Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Da blahs

Today's menu: a surf-n-turf mix of post-birthday let-down and mid-week crisis, with a side order of "what the hell was that dream about last night?" The dream was pre-waking. For some reason I had to get up an hour earlier than normal because I would need the extra time to get all dressed up in a Fred Astaire tux to do this morning's town hall webcast. I was going to be hosting it like one of those guys who used to host the after-school movie. "In today's movie, Ginger Rogers does Wall Street by way of Busby Berkeley in the rollicking 1935 musical Hostile Tender."

I think I'm just bummed that my life never approaches the cleverness of either my scripts or my dreams.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Countrie Matters: the flashback that never made it

While going through all the stuff I wrote that never made it into the new play, I found this, which I wrote very early on (in late February, while I was still in the "what is this play about again?" stage). It's too good to disappear, so here it is. It takes place instead of (or in addition to) the Ophelia/Laertes scene that's in the first act of Hamlet:

LAERTES: Once more, farewell, my sister. I am for Paris
To lay a rose upon our mother's grave.

OPHELIA: And zinnia and rosemary for me.

LAERTES: Ophelia,
For you I will unflower all of France
And make a garden of our mother's tomb.

OPHELIA: Laertes,
If you were not my brother, you would be
The mirror of my earthly aspirations.
What of our father? Is he still unmoved
By your departure?

LAERTES: Oh, as still as stone
To look at, but beneath his flinty skin
Bubbles a pit of molten disapproval.
He is incensed against my trip to France,
And had I not petitioned to the King
To grant my leave, I would be cribbed here still,
A baby woodcock in my father's snare.

OPHELIA: You blame the rosebud for its prickly thorns,
Forgetting that our father was not nettled
Until occasion forced him to be fretful.
His parents dying young, he never knew
The steady anchor of a governor,
But like a lost and frightened boy, marooned
Upon an empty ship, he was constrained
By cruel fate to play both crew and captain,
To give the orders and to see them done
And sail his life without a map or guide
Through reckless waters to a reefless shore.

LAERTES: Yet see what time has done to that bold youth,
For now the wreck of his life has become
Our reef. Each time I try to plot the course
Of my pursuits, he bulls onto the bridge,
Wrenches the wheel away, and runs for shore,
As if my life is his to live his way
In compensation for the debt I owe
To him for bringing me into the world.

OPHELIA: And yet, in his cold way, he loves us still.

LAERTES: When he says love, he means obedience.

OPHELIA: And is it any wonder? Yes, he commands
Like a scarred captain on a battlefield--
But his life has been his mortal enemy--
Taking our mother, who became an angel
Almost as soon as she became a bride--
Stealing his youth and all his cherishments
And leaving in their place a crushing burden
That would have driven Atlas to his knees.

LAERTES: A weight he flaunts and uses to drive us
Down to our knees when we stand up to him.
He lives to make our voices speak his words,
Like a musician who can only teach
By playing all his students' notes. Oh please,
My sister, while I am away, do not,
Do not let him play you. Make your own music.

OPHELIA: Sweet brother. How you do forget my place.
I am my father's instrument, until
He finds a likely man to call my tune.
They say Prince Hamlet is a fine musician.

LAERTES: Not so--he is an instrument--a lyre.

OPHELIA: There sounds an envious note.

LAERTES: Ah no, Ophelia--
'Tis admiration--would my tongue could spread
The honey from a flowered phrase like Hamlet.
All I can do is beg you to remember
That his warm voice and all the pregnant words
Which he delivers in his vows of love
Are but a whisper to the shout of blood
Which seals you as the sister of Laertes.
Despite your worth, Prince Hamlet's will is not
His own--he is the son of kings, and you
And I are but the children of a tyrant.
What choice he makes cannot be circumscribed
Beyond the line of which he is the issue,
For he himself is subject to his birth.

OPHELIA: As are we all, who share the sacred blood
Of family. If I looked in your heart,
I would see something of our father there.

LAERTES: And something of our mother.

OPHELIA: I wish I knew her.

LAERTES: I see her only vaguely, a ghost in velvet.

OPHELIA: And I perceive the wheel of time, which made
My grandmother bring forth into the world
A little boy who never knew his father--
And he in turn brought forth a little girl
Who never knew her mother. What is left
To come round to our children, yours and mine,
But the blessing of a full and happy family?

