22 December 2008

Tropic of Gemini

I unintentionally read the anti-Romeo&Juliet a little while ago: Henry Miller's Tropic of Cancer [link NquiteSFW]. It is putting it rather on the glass-half-full side of things to say that the book served as a cleansing of my cynical palette before I embark on one of the more profound studies of innocence. When I finished Tropic of Cancer, I put it down with a victorious sigh, relieved that I would never have to read it again. Friend Patrick is flummoxed by this behavior in me, my determination to finish any book I've started, no matter how awful the experience. (I did give up on this book last Spring, though, because it is just freaking shite.) I can hardly explain it myself, except to say that it is perhaps a deeply ingrained habit. Whatever the cause, I generally read only one book at a time, and when I start a book, I finish it, or it finishes me.

Tropic of Cancer very nearly finished me.

It's a little troubling to have so loathed a book that has come to be widely regarded a classic. It's supposed to be a work of considerable genius, and has been praised unequivocally by folks like Orwell, Mailer and Vonnegut -- all writers I greatly enjoy and admire. This isn't the first time I've not enjoyed a classic. I've often not enjoyed Dickens and Joyce. And by often, I mean just about every time I've curled up to give them another read. I do believe, however, that this is the first time in my adult life that I've taken such an active distaste for an accredited author's work. That is to say, it is unique in my experience to feel revulsion for something I've read, and perhaps this speaks more to Miller's genius as might any actual critical response I could make. It's not prudery, per se -- I love vicarious sex and violence, whether that's a good or bad thing. Love Anais Nin, so far loathe Miller. So what is it?

It is, I believe, the cynicism. The sheer, unrelenting, unapologetic cynicism. To hear Miller tell of it, I would not have made it out of 1930s Paris alive; there are suicides in this book, and they are all-too understandable to me. It seemed as though every character maintained his or her existence merely to progress to the next selfish experience, and after not too long I was utterly bogged down in the sense of hopeless, purposeless puppetry. I read Of Human Bondage not too long ago, and it was almost as if Miller had taken Carey's latter (also frustrating) selflessness and turned it on its ear so hard it went into coma. Miller's narrator (or voice, depending on the ratio of memoir to narrative at a given moment) is given to short sentences of profound and usually brutal imagery and metaphor that definitely would have appealed to me when I was sixteen. Now, they strike me as naive and self-centered and, as far as I was able to tell, the narrator undergoes no lasting change in the course of the story. Was there even joy in this story, really? Miller is famous for philosophically sucking the marrow from life, but this seemed more to me like continually jumping off a building for the three seconds of the sensation of flying.

What this is really about then, for me, is a struggle to process my experience in reading the book. How did, or will, the book change me? You could make the case that it won't . . . but that I feel it already has, and what remains is to understand that effect. It hasn't sapped my hope, at least. If anything, it makes me rail against its perspective, which seems so short-sighted and inconsequential that I want to grab the narrator by the neck and just shake him until he snaps out of it (or something else snaps). Why do none of these people believe in anything? What drives them to write, or do anything lasting, if it is all about survival and gratification? Maybe these are the questions Miller wanted us to ask, or maybe I'm just to narrow in my perspective on the era. If I had to say what effect the book has had on me, I'd guess at this point that it has strengthened my resolve to help and inspire others through my work. And I have to confess that I hope Henry Miller would've hated that.

Lest this read as some offended rant against a slice of literature history, I will say that at times I felt the raw power of Henry Miller's control of the language, and his willingness to savor words without making them self-important or inaccessible. Some of his ideas rang out, too, despite my prejudice against the perspective of his narrator. I wrote earlier in the month about the supposed virtue of beauty in art, and a strong argument could be made for there being a unique and important beauty in Miller's work. For me, however, I'm thrilled to go work on a love story very soon (and possibly even more thrilled to finally be on to reading it on the subway). The love story, for some people, and I'm going to do my damnedest to make it a guilty pleasure to begin, and full of consequence and beauty at the end. And maybe that's what Miller meant.
But I really have no idea.

19 December 2008


I didn't want to make a big deal out of it, you know? I mean, you let people know the date once these days, and you're getting greetings on that date every single year -- from emails and comments and MySpace and Facebook and da, da-da, da-da. It's endless. I'm not sensitive about it, mind. I think every passing year is an accomplishment. Sure, the work may not have quite the same vim and vigor as it did in earlier times, but I like to think that's balanced out now by a sort of tempered harmony between enthusiasm and effectiveness. And besides, sometimes you just want a quiet day of reflection instead of some big celebration; a little time to contemplate times that were and where we are now. You know, like an adult.

