Beautiful thoughts

a bay of new blooms
Almost literally.

I went to get my hair cut. While my color was setting I looked at some magazines. I read about People’s Most Beautiful and looked at pictures of Scarlett Johansson and Mark Ruffalo in Vogue or maybe it was Vanity Fair. And I thought about Sherry, the second wife in a play I’m working on, and wondered if she hates her husband’s first son because he reminds her how beautiful the first wife was.

How hard it must be to feel ugly in a world where beauty is pictured all around you. I think this Sherry character feels ugly. I see her surrounded by nail salons, tanning salons, walk-in spas, women’s magazines, hundreds of headlines about best-ever sex and perfect skin now and fashion must-haves for the coming season. How do you combat that?

While my stylist was chopping off all the hair I’d been carefully growing out for months, another stylist put down a magazine and said, “I cannot believe Kim Kardashian is having another baby shower. Didn’t she already have one?”

“I am very careful not to know anything about Kim Kardashian,” replied my stylist.

“I know, but isn’t the custom like, you have one and that’s it? Having another one is so tacky.”

“I don’t know anything about her,” said my stylist in her calm, steady voice.

“Me neither, but they are everywhere. I hate the Kardashians.”

“I ignore them completely,” said my stylist.

“Me too.”

I considered asking, “How can you simultaneously ignore them and know when one of them is having a baby shower?” But that’s the thing about salons. The magazines are everywhere. There’s no getting away from gorgeous women. If they weren’t stacked on every side table, convenient to every fingertip, displaying the latest in hair and makeup and health and celebrities and relationships and fashion, I’d feel shortchanged. I choose the first magazine carefully, page through it rapidly, and then choose the next not quite as carefully. They begin to run together, but I need to get through as many as possible.

It reminds me of being at Urhausen the other day with Syd. It was the largest single greenhouse I’ve ever been in, rows and rows of flowers, literally—well not literally, even David Sedaris isn’t safe these daysalmost literally, as far as the eye could see. I had to walk it twice before I could even begin to think about what I wanted to buy. Okay, not exactly twice. I walked it once and then started again, and then got a cart and started again. Does that count as twice?

The abundance of flowers was mesmerizing. Row upon row of zinnias and begonias and petunias and snapdragons and vinca and phlox and delphinium. I saw a man in the distance, watering things. On my second pass through I came across him and a younger man, setting up hoses at one of the million (I exaggerate) rows of flowers, each in its own long bay, with just enough room for a person and a cart in between. Many in the further bays, like the ones pictured, weren’t for sale yet. I guess they were still growing, or still in reserve. It was sobering, to see how systematically these huge flats of blooms are started and tended. I tried to meet the eye of the older man, first to smile sycophantically and tell him how beautiful everything was, and then to get to my point, finding out whether they carry lilac bushes, but he didn’t meet my eye. He was all business, and his business apparently was to tend the fledgling flowers. Like so many beautiful perfect women in magazines, the flowers were unique and fresh and yet strangely uniform.

It turned out to be a good thing I didn’t find a lilac bush at Urhausen, because my stylist recommended that I don’t buy just any lilac bush. She recommended a Miss Kim.  “They don’t get leggy like a lot of lilacs, and the blooms are very dense,” she said as she snipped away.

“I love the name,” I said. “Miss Kim.”

“Me too,” she said. “Like an Asian Southern belle.” Not too leggy, deliriously scented, mint julip with a lychee twist. Top that, Kim Kardashian.

Rejectness & Acception

Off Fellows picture
Buildings of the Odd Fellows’ Orphans’ Home, framed, submitted to alley, accepted by me.

I got my favorite rejection of the year in the mail the other day. As a writer, I’m supposed to be used to rejection, but I’m not. I never got rejected from this particular place for that particular piece before, so it’s always happening for the first time.

