Category Archives: Articles

Creative Juice #181

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Creative Juice #181

Yeah, lots of art.

I’d Rather be Dancing African Folk Dances

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I’d Rather be Dancing African Folk Dances

At Phoenix International Folk Dancers, we only have two African dances in our repertoire. The first is Bela Kawe, a dance that originated from West African and Caribbean culture. The dance tells a story of two women who are having a friendly competition for a man’s attention. The first part of the dance represents the women trying to get the man’s attention, while the last part represents the warding off of any bad spirits that may be standing in the woman’s way. There are many different versions of Bele Kawe. This video is the closest to the way we dance it, but in our (Phyllis Weikert’s) choreography, the handwork is different; the women flourish their skirts, and the men place their hands on their own back pockets. They all clap on the fourth beat of each of the turns.

The other dance we do is Pata Pata, from South Africa. If you are as old as I am, you may remember when Miriam Makeba introduced the song and the dance in the mid 1960s.

Pata Pata means “touch, touch.” If you watch the backup dancers, at one point they pat various parts of their bodies. The version that PIFD does is decidedly less sensuous. Our version is often taught to school children, and it looks like this:

The only problem with the way we do Bele Kawe and Pata Pata is that they are white-people versions of African dances. What do African dances look like when they are danced by real African dancers?

Watch this performance by the Ama-Zebra Folk Dance Ensemble from South Africa:

African dances for the most part are vigorous and athletic. But some are graceful. Drums figure big in African dance music. Here are ten more dances:

The Tucson Folk Dance Club does an authentic Ghanaese dance, Pondogo:

Now it’s your turn. International folk dancers out there, does your group do any African dances? Do you have any African dances on YouTube? Please share in the comments below.

Top 5 Writing Distractions—Part Two  

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Top 5 Writing Distractions—Part Two  

On Wednesday I posted about three of the top five distractions writers are likely to face. I’ll review those briefly and continue the discussion with two more barriers to writing focus.

  1. You love them dearly, but they don’t respect your need for solitude when you’re writing. You need to fulfill your duties to them, but just not during your writing time. Negotiating some boundaries is key to balancing family and writing.
  2. The phone. Turn off the ringer while you’re writing and check your voicemail and texts after you’re done for the day.
  3. Household tasks. This takes willpower, especially if the words aren’t flowing. Shut yourself away, or go to an out-of-the-house location where you aren’t tempted to do chores just to feel productive. Counter-corollary: sometimes doing something mindless (like ironing, or polishing windows) allows you to daydream and frees your imagination, giving you new ideas to add to your work-in-progress. Be ready to abandon your task and go back to writing while the idea is fresh.chores, distractions
  4. Writing tasks. We all know that writing isn’t just churning out manuscripts. There’s brainstorming, researching, outlining, rewriting, editing, marketing. And you want to network with other writers, with agents, editors, beta readers, and reviewers. You also need to maintain a vibrant presence on social media and grow your email newsletter list. It almost seems that in order to do all these things well, you pretty much do them instead of writing. But you can’t. So you have to schedule them. It’s the only way to balance your time. Prioritize what you need to do. You must write every day. Some days you can’t get started writing until you do some research, so go research—but beware of chasing tangents. Sometimes your research will uncover interesting information that may have no bearing whatsoever on what you’re writing, but you feel compelled to go deeper. Sometimes there may be a payoff in a brilliant plot twist or an entirely new direction, but usually getting off track will just waste time that you could have been spending more productively. Put a limit on how much time you devote to those other writing-related tasks, and then write.

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    Photo by Startup Stock Photos on Pexels.com

  5. Dissatisfaction with the way your project is going. Your first draft is not going to be brilliant. That’s okay—first drafts are about getting ideas down; you develop them in more detail in the subsequent drafts. But when your third or fourth draft still seems rough, it’s easy to feel discouraged and focus instead on disappointment and dreams unmet. How do you satisfy your inner critic and get back to work again? It helps to have an insightful critique partner, someone who will read your essay or chapter and act as a sounding board for your concerns. (How do you find a critique partner?) He can make suggestions about changes or additions or rephrasing that will help you take your manuscript to the next level.

