the first time

It was the first time I felt naked on stage. Really exposed, vulnerable, out of control, careening, falling even, into my self, out into the street, cars bearing down on me, stuck in the brights like that perennial deer.

The play was about some kids and their families; messed up kids, messed up families. The girls, best friends, played in the same marsh where my cousin and I used to play, out behind his Grandma’s house. They got muddy. They got ticks that had to be burned off with a struck match. They let their imaginations run as wild as the underbrush over the Indian burial ground off the easement by my cousin’s Grandma’s house.

I say my cousin’s Grandma because technically that’s true, but technically he wasn’t even my cousin. Relationships never work when hinged on technicalities. Doris was my grandma too. My third gram, the one with her very own first name, the one with a whole big family that was mine, too, until they weren’t anymore.

The play wasn’t about all that stuff except for how it was exactly about all that stuff. My family, my memory, my broken relationships, the love underneath, the kind that hurts so much you shut it off, and it shuts you down.

Decomposition in Blue and White took place in the family’s house, and way out back, near the unused railroad tracks that led straight past the marsh, whose mud stuck so fast and whose reeds wrapped so tight that it was hard to get free. The girls who played out there, Cissy and Sophie, tried to get free of everything. But I’d written the play, and I knew their fate was sealed.

The set transformed between home and marsh. When it became the marsh, the stage crew– me and Dave’s brother J– would fold the walls in on themselves and reveal the pool beneath the stage. The last bit of transformation was that I would place cat-o-nine-tail reeds into slender, embedded, plastic tube vases in the stage. This always took the longest. J was finished with the whole rest of the set change before I was through with my one small task. I could feel the hushed light on me as I finished, could feel stage manager waiting for me to insert the last reed and get off stage so she could light the stage.

The reeds were long and spindly, with a big brown puff on the end. I’d gathered them myself, from a marsh near the side of the road in New England, near where I grew up. My uncle had come with me, and together, gleefully, we cut down the best ones and loaded them into the back of his pickup.

It was a strange feeling, kneeling on stage before these tiny vases, before the audience, in my own dim light, carefully inserting each stem, setting the scene for the final act of my play. I would  move quickly but take my time, not wanting to falter, wanting the moment to seem still. As I stepped off stage, I rushed through back stage, and around into the theater, to stand at the back, and watch the end of the play. My breath caught short, it was like I couldn’t watch, it was like everything that I am was being revealed.

On the admin side, we worked really hard to get people to come to this show. There were a few articles written about it in advance, but we never had the kind of houses that made Dave and I go home at night and not worry about where audience was coming from for the next performances. Marketing, honestly, has never been our strong suit.

A few of our friends decided to stand out in front of the theater and tell passers-by about the show. Lots of people actually came in that way, some paying, some not, one or two homeless guys. I stood in the lobby with one of the theater owners at Theatre Double, in whose amazing, vintage tv studio theater we were doing the show, and he was upset about the lack of cash we were getting from these audience people. Rightfully so, I knew he had other concerns, like how to pay the bills. All I cared about was the work, having people come in and see the it. I told him that, and he knew. He’s an artist, and he knows what that feeling is. The need to express brings along with it the need for someone to express it to.

That was in 2001. Now it is 2014 and I feel the same. I’m still not so great at marketing, and it feels like a gift to me when people come to share my work, to experience it, to be part of it. And lots of people do.

There are so many really, valid reasons why a person can’t just go around giving away their art work. Notably among them is that free things are valued as worthless in our culture. Free things are looked upon with skepticism and disgust.

So I’m not giving away tickets to my new show, Puff Puff. We don’t give away tickets to Sticky, although if I end up standing near the door I have to yell at myself to not just comp everyone, to calmly walk away and let the door guy do his job.

But you should know that I want to, I want to give away tickets, I want to comp everyone, because that’s how much I value the work. I value the work itself, and being able to share it, way more than money.

Ali, Mike D and I in rehearsal. We laugh when we say these filthy things I wrote.

Ali, Mike D and I in rehearsal. We laugh when we say these filthy things I wrote.

The family in Decomposition and Blue and White. from left, Wharton Tract, Judith Leopold, Sheila mar, Jeffrey Marsh.