And as someone who’s done my share of rejecting, I should remember that not everyone’s performance or piece is right for whatever I’m casting or curating, so I should remember it’s not often so much about rejection as it is about incompatibility, but I don’t.

And as my job hunting friends tell me, I should be grateful even for rejections, because someone cared enough to say no, thanks. Apparently the trend in employment these days is, if you don’t hear from us, consider it a no. Thanks. Yeah, I guess, but it still stings. Except for the times when it doesn’t. Like this one.

It wasn’t one of those personalized “Your play is amazing but we don’t have the budget for your time machine set piece” or “The writing is so brilliant even we don’t understand it “ sorts of letters. There wasn’t even a scrawled postscript about how I should send in something else because they liked my voice. It was just a form letter on cheap paper telling me that my play, “Charlie,” wasn’t selected for their ten-minute musical project. Two things stopped me from feeling bad about it, maybe three.

First, the letter said that not only wasn’t “Charlie” selected, but no one’s play was selected. Which made me feel included instead of excluded. I like feeling included, which apparently is okay because that’s part of being human.

Also, the letter advised all us rejects to pay more attention to story, because plot was mostly where these pieces disappointed. It recommended more adaptations. I can take or leave the advice, but at least I have a sense of why they didn’t like my very small story with some big songs (composed by creative wonderbox Charlie – oh, btw, Charlie, we didn’t get in – Hopper).

There’s something lovely about a rejection that reveals just a little of what’s behind the no. It demystifies the whole process in a way that makes me feel less generally inadequate, and more specifically incompatible.

Rejections also feel better when tempered with acceptances. This morning, I got an email with a link to a tiny radio play I wrote, “Go,” which is presented as part of this week’s episode of Chicago Off Book. It’s a smart, fast, funny show that makes me want to go see more theatre. I hope you’ll listen to it—and not just to my 60 seconds of silliness. Arlene Malinowski also has a mini-play in this episode, and there are interviews with Michael Halberstam and Darrell Cox.

Ironically, when something of mine is accepted, I don’t feel a huge rush of artistic triumph. I just think, oh, good, for some reason that worked for them. It boosts my confidence enough to think about sending out more work, and more importantly, it’s the point of the whole endeavor – to share my work, my view, my experiences, with whoever might care to listen.

Like most things I write, both “Charlie” and “Go” are on actual events: one I overheard at a bookstore, and one I saw backstage at a theatre. The more I write, the more I discover specifically what kind of writer I am: an interpreter of the small and forgotten. And I’m proud of it. If you too are someone who auditions, submits, sells, offers yourself parsed out in words or images or knitted hoodies or carved dogs, I hope you’ll keep at it. Because there may be only a few people in this entire universe who really “get” your handmade astrology-themed earbud cozies, but wouldn’t it feel good to connect with them?

Endings and what comes before

sea lion
In the distance, a phone rings. Softly. Insistently. End of play.

Yesterday was my last class with Will Dunne, of the translations exercise I talked about back in October. Over the term, I’ve completed the second draft of my play, “St. George on the bus.” First draft, written earlier this year, was 79 pages and seven characters. Second draft is 33 pages and two characters. I can see things I need to develop more, or unpack as Arlene Malinowski says in my Saturday writing group, but I don’t think the next draft will be longer than 40 pages. Maybe it’s a one-act, maybe it’s a first act in a longer piece I don’t see yet. But I think I see where it needs to go to complete itself. I need to dig back in to push the characters into declaring their wants and needs a little more strongly, so they can fight a little harder, and be a little more of who they are, and make the story more of what it is.

I tend to write characters who are too ambiguous, a tendency that can make a writer feel like she is very deep. ‘Cause the characters are so “real.” And if you have a strong story—that is, a story that your characters are driving with strong wants and needs, then there’s room for ambiguity and yes, it’s super-deep. But if the story is somewhat tenuous, because your characters are half-moving and half-wanting in too many directions at once, it loses momentum. It becomes static.

