Wednesday, May 31, 2017

I feel like the internet is not really working.

I left a Facebook group today UK Playwrights Forum. I left with a flourish of grey that usually I condemn as flouncing.

I think on-line communities are immutably tribal or narcissistic and I'm worried about it. This whole internet thing isn't a very good forum for speech. This is what happened:  I write plays and before that I was a lawyer. The process of becoming a lawyer involved large amounts of socializing, time spent learning the profession by observing others in the profession and not only what the others did,  what kind of people they were.

I didn't really do this after my first play Baby Love Time, I wrote plays by myself. I thought until today that I could use more socialization. I used to have a wonderful time in the 00s: there was an active and diligently-managed playwright's forum on stageplays.com. People disagreed and argued, but 90% of the posts and discussions were about helping each other in the immediate and difficult challenge of writing a play.

So I joined UK Playwrights Forum to find that support and that socialization. I made two posts. The first was from a Canadian theatre company giving advice on being your own dramaturg. That was met with a storm of criticism where self-righteous, insecure dramaturgs belittled the uselessness of the exercise of being your own dramaturg. So that was fun. It ended with dueling production credits.

I drew back, noticed that most of the posts were boring self-promotion but then recently got a FB memory of an article begging actors to scour scripts for clues about their characters and to memorize the script on the page. I posted it. Cue outrage from people who say that this is the job of the director.

It was the nasty orthodoxy and the insecurity in the subtext of the comments that annoyed me far more than the actual comments themselves. It really showed people trying to prove their worth as a playwright by denigrating the observations made by others. It was that simple and that sad.  Free speech is really shrinking all over. What is replacing it is this shrill orthodoxy. I see it in politics, I saw it on the FB group I left, I see it horribly taking shape on University campuses. The shrill orthodoxy is grounded in insecurity and fear. Such are our times. The internet does not disperse this insecurity and fear, it fosters it.

Playwrights of all people should know that in the end there is only this moment and a person is speaking to a person, a person with a rich backstory probably beyond your imagination, a person with conflicts and challenges that may well exceed your own. If you are only shouting them down, think how much you miss out on. This is why playwrighting I unfortunately concluded recently does involve being kindhearted as well as honest. To others and to yourself. So off to another place.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Enchilada Reading of the Treason Play

 So I decided I was going to run this reading the way that I wanted to run the reading. Seventeen years of being a playwright and a lawyer have led me to conclude that law as a profession really rewards fundamental mistrust of every person, but being an artist requires finding true connections with people and being a playwright requires being very self-aware. So all this stuff has to go down about love and trust. Ack! A playwright has to be self-aware about her unconscious motivations and constantly seeking to remedy her own blindnesses.  That process of bearing knowledge of your own weakness requires love and support, of yourself and of others.  So you must give love and support. Francesca Reid, who was my beloved Joan, Lady of Wales in the reading said it last night over enchiladas: I am a professional human being.

So one thing I have noticed is that my core brain doesn't really distinguish between religions, sovereigns and corporations. I went to church the same way I went to court the same way I go to the theatre now. Looking for truth. Now I write plays and I look for the truth of human relationships and it's good, actually, I think, that I have a lot of models for getting at the truth - the Christian years, the lawyer years, the corporate years, the expat experience. The model I have now involves me staying calm. This requires alcohol and good Mexican food. I don't trust people to make good Mexican food in the Uk so I have to make it myself.

My experiences with Bill Clinton Hercules, Kerching and Wedding at Cana taught me that a reading with actors pushes a play forward in clear ways.  But it's dangerous to expose an early draft. It's not really dangerous beyond the dangerous and frightening feelings of vulnerability that accompany honesty. But that shit stings, so I opened the evening with guacamole and Prosecco and sincere thanks that the actors I had were good people, were kind people, and were shit-hot actors. The French accent that Nora Silk created for Isabella was mesmerizing, and the contrast between Rachel's Oxbridge enunciation and the troubled brogue of Joan's Welsh accent was heartbreaking (that was Francesca again).  Robert Fitzwalter, the baron, was played by Sam Donnelly. This guy is gorgeous and bearded and a synthesis of all that is good in Jude Law and Tom Hardy. I fear he will be a film star before this play gets a big production. And Guy Masterson was a revelation as Stephen Langton. You have to hand it to Masterson. He can really deliver an authoritative presence, even on an orange folding chair in my kitchen after chicken mole enchiladas.

