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.

the kind of Christmas letter I’d actually like to get

Hello, friends. Merry Christmas, Happy Kwanzaa, Happy Hanukkah, etc. For our atheist friends, get some faith in something other than your ability to take the magic out of everything. Goose!

Bob and I hope this annual note finds you in good spirits. We’re doing well, considering…the incident. I’m sure you heard about it. Hell, half of Tennessee has heard about it by now. Bob said he’s learned his lesson and won’t be so friendly with folks from out of town. And of course I said it’s not the folks you gotta worry about, it’s their damn dogs! Ha ha. You know.

We recently welcomed a new addition: a rat (we hope!) that died in the wall of our kitchen. The smell lasted longer than you might expect, so we blew through our incense supplies at a fast clip. There’s nothing like cooking your weekly Mexican tacos dinner while being overwhelmed with the smell of nag champa. Namaste-Ole’!

This year, Bob and I both completed major projects. He spent the summer organizing his extensive novelty and concert koozie collection, something he’s been wanting to do for years. It’s always wonderful to see someone achieve a dream. It must have rubbed off on me because I did a little organizing of my own! I have finally tackled my collection of local celebrities’ hair. I have all of the weekday morning and evening anchors, most of the weathermen, the last three mayors and the high school principal. Plus a whole bunch of others. Basically, think of a celebrity that lives within 10 or 15 miles of the center of town, and I probably have some of their hair in our house. And now it’s in alphabetical order!

Things at my job aren’t going so well. The company implemented a 30% pay raise across the board, but not only did I not get the raise, I actually got docked 15% of my salary. They said having to pay that sexual harassment settlement was bad for the bottom line. I kept telling them I’m clumsy and it’s not my fault my hand accidentally grazed the janitor’s hoo-hoo. Five times.

It’s okay, though. I’m keeping my chins up. Plus, I now have my own office in the basement. It’s very quiet down there. Very quiet. Sometimes I can hear my heart beat in my fingertips. But then I start typing and everything’s okay. Helps me get more work done! typetypetypetype

Maybe I’ll finally write that romance novel I’ve been thinking about for so long. The story of a woman who sells her cottage cheese factory and moves to Lubbock where she meets a young plumber who takes his dog Scamper to work with him every day. Then she finds out every girl the plumber has dated ended up dead, but she’s really pretty confident that she can change him. Then the inevitable happens and Scamper has to eat the remains of the former cottage cheese factory owner.

I guess it’s really more of a romantic thriller.

Love and Happy New Year,
Bob and Linda

a politically correct bedtime story

Once upon a time, a time that was no better or worse politically, geographically or culturally than today, two people of non-discriminate ethnic persuasion had a conversation. This verbal exchange was neither sarcastic nor derogatory and instead facilitated an expression of ideas that the two parties found quite agreeable.

During their chat, both people felt exalted, supported and not at all uncomfortable. They did not talk about the weather, as sunny, clear days in the low 70s are not everyone’s idea of pleasant. Some are too cold, others are too hot and still others feel like that sort of weather is just mother nature trying to be a show off.

Not that having an opinion about the weather is a bad thing, but it might be cause for disquiet, which is frowned upon.

Not frowned upon in the way that “you can’t express your opinion,” just frowned upon because you might make someone feel that they are too sensitive to climatic changes. We all just want to get along.

So the two people of indiscriminate indeterminate sexual identity talked of lighter issues. A particularly enjoyable topic was the soup they had eaten at lunch. While they did not agree about the level of salt in the dish, they both thought the soup was the proper temperature. Afterwards, they retired to their respective homes.

They did not want to turn on a light and disturb the roaches that might have been searching for a morsel in the kitchen, so they each bumped their shins on the way to the bathroom in the darkness. One bumped his/her shin a few seconds after the other because he/she had a slightly larger apartment. This was in no way a reflection on the worth of the person, it was just a rent control thing they happened to fall into.

The end.

the top 5 reasons I hate lists

1. Lists are lazy writing. It takes effort to write something that flows forth from a central idea and has segues and transitions. It’s much easier to come up with a slideshow about “The Top Ten Reasons We Don’t Miss 80s’ Fashion” with a pithy sentence or two for each image and call it journalism.

2. Lists make for lazy reading. When you can just click-click-click through something, only stopping at the bright and shiny pieces, it’s the equivalent of eating candy for dinner. Candy’s dandy, but you need some vitamins, vegetables and protein up in this bitch. Also: liquor’s quicker.

3. Lists are taking over like a fungus. Weeklies like Houston Press and dailies like Houston Chronicle are turning into slideshow repositories sprinkled with a few news stories. And, in the case of the Chronicle, a third or more of a given story’s real estate is a photo or slideshow, with the written part of the story only taking up a few paragraphs. At this rate, news will soon be delivered in a series of images, like a child’s picture book.

4. Lists lack meaning. When you’re just getting little nuggets in list form, it’s likely you’re not getting a whole lot of substance. Granted, the less said about popped collars, Z Cavaricci and glacier glasses the better. But in the time it takes to fart out five listicles, a writer could instead write one story with a bit more substance. But they aren’t allowed to do that because… (see number 5).

5. Lists are all about page views. Page views are all about advertisers. Lists aren’t being created for you, the reader. They’re being created so you’ll click 10 or 20 times on the same “story,” which translates to 9 or 19 more page views than a traditional story would bring. This, in turn, makes it seem to advertisers that a site is getting a lot more traffic than it really is.

(This listicle took less than 20 minutes to write. Man, if I wrote one of these each day, I could really up my readership…)

it’s like this

I just emerged from the busiest quarter of the year at work and haven’t had much time for blogging lately. But that’s not why I’m not writing here very often. As Stephen King proved by knocking out 8,000-page novels, delicately balancing his typewriter between the washing machine and his knees while the kids were sleeping–if you need to write, you will.

But wanting isn’t enough. I want to blog more often, but I don’t need to. I haven’t felt like there was something pressing I needed to tell you. Instead of writing fluff and filler just to keep the page views up, I’ve chosen not to write much at all. And that makes me uncomfortable. This blog and I have been chugging along together since May 2005. Never say die.

It’s not like I’m not writing. I swim in words all day at work.  And ideas for plays, scenes, moments have been coming in a constant flow lately. I catch as many as I can and write them on index cards so 1) I don’t forget and 2) I’ve got a nice stack of inspiration to pull from when the time is right.

The time will be right, whether blog post or play, when I need to write the thing down because it won’t get out of my brain otherwise. Like a song that gets stuck in your head. The only way to exorcise it is to write it. So I bide my time. When want becomes need, that’s when the work gets done. More to come.

For now, this.

what's old is still (a little) relevant

1980s technology is alive and well: Molly and Rowan playing Pac-Man at our house yesterday (and comfortably sharing a seat, which would never have worked with me and my brothers–someone would have ended up mad and on the floor)

My family came for a visit yesterday, and we celebrated the belated arrival of fall. I put a few Halloween decorations around to help set the mood, including a scary 3-D skull that has an evil laugh, plays creepy music, rolls its eyes (which light up) and opens/snaps shut its jaw. I was worried it would scare the kids. I played it for them once and watched for their reaction. There was a pause and then delight. They kept pushing the button over and over (and over) again. At one point, I saw Rowan tentatively insert his finger in the thing’s mouth so it could bite him. Can’t say these kids aren’t tough.

Unlike me. Later that night, James placed the skull (which can be put on a motion-activated setting) in a dark corner of the living room. I walked by shortly before bed and it went off, scaring the crap out of me and our 70-pound dog. In the dog’s defense, she’s scared of everything. In mine, I’m very jumpy.

that time I went sleepwalking

James was in the den watching TV. It was around 11:30PM, and I’d gone to bed an hour or so earlier. He heard the door to the laundry room open, the light switch flip and the door close, which was odd. The laundry room is so tiny you have to leave the door open in order to have enough room to get the clothes out of the dryer. But someone was in there. Creepy.

He opened the door, and I was standing in front of the washer with the lid up. Sort of pawing at the air inside the machine but not really making contact with anything. He asked if I was okay. I said, “I’m just so tired. I’m tired. So tired.” (Martyr.) My eyes were open but not awake, and he realized I was sleepwalking. He walked me back to bed, and I didn’t remember any of this the next morning.

The first thing I did was start googling to see what dread disease causes one to sleepwalk. Because, even though I’ve slept approximately 15,877 nights in my life and this was the first (only?) time I’d ever gone sleepwalking, I was sure it meant something horrible was coming. And maybe it is, but the “incident” was 10 months ago and hasn’t had a second appearance. As far as I know.

Sleepwalking is common in children but less so in adults–maybe 4% of the population. Almost half of adult sleepwalkers have an incident at least once a week, and 25% deal with it nightly (!). An isolated incident in adults, which is what I assume I experienced, is usually related to stress + sleep deprivation + alcohol or some other sedative. Hmmm. Those are three of the main ingredients of my life.

It happened last December when I was applying to grad school for fall of 2013. I’d been riding the fence about getting an MFA in playwriting for years and decided to stop talking and start doing. We regret the things in life we never tried, blah blah blah.

Applying to grad school is a bitch. It’s easy to spend a month or more just checking out programs, trying to find the ones that have the right mix of funding, location, programming and reputation. At the same time, you have to track down copies of your college transcripts, study for and take the GRE, write some bullshit  about why you’re applying to the program (and you’re not supposed to say, “because I’m having a midlife crisis”), wrangle recommendations from people who are really too busy to make up nice things about you, and pay $50 to $100 for each application. Oh, and there’s the writing sample, which, for an MFA program, would technically be the most important part.

