Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Count-Down to NaNoWriMo Madness

First Tweet of the day: @WrimoSea 26, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31 six days till NaNoWeen kick-off party at #Denny's in #Overlake #inSeattle! #NaNoWriMo.

The first time I heard about NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) was in 2003 during Dorothy Allison's workshop at Centrum's Port Townsend Writers' Conference. Go for it! was Dorothy's suggestion. But I wasn't ready, not then, not the following seven years. Before I knew where my story could go I had to write a memoir (or two, three). Now I am ready. I've already announced (said it out loud, posted it in the Diary to Fiction or Memoir SW Group that I'm writing a novel, inspired by my memoir writing.
Yesterday I came up with the title: Forgiveness.

On Facebook I promise to let my hair grow out for the HalloNaNoWeen at Denny's Restaurant in Seattle's Overlake neighborhood. No matter it's way out of my normal axis radius, I will cross that floating bridge, I will go to the Eastside, the other side of the lake, just to get started right, at midnight on October the 31st.

These last few days I'll be working on the outline for my novel "Forgiveness". Ever since my arrival in Seattle in 1994, when I discovered Gabriele Rico's book "Writing the Natural Way" I've been using her cluster method to get to the point, to get my stories down. These last days of October I'll cluster my way through beginning, middle and end of the storyline, creating an arch that'll help me get through the tough 2nd and 3rd weeks of the NaNoWri Month.

Saturday November 13 Seattle NaNo Writers will get together for an all day (9 a.m. - 6 p.m.) Half-Way Party, I'm putting it on my calendar now. Before y'all think I'm a party animal —I did after all organize the Seattle SW Birthday Party— this coming out of my writing den is rare. The only times I'm away from my desk (or couch) is: when I'm presenting architectural tours of the Seattle Central Public Library, when I volunteer my help at authors' events at said library, when I drive my hubby to work, when I run errands or when I walk the dog.

Initially I thought NaNoWriMo would just help me get the first 50,000 word skeleton draft of my novel out as quickly as possible. But the moment I started my Dutchessabroad account, something shifted. Something unforeseen happened. By signing up I became a member of a community. A nationwide, no worldwide community. And as it turns out to be, right here, in Seattle, there's a whole lot of other most likely usually solitary writers like me, who are coming out of their dens, their attics, their niches, their closets (Murphy no doubt) to join in the madness.

The fever has started.

Will you follow me,if anything my blog posts on what is going to be my very first NaNoWriMo?

This work by Judith van Praag is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Dutch Theatermaker Dea Koert about Polish Artist Rafal Betlejewski

Some time ago an image of an art installation by Rafal Betlejewski started circulating on the Internet. In the photo a man is seated on a straight backed chair placed on brownish-green, un-mowed grass of a hillside. The man, at ease, legs crossed, his hands folded in his lap, appears to be waiting for someone to sit on the sheepskin hide draped across an armchair beside him.   
A building and trees in the background are obscured by fog and a slanted white text is superimposed on the imagery, graffiti on air. 

I miss you, Jew I miss you in Poland In all these villages and big cities You left a vacuum there Both in space and my heart I just wanted you to know that  

On September 26, 2010 theater maker Dea Koert attended Betlejewski's lecture, "Coming out of the Jewish ignorance. The story of a regular Pole" at the Jewish Historical Museum in Amsterdam.
Guest blogger Dea Koert writes:
Rafal Beteljewski, who is not Jewish, was born in Poland in 1969. For me, having been born in the Netherlands in 1947 the paradigm change as presented by this young Pole's ongoing art project Tesknie Za Toba Zydzie (I Love You Jew) was striking.

