While You’re Isolated…

Obviously there’s not a lot to love about our current circumstances. Most of the world is in some form of isolation due to the Corona virus. We’re all in the same, miserable, anxious boat. But I do love that some people have used this as a time to connect creatively, teach others, and share art. I’ve made a list of some people, hashtags, and websites that I feel are providing great resources during this troubling time. Feel free to provide others:

Hashtag Love

  • #SunshineSongs Broadway star Laura Benanti  reached out to kids who were supposed to perform in the school musicals only to have then canceled. She asked them to perform on twitter using the hashtag, and she got a beautiful response.
  • #ArtFromHome The Ayala Museum in the Philippines has started an  #ArtFrom Home Challenge. 15 prompts are posted, every other day, for 30 days. People make
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    ayalamuseum.org

    art according to the prompts and post with the hashtag.

  • #InternationalPoetryCircle Poet Tara Skurtu started this project. Poets from around the world are sending in videos of themselves reading their work, or just their favorite poems. Not only does the thread have some beautiful work, but it’s a great way to discover contemporary poetry.

Children’s Literature

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  • Gene Leun Yang’s book tour for his novel Dragon Hoops was cancelled, so he started “touring as a cartoon” from his Instagram page, where he responds to reader questions in comic strip form.
  • Amy Kaufman is hosting a weekly #kidslitgoesviral twitter party for MG and YA authors whose promotional plans have been upended by the virus.
  • Grace Lin is posting drawing tutorials and readings from her books on herYoutube channel. She started doing this as a way to combat the anti-Asian rhetoric has come up amid the Corona virus fears.
  • Author/illustrator Mo Willems is invites kids to draw with him every day for Lunch Doodles in which he walks viewers through his studio, answers questions, draws creatures and created simple animations for them to try at home.
  • Mac Barnett reads a book aloud every afternoon on Instagram Live.
  • Oliver Jeffers is reading on Instagram Live on weekday afternoons. Afterwards the recordings are available on his website.
  • Jarrett J. Krosoczka, author of the Lunch Lady graphic novels, is hosting daily drawing sessions on his youtube.
  • Peter H. Reynolds’ tour for his most recent book, Be You, was also cancelled. He’s taken to reading aloud from his work on Facebook Live every day.
  • Susan Tan started an Authors Everywhere! Youtube channel. She provides workshops that are supposed to teach aspiring authors as well as give kids an emotional outlet for addressing their fears about the pandemic.

Theatre

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from playbill.com

  • Stars in the House concerts–  Sirius/XM Satellite Radio’s Seth Rudetsky is doing an interview/concert series with Broadway stars via skype benefiting the Actor’s Fund.
  • The Irish Repertory Theatre has launched a digital series called The Show Must Go Online, featuring homemade videos of their actors performing favorite songs, poems and monologues from Irish and Irish American playwrights, poets, and musicians.
  • The National Yiddish Theatre is offering it’s Folksbiene! Live series featuring livestreamed theatre, American Jewish performers, workshops, talkbacks, and other events.
  • The American Conservatory Theatre has cancelled performances of the plays, Gloria and Toni Stone. However, a video of the performance is available to stream.
  • The Show Must Go Online (popular title!) is a weekly Shakespeare reading group covering the plays in the order they were written, as a way for actors and theatre makers to stay connected during unprecedented times. First up is Two Gentlemen of Verona.
  • Mike Lew’s play Teenage Dick at Theatre Wit in Chicago is available for remote viewing.
  • Broadwayworld has launched Living Room Concerts where the stars perform from their living rooms.
  • Broadway Star Elena Shaddow is doing a live concert on IGTV every night at 8PM EST. She takes requests from viewers and accompanies herself on the piano in her living room.

Performing Arts

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Smithsonianmag.com

  • The Metropolitan Opera is offering “Nightly Met Opera Streams” a free series of Live in HD presentations of their past performances.
  • The Vienna State Opera has opened is archives and will broadcast recordings of opera and ballet performances. The performances can be found here, with instructions and information about how to access them here.
  • The Seattle Symphony is sharing live broadcasts of their performances.
  • The 92nd Street Y has recent performances available from pianist Garrick Ohlsson,  and mezzo soprano Fleur Baron.
  • London’s concert hall, Wigmore Hall, has past livestreams available on the website.
  • The Paris Opera is streaming performances online for free. Full performances are available on their website.