I applied to four fully funded programs, being unwilling to go into debt for a graduate degree that doesn’t lead to a job at the end of the rainbow. Of the four programs, I got into two. Of the two, I was especially excited about the one that was in southern California. James and I went to check the area out. I’m pretty sure in a parallel universe we’re still stuck in traffic on I-10 outside of LA.

Since it’s now October and I’m writing this in Houston, I guess it’s obvious I decided not to go. It didn’t feel right. I think I really just want a change of scenery, and that can be accomplished much easier than by going back to school.

Meanwhile, every time I travel alone (most recently to Chicago this week), I worry that I’m going to get up and try to do laundry in the hallway of the hotel, only James won’t be there to guide me back. I wear a shirt and shorts to bed, just in case.

lost and found

As mentioned previously, I’m going through a purge of late. I’m trying to whittle down my possessions to things that are loved, used regularly or, preferably, both. On average, I’m freeing myself of two or three trash bags full each weekend. Some things get donated, sold or given to friends, while other stuff gets sent to the big plastic trash bin in the sky. I mean, under the carport. It’s amazing how much shit you can accumulate when you have the space to not feel crowded.

This has been a lightening, and it’s also been the opposite (a heavying?). It’s so easy to get sucked down the rabbit hole of memories, good and bad. This makes the process go slower, but that’s okay. What are we, if not our past experiences, current reality and forward-thinking selves, all wrapped into one? Can’t know where you are if you don’t know where you’ve been, etc. So it’s slow going at times, like many worthwhile things in life.

During today’s purge, I ran across a few scribbled monologues from late 2008. I went through a phase where every character that popped into my head wanted to talk without anyone talking back (monologue, not dialogue). Feel free to do the psychological analysis on that. This monologue struck me as funny, so I’m going to share it with you. I made a note that the character speaking is a broom, with a cork in its mouth, wearing a wig, but you can read it as a woman with a cork in her mouth wearing her own hair. Her friend reads the note aloud.

Hello. It’s so nice to see you. Unless this is a funeral, in which case I’m sorry to see you. Well, not sorry. Just sad that we had to meet under these circumstances.

In case you’re wondering why I’m communicating with you via this note, you may have noticed that there’s a cork in my mouth. I’ve been participating in a somewhat unorthodox treatment for my weight problem, which I now seem to have under control. To be safe, the cork must remain firmly lodged for a period of no shorter than six months.

Don’t worry. I’m still receiving sustenance through an intravenous feed in the inside flesh of my elbow. Or between my toes. Or in my eyeball. The veins get tired after a while. Just like a heroin addict, ha ha.

My point is, I’m not starving to death. Just starving to the point of looking good.

The note used to end here, and people would hand this little sheet back to me or forget to hand it back and I’d have to grab it after a bit, which just felt rude. I thought that my explanation was enough, but I could sense that people wanted more.

You’re perhaps wondering how this has impacted my relationship with my husband. In fact, we are getting along quite well now. My inability to talk led me to find profundity in the silence. Our lack of repartee made me realize that I don’t love him anymore. So we’re getting a divorce. But we’re parting as friends. And with my newfound body, there’s been no shortage of men. I hope that the man I’m currently dating doesn’t have a problem when I remove the cork! Ha ha.

To be honest, I kind of like the cork. It’s that old saying–better to keep your mouth shut and be thought a fool than to open it and remove all doubt. I think there is a Zen Buddhist thing going on with my ongoing silence. People really seem to pay attention to me in a way they didn’t before. Before the cork. But I do sometimes want a cheeseburger.

this photo was taken very close to the date on which I wrote that monologue - this is our driveway in the Heights, post Hurricane Ike - my Miata was safely stored in the garage, and James' car was narrowly missed

this photo was taken very close to the date on which I wrote that monologue – this is our driveway in the Heights, post Hurricane Ike – my Miata was safely stored in the garage, and James’ car was narrowly missed

I gotcher flow right here, buddy

each of us is unique, like a snowflake or grain of sand (though most of us aren't as cool as fat little beach dogs)

each of us is unique, like a snowflake or grain of sand (though most of us aren’t as cool as fat little beach dogs)

The recommendation came from someone I know or someone whose blog I read. I don’t remember. The book is called Finding Flow, The Psychology of Engagement with Everyday Life.  I had a bit of a buzz when I ordered it. You know, holding a glass of wine in one hand, scrolling around on the internet with the other, reading about what a great book this is for getting shit done. “Hey! I need to get shit done,” I thought. “Maybe this book is just what I need.”

Two things.

One, here’s an excerpt from the book. You’re gonna love it.

Leaving aside those still relatively few career women whose primary identification is with their jobs, most women who work at clerical, service and even managerial occupations tend to think of their outside job as something they want to do rather than something they have to do. Work is more voluntary for many women; it is more like play, something that they could take or leave. Many of them feel that whatever happens on the job is not that important–and thus, paradoxically, they can enjoy it more. Even if things go wrong and they are laid off it will not hurt their self esteem. As opposed to men, their self image depends more heavily on what happens to their families.

I know what you’re thinking, that this book was written shortly after WWII. Nope. Copyright is 1997. Dude teaches psychology and education at University of Chicago and, presumably, works with a few women who don’t spend all their time clutching their pearls hoping they set the crock pot at the right temperature before venturing out into the big, scary world in their sweater set and pumps.

That excerpt came more than a third of the way in, so I wasn’t suprised by it. There had been earlier warning signs that my brain tripped over (and not in a good way), but I rarely ever abandon a book. Even if it’s shitty, I keep reading. Because maybe the good part happens later. Sometimes you have to give a thing some time to develop. But I should have known this was wasted effort when, early on, Mr. Flow compares the uniqueness of human beings to snowflakes. It was the equivalent of a stale fart coming off the page. And the fart lingered, my friend. It lingered.

I finally stopped reading the book shortly after the passage above. Not because I’m angry or insulted. Just because this cat obviously isn’t talking to me.

Two, and most important, the book reminded me of something I already knew but evidently needed to be reminded of: if you’re reading books about creating or being artistic or getting shit done, you’re doing none of the above. Period. So maybe it was worth $11 to get a little knock upside the head.

Oh–just thought of a third thing: I shouldn’t order shit off the internet when I’ve been drinking.

like camp, only with booze

Great Plains Theatre Conference. Nine days in Omaha. Spirited conversations with witty, articulate people from all over the country. Warm Midwestern hospitality. Lots of wine, good food and new friends. No sleep, quiet time or tornadoes. And I would happily do it all over again (but let me take a nap first).

When The Singularity was chosen for the GPTC, I wasn’t sure what I’d gotten myself into. I’d never been to Nebraska. The conference dates included my ten-year anniversary with James. The only planes that fly non-stop to Omaha are tiny. I didn’t know any of the people who were going to be there, including the director and cast of my play.

Whatever fears I had were quickly washed away during the first breakfast at the hotel when I met the other playwrights. They were a welcoming group, and we had instant chemistry. Within a day or two, I felt like I’d known some of them for years. We fell into easy friendships the way you do when you’re a kid, spending the entire conference laughing, telling stories and supporting each other. A bit of magic in an otherwise indifferent world.

Intellectually, the concept of seeing three or more full-length play readings each day sounded difficult but doable. And it was, though I was surprised at how mentally and emotionally taxing it is to hear so many stories in a row. This wasn’t passive theatre watching. We were filling out response forms and giving feedback during the talk backs, and because we wanted to be supportive of each other we really concentrated on what we were listening to. My playwright’s brain was stretched from seeing so many new pieces that incorporated different themes, language and structure than the plays I write. I look forward to seeing how that exposure will impact my writing going forward.

I owe a debt of gratitude to the people who make the GPTC happen. I’ve never before had this sort of opportunity to let the day-to-day worries and responsibilities of my life go and just concentrate on something I love.

It was camp, for adults.

asdfads

I received helpful and positive feedback after my reading that identified a few moments that could use some tweaking – changes that, once made, will hopefully help this play find its first production (St. Fortune, a theatre collective in NYC, provided the cast and director for my play – they are a talented bunch – if you live in New York, go see them perform)

adsfa

an unfortunately named apartment building near the hotel

;lkj

the tornado siren outside my hotel room – it sounded for about two minutes on the third night (around 1AM), and my heart almost made it all of the way out of my body via my mouth – I thought its cry meant there was a tornado skipping down the street and heading straight for my room – in fact, the warning siren will go off 15 minutes or more before a tornado might hit – freakout time comes when the siren continually blares (I found this out when I got dressed and went down to the lobby where I sat with the old folks and watched the weather radar until the threat had passed, quizzing them about how the sirens work and whether or not it was odd for tornadoes to be forming in the middle of the night) (it was)

look at those happy faces

just like camp, we were carted around in a big yellow school bus – interesting to note: this photo was taken on the first day of the conference – everyone is already bright and happy

;lkj

the Friday night fringe festival took us to places all over the Metropolitan Community College campus, which I’d wager is the nicest community college campus in the country – it’s on the site of an old fort and is full of 1800s-era buildings with tall ceilings, ornate woodwork and wraparound porches (and probably a few ghosts)

asdf

in addition to the historic buildings, there’s also a bright and shiny new culinary institute – the chef/professors fed us delicious and healthy lunches each day, and they let the conference use their culinary theater for the fringe festival

;lkj

I submitted a short play I wrote during one of the workshops to be read at the play slam on the last day of the conference – this lovely octogenarian agreed to read a part in my play, which caused her to say words she’d probably never uttered before (at least not in polite company) – it was a great feeling to throw something on stage that had been written in a hurry just a couple of days before – everyone was so supportive, I felt totally comfortable letting it all hang out

;lkj'lj

the mainstage playwrights and other special guests stayed on campus in some of the historic homes – porch parties organically erupted some nights, providing a break from the theatre and the chance for music and conversation – this was taken on the last night of the conference, which was bittersweet

LINKS OF INTEREST
Great Plains Theatre Conference
St. Fortune (the kickass company that presented my play)
Fort Omaha campus of the Metropolitan Community College (our gracious hosts)
Element Omaha Midtown Crossing (our spacious digs – each room came with big windows and a kitchen with full-size fridge, dishwasher, microwave, oven and stove – they also provided a great breakfast, never repeating the same item in the nine mornings I was there)
House of Loom (hipsters abound in Omaha – this place features delicious craft cocktails served by the hip and tatted)

a few things

- Each day, to and fro, my 13-mile commute features heavy traffic. Sometimes it’s stop and go, and other days it’s just slow going. What I never understand is why people tailgate during heavy traffic. We’re all not going anywhere fast, and riding my ass is not going to make me disappear or make the cars in front of me get out of the way. One dude in an SUV (of course) was all up on my back bumper this morning. I didn’t move. So he got on the bumper of a Toyota. Real close. So close, it looked like the cars were going through a haunted house together. The SUV didn’t want to be more than an arm’s reach from the Toyota so when the chainsaw killer popped up out of nowhere, SUV dude would be able to grab onto the Toyota’s jacket. Like a bitch.