A collage is not a story. The viewer can certainly make a story of it, but that’s not the same thing. If I order a chef salad I’m not asking for a head of lettuce and a block of cheese. Dressing on the side, sure, but don’t make me decide whether to slice or quarter the egg.

We went to a friend’s the other night and he screened the short film he’s making. It was beautiful, with sure pacing and compelling action and a tone that feels very specific. But then it just sort of stopped. Not ended, but stopped. Or at least that’s how I felt. Then Dave said the same thing, and our friend said he’s struggling with that too. The problem is, how to end it in a way that satisfies all major collaborators on the piece. Turns out each has slightly different thoughts about what front end means, so they’ve created an ending ambiguous enough that you can interpret as you wish. But because the ending didn’t feel like an ending, it made me question what I thought the whole thing was about. And not in a deep way.

Maybe my vision of story is too uptight. Maybe I take stories too seriously, because of my own struggles with middles and ends. I sort of want to add a phone ringing to the end of my St. George play, because as it ends right now, character 1 leaves character 2 behind. It’s kinda sad, because character 1 has made a choice that will propel her into a more honest and brave place in her life, and character 2 has retreated. And the connection they once had is gone. So character 2 is sitting alone at the end. Aw, it’s sad. And if the phone rings, and we can assume it’s character 3 calling, and it rings and rings but character 2 is too sad to pick it up, isn’t that even sadder? And the lights are slowly fading and the phone just rings and rings…are you getting teary-eyed? You’ve only seen that once or twice in plays or movies before, right? Or maybe six or seven times? Or 20? But the real point is, if it were happening in my head and I couldn’t deny it, I would know it was right. It would be an ending and not just an idea.

The other problem I’m struggling with is relevance. But I’ll save that for another day, because Django is bugging me for a walk, and I’ve just received an email from my godmother, telling me about a writing award my distant cousin David Holroyd just won in England, for his story, “Deliver Us From Bobby!” It’s a wonderful piece, incidentally with a perfect ending: “As for the aggressive miner, we never saw him again.”

All you have is your joy

treadmill
My new novel.

I was down most of yesterday because I didn’t wake up to write. I set my alarm for six – no, I had Dave set his alarm. At six I said, “six-thirty.” He reset it and we fell back to sleep. At six-thirty I turned on my light, reached for my notebook, and wrote half a page of drivel, about how I don’t want to write and I’m so sleepy and I have nothing to say. I was waiting for the magic moment, the spark into a surprise revelation or train of thought that makes the process worthwhile, but all that happened was I fell back asleep. When I woke again at eight-thirty I was clutching my notebook like a teddy bear.

Why is it so important to me? What am I trying to prove? I have another half-finished story that’s lost steam and I think I can fool my subconscious brain into telling me the rest of it before the editor wakes up.

At nine o’clock I opened the notebook again, this time at the dining room table, and wrote some more drivel. “I dreamed I was packing up the car but had to walk Django first but somehow she had to climb out of a basket of salad greens. She did it!” Then I wrote a scene for the story which I won’t use. There’s no need to use everything you write. That would be like a concert pianist performing a rehearsal for the audience. I know that. But it’s scary when the spark doesn’t come.

I popped into Facebook and watched a Thich Naht Hanh video recommended by Susy. It was about how the left hand doesn’t punish the right when it makes a mistake, like accidentally pounding the left thumb with a hammer. The left and right understand that they are each other. Susy said she watched the video three times and was calmed.

Leave it to the gods, Elizabeth Gilbert said in her TED talk, which I also watched. Maybe it was on the same YouTube page? Leave it to the gods but show up at the page, because Sinclair Lewis wrote 5,000 words A DAY. I read that yesterday in Wikipedia.

At nine-thirty I got on with real work and spent the rest of the day writing video scripts. When Dave came back from his run I said for the millionth time, “I wish I could do that.” Then somehow it was eight p.m. and we were still working, which isn’t surprising when you don’t start til halfway through the morning.

