Sunday, November 29, 2009

Must Read for the Day (the year even)

Mead Hunter has it. FOR SHAWN-MARIE GARRETT: UPON EXITING THE AMERICAN THEATRE (LONG AFTER, IN FACT) by Matthew David Wilder.

I'm not going to pull any quotes because the satisfaction is in reading and letting it unfold.

I don't agree with everything. I still think it's possible to experience the sublime in the theater. It is rare, (I can count on one hand the number of sublime performances I'd seen before this year) and maybe that was not always the case. But this year, I've seen three performances that were and but no, they didn't all have much to do with text; yet each were unique and on the cusp of something that I'm still struggling to find words to describe.

But anyway, read.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Routine Maintenance

Watch out. Things are going to be moving and changing on the site. If you find that you've dropped off the blog roll - don't panic - I'm just adjusting the dials a bit and playing with different features. The blog roll isn't representative of all the blogs I actually read and in all honesty, I've contemplated dropping it entirely. But I'm currently on the fence about that (if you have strong opinions about it, feel free to leave a comment). In the meantime, consider the site underconstruction.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Deeper Wonders



Sex and literature are geographic. Which is why, for example, Ruthie bought Moby Dick in Venice, Italy. She had always read big books. Her paperback copy of Moby Dick measured 8" tall and 5 1/4" wide and an inch and quarter at the spine. There were 583 pages with approximately 64 words per inch or 83,072 words in toto. How's that for an unwritten life? The margins were 7/8" but varied occasionally. And what of James Joyce? She remembered standing in the Pacific Ocean in her favorite dress in February and water up to her neck with the waves crashing over her head and maybe it was hours before she walked calmly back to shore. It was not her goal to walk on water, but to be submerged. As a child, she took Baptism literally, hiding behind the pews while watching her loved ones die and become reborn in the blood of Christ. She bought her copy of Moby Dick in Venice, Italy, which is sinking by the way, and stayed in her hotel room during the day while her husband slept and they grew farther apart. She didn't think she could be unhappier. She was wrong.
American Progress, John Gast

"Hark ye yet again, the little lower layer. All visible objects, man, are but as pasteboard masks. But in each event- in the living act, the undoubted deed- there, some unknown but still reasoning thing puts forth the mouldings of its features from behind the unreasoning mask! How can the prisoner reach outside except by thrusting through the wall?" Ruthie drove through Georgia once on her way to Florida. There was a sign in the front yard of a big white house along the road. "He who despiseth the Lord shall be destroyed." Well. She had always read big books. She wanted to be submerged.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Dumb Puppy Character Quiz Wrap-Up

And just what was the point of the Character Quiz exercise? I'm sure there are many things you could learn from doing it, but here are my take-aways:
  1. Discovery and revelation of characters. I tried to answer the questions as fast as possible because I wanted impulsive answers that tap into my unconscious and contain an element of surprise. This is a great way to get around preconceived notions of character. The cherished childhood gift and what do you do in traffic questions were good prompts because they're specific and completely unrelated to anything to do with the play. Having the character describe their best attribute forced me to reduce the character to one word and was particularly insightful.
  2. Establish voice and/or play with voice. The exercise exposed which characters I have a stronger connection to. Some developed as a result of the exercise. It was challenging to write for the two characters who are deliberately obscure. Their struggle in the play is to remember or reconnect with who they are and if that isn't possible, to devise some satisfactory solution to the problem.
  3. Specificity. Title aside, this is not a play that pointedly critiques historical events or current political situations. That said, it's nice to know where base is and how characters are connected to their historical moment.

Monday, November 09, 2009

Dumb Puppy: Character Quiz #3

And now, I give you the third and final installment of the Dumb Puppy Character Quiz.

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The Head of Maria Antonia Josepha Johanna von Habsbrug-Lothringen, Archduchess of Austria and former Queen of France and Navarre, Prisoner No. 280

1. Q: Where do you live?
  • A: On a pink milk glass cake pedestal in a young man's bedroom in Lawton, OK.
2. Q: Describe a present you received as a child that really meant something to you?
  • A: A toy fashion doll sent me from France. We had dresses that matched. A formal French dress, blue and made of silk, with a long train.
3. Q: What do you do when you're stuck in traffic?
  • A: Traffic? This is not something of which I know.
4. Q: Describe the last time you cried.
  • A: Ce 16 Octobre 1793, à quatre heures et demie du matin.
5. Q: What do you think is your best attribute?
  • A: Dissimulation.
-------------------------
Gertrude Bell

