Thursday, January 27, 2011

Clear, bright mornings; dazzling sun, bright blue skies, unseasonable warmth.

For the last week I have been drawn up to the hills again and again, walking the same trail I have walked a million times before. I meet dogs, lots of them, some with a muddy tennis ball in mouth, others just wagging ecstatically to be free. If a dog is outdoors, unconfined, bounding over hills, he or she is happy. It's that simple for them

I try to be present: oak and redwood and laurel and bay trees, bending for the light. the light! The hills unfolding all the way down to the bay. It never stops being magical, and yet I am capable of walking through it without seeing it if I don't stop and make myself notice and breathe.

I am almost almost done with this (I hope) final revision to the play. I have been uncharacteristically neurotic about it--I pride myself on a workwomanlike attitude about writing, "Just do it," a la Nike commercials, without drama or fuss or whinging about writer's block. That's how I like to see myself. But in truth, this play has brought up all my writing demons, including the ones I like to pretend I don't have: the dare-I-say-this? the who-am-I-to-write-about-this, the is-it-any-good, and is-it-even-worth-it demons.

Inside myself I am vowing not to do another big project like this. One-act plays from now on. Poems, the shorter the better. Essays. But not something book-length, not a full two-act play, not something where you have plenty of rope to hang yourself with in terms of structure, character development, etc. No, no, no. What are you, crazy?

At the same time I am making a big effing deal about how much I am suffering over this play another part of my mind knows that it is actually fine, that I'm just trying my best to be faithful to these particular characters, getting to know them better, neither demonizing nor glamorizing military service (hopefully), but presenting real human beings caught up in something bigger and more terrible than they had bargained for. And what they do with that. And I also am caught up now in having bitten off more than I could chew, emotionally or spiritually, and now I am having to chew it. Slowly and thoroughly. or at least try to. I owe myself that much--I owe these characters whom Ihave been working with for four years that much.

At the end of the day it's just work, I tell myself. Finish the thing and move on.

Saturday, January 08, 2011

And now I'm trying not to go into blind rage and hatred after the sickening shooting of Gabriella Giffords in Arizona today. Notice how I want to just blame Sarah Palin for her map with the addresses of Democrats targeted with bulls-eyes. And to see the video of Giffords talking about how it felt to be targeted that way, to hear her saying, "She (Palin) needs to realize that her words have consequences..."

I want to say some very ugly things right now. But I'm trying to be mindful that words have consequence, that every bit of hysteria or hate speech contributes to the nasty circus that American politics has become. I will say that I am going to continue to oppose Palin and her ilk with every breath in my body, but I will try to do it with a modicum of civility and reason. And that I have been driving around with Kirtana's CDs in my car stereo: Falling Awake and This Embrace, songs of the divine feminine, awakening, and compassion.

I listen to these CDs over and over because they are about the only things I can stand to hear. When I turn on the radio and hear the news of the day I so often feel sick at heart. Even the wonderful cultural programming that I normally eat up seems too "head-y" to me--my heart is really hungry for melody, for soothing, to be held in something greater than the political or social preoccupations of the moment. When i listen to kirtana's haunting lyrics and achingly-sweet voice, something inside me lets go. Something inside me can begin to imagine not being so identified with my opinions, my achievements, my thoughts. I begin to begin to be able to imagine what it might feel like to live in my heart...

Poems have been coming thick and fast the last couple of days, after a several weeks hiatus. I took a little time off from writing poetry in order to focus on the play some more. Now I'm in a new place with the play--more on that in a minute--and the poems are back. I notice the lines are longer, more complicated, and the poems feel thicker and meatier now (excuse me, vegetarians.) I started life as a verbose, overly narrative narrative poet and gradually weaned and edited myself down to a style that was lean and mean and honed. Then I began to long for a little more rope, the luxury of expanding, expounding, exploring. And lo and behond, it took a while, but these new poems seem to have become fuller in an organic way.

Of course it's too soon to tell yet, really,. I have to let their wings dry, as Ruth would say, and that takes at least a few weeks.

back to the play, I finally got the bright idea--actually I think it was Christopher's bright idea--to interview a military recruiter in the flesh. Looked on a web site called or something like that and found out there is a recruiting station right in Alameda, not that far from where I live. It's in a tiny strip mall on Blanding right off Tilden Way, a route I've taken a thousand times. The other day I just wandered in to the office and asked if I could talk with someone. The recruiter I ended up visiting with was a woman, petite, around forty years old, with a killer silver manicure. Nothing, and I mean nothing, like my character.

