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Productivity

February 11, 2013

As I mentioned, I’ve been busy with things other than writing since 2012.  I wanted to report that I have some results you can all visit online.

One word of warning.  You’ll find work attributed to Douglas Walker rather than Craig Stevenson.  Well, one of us is an alias.  If you don’t know which one, I’m not telling.

The first is the Mass Setting I wrote.  It’s online at ChristTheKingMass.com.  I’m planning to upload the sheet music as PDF files that other musicians can download if they would like.  I’ll get there at some point.

The other project is at HewToons.com.  In a previous post, I mentioned my inability to simply have a hobby.  Every time I try a hobby I transmute it into an attempt to start a second career.  So I’m at it again, this time with a comic strip.  As with most things in life, one doesn’t realize how difficult something is until one tries it.  It seems relatively simple to outline a few frames, write some jokes and draw some simple people.  Only after I started into the project did I discover the billions of nuances that come with the territory.

Please feel free to enjoy some of my non-Rubicon efforts, if you like.  I appreciate your interest and time.

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Seven Sentence Reviews: Les Misérables, The Movie Musical

February 10, 2013

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Number of times I saw it in the movie theater: 3

Number of times I have seen the stage show: 10

Number of times I’ve read the unabridged novel: 1

The translation of Les Misérables the musical from stage to screen retained roughly seventy percent of the theatrical material and made tweaks and additions to bring the film closer to the novel. The film clearly intended to inspire tears rather than goosebumps and was a complete success on that front.

Ann Hathaway’s honest and vulnerable performance of I Dreamed a Dream is the best chance the film has of becoming iconic in either live theater or cinematic realms. The film had many highlights, including A Heart Full of Love (which I traditionally disdain), Empty Chairs at Empty Tables, and an unsung but tear-jerking moment between the rigid policeman Javert and street urchin Gavroche.

Among the singing talents on display, Russel Crowe’s was the furthest off the mark—so much so that Javert’s impact on the plot seemed diminished, despite revamped and riveting orchestrations behind his signature song, Stars.

I saw Les Misérables in the movie theater three times because I wanted to remember it on the big screen and hear it in surround sound. I didn’t go see it four times because frequent close up shots and understated singing provoked an offhanded, but ultimately damning remark: the film does not beg to be seen in a movie theater—a television will capture its scope just as well.

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What I Did on Summer Vacation

September 3, 2012

I’ve been on a hiatus, obviously.

I’m still crossing my Rubicon.  I’ve just been writing other things lately.

I was informally commissioned last year to compose a Mass for my parish.  If you’re not Catholic (i.e. headed for hell) “composing a Mass” means that I set some of the weekly Mass prayers to music.  Theoretically, that music coordinates together as a suite.

I enjoy composing music—creating new melodies and playing them with ad libbed accompaniment for myself.  I’ll play in a stream of consciousness, or toy around with melodies or harmonies I’ve already written.  Adding constraints to the process—existing lyrics that must be incorporated or limits on singable ranges—somehow paradoxically makes the process easier for me.  An English writing analogy might be limiting a post to one hundred words, or writing a short story without using the letter “T.”  I’m more engaged when solving a complex problem than I am writing with no constraints at all.

Notating music, on the other hand, is a royal pain in the patooty.  I’m glad I was writing Rubicon before I started notating my Mass.  Blog posting has made me practice editing, adjusting layouts and polishing my output for public consumption.  In writing, the author strives to lead the reader to an idea through words, punctuation and paragraphs.  In music notation, the composer attempts to recreate his performance through another performer by handing him or her a sheet of paper.  Music notation, for me, has a lot more room for error than just writing words.  As an amateur hack musician, I don’t know exactly what I’ve written until I play it.  And I often don’t play what I’ve written, I play what’s in my head.

So I’ve been writing, rewriting, printing drafts and red-lining all summer long.  The project is almost complete.  My blog photographer Michelle Codarmaz-Booth created a fantastic cover for me.  When the Mass is finished, I plan to offer it for free online.  I’ve tried sending music to publishers before.  My submissions had no result, other than pummeling my frail ego. Like most industries—writing, art, engineering, etc.—music publishing is not about talent or ability. It’s about who you know and nearly limitless perseverance.

When the Mass is finished, I’m still going to be busy in musician mode. I’m playing for a cousin’s wedding in October.  I generally play weddings for our family.  I’m very opinionated about it.  But that’s another blog post.  After that I have yet another mixed media project that will limit my blogging output.

So, although I’m not producing many blog posts, I should have some nearly tangible alternatives to show you soon.

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Thinkering

September 3, 2012

Thinkering

verb (present participle of thinker)

1. To mull over, obsess over and otherwise daydream about [an idea], while (a) making changes, additions, adaptations, etc. to the idea and (b) never making any concrete or retrievable record of the object of one’s thinkering.

Example: I’ve been thinkering about a new landscape plan for my front yard.

Coined by Craig Stevenson, 2012, with Cecilia Audubon as his witness.