1. Q: Where do you live?
  • A: Baghdad, in what will soon be the Kingdom of Iraq.
2. Q: Describe a present you received as a child that really meant something to you?
  • A: A leather bound volume of Green's History of the English People.
3. Q: What do you do when you're stuck in traffic?
  • A: It is a way of life. And one can always smoke.
4. Q: Describe the last time you cried.
  • A: It was after hearing that Dick Doughty-Wylie had been killed at Gallipoli. I came home to my sister Elsa's house in Hampstead and collapsed on the sofa in my room. It felt as if my body would not stand up to the weight of my grief.
5. Q: What do you think is your best attribute?
  • A: I believe in the future.
-------------------------
W or 0:

1. Q: Where do you live?
  • A: I'm here.
  • Q: Where did you grow up?
  • A: ---
  • Q: Can't you tell me where you grew up?
  • A: It's not immediately known.
2. Q: Describe a present you received as a child that really meant something to you.
  • A: There was...a...it was wrapped. Paper. Colored paper. Christmas. Is that it? Anticipation. Right? Of the thing inside. Oh. Right. A box of toy soldiers. It was a box of toy soldiers. That was me. It was me. No. That wasn't me. That was me?
3. Q: What do you do when you're stuck in traffic?
  • A: Shoot.
4. Q: Describe the last time you cried?
  • A: ---
  • Q: Was it last week?
  • A: ---
  • Q: Last month?
  • A: ---
  • Q: Last year?
  • A: I ask the questions. I make the rules.
5. Q: What do you think is your best attribute?
  • A: ---
  • Q: Can you name a quality that best defines you?
  • A: I'm here.
-------------------------
W or 0

1. Q: Where do you live?
  • A: Here is where I live. 24/7/365. Here.
  • Q: Where did you grow up?
  • A: ---
  • Q: Can't you tell me where you grew up?
  • A: Don't recall.
  • Q: That's hard to believe.
  • A: Is it?
2. Describe a present you received as a child that really meant something to you.
  • A: A box of toy soldiers. No. That wasn't me. Was that me? I don't recall.
3. Q: What do you do when you're stuck in traffic?
  • A. Shoot.
4. Q: Describe the last time you cried?
  • A: ---
  • Q: Do you recall the last time you cried?
  • A: I do not.
5. Q: What do you think is your best attribute?
  • A: Here. Pick a card. Any card.

Dumb Puppy: Character Quiz #2

Here's the next group of characters who took the Character quiz. After this set, there's one more group of major characters and I'll be done with this little exercise. It's been a very helpful warm-up.

-------------------------
Roy Cargo

1. Q: Where do you live?
  • A: Tomorrowland. Yesteryear. I live in Goodbye.
2. Q: Describe a present you received as a child that really meant something to you?
  • A: Silver Christmas tree. Artificial. And Stand. Tree full-sized tree. Yep yep yep that's right. Not as nice as new modern ones no no not as nice, but I enjoyed it for many years. Yep yep yep. Many many years of constant gratificational liquidity. Right right right. Yep! That's correct and approximate! Drop drop drop drops needles and needle needles like a real tree. Right right right. Needles. Easy they are to pick up with a vacuum. Bissel bissel hoover. Small volume of space. Empty of matter. Matter matter matter, hey matter, matter matter do - saawing matter! It do contract. Matter! Note: All interesting items have been spoken for and should be picked up soon.
3. Q: What do you do when you're stuck in traffic?
  • A: Perambulate about the weather. Open my box of dread. Sharp my grims. Oh yeah. Yes yes yes. That's when you'll see the most change. Most particular changes. 'Course it all depends on your medium. Yeah yeah Medium of Exchange, that's right.
4. Q: Describe the last time you cried.
  • A: Où sont les neiges d'antan? Each day a thousand roses brings. Sunt lacrimae rērum et mentem mortālia tangunt. Ubi sunt qui ante nos fuerunt? Sing that. Oh sing and let her laugh. oh my yes oh.
5. Q: What do you think is your best attribute?
  • A: My bike!
-------------------------
Adina Edgar Stark