My rules for the reading were that I had to have fun, I had to let myself have fun, I had to be the real me, and so we had it at my house so I could see my kids, and I invited my new friend Pippin who also is a Dartmouth medievalist and I invited this wonderful young director Richard McNally and he read the stage directions. My house was full of love and respect last night.

I basically ran the reading like a dinner party at my house with a reading tacked on to the end. The reading was a gift to me, the chance to hear the words and to know --in the several moments that my heart was singing --that I had written a line we could keep.

I used Dona Maria Mole base but it still took me forever to make the Mole sauce. But Mole is the best. It is good for establishing those true connections. True also for a decent guacamole and some quesadillas with loads of fresh jalapeno studding the melted cheddar. Enchilada Readings are definitely a new working model.

The flag below is the flag of St. Edmund. It was on St. Edmund's Day that the secret meeting to create the Magna Carta was held. Hidden in plain sight in the middle of a festival. A meeting attended at risk of execution for treason. A risk that was much, much higher for women. Anyway, spoiler alert, in the play the UK has already broken apart and Ireland has united and Scotland has left and so there's only Wales left, and England has decided to shower a little attention on her. In need of a new flag, a group arises who says St. George's flag is associated with violent racism, and so St. Edmund's flag should be adopted. Especially as the dragon is a nod to the Welsh.


Tuesday, May 2, 2017

true story 1: the magic shop

George Street, St. Augustine, Florida, 2017. The inside was painted black with a tiny stage and hot despite two ceiling fans and two anemic portable air conditioners. We had bought the jumping lights, multiplying red sponges and a trick deck for my son when he was ten.  He is now thirteen; in the slanting light of adolescence, the dusk of his childhood. We found the magic shop again just a few weeks ago.

We went looking for it to buy a flaming wallet, a purchase my husband had forgone on our first visit - a choice he bitterly regretted.  He couldn't have been more eager to part with $70 when he found out they were still available. Unfortunately he got very good at the trick very quickly. It really turns into a fireball.

While we were paying for the wallet we spoke to the magician, mid thirties with puppy dog brown eyes. He remembered us from two years before. He had long hair then, and when he showed tricks to the customers he used the stage and he was fine. But lately he hadn't been fine. Suddenly he was telling us about not being fine and said that he always wanted to visit England but he was too scared to get on a plane, fear of flying and what could he do about that.

In an intensely American way at a magic shop he put his cards on the table, saying the truest desires of his heart, inspiring in the listening humans a similar unguarded heart.  He was doing something that -for British people- is much scarier than flying. He was exposing an unguarded heart.  He only had a few seconds with us at the till. The walls and traps we erect as protection are very time-consuming.  In Britain you have to talk about the weather for, well, fifteen years and counting.

I didn't really reply other than I couldn't keep my eyes off him.  He had got to the heart of the matter in fifteen seconds. I am older now and more careful in my advice. What the hell do I know anyway?  We did not give answers and my kids were already outside the store jonesing for ice cream so it was just me and R looking at him, but in my own slanting light I think maybe that is an answer, that all these stupid words are not at all the magic.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Being a Lake by Robert Wrigley

He has never dreamed of being a lake
in the high mountains, and now he wonders why.
Surely there could be no better, in the way
of dreamy aspirations to be clear and cold
ad swum through by trout. To allow the sunlight
far into your depths, to have depths no one
will ever visit. To be ceilinged by ice
and many feet of snow in winter, to shine pure blue
into the pure blue of the sky, to show the stars
the stars, to be drunk by wild animals
And to admit an occasional human,
who, because of the memory of having been there,
might dream of being there. Being there.
Not a visitor but a dreamer, dreaming
this very lake is what he's always wanted to be.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Love Khalid Masood.

So the Archbishop of Canterbury called the results of the terrorist attacks a “victory for what's right and good over what is evil, despairing and bad”.

It was part of an endless capitalisation of the drama of the lone man who killed four people. So swiftly has the British press become American!  But just like the Brits have the Black Friday sales without having Thanksgiving, here we have endless propaganda about how good and brave all the MPs and police are, without anyone really actually believing that our MPs and police are good and brave.  In the post-truth age, the press and the State shamelessly try to manufacture feelings of loyalty and an understanding of the State as good. Whose interests does it serve? Is it at all true? 

Can you see the racism, the imperialism, the self-congratulatory disgusting tone Welby's comment? How essentially non-Christian it is? We are who is right and good and the terrorist is who is evil and bad. That is the thinking of a Trump voter. That is the thinking of a Pharisee. There is one person Jesus would have tended to above all others on that bridge, and it wasn't the people that the Archbishop of Canterbury called 'right and good', it was a fifty-two year old man born Adrian Russell Aja in Kent who somehow became convinced that the activities of England in the Middle East were so unjust that the heroic thing to do was - well, in 1984 parlance, Eric Blair (George Orwell)-style, throw acid in the face of the child.  Strike out for freedom. 

