2020. 

This is the final PL blog post of the year from me. (I’ll get to the concentrated gratitude in another section, but know that a current of gratitude runs throughout this entire post.)

As a New Year hurtles toward us, it’s tempting to look back and consider what we ‘accomplished’ over this past year. December scrolling reveals an internet rife with Best of awards and Year in Review lists. 

I guess that’s what our society does in December?

Are you planning to engage in a Year in Review of your own? 

My spouse and I spend every New Year’s Eve reviewing our previous 12 months and then set goals and intentions for the coming year. (This process involves snacks and champagne and occurs in the window between when the kids go to bed at 8:30pm and we go to bed at 10:30. Yes, we are the life of the party.) 

The goals we set for 2020 have been subverted, reconfigured or just crossed off the list, so I don’t think we’ll spend much time with those tattered aspirations. Instead, we plan to spend a portion of our two hour window celebrating what we achieved despite this year’s challenges and how we navigated the painful mismatch between our expectations and the reality. 

Our New Year’s Eve review has been a tradition for over a decade. It is a celebration of our most recent journey around the sun, and I love it.

Do you have a similar tradition? 

Will you reflect on your 2020 writing process? 

What will you celebrate?

Yes, celebrate.

What will you celebrate with a raised glass, a cheer, a song, a cupcake, or a pat on the back? 

Writer friends, my wish is that you find something to celebrate from your 2020 writing journey, no matter the painful mismatch between your expectations and the reality.

Celebrate, please.

If you wrote one idea on a sticky note that fell behind your fridge, celebrate it. 

If you wrote three books, a screenplay, your memoirs, and ten stage plays, celebrate those. 

If you wrote 15 well-crafted emails to your community list-serv/children’s teachers/doctors/family, then hurrah, celebrate. 

If you composed a to-do list that you never checked off, wrote GOOD MORNING SUNSHINE in lipstick on your bathroom mirror, or spelled out WASH ME through the dirt on your car window, that’s celebration worthy. 

Maybe you dashed off a few private journal entries that no one ever saw. 

Maybe you published 52 blog posts.

Maybe you discovered you are a poet not a novelist and now you write verse. 

Maybe you excelled in the chat box on Zoom.

Maybe you spent most (or all) of 2020 just…thinking. Thinking about writing. Thinking about words. Thinking about life. 

Maybe you spent most (or all) of 2020 just…feeling. A slew of feelings to carry and process and vent and sit with and burn through.

Maybe you spent most (or all) of 2020 just…existing. Growing, stretching, shrinking, breathing, sleeping, moving, dreaming, working, cleaning, watching, consuming. Maybe you tried on a lot of verbs, and none of them were ‘writing.’

That’s great. Good for you. Celebrate.

Whatever you did or did not do this year, let us celebrate the fact that we are here together. 

Let us also acknowledge that the writing process is more than putting words on the paper. 

Writing is a spectrum loop of gathering, processing, researching, considering, reading, resting, thinking, talking, revising, and so on. ‘Writing’ contains a multitude of verbs compressed. 

When I’m in a snit, when I’m feeling unkind to myself, when I’m feeling competitive or lost, I zero in on quantity — How many pages am I piling up? What’s my word count? How many pieces have I actually published/produced/made public? I zoom in tight on the quantity of the attention I’m getting — How many shares, likes, accolades, and paid gigs have I gotten and is that more or less than what I should be getting and more or less than what other people are getting? 

Yes, occasionally I find myself constrained by a very narrow and exacting definition of what it means to write and be a writer, but I’m not going there this year. 

I am NOT going there this New Year’s Eve because I know (and you know too) that writing is more global, more flexible, and all-encompassing than that. Writing is about quality too. Putting the words on the paper is only one element. Publishing is only one element. Sometimes we cannot ‘do’ all the writing. Sometimes we can attempt only a few of the verbs under the writing umbrella. That’s to be expected, and that’s ok.