Plus, I forgot.

Yesterday marked the second anniversary of Odin's Aviary. (You can check out how I celebrated the first ovah heeya.) Yep, without a clue in my head on how to proceed, I popped on Blogger(TM) and chose some pretentious style elements and wrote a tiny missive out to the 'blogosphere. The rest, as they say, is history. I haven't directly addressed The Third Life of late, but that's partly because I feel it's a concept that's inherent in most of what I do, hence most of what I write about. It's where I live most of the time, and for as long as I can remember. In some ways working to live "fully, freely and honestly" is everyone's ambition, and in other ways it's a unique responsibility for the would-be artists amongst us. This is not a unique idea (it's not even a unique name, as we learned early this year), but it's one that continues to resonate for me, and this here 'blog has proved an invaluable resource for helping me to stay true to that course.

Some highlights from the Aviary in 2008:
  • One-hundred thirty five entries thus far, including our 300th.
  • Visitor traffic has increased by about 50% over 2007. W00T!
  • 5/22/07 remains the most-visited entry, proving that quoting pop music has virtue, and perhaps that sharing a question is more common than sharing an answer. But in 2008, thanks to Reader GeorgeW, we got our answer to this question! This means I can no longer count this entry as popular for its own reasons -- it got posted here. Perhaps I should advertise on this entry . . .
  • In second and third places for popularity (in hits): 2/6/08 and 2/20/07. It would seem perhaps that people read me more when they're trapped by snow. Which I choose to take as a non-specific compliment.
  • October was far and away the liveliest month here for visitors, owing perhaps to the Aviary being used as a kind of report for review by the powers that be at North Pocono High whilst I was teaching there.
  • Virtually all of my referred traffic comes from people doing searches on Google Image. 'Bloggers, take note: use pictures. Me, take note: start citing photographers.
  • Outside the US, we're biggest in Canada, but in recent weeks there's been a surge of interest in the UK (thanks Dave) and Germany (thanks...uh...wait, what?).
  • We had the launch of a sister (er: brother?) site this year: Loki's Apiary. His star is on the rise as I refer to him as continuously as I can possibly justify (Loki's Apiary).
  • Loki's Apiary offers you a concise view of what I've been up to when not typing here, of course, but for a novella view of my working-year 2008, here are my highlighted entries for each month: January [Losing Work], February [Reading Loud and Clear], March [Recovery], April [I'm Not a'Scared of You], May [Ta-Da], June [Viva Italia - 1&2], July [Friendly Neighborhood], August [Writing Wild], September [Health, Wealth & Wisdom], October [Open Up], November [The Rest is Finally Silence] and (on estimate) December.

It's been a hell of a second year, Dear Reader, and I thank you for whenever you may have tuned in. The entries usually slow down here when I'm traveling, and I'll be all over the place in the coming weeks, in many cases nowhere near a glowing box of interweby goodness. As you warm your hands by the dying embers of your monitors, think of me, and be merry. Eat and drink, too, or you'll die. I'm not a medical doctor, but I have it on good authority.

18 December 2008

Furious Scribbling

Last night I had the much-anticipated reading of my new play, working-titled Hereafter. Which is to say, for the first time, this work was heard aloud. It was only heard by me, and the actors involved, of course, but still and all . . . cool.

And it went well. Hell, first things first -- memorize these names, because they are amazing talents who ought to be heralded throughout the land: Friends Patrick Lacey, Laura Schwenninger, Briana Seferian, Wynne Anders, Dave Berent, Geoff Gould and Todd d'Amour. They had, I assure you, the hardest job in the world making sense of my cobbled-together "play," and did it brilliantly. I laughed, I cried, it was better than . . . well, they were better than Cats; MUCH better. Can't say so much for the "play," as such, just yet. I only hope they understood that my moments of out-loud laughter and quiet sadness weren't a bit to do with my writing. I'm rather sick of my writing, just now. It was them, pulling out miracles of surprise from my strung-together words, and finding unique life all their own. Their performances, if nothing else, motivate me to continue working to give them a better playground to explore.

