With Chanukah and American Thanksgiving just around the corner, and festivals of light and Christmas not far behind, some of my friends are at a loss as to what kinds of presents to give or how to connect with their family, friends or communities across the miles. I was mentally masticating on this conundrum as I picked up a wonderful anthology I am reading, Murder for Christmas.Then it struck me like a frying pan to the face—WHAT A GREAT PROJECT TO DO! This being an arts-in-ed blog, I am hoping none of my readers freak out, but instead read on to my three simple, fun, easy ways of celebrating whatever you celebrate with people you care about. AND these suggestions have a base cost of ZERO; what you spend on folks is your time.

 

  1. Write a group story.

    Choose a holiday or holiday theme (lighting candles or sledding, for example).

    Choose a character (or a few) that is a source of fun or remembrance for the group. Garden gnomes, my grandmother, and dogs are always great story centerpieces in my family. Think of an event or story that is true, and let your mind wander about mischievously to alter it a bit. Write a short paragraph that has a cliff-hanger and some implied action. Next is the tricky bit, and should be adjusted based on to whom you are reaching out, because you want people to participate in a way that is comfortable for them, and you want it to feel easy—and sometimes these two things require opposite kinds of organization. My suggestion is send out on the email waves your idea,your paragraph and a list of dates for people to choose (so that the story will have a linear path). For example, maybe have it set up for the 8 days of Chanukah or every-other day leading up to Christmas Eve. Then send out the final version to everyone, or record yourself reading it and send that out, or have a video hangout and share it together! Cost: NOTHING. If you need public access to a computer, this kind of usage is free at most libraries, and it is simple to do.
  2. Create a Holiday-Themed Crime Scene.

You know I create interactive mysteries for events and for homes, and yes that is hard to do. BUT this idea is much simpler and can involve everyone, and is terrific for children. In a nutshell, there are those creating the crime scene, and those who will be detectives. For example, maybe the grown ups are creating it and the kids will be the detectives. Side note: more than one household can have the same group-created crime happen! The Crime Creators choose a theme, then a crime (something is missing ((Stolen? Lost? Transmuted? Etc)), someone has been kidnapped, some place has messily searched), then decide the ‘who’ and the ‘ why’–again, family jokes or themes or stories work best. Set the stage and voila! Help solve the crime and make sure sweets and treats are there for rewards. Making these choices as a group– maybe even different people get to have final say for different aspects– makes it all the more fun. Then on the day of the event, perhaps there is a phone call or an email clue that helps solve the mystery. Video tape the same mystery playing out in different homes, and share that, or just talk on the phone afterwards and be sure to have the kids swap solving stories. A terrific advantage to these is that there isn’t any real writing involved. Cost: can be as low as zero—just use what you have!

3. Make your own anthology of remembrances.

Many of us have had a family or group member collect photos which are then made into a little book (digitally or physically) for a holiday. This idea is similar, and has the advantage of everyone being able to do their part –or not– without very much structure. The point person (you) chooses a person or theme. Keep it narrow, because people do better with some specifics to spark their memories and with some structures to build on. Put out a call or email blast, include a deadline and your own example, and collect the mini-stories and memories as they come rolling back in. For example, I might ask people to share a memory of a time we were all together, including my Texas family. Or, I might suggest that each story have a pet in it, or involve my grandmother. Once you receive the stories, organize them into an arc, maybe add a photo or two (in the word doc or on paper), and voila! A lovely group gift that will be a surprise for everyone in the group. If it is all digital, the cost is ZERO and this project can easily be done at any library. Or use something shutterfly, vistaprint, snapfish et cetera to make an inexpensive lovely ‘book’ with more pictures.

It’s that time of year again when ghouls and goblins populate the fronts of houses and the piles of candy at the store and children get excited about ‘what to be’. Some of my friends and colleagues be’moan’ the hype, commercialism and calories. I personally LOVE Hallowe’en (I’m a theatre person, remember, with an active inner child), but this blog is dedicated to those who don’t. This blog is for those who want to do something somehow connected to some aspect of Hallowe’en-ness, but but at all related to consuming. Here are my recommendations.

Bat Detective.

No Vampires, but way too many Bat Calls from Romania (!!!) for scientists to go through, so they are asking for help sorting and categorizing various sound files. Your/your family’s help helps with conservation and migration research. It’s free, easy for anyone (including children) to do, and the tutorial is quick and very helpful. Find it here.

This project (and others) are on a fantastic citizen-science website called “Zooniverse”. Check it out—if bats aren’t your thing, join a space project, or help climate scientists by combing through old shiplogs for weather reports, or identify animals caught on camera in the Serengeti…or even help go through medical slides identifying cancers.

Branding Lessons from the Undead 

Can’t get away from work, but want to ‘get in the spirit’? No bones about it, there are a number of business blogs that are rocking the Hallowe’en vibe to do business as unusual so to speak. My husband alerted me to these two terrific articles that mix business with pleasure; click here for “Branding Lessons for the Undead”, and here for “Putting the Horror into Horror Writing”. I thought the article about branding was particularly brilliant.

Do you work with elderly folks, folks in a recovery or care facility, or a community center? Or with kids?

What an excellent opportunity to celebrate personal and local history! Folklore isn’t just about the lore, it is also about the folk, and EVERYONE has stories about autumn events. Whether your great-grandfather fell off the thresher, or your (or your dad’s) childhood friend swore a ghost lived in the attic and the scarecrow was alive, or you had a tomato fight, this time of year provides lots of fodder that can prime the pump of rich, delicious memories. If your clients are mobile, make a circle and record the tall tales and make a CD of them for later pleasure or for their visitors. Serve s’mores and hot cider, and ask questions about corn and barns and cats and running in the darkness. Notice aloud the themes that crop up, and maybe read from collections of local tall tales….