There are so many of us writers, each with a unique perspective, voice, and file drawer of experiences. We may not share those perspectives, voices, and experiences, but we did share this year. We lived through this year as writers, and today I celebrate us. Cheers!

And most of all, most of all, most of all, let us celebrate the future.

Let us celebrate the writing that WE. WILL. DO.

Tonight, I raise my virtual glass to the writing that the future holds for us. 

We are walking toward it now. 

See, see, see! In the distance! 

Stories/poems/plays/essays are patiently waiting for us to arrive, and take their hands, and bring them home. 

PART TWO: Whether you are or aren’t

Looking for inspiration for when you’re not writing and for when you are writing?

Here’s a harrowing and inspiring piece by playwright Clare Barron: “Not Writing” by Clare Barron on the Playwrights Horizon website. It contains mature language and content, so beware, but if you are NOT writing, then maybe give it a read.

Excerpt: 

“….I pray that we lift up the voices that came before us. That we read our old plays and rediscover what’s there. That we allow for people to emerge at all ages. We allow for people to begin at all ages. To quit, and return again. To take breaks. And to come back to us. And we will welcome them with open arms.” ~ Clare Barron

If you ARE writing plays, then I highly recommend this piece by Ellen Lewis: Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Play by Ellen Lewis on the Howlround website. I love it, and it invigorated my writing, and I wish I had written it!

Inspired by Wallace Steven’s poem “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird,” I began thinking about the various ways I look at a play I’m writing, as I’m writing it. Every lens reveals something different.” ~ Ellen Lewis

PART THREE: Gratitude

Thank you for connecting and for your support and encouragement.

Thank you for reading and listening. 

Thank you for helping us to build a community during a very isolating and isolated year.

Thank you for celebrating writing. Thank you for the writing you have done and the writing you will do.

Thanks  to the City of Raleigh Arts Commission, the Durham Arts Council, Orange County Arts Commission and United Arts Council of Raleigh & Wake County for sponsoring the Piedmont Laureate program, and for supporting me during this strange year. 

PART FOUR: North Carolina magic

This year, I had the honor of conversing with dozens of amazing local writers, administrators and creatives, as well as co-producing short original audio fiction written by eleven NC playwrights. You’ll see some of that goodness below. I look forward to crossing paths with and showcasing more North Carolina artists and writers in the future — there are so many, and we are so lucky to live in this place of abundant creativity.

Please click on the links below to soak up amazing North Carolina wisdom and work.

(Transcripts available upon request, please reach out to artistsoapbox@gmail.com.)

Podcasts featuring NC writers and supporters:

Original Audio Drama:

Blogs:

Thank you sincerely + best wishes + safe travels wherever your writing journey takes you,

Tamara

Collaborative Writing x 2

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Friends,

Have you ever written with other people?

I don’t mean in the same room all quietly chipping away at your individual writing — I mean have you ever collaborated during the creation phase, writer’s room-style where you’re together breaking the story, pitching ideas, fleshing out characters, and debating storylines on a shared project? 

If you have done this, how did it go? What worked, what didn’t? What are the pros and cons? What did you learn about yourself?

If you haven’t written on a team, does that writing process interest you? How do you imagine it would go? What’s your ideal collaborative writing experience?

Under the right circumstances and with the right people for me, creative collaboration is my happiest happy place. 

Last week, I release two podcast episodes about writing collaboratively (specifically writing scripted audio fiction collaboratively). I hope these conversations offer windows into two different collaborative writing processes, including what we learned, and tips for other writers who might want to try that approach.

As you’ll hear in both episodes, there are many important ingredients for successful collaboration, including a clear process and goals, flexibility around story, and a general abundance mentality.

Collaborative writing is not the best option for all projects or for all people. However, when a writing team clicks, projects move with great speed and certainty, and participants maximize their strengths and grow in the areas in which they are less proficient. Also, creating together can be incredibly joyful, inspirational, and just plain fun.