The only job Christians have in this situation is to love Khalid Masood (the enemy) and try to understand why this happened. To pray for him. The Church of England is in a unique moral space. It is endorsing the sitting government. It has all those people in the House of Lords. Rarely do I feel more hopeless about the future of the world than when I see the Church being the reflexive yes-man for the status quo. I felt sick, really sick when I heard this quote at breakfast. . Jesus, it's like being in North Korea listening to the news. We are good and the enemy is bad. Listen to my tales of heroism by us, the good people, be so proud of us. Don't worry, the Prime Minister is ok. We know you love her very much. GAH. 

It used to be back in the day when people had backbone and principles and weren't run by money and corporations, it used to be that the church would be critical of the state. Even to the point of conspiring with the powerful to force justice. Now the church is trivial, weak, disappointing and of all the evil on show this week in London, Welby's comments are really competing hard for first place.  


Sunday, March 19, 2017

Let It Glitter - reprint from 2012

This month is March Madness, and I ain't talking about basketball.  I have had sick children, husband, cats, it has been all about vomit and diarrhea and sleepless nights and with that deteriorates my mood and in the last few weeks I have fallen into a pit.  The only good thing I can say about it is that I am able to realize it is falling into a pit.  I know that intellectually but not viscerally.  Because when my mood descends, when the horror of every moment is all that makes itself known to me, I do not have the strength to imagine otherwise.  You suffer when you are bipolar, like I imagine you suffer with Alzheimer's or cancer.  I would venture to say that my personal mental configuration, when suicide looms as a wonderful alternative, the most seductive thing in the world, I would venture this configuration causes comparatively a lot of suffering.


And with it comes a drop in competencies, I don't eat as well, I don't exercise, I miss appointments, I forget things. And with it comes, at least it seems to me on this run, sort of a radical drop in the strength of my immune system.  This plummeting mood is hand in hand with garden variety viruses, but three of them in a row.  Owain and I have both had them and take turns being sick.

And work, well, the evidence of my life stands in stark contrast to the conventional wisdom that part-time work is never really that challenging for bright women.  Ha ha ha ha ha ha. 

So things have been stressed and sad, and there have been pale children and hundreds of wash cycles and scrubbed toilets, and there have been cancellations of big events that mattered to me and many evenings of exhausted collapse.  Things fall apart.  On Sunday I asked if Rhys could go through the McDonald's drive thru for dinner on Sunday.  It tasted so good.  There are hours of television, and me so short tempered and sad, but there are also good moments, good moments to explain to Owain about bipolar and why it is this and not him that is making me sad.  This is tough stuff, but, you know, he can handle it. And there are good times too when they really help out when I am fragile and they believe in their own ability to help and make a difference when they see it in my face.  Yesterday Liberty put her own diaper and pyjamas on and brushed her teeth by herself.  She is three.

She is very Joan Crawford at the moment.  She will put her hands on her hips and shake her finger at you with the most dramatic delivery, telling you exactly what you should not do and why.  But that same passion translates to everything, good things, what she plans to eat for lunch.  Just planning what we are going to eat for lunch can cause that girl shivers of delight.  She is painting a lot, and since Christmas has requested access to a glitter shaker we got for her birthday.  She puts some glitter on the paintings as accents.  But last week when she got her shaker, she shook every piece of it on to the floor.  I didn't see this. I was probably posting something bitter about the Olympics on Facebook.  Anyway, when I saw it I sighed and looked at my daughter ruefully and said I did not want to clean it up.

Hands on hips, finger in the air, "NO MOMMY!  NO MOMMY!  LET IT GLITTER"

I left it there in the rug, the little Chinese pugs glinting here and there, I left it and looked at it.  So I am letting it glitter, all the broken pieces of my life, all the parenting mistakes and shortcomings, all the tears streaming down cheeks and vomit reflecting in the toilet bowl, there it is, it is glittering, it is my life.  Letting it glitter is the best antidote, the best antidote to my personal mental configuration.  I am going to let it glitter. Then I remember that now I am typing away to my heart's content, and that the play will come, and Spring will come, and all I need do to honour this life is to let it glitter.

