Heart Full of Fire

flaming-heart

My heart is full today.

Coming off of my daughters’ completion of a brave and whirlwind school year — followed by a beautiful trip east celebrating my nephew’s graduation.

And back home soon after, enjoying the first moments of summer with pajamas, basketball and videos.

Then seeing the horror today in Orlando. The vicious killing. The families forever torn apart.  Somehow hearing the screams of my martyred Armenian ancestors all over again, like I’ve been hearing them lately from Syria and around the world. And knowing in my bones that no matter what is said by this faction or that, God is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit (Psalm 34:18).

But then on the night following this tragic morning, seeing the Tony Awards, and being reminded of the transforming power of storytelling — of theater, like nothing else — to return our minds and hearts to hope, to truth, to love.

And all this … on the eve of a playwriting deadline I must complete. One of the most important ones I’ll ever have. How do I complete the story now, as I had planned before? With all of this new tumult, both good and horrible? Even with the story remaining intact, what changes now in my approach or mindset?

Tonight I realized: it’s exactly the right time to finish this play. Because my heart is more full of fire now than I can remember, and this play is about a character who stands up for what matters most to him, no matter what the consequence. (More on that in a future post). Countless inspirers surround me, here and in the heavens, so I am more humbled, and more grateful now, for the opportunity to tell this story that means the world to me. I’m more convicted than ever that it needs to be told. And that all our stories of courage, faith and persistence must be told, no matter who tells us otherwise. I can only hope I do this particular one justice.

Onward.

 

 

 

Advertisements

Why the Arts Should Embrace Sports and Sports Should Embrace the Arts

file000619637404    Niña con violin_Naisbeli Alvarado Riera_7

On days like the Super Bowl, as fun as they are — it’s hard for working/struggling artists not to shake their head, at least a little, about the millions, even billions, of dollars worshipfully spent on sports. It’s hard not to think about all the kids who could get music funded in their inner-city school, or who could be inspired by their first museum or play on a school field trip, with such money, if only a portion were directed to different values and priorities.

But at the same time, for someone like me, who grew up with both the arts (playing violin and acting in plays) and sports (playing softball and watching pro baseball), I can’t help but think about how connected they are, and how rich life is when we embrace both.

“Ars Longa, Vita Brevis” (Art is Long, Life is Short)

The arts represent our vision for life here and beyond; our dreams and destiny; our realities and ideals. They accomplish this with stories and songs, images and characters that capture our world and our lives as nothing else can.

But the arts are not just about the actual stories/images/sounds presented; they are about how our own lives relate — the story, painting or symphony helps us think about our own situations, choices and needs differently. They show us another way to deal with things, just when we thought there was no other way.

“Make Each Day Your Masterpiece” – UCLA Basketball Coach John Wooden

Similarly, sports is a performance, with an audience. It’s theater, with its rituals, sights and sounds. It’s often poetry in motion. And at its best, sport is about showing people excellence. Like the arts, sports are never just about sports — they, too, are about the people behind the game: their hearts, minds and characters, their families, illnesses, the challenges they’ve overcome, the way they keep coming back. Sports are about finishing well. And as we watch, we think of our own lives, our own obstacles. A great performance can remind us that we, too, can make it through if we perservere.

Coming Together

At the end of the day, both the arts and sports are about overcoming conflict: both are about man versus antagonistic forces, and how he deals with those forces. How he learns and grows from them, whether there is a victory/happy ending or not. Both take us on a journey where we are eager to find out what happens at the end.

Artists can learn much from the boldness and discipline of professional sportspeople — how hard they work, how they faithfully stick to routines to reach benchmarks of success, how they work within a team and respect their peers and leaders instead of being their own island.

Similarly, athletes and coaches can learn much about themselves and others when they embrace literature, art and music. They can learn how to understand people vastly different from themselves; how to recognize, empathize, and deal with any type of personality or situation; how to encourage a peer with a timeless quote and bring the best out of them — all invaluable assets when you are on a team.

Perhaps that’s also why stories or movies about sports have been so memorable and compelling — because they combine the best of both worlds. John Updike’s essays on Red Sox slugger Ted Williams. Films like Chariots of Fire. Rocky. A League of Their Own. Brian’s Song. Rudy. Name your favorite.