I’ll include the links below if you’d like to listen. I’d love to hear what you think and what your experience has been.

(Transcripts available upon request. Reach out to artistsoapbox@gmail.com)

This is the first of two ASBX episodes about writing scripted audio fiction collaboratively. You’ll hear from the Soapbox Audio Collective Writing Team 1 that includes Juliana Finch, Mara Thomas, Katy Koop, and me, Tamara Kissane.
Together we’re writing Jesus Pancake.

132: Collaborative Writing 1: Jesus Pancake

This is the second of two ASBX episodes about writing scripted audio fiction collaboratively. You’ll hear from the Soapbox Audio Collective Writing Team 2 that includes Allan Maule, Ian Finley and me, Tamara Kissane.
Together we’re writing The Last Glacier Hotel.

133: Collaborative Writing 2: The Last Glacier Hotel

Wishing you all the best, and ever grateful for you,

Tamara

A conversation with Poet Laureate and first Piedmont Laureate, Jaki Shelton Green

Breathe, write and listen to this podcast episode with our North Carolina Poet Laureate, the incredible Jaki Shelton Green. Jaki delivers restorative words, creative encouragement, and spiritual succor. It’s no accident that I released this interview on the Monday of Election Week; consider this a balm for your unease and a motivation to claim your narrative. 

Jaki muses about writing through difficult times, retreating ‘SistaWRITE style’, and her amazing new poetry album The River Speaks of Thirst.

Photo by Sylvia Freeman

Click here to read the transcript of this interview.

Listen via the Artist Soapbox website or via Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher and the usual podcisty-places.

BIO:

Jaki Shelton Green is the first African American and third woman to be appointed as the North Carolina Poet Laureate. When he appointed her in 2018, Governor Cooper stated that “Jaki Shelton Green brings a deep appreciation of our state’s diverse communities to her role as an ambassador of North Carolina literature. Jaki’s appointment is a wonderful new chapter in North Carolina’s rich literary history.”

Her collegiate and professional experiences include currently teaching Documentary Poetry at the Duke University Center for Documentary Studies, Visiting Professor for the Carlow University MFA Program, Lenoir-Rhyne University Writer-in-Residence, Duke University Teaching for Equity Fellow, 2019 Barnard College Africana Studies Department Lewis-Ezekoye Distinguished Lecturer, 2019 UNC Chapel Hill Sonja Stone Memorial Lecturer, Taller Portobelo Artist Colony Portobelo Panama, University of Panama, Department of Cultural Resources for Brazil, University of Wisconsin-La Crosse Distinguished Visiting Writer, North Carolina Turkish Association, Alhambra Cultural Center in Marrakech Morocco, NC Symphony, NC African American Cultural Heritage Commission.

She is the owner of SistaWRITE and co-partner with Dream Yourself Awake and Vertikal Creative Ventures providing writing retreats and travel excursions for women writers in Sedona Arizona, Ocracoke North Carolina, Agadir Morocco, and Tullamore Ireland.

A FEW ADDITIONAL RESOURCES:

INDYWeek: N.C. Poet Laureate Jaki Shelton Green’s “The River Speaks of Thirst” Reclaims Stolen Breath

Buy the album: The River Speaks of Thirst

Watch the video: Oh My Brother

INDYWeek: N.C. Poet Laureate Jaki Shelton Green Mourns George Floyd with “Oh My Brother”

Listen to the podcast: Creativity is Medicine: A Conversation With N.C. Poet Laureate Jaki Shelton Green

NC writers make a Declaration of Love

If you are looking for love, you now have access to 11 original audio varieties constructed by amazing local NC writers, actors, and directors.

The Declaration of Love audio anthology is live and ready for your ears.

Over the last four months, remotely and from our homes, we have written, rehearsed, recorded, and produced The DOL series. That’s 2 producers, 2 directors, 1 sound designer, 11 playwrights, 24 actors, 1 quarantine, and 1 writing prompt – all working together to bring you 11 short audio fiction episodes for free.