Instead of having dinner, I suited up for the treadmill. I’d been thinking about doing that since Dave brought it home a year ago. But I’m not a runner, and I’ve never used a treadmill. I’ve been busy saying, “If only it was a cross-trainer.” “If only I had an idea of the plot.” “If only I weren’t so sleepy at six a.m.” “My shoes are caked with mud.” “I have nothing to wear.” I put on some yoga clothes and knocked my shoes around over the garbage and Dave showed me how to start with your feet on the sides.

He went back to work and I put my earplugs in and turned on Pandora to Eagles radio. As a runner I’m pretty wobbly. I walked and ran and watched myself wobble in the mirror Dave propped against the wall to check his form (perfect, the lady at Fleet Feet said).

After 32 minutes I realized I need shorts, a sports bra, and some shoes that don’t pinch my toes. I also realized that I was happy. It felt good to sweat and try not to wobble while singing along with American Pie and Beast of Burden and Penny Lane and other songs that share musical qualities with the artist The Eagles. I didn’t write but I did something else I’ve been wanting to do. All I have is what I feel, and right now I feel the joy of wobbling. It’s pretty much what I expected to feel at six a.m. this morning, but instead it’s ten at night, I’m fresh from the shower, and my biggest struggle is between a toasted D’Amatos mini-focacchia and the last of the sweet potatoes.

Honor among truth tellers

Shirley temple in Curly top on an iphone
True.

Memory and truth are weird. The truth of a memory is weighted by the event and by the teller, given our own capacity to record facts and our own sense of what’s important about those facts. But when the story is told, its truth is weighed by a listener who has no way to judge the facts, except by their own set of memories.

Someone else’s story can seem too pat to me, like in the song at a concert last night where three events in the singer’s life all neatly signified the same bit of wisdom that was summed up in the throat-lumping chorus. I scoffed when it was over, but Dave said he liked its unpredictability. “Are you kidding? First the guy, then the boat, then the road of life?”

“Oh, not the words, I’m talking about the musical structure.” And when the same singer sang another song later that evening, I absolutely bought it and got progressively more teary-eyed every time the chorus came around. Same story structure, three concentric circles of significant events, and I have no idea what the musical structure was, but those events seemed somehow truer to me. So they paid off in tears.

This month marks two years since my mom died. I’ve been writing a story about her for This Much Is True, whose November show happens to fall this year on that anniversary, Tuesday the 8th. I want to tell the story as truthfully as I can, but of course I also want it to be compelling and funny and complete. So I write what’s in my head, and put it aside, and then look at it later to see what feels true or not true. Today I dug out some journals from the months before my mom died, looking for a couple of facts I hoped I’d written down at the time. I found some decent notes, and also an entry from several days before she died. I’d asked what her favorite memory was, and this is what she said.

I went to see Curly Top with my mom at the Marlborough Theatre. It was never like that, just the two of us. But this time, no Marie, no Ralph, nobody but me and my mom. And we saw Curly Top, and it was Christmas time. The theatre was in a Jewish neighborhood at that time, Madison and Crawford, now Pulaski, and when we came out, you know how we always have colored lights? Well, they had all blue lights on their trees and in all these apartment windows. All blue, and the snow was falling so gently, and it was just so beautiful. Just me and my mom.

I didn’t think about it much at the time, just wrote it down as quick as I could, to catch the words and save them for later. Coming across them now, hunting for details about the guy at the cemetery who told me I couldn’t bury my mom the way she wanted to be buried, I’m first of all impressed that I had the presence of mind to ask her questions like this. I didn’t do it enough. And second, I wonder if this is why she always bought Shirley Temple paraphernalia, even though she never seemed to be much of a fan. And third, I wonder if the snow really was gently falling. Could it really have been that perfect?

