Saturday, September 30, 2006

The Tempest, and "Garlic: a Metaphor"

Yesterday I almost finished the new play. The title finally came in the night. I wrote fifty pages of this play without knowing its name. That's like marrying someone you barely know. I wrote this one on intuition alone, very little planning. The first scene came in a dream. I wrote it quickly. It's called "Garlic, a Metaphor."

So many things came together in the last two days. Yesterday I was exhausted and elated, restless and jumpy and dreamy and satisfied. I still have to write the final scene, which will be fun, it will be dessert.

Today I'm just tired. Couldn't get out of bed until my housemate tempted me with polenta and espresso.

"I'm not bringing it up to you!" she laughed.

So I went down. The polenta, with garlic, tomatoes, zucchini and basil from the garden was out of this world. I asked her to marry me.

Last night we went to see Elizabeth Mendana, Theron Shaw, Conners McConnville (also in Wing It!) and Leon Setti perform in a dance version of The Tempest. They were all amazing, Elizabeth as the feisty and naive Miranda, ("O brave new world that has such people in it!) and Theron doing splits on a peice of long white fabric hanging from the ceiling, singing and playing the flute. His line, "It would sir, were I human," was a gentle rebuke to the magician Prospero.

Conners was fantastic as a drunken sailor with an eyepatch, and an elfin sprite. Leon was a benign and jovial Lorenzo. All in all, an occasion for kvelling.

Yesterday was my mother's birthday. She would have been seventy-two. My sister called me to say kaddish but I was out. I called her this morning and we said it. I dreamed of my mother last night.

"We are such stuff as dreams are made on; and our little life is rounded with a sleep."

Friday, September 29, 2006

The man at the cafe wants to talk to me. But I have a play to write. He tries several times: "Are you writing a letter?"

"No, a play."

"Oh! A play! Geez, you know, I once knew a guy..."

"Excuse me, but I'm trying to work."

He has rheumy blue eyes, unshaven, white, grizzled chin, face too weathered for his age, (60?), eyes too blue and desperate.

"Oh, okay."

I can feel him looking at me.

Moments later he tries again.

"Have you ever had anything on Broadway?"

"No. Look, I'm trying to work..."

I stare straight at the computer screen, willing him to move away, but the armchairs at this cafe are too comfortable. That's why I come here. I try to make the scene come alive inside my mind again, but his loneliness next to me is so loud. His clothes are old and wrinkled, baggy and sour. His sneakers are too black and white and brand-spanking-new.

Once every two months I volunteer with Project Homeless Connect. I spend five or six hours being gracious and helpful to homeless participants, whether they smell bad or not, whether they are drolling or lucid, personable or scary. I act like a decent human being.

Today I said no twice. Onceon Lakeshore, going to my bank, when a woman asked me for money. And then again just now.

Hypocrite? Or boundaries?

The guy catches the eye of the man in the chair on the other side of him, the man who is reading a book, but will lay it aside to talk. They talk and talk and talk, about the book, politics, God knows what else.

I squint furiously at the screen, trying to concentrate on the dialogue between my two characters. I could be home, drinking green tea from Japan that my sister gave me, listening to John Coltrane in the privacy of my own room, working on this scene. But home has the Internet, a dangerous distraction, and the phone, and the refrigerator. And dust bunnies. When I'm stalled in my writing, even the vaccuum cleaner starts to look attractive...

I take out The Waste Land and read it, to drown out the drone of the homeless man's monologue.

The barrista makes an espresso with a grinding roar.

The scene I'm trying to write takes place in a beauty salon; there's a chorus/cacophony of voices assaulting my main character as she struggles to give good haircuts, listen to her inner muse, and deal with her dying marriage.

When I look up again, the man who was trying to read a book has left. The other guy, the one I think is homeless but who may be just lonely, is reading the paper disconsolately. Or am I just imagining he'sdisconsolate?

I've got five pages done. Good. Home stretch.

Leaving, he takes way too long fumbling with his shoelaces and a battered plastic bag that looks as if it's spent a month or two out in the rain. His loneliness is palpable beside me, but he doesn't try anymore to penetrate the invisible wall I've erected to keep him away.

He leaves.

I return to writing my play about how language fails us when we try to connect.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Sept 28 2006

The Sopranos

I love to watch The Sopranos with my friend G., curled up on the couch, eating garlic fries or popcorn, drinking a glass of champagne. I love everything about the show, the opening credits as Tony puffs a fat cigar as he drives out to New Jersey, the ominous-sounding theme song, every line of dialogue, the clothes, the food, the fights, the sex, each and every character, but especially Tony. I love Tony Soprano, because he is me: crude, sensitive, wanting to be good but so skilled at violence, in denial, smart, defensive, old school, loyal, questioning, lost in mid-life.

