Closer to LIBERATION (PIN[A/X]Y ACTIVISM IN THEORY AND PRACTICE is now available. Edited by Dr. Amanda Solomon Amorao, DJ Kuttin Kandi, and Jen Soriano, it contains writing about Pin[a/x]y culture, mental health, history, and power. The contributors include scholars, artists, lawyers, and other activists. I’m honored to have “Skinny Wrists,” my short play based on material by Amanda, among the readings. Asian Story Theater produced the play in HALO-HALO: Mixed-Together Stories from San Diego’s Filipino American Community in 2017.
“Skinny Wrists” shows the dance between two sisters, Payat and Taba, as they negotiate society’s beauty standards, their relationship to each other, their status within the family, and their feelings of self-worth. As with some of my other community-based work, the message is: you are not alone.
Hedgebrook is a residency on Whidbey Island in Washington state for women identifying writers. I first stayed there back in 1999. It wasn’t as well-known then, but in the years since it has become a very sought after residency. I’ve been fortunate to return as an alumna in 2016 and again this past March. Some things have changed, such as the prevalence of cell phones and internet access, but the essential elements of time and space to write have remained the same. 6 writers each get a private cottage and chefs prepare nourishing and delicious meals with some homegrown ingredients. The writers choose how to spend their days and nights but gather for dinner around the farmhouse table.
My goal was to finish another draft of my The Old Globe Theatre commissioned play Penumbra in preparation to workshop the script.
Well, I got a little distracted. The day after I arrived was field trip day. We went into nearby Freeland to pick up junk food and any other supplies we needed at the local shopping center. I picked up a 1,000 piece puzzle.
Puzzles are dangerous for obsessive personalities. But it was so pretty. And the theme! “Everything is Made out of Magic” Plus there was a waterfall and I was staying in Waterfall cottage. It became my reward. Write a little, and then I could swivel my chair and work on the puzzle. I stayed up one night to finish it.
It was time for some honesty.
“Thelma, if you can stay up all night to complete this puzzle, you can finish this play.”
Sidenote: Hedgebrook is magical, but it is sustained by the hard work of the staff and the generosity of its supporters. They believe in the importance of women writers, so yeah, I was gonna finish this play.
One of the characters in Penumbra is a Vietnamese adoptee. I brought the book Somewhere Sisters by Erika Hayasaki for my research. Once I started reading it, I knew I had to finish it before I continued writing. Being at Hedgebrook, I had the luxury to take a day to do that. Although it focuses on two women younger than my character, it included a chapter about Operation Babylift, which was part of my character’s timeline. I couldn’t sleep after I read that section.
After I finished the book, I set daily goals for my writing. I pulled oracle cards for inspiration.
In addition to wildlife, I saw writers from my window seat! (Charlene Allen and Sophie Wereley below)
I’ve met some incredible writers at Hedgebrook, during this recent residency and from the past. Some of their books are in the Farmhouse library. We’ve had great conservations as we shared walks and meals, and our relationships continue. (Below: Ashaki Jackson with umbrella; Me, Ashaki, Colwill Brown, Charlene, Sophie–missing Judy Bolton-Fasman)
Ugh! My time at Hedgebrook was coming to an end. I finished my play! On my list of things to do in the time I had left was to ride a bike to Double Bluff Beach and collect wish rocks. Of course, it rains in the Pacific Northwest. You can’t take sunshine for granted. But it was on my list, so I went.
It was ridiculous. I got soaked. But I did get wish rocks to give to my fellow writers and this picture of a dead crab.
I also found a spiral shell, which matches the medallion I bought that says “hope” on the back. I left the shell with a grape hyacinth with the other offerings at the foot of Waterfall cottage.
I spent my last full day packing and getting the cottage ready for its next inhabitant. Sigh…
When I got home, I kept scheming, scamming, trying to figure out how to bring Hedgebrook with me, or at least that feeling of complete creative freedom. Reality has meant spending more time working on grant and fellowship applications proving that I am an artist than actually being one. I’ve picked up a new teaching gig and still have to pick up the teenager from school. I’ve signed up for multiple snack bar shifts, which means slinging nachos. As Colwill wrote in a commiseration text, “To hell with reality!”
