June 25, 2010. I was possessed today, as I randomly am, to clean the holy hell out of my immediate world. Pure gutting. Carnage. Well, carnage in reverse. But if you were a piece of garbage in my house today, it was your apocalypse, and I hope you prayed. Sometimes things just have to be put in order, and today was one of those days. (As an interesting side note, I discovered that once an arachnophobe like myself sees a bulbous, spindly spider under his bed while he cleans, suddenly everything in the world becomes bulbous and spindly and begins to creep and crawl of its own volition. Try it out.) I came across little items and notes to myself and trinkets and doodads and, uh, hoolimagoos that I had completely forgotten about – including several ideas for stories and plays, bits of dialogue, et cetera, that I had completely forgotten about. They’re all brilliant, and they will make me a million billion dollars, because that’s what playwrights do, primarily. Make money. We’re savvy that way.
I did not start cleaning out of civic duty: I am intentionally not writing today, nor will I write tomorrow or Sunday. I’m not good at not-writing. In fact, I am very bad at it. But I have a new idea, and I don’t want to start writing it too early. Instead, I’m going to let the thing that’s welling up inside me continue to well. I know what The New Thing is going to sound like, feel like, look like, and smell like, but I’m not entirely sure what it is. So we’ll have to see.
Have you heard of a poet named Christine Garren? She taught an intro to poetry class at UNC-G that was transformative for me many years ago, and while I was in her class her bookAfterworld came out. I recommend it highly. I especially love this poem of hers, called “The Rescue”:
The missing boy was found in a clearing of the woods
surrounded by some wolves as if he were on fire.
How did he speak among the wolves, for hours, as he did?
Singing for his mother, he became as natural as the animal.
After school he’d strayed from a game of field grenades,
but the wolves were not unkind when they heard him sing.
His mother came and hurried with him home.
His father ran ahead and beat a path of fear.
Over his mother’s woolen shoulder, he saw their coats of Spanish moss
and said: Go on; sweet wolves, when I pray awake tonight I will
pray to you.
This poem is one of a handful I have accidentally memorized. Didn’t set out to do it – just realized that I suddenly knew it.
I am currently obsessing about The National’s latest album,High Violet, in particular the song “Conversation 16.” One of the great talents a writer can have, I think – particularly if the writer tends toward more serious or even (gasp) unhappy material – is to be able to write about it in a way that does something entirely else with it. Makes it funny or clever, even if the heart of the line is fundamentally tragic. “Conversation 16” contains this line:
I’m a confident liar
Have my head in the oven
So you’ll know where I’ll be
Everything about this line kills me. For 15 years now I have gotten into the same conversation with people who don’t like Leonard Cohen because he “depresses them.” There are very few Leonard Cohen songs that do not contain at least a modicum of humor, and it is that humor that buoys his art. (But I digress. I could talk about Leonard Cohen forever. In some universe, I’m doing just that.)
Last bit: today at rehearsal for The Complete History of America (abridged), I looked around and saw that my cast mates and I were demonstrating – nay, performing with utopian presence – the following talents: unicycle-riding, accordion-guitar-piano-playing, juggling, a grab bag of accents, gymnastic tumbles and other semi-athletic miscellany, giant-Lincoln-bunraku-puppetry, and I realized … a theatre stage is the only place in the world that a bunch of geeks like my beloved castmates and I could possibly imagine ourselves to be cool. Or even useful, to be honest. And I think I’m okay with that.
This is a snapshot of the Virginia Stage Company, taken from up high on a beer-and-tequila-fueled midnight tour (thanks Julie):