Yearning for God, Trying to Love My Neighbor, Making Theatre and Beauty, Building a Life...

Monday, January 19, 2015

Raising the Book

NOTE: I just posted this at my new arts blog I'll Drown My Book. I am also posting it here because it explains this site's temporary hiatus for the last several months. But, no worries, we are now up and running again:

In William Shakespeare's The Tempest the protagonist-wizard Prospero gives a memorable and stirring speech. After a long exile on a desert island (where he has mastered his magic, raised a daughter, befriended/enslaved/mistreated a monster and a fairy, and lived a painful, imperfect, turbulent, yet enchanted life), Prospero is about to find the freedom from the island he has so long been drifting on and go back to the outside world.

In the speech, Prospero vividly describes the power his magical art gave him, but then declares his intent to give up that same magic before setting on his way home to Naples:
...But this rough magic
I here abjure, and, when I have required
Some heavenly music, which even now I do,
To work mine end upon their senses that
This airy charm is for, I'll break my staff,
Bury it certain fathoms in the earth,
And deeper than did ever plummet sound
I'll drown my book.
(Act V, Scene I)

Playing Prospero at Utah Valley University
In my undergrad years at Utah Valley University, I played Prospero in a unique and creative production directed at UVU by Christopher Clark. Taking a cue from Jacobean Theatre, Clark separated the bodies and voices of the characters (I played Prospero's body), making it similar to a human enacted puppet show. Due to this fact, as I played out Prospero's movement every night, I was able to listen to the words I was acting out, rather than focus on reciting them. The above speech stuck with me particularly and even before I had been cast in the play. I had long connected with the role of Prospero, despite some of the character's problematic flaws. So these words stuck out to me at this particular juncture of my life, and when I contemplated what I was going to name this new blog.

William Shakespeare wrote this play at the very end of his life (the general consensus is that either The Tempest or A Winter's Tale was his last play), so many read this speech as the great Bard retiring his playwriting and "breaking the staff" of his enchanted words. So I connected with that idea when I have contemplated the last several months of my life, which led away from my blog writing for a period. I took a sabbatical from online writing until recently for a few reasons:

1) Pragmatically, I was finishing up my MFA degree and applying for jobs, so time was precious.

2) More sensitively, much of what I was writing was of a religious nature, and I was writing on subjects that were deemed controversial by members of my faith (like my support for what I call faithful Mormon feminism), and I was afraid that, although my essay writing was receiving lots of positive attention, it was also labeling me as a firebrand. Valuing my faith greatly, and seeing activists like Kate Kelly excommunicated in recent months, I was frankly afraid that if I angered the wrong people with my online, I may lose my place in the Church. I rationalized that I was a playwright/screenwriter first, and that my online writing shouldn't have so much focus anyway, but I would be lying if I didn't say that fear was playing in with my decisions at this time. 

3) Partially connected to the point above, some of the members of a couple of the blogs I wrote for seemed to grow more and more annoyed with my more radical positions regarding women in the Church, etc. and the increasingly personal elements to my writing, instead of writing from a detached, academic standpoint.  I felt that I was becoming a liability to them and that it wasn't fair for me to stay on, when I was such a different writer than the more moderate fellow they had originally invited. So instead of allowing myself to continue to feel alienated, and forcing them to feel continued discomfort, I resigned from the collective blogs I belonged to. This was in no way a forced decision, as those involved were still insistent that I was welcome to write with them. However, to me the writing on the wall was plain as to how I was being perceived by some in these communities.

Further than that, though, I also discontinued my personal blog And My Soul Hungered.  This was an even more difficult choice for me at the time, as I felt a lot of personal growth and achievement with my work on that site. Much of my writing on that site had focused on my religious and spiritual identity at its most honest and to abandon it felt like self-censorship and capitulation. The site had caused much comfort for some, and much controversy for others. I had even lost one of my closest friendships over what I had written there.

Unlike Shakespeare, this "drowning of my book" and "breaking my staff" hadn't come at the end of a lifetime of artistic contribution and a hard earned retirement. I wasn't like Prospero, exiled to a desert island by others-rather, I was exiling myself. I never felt quite at ease with the decision, it felt so much like personal cowardice, afraid of difficulty in finding a job after my graduation, afraid of Church discipline, afraid of alienating friends and family. 

But now I feel a resurgence of courage about my online writing and its purpose. My faith hasn't changed. I am still just as believing in my Mormon faith as I was before, despite some of my nontraditional interpretations. Yet I am also feeling more secure, more confident in being able to have my own voice and be my own person without any other person or group's oversight, especially on my own blogs and in my own theatrical/literary works.

However, I am now dividing my work. I have revived my old site, And My Soul Hungered, where the majority of my spiritual commentary will remain. Yet I have also created this new site, I'll Drown My Book, which has a dash of irony in the title. Rather than the traditional take on The Tempest, I'll be a penitent Prospero who, instead of drowning his book, will raise it up from the depths.

Instead of focusing on religion, this site will focus on the arts, on culture, on more universal concerns that move beyond my insular Mormon community. I have been teaching Humaities at Provo College this semester, and I have been inspired lately in teaching about the visual arts. I've taught units on Van Gogh and the Renaissance, and have been inspired by those artists' passion, their discipline to their craft, their expansive views on life, and the blessing their works gave us. So I'll Drown My Book will follow more along those lines: my thoughts as a writer, as an artist, as a human being. It doesn't downplay my spirituality, but rather shows a different manifestation of it. 

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