- I watched a trailer for the new Superman movie last night. It made me think of the 1978 version, which I saw in the movie theater with my best friend (Renee) and grandfather (Papa). It was the first movie that gave me, uh, tingles, and I was in love with Christopher Reeve for a long time after that. Maybe that’s why I joined the newspaper staff in high school. Or maybe I was/am a dorknerd.

- In the midst of my semi-annual belongings purge, I ended up with about 20 books I was willing to let go. Rather than take the books to Half Price and have some snarling hipster roll his eyes at what I’ve brought and then offer me 50 cents/book, I thought I’d check out other options. Ends up, you can donate books to the Houston Public Library (put them in a box, label it “To the Friends of the Houston Public Library” and drop the box at any area public library). You can also donate your books to Better World Books (there are collection boxes all over town).

- During this purge, I finally tackled the file folders full of stuff from my brother Mason’s belongings and organized everything in a scrapbook (though I am NOT a scrapbooker) (just a scrapper). There were a number of short film scripts he’d written and the first 8 or 10 pages of what I think was intended to be a full-length screenplay. The start to the screenplay is great, and the story really grabbed me. I keep thinking about it and how we always talked about collaborating. And I wonder how he’d feel if I were to write the rest of that story, listing him as co-author.

- Finally, I’ll do a write-up of our recent trip to southern California in the next post. For now, here’s a sneak peek.

Gram Parsons' memorial at Joshua Tree Inn

Gram Parsons’ memorial at Joshua Tree Inn

for love, not money

I subscribe to about 50 blogs. The exact number ebbs and flows as people get added and dropped. My reasons for dropping a blog are generally:

  • they start getting preachy about shit I don’t want to be preached to about
  • they’ve received a bit of national press and have been changed by the experience (in a negative way)
  • they turn the blog into a blatant attempt to make money/get a book deal/”monetize”

I’ve watched it happen numerous times. It’s always disappointing.

There’s a guy out in West Texas who initially blogged about off-grid living in the middle of nowhere. His daily posts were an interesting peek into a more simple, if not more difficult, way of life. Then the New York Times came to visit. His posts for the few months after that became a lot more self-congratulatory. (I don’t know how he was able to type with only one hand available.) The NYT story led to a few other stories. The posts were no longer about his lifestyle–they were about his life’s style. He was selling a commodity, wearing a costume, pretending. He became a caricature. I dropped him after a time, and a recent check in on his blog shows that he’s now gone off on a religious zealot/Armageddon tangent. Yeah. I doubt the NYT will be back any time soon.

I’ve grappled with how to manage content for this blog, and I understand having conflicting emotions about how to do it over the long haul. For a while, I was beating myself up for not posting often enough, or not being political enough. But then I realized: I want to write about whatever I want to write about at that moment. Sometimes I want to write about politics. Sometimes farts. Sometimes nothing (hence the occasional week-long silences). Since I’m not selling anything, I don’t have to conform to a theme or a schedule. I can do WHATEVER THE FUCK I WANT. And therein lies freedom.

This blog won’t catch the eye of the NYT, but the good news is: you won’t have to watch me turn into a media-obsessed jackass. (maybe just a regular jackass)

ad astra per alas porci

My radio silence of late isn’t because I’ve been trapped under something heavy and unable to reach my keyboard. I’ve been right in front of my computer a lot, actually, working on a few long shot projects. Things that have only slightly better odds of coming to fruition than the mythical flying piglet in the sky. In addition to the pain of writing artistic statements (which are always entirely more difficult to create than the project you’re writing about), I’ve also been wrestling with this new play. This bastard, assface, frustrating piece of work. And it’s winning. For now.

As is usual when I’m stuck in my own head, I seek out things to stimulate my brain and, hopefully, help me work around the mental roadblock. One great source of unending interest is the ARTISAN VIDEOS section of Reddit. It’s a joyous thing to watch skilled artists do their thing, like:

There’s something wonderfully soothing about watching people work with their hands. And there are other distractions to be found, so many things to do other than the task(s) at hand. This isn’t a video, it’s an image. A very funny image that is now the background on my work computer. It was simply titled, “I was eating some bread, when suddenly…” And while we’re on the subject of dogs, here’s a lovely homage to the dog/human relationship.

Another item I ran across recently: Henry Miller on writing. (How awesome his daily routine sounds. Writing, going to museums, reading in cafes, painting, going on walks and bike rides through unknown areas, making charts and plans.) If you click the link, you’ll notice that his first commandment about writing is “Work on one thing at a time until finished.” I would do well to follow that one.

Going to go work in the yard. Perhaps I’ll find inspiration there.

PS – the title of this post = to the stars on the wings of a pig. John Steinbeck’s motto. Don’t fuck with the Pigasus.

bitches be melodramatic

American Theatre magazine (the rag for Theatre Communications Group) asks random questions on facebook every day. Here’s one from a while ago: What advice would you give to a theatre newbie/aspirant? While some of the answers were thoughtful, there were many less useful ones such as:

  • If there’s ANYTHING else you enjoy, do that.
  • get a “real” job
  • Snap out of it!
  • If there is anything ANYTHING else you can see yourself doing for a living DO THAT INSTEAD!
  • Run away fast
  • Run as fast as you can.

Presumably, the people who wrote these responses are 1) currently involved in theatre and 2) into it enough that they’re reading and responding to a question posed by a theatre magazine that they chose to follow on a social networking site. If they aren’t willing to take their own advice, why should anyone else?

Then there were the melodramatic responses, like:

  • You better love it like you’ve never loved anything or anyone else before, because it will love you back while beating the s*** out of you. If you can somehow live without it, find something else.
  • Unless you eat it, drink it, breathe it, and dream it, don’t do it. It must be what you HAVE to do. If not, do something else.

Bullshit. Now, I realize I’m saying this as a playwright who occasionally produces a show and gets a production here and there, not an actor in New York slogging through auditions and being pilloried in the NYT (fingers crossed on that last one). Maybe my opinion doesn’t count as much because, on a day-by-day basis, I’m not “doing” theatre as much as some other folks.

But, for instance, this new play I’m working on. I think about it every day. A lot. I spent all three days of my three-day weekend trying to figure it out. It’s giving me problems, which is fine because once the problems are worked out, it’ll write itself. But I’m not going to sit here and pretend that the time I spend with my hipster fucking notebook or sitting in front of my hipster fucking computer is somehow painful. It’s hard sometimes, but not as hard as high school. Or, like when I was a bartender, cleaning up someone’s puke out of the bathroom sink. That shit was hard. This, this is FUN.

I’m involved in theatre because it’s fucking delightful. I don’t ever expect to make a living from it, and I know it will always be something that I do in addition to a “regular” job. But that’s okay. Because I love it. If I ever reach a point where I don’t, if I ever find myself wanting to tell an aspiring playwright, “run away!” (said like Charles Nelson Reilly), then that’s when I need to reevaluate what I’m doing. Until then, I’ll be happy to share what I know and stress the importance of wine and coffee, a dog to pet and a reader whose opinion you trust.

And to these random facebook drama queens: If it’s so fucking hard–GET OUT. Seriously. Use that BFA from NYU to get a J.O.B. and quitcher bitchin’.

THE SINGULARITY sees the light of day (in a dark theater)

pre-reading – I was entirely too distracted to take a decent shot, but you get the idea

THE SINGULARITY. My first full-length play experienced its first public reading last Saturday. This was in Dallas at Kitchen Dog Theater during their new play fest. They read six new plays over two weekends. And it was fanfuckingtastic.

THE THEATER. I didn’t know what to expect. The communications from the artistic directors (Tina and Chris) had been friendly and laid back. My director and I had exchanged a few emails, and she was responsive and nice. Once I saw the cast list, I googled the actors (because I’m a stalker), and they all looked talented and experienced. But you never know until you see people in action. Let me say this: Dallas has some talented mofos. In addition to my reading, I also watched the reading that followed, and the actors and directors in both casts were top notch. I totally plan to steal a couple of their actors the next time we do a show here. The Kitchen Dog people were great, and I’m not just saying that because they plied me (and everyone else) with bloody marys and gourmet popcorn. Though it did kind of make me feel like we were soul mates.