The family in Decomposition and Blue and White. from left, Wharton Tract, Judith Leopold, Sheila mar, Jeffrey Marsh. photos by Kisa Charles.

Cissy and Sophie, played by Jennifer Harris.

Cissy and Sophie, played by Jennifer Harris.

Behind the reeds. The play was directed by David Marcus, set design Thomas Bruce.

Behind the reeds. The play was directed by David Marcus, set design Thomas Bruce.

 

No apologies

I have this old friend who says “I will not apologize for that.” It could be anything, it could be his taste in music, or ambrosia salad, could be his mid-west attitude, sometimes off-putting, always honest. “I will not apologize for that.”

When I first started producing my own work, it was a bit classless to do it. There was this feeling that an artist shouldn’t self-produce, self-publish, self-exhibit. We didn’t care, Dave and I, when we embarked on the first project. We wanted to make work, we wanted to make our own work, so we did. We got some pr help for the press release from a writer I’d stage managed a show for, and she said “just don’t put your name as the contact name,” she said. The concern was that I’d look like a one-man operation, and an artist shouldn’t look like a one-man operation. Direct press inquiries to Molly “Meow” McGuire. She was our cat.

There was a weirdness when I told people I was producing my own play. They thought it was a vanity project. I was in a position of having to defend my decision to produce my own play. “Shouldn’t a proper theater make that call?” Was the question, “isn’t it tacky to foist your words out there on the world? Without permission?” Those were the questions we faced, and it was an uphill battle. I spent my own money, money that I should have spent on something else, money that is not worth thinking about anymore because it it gone. I went out there and said “my work is legit because I say it’s legit.” My husband backed me up, and together we worked hard to make the show happen.

I wish I’d had that phrase then, that I’ve learned now: I will not apologize for that. I would have said it loud. I would have tattooed it on my face.

Lots more artists are self-producing these days. And I’m glad. I like to see artists owning their work, not waiting for permission to show it. Especially you ladies, ladies of color, ladies with no connection to their ancestral homes and ladies whose histories are instrinsically linked to their presents; trannies, queers, alt/gender, alt/lifestyle, alt/sex people, don’t wait for permission, just take it, make it, hurl it like Molotov cocktails if you have to.

Don’t apologize for that. Don’t ask, just make, take, create.

I’m doing this new play now. I’ve produced lots of new plays since that first expedition on the boards of Second Stage at the Adrienne on Sansom Street in Philly, PA. But this one is different.

This one is lots of adjectives that I’m not comfortable with, so I’ll go with different.

I’m owning it fully. I wrote some words that are drastic, extreme, words that come from the heart. I was helped, to be sure. Brad Rothbart jumped in with some major dramaturgical insight right when I was ready to go into rehearsal with a draft I didn’t believe in. He backed me up against a deadly precipice until I fell right off it. The words barely expanded, to catch the slight wind, like a faulty parachute on a base jump.

The words are incendiary, and I can’t hide behind the pages, or in the darkness at the back of the theater, because I have to say them. I get to say them. I am performing in the play. I will sit on stage and say these things to whomever comes to hear them.

It feels dangerous, and I like it. I forgot that I like when things feel dangerous. And I will not apologize for that.

Ali, who plays Ali in Puff Puff, at Puff Puff rehearsal

Ali, who plays Ali in Puff Puff, at Puff Puff rehearsal

Looking for that one, special, Hot Wheels can be tough.

Looking for that one, special, Hot Wheels can be tough.

rock star in the rocking chair.

rock star in the rocking chair.

lunar lander

lunar lander

What about school?

“I tell them: you’re gonna be grown up for a long time,” she said
“And it’s not that great,” I chimed in. We laughed.

We were standing on the corner after morning drop off. Her kid and mine are in the same class at school. I asked her what she thought of it, and we agreed that the class is fun, the kids have fun, they like it, they come home happy. That’s what should happen when you’re 4 years old.

I signed C up for pre-K next year at the same school. After watching the pre-K debates, fears, misgivings, and waiting list nightmares unfurl on my facebook feed, I’d decided not to stick my toes into the waters of the New York City Public school system, not yet. We stuck with our little Catholic school.

