I don’t like the competitive aspect of The Moth but last night there I was, wondering if my name would be called and simultaneously hoping I wouldn’t embarrass myself and also that I’d win. I did neither.
The host, Peter Kim, made us laugh and then pulled a name out the bag and it was mine.
Good news: I was onstage before I could even get nervous. Bad news: I felt like the first pancake. My mom used to say, you always throw out the first pancake, it never cooks right. But I found the mic and started my story.
“Last year our dog Django died…”
And right there, I wish I had paused to take the temperature of the room. Don’t worry, the story went well and I got fine numbers and lots of warm comments from strangers afterward. But the nugget I want to share with other storytellers is:
When you tell a story, allow some space in your opening to accommodate where you are in the running order and to check in with your audience.
My focus, in contrast, was the clock. My inner monolog was Please oh please don’t let me go over time. So although at that moment I heard a little “Oh…” after I said “died” and felt the audience think: “This is going to be a serious one,” I didn’t pause and say something like:
“It’s okay. She’d had a good long life and went about as well as she could without being magically parachuted to Heaven straight from the dog park.”
or something to lighten the mood. Instead I pushed through to what I’d seen as the first joke:
“And the day we got home from putting her down all I wanted to do was clean the house. (pause) Which was weird because the house was already clean.”
To me, that’s funny—a grieving person cleaning an already clean house. But because I had plowed through according to my initial agenda, it took me a few minutes of reshaping the story to reveal the humor in the gap between what I think of as normal grieving and my obsession to erase every trace of loss with Lemon Pledge and Windex.
Story review: If I tell this story again, I will weave in Dave’s role in the events more, because it speaks to what was at stake in cleaning or leaving that dog-smudged window. Also, I’ll time myself more so that I am less panicky about going over.
As it was, I think the story was about four minutes long, so I had more time than I thought. But I’d rather be under than over.
And it was a great night of stories. Some really strong performances including the winner, who made us laugh and cringe over her incredible string of bad gynecologists; Nester Gomez, whose story of becoming the man in the family at 12 years old really hit me; the woman whose stories I’d like to hear more of who talked about a difficult foster care experience; Pearl Ochoa, who told a story about gardening with a happy ending—shocker! …and many more.
So to my friends who have seen me waffle about going to the Moth, here’s my takeaway:
I still don’t love the competitive thing, but I think the rigid time limit and the open judginess provide a good opportunity to sharpen your skills and sensitivity to how a story is living in the moment.
Yesterday was warm and sunny, sweater weather at most. We went to the park and Nola discovered ice cubes. She also got yelled at by the dog who owned the ice cubes. For the first time, I saw her slink away from a dog instead of just shaking it off and going back for more. I find myself watching for signs like that and hoping they’re not signs.
When we got home, Dave left for his matinee and I tried to figure out what to do with the beautiful day. I raked in the yard a little but the lawn is a mud pit and there’s not much to do at this point. I came inside and there was a text from Gloria, “Are u home?”
“Yep,” I texted back, pleased to get such an informal text from someone I don’t know very well. Gloria is a dog whisperer who is unfazed by difficult animals, bad weather, and flaky owners like us who book her last-minute, “Sorry! Can you walk Nola at noon today?” I hoped she was writing to suggest a play date with Weejay, the puppy she’s dog-sitting down the block.
But no. “Jasper’s coming over to help with this vacuum. Weejay has feathers all over from a pillow and I can’t figure it out.” I thought she must be dictating because the only Jasper in the neighborhood is a realtor and why would he be helping with a vacuum?
“Sure! I’ll come through the back.” I brought our new Oreck along just in case.
In the yard, Gloria and indeed Jasper the realtor were huddled over a bagless canister vac. After greeting me, Weejay continued nosing the emerging forsythia, wagging his adorable little tail.