THE READING. There’s nothing like getting your work in front of an audience for the first time. You hope it goes well, there’s a chance it won’t, and you have to relinquish control and just ride the wave right along with the audience. You imagine this world, populated with these people who are trying to reach some sort of destination. And you try to get the audience invested enough in the story that they’ll give a shit about what they’re watching. And if you’re on your game, the people in the audience begin to see the world that you saw in your head when you wrote the script. And if the actors are on their game, and the director has given them the roadmap they need, the audience sees these characters coming to life before them. And the whole lot of you, in that dark, cold theater, go on a journey together. If everyone–playwright, director, actors, crew and audience–has done their job, everyone feels good about the journey once it’s over. If not, they leave the theater saying, “Well that was a piece of shit. Want to grab a drink?” It’s a terrifying and magical situation to be in.

THE DIRECTOR. Rhonda Boutté, the director of my script, did things with the reading that I’ve never seen done before. I already told her that I plan on ripping off her style (as best I can) the next time I’m involved in a reading. She had the actors doing sound effects that were so good, you couldn’t believe they were coming from the people sitting right in front of you. And the effects made the performance feel like so much more than a reading. My script was lucky to have been teamed up with her.

THE TALK BACK. Discussions with the audience after a reading can be terrific or terrible or some nether region between the two. For this reading, I asked my director if I could not talk so much, letting her and the cast address questions from the audience. Glad I made that request because the answers they gave provided me with insight into my play. I already know what I think, so if I’d done all the talking I wouldn’t have learned anything. I’m in the midst of tweaking the script now (does that make me a tweaker?) based on the reading and discussion that followed. Plan on finishing that up today while the performance is still fresh in my mind. Plus, it’s 100 degrees out, James and the dogs are taking a nap and the house is quiet, and I’m waiting to see if TS Debby out in the Gulf is going to grace us with her presence (and rain). The perfect ingredients for playing with my play. Hope you’re having an equally nice Sunday.

[One final thing - if you haven't taken my past suggestion to read The Trailer Park Cyclist's blog, I really recommend you at least read yesterday's post. Where my blog is generally a step or two above a fart joke, the TPC is fucking WRITING. And it's beautiful and heartbreaking and tapping into both good and bad things that are oh so familiar.]

FREE play, today only

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Sorry to interrupt your Memorial Day. I wanted you to know that my first published play (and really the first play I admit to writing – the two that came before it have been buried at sea, never to be seen again) is available for download on Amazon today. For free.

My publisher, Original Works Publishing, features one free play download each week (they are $5 and up the rest of the time). All you need to read it is the Kindle app, which you can also download for free for your PC or Mac.

Right now, the play is #64 in the top 100 free theater downloads list, right between Shakespeare and Voltaire. I’d like to leave those biddies in the dust today, so I’d appreciate your click. And do yourself a favor – don’t read the review snippets or description of the play before you tackle the short script. Go into it with nothing more than the visual of grown men with stuffed animals on their heads. I’ve included a few images from various productions of the play to help you out.

Back to beer, backyards, sweating and mosquitos.

the process

[THE SINGULARITY will receive its first public reading (followed by a talkback) next month in Kitchen Dog Theater's new play fest. The theater is in Dallas, so I'll be able to attend. You learn so much getting a script in front of an audience that I anticipate returning home with my head buzzing. Which is good because I think I'm about ready to start writing my next play, and I like having conflicting writing desires.]

Here’s how it usually goes. I have a flash of an idea for a script. It can be a few words, an image, an ending, a beginning or a title. I don’t write this part down because, if the idea is strong enough, my OCD brain will keep rubbing on it like a worry stone. Over time, which can be hours, days or months, this glimpse of a slip peeking out below a hemline will start to have a bit more legs. The characters will begin to emerge from the fog and snippets of dialogue will be tossed around like white plastic chairs in a tiny windstorm. I still don’t write anything down yet.

In fact, I don’t put words on paper until I’m ready to write the play. When that moment comes, it’s full steam ahead, all night/weekend, typing like mad…staring at the screen…talking out loud…delete delete delete…typing slowly…staring…typing fast again…blinking because my eyes feel like sandpaper…refilling my cup with coffee or wine, depending upon my needs at the moment. James tells me that I get crazy-eyed when I’m deep into a story, and that’s his cue to just leave me alone.

[My friend Lisa writes while listening to classical music. Her favorite used to be Yo-Yo Ma playing Bach. I tried doing that, but I kept imagining movie montages or that I was riding a bicycle through Central Park or shopping at Victoria's Secret, and I couldn't concentrate on what I was doing. A lot of writers use music while they create (Albee also listens to classical when he writes), and they say it inflects their dialogue with a musicality. So I hope I can figure that out one of these days. I want to write with musicality and shit. I'm trying to listen to Yo-Yo Ma (no, YO mama) while writing this paragraph, and I'm finding it distracting. Press stop.

I'm back to my regular soundtrack. The freeway (which I pretend is the ocean), the whirring of my ceiling fan, the noise Dali makes when she jumps on the futon in my office (she farts pretty much every time she jumps up there - the curse of being a big, old dog), the birds chirping in the back yard, James tinkering in another part of the house, something clanking in the dryer. Perhaps this is my music, and I should be grateful to have it.]

The physical part of the writing goes on for a couple of weeks, usually. As soon as humanly possible, I pull together the actors I work with (and often write parts for) to have a reading with just me as the audience. After we talk about the work, I return to the computer for the next round of edits. And then the play sits until I can get it in front of an audience in a reading or production. That is followed by another (usually final, if a play can ever really be considered finished) round of edits.

So the reading in Dallas next month is a crucial step in the development of this play. And the timing is perfect – I’ve been thinking about the next play for months now and just last night (“in a dream”) the title occured to me. At this moment, on the Saturday morning of a weekend that is wide open and lacking in commitments, I have opened a word document that has a title across the top.

The journey begins again.

comedy

try, try again

My office is located in a super cool, historic marker-ed warehouse with rickety old wood floors that have splinters and 13′ ceilings with exposed pipes. The industrial elements add to this building’s charm, which is further enhanced by regular photo exhibits by FotoFest on the communal wall spaces. It’s no wonder there are other agencies and architects and arts organizations in this building. It’s a creative space.

The sign above is located on the freight elevator in my building. I doubt that the…editing of the sign was done by any of the tenants. More likely, it was one of the many high school groups that come through to see the exhibits. I like this sign because a) I have the sense of humor of a 12-year-old and b) I think it’s a good visualization of comedy.

In the prankster’s first attempt, you’ll note that they removed the second “t” that is crucial to the joke being funny. I would imagine after carefully peeling away “ton” and then standing back to admire his work (let’s face it, 90% plus odds are this was done by a boy), the comedian wannabe realized his error. Or one of his slightly smarter friends pointed it out. Or, he thought it was just fine and it took another person at another time coming along to get the joke right on the second attempt.

Whatever the case, the sign makes me chuckle, and it’s a good representation of what it’s like to write comedy. Edit and tweak until you get it right. And maybe run it by your smart friend first.

Friday list

Slogan for this demo/remodeling company: "No job it's too small." Wonder how much work they get...

  • Hung out with friends last weekend. Well into the evening (and the wine), someone said to me, “Is it okay if I ask you a personal question?” I always have the same answer. “Of course.” In fact, please ask me a personal question. Because it generally means shit is about to get real. I like it when we move beyond the superficiality of the day-to-day to dig into the hidden recesses. I’d tell you what the question was, but it’s personal.
  • You may have seen links to the short film Caine’s Arcade on teh internets the past week or two. If you haven’t watched it yet, do. The film is ten minutes of fantastic. While you’re watching, imagine if the dreams of all children (big ones, too) were supported in such a loving and respectful way.
  • Here’s a new literary term that I may have made up (but there are no original ideas, so maybe someone else already did): vinfictive - writing presented as fiction that is really a thinly veiled attack on people who have wronged the author in the past. A distant cousin to vaguebooking. Not my kind of writing, but it’s out there. Perhaps I should add a definition to Urban Dictionary?
  • There are a couple of other people at work who love The Band, so in honor of Levon Helm’s passing we’re going to watch The Last Waltz and raise a glass at the end of the workday. That may be the best concert film ever made. Here’s a ridiculous blog post I wrote while watching it on cable a couple of years ago (even though I own the DVD). I claimed to not be drunk, but reading it now I have my doubts.

42

There are two things I remember from the great Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy: thanks for all the fish, and the meaning of life is 42. Because of this book, which I read in high school when the thought of being in my 40s was as real to me as time travel, I’ve always held my 42nd birthday (and the following year) in mind as a period when something special would occur. When I’d reach an epiphany of sorts. When I’d figure shit out. I will turn 42 on Thursday, good lord willin’, so I guess we’ll see.

Here’s a quote from Douglas Adams about his choice for the answer to the eternal question, which many people try to attribute deeper meaning to.

It was a joke. It had to be a number, an ordinary, smallish number, and I chose that one. Binary representations, base thirteen, Tibetan monks are all complete nonsense. I sat at my desk, stared into the garden and thought ’42 will do.’ I typed it out. End of story.

That’s actually a pretty apt description of writing in general. You stare off into space, something pops into your head and you write it down. If you’re lucky, it works. It’s both totally magical and completely mundane. One could argue that the subconscious is at work even when it seems like the writer is grabbing bullshit out of mid-air, so it’s possible that Adams had something deeper in mind when he came up with 42. But prolly not. Sometimes a banana…

FOLLOW THE BACON (photo courtesy of the maker)

My brother, father and I have birthdays during the same week in March, and we got together this weekend to celebrate. The bookend/piece of art above is what Tohner made me for my birthday. FOLLOW THE BACON has multiple meanings in our family, from a culinary modus operandi to a way of looking at life. Those meanings take this piece beyond being something useful and fun to look at and morph it into a bigger symbol of shared history, where we are now and hopes for the future.

