Gregarious Expressions

by Alicia Grega

more Ferment art

There are probably other things I should be doing right now but this is what’s coming out.


(WordPress upload looks darker than the image in my photoshop window?)

WIP: The Ferment

Set in the frighteningly near future of 2040, The Ferment is an audio drama about a college student who gets caught up in an anti-fascist rebellion as the United States of America dissolves into disparate regional countries with closed borders and diminished freedoms.

Thanks to spring break, I found myself with the time to pull the project forward from its back burner and make significant progress on the characters and story details. It’s proving a timely outlet for my economic and political angst.

I imagined this project as a fictional podcast prequel to a feature screenplay set in one of the new “rehabilitation” camps (Comfort Stations or ComStats) where homeless “nomads” are incarcerated until they can potentially be reintegrated into society as productive consumers contributors. I still hope to get this screenplay written as well, but as the prequel will be much cheaper to produce, why not get it written first.

Due to an overloaded work schedule the past couple of years after grad school, I’ve hardly managed to produce more than a handful of poems even as several script projects are burning holes in my brain demanding attention. My work schedule continues to shift. I’ve been looking for summer work as I move into the second half of this semester teaching five classes as an adjunct at three different schools. I pray to continue making teaching sustainable but after six years of structuring part-time jobs around adjunct contracts, I’m starting to wonder if a full-time professor position is an impossible dream.

After leaving the newspaper in 2016 and then going back to school in 2017, I gave myself until age 50 to figure out how to manage the rest of my life. It’s a month before my 51st birthday and the future is less clear than it’s ever been. I’m overwhelmed with fear of poverty and exhaustion and chronic underemployment. The only thing I know for sure is that regardless of what forks lie ahead, I have to save time to work on my art. I love teaching and helping other people to find their voices and speak their truths, but I cannot allow the brutality of American capitalism to determine my worth. What’s the point of fighting to survive if my soul is lost in the process?

Collage art by Alicia Grega. March 9, 2023.

Hope for the Humanities?

With the recent media and artist attention to Open AI programs (e.g. ChatGPT and DALL-E) threatening to replace the human acts of creation we assumed for so long could not be automated, I’ve found myself stressing to students that their emotional experience of being alive in this ever-changing world may prove to be their most valuable asset.

I’ve been telling students for years that the unusual things about themselves they tried to hide in high school are extremely valuable in the adult quest to distinguish themselves. In the future, these quirks may be the way we survive.

In a Feb. 2, New York Times opinion piece, David Brooks expresses thoughts along this same line.

“If, say, you’re a college student preparing for life in an A.I. world, you need to ask yourself: Which classes will give me the skills that machines will not replicate, making me more distinctly human?”

-David Brooks, “In the Age of A.I., Major in Being Human

The human skills he cites include: a distinct personal voice, presentation skills, a childlike talent for creativity, unusual worldviews, empathy, and situational awareness. These are skills I’ve been teaching in my college courses for years and hope to keep teaching until I can’t work anymore. But will students getting a degree in order to be employable in specific career tracks recognize the elusive benefits of humanities courses?

Just last week I was speaking to a group of students that people used to want to get an education to expand their minds and world view in order to be better, more advanced human beings. The pressures to live comfortably in capitalist society have turned heads away from any study that does not promise financial profit. Artistic practice and expression, drama and poetry, and the energy of live connection have been so discredited by the system that equates value with money and success with the ability to make large sums of money that a comeback will take time.

Students don’t want to be glued to their phones and screens. They know they spend too much time connected to their devices but don’t know how else to act. They didn’t have an opportunity to get bored as children, to find surprising and creative ways to entertain themselves and pass the time while their parents’ attention was required elsewhere. They grew up with entertainment on demand and video games they could play in the car or grocery store cart. They didn’t have to make up games. Many weren’t allowed to go outside and explore the nooks and crannies of neighborhoods the way their parents and grandparents did.

Agostino Ramelli’s 1588 Le diverse et artificiose machine (Diverse and artificial machines) via

Most of my students hated online pandemic instruction and are genuinely relieved to be coming together with other students in the classroom. They don’t want to invest the time and energy of their youth into a field of study only to be replaced by machines. They have also grown up in educational systems that eliminated art programs and stressed math and science and rigidly conservative rules of language with little reward for individuality and expression. In the worst of cases, they haven’t been taught to think at all, let alone think critically.

I’ve watch students squirm with fear and anxiety when given creative freedom in assignments. Many want to be told exactly what to do with a guarantee that they will get a high score if they follow all the rules to a “T”.

The way things are now, I don’t see capitalism coming around to value people and humanity as much as it values property and profit. People have understandably adjusted their values in order to survive in our capitalist economy but do they know what they’ve given up in order to earn dollars and own things? I’d like to hope that people will choose humanity over technology but the trends of recent decades have shown only the wealthy and powerful will get to enjoy the benefits of natural beauty, whole and organic unprocessed foods, access to the arts, and homemade “artisan” goods. Only the bosses can afford to delegate time spent staring at screens to their subordinates while they travel and talk in person to other bosses. Only youth who can afford access to the arts and can work for years without making money are able to pursue the dream of fulfillment and satisfaction in creative life.

