A necessary adventure, in search of artistic acknowledgement

I had a great conversation with playwright Germaine Shames (http://sitekreator.com/germainewrites/main_page.html). It was a pleasure chatting with Germaine about my work and what she is doing, and she was  very generous sharing tactics on getting plays produced. It wasn’t a matter of her revealing a silver bullet approach, as much as reaffirming the sense that getting work out is as much an adventure as writing it, and that this adventure has to be embraced. She shared with me a great David Bowie clip where he talks about making art to please oneself first, which really hit the spot.

I think I’m actually in a kind of advantageous moment where there is really nothing pulling me in a particular direction, so I’m forced to do that thing that Bowie is talking about. Obviously, I’m working on creating demand for me, but the bright side of it is that it’s a wide open situation, mine to define. I think I wish it were otherwise, but in fact need to be here. There’s plenty to bitch about in terms of the challenges of getting one’s art acknowledged, but at the same time, this more or less forces me to keep going in my exploration and creation. Which is a necessary adventure.

Faith is a kind of future seeing*

Faith for me is a physical experiencing, a kind of future seeing that is inseparable from creation, because we’re doing/making something that hasn’t happened yet, but it is in us to do this. So to the degree that literature is an act and experience of creation, it is inseparable from some form of faith. Whether you are producing literature or consuming it, you are in the presence of faith.

This faith is not a hope, or some stubborn, unfounded belief, or an egotistical insistence that my way is the right way, or that all my images will play out as I’d like them to; they will not. This faith is an access point to what we already are but haven’t manifested. Though there may be no proof, there is never the less substance and alignment, feeling and purpose. And then the creation comes.

My growing sense is that no one fulfills any significant intention of creation without large doses of faith. Though writers are champion doubters, capable of spinning intricate fantasies of disbelief, there is that core that knows and always knew. In this sense, faith is what we can’t escape of ourselves, no matter how much we equivocate. Though there may be no tangible proof for it, it is that essential element of identity without which you are not you anyway, so why not just accept it?

Though doubt might seem eminently more reasonable, provable and replicable, it is actually an absurd indulgence when it drives you to embrace and enforce your own oblivion. I don’t believe there is some external force that insists on my annihilation, but if there was, I certainly won’t be a party to it in my own intellect. If this sort of doubt registers as a passive naturalistic kind of death urge, then faith is an equally innate but less unexercised movement towards life and light.


*Rock & Sling, the literary journal that recently published my personal history essay, Black Sheep, asked contributors to share our view on the connection between literature and faith. They included this in lieu of the standard bio.

A night of true stories — fundraiser for San Marcos Elementary


CONTACT Karen Burns 480-332-7914

EMAIL Karen@burnsitup.com

July 24, 2015


ImprovMANIA and Burns it Up present a “Back to School Night” storytelling event at ImprovMANIA in Historic Downtown Chandler on Sunday, August 23, 2015 at 7:00 p.m. Tickets are $10 cash at the door with proceeds benefitting San Marcos Elementary, a Title 1 school in Chandler, AZ.



Burns-It-Up, a non-profit organization based in Chandler, Arizona, and ImprovMANIA, a Chandler based improv comedy club, presents a night of true stories about lessons learned in and out of school along with live music by Duane Mathes on August 23, 2015 at 7:00 p.m. The night will include stories written and performed by Chandler residents Karen Burns, Keith Burns, Monica Avila and Andrea Parker along with Joe Bardin, Debra Rich and Brad Bond from the greater Phoenix area.

Tickets are $10 cash at the door. All proceeds benefit San Marcos Elementary, a title 1 school. Title 1 is the federal government’s commitment to closing the achievement gap between low-income and moderate-to-high income students. Chandler Unified School District’s goal is to assist disadvantaged and underserved students to meet the Arizona College and Career Ready Standards.

