Saturday, March 27, 2010

Visible in the World

Selves-goes itself; myself it speaks and spells, Crying What I do is me: for that I came.
Gerard Manley Hopkins

My blogging has taken a hiatus lately, bowing to the powers of the muse. All of my creative energies of late have been channeled into my playwriting. This past week, I spent hours in solitude as I descended into memory and surrendered to the all consuming story that has been my artistic companion for over fifteen years.

How many ways are there to tell a story? If the past two weeks are any indication, I have found no fewer than six.

Six attempts at an opening of a story I want to get right.

A story that has moved from scrawling, raw journal entries, to memoir, to the form I know best. Drama.

Why it has taken me so long to get here is either a question for my therapist - or an admission that, as the poet, David Whyte says, is rooted in a writer's most terrifying question "what if I am not equal to the job?"

What if I can't do it? Then who would I be for having spent fifteen years wrestling with the story that has come to define me? At least in my own mind. This interior world, the carving out of who I am, is so closely connected to the process of writing this story that I stand now on the precipice of my very being. David Whyte describes this as making ourselves visible in the world.

For anyone who knows me, the notion that I am only now making myself visible in the world might come as a surprise. But that is what this feels like. It is a process of getting to the essence of who I am.

That I lived the story I am forging into art is fact. Indisputable.
Why I have had the need to transform it into anything, is mystery.

Over the past few weeks, I've come to ask myself if I haven't in some way been hiding behind this story. That by never finishing it, I have been able to hold on to something certain. In some ways, my grieving has been something to cling to maybe as security, and maybe as shield against the terrifying unknown. Maybe.

Or it could be as simple as this.
David Whyte, says in his poem, Coleman's Bed
Stay in this place until the current of the story is strong enough to float you out.

I've been in this place for over fifteen years. An alchemy of ideas deep within the realm of my imagination -

I come again, my brother, to find you.
I seek again to know you
I rise to the task of telling you.
My brother
My muse
whose life was silenced in a purple haze
like a siren call
urging me on
pushing me forward
to sing you

Maybe now the current really is strong enough.
Or maybe, I am.
But I want to get it right.

Because, brother, I love you.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Facing It

Melt down. Too much input. Too much output. Too many ways to communicate. Can't keep up. Twitter. Email. Texting. Blogging. And here's a confession. I don't even do Facebook! Remember when you looked a person in the eye? Now you look at the top of their head. People walk around, eyes cast down, not watching where they are going. Not looking at the surroundings. Last night we went to a restaurant and people were texting at the dinner table. Kids text each other from the front seat to the back seat of the car.

Where is all this leading?

We need an Emily Post for social media etiquette!

At my age, to remain relevant, I feel it is really important to keep up with the new media. If I don't, it would be very easy to become a dinosaur. But at the pace that things change these days, I could become extinct over night!

My husband found out that the daughter of my oldest friend is pregnant...because he read it on his "wall" on Facebook!

He sent me a text.

I emailed her.

Remember letters?

Remember phone calls?

Remember talking?

I just want to stay in the conversation.
It's just that there are so many conversations going on, it's a little overwhelming.

Friday, March 12, 2010


There they were - like old friends. There I was, sitting on the bed just like I'd done twenty years ago, watching a story unfold on television that eerily paralleled our own on Thirtysomething. Only this time, I knew the ending.

There were Michael and Elliot, struggling entrepreneurial partners in an advertising business facing the hard, cold realities of having to make payroll, pay the mortgage, make the lease on their office space, and generate sales in an unfriendly business climate. There they were, hitting up the bank for a loan. There they were, swallowing hard, stricken looks on their faces, as they announced lay offs to their employees. There they were, ashamed, swallowing their pride, facing financial failure as they desperately looked for a way out that included potential deals with a competitor.

I wanted to reach out to them through the television and tell them, "I know this feels like the end of the world." It did to us too.
They looked so young. They were. So were we. In en effort to buoy our spirits, friends would remind us of that - "You're young. You will rebound from this."

We did. Absolutely we did. "So," I thought, "will Michael and Elliot. They just don't know it yet."

But it still felt like the end of the world.

Money hell is one of the worst because we live in a world of dollars and cents. There is little mercy when you can't pay the mortgage. I stopped answering the phone. The mail made my stomach churn and my palms sweat. I let it pile up. Unopened.