1. Q: Where do you live?
  • A: ---
  • Q: Where are we?
  • A: Nusquam, Sector C
2. Q: Describe a present you received as a child that really meant something to you?
  • A: It was a little flat circle of wood with a handle on it. There were chickens - attached to a string, there was a ball on the end of it. You swung it around to make their heads go up and down. It looked like they were eating. My uncle made it for me. It made a soft clattering sound I liked.
3. Q: What do you do when you're stuck in traffic?
  • A: We're in lock down. No vehicular traffic. You've been warned.
4. Q: Describe the last time you cried.
  • A: Last night in my cell. I couldn't figure out what that black spot on the ceiling was.
5. Q: What do you think is your best attribute?
  • A: I can see the future.
-------------------------
Lady Kitty Alexander Suffering from Cancerous Ailment

1. Q: Where do you live?
  • A: With due respect to your person and much sincerity of purpose.
2. Q: Describe a present you received as a child that really meant something to you?
  • A: My mother gave me a rabbit fur muff. So soft and white and lined in satin. I felt like a princess.
3. Q: What do you do when you're stuck in traffic?
  • A: I have very dear need for assistance.
4. Q: Describe the last time you cried.
  • A: Yesterday when the soldiers came and took that poor woman away. They beat her. You should know that. After dark. If you stay- it won't matter who you are. Please. As one who is routinely so traumatized, I beg you to leave at curfew.
5. Q: What do you think is your best attribute?
  • A: My faith in God and my ability to endure.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Dumb Puppy: Character Quiz #1

Yesterday Karen Jeynes introduced a Character Quiz on the NaPlWriMo site. I had so much fun with it, I decided to do one for every character in Dumb Puppy. Here's the first four.

-------------------------

Scott Dempsey

1. Q: Where do you live?

  • A: Lawton, OK. Parent's house. Stay mostly in my bedroom. 'cept when I dream.

2. Q: Describe a present you received as a child that really meant something to you?

  • A: My dad helped me build a kite out of Christmas paper. My store bought one got snagged in a tree. We got it down, took it apart for the wood and used it to make another one. Took maybe a half hour to make it. Flew like a dream.

3. Q: What do you do when you're stuck in traffic?

  • A: Sweat it out. Longer you sit still, more chances you'll be targeted by someone with an I.E.D.

4. Q: Describe the last time you cried?

  • A: When I saw what was left of my face.

5. Q: What do you think is your best attribute?

  • A: You shittin' me?
  • ---
  • A: Ok. Then. Used to think it was my heart. My will. Survival is the greatest thing in the world. Boo-yah! Bullshit.

-------------------------

Mary Dempsey

1. Q: Where do you live?

  • A: Lawton, OK. It's a lovely town. I've lived here all my life. Oh it's changed. That's true. It's gotten bigger. Your big box stores have moved in. You used to know your neighbor. But still. Oh, I wouldn't want to live anywhere else.
  • Q: What do you think of the neighborhood lock-downs? The door to door?
  • A: Oh. Well. That's a small price to pay for freedom, I think.

2. Q: Describe a present you received as a child that really meant something to you?

  • A: My mother gave me a watch that a former beau had given her. It was silver with diamonds set around the crystal. I lost it at a high school dance when - well, I could never tell her. Wait- You mean when I was a child?

3. Q: What do you do when you're stuck in traffic?

  • A: Oh- I don't drive. But I pray for Will.

4. Q: Describe the last time you cried?

  • A: Oh. I...no. I have so many blessings.

5. Q: What do you think is your best attribute?

  • A: Oh. You know- I try to make the best out of every situation. People say I'm a good cook.

-------------------------

Will Dempsey

1. Q: Where do you live?

  • A: Lawton, OK.
  • Q: Do you like it?
  • A: Hmph. Like's never been part of my equation.

2. Q: Describe a present you received as a child that really meant something to you?

  • A: A baseball bat. My dad bought me after Curtis Riley beat me up and stole my ice cream cone.

3. Q: What do you do when you're stuck in traffic?

  • A: Whistle Dixie. That's still allowed, right?

4. Q: Describe the last time you cried?

  • A: ---
  • Q: Certainly you can think of one
  • A: Pardon me, but kiss my ass.

5. Q: What do you think is your best attribute?

  • A: My best feature?
  • Q: Yes.
  • A: Selective hearing. You met my wife. Heard how my son howls. Haven't ya?
-------------------------
Gameboy

1. Q: Where do you live?
  • A: Lawton, OK. Temporary.
2. Q: Describe a present you received as a child that really meant something to you?
  • A: My first video gaming system, ma'am. Hence my name. Follow? Favorite cartridge: The Legend of Zelda. Zeruda no Densetsu. I'm a lifelong player. See? (takes a DS out of his pocket.)
3. Q: What do you do when you're stuck in traffic?
  • A: All respect, Ma'am. But this Marine is never stuck.
4. Q: Describe the last time you cried?
  • A: When I was a baby. Ma'am. When I was a child. My first night on Parris Island.
5. Q: What do you think is your best attribute?
  • A: To assess the situation and do what needs to be done! Semper Fi!