Health/Wellness

  • Pandemic Check-In is sort of a pop up podcast that’s really a call in show for people who needs some mental health support. The people at Brooklyn Minds, a psychiatry/psychology center are behind it, alongside the LA Based podcast studio Western Minds.
  • headspace-mindfulness-appHeadspace, a popular meditation app is offering some free meditations that you can listen to any time. The collection, called “weathering the storm” includes meditation, sleep and movement exercises that can help you through a variety of different situations.
  • Outlander star, Sam Heughan,  has created a 30 day social distancing challenge for free as part of his My Peak Challenge program.
  • Planet Fitness is offering a live 6PM “work in” every evening on Facebook, led by personal trainers. You don’t even have to be a member.
  • Core Power Yoga has a collection of free classes available  any time.
  • Studio Three is a Chicago area gym that combines yoga, cycling, and interval training. They’re hosting classes on Instagram Live at several times throughout the day. Workouts are available for playback on the app.
  • Pop Sugar fast tracked the release of their new app Active, and is offering it now for free.

What’s Your Day Job?

I’ve been thinking a lot about the image of the artist/writer/musician living in a cold attic, working by candlelight on a passion project. When I was about twelve this sounded like a pretty good deal to me. Surely I would never sell my soul and spend my days working for *gasp*  money! I was an artist! If no one bought my books I’d just starve to death, after which people would realize that I’d been a genius who wasn’t appreciated in her own time. This seemed like a valid career path to me, until I grew up and realized that I use a computer with internet access for my writing, both of which cost money. For some reason, in my adolescent fantasy I always wrote with a quill pen dipped in ink.

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Enter the Day Job. I’ve had several. In fact I don’t think I’ve ever met a creative person who hasn’t had at least one.  Most have had many, many more than that. I was at a writing workshop a few months ago and we broke into groups where we introduced ourselves and our work. Everyone seemed sort of apologetic about their day jobs, saying sort of quietly “Well, I work in a bank,” and then louder, “but I’m really a poet.” At some point, one person in the group finally pointed this out. Why were we apologizing for wanting to live indoors and eat on a regular basis? We all laughed, but it also made me think. We romanticize the image of the starving artist sacrificing everything for his/her art. If we feel that we can’t live up to this ideal, then we apologize for the day jobs that keep us solvent but take us away from our art for hours on end.

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Photo by rawpixel.com on Pexels.com

In fact, day jobs are often seen as artistic failure. A few months ago, actor Geoffrey Owens was photographed at his day job at Trader Joe’s. Many big name stars leaped to his defense saying that there was no shame in an honest job. #ActorsWithDayJobs started trending. But the sad thing is that while working at Trader Joe’s isn’t shameful in the least, it seemed to define Owens in the public conversation. Owens is an accomplished actor. He graduated from Yale with honors. He has four Broadway credits including two productions of Romeo and Juliet, Macbeth, and As You Like It. He was a series regular on The Cosby Show, and Built to Last with recurring roles on a number of other TV shows and supporting roles in a number of films. He’s the founder and artistic director of the Brooklyn Shakespeare Company and has taught acting and Shakespeare at Columbia, Yale, Pace, and a number of other universities and high schools. He’s also an accomplished theatrical director, and the writer of a one act play called Roman Times.

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Geoffrey Owens source: celebritypictures.wiki

When the Trader Joe’s pictures emerged Owens explained that working there gave him a paycheck when acting jobs were hard to come by and it gave him the flexibility to audition and pursue other things rather than locking him into a 9-5 schedule. That makes sense, and from that perspective it’s a smart move certainly. But why should an artist who has accomplished so much need to worry about a paycheck?

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

It’s because art is a gig economy. People are paid a certain rate for each job, but the jobs are temporary, and flexible. Meaning that if you’re lucky, you can make  enough with each book/show/album/whatever to hold you over until the next. Very few artists are able to command that kind of money.

