Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Reflections on the Vehicle of Expression, by Valerie Borey

Dear Readers,

Please welcome Valerie Borey, owner of the Vehicle of Expression which I have written about in previous posts.  Today, Valerie tells us about how it got started--a story I really enjoyed reading!  Welcome, Valerie!

 ~ ~ ~


The Vehicle of Expression was a bus for writers and readers, parked on the ice at White Bear Lake throughout February, as part of the 2017 Art Shanty Projects.

writers, how to write, writing process, kill the inner editor, writers co-op
Outside the bus were magnetic poetry, bookfacing (selfies with a book cover that morphs into your body), giant Bananagrams, Guess Who Writer’s Edition), and typewriting. Inside, people wrote steadily for five minutes, contributing their stories to growing volumes of genre-based notebooks parked in each seat. Writers and poets read original works, and there were two shows daily of Create-a-Play-on-the-Bus, where passengers became part of a scripted play. Over four weekends, about 8, 470 visitors came to the Art Shanty Projects.

I can’t remember exactly how the idea for the Vehicle of Expression came, but I felt it nagging at me while I tried to work on other things. It was like a puzzle that needed to resolve itself: what if we put together a bus for writers? What would that look like? What kinds of things would happen here? I decided to write up a design for it, thinking I just wanted to see what it would look like, but wouldn’t actually need to follow through on it. I just wanted to see it on paper. 

Once it was on paper, though, it seemed like something that had to happen. For real. 

vehicle of expression, learning to write, writing process
I remembered reading, as a teenager in the 90’s, Tom Wolfe’s The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, and how impressed with the idea I’d been, of a group of writers and artists traveling together, of being either on the bus or off the bus together, committing to a shared vision, or not. I like the fact that there’s really not much room for gray space here. I don’t like being a half-hearted participant. If you’re on the bus, you’re in. You’ve committed yourself to traveling in some specified direction 100%. 

If you’re off the bus, well, that’s fine too. Move along. 

The other mantra-like thing that stayed with me from that time as well was Timothy Leary’s “Turn on, tune in, drop out.” Most people associate the phrase with use of psychedelics, but for me, it was about frame of mind and understanding the limitations we artificially place on ourselves. 
  • Turn on: a call to open one’s mind to alternative ways of doing things. 
  • Tune in: a reminder to find and notice the sweet spots of connection, and to draw out those
    beautiful, unanticipated moments. 
  • Drop out: permission to say “no, thank you” to the junk and clutter of lifestyles we impose
    upon ourselves for no reason other than we didn’t realize there was a choice. 

The call for Art Shanty proposals brought some of those thoughts back to me, in the form of an idea for a bus of writers; of finding and sharing that sweet spot of pleasure in the written word, outside of traditional environments. It was important, too, that the worlds of playwriting and poetry and fiction and creative non-fiction be allowed to collide and mingle, and influence one another. 

We put together a team of incredible writers to represent the various parts of the project: Matthew Everett (playwright), Christine Jaspers (poet), Jaymee Kjelland (creative non-fiction/writing facilitator), and Beth Sowden (fiction), with me serving as more of a general bridge between, and things started falling into place. We bought a bus. We invited writers to come read their works. Scenes for Create-a-Play-on-the-Bus were written. We decided on a format for involving people in the writing process. And suddenly, there we were.
christine jasper, laura vosika, blue bells chronicles, blue bells trilogy
The biggest highlight for me personally was just meeting a bunch of cool people (Laura Vosika, for instance!), and getting a chance to spend some time out in the wilds (or milds) of winter together. Eric Tu would sometimes hang out on the typewriter after reading. Bruce Pomerantz. Tony Plocido.  Actually, a lot of really memorable and wonderful characters.

I got to hear some great readings. I got to witness the different ways in which writing and literature has touched people and penetrated their beings. I heard crazy stories about meeting writers like Charles Bukowski, Isabelle Allende, Salmon Rushdie, and Marlon James. I heard poignant or outrageously funny narratives that were being composed on the bus. Sometimes I’d just sit and type out the beginning of a story and wander back around an hour later to see if anyone had done anything with it, which was strangely satisfying in its own way. 