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Happy Birthday Sam


I'll kill him! If I have to, I'll kill myself along with him. I'll crash into him. I'll crash the Packard right into him. What's he look like? WHAT'S HE LOOK LIKE? I'll find him. Then I'll find that punk who sold me that phony desert land. I'll track them all down. Every last one of them. Your mother too. I'll track her down and shoot them in their bed. In their hotel bed. I'll splatter their brains all over the vibrating bed. I'll drag him into the lobby and slit his throat. I was in the war. I know how to kill. I was over there. I know how to do it. I've done it before. It's no big deal. You just make an adjustment. You convince yourself it's all right. That's all. That's easy. You just slaughter them. Easy. HE'S WITH MY WIFE! THAT'S ILLEGAL! - Curse of the Starving Class

We’re being sold a brand new idea of patriotism. It never occurred to me that patriotism had to be advertised. Patriotism is something you deeply felt. You didn’t have to wear it on your lapel or show it in your window or on a bumper sticker. That kind of patriotism does not appeal to me at all. - SAM SHEPARD, The Village Voice, Nov. 12, 2004

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

I Am In Here



Recently I bought a copy of The Best American Essays 2007. It's a copy signed by it's editor: David Foster Wallace. I've never bought a book signed after the fact: either signed when I was not in the presence of the writer or obtained after the writer was no longer present. But inexplicably, I've found myself wanting a copy of something he'd written - with his signature - and found a little corner of the web where the desired signature wasn't selling for $300 to $1000. In fact, there was no mark up at all. That corner vanished about a week later.

So anyway, I bought my copy and opened it to the title page and there it is written in blue ink: David Foster Wallace. It kind of freaks me out. My heart jumps a little every time I turn to that page. But that's not even the best part. The best part is his introduction: Deciderization 2007 - a Special Report. You can read it here. Do the clicky clicky now and just read it. Read it. (pdf versions which are more readable than in html available here.)

I happen to think it's the most brilliant and beautiful thing written in like 9 years. It brought me heartstopping joy and a relief of sorts like nothing else I've read. If I had owned a copy of this essay in 2007, my general outlook on life and art (especially theater) would perhaps be/have been less dark and grim and despairing (I didn't/don't despair for theater, it's life I'm talking about). Then again, if I had felt better about things I probably wouldn't feel the need to write this play called Dumb Puppy.

It's not just the intro that does it. Even better, oh better still, is his editing or, as DFW puts it, his deciderization of which essays from 2006 to include. The content itself combined with his intro make this little volume one of the most direct and public and, since it's in print, lasting, responses by an American artist to the "Post-911" U.S. and its myriad of considerations and conundrums and outrages that I've seen. It is, for lack of a better descriptor: political. I didn't think it could actually be done anymore. But, there it is - a real statement - intelligent, rational, opinionated and, of the moment, political. And now, beyond that, here really is the best part of all, the part that makes me calm and steady and feeling that not only was there at least one person who might have shared my reality of that time, but here also is someone who was able to compose a clear, individual response to it. And not only that, but to make this statement and inhabit this world as an adult. An adult.

What do I mean by that exactly? Gosh. What does it mean to be an adult? Why do I equate the ability to perceive and parse reality as belonging strictly to adults. I guess I'm talking about a level of maturity where one can see things for what they are and respond to them with some real intelligence and bite as opposed to ironic, cynical remove which more and more seems like the realm of extended adolescence, and which wore thin for me these past 9 years*. I like John Stewart as much as anyone (kind of), but after awhile, watching him and listening to others talk about getting their news from his show just made me feel sad and diminished. I guess because, unlike the comedy of Bill Hicks, which had an underlying or at times an over-riding sense of outrage, this sort of Weekend Update/Saturday Night Live humor now just seemed/seems like an impotent response to what for me was/is a very disturbing reality.**

*Or am I deluding myself? Is this what adulthood and maturity have been reduced to? Or what they've always been?

** That is not to compare Bill Hicks with either Saturday Night Live or John Stewart.