The first time I was published was in college. A short story I wrote, called “The Girl In the Picture,” was published in the now defunct literary magazine, New Works Review. I was  thrilled that it had been accepted. I didn’t care that I didn’t make a penny on it. Over the years I had short stories published in other magazines, but I didn’t make any money from writing until I several years later when I was paid a flat rate of $50.00 for a nonfiction piece.  I’ve been paid bits here and there for nonfiction writing, but royalties from Beautiful were the first time I’ve ever seen money from fiction. Even then it’s not that much.

In 2015, author Joanne Harris spoke about this issue. Harris is an extremely accomplished author. Her best selling novel Chocolat was made into an Oscar nominated film. Her books are in several genres from fantasy, to psychological thrillers to historical fiction and nonfiction. They have been published in over 50 countries and have won awards in her native Britain as well as internationally.  She published three novels before she was able to retire from her day job (teaching) to write full time. Harris got attention for speaking about the practice of literary festivals not paying for the authors that they engage. “I am not holding out for an excessive fee by any means, because festivals have all kinds of overheads,” Harris says. “But I don’t think it’s unreasonable to ask for a small fee. Not everybody can shell out 400 quid for accommodation, travel and all the rest, and people do deserve to be recompensed for their time. To put it bluntly – you wouldn’t dream of not paying your caterers, so why would you even consider not paying the headline act?” (x)

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Joanne Harris source: wikipedia

Harris has spoken about the issue of money for artists before. In 2014 she spoke about the media coverage of JK Rowling’s fortune giving people unrealistic expectations of  being “showered with money.” She added that writing is “not winning the lottery, it’s a real job, which real people do, and they have the same real problems as other real people.” (x) She believes that people see downloading books (and music, films etc) as “sticking it to the man” thinking that the artists don’t need the money.

I think that part of the solution is artists being honest about not making enough from their art to support themselves. We shouldn’t apologize for our day jobs. I believe that anyone who performs an honest job in order to earn a living deserves our respect. For people who do those jobs for 8 hours  a day and then go home and work at a second job that they may never see a penny for, shouldn’t that go double?

I don’t necessarily think it’s right for artists to need day jobs. I think that getting paid a livable wage for art shouldn’t be as difficult as it is. I don’t know of a solution for that. But I think part of the reason people think it’s OK not to pay for art is because artists misrepresent themselves as not having a day job, as if the need for a day job makes us less artists. It doesn’t. Nor does not wanting to live in a cardboard box make us any less committed to our art.

Are Classics Still Relevant For Young Readers?

The short answer, for me, is a resounding yes.  But this is my blog, so I’m not going to limit myself to a short answer!

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Photo by Anthony on Pexels.com

I participated in a twitter discussion about this question the other day. At the time, the question was specifically around teens and whether they should be encouraged to read classic fiction. But I think that my answer to the question applies to adults and children as well. While I’m sure there are exceptions to this (I suppose you could try to find something so dated that it has no relevant application to today. But why bother with that?) I find that most classics are considered classics because they have an emotional resonance that goes beyond their historical and geographic setting.

51dxbewzuil-_ac_us218_One example used in the discussion was Anne of Green Gables, which, if you’ve been reading this blog for a little while, you’ll know is a favorite of mine. I’ll use it as an example, but what I say is applicable of other books as well. On the surface Anne’s experience doesn’t look like that of most contemporary children or teens. She lives on an island in Canada in the early years of the 20th century. What could that have to say to a contemporary LGBT reader? Or a Latinx teen in 2019? Well, for one thing, she’s a foster child trying to create a home for herself.  That desire for home isn’t limited to foster children. There are plenty of kids who don’t find the acceptance and support that they need in their family homes and seek it elsewhere. Really, what Anne is trying to find is love, acceptance, friendship, and family. Contemporary readers of all backgrounds can cheer her on as she creates that environment for herself and builds the family she seeks.

