Friday, September 28, 2007

Friday Poetry: Stephen Dunn

What can I say. I like the guy. And I've noticed this blog taking a bit more of a turn for the personal lately. Less intellectual more personal, perhaps the essence of the creed. Either way there is this poem.

Stephen Dunn
Essay on the Personal

Because finally the personal
is all that matters,
we spend years describing stones,
chairs, abandoned farmhouses—
until we're ready. Always
it's a matter of precision,
what it feels like
to kiss someone or to walk
out the door. How good it was
to practice on stones
which were things we could love
without weeping over. How good
someone else abandoned the farmhouse,
bankrupt and desperate.
Now we can bring a fine edge
to our parents. We can hold hurt
up to the sun for examination.
But just when we think we have it,
the personal goes the way of
belief. What seemed so deep
begins to seem naive, something
that could be trusted
because we hadn't read Plato
or held two contradictory ideas
or women in the same day.
Love, then, becomes an old movie.
Loss seems so common
it belongs to the air,
to breath itself, anyone's.
We're left with style, a particular
way of standing and saying,
the idiosyncratic look
at the frown which means nothing
until we say it does. Years later,
long after we believed it peculiar
to ourselves, we return to love.
We return to everything
strange, inchoate, like living
with someone, like living alone,
settling for the partial, the almost
satisfactory sense of it.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

I Made Me a Speech

Tonight we had our first benefit for the play that I wrote, Blindside. I made a speech at that benefit that I thought was pretty good, so I wanted to share it here. (To whom it may concern: I was wearing a black corset top, a black velvet knee-length skirt with tons of black tulle in waves around the bottom, and black sandals.)

I thought about this outfit. I wanted to wear this skirt and then thought, "Will it keep people from taking me seriously as a writer?" But now I wear it as a choice. I wear it to remind myself—and you—that I am, as my friend so eloquently puts it, living in contradiction.

Most of the hue and cry over Abu Ghraib, at least in journalistic and artistic circles, has been rhetorical. We ask "How could we let this happen? Why is no one doing anything about this?" as if the answers were so obvious they're barely worth considering. Yet Abu Ghraib is hardly unprecedented in American history. Michael Kinsley says succinctly of systemic abuse and torture, "We live with it." As such, we live in contradiction. We are truly, and reasonably, horrified by Abu Ghraib and all that comes with it—just as we've been horrified by every combat atrocity that's come to light, from My Lai on back. We live with it. The ways in which we live with it reveal more about us, as a people, than we'd necessarily care to know.

In such a social climate, "Why is no one doing anything about this?" is not a rhetorical question. It's a question that, honestly addressed, can shed a great deal of light on character both individual and national. In Blindside I have tried to write, and believe I have written, a play that asks these questions genuinely and provides a context for finding the answers. If an audience looks for those answers, and the real questions that result, there I see the possibility of change being created through art.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Friday Poetry: W.H. Auden

I've been reading the gentleman all week, and realizing, as I sometimes do with famous poets, that he genuinely is all he's cracked up to be. Tyromaven turned me onto this partickler poem.

W.H. Auden
The More Loving One

Looking up at the stars, I know quite well
That, for all they care, I can go to hell,
But on earth indifference is the least
We have to dread from man or beast.

How should we like it were the stars to burn
With a passion for us we could not return?
If equal affection cannot be,
Let the more loving one be me.

Admirer as I think I am
Of stars that do not give a damn,
I cannot, now I see them say
I missed one terribly all day.

Were all stars to disappear or die,
I should learn to look at an empty sky
And feel its total dark sublime,
Though this might take me a little time.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

And Speaking of the Obvious

For those of you who don't know, I have for about twelve years been keeping a small, weird journal of lists known as a Random Multi-Purpose Notebook, or RMPN. The lists vary in length, gravitas, importance, but as a collection tend to provide a fairly accurate reflection of my thoughts and views at a given time. Looking for a specific list the other day, I started being really, really glad I have kept them, for the things I've forgotten until I read them again at least as much as the things it makes me remember. I believe I'm going to occasionally publish weird excerpts from old RMPNs, as they relate to something else I've written about.

In this case, I want to provide a list that Connor, ?! and I made a couple of years ago, in six-month anticipation of the release of Snakes on a Plane. We spent part of an evening divesting existing movie titles of all subtlety. Below are the original titles and their döppelgangers in a Snakes on a Plane world.

