Monday, February 27, 2006

Mutiny against the Playwright

I’ve been fighting with my characters all weekend.

We’ve been throwing subtext at each other wildly, and now, over-the-top speeches, curse-words, and far too many clichés have landed all over my office. What a mess!

“Don’t you dare make me pregnant!” one of my characters threatens indignantly, “You know me better than that! I wouldn’t sleep around without protection! Besides, that’s so lame, so ‘Friends,’ so desperate!”

She’s right. I am desperate. I was flowing along smoothly, but my eyes were bent so inwardly that I didn’t look up till—bam!—I hit a dam right in front of me.

“Oh, I saw that coming,” one of my smarty-pants characters smirks at me, “Any dope coulda seen that. Clear from the start.”

Jeez, you just don’t get any respect from your characters, these days.

“How long are we going wait here?” inquires another character. “I have depth, you know, and integrity,” he informs me, “I can’t possibly sit around like this, doing nothing. Let me pray, or pace, or at least, take a pee, for godsakes!”

Yeah. They all want their memorable “moment.” They all want to be “stars.” Characters can be so damn demanding.

“Got a sec?” asks another character awkwardly, “Like, what am I doing with this knife? Cause I’m supposed to be funny, right? So why’d you stick me with this knife? It’s too big for cutting celery—not that I mind cutting celery, if you need celery cut — but this isn’t a celery knife. And I don’t wanna hurt anybody, I swear, cause I’m no psycho-creep. I’m just comic relief.”

“You’re probably going to stab my baby,” says the first character wryly.

No, there’s no baby! And that knife—here, hand it over to me carefully, that’s right, nice and slow, and I’ll shut it back in the drawer. See. No knife. No baby. Nothing.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Dear Wendy Wasserstein



Dear Wendy,

Sorry for not writing sooner. This note is long overdue.

It's been years since I met you in the corner of that crowded bookstore where the skinny Drama section stooped between Entertainment and Art. Actually, it was more of a shelf than a full-scale section, but that's where we met. You and I. You were one of only a few female playwrights sitting there.

I didn't know girls wrote plays.

You see, in school, they taught O'Neill, Brecht, Ibsen — Oh, I know a joke about Ibsen! They say, if he’d written A Doll’s House today, that play would be no more than a one-act, cause no modern Nora would stick around with that hubby of hers for a full-length — no way! She'd slam her way out of that manuscript long before intermission.

And I think Nora's early liberation is due to you, women like you, Wendy.

When I was young and interviewed with a commercial theatre, the artistic director asked me who my favorite playwright was. Marsha Norman, I answered, cause 'Night Mother is dark, and your Heidi Chronicles is much lighter, and I wanted to be dark, cause I was young and everybody was wearing black.

A few years later, I needed a laugh, and there you were with all your wit, just waiting for me. Who knew feminists could have such a sense of humor? Cause feminism - that's serious stuff. But you were funny and friendly. You didn't have to be serious to make a point. You knew that long before I did.

And your name, Wendy, has turned out to be lucky for me. Wendy's the name of the woman who mentored me. And another Wendy's directed several fledgling scripts of mine. Overall, "Wendy" has been good to me.

Well, I don't want to gush on and on, cause you probably get a lot of that. I know you weren't the first female playwright to win the Pulitzer, but for me, Wendy, you were the first who made it seem accessible, not stuffy, not shut-up in some literary file, but living and laughing out loud in the world.

And that's how I'll remember you.

Thanks.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Brits Capture Oklahoma! and other Belated News

When I confess that I fancy Hugh Jackman, you look at me strangely. You say, "Huh? You and Wolverine? Nooo!"

That's when I tell you about the 1999 London Stage Revival of Rodgers and Hammerstein's Oklahoma. Hugh plays Curly, the heterosexual cowboy. (Yep, that's right, a few of 'em are hetero.)

Now I hear you muttering: "Oklahoma is a corny musical about two shallow lovers who create chaos cause they're too silly, snotty and snooty to go on a simple date!"

I nod, because I thought so, too, after watching the 1950s American-made version with Gordon MacRae and Shirley Jones.

I hated that Curly! He was a slick stick, a bland bore, and far too fancy-pants clean to be a cowboy! (And Laurey was such a hissy-priss, and Jud, no more than a cartoon-caricature.)


But the Brit version (directed by Trevor Nunn) captures Oklahoma! better than we Americans did: the clash between farmers and cowboys: desire to grow vs. desire to graze; desire to build vs. desire to roam; a conflict over territory and lifestyle among poor Americans.