And that's it. I wrote a note to the effect that this is where Polonius comes in and says something stupid, but I never got around to writing it, so insert your own version of a "To thine own self be false" speech here.

The BladeRunner of Comic Books

God's birthday present to me: the fact that this seminal (in all senses of the word) work is back in print. Yeah, the color is muted and different from the original (he said, checking pages against the Graphitti reprints of the First trades that I picked up this winter) which means the graphic design elements don't jump out at you the way they did 25 years ago, but still. Talk about something that hasn't aged and was wa-a-a-a-ay the hell ahead of it's time. Media-driven culture? Check. More original logos and graphics work per-page than any ten modern magazines? Check. (God bless you, Ken Bruzenak.) Video crawls under CNBC broadcasts? American Flagg had it first. Talking head video driving the story in Dark Knight Returns? Everywhere in American Flagg. All the commercials and video stuff in Robocop? Totally swiped from American Flagg (Chaykin even gets a minor credit to [cough] make up for the fact [cough] that he was ripped off). And the Philip K Dick analogy even holds true to the premise (there's a Mars colony here, just like in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?-hell, just like there is in almost every Dick novel). Highly recommended.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Weekend Update

The Slow Decline Of Musicals. Saw A Catered Affair Friday night (thank you, Laura!) and our entire post-show discussion can be summed up with the words "When did composers stop writing songs for Broadway musicals?" It was like watching a dozen people sing to the underscoring of a Warner Brothers melodrama, which describes both the musical style and the memorable nature of what was playing.

The Extended Television Episode. Saw X-Files: I Wanted To Like It I Want To Believe Saturday morning. Far too much fake drama (They need your help, I don't want to help, please help me, this is too much for me, this is who I am, goodbye then, I'm worried about you, let's go to an island together) and not enough creepy weirdness. Most entertaining part of this made-for-TV movie? The guy who started snoring after ten minutes and then left fifteen minutes before it ended. Basically a police procedural with telepathy grafted onto it. And if you've seen the movie, then you know that I use the word "grafted" deliberately.

The Rise of Illiteracy. During Sunday night's Red Sox game, ESPN put up clips about this year's Hall of Famers, one of whom is manager Dick Williams, who brought the Sox from the cellar to the pennant in '67. One of the stats they cited was "Cy Young Award winner: Jim Longborg." When I saw that, I did an Uncle Tonoose spit take. Hey ESPN--his name is LONBORG. And you can look it up.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Life at Trampley Nixon

Great day at the company last week. We wrote down 10 billion dollars in mortgage loans, but because the Street expected us to write off 10.25 billion, our stock went up a dime. Yay defying expectations! Proof yet again that the Stock Market is exactly like the New Hampshire Primary -- it's not about winning or losing, it's about whether you meet, better, or disappoint targeted expectations. You can get 40% of the vote, but if you were expected to get 50%, you lose; you can come in third with 11%, but if you were expected to get 2%, you win big! It's like a gambling casino with pundits!

This week's dictionary entries:

Action items. All the shit nobody wants to do. In school, these used to be called “assignments” or “homework,” but because they require the same amount of work-at-home hours to complete, it took Corporate America about fifteen minutes to come up with a sexy synonym that implies adventure instead of mind-numbing, time-consuming overtime. This is particularly ironic because the main features that make up an action movie (adventure, violence, profanity and sex) are the same for an action item (the adventure is not getting fired, the violence is visions of killing your manager, the profanity is muttered under your breath and the sex is you being fucked over).

Action Figureheads. Managers who promise change, results, and transformationals, and then assign the real work to you.

Best practices. Actually obeying the letter of the law as opposed to squeezing through the usual loopholes. All corporations promote best practices as a standard; the fact that they have to promote them at all gives you some idea of how standard they really are.

Deep dive. A presentation which supplies verifiable facts as opposed to the usual bullet points and jargon. Deep dives usually take place (a) when people start asking intelligent questions that poke holes in the normal day-to-day BS that passes for information; (b) there is a special interpretation of the facts that needs to be understood so that the facts can be ignored; or (c) when an army of facts needs to be deployed to support a particular world view. In UFO terms, this means that deep dives (a) use facts to make believers think twice; (b) use facts to make believers look misinformed; or (c) use facts to make believers look stupid. The implication being that all the information we gave you originally was shallow, if not totally wrong, and this is what you really need to know –- until we do a deep dive on the deep dive. (See PRESSURE DIVE.)