Armageddon: Giant Rock Hits Earth
Air Force One: Harrison Ford=President
Jurassic Park: Dinosaurs Eating People
The Passion of the Christ: Man Gets Nailed
Titanic: Big Broken Ship, or, That Iceberg Movie
King Kong: Gorilla on Empire State Building
Outbreak: Monkey Bites Dude
Star Wars Episodes IV, V & VI: Light Sabre Fights
Adventures in Babysitting: Child on Vagina Building
The Sum of All Fears: Nuclear Bomb Plays Football
Rush Hour: A Cop and a Ninja
Pirates of the Caribbean I: Waifish Pirate v. Zombie Pirate
Flowers for Algernon: A Man and His Rat
Speed: The Bus That Couldn't Slow Down*
Lord of the Rings: Little Guy Destroys Jewelry
There's Something About Mary: Stupid People Do Stupid Shit
Terminator II: Robots Fight Robots
It's a Wonderful Life: Guy Doesn't Jump

*Fine, we took this one from The Simpsons.

Your Brother's a Wacko and Your Fiancé's Going to Die

When I was in ninth grade, I wrote a poem called "Obvious" that began:

Something has opened my eyes.
It must be
the muscles in my eyelids.

The rest of the poem, naturally, failed to live up to this auspicious beginning, but I remain pretty proud of it even lo these ten years later.

I think there's a lot to be said for the power of the obvious in context. Having watched Six Feet Under in my obsessive fashion (spoilers en route) drove this point home for me. It's such a subtle, complex show, so knowing about human changes and the process of human relationships, that when an element of it—one of its playful surreal choices, the wording of a character's expression of a particular emotion—is obvious, it's because it really fuckin' NEEDS to be obvious. The obvious is chosen for its truth, an acknowledgment of the obvious fact that sometimes life genuinely is obvious.

The title of this post stands, for me, as one of the strongest examples. Somewhere in the midst of Season Two, soon after Brenda's unstable brother has been released from a mental institution and Brenda has learned about the seizures that Nate, her affianced, has been having, caused by a high-risk brain condition, she's wandering the self-help section of a library. The camera focuses first on a couple of basic, silly self-help titles. As we cut rapidly from one book to another, the titles grow ever more silly and surreal, until Brenda's gaze alights on a book called Your Brother's a Wacko and Your Fiancé's Going to Die.

There is no better way to express that emotional moment. They could have tried to reveal it in any number of ostensibly subtle ways, but it's an obvious, obvious emotion, and that's the bottom line. Being obvious does not in any way make it untrue; in fact, there are few greater truths than the truth that, when you're honest with yourself, the truth is obvious.

Which isn't, of course, to say that it's easy to be honest with yourself. That's the advantage of art, and particularly of a show like Six Feet Under that's willing to be intensely surreal to give us a glimpse into the thoughts and emotions of its characters; we get to surpass all the bullshit that would keep us from simply voicing the fact that we're certain our brothers are wackos and our fiancés are going to die.

Not all art swings that, nor should all art. Nor is Six Feet Under limited to its use of the obvious, but the blatant elements—I mean, you can't get much more blatant than regular conversation with your dead father—make the connections that you (as an audience member) can't understand without work and devotion and consideration all the more transcendent. It is all the more moving that, however obvious our emotions are, the way they build upon each other can't be as obvious, because it requires looking at each of them and the points at which they blur and cannot be summarized in a crazy self-help title.

But how brilliant to admit that what can be can be. How desperately, I think, especially the artistic and thoughtful among us need to admit that sometimes it is the muscles in your eyelids. How incredible to admit that one's fear is not some Freudian wrinkle of one's forgotten past, but really that right now, one's brother is a wacko and one's fiancé is going to die.

Monday, September 17, 2007

In Memoriam Once More

The number of deaths in or close to my life in this year is somewhat overwhelming. I want today to honor several lives.

First, a friend of my dear friend Tyromaven's, a farmer and beekeeper, who died suddenly this weekend.
Second, a former co-worker of mine from a publishing house, who fell suddenly ill last week and succumbed to brain death last night.
Third, my supervisor's grandmother, who died in Guatemala on Friday after a long illness.

These people impacted my life, whether directly or by touching the lives of those I care for, and they shall be missed. All the new insights I've had about grief in the last year do not make it any easier.