Gloria wanted to empty the vacuum before attacking what she called “a mountain of feathers in there.” I couldn’t wait to see the mess. But none of us could open the canister. It seemed like part of it should unscrew or unclip, but nothing was budging and none of us wanted to be the one to pull too hard and break it. Jasper gently poked a long-handled screwdriver into the opening. “Let me just use my vacuum,” I said.
“No. I’m not letting you do that,” said Gloria.
“I need to change the bag anyway,” I said, which was partly true. Dave hates this new Oreck because he claims it smells. I tell him, “No, it’s what the Oreck picks up that smells.” He counters, “The old Oreck didn’t smell.” I come back, “That’s because it didn’t pick anything up.” The old Oreck now lives in the basement, and he insists on lugging it upstairs whenever he’s doing the vacuuming. “Go ahead,” I say. “I’m just going to need to vacuum again tomorrow so whatever.” Surreptitiously, I change the bag as often as possible, even though Oreck bags are ridiculously expensive, being made partially of cloth, which is probably why they smell.
Gloria and Jasper poked around with the screwdriver until we agreed the canister looked pretty clean. Jasper clicked it back on the base, and then Gloria nudged another unmoving part, “I need this wand for the feathers.”
“Are there that many?”
“Oh this dog,” she said. “They’re everywhere.” I pictured the scene from North and South where the cotton bits float in a mist above everything, choking the millworkers’ lungs and causing industrial malaise. I was dying to get inside. But none of us could unclip the hose part from the carpet sweeper part. There was a lever that you either pull out or unwind like a clock, but neither way seemed to dislodge the wand, and once again we were all afraid to break it. “I’m just going to use my vacuum,” I said, grabbing the Oreck.
“No!” said Gloria.
“Don’t be weird,” I said.
“It is weird,” she retorted. I went inside and looked for the feathers. None in the kitchen. None in the dining room. Then, in the middle of the rug on the sun porch, a fluffy pyramid of white wisps. A slight drizzle of them on the sunporch sofa, and a random few drifting across the dark wood floor.
Jasper plugged in the Oreck and I vacuumed up the feathers. Weejay was briefly interested. Gloria shook her head slowly. I worried that the Oreck would smell and humiliate me on its outing, but it didn’t, or maybe the good smells in the house neutralized it—faint incense and fresh sunshine air. The procedure took about 60 seconds.
Afterward, Jasper found one rogue feather and suggested saving it for the owners. Gloria took the feather and shook her head again. We all agreed that Weejay was adorable and it was a good thing he hadn’t gone after the couch.
Jasper carried the Oreck back to my gate and went on his way. Gloria texted to say, “Thanks again,” and I texted back, “No problem. Any time.” She responded, “Hopefully it’s all downhill from here.”
I ooze love. It crawls out of my pores and slimes its way across the parched landscape of humanity. You send me a broken computer, Gazelle? I ooze love.
You give me the same eight bars of hold music on a repeating loop? I ooze love.
Same hold music the first time I call, to ask what’s wrong with the iMac I sent to you perfect that you’re now saying doesn’t work.
Same hold music the second time I call, to ask why the Mac returned to us damaged, with the keyboard and mouse loose in the box, where they scratched up the screen and the metal, without the power cord and installation disks that Dave packed so carefully.
Same hold music the third time, after we’ve discovered not only is the iMac scratched up and cordless but it’s missing the hard drive and some of the screws that used to hold on the screen. Love, love, love.
This hold music varies in that it restarts after running its full loop, and any time a voice recording interrupts to say, “The next available customer service representative will be with you shortly,” which is often.
The eight bars – or maybe it’s four, I don’t know how to count music – starts with a bright electric guitar lick, sort of reminiscent of “Sister Golden Hair” from the 70s.
Then it goes into a partial buildup to what seems like it’s going to be a verse.
Then it goes into a second, more dramatic buildup, like “This is really going to be an important verse so be ready for it.”
Then there’s a slight pause…
Then the guitar kicks in again.
Does that sound like eight bars? Regardless, I just keep oozing love, because what else can I do?
