New Writing: The Red Mug in Compass Literary Journal

A red mug

I am delighted to announce that a piece of short fiction I wrote, The Red Mug, has been published by Compass Literary Journal and you can read it online. This is the fifth story of the collection to be published and the fourth story to be published that began its life during my stint at the Playa Summer Lake residency in 2012. I’ve said it before, mostly as a joke, but now I’m beginning to take it seriously: There is some serious creative mojo emanating from that place.

Here’s the inspiration for the story. I once owned a red mug. It was my writing mug. I had it throughout the 1990s, and I was so attached to it that I took it with me to Washington State where I did my first artist residency  in 2001. If it’s possible to love an inanimate object, then I loved this red mug.  At the end of that residency I had a feeling that I should leave it in my studio. I felt like this idea came from the mug. It had served me well and now, it told me, it was time to spread its magic to the artists who would be in that studio after me. So I left it there, without remorse and with some pride.

You should stop here if you haven’t read the story but plan to.

This is a rare instance when I don’t have anyone to thank for helping me out with my work. I didn’t give it to anyone to read for feedback or comments. I had the latest draft  on my computer and read it on the plane to Arizona a couple of weeks ago. I thought all it needed were a few small changes. I made those and submitted it to Compass the first day I was at Arcosanti, one day before their submission deadline. What drew me to Compass? Their mission statement includes this sentence: “We as a magazine aim to explore how individuals experience and articulate loss (whether in their lives or others).” Oh yes, the collection is very much about loss.

Okay, really, don’t read any more if you haven’t read the story. 

This is now my favorite coffee mug, used on days when I'm doing my work.
This is now my favorite coffee mug, used on days when I’m doing my work.


Okay, here’s the rest of the story.

In 2004 my mother died. Six months later I was kind of pulling it together. Still numb, but not crying all the time and not terribly depressed. One afternoon I went to a Bed, Bath & Beyond shopping for I don’t remember what and I came upon shelf after shelf of that brand of mug, same style, multiple colors, blue mugs, white mugs, black mugs, green mugs, yellow mugs, and red mugs.

I stood in front of them, paralyzed and overwhelmed by a sense of loss. Not only of my mother, but of myself.  I felt like my life had gone off the tracks, though I couldn’t say how or why or when, and that the person I was,  the person who was creative, funny, smart, curious, the person who had so much potential, that person was gone. Gone forever.

It was part of my grieving and it seemed right for this character in the collection to have a similar experience.

Thankfully in my case, that person was not gone forever.

Other stories in the collection:

There Is Joy before the Angels of God 


Other Leevilles

12-Bar Blues (Sorry this one is not online.  You’d have to buy it from the publisher, Pilgrimage)

Want still more writing?

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What’s A Life’s Work about? It’s a documentary about people engaged in projects they won’t see completed in their lifetimes. You can find out more on this page.

We recently ran a crowdfunding campaign and raised enough to pay an animator and license half of the archival footage the film requires. We need just a bit more to pay for licensing the other half of the archival footage, sound mixing, color correction, E&O insurance and a bunch of smaller things. When that’s done, the film is done! It’s really very VERY close!

So here’s how you can help get this film out to the world. It’s very simple: click the button…

Donate Now!

… and enter the amount you want to contribute (as little as $5, as much as $50,000) and the other specifics. That’s it. No login or registration required. Your contribution does not line my pocket; because the film is fiscally sponsored by the New York Foundation for the Arts, all money given this way is overseen by them and is guaranteed to go toward the completion of this film. Being fiscally sponsored also means that your contribution is tax-deductible. So why not do it? The amount doesn’t matter as much as the fact that you’re helping to bring a work of art into the world. And that, I think, is really exciting!

Questions? Email me at d a v i d ( aT } b l o o d o r a n g e f i l m s {d o t] c o m[/color-box]


Cowboy Koan

While I was at Playa Summer Lake artist residency, I came across a book, Bill Kitt: From Trail Driver to Cowboy Hall of Fame by D. L. “Jack” Nicol and Amy Thompson, and in that book I came across this saying attributed to Will James:

There never was a horse that couldn’t be rode, there never was a cowboy that couldn’t be throw’d.

I’m not sure what this has to do with A Life’s Work, but I wrote the quote down when I saw it and it seemed to say something to me about the film. But what?

Any ideas?

Bad Math

There’s a saying I’m fond of: Don’t do the math. What math? The bad math that tells you how much time and money you spend on your art in relation to how much money you earn from your art. The math that reveals your acceptance to rejection ratio and the hours of suffering to hours of elation ratio. For most everyone, the results are grim.

Recently, I discovered another math not to do: the number of drafts. The excruciatingly talented writer John Yearley hipped me to a nice little psychological trick: name your drafts with the date and not a draft number. So instead of MyStoryVer193.doc try MyStory031812.doc. Of course you could just count those 193 drafts, but it’s less in your face this way.

But there are times when doing the math isn’t bad. There is, as I discovered at the Playa artist residency, a good math. About two weeks into my residency at Playa I decided to write 1,000 words a day for thirty days. These thousand words had to be part of new stories, a couple of which I had in mind before I arrived. That would theoretically yield 30,000 words. That’s about 100 pages. For me, that would be a colossal output.