I'm ready for 2007 to be over.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Friday Poetry: Kenneth Patchen

Kenneth Patchen
The Little Green Blackbird

BECAUSE the ground-creature looked so sad
The little green blackbird watched a sunflower
And a child's swing and an old woman crying.
So the tiger asked him if he'd seen
The little green blackbird around anywhere.
The tiger was there too, and also
A tiger just in from the forest.
Well, the little green blackbird also watched
A willow tree's birth and a winged crocodile too.
So then the lion asked him if he'd seen
The little green blackbird around anywhere.
You see, the lion was there too, and also
A huge bearded mouse that looked like a lion,
But was really a fat brown fish too lazy to shave;
In those days, only the most timid barbers took along
Their razors when they went in swimming.
But the little green blackbird felt pretty good
And he got himself a cuckoo named Willie Watt,
A baby whale named Willie Watt, and a big yeller hound dog
Which everyone called Willie Watt, but whose name
Was really Willie Watt; in those days, nobody minded.
So the flea's sister asked him if he'd seen
The little green blackbird around anywhere.
The flea's wife was there too, and also
An uncle of the flea's cousin's sister,
Who was also Willie Watt's father. You see, in those days,
Nobody minded and it was pretty nice.

BECAUSE the boy-headed lark played one
The little green blackbird became quite anxious
To try the little-known guitar-trombone-ophone
For himself; however, before he was having a go at it,
He went up into the Great Smoky Mountains
And there meditated eleven years with nothing
To eat or drink except a variety of foods
And beverages. Then, one evening toward night,
It suddenly came to him to wonder
Why the sky was up above there; and also,
Whether, if he could stand on top of it,
The sky might not wonder the same thing about him.
So he ran lickity-split down the mountain
And told an old fellow on a bike about
His idea: (Of course at the time he didn't know
That the bulgy-legged old fellow was a train robber,
But when he got home his was gone . . . and only a few
Wisps of stale steam still clung round the cabin door.)
"Alas," said the little green blackbird sadly;
"I always thought it just another futility of speech,
That 'train of thought' thing. Oh well, I'll drop by
The Nightingale Café; perhaps Dolly and Kate and the Captain
Will be back from their wedding. Now, let me see . . .
'Accumulation' is a long word; and 'candles'
Is another, though its length is more variable."

BECAUSE his sister saw Shakespeare in the moon
The little green blackbird decided to study
Some history and geography; now, this meant going
To places like Portugal and Ayr Moor Gullibaad;
So he had some cards printed and
Handed them out. This of course started
A war, because the cards were printed
With ink. And the little green blackbird
Arrived in Portugal not only without cards,
But without a head, or arms, or legs,
Or even a little toe. This might not have been
So bad had he been feeling all right.
And it was no better in Ayr Moor Gullireet either;
In fact, it was just as sad really. "So much
For history and geography," he reflected
Ruefully; "but at least I'm a lot luckier
Than those poor unfortunates who still have heads
Left to think about what's going to happen to them."

BECAUSE he kept imagining a pensive rabbit
The little green blackbird went off outdoors
And sat on a tree under a spreading chair.
When the sun came out it got dark
But the little green blackbird hadn't ever
Felt that lonely before and he laughed.
So some dinnerplates broke, the sun awoke,
The waitress in her flowered apron spoke;
And the little green blackbird sadly answered:
"If a friend of mine comes inquiring for me,
Tell him I've gone to join my grief
To the wintry crying of the northern sea."
And he leaned back with a puzzled smile,
Like the tiger amused by a sundial.
So the door closed, and the rain closed,
The sun closed; also, the moon, a jar
Of raisin pudding, the tenth of January
And half a raccoon. Now, alas, there was
Nothing left except the world; and nobody
In his right mind expects the world
To do anything now except close.

BECAUSE his friend claimed there weren't any
The little green blackbird ran on and on
Until he chanced to meet a little green blackbird.
But the little green blackbird couldn't get
His car to work and so he said,
"Will you come to my house at seven?
Mike and Ellie are there right now;
However, if they don't show up, Joe Bill
Has promised to rub fresh mud into
Our shirts over behind the new schoolhouse."
"And what will that cost us?" asked
The little green blackbird, adjusting his thumbs.
"Only fifty apiece," answered the little green blackbird.
"Besides, I'm not so sure I like your attitude!
Obviously you're drunk. Here, help me up."
So the little green blackbird drove off
Down the road until he reached a bridge;
Then, adjusting his cap, and his thumbs,
He said, "What are you doing int hat river?"
And the little green blackbird replied sharply,
"Waiting for Joe Bill's sister, that's what!
She comes here every Tuesday to watch his shirt."
"But this is Tuesday," the little green blackbird
Snorted, pausing to adjust his parade hat,
His honey-bee-striped hip-length socks,
His bright red paper wading boots, and
His well-worn thumbs: "You must be drunker
Than I thought!" And he drove into the lake.

