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The first thing I noticed when watching the premier of HitRecord on TV, Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s latest artistic endeavor, is that everyone is recording.  Phones, tablets, hand-held cameras, all on and all pointed at the man on stage, JGL himself.  While everyone else and every other venue is discouraging recording, this show is encouraging it.

Gordon-Levitt and his brother began the website HitRecord.org in 2005, and since then have produced feature and short films, books, music, and now, a TV show.  And it’s one heck of a show.  If you loved the Tiny Book of Tiny Stories series, just wait until you see the show.

It’s a variety show but none like you’ve seen before.  It’s post-modern in nature, due to heavy use of multi-media formats and multiple users.  It’s crowd-sourced art, taken from ‘records’ contributed on the website.  Art of all forms is remixed and spliced together to form new art,  and the results are astounding.  Not only is it quality, but it’s heartfelt and cutting edge.

Every episode is themed, and that theme is looked at from various angles and perspectives. The every first episode was, of course, RE: The Number One.  The prompt for one collaboration for this show was titled “Do you remember your first time?”  First time meaning the first time you ever did anything.  A standout from this episode is a short film, mixed with animation and video of a story contributed by a writer in Nebraska, who narrated the first time she ever saw the stars in the sky.  Beautiful and soul-shaking, and completely unexpected.

There is nothing cliche or trite about this show, and I think that derives from the fact that it’s not just one person’s vision you see: it’s hundreds or thousands of artists, writers, animators, and other artistic folk who come together to create something new.  I think it’s a real testament to the artistic sensibilities of the creators that so many people worldwide have become members and contributors to HitRecord.  It’s nothing short of visionary.

I was lucky enough to get the box set from the publisher (Dey Street Books) and with the digital downloads comes lots of extras:  books for each episode, music from the show, and behind-the-scenes extras.  Season 2 is in the works, and there are open collaborations in production now.  I’ve been a member of the HitRecord.org family since 2011; fingers crossed that someday, something I contribute will be used.

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It’s my favorite time of year:  Fall.   Nights are getting cooler, leaves are turning and falling.  Fall equinox is next week (Tuesday, September 23), and Halloween is just around the corner.  And, inevitably, pumpkins are appearing surreptitiously.

So it seems the perfect time to review a new book out from Dey Street Books:  the making of the classic TV show “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown!”  The TV show first debuted in 1966, about three years before I was born.  I grew up watching it, along with the Christmas special and about a dozen other Peanuts outings.  This one has remained a favorite, though, and I still watch each year.

Most Halloween television revolves around gory, nauseating fare, which may be one reason I still love the Great Pumpkin.  I still love it when Lucy snatches away the football from Charlie Brown at the last minute.  The Flying Ace gives me fits of laughter.  I identify strongly with Charlie Brown’s misshapen costume and his bad Halloween luck (all rocks, no candy).

You’ll get a nice behind-the-scenes look at the making of this classic, and you might even learn some interesting trivia too.  I did: when Sparky (aka Charles Schulz) talks about how he came up with the idea for the Great Pumpkin, he basically claimed it was “a kind of a satire on Santa Claus” (p 19).  A satire!  On Santa!  Linus writes to the Great Pumpkin, just as a kid would write to Santa, asking for gifts.  When he doesn’t get them, and the Great Pumpkin doesn’t show, he is disappointed, but he survives.

I’ve asked around to friends and family to get their take on The Great Pumpkin.  They still love it, and even my young nephews and niece watch it.  Another generation will grow up watching Peanuts, and that’s a great tradition.

If you’re a fan of Peanuts, this is definitely a great book to pick up.  There’s a lot of insider info and history, not to mention the gorgeous illustrated script.   Happy 48th, Great Pumpkin!  I can’t wait to see if Charlie Brown will actually kick the football again this year.

**The complete title is “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown:  The Making of a Television Classic” and is published by Dey Street Books, and imprint of Harper Collins.

It’s like 95 degrees out today, so I’m taking advantage of that by staying inside and writing.

My first short story for my 9 year old nephew was a hit; I’m told he’s working on sketches now. The deal was that I’d write the text and he would do the illustrations. So while he works on that, I’m working on the next story for him to illustrate.

This could turn into a fun little series!

The Tiny Book of Tiny Stories 2 might be small in size, and its stories might be short lengthwise (just two pages long), but these stories are long on imagination and possibility.

I like this book better than the first; the collaborative effort seems more cohesive, the stories more fantastic, the drawings more tender. Stories we invent in order to live in this world.