But if it’s your very favorite memory that you tell at the end of your life, and the snow wasn’t actually falling at the time, do you get the snow thrown in for free, like a Clinique gift with purchase? And also, if she hadn’t mentioned the snow, would my imagination have thrown it in anyway? Yes, because where there’s Christmas in old Chicago, with blue lights sparkling in all the storefronts and apartment building windows, and a little girl is walking with a mom who rarely has time for her alone like she does right now, there simply has to be snow. And it’s got to be falling gently.

Translations

It made more sense after Dave translated.

We’ve eaten out a lot this week. Dave’s dad is in town and he is both a great cook and a lover of fine food. The other night we went to one of his favorites, Les Nomades. Serene lighting, sumptuous appointments (that is, chairs and stuff), and waitstaff who anticipate your every need without calling attention to themselves. Your water glass, your napkin, your every dining comfort IS the most important thing on the planet. And the staff’s comfort is the least. Maybe the point of restaurants like this is to let average people feel what it’s like to have servants—like, royalty-grade servants. You pay the price and you receive the experience.

Maybe that’s why a jacket is required. The Queen doesn’t dine in blue jeans. And there’s the food itself. A thimble-full of inspired parsnip soup,  a salmon appetizer prepared three ways, each better and smaller than the last, a presentation of warm apple tart contrasted with a melon-baller scoop of green apple sorbet. Tiny mouthfuls of gold.

But the experience changes with translation. The first or second time at Les Nomades, I didn’t try to understand, I just ate and drank and sank gratefully into my banquette as they invisibly pulled the table back for me after a trip to the ladies room. Which had a couch! But this time, I thought more about how it all works. Somehow, I couldn’t help analyzing the waiter. He was so formal in his language that I kept thinking he was kidding. “Would the Lady and Gentlemen care to order?” It was sort of like being at a renaissance fair, except I think in that time period Queen ate with her hands. At first, I tried to talk normal, but I am a chameleon and soon I transferred info formalese. “Perhaps a glass of the Springbank?” “Very good, Madame.”

At one point, he bowed in to ask, “Are the Lady and Gentlemen finding the meal to their liking?”

“Oh yes, it’s lovely.”

“Very good.” But when he bowed away, I saw him stop at the white serving table and make a small mark on a card. Suddenly I thought, is there a set number of times they have to check in with each table in their station, and the card helps them keep track? Doesn’t he really care? Did he only check with us so he could mark his card? I know, it’s all a business, like any other, and I appreciate that they run this business so well. But for a moment I felt like that king in the play, I think it’s by Ionesco, where he says to his servant, “Don’t you think I know that as soon as I go to bed you blow out the candles and turn on the electric lights?”

And the servant says, “So should I turn on the lights?”

And the king cries, “No. I want my candle. Bring me my candle!”

I started a new playwriting workshop this week. The teacher, Will Dunne, has already made me start thinking about writing plays differently than ever before. He had us do an exercise he called Translations. For the play you’re working on, you identify 12 words or phrases that come up in the play and then translate them into various actions or lines of dialog or images. When we went to see Clybourne Park at the Steppenwolf last night, I thought about what those 12 might be for that play. Racism, civility, institutional ignorance, what’s the point, burying your dead… It made it easier to identify what was so powerful in the play, and also to sense the few ways in which it could have been more powerful – at least to me. What were they? I forget now. Something about what was at stake in Act 2, but something more specific. Ignorance? Yes, I thought if the story of the suicide were more distorted by time, it would have strengthened the idea of ignorance being dangerous, or at least destructive. But maybe that wasn’t one of the playwright’s 12. Or maybe he didn’t have 12. This was only one exercise, in one class.

After the play, Dave translated his Dad’s classic reticence about what he felt like doing into agreement that a bite after the show would be good. At the table, when I was explaining this playwriting exercise, Dave’s dad said, “Music is music. It is what it is. No translation necessary.” That launched a discussion between Dave and his dad over who was the best composer, Bach or Beethoven or Mozart—or more specifically, what made each of them so good.