Now it’s your turn. What are your biggest distractions when you’re writing? How do you counteract them? Share in the comments below.

Top 5 Writing Distractions–Part One

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Top 5 Writing Distractions–Part One

In the YouTube ad for her writing MasterClass, Joyce Carol Oates says, “The great enemy of writing isn’t your own lack of talent; it’s being interrupted by other people. Constant interruptions are the destruction of the imagination.” Yeah, that’s true, but if you’ve ever struggled to find a block of time to devote to your writing, or if while you’re working you can’t maintain your focus, then you know people aren’t the only problem. In this article I enumerate what I consider to be the top 5 writing distractions, and how to defeat them.

Top 5 Writing Distractions

  1. Family. Members of your immediate and extended family are undeniably the biggest source of interruption of creative flow. While you can’t shouldn’t disown your spouse or your children, with communication you may be able to negotiate some undisturbed time. Your family’s needs come first, but under certain circumstances their requirements may need to be delayed, such as when you’re under a deadline, or you’re participating in NaNoWriMo, or you must get down a critical wording before it escapes your memory. Your family deserves your undivided attention, so be sure you’re providing at least some on a daily basis. But, realistically, as an artistic person, even if you’re not earning money at it yet, your craft also needs focused, undisturbed time. Perhaps you can schedule writing hours (or minutes) during which you post a sign that says, “Writer at work. Do not disturb until 4:00 PM.” You’re still available for emergencies, but spell out what constitutes an emergency: blood, flames, etc. “I’m bored” is not an emergency and will result in extra assigned chores. Ditto for “I can’t find my purple socks,” “He’s breathing on me,” or “How soon is dinner?” Come on, people, be reasonable. (If your beloved family members are behaving like jerks, you have my permission to read them this paragraph in an authoritative voice.)Writer at work.
  2. The phone. If you can, turn your ringer off during writing time and let your calls go to voice mail. Why lose your train of thought to someone who wants to buy your house for cheap, or someone pretending to be the government wanting to suspend your social security number as soon as you tell them what it is? Don’t stop writing to listen to a robocall about a time share or a presidential candidate. Don’t squander your writing time catching up with the friend who hasn’t called you in two years.
  3. Household tasks. If you’re lucky enough to have private work space in your home, sometimes it’s a mixed blessing, because during lulls you remember the piles of unwashed laundry and the dirty floors and the unfiled tax return just around the corner. If your work space has a door, close it. Commit to working your allotted time; the chores will still be there when you’re done writing for the day. That’s easy enough when the words are flowing, but as soon as you hit a dry patch, you think about all the other things you could be accomplishing. So, from time to time, shake things up by going somewhere else to write. If the weather is nice, try writing in the backyard or at the park. Or bow to the cliché and go to a coffee shop or to the library. Just don’t get caught up in people-watching.

Come back on Saturday for Part Two of this article and learn how to combat two more top writing distractions.

Franz Schubert

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Franz Schubert

Franz Peter Schubert (January 31, 1797 –November 19, 1828) was an Austrian composer of the late Classical and early Romantic eras.

Schubert’s gift for music was evident from an early age. His father gave him his first violin lessons and his older brother gave him piano lessons, but Schubert soon exceeded their abilities. In 1808, at the age of eleven, he became a pupil at the Stadtkonvikt school, where he became acquainted with the orchestral music of Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven. He left the Stadtkonvikt at the end of 1813, and returned home to live with his father, where he began studying to become a schoolteacher; despite this, he continued his studies in composition with Antonio Salieri.