My plan: Based on all the information I have now (and Friend WHFTTS' advice, of course), I am 100% certain that I must put the play away for at least a month, which should be easy given my upcoming schedule. Before I do that, however, I'm compelled to tinker just a bit, then do a little more writing on themes and ideas -- not dialogue. I think I'll reorder the scenes according to some of my notes, save it as a new draft, but not read it in that new sequence until after the break. Then I need to flesh out my notes from the reading while they're still a bit fresh, write a little on the ideas both new and observed, and file all that away for review later on. So when I come back to it I'll have two versions to compare, then detailed notes to incorporate; plus hopefully I'll be detached enough by that point to be unsentimental about it all.

I rather improvised my method of taking notes last night, but found it to be very effective. I was concerned about being too involved in writing in my copy of the script to catch everything the actors were doing, but after the fact my only regret is that I didn't make an audio recording. My hand-written notes worked out well. I printed a page for each scene beforehand, with the scene number, title and characters involved at the top, so I could focus on each scene one-at-a-time. When it came to taking notes, I figured out a little code for myself: A "+" preceded any notes to the good, a "-" to the bad, a "?" for things to be pondered and examined later, and quotation marks themselves whenever citing actual dialogue. In this way I have a sort of instant cursory quantification for a given scene. I also circled the titles of scenes that might need to be cut, to differentiate between the experience of "wow I can't believe how well this is working was I supposed to be writing oops" and the experience of "aw crap."

Still a bit giddy with a sense of accomplishment (I must confess), my feeling is that roughly half the scenes work on a basic level, and half do not. Of the half that don't, two may be cut altogether, so it may become a one-act play after all is said and done. I am still considering the possibility that the best thing for this collection of scenes is to leave them just that, to not construct them into a unified play, but it's a slimmer possibility now that I've had a reading. That may be why, in spite of some really awful malfunctions that became agonizingly apparent in the reading, I feel so optimistic now. Hearing my work helped convince me that there is a strong basis on which to construct a whole play of some kind. That's exciting. That's gratifying, whatever work may lay ahead (hint: a lot). Ultimately, I'll have to wait until after my time away to know for certain, but still and all -- good feelings.

This may be the first time that I've really felt the process of writing working for me. In the past, as I've said, it's remained such a private, sacred experience for me (no matter how many people I showed it to) that it was easily dropped, or frustrated, or simply uninformed. It's taken me awhile to accept some of the things that allow for a good working balance in this, things like distance and objectivity, experimentation and failure. I'm much more comfortable (not that I'm actually comfortable, but still) with process as it applies to rehearsal. Together in a room we all make asses of ourselves until, bit by bit, we accumulate enough good bits to make something cohesive. And the work is never really done. And I suppose that's exactly what we accomplished by reading through Hereafter last night. Or rather not accomplished, but kept going. It feels by turns gratifying and terrifying, and it feels right.

15 December 2008

Useless Beauty (All This)

Great song. I'm not a huge Elvis Costello fan, but every so often one of his songs hits it out of the park for me, and this would be one of those. Friend Heather, who is a much better devotee of Costello, introduced me to it. I'm not sure if I've ever discussed this here, but songs rarely resonate for me based on their lyrics. This is a thing that drives some people (such as Wife Megan) a little crazy, but I can't really help it. Or, I don't want to. I like being better attuned to the song than I am to the lyrics. I don't have a whole lot of clear, intuitive behavior that doesn't get second-guessed by my intellect (such as it is) -- I'm keeping this one. This is all just to say that words to this song are brilliant, but it's the feeling of the chorus that carries me away.

Last night I saw the Alvin Ailey dance company for the second time in my life, and they were just as affective as I remembered. Poke around the site a bit and you'll soon see that the company members are gorgeous, and I assure you that without seeing them move, you don't know the half of it. Their work is passionate and specific, and it is a real treat to spend time experiencing their artistry. The first time I saw them was some five or six years ago, and I didn't know what I was in for then, so was doubly appreciative. I wondered if the blush of first impression would have faded a bit for me this time around. It didn't.

Of course, their beauty -- physical and kinesthetic -- is far from useless. Even if one were to be stupid enough to see dance as a generally useless expression, Ailey's work and the work he's inspired since wouldn't be lacking in usefulness. It always expresses something about a specific culture or movement that we couldn't quite learn in any other medium. Watching last night though, immersed in all that keen beauty, I got to thinking about the supposed virtue of beauty. Or rather I should call it the disputed virtue, since beauty as either cause or effect in "good" art has been a hotly debated aspect of art since time-just-about-immemorial. I think about it quite a lot myself, in the context of an actor who can't help but notice that some very pretty, very untalented folks get rather far rather fast. But last night, engulfed by it, I started thinking in less jaded terms about the role of beauty in artistic expression.

