The weird thing about rehearsal every night and rewrites plus regular work every day is that when it’s over I feel like, What do I do now? Yesterday I woke up all headachy from celebrating the night before. The script is done. There are things that could be clearer, yes, but I don’t want to collapse the flower, press each petal under glass. I want some push and pull.
It’s like The Tell-Tale Heart, which Dave recites to me periodically as he memorizes it for a show. In a typical talkback, someone inevitably would ask Edgar Allan Poe, “Okay so is the old man his landlord? I assumed that, but I don’t know that I actually know that. Maybe he’s a relative, an uncle or something–”
“Okay, thanks for your comment–”
“Or if it’s the old man who is the lodger, and the narrator is actually the landlord, that would change the dynamic for me.” So, Edgar will have her pen and notebook on Monday. She will write down every comment. Then she will set it on the sideboard and forget it for a week or a month. Pick it up after Halloween and see what jumps out.
I’m already preparing myself for the let-down after the performances. It’s a double let-down. The event is past, and so there’s the classic post-vacation, post-party, post-partum funk. Then there’s also the disappointment I’ve felt before with the readings or the festivals I do, where I feel like I’ve written something good and the world was supposed to come knocking so they could produce it at Kennedy Center. When they don’t, I go through the typical artist’s hell, the flip-flopping between “I’m not good enough” and “how come nobody thinks I’m good enough,” a dog chasing its tail as these two meaningless extremes circle ‘round and ‘round.
But I’m prepared for that. Maybe I can sidestep it. And I have slightly different reasons for wanting this play out there. I’m angry about that boy. I know the play is not his story. I don’t know what his story was. But that just makes me angrier. At last, I feel the thing Fred Gaines talked about as his reason for writing plays. That it’s a social call. I still don’t exactly understand it or know if it will happen in that way again, but I wish Fred were still around so I could at least say, “I finally get it.”
Yesterday’s headache finally faded last night when we saw Chris Smither at Old Town. Fern and Frank called, last minute, to invite us. They had what is perhaps the best four-top at Old Town, table Z. It’s at the back, stage right, at the perfect sightline. The only one possibly better is right next to it—I meant to check but forgot. Perhaps it’s table Y? It has the advantage of being on the aisle, so there’s even more legroom.
Somehow I hadn’t appreciated Chris Smither before. I knew and liked a couple of his songs, but of course I’d never spent an evening with him. And to be sitting there with Fern, who is negotiating her sentence with such grace and wisdom and humor, it almost makes me jealous. No, it makes me feel I’ve got an example, a role model to follow if and when the C-bomb drops just when I’m planning a whole other set of adventures for myself and my best friend.
“What a kick in the teeth,” I remember her saying the first time we saw them after the diagnosis. I keep hearing that, as they navigate their choices and do things like treat friends to an evening of music. And now I have a whole new body of music to listen to and be inspired by.
Smither introduced one new song as “a classic blues progression that you’ve heard a thousand times. But I haven’t written one in a while, so…” That was the song that made me buy the album on iTunes this morning. There were easily a dozen that could have prompted the purchase, but this was the song I needed to hear again immediately.
It ain’t what I know that makes me blue
It’s what I thought I knew
After the concert, we waited for Fern and Frank to buy a CD and get it signed. I had on my new birthday boots and my new birthday coat and the felted wool fez I got in Dingle, back when we traveled instead of fixing up the house, and I felt the confidence of my matchiness. I saw Fern and Frank at the front of the line, talking to Smither, who had a big floppy grin on his face. What a great guy. I went up with my phone, a little late, as they started to move along for the next people in line. “Can I just get a picture?” I said, snapping away, secretly remembering the no-pictures announcement before the concert.
They all leaned in, and I got a nice shot to send my friends. “I love your hat,” said Smither. “It’s great, isn’t it?” I beamed, proud of myself for not blurting out, “I got it in Ireland!” My uncomfortable post-concert exchange with John Gorka a few months ago apparently taught me something. It’s so lovely to think that one is making progress.