So it's Wednesday morning, the garbage trucks are rattling outside, sun is pouring through the windows. I've made onion-garlic-potato-mushroom omelettes for breakfast and later I'll take my Little Sister to the Wildlife Museum so we can look at raptors. Or swimming if it's too hot. For now I'm drinking coffee and revising the hot tub play. Happy to be re-united with these characters. After a long-enough absence I can finally hear them clearly. Oh. This is what you were saying. Sorry I didn't catch it the first time.
I'm cutting fat, cutting and cutting. There's a lot of banter that can just go by the wayside, it doesn't "progress" anything, as Sarah Palin would say. Where's the plot? If this play were a steak, it would be well-marbled; a heart attack waiting to happen. I'm killing my darlings, all those clever lines I was so in love with, all that snap, crackle and fizz. I'm trying to get closer to the bone: what does this play want to be about?
Is it about the contradictions in people who do great work in the world, fight for justice, stand up for the underdog, work for the greater social good--yet are clueless failures in their personal lives?
Is it about marriage and commitment, and the way we carry each other or let each other fall?
Is it just a story about two people who love each other and can't live together who get drunk in a hot tub on the longest night of the year?
I wrote it the year before I met Christopher. Pushed the first draft out in about a week, really fast. I was delighted with the raw energy that was coming through; all this frustration over the years of dating men who were too recently out of failed marriages, all my drama and disappointment at the time were finally finding a voice.
Now the bones are rearranging themselves. The characters are making moves they never made in any previous drafts. Oh shit, it's not revising, it's rewriting. The thing is still alive, but it's like working on Frankenstein and Rip van Winkle all at once. Something that was asleep, dreaming its own separate life, and then wakes up, changed. Can I trust myself more in 2009 then I did in 2006 to do right by it?
Maybe I needed to be in a different space altogether, to have some real distance from that drama before I could see it more dispassionately, before I could revise the play. I still think--hope-- there's something worth saying there. But I'm not in it the way I was.
One of my students at the Writing Salon asked me the other night if you have to be "on the other side" of something difficult in order to write about it. I said that the writing itself was part of what moved you to the other side. Also, that what you write on "the other side," (if indeed there really is one,) is different, but not necessarily better than what you write from the thick of things.
I told her about writing the poem "Smashing the Plates" when I was still very much a mess over an infected break-up. I had asked my friend Phil if I could help him break plates for a mosaic project he was working on, and I went over to his place (Interplayce, but the floor wasn't put in yet, it was still rough concrete,) and I helped him smash plates with a hammer and then I wrote a poem about it. It was raw. I couldn't write that piece now--I'm not there now. The energy came through me in the way it did then and I caught it in the container I had at the time.
I love the montage in the movie "Something's Gotta Give" where the Diane Keaton character is grieving a broken relationship with the Jack Nicholson character. There's a series of scenes that show her sobbing--and typing. Different outfits, different weather outside, different spots in the house--she's having her feelings, week after week, and doing her work also.
I don't know why some of the things I write in the moment come out well, and some other things, like this hot tub play, seem to take years to come together. Some poems I've written have taken years before I found their endings. I do know that my ego got excited--maybe too excited-- by how good I thought the play was on the first draft and maybe that slowed the process down. Or maybe this is just how it is.
In a moment of nostalgia, I google-stalked the web site of a guy I had dated ten years ago, one of several men who make up the composite character of Jack. Actually I googled a couple of those guys. I was reminded that they do do great things in the world. There were good reasons I was so attracted to them, wanted to be with them. And good reasons why it never would have worked. It took a very long time for me to be ready for someone like Christopher.
I feel more objective about it all now, as if I were a scientist saying, "If you take this element and combine it with that element, you will get an explosion, or a sticky goo, or a healing medicine." Whatever.
Yesterday I went food shopping for Carla--a bunch of gluten-free, dairy-free organic healthy stuff from Whole Foods, and then some deliciously evil stuff from the liquor store, good balance--and then went to the post Office with twenty copies of "Glitter and Spew" (another item on the to-do list.) I mean I staggered in there with the L.L. Bean canvas tote that my sister-in-law gave me stuffed with manuscripts. I watched the clerk stamp each envelope and toss them in a pile--my seeds scattering out into the wind. Good luck little play. Then I turned around to go home and work some more.