when the sun goes down, I think of Charles Bukowski

photo taken by Steve Jackson outside a coffee shop in Amsterdam

photo taken by Steve Jackson outside a coffee shop in Amsterdam

I like to imagine what he might think about the world today. Not that I knew the guy, it’s just an interesting exercise. I thought of him this morning for reasons I’ll get to in a minute.

I have a couple of CDs of his readings–Poems and Insults and Solid Citizen–recorded in what sound like dive bars. The audience is drunk, so’s he, and there’s a palpable danger in the room. Like he could set the place on fire or someone could run up to the stage and punch him in the face at any moment.

Maybe because he wrote about people who don’t always get to see themselves in poems and stories. Drunks, jailbirds, blue collar workers who aren’t living some academic’s version of the “stolid American working the land,” ugly women, uglier men, gamblers, fighters, poor people. That’s who his audience was. They came to see themselves and revel in all their glory and grotesqueness.

Though Bukowski wrote a few things about writing, he mostly wrote about the struggle of living. About working for the post office or begging money off some pock-marked woman he met in a dark bar on a sunny LA afternoon. He didn’t write about sitting at his typewriter, waiting for the words to come. When given the opportunity to meet “important” writers of his day, he generally said no thanks (only with a few expletives thrown in). I’ve quoted him here before: I disliked them all immediately, sitting around acting clever and superior. They nullified each other. The worst thing for a writer is to know another writer, and worse than that, to know a number of other writers. Like flies on the same turd.

I thought of him, and specifically that quote, today when I read a post in a playwriting forum about someone weeping when they killed off a character. “I cried for hours!” a commenter said in reference to their own experience. Another said, “That’s how you know you’ve written a great character!” It was a circle jerk of people smelling their own intellectual farts, and I wanted Buk to show up and tell them all to stop writing about writing (like flies on the same turd) and actually do some fucking writing.

This sort of thing goes on there all the time. “Does anyone else ever find when you’re writing a play that it just veers off in a direction you didn’t expect?” No, fancy writer, you’re the only person who’s ever experienced that. We’ll just go ahead and send the Tony to your house now.

I can’t even imagine Bukowski in the same room with some of these people. I’d wager his whiskey shits were more dramatic than their plays are. Mine, too. Plays, that is.

Writing is a solitary experience, so I understand the need some people have to reach out and talk about it. I need to stick to groups that discuss dogs or hamburgers or national parks. I’d happily read about someone shedding a tear after taking their new puppy to Yosemite and  grilling up some burgers. “Does anyone ever have that moment when the sun is just about to set and you’re a little buzzed and it feels like you’re connected somehow to the past but firmly in the present and you weep for the beauty of it all?” Yes, my friend. Yes.

Listen to Mr. Bukowski read his poem Style.

the play

(I would have written about this experience sooner, but I came home from Boston to a sick dog, Dali, who is hopefully on the mend now.)

It’s hard to describe the emotions you feel when you see a production of your work, especially if you’ve never seen it staged before. It’s an ass-puckering combination of fear, excitement, fuck yeah!, potential humiliation, existential angst and gurgling intestines. Or maybe that’s just me.

Other than the Science Fiction Theatre Company people, no one knew I was in the audience until after the show. So I was able to eavesdrop. It was no surprise to learn that some folks found the abundance of semen in the play (yeah, that’s right) to be a bit disgusting. Good. My favorite thing other than the laughter was seeing people bend over and clutch their heads in embarrassment/horror about what was happening on stage. If they didn’t care about the story, they wouldn’t have been reacting. At least, that’s what I’m going with.

The first night I was there a physicist came up to talk to me, and the night before that an astrophysicist who discovered something related to Uranus (no joke) saw the show. In addition to a couple of theatre blogs, a local science fiction writer reviewed the production too. So there was interest from those communities, and they must have gotten headaches from my shitty science. I did do some research when writing about dark matter for the first part of the play but took huge liberties with it later on. Which I can do because this isn’t my thesis.

Actually, maybe it kind of is.