The nursery through kindergarten years are not meant to be academically challenging. They’re meant to nail down the basics, like counting, the alphabet, telling stories, listening. They are meant to help the child learn to socialize and be part of a bigger community, to be a place where a child can try out things like independence, doing for themselves, making friends.

But what about first grade? What are the expectations? At what point does a parent start to really push their child academically? My fellow parent admitted that for lower school she’s going to look around and consider other options. She’s not sold on the academics at our little Catholic school. My concern has to do with resources: science labs, computer labs, music rooms, art studios, smaller class sizes.

My dad was big into education when I was growing up, and although I was bright, I was not the greatest student. When my report card came home with grades below a B, I knew I was in trouble. My dad would push, and I would fall down, at least according to the standards that were set in our house. By normal standards I was alright, and my report card showed a healthy smattering of A’s and B’s, with just enough C’s thrown in to keep me out of the honors classes.

My husband and I are very focused on C’s education, and while we don’t want to be overbearing about it, we want him to know that school is his top job. I don’t want to push so hard that he stumbles, but I want him to know how to be his best self, to the point where that’s who he wants to be. We want him to know it’s important to delve deep into your own mind and find out what it can do, and we want him to go to a school that really values learning and critical thinking.

How do you know if the school you pick is doing that?

I went to public school, then Catholic, then prep. And here’s what I learned: the kids in public school, and the ethos in general, in the regular classes, was not one of high learning, at least not in suburban Massachusetts. I will never forget the grammar lessons, but I’ll also never forget how Mr. Norton put on poker tourneys in math class, then quizzed us on algebra.

The girls at Notre Dame Academy, a private Catholic school, were incredible, and academic achievement was a high priority. There were real expectations, creative assignments, and in addition to the girls who only cared about flipping their pony tails and getting drunk on the beach, there were brilliant girls who worked hard, excelled, and thought about things in a real way. I loved this school. I wrote my first play in first year Western Civ. The assignment was to write a dialogue between Geoffrey Chaucer and a Renaissance artist. Raphael meets Chaucer was my first script.

After sophomore year, in a massive life upheaval, I ended up at prep, and the expectations were more ingrained. Every kid at GFS was going to do well in school, and in life; that was a given. Everyone would be going to college, no doubt, and pursuing something about which they were passionate, from transportation policy to global food issues to writing novels. There was no room to slack off, or to not care. There was no question that success would be achieved for all who sought it. This opened up a whole new world for me, introduced me to kids whose interest in achievement was so superior to my own. Their parents had expectations for them, the school had expectations of them, but the most important of all were the expectations these kids had for themselves. The world could go to hell but they’d still get their research papers in on time.

I went on to Sarah Lawrence College, and Columbia University, but the academic rigours of Germantown Friends School are still some of the toughest I’ve faced.

I felt like I didn’t deserve to be there, I hadn’t earned it. I’d talked my way in and my mom had paid the tuition (thank you mom), but I hadn’t come up through that system. It was like throwing a toy sail boat into the swirling eddies of the East River. I swirled and swirled until graduation, landing on the friendly, freaked out shores of Sarah Lawrence College, bedraggled and half-drowned.

My husband went to this same school. We met on the front steps of our high school, and in retrospect, it was understanding at first sight, although love wouldn’t come for years. He excelled in school without trying. He did the reading, and read around the reading. The work wasn’t even work for him; it was like if he weren’t in school, this was what he’d have been doing anyway.

The doors of learning were wide open for us. We walked through them knowing that it was a real, sincere privilege to do so, and that we could do anything we chose to do. Our goal is to make sure C’s at a school where learning is the top priority, with teachers who encourage him to be his best self. I want my son to know that the most important person to impress is himself, not his parents, or his teachers.

The point of education, as far as I can tell, is access. Being educated is not about getting a job, or getting into college, it’s not about earning a salary, it’s about access to ideas, resources, and people. Education is about courage and confidence as much as facts and figures, it’s about how to interpret fact, how to structure narrative, and how to generate ideas and ideologies for living, for life. Being a grown up is alot better when you have access to anything you could want, just by thinking about it.

We want a dog.

We want a dog.

We practiced with Jacksie.

We practiced with Jacksie.

Fishing.

Fishing.

Playing in muck was so fun.