Sure, this Oklahoma! still mixes plenty of frivolity amidst the drama. Hey, it's a Musical, after all! Curly's still foolhardy and Laurey (Josefina Gabrielle) still stubborn, but when confronted with Jud, they're offered a chance to mature and they take it. (The main actors also perform the full ballet.)

Jud, played with great depth and darkness by Shuler Hensley, may be the most exciting revelation. He gives Oklahoma! something I never knew it had: a real plot.

So, thanks, Trevor, for filming this production, because I wouldn't have thought to look for Oklahoma! in London.


More Recommendations:

If you're a blogging woman and would like to join a community of blogging women, I recommend checking out www.BlogHer.org.

If you're still pondering burning a diary or two, I recommend reading Holly's journaling entry at Self-Portrait as.

If you believe Emily Dickinson was completely content to write for herself alone, I recommend watching The Belle of Amherst starring Julie Harris.


If you think Gilmore Girls is "Girls Only," I recommend viewing the last few minutes of Friday Night's Alright for Fighting (this season's 13th episode). Sure, GG's often shaky when it comes to plot (I hate the soap-opera Luke-discovers-daughter storyline! Golly, does he have a twin brother, too, longing for a reunion?!).


But at the end of Friday Night's Alright for Fighting, all focus returns to the family core, where GG is at its best. For a few minutes, innovative blocking, creative jump cuts, and documentary-style camera work all reinforce the ultra-sharp dialogue and complicated relations between three generations of family.

I leave you with a few words from Lorelai (spoken during this sequence): "Thank you! And ... SCENE."

(Enjoy your weekend.)

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

V-Day

Last night, Wolfboy adopted four children.

He did it on National TV, too, making one of those Surprise-Surprise! Grand Gestures on a talk show hosted by Stockard Channing.

Joey (Matt LeBlanc), another guest on the show, applauded Wolfboy for his syrupy-sentimental act, and the whole audience cheered and wept in an impressive display of emotion.

As you can imagine, I was mighty peeved.

First, I didn’t specially want kids that day. Second, I didn’t like the looks of these particular children. They had the bodies of babies, but huge heads with Evil grins, but Wolfboy doesn’t notice Evil like I do.

Since we had no available bedroom, Wolfboy stuck all four kids in the bathroom, which distressed me considerably, since I couldn’t brush my teeth that night or take a shower the next morning. When I cracked open the door out of curiosity, I was met by four sets of glaring, gaping eyes, and that was more than I could bear.

I asked Wolfboy to return the children, but he claimed they were nonrefundable, and when I dialed my parents for a temporary place to stay, an expressionless man with a generic gray face, lifted the phone away.

So I ran, as one does in dreams. I ran through a dim, desolate tunnel with Generic-Man chasing after me with a long, pointy needle.

It’ll ruin the publicity stunt if you abandon the children – a whisper fell into my ear - Better to die accidentally. Tragedy is good for ratings.

I woke.

Wolfboy, rising from the bed, smiled too innocently at me: “Happy Valentine’s Day.”

I seethed.

Such is the power of dreams.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Burning Diaries

Diaries are meant to be burnt.

So said my stoic grandmother. Why would you want to reread all those silly, petty feelings you had when you were ten?

I was ten or eleven or twelve when Grandma dispassionately mentioned that she had turned all her diaries into ashes. What's important to you now (every childish dream, every girlish desire), she seemed to insist, will seem foolish or frivolous in the future.

Grandma wasn't a particularly warm woman, and on this day, I found her especially hard. How can she possible think my precious daily diary will ever mean nothing to me? I don't want to grow up, ever!, if that’s the case.

I also felt cheated. Someone, at some time, had informed me that Grandma was not always an Old Woman, but I couldn't imagine her as young. I was absolutely convinced that she had been born old, ripe, white-haired. (How she came out of a womb, I never knew.)

But if Grandma had held onto her diaries, I could have read the girl she was. I might even have come to believe she once had been a child like me, but without any evidence, I couldn't see Grandma as anyone but Grandma.

Grandma has been dead now, several years, and recently, I started to see some sense in her words to me. I've even been tempted to light a flame to one of my teen diaries. But I'm torn...

Are certain periods of our lives best extinguished completely? Does that free us from an unhappy memory? Is Grandma right after all? I'm a Woman now. That Girl is gone. Should I let her rest in peace?

Or do burnt-diaries leave a hole in our life's bookcase? Or worse, a vulnerability that we might forget our history, and even recreate our own story to please ourselves (in lieu of honesty).

I haven't been closely following the saga of Frey's A Million Little Pieces, but I think, if I were ever to write a memoir, I had better keep all my diaries, because I would be sorely tempted to skip over the ugly bits.