I’m only one of hundreds of thousands of aspiring artists whose wings were clipped by the economic realities of survival under American capitalism in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. Intelligence, talent, education, vision, hard work, discipline – even combined these are no longer enough to secure a stable career.

Revived interest in the humanities should be the result as society inches toward increased computer control of our lives, but unless we demand the poorest and least powerful among us be treated with the same dignity and respect shown to the rich and powerful, only the wealthy will be able to afford such luxurious use of their time.


how do you define success?

Received this inspiring thank you note from one of my UC screenwriting students weeks after the semester ended … a welcome affirmation that I’m exactly where I am supposed to be as the New Year begins.

There have been so many difficult days without thanks or immediate reward, when I could have given up and tried to find an easier way to survive, but I keep doing things the hard way, with faith that passion and authenticity matter and knowledge is the most potent power I can give to others. I don’t usually share thank you notes – it feels so braggy – but this one dropped just as I was reflecting at year’s end. I’m still a long way from figuring this life out but progress continues to be made.

Keep doing hard things in 2023! You are the only one who can determine what success looks like in your life. -ag

Pierogie Day Rules (rough draft)

No party this year but Stacy and I are cooking. Thought it would be fun to draft some guidelines for the future. 🎄

What is your teaching philosophy?

Wrong answers only.

from Learning by Heart: teachings to free the creative spirit by Corita Kent and Jan Steward.

Sunday afternoon, McDade Park

4 Dec. 2022. IPhone 14 ProMax; Edited with Hipstamatic..

maybe a draft; maybe a pass

I’ve been mailing and passing out a holiday poem card at the close of every year for the past decade or so.

The first was a haiku in silver on a kitchen-made clay snowflake punched and strung with a ribbon to hang on the tree. The ones that followed incorporated original photography and then later graphic design.

The last couple of poems were pretty dark, although that is where poignancy often hides. Regardless, I promised John Bromberg at the recent Judy Youshock memorial at AfA, that this year’s piece would be brighter.

Unfortunately, anything I might have made then has been overshadowed by recent shattering events.

Oh, she’s so dramatic.

I tried to write about what happened and then I went back and deleted it.

Maybe the words are better left unread. Or maybe it’s just too soon. Until I work the toxins out of my system, I might not be able to write anything else.

If you don’t get a Christmas card this year, it’s not you – it’s me. Still trying to figure out how to be.


Joan Didion on screenwriting

During my 90-minute break between speech classes, I sit in an empty room and get lost in Joan Didion.

How had I still not seen the Netflix documentary The Center Will Not Hold?

The full movie Play As it Lays is on YouTube. How had I not yet seen this, too?

I dictated a post about the content I had consumed in the course of the last week while walking in the cemetery on Saturday, but I haven’t had the chance to transpose that into some readable text.

From –

Based on arguably her most well-known novel, Play It as It Lays (1972) was a family affair, with Didion and Dunne on screenwriting duties and her brother-in-law Dominick Dunne producing. In the director’s chair sat Frank Perry, the fiercely independent filmmaker behind low-budget dramas like David and Lisa (1962) and Diary of a Mad Housewife (1970). The team-up seemed ideal given how frequently Perry’s work, like Didion’s, focused on the disenfranchisement of women and struggles with mental illness. The protagonist, Maria, played by Tuesday Weld, is a former actress turned housewife who slowly descends into inescapable nihilism. Her director husband is distant but manipulative. Her young daughter has been institutionalized for some “aberrant chemical in her brain,” and her best friend, the closeted B.Z. (Anthony Perkins), is in as dark a place as she is. As she spends her days zipping between boredom and self-destruction, the bright lights of the so-called New Hollywood become ever-grimier.

Joan Didion’s Hollywood and “Play It as It Lays,” Kayleigh Donaldson. 18 JAN 2022.

All because of Didion’s quip on screenwriting I read in a free article from this month’s Paris Review:


But screenwriting is very different from prose narrative.


It’s not writing. You’re making notes for the director—for the director more than the actors. Sidney Pollack once told us that every screenwriter should go to the Actor’s Studio because there was no better way to learn what an actor needed. I’m guilty of not thinking enough about what actors need. I think instead about what the director needs.


John wrote that Robert De Niro asked you to write a scene in True Confessions without a single word of dialogue—the opposite of your treatment for The Panic in Needle Park.


Yeah, which is great. It’s something that every writer understands, but if you turn in a scene like that to a producer, he’s going to want to know where the words are.

See the interview here (and subscribe to TPR if you can afford it):

Oooh, and one more bit from the end of Donaldson’s MUBI article:

In her 1976 article “Why I Write,” Didion remarked, “The arrangement of the words matters, and the arrangement you want can be found in the picture in your mind […] The picture tells you how to arrange the words and the arrangement of the words tells you, or tells me, what’s going on in the picture.”

Yes, I realize I will have to tell my screenwriting students – we are transferring the pictures in our mind through the media into the reader/audience’s mind. It is not about writing words as much as it is about seeing it so clearly in our own imagination that even with a lousy job of describing it, there will be enough pixels transferred for the audience to enjoy seeing it too.


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