Playing in muck was so fun.

I leave everything.

Christina Roussos and Jenny Lane are working on a new devised theater project, based on a story of a girl who disappeared in the 1930s, and they’re collecting stories of women who have left, to use as inspiration. They asked me to write one, to share on the blog Reasons for Leaving, and since I wrote it up, I figured I’d share it here as well. Thanks Christina!
___________________________

I leave everything. I’m leaving all the time. Falling back behind my eyes, searching out the home inside my head.

In 2003 I left every day. I left for work. I would do the things you do when you leave for work, when you work a job, a job that requires desk sitting for 9 hours a day.

Staring at my computer screen, trying to ignore the cells that looked each like a tiny prison locating and relocating on the cash flow projection spreadsheet. Wondering what was going on in my apartment. There were the bugs, to be sure, crawling over every kitchen surface, licking the remnants of last night’s diced onion. Cats roamed free, lounged in pools of sunlight, scratched long, sinewy scars into my couch. Books sat still on wobbling shelves, and my husband drank.

I could see him drinking just as clearly as I could see my reflection in the monitor. I ate dumplings for lunch, masses of dumplings, and beef chow fun, while reading David Copperfield. I put on weight. I was never into Dickens before, like anyone I’d had my Miss Haversham festish, but Dickens was long, and meandery, and gave me leave to leave myself. The mounting moutain of beer and liquor cans that climbed to the roof of the under sink cupboards fell away in the pages and words.

Before leaving in the morning I would count the bottles and cans. I would note the number in my date book. It felt like there was control in this somehow, it felt like at least this way I knew what was really going on. I would confront him once we were both sober, which was not a frequent occurence. I would say “you’ve been drinking in secret.”

“No I haven’t,” he would say. But I knew the truth, I had the count, it was logged in black and white in my own hand. The evidence was there. I would point out the can mountain, the airplane  bottles. “Those are from a long time ago,” he said. I never knew how to reply. For a while I would stop counting. For a while I would just clean out the cupboards and dump the refuse into the recycle bin for the old Chinese woman to dig through. For a while I would believe him, then realize that our definitions of “a long time ago” were aeons apart. I wanted to believe him so badly that I started to think I was crazy, that I’d miscounted, that someone had broken into our apartment, drank a shit ton of booze, and left the bottles for me to clean up.

Wake by the sound of the clock radio alarm, snooze, wake for real, shower, grab a yogurt, and run out the door, get on the train, come up with a plausible excuse as to why I was late. Looking around at my fellow commuters I would see the dread, the acceptance of that dread. The work day spread out before us all, spread out like an oil slick, and what I wanted to do was leave. I would take the subway to the end of the line, then I would start walking. That was the plan.

It didn’t matter that yesterday I had taken the train right to my job, got off, worked a full day, and gone home again. It didn’t matter that I would have no money, no prospects, no place to go. All that mattered was leaving, and I wanted out so bad.

I could see myself out there in the wind. My back to everything I ever knew. A bag slung over my shoulder and my trusty grey oxfords on my feet. I imagined my scarf swirling into the maelstrom with my hair, behind me a wasteland of ideas and people, of city fabrics torn to shreads in the onslaught, and somehow I am the only survivor, to face the unpopulated earth alone. What luxury it would be to have no one to talk to but myself, no direction to follow but my own. This was my perpetual fantasy, but I felt so bound, I didn’t know how to break free.

One day in August there was a blackout. The City was overheated and everyone was trying to cool down at once so the whole thing blew. My monitor went off before I could save my multi-colored cash flow projection spreadsheet. The lights went off, too. The co-workers wondered aloud what was happening, recalled their own terrifying moments from nearly two years past, when the Trade Centers came down and they’d all streamed up town, away from the smoke.

I thought how easy it would be to drift into the City and out of it again, to make no mark, leave no trace among these people fleeing disaster. I pictured myself heading into all these people, like an ocean of voices and footfalls, of sticky hair and body smells, only to emerge from the pack on a solitary road heading anywhere, so long as it was away. I would do it. I would go. I would flee!