I can’t undo last week’s idea to sell the old iMac to Gazelle. I can’t go back and video Dave’s reformatting of the hard disk and reinstalling Sierra and doing disk utilities and careful packing of the components using in the fancy box his new iMac arrived in. I’m not even bothering to mention how he hunted down the original installation disks even though it wasn’t required, because of course he did.
Maybe I can put the phone on speaker and make more coffee. I go in the kitchen. “I assume theft,” says Dave.
But I ooze love. I assume that the customer service rep who will be with me shortly will be as surprised as I was about the now-broken computer. Sure, someone there destroyed the iMac, threw it into a box, and sent it back to us, but surely it was an accident. “Maybe it was a new trainee or something, or something happened between shifts.”
“I’m thinking just plain theft.”
“You mean, some rogue guy at the processing center?”
“I mean the whole company,” he says.
I decide Dave is not in a place where I can put the phone on speaker right now. “They’re a huge company,” I remind him, the hold music repeating in my other ear.
“A whole company cannot be built on a model of buying used electronics, then claiming they arrived broken and have no value.”
“Sure it can.”
“You can’t believe they would actually do that.”
“I didn’t used to believe someone like Trump could be president,” he said. “Now I figure anything’s possible.”
The hold music kicks in again. I continue to ooze love.
I’m never sure how to read Roger’s Park. Is this a hip corner or am I about to get mugged? A question which, after some attacks in Ravenswood Manor, I’m asking a lot lately.
Feeling overly cautious and foolish about it I walk a half-block to the train. In front of me is a cute black guy with pulled-up dreads. He walks into the station ahead of me and then immediately back out. Is he going to ask me to let him in with my card? Should I offer? But why am I assuming that’s why he came back out? Maybe he just forgot something. He ignores me and goes on his way. I go through the turnstile.
Up on the train platform another strikingly handsome black man stands under the heat lights. He smiles casually as I join him. He looks familiar, but I’m always wary when I think someone looks familiar, especially if they’re of a population I might offend. I have this fear the person will say, “Do we all look alike to you?” Populations I am afraid to offend in this way include black men, white men with beards, and white women with long, dark, straight hair. I also question myself when middle-aged white women with short hair look familiar, but I don’t worry about offending them. I’m one of them.
But also, I’m tired of being afraid to make a mistake. “I’m sure I know you,” I begin, and he says, “Yeah…,” and suddenly I remember. “We did that storytelling show!”
“Right, hi!” he says. “How are you?”
“Great!” I beam. “I just got a massage.”
“Nice!” We talk disjointedly as we get on the train and find seats. Both of us need to check our phones to see where we’re going and he does so straight off. I do so halfway because I kind of feel like I sort of know where I’m going. When he’s done mapping, he tells me about his event and I tell him about my event. “Cool,” he says. “Where was your massage?”
I really should be thinking about which stop I need to get off at but I ask, “Do you do yoga?”
“I do, but I need to do more of it,” he says.
At the risk of looking like I’m trying backhandedly sell him something I say, “Um, do you want a free yoga membership for Centered Studios?”
He looks at me a little blankly.
“I won it at a benefit auction thing,” I hastily add. “I used the massage part but I’m never going to make it back enough for the yoga.”
“Sure. Please.” I find the certificate and give it to him. I want to add that I’ve wanted to put an offer up on Facebook for someone who lives close enough to take the yoga classes, but I recently changed my Facebook policy to only go there on the first of every month and I don’t want the certificate to expire in the meantime.
“Can I send you some free theatre tickets?” he asks.
“That would be great!”
He puts his email address in my phone and I am suddenly dying to explain about Facebook. I think he would get it. He’s a poet and he seems fully engaged with life and up for new ideas. But will he think I’m an over-sharer who’s too worried about when to go on Facebook?
“Is this your stop?” he asks. We’re at Berwyn and the doors are open.
“Oh! Yeah!” I get out and run for the closing door.
I just paid eight bucks for two coffees. The lady called me “Mami” and gave me a free banana. “How are you?” I asked.
