Forward/Story or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love My Inner Critic

Expectations and judgment stifled me for almost three years. After my wife and I had a child, I shifted focus from making art to raising our daughter. It was love beyond belief to care for this beautiful, sweet girl, but the longer I didn’t make art, the easier it was to let fear and rules prevent me from creating.

I listened to the voices: Telling me I’m not allowed to write others’ stories. Telling me I need more formal education to succeed. Telling me success is about money.

These voices weren’t others’. They were in my mind. Not literal voices. I’m not mad. But sometimes, that screaming inner critic felt like it was pushing me to madness.

Long ago, I told someone, “I want to use my powers for good.” These powers are imagination and creativity — voices spinning stories in my head. Fiction disguised as fact. I must share the tales, or they’ll eat me inside out.

Recently, I let it all go at Forward/Story, a storyteller’s retreat/lab in Nosara, Costa Rica organized by Lance Weiler and Christy Dena. It was joy and wonder. It was spiritual. It was a breakthrough. I finally found my soul again. These aren’t hyperbole. I reconnected with my powers.

On the beach, I spoke with another artist who works in a different genre than I, from another country than I, of another race and gender than I. I learned. I grew.

In a creation session with three strangers, we synchronized, bounced ideas, and fashioned a fun experience. Harmony in work. I’d forgotten it exists. I remembered.

Feeling judged. Laser eyes piercing my body and splitting it into a million pieces. Then, I remembered it’s not about me. It’s their hang-ups. The fear isn’t real. It’s a story I’m telling myself.

Jumping off the edge of a cliff and flying through the jungle on a cable the size of my finger inspired freedom. Fears and rules will bound me if I let them. Forward/Story liberated me from rules and shed my fears, which freed me to take flight.

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the music of our city

Last night, I took the F train into Manhattan after being restricted to the borough of Brooklyn for almost a week in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. It was a surreal experience. The city was as quiet as I’d seen it since 9/11. Practically, the only cars on the street were taxi cabs, outnumbering other cars 10 to 1. There was a tension on the trains punctuated by supportive smiles and silent nods from other passengers.

I went to Manhattan to attend a talk, The Public Forum at Joe’s Pub, featuring two of my artistic heroes, solo performer Anna Deavere Smith and David Simon, creator of “The Wire.” They talked about their work processes, the music of speech, and, of course, Sandy. It was great being in a theater for the second time in as many nights, and hearing them speak in a place I consider a home was healing.
David Simon and Anna Deavere Smith

One of the most poignant moments came when Ms. Smith spoke about how tragedies can invigorate creativity. They spur artists to vehemently return to the work because artists make art. She expressed her anticipation of rejuvenated creativity and related it to shopkeepers returning to work after Hurricane Katrina. This is who they were, and if they didn’t open their shops, their lives lost meaning.

The Forum inspired, indeed. Mr. Simon shared how he records actual background conversations for all his productions instead of the traditional “peas and carrots” walla typically taped because it works as a soundtrack – the music of conversation. Ms. Smith insists on word perfect recitation of the interviews she performs because every “like” and “um” represents the soul of that person.

I left Joe’s Pub on cloud nine. After the talk, I was supposed to connect with my wife Christy, who was teaching yoga in the neighborhood, but my phone died and I couldn’t call her. We planned to meet up and ride the subway back to Brooklyn together. Instead, I hopped on the F train at Broadway-Lafayette, resigned to ride home solo. When the train pulled into the Delancey street station, I peered out the train’s window, hoping Christy might be on the platform, since that is where she typically catches it.

Low and behold there she was.

My train car passed Christy, and she didn’t see me in the window. She boarded the train two cars behind me, so I had to walk back to surprise her. At the next stop, I was able to skip to her car and sneak up on her, smiling big, hoping for a hug.

She saw me, and with wide eyes she said, “Were you down there next to the fight?”

Fight? What’s she talking about? Where?

She pointed to the end of the car, and I saw it: Two men – one big, young guy and another, older, homeless man. They yelled at each other. The young guy was pissed because the homeless man was staring at him. The homeless man shouted that he wasn’t looking at the young guy.