Deliverables. All the shit nobody wants to do wrapped up in garbage bags.

Dentist Appointment. Job interview.

Depression. The “Fire!” that always clears Wall Street’s crowded theatre. A word that is never, ever (ever ) spoken aloud when discussing the stock market, which is proof positive of the stupidity and herd mentality of investment bankers and stockbrokers, as well as the house-of-cards stability of the current market economy, which can be blown over by a single whispered run-on-the-bank-causing stock-price-plummeting three-syllable word.

Doctor’s appointment. Second interview.

Initiative. The corpse of change; change after it’s been covered in makeup and filled with embalming fluid. The equivalent of looking at the body of your grandmother in an open casket and thinking “I could swear I just saw her breathe.”

Once. Legal definition: always. If a woman has had sex once, then in the eyes of the law she’s a slut; if a man smoked pot once, then legally he’s a dope addict; and anyone who’s ever been caught telling just one fib is legally a compulsive liar who can not be believed in a court of law no matter how much he swears he’s telling the truth.

Robust. Something that actually works, as in, “We need a robust server structure.” Most often used to describe either a goal or a potential outcome, thus implying that the current state of affairs is static, moribund, and possibly dead.

Sick Day. Third interview.

Urgency. Panic. When someone in management uses the phrase “sense of urgency,” head for the hills and don’t look back. Learn from history -- Custer at the Little Big Horn had a sense of urgency. Travis at the Alamo had a sense of urgency. The French at Den Bien Phu had a sense of urgency. They all soldiered on regardless. Do the same at your own peril.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Weekend Update

Three days, four movies. Mad Detective (WTF in a good way), Hancock (WTF in a bad way), Mamma Mia! (check your brain at the door and sing along), and The Dark Knight (HFS in the best way possible).

Sweating. I don't remember it being this hard to get six people in the same room for a two-hour rehearsal. But then again, the last time I tried to do something like this was about six Presidents ago, when the world was young, the dollar was sound, and an hour was really 60 minutes long, instead of its current inflationary rate of 20.

Chilling. Read The Jennifer Morgue by Charles Stross, an excellent sequel to The Atrocity Archives. It's a fun-house mirror Bond movie take-off with Lovecraft demons, bureaucratic entanglements, high-tech magic, and Tom Holt similes (to coin a phrase: Cthulhupunk).

Freezing. MATTHEW THE SUCKER: Oh, look who sent me an e-mail!
BODYGUARD MATTHEW: Freeze! Now put. The keyboard. Down.
MATTHEW THE SUCKER: Maybe I'll text her.
BODYGUARD MATTHEW: Put. The cellphone. Down.
MATTHEW THE SUCKER: Can't I even just --
BODYGUARD MATTHEW: I don't have time for this, pal. Assume the position.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Two kinds of cheese

The only woman in film who's smooched with Dirty Harry and James Bond.

When I saw Moulin Rouge, my first thought when the credits were rolling was: "Can I like duck into the bathroom and stay and see this again?" I had the same feeling when I saw Mamma Mia. It’s silly and mindless and cheery and relentlessly catchy, just like a good pop song -- like, in fact, the Abba songs that make up its score. I defy you to see it and not have a good time on the same grounds that I would defy you to listen to catchy pop and not walk around humming the tune for the next 24 hours. In other words, google “Noel Coward” and “cheap music,” and then file this movie under P for Potent.

You can also file it under O for over-the-top. That pretty much describes Meryl Streep, who gives a master class in mugging and still makes you feel like the character is grounded. Christine Baranski is her usual brilliant self, Julie Walters is pretty much wasted until “Take A Chance On Me,” Colin Firth looks really gay in a dog collar, Stellan Skarsgard is like a post-punk Father Goose, and Pierce Brosnan has the singing voice of a laryngitic hound and could give a shit what you think. They’re all totally fearless in their total silliness, and there’s nothing more silly than the credit sequence music number when the guys don disco outfits and sing with the girls to “Waterloo.”

Zeitgeist note: this is officially the movie summer for Women Of A Certain Age, and I say yay. In a typical Hollywood scenario, any film with three male leads in their 50’s would have at least one of them wind up with a girl he should be adopting instead of dating. Not here. Think it had to do with the fact that executive producers and the director were women? (Yup.) (Double yay.)