A girl I knew in college and I were taking a walk in our fairly new home of Richmond, Virginia. I remember passing an old, decrepid brick building, with exposed and broken pipes and a fire escape, all various shades of red and rust. I wondered aloud what it was that was drawing me to ugliness lately. My friend replied, "What makes you think that's ugly?" And she was right -- it was beautiful. Thinking of that run-down building as ugly was a preconceived judgment on my part, based on ideas about good and evil as they apply to structure, society, prosperity, etc. It's an easy mistake, as beauty/ugliness is in itself about as subjective a concept as I can imagine. It has as much to do with an emotional response as with anything else, and emotions are not binary. I suppose part of what impresses me about Ailey's work is that I'm immediately confronted with stupidly beautiful people, and then that experience of beauty is surpassed in strides (literally) by the beauty of some particular movement or shape they create.

Of course, I'm sure there are some who will disagree.

Actually, the subjective nature of beauty and ugliness (and all gradients thereof) gives me some hope for capital-T Truth playing a significant role in our work. One of the most famous (read: most cliched) quotes about Beauty and Truth having a relationship come from poor, too-soon-departed Keats:

When old age shall this generation waste,
Thou shalt remain, in midst of other woe
Than ours, a friend to man, to whom thou say’st,
“Beauty is truth, truth beauty,”—that is all
Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.

It's one of those that I can go on considering in different lights throughout my life, I think. (That has proven true thus far, anyway.) You've got to love that the essence of the argument is the only bit in quotes; the idea that it is all we (or it [the urn]) know, and all we (or it [you know: the urn]) need to know, is all Keats. In other words, it's up to us whether we know it or need to know it, but history itself tells us that that Beauty = Truth, and vice versa.

Why am I going on about a (beautiful) poem? Because it forms the basis of a relationship between Beauty and Truth that is key to my assertion. That is, the commonality between perceptions of beauty is founded on a more shared, communal sense of Truth. In other words, given just how incredibly individual is everyone's opinion about what is ugly and what is beautiful, it makes sense to me that there must be a contributing factor to all those disparate opinions that allows them to find common ground in some cases -- that common factor being Truth. In my humble opinion. Capital-T Truth, mind you, which has less to do with empirical facts and more to do with feeling, with instinct. I think an innate sense of this Truth is that in which we're all participating when we come to an mutual appreciation of Beauty.

Certainly one can have beauty without Truth (one can have it, thanks to advertising and such, any time one wants it); hence my capital-B Beauty. Otherwise known as Glory, Spirit, Love, etc. I wouldn't have called seeing Alvin Ailey a religious experience per se but, then again, it did rather feel like going to church ought. There were times I felt lost, others when I felt as though we were going through the motions a bit, then suddenly a time without a sense of time, when I felt lifted out of myself and part of a whole I had barely felt myself in just moments prior. Then it would end, as all things must I suppose, and seem just as brief as it had infinite when it was happening. It's difficult to define or even describe a unifying experience, even though all of us have at some time or another felt it, probably because most of our intellect comes of division, of making distinctions. So you have to live the moments of unity. And should we creators and makers and artists try to make Beautiful work?


10 December 2008

Ride the Snake . . .

I'm experiencing an interesting fluctuation of mood regarding the upcoming reading of my play. Maybe this is normal; it has been so long since I confronted the possibility of my creative writing being read aloud that I can't say I remember quite what it was like. I remember some anxiety, sure, but not this strange undulation of emotion. I never know how I'm going to feel when I think about it, one moment to the next. Sometimes I feel elated and excited, other times it seems like the stupidest idea I've ever had, and one bound to be my ruination. There's a variety of anticipatory strata in between. Compared to prepping for an audition, this should be a relief. For an audition, I usually feel less and less prepared as the date approaches, so experiencing alternating good feelings should somewhat compensate for the others. Yet I feel pretty unnerved. There is a very loud voice in me that's shouting, "Back out of this! Do it now!"

Yes, that voice often takes on the characteristics of early-90s Schwarzenegger.

I have had such a mixed bag of experiences in exposing my writing to the public -- even limiting it to theatrical writing -- that have happened over such different times of my life that it's impossible for me to predict my reaction, much less others'. One of the first theatre pieces I ever wrote has been well-received several times; people have loved it. And a piece from far more recently was excerpted in performance at a party a few years ago, and it stank up the room. I mean, hoo, was it bad. That's part of why I'm having the reading, quite honestly. I want to find out what happens and, if I can, keep up such exposure so that I do develop a better sense of how my writing is going.

