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WRITING WITH YOUR LEFT HAND
"The storytelling that thrives for a long time in the milieu of work—the rural, the maritime, and the urban—is itself an artisan form of communication, as it were. It does not aim to convey the pure essence of the thing, like information or a report. It sinks the thing into the life of the storyteller, in order to bring it out of him again. Thus, traces of the storyteller cling to the story the way the handprints of the potter cling to the clay vessel. " Walter Benjamin
Hello friends, it's been a while… And in that while, the world has turned topsy-turvy. I don’t know about you, but so many places I know intimately are at war, or some proxy war, Iran, Armenia, Russia…The UK is heading fast for a terrible recession this winter and the cost of living is rocketing in the US of A. There is much famine and disease globally. I question what I can do every day to survive and lend a hand to others and the best I can come up with is to keep telling the stories made in these times. Record the history. Record the histories of others. Listen, learn, communicate and preserve words like pickles in a jar. Stories are the geography of your history. Make your own route maps. I know I make mine. When I can’t go back to what was, I rebuild the architecture of my memories in my head by paving the streets with commas and periods and colons and hyphens and that is what takes me back to my neighborhood.
After all, storytelling is a fundamental part of us. We’ve been telling them before there was even language. They let us share information in ways that create the emotional connections we all long for.
In this gathering of our community, I will tell my stories and help you tell yours. I will share thoughts and news on what I’m reading, watching, hearing, and upload pages from my upcoming writing projects. You will also be treated to a grab-bag of writerly tools, cool anecdotes, recommendations, examples and exercises, and some art to boot. We’ll have community chats and interviews with artists and writers. You can subscribe for free to the basic newsletter or for $5 a month to all the content and archives. Thanks in advance for connecting. Let’s get writing together, one page at a time.
In this section of my Substack, you’ll find stories of my time growing up in Iran. The first story, THE JUBES, actually has a cool backstory. Let me begin by saying that my thoughts and prayers are with the writer Salman Rushdie, who was brutally attacked for his writing a few months ago. A terrifying reminder of censorship and writing, something we must fervently fight against. The generosity of Rushdie’s spirit can be seen below when he offered me a critique of my writing, one of the absolute highlights of my career!
It was 1990 when I decided to leave my ludicrous career in advertising and become a writer. It was also when a Fatwa was announced on Salman Rushdie’s life for insulting Islam in his book, THE SATANIC VERSES (which has the most gorgeous opening 14 pages). Rushdie, one of the greatest writers of our times and a truly generous spirit, was one of the reasons I decided to become a writer. I resolved to send him my first story but he was in hiding. So… “Dear Penguin, please forward my story to Mr. Rushdie.” I was surprised and shocked when an undisclosed envelope arrived announcing I could actually write! My thoughts are with Salman and his generous spirit, who provided me with one of the most unforgettable highlights of my life, posted below.
Click here to read THE JUBES
Here's a snippet from another section of my newsletter, BUNNYMAN BOOK. This is my experimental work that pushes words to do more than speak! As Wittgenstein would say, what about the space between p and q?
I’ll add pages here periodically so you can have some fun though it is a serious piece. Really.
Our character is passionate about his beliefs, so much so that he tests things out on himself. He has grown rabbit ears due to the side effects of drug testing! He is an explorer examining the relationship between dis-ease and the mind. The half-human aspect represents the animal testing issue which cuts to the bone. I suppose you could call it a fairy tale that crashes with reality. Did you know that the pharmaceutical industry has a worse record of law-breaking than any other industry!?! So you can imagine a treasure trove of abominable material.
I was watching MasterClass (which I love) and just wanted to say I find it interesting how well you can get to know someone in eight hours! If you are looking for a good screen/TV writing class, I highly recommend AARON SORKIN’S MASTERCLASS, the writer for THE SOCIAL NETWORK and many other fabulous and thoughtful shows. It comes in highly enjoyable short lessons. I especially like his concept of “Intention and Obstacle.” Not that I work for MasterClass, but I believe that you should surround yourself with the best talent you can and this program helps you do that.
AS IF BY CHANCE by David Lan - For theatre folks: David Lan was the dynamic artistic director of the Young Vic in London from 2000 - 2018, making the theatre a home for innovative directors from across the globe. David's evocative, fast-paced memoir takes us all over the world, introducing us to an extraordinary cast of characters, places, and experiences both on stage and off. I was so pleased to have the honor of working with him as a judge on the $10,000 William Saroyan Human Rights Playwriting Contest I was administering and hear firsthand his passion for social justice.
(David was also recently the producer for the fabulous LITTLE AMAL).