I don't feel comfortable posting all the details of the interview here--I will probably write about it later, after I've digested it-- but it was interesting. I felt like we were circling each other in a seduction dance. Not that either of us were trying to sexually pick up the other person, but we were both just trying to get a bead on each other: who is this woman, and what does she want (from me?) Since I am too old to join the military and have no kids to offer up, I didn't feel like I really had any leverage, that is, anything she wanted. Except, i guess, the power of the media, which in my case is pretty paltry. then again, wars are fought in the court of public opinion, and words are powerful. Sarah. Words are powerful. Let's just all remember that.

Sunday, January 02, 2011

Honestly? 2010 had some wonderful gifts--new friends, publications, trips--and I'm grateful, grateful, grateful. But --to take nothing away from the gratitude--this was a hard year.

Carla died. We knew she was going to, and she did, and she tied up as many loose ends as she humanly could before she went, and I still don't actually believe she's gone. I mean I believe it. I know she's not here. For one thing she hasn't called me in ages. But then I think she's just...away...on the road, or something. Busy. She was always busy anyway. But she made heroic, super-human efforts to stay in touch with me, and with her other friends--and now she doesn't. Call. I have tried to write about her many times, and failed. Maybe I captured a little something, the silver of her voice, or her white shoulders shining out of her dress as she performed, or her huge enjoyment of her own dirty and outrageous jokes--but no one could catch the goofy, heartbreaking, beautiful entirety of her. Maybe someday I will be able to write something that catches some of her galloping, galvanizing spirit.

There are so many times I think about her without being really aware that I'm thinking about her. Then I realize I'm having a conversation with her in my head about some little thing or another--a movie, a book, a person. Only her end is conducted in the invisible realm.

The rest of the hardness hardly seems right to mention side by side with Carla's death, since they are of completely different realms. But the bad economy and especially the cutbacks in education spending affect Christopher and me on a daily basis. Out of respect for his privacy I won't blog about his work situation except to say that the stress has been soul-crushing. And when the soul is being crushed out of your partner, it's hard to stay centered and joyful. And yet that is what I would like to be.

As for my own life, the stress comes from not having any--or having very little work, and for not being sure how to generate and sustain enough income. I'm getting by, of course. I always get by. But I'd like to be able to earn enough to give C a big time-out and that is nowhere near happening.

I have been able to write a lot. This past year I worked hard on the third poetry manuscript and published many individual poems from it. It's much stronger now. I worked on essays and articles. And I worked and worked and worked on the play. Three revisions, at least, and we're still in process. Oy. Oufta. Things almost always take more time to find their final shape than i think they should. A dear friend recently reminded me of the value of the four-year plan. Instead of thinking that every project I initiate should come to fruition within that year, it's better to consider it like a university in which I am doing an ongoing independent study. It takes four years to matriculate. It takes that long (and longer) for many of the best-laid plans to mature.

So: once again, in this new year, I rededicate myself to The Recruiter, to the book of poems, and to doing more essays. I also want to note some of the best things I read and saw during this last year:

Farm City (a book) by Novella Carpenter, an Oakland-based urban guerilla farmer. Read it! It's gutsy, inspiring, funny and well-written.

Plays: I read a lot of wonderful plays this year. Ruined, by Lynn Nottage (then I bought her book and read the rest of her plays.) Amazing. The Vibrator Play or In the Next Rom by Sarah Ruhl. Also amazing. And her Passion Play, ditto. August: Osage County, and Superior Donuts by Tracy Letts. And this year I finally read Naomi Wallace, a playwright I had been hearing about for ages. I read One Flea Spare and loved it. I read An American Play which everyone told me to read because of the similarity in content to my own play and I didn't like it as well as One Flea Spare. Maybe if I'd seen it I would feel differently.

I read some great memoirs: Lit, by Mary Karr, Just Kids by Patti Smith, Naked, Drunk and Writing by Adair Lara and To Have Not, by Frances Lefkowitz. All wonderful.

I discovered the Romanian poet Ana Blandiana, and her wonderful poem Magic Spell of Rain.

The best movies I saw this year were Winter's Bone, and The Fighter. I'd be happy if either of them got the Oscar, or if Christian Bale or Jennifer Laurence got nominated for Best Actor and Actress. I did see The Kids Are All Right, but didn't like it as much as I thought I would. We saw The Black Swan and I thought Portman's performance was incredible--she should also get nominated.

For 2011: I'm gonna study more improvisation, both Interplay and Bay Area Theatre Sports. I'll try one more time to keep a semblance of a garden alive (I've heard that watering is key.) I'll study Xi Gung. I'll do another revision or ten of The Recruiter, and keep writing other things on the side. Maybe I'll finally be able to write the essay about Carla.

I planned to go to Haiti in 2010 and then aborted the plans last-minute because of the civic unrest and the difficulty in communications with the base where I planned to land. I hope I complete that plan in 2011. And write about it. And have some faith as this next circuit round the sun unfurls.