Not that others' opinions are my yardstick for the quality of my writing but, you know: come on. I want it out there, else why would I write it (typed the 'blogger)? I'll be reminding myself left, right and center on Wednesday next (huh...I didn't plan for it to be on Odin's-day...weird) to consider my opinion first, but I won't kid myself so far as to say that I'm not calling my actor friends there for the purpose of their feedback. Revision, as I've said, is very difficult for me. I tend to hold the memory of the original draft and all that went into the process of creating it as sacred, and thereby fail to adequately re-evaluate it, much less revise. Friend WHFTTS is renewing its efforts to write more gooder too at the moment (and hopefully from now on), and we're having some very interesting meta-conversations about our personal challenges. Both of us, it would seem, regard involving other people in our processes as a necessary step to overcoming something. In my case, the something to be overcome is a quasi-mysterious barrier in the way of revision.

I think the emotions I'm experiencing these few days have to do directly with that barrier. I think that barrier (if I may anthropomorphize for a moment) knows I'm gunning for it, and it feels right at home. "Hey, listen," says My Barrier, "wha-what do you need change for? Huh? I mean, with me you know where you stand. Right? Who knows what will happen to you without me here...?!" Then My Barrier beats his chest twice and throws out his arms in the universally accepted I-am-all-that-and-a-bag-of-chips-besides gesture. But it's too late, My Barrier. My Mind's made up, in spite of your emotional sniping, and I shall be resolute in my continued work after hearing the reading. I'm putting you on notice! I shall not be deterred!

: backs slowly away, maintaining eye contact, makes it through door before shuddering collapse to ground :

Just imagine next Thursday's post. Should be a doozy.

09 December 2008

Fair Winds

Last night I attended what was a first for me: A staged reading of a musical. Tom Diggs, of NYU's First Look fame from some time ago, wrote the book and lyrics, and invited me out for it by replying to my email about Blueprints. This could be the most direct evidence of the importance of simply being present in the New York theatre community as it relates to contacts and casting: People call on the people they've heard from recently. More evidence of this was to be found in my own efforts to assemble a cast for my upcoming reading -- I had a couple of people respond as unavailable, and when I searched my files for replacements, I realized I had neglected a whole throng of good possible actors for the roles. Why? Because I hadn't spoken to them in a while. But I digress.

Once Upon a Wind is a musical that concerns itself with the story of two children coming of age in WWI England. Jay d'Amico wrote the music, and Jeremy Dobrish directs, which was an unusual coincidence -- Friend Todd is now appearing in Spain, a play he directed for the MCC in 2007. I was impressed as all hell with the cast. I find readings to be difficult to act, given the restraints of physical movement and all the conventions involved (such as music stands). These people gave a very effective reading with full song. A small feat for musical-theatre types perhaps, but I was impressed as hell with them: Molly Ephraim, Alex Brightman, Laura Fois, Kavin Pariseau, Marcus Stevens and Ken Triwush. Oran Eldor gets a lot of credit for that, I'm sure, as the musical director and (I assume) pianist. The reading was a part of the TRU Voices series at The Players Theatre, exactly the same venue at which I performed in American Whup-Ass last spring. It's a showcase for plays seeking production, and specifically focuses on getting feedback and advice from accomplished producers.

The play also concerns itself with an interesting phenomenon in England at the time -- the Cottingley fairies. It takes some inspiration from the story, I should say, and it's a story I have some familiarity with. When I was very young, I went through a period of some obsession with "paranormal" occurrences and sightings. I wasn't so much interested in ghosts, rather with mythological or prehistoric beasts that might, in fact, exist. So I had read a little something about Elsie and Frances and their faux photographs, and was pleasantly surprised to find that the reading I was watching would be using that kind of source material. As you might imagine a musical doing, Once Upon a Wind explores the world of believers versus pragmatists, but it does it with a surprising balance. It never goes Disney on you (one could just about wait for the Tinkerbell meta-joke), yet keeps a sense of humor in the face of serious subjects like the loss of a loved one and our dueling needs to grow up, and to remain innocent. I hope Tom continues with it, and that it develops into a full production.