Still...I sure would like to watch those pages burn.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

When is a Story a Story or a Poem a Poem?

I'm posting the poem below due to a discussion stirred by the previous post on Emily Dickinson.

In preface, I will note that, at times, I have glanced at my discarded manuscripts with dismay. I have felt sorrow that my letters, words, sentences never grew to live a full and satisfying life. But I came to consider them from another angle. I remembered the immense pleasure I took in creating the now-discarded characters, and how they had been intimate and interesting companions to me, often diverting me with their (yes, unfinished) stories.

However, Ursula Le Guin writes: "The unread story is not a story; it is little black marks on wood pulp. The reader, reading it, makes it live: a live thing, a story."

I wonder - is it possible for the Writer, herself, to be the Reader who breathes life into her own story? Or must stories be shared in order to grow beyond "little black marks."

This following poem is not an answer, but another examination of the relationship between the writer and her writing.

Sometimes the words are so close I am
more who I am when I'm down on paper
than anywhere else as if my life were
practicing for the real me I become
unbuttoned from the anecdotal and
unnecessary and unpressed down
to the figure of the poem, line by line,
the real text a child could understand.
Why do I get confused living it through?
Those of you, lost and yearning to be free,
who hear these words, take heart from me.
I was once in as many drafts as you.
But briefly, essentially, here I am...
Who touches this poem touches a woman.


By Julia Alvarez

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

If Emily Dickinson had a Blog...

If Emily Dickinson had a blog...

If after six months (or one year, five years, ten years), she realized that her blog attracted no readers (or one reader, five readers, ten readers), would she continue to blog her poems?

Monday, February 06, 2006

Meme: The Aftermath

First, let me say, I truly admire the immense courage it must have taken for all of you to confide your innermost secrets...

Holly has confessed that one of her favorite toys is her own—but no!—I can say no more here. This is a PG-rated blog, after all, so you must read her meme to grasp the picture fully. And if you sense that you suffer from multiple personalities, she may empathize with you, since she has tagged one of hers for this meme! (Also, Holly has added a fantastic category: “Five Things That Scare You,” and I plan to pester her about one of her scary-things.)

ActonBell has pluckily admitted to wearing a “size 3, wild Bongo pencil skirt.” This is truly a testimony to the fashion-gaffe that all women tragically suffer at some point in our lives. And I do believe ActonBell is one of the most honest among us in listing “Happy Birthday” as lyrics she recalls, because if you are anything like me, I’ll sing along with a song for years only to discover (upon actually reading the lyrics) that I have been singing the wrong words entirely.

The Poodle’s Friend’s deep dark secret is one which, I’m imagine, we can all identify. She bravely admits to her sticker-collecting phase. (For me, it was clay marbles.) She also wears a sexy pair of glasses which might be banned from this blog. And she has a stuffed dog named “Mr. Roger” – not to be confused with Mr. Rogers. But this begs the question: is Mr. Roger The Poodle’s Friend’s Poodle?

Golgotha_Tramp has boldly owned up to the fact that one of her bad habits is also one of her favorite things to do, which makes such perfect sense that, of course, I never thought of it myself! But Golgotha’s meme has left me with more questions than answers: Is a “romper” the same thing as a “jumper?” And what is a “Puffalump?”

As a result of reading your memes, I have come to the conclusion that the world would be a much better place if we were all millionaires. Holly would give money more often and more generously to causes she supports; ActonBell would also contribute to her pet causes; The Poodle’s Friend would buy her school and make it decent; and Golgotha_Tramp would work for an animal shelter. All highly admirable.

However, if the million-dollar decision was mine to make, who would receive this grand money? I’m sorry to say that my decision would not at all be difficult to make. I would—no, I must—award the million to The Poodle’s Friend who would “Produce a Buffy feature film with Sarah Michelle Gellar.” Oh, I can’t wait!

On the other hand, without the million, I would be just as pleased to hear Holly and The Poodle’s Friend sing lyrics from Buffy’s “Once More with Feeling” Soundtrack whilst ActonBell and Golgotha_Tramp are toasting marshmallows (or do you both prefer them un-toasted?) And hopefully, MysticGypsy, Fancy Pancakes, Cristina, Panacea, and all other dear friends and sweet visitors would be able to join us.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

5 Things Meme

Yes, this is my very first "Meme" - thanks to Golgotha. I'm not particularly precise at following rules, but I'll give them to you anyway...

Instructions: Remove the blog in the top spot from the following list and bump everyone up one place. Then add your blog to the bottom slot, like so.