We are thrilled to share these with you as a gesture of our love.

I think I speak for everyone involved when I say that it has been a joy to connect with other artists and exercise our creative muscles during this time of isolation and dis-ease.

As I mentioned in the previous blog post, I am consistently buoyed and delighted by the abundance of creativity in our Triangle community.  In 2020, I’d hoped to spread love and joy for local playwrights and the writing process. The Declaration of Love anthology is a project that I undertook as Piedmont Laureate to live out my intention for this year. I hope it does so.

Below you’ll see the marketing blurb and links to each short episode. Scripts are embedded in the show notes if you’d like to see the raw material and/or read along. You’ll see content warnings there as well.

Enjoy, be safe, best well,

Tamara


Love in space, at the seashore, in the backyard.

Love in the future, one hundred years ago, and right this very moment.

Love between family, friends, and lovers.

Broken love, silly love, healing love.

It’s all in here.

The Declaration of Love Project: Eleven original audio pieces written by NC playwrights

Co-producers Aurelia Belfield and Tamara Kissane of Artist Soapbox commissioned eleven NC playwrights to craft short audio scenes based on the prompt “Declaration of Love.”

Though the resulting original pieces span the gamut in style, setting, and content, they all spark our emotions and unleash our imagination through story and sound.

Recorded remotely by local actors, the finished scenes have been lightly sound designed by David Hill, and were released to the public on Oct 27-30, 2020.

LISTEN TO ALL 11 EPISODES (PLUS A BONUS):

The Gifts We Leave: Declaration of Love Episode 1

Game On: Declaration of Love Episode 2

Agape: Declaration of Love Episode 3

Stone Flower: Declaration of Love Episode 4

Love is All I Know: Declaration of Love Episode 5

Open Book: Declaration of Love Episode 6

Dangerous: Declaration of Love Episode 7

Happy Anniversary: Declaration of Love Episode 8

Stretchy Shorts: Declaration of Love Episode 9

Constellation: Declaration of Love Episode 10

Always: Declaration of Love Episode 11

Bonus Episode: A conversation with the producers of the Declaration of Love audio anthology, Aurelia Belfield and Tamara Kissane

The Declaration of Love project: upcoming livestream and podcast series

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In January of this year, a million years ago, I was formally introduced to our community at the State of Arts and Culture in Wake County event.

You can read more about that experience and my Piedmont Laureate Remarks in my first blog post:

2020: we begin with love for writers and writing

Here is a snippet of what I said then:

I applied for the Piedmont Laureate position because I’m in love. In addition to my spouse, I’m in love with North Carolina and our growing region of the world. I’m in love with the people who reside here, including a multitude of creatives, artists, and writers of all genres and mediums. 

I’m in love with writing plays and audio fiction, and what’s more I love encouraging others to experience the soulful benefits, the exquisite struggle, the gentle bliss, the crucible of putting words on a page…and then sharing them…and then hearing them performed by others. Playwriting has transformed my world internally and externally. Experiencing a powerful script — whether it’s powerfully funny, gut-wrenching, or thought-provoking — is one of the greatest joys of my life.

My intention for the year was to amplify love and joy for local playwrights and the writing process. 2020 has proven to be a year of unexpected, formidable and heart-breaking challenges, and yet, I have witnessed pockets of love and joy that sustain me, our creative community, and our work as writers.

One such pocket of love and joy is The Declaration of Love Project: an audio anthology written, performed, and created by over 30 Triangle-area artists. It is a project that I have undertaken as Piedmont Laureate to live out my intention for this year. I hope it does so.

In July, my co-producer Aurelia Belfield and I commissioned eleven NC playwrights to craft short audio scenes based on the prompt “Declaration of Love.”

Recorded remotely by local actors, the finished scenes will be lightly sound designed, and released to the public in podcast form later this year.