He paints these words in graffiti style on walls in villages all over Poland. By using this seemingly simple text he reclaims the presence of Jews in his country. Rafal is an unprejudiced, relaxed kind of guy who seeks and longs for a connection with what he misses in Polish daily life. 
He'll place an empty armchair with a Kippah (skullcap) on the seat in streets of Polish villages and invites people tot sit down. Those who agree then have their photograph taken.
He asks them: "Jewish people, where are they?" 
Betlejewski fights ignorance (about the role the Polish played during the Holocaust) with his empty chair project and with the art installation/ performance  ''The Burning Barn" (triggered by a massacre that took place in 1941) which he presented in Zawada in July of 2010. 
Members of the audience/ participants wrote their names on a white pieces of paper (symbolizing negative thoughts about Jews that would be burned inside the barn) adding NO to ignorance and NO to further denying of the Polish past. By doing so they acknowledged missing them (the Jews) as well. Like Rafal, they wished for a kind of Utopian connection that should speak to all people scattered around the world. 

That a barn burning can be problematic within this context is shown in photographs and videos and was apparent in the small meeting room at JHM in Amsterdam. Some people were really shocked,  they could not understand the underlying motive. 
"Why burning?" asked a lady who could have been my grandmother. "Rafal, why a burning barn? That burning is problematic for me - when the ghetto of Warzawa was burning, the Polish people pushed us back into the fire."
Rafal explained his intention. I can only hope she understood.

I myself visited Poland for the first time as a student in 1972. Everybody around me was going to the West, so I want to go East. What drew me was a theatre workshop lead by Jerzy Grotowsky in Wroclaw (now Breslau).
Having witnessed the major post WWII clean-up in the Netherlands in the 1950s, I was surprised by the visible remnants of that war all over Poland. A fascinating experience. Everything looked gray. I saw a lot of invalids in odd looking wheelchairs on the streets, ruins of houses, I witnessed an ugly political regime, and unhappy poor people. Poland was a country in mourning. But most bewildering was the total silence about the fate of the Jews. Before 1939 one tenth of the Poles were Jewish. The ignorance was complete, there were no signs, no memorials. The scarce remnants of Jewish burial sites had been transformed into dumping grounds for garbage. People overtly made anti-Semitic jokes. But not a Jew to be seen. What's going on here? I wondered back then. 

With a bunch of Russian fellow students in a bus, more or less clandestine (I did not speak one word of their language) I visited the camps of Auschwitz. 
I can still hear the echo of their partisan songs amidst the barracks. 
In 1980 I used my experience in Poland for the theater piece "Nagalm" or Reverberation,  a co-production with Jenn Ben Yakov at the Mickery Theatre in Amsterdam. 

Now, in 2010, all of a sudden there's a third generation, with Rafal Betlejewski (my gosh, even the word Jew is embedded in his family name) who makes such a fantastic art statement. 
This is hopeful, I presume.

Can art change perceptions, can art change the world? If yes, how?
Dea Koert, born in the Noord-Oost Polder, the first reclaimed land province in the Netherlands is a theater maker, actor and drama coach. She's known for both intimate and large scale productions, often triggered by her emotional reaction to injustice.

Sketch of Dea Koert  ©Judith van Praag

This work by Dea Koert with Judith van Praag is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Fifteen Books to Remember

The other day I promised to post the 15 books (read by myself), that will always stick with me. 
Thinking of books that left lasting impressions, a tornado comes to mind. A whirlwind of printed matters of all sizes and design, whirling around me, the reader.

I/ the eye of the storm, the dreamer, ascending and descending a literary Tower of Babel; a  mind boggling building created of hard covers and paperback novels, of fairy tales and mysteries, of chapter books and Russian classics, of dead and alive poets, of poetry anthologies, published plays and even film scenarios.

Memories of titles a whirlwind of letters, strung words, printed materials, begging for attention, leaving me breathless, stranded outside an unknown house, along a dry river bed, in a country I never visited but on those travels triggered by words grabbed from the mind of the author, planted firmly on paper, black on white.

Covers, plot lines, memorable characters fly by, voices calling out: Mention, me, me, me!

Here goes, 15 titles, Dutch, Austrian, English (with an accent, posh, foreign, immigrant, artistic) and American. And this my friends, is only the beginning.