Let’s talk about the cast. Holy shit, they threw themselves into this ridiculous play. I can’t imagine a more game group of people. There are lots of awkward/inappropriate/gross lines, and each was delivered with no shame. Right on.

I can tell that Cait Robinson, the director, ran a tight ship because the show was pitch perfect all the way through. Set changes were flawless, tech was right on time and not a line was dropped or altered. Though I was tense when the lights went down, just a few minutes into the show I relaxed. They had this bitch on cruise control. After a while, I quit thinking the lines along with them and just watched the story unfold. There was a lot to see. I wish I lived closer to this theatre company so I could see all their work.

(image by Kyle Perler)

Matthew Zahnzinger as NURSE and Kathy-Ann Hart as ASTRID (image by Kyle Perler)

Hoping to get a few more pictures so you can see a little bit of the show and the rest of the cast. I took a picture of curtain call with my cellphone (bad theatre behavior), but good (theatre) manners keep me from posting it.

raising funds for The Singularity

Rehearsals for my play The Singularity are in full swing in Boston. I sat in on a rehearsal via Skype, and I’m very excited about the talented artists who’ve come together to bring this story to life. Check ‘em out.

Science Fiction Theatre Company launched a Kickstarter campaign to fund the production. If you have a few bucks to throw their way, that would be super helpful and very appreciated. So far, the $6,000 campaign goal is 30% funded, and there are 12 days left to give.

One of the perks that comes with supporting the show (as long as you give at least $8) is you get your very own, one-paragraph science fiction adventure–starring you! I’m writing the stories for the donors I know, and the folks at SFTC are handling the rest.

Here are a few of the stories I’ve written so far. I never said sic-fi was my strong suit.

You’re hiking through dense woods. You can hear a stream somewhere close by, can even smell the water, but you can’t seem to locate it. Which is a drag because you have all your fishing gear with you. (You always have all your fishing gear with you.) You arrive at a clearing to find it’s not a stream you hear—it’s a lime green 1957 Citroën H Van. It’s just sitting there—shiny and comfortably idling like it rolled right off the factory floor—in a small clearing in the middle of a big woods. When you peer through the driver’s side window, you see a dashboard with no steering wheel, no place to insert a key, no gas gauge or speedometer or turn signal. Just a dial with a bunch of years on it. All the years, in fact, including a bunch that are ahead of you. The door is unlocked. You slide into the seat. The dial lights up, encouraging you to pick a year. You do. And you’re off. (for Tohner)

You’re driving back from the beach when it happens. In fact, your hair is still damp from your nighttime swim. You don’t bother to towel off the nuclear waste because it brings out your pink highlights. (Plus, those environmental sissies are always complaining about things being “bad” for the earth when most of the time they’re “not that bad.”) The juice cleanse convention in town is causing everyone to cram into the parking lot of the only place with a bathroom open this late (it’s a Dairy Queen), and there’s traffic ahead. You try to downshift to second, but your legs aren’t doing what your brain is telling them to. They feel like they’re stuck in a vat of cement. Your car is momentarily illuminated by a passing street light, and you see the blue-green scales where your legs used to be. You steer your quickly slowing car to the side of the road, tear off your shirt and bra and flop onto the hard ground. With a few strong flips and twists, you gracefully arc into the ocean to join the other mermaids. (for Julai)

It’s bedtime. You kiss your fingertips and touch them to the Lionel Richie poster above your bed, grab a well-worn copy of Wait Till Helen Comes and settle in for the night. You only make it a few pages before sleep overcomes you. You’re awakened by the sound of your name softly spoken by the man standing at the foot of your bed. He’s dressed like a butler, only without a shirt. 
“Good morning, Ms. Leah,” he says. 
“Good morning, Rocky,” you say. “Assemble the men in the courtyard. I have a long list of things for them to do today.” 
“Yes, Ms. Leah, right away. You’re the boss. Of all men. In the world.”
“That’s right, Rocky, I am.”
“Thanks for fixing everything, Ms. Leah.”
“You’re welcome, Rocky. Now march those tight buns out of here and get to work.”  (for Leah)

 

1st Dallas One-Minute Play Festival

OMPF

A quick post to let you know about a cool play festival happening at my favorite theater in Dallas, Kitchen Dog Theater, tonight through Monday. It’s the 1st Dallas One-Minute Play Festival, presented by Kitchen Dog and the national One-Minute Play Festival.

