Christianity

5 Years Later: In Shadow’s Shadow; 9/11, Neil Gaiman, and me.

Five years ago, I wrote this piece about 9/11 and how it affected me. I think this year it is once again fitting to post as this year saw the release of Starz’s adaptation of Gaiman’s classic.

So without further ado, I give you my blog IN SHADOW’S SHADOW; 9/11, NEIL GAIMAN AND ME.

After the re-posting of this blog, I’ll embed a special video that fits the piece.


In the days before September 11, 2001 my family had much to celebrate. The adoption of my sister was finalized, we attended a wedding of a cousin in Colorado, and got to spend lots of time with family. During that trip I made it a point to make sure we stopped at a bookstore. I have always been kind of a book nut, so no one was surprised on that Sunday afternoon, September 9, when I walked out with two brand new books, an anniversary copy of William Goldman’s The Princess Bride and a newer book that I had recently read a review of called American Gods. I was familiar with the author, Neil Gaiman, but not versed in his writings. This was to be my initial exposure.

On Monday, the 10th, I read Goldman’s book and fell in love with Buttercup and Wesley all over again. The Princess Bride is an American classic that never fails to spark my imagination. I probably watched the movie that evening, although I can’t remember for sure, but that is usually par for the course for me, read a book and if it’s available watch the movie. I know I did some prep work for auditions at Colby Community College the next day. They were doing the play Heaven Can Wait. If you don’t know that story, it’s about a boxer who dies before his time and is sent back into the body of a dying millionaire. He finds love and his world is changed.

I woke up Tuesday morning, September 11, and didn’t turn on the television. I’m a TV junkie, so this was a little weird for me. I didn’t turn on the radio, I didn’t have the internet in my little studio apartment, so there was no doing that. What I did do was pick up American Gods and begin to read.

American Gods is a “desert island” book for me. It’s a book I find challenging and inspiring and a true classic. It tells the story of a man, Shadow, who is released from prison a week early due to his wife’s untimely death. On his trip home, he finds himself being pursued and followed by a strange, older fella named Mr. Wednesday. Mr. Wednesday offers Shadow a job as his bodyguard. With really nothing left to live for, Shadow goes along for the ride. Along the way, while his zombie wife follows him and warns him, he discovers that the world he knew, isn’t what it seems.

American Gods is about the death of one world pushing against the on coming push of a new world. it’s about gods, myth, and magic. It’s about technology and its hold over us today. It’s about change. It’s about being lost in a world that is changing itself around us, reshaping itself, molding itself into something new and scary.

I read this book, all day, never once did my TV click on or did I tune in the radio. This would be betraying Shadow, and Mr. Wednesday, and Mr. Nancy, and Mr. Gaiman. I set, in a complete media blackout, while the world around me changed in a moment.

I went to auditions that night, which had been cancelled, and that’s when I found out, at 7pm CST, I found out what had happened. I, like everyone else, was in shock. Everything made sense now. The leaked words through thin plaster walls, dividing me from my neighbors, that “it looked like something out of Independence Day.” The lack of cars on the streets, the lack of activity anywhere. The fact that the radio station I worked for at that time, was airing the Presidents speech, when they hardly ever did things like that.

I felt like Shadow, lost in the shadows, not knowing what was going on. Lost, confused, shocked. I could take you to one of my “thinking spots” I went to that night. The place my friends Shane, Lacy, and Becca found me at. I can take you to the parking lot where the news was first delivered to me. I could show you the apartment we all went to and watched CNN, and Fox News, and Headline News, and CNBC and every other channel that was airing news. I could take you to the small Baptist church I went to and prayed. And even though I’m not a Baptist, it seemed like the thing to do.

I remember pouring over my Bible, looking for answers that didn’t come easily. Of drawing conclusions that probably weren’t there. The world around me had changed and I was fighting that change. I wanted to stay locked in a small bubble, in Shadow’s shadow, where maybe things weren’t safe but I couldn’t get hurt. Where I was forced to think, but not put thoughts into action.

Good literature forces us to think and to act. A life changing moment causes us to act and to think. For me those two worlds collided as a tower fell in New York City.

How has the world changed in 11 years? We’re a much more global society then we were then. As high speed and wireless internet has been developed along with cheaper, faster, more mobile computers and smartphones, more people are “online”. Information is passed along, thanks to social media sites, as they happen. In 2001, there was no global Facebook or Twitter. There were no smart phones and instant Instagram uploads. No YouTube. No Netflix. That’s life on a global, technological scale. What has happened to YOU personally in the last 11 years?

At the time, Shane, Lacy, and Becca were my best friends. My only friends. The 4 of us were almost inseparable. We went to church together, we went out to eat together, we were always at one another’s houses. We were hungry for a fresh spiritual awakening. And in the years that followed, we did grew up. They all three are married now, to wonderful, godly people. Becca has two beautiful daughters. Lacy quit her long time job and moved to a small town when she got married. Shane just bought a house. I floated from job to job working in various media jobs (radio and newspaper) and hospitality fields (hotel and restaurant). Last year, I lost my job and decided to go back to college. I rediscovered my love of acting and theater. I’ve been privileged to travel over the world. I’ve made new friends and reacquainted myself with some old ones. I’ve had a play published. I’m trying to make this writing/acting thing work for me while I juggle a job and schooling.

