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Writing


 

The Ether Scented Table

When I first taught “Prufrock”
In my early thirties,
Childless,
Wifeless,
Grand ambitions,
I still could feel the foggy cat
Curling ‘round my feet,
Smell the ether,
See the sawdust,
Perceive the pin poised
To fix me wriggling to the wall.

But now a son is three.
And though I see myself
Still fight the against the
Mermaids’ whispers,
Songs that pull me to the depths of age,
To some drowning despair of lost potential,
There is hope for him.

He knows the Jabberwock
That old men fear,
That young men wish to tame.
I taught him that from crib to now,
No longer fear his younger years,
The early tests or trials.

I fear the years I will not see,
When his minutes become hours,
When nostalgia fights regret
And I’m not here to hold him fast
And smooth his hair
And rub his back
And tell him it will pass.

My father’s burden
Now is mine.
Perhaps my son’s ahead.
I do not fear he will not feel
The young man’s joy
Or live life full and long.

But a time will come
When I shall sing the song
Of love and loss.
A lesson that I hope he hears,
Embraces, inhales like shaman smoke,
To do what’s right,
To eat the peach,
To leave the pants unrolled.
To be the artist spoken of
And stroke the downy arms
And gaze into the eyes
And kiss the open lips
And sing the ocean songs
That mermaids hear
And pull them to the shore.

So dare, my son.
Dare to do the things you’ll do.
Dare to leave regrets behind.
Dare to love and dare to lose.
Dare to fall and rise again.
And rise again.
And rise again.

It’s Prufrock’s broken spirit
That I dread.

 

Periodically I post pieces written for SPT’s The Writers’ Room Series that ended up on the cutting room floor. They are pieces that I like, but, for sundry reasons, didn’t end up in the show for which they were written.

Famous Moments in Couples Counseling:
Biscuits and Gravy

BISCUITS (male) and GRAVY (female) are sitting in couple’s therapy. They both have Southern accents.

Therapist
Well, since this is our first meeting, why don’t you tell me a little about each other. Biscuits, why not tell me a little about Gravy.

Biscuit
Well, she’s a saucy little southern girl. A little spicy, warm, comforting. She’s my perfect compliment.

Gravy
Oh, stop it, Bis. You’re just flouering me up.

Biscuit
No, it’s true. I can’t imagine life without you.

Therapist
Gravy.

Gravy
Well, Bis is a little crusty, but once he opens up to you he’s warm and tender. A little flaky, but that’s what I love about him.

Biscuit.
Pshaw.

Therapist
Well, tell me why you’re here today.

They look at each other sheepishly.

Biscuit
Well…

Gravy
Well…

Biscuit
Well, we’ve been together a long time.

Gravy
A long time.

Biscuit
Centuries, actually.

Gravy
We came over from the old country together, you know.

Biscuit
And, while we love each other dearly…

Gravy
So dearly.

Biscuit
We…um…we’re looking to spice things up a bit.

Therapist
Okay.

Gravy
See, he always wants me on top.

Buscuit
She likes things a little…messier that I usually care for.

Gravy
I like it messy, sloppy.

Therapist
I get it. So what you’re looking for is what? A change in the bedroom, or a change of partners?

They look at each other sheepishly.

Together
Bedroom. Partners. Both.

Therapist
I see.

Gravy
Is that bad?

Therapist
Well, it takes a strong relationship to handle that kind of thing. Jealousy can creep in and become a strong and dangerous influence.

Gravy
We’ve talked that through and I think we’re pretty secure in our devotion to each other. We’re really just looking for… for…

Biscuit
Sex.

Therapist
Well, have you thought about possible part—

Gravy
Chuck Fried Steak. I’ve had my eye on him for a while. He’s strong, tough, grissled. I bet he likes it rough and messy.

Biscuit
Frieda Egg.

Gravy
Really? She’s so young.

Biscuit
And bacon.

Gravy
A threesome?

Biscuit
Go big or go home.

Therapist
Okay, then.

For some reason I thought of this the other day. I remember a crash that occurred on the corner of my old high school. I didn’t see it. I read about it in the newspaper. I can still the the pointillated gray photos of the two young girls from the crash. They were friends. One of the dads was driving. The father and one of the girls died in the crash, but both girls were so horribly disfigured that they couldn’t tell who was who.

I don’t know why I’ve been thinking about this lately. I may have already posted this poem, but the memory has been especially vivid the past few days, so here it is.

Life Lesson at Sixteen

Only one of three alive
in stillness lay
broken,
burnt,
ripped from the short ride home
on her crisp orange autumn day
at the corner
where my high school stands,
and the powder green pines grow—
at the corner
where the flag whips the air
from the platinum pole,
bright contrasts to pools of red
and metal wrung like wet rags
against the asphalt gray
they were.