I just wish the large-cast musical numbers had been better directed. There’s no real flow to them. I have seen few scenes more delightful than an entire Greek island of women dropping whatever it is they’re doing so they can join in with Streep, Baranski and Walters as they sing "Dancing Queen." But because it’s not shot and edited to give you the build, there’s no payoff when everybody ends up on the pier singing the chorus. It’s the pop tune equivalent of fucking up the channels when you do the mix.

Oh, and the blog title? There is good cheese and stinky cheese. This is good cheese.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Hellboy II: The Golden Army

Google "Noel Coward" and "cheap music," then wonder why "potent" applies to film critics more than you.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

RIP: Cafe Figaro

Word is, there'll be a bank there by this time next year . . .

Life at Trampley Nixon

As many of you know, during my day job I slave away as an Everything Bagel at Trampley Nixon, the only federally-approved combination accounting firm/law firm/investment bank/financial services corporation in America. As a model of the kind of conglomerate that 21st-century corporations will all have to become in order to survive, Trampley Nixon is the anti-evolutionary corporate animal: the dinosaur descended from mammals. We do everything (not necessarily well), and while our slogan isn't the best ("We put the tramp in Trampley and the Dick in Nixon"), it's light years better than "On your backs for Goldman Sachs" or "Merrill Lynch, and vice versa."

And what do I do as an employee of TN? First of all, I'm not an actual employee--like almost all of the support staff in law firms and investment banks, I am an outside service provider who has been hired through a third-party staffing agency at a low-benefit no-healthcare salary to do whatever it is my immediate superiors want me to do on a given day. On July 2nd, before I left on vacation? I lost half a million on oil working the trading floor from 8 to 10, did paralegal work till lunchtime, and spent the rest of the day cooking the books for Budweiser in anticipation of their upcoming sale to InBev. I was also put in charge of updating the next edition of the LieBanker Dictionary, which used to be the province of Bear Stearns until their stock tanked (and guess who built the tank for them?) and they became a leisure service of JP Morgan.

Now and then I'll be blogging about all the fun things the lawyers, bankers and accountants at my company do. But for now, I'd like to share with you a list of several prominent buzzwords which showed up in one out of every five e-mails I plowed through when I got back from vacation:

BEST. When used as an adjective (as in “We expect you to do your best”) it means “no better than your immediate superior.” When used as part of an e-mail signature (as in “Best, Joanne”) it means “Fuck you.” (See also PLEASE ADVISE and JUST SO YOU KNOW.)

COMFORT ZONE. The gated community of incompetence. The place which managers want you to vacate so they can safely remain in theirs. Contrary to corporate mythology, Comfort Zones are not created by workers who are afraid to go beyond their limitations – their borders are actually established by the internal corporate culture and patrolled on a regular basis to make sure that (a) the right sort of people are protected inside it and (b) the expendable people are the ones who become targets outside it.

The best way to picture what Comfort Zones are and how they operate is to think of the Vietnam War. In this war, the enemy is a group of raiders called Victor Charles. They own the night, so nobody does any soldiering except during the day, and even then nobody with any brains ever (ever) humps outside the designated patrol route (the CZ). Any and all patrols which do end up outside the CZ are usually ordered by Rear Echelon Motherfuckers (REMFs) who are more than willing to see a grunt’s ass blown away so theirs can be saved. When grunts are accused of staying in their CZ or not going outside the CZ, it’s a sure sign that the REMFs are feeling the heat from Command, and need the corporate equivalent of a high body count mission in order to look good. In other words, it’s a given that no one in a position of actual power within a corporation will ever talk about “getting out of your comfort zone” unless his or her job is on the line.

Comfort Zone is also used as a synonym for the job you were actually hired to do, as opposed to the two or three jobs you will now be doing for no extra pay because some REMF laid off half of your co-workers.

FEDERAL BAILOUT. The lollipop that Uncle Sam shoves into his whining nephew's mouth to shut him up. When it occurs in Russia and pays failed companies millions of rubles to continue existing and repeating their failures, a bailout is socialism at its worst. When it occurs in the United States and basically rewards corporate stupidity with billions of dollars of taxpayer money, thus giving them no incentive at all to either learn a lesson or do their jobs well, a bailout is capitalism at its finest.

FOCUS ON THE ISSUE, NOT THE PERSONALITY. The accepted corporate euphemism for “We all know which arrogant asshole is the root of the problem here.”