Tomorrow’s paychecks were sitting in my top left desk drawer, ready for distribution. I slipped mine out of the stack and into my handbag before following everyone out. I knew that I wouldn’t be in the office the next day, or perhaps ever again. There was a calm urgency that prevailed as we walked down the dark stairs. Once out into the street, once the word came round that it was just a blackout, the urgency subsided. Everyone chatted as they headed for the bridges and boroughs.

This clarification did not ease my mind. Disappearing amidst chaos is plausible, disappearing in a blackout is just irresponsible. The weight of responsibility rushed in on me, and I felt a hyper-urgency to get home. We lived across town, and I practically ran the whole way. Straight down Houston, then right, then left. Ten years earlier we would have only come to this corner to cop, but now we lived here.

I dashed in, and up to the second floor. My husband lay on the cat scratched couch in the dimming sunlight. I shook him awake. “It’s a blackout,” I said, “it’s just a blackout, don’t be scared.”

“What?” he said, “are you home early?” He tried to rouse himself to sitting, but then lay his head back on the pillow.

“There’s been a blackout,” I said, “the power’s out, it’s nothing big, don’t be scared.”

“The whole city?” he asked.

“I don’t know,” I said, “my office went dark, and the whole way home the lights were out.”

“Cool,” he said, “let’s go check it out. Why’d you think I’d be scared?”

“I was worried you’d wake up,” I said, “and not know what was happening, or where I was.”

“I’d wait for you,” he said.

We went to a bar on the corner of Clinton and Stanton, and drank until we’d consumed all the melting ice. The next day we cashed my check in the only check-cashing place open below 14th man. A terrified man sat with a shotgun and a pile of cash behind bullet proof glass in the lantern illuminated darkness.

How I felt was reflected back to me in his eyes. Trapped, cornered, guarding himself against everything, everyone, especially the potential impending disaster, that he courted just by being where he was.

the view from the roof in the blackout.

the view from the roof in the blackout.

our roof in the blackout.

our roof in the blackout.

Kids in space

“Mommy, when I grow up, you can come visit me where I live in space. You can get blasters on my motor bike then you could use it to come visit, and daddy can, too.”

I don’t know what came over me but I started crying. I tried to hold it in, but the prospect of C living in space while I’m stuck on Earth, well, it brought me to immediate, and as I quickly found out, uncontrollable tears.

C’s eyes welled up, too, and he said “why are you making that face, mommy? I don’t like that face.” He threw his head back and let out a wail, then fixed his dark eyes on mine. “Why are your eyes like that? I don’t like your eyes like that.”

I tried to pull it together, but I just kept imagining C living on the Mars colony, taking that one way trip. I’ve often thought that if he does something crazy, like move to California (he’s clearly way more imaginative than me), that I would be super sad to not have him near me. I’ve thought that if he moves far away, I could move there too, not right on top of him, or down the street, but perhaps close enough so he could come raid my pantry whenever he felt like it.

I pictured him an explorer, and the joy that discovery would bring him. I pictured myself heartbroken, with no hope of a reprieve. The very thought of not being able to hold him close to me… I did what I could to stop crying, but I was weak in the face of this kind of heartbreak.

I finally told him that I was crying because I would miss him if he went to space, and he said “but you would just come visit me.”

He’d never seen me cry before, and when he did, it was because I was afraid of losing him.

My dad’s a pretty big cryer. He’s a big hearted, empathetic man, and he’s never been afraid to show it, or at least not afraid enough to make him feel like he should hide his emotions. I remember seeing my dad cry a few times as a kid, and it made me scared that the world was crumbling apart. Usually, it was, or at least our world was.

He was standing where the sidewalk met the front path to our house. He was holding my brother, who was 3 years old. He was crying, and my brother was crying, and the car was parked out there in front of the house.

My brother and I were supposed to spend the weekend with my dad. There was some visitation custody deal that my brother’s mom had with my dad, and it was dad’s weekend. I was supposed to go too, but I didn’t want to. I wanted to show my allegiance to my brother’s mom, who I wanted to stay living with, in our house, even after the divorce. I’d refused to go with my dad, and is broke his heart well enough that he couldn’t fix it on his own.

He wasn’t allowed on the property, so he stood there at the edge, and yelled out. I looked out the window. My brother’s mom’s sister laughed. I smiled because it was all so awkward and I really hadn’t known what I was doing when I said I wouldn’t go with my dad, I just wanted approval from my step-mom, I guess.