Personally, I don't feel that the will to believe is necessarily childish, or delusional. I think it's creative, and creativity is a strength, not a weakness. During the turn of the century, and the world wars, a lot of people turned to spiritualism and its cousins in search of something. We tend to view such searching as naive and, in a sense, this is as true as can be. It begins with accepting the possibility that we don't know something. And that's the beginning of any good discovery.

05 December 2008

You want a reading? I got'cher reading right here!

To top off a year in which I performed in more readings than I perhaps have in my entire career to date (at least 13, by my count) what could be more apt than asking a bunch of my actor friends to participate in a private reading for me? Or perhaps it's entirely inappropriate, given some of my angst over the profusion of readings in my life of late. Either way, I've done it, and not a moment too soon. Though perhaps a moment (or two) too late: December is a nutso month for everyone everywhere, and I just sent out an email yesterday inquiring about availability/interest. I should have started this in November, but I was uncertain about my-completion-slash-the-worth of the playwriting I've been up to. Now I'm up against the far more foreboding deadline of leaving town for seven weeks come January. If I don't get this read before Christmas, much time and motivation may be lost.

The motivation may be lost anyway, if the reading were to go more poorly than I imagine. The danger for me in my writing is nearly always about losing steam or enthusiasm, particularly as it applies to the revision process. Yet this is the first time in years that I've actually completed a first draft, and I feel a strong need to honor that lil' milestone with continued effort. I won't go so far as to say that I think this script has a future, but I think this script has a future.

Wait.... Oh shoot.

Well, there it is. Hopefully said reading will not take every last gust of wind from my sails. I'm buoyed by the fact that the "play" is at this point merely a collection of largely stand-alone scenes that may be salvaged from the wreckage should our course go astray. (Had enough maritime imagery yet?) The sense of wonder and possibility with which I work on first drafts is very intoxicating for me, which is part of why it's difficult for me to complete anything, much less revise it. Perhaps part of what's kept me writing on this project was the structure of independent scenes. Each one to some degree was initially imagined as its own short play. Some are rather more bridging material between others than they ought to be perhaps, which is part of my interest in having the reading. I have, save one, all the scenes I intend to write completed, so I've written about 9.25 scenes. I'm at work on the final (or second-to-last -- see 12/2/08) scene in the sequence now, and if I can get the reading together it will be powerful motivation for me not to linger too much in the doldrums on it.

Yes; I had to do that.

So this will be a private reading, with just myself and the actors. It's for revision purposes, which is the safer way of saying that its for the purpose of reality checking my own rampant enthusiasm. It's a difficult balance, between love and objective criticism. The easy thing to do is allow oneself to be utterly bohemian, and let love rule the day. There's nothing wrong with that if you're inherently brilliant or content to live like a bohemian. I am neither. I am, however, quite addicted to attention, and so considered inviting a small boatload (Still? Yes, 'fraid so.) of friends to observe and respond to this initial reading. One might assume that the more feedback I could get, the better, but actually at this point I doubt I'll have even a discussion with the actors if-slash-when I get this reading off the ground. It's important that I have some quiet reflection on my own work while it's still this close to me. Producing shows from a writer's vantage could be seen as a gradual handing-over of creative control, a transition throughout collaboration from being the one who knows to being the one who experiences. You've got to be ready to set that kid sailing before you unmoor and haul anchor.

I'm stopping now, for reals.

Plus -- and here's the most bloggy bit of blogging for this particular entry -- the last time I put a complete play out there it was ripped to pieces in an astounding variety of ways. Don't get me wrong: It deserved it. Tangled Up In You was not especially good, I can say with some confidence now. It was more of an experiment I really wanted to conduct than a fully formed play, all 80-some pages of it, and what I should have done was just workshop it with actors I trusted and used some improvisation to develop it. Instead, I sent it to everyone I knew (which at age 23-or-so was not all that great a number) and had a reading . . . in New Jersey. I actually had people go out to New Jersey. I have no idea what I was thinking. Anyway, the feedback I got was a bit overwhelming and, subconsciously at least, deterred me from ever trying that again ever. I've written plenty since then, and even had a short piece produced, but really haven't put my cards on the table otherwise, insofar as said cards apply to writing. But here we are again, returning to . . . someplace other than the sea.

And I'm eager to be here. I hope I can pull this together -- the reading, the script itself, the whole thing -- because I don't get many opportunities to create something that goes on to have a life of its own, apart from me. Acting is total joy, and I'd never give it up as a form of expression, but its immediacy is a trade-off. If I'm not there, it's not there (or at least my part of it). Rilke wrote that the mother is the only completely fulfilled artist, because the appetite of an artist is to create something of herself and have it live in the world, independent of her. This is a very appealing idea for me, and I'd hate to live my life without at least some works of this nature. So I set my course by the stars and hope for helpful winds.