LEVERAGING THE FRANCHISE. Making sure that anyone who touches the Tar Baby that is your company gets totally covered by it. In fashion terms, wearing Nike clothes, sneakers, underwear and perfume. In Mafia terms, keeping it in the family. In racial terms, segregation. In political terms, paying the right kickbacks. In AA terms, only socializing with fellow ex-addicts because no one else can ever understand. In religious terms, making the Church the center of your life. In construction terms, getting your brother to lay the foundation, your sister to supply the lumber, your cousin to do the designs, your nephew to do the plumbing and electricity, and your father to sign off on the inspection.

MOVING FORWARD. “Let us never speak of this again.” Always used in relation to massive layoffs, the firing of high-level management, the “resignation” of high-level management, the out-of-court settlement of any and all lawsuits, and the payment of massive fines to the SEC. Currently used in relation to all losses and write-offs associated with the Sub-Prime Mortgage Crisis. The temporal aspect to this term (along with GOING FORWARD) implies that the internal corporate calendar has been reset as of this moment to Day One, Year Zero, like the French Revolution; and (like the French Revolution) a lot of heads will roll every time this happens.

THINKING OUTSIDE THE BOX. The corporate equivalent of saying “Hello -- we’ve pigeon-holed and cookie-cuttered your ass since B School. Now do something we didn’t train you for.” In creative terms, saving your job by coming up with an idea that no one has thought of before so your boss can take credit for it. In financial terms, finding a loophole in the regulations that no one has thought of exploiting before. In reality, a double insult, since it implies that (a) the person telling you to think this way is incapable of doing it himself and (b) he’ll be the one vetting whatever you come up with, from his secure position (cough) inside the box (cough). It's like a fish being asked to think of something outside water, and when you come up with the idea of air, your boss fish scratches his gills and says "Air, huh? What the fuck is air?" and promotes some grouper who has this great new way to look at wet sand. And always remember: along with “getting out of your comfort zone,” “thinking outside the box” is a phrase that is never used unless the tumbrels are getting ready to carry a fresh load of aristos to Madame De Guillotine.

TOXYMORON. An expression that is so stupidly contradictory that hearing it spoken aloud is like having someone pour hydrochloric acid in your ears. Examples: “Thinking outside the box is a no-brainer.” “We will continue to be a world-class franchise moving forward.” And the classic "Just so you know, 'Please advise' is an invitation, not a command. Best, Dick."

Monday, July 14, 2008

Weekend Update Part 2

Things my niece Alyssa said to me while I was on vacation:

"You're fat."
"You're old."
"Your feet are ugly."
"Are you going to eat that whole sandwich?"
"Your fingers are like sausages."
"But listen! Listen! You're not listening!"
"Is the water warm?"
"This isn't warm--this is COLD!"
"You write a lot."
"You write funny."
"You read a lot."
"What are you reading THAT for?"
"This is stupid."
"The grille is on fire! The grille is on fire!"
"One minute--honest! Just one more minute!"
"Will you take a walk with me?"
"Why do I have to walk with you?"
"You still read COMIC BOOKS?!?"
"Stop taking pictures!"
"If you put a picture of me on YouTube, can I sue you?"

Weekend Update Part 1

Saturday at the cottage, there were two parties: one for my cousin Brian, who turned 50 on Friday, and a surprise anniversary party for my brother David and his wife Cindy. Plus the kind of pictures that reminded me why I kept getting carded till I was in my late 30's.

First up: me and my sister Monica, who was going through her Dorothy Hamill phase at the time:

This is me with Nana Wells, my grandmother on my father's side. As you can tell from her expression, nobody in our family ever has a good time doing anything.

And how many years has David been married? Hmm; I don't know--why don't we check his ass?