Tohner said he wasn’t exactly sure what he was going to do with the tile when he bought it, but he knew he had to make something for me with it. And he had the faith to know that inspiration would come to him. That’s what separates artists from non-artists – trusting yourself enough to act on instinct, knowing that the rest will follow. Believing that maybe 42 is the answer to everything and that some day pigs will fly, despite all evidence to the contrary.

gimme shelter

I subscribe to about 50 blogs and visit a number of others on a semi-regular basis. Some make me laugh. Some provide fodder for my dreams of the future. Some give me a glimpse into a life that’s totally different from mine and way more interesting. All offer a point of connection to my fellow human beings.

One blog that I always find inspiring is written by Lloyd Kahn. He is the creator of the hand-built home porn/book Shelter (and others since). Sometimes he writes about handmade shelters. But most of the time he writes about his world and shares things he finds of interest. He lives north of San Francisco in a cool dwelling that he built. He eats roadkill and wild mushrooms and makes pancakes with cattail pollen. He finds joy in the details of life – a stunning sunrise, a beautiful flower, a bleached animal skull, a man fishing in a kayak on the water while his dog waits patiently on shore. Lloyd’s approach to the world reminds you to pay attention to the little moments because they’re what adds up to the bulk of your life. And there is the potential for much happiness and inspiration in the world if you keep your eyes open.

This is a recent post that grabbed me by the shoulders and shook me up a bit. Lloyd’s simple trip down the mountain on a longboard (he’s 75, by the way) made me think about what I do with my time, where I live, how I interact with my environment, the level of physical activity in my daily life, if I do enough things purely for the joy of it, how I can break free from old patterns and whether or not I’m paying attention to the right things. Powerful stuff.

Lloyd and The Bloggess and my little brother and this dude and my friend Andrea all inspire me with their unique approaches to life. Not the workaday macro bullshit, but the wonderous micro. The details. The expression of joy, whether buying a large metal chicken to irritate your husband and make your friends laugh or carving something by feel and not by pattern or setting up your camera and taking a picture of yourself running away just for the fuck of it or baking something delicious as an expression of love. I enjoy going on their journeys through life, and I appreciate those of you who are going on my journey with me. Thanks for picking up the phone when I call with a new blog post. It’s nice knowing someone is on the other end of the line.

Some great Lloyd Kahn entries from the past few months:

a rolling stone gathers no moss

And I, my friend, am rolling.

After a decade spent slinging grants and obsessing over numbers, I’m leaving the development field behind to embark on a new journey. In a couple/few weeks, I’ll follow in my grandfather’s footsteps as I begin my new job at a marketing communications firm.  It’s a small shop that does big work, and I’m very excited to be their new copywriter. More to come.

quite peculiar in a funny sort of way

My new play The Singularity came in second for the Leah Ryan prize. Very cool.

As a rule, I never mention my job in my blog, but two things today merit mention. One, as I walked in this morning, I crossed paths with (and said hello to) two astronauts who were in the building for a taping. That was cool. When I was a kid, after I realized you couldn’t be a magician for a living, I wanted to be an astronaut. Almost as likely.

The other surprise happened when I opened the work fridge to put my lunch inside. This greeted me on the top shelf: Continue reading

Lanford Wilson

I was saddened to hear of Lanford Wilson’s passing today. He was a playwright – a Pulitzer Prize winning playwright, in fact – who taught Edward Albee’s writing workshop at UH for a couple of semesters. I was lucky to have been in one of those classes, benefiting from Lanford’s generosity of spirit and gentle encouragement for all us jackass writers.

Here’s a moment involving Lanford that captures my perpetual awkwardness and what a sweet man he was. We were both at a party given by a local playwright. Big, beautiful house with all of the typical accoutrements of a nice home and then some.

I’m standing in the kitchen, jacking my jaw about some bullshit or another, probably well into my third drink by this time. Lanford comes up to me with an arm outstretched. I didn’t notice the cup and napkin in his hand (or didn’t really think about it) as I gave him a tight hug, assuming in my party-mood and socially lubricated state that he felt compelled to walk across the room and interrupt a conversation because he needed to give me a hug. Ah, that wasn’t the case, though.

See, I was standing in front of the trash can. It was one of those hidden ones that live inside the cabinet and roll out on casters if you know which magical drawer to pull. Rather than shrink away from my hug or look at me like I was a creepy weirdo, Lanford generously returned the hug and then reached for the trash can, his original target, to toss his cup and napkin.

I always appreciated him for that.

And other things, too.

cleaning out my drafts folder

(shaking fist) You killed my shrubbery!

– I’m glad that one of my goals for 2011 wasn’t to write in my blog more often. If it were, I’d be failing horribly. But it wasn’t, so I’m not. This post will be a bit random – I’m cleaning out a couple of posts that were begun and then abandoned because 2011 has been a busy, busy year so far.

– Look at our poor philodendron (above). It is normally about six feet tall and ten feet across, but now it’s a sad, wilted little thing. It froze like this last winter too, so I know that it will come back bigger and better than ever. Until it returns to its former glory, which will probably be May or June, I’ll have to wear clothes when walking by the picture window in the living room. No more shrubbery coverage.

– I was hanging out at a friend’s house the other day and a Rachel Ray cooking show was on. I used to watch the food porn channel pretty regularly but have moved on to other TV pastures the past year or two, so the last time I saw Rachel Ray she was doing that cutesy, schmaltzy, nicknames-for-everything routine. I guess she has a new show now, and she’s so subdued that she almost comes across as depressed. In the episode I saw, she rarely made eye contact with the camera, didn’t smile and seemed disengaged from what she was doing. I didn’t exactly long for the upbeat bullshit, but I did find it sort of disturbing.

Original Works Publishing is translating their playscript catalog into ebook format (including my play) for sale on Amazon. They’re the first play publishing and licensing company to launch its catalog to be read on Kindle and iPad.  In theory, I don’t like e-readers. I love the tactile sensation of reading a book. I love the way the spines complement and contradict each other on my shelves. I love marking my progress through a book not only intellectually and/or emotionally, but also physically as whatever I’m using for a bookmark (receipt, business card, an actual bookmark) moves from beginning to end. I love that when I’m deep into a book, a bomb could go off next to me and I’d barely notice. I love the stack of four or five books I always have next to my bed, ready to be read. None of this do you get from an e-reader.

However, it’s different reading a 10 or 100 page script in that format. I’m used to reading scripts on my computer because that’s where I write my own. So it’s not difficult making the jump. I’ve started buying scripts on Amazon (most are around $5 or $7) and have been pleased to read new plays on demand. If I were to produce one of these plays, of course, I’d buy the script in paper form – you have to be able to make notes and interact with the writing in a way that ebooks don’t allow. But this is a low-commitment way to check out new work (or old work, if that’s your thing) for not much money.

– Hope to get back to regular blogging soon, but I’m not promising anything. I will be announcing a call to action in the fight stupidization campaign pretty soon. Watch this space for details.

finding your porpoise

Last night I experienced the first read-through of my new play The Singularity. The actors all did a great job (which was to be expected). The work seemed to resonate with them in various ways (which was hoped for but not counted on). There are places where the play needs room to expand, and there’s still character definition that needs to happen, but the basic story is there in 3-D. It is by far the weirdest thing I’ve written. Keep in mind – I wrote a play about men with stuffed animals growing out of their heads.

When these actors I trust – and with whom I’ve worked over and over again – join me for the first time in whatever reality I’ve created on the page, I feel like I’m fulfilling my purpose. Something I don’t get from work or cleaning the house or taking care of the dogs or any of the other things I do in my life. I love getting a play in front of an audience, but that is about all of us – the actors, the director, the playwright, the audience. The first read-through is mine, and I’m the only audience. And I love it.

I’m not trying to drown you in masturbatory bullshit. But I do think it’s important to recognize the things that fulfill you in life – how “good” you are at those things is irrelevant. What matters is your reaction to the experience. You don’t have to be the best writer in the world to feel good about what you’re doing. You just have to be true to your vision and tell your tale.

I’m reminded of a Far Side cartoon (tried to find it online – failed, but did enjoy revisiting some old favorites). The cartoon I’m thinking of features a man, let’s call him Larry, who is pulling something out from between the couch cushions. The caption reads, “Larry finds his purpose.”

Here’s to finding your purpose, whether it’s raising kids, kicking ass at work, creating something of beauty or teaching people things they didn’t know. Or, even, writing weird plays that make people laugh, sometimes uncomfortably.

up late/early

I went to bed a few hours ago and slept for a while. Now I’m awake. Instead of lying in bed listening to the night sounds, lately I’ve been getting up and reading or hanging around online until I feel sleepy again. Supposedly that’s better than lying in bed not sleeping. I’m always reminded of the Stephen King novel Insomnia. If I remember correctly, a man (who is getting older) has no trouble going to sleep, but he wakes up earlier and earlier each morning. He tries going to bed earlier in hopes that he’ll get more sleep, but that just means he wakes up even earlier than he did the previous night. This continues until he can see an entire other reality (or until he’s gone coco-loco – you pick). I always wondered if King was dealing with insomnia when he wrote that. Because I’m contemplating my own attack on the subject. Gotta have something to do in the middle of the night…

In other news: over the past four or five days I accomplished something that, to this point, has eluded me. I wrote a full-length play.  What I’ve written should run about an hour and fifteen minutes, which many people would argue isn’t “full-length” but is instead a long one act. Those people can bite me. Also, my compact little play is TWO ACTS. I’ve seen a number of plays that are full of fluffy writing that stretch the things out way past their bedtime. Longer does not equal better in my estimation. I’m reminded of what Albee says on the subject: The length of a play should be the length of the play. In other words, there is no prescribed appropriate length. The story should go on until you’ve told it, and then you should get the fuck out of there.