They got louder and louder until I said, “Let’s get out of here. Go to the next car.”

Christy hesitated, but the fight escalated, and it seemed punches might fly at any moment. She stood, and we went to the next car, fleeing the fight.

Through the end windows of our new car, we safely watched the young guy, inches from the homeless man’s face, screaming. Finally, as the train pulled into the Jay Street-Metro Tech station, the young guy lifted his arm and slammed it against the homeless man’s face. The homeless man dropped to the ground, and the young guy grabbed his own travel bags, exiting the train onto the platform.

Dazed, the homeless man stood up, scrambling for the young man, but then he realized he was leaving his own bags. He went back for his bags, grabbed them and stumbled onto the platform where I assume they continued fighting. The F train pulled out, and we headed home, both shaken by the experience.

A woman sat across from us. She was eager to recount the altercation blow by blow. How she evacuated the fight car, too. How the young guy had also yelled at her when she sat across from him. She speculated he might be displaced by the storm. He had travel bags. Maybe he was going home. Maybe he was an evacuee, headed to a friends’ place in Brooklyn. Whatever the case, he was disproportionately angry, and the homeless man got the brunt of that rage.

Soon, she spoke about the storm. She’d been volunteering in Red Hook and Coney Island, and the stories she shared were harrowing. She and her friend purchased saris in Jackson Heights and took them to Coney Island because women who wouldn’t leave their homes uncovered for religious reasons had been wearing wet, moldy saris for days. In the Red Hook Housing Projects, there are many elderly residents who didn’t evacuate and won’t leave. There is plenty of support from Red Cross on the ground, but the residents won’t evacuate. One elderly lady’s apartment had wet, moldy carpeting and was infested with rats and raccoons. The woman begged the older lady to let her carry her down 12 flights of stairs, but the older lady wouldn’t abandon her home. The woman told us she must get a hepatitis shot because she’d been wading in waste for two days.

Christy and I arrived at our stop, leaving the woman on the train with faint smiles and weak waves.

“Good luck,” we said.

“You, too,” she replied.

We felt gut punched. It was hard to talk for a few minutes, grappling with the fight we witnessed and the woman’s tale. After a detached week watching devastation on the news, we heard first-hand accounts of what it looks like inside the madness. We saw the affects of madness on men. We tried to make sense of our fortune of living at the highest elevation in Brooklyn, a place barely touched by Sandy’s wrath.

Then, I remembered the conversation of Ms. Smith and Mr. Simon just an hour earlier. As an artist and a writer, it is my job to share these stories. It is my job to reflect the madness of victims and triumph of heroes. It’s important to get back to work. For many, this may not be possible for a while, but it is important to return as soon as we can.

I can return to work now. I can help others with not only my donations and service, but by writing and sharing stories. It doesn’t matter if you sell coffee, teach yoga, work in a skyscraper, or entertain and educate through artistic creation. As soon as you can, get back to what you do best. It adds your unique voice back to a wondrously diverse symphony – the music of our city.

OTHER WAYS YOU CAN HELP NYC RECOVER

The City of New York volunteer registration nyc.gov/service

Park Slope Armory 8th Avenue between 14th and 15th streets in Brooklyn
(Kids cannot volunteer and should stay at home)

Southwest Brooklyn Industrial Development Corporation
402 Van Brunt St, Brooklyn, NY 718-965-3100

Red Hook Initiative 767 Hicks Street Brooklyn, NY 11231
ONLY ACCEPTING PREPARED FOOD

Red Hook Recovers  (347) 770-152 https://redhook.recovers.org

Resurrection Parish (Gerritsen Beach)
2331 Gerritsen Avenue, Brooklyn, NY 11229 (718) 743-7234

The Silver Gull (Breezy Point) 1 Beach 193rd Street, Breezy Point

Far Rockaway St. Francis, 219 Beach 129th Street

Coney Island  Staging area @ 2770 West 5th Street Between Neptune and West Ave.