For those who scoff, The Sopranos is not just a show about the Mafia. It’s not just violence or obscenity (although there’s plenty of both.) It’s about a man having a long, existential mid-life crisis, all the while coping with everything life dishes out—revelations, breakdowns, illness, job stress, love, hate, kids—the whole catastrophe.

My mother always used to feel bad that our family was not like the families on TV—The Waltons, for example, with their scrubbed, WASP-y cheerfulness. Or The Brady Bunch, or The Partridge Family, or Laura and Dick Van Dyke—or anyone! for Godsakes! Anyone except what we were—an assortment of goofy, smart, big, thin-skinned, needy, sometimes sullen, frequently selfish individuals who loved and hated each other.
“If you’re going to act like animals, I’m going to treat you like animals!” she would announce to my brothers and sister and I before wading in to try and break up one of our fights, or vigorously washing our mouths out with soap.

Tony Soprano is an animal. He does terrible things; he kills people. He’s full of rage and shame. And he’s also a human being. Because of the genius of the actor James Gandolfini, we love him, even while seeing his bestiality. And watching him struggle to be human, I feel redeemed.

In last night’s episode (we’re only in the middle of the second season, renting the DVDs,) Anthony Jr. says God is dead. Tony responds, “Maybe he is, but you’ve still got to kiss his ass!”

Afterwards, G. and I talk about God. He can’t bring himself to believe any longer in the fire-and-brimstone big Mafia don in the sky of his Baptist childhood.
“Some people say God is a verb,” I say.
“God, a verb? How does that work? You can’t use God as a verb: I God you.”
“Well, you can say I love you, and love is a noun too, but you can’t show me love. I mean you can show hugs and kisses, and buy expensive presents, but everyone knows that’s not necessarily love.”
“Yeah, okay, he concedes.
Other abstract nouns: gravity, time, life, death. They’re real, and ungraspable.
“Maybe God’s just an energy,” I suggest. But I’m faking it, sounding more wise than I am. I’ve read this theory somewhere, it makes sense to me intellectually, but I haven’t actually experienced it. It’s just words. God is an energy. Okay, then how do I invite that energy into my life?
It’s the week between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippor. We Jews supposed to be doing extensive self-examination. I look inside and what I see is Tony Soprano, socialized as a Jewish female. Yet I haven’t done much of anything bad this last year, except for cutting people off in traffic. I resolve to be a more polite driver, and to take my fish-oil supplements. And water the house plants more regularly.
The conversation with G. makes me hungry for more. Hungry for God. How long since I meditated? I want to—I always want to—and other things get in the way. The Internet. Shopping. Planning. Achieving, or trying to. Making things okay for other people, for myself, making sure no one has hurt feelings. Female preoccupations, time-wasters. When I was younger, people were always telling me I should be a therapist.
If I weren’t an artist—if I hadn’t wanted to be an artist from the time I first wanted to “be” anything—I would be a mystic.
Can I do both?

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Encounter Point

September 27, 2006

Everyone run don't walk to see this moving documentary about ordinary Israelis and Palestinians, many of whom have lost loved ones to the violence, who are working together to create dialogue and peace. It is not an airy-fairy rainbows and sunshine movie. It focusses on the nitty-gritty day-in day-out work of showing up at meetings, being honest, speaking out, showing up at demonstrations work of being an activist. I found it one of the most molving, inspiring things I have seen this year. It made me cry. The sorrow and the suffering are real, and out of that comes, not the thirst for revenge, but a real hunger for change,and a willingness to work tirelessly.

Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela--these great men have been heroes for many of us. This movie shows ordinary people who are not saints, struggling to put the principles of non-violence into action in their own lives. I can't think of anything more valuable.

To learn more about the film, check out or , both great web sites. The film was made by four young women, Palestinian and Israeli, North and South American. It took five years to film. It is media that truly nourishes the soul and makes a difference.


Tuesday, September 26, 2006

September 26, 2006

All morning, I have been working at my job as executive secretary and personal assistant to Alison Luterman, the writer. In that capacity I have photocopied five new copies of the latest updated version of See How We Almost Fly, the poetry manuscript, researched five relevant contests and small presses to send said manuscript to, addressed five self-addressed stamped envelopes, and loaded the mss. into mailers.