“Working, working,” she said. “Always working.”
Back up in our room on the fifth floor of this hotel, there’s an impressive scene out the window. About 75 construction workers in yellow hard hats and orange vests are building a hospital or something big next door.
The scene is laid out before us like a presentation. We’re far up enough to see the whole site, and can guess what each area looks like, the parking garage part and the part that’s maybe the building…but close enough to watch the details of what they’re doing. One guy measures spacing between the rebar sticks, which Dave surmises will then be moved up as a uniform grid to form the next floor. Another carries one of a million yellow scaffolding pieces with two other guys, swinging it into place. Another drops his tool belt right where he’s standing when the break bell rings.
“They all did that,” Dave reports from the window. I’m now in bed drinking my coffee and eating half a banana. “Just unbuckled them and let them fall to the ground.” What a clear and simple way to mark your place as you head to the food truck parked at the curb or grab your prepackaged bag and thermos.
I might be making up the thermos part. But we’re close enough that Dave can marvel at how many hot dogs are being ordered at 9 AM. He describes the men leaning against a mammoth dumpster and sitting on the curb, eating or opening whatever they’ve brought along. I’m too lazy to get up and check on the thermoses… Fine, hold on.
Too late. In the time it took to scribble the above, they ate and drank and are already heading back to work. I see one guy shake hands with another. Then they hug and walk arm over shoulder back through the chain-link fence and into the area we’re calling the parking lot.
I watch another guy return to his tool belt. He stands above it and first wraps a bandanna around his head. Over that goes his hard hat. Then he grabs the belt and buckles it on. Dave is watching the building area. “Those guys can NOT get the concrete saw going,” he says. “I bet they flooded the engine.”
What’s also amazing to observe from up here is how they all seem to be moving at the same speed. No one’s in a hurry. They each seem to know what they’re doing, from the guy pushing a broom to the crane operator, who Dave says must have climbed 16 or 17 ladders to get up there—there’s no little car that carries you up on this one. They all know how to pace themselves in the Houston heat. “Now they’re tying together the rebar,” he reports. It will get raised up and another floor will be laid, and the monstrous building will “go up,” as we say, like it happens by machine.
The day after a reading is always a letdown. I was very happy with how the play sounded and the response to it after, but in the pause after one phase of work on a script feels done and I’m not sure what the next phase will be, I find myself unsure what to do with the day and overly sensitive to imagined slights like an empty coffee basket. The plan is to drive to Denton to see Dave’s home town, stopping in Tyler to visit cousin Lois. Yes. That’s a good plan and it will all start once I can get myself off the bed and into the shower.
“They finally got the concrete saw going,” Dave reports. “Phew.”
She was not a dog you told your troubles to. Confidences made her uncomfortable. Also tears, hugs, too much petting. We have no stories of, “hey I was crying and you’ll never guess what she did! Cuddled at my feet and looked up at me with gentle understanding! Or nuzzled me and got me to play with a ball to distract me! So cute!” It wasn’t her job to distract you. She was a dog and you were a human and she had her own issues to deal with.
She had the neighborhood to patrol. Skateboarders to hysterically lunge at, no matter how many training techniques we’d tried over the years. Positive reinforcement. Time outs. Being the alpha. “Try putting her on her back and reminding her you are in control.” “Try abandoning her immediately, so she realizes there are consequences.” “Try ignoring her—when they only get responses for good behavior they learn to practice only good behavior.” None of it worked. She went ballistic, even in her last days, when she was shaky on her feet and the things her old eyes saw as skateboarders were actually bikers riding past. She never had anything against bikes. Only skateboards and scooters.