In many ways I’m in a similar place to where I was 11 years ago. Then I had just moved back to my home town and made some new friends and sparked an old friendship. Today I’m in a different town with probably as many friends, some new and some old. I didn’t act in Heaven Can Wait in the fall of 2001, I dropped out for personal reasons. I really wanted to do the fall musical here,  Curtains, but I didn’t get cast. That’s life though. In 2001 I was a scared 24 year old kid. Scared, not that terrorists had attacked us, but scared of change and what the meant. Now I’m a 35 year old man, and while I’m still scared of change, and I think we all are, I no longer fight change, I embrace it. And that, I think, would make Shadow proud.


Thanks for taking the time to read that. I know it’s different then what I normally and nominally blog about. But I couldn’t pass up the chance to reblog it.

Now, I’d like to present to you my short monologue, WARNING SHOTS, as performed by Jocelyn Goodwin.

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IN THE SHADOW OF THE CROSS–A New Play coming soon

So I’ve been keeping this kind of quiet until the past couple of days but I have a new play coming out from The Script Co. titled IN THE SHADOW OF THE CROSS.

A little history about this play, while it wasn’t the first play I wrote, it’s for sure an “early work” and one I had kind of trunked for a good long while. I was ready to self publish this but then I got that sweet, sweet email that said “you’ve been accepted.”

So I’m happy to announce that I’ll SOON have another publishing credit on the resume.

I’ve seen the art work for it and it looks AMAZING and I want you to see it to. But to do that, I’m sending you on a virtual treasure hunt of sorts.

I have a plethora of social media accounts and I’ve loaded the cover art on ONE of them, so I’m sending you off to find it. Once one person finds it, likes it and/or shares it, I’ll share it with the rest of  you. Until then…happy hunting…

Social Media Accounts

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I have No Mouth and I Must Scream – A playwright’s response to #Ferguson

One of my favorite writers is the incomparable Harlan Ellison. Harlan once wrote a short story about a fickle “god” (in reality a computer) who manipulated and changed and warped a group of people for it’s own amusement. In the end there was one man who had no mouth and had to scream. Can you think of something so horrible? A need to scream, a warning to shout, anger to release, fear to vocalize and yet you have no mouth.

I am not that man. I have a voice. I am a writer, a wordsmith, an artist, a talespinner and a storyteller. I have a few publishing credits and a few people who follow me on Facebook and Twitter. I have a blog (obviously, you’re reading it now) and a few followers there who may read it (like you). I come form a place and background of some privilege (not as much as some, but more than others.) I have been blessed to travel to parts of the world that some of you never will go, I have stood on a volcano in Guatemala and on a beach in the Philippines. I have seen these countries natural beauty but also the dark side. Children in hospitals crying out and street urchins reaching, begging for a dollar. I’ve seen homes, shacks, that were barely liveable and offered no protection, let alone amenities. I have cried over the things I’ve seen. I can still feel the pull on my shirt of children going “Joe. Joe. Hey Joe, gotta dollar Joe?” 

But I haven’t just seen poverty in foreign countries. I’ve seen it here too. I spent formative summers in high school working on Mississippi Delta, working on homes that should have been demolished, or watching dozens of people living in a house made for a few. 

Some people will say I shouldn’t say anything even if I have a voice. To them I say, “If I don’t speak up who will” or as the famous saying goes “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.” So I will not stay silent, not about Ferguson, not about ISIS, not about arts in schools and arts education or any other subject I feel passionate about. 

There are people out there, in American towns like Ferguson, MO, who until two weeks ago, probably felt they didn’t have a voice. I KNOW that they felt they didn’t have a voice. I’ve heard their stories, people I know who are African-American and have experienced fear that what happened to Michael Brown, might happen to them. Fear, anger, and a lack of a voice lead to violence. When you answer violence WITH violence, the result is simply MORE violence.

When I was a kid, my folks had a gas grill, one day I was told to light the grill. I went outside, turned the gas on to high like I had done hundreds of times before, and went to light the match. Nothing. The wind was blowing and the matches wouldn’t take. I got more matches and finally got one to light the grill. However, I spent so much time messing around with the matches that when i touched the match to the grill, a flame leaped out and toward my face. I was lucky, I singed a few eyebrow hairs that’s all. What I didn’t know is that while I was trying to lit the grill to control the fire, the gas was building up until it “popped”.

That’s what happens when you have no voice. The gas just builds and builds and builds until it explodes.

I don’t have an answer, I wish I did. I pray I had an answer. I wish I could definitively say that if there was greater emphasis on arts in school, in painting, drama, writing, dance, etc, that the voiceless would find their voice. I think it helps. I know it has helped me, but that seems like such a simplistic answer in the face of such racial turmoil.  So maybe we need a little more arts education.