I’ve been thinking about this play for the past two years. Until last week, I’d only written about 15 pages of it. Don’t know why I couldn’t make it happen – I guess it was the old curse of needing a deadline. At one point this weekend James said that I get “crazy” eyes when I’m deep into a project. I took offense at that until I looked in the mirror. Huh. Kind of a conflicting combination of Charles Manson intensity and glassy eyed nitwit. I’m glad I didn’t have to look at that all weekend. Though it would be great to be picked for the three-week workshop I applied to, what’s even more exciting is that I am, in fact, able to stick with a story past 20 pages. After a number of years spent writing short plays, I wasn’t sure that was the case.

if you want to destroy my sweater

Okay, you may or may not know my deal with writing-related deadlines. I’m not talking about grant writing for work or writing in this blog – those things just happen with little-to-no pressure. I’m talking about writing for the theatre. I rarely finish a script without having some sort of deadline. The more absurd and ridiculous, the better. For instance, in the past we’ve booked a space and started rehearsals before I’ve finished writing the show. It’s some sort of masochistic tendency that makes me put myself in this situation over and over again. I hate it, but at the same time I fucking love it. Because I always manage to finish, no matter how brutal the deadline. And the exhilaration I feel once I’ve finished…it’s like running a marathon with my brain.

The latest installment: there’s an awesome three-week play development workshop in Philadelphia during the summer for which I applied. You send the first ten pages of your script, and if you advance to the next round they ask for the full script. So I gambled. I’ve been trying to write this particular play for two years now. My first full length. For whatever reason, though I think about the play all the time, I can’t finish the fucker. I had about 15 pages. Sent the first 10. Got an email a couple of days ago that they want to see the whole thing. And they want it by Monday.

When I initially applied to this workshop, I figured if they wanted to see more, I’d have a bit of warning. Didn’t expect it would be five or six days. So in the past 36 hours, the 15 pages of sort of finished has turned into 35 pages of done with another 30 pages or so to write over the weekend. I’ll get this bitch done by the Monday deadline, come hell AND high water. Will it be good enough to get me in? Who knows. What I do know is that I’ll have my first hour+ play written. That’s no small thing. Fire up the coffee pot, mama’s got some writing to do.

(unrelated) (or is it?) (isn’t everything sort of related?)

It is now cold enough in our house that the little dog needs a bit of help staying warm. She sleeps under a blanket in the middle of summer. She’s just that kind of rat dog. So I broke out the sweater tonight. She doesn’t like wearing anything – because she’s a DOG – but I can’t stand to watch her shiver. My grandmother made a sweater for my dog Maggy (RIP) that was always a bit too snug for her but fits Stella great. I think the big dog is a bit jealous. See stand-off below. I love the “looking off into the distance but I will bite the shit out of you if you fuck with my sweater” stance.

you know you're jealous

I love dogs and can’t/don’t want to imagine life without at least one good one.

A Modest Proposal for Our Times

Life sure is getting complicated, isn’t it? From trying to figure out how you’ll retire in 20 years if social security is bankrupt to determining which couple to pick as the winner in your Dancing With the Stars pool at work, modern lives are a tumultuous, peanut butter and jelly swirl of opportunity and stagnation. Intellectual growth and non-masturbating former witches who are aggressively moronic. The Trevor Project and homophobic politicians who like to tap one out in the restroom at the airport after passing anti-gay legislation. It’s hard to keep up with the latest crop of sound bites spoon fed to us by the media, much less figure out if there should be an apostrophe in the first word of this sentence.

Let’s simplify one thing in our super busy lives. From now on, no more smarty pants comments in reference to a poorly spelled diatribe with horrible grammar in the feedback section of the online newspaper. What are you, an elitist? Perhaps you would like to marry your dog once you are done critiquing everyone else’s writing. Nerd. Sure, “Its so typical for a sochalist demoCANT to want take the easy road by taxing me to death meanwhile your not paying taxes of yourself” doesn’t make much sense on a literal level. But squint your eyes and tilt your head, and I think you’ll understand what Mr. Tea Party is trying to say. See what I mean? We really are all speaking the same language, though at times it feels like we aren’t.

Proposed Simplified Language, Draft One: Common Words.

ur: From now on, no more debate between your and you’re. If we all just use “ur,” we’ll all be right, ALL THE TIME!

thair: Instead of their/there/they’re, let’s go for the much more elegant “thair.” It looks European, doesn’t it?

its: Let’s just get rid of the apostrophe. Clean, simple and works for any occasion.

whoos: No more who’s/whose. Plus, this makes me think of an owl. Whoot!

moran: Let’s just all agree that we’ll spell it the way most idiots do.

We will never truly be equal until we are all equally stupid.

working on the weekend

 

this sums up my weekend

 

Dennis came over this afternoon, and we worked on our application for grant support of the next Six Of One Productions show. I spent the entire day and well into the night Saturday trying to write the damn voice-over for our three-minute video work sample, which we were supposed to record today, and it was more painful/difficult than writing a play. I wrote pages and pages of bullshit, but none of it was right. Dennis came over today to help me, and even with the two of us working on it, it took another four or five hours. Ye gads. The good news is, we finished the script. Now we have to record the voice-overs, and I have to create the visual to accompany it. That part will be a lot easier. I use a Mac. If we don’t get this grant (it’s no given – this is a pretty competitive program), we may try our hand at Kickstarter.

It’s Sunday night, and I feel like I was working on grants all weekend. Oh, wait…

I’m freaking out, man

The power went out a couple of hours ago. We were all droning away at our computers, click/click/click, when everything went dark. Everything, including the final report I was knee-deep in but hadn’t bothered to save. Damn, damn, damn! This outage lasted for a good 30 minutes. I spent the latter half of that time in my friend Abby’s office. She’s the other playwright at work.

(side note: every office should have at least one playwright so, in times of ridiculousness and/or crisis, a coworker can lean over and whisper, “You should write a play about this,” not realizing that every office has its drama, drama that is not very interesting to people outside of the office including spouses, parents and best friends) (what I’m saying is, no one would come see that play and rightfully so) (what I’m also saying is that it seems to bring the afflicted slight comfort to think that their tale of workplace woe might some day be shared in an effort to not repeat the mistakes of the past) (even though those mistakes will most certainly be repeated, over and over again, with increasing crapitude)

There was a total lack of communication about what was causing the power to stay off, so we were left to try to figure it out on our own as the air grew thin. Abby and I, like any writers worth their damaged livers, starting discussing various disaster scenarios that might have led to the outage. We tried to check our email accounts on our cellphones but couldn’t get connected to our phones’ networks. Odd. I called her cellphone to make sure that at least that mode of communication was still open. The call went through, but we were left wondering if that was what the aliens (or the Chinese or the Tea Baggers or the fill-in-the-blank) intended to happen, to lull us into a false sense of security because we were able to call other people within the building. What if we couldn’t reach anyone on the outside? What if everything was going bat shit crazy all around us, only we didn’t know it because we couldn’t check our email or get online or turn on the television? What if the electronic locks on the doors wouldn’t let us exit and we were trapped here for days? Who would we eat first?

This conversation naturally segued into our shared appreciation for a good Armageddon story. We discussed various ways we think it all might come to an end – computers/robots, the environment, people eating themselves first into irrelevance and then extinction. So many possibilities…and then the power was restored. Sigh. Back to the click/click/click. We had just enough time to recover what documents we could when BLAMMO, off again. Now that we’re so tied to computers, at least at my place of employment, there was literally no work that could be accomplished with no power and no network connection.

Obviously the power is back again. I was able to heat up my leftovers for lunch and write this post. Maybe it was just a test run to see how long it would take an office full of people with no power, no internet distractions and – worst yet – no air conditioning to freak the fuck out. They totally didn’t make us suffer long enough. I didn’t even break out in a sweat and was actually enjoying spending time talking to my coworkers. So there, potential overlords. Nice try.

the deal

This blog has picked up a few new readers over the past few days (welcome!), so I wanted to quickly talk to you about what goes on here. The good news is, sometimes I write about stupidization on a grand scale like the refudiate incident last week or potential employers getting up in your business. The bad news is, there are a lot of other sorts of posts in between. I generally write in this blog while eating lunch at my desk, so whatever occurs to me as I open up wordpress is usually what I write about. That’s the great freedom of not writing this blog for money – anything goes, there are no deadlines, I can cuss freely, I don’t have to worry about advertisers, and if it just ends up being me and one of you, that’s okay. Not optimal, but okay.

That doesn’t mean that you’ll have to wade through entries about what I ate for dinner or the fight I had with my boyfriend – information such as that only comes up peripherally if at all (me being more focused on the asshole at the next table during dinner, and I never write about relationship issues) (also, my boyfriend and I never fight) (ahem). I try to focus on the absurdities of life, playwriting, my obsession with living off the grid  in a cabin in the woods yet somehow having full internet connectivity (the power play in my life between being a pseudo-luddite and being in love with my Apple products), the desire to have a dog farm, attempts at gardening (that failed this year because of too much rain), travels, living in Houston, ghosts, the funny people in my life (including my family), stupid comments posted on other websites…you get the point.

As for comments – I don’t allow anonymous ones (unless they are REALLY funny) and I will delete aggressive/assholish ones from trolls. There are plenty of places on the internet where anonymous vitriol-spewers can post hateful bullshit – the fight stupidization blog is not one of those places. This blog encourages the people who are willing to put their name on their opinion and have a somewhat civilized conversation while doing so. Being funny in your comments is a bonus but not mandatory.