Yes folks, this is my family.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Vacation Diary

Music I listened to while doing the rewrite:

The EmFire Collection, Sasha
Global Underground 27: Miami, Danny Howells
Global Underground 30: Paris, Nick Warren
The Hours, Philip Glass
Communicate, Sasha & Digweed
Transport, Max Graham

Friday, July 11, 2008

Vacation Diary

July 10th part 2. Sat on the beach from 11 till 3. Finished The Name of the Wind, and can't believe I have to wait till April of '09 for the second book in the trilogy. Started The Spa by Fay Weldon, which is like a modern Decameron -- clever lady. Made notes for noir story/novel based on old non-noir movie I saw on TCM a couple of nights ago. (One of these days . . .) Remembered the story I dreamed up about how Shakespeare got the 1,000 pounds he needed to become one of the sharers in the Chamberlain's Men, and wrote down the bare outline of it. (One of these days . . .) Tinkered with the idea of making a novel out of both the play I just finished and all the scenes I didn't put into the play. Put idea aside as something to do for about an hour a day over the next month while I work on a romantic comedy. (My God--two plays with happy endings.) Finally read last week's New York Times Magazine article about suicide, and wondered if the availability of a firearm would have prevented this stupid tragedy. Memo to self: when I get back to New York, go into storage and dig out that copy of Neighboring Lives. Walked my niece down to the only store within a mile of the cottage and bought her a Vitamin Water and some candy. Went looking in the store for books to read; they had exactly six on sale, all romances. Took pictures of the moon after sunset and got eaten alive by mosquitoes in less than five minutes. And before going to bed, watched four episodes of Cowboy Bebop, all of which I'd seen before, none of which I'd remembered.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Vacation Diary

July 10. Long involved dream, but I only remember the end of it, when I ask Cheryl Peyton if we’re seeing the new Superman movie tonight. She shakes her head no, she can’t get away from her husband. I make a mental note to see it on my own and then act surprised when I eventually see it with her. But I’m seeing it tonight.

I walk home through Chinatown. At one of the bookstores I usually go to, I find a copy of a Rafael Sabatini novel I’ve been looking for since I don’t know when (The Devil In The Details). When I pay for it, the Chinese guy behind the counter asks me if I want a dragon too. “We have six of them,” he says. I say sure, and he goes in back and comes out with a dragon which has been petrified into a small jade statue. It comes with an instruction book about how to turn it into a real dragon, and what to feed it, and how to turn it back into jade. On the way past the Mercury Lounge, I see a line of people waiting to buy a dragon, and a guy in front explaining that they’re all out, they didn’t get their shipment in today, but there may be a few for sale at the merch table during the 9 PM Human Sexual Response Reunion Tour show.

From Houston, I cut through the Columbia campus to my apartment in Hell’s Kitchen. Of the two elevators, the left-hand one is broken and getting repaired. The right-hand one works, and it opens when I push the button. I get in and push 6, then see the landlord coming. I hold the door for him, let it go, see a bare-chested guy in jeans coming, and hold it for him too. The bare-chested guy tells the landlord that all the bathroom work he’s doing on the sixth floor is flooding the apartment on the eighth floor. Without him saying any more than that, I know it’s my sixth-floor apartment he’s talking about, and that it’s the one across the hall that needs the bathroom work, not mine.

When the elevator stops on the sixth floor and the door opens, the bare-chested guy doesn’t move. He’s standing right in front of me and he doesn’t move when I say excuse me, so I say it a little louder, and when he still doesn’t move, I shout it at him: “EXCUSE ME! I’M GETTING OFF HERE.” He turns and looks at me like I’m the asshole for yelling, and pushes the side of the elevator, which swings away like a barroom door. I feel like an idiot for forgetting that this is how the elevators work in my apartment building, but I’m also still livid when I get out and walk through the open door of my apartment with a huge chip on my shoulder to find the place full of people building furniture and bookcases. That’s right--I remember now--my daughter is coming in from Boston to go to NYU, and she’s going to be staying with me for a couple of weeks until she gets a place of her own.

The workers all approach me to show me what they’re working on and get my approval. A tall brunette with her hair up and wearing a calf-length dress like an extra in a Forties film noir movie shows me a desk/chair combination that looks like one of those grammar school chair/desks, only the desk area on this one is ten feet long and tilts up at a 45-degree angle. I nod; good, Becky will like that. Another woman is building a mountain bike out of stray pipes and tires; she’s arguing with a young man about the way the chain drapes between the pedals and the back tire.