All blood and blond,
their beauty stripped
by a quick-ran red,
an auto-ram impacted sides
with screams and squeals
and sweet-burnt rubber
and shimmering glass like
a giant’s shaken salt
on the gray road-plate—
their flesh offered
raw
for his consuming.

Christmas Memories

I remember
my family Christmas traditions:

My parents’ bubbling laughs,
the bells jingling on their
multicolored night-caps,
as I giddily lay down
in the cinnamon scented
teak-wood box,
and them
gaily pouring the traditional
cardboard box
of living large-eared
and wondrously furry
angora rabbits
on my trembling,
glee-bursting body.

And the rabbits,
forty or fifty,
would romp
over my wriggling form
to the faint strains
of “The Marseilles”
playing on the living room
stereo.

Ah … Christmas!

Christmas in the Fall

Our neighbor’s Christmas lights
flash slowly out of place
on our Halloween street:
flashing blues and greens and reds
amid our lighted orange gourds,
gray straw-stuffed ghouls,
and the fake spider’s webs
that soften the fingers of our barren trees.

Last month she found
that cancer had come
and would take her by
Thanksgiving.

Some of you may know that I have been commissioned to write a play adaptation of Alice in Wonderland for our local theatre. I accepted the commission with all the nostalgic memory of the book and the excitement that someone actually wanted me to write for them.

That was my undoing. I went back and reread the book: not at all meant for the stage.

The plot is so flimsy as to be nearly nonexistent. The conflicts are thin, abrupt, and superficial. I still can’t quite figure out what Alice wants, and I’ve been thinking about it now for a couple of months. She doesn’t, as Dorothy does, seem to want to make her way back home. She doesn’t seem to want to stay there. She seems really to not care that much either way. She is, in fact, a character that I don’t care that much about.

The action asks more of a community theatre —Alice’s growing and shrinking, in particular— than most are able to visually deal with. It’s a bit like putting Spiderman on stage. Sounds great, until you do it. Part of my concern with this aspect is that I really want this adaptation to “get legs” as those in the industry might put it. That means that I need to write it in way that makes it easy and interesting for other community theatres and schools to produce. I would like to make a little money from this piece.

And, most difficult, it is a book of its time, in that it moves from one Victorian allusion to another. For example, the most famous scene, the tea party scene, includes three iconic Victorian characters: a Mad Hatter, a March Hare, and a Dormouse. A Victorian might hear those words and instantly connect. Mad Hatter: hatters made hats using mercury, because of that they had a reputation for being a bit mentally unstable. March Hare: a rabbit during breeding season that jumps around like he’s suffering from St. Vitus’ Dance. Dormouse: known for its long hibernation. But for the contemporary kid —yea, I might say most contemporary adults — these allusions are lost. Not mention the Mock Turtle. Still can’t wrap my mind around that one, even though I know what it is.

So, I have spent the last two months absolutely bound up in creative paralysis, writer’s block, ineffectual plotting, and self-doubt. It’s been fun.

Well the rubber is now on the road, as my first due date is nigh approaching: August 14th. I need to have the characters and treatment done. I have been riding a system of rogue waves with crests of relief at new ideas and troughs of despair at my inability to work this thing out. It’s a bit tiring.

This is what binds me; The issue: Do I try to stay true to the script and let the director deal with the issues? or Do I rewrite the story into a more stage-friendly format and, in doing so, change it from its original intent, molding it into a totally new story, that simply nods to the original. The binding agent is audience expectation. What will they come expecting to see? Should I take that into account, or just blaze away and hope they find substance and entertainment in my take on the story.

In an odd way making this decision takes courage. And I’m finding that I am not as courageous as I would like to be.

On a side note —or maybe not— we were sitting down to dinner the other night. My wife and I were talking about our day, our six week-old eating at the mom-buffet, the other in his food-chair, babbling contentedly to himself. Suddenly my two year-old thrust his left arm into the air and shouted —clearly and unmistakably— “Chaaaaaaaaaarge!”

Neither my wife nor I have ever said that to him. We don’t know where he got it. Sometimes he speaks like an elemental conduit to the powers of the universe. So I got the message.

So, whether Alice becomes my victorious Omaha or my disastrous Waterloo, I must charge ahead. I just hope I’m one of Henry’s valiant Band of Brothers, not Tennyson’s ravaged Six Hundred.

ZEUS is on stage rooting around looking for something.