I wanted to claim this word before anyone else tries to.  It’s going to become all the rage.  Then it will get overused.  Beauty pageant contestants, most notably, will substitute it improperly in place of “thinking” or “tinkering” and English lexicographers will have something else causing them to pull their hair out.

“Thinkering” is basically tinkering with an idea.  It’s something more than a daydream—the idea is changing and developing.  One forms plans about how one might accomplish the idea in reality.  But it has yet to reach any form of reality—it’s not on a to-do list, it hasn’t been written on a piece of paper or typed into a computer.  Once the idea starts to be documented, then one is no longer thinkering—one is thinking.

I was talking with Cec and intended to say, “I’ve been tinkering with an idea.”  But the word came out “thinkering” instead.  And there you have it.

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Seven Sentence Reviews: Les Misérables, 25th Anniversary Production

April 15, 2012

+++½

National Tour, Indianapolis, April 10, 2011

Previous productions I’ve seen: 9

The 25th Anniversary Production of Les Misérables is truly a revival—with reinvented sets, costumes and staging.  Galloping tempos and liberal editing (mostly verses and lines that casual Les Mis audiences won’t notice) cut the original running time by 40 minutes.

Some good changes included a hand-grab (one certainly can’t call it a shake) that leads Javert to remember Valjean, new antics for the Thenardiers, and a dynamic and versatile stage with projected backdrops inspired by Victor Hugo’s paintings.

Bad changes were the relocation Gavroche’s climactic barricade scene off-stage (?!?) due to the new set, an absence of chairs and tables during Empty Chairs at Empty Tables and an awkward exit for the pivotal silver candlesticks during the finalé.

The rapid-fire tempos bothered me in two particular instances—the instrumental reprise of Bring Him Home with Stars after the barricades fell and the finalé reprise of Do You Hear the People Sing—both felt entirely too rushed.  But the heart of Les Misérables, the characters’ intimate solos, remained largely intact.

Ultimately, I’m glad Les Mis has been revived and reinvigorated for a new generation to enact and enjoy, but I’m not glad to see and hear 40 minutes less of my favorite musical.

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More Hope Than We Can Handle

April 7, 2012

Monsignor Francis Tuohy was the Pastor of Christ the King Church in Indianapolis from 1995 to 2004.  Father Tuohy was an inspired writer and continues to be an inspiration to me.

At the Easter Vigil Mass in 2003, Father Tuohy’s homily made me want to stand up and cheer.  But he moved quickly into the sacrament of baptism for new members of the church and I lost the moment.  I requested a copy of the homily.  I reread it every once in a while and think of it almost every Easter.  When I started writing Rubicon, this was one of the first things I wanted to share.  I’ve finally posted it below.

The monsignor’s homilies were intended to be spoken.  He had a commanding voice, strangely nasal when he spoke loudly, but soothing like a double bass when he softened it to make his most important points.  I’ve made a few adjustments in the text for readability on the page.  I hope you enjoy it.  Happy Easter.

Easter – 2003

by Monsignor Francis Tuohy

Easter and the gospel account of Jesus rising from the dead always begins in darkness.  This is always how our discovery of the risen Christ begins—in darkness.

While it is still dark, Mary Magdalene goes to the tomb of the Jesus who healed her, who taught her, who accorded her respect and love when no one else did and which she never thought she was worthy of.  With his death, her hope died.  Our discovery of the risen Christ begins in darkness.

Just imagine, earlier this week, a single mom looses her job because of the brutal economy.  She cleans out her desk and packs away her hope and walks into darkness wondering what she will tell her kids.

Just imagine, earlier this week, a spouse receives devastating news from the physician about a life-threatening cancer forming in his beloved; darkness surrounds them.

Just imagine, earlier this week, someone heard the words, “I want a divorce; I no longer love you, maybe I have never loved you.”  That one’s life is plunged into darkness.

Earlier this week, someone’s hope was crucified and that person’s darkness overwhelmed them.  And they cried out with Jesus on the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

No one is ready to greet Easter until he or she has spent time in the early morning darkness where hope cannot be seen.  In such darkness, Easter is the last thing we are expecting.  That is why Easter terrifies us.

We dread the darkness but we fear even more what is beyond it.  Sometimes the darkness we know is preferable to the darkness we do not know—we may have learned at least to function and exist in the darkness; we find a distorted solace in the fact that darkness means nothing more can disappoint or hurt us.

In our darkness, we are not ready for Easter’s dawn, Easter’s first light.  It illuminates those dark places we have become used to; it focuses our vision and attention on what we have never seen before; it dares us to imagine possibilities beyond our limited understanding of what is possible.

Easter is not about bunnies, eggs and candy, springtime and little girls’ pretty dresses.  Easter is about more hope than we can handle.

Easter calls us out of the darkness that shrouds our lives.  Easter calls us out of the darkness into the light of possibility, of healing, of re-creation.  In his rising from the dead, Christ enables us to bring into our own lives all that he taught and lived throughout his life—the love, compassion, generosity, humility, selflessness that ultimately triumphs over hatred, bigotry, prejudice, despair, greed and death.