That’s pretty much it. I encourage comments, and I love to hear from you via email, too.  Helps me feel like I’m not just yelling into an empty room.

Thanks for reading.

Palin around with (language) terrorists, or words have meaning

Sean and Stig fought stupidization in a parking garage in California

Lots of people are jumping on Sassy Palin for tweeting yesterday that Muslims should refudiate a mosque near the World Trade Center location. As a person who writes a lot, I don’t find it at all odd to mis-type a letter (in this case, replace the f with a p for repudiate), but that doesn’t seem to be what happened here. Once people started mocking her on twitter, she deleted that tweet and changed it to “refute.” Um, closer? She then went on to say that Shakespeare made up words all the time, so get off her back.

Huh. First of all, I’m amazed she spelled the Bard’s name right. Second, why is she unable to ever EVER accept responsibility when she fucks up? I mean, getting a letter wrong, or even getting a word wrong, isn’t a big deal. People tweet all kinds of stuff that is screwed up by their iPhone auto-completing the wrong word, creating a scandalous or unintentionally funny tweet (imagine mistyping, “washed my puppy today – my kids were trying to help but got soaked!”).

She could have used the web browser on her phone to google the definition of refudiate, then, not finding one, corrected her tweet with the right word and moved on. Or she could have made a joke about clumsy thumbs. Instead, she tweeted the same thought three times, finally addressing the “refudiate” issue by suggesting that she, like the most prolific writer in the history of the English language, is creating new words for the lexicon. Because she’s such a word girl. If she were creating a new word, she wouldn’t have deleted the original tweet in the first place and then retried it two times with other words. And if she were so interested in language that she would be the type of person who creates new words, she’d probably be able to name a few publications that she reads beyond Lipstick and Ammo.

This brings me to a greater point about stupidization (which first appeared in my blog in June of 2006 and is purposely used knowing it’s not a “real” word) (I’m just like Shakespeare!). Stupid people act like being well-read is something that only effete liberals in New Yawk City do while drinking coffee made from beans that were pooped out by a weasel onto the Sunday edition of the New York Times and ground into a beverage by illegal aliens who are stealing all the good jobs. Stupid people see the pursuit of knowledge and information as being something negative that real, honest to goodness Amurcans don’t have time to do, what with killing the terrorists and watching Midget Dance Contest and wearing flag lapel pins made in China. Stupid people are so deathly afraid of being found out, they craft ridiculous excuses for the mistakes they make instead of saying, “Hey, I typed one letter wrong on Twitter. Get a life, you jackals.”

But the problem here is, it wasn’t a mistyped letter. It was the exposure of someone who values talking points over in-depth knowledge, visceral emotion over reasoned thought and hateful close-mindedness over global awareness. Not everyone in America is a white, straight Christian conservative. Refudiate that, Sassy.

buy my book

Last week, Please Remove This Stuffed Animal From My Head was published. Check out Original Works Publishing for info. It’s a slim volume (the play is only 15 minutes), but I’m still calling it a “book.” So, MY FIRST BOOK HAS BEEN PUBLISHED! Ahhh, that feels good. If you don’t want to buy a copy, you can read the first half online. But then you’ll never know how it ends…it will keep you up at night…

It’s a pretty well known secret that only, like, five playwrights make a living just writing plays. Even wildly successful playwrights usually teach or work other odd jobs. [Not that teaching is an "odd" job. Though teaching creative writing might be.] Anyway, it’s pretty big news that Arena Stage in Washington, DC is hiring in-house playwrights for three-year residencies. Unheard of. They’ll even get health insurance like regular working folk. It’s awesome to see playwrights getting salaries and benefits just like all those arts administrators do.

bullshittery

A friend of mine passed along a link to a blog that is being written by someone he knows who’s obviously bucking for a book deal. She almost comes out and says as much, continually comparing herself to the writer character on Sex in the City. The site has a very strong “brand” to it – the color palette, logo, etc. are all ready for print, tee shirts and the “movie based on the popular blog.” She is chronicling dating after divorce, and her attempts at being edgy or provocative come across as contrived and unnatural. It’s an awkward read, so of course I shared the link with my brother Tohner. After reading it, his response was much more enjoyable and way funnier than her blog. (In fact, I laughed so hard that I snarked some green tea on my computer screen.)

As this article attests, there are lots of abandoned blogs liberally sprinkled around the internet – people thought they’d immediately get a million readers and didn’t, so they quit writing. Or they thought publishers would beat a path to their door and didn’t, so they quit writing. If I had to wager a guess, my bet would be that this chick writes for a few more weeks and then gives up the ghost. It’s hard to build an audience – in the beginning, you’re not even sure if anyone is reading the thing because they want to or because they landed there via googling for something else. You have to do it purely for the experience of doing it, at least at the start.

Lucky for me, I started blogging for myself – to make sure I was writing something other than grant proposals every couple of days and to record some of the funny and/or awkward things that happen to and around me on a constant basis. That has slowly morphed into somewhat of a conversation. People are feeling more inclined to comment (here or on facebook), which I love love love. Though I do enjoy the sound of my own voice, it’s always nice to hear a response or three. [Especially when you guys knock me upside the head when I say I'm conflicted about what to do with my life - EVERYONE pretty much feels that way. It was good to be reminded that I'm not alone or particularly special in that regard.]

Even though I make my living as a grant writer and write plays on the side that generate a tiny amount of income, I’ve never wanted nor expected my blog to turn into a paying gig. It’s purely about communicating. Nothing more, nothing less. I think that you would sense if I were trying to impress some unknown $$$ entity with my wordsmithery (bullshittery, really), and I think it would turn you off. It wouldn’t be genuine communication, it would be a job interview. And who wants to read that crap?

holy shit knuckles

I’m not sure what that title means. It’s the only thing I can think of that encapsulates this day of mine.

First, I reported for jury duty a little before 8AM. I usually roll into work “around” 9AM, so I had an earlier start than usual. I planned ahead and brought my laptop with me, expecting the usual jury duty experience of hanging out in the big room waiting for my number to be called and eventually being dismissed right around lunch time.

Not today, my friend. I was in the second group called. 65 of us were taken over to the courthouse to experience the singular joy of voir dire with our “peers” in Harris County. You know how I’ve bitched about the anonymous commenters on every story on the Houston Chronicle’s website? How I’ve said that they aren’t representative of the city as a whole? Okay, I still believe that, but I also believe that about 20 of them were in the group I was in today. The vileness that some of these people spewed – hatred for illegal immigrants and anyone who doesn’t speak English, self-righteous anger about situations they don’t totally grasp but have no trouble passing judgment on… I’m sure some of them just wanted to get out of jury duty, but some of these people are carrying some stone cold, impotent rage around with them.

A couple of times, I said – out loud, “Well that guy’s obviously trying to get out of jury duty.” A couple of people chuckled and a couple others hissed. I think they thought I was a witch. At one point, the most vile of the viles was explaining why he judges people purely based on how they look/dress/talk – he explained that his day job is “observing people,” so he is very astute at determining who someone is just by their outward appearance. I said sort of under my breath to the guy next to me, “Yeah, his day job is being a serial killer,” which, if you could see this guy, totally fits and was a funny thing to say. The guy next to me didn’t understand a word I said and asked me to repeat. I was already worried I’d get in trouble for talking – you know in voir dire they love to make you talk – so I just shut up after that. No point in under breath muttering if there’s no one to appreciate it.

As the questions, and the vileness, wore on, I began to really hope that I was chosen just to up the defendant’s chance at having at least one sane person who was willing to listen to the case and make a non-judgmental judgment. And so it was. Once it’s all over, I’ll talk a bit more about the experience of sitting on a jury. Since it’s my second time, I think I’ve effectively broken the generations-long run my family has had of never being chosen for a jury. Lucky me? Maybe. It’s a lot more interesting than what I usually do during the day. Speaking of – I put the fact that I work for PBS on my juror form. And I was still chosen.

Second, I got home from a long day at the courthouse to find the proof for my first publication sitting in my inbox. I’ve signed off on it, so Please Remove This Stuffed Animal From My Head is coming in book form. As soon as it’s posted online, I’ll share the link in case you’re in the market for a short play to read (the purchase of which kicks a little money back your friend Crystal’s direction).

opinions are like assholes…

…everybody has one.

I was at a party recently. At this party, I mentioned our upcoming (at that time) Houston Fringe Festival performances. One of the party guests, a person who lives in Austin and whom I’ve only met one other time, said the following:

If you want me to edit your plays for you, just send them to me. Wouldn’t charge you anything. Happy to do it for free.

I laughed and said, “Oh, playwrights don’t use editors. It’s not that kind of writing.” To which he responded (because he obviously wasn’t listening):

I’ll be happy to redline it for you. You know, especially if you ever want to get published. You’ll need an editor.

I didn’t laugh this time, but I did smile as I said, “Funny – I literally just signed my first publishing contract two days ago! So I guess I’ve got that covered.” He didn’t stop. He said something else about “helping” me out with my writing because he “has an English degree.” I don’t really know what else he said because I walked away while he was mid-sentence. He’s probably still talking in that dude’s driveway, not having noticed that I’m not standing there anymore or that the earth has rotated 12 times and everyone else has gone on with their lives.

You have an undergrad English degree? That’s rare. And you don’t work as a writer, nor are you a playwright? And you are, in fact, a blowhard who has a big stain on his shirt and some roast beef in his beard while he’s talking to me? Wow, I’d have to be crazy to pass up such a stellar opportunity.