The genre of the short-short story (or micro-fiction) is so appealing; in our overly busy and technology heavy lives, we need tiny escapes from the madness. That is just what this collaborative effort does: gives us a break from the madness. In short-short form. Who has time for long reads these days, anyway?

I highly recommend this book along with Volume I. Volume III is already in the works, so if you’re a writer/artist looking for a great project to work on, check out the link. And get to RECording.

Tiny Stories II

In late 2009, in response to a Twitter message, I joined something called Bite-Size Edits.  The idea was that writers would upload stories and other contributors would make editing suggestions, which the writer would then accept or reject.  Hitrecord.org goes just a bit further.

Where Bite-Size Edits was more editing help, hitrecord.org is full-on collaboration– and not just text, but audio/visual files too.  Any kind of art is welcome– drawings, recordings, words.  But, as they warn you when you create an account, anything (including your profile pic, so think carefully!) is up for grabs.  Anything can be edited and re-submitted.  In fact, this is the whole point.

I am lucky enough to be on the list of book reviewers for a major publisher & therefore got a review copy of the latest from the hitrecord collaboration, The Tiny Book of Tiny Stories.  It is indeed filled with tiny stories (some only six words) and whimsical illustrations for each.   The Tiny stories are reminiscent of the short-short story or the six-word memoir:  short, concise, and often laced with humor and wit.  Often poetic and sometimes dark, these tiny stories are just plain endearing.  I dare you to read this book and not laugh or nod in happy agreement at some point.

I was worried, as I read through the book, where all the writers & artists were listed?  At the end, there is a list of contributors and their record numbers.  Your records, I found out later, are your contributions.  Intrigued by the list of usernames and record numbers, I looked up hitrecord.org on the web.

After perusing the website for oh, say, 30 seconds, I immediately created an account on hitrecord.org.  As a writer, I have often collaborated with others.  It’s not always been pretty:  in grad school, my memoir class professor hooked me (a self-proclaimed atheist with a very sarcastic tongue) up with a young, religious and straight-as-an-arrow editor to work on a chapbook.  In my memoir, I talk about smoking weed and cursing god.  I don’t think my editor appreciated it.  As a result, the collaboration didn’t work too well.  But this type of collaboration– on the nets, and in a way anonymous– might just work.  It might work out just fine.

Any ‘record’ you post to the site– be it text, audio, visual, or any combination of these– is a record that can be downloaded and edited and changed by any other member.  It’s really freaking exciting to know that someone out there– someone you don’t know– can take something you started and turn it into something else entirely.  Open-source, creative, collaborative.  I love it.

And The Tiny Book of Tiny Stories is the result of such collaborations between 83 members.  And they all get to share in the profits:  on the hitrecord.org site, it states explicitly the percentages shared with contributors.  It’s a pretty good deal.  And the book is simply charming.  Really.

Some of my favorite Tiny Stories in the book are the darkly humored ones (the egg who optimistically follows the orange off the kitchen counter)  or the ones that reflect something much deeper about our lives (the person who doesn’t get dressed anymore because they ‘don’t feel like it’).

These are the whimsical, witty, dark and delightful stories that make up our lives. This is the first volume of Tiny Stories, and I hear the 2nd volume is in the works. I can’t wait.

PS:  here’s a link to the Tiny Stories video made by Joseph Gordon-Levitt:  Watch Here.

As a self-proclaimed avid reader, I am ashamed to say I am behind on my reading.  There is a stack of lovely volumes just waiting for me to dig in.  I’m excited about each and every one of those books, I just seem to be lacking the time.  Original excuse, right?

So I have been reading John Baxter’s The Most Beautiful Walk in Paris, and it is quite delightful.  Paris is on my list of must-visit cities, and this book will be handy once I get there.  This book is about walking, but it’s also about ex-pats, cooking and dining, art, literature– all the fine things in life.  There is history of Paris and it’s people; there are naughty postcards.  All seen on foot, basically.  I can’t think of a better way to see a city than to walk around in it.

Anyone planning a trip to Paris will find the Paris, Mode d’Emploi chapter most helpful.  Baxter includes helpful tips for visiting the City of Lights and getting the most out of your days.  This is not a travel guide by any means, just some helpful info from someone who lives there.

Next I am reading Butler’s There is No Year, which is already odd and intriguing.  Post to come soon…

At least twice in the Korean film “Vegetarian” is this question asked:  once by a sister, once by the husband of the vegetarian in question.  My question is this:  what does one have to do with the other?  Why does not eating meat equal crazy?