Friday, March 17, 2017

You are NOT IRISH and you will NOT BE WEARING GREEN (reprint from 2009)


My mother is Welsh and emigrated to the U.S. in the early sixties. To her, the Irish were the people who bombed innocent people in London, killed police and endangered a generation of children in Ireland. They were, essentially, terrorists. Lawless killers. Worse than that, they were the Celtic people who got all the good PR in the States.


The Irish have St. Patrick's Day, leprechauns, New York cop accents, Lucky Charms cereal, pots of gold at the end of the rainbow. What did the Welsh get? Nothing. We have a super cool flag with a dragon and promote leeks, which are very healthy, but no one really cares. In fact, "welsh" is kind of a depressing word. It means to be dishonourable and renege on a deal. (Welsh on a debt, for instance) I wrote a complaint letter to the Economist once: "Not to compare the plight of the Jews with the plight of the Welsh", I said, "but why are you saying the U.S. is "welshing" on foreign debt when you would never say the U.S. was "jewing down" interest rates on the debt?" It got nowhere. But I know I'm right.

I think the superior Irish PR has to be down to geographic distribution, right? The Welsh came to the U.S. and settled where there were mines, in rural Pennsylania. The Irish settled where there were gay parades, bar fights and police corruption, in Manhattan. O.k., I'm kidding, the Irish brought those things to Manhattan.
So I thought when I moved out of the States in 2001, I would be free of the whitewash job done by the red-headed midget in the green suit. I moved to London and a lot of Londoners have no time for St. Patrick's Day either. . .two sides to every story, you know, including the one between the IRA and the English, and no matter how you slice it a lot of bombs went off during the 70's and 80's in London thanks to the Greens (and a lot of those bombs were funded by passing the hat in bars in Manhattan).
But no such luck. My son's nursery was in Kilburn - they billed it as West Hampstead, but it was about 50 ft from Kilburn High Road, one of the most Irish parts of London. And I'll be goddamned if they didn't spend all of freaking March colouring little leprechauns and four-leaf clovers and rainbows and pots of gold - incredibly annoying. I had to do an intervention and give them Welsh flag dragon colouring sheets for St. David's Day. ( Much cooler than leprechauns) I also tried to do a mini-Eisteddfodd at my son's school - the Welsh singing festival (again, I know no one cares). I tried to scale it down for 3-year-olds. We ended up doing the chicken dance. The kids loved the chicken dance but now all the employees of Teddy's Nursery "West Hampstead" think that the Chicken Dance is Welsh. No - if you take one thing away from this blog, it's that the Welsh lay no claim to the chicken dance. 
So back to my Mom. She was pretty incredulous when even in the small town in Western New York where I grew up, we were told by our teachers to wear green on St. Patrick's Day. To her this was obscene. We were absolutely forbidden to wear green ("You are NOT IRISH") and in fact, lately my mother has admitted that she scoured our wardrobes and dressed us in orange, the colour of the Nationalists. I am sure no one in Corning knew the significance of her dressing her children in organge, but I imagine it gave her some grim satisfaction. In fact, bitter, silent denigration of other Celts may be the single most Welsh thing my mother did. Well, that and perpetual Welsh cakes.
I actually am pretty unclear what it means to be Welsh. When I was at Oxford in the 80's, my boyfriend at the time walked past Jesus College (the Welsh college on Turl Street) with me and remarked (before he knew my mother was Welsh) that all Welsh are short, hypochondriacs and liars. I think this was my working framework for quite a while.
So maybe I'm jealous of the Irish with their superior PR. I certainly am jealous of their playwrights. Martin McDonagh, Conor McPherson, Frank Guiness, Enda Walsh, Brian Friel. Holy shit, they really do write the best plays. I think it has something to do with them being warlike.
Which is why it is absolutely killing me to watch the American show Star Wars: The Clone Wars. This animated tv show chronicles the adventures of Anakin Skywalker, Princess Padme, R2D2, Yoda and Obi wan Kenobi during the clone wars. There are a load of new characters too and the accents are hilarious. The blustering stormtroopers lacking self-awareness? Australian accent. The female sith lord? French accent. Of course. And best of all, the pacifist racoon people who colonized a remote planet rather than take sides in the Clone Wars? IRISH! That kills me! To hear these racoon healers spout Buddhist/Swiss peace talk in a thick Irish brogue - I am on the floor. IRISH? Irish people take sides in a pinball game! Someone make George Lucas go see the Leiutenant of Inishmore. Having Irish pacifists is kind of like having Welsh life coaches. OK, I know no one understands that. Which I guess is the point of this blog.