Here’s what helps:
I would blast Lizzo in my cottage on the Bluetooth Tribit speaker they provided. I bought a ridiculously expensive Lizzo concert ticket AND that same speaker.
Nature! It brings me back, whether in my garden, pulling weeds, or taking a walk. It works.
I’m always in a rush and always late. Brilliant discovery–don’t do so much!
I’m going to have a couple all day writing marathons. Keep the pressure up, in good company.
Puzzles. Savor them.
Be ridiculous. I didn’t mean to go for a walk in the rain the other day, but I did.
Thank you Hedgebrook for beauty and time and space. May you live forever.
Moxie Theatre held a story and photo contest entitled “How I Fell for Birds” in conjunction with their production of Anna Ouyang Moench’s play Birds of North America. It was a beautiful production that followed a woman and her father over time as they birded in his backyard. I submitted the above photo and story below and won Honorable Mention.
An excerpt from my play-in-progress Never Be Poor will be part of Motions & Emotions Feb. 3-5, 2023 at the New Americans Museum in Liberty Station. Trixi Agiao, AKA The Thoughtful Beast, asked me to collaborate and I leapt at the opportunity. Trixi is producing the event and will be one of my actors.
The mission of Advance Gender Equity in the Arts (AGE) is to advance the power and visibility of artists of marginalized genders, leading with racial justice. In 2022 they launched the Legacy Playwrights Grants program to “increase the representation of BIPOC women and nonbinary playwrights 40+”. I’m proud to have been selected as a finalist. Learn more about the recipients and other finalists here.
I have been a patron of Sarah Greenman’s wonderful Creative Alchemy Cycle since its formal inception. So much of my creativity in the past few years can be traced back to my engagement with the cycle.
I recently had the rich experience of talking with Sarah for her Collaborative Alchemy Podcast. We discussed language, community, heartbreak, joy, and many other topics that touch our hearts, minds, and spirits. You can listen to the conversation here.
Visit Sarah’s website to sign up for her newsletter and to learn more about this wise and impactful multi-disciplinary artist.
My essay, Such Vitality!, is included in the newly published The San Diego Decameron Project Anthology. Along with many of the authors, I will be reading a brief excerpt on Monday, March 21, 2022 at 6:30pm to celebrate the anthology launch. Copies will be available for purchase at the event.
I resisted and resented taking my son to the beach to surf, but the experience has brought me art. The lesson? You can’t escape art? Inspiration will follow you and track you down? Pay attention? I don’t know! I’m still learning.
Register for the event here. Visit The TAG Project here.
And stay tuned for a full- length play inspired by the estuary.
I finally finished this painting of my son riding the waves. In “Such Vitality!“, my essay for The San Diego Decameron Project, I talked about being stuck at the beach while he surfed. I found nature at the mouth of the San Diego River, which led to The TAG Project. My work with Creative Alchemist Sarah Greenman has taught me to go for it–with painting and art. Purple waves? Of course. Pink sky? If you’ve been to O.B. (Ocean Beach) at sunset, you’ve seen it. Sarah splatters her art with dots, a technique I used for my breaking waves. Why not? As I said at the end of my essay, there’s freedom on the waves. As we head into the second year of the COVID-19 pandemic, there’s also fear. What can we do? Ride and keep living.
HONOR ROLL! is an advocacy and action group of women+ playwrights over forty – and our women+ over 40 allies – whose goal is our inclusion in theater. We are the generation excluded at the outset of our careers because of sexism, now overlooked because of ageism. We celebrate diversity in theater and work to eliminate age discrimination as it intersects with sexism and other biases including those based on race, gender identity, ethnicity, faith, socioeconomic status, disability, and sexual orientation in the American Theater and beyond.
Over the past year, with support from The Old Globe Arts Engagement Breaking Bread Program, San Diego AAPI artists working in any field have been gathering, connecting, and imagining. We asked ourselves what we need and what we have to offer. We chose the name United AAPI Artists. We created a vision statement and mission statement–and a logo! We’re ready to “support, grow, and advocate for ourselves and the AAPI community.”
Our website is now public. If you are a San Diego-based AAPI artist, please join us. To all others, we welcome your support and allyship.