Speaking of blowhards, I just visited the KHOU website to read a news story someone posted on Twitter. I’ve never been to their site before, and I was saddened (but not surprised) to find that the people commenting on stories there are of the same non-variety as the people who post on the Chron.com website. When I decide to leave Houston, I’ll have to make sure I don’t judge the next location based upon the comments that are left on news sites. Even the local “left-wing” rags are starting to attract these faux-patriotic ball suckers, I’m sorry, teabaggers to their stories. It’s tedious.

another fringe fest behind us

Houston Fringe Festival 2010 has come to a close. We had standing room only each of our three nights, and that was with an outdoor show in late May in Houston. Not bad at all. As a company, we’re used to “friendly” crowds (as in, crowds full of people we know/who know us), which means we’re used to having them with us from the beginning. With this year’s festival, there were a lot of new faces in the audience. And we rocked them all. Well, maybe not all of them, but I think both new plays were well-received.

I am more invigorated now about theatre/playwriting than I have been in a long while. Maybe ever. The more I work with this company of actors (and we added a couple of people to the last show who were FANTASTIC), the more I want to write things for them to perform. And the great thing is, though I may write for my particular actors, the plays still work in other places, with other actors. So it’s a double-bonus.

The learning experience for me with the new play (Flagellating the Boss) was being comfortable with the discomfort many people felt by the end of the piece. Though this play has the same absurdity/comedy level of most of my other work, I think it hit much closer to home than anything I’ve ever written. And, not to give anything away, but it doesn’t end well. I had more than one person tell me they were very bothered by the piece. Which is awesome. One of the reasons I write this stuff is to communicate with the audience via the actors. So the fact that people were emailing me a day or two after the play to tell me they were still thinking about it (and still bothered by it) is remarkable. My 22-minute play, unlike a sit-com of the same length, is still with some of the people who saw it. That’s the point, you know?

Dennis and I are in search of a cheap (free!) space to put on a show in the near future. We’d like to do Militia Slumber Party, Flagellating the Boss and maybe an excerpt from the full length I’ve been tinkering with. Indoors, in air conditioning, where people can hear everything and not be distracted by the environment would be optimal. Any suggestions on cheap (free!) spaces are greatly welcome. We have no budget, but maybe we can share proceeds from the door or work out some other deal. Our productions are low-tech, so we don’t need much in that arena. Any ideas?

the play’s the thing, and it lives on

For anyone who didn’t see my exuberant facebook status update a few minutes ago, I’m going to be a published playwright! As soon as the contract is signed, I’ll let you know by whom. It’s a publishing house that focuses on the more…edgy and off-beat plays being written today. I thought they’d be a good fit for Please Remove This Stuffed Animal From My Head, so I submitted it to them a couple of months ago. Just got word today that they felt it was a good fit too.

Beyond the fact that it’s cool, as a writer, to be published, this means something even more important – the play will live on. I’ve written before about my unhappiness that my older plays are just gathering electronic dust in my computer. I haven’t felt inclined to do much submitting to festivals, and the plays don’t produce themselves. The great thing about being with a publisher that strictly publishes plays – and even more specifically, they only publish plays that have had a number of productions and are therefore “tested” – is that potential theatre companies and directors will run across the script now and maybe even produce it. Those same people don’t randomly drop by my house to look through my computer hard drive, so you see how this is beneficial.

It’s another step on the pathway. I’m glad to have found this out just a couple of weeks before putting up a show in the Houston Fringe Festival. Makes me feel like a playwright.

gah, another post about my damn show

One of the great things about my horrible procrastination (for my theatre writing, not anything else) is that we had the cast in place before I actually wrote the play. I had the concept already (so I had a vague sense of whom I’d need, actor-wise), but nothing was on the page. So I had these specific actors in my head as I wrote, and they influenced the characters I created. And, man, they are kicking ass already. I gave them the final script last night, and by the second read-through they were nailing their characters and finding some really great moments. When working with actors this good, you barely have to do anything as the director. I think I might do a bit of pointing (yes, that’s the secret to my directing style – pointing) and provide them with some props. Otherwise, they’re doing it naturally. It’s so much fun to watch. Ahhhh. Makes me happy.

A funny side note about the process: I wrote a character who speaks English as a second language (Spanish being the primary). This was my first foray into that sort of writing, and I was a little nervous about it. Was my attempt at writing dialogue for a person who doesn’t speak English well going to be offensive? The actor playing that role read the script for the first time last night and seemed okay with it. We’ll see if she comes to the next rehearsal.

We’re going to work on Abby’s piece tonight, so I’ll have more to report later. I do hope you can come to the festival. Last year, AvantGarden (where our performances will be) had some tasty sangria. And, of course, they have a full bar. Not that I’m trying to ply you with promises of alkyhall, but whatever works. I’ll be there each of our three performances – hope to see you there. If you come, I’ll give you a Fight stupidization. sticker as a token of my appreciation.

writing, errata

On 60 Minutes, Leslie Stahl just said “nucular” instead of nuclear. Yikes.

I’ve spent a decent amount of this weekend working on my script (which you should know since I haven’t been blogging). This is always the fun part of writing a play – or, I should say, the most fun part. Once the foundation of the story is in place, tweaking the details, sharpening the language, adding the humor – that’s where the joy comes in. I’m going to hand this over to the actors tomorrow night, so I’ll move into director/producer mode. Speaking of, does anyone have a “Jesus” costume for Abby’s play? We need the whole thing – wig, beard, robes. Let me know.

I mentioned Theresa Rebeck’s book Free Fire Zone last week. If you are at all interested in the inner, evil workings of writing for theatre, TV and film, you should give it a read. She pretty much lays it all out and only vaguely hides whom she’s talking about. It’s a very interesting read, though I’ve been surprised to notice a number of typos and a couple of grammatical errors. I try not to be a douche about stuff like that, but come on. A company that is publishing a book ABOUT WRITING should make a little effort. Regardless, it’s a great read and enlightening too.

Back to flagellating the boss. (not a euphemism – it’s the title of my play)

and…exhale

I gave (mental) birth to a play today. It seemed as though it didn’t want to come out, but it really didn’t have a choice since we had our first rehearsal tonight. I don’t want to waste the actors’ time almost as much as I don’t want to waste the audience’s time. I couldn’t print out some half-baked bullshit and present it as a complete script. So I squeezed that bitch out. And now, post first rehearsal, I’m having some wine to nurse my mental stretch marks. Feels good.

You know that feeling you get right before you, uh, have the shits? That’s kind of the way my brain has felt for the past few days. I knew that something was coming, but I wasn’t sure when or how fast it would arrive. James and I went to a friend’s place near Navasota this weekend. He went to play disc golf and go fishing. I went for a break from life and because I pictured myself sitting on the deck out in the middle of nowhere, getting a lot of writing done. James reached his goal; I did not. I think I wrote two, maybe three, lines of dialogue the entire weekend. And that was with no internet to distract me, which I thought might be the key to the whole thing. Nope.

So that brings us to today, the first day of rehearsal. Planning ahead, I’d already taken the day off. I got on my computer this morning after a good breakfast and copious coffee. I wrote pretty much from 10AM until 5:30PM, at which point I had to email the script to Dennis so he could print it up for tonight’s rehearsal.

Rehearsal tonight went extremely well. We read through Abby’s play, which is very funny and touches me in a personal way, and then we read through mine. It’s always a good sign when the actors are laughing while reading, and that happened numerous times tonight. We also happen to have an A-team cast for this show, which was a stroke of luck and good timing.

We’ll have the dates/times very soon – the Houston Fringe Festival runs May 19-23rd in Houston at various locations throughout the city. Mark it on your calendar. I’ll post more details as I have them.

I haven’t finished a play since 2008, so this is a nice feeling. Why don’t I do this more often? It’s not like it takes a lot of time. Just a lot of stomach acid and angst. I’ve got both in spades.

[side note: I'm reading a book by Theresa Rebeck - Free Fire Zone - wherein she talks about "technique" writing versus "inspirational" writing. She talks about preferring to write "from a deeper, more unconscious source" but acknowledges that the nights she spent "slugging it out with uncooperative plays" - in other words, writing when she wasn't necessarily inspired or touched by the muse - have taught her that "if your technique is good enough, the difference between faking it and writing brilliantly from utter inspiration is very slim."

Which leads me to this - if we all sit around waiting for divine inspiration before we write a play, sing a song, craft a story, paint a picture, cook a meal, we're not going to get much done. Sometimes it's the act of making the thing happen, even when you don't feel like it or aren't spiritually moved to do so, that makes the magic come.]

Man, I’m full of shit. Good night.

no time for games, she’s full grown

I just deleted my myspace account. Man, typing that out makes me realize how stupid it sounds. I will always appreciate that site because using it is what made me start blogging back in 2005. I had around 750 entries on myspace (there are only 577 on this site, which means a couple hundred entries didn’t make it over here – probably for good reason). I’m sad to have lost the many comments on the old blog, but I just felt like it was time to do a little spring cleaning. Plus, I was logging in over there about once every three months. I didn’t want to leave all those entries just sitting there with no one to tend them.

Speaking of blog comments, since I’ve been posting a link to each new entry here as a status update on facebook, I’ve been getting a lot more comments. The only issue is that most of the comments are happening over on facebook. This often leads to some back and forth between me and the readers or just among the readers, which is fantastic. But those pithy lobs back and forth aren’t attached to these entries and instead are lost in the ether of facebook, never to be seen again. I guess I just need to deal with the fleeting nature of this form of communication. I’m happy to have people commenting, regardless of where it happens. So don’t stop doing what you’re doing.

Time for a new poll. See upper right.

Outcome of previous poll:
If the world as we know it were to end, would you be a survivor?
- 43% Yes, definitely.
- 30% No. And that’s fine with me.
- 21% The world will not end, at least in my lifetime.
- 4% What is wrong with you?