“Will you please take my son?” He yelled out. And he weeped openly, and sobbed these wracking sobs on the sidewalk. He didn’t trust himself to care for him; my dad was falling into the abyss. My brother looked into our dad’s face and cried too. I watched from the window.

C in 2010 with Pooh when we used to live in Greenpoint.

C in 2010 with Pooh when we used to live in Greenpoint. Our cat looks on with disdain.

Me in London in 2009 when I was pregnant. I wore these giant glasses to divert attention from the pregnancy. It worked.

Me in London in 2009 when I was pregnant. I wore these giant glasses to divert attention from the pregnancy. It worked.

A Lent project at C's school. Stained glass crosses.

A Lent project at C’s school. Stained glass crosses.

"Get the car in there!"

“Get the car in there!”

a lunar lander, presumably so that we can get to space, and live there.

a lunar lander, presumably so that we can get to space, and live there.

My brother and I about 6 months later. Photos taken separately, which is how we lived.

My brother and I about 6 months later. Photos taken separately, which is how we lived.

Sometimes I will fail you.

Sometimes I will fail you.

Like this morning. Let’s face it, this was a shitty morning. You didn’t want to go to school, I didn’t want to go to work. I gave you a peach smoothie for breakfast but you only like berry. There wasn’t time to finish your satellite dish, or the lunar lander repair vehicle. Teeth brushing was a nightmare, and though I’d rather forget it, I smacked your hand and you cried. I apologized immediately, but I know how hollow apologies sound when repeated, and repeated again.

There are things I will apologize for over and over. I will mean it every time. You’ll have expectations for me, and I’ll fall short. I won’t mean to, but I will.

There’s lots of good reasons for this, and even some lame excuses. But in the end we are only both human beings, and I’ll do the best I can. To make you feel loved, safe, comfortable, to make you feel joy, to give you an understanding of your own worth, to know what you are capable of, the options, the choices, to think things through. If experience is any indicator, there will be times that my own personal things will get in the way of how I want you to feel loved. Like last week, for example, when I spent virtually all of my time consumed with a writing project. You would see me with my ‘deputer’ and ask when I’d be done working. You’d ask why I’m so tired, and the answer was that I’d been staying up all night working on the play.

While writing, I pushed away thoughts of school lunches and bedtimes, thoughts about whether you had clean socks or needed a bath. I did not follow through on plans about carrot sticks and waffles, and your dad was the go to parent for just about everything last week. Looking back, finally having finished a working draft for tomorrow’s rehearsal, I feel shitty for having failed you. But listen, I’m also proud of your dad, who saw me slip into the deep end and picked up everything, in process, right where I left it. Baths, dishes, dinners, drop-offs, pick-ups, they all happened without me, while I swam about in the abyss, hacking away at slippery ideas with the blunt force instrument of language.

I finally checked in on my email today. Email from my aunt about how my Gram should perhaps not live on her own anymore. She’s going on 92, my Gram, and she still worries about her weight, still worries about her pride being offended. She had to give up driving a while back, and it was a real struggle; she still feels betrayed by anyone who thought her keys should be confiscated. I’ve always known my Gram to live alone. There were dogs occasionally, but never another person. I stayed with her for a few weeks once in 2002. Dave and I were moving to New York, but I found a job before we found a place, so I stayed with Gram on Long Island and commuted. We ate dinners together, except for one, when I went out and drank a bottle of wine with friends. I didn’t tell Gram I wasn’t going to be home. When I got back the table was set, and she’d been waiting for me.

I want you to know that I still feel shitty about that. I think I’ll feel shitty about that forever. There will be things that will work their way into your consciousness and won’t let go. The more you try to pry them off, the more you will remember them.

