Sometimes you spend all weekend writing out a book idea about haunted houses and choose your own adventure books and the meaning of home but then you miss the deadline for the application you were writing it for because you can’t tell the difference between am and pm, apparently.
Sometimes you get big rejections all in a row and your summer is already feeling empty and long and what the hell are you going to do after you graduate from this MFA program anyway?
Sometimes people ask you what are you going to do with your degree? As if the answer isn’t what I always did before, but, like, older.
Sometimes you meet your best friend’s new baby and love her immediately.
Sometimes you finish something. Sometimes you feel as if you’re never going to finish anything. Sometimes you feel as if nobody cares anyway and what are you doing writing about monsters and ghosts and weird shit when there are politics to worry about, real monsters just around the corner.
Sometimes you sit in a room of people you adore talking about creative things and you just want to run out of the room, out to the street, tossing your notebook in the air, the hell with shoes, your bare feet slopping in the puddles along Laurel Canyon Blvd, a street not built for this sort of rain, the endless, all-at-once, confusing Southern California rain that you will miss terribly when it’s gone.
Sometimes you grieve for things years before you have to. Like this moment. And this one.
And this one too.
Sometimes you see the rest of your life spinning out from you, circling back upon itself like a rope tied to an anchor and thrown overboard of a ship, twisting down and around itself on and on, into nothingness and you realize too late that the free end is not tied to anything, and there it goes, your life, twisting down into the water for some dolphins to laugh at.
Sometimes you make scones.
Sometimes you drink too much coffee and don’t sleep enough and your heart feels like it wants to choke you.
Sometimes you write a meandering monologue just to get something out and it suddenly opens up your play, and it doesn’t seem scary anymore. Not anymore.
And then another rejection comes.
Sometimes you buy a typewriter from 1941 off of Craigslist for a project in which you don’t end up using it anyway, but you have always wanted a typewriter so, what the hell. The guy selling it is also a writer – TV, he says – and he’d bought the thing with big plans to write his poetry on it – the romantic poet with his typewriter and coffee and cigarette. But he never used it. And the poetry was never written. And now it’s yours, along with its two unused ribbons. And it scares you, to type on it, because it feels so much more permanent than a computer. If you want a rewrite, you got to type it all, word for word – and it makes you realize that the kind of relationship writers used to have with their words was perhaps different, having to rewrite them over and over. An intimacy we don’t know in the same way these days. The intimacy of old friends. The intimacy of old lovers.
Sometimes you dream of traveling the world with this typewriter, creating a one-woman show with it, building a whole magical event around it that you can take to festivals, perform in grand halls and in elementary school classrooms.
And this, too, has already been grieved for. Remember that time I could dream about traveling the world with this typewriter? Remember when that was a possibility?
Sometimes you think, boy, everyone makes it look so easy.
This computer is new and even getting to the email has been an adventure and one I’m not happy to take. I seem to spend so much of my time lately wrestling with machines and devices and things that talk to me but don’t tell me what I want to know. But here goes.
I can’t believe that it’s 2019 and even worse, the second month of 2019. I know that we’re supposed to be thankful for every day. I am thankful for every day. (Even the cold, blustery, rainy days.) But January 2019 was the month that I was supposed to be greeting everybody in Italian. “Hello,” I would say in Italian. “Welcome!” And even more proficiently, “Do you think the rain will stop?”
I fell in love with Italy when I became a huge fan of an Italian series, with English subtitles, called Don Matteo (Father Matthew). Don Matteo lives in a beautiful city called Gubbio. His home is a rectory which he shares with a collection of recurring characters, all of whom meet in the rectory kitchen. He spends his free time solving mysteries. He rides a bicycle, sometimes through fields of tall golden sunflowers, helps all and sundry, drives the local police quite mad (except for his pal on the force) by solving all the murders before they do, and of course, speaks Italian. He’s also very handsome.
2018 was the year that I was going to learn Italian. I mentioned that way back to my husband and daughter and even as I heard that intention coming out my mouth, I knew I was in trouble.