1) Seeking Solace
2) Kiss My Mike
3) Ultimate Writer
4) Golgotha_Tramp
5) FrankenGirl

Next select five people to tag:
1) Fancy Pancakes
2) ActonBell (aka Happy Trails)
3) Holly (aka Self Portrait as)
4) Cristina (aka Battle of Life)
5) Poodle's Friend

What were you doing 10 years ago?

Explaining to my mom that I don't cook

What were you doing 1 year ago?

Explaining to my mom that I STILL don't cook

Five snacks you enjoy:

1) Phish Food® (Ben & Jerry's)
2) Cherry Garcia® (Ben & Jerry's)
3) Luna Clif Bars (Nutz over Chocolate)
4) Pirates' Booty (I Love Trader Joes!)
5) Whipped cream to go with my ice cream :)

Five songs to which you know all the lyrics:

1) Buffy The Vampire Slayer Theme (Nerf Herder) - Yeah, I know, there aren't any lyrics (which is precisely why they're so easy to remember!)
2) The Proposal (Jane Eyre: The Musical) - Hmm, well, I remember the title, anyway.
3) Empty Chairs at Empty Tables (Les Mis) - My dog really used to love this song
4) Here With Me (Dido) - Yes, I actually watched the first season of Roswell ;)
5) Ice Cream (on the album Fumbling Towards Ecstasy by Sarah McLachlan) Did I mention that I really like Ice Cream?

Five things you would do if you were a millionaire:

1) Freak out
2) Get a really good accountant
3) Get an unlisted number
4) Donate to public radio, public television, animal shelters, women's shelters, homeless shelters... (yeah, you get the picture)
5) Start a writer's colony

Five bad habits:

1) Falling in love with actors who make my dialogue actually sound bearable on stage
2) Shouting at actors on the television screen when they behave out of character
3) Acting like an Assistant Director instead of a Playwright during
Rehearsals
4) Writing nasty notes to Samuel French who doesn't publish enough women (myself included!), but has published my male friends more than once! (Okay, I don't actually send these nasty notes.)
5) Acting far too silly and also, far too serious

Five things you like doing:

1) Visiting Pemberly
2) Walking through Avonlea
3) Spying on Thornfield
4) Attending black-box and fringe theatre
5) Attending folk concerts (particularly the Baird Sisters!)

Five things you would never wear again:

1) pantyhose
2) heels
3) anything pastel
4) anything with ruffles
5) anything my mom really likes on me

Five favorite toys: (subject to change daily)

1) Jane Eyre (DVD, Musical CD, Novel)
2) Buffy the Vampire Slayer DVDs
3) The Vicar of Dibley DVDs
4) Ursula LeGuin's The Left Hand of Darkness (and my entire shelf of books)
5) Really cheap spiral-bound notebooks and pens that don't bleed

That's all folks!

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Harriet Potter vs. Harry Potter

A few years ago, I wrote a draft of a novel called: Harriet Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stick, but my editor asked me to make a few changes. First and foremost, she wanted me to change "Harriet" to "Harry."

She argued:

Girls will “read boys,” but boys still don’t “read girls.” And therefore, Harriet cannot garner as vast an audience as Harry could.

When I remained stubborn, she emphasized:

A female writing about a female will be automatically classified as “chick-lit,” and you will be essentially writing-off male readership entirely. (There was an attempt at “lad-lit,” by the way, but it never found an audience.)

Still, when I wouldn’t bend on the issue, she reminded me of C. S. Lewis’ dictum:

"To tell how odd things struck odd people is to have an oddity too much."

“Harriet Potter,” she explained, would be too odd for an audience to stomach. You see, Dorothy (in Oz) and Alice (in Wonderland) are really good-little-girls, not leadership-types who lead armies or make mischievous magic. No one would be able to identify with Harriet, she insisted, while everyone would adore a boys-will-be-boys Harry.


Well, by now, I admit, I was wavering. Did I really want to go against such a famous dictum by such a renown author? But Lewis lived in different times, didn’t he? Surely, today, it cannot be so very odd for an impish girl to lead the way in an odd land?

However, before I could make up my mind on the matter, an unknown writer, somebody named J.K. Rowling, came out with Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. (Yes, agreed, stone is much better than stick.)

Despite the fact that J.K. Rowling claims she wrote Harry Potter for her own daughter, she has placed a boy at the helm of the story. Why?

If she had chosen “Harriet” instead of “Harry,” would the series have changed dramatically? If she had called herself “Joanne” instead of J.K., would she be the richest woman in England? Or would she be working part-time in a bookstore to support her artistic aspirations?