ImprovMANIA is located at 250 S. Arizona Avenue, Chandler, AZ 85225

Burns-it-Up isa positive, creative, non-profit organization offering classes for children and adults in Chandler, Arizona.Pursuing excellence in theatre and individuals since 2005.


ImprovMANIA offers two improv comedy shows every Friday and Saturday night at their Downtown Chandler location as well as improv classes for children and adults.



For more information regarding this event or classes:

Karen Burns, 480.332.7914, karen@burnsitup.com

For more information in improvMANIA

Dave Specht, 480.699-4598, info@improvMANIA.net

For more information on Burns It Up:


For more information on Chandler Unified School District Title 1 Schools:


Reading at Improvmania in Chandler, August 23rd

I’ve been invited to read at Improvmania in Chandler, August 23rd. It’s a back to school fundraiser for kids in need, so I picked a piece about career growth, which is code for the struggle between earning and living and being an artist. It was published a while back in Toad Suck Review, but I’ve never read it publicly.

Despite the name, Improvmania, I will not be improvising, other than the possibly charming off the cuff banter before I begin reading word for word. This will be my first reading since Lit Lounge last year at the Scottsdale Museum of Modern Art. I was nervous then, and when it was my turn, the mic was set too low for me by about three inches, and instead of adjusting it, or asking someone to help me adjust it, I read my entire piece in an ever so slight stoop. While this might have been sort of beneficial for my core musculature, it was not the best way to deliver a light hearted  accounted of my adventures as a self-conscious male model. Actually, that’s often how I felt modeling, slightly off kilter, never quite comfortable, too uncertain to ask questions.

So I’m looking forward to reading into a properly adjusted microphone and having a good time with everyone who turns out. Debra has promised more information soon, and I will post as soon as available.





Thank you for sending us “Black Sheep.” We love it and would like to publish it in the fall issue of Rock & Sling.

Thank you for sending us “Black Sheep.” We love it and would like to publish it in the fall issue of Rock & Sling.

Attached is a publishing agreement, which you may sign electronically and return as a Word or pdf document, or sign physically and mail to the address listed in the agreement.

In order to make our contributor notes more meaningful to our readers, we hope that you will write briefly about what you believe to be the connection between literature and faith, in terms of the work you will have in the forthcoming issue. I know it is a complicated and introspective request, but please limit yourself to 300-500 words if possible.

We don’t include the usual biographical information – prizes won or nominated for, previous publications, education – in Rock & Sling’s contributor notes.

Please return the publishing agreement and your contributor note torockandsling@gmail.com<mailto:rockandsling@gmail.com> at your earliest convenience.

Also, during the summer I’ll copy edit your essay and will make any suggested edits, which I’ll run by you before the piece is finalized for publication. In the meantime, would you be willing to expand your essay a bit, by clarifying whether you’re still a part of the community you reference in the essay, and touching on the worldview/beliefs you’ve developed for yourself? If you could send me your revised essay by June 1, that’d give me plenty of time to edit it and for us to finalize it.

Thank you for trusting us with your work, Joe, and for helping us make the best issue possible.


Julie Riddle
Rock & Sling
Creative Nonfiction Editor

To the Sundance Screenwriters Lab selection committee

To the Selection Committee,

It’s easy to get opinions on a screenplay; it’s tough to get meaningful engagement. I’ve resisted the contests, because they seem so purely hit-and-miss. I realize I’m really not after being discovered – I’ve discovered myself – but enhancing my craft and drawing together a team around Seeing Maya that will bring this film to fruition. I’m a good writer, good enough to know I’m not a director or a producer (yet). For me, the Lab is an opportunity to learn, and to organically grow this community, while of course, preparing the story more completely for its telling.

I spent twenty years prevaricating over whether or not I’m an artist. I always thought some external event, some form of recognition, would settle it for me. Now, I know this is an internal experiencing, and that chapter of my life is blessedly closed. I’m not trying to validate those years of struggle, or show the doubters they’re wrong, or reach some personal goal. I am precisely the artist I feel myself to be. The only question is what move to make next and whom to move with?