And certain dogs. Bill. Princess. Misty, until they made up with help from Kerry. She could sniff them out from a block away and her hackles would go up. She’d slow down, scanning the horizon and sniffing for their precise location. Even last week, when we walked up Sunnyside with Summer and Lake and Ever, Django trying to keep up with her newest favorite dog friends, maybe because they sort of looked like her, I saw Bill and his owner walking parallel to us across the street. He too was feeble, walking stiffly. I told Summer, “She used to hate that dog.” And Summer looked surprised that Django could dislike anyone. Dear sweet Django walking along, slowing down Summer’s dogs but they didn’t seem to mind. Then we reached the corner and suddenly a line rose on Django’s back like a Rhodesian ridge of backwards fur. She looked across the street, saw Bill, and let out a furious bark. “Rarrrrfff!”
Poor Bill seemed shocked. He was long over it, and anyway I don’t think he ever hated her as much as she did him. “Okay, Django, let it go,” I said, pulling her around the corner and away from Bill and his owner. Django reluctantly stopped barking and Summer said, “Wow, her hackles are up!”
“Yeah,” I said, a little proud of her fury. As Tashie would say, She still had the fire. It took half a block for the ridge to smooth back down.
There were many more dogs she loved, or at least loved seeing. Izzy and Lulu, Sullie, Tazzy and Toby, Ginger, Jack, Barney, once we weren’t fostering him anymore. Certain dogs she liked better as time went on. Buddy, Solo, Beau. Certain ones she always liked and seemed calm with. Maize, Charlie, Millie, Larry, Ernie, Chloe and Lucy.
There were the dogs from older generations who have passed. Nina, Audrey, Venus, Tiger, Bat, Cane, Riley, Moe, Jinx, Spoof, Poncho, Cinnamon, the rough-coated charcoal dog who looked a little like Mookie. Red used to take care of her and he and her owner were in a relationship for a while. He’d take Django sometimes when we travelled, and told me Django always slept with his mom in her bed. Those were the days of Roscoe, and Wrigley, whose owners moved into Dave’s apartment when he moved out, which reminds me of Windsor, who lived downstairs. And the one German Shepard she wasn’t terrified of, whose owner was Ann and had us over for a Christmas party once. So many dogs. And also Zoe and Teva and Barkley and Bramble and that dog who killed a squirrel, whose owner was a famous photographer. And Chase up at Watervale, and that dog she met last year in the cottage next to ours. So many dogs.
So many people, as Dave just said. People here and gone. Liz. Dan. My dad. My mom, who would throw bits of scrambled egg and toast at her instead of holding them out because she didn’t like dogs. Donna and Mark. Chuck and Kate. Lisa and John, who she only snapped at once, just a little John, because your hand was too close to her face and she didn’t know you were only reaching over her for a drink. Amy and Kristen when we all used to hang out together. Tom, who gave her the best nicknames. Heather who fed her way too much cheese and thus whose boundless affection was tolerated. Patrick who ignored her sufficiently to be trusted. Deanna and Tori, who technically I guess belongs in the dog category. Kelly who meditated in the living room, drawing Django to her with her calmness. Shannon and the other dog-obsessed herding people, and Shannon’s husband Bill, who would took Django out on his postal delivery rounds when she boarded with them. Shannon said Django would run to the barn where Bill was working, ready for action or just to watch while he did barn things. And Steven, who only met her once but said as he was leaving, “Good dog, Django, thank you for letting me live today.”
Summer and Shayna. Nina P. and John Byrne and Gayle and Other-Donna and Neighbor Dave and Ruth and Elaine and the Betty’s and their men. Amy and Tracy and the fun of being at their house in Madison. Michelle, the one groomer Django was truly happy to see. Bob the woodcarver. Aaron who she only bit a little that one time, because she was already stressed out by the party. A tall blond skateboarder at the park who used to slow down when she ran after him so he could give her treats. Once she got used to this, she stopped barking at him and trotted casually over instead. This had absolutely no effect on her behavior with other skateboarders, who remained objects of outrage.
There are a hundred people I’m forgetting and a million ways in which she was spoiled, treated, appreciated, laughed at, and wondered at. “She’s so beautiful,” people would say. One woman standing on a street corner smoking asked, “Did you have her highlighted or is it natural?”