I picture her in a home, in a room in that home, in the common area with other old people who either can’t or don’t want to live alone. There won’t be a spare bedroom, like there is at her home now, so we’ll have to stay somewhere else. We’ll go visit in the morning, leave in the evening. We’ll go to see her fully dressed, having showered and dressed elsewhere. And she’ll think how she used to see our bodies unclothed, how she washed us, dressed us, her daughters and me. She’ll think how we used to all get ready for bed, and then sit in our pajamas and watch tv, trying not to spill ice cream on the couch. Memories of us rousing her in her bed in the morning, of my son in his jammies wanting to go climb into Nona’s bed, of all of us sipping coffee before brushing teeth. All these intimacies will be over. We will leave as we will arrive, perhaps never taking off our shoes, or our scarves. Seeing Gram will be the big middle of the day, but the mornings and the evenings will be spent somewhere else. We’ll never settle in for the weekend at Gram’s, we’ll never again call her place home.

We went to a Chuck E Cheese birthday.

We went to a Chuck E Cheese birthday.

Double fisting the balloon mics.

Double fisting the balloon mics.

Monster truck.

Monster truck.

Worship, words keep me up

Ideas and words on spinners, on fast forward. Curling words round the edges of my consciousness. Stealing moments to write them down.

They are skin and energy. They are my sons name and priority. They are space.

Words fill in all the space. When I focus in on a thought it is insulated with words. As I wrench it free from the surrounding thoughts, as I cleave it from its place, myriad other words spill into its vacancy.

Ideas of what to do. Thoughts of breath. I clear my mind and words sneak back in.

The first writing workshop I was part of was in 7th grade; that grade to beat all other grades with its miserableness. 7th grade was the year of the ankle high tasseled chunk heel boots that clipped and clopped down the halls of Hanover Jr. High. It was the year I almost failed English with Mrs. Philipon and her bangling dangling silver bracelets. Some of my friends did the after school writing group, and I wanted in. I got permission, and it was kind of a big deal because it meant getting picked up instead of taking the bus home. I knew it disrupted the flow. I wrote a thing. The thing started like this:

The flower she held was colorless and bitter. She dropped it, and the flower disappeared.

There was more. For years I had it memorized, but now I don’t. I knew it by heart because by 8th grade I wasn’t allowed to write anymore. I’d written something filthy, so my pen was taken away. The words, of course, remained, firing neurons through my pre-teen receptors. I wrote poems because they were easy to memorize. Short, rhyme, rhythm. Little songs; I would sing them as I raked up the leaves.

The teacher who proctored the 7th grade writing group said that flowers could not be colorless and bitter, that there were no flowers that were colorless, that everything had a color; and what did I mean by bitter, she asked, did I mean it’s scent? If so, I should say so, because a thing could not look bitter, especially a flower, flowers which are pretty. I remember thinking how she had no imagination, and when the time came that the lift home was too big a disruption to the daily running of our household, I was disappointed to have to discontinue my participation in the group, but not because I thought I’d be missing out on any insight.

There’ve been so many writing workshops since then. The writing workshop is the thing that playwrights do. We all get together. We write in a big group, a big orgy of clacking keys and scribbling pens, of notebook pages flipped with intensity, of breath, of closing eyes. We tackle writing exercises about feelings and character and the relevancy of objects. We share our pages. Then we all talk about them, and wait eagerly for the master among us, the instructor, the one whose job it is to lead the whole thing, to lend their brilliance, their depth of understanding. We want to be told how to make the work better without being told how to write our play, we want to be told that we are a real talent, should keep at it, are really onto something. We want the words to land. We want the work to mean something great and lasting, and we want it all on the first draft.

There’s a closeness that comes from the writing workshop, but also a separation. We all want the best for each other, we get to know each others’ personal horrors, and those things are the closeness. The separation comes because writing is a solitary act, no matter how much playwrights, the loners in a collaborative art form, want to turn it into a party.

I’m sitting here fighting these words. I want to go to sleep. I’ve got the lights off, the darkness made that much more so by the light of the screen.

I’ve felt weird all afternoon. I went to see Worship, Eduardo Machado‘s new play, at Theater for the New City. It’s about a group of writers who were in workshop together. It’s about their relationship to their mentor, who is suffering from Alzheimers, both individually and as a whole group. Rules of playwrighting are discussed as interpersonal relationships are broken down to their fundamental truths, and sitting in the audience I squirmed when scenes of the workshop were played out before me.