Delighted, they bought CD’s – 1,000’s of them in big boxes with photos of happy men and women on them speaking fluent Italian, and books with lined pages in them for making notes in (Italian) and practicing, practicing, practicing.
Will I ever learn? Just as I finally settled in and cracked the first CD, we changed TV sets and bought a beautiful 50”. Which brings me back to my first paragraph. To date, I haven’t been able to set it up with Roku, the device with which I watched the MHZ Choice Channel that carries Don Matteo (and many other enjoyable other programs from Italy and Germany and France, etc. ) Furthermore, the Web tells me that the latest episodes of Don Matteo haven’t been subtitled. And last week, my husband found an article saying that the program will now be shown in L.A only on Tuesdays at 5:15 pm.
Of course, there is always Tosca. I have that CD, too. With the lyrics in translation.
I’ve just finished reading the book “Belonging: Remembering Ourselves Home” by Toko-pa Turner, and it’s a wonderful examination of attachment and identity. She’s an interesting writer, and really includes the reader in her journey to find her place in the world.
Belonging is such a loaded word for me right now, as I’m
looking at characters who suffer from hoarding, or from a detachment in
belonging to family.
I’m examining issues of belonging to friendships, memories, blogs, exile, debts, illness, cats, theatre companies, journeys, writing groups and teams.
I’m particularly interested right now in the sense of
belonging to a house, witnessing a sense of our personal history there, and the
attachment we feel when we find it as our “home”.
I found this quote from Toko-pa’s book just as I was thinking of the imprint of the place of home:
“It’s said that after arriving in a new place, we will have replaced the entirety of the water in our bodies with that of the local watershed in just a few days. Though these adaptations happen at a biological level, we are vastly unconscious of the implications a place has on our psyche. Just as humans carry an energetic signature, so too do geographies. However, like fish swimming in water, we are rarely aware of what energy a place holds until we leave it, or return to it after time away.”
Alyson Mead speaks with Jacqueline Goldfinger about designer babies, scientific advances, and her new play Babel, presented in a staged reading by Sacred Fools for one night only, on Sunday, January 27th.
I’m writing a play about hoarding. Ghosts. A truly evil
woman who might have been in my family history. Trees. Slaves that were bought
and sold by the Quaker families in Upstate New York. And the gravitational
weight of objects that define our place of belonging.
Yesterday I said goodbye to almost one hundred friends.
Enemies. Reminders. Nags. Planets that rotate around the center of my memories.
I gave myself the project of cleaning out my closets, where
I keep all my clothes from the last several years. Okay, the last dozen years. Okay, okay. The
last two or three decades. I tend to keep all my clothes. This includes the
denim jacket with the studded rhinestones, the embroidered black pants from
Chinatown in Manhattan, the fuzzy sweater that is the size of a refrigerator.
They’ve all been living in my closet. Taking up space.
Reminding me that I don’t use them, but they have a claim on the real estate in
our small house with the small closets.
When I started researching the pathology of hoarding, I was
horrified by the awful consequences of this difficult behavior. I know I’m not
a hoarder, I don’t have the space.
But I do tend to keep all my clothes. I’ve bought clothes in
thrift stores, online, at Nordstroms, Macys, designer outlets. Even though my
size has changed a lot in the last few years: cancer, chemo, hip replacement, plantar
fasciitis, getting older, gaining weight, getting less agile. I don’t fit into
most of these clothes anymore. So, I thought this was a simple challenge: get
rid of the clothes that I haven’t worn in a year. Or two. Or Five.
I had a kind of conversation with every item as I held it up
to review its life span and value.
Hello darling. The Evan Picon suit, silk and wool, with
beautiful trim. Last worn in 1992. I love you. But I can’t keep looking at you
if you’re not going to get out of the closet.
Baby: My vintage hippie denim jeans with the wonderful
patches all over them. Purchased in some thrift store in Hollywood. A size 8.