Staten Island – Tottenville High School 
100 Luten Avenue, Staten Island, NY 10312
nysassembly60@gmail.com

Rebuild Staten Island
https://www.facebook.com/RebuildStatenIsland

biscuit! the super power of touretteshero

About a year ago, my friend Matthew Pountney introduced me to Jessica Thom. Well, he virtually introduced me to her alter ego, Touretteshero. Jessica was born with Tourette’s and does not medicate (aside from muscle relaxants) because of unwelcome side effects. As a result, her tics are frequent – she spouts the word “biscuit” 16,000 times a day – and they strain everyday relationships. When Matthew shared Jessica’s website with me, I was inspired.

Aside from Jessica’s obvious bravery, I’m extremely impressed with her transmedia approach to share her story. She embraces Tourette’s as a super power and uses this narrative to teach children about the syndrome. Thus, Tourretteshero was born. Jessica offers workshops for kids where they can embrace their own super heroes, and she’s got a YouTube page featuring fun videos about her work and causes she supports.

Her website shares interactive art created by Touretteshero fans based on Jessica’s verbal tics. She posts the tics and allows fans to vote for their favorite tics. Fans have created illustrations based on the tics, including some of the hilarious R-rated drawings you can see here.

I’ve got ninety nine problems but a bear ain’t one.

Quirky video art duo chris+keir re-enacted a number of Touretteshero’s tics as performances.

She remixed soundbites into a song featuring actor and comedian Stephen Fry, and, of course, a multi-platform campaign wouldn’t be complete without social media, which you can follow on all the typical channels. My favorite is TicBot – the only bot on Twitter I will endorse – which randomly injects tweeted tics into your feed when you least expect it. Follow @ticbot. Fun stuff.

And now, Jessica is publishing her diaries, Welcome to Biscuitland: A Year in the Life of Touretteshero. You can read some excerpts from the book on The Mail’s website, and pre-order the book on Amazon.

The more I see from Jessica, the more I want to meet her in person. An ocean divides us, but I’ve hope Matthew’s virtual introduction will someday lead to a face to face meeting. Jessica’s creativity, humor and bravery inspires me to not only make good, fun art, but create important work that educates and enlightens.

Tourettshero.com

Welcome to Biscutland: A Year in the Life of Touretteshero

a couple interviews with cindy marie jenkins

A few weeks back, I closed NY_Hearts: LES, the first of my four-part immersive neighborhood love story experiences created on Moveable Feast. During the run, Cindy Marie Jenkins, a storyteller in Los Angeles, interviewed me about the project in her “Beyond the Blurb” series on G+ Hangouts.

Cindy is super fun and very interested in the convergence of digital and physical worlds, specifically in the performing arts. She’s has another series called “Artist Check In” in which she catches up with creators’ ongoing projects. It’s a great perspective on the before and after of a project’s life, and it offers a way for creators to critically reflect and look forward to the next step, which is often the hardest part of making art. We recorded my “Artist Check In” this past Monday.

Thanks to Cindy Marie Jenkins for her time and dedication. Check out her YouTube channel, where she covers everything from arts creation, marketing, fundraising and administration.

ny_hearts: les kickstarter

Creating a new piece of work is challenging. You work endless hours writing, planning, and raising money. The first two tasks are daunting enough, but then you ask people for support — whether you request they pay money to see the project or solicit donations for financing — you ask friends, colleagues and strangers to believe in your work and invest time and money into it.

It’s been a while since I’ve invited people to support my work, but now I’m reaching out again. I’m proud of the creation, and I’m just about ready to share it.

Now, I’m in the final phase. I’ve launched the Kickstarter campaign for my transmedia theatrical project, NY_Hearts: LES, which opens in The Brick Theater’s Game Play Festival in July 2012. I’m partnering with local small businesses to offer an immersive experience in which the audience gets to see, feel, taste and smell the same things the characters did in the story.

Contribute $25 and submit a sentence about someone you love or loved, and I’ll integrate it into the story. You can also get 30% off the regular price if you pledge $40 for limited early donation discount tickets. Once this deal is gone, you can still reserve regular priced tickets through Kickstarter.

Thanks to all who have supported me throughout the years. This is a big new chapter in my career, and I hope you’ll not only contribute now but also come to check out NY_Hearts: LES this summer. After all, the most important part of creating work is sharing it with others.

DONATE ON KICKSTARTER