Scenes of workshops. All of our weaknesses as writers, all of our disgusting needs. Yes, I’m being judgemental. I’ve earned it. We all need so badly to explode our blood and bones all over the page, and to be told that it’s beautiful. We feel things all over the place, we plummet from our capital letters, wailing with sublime agony when bones break. Compound fractures are divine, a visible suffering. The unnatural angles of bone white shards and slivers poke right through the skin, blood glimmers in the waning light.

The drafts, the words beckon, and I need sleep.

I feel a little exposed after seeing the play. I feel cut and weighed. I can see the wrinkles in my hands in this odd laptop light. I moisturize but it’s not enough.

After the play I needed to get something out. I took myself to Three of Cups for happy hour sangrias. I had exactly ten dollars and I spent them. I’m working on a script and it demanded to be worked on. Dave was all set with C at home. I was torn, I wanted to be home for C’s bedtime, but words can be demanding. The play I’m working on is harder than I thought it would be, and because I’ve already set a date on which I’ll be performing the play, it needs to get written, and rehearsed, in rather short order.

The play was meant to be offensive, funny, perhaps outlandish. But what I’m finding is that the more I write it the more untrue it seems. It’s possible to get caught in a play, where there’s been too much talk, too much writing and not enough feeling.

I remembered the writing workshop in Worship, the writing exercise therein. The guru mentor said “imagine a door.” I imagined a door. I imagined two doors, one I know well, and one I saw only a few nights in 1993. “Hear the breathing on the other side.” I picked the door I knew. I listened at it until I heard breathing on the other side. “That breath is the truth,” she said. I squirmed in my chair. I’m squirming right now. That breath is my truth, and as I decided whether I would knock on the door, or just force it down, it occurred to me that I was standing outside the door. I was outside of a house, a house I know quite well, a house with a big door. I wondered why I was outside, when I could just as easily have imagined myself inside. Why do I put myself outside in the cold? Is it to numb my feelings?

My feelings are too strong. It’s hard to live with the torrent of emotion. I try to drown it out with long running sci-fi tv shows, involved Japanese novels, and words about nothing. But I know all the time that my heart is in a constant state of breaking. It breaks for everything, for every child crying on the subway, for every cute couple, for ever laughing group of teenagers. I worry that one day I’ll find myself unable to leave the house for fear that the agonies and the joys, too, will bury me in a flood of heart break. My guts spill out all over the place and I hurry to shove them back in before someone notices that I’m spilling my intestines onto the floor.

When I got home I checked in on C. I found him awake, and asked him why he wasn’t sleeping. “I was waiting for you to come in,” he said. I snuggled him up, and he said “don’t mush me.” I covered him with kisses, and he said “why are you kissing me so much?” He asked “would you sing me a song,” and demanded “you need to tell me a story.” I said “hey, what am I gonna say?” And he said “I love you, and then I will say me too.” I had no words at all.

**********

Worship was great. The acting was terrific, specifically Heather Velazquez, who really killed it as Laura. If you go (you should go), here are the details:

Theater for the New City
Crystal Field, Executive Artistic Director presents

Worship

A new play by Eduardo Machado
Directed by Michael Domitrovich

Worship examines the relationship between teachers and the students who idolize them. Estelle, a legendary writing teacher, is known for her signature style – a mystical approach combined with a brutal honesty and a willingness to do anything in the name of art. When Alzheimer’s debilitates her later in life, Estelle is visited by the students she has influenced most. Through a series of flashbacks and ritualized devotionals, the nature of the bond between this guru and her disciples is exposed, covering the full spectrum from the sacred to the profane.

Starring Quinlan Corbett*, Crystal Field*, Lori Fischer*, Hugh Sinclair*, Sharon Ullrick*, Heather Velazquez, and Tatyana Yassukovich

March 15 – April 13 at Theater for the New City
155 1st Avenue, between 9th and 10th streets

Performances Thursday-Saturday at 8 pm
Sundays at 3 pm
Additional Performance Weds March 19th, 8 pm
Opening Night Sunday, March 23rd, 7 pm
(no matinee)

Tickets: $15, Students & Seniors $10
Available at http://www.theaterforthenewcity.net, http://www.smarttix.com, or 212-254-1109
PC_Worship_front

Houston St., NYC

Houston St., NYC

Me and C's hands on the scanner.

Me and C’s hands on the scanner.