And hope to cease the flood of maritime metaphors.

04 December 2008

Luminous Accumulation

Last night I travelled an unaccustomed route after leaving work. I took the F train from 34th Street all the way to Brooklyn, to the Carroll Street stop. I was surprised to discover that I had actually been in that neighborhood before, about a year-and-a-half ago. This happens to me fairly frequently in and around New York -- the sudden recognition of an environment when the maps and names of the area didn't necessarily ring any bells. I walked up Smith Street, enjoying the lights from dozens of nifty shops and restaurants and bars, then hung a left at Sackett and walked a long ways down that, over 278 by a short strip of bridging. When I got to Columbia Street, it took me a moment or two to identify what I had come that way for. Then I crossed the street and explored it, insofar as the chain-link fence surrounding it would allow.

It's pretty accurate to say that I am a huge fan of installation art, and an even huger fanatic about public installation art (i.e., installed in a largely uncontrolled, outdoor environment). I am lucky enough now to actually know an installation artist, and I hope she'll forgive me if that description limits her craft. Friend Natalia installed Luminous Accumulation on the corner of Columbia and Sackett a few weeks ago. I had intended to go to the opening, but it was rescheduled on account of weather to just out of my schedule's reach. Hence my solo journey to a dark corner of Kings on a Wednesday night.

I was disappointed, yet not surprised, to find the display fenced off but my mood was already pretty contemplative and buoyant due to the walk over. As is my wont, I read Natalia's description right away. As you can see, I brought my camera with me, and these two choices are related. Some appreciate art and, in particular, contemporary art, best through raw experience and an immediate moment. I envy this approach. It rarely works for me, outside of perhaps architecture and murals. No, I get the most out of these experiences when I'm working to synthesize my experience with the artist's intention. I find it similar to my impatience with classical music -- I loathe misinterpretation, even when an artist tells me such a thing is impossible. (And how much more impossible can it be to "misinterpret" than with the personal experience of music?) So I ask for answers straight off, and interpret the work through my own lens however I can thereafter.

Luminous Accumulation is interactive with the weather. There are a serious of pipes that ever-so-gradually draw precipitation and condensation into a roofed basin. The pipes, though you can;t tell it from my photos, extend their open ends out just past the borders of the chain-link fence, integrating it into their structure. They also reach back about fifteen yards to form rectangular arches of varying height that occupy the rest of the otherwise empty lot. The basin is lit around its rim and from two sources above it, and it is sheltered to ensure that the accumulation of moisture comes largely from the pipes. (Although the basin is also made of clear plastic, so I was immediately reminded of a wilderness survival contraption for gathering dew as drinkable water.) The more moisture that gathers, the more light that is reflected from it. (Rather ironic, then, that the original opening was postponed on account of rain.*) Natalia cites an Eskimo practice of holding reading material, or any object that requires scrutiny, close to the snow fall, the better to light one's discoveries.

It was frustrating not to be able to walk beneath the pipe arches, but only a little more frustrating than not being able to climb them -- they inspired that strong urge for me immediately, but never could have taken my weight, even if I could get to them. I have to imagine the ideal time at which to experience the exhibit would be a lightly rainy evening, just before dusk. You could (theoretically) walk beneath the pipes as they worked their gradual, inevitable work, toward the incrementally expanding pool, dipping your book/stone/lithograph into its light once there. It's a bit of a trip for me, but I may just do this some rainy night. I envy the people who get to experience this work on a semi-daily basis. Somebody has quietly transformed their environment for a few months, and it's an ongoing transformation. I think that's very valuable work, no matter how little monetary or pragmatic gain it results in. I want very much to be awakened to new perspectives on the every-day, and I can easily forget how much I want this. Thank goodness there are people interested in doing this for us. No one can sufficiently describe their interior experience of art. It's too personal. I hope it's enough to say that I spent some quiet moments with Luminous Accumulations, and felt pleasantly changed by the experience.