Almost 30 playwrights (including me) were commissioned to write two 1-minute plays. That was both easier and harder than it sounds. Our instruction was to write about what’s happening right now–in Texas, the US or the world. The idea is to capture the zeitgeist, one minute at a time.

I’m excited to watch the live-stream of the festival tonight on HowlRound to see how the show comes together. If you think you might like to check it out, here’s more information about the festival, and here’s the link to watch the show tonight (Saturday, August 16) Sunday (August 17) at 8PM Central.

the view from here

office number two

outdoor office is set up – now I can spend my work day hoping a bird doesn’t poop on my head – it’s worth it for the view of the Santa Cruz mountains and the bay

PG beach

standing on a beach in PG and looking back toward town

birdman

(pardon the shitty quality of zoomed photos – I’m stuck with using my phone until I replace the camera I killed on that hike) the dude and the bird stared at each other for quite a while (and I stared at them) – maybe they were communicating

squirrel

beach squirrels are tame from too many people feeding them

van of my dreams

I want this to be my daily driver – as my father pointed out, I’d need a vintage German mechanic to basically move into the back of the thing

pryor

purchased at the record store in PG

stella

Stella

lanterns

this week is the Feast of Lanterns festival in PG – it’s the biggest event of the year, and houses all over town have Japanese and Chinese lanterns hanging out front – here we are, acting like locals (oh yeah, we live here) (I keep forgetting)

living room

our living room, featuring a small dog on the couch

office

I had to record myself talking about my play for an upcoming production in Boston – I was reminded of why I’m a playwright and not an actor (this is a still from the video shot in my indoor office)

fog

some pretty amazing fog in Big Sur

fog 2

sometimes we were above it and could see blue skies

fog 3

sometimes it looked like the world just dropped off into a gray void

fog 4

don’t go into the fog, dude, you have so much to live for

partington cove

in my continual documentation of how busy Big Sur is these days, here’s the road around Partington Cove – this is a little place in a bend in the road that isn’t marked – there are two trails, one going down to the water and the other going up in the mountains – we’ve been here many times when there were few, if any other cars – not no mo’

like flies on the same turd

In my ongoing search to find some people for us to drink wine with ’round these parts, I was thinking that maybe I would go to the weekly poetry slam in Monterey (they encourage all sorts of performance, not just poetry). You know, meet some other writers. Maybe we’d have something in common.

I disliked them all immediately, sitting around acting clever and superior. They nullified each other. The worst thing for a writer is to know another writer, and worse than that, to know a number of other writers. Like flies on the same turd. – Charles Bukowski

To be fair, I’m friends with a number of other writers, but we generally met in non-writer circumstances. And, regardless, friends happen organically after repeat, positive interactions. It’s not something you do. “I’m going to sell this house today!” It’s something you experience. (And I’d guess the people at the slam are too young anyway. If your liver is still pink and springy, we probably don’t have enough in common. Plus, slams aren’t really my thing.)

James and I are a self-sufficient couple. Even after 11 years of listening to each other’s bullshit, we’re still interested and still laughing. But we’re not quite ready for the unabomber cabin in the woods where it’s just us chickens and we never hang out with other people. It’s nice to hear someone else’s bullshit occasionally, especially if their bullshit can lead us to great places to eat, cool trails we’ve never heard of and things we don’t even know we’re interested in.

I had this conversation–in person–with my friend Nelson (a writer) a few days ago. He and his wife Phoebe split their time between Houston and the Bay Area, where they are currently. They drove down to PG to take me to lunch on Friday. It was great to see familiar, friendly faces, and find out that maybe James and I aren’t the only ones on this odd errand of finding new friends in middle age.