But surely today’s teens are from diverse backgrounds and experiences. Classics tend to reflect a limited demographic, you might argue. To that, I say absolutely. Historically the voices of certain demographics have been privileged to the exclusion of others. Unfortunately that is still true today to some extent, though there is, thankfully, more of an effort to include diverse voices contemporary literature. That’s one of the reasons that  I don’t think that people should be encouraged to read only classics. I think that it’s important that contemporary fiction reflects and represents our diverse society. I would encourage anyone to read widely from a variety of authors. Some of those authors may come from similar backgrounds to the reader. Others may come from very different backgrounds.

51viyzpfqtl-_ac_us218_I think that reading in this way shows us what is universal. It can allow us to empathize and make connections on that basis. A teen from a marginalized background might think s/he has nothing in common with a character from Little Women or Tom Sawyer or The Secret Garden. But while their experience of the world may be vastly different, chances are they’ve felt loneliness, grief, frustration or the drive to create a better future for themselves.

81j9qbimjjl._ac_ul436_Likewise, someone from a privileged background might think that reading contemporary fiction that highlights marginalized voices and issues of privilege doesn’t offer anything relevant. But again, that’s not true.  Novels like The Hate U Give and The Poet X deal with the African American and Latinx experience respectively. But a white teen might still relate to the way that the heroine of The Poet X, Xiomara, deals with body shaming, parental pressure, and lack of autonomy. A white teen  reader of The Hate U Give might never have felt fear in the presence of police when they know they’ve done nothing wrong. But that same kid might still be able to relate to the pressure that the heroine faces from her family and friends, to her torn loyalties. Those commonalities can create a bridge. If a character that’s different from a reader still rings true the reader can begin to open his/her mind to someone else’s experience.

Sometimes we need to point out those commonalities. But I think that kids see them for themselves more often than we realize. The problem is that often kids and teens are told that certain books aren’t “for” them. Instead of doing that, lets give young readers (or all readers!) the context to enjoy fiction that depicts someone else’s experience. Because we all experience the world differently. But if we can teach empathy we can make that world much better for everyone.

Ink Blotted Beka Blog Tour Interview

INk blotted beka

One of the nice things about being part of the indie writing/blogging scene is finding out about all the amazing work being done by artists of all kinds. Case in point, Beka, who does character portraits and just started a business.

Beka hails from the Great White North (aka Canada), where she reads, dreams, and doodles away. She loves bringing characters from the written page to the visual eye, and dabbles in pencil and coloured pencil and the occasional watercolor. Her dream is to one day get into digital art and save some trees.

You can check out her work on Instagram and Facebook, and commission a work of art. It’s great for writings to be able to literally see their characters in this way. She’s doing a giveaway of a free character portrait here. Beka was kind enough to chat with me a bit about her work:

  1. What made you embrace character portraits as your focus?

 

Over the years, my love of drawing people specifically really grew. I’m not a fan of backgrounds–I rather detest them, actually, though I will do my best when called to. I have other artist friends whose backgrounds are phenomenal. But I enjoy character portraits–expressions, clothing styles, etc. They are fun for me, and I’ve loved seeing how authors react to my interpretations.

 

  1. Do you have any specific goals for your business?

 

Not at the moment, no. I’ve struggled in the past couple of years with confidence; part of my decision to open this business was to give myself some sense of validation. So I would like to strengthen my artistic skills, get better at what I do, meet new author/artist friends, and perhaps make a bit of money along the way 😉

 

  1. What influences your choices to draw a character in a certain way?

 

I try my hardest to fit to details found in the book, but sometimes I like to be a bit wild based on my interpretation of a character. For example, in my portrait of Isabella from WR Gingell’s MASQUE, I gave Isabella red nails, because I imagined she’s the sort of character who might joke that it was the blood of her enemies. I like to take my fan “head canon” sometimes and weave it into the actual description of a character from a book. This is partly for my own enjoyment, partly to see if an author picks up on my own little inside joke. XD Because I’m weird.

WR Gingell Fan Art 3 - Isabella

Isabella character portrait from WR Gringell’s Masque

  1. Is this harder or easier to do if a book doesn’t have a vivid physical description?

 

Much harder! I’ll usually message an author, if I know them personally, to give me an idea of the character’s ethnic background, physical characteristics, etc. if I’m working on drawing their characters.

Please check out Beka’s work and support an emerging artist! What character would you like to see a portrait of?