Well . . . maybe I'll just say one thing more. One of the best effects, in my humble opinion, a work of art can have is to invite us to carry its perspective with us into the world. We learn from it, in a sense, and carry it forward if not into our actions, then at least into our perceptions of everything else. This is part of the explanation for the genre of "performance art"; as with art, and unlike theatre, there is no definite end, no fallen curtain, to the experience, and it forces you to contemplate the possibility that the experience is simply continuing into the rest of your life. In this way, these things have a very far-reaching influence indeed. As I walked the good walk back to a subway station, I enjoyed immensely the details of illumination all along the way. Effects produced by headlights, streetlamps, windows, grates and foliage were all accentuated for me, and seemed somehow new. It was akin to the feeling I new best on my first trip to Italy, or my first to New York, and a feeling that I find has diminished slightly every time I add another visit and the longer I live here, like I lose it one slow drip at a time. It's a wonderful feeling.

*Perhaps it was apt, though; it must have filled the basin somewhat for the next day's appreciation.

02 December 2008

Memory Play

They're very interesting to me, memory plays. Memory-anything, really, but particularly memory plays, because plays are live and immediate and ever-changing stories. Some of my favorite and most formative theatrical experiences have been in some fashion memory plays, from The Glass Menagerie to Franny's Way to As Far As We Know. What I love about them most, I think, is the added layer of perception and perspective. They can be almost like meta-theatre in their effect, yet without a lot of self-conscious devices. As an audience we get to through layers of distance to empathy and recognition, and as players we get to ask really interesting questions: how true is this rendition, who's influencing the story, how much is this to be played as a unified series of events, and how much as after-the-fact fantasy? Finally, memories are stories we all have within us at every moment of our lives. It is fascinating to be invited into someone else's, real or imagined.

I'm almost done with my series of short plays inspired by reading Mary Roach's book, Stiff (thanks, Nat). That is to say, I've almost finished writing a first draft of the whole sequence, as I see it now. It's been a big project, luckily entered into blindly and without expectation, so nearing a complete first draft is at once an accomplishment and a very small step in what ought to be a much longer process, if I really expect this writing to be produced sometime, somewhere. As I see it now, I've one-and-a-half scenes to write and I'll be ready to have that most cringe-worthy experience of early drafts: a first reading. These happen to be the last two scenes, and I'm not certain which will be actually last yet, but I am (maybe) halfway through the one that's actually only a monologue. And, wouldn't you know it? It's a memory play.

Memory monologue? That just sounds stupid, and enforces the idea that a stand-alone monologue has no place in a larger play. So: Memory play.

It's difficult. If I'm doing it right, it is more of a play than a monologue. It should have a little drive behind it, a little "umph" of conflict and action and, above all, it should change something. It's strange how it's all coming out. I've essentially set myself up a challenge: How would someone who lived to a ripe old age tell her life story if she didn't have all the time in the world in which to do it? I've made no preconceived decision about this (at least, not a conscious one). Instead I'm writing as ideas come to me, and trying to keep some feeling of urgency behind it, in conflict with the way in which pausing allows memories to flow better, and holding still allows us to appreciate those memories more. I'm not altogether sure it's working, and I suspect I won't know at all how it's worked until someone -- poor soul -- tries to perform it for me. As a writer, I'm also hampered a bit by knowing where I want to end up with this one. The idea for the end is what started me writing it. Knowing something like that is good for direction but, personally speaking, bad for writing motivation. I'm propelled by exploration, as my rambling 'blog entries must attest, which is what makes revision processes so difficult for me.

I have an ever-changing relationship with memory. Generally speaking, as a kid I took it for granted, as a teenager into young adult I wallowed about in it, as a young man I rather spurned it, and as an adult (or so I'm told I am) I value it in any way I can get it. All of that just adds up to a high value that I place on my stories, good, bad or (rarely) indifferent. Memory is tricky. I'm thinking a lot about the expression, "If memory serves...". Did this saying come about because we see memory as serving us, or because we recognized that memory is an unreliable thing, bound not to serve us? Or was it rather because we're more at the mercy of our memories than they of us? That's the way it seems to me, most of the time. Will I remember Wife Megan's recent warning about the weather forecast? Not a chance. Will I suddenly recall an episode from ten years past so vividly that I feel ashamed most of the day? Highly probable, at any given moment. Ah sentience! What a trade-off!

Finally -- in every sense of the word -- memory is all we are. What we've experienced is who we end up, one way or another, and when we're gone, what really survives past our ashes here but memories of us? So perhaps being lightly in love with memory as a general concept isn't all that strange. Maybe memories are brushes with something far-reaching and universal. They can certainly affect us, albeit some more than others.

And if I write "memories" one more time, will that damn song get stuck in your head too? Oh good . . .