One of Schubert’s most famous lieder (art songs), Der Erlkönig, as a shadow puppet animation, with English translation:

In 1814, Schubert met a young soprano named Therese Grob, daughter of a local silk manufacturer, and wrote several of his liturgical works (including a “Salve Regina” and a “Tantum Ergo”) for her; she was also a soloist in the premiere of his Mass No. 1 (D. 105) in September 1814. Schubert wanted to marry her, but was hindered by the harsh marriage-consent law of 1815 requiring an aspiring bridegroom to show he had the means to support a family.

During the early 1820s, Schubert was part of a close-knit circle of artists and students who had social gatherings together that became known as Schubertiads.

Four of Schubert’s brilliant piano impromptus, opus 90, played by Alfred Brendel:

In 1821, Schubert was granted admission to the Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde as a performing member, which helped establish his reputation in Vienna. He gave a concert of his own works to critical acclaim in March 1828, his only such concert in his lifetime. He died eight months later at the age of 31, the cause officially attributed to typhoid fever, but believed by some historians to be syphilis.

Schubert was remarkably prolific, writing over 1,500 works in his short career. The largest number of his compositions are songs for solo voice and piano (roughly 630). He completed seven symphonies, and a large body of music for solo piano.

One of Schubert’s most famous symphonies is No. 8, known as The Unfinished Symphony:

Information for this article came from Wikipedia.

Be Kind to Old Ears

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Be Kind to Old Ears

Today’s article is for all the people whose work involves talking on the telephone.

If any of your customers and clients are senior citizens, please speak slowly and distinctly. Especially if you are leaving a voicemail.

Obvious, isn’t it? Yet so many times I get phone calls that sound like this:

My old ears can’t process that.

I get lots of messages from doctors’ offices, my own and my husband’s. We’re on the medical merry-go-round—we have lots of doctors and specialists. When people leave their names and the names of the doctors they’re calling on behalf of and the call-back numbers, they talk so fast and so softly and so unclearly that I often have to listen to the message multiple times. Even my iPhone transcription can’t handle it. It gives me lots of blank spaces and gibberish. It’s frustrating.

When my husband gets a business call, he often hands the phone to me and says, “See if you can figure out what they’re talking about.” We often have to tell a caller, “I can’t hear you. Could you please talk into the mouthpiece?”

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Apparently, people today have never been instructed in the art of talking on the telephone. I blame the proliferation of cell phones. Back in the olden days, there was one phone for the entire family. Children often carried on their conversations in the presence of their parents. This provided opportunities for coaching. “Say, ‘Hi! This is Johnny. May I talk to Peter, please?’ ” Phone etiquette doesn’t come naturally—it’s learned. But someone has to do the teaching.

And don’t get me started on recorded calls. Our home phone has an answering message that instructs telemarketers to hang up. That message causes a 30 second delay before the phone actually rings through. You have no idea how many recorded confirmation calls I get from doctors’ offices that last maybe 32 seconds, but all I get to hear is “Please show up 15 minutes before your scheduled time.” Click. I have no idea who the call is for or which office called.

Please, if you have a business, make communication a priority. Be sure your clients and customers can understand your employees. Older people have enough challenges. Doing business with you shouldn’t be one of them.

Interview with Vicki Riske, Puppeteer, Author, and Illustrator

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Last November among the booths at the Tempe Festival of Books, some adorable puppets caught my eye.

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I was hooked. I had to know more.

Vicki Riske, long time puppeteer, had recently written and illustrated a children’s book about the characters she had created as puppets many years ago. I was so impressed with Riske that I asked if she’d be willing to be interviewed for ARHtistic License.

ARHtistic License: How long have you been a puppeteer?    

Vicki Riske: I have been making puppets for about 50 years.

AL: How did you get started?     

VR: I started making puppets in undergraduate school for plays.

AL: Are your audiences mostly children?     

VR: Yes, most of the time my puppet audience are children, but I have also made puppets for adults, who have used them for theatre and television.