I inherited from my father a fondness for numbers.
I stuck to it, and from February 1 until March 4, I wrote 1,000 or more words. (I took three days off and one day I wrote about 500 words). The result was a total of 31,416 words and 12 new stories generated. The 1,000 words forced me to come up with new narratives. At the end of 30 days, I was cooked, but happy.

I know that 90% of these words are crap, and the stories little more than sketches. Some of them will be developed, some of them will merged, others discarded. But the point is I now have a giant chunk of marble to work with, to chip away at, to carve and polish. For the first time this collection feels and looks like a book.

So what next? I need to get back to A Life’s Work, trying to find money to hire an editor and complete the film. And while I do that, work on that giant chunk of marble. I’ll also be trying to avoid the bad math and trying to embrace that good math.

Homeward Bound

I leave Playa today. It has been a remarkable experience. The environment has opened up a creative vein, the people have stimulated, inspired, and nourished. As a writer, I have been more productive here these last two months than I have been in the last three years combined.

Spending two months in a place like Summer Lake makes me wonder: could I live in a place like this? Let’s put aside for a moment the fact that spending that amount of time at an artist residency is not living in a place. I have been living in a fantasy world where things like money, work, family obligations, health issues, and food shopping are shoved conveniently to the background.

Have you put that aside? Great. While you’re at it, let’s put aside the question entirely.

In NYC I don’t need to leave my building to have an impromptu dinner with my beloved niece; I can meet my friend S. in the middle of a Friday afternoon for coffee and insightful conversation; J. for Sunday Thai brunch and chuckles; M. for hearty early breakfasts and heart to hearts; bike across 57th Street to the Upper East Side to serenade lil’ E. and have takeaway with J.; bike over the Manhattan Bridge for an eggy lunch with W. and P.; head uptown for cheap ethnic eats and a catch up with the globetrotting A.; meet S. for Vietnamese food and share many laughs over sometimes painful subjects; teach my wonderful guitar students in my welcoming apartment; exploring Chinatown and other neighborhoods with my dearest El. These are some of the people in my life in NYC.

The New York Public Library, Lincoln Center in the summer, SummerStage in Central Park, Central Park, the Hudson River, the bike path along the Hudson River, Fairway, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Noguchi Museum, Sullivan Street Bakery … The things I cherish in NYC are too numerous to list.

And that, I think, answers the question.

So, it is with gratitude and a little sadness that I say goodbye to this place, to these new friends, and to the hawks. But it is with excitement that I look forward to saying hello again to my loved ones and to being home.

Here are some photos of Playa.

Dispatches from Playa: True North

Here are some photos I took of a piece by fellow Playa resident, sculptor Rob Licht. It’s called True North, and he was out on the Playa many nights, using his stride to measure distances and using a laser point to line up the stones.


It’s impossible to get the scale of this in these photos, and that’s kind of the point. Something about it reminds me of trying to measuring time, and that reminds me in a big way of the film.

I really like this piece. Good job, Rob.

Ask the Filmmaker: A Typical Day at an Artist Residency

Dear Filmmaker,

I’ve been reading your artist colony posts. What’s your average day like at  an artist residency?


Dear KG,

Playa Summer Lake Artist ResidencyThanks for the question. My life is really quite boring when I’m at an artist residency. The days are all pretty much the same. I lose track of the date and what day of the week it is. It hardly matters.

Here at Playa Summer Lake I’ve been writing — working on a short story collection that’s been a part of my life for a long time. Here’s my regimen:

  • Wake up around dawn.
  • Stretch.
  • Breakfast (a mix of cereals, raisins, a banana with milk, coffee with milk).
  • Free write three pages in a notebook.
  • Work — write 1,000 focused words at the computer. (This is well above the norm for me when I’m wearing my writer hat at home.)
  • Revise older writing.
  • Lunchtime.
  • Afternoons here have been spent working on a grant proposal, adapting a play for a possible film project, playing guitar.
  • Maybe go for a walk.
  • Dinner.
  • Check email, Facebook, upload stuff to the blog etc.
  • A movie or read some, maybe write a blog post. Possibly ping-pong if I can talk someone into it.
  • Go to sleep around 11pm.
  • Wake up the next morning and do the same thing.

It’s a quiet life, but I like it.

And KG, your question has me thinking about what I do here that I don’t do in my real life and vice-a-versa. I see another post…

Dispatches from Playa: Summer Lake

The Filmmaker looked at the lake through the kitchen window and said, “Jesus, how many photographs can I take of this lake?”

The Poet stopped making his lunch and gazed out the window. “Look at it though,” he said, “it hasn’t done that before.”

The Filmmaker went outside and took more photographs.

Here then, 18 views of Summer Lake. Which do you like the most?


Every one leaves Playa today. Everyone but me. I’m here for another month.