THE NECKLACE By Guy De Maupassant - I was looking through some short story collections last weekend and re-read THE NECKLACE by Maupassant, a story that inspired many others. (Online at the wonderful Gutenberg.org) I liked it just as much as I did 20 years ago when I first read it. If you want to contemplate the fickleness of life and see the greed for material wealth hasn’t changed a jot since the last century, give it a go. Maupassant was a master of short stories and was regarded as the only real rival to Chekov in this form…Even William Saroyan wrote a short story about Maupassant in his 1971 book, LETTERS FROM 74 RUE TAITBOUT.
THINGS AND THANGS
How could one not mention what is going on in Iran now? Iran is going through much civil unrest as it struggles toward democracy. Everyone has the right to freedom and it is both beautiful and sad to see the younger generation losing their fear of the theocracy and taking this on. Please send strength and prayers to this courageous group who shout, "Shoot us! We are not afraid anymore” as they sing the anthem BARAYE below.” #MahsaAmini I thought this was rather a beautiful thing as Coldplay invited Goldshifteh Farahani on stage to sing the anthem of the protesting youth in Iran. Listen to it on the Guardian site here: BARAYE and read the heartfelt lyrics below.
The POMODORO TECHNIQUE is something I love and do instinctively now. It’s a time management and productivity method that helps you alternate focused work sessions — with frequent short breaks that significantly enhance productivity. You’ve probably tried other methods, but this one stands out. I tend to take small exercise breaks in-between pomodoros, which gives an added boost rather than a snack break!
WHY DO WE NEED EXERCISES?
That is the code I live by - They are all muscles to be developed and we can work on that last skill here. WRITING. I began writing because I had to write. I needed to write. It gave me context for my life. It gave me roots when I was floating internally. And I clung to it with my life, experimenting with all different forms. Because human beings are a collection of stories. Everyone has a story to tell. What is your story? The story you would like to tell? The story that only you can tell? The one that is unique to you? Writing can and can’t be taught.
Why do we need writing exercises? To unleash your power by breaking the rules of writing and getting out of your own way. (Based on the upcoming book of the same name, WRITING WITH YOUR LEFT HAND.)
There is no such thing as writer’s block - It is only fear that you need to break down. Find the fear, pinpoint it and eliminate it. Other times it’s just research - you have to do your research. It’s what gives you material to write from. Whatever the case, these writing prompts and exercises will take you on a wondrous journey and help you experiment, explore and challenge your writing.
You can write anytime - In the middle of the night, on a train, or speak your stories directly into a recording device. You will learn techniques for finding your voice, strengthening it and utilizing it to convey deeper meaning by exploring the intersections between today's world and the role of language. As to the debate of whether good writing can be taught, I know that if you constantly push the boundaries of your creativity, you never know where you'll end up.
I only wish I’d known sooner - that anything was possible when I was a beginning writer, searching for creative writing exercises and books and combing bookstores and libraries up and down New York City and London. Had I known just how far out-of-the-box I could go to break barriers, the results would have been much more surprising, satisfying and saved a lot of time. But I was a nervous beginner writer and scared like most to venture outside the norm. I hope to guide you to fantastical destinations on your journey.
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Bianca Bagatourian is an award-winning playwright whose play, THE TIME OF OUR LIES co-produced with Viggo Mortensen, was nominated for The Amnesty International Human Rights Award at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. THE TIME OF OUR LIES premiered at The Park Theatre in London, 2019, and told the life story of radical historian Howard Zinn, through words, movement and music. Bianca received her MFA in playwriting from Brooklyn College in 2008 and her BFA from Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, California. She was also the founder and administrator of the $10,000 William Saroyan Human Rights Playwriting Award for the Armenian Dramatic Arts Alliance.
“An urgent, surprisingly watchable polemic about political deceit and the value of history lessons. It makes for a thought-provoking watch in the era of fake news.” - What’s On Stage
"The Time Of Our Lies presents a sharp look at how democracy has been used as an excuse to perpetrate atrocious acts throughout history. Bagatourian's dramatization is poignant and accessible.”
- Broadway World
“What you have here in this play is both lively and substantive” Howard Zinn
What’s Your Story?
Everyone has a story to tell. What’s your story? The story you would like to tell? Though everyone has different writing styles and writing processes, you cannot create in a vacuum! If you’d like to discuss your play or play idea, get in touch. Whether you’re on page one or the third draft, I look forward to helping you crack your script. After reading your piece, we’ll schedule a two-hour discussion to review notes. Contact me at: BIANCABAGATOURIAN@SUBSTACK.COM. I will also recommend books on playwriting, playwriting classes and workshops online.
Here’s what award-winning poet Aaron Poochigian had to say:
“By identifying the unfulfilled potentialities of my script, Bianca turned my pipe dream into a real, performable play. In retrospect, her suggestions were what should have been obvious to me all along. Without her advice, I might have spent years stumbling around, discovering what my play wanted to be."
- Aaron Poochigian