And that reminded me that at intermission, Dave’s dad stood up and said, “Back then, everyone listened to the same music.” Act One took place in the 50s, and closed with a Bing Crosby song that only Dave’s dad recognized. I was glad to hear him make a voluntary comment, but I almost replied with a disagreement. I remember my dad telling me about how, when he was growing up in the 30s and 40s, he used to have a radio in his room, and late at night, when the signals were stronger, he’d turn it to “the dark side of the dial” either the lower or upper end, I don’t know which. If he tuned it just right, and the night was clear, he could hear Black music, the blues and jazz he couldn’t get in the middle of the dial. But it didn’t seem worth pointing out, because it’s possibly pointless to disagree with a memory. Or maybe that’s why the world is so messed up, I’m not sure.

I don’t know if it’s okay to write “Black music.” We don’t say that anymore. But it’s how my dad described the music he loved. I guess we all pick our battles and our translations. Walking back to the train, I saw a For Sale sign. At first I thought the line at the bottom was the realtor’s name, and I was impressed that someone with such a strikingly foreign name would be selling such a swank property. Turns out it was a swank property, but I was still reading it wrong.

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.

Two Goodbyes

Empty billboard structure
Ready for the next thing.

Yesterday I said goodbye to the play I’ve been working on since February. For days I’d been telling myself I was close to finishing because I had more than 70 pages, but I admitted that what I actually have are a cool idea, a couple of good scenes, and a bunch of what I’d call bridges — scenes without conflict, without action, that just get us from place to another. Some bridge scenes are okay, even necessary, but somehow I’d boxed myself in with them and felt incapable of freely imagining different characters, locations, or situations that could make the place stay alive.

I felt so discouraged, and yet so unwilling to give up. Dave came in on a break from his work and I said, “Tell me it’s okay for me to give up on my play.”

He said, “Maybe you just need a break.”

“No,” I said dramatically, “it’s awful, it’s terrible. I’ve worked and worked on it and I have nothing to show for it.”

“Well, it’s one hundred percent your choice,” he observed. “If you’re not enjoying it, it’s probably not worth it.”

“True,” I said, not really believing him. It seemed so important. My Play. The one I bragged about when people asked what I was up to, the one I worried would upset the family when it hit Broadway and suddenly everyone knew our fictionalized business, the one I’d poured my heart and soul into. Or maybe I hadn’t, if here I was trying to figure out how much crappy dialog I could cut from a scene and still have enough to get my characters from the living room to the bus depot.

Dave added, “Maybe you’ll re-purpose it for something else later.”

“Maybe.” I closed the file and we took the dog for a walk.

Yesterday we also went to a wake. It was for a cousin of my late dad’s, Fred. Fred was a tall, handsome sweetheart of a guy who’d worked for Sears, had fought in World War II and been captured by the Nazis but escaped after 18 days (for which, I learned from a scrapbook near the coffin, he received one dollar per day from the US Government; I’m not sure if that was instead of or in addition to his regular army pay), and was an avid Sox fan.

After 92 years, he went very suddenly. Joking on the phone at 7pm, a stroke an hour later, a night in the hospital surrounded by his tall, handsome family, and gone by morning. Fred’s last words to his kids were, “How did the Sox do tonight?” This was funny in one way to all the baseball fans at the funeral home, and in a different way to people like me, who know little and care nothing about sports. I can’t imagine being on my deathbed and worrying about some guys who don’t even know I exist. It just doesn’t seem real that sports fans care as seriously and intensely as they seem to.

Which reminds me of my brother, who doesn’t understand why anyone would watch a play, much less write one. To him, it’s all just a bunch of pretend reality that has no point when you’ve got real reality all around you. He, incidentally, is a huge hockey fan. And that makes me feel better about abandoning my play. Not because I think plays are less important than sports, but because if his obsession seems as dismissible to me as mine does to him, it’s possible that we could both be right.