Barnstorm Dance Festival


Time Flies Like the Wind

Fruit flies like bananas.

An old joke, but one that makes me laugh each time.

But, dang, it's July. What happened to the first half of 2018? I guess I lived every day of it, but it feels like I must have skipped a few weeks somewhere.

It's an aging thing. Everyone talks about that, how must faster time passes as we get older. There's really nothing to do about it, but be grateful for another day, however fast it goes buy.


That exclamation point might make you think that it means something it doesn't. It does not mean the days are lazy, relaxed, full of daydreaming.

No, I work in higher ed, and summer can be a Very Busy Time. The campus has days of feeling like a ghost town, sure, but there's a lot of behind-the-scenes wheels spinning. In my particular job, we're just finishing up Spring semester business, even as we juggle the multiple summer sessions, and then there's the ramping up for the next school year. So, no, summer no longer means slowing down.

But today, I stepped out of the building on my lunch hour and was met with the delicious heat of summer. Other people complain about it, but I love it. The university where I work sits between two bayous meeting, which means there is just a touch of wildness not too far from where I sit at a computer, and you can smell it. Walking along the recently completed bike trail along the bayou, I can smell the pungent wildflowers and grasses there. There are insects humming and buzzing. There are birds of many sizes to watch. If you're patient, you might see a flash of silver jump out of the water. It's more humid than where I grew up, but the sensations aren't too very different. If I've never seen two-inch wide cracks in the ground in Houston, the sprawl of the city allows for patches of wild for me to feel like I'm not too far from home.

Not that I don't appreciate air conditioning. I like stepping out int the heat and even sitting in it for a while, but I'd be lying if I said I wished I did manual labor outdoors. I might wish I had time to spend more time outdoors, but at night, when Houston doesn't really cool down all that much, I'm grateful that I get to sleep a/c.

I feel soft admitting it, but there it is.

What I'm Working On

The work on the novella goes on, but late last week I decided to take break from it. I turned to a short story that I had sitting in a notebook and have typed it up. I finished the first draft maybe two years ago, but I didn't have much confidence it in and ignored it all this time. While typing it up, I found things that I really like about it, now. It needs work, as all first drafts do, and some fact checking, but I think I might have something publishable here. Not that I'm always the best judge of that.

It is the most sexually explicit piece I've ever written, though. I don't think it crosses over into porn and while some of it is maybe erotic, it's more of a character study, to which my writing tends to gravitate. As I work on it, I'm aware of how different my short stories are, even if they rehash themes. This story wouldn't really fit into a collection of my short stories, because of teh sexual content. It makes wonder if I should be more intentional with my short story writing (which, honestly, I haven'd done all that much of lately) and write with an eye toward a collection. Poets do that with poems, I think. Or some do. Maybe I need to look at what storis I've published, see if there are enough farm stories to concentrate on doing a few more to make a collection. But this current story certainly doesn't fit in most of my other stories. I just don't usually have this sexual of an imagination.

I'm reminded of an old saying about the difference between erotica and porn. Erotica focuses on the sensations, porn gives measurements. I don't think story fits either category very well, but there are no measurements, so make of that what you will.

I suppose I should also mention that I'm going to perform a revised version of my short performance piece, "broken/heart/ache" at the Houston Fringe Festival in September. I'll say more about that as we get closer, but for now, it's also on the stove top, if not on the front burner.

Oh, and I may as well mention the short essay that got a rejection letter this week. I'm making some very minor revisions on it and expect to have it to another market before the weekend is over.

What I've Been Watching

Since I've last posted, I've seen a few things of note.

The first thing I'd talk about is the Barnstorm Dance Festival, sponsored by Dance Source Houston. The two weekends of dance by local and Texas companies and choreographers is almost always a treat, but I thought this year was especially strong.  I don't think there was a weak entry in the three programs, but feel compelled to mention Sal Maktoub, who did this colorful, surprising dervish dance that had my slack-jawed and delighted from the minute he stepped out in his florescent painted garb to the minute he took his bows. It's hard to describe beyond what I've said already. It was just simply incarnated delight.

I also attended this year's Fade to Black Festival, a program of short plays by Black playwrights, my first year to do so. This year, it was James West, III, who got me out to it---I directed James in two shows in the lat year---and he turned in his usual fine work in two very different plays. He first appeared as a father showing up too many years later to reconcile with is gay son and then in a Civil Rights Era drama as a pastor pressured by a white clergyman to give up his activism. The second play, "Before the Fire" by TJ Young, packed a lot of emotion into it's 10 minutes or so and felt all to relevant to current events.

Another play that is staying with me was called "Tobacco Fields" by Yunina Barbour-Payne. It's ambitious little play that takes place in, suitably enough, a tobacco field in an undefined time---post-slavery, I'd say but probably before the Civil Rights Era. A young girl daydreams about escaping the fields and imagines a "city woman" who will come and take her away from them. There is much said without words and there's a hint of magical realism in the script. It's the piece i wish I could see again because I feel like it had layers i didn't get the first time.

I also took in the Company OnStage's production of Hay Fever by Noel Coward. A strong cast brings to life this comedy of an ill-mannered family and their weekend guests to their country home. As of this writing, it runs one more weekend after this one. It's cleverly stqged and quite the fun evening in the theater.

Random Memory #3

Returning to the summer theme . . .

Part of summers on the farm was was the maize (or sorghum) harvest. It was dusty, itchy business. Daddy would pull the combine through the fields, cutting and shaking the red, pellet grain from the dry stalks. My brother and I would run the pickup into the field when he stopped with a full load. The built-in auger are the combine would pull the maize from the combine's bin and pour it into the bed of the pickup (itchy dust flying) and then we'd take the pickup to the barn, back it up to the large windows on the barn, where we'd use a free standing auger to unload the pickup. The end that pulled the grain up rested on the ground until we backed the pickup to the wind---I'd have to lift that end for my brother to back the truck under it. The other end was inside the barn, of course, suspended from a rafter to deposit the maize in the room we called a crib. Once the grain was in the barn, we'd have to go wading into it---did I mention it was itchy business?---and shovel the grain around. We had a metal rod, about 5 or 6 feet in length, that we stuck into the deepest part of the grain, and we had to pull it out and feel it, to see if the grain was getting hot. If the grain was still a little green or otherwise had moisture in it, it could heat up in the barn and there was danger of combustion. If the rod was warm, we for sure had to move the grain around to cool it off.

Summers were a time for me to get lost in comic books, even more so than the rest of the year. In those days, there was an annual story in Justice League of America where the Golden Age predecessor team, the Justice Society of America (now said to exist on Earth Two), would team up with the more familiar heroes (of Earth One). The stories almost always had the word "crisis" in them. I loved them. So many heroes in one story!

My comic book imagination would intersect with the work of maize combining. I don't remember all the details---or maybe I never worked them all out---but i had a story where the Justice League of America track some villain to our farm. Because they were so far from their usual circumstances, they felt free to get out of costume and use assumed names as they pitched in and helped with the maize harvest. Of course, I become the one to find the villain first. While I'm in the barn, moving the maize around, moving that iron bar around the pile of grain, I hit something hiding in the grain---the villain wearing something like scuba gear with oxygen tanks to hide under the grain until night time, when he could risk leaving the farm. Of course, I pretend like I didn't notice that I hit something, but, clever lad that I was, instinctively knew what it was. I alerted my heroes and after a brief fight, subdue the villain.

I always envied the big cities in the comics, where all the heroes lived. I wanted superheroes in the country. My first published novella, Hidden Gifts, reflects that envy and desire.