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Vicki Riske     

AL: Describe your puppet-making process. 

If the puppet is for a play, I read the play and analyze the character that the puppet is playing. I also imagine the actions that a puppet needs to be able to do. Is it necessary for the puppet to have a mouth that actually moves? Does the puppet have to carry objects? Then I do a series of drawings, first just pencil and then I may add color to the drawings.

AL: How do you come up with their personalities?    

VR: Every puppet that I make has a specific story that they are telling. The puppet characters relate to other characters in the story. They may have a specific characteristic that can dictate the design, such as Leo, my lizard. He needs to do push ups, so he needs to have joints that allow that activity. He is also a lizard, so he needs a texture consistent with ideas about lizards.

AL: Have you worked in television? 

VR: Yes, I had my own TV show back in the 70s for a CBS affiliate in Fargo, ND. I created two owls, a dog and a worm for the show.

AL: And you also worked in movies? 

VR: Yes, I worked as a scenic artist on commercials and movies around Arizona. I have a film credit on Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure.

AL: Tell us about We Are Puppeteers

VR: We Are Puppeteers is a small company. We write books, make custom puppets, and we do puppet shows with children. The children are the puppeteers. We have puppet shows that we have written and puppets that the children use to act out the stories. We usually rehearse with the kids and then they perform for their parents or other kids. We do the shows for events such as birthday parties.

AL: Who are some puppeteers who have inspired you? 

VR: Shari Lewis and Lamb Chop, Jim Henson, Edgar Bergen, Caroll Spinney, and many more.

AL: What do you like most about puppeteering?   

VR: I like the magic around puppets. You have an inanimate object that you can bring to life to tell a story.

AL: What advice would you give to someone who is interested in making puppets and/or performing with puppets? 

VR: Don’t be afraid of your own style. You maybe inspired by someone and copy for a while, but let your creativity come out.cover_Med

AL: Now you’ve branched out to writing and illustrating children’s books. You’ve used the same characters as your puppets. How did you come up with the idea of The Polka Dot Tea Party?  

VR: I have a granddaughter who loved tea parties. We would have one tea party after the other. She was 3 years old at the time. So she was my inspiration. I love the desert and would see shapes in nature, so I thought polka dots and tea parties was a great combination of topics.

AL: What is the hardest part of the writing process? 

VR: Editing is the hardest. Once I have an idea it usually flows, but reworking the text can be a challenge.

AL: Did illustration come naturally for you? Have you always drawn, or is it a new skill for you?    

VR: I have been drawing my whole life, but had never illustrated a book before.

AL: How long did it take to write and illustrate The Polka Dot Tea Party?   

VR: It took about 6 months to write and illustrate the book.

AL: What advice would you give to someone who would like to become an illustrator? 

VR: I would tell them to look at books that appealed to you. And daydream about your book. I find that ideas come to me when I am cleaning house.

AL: What was your publication journey like? 

VR: I learned a lot about publishing a book. I think I was a bit impatient at times. The process for publishing took a long time.

AL: How did you connect with Outskirts Press?

VR: I found them on a recommendation from a friend.

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AL: What will your next book be?

VR: My second book, Grandma Bibi, was just published in December 2019. It is a children’s book about shared memories and love. It tackles memory loss as a family issue and opens a dialogue for families to discuss what is happening to grandma or grandpa. I self-published this book. I found a printer in Michigan, 360 Digital Press, that has been great to work with.

AL: What do you like most about writing?

VR: Puppets need stories to tell and I enjoy writing them. I also like the fun of sharing my ideas with young people and bringing them joy.

AL: What do you like most about illustrating?

VR: Illustrating is challenging, creating an emotion with a drawing is the best. Illustrations set the tone of the story, whether it is light or serious. I make many drawings until I have the right one for a page.

 

To learn more about Vicki Riske and her work, check out her two websites: The Polka Dot Tea Party and We Are Puppeteers.