Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Slow Going

This has turned into the kind of day a writer hates: the kind with tons of free time away from home. I was supposed to meet with a director to talk about working on a play of mine, but the director never materialized. So I spent about two hours wandering around in Chelsea, just slightly uncomfortable. The weather is in this weird place where, if you're in direct sunlight, it's warm and comfy, but if you're in shadow, it's chilly. And, of course, that means if you're layered enough to be warm in the shade, you're too hot for the sun. It's basically the most uncomfortable kind of weather possible. Especially to be walking around as the sun is setting and the shadows are growing. And especially if you're broke (since you're a Deadbeat), and supposed to be meeting someone. You don't want to get settled, because you're going to leave (supposedly) at any minute. You don't want to spend money, because you don't have any. You wish you could just go home, but you need to be downtown for a show later. It's sort of all bad, all the way around.

I was a little ambivalent about the meeting, anyway. I like the director just fine (though significantly less right now), but the whole thing was kind of nebulous. We'd met in a playwrights/directors workshop I'm currently a part of. This project had started as something I wanted to bring into the workshop, but now I'm on the fence about it. I would rather just be in rehearsals with it, somehow, prepping for a reading or actual workshop. Not just rehearsing and rewriting.

I've kind of turned against the playwrights workshops I've been in of late. I'm traditionally a kick-ass member of those kind of things. I like talking about plays, other people's or my own, I give good feedback, I try to be sensitive to all the egos and the needs of the play. In the past, this particular group, I was a solid, steady member, going every week, commenting, even helping to produce a readings festival we did last spring. It's all good.

But since becoming a Deadbeat, I haven't really wanted to do these sort of things. Part of it is the time commitment. Deadbeatness has really brought out my selfishness, in terms of how I spend my time, how I prioritze things. And in wanting the maximum flexibility. The last thing I want to say to anyone about anything is "I can't do that". It's the reaction to a couple of years of hyper-commitment.

But, philosophically and artistically, I'm in a different place that I was last season. In case you don't know, most of these groups work the same basic way: someone presents something for about a half hour (depending on the length of each session) and then the group comments on the work. Usually, the presentation is part of a larger work. Sometimes it's something that's been completed, sometimes it's a work in progress.

Of late, I've had little patience for it. Mostly for the comments, most of which, even when sensitively worded, boil down to two things: "If I were you, I'd write it like this" and "I don't like it." Not to be overly cynical, but that's even true of myself, and I know it. I'm at a stage with my work, that I don't really need to hear either of that. I don't want to hear a lot of comments at all. In general, I want to hear it in front of a living, breathing audience. They'll tell me where I hit the mark and where I miss it. They'll let me know which parts make sense, hold their attention, amuse, strike them. So I don't make a real effort to go to these things.

Also, it feels...well, not exactly pointless, but not exactly fruitful. In my experience, many theatres have or had these kind of groups, and, almost invariably, it seemed to me, the groups were made up of writers that someone at the theatre liked, but who they were never going to produce. Once you realize that, it makes the whole endeavour feel more like amateur hour. Which, well, frankly, it also tends to be. There's a reason that people are in those groups, trying to make inroads in a theatre by showing up every week. And (I'm willing to turn this on myself) there's a reason I was there, every week. I needed it.

I needed the reminder that I was an artist, a playwright, after a day of pretending I wasn't. I needed the outlet, to keep from getting swept away in work all the time. I had to zealously protect my afternoon's to run off to the playwright/directors workshop, fend off all kinds of meetings and deadlines. Now, I don't have to do that and some of the need for the group is gone.

And some of the romance of bringing in fresh pages and hearing them, too is gone. Especially from this group. The rules recently underwent revision and now the focus in more on polished, rehearsed work and, frankly, that's not what I need. I need deadlines to meet with pages. I need to push to keep writing.

Rehearsal, while very, very useful for playwrights, is also utterly useless. Especially without a real deadline, a "there are going to be people sitting there, watching this" deadline. Endless rehearsal just kills good work. As does endless "development". Theatre and plays only grow in front of rooms of strangers. Otherwise, it's jerking off and that gets boring.

So. The prospect of doing a bunch of work on a project without a home, a date, anything, was less than enticing. So, in the end, getting blown off wasn't so bad.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

How I Write

Like Hemingway on going broke: slowly, then suddenly. Usually when I have a deadline.

I'm trying to break out of that habit, though. Trying to be more disciplined, more organized. I'm trying to write more, in general, and in specific. I feel like I should be writing all the time, staying up until 3 or 4 in the morning, hunched over my computer, drinking Jolt and smoking cigarettes (Disclaimer: I've never had a sip of Jolt or smoked a cigarette in my life). But I don't seem to work that way.

Yesterday, I tried to turn myself into a night writer, but middling success at best. I really prefer to write in the morning, first thing. It's when my head is clear enough, open enough to really work. I can do some rewriting later in the day, but nothing new or in depth really. Unless there's a gun to my head.

The only problem is that I can only write for about an hour before my brain turns to tapioca in the morning. So once I do that, what the hell do I do with the rest of my day? Watch my stories (West Wing re-runs on Bravo). Go for long walks. The occasional lunch. That sort of thing. But all the while, I'm thinking: I should be writing. I should be writing. I should be writing.

Like now. I should be writing. But I'm doing this. Partly because I have two early(ish) appointments, so I'm getting this in, in the hopes that I'll have time later to do other stuff. To do some real work.