The empty tomb is the sign of perfect hope—that in Christ all things are possible, that we can make of our lives what we want them to be, that we can become the people God created us to become.  May we live not in fear of Easter morning’s first light but embrace that light and the hope it promises in the Risen One who is forever in our midst, dispelling the darkness.

In raising His Son from the dead, God raises us up as well, above and beyond the fears, the cynicism, the dark hopelessness that prevent us from living the life that God created us to live.  We must believe in the depths of our hearts that we are always forgiven our sins and mistakes and be willing to start over again and again.  We must embrace the hope of Easter’s empty tomb, and live our lives in the joy and faith that the Easter miracle will one day be realized in our lives as well.

Hope is stronger than memory.  Salvation is stronger than sin.  Forgiveness is stronger than bitterness.  Light is stronger than darkness.  Resurrection is stronger than crucifixion.  Life is stronger than death.  Those are the contrasts that capture the message of Easter.  Hope, salvation, forgiveness, light and life burst from the tomb as Christ is raised.  The resurrection is for us.  The good news is that Christ is raised.

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Where Loyalties Lie

March 23, 2012

I’m still in Indianapolis.  Peyton Manning isn’t.  Now who do I root for?

This is all very strange.

There was a time when Indianapolis could tell you, with relative certainty, how many laps Michael Andretti would lead in the 500 before anyone even tried to catch up.

There was a time, in 2000, when we were ecstatic about reaching the NBA Finals.  Reggie Miller’s heroics and antics finally pushed the Pacers past the Knicks.  But they couldn’t quite close the deal against the Lakers.

There was a time when Duke Tumatoe sang Lord, Help Our Colts on The (then-very-local) Bob and Tom Show.  The song lamented our sorry NFL franchise that we felt a little guilty cheering for—since we had stolen it from a heart-broken Baltimore.

Over the past fourteen years, all of that changed.  Some guy named Peyton came to town to play quarterback—and the funny guys in blue started to win more games.  I found little cause for celebration at first.  Any time the Colts won more than 50% of their games in the 80′s and 90′s, the hapless Irsay clan hurriedly canned anyone associated with the success.  I was sure the golden-boy quarterback would be sent to greener pastures and Indianapolis could return to our collective nap.

But that didn’t happen.  This guy Peyton kept plugging away.  And gathering a cadre who seemed more interested in winning games than garnering high draft picks.  Sports commentators’ associations of “football” with “Indianapolis” acquired a tone of deference rather than derision.  While in Canada in 2004, I was surprised when a waiter’s first association with Indianapolis was the Colts rather than the 500.

I had to start paying attention to football if I wasn’t going to be a complete outcast by the water cooler.  I don’t claim that my knowledge of football ever became any more than conversant.  I knew enough to have a disproportionate dislike for the Patriots.  I knew never to count the Chargers out of a playoff game.  I knew the press made every effort jinx Peyton into believing he would never go to a Super Bowl.  I knew Indianapolis was in the AFC South, which makes no geographical sense whatsoever.

And I started to identify with this guy.  Like me, he imagined he could change careers.  He moonlighted as a comedian:

By the 2006/2007 season, I was actually carving out time on Sundays for a football game.  Like the rest of Indianapolis, I watched in rapt wonder as Peyton took command of the offense, the defense, the field position, the clock, the referees and the crowd.  Oh—and he threw the ball pretty well, too.

Every week I felt bad for the poor TV commentator saddled with introducing the starters while the Colts were on their first drive—he never had time.  The score was seven-zip before you could zap the cheese dip, and it tasted better after the Peyton accolades were heaped on.

The Colts’ victory at the 2007 Super Bowl was fantastic.  But for me, and I think for many Hoosiers, it was neither as dramatic nor as euphoric as the preceding AFC Championship when we defeated the Patriots.  I still get choked up when I see this Sports Illustrated Cover:

So I’ve been a bit of a quandary this week.  Peyton is going to Denver.  I’m staying here.  I like to think of myself as someone who’s loyal.  Fair-weather fanaticism is so precipitously frowned upon.  But I was loyal to a Colts team that is, essentially, no more.  Shall I be loyal to a team owner who regularly acts like a character out of a Chris Farley movie?  I’m discovering I haven’t actually been a Colts fan to begin with.  I have been a fan of the Colts players—Dallas, Marvin, Saturday, Sanders.  I’ve been a fan of Peyton Manning.

So, as it turns out, no—I don’t feel particularly disloyal or torn in continuing to root for Peyton.  I hope he wins another Super Bowl.  Maybe two.

I’ll be interested to see what happens to the Colts, of course.  It might be newsworthy if the front office could prevail upon Jim Irsay to give up tweeting—and maybe they could nominate him for What Not to Wear.  Andrew Luck seems to be a nice enough fellow; I hope he does well.  We’ll see how he fares with an NFL defense across the line of scrimmage.

But I think my gridiron attention will be elsewhere for a few years.

Go Peyton.  Go Broncos.

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