(My friends will know that I have not been a size 8 in a long time.) I
loved looking at these. That was the basis of our relationship.
An azure blue silk Henri Bendel tunic, tiny jewel like
buttons for trim. Worn once. Loved the idea of it. It didn’t love me as much.
So many jackets and blouses and pants and skirts. I’d
forgotten about most of these. We didn’t have much to say to one another.
White Victorian linen shirtwaists, high collared blouses.
Gorgeous. Not useful in my current lifetime. Maybe if I was going to do another
play on Emily Dickinson.
The black jet tulle dress I wore on the night we went to the
theatre in the West End in London and met Judi Dench backstage. We had
champagne in her dressing room. I have a picture of that night and that dress.
So I’ll keep the image and not the dress. I’ll always have London.
And so it went. I had to rally my flagging spirits and cart
all the bags of clothes out of the house before I could change my mind. I
really didn’t think it would be this difficult to let go of my stash, my
collection, my hoard, of clothing.
I’m including this amusing graphic of “Reading Between the Lines”, as a warning that the “provocative” ( – irritating) story I’m about to tell, could be seen as something written “in the tradition of” (- shamelessly derivative) as multiple points of view. Like every story. Like every play.
In November I was invited to the opening night of “THE HARD
PROBLEM”, by Tom Stoppard at Lincoln Center.
(I know how posh that sounds – I loved writing it.) When I was a young
actor I performed in a couple of Tom Stoppard plays and I’ve always delighted
in his witty characters, the mental gymnastics, the world of words in his
My sister was taking me to this opening night performance,
and we went out to an early dinner, (yes, she got us a table at Joe Allen’s). Someone
I love very much was in the cast, and like a lot of writers, I tend to live
vicariously through the lives of others, this was a peak experience. Flowers
for opening night. Joe Allen’s. My sister. Lincoln Center. A star performer I
have always championed doing incredible work in the show.
That’s the top line of this story.
Other threads in the story: I’ve been in and been to dozens
of opening nights in my lifetime. This one was intense. This Lincoln Center opening
night had celebrities (Rosemary Harris – who I have always loved as an actress
– sat in front of us), a new play for New York, a famous playwright, a
glamorous setting. You could feel that live wire electricity in the audience.
I was sitting next to my sister on one side, and a very
elegant gentleman on my other side. I had a brief, theatrical conversation with
him. (He reminded me of Colonel Pickering in “MY FAIR LADY”; very cultured,
articulate, and handsome. Perfect casting.)
Another thread: I was feeling very protective about my
sister that night; she had recently sprained her ankle and was walking with a
cane. She fearlessly walked into the theatre. I was on high alert watching out
for her; something I have to try and hide from her as she hates to be fussed
over by me like that.
The connecting thread: when we entered the theatre, we saw
that a young man in the seat next to us had his large suitcases wedged in our
row. We hesitated – this seemed odd. But there were no ushers to be found to
sort this out, so we had to climb over his suitcases to get to our seats. We
eventually were able to sit down, and we waited for the play to begin. We were
in high spirits, and I suppose, rather nervous.
I love opening nights: the whispers in the lobby, the ebb
and flow as the audience comes in, the scuttle of the ushers up and down the
stairs. I know what it feels like to be backstage waiting in the wings before
the lights come up. Nowadays I see myself in the audience as a kind of
satellite receiver, boosting the transmissions being beamed across the theatre.
But on this night…
Yes, on this night, I had my first case of sudden and severe
gastric distress. It started as soon as
we sat down in the theatre and I started reading the program for the play. Like
the first scary music in a horror film, I heard this growling sound. And then
more noises, like a garbage disposal chewing up your forks from a dinner party.
But then I realized that these thumping noises were coming from me. I’d never
heard these sounds before. And then this wrenching bolt of intestinal pain shot
through me. It was a spontaneous gastrointestinal nightmare.