Oh, I have a show coming up. Check it out here and here. Come see it if you can.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Why I Write (after Orwell)

"All writers are vain, selfish and lazy and at the very bottom of their motives lies a mystery."
- George Orwell, Why I Write (1946)

So, on my walk today (I walk from my apartment at 124th & B'way, down Riverside Drive to 90th St. and then back, mostly along West End Ave.), I was thinking about this post, about this blog and what I want to do with it. And I was thinking about George Orwell's essay, Why I Write, and why I write. And I wanted to get some of these thoughts down. As a manifesto of sorts, and as a challenge to myself. As a jumping-off point for the coming months.

I've never trusted people who claim not to be "political" writers. I was raised in a very progressive, liberal (almost militantly so) household, so the idea that all politics are personal and everything is political has always been a part of my life. From the time I could talk, my dad had me on his knee, decoding the language of newscasters and politicians for their hidden prejudices and cruelties (my first lessons in subtext). And trust me, they were always there. Politics, political thought and discourse was how we conversed in my house, how we fought, how we expressed who we were. My biggest rebellion as a teenager wasn't smoking cigarettes or staying out past my curfew; it was arguing that gun control was a bad thing. (Don't worry; I've given that idea right up.)

So I'm mystified by people who claim not to be political, especially writers. Actually, I just think that they're lying. Possibly just to themselves, but lying nonetheless. I really think that all writing is political, even (and maybe especially) if it's been scrubbed within an inch of its life of any political sub- or super-text. That's because I believe that writing has two goals: 1) to preserve the world the way it is (or was), 2) to change the world into something else, improve on the condition of its inhabitants, to make life better (yeah, I'm real good at hiding where I fall on that one, huh?).

All writers set out to affect the world around them, somehow. To reach out beyond the confines of our own tiny skulls to touch the actual worlds. The question is always, what do you do then? What impression do you leave behind? But leaving the impression, that's the given. Only if your work is never read by anyone at all, never seen by another person, then you can avoid the question. Otherwise, you have to wonder about it. Wonder about what you're saying about the world you live in.

I read the New Yorker profile on Peter Viereck the other week and was really struck by it. I'm (clearly) not a conservative person, but the description of this particular conservative really touched something in me. And got me thinking. Because one of the things that he fought against was utopianism, essentially. The thing that connects Hitler, Stalin and Pol Pot, since politically, they're all across the spectrum, but in actuality, they're one in the same. And that thing is the belief that a society (or the world) can be perfected by eliminating certain aspects of it. It's the extremity of my personal belief. But how do you reconcile that? I'm certainly no apologist for the likes of Stalin, but I crave and work for a more perfect society. What gives there?

I like the belief in the perfectability of humanity. I get it from my family and from one of my favorite writers: Tony Kushner. I guess I see it as a continuum. That absolute perfection is not acheivable, should and could not be pursued. That's the way to madness, killing fields and mass graves. But that also doesn't mean that we're stuck with things as they are. It's about the attempt, I think. Trying, in this instance, counts.

So what the hell does any of this have to do with writing? I'm not totally sure. But I think, I wanted to lay out the groundwork for myself. See, I had this time on my hands. I've been happily, gainfully unemployed for the last couple of months. I've made some good use of it, finished a couple of plays that were kicking around in my head. But now the clock is ticking. This little...respite? caesura? (yes, that's a real word) is cominig to an end, right after the new year and there are still things that I wanted to get done, get down on paper. But I've been having trouble getting started. The blank page seemed a little too daunting this time around. The downside to having time to do something is that you have time to do anything, so finding the right starting place is nearly impossible.

And this blog has been a part of that. I didn't exactly want to just have a public journal, blathering on about my days and nights and dating travails, but a soapbox isn't my style, either. (Plus, to have a good, sharp political blog, you need to spend a lot of time doing research, also not my bag.) But making it a record of this time, of writing, of what I'm doing, that's more my speed.

There's another thing that I want to address with this: our myth of "talent". In America, at least, we cloak anything special in a miasma called "talent". Some people have it, some people don't and we don't understand how it happens. Extraordinary things just seem to happen, at one person's direction and it's something they have innately and which, conversely, other people don't have and can never achieve. I'd like to dispel that, at least a little. I often say, "If you can string together a sentence, you can write a play." And I believe that. Yes, I have an overactive imagination, but so do you. I've just had training to make my imagination do what I want. I want to give you a guide inside what I'm doing as a writer. And in order to do that, I need to know what I'm doing as a writer. And why I'm doing it.

And, yeah, I'm writing to make the world a better place. A more just, more satisfying place for as many people as possible. A more honest place. A more fun place. I think all of that's possible. I believe, not in a perfect world, but in a slightly better world. Just slightly, just enough. Maybe if we all believe in a world that's just slightly better than the world we're in, we'll wind up in a perfect one. Who knows?

So, now I know why I'm writing. The next part is the hard part: what the hell am I going to write?

Sunday, November 27, 2005


So...I'm restarting this thing out. I got bored. I got busy. I saw something shiny. Whatever.

But now, I'm coming back. Because I have thoughts. I have ideas. And I want to share them with you. Aren't you lucky?

I've been thinking about Friendster a lot. I find myself there a lot. The thing I like about it, the thing for me is that it's like people watching. Except I don't have to leave my house. I can just scroll through the profiles and it's like watching all the people go by.

I know Friendster is over, or something, or maybe not. But I've never been one of the cool kids.

So there.