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
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