They are heading to their homes. To their wives, husbands, girlfriends, boyfriends, parents, friends, to their real worlds. I will miss them all, but I will savor the moments we shared. Sitting around the table at snack time, listening to everyone answer one of Terry’s incisive questions; discussing the Beatles, Led Zepplin, and Villa Lobos with Keane; exchanging books with Mary (Sam Shepard for Denis Johnson); talking about Werner Herzog, Walter De Maria, and owls with Jamie; getting cosmic with Kumani while waiting for the sole wired computer; eating John’s just-baked bread; watching films–from the sublime to the stupid–with Scot.

Reading, hearing, and seeing all of their work has been an inspiration and nourishing. 100% certified organic.

I started photographing the birdhouses on the grounds of Playa. Looping through my head, Homesick by the Kings of Convenience.

Travel safely and be well, friends. See you on Facebook.

Get Thee to an Artist Residency! Advice from an “Expert”

I’m an artist residency whore. My friends know this and I am not ashamed. I hope to continue my whoring ways until the day I die, that’s how fond of the residency experience I am.

Residencies come in all shapes and sizes. Some limit whom they accept (Hedgebrook is for women writers, for example) but most welcome all artists, at all stages of their careers, and several are open to academics and scientists as well. Some are more like vacation spots and require that you pay to attend, others politely suggest you make a nominal contribution, many are a free ride and some may  grant you a travel or hardship stipend. Some residencies are designed so that you’re roughing it in the great outdoors and some pamper you to no end. Most are somewhere in between.

At some places you have to cook and shop for yourself, at others you have a master chef making every meal for you and staff serving it to you. And again, some places are somewhere in between. I’m writing this at Playa Summer Lake Artist Residency, where they cook one dinner a week for the residents and offer an often filling snack-meal at 5pm Tuesday through Friday, and the rest of the meals you make yourself. However, Playa maintains an impressively stocked pantry that invites pillaging by hungry artists. It’s full of organic goodies, local produce, some healthy already prepared food, and fresh eggs laid by their own chickens. (I had some of these for lunch the other day and boy were they delicious.) You don’t have to leave the compound to shop for food.

“David,” I can hear you saying, “food, I get it. Give me another good reason to apply to one of these places?”

Jeez, you’re impatient! Okay, here are ten reasons.

You need to focus on your work.
My studio at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, 2009

These places offer distractionless time. It’s not like my life is ordinarily that complicated, but even so, it is full of mundane stuff that causes stress and sucks up time I’d rather use making stuff. At a residency, you just need to think about whatever project you’re working on. Sometimes you have to think about what to make for dinner, but that’s not so bad.

You need to get off the Internet.

Most residencies have limited Internet access, and though this sometimes seems inconvenient while you’re there, it’s a godsend. Honestly, there’s no reason for me to be on the Internet for more than an hour a day. But at home, I squander a lot of time online doing who knows what.

You need to stop watching cable/Hulu/YouTube/Netflix streaming, etc.

Take a break from all that visual and aural stimulation. I find I read more at these places. I will also just sit in a chair and think, something I rarely seem to do in my real life. Curiously, at this residency, I’m not listening to much music.

You need to meet some interesting and exciting people.

If you like having artists as friends, then go, go, go. Oh sure, there will probably be someone there you’d like to punch in the head, and sometimes there are pissing contests, but mostly the people are generous, accepting, and supportive.

My studio at the MacDowell Colony, 2010.
You need to get into nature.

Most residencies are nestled in a spectacular natural setting. Do your thing, have some lunch, go for hike, go back to doing your thing. Sounds like a great day, right? I find I fall into a circadian rhythm at these places, going to sleep earlier and waking up earlier. This morning I watched the sunrise. At one point I was becoming impatient: it was pretty and all, but I was ready for the big guy to come up from behind the mountain. “Come on, already!” I thought. And then I laughed at how absurd that was. I can’t rush the sun, I relearned. I think when we’re in our hyperhectic real lives, we forget how to laugh at our absurdities. Being in nature has a way of putting us in place.

You need some new stimulating reading, viewing, listening material.

Sitting around with your fellow residents, discussions will arise that reference books, films, paintings, music, etc., that are unfamiliar to you. You will come away with a nice list of art to explore.

You need to be in a safe place where you can do something out of your comfort zone.

Before I went to a residency, I never played guitar for anyone. Encouraged by my people, I took part in a music salon night, and there’s been no turning back. Here at Playa, I may write a poem. I’m also growing a beard. (Actually, it’s more like I’m not shaving.)

You need to shake your groove thing.

Big art studios + night time = dance parties. Though this is also largely dependent on the group you’re with, should they occur be prepared to work it on out doing the twist, the funky chicken, the robot and whatever else your body tells you to do.

You need some romance in your life.

I’ve heard this happens sometimes.

You need to add a line on your CV.

Some residencies look better on your resume than others, and I’m not sure how impressive even those look, but it doesn’t hurt when you’re applying for grants or other residencies.

You need to step up your table tennis game.

Ping pong is a staple at artist residencies. I find after a game or ten I’m re-focused and ready to go back to work.

And what if you’re not an artist? Well then make some stuff and apply. What are you waiting for?

Questions? Comments?

Some places to find out about artist residencies:



[Cross posted on]

More Photos of Playa

Here are some photos of my surroundings these days.

Hope you enjoy them.