There are few life boats for financial disasters. When the ship begins to sink, it's every man for himself. Predators await with promises of rescue. We bought a car that ended up costing us three times its value because of the high interest payments offered to high credit risk people like us.

There is the occasional helping hand to take the pressure off. A payment here. A debt forgiven there. An anonymous envelope with a hundred dollar bill in it to buy Christmas presents for the children. And we were blessed to have the solid support of family and friends, just like Michael and Elliott. We were young together and while our ship foundered early in our married lives, because of the loving community around us, our marriage did not. In spite of our circumstances, our children thrived. That was my one and only prayer. It was answered.

On the upside, I learned new skills. Like before it was sheik to bag one's own groceries, I bagged mine at the warehouse store, Food 4 Less. I learned to stretch a buck - buying cantaloupe because it is high in vitamins and could be eaten for breakfast, lunch or dinner. School supplies were purchased every year with the proceeds from summer yard sales. And pennies were rolled and kept in a coffee can, sent with the children on "hot lunch" day to buy their hot dog and chile. Much to their chagrin I've since been told. Many a gift came from Pic 'n Save.

But you know what? I'm glad my kids bought their hot lunch with rolled pennies. Because a "penny saved is a penny earned." In our case, it put food in their mouths. They may need to remember that lesson one day.

Yes, the business tanked. We barely held on to the house by our finger nails. It wasn't pretty. It was the ugliest thing I've ever been through.

I'm like somebody who lived through the depression. I don't believe in stock. In fact, stock is a joke as far as I'm concerned. We've been on the losing end of stock four times. My cousin is a stock broker and he encourages me to invest - in the latest down turn, so- called "blue chip" stocks plummeted and so he thought I should "buy low." The problem is, I've never had the good fortune of "selling high." From my shares in our privately held family yellow page business to the LA Times, the Chicago Tribune and the OC Register, there hasn't exactly been much to show for those promised "stock options."

I'm like the elderly grandmother who believes in one thing and one thing only when it comes to money. Cold hard cash. And with the banks as unstable as they've been, I'm doing some serious thinking about my mattress!

It's Season Two of Thirtysomething. Michael and Elliott have a long road ahead. They'll lose their business and go to work for their competitor just like we did. Michael's wife, Hope, will have another baby and they will struggle to pay the bills and to make their way.

The series will end long before our happy ending.

But I could write that script.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Starving Artist

A perfect day. Rain. A fire in the fireplace. Seventeen bean soup simmering on the stove. A new play in the works. Time to write it.

In my flannel nightgown.

Why have I denied myself this indulgence for so long? I love being holed up. Not having to go anywhere. Full absorption. Immersion into the creative process. Deeper. Deeper I go. Emerging only when absolutely necessary.

To stir the soup.

At fifty-one I am finally giving myself permission to be about my art. Not that I haven't been engaged in the creative process for all of my adult years. I have. But it has been about someone else's art. My job was to make my student's dreams come true. My job was to interpret and produce plays that someone else had written. My job was to critique other playwright's ideas on paper and give them voice on stage in developmental readings. At last, it's my turn. And I'm dead serious about it.

I don't remember ever being this hungry.

These last few years have been like an artistic fast. I've been bound to work other than my art. Devoid of creative fulfillment. I have been like fruit withering on a vine. Clinging too long to the branch. Over ripened. The season for picking seemingly long past.

It is only in my memoir workshop with some writers well into their eighties that I find genuine satisfaction. Not just because of the writing that comes out of it, but because I realize when I am with them, that withering is a choice. A choice they have not made. Ripened to perfection, they feed my creative soul and inspire me.

Hungry, I devour theatre like a starving refugee. I can't seem to get enough of it. But my focus now is on how the story of the play or musical is being told. I am putting myself through an intentional tutorial on dramatic story telling.

For so many years I've functioned as a director. Analyzing plays backwards and forwards. Striving for clarity. Moment to moment interpretation of the playwright's intent.

I am now thinking like a playwright. But all the years of directing and analyzing plays is working in me as I attempt to write my own. It feels like the most natural thing in the world.

I stand on fertile ground. There is a choice. The season for picking has come. No, I say, my pen, like sword warding off a dangerous dragon. No. I will not wither.