Which brings me to Sundance and this application. The fact is that Seeing Maya is exactly the kind of work I want to do, and that the type of people who draw to Sundance, if I may generalize, seem to be just the kind of people I want to learn from and work with. So I’m excited about the opportunity.

The threat of a staged reading

There is nothing like the “threat” of a staged reading for a new play, to clarify the mind, and show me that the play’s not quite ready. Brenda Jean Foley was kind of enough to consider my new play for the Mesa Encore Theatre’s Second Sunday Play Reading series. Fortunately, she was busy preparing for her lead role in Carousel, now at the Mesa Arts Center, and various other involvements, including motherhood, to read the play right away.

I went from waiting impatiently for her response, what was taking so long? To reflecting on the play, to realizing that in fact, there was more work to be done.

I find there’s really no substitute for the passage of time and fresh eyes and ears, for clarifying scene, theme and character. It could be a night, it could be a week, it could be a month or more.

My instincts are good, but I don’t always have the patience to follow my instincts. My gut told me that structurally the play wasn’t quite there. I didn’t know the answer, I just knew an answer was wanting. The good news is I’ve come to my senses in time to take the play back, and that Brenda had not read it through yet.

It’s not that a play has to be perfect for a staged reading – the staged reading might very well reveal more improvements. But even a staged reading is an audition of sorts, and it’s never a good idea to approach an audition unprepared.

Opening scene of SEEING MAYA


Danny rushes in. Spotting Maya within the bustling lunch crowd, he’s stopped in his tracks.


I saw her before she saw me, and something made me stop and just watch, how people, especially women, looked at her, not with envy, but with the spontaneity of discovery. And I knew exactly why, even if they didn’t. The pure aliveness that poured through her, like some kind of body-generated light, was plainly visible to me, the way some people see auras. I knew then I had a gift for seeing Maya, which changed both of us, because we both became clear in this seeing, as if without it — though we’d lived that way all our lives until now — we were always somehow blurred. I realized I had something serious to lose in her, and it scared me, and I knew at that moment I needed to either love her from then on, or turn around and leave, and not see her anymore. But before I had time to consider this, she saw me and waved me over. 

Does the past define the future of love?

Seeing Maya

a screenplay by Joe Bardin

Danny, 25, American, goes to Israel (where he had lived as a child) to escape the trauma of a car accident, which killed his girlfriend. When the Gulf War breaks out, he’s invited to stay with a friend, whose divorced mother, Maya, 50, he becomes romantically involved with. The war ends, but Maya and Danny’s secret affair doesn’t. With her hard-earned independence threatened by this love, Maya breaks it off, only to discover she’s empty without him. When Maya wants them to come out, it’s Danny’s turn to run. Each must face their intimidations, and surrender to the depth of their love, in order to find happiness and each other.


Movies and timing and waiting and waiting

Almost every week, it seems, there is a new headline about the dark web, Internet fraud, and major international banks admitting to their culpability in some financial malfeasance,  usually in the billions of dollars range. These are three central elements in Detection, the movie I’ve written with Ori Eisen, leaving me quite impatient. Detection has gained the enthusiastic support of producer Warren Weideman. However, we are still waiting to hear on financial backing for the project and it has been many, many months.

But as Warren has reminded me, it took Spielberg 10 years to get Lincoln made, so what am I whining about?

The best way to be free of  waiting  is to be busy writing. To that end, I have been working on a new play, which I am quite excited about, as it directly engages the fascinating topic of radical life extension and physical immortality. As science starts to seriously challenge the axiom of a limited human lifespan, the arts need to help explore the implications in a passionate, progressive and thoughtful manner. Death is so intimately woven into the human identity that the human who doesn’t die is clearly something entirely distinct and worthy of our profound imaginative consideration. Put another way: who are we when we don’t die?