I want to say that if we just talked better, opened up communication and learned from one another these things wouldn’t happen. And that would help, I’m sure of it. I know my personal views on certain issues (not related to race) changed when I met people that believed different than I did. So maybe we need a little more communication.

I don’t know the politics of race that well, but I’m a student of history. I just finished a couple of plays that, at least to me, resonate, in these troubled times. One is about a young girl who moves to Lawrence, KS with her family at the dawn of the Civil War and why they moved there (to stop the tide of slavery). The other is about the most unlikely Civil Rights advocate you can imagine, a “bad guy” professional wrestler named Roscoe “Sputnik” Monroe, who was responsible for the intergration of Memphis, TN in the 50s. Sputnik Monroe’s story particularly struck me. Here was the most unlikely of heroes, an ordinary guy, who saw and injustice and fought for it. He was arrested six times, he was threatened and he threatened to give up his livelihood if there wasn’t intergration and it worked. I dont’ know if this is the full answer, but we could use a few more Sputniks, good men who aren’t afraid use their voice to speak for those that can’t.

You may feel you have no mouth and you must scream, but I assure you, you do, just try.

#Ferguson

Problems to have

I notice this trend right after I have something published or about to be published, my productivity seems to go down. I spend more time on Twitter, Facebook, forums, and groups. I’m sure my publisher loves hearing this LOL I do strive to get something published every year (and so far have been successful, ALLIE was made available in 2012, TOM in 2013 [both from Heartland Play Publishers] and now BASED ON THE… hitting shelves in 2014) and 2013 was a banner year for me production wise (SUNDAY DINNER was performed in NYC, THE WAY OUT WEST GANG RIDES AGAIN was a hit in Meade, KS). But I get into this rut, where I don’t want to blog, I don’t want write, I just want to take a break.

 

But for someone striving to make it as a professional writer, until I hit it big, I don’t know if I can afford to “take a break”. Even my “playwright hero” Neil Simon strived to have a new production every year for a long time. I struggle to crank out some 10-minute plays and a one-act and he was cranking out 3-Act plays. Maybe it was his training with Sid Ceaser that helped?

It’s not like there is no shortage of ideas, right now my mind is awash with ideas. A 10-minute monodrama on Charles Sternberg (an early pioneer in palentology and part of the famed BONE WARS), a 10-minute play on Charles Wilbour (an early Egyptolgist), a 10 minute monodrama on the legendary Pope Joan, a 10-minute LGBTQ monodrama, complete my duet S:he Said (a twist on Little Red Riding Hood with a Rashomon influence), complete my full length The Three Challenges of Puss In Boots, expand The Way Out West Gang from a short one-act (25 mins) to a longer one-act (40 mins), expand my noir thriller 10 Minutes To Live from 20 minutes to 40-60 mins, find homes from some of my other plays, and I saw two opportunities just today for 10-minute Children’s plays. I have no idea what I want to write, how I want to write it or where to go!

Mystery, political, thriller, adventure, fairy tale, true life? 

Lots of ideas and yet…no motivation to write. I guess I just need to buckle down and WRITE and decide what happens, happens.

Never Trust An Angel And Other Plays–A Review

I know that I haven’t been blogging as much lately as I had been. The sumer has been moving along fast and I’ve been struggling to keep up. However I did find time to read a new collection of plays by Crystal Smith-Connelly.

ntaaNever Trust An Angel and Other Plays is the latest anthology of short plays from Crystal Smith-Connelly. Smith-Connelly is a talented playwright whose previous work, For I Am Zeus, I really enjoyed. This collection is a little harder for me to judge because I don’t necessarily fit into her target audience with this one.

This collection of plays reexamines and looks to rediscover the God of the Bible and look at him, his Son, his enemy, and his followers in a humorous light. As a person of faith and a humorist, I was intrigued by this idea. And for the most part it worked. I wasn’t as impressed by the overall work as I was by her previous work, simply because it seems to me at times the character of God comes across as Zeus from her previous work. I would have liked to have seen a little different character development there. However the characters of Jesus and Satan are well defined and make up for God. If the collection had focused more on these characters and less on the God/Zeus hybrid, I think I would have enjoyed this work a lot more and would have given it a higher rating.

Yes the play could be argued as being “sacrilegious” but I believe that God isn’t just the creator of the world, but the creator of comedy and at times, we need to poke a little fun at ourselves. In one short play, Messiah Island, is a great look at two different kinds of people who are competing for the role of Messiah via reality television; the hyper-religious and the doing it for the fame. In my opinion, this is the strongest play out of the bunch because it deals directly with God and his followers, something I would have liked to have seen more from.

Overall, this is a strong work and one I would imagine works very well on the stage, I just wish that Smith-Connelly would have branched out a little more in her characterization of God and made him less Zeus like and Zeus-lite.

Never Trust An Angel And Other Plays is now available for purchase through Amazon as a paper-bound book or a Kindle edition.

For more information on Crystal Smith-Connelly, you can check out her Facebook page or her webpage.