If you would like to hear more about Declaration of Love, please join us for the livestream from the Clayton Center on Tuesday, September 29 at 7pm.

Here’s the event link

Aurelia and I will be talking generally about DOL, how it came together and why we think projects like this one are valuable. And, we’ll be showing 6 of the 11 pieces in various forms (mostly unfinished because we don’t want to give it all away before the release!).

Here’s the event link (again!)

If you are available, we’d love for you to tune in on Tuesday and give the project an audience boost.

Featured actors for this event: Aurelia Belfield, Lakeisha Coffey, Thaddaeus Edwards, Sai Graham, Trevor Johnson, Kyma Lassiter, Yolanda Rabun, AhDream Smith.

Featured playwrights for this event: Aurelia Belfield, Lakeisha Coffey, Thaddaeus Edwards, Michael Ivory, Jr, Tamara Kissane, Robin Carmon Marshall.

I’ll be sharing more details about the Declaration of Love in the coming weeks. For now, please share the link, mark your calendars, and get your popcorn ready. (Actually, a quieter snack would be better. 😄)

Sending you love and good writing vibes,

Tamara

Conversations like coffee, again

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Friends, how are you?

It’s beginning to seem like autumn is a distinct possibility even here in the toasty Triangle. Perhaps I might wear those sweaters tucked away in the closet. Perhaps I might not break into a sweat walking to the mailbox at the end of the drive. What do you think? Is pumpkin spice in your future? Fall leaves and frosty breath? All possible?

Seasonal transitions are often a time of reflection for me.

My reflection, to state the obvious, is that this year has been enormously so much.

My own writing practice is ever evolving and changes from day to day. I’m churning out more work, but it’s shorter in length, written for different mediums; it is more collaborative in nature, but often, deeply private solo writing that I will show to no one else but me.

Much of my work in 2020 is new work for a new time in my life when everything seems especially up for grabs and precarious and precious. I’m working with new people in new ways in new roles, and there’s so much unprecedented EVERYTHING in my life. So much that is never-before-experienced.

And, much of my work in 2020 is me revisiting my old writing from years ago – writing that feels ancient from decades past! I scan that old text, asking myself, “Can I mine some treasure from those words or plant them like seeds I’d secretly squirreled away? Will I discover old language that has somehow richly composted in the notebooks under my bed? Maybe I can add to that fertile mess and grow something entirely different?”

What has your work been this year? New and old?

Have you revisited your writing from years before? Do you remember being that person? Do those ‘old’ words still apply and seem relevant to this ‘new’ you?

Today, I’d like to share a blog post that I wrote in March 2014 titled Conversations like Coffee. You’ll see it below. I discovered it recently during a bout of writer’s block.

Six + years ago, my life was very different. Almost unrecognizable in many ways. Like an echo from across the sea. However, although I don’t remember writing this blog post, and don’t remember the specific incidents that I reference, I find that much of what I wrote then, I am experiencing now.

2020 me is experiencing strong conversations, deep listening, and messy human connections just like 2014 me did. All of these experiences are worthwhile and essential for my growth and for our growth as a community. All of these experiences are challenging and nourishing and press on my tender heart too.

So, take a trip back in time with me below. Perhaps my old words will resonate with you now.

Be well and safe. I hope you are holding steady. Write when you can.

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Conversations Like Coffee

March 17, 2014

“Good communication is as stimulating as black coffee and just as hard to sleep after.”

Anne Morrow Lindbergh, Gift from the Sea

My brain got stretched this week, and it was uncomfortable. My head ached. I felt exhausted every night from the extra hard thinking I was doing — from trying to keep up with the conversations, the connections, the leaps of thinking and the much-too-muchness of all people have to offer. Sheesh, people! People and their words! On Thursday night, I cried. Then I mopped my face with a tissue and went straight to bed so I could be well-rested for the more that the next day would bring. More uncomfortable brain-stretching, more conversation, more connections, more much-too-muchness of all people have to offer.