I check the bathroom. Yes, it’s leaking down to the eighth floor, I can see the puddle on the ceiling. As I come out of the bathroom, a balding guy with a moustache asks me about pepper spray. “She’s not here yet?” he asks, referring to my daughter. “No,” I say, “but she will be.” “When she runs away,” he asks, “does she waddle a little?” She does, actually, but I hesitate before telling him he’s correct. “You can be honest,” he says, and I say, “Yeah, actually, she does, a little.” “No problem,” he says, “we have three types of spray, the slow wide spray,” and he presses down the nozzle to release a thin wide cloud of mist. “The slightly more directed spray,” he presses the nozzle of a second can and it comes out like a shower nozzle spitting water, but it doesn’t reach as far as the wide spray. “And this,” he says, and presses the nozzle of a third can to release a steady hose of liquid, which splashes against the opposite wall. “Which do you think would be best?” he asks, and I wake up.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Vacation Diary

July 8, part 2. The mad scene writes itself through me in two stages, the second scarier than the first because I'm actually able to direct things towards the scene I originally planned but couldn't write in the first draft because all the sidetracks got in the way--the scene where Hamlet drives Ophelia offstage by telling her in essence the truth about himself. Because everything is more (directed? concentrated? meaningful?) in this draft, all I have to do is ignore all the chatter in the first draft and write the scene from scratch. Which is the scary part. It's like having a Mapquest printout and then ignoring it; there's a part of your mind that says, "Don't be stupid, use the map you have, didn't it get you to where you wanted to go?" And it did, but it's the journey, not the destination, that's important. There are a ton of roads you can take from Lights Up to Fade Out, and they all present a different scenic route. You have to map out the one with the best sights, and if that means throwing away yesterday's map when you do today's travelling, then that's what you have to do, and trust that you'll be steering everything in the right direction.

I use the word trust a lot to describe this, and when I do, I mean a kind of faith as well, a faith that when you take a leap you will grow wings and fly, a faith that when you start to write or talk to yourself (I do a lot of talking to myself) the words will come. And not just any words, but the right words. Meaning the character's words, not my words. (My words are another sidetrack.) Although in this play? There is a lot of fecking Matthew, and there are a lot of fecking people who will read this or hear this and know it.

I finish writing everything longhand at around 9 PM, and start typing in the changes and the new scenes. At about 10:35, I'm typing up the last bit of dialogue between Hamlet and Ophelia and conducting a gmail chat conversation with Allyson in LA when Merry takes control of my fingers and changes one sentence of dialogue that changes everything for me. (Merry is Meroë, the name I've called my source of inspiration since the late 70's.) Instead of typing "I did too" in response to "I thought you were dead," I find myself typing "I was, for about thirty seconds." And the rest of the scene comes out of the nowhere that is the home of all inspiration, having nothing to do with the dialogue I sweated over this afternoon, having nothing to do with anything except the fact that I am at the laptop and the words are coming through my index fingers as I type, and they feel like the right words, they feel like wings.

July 9. After telling Allyson to mark down the time last night when I finished typing everything up (7:41 Pacific Time), I spent about 40 minutes walking around the cottage because I had so much energy inside me that I had to let some of it out or I wouldn't be able to sleep. I tried to read and watched the words slide away from my eyes. I tried to watch television and nothing I saw was anywhere near as brilliant as what I had just finished writing. So I ended up making a lot of tweaking notes -- things to plant, things to knock down that I've set up and forgotten -- and then went to bed.

Today I wake up at 8:30, and by 10 I've re-read everything, made spot changes, added echoes that I hope aren't too obvious, inserted a Jeeves joke, inserted a Court Jester reference, and added breathing room here and tightened things there. It's DONE. I e-mail it to the cast; I e-mail it to Allyson in LA; I e-mail it to the reading group; and I e-mail it to Ava in Australia with a cc to Ester in London. Then I go to the beach and fight off the sand flies and for the first time in 5 days (I started the rewrite on July 4th) I have nothing cooking in the writing oven. It's a good feeling; it's a full feeling actually, like I've just eaten a great meal and have a ton of bottled-up energy kvelling inside me. Take the rest of the day off, I think, you've earned it. And tomorrow when you get up at 8:30? You can start pre-heating the second script you brought down with you.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Vacation Diary

July 8. Woke up this morning a little frightened and wary about the mad scene rewrite. The energy leading into it is completely different now, which means I can't even look at the first draft. If I do, I will try to rebuild it from the original pieces, instead of junking everything from the foundation to the attic and starting from scratch. That is the scariest part: starting from scratch.