I’m fascinated by the emerging research on reading and storytelling, especially research that demonstrates how reading and experience merge in interesting ways. Reading about cinnamon, for example, will cause the olfactory regions of the brain to light up on an MRI scan, which suggests to me that there is something about the experience of reading that renders it live-able to readers. The act of smelling and the act of reading about smelling is indistinguishable on a scan. 

readers, vehicle of expression, blue bells chronicles, white bear lake
Other research shows that the simple act of telling/reading a story out loud to someone will create similar levels of activity (in similar areas) between the storyteller and the listener; their neural activity as measured on an MRI actually mirrored one another, as if both were experiencing the same thing at the same time. That’s pretty cool, don’t you think? To me, that is exactly what it means to be on the bus.  What a charming thought after all, that we don’t exist exclusively within our own skins, but possess the capability, through writing and storytelling, to share our thoughts and experiences that intimately with another. 

That brings me to another point. Matthew Everett put together a great team of playwrights, including himself, Emily Gastineau, Billy Mullaney, and Charles Campbell for Create-a-Play-on-the-Bus. They did some really interesting and playful things with their scripts. The scripts played with the unreality of it all, creating confusion at times, humor, shared nostalgia, etc. One script in particular, by Charles Campbell, ripped into the meat of The Electric Kool Aid Acid Test, critiquing the original Ken Kesey crew on the bus for being grotesquely self-absorbed in their own trip. It surprised me, actually, and made me look again. How interesting, I think, that not only can writing leap like fire from skin to skin among contemporaries, but can also leap across time and set fire to a different age. 

In English this year, my fourteen year old daughter read The Epic of Gilgamesh (ca. 2100 B.C.) and Beowulf (ca. 1000 A.D.), texts that allow us to touch the ancients, if briefly, to see the world from their point of view. That’s amazing to me, that writing can create a point of view that is relatable even across thousands of years. Across time. Across cultures. Across perspectives. 

In the history of the world, widespread literacy is really recent, but storytelling and the act of leading listeners down a path of experience, allowing them to see the pebbles on the ground, the overhanging branches, the scent of wet grass lingering in the air – it’s a special kind of intercourse. It was exciting to sit in on Jaymee’s writing sessions to hear what kinds of things passengers were creating, to watch people emerge smiling from the bus after a reading, to see how audiences reacted to Create-a-Play-on-the-Bus, and to hear the conversations sparked by the games going on outside the bus. 

In the greater context of the Art Shanty Project, which featured 19 other shanties, from the Leaf Your Fears Behind Shanty to the Sci-Fi Book Club’s escape pod to the Snow Blind, it strikes me that together we formed a sort of sensory homunculus, presenting these disproportionately enlarged organs of perception/sensation/perspective to the public and seeking representation in their experiences. It was a marvelous experiment and I’m so happy that it lifted itself off paper to enter into reality for a while. 

ABOUT VALERIE:

Valerie Borey, writer, poet, playwright
Valerie is a writer and artist living in Minneapolis, Minnesota, where she writes, teaches, and participates in research, education, and creative projects.  She has a B.A. in Cultural Anthropology, and an M.A. in the Social Sciences, and recently completed the Writer's Program in Fiction at UCLA. In addition to teaching Norwegian to learners of all ages, Valerie works as a writer, actor/improviser, and playwright. Her fiction, poetry, and dramatic works have appeared in a variety of places.  See Valerie's About the Artist page for even more!


COMING UP:

  • March 25, 2017: I will co-host Food Freedom on AM 950 with Laura Hedlund and Karen Olson Johnson.  Guests: Michael Agnew, craft beer expert, Dr. Chris R. Powell on Irish literature, and a guest author to be announced.  We'll taste Irish beer.
  • Listen to January's program: poetry and coffee beer
  • Listen to February's program: Russian literature and Russian beer
  • March 20-24, 2017: Indie-Con, an online convention of indie authors in which I'll be participating with guest blogs, Q&A, and critiquing.

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