People, ultimately, want to be inspired. They want to see their fellow man/woman at their best, so that they can be reminded of what’s possible for themselves.

Finally, both the arts and sports are about surrendering to something beyond ourselves. Whether we are dedicating ourselves to God, a team, a production, a message, or any big-picture purpose, we are most fully who we were meant to be when we devote ourselves to a purpose larger than our little sphere of life.

The arts and sports both remind us of that.

Onward!

 

What Writing and Parenting Teach Me about God

Being a parent and being a writer have combined to teach me about what I call The Care, The Fair and The Fire – three ideas that God hit me over the head with recently. These ideas have encouraged me to realign how I think of the roles I have.

Continue reading

Write What You Know?

file000349823764

Writers often hear the advice ‘Write What You Know’ – sometimes attributed to Mark Twain. But this certainly is a loaded idea and issue.

Most people misinterpret the adage to mean ‘write only about what we have directly experienced,’ but that can be extremely limiting.

What does it really mean to Write What We Know?

file1271269346067

Continue reading

What We Storytellers Do

Screen shot 2014-07-18 at 11.37.05 PM

“George Banks will be honored.

George Banks will be redeemed.

George Banks and all he stands for will be saved —

Maybe not in life, but in imagination.

Because that’s what we storytellers do:

We restore order with imagination.

We instill hope, again and again and again.”

 

In the memorable film, Saving Mr. Banks, the character of Walt Disney (Tom Hanks) has just shared a series of painful memories to help author P.L. Travers (Emma Thompson) understand that producing a film version of her novel Mary Poppins (borne of her own painful family memories) would be meaningful not only to him, and to audiences everywhere — but also to her.

Walt Disney concludes his moving monologue with the lines above. I had to replay it several times when I first saw it. It is a remarkable moment in the film and a moment that likely resonates with anyone, but particularly with those of us who consider ourselves writers or artists.

Continue reading

Being a Musician vs. Being a Writer

file6971275324796

 

In my freshman year of college a few things happened where I felt I had to decide between being a musician and being a writer.

 

I had gotten to the point in the repertoire as a violinist where I’d either have to become a professional or keep it as a hobby. To take the professional route would require me to spend a dozen or more hours a day in practice and let go of most other time commitments in my life. I had concertized; I had been in orchestras, even toured a bit — but I wasn’t sure it was what I wanted above all else.

 

Alongside my musical studies in those years, I also studied theater, acting and playwriting. It just so happened that in this same period of my freshman year, I had entered a young playwrights festival contest and got word that I was one of the contest winners. The prize was to have my play produced professionally.

 

The process of seeing my play come to life for the first time — working with a director and dramaturg, doing revisions, watching actors audition to play my characters, seeing them bring the roles to life — all of it transformed me. My words, my thoughts, my voice were not only coming out but being affirmed by professional artists and by audiences.

 

file7781250177228

 

As an 18-year old, this took me in a direction I didn’t quite expect. Music was always my main thing; theater was second. But winning that contest and seeing my play performed in front of me that year clarified my decision.

 

I decided to be a writer.

 

Why? For the “glory”? No. There were gloriously satisfying moments as a musician too — performing solo on stage to enthusiastic applause after hours of learning a piece, winning regional or national competitions, touring the country. It required my creativity, my being, poured into the work, just like with writing. I knew that either field would require a lot of un-glorious work, rejection, and persistence, like in any arts field.

 

What was different?

Continue reading

Making a Story Our Own

file0001121336470

 

When you write a story or script that is your own idea, your feeling of ownership is clear and strong. After all, the idea came from you, inside you, deep inside, right?

 

What about when you get an assignment? When an editor, theater or film company commissions you to write about a story they want to develop?

 

How can you get that same sense of ownership, that same primal urge to tell the story, when it was someone else’s idea?

 

Getting paid? Will that do it? No. Being motivated to get paid is not what I mean, even though getting paid for assignments is certainly something that keeps us on our toes.

 

What I mean is: how do we make a story our own?

 

We have to find a core connection and write from that core. We have to find a hook into it from our own life or heart.

Continue reading