Zeus

Hera! Hera, have you seen my Thundercats mug? (To himself) How am I supposed to get it on without my secret magic talisman. It’s like she knows what I’m thinking. Me-damnit! That woman is always …

Hera

[Enters.] What are you looking for, Zeus?

Zeus

My Thundercats mug You’re always putting my stuff up when I’ve put it in a very specific place for…

Hera

Specific place? Look at this mess! You’d think the king of the gods would take some care to keep his office clean instead of this pigsty. You think you’re Dionysus?

Zeus

Bitch bitch bitch. That is all you have done for the last 6000 years.

Hera

Well maybe if you would spend more time at home than down at the Atlantis Bar with Odin and Ra. Ogling at Persephone and that…that cow, Io!

Hercules

[Enters with Thundercats mug.] Hey Dad?

Zeus

Hercules! Thank, Odin! Can you get your mother off my back?

HERCULES and HERA eye each other with disdain.

Hercules

Hey, Hera, I didn’t know you were home.

Zeus

Come on, I told you that you can call her Mom.

Hera

That’s right. You told him.

Hercules

You left those snakes in my bed again last night.

Hera

(Feigning) Oh, that’s where they went. I’ve been looking all over for…

Zeus

Now, come on. Can’t you two just get along?

Hera

Can’t he just get along? I mean how long is he going to keep living in the basement? Do you have another job yet?

Hercules

I’ve been looking.

Zeus

The boy’s been busy. He needs some time to relax.

Hera

Time to relax? He’s been in the basement for the last 5000 years! He hasn’t done anything.

Hercules

I have had twelve very important jobs. And they were very strenuous; I just want some down time.

Hera

Important jobs?! You swept horseshit out of some stables.

Zeus

Hey, come on now. That was an enormous pile of horseshit.

Hercules

It was very big.

Hera

I am giving you 500 years to get your act together, go out there and find a job. I want you out of this basement and living on your own in 500 years, do you understand me?

Hercules

[Cowed.] Yes.

Hera

[Turns on ZEUS.] And I have my eye on you. Athena told me she saw you in the great hall taking a long gander at Leda the other night. I know you are up to no good. If I hear you’ve been down there philandering around again… I don’t care if you can grow it back, I’m cutting that one off. Do you hear me?

Zeus

[Cowed.] Yes.

HERA turns to exit, then turns back to them. Does the two-finger-point to her eyes then the two-finger-point to both ZEUS and HERCULES. Exits.

Hercules

Wow.

Zeus

Well, that’s why she’s the goddess of marriage.

Hercules

She’s why mine didn’t work out so well.

Zeus

Yeah, well…

Hercules

Here’s your Thundercats mug.

Zeus

Where did you find it?

Hercules

You let me borrow it. For a…uh… magical task down there.

Zeus

Who did you, uh, “visit” with this thing?

Hercules

Beyonce.

Zeus

Hmm, I haven’t heard of her. How did you do it? I mean, what form did you take?

Hercules

Justin Timberlake, he’s apparently a highly regarded oracle and cultural icon. Worked like a charm.

Zeus

Nice job.

Hercules

Who do you need it for?

Zeus

Well, I thought, I’d go back down and visit Bea Arthur, again. I haven’t seen her in a while. Thought I’d use the shower of gold trick.

Hercules

Oh, Dad. I’ve got some bad news for you. (To Gerard) Play us out, Orpheus.

Thanks for those of you who suggested some topics. I got a few pretty interesting suggestions that I plan on attending to in the next few weeks. Please do keep them coming, though!

My writing life right now is centered around a commissioned piece. I’ve been asked to write an adaptation of Alice in Wonderland, which, at first got me quite excited. I was, of course basing my excitement purely on nostalgia. Now that I have reread the story I am utterly terrified. When I was commissioned, the person asking me to do this said, “There really isn’t a good theatrical treatment of Alice in Wonderland.” Well, now I know why.

It is not a book that is easily translated to the stage. I could go into detail as to why, but at this point it makes my head hurt and my stomach ache.

Suffice to say that once I get over one hurdle another is there to stop me short.

So, after about a month of absolutely no writing movement— what one of my writing profs liked to call “nesting” – I came up with a general treatment for the overall style of the play. It actually freed me up to write the outline for scene one. Then I hit the chapter known as “The Pool of Tears.” It is the second chapter of the book. The second scene of the play. That is where I am currently stymied. I just can’t seem to move forward.

It really is starting to concern me. I didn’t want this to be that hard. I really do want this to become something that I might be able to publish.