Did she know what a good life she had? Or is that something for us to know? She knew joy. She knew fun. She and Nina wrestling on Liz’s deck when they were 2 or 3. Long before she began to be frail and I worried about her back. They would shove and gnash and twist each other onto their backs, and back up and jump at each other again, so happy and ferocious, but only if they could knock into me and Liz, intertwined right under our feet. Send them down to the yard where it was safer, with grass to land on and more room, and they’d stare blankly at each other and sniff around. Then they’d wander back upstairs and into our space, and Nina would nose Django, or Django would shoulder into Nina, and one would bat a paw at the other, and they’d start again.
There were random things she loved, like Abbie’s too-small dachshund bed, that she crammed into instead of the proper-sized beds we bought her. And walking slowly under plants to let them stroke her face and back. And her perch at the front window. And getting her butt scratched firmly and briefly. And sleeping by herself for the first few hours at night and then standing quietly over Dave at three in the morning, staring at him, until I woke up and nudged him and said, “She wants to come under.” Then he’d lift the covers and she’d crawl all the way in, a doughnut of fur with the tip of her nose poking out only when I couldn’t stand it, positive she would suffocate, and pulled the covers back a little. She didn’t like to be petted but she did like to curl up next to me with her rump pushing into my thigh or my shin. As long as I didn’t touch her too much or make much eye contact she was a great companion on the couch.
Django was a pretty good travel dog. I think she relished stopping at random gas stations along the highway. We’d trot over to unfamiliar ground while Dave filled the gas tank, and she’d do her business efficiently, and then come back and hop into the car. When we rode the ferry long ago, on the first trip Dave and I took together, Django jumped up onto the bench next to us and sat quiet and alert, looking at the water as we travelled from Washington Island to Rock Island, where no cars were allowed. She hiked with us around the seven-mile perimeter, staying close but reveling in the rocky shore and the smells and wading in the shallow water. It was all very idyllic until we walked back toward the dock to wait for the last ferry and Django suddenly saw a herd of deer and took off. Just disappeared over a hill. We ran after her but she was gone. We panicked. We wandered and called. We blamed ourselves for letting her off leash in unfamiliar territory. Dave hadn’t had a dog in 15 years and I knew he thought I was too lax with her. We waited and wondered if we could stay there overnight. We had no water or food. We wondered if the deer would kill her if she caught up with them.
About a half hour later she trotted back, ecstatic, bristling with energy. A happy dog.
Her passing frees me to remember all the years before she was unable to do so many of the things of vigor and action. Leaping into the car or up onto walls that seemed too high for a dog her size. Chasing a ball like fury, or circling other dogs who were trying to play and barking, shouldering, nipping, doing whatever she could to break them up. Because that was fun for her? Because that was her job as a herding dog? Because she simply disapproved of their chaotic silliness? We’ll never know. Or chasing Zoe to the garbage cans across the field in the parking lot. To bring her back? To join her? To simply be a follower in the pack?
Or running at a skunk and then running from a skunk down at Kenyon during a mime school barbecue, sprayed and confused but also seeming cheerful and curious about this new scent, trailing it into the open door of the dorm where we were staying. It only took one race up the stairs and then back down to stink up the whole building so bad that Kenyon decreed, next year at mime school, No Dogs.
During the years when Dave and I drove up to Wisconsin every Wednesday, so she could go herding at Shannon’s, she’d lie quietly in the back seat for the first 87 minutes. Then, as soon as we got to Genoa City and turned left at the pizza place she’d sit up. She’d sniff the window desperately and when we opened it she’d stick her nose out, pulling in the Wisconsin air. The road turned into country and farmland and she’d pace furiously between the open windows, seeming like she couldn’t get enough of the smells and the open vistas. Then we’d pull into Shannon’s farm and she’d jump out, vibrating with excitement to get at the dumb sheep and the more challenging goat mafia. Shannon could make her behave just with a look, and we’d tell ourselves again that we were bad owners, we must learn to do the things Shannon did to make her behave. Then one day she got side-butted by a goat and wasn’t so into herding, but we kept going because she loved to walk the field after herding lessons, running with Frodo and all of Shannon’s border collies and Snowball who didn’t really run and the beautiful, perfect herder owned by the woman who was a nurse in Milwaukee.