It was a week of deep conversations every single day. Even the conversations that were brief, were taxing for my imagination and my equilibrium:

In conversation with my daughter, I pointed out the rain drops on the car’s windshield, and she explained that “rain drops are made of souls.”

In conversation with a group, a participant suggested that ‘the sky would teach me everything if I really looked at it several times a day.’

In a conversation with friends, we talked about the nets we build and do not build to catch each other when we fall. We talked about the far-reaching life-altering decisions that we make as a result of our connectedness to others.

I had lengthy, far-ranging conversations about illness, legacies, writing, poetry, death, theatre, politics, race, religion, parenting, poverty, libraries, pornography, and life. I made small talk that wasn’t small talk about parodies, calendars, brunches, rock bands, cat food, human food, dreams, real estate, bodies, television, laundry, coloring books, and more, and more, and more. These were conversations face-to-face, over the phone, and via the interwebs — a communications assault on all fronts.

I found myself dropped in conversations that were so unexpected they took my breath away. How did I get here? People surprised me with the size of their hearts, their intellects, their compassion, their blind spots. It was a week full of conversations laced with yearning and unsettledness. It was a week of seeking peace and seeking solutions where there were none. It was a week of reaching out for human connection with laughter and joy, with anger and frustration, with wonder, with confusion, with words, words, and more words…and some tears.

Human beings being human beings.

And I was so grateful. I am so grateful for all of those conversations. I am so eager for more because this was a week that left me vibrating and overwhelmed by the people I encountered. I felt literally impressed — pressed into — by the energy of humanity in a way that made me feel alive and exhausted by the possibilities and the mysteries and the answers on the horizon.

It was a highly caffeinated week.

Even though I love it, it is really scary for me to talk with people. Even though I want to, it’s really scariest for me to have high-wire conversations about the deep stuff of life with all those emotions along for the ride. God forbid I say something stupid or rude and have someone dislike me. God forbid I offend someone. What if someone gets angry? God forbid I have nothing interesting or comforting to say. What if I don’t have an answer when someone is looking to me for an answer? What if this conversation ‘gets out of control’?!

People are messy and the words that we use to communicate with each other can be confusing and frustrating and distracting. Conversations are incredibly inefficient — they take a lot of time. And who has time for anything these days? Sheesh, just send me an email. Sheesh, just get to the point. Just tell me what you want me to do. Many words = many opportunities for misunderstanding. And so much of what we are trying to convey is heart-stuff, laden with emotions and history and hopes that we can barely articulate to ourselves let alone another person.

Talking with people….it’s so much work.

For me, right now I think the work is worth it.

Yes, I think the work is worth it. I’m hanging in there (until I just need a break! until I just need to rest!) thru the hard messy stuff to keep talking. I want to. What do you think?

Real conversations — sincere attempts at connection and a commitment to vulnerability and understanding — we gotta have them to grow as individuals and as a community. Conversations build the (metaphorical) nets and bridges that we need to hold our society together. Conversations lead to commitments and actions that make change. Conversations light a fire under our butts, and help us re-examine our assumptions about responsibility and preconceived ideas of what other people think. Conversations tear down walls, and expose shoddy arguments and lies. Conversations reinforce connection and the idea that we live together on this planet. Of course, conversations lead to great art too.

I am grateful for the talking-talking-talking that makes my head hurt and keeps me awake at night like strong coffee. I am grateful for the seekers and bridge-builders who move thru my life with the curiosity and openness and respect that make these conversations possible. They drop keys/clues/crumbs into my lap that open ideas and connections I wouldn’t have access to otherwise. This is one way I learn about the world.

I am grateful that people allow me to speak and that they allow me to listen. (Yeah, cuz the listening is as important as the talking.)

Let’s keep talking. Let’s keep listening.

Let’s keep hanging in there, even we when need to pass the tissues all around, even when we question whether we should have had that fourth cup of coffee-like conversation.