When you’re in your thirties it’s very hard to make a new friend. Whatever the group is that you’ve got now that’s who you’re going with. You’re not interviewing, you’re not looking at any new people, you’re not interested in seeing any applications. They don’t know the places. They don’t know the food. They don’t know the activities, If I meet a guy in a club on the gym or someplace, I’m sure you’re a very nice person, you seem to have a lot of potential, but we’re just not hiring right now. – Jerry Seinfeld

I didn’t think I be interviewing at age 44 because I didn’t know I’d be moving. So I’m either going to have to start getting out of the house more often to meet people, or some of you fuckers are going to have to move here.

If this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is. – Kurt Vonnegut

Shared experiences are important. Even if you’re on a turd–at least you have good company.

We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars. – Oscar Wilde (and also The Pretenders)

have laptop, will travel

I’m free! Free to soak up someone else’s wifi! Free to eavesdrop! Free to be a jackass writing on a computer in a coffee shop!

When I made the move to start working from home, I was really excited about being able to write on location. Inside, outside, any place I could get wifi. I was going to rid myself of the drudgery of sitting in the same chair at the same desk for 8 hours or more a day and instead plop my ass in a lot of different chairs.

What I didn’t count on was killing my six-year-old laptop right after we got here.

We were stuck in a hotel for 10 days while we searched for a place to live. Ten days of desperately driving past house listings (please be the one, please be the one, shit) and working full-time while stuck in a 150 square foot hotel room with two irritated dogs and an irritated James. On the next-to-last night in the hotel, I was working late. Stressed out. Going a little cray-cray. Maybe my motor skills were also depressed because I spilled an entire glass of water on the keyboard of my laptop. And I was tired and over it enough that I just said fuck it and went to bed. Didn’t take out the battery or attempt any sort of life saving measures. My lack of effort was rewarded the next morning when the computer wouldn’t stay on for more than 60 seconds. It never did recover.

In the ensuing three+ months, I’ve been stuck working on my desktop in my tiny home office. The cray-cray was creeping back in, so I bought a new laptop. It’s currently on its first trip to a coffee shop/restaurant a short walk from my house.

Crema

sitting in a comfy chair next to an open window with a cool breeze and ambient noise

When you start working from home after years of being in an active, open office, at first you appreciate the silence and increase in productivity. Eventually, the quiet begins to press upon you. And you realize you miss the sound of humanity. Other people’s phone conversations, recitations of what they did over the weekend, where they bought those crazy shoes. It’s not the content you miss as much as the noise of it. The aliveness of it. The other-people-ness of it.

Now that I’m untethered from my desk, I can sit in a public place, hear the sounds without really listening to them, and feel like I’m still part of the world. It’s nice. And since I’m a bit of a hermit at heart, it’s enough.

benches

julia pfeiffer bench

Often on our treks through hill and dale we encounter benches in the middle of nowhere. Not just places to sit, the benches are memorials inscribed with names of the departed. Sometimes they’re tucked away in a quiet corner at a turn in the trail, and sometimes they look out on a spectacular view at the edge of the world.

Something about the benches always grabs me, gently. I wonder if the person who dedicated the bench is still alive and, if they are, whether or not they’ve come to visit the bench recently. Did they pick this location because their loved one used to hike this trail? Was there a dedication ceremony that required a number of people to hoof it up the trail in nice clothes? What if they’ve since moved across the country–do they wonder how the bench is doing and wish they could see it again?

I was looking through my photos for a recent blog post when I realized I had shots of about a dozen of these benches from the past few months. They’re now gathered together at Talking Benches, and I’ll add more as they come. Not sure if this is a good idea or a weird one. Not sure it matters.

Today’s the fourth of July, and there are no fireworks on the Monterey Peninsula. We’re going across the street to have veggie burgers and hot dogs with the neighbors, and we’re bringing James’ boozy sangria and a bowl of queso with us. The cheesy revolution has begun in Pacific Grove. ¡Viva la queso!

less artsy, more fartsy

THE SINGULARITY, my play featuring dark matter, is getting its first production this fall. Science Fiction Theatre Company is producing the show for a three-week run, September 19 through October 5. And now I have a great excuse to go to Boston. Cannot wait.