Multiple themes permeate the film:  it is not about (or just about) a woman who turns vegetarian.  The main character, a young married woman, has a sudden aversion to meat after having some unexplained dreams.  We see her ridding the fridge of meat; she later tells her husband she threw out the eggs as well.  She can’t have sex with her husband because he smells of meat.  Later, at a family gathering, her father gets so angry over her refusal to eat meat that he has two relatives hold her while he tries to stuff it down her throat.  Her revulsion and panic is so strong it drives her to take a knife to herself.

My question is:  Why?  Why is it, that when a person makes a choice about their diet, that others get so angry about it?  Why does someone else’s choice of food carry such weight, provoke such anger?  The anger is palpable for me, as this scene feels very familiar.

No one ever tried to force-feed me, but I can safely say there were thoughts of it in the heads of those around me.  I read somewhere recently that in general, it is more acceptable for a person to announce they are an atheist than a vegetarian.  Again, I have to ask:  Why?  Do we need to add to the Constitution Freedom of Diet, alongside Freedom of Speech and Religion?

Yeah, ok, I admit it– I scoff at folks who comest a continuous stream of fast food and processed junk.  I grew up on that stuff– plastic cheese and processed meats and cheap burgers.  I try to eat healthier now, but I do so enjoy some good ol’ non-food items now & then (lately I’m all about HOT FRIES. laugh all you want, they rock.)   So yeah I may have comments about what other folks eat.  But would I ever try to force my beliefs about food on them?  No.  Am I strongly opinionated and will I debate with them about it?  yes.  Eat and let eat, I say.

Another scene near the end of “Vegetarian” shows the girl being forcefully held down in a hospital, nose taped shut, so that they can actually force some sort of rice-gruel down her throat.  It was horrifying.  This was not because of her choice of diet, though.  In the end, she just refused to eat.  We never find out what the trauma was, or what was in her dreams that caused her to say she could not eat meat. She is diagnosed (wrongly, I believe) with Schizophrenia and anorexia.

She has only one person who relates to her in some way:  her artist brother-in-law.  I’m not sure he fully understood what she was going through, but he at least did not attack her for it.  When he paints flowers all over her body she is thrilled; when he paints flowers on another young man, she is undeniably attracted to him.  There is a sex scene with her and the brother-in-law, both painted in flowers, that is both hot and feral.

One other thing I noticed is the sound that meat makes, versus plants:  during the family dinner, the oysters (or whatever other meat they had) made a squishy, wet sound.  Later, when the girl and her brother-in-law are eating fruit, the sounds are crisp and fresh.  I dunno whether the director intended this contrast or not, but it was noticeable to me.

So.  Both the woman’s husband and sister ask and/or say that she is crazy.  I don’t eat meat, so does that mean that I, too, am crazy?  Food for thought, people.

In a few days, I’ll be seeing some late night flick about vampires and some sort of Frankenstein creature.  That should be much more fun!

This past Friday, my friend Marjorie and I took in our first animated film together at the Nashville Independent Film Festival.  We saw “Sita Sings the Blues,” an animated film by Nina Paley.  I cannot lie, I loved this film.

The trailer on youtube begins with this line:  “The greatest break-up story ever told. ”  This isn’t hyperbole, either.   There are actually two break-ups going on:  one being a modern-day couple (Nina’s own story) and the other being that of Sita and Rama.  The animation, the music, the use of various cartoon styles all make this a striking yet fun film.

What struck me most, however, was the image of the modern-day broken-hearted Nina, reading alone in her Brooklyn apartment after the break-up.  She was reading the Ramayana, the story that she later developed into this fantastic film.  Nina accomplished something both difficult and wonderful here:  she turned her strife into art.

Strife into art is something I’m familiar with.  Transforming any kind of pain or grief is a process that is both enlightening and therapeutic.  I once heard John Updike speak about the role of writing in transforming memories:  he said that when you take a memory and change it into something else, such as a story, the act of writing that story down and making it into something new replaces the old memory.  Instead of remembering you’re 5th birthday party, you remember the story of that party instead.  It’s a way of self-editing, culling the important stuff from a memory or event.

I find that while writing is good for the soul in general, writing about significant or painful events in  my life helps me to sort my feelings about those events, and put things in perspective.  Writing forces me to focus on the very heart of that event:  it forces me to be concise, choose the exact words, be relentlessly honest.  In the wake of my recent break-up, I have found that I’ve really wanted to write, which I feel is a good sign.  Yes, my heart has been broken; yes, I’ve cried (almost) every day for oh, about three months now; yes, I know I’ll survive.  But oh, I’d so rather have a rush of words than a rush of tears.

Anyway, a big thanks to Nina Paley.  Check out her other work here, on her blog:

http://blog.ninapaley.com/

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