The one thing I was excited about when my wife took the boys on a vacation with her sisters was the time I would get to sit down and pound out the treatment for Alice. Since she left I have trimmed hedges, painted the bathroom, cleaned the house —the kitchen twice!— mowed the lawn, weeded, and taken two walks. If you know me…then you know that ain’t right.

If I would rather clean than write…

God help me.

I am often happily stunned by the creativity of the human mind. Especially the creativity of the bored human mind.

If you don’t really know what I mean, you must check out the video entitled “Extreme Sheep LED Art.”

These guys have really gone outer-limits. I really hope you watch it, because I’m not going to describe it. Just know that it’s genius: the bored kind of genius. It makes me want to coin a new phrase, which I’ll get to in a moment.

Soldiers and students know this: There is something electrically stimulating about boredom.

That’s how so many bizarre and folkorish games get created. Some schools and some military units have odd little games that have become tradition. I’m pretty sure that’s how highlander games started, along with most Scottish food traditions.

I remember two games that some MS/HS friends and I created. I still look fondly on those games.

One was a roller skating game (yes, I said roller skates. I am that old). We put roller skates on, placed a five gallon bucket against my parents’ garage door and played a form of full-contact roller skating basketball: we used a tennis ball and no helmets or pads.

We also had a game that we called Pillow Toss (don’t let your mind go there). We would stand with our feet apart, holding two corners of a pillow, swinging it between our legs. then we would toss the pillow into the air. We attempted to make the pillow land as flat as possible — all four corners at the same time. We had wild variations: distance tosses, multiple flips.

A teaching friend and I would play a bizarre handball game in the halls of the school after hours. We actually began naming the shots. Hitting the confluence of the floor and the wall, making the ball bounce directly back to you was The Bumper. Banking the ball off the confluenced corner between two walls and the floor, then bouncing off lockers 3453-3443, hitting the floor again, bouncing off the lockers 3432 -3422, then catching the ball was called The Sword of Cthulu.

Creativity inspired through boredom.

I would like to coin it “lighting up the sheep.”

But that has become a problem for me. Because I have been so swamped with projects that I haven’t really had the time to get bored. And what that really means is that I haven’t gotten my creative batteries recharged.

I’m a bit spent.

So I am looking for a little boredom.

However…

I have a play beginning rehearsal this week.

I have a pregnant wife due this week.

I have a two-year old boy.

I’m not sure those sheep will get lit.

Being a “Creativity Specialist” is a little tough when you feel bereft of creativity.

I have this upcoming show that I’m writing for that is hanging over my head like Damocles’ Sword. And the hair it’s dangling from is one of mine. And if you know me, you know I don’t have the strongest strands in the world.

The writing well is pretty empty right now. And so I have done what I (and I must say others) have done. I have gotten a new computer game.

Lame, right? Not really. Many people in creative industries use games as a way to blow off steam and try to open their minds to other types of thought.

I have found that that actually works for me, quite often.

My problems: 1) I am pretty bored with the games I have; 2) I use a Mac.

I love my Mac, but boy is it light on the games, at least the games I like.

Oh, right. I have a third problem. I don’t like to spend money.

Well, I’ve found a game…and I’ve done it without spending any money…yet.

I have become …um… a little addicted to Trade Nations. It’s a little game for the iPad all about building a little city of your own. But one of the cool little things is that you “find” neighbors online and trade your own goods with them.

I really like that mock-social aspect of the thing.

What I mean to say is that I would love that mock-social aspect of the thing…if I had any friends that also played the game.

Here is the catch.

Magic Beans.

By using magic beans you can purchase über-cool stuff, help pay for regular stuff, and hurry the production of regular buildings and goods. But that’s not what makes them magic.

What makes these beans magic is their ability to make your personal cash disappear. This is where the game designers attempt to hook you. You can purchase as little as $.99 worth of beans all the way up to, I think, a package of $99.00 worth.

So tempting. I have not purchased any beans. But they are calling. And I have started to rationalize why I should buy some.

Here’s a good one: The app is free. I should pay something to them for this happiness.

I think that’s a good one. And an honest one. I need to pay these people.

But how many beans…I mean how much should I pay them? I can’t pay them $99.00 for 3000 beans. Right? I mean, that’s too much. Right? And I love my wife. So $99.00 is definitely way too much.

I’m thinking $4.99. That seems good for an app. I think I’ll go with that. I’ll check with my wife.

Anyway, I really like this app. I don’t have to think about it all the time, but it takes my mind off my creative slump. I think that’s just the balm my psyche needs.

See, it’s not a drug, it’s a medicine.

So, if you need a little medicine try it out. But make sure you tell me what your screen name is so I can get a few neighbors.

And if you want to throw a few beans my way, that’s cool too.

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