The production came to me in a roundabout way. This theatre isn’t one of the dozens I’ve sent the script to in hopes it might float to the top of someone’s slush pile. Instead, they reached out to me after hearing about the play from an, as yet, unnamed source. Funny how that works.

Now that THE SINGULARITY has an upcoming production, I’m revisiting a comment an actor made after the Great Plains Theatre Conference last year. She told me she didn’t like the title. “Hated it,” was actually the phrase she used. I expected feedback on every page of the play except the title page, so I was a little surprised. I filed the comment away for later dissection. Here we are.

The most useful feedback from that conference came from one of my peer playwrights after my reading: “You had a lot of obvious jokes in there, but somehow you made them work.” I think he meant it as a compliment, or perhaps was damning me with faint praise, but either way it grabbed my attention. And the first thing I did when I got home was go back through the script and try to kill every line that might have been obvious or the result of lazy writing. There were more than I care to admit. They’re dead now (I don’t save old drafts).

So we’re back to the comment about the title. There are many definitions of singularity.

  • a point where a measured variable reaches unmeasurable or infinite value
  • a point in space-time at which gravitational forces cause matter to have infinite density and infinitesimal volume, and space and time to become infinitely distorted
  • the mathematical representation of a black hole
  • the quality of being strange or odd; the state of being singular

You can apply each of those definitions to the content of the play, directly or indirectly. So the title fits. But maybe it’s not very marketable. I spend my day writing marketing copy. I understand the importance of leading with something strong that captures the imagination. You know, something catchy like THE GAY NAKED PLAY.

I could change it to THE DAY MY UTERUS EXPLODED or WHAM BAM BIG BANG, and maybe that would make someone at the local alt-weekly chuckle and ask for an interview. That’s why the Houston Press interviewed me when I did a show called IN A JAR…AT THE SMITHSONIAN. And I delivered, letting them know it was a reference to the urban legend about John Dillinger’s penis. Which is funny and all that, but I guess I don’t want to make the title of this particular play something that would look good on a t-shirt.

I’ve seen plays where the only clever writing was in the title and not in the script. I don’t fall for that anymore. I base my play selections on 1. trusting a specific theatre company to put on shows I want to see, 2. going to things my friends recommend and 3. seeing productions written by/featuring people I know.

I realize not everyone uses the same criteria, and maybe I need to keep that in mind going forward. Maybe I need to pay attention to new play conversations happening in the field that always seem to mention the importance of a catchy title. But I’m not making a retroactive change.

The title stands.

 

no pants workday

Now that I work from home full-time, my entire routine has changed. There’s the obvious–not getting up to a squawking alarm, not packing a lunch, not sitting in traffic, not making small talk. But there are a lot of other changes I hadn’t anticipated. Like the view.

My desk is situated between two windows that look out on our backyard. Through one window are a huge pink rose bush and something called monkey flower. The other window looks toward our garage and a stone fence topped with potted plants. Each day is a parade of hummingbirds, golden crowned sparrows, scrub-jays and blackbirds. The cat from across the street. Invisible gophers that make our grass move. Winds blowing in off the Pacific. Bright blue skies and gray mist.

The view inside is nice, too.

This was an easier transition than I expected, thanks in part to the fact that it happened at the same time as our move. Change one thing, change everything.

There’s a running joke among my friends that those of us who work from home don’t wear pants. That’s not entirely accurate. Most of us wear *something*, it’s just not something we’d wear outside the house. Okay, maybe a quick trip to the mailbox. Or the garage. Or to get something out of the car. But that’s as far as it goes.

In honor of the people whose commute is to the other side of the house, I created no pants workday. It’s a place to share images of your home office, the view from your window or the questionable outfits you wear. I went first and hope others feel moved to join in. Maybe it’ll provide a small sense of community among those of us who are floating on an island. Not wearing pants.