When I described it to Shannon, I said it's like carving a path in the forest. You have to keep going back to that fork in the road and chopping away until you find out where the correct turn is. Until you make the correct turn. It's all about recognizing the sidetracks. Sidetracks are short cuts. If it comes too easy? It's a sidetrack. If you tap it and it sounds thin? Sidetrack. If you stay on it, it will only lead you to another one. But once you come upon the true road, or a branch of the true road, the path you're taking will always reassert itself -- you'll feel wrong if you step away from it, and it will force you back onto it if you stray too far. Yeah, you can take side trips here and there, just as long as you keep them close to the main drag, just as long as you don't lose sight of that compass needle pointing you to home.

All of which means nothing if you stare at the forest long enough, if you stare at all the trees in your way long enough, and start questioning yourself too much. You always do, so there's no avoiding it. You always say to yourself, not just "Am I going the right way?" but "I have no idea where I'm going--how can I ever find the right way?" It's scary. Actually two kinds of scary. The kind that says "This is impossible" and the kind that says "You know you can do this." How do I deal with the scary? I throw away everything I've written before, put pen to paper, pick a turning point where the dialogue can go somewhere else, and start chopping away. And the road always appears. It always does. It may not look like the right road tomorrow, but that's tomorrow's task, not today's. Today's task is to get from A to B a better way than yesterday. That's what I owe the work.

I joke about the fact that I have to write the equivalent of four different plays just to get a single one that's good enough to put up on a stage. But I never joke about the fact that when I look at an empty piece of paper and just start writing whatever comes into my head, the words always appear. For that I will always be thankful.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Happy Birthday, Ester

Ester flies with angel's wings
Seeking bright and worthy things
That can decorate her nest --
Each one perfect, each the best.

Rare will always catch her eye --
Hollow things she passes by;
And her wings will wrap around
Riches no one else has found.

Dumb with love, I watch her fly
In the heaven of her sky --
Nod and smile and wish for this
Gorgeous soul a life of bliss.

7/8/08 00:00:01 GMT

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Ocean Bluff, Low Tide

Vacation Diary

July 5. Overcast and dreary. I went to bed at 2 AM last night after watching 1776 on Turner Classics Movies. Everyone else went to bed at 3. I get up at 9 and start writing. Three cups of coffee and two hours later I've finished touching up Act One, extending the brief Hamlet/Ophelia scene in I,3 and adding some fortification chatter to Fortinbras. Still have to go back and give Phyllida some Dad stuff to chew over, but I won't do that till I write their scene and discover just what it is she's so pissed off about. The rest of the day is lazy. Nobody wakes up before 3 PM. I make notes for the Phyllida/Fortinbras scene, read the first 200 pages of The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss, watch the Red Sox lose to the Yankees, and actually see Allyson's Duracell commercial while my brother-in-law is watching COPS. I take a walk around 10 PM and talk to myself about the play while I'm snapping pictures of Ocean Street. Go to bed at midnight and try not to disturb the cat, who ends up sleeping on my feet.

July 6. Up at 7:30. Gather up all my notes for the Phyllida/Fortinbras scene and start writing them out in sections. Junk about four-fifths of what I've written and discover what they're arguing about as I piece the five best exchanges together into one scene. I can now go back and give Phyll a couple of definite Act One Dad moments to chew on. Finish typing up the new scene at 9:30, just as the sun makes its first appearance in two days. Twenty minutes later it's hazy again. Head out to the back yard to make notes for the big Act Two Scene 2 rewrite. Which is going to be more of a first draft than a touch-up, since pretty much all the opening chatter has to go, and Ophelia's mad scene needs to end with every volcano onstage erupting at the same time. As usual, I will have no idea how I'm going to do this as I talk to myself and transcribe as many different dialogue exchanges as I can. And as usual, it will all make sense tomorrow morning when I start to edit them together. Memo to self: this is how you need to live.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

I have no life but my friends do

I know, I know--you're going to say I'm wrong, I'm always doing things, and that's true, I am; but there's a difference between doing and DOING, just like there's a difference between movement and motion. Most of my life is motion and like the iceberg I am, seven-eighths of it goes on in my head; but I do know some people whose lives are seven-eights out there and really moving somewhere. Like, for instance --

-- my friend Allyson, who's done a national Duracell commercial:

(Moving to LA? Best thing she ever did.)

-- and my friend Felicity, who worked on a documentary about forest burning in Indonesia and its effect on the climate and the local animal population. She also did a Tony Stark and built the entire website in a cave out of scraps. Click on the picture below, and catch the movie when it plays a local film festival (and it will).