(Thinking back on the dinner at Joe Allen’s: it was a simple
supper of chicken and vegetables. And a glass of champagne. And then a cup of
coffee. And I seem to remember that we split a dessert of some kind. It all seemed
like an innocent menu at the time. Was it the chicken? The coffee? It couldn’t
possibly be the dessert, could it, the one I can’t remember?)
But back at the play: an announcement was made that all cell
phones should be turned off, the house lights changed, and the play started. I
seemed to be okay. I focused on the words from the actors. I used mindful
meditation breathing. The play was unfolding into twists and turns, I thought I
But during the play, the young man sitting next to my
sister, the man with the big suitcases, pulled out his cell phone, turned it
on, and started to watch a soccer game. On his phone, during the play. The
sound was off, but the flickering light from the phone lit up the entire row.
You could see the audience members turn around as they tried to gesture to him
to turn it off. He ignored them.
The people next to him asked him to turn off his phone. He
shrugged his shoulders. They left to find an usher. They returned, without an
usher. He continued to watch his soccer game on his phone. After a moment, my
sister turned to him and in a sotto voce tone like the serpent in the Garden of
Eden (after the fall), she told him to turn off his phone.
He turned off his phone.
The audience’s attention returned to
the play. It was a Rubik’s cube of ideas, characters, and intentions. I’m still
thinking about it two months later. At one point there is a revelation
of betrayal in the play, underplayed so quietly, you might not be sure you heard
There was a moment of quiet in the
And then it started up again. My growling noises. It sounded
like the rumbling sounds coming from a brass cannon in a far away civil war. Or:
It sounded like a huge garbage truck digesting a weeks worth of garbage. Or: I
was the only person who could hear it and I was mistakenly afraid that others
were bothered by it.
I’m not sure which version is correct, but I tried to look
unfazed and focused on the play.
And while I tried to make it look like it wasn’t me making
that noise, inside, I was trying to scold my digestive system into silence.
Knock it off! You’re
as bad as the guy with phone watching the soccer game! Stop that! I mean, cut
I wrestled with the idea of getting up, climbing over my
sister and the man with iPhone and the large suitcases, scrabbling over the
other audience members, and taking my borborygmus with me.
(I found out later that what I experienced has the scientific name borborygmus,
which is related to the 16th-century French word borborygme, itself from
Latin, ultimately from Ancient Greek. It sounds better than the other available
diagnostic titles: bubble gut, bowel sound, or stomach rumble.)
But then. The play ended. The applause and the ovations were
over. And as we left, my sister turned to the young man and in a low voice,
gave him such a warning that I don’t think he’ll show up with his iPhone and
soccer games in an audience again.
We made our way to the opening night party, and eventually
my digestive system quieted down. Or it might have been that the music and the
noise from the party was so loud that no one could hear me and my personal
rumblings. I guess it all depends on what line reading you choose.
We are 20 days in to the new year and hopefully you are keeping up with the list of goals you planned for 2019. But if you’re like me you have made abstract plans and you are 20 days behind in your daily writing practise do not lose faith. Do not fret or worry. Just move on. I know what you’re saying, “But Jenn, you don’t know what it’s like….” Please, I am all too familiar with yet another Monday re-boot. (If my plans or goals fall short, I say to myself, we’ll start a new on Monday). We have to be encouraging to ourselves, but we must also examine what is holding us back and why we cannot move forward. I started this year by making goals for one month at a time, with an overall goal for the year. Just one play. That’s it. I just want to complete one play tip to tail. It doesn’t have to be workshopped, or even read by other people, I just want to finish a full length play. Then I’ll worry later about submitting it, or having people read, but first it has to be written.
Things that will help me further my goal:
Setting a deadline.
Sitting down to write, no matter how bad it is. I just need a first draft right now. Writing everyday, even if it’s crap. I need to create a habit of sitting down and writing.
Not getting down when I hit a stumbling block. Just keep writing.
Having someone to talk to about my show. For me I don’t necessarily need feedback, I just need to say my thoughts outloud to another person instead of trying to run them in my head.