In addition, I've emailed her resume (edited) to Elizabeth, who's applying for grants so that we can get money to do this piece, selected ten poems from the ms. to send in a proposal to Sarabande Press, written the proposal to Sarabande Press, selected another fifteen pages of poetry to send to Stanford in order to apply for a WallaceStegner Fellowship (incredibly long shot,) started to work on a "statement of plans," realized I don't have enough brain cells left to make up any plans, drunk my second cup of coffee, and decided it's time for a swim since I can't think straight anymore.

My work as Alison Luterman's personal secretary is slightly boring but not backbreaking. She's an okay boss, slightly disorganized, but driven, doesn't pay very well, has to be reminded to take time out to breathe. She works in fits and starts, very concentrated and focussed for a few hours, then goofs off. It's part of my job to regulate her coffee intake, remind her to drink water, and get her to exercise.

At the High Street Post Office, there's a clerk named Dave with aging parents whose care he's responsible for. He often looks stressed. Over the years I've been going there to mail out Luterman's work, he and I have gotten to know each other. When I ask him to bless an outgoing packet, he takes his job seriously, laying hands on it for a moment silently, and wishing me good luck. There's also a woman who works there, I don't know her name, who tells every customer "Have a blessed day." She says this even when the line is snaking out the door, and people are rude, or unprepared, or pissed off that they can't get their packages. The good part of my job as secretary and gofer is that I get to interact with people like this as part of my day. But I've noticed that too many poems in Luterman's latest manuscript take place at the grocery store or some check-out line or another. Note to self: remind her that she needs to get out more.

Tomorrow, hopefully, I'll have space and mental energy to go back to the work of creating, and work on the new play.

Have a blessed day,

Monday, September 25, 2006

September 25, 2006

Five years ago, with help from my gardener-housemates, I planted a little fig tree in the front yard. It was a spindly little stick that came up to my hip bone. The first year, it gave two figs. The second year it grew taller and gave maybe half a dozen. This year it is towering high above my head, spreading its arms beyond the borders of our front yard and reaching out to the sidewalk. As I pulled up into my driveway this morning, two women--strangers to me--had stopped their car outside the house and were taking figs. They had collected a few handfuls. They looked guilty and surprised when they saw me, and then explained in Spanish that they were only taking the fruit that had extended past the front yard boundary onto the sidewalk.
I shrugged and laughed and went inside. The tree has gotten so big that I can't gather all the figs myself. The ones at the top are too high to reach and the birds eat them. I'm sure that schoolchildren and other passersby take whatever fruit they find as they walk up the sidewalk.

I have done the same myself. When my friend, the poet Ruth Schwartz and I would go walking around her neighborhood, which is rich in front yard fruit trees, we would always take a few figs here, a handfull of grapes there--and of course, blackberries by the dozen, which were growing wild by the side of the road.

The tree reminds me of my poetry "career" if you can call poetry a career. It started out miniscule and nondescript, and now my poems appear on stranger's web sites, and show up in sermons of churches I will never visit. That's fine. Art just grows, (if you're lucky), and gives itself away, and it's a blessing that everyone can eat from it.

So my friend and colleague Elizabeth Mendana proposed to me that we create a show based on my poetry and her dance choreography/direction. Elizabeth and I perform together in an improvisation troupe called Wing It! under the direction of Phil Porter and Cynthia Winton-Henry, two dancers/artists/spoken word/prophets who started something called Interplay 25 years ago. (Check out Interplay and Wing It! at

From our work with the other twenty members of the troupe, Elizabeth and I share a vocabulary of simple forms, and an interest in creating provocative multi-disciplinary multi-layered and textured theatre. Plus a willingness to step out into the void and improvise/make a fool of ourselves, which is essential.

So here we are. The title of my next book of poems, which has not yet been accepted for publication, but I hope and pray will be this year, is See How We Almost Fly. Elizabeth thought that would be a good name for the show as well, and I agreed. It seems particularly apt, as Theron Shaw, also in Wing It! with us, and Elizabeth's partner, is an aerialist.

The phrase See How We Almost Fly refers to the way the human species swings between the divine and the bestial, occasionally pausing at the human level for a cup of coffee.

I hope this blog will be like drinking a cup of coffee and eating some figs together every once in a while, and checking in on the progress of our show, including our quest for a good theatre space to perform in, money to cover the technical and labor costs, the joys and pains of collaboration, the creative process, and whatever else seems quasi-relevant.

Much love,