So many great memories, it makes my heart find places I forgot were there. The last few days, we’ve been overwhelmed with messages and flowers and cookies and chocolates and cards and poems and stories and healing stones and love and kindness from people who knew her, people who know the pain of losing an animal, or who maybe haven’t lost one yet and wonder a little bit how it is that other peoples’ dogs die when theirs surely won’t. Django, I miss you so much and love you so much. You were a good dog.
Yesterday started rough. Lots of anger and frustration over a writing deadline with none of the joy or appetite for the challenge. Tried various things to shake it, starting with actually doing the writing (sometimes I forget that part), but also yard work, reading, walking, sleeping. Sleeping felt dangerously good.
I got up to go to a friend’s show, and my stormcloud of dark thoughts traveled along. I blame it for making me miss the Damen stop on the Brown Line. Silently raging, I got off at Montrose and walked back to Damen to wait for the next bus.
The show took me out of myself with a beautiful performance of a hard story. Three gifted performers telling one woman’s story of forgiveness through words, Butoh, and sound telling, which was a remarkable sort of emotional Foley art.
But the magic of the piece drifted away while I waited through the talkback. I decided I couldn’t wait for a ride from my friend, so I checked Uber. I’m always scared of Uber because what if I get a weirdo? But travelling under a cloud of despair has its perks: who cares if something goes horribly wrong. I was looking at how the closest one was four minutes away, my finger hovering above the Request button, when I walked outside the theatre and saw some people I knew. Conversation seemed impossible so I hit the button.
Four minutes later Carl in his Ford Escape showed up. I asked his thoughts on the Ford Escape (see How The Volkswagen Scandal Has Changed Me), and he kept me entertained all the way home. He talked mostly about his two girls, Jordan and I didn’t catch the other one’s name, one fearless and the other “scared of everything.”
The fearless one eats anything and travels everywhere. She was walking at six-and-a-half months, born May 22 and carrying her own presents upstairs by Christmas Day to play with them in her room as Carl napped. He’s been divorced 16 years now and lives back in the city, on the South Side while his girls are in Bucktown. The scared one is living with the fearless one at the moment.
“They’re always asking me to do silly things,” he said. “‘Come over and make us grilled-cheese sandwiches!’ I was always making grilled-cheese sandwiches when they were kids.” Last Thursday he went to Buckdown and did just that but he went a little fancier. It was always tomato soup he made to go with the sandwiches but this time, “Lobster bisque.”
Lobster bisque. He said it twice, relishing the memory or maybe just the sound of the words.
He waited until I was inside before he drove away. I slept for ten hours and woke up excited to write again. It was a nice ride.
The honeymoon period after finishing the first draft of a brand new play is one of the finest rewards of writing. It’s a delicious breakfast-in-bed-on-the-balcony champagne-and-chocolate-strawberries first-scene-of-Barefoot-in-the-Park-the-movie-version mashup wall of euphoria.
This period is flush with all kinds of wonder. First there’s the wonder of sudden weightlessness. “I’m done, I’m done!” is all I need say, and the tightness lifts from my shoulders, just as it did when I pushed away from my desk after typing “End play.”
It actually takes a few tries, every few hours, at saying “I’m done!” before it feels true. Each time, I re-investigate the feeling of not having this thing to write. I examine the new spaciousness between my ears, and give myself permission to feel giddy. “I’m done!”
Then there’s the wonder of leisure. I can go to a play or go have a drink or do whatever I want without seeing the unfinished script waiting, lurking, threatening to disappear if the head and tail don’t get sewn on soon.
During this time, the play is perfect. No one has said “I don’t get it” or “I like where it’s going” or “Have you read such-and-such? You should, it’s very similar.” No one’s said they want to know more about x or less about y, or smiled in a manner that says this is exactly the kind of play I tend to write. As if it’s any easier to write the kind of play a person tends to write than any other kind.