Moving past resistance. This is where the gold is (or so they say, I have yet to move past it).
Read more. Articles, books, short stories. Get out of my head.
I am collecting the bits and pieces of ideas I’ve had and seeing what magic I can make. Maybe an additional goal will be: Submit a play. Look for companies that host new work, my favourite, then it gives you an opportunity to re-work your show and see how people respond to it.
Did you set goals for this year? Leave a comment to share those goals. You know what they say about accountability…yeah, yeah, I know.
Yup, I think I still have it since my last post, but on a much deeper level. I am not totally empty.
Writer’s Block? When I first started writing, I read a zillion articles on writing (instead of writing). I procrastinated in search of writing the perfect play, the perfect subject, the perfect setting…the perfect everything. The one article that stuck with me was touting how there is no such thing as writer’s block. While I was reading it I couldn’t imagine running out of ideas. How can you just stop writing. I have bits of pages with ideas from books, tv shows and conversation. I even find inspiring thoughts from social media workshops and conferences. My latest venture was to organize it all in the hopes of streamlining my writing. Grouping these bits of brilliance together to form something bigger.
But then it stopped.
The fountain of ideas running through my head just dried up. So I went through my notebooks and index cards in search of a reason to start writing. For further assistance I looked to “How to write a play in 90 days”. What could be better? Someone telling me how to write. I wouldn’t have to think about a thing, just let your fingers to the talking. The first four days went well, but then the holidays and all its magic happened and I stopped writing. When I returned to my 90-day notebook, the book suggests having two notebooks, one for your work, the other for your thoughts, I tried to continue at day 5, but I couldn’t. Even after re-reading the notes from the previous days, I couldn’t get back into it. So I did what anyone would do, I started something new. After a day of that I couldn’t get into that one either. Then I started to panic. Is this writer’s block? But there’s no such thing, so why is it happening to me? What else could it be? I am still struggling through a blank slate in my head. Ideas that popped like popcorn are now the unpopped kernels that don’t even warm up in the microwave and just end up being thrown away. Yes, dramatic I know. As I’m writing this, I am hoping my brain decides it want to continue writing stories.
I am once again starting on my looking at writing prompts in order to get the juices flowing. So I am setting aside 30-minutes a day to get this done. I chose 30-minutes, because that’s how long I have to keep my teeth whitening strips on, so it’s a two-fer. With two weeks in to the new year, we’ll see how long this writing streak holds up! What do you think about writer’s block and how do you move through it?
Perseverance. Patience. Old virtues we’ve heard time and time again but are hard to live by in a theatre culture of produce, produce, produce. Yet it has been in going back, consistently to these virtues over the past year, that have allowed me to not get lost in the culture nor time. Instead, they have made me stay present, focused, and open to the work existing in increments, and honoring that sometimes a good ideas take time to reveal themselves, and to fully manifest quality work you must proceed with care.
I have been working on my new play Medea: A Soliloquy or The Death of Medea for the past five years and developing the idea from the ground up for over a year now, and at times I feel there is no way this will come into fruition. Can I develop and take my work to its next level? Does the story have the ability to engage? Is the body the best way to tell this story? How am I going to afford rehearsal space? It is within the doubts and fears that I hear an old collaborator state, “Remember the Universe hears you, speak carefully.” So I close my eyes and see the work lives. I begin to speak aloud all that I know is possible with the body, the script and I rely on the talents of my team. I push through and move only forward with the work. Let go of what does not work. Walk away from bad advice as one need not listen to negative feedback. Stay active in your mission to complete your vision, and do only what feels right to you. Hold on to that play but don’t let it linger on a table to gather dust or sit in your files folder on your computer. I was excited for 2018 because I knew there was no giving up. I am ecstatic to be existing in 2019, for the possibilities of how the work can live are endless. Let your work be seen and heard. Be your biggest fan, bet on yourself and let the work…your work, risk failing.