I personally am using one such collection, “I Always Tell the Truth (even if I have to lie to do it!)” a collection of tales from Adirondack lumberjacks in an upcoming course. Great Stuff!

If your clients aren’t mobile, having a little paper or online questionnaire to help prompt the stories, and create a printed collection, again noting cultural, historical, or geographic themes. Kids can make a picture book of a story from an older family member or friend!

Things to Watch or Listen To:

Instead of doing the most commercial thing, reach back in time and listen to, watch, or broadcast some oldies but goodies. 

My movie recommendations: “Abbott and Costello Meet the Mummy” and “Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein” are good for anybody, any age, any background, even people who hate Hallowe’en. Make popcorn and get ready for the oldest cheesiest gags in the book in these delightful homages to the horror greats (which star the likes of Bela Lugosi and Lon Chaney Jr, by the way). Orson Welles’ “War of the Worlds” is a terrific listen—and there are lots of short adaptations if you/your group/your family want to do it yourselves!

Haunted History Tours

Every town has history, and not all of it is pretty. Luckily the gruesome and

gross are often very interesting! Go on a haunted tour or make your own map of murders in your town. Why not? Learn about the architecture of the homes of your city’s local criminals of 50 or more years ago. Remember—the older the event, the more fun and creepy it is to think
about. Don’t pick anything too recent—social and emotional wounds may still be too fresh. Generally, anything during or before WWII is best. And frankly, as someone who has done official haunted tours, people love realizing that some nice old lady in the late 1800s poisoned her daughters … slowly… with arsenic….in this house….. (or was hanged…right here, where the old gallows stood)!

In a nutshell, find a way to embrace the season even if you need to push away certain aspects or values of it. There’s always way to have fun, do good work, connect to history and community, and get your work done!

Booo!! Hisss! You must pay the rent!

I admit I LOVE melodrama, the true stuff, the new stuff, and the mustachioed tongue-in-cheek stuff. That being said, I weep copious tears, gnash my teeth and rend my garments when folks use ‘melodrama’ in solely disparaging ways. In truth, melodrama grew from a dance hall, peoples’ cheap entertainment (thrills, chills, and crazy love stories!) into a means to forward a progressive a social agenda and large-scale cultural and system reform.

WHHHHAAAAAT?!?!?! NO!!!

Yes, my friends, yes.

In Victorian England, if you were poor, ‘ill-figured’, dark, ugly, ‘uncivilized’ on the outside, that was because that’s who you were on the inside. You were made that way by God, because you deserved it. If you were enslaved or in servitude, it is because you were meant to be, and if you were a ‘fallen woman’, you were as the fallen angel and should be cast out to hell, where you belonged. Towards the end of the 19th century, the rise of the Industrial Revolution exacerbated the existing poverty and disparities, in addition to creating new ways for the rich and powerful to use ‘disposable’ people for personal gain.

How to create large scale awareness and promote change?

Hello, melodrama!

It is here that we see, for the first time, suave, smooth, rich, handsome VILLAINS. Men of society and culture, who, in a private moment on stage, reveal a purely evil heart with no sense of honor or compassion. We meet ill-figured, ill-fated common folk with a heart of gold, women forced to steal or ‘give themselves away’ to save their children, street urchins who do a kindness and come through in the moment of truth, and even people whose souls are ‘lost’ committing an act (an often dramatic, final act, or course) of love or valour. Inevitably the villains are mill or mine owners, land grabbers, railroad tycoons, et cetera, and the inhumane practices in their acquisitions, mines, mills, and so on, are revealed. By the early 1900s, there were even—GASP!– FEMALE HEROES!!!!!!!! Women who saved the day and the play, after being downtrodden, who faced down the rich, scheming, handsome male villains! Holy cannoli, right?

Of course, the ‘regular folks’ loved these plays and were emboldened by them. The plays themselves mark a growing rise in ‘regular joe’ action. But wait! There’s more!

By this time, even people (mostly women) of the upper classes might also watch plays of melodramatic style. Such plays fueled the rise in women of the upper classes working to address hardships women and children of the lower classes had to face.

Cool, huh?

Sure, melodrama came from a time of heightened performance styles (often called ‘the realism of our dreams’), stark right and wrong, and plots drawn in black, white, and red (yes, like a comic book or certain graphic novels, a lovely and telling legacy), and tying Sweet Polly to the tracks seems outrageous and ridiculous…… but they are nonetheless an important part of rising social awareness and action. And HEAPS of fun!

This week is short and sweet.

I have just come from a delightful evening that borrowed from Jasper Fforde, Ian Fleming, and a host of Computer Forensics,

In many ways, it’s almost a guilty pleasure, something that is so much fun and light that it seems like it must have no deep or intrinsic value, even though people are compelled to reach, think, interact.

But then, I thought of the words of the great Shaun Tan, author of some of the most compelling, lovely, powerful books I know (my favorites are The Red Tree, The Lost Thing, and The Arrival). “For me, that’s what creativity is – it’s about exploring inwards, examining your existing presumptions, squinting at the archive of experience from new angles, and hoping for some sort of revelation..” -Shaun Tan

Not everything has value that is measured by its intensity, its shock of hurt and awe. Sometimes our capacity is expanded by something completely new, a radical paradigm shift of experience, relationship parameters and modality of interaction that if it weren’t so fun would be terrifying. Sometimes, delight is what puts wings on our feet, and sends us further than we could have jumped in sorrow or fear. Sometimes, revelation is soft or sweet, or funny and delicious, or even playful and wondrous.

And sometimes, that’s enough.  😉