BECAUSE it's good to keep things straight
Now the little green blackbird liked a mouse
And a Malayan sunbear and a horse
And a beetle and a mouse and a horse
And a moues and a leopard and a beaver
And a black fox and a fox squirrel and a lion
And a buffalo and a beaver and a donkey
And a tiger and a gorilla and a panther
And a salamander and a periwinkle and an ox
And an elephant and an alligator and an armadillo
And a mouse and a mule and a beetle
And a moonfish and a buffalo and a snail
And a horse and a lion and a butterfly
And a horse and a tiger and a mouse;
And the leopard and the donkey and the horse
And the buffalo and the ox and the elephant
And the mouse and the beetle and the gorilla
And the horse and the periwinkle and the mouse
And the panther and the lion and the tiger
And the butterfly and the beaver and the snail
Also liked the little green blackbird;
But the horse and the armadillo and the lion
And the buffalo were quite indifferent to him;
While the beetle and the mouse and the moonfish
And the salamander and the mule and the beaver
Didn't care one way or the other about him;
Whereas the mouse and the horse and the mouse
And the tiger didn't even know he existed.

BECAUSE growing a mustache was pretty tiring
The little green blackbird's father always said:
"A bear and a bean and a bee in bed,
Only on Bogoslof Island can one still get
That good old-fashioned white brown bread!" This made a
Very deep impression on the little green blackbird,
So he decided to forget the whole thing.
But first he pained a stolen motorcycle on the sidewalk
And sold it to a nearsighted policeman.
By then of course the little green blackbird
Remembered that his father also did impressions
Of J. Greenstripe Whittier on freshly-painted parkbenches.
So he invited nineteen hundred rabbits over for dinner;
And they each brought him a tin-plated goldfish,
A handful of gloves, the drawing of a frosty breath,
And one of those decks of newfangled playing cards,
The kind that bite people. Well, when it came time
To go home, all nineteen thousand rabbits filed out
In a pregnant silence, that was broken only
By the sound of their low-pitched voices
Raised in speech. Whereupon the father
Of the little green blackbird quietly said:
"It is our sentence, to endure;
And our only crime, that we are here to serve it."

Thursday, September 13, 2007

My Play Has a Website!

Yay Blindside! Woo hoo!

It's a very rough draft of a website, and now only displays the most essential information, and will soon become more detailed and far more attractive. But either way I think it's neat. And if you're in Chicago, you will be required to come see my show.

Friday, September 07, 2007

Friday Poetry: Dorothy Parker

Dorothy Parker
Salome's Dancing-Lesson

She that begs a little boon
(Heel and toe! Heel and toe!)
Little gets—and nothing, soon.
(No, no, no! No, no, no!)
She that calls for costly things
Priceless finds her offerings—
What's impossible to kings?
(Heel and toe! Heel and toe!)

Kings are shaped as other men.
(Step and turn! Step and turn!)
Ask what none may ask again.
(Will you learn? Will you learn?)
Lovers whine, and kisses pall,
Jewels tarnish, kingdoms fall—
Death's the rarest prize of all!
(Step and turn! Step and turn!)

Veils are woven to be dropped.
(One, two, three! One, two, three!)
Aging eyes are slowest stopped.
(Quietly! Quietly!)
She whose body's young and cool
Has no need of dancing-school—
Scratch a king and find a fool!
(One, two, three! One, two, three!)

Sixty Hours Underslept

I've pretty much spent the last two and a half weeks watching Six Feet Under. I lived the rest of my life as well, of course, but I watched the show from beginning to end (except the pilot, which I'd seen a month or so earlier) in that time. There are going to be a lot of posts referring to it in the weeks to come, but it amazes me, right now, how deeply I lived in those characters, how deeply I'm always going to get to live in those characters—seriously, art *does* that—and how astounding that a show so focused on death is about—not living, that's triter than what I mean, but how much we live with, how much we carry. In lesser hands, at the end of a lesser show, I might not have liked the last episode, its peculiar ending montage, but it managed to communicate that death is what we carry, and however royally fucked up we may be, we might as well know that, and see and know all the other things we hold.

Like I said, more and more notes about this show will come, because it has changed the way I think. Which couldn't please me more: however much I've cried like crazy in the last seven hours, completely freaking my mother out over the phone because she thought I meant a real person, and not a character, had died (I apologize again, Mom. And again. I really just wasn't thinking), I don't think there is anything like art of this caliber to really change, really get under the skin of, the way you think. Which is to say that whatever strange relationship I have developed, whatever I have been doing with this fictional show, I have not been escaping from reality. Quite the contrary. I've sharpened my perceptions both of reality and of what we can do with and around it.

That's amazing.

That is all.