In these first few days, I physically feel the wonder of something brand new existing in the world. I imagine other parts of the invisible world shifting to make room. The world didn’t ask for this. If asked, it might say the last thing it needed was another new play. We bring the world our offerings, these detailed instructions for performance that are somewhere between blueprint and poetry, for reasons I’m still not clear on.
The fact that I’m even thinking about this means it’s time to pack my things, maybe take one selfie on the balcony, and check out of the luxury hotel. I might have stolen a washcloth, so I need to walk quickly in case the maids notice something’s amiss and call down to the front desk, but they wouldn’t do that would they? Would they? For one washcloth? Okay fine it was a hand towel but whatever. What kind of cheapshit hotel is this where they’re like counting washcloths? No way am I leaving the four stars. It’s a slight relief: The honeymoon is over.
On January 1 of last year, Toots and I started a writing game. We’d spent most of New Year’s Eve watching Slings & Arrows, which is not a prerequisite for the game, but it helps.
Materials needed: phones, notebooks or laptops, a timer (see phones)
We could have spent the day watching Season 3, but unspoken between us was the knowledge that watching TV, no matter how good, was not the way we wanted 2015 to start. Django and I walked Toots to the train, and New Years festivities were officially over.
Either player can start the game. Toss a coin maybe.
After the dog walk, I wanted to lay on the couch and read. Instead, I got my notebook and a timer, and decided to write for 20 minutes, using the word “Frame” as a prompt.
Player 1 chooses a word and texts it to Player 2.
Set your timer for 20 minutes.
Write the word at the top of the page.
Continue writing anything at all until the timer goes off.
When you’re finished, text “Done” to your partner.
When your partner is finished, they text “Done” to you.
After both players have texted “Done,” Player 2 chooses the next day’s word and texts it to you.
When I was finished, I texted Toots to tell her how my new year was going. She liked “Frame” and wrote for 20 minutes too.
“Want to do this again tomorrow” she asked.
“O-okay,” I said.
So she texted me a word for the next day: “Challenge.”
Rules and Advisements:
Wait your turn: Don’t text your partner the next day’s word, even if YOU’RE done, until they’re done too. With the exception of…
Doubling down: If you absolutely cannot write on a given day, you may “Double down” the next day. Text this to your partner, and send or receive the next day’s word. On the next day, write for 20 minutes per word.
Tripling Down: See above. You’re getting into dangerous territory, but it is possible to get back on track. Don’t give up.
On a dog walk yesterday, I lamented to Dave about how much I miss this game. Not that I wasn’t relieved for it to be over – a whole year of doing this has its ups and downs, and it’s nice to be able to freely journal again, without the word “Level” (Jan 22) or “Arriviste” (July 19) or “Cope” (Nov 11) staring at you from the top of the page. But I loved sharing the ups and downs with Toots. And completing 365 days of shared words felt amazing.
Set your phone on silent if you don’t like getting texts at 3am.
After listening to me alternately whine about missing the game and celebrate the fact that I never again have to write about “Suppository” (Dec 30), Dave decided that he wanted to play this game. He called a friend who said, “Sure.” They had to double down immediately to catch up to properly start from January 1st, but they’re on track now to do it COMPLETELY WRONG. They’re writing too much. They’re texting each other every twenty minutes with a new word. I think they’re on like Word 4 and it’s only January third. They’re going to burn out! But I’m keeping my mouth shut. It’s none of my business.
Look up the word before setting your timer. Even if it’s a simple word. You might learn something.
Type if you don’t want to write. Any technology is fine.
But why a pencil? Who would write for twenty minutes with a pencil?
On today’s dog walk, Dave told me a bunch of interesting things about “Sewer.” Apparently it’s related to “Sewing” and “Serving,” which connects to “Steward.”
I might choose “Steward” today if I were still playing with Toots. But our game is complete.