Co·in·ci·dence?

definition of coincidence
I'm not making this stuff up.

Yesterday, when I should have been doing something constructive, I was lying on the couch reading George Gissing’s The Unclassed. Having just seen the amazing tour de force Liza Minelli’s Daughter the night before, where dripping wet with sweat star and writer Mary Fons entreats us, “Work harder if you can, do more if you can,” and having said to myself, “I can and I will,” and having started the day with a crazy long to-do list, longer than I could possibly hope to finish, but “I can work harder and I will work harder,” I found myself stretched out and staring into my iPhone, wondering what the heck Mr. Woodstock was going to do to screw up the life of wee tiny heroine Ida Starr. Would he tell her he was secretly her grandfather? Would he sell her into prostitution? Would he soften up under her wee tiny good influence?

“Mr. Woodstock left the hospital. At the first public-house he reached he entered and drank a glass of whisky. The barman had forgotten the piece of lemon, and was rewarded with an oath considerably stronger than the occasion seemed to warrant.”

Luckily, my sister-in-law called to tell me they were dropping by, so I got up and at least changed my clothes. Then we walked over to Bad Dog where I had the most delicious wee tiny sweet potato tater tots, but that’s NOT THE COINCIDENCE.

Sister-in-law and brother went home and I stayed up to wait for Dave to get home from his gig. When he arrived, we went on a dog walk. Django was in rabid rabbit hunter mode, so we had to leash her up. Walked to Bad Dog, walked a bad dog? That’s NOT THE COINCIDENCE either.

On the dog walk, Dave mentioned that at the gig, where there was an open bar, he’d discovered a great taste: Chivas with a lemon.

“With a lemon?” I asked, incredulous.

“Yeah,” said Dave. “The guy said, ‘Do you want a twist with that?’ and I said ‘Sure, why not,” and he took a slice of lemon, rubbed the rim of the glass with it, and tossed it in. It was great.”

“Oh my god, that’s crazy. That’s crazy.”

“Why?”

George Gissing is seeping into my life. It’s only a coincidence if the concurrence of events is without apparent causal connection. Is George speaking to me? Does he want me to write his screenplay? Which book does he want me to do? Is it The Unclassed? I thought it was going to be New Grub Street. Or is it just coincidence? It’s not like whisky and lemons have never co-joined in my company, what about hot toddys? Am I reacting more strongly than the occasion seems to warrant?

I don’t know. I just don’t know. Work harder, if you can. Do more, if you can. Must return to couch and read the rest of the book, as hard I possibly can.

Hanging on George

George Gissing
He didn't hang it up, but his characters did.

A playwright friend posted on Facebook, “Give me one reason not to hang it up.” As a playwright, he clarified, after someone commented all concerned about his kids. He added that the market for new plays is brutal.

This guy is a very fine writer. His plays have eerie humor and oddly vulnerable characters and mystery. The pivotal moments stay in your head. Is this all a reason not to hang it up?

I want it to be, but no. It’s not about talent. We all know our voice is unique, and most of us have heard “if you block it, it will never exist…The world will not have it.” Sometimes the thrill of those stakes carries me through a bad day, sometimes I just think, “It’s not like the world will know the difference.” Is that a reason to hang it up?

I think that if this playwright hangs on he will get produced, and people will love his work. But of course I can’t be sure. It takes a lot of decisions to get a play to the stage, and a playwright is in control of only one of them.

I’ve been reading a lot of George Gissing novels lately. He was a Victorian novelist who wrote a lot about people in poverty. In most of his stories, my favorite character gives up or flat-out loses while other, less appealing characters triumph. Each ending depresses me, but back I go to Project Gutenberg for another one. I love the way characters pass in and out of chapters, and how tenderly Gissing writes about the cruel things that happen in the course of a poverty-stricken day, and how every now and then he throws me a crumb of hope.

I just finished New Grub Street, where novelist Harold Biffen (a minor character) finally poisons himself in a park (so he won’t upset his landlady) after his novel Mr. Bailey, Grocer (a deliberately undramatic account of the life of a grocer) is poorly received, and his heart has been broken by a woman who is merely polite to him, and he is starving and his clothes are too worn out for mending. The last image in the book is a scene with Jasper Milvain (the guy who started out as the hero but ditched the woman he loved to marry someone with money) and his wealthy wife. He confesses he feels sorry for the girl he jilted, but his wife helps him admit that the girl would have led him to poverty, “and poverty and struggle…would have made me a detestable creature.” He asks his wife to play a tune on the piano. “So Amy first played and then sang, and Jasper lay back in a dreamy bliss.” The end.

I looked Gissing up and learned that he was a promising young man who fell in love with a prostitute, resorted to stealing in order to support her, went to prison, and spent some time in the United States rebuilding his career and life. Gissing lived through disgrace and prison and two failed marriages, and still wrote 22 novels. Is that a reason for the rest of us to persevere?

I want to adapt New Grub Street into a play or a BBC teleplay, but whenever I start outlining in my head I realize all the things that would likely make a producer take a pass, assuming I could even get it into the right hands. Too many characters with the same narrative weight. The hero’s journey dead-ends. No celebratory ending like in Dickens or Austen, though some of their costumes could be re-used.

I don’t know one reason to try an adaptation, except that I kind of want to. Not desperately, the way I desperately want to get back to reading The Unclassed, but I suppose I’ll give it a try. And not because if I don’t the world will not have it. Apologies to Martha Graham, but someone else would probably write a very similar version, and theirs would probably get produced. And if they did and I had to watch it, I’d be like, “Aw, I coulda done that.” But I wouldn’t be quite sure that I could have.

I guess my reason not to hang it up, when the other reasons aren’t working, is that I’d rather be not quite sure about the future than not quite sure about the past.

Jane and Jane

Jane Eyre movie poster
Not. Well, sort of.

My friends K—and A— went to see Cary Fukunaga’s adaptation of Jane Eyre. I really wanted to go, but had my Battlestar Gallactica duties to attend to. However, it reminded me of my first-ever book review. Written in my diary when I was 11. Transcribed here, verbatim:

April 20, 1974. Oh gosh I read a great book. My first (I think, I’m not sure) novel. It’s “Jane Eyre.” By Charlotte Bronte. It was about this girl who lived with her late uncle’s wife. Her uncle when he was on his deathbed made her aunt promise to look after Jane even though the aunt hated her. When he died she sent her off to a school. After six years Jane was a governess for Mr. Rochester, a wealthy, middle aged, single man. He fell in love but on their wedding day she finds out he’s married to a maniac who is locked in a room in the mansion. Jane leaves (though she doesn’t want to), starves (she had no money), and in the end goes back to her lover only to find that he is stone blind. The house is burned down (that’s how he gets blind) and the maniac is killed in it. They marry and (after some time) he is able to see pretty good though he can’t read or nothing. It’s really great!

K— said that although Rochester was probably too handsome, she greatly enjoyed the film. But I don’t know if any movie can offer anything that beats the experience of reading a novel for the first time. Getting through every chapter to the end, and then having the whole story, the whole world, in your head, printed symbols into full-blown memories.

But of course, you can only have that experience once. And you can experience a new Jane Eyre about once every five years. And the way they handle those six years at Lowell means a lot to how I feel about the adaptation. So I guess I do need to see this film. In 42 more episodes.