Wednesday, April 30, 2014
The Fantastic as Entry to Reality
What happens when you gather the multi-dimensional likes of
writers, Ari Berk, M.T. Anderson, Holly Black, artist/sculpture
Charles Vess, Canadian mythic swordsmith, Jake Powning,
storyteller Charlie Bethel, Elizabethean scholar Kris
McDermott, psychologist and writer, Larissa Niec, and English
harpist/composer Elizabeth-Jane Baldry for two days of
presentations, readings and discussion in a 1920's movie
theater in Mt. Pleasant Michigan? One fantastic, energizing,
and thought provoking conference. And so "The Imagining
the Fantastic" conference organized by Ari Berk and funded
by Central Michigan University April 11-12 was
....and much more
I thank Larissa Niec for encouraging me to hop on a plane
and come and hosting me while there. After looking over the
list of folks invited and topics to be discussed, I figured it was
something not to be missed. I was correct.
At the conference and through casual conversations before
and after "formal" events, we explored "The Alchemy of
Beginnings"; discussed the use of imagination and the fantastic
as an entry into reality, rather than an escape; joked about
being kind to the Imp of the Perverse who nudges one to
distraction...or great ideas; the art of creation as an act of
healing; the need for the artist, writer or performer to leave
"space" for the reader or viewer to engage; how a story can
save one's life; the romanticization of the "madness of
creativity"; the necessity for grounding; world building in
art and story; the question of "how dark is too dark"
and on and on.
We were treated to amazing presentations including Charlie
Bethel's rendition of Gilgamesh and a screening of the
recently discovered 1924 American black and white silent
movie version of Peter Pan. Elizabeth-Jane accompanied
with the harp score she composed for the film. She pointed
out that James Barry, himself, chose the actress to play
Peter Pan and told us to look for the American, not British,
flag raised on the pirate ship after the defeat of Captain
It would have been especially fun to watch the movie with
my costume designer brother, Peter. He's been gone now
over 24 years...but I'm sure he was there at the conference
with me. He switched to using his middle name, Taylor, in
college, but said it was comforting when nurses called him
"Peter" in the hospital in London where he had lived for years,
Peter Pan had always been a favorite for Peter and me. He
would have thoroughly enjoyed the 1920's flowing
sophisticated Tinker Bell and her dramatic dying scene...
not to mention the 1920's decor of the theater complete
with art nouveau metal seats.
The setting of the conference in the movie theater in
downtown Mt. Pleasant added an intimate and relaxed
atmosphere and encouraged engagement with the attendees.
A generosity of spirit prevailed as questions were taken and
answered and conversations continued after sessions in the
lobby or at meals. Although the age range (17-70's) and fame
of everyone there varied radically, the atmosphere was one
of peers mulling over important issues together.
Sunday after the conference I was fortunate to be able
to hang out with everyone at Ari and Kris's home...
more discussion ...and a romp in the woods behind
their house where trees, perfect for sketch,story,
animation,...or perhaps habitation by one of my creatures,
were in abundance.
We came upon a troll house - not there last time Ari
took a walk. Charles and Jake seemed right at home.
Charlie and I found this tree which called to me. Charlie
offered to boost me up to the first branch... but sadly it was a
bit too high.. It would have been an amazing climb.
I returned home challenged. I loved the painting by Charles
titled "Gathering the Worlds".used as the conference logo.
"What does the world world look like in which my creatures
exist? What sounds or music would they hear? Do they live
in a cohesive world or worlds? I also arrived home determined
to finish the editing of the long mythic tale I've been working
on for ages, tentatively called Sophia's Quest. I reconnected
with illustrator, Ingrid Kallick at the conference and
promised to send her an edited draft to see if she decides
it is something she might want to brainstorm together on.
I've been busy at the computer.The draft is going out by
the end of the week. The conference and discussions gave
me an insight into the complexities and pitfalls of the
world of publishing. But being tentative never accomplished
much of anything....It's time to leap forward.
Adventure on. Wendy