Sans Famille - (Alleen op de wereld, Nobody's Boy) by Hector Malot
Scheepsmaat Woeltje by Klaas Norel
Het achterhuis - (Diary of ) by Anne Frank - Take a look inside the hiding place.
Alice's Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll
Gulliver's Travels by Jonathan Swift
Reigen (Hands Out - a play) by Arthur Schnitzler
De Ondergang - Jacques Presser
Timebends - Arthur Miller
Diaries by Anaïs Nin
Plexus, Sexus, Nexus by Henry Miller
Sabbath's Theater by Philip Roth
My Name is Asher Lev by Chaim Potok
The Family Moskat by  Isaac Bashevis Singer
Gaglow by Esther Freud
The Clothes On Their Backs by Linda Grant

What does this list tell you about me? What does your list say about you? Care to share?
Please do!

This work by Judith van Praag is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Chain Letters and Important Books

Letter writing is something I've always done. Thinking of letter writing makes me remember my mother's insistence that I first try-out what I wanted to write on scratch paper, to be more exact, on my  HEMA kladblok. They call it the "memoblok" these days and it's sold out.
Even if you can't read the language, do click on the HEMA link. turn up the volume and watch the company's Online commercial, it's fun.

To get back to letters, you get the point, I've pretty much been a correspondent all my life. From the early thank-you notes to an aunt who gifted me with a box of crayons and a new sketchpad with real white drawing paper, up to missives I send by email these days.

The first time I moved abroad was as an adolescent, as I followed my post-doc spouse to  Los Angeles. Back then  I wrote weekly letters to my mom and she wrote back pronto. The year I lived in L.A. as a a single adult, I wrote to about 40 people back home who wanted to be kept abreast of my adventures. Of those maybe three wrote back. My mother for sure (we wrote each other every few weeks), and perhaps a friend or two. Even although I would have liked to receive more letters in return, and had my ears perked to hear the mailman arrive, I never liked chain letters. Perhaps because of the threats that often accompanies such writing. That is, I tend to read the promises to get rich fast, as threats of what may happen if I don't do what's suggested. Send this letter to ten of your friends. You'll start receiving dollar bills in the mail becomes:  

If you don't do it, and you walk underneath a ladder the painter will inadvertently drop a paint bucket on your head. Up side down. Or, you'll find out too late there's no toilet paper left in the honey bucket. You are on your own. Or, you're out of sugar and the neighbor isn't home. Your cake will self-destruct in ten minutes.

To state that I don't like chain letters is an understatement, I dare say I don't do chain letters.
That is, until now. A few days back I received a request on FaceBook from my Dialogue2010 friend in Prague Sezin Koehler, I have to admit, at first all I saw scanning her request was "15 friends", that was enough to scare me off. But then our Dialogue2010 partner Anastasia Ashman in Istanbul who'd been one of Sezin's addressees included me in the 15 friends she addressed and seeing the list of her books, my eye catching authors whose work I hadn't read, something clicked. This is how the message read:

List fifteen books you've read that will always stick with you. Don't take too long to think about it. List the first fifteen you can recall in no more than fifteen minutes. Tag fifteen friends, including me, because I'm interested in seeing what books my friends choose. (To do this, go to your Notes tab on your profile page, paste rules in a new note, cast your fifteen picks, and tag people in the note.) Do yours before you read anyone else's!

The only threat involved in this chain —reaction— I'd like to call it, is that you start thinking and writing about the books that made an impression on you so profound that you still remember them, their drift, the time you read them, what you were eating while you read, how heavy the paper was, what the book smelled like, where you got it, at the library, from the book store, from a relative, or a friend, found in a hotel lobby, on the bus, at a garage sale.

Care to share a book or two, or fifteen? Send me a note, post a comment, a tiny letter, I love hearing from you!

If you start with the first decade of your life, which children's book made the greatest impression on you as a child reader?

This work by Judith van Praag is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License