Tuesday, October 14, 2008


Now I'm caught up and will (I hope) keep the blog up-to-date as the weeks go by and continue with this exercise after my class is finished.

There is one more thing I want to post - an aside of sorts. It's the kind of thing that makes me smile. I was reading Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere and came across a reference to a particular person in London. And it made me so happy because someone else had seen this person and been so taken with him as to refer to him in a story. It was like having Neil wave to me from the page and being reminded of being in London all at the same time.

Here is a scan of the photo I took of the Less Lust man at Sport Aid in London in 1986.

I used to have his pamphlet as well. It cost 18 pence, and I bought it after taking this picture. It's one of those objects that keeps appearing and disappearing - I'll think it's lost forever and then it reappears. I put it somewhere I know it'll be safe, then go to look for it and it's gone. It's now been missing for several years, but I doubt it's really gone forever. I think it's between the pages of one of my books and I'm pretty sure I'll find it again. I'll open up a book I haven't noticed for years and see something stuck between the pages and there it will be.
I've also been told that the pamphlet is available through Amazon, though I haven't checked it out yet and don't think I will.

6 - 12 October 2008

8 October
Write a scene or synopsis using a scientific principle as a starting point – there are theories that fascinate me, but, of course, at this moment, they have all fled from my consciousness. I can’t think of a single one.

9 October
Turning to podcasts of Radio Lab to spur on inspiration, I come across the idea of ‘emergence.’ The first piece is about a husband and wife team of researchers studying fireflies – the image of thousands of fireflies released into a dark room, how they start out random and then suddenly become synchronous – the emergent process in action. And a beautiful image.
The idea comes – how are human relationships emergent processes?

10 October
Research – the term ‘emergent’ was coined by G. H. Lewes who was George Eliot’s spiritual husband.

Synchronicity – I am currently reading Middlemarch. To use Eliot’s language. “The mind is not cast in marble.” To use her and Lewes and their lives to explore consciousness, free will, emergence.

11 October
I’ve had one of those explosions in my mind where ideas that seem disparate suddenly fall in line and make total sense. That emergence explains the idea of perception – it was about color. Color as an emergent property. Elementary particles have no color, it is only when the particles band together that we get all the colors of the rainbow. And how we go from being one cell, one zygote, and become these organisms of differentiated cells; and how blind, deaf, and dumb collections of electrical impulses become us – humans with intelligence and self-awareness.

I have never worked this way before – finding a structure first, in this case from a scientific process, and then allowing the story to fill the frame provided. It’s been fascinating to feel the story fall into place. And the way it’s falling into place in line with the scientific process itself – out of chaos comes this whole.

Usually, I have the story first and then the structure. Which feels…cumbersome compared to this, like I’m imposing something on the story and characters, finding a way to order the experience, but usually just going with what comes up.

It strikes me that this is what I’ve been looking for with one of my projects – I have the characters and the story, but have been unable to move forward on putting it down. I thought I was looking for voice, but I think, actually, I was looking for the framework with which to tell it, the structure from which to hang all the other elements.

Now – if I want to end the play with the image of fireflies in a room, where does that image start? How does it resonate with where the play begins? What does it link to?

12 October
“If you never make any mistakes, you are not trying problems that are hard enough.”
Tim Baumgartner, math teacher, Torrance, CA.

I have the image of chaos on the stage – a whirlwind of activity slowly becoming ordered as George Eliot and George Henry Lewes enter from opposites sides of the stage. A Victorian market, patterns of action emerging as they come into proximity, like a ballet, until the couple meets, talks, and daily life (with the patterns still discernable underneath) taking over.

What surprises me is how quickly this all fell into place. I have wanted to write from this type of research for a long time, but held back because I did not think I had enough time to research a topic fully enough to develop a story. Yet, here it is, in a matter of days. And I am not an expert on emergence or George Eliot or George Henry Lewes, but I have enough that I would be able to go on and write the play and do more research as I needed to.

29 September - 5 October

30 September
In thinking about this week’s assignment – I really don’t want to look at that play again – but in thinking about where to take it next and how to pull something out of it, I found myself thinking about where the inciting incident would lie and realizing that it depends on where the play is going to go next.

If I’m working on a family drama, the dynamics of the family are the idea to be followed, so the inciting incident comes from those dynamics – who says the irrevocable thing that causes everything else to follow? To govern the reactions of the other characters in the room?
If I’m looking at it revolving around death, a meditation on the ways of dying – the inciting incident lies with Rose’s death and what happens next in that particular room.
And while I don’t know if the inciting incident actually resides within the scene as it’s written now, looking at it from the perspective of what happens after this scene, makes the decision about inciting incident clearer.

2 October
At Hyde Street Pier with the 8th graders: noticing the relationship of lines to each other.

Points of convergence (left):
Everything narrows down to a limited number of options, all roads lead to this one point, all choices made. - This feels like a very traditional way to structure a story or play.

Layering (right): The lines echo each other, though each one is distinct. There's a progression through the relationship between objects rather than a linear progression. Each line refines or changes the line before it.
This photo was interesting because I noticed the structure as I took the picture, but it wasn't until after I'd taken the picture that I really noticed what I'd seen and then got very excited about the image. There was another photo where the line of the deck is visible, but it wasn't as interesting for some reason. Maybe what works in this photo is the lack of context. It's just lines without the grounding of being in a particular place.
Also – research for the Fort Point project:
A crimp was a “recruiter” for sailors – you could sign up for a voyage or be kidnapped by the crimp. You had to pay for all your clothing and equipment, which fell apart quite easily and then you had to pay for the replacements, so sailors mostly ended up in debt to their crimp by the end of a voyage and had to keep working to pay off their debt.
The plimsall line on a ship is the line above which the ship is too heavily loaded and will sit too low in the water.

3 October
Oh. Structure.

I realize I’ve been thinking mostly in terms of content – what will I do, who are the characters, what do they say to each other – not in terms of the shape of the thing being written.

At the reading, Truong talked about wanting to write a book in the spine so that the reader had to break the physical book apart in order to read it – they would have to break the physical constraints of the book, to subvert and destroy the idea of what a book is. And all the poems are in service to that idea.

So thinking, structure as an organizing principle around which everything revolves. The physical laws that govern this particular world of this particular play – it’s algorithm, so to speak.

5 October – looking for inspiration
From Neil Gaiman reading: You can either write or not do anything – those are the two choices when you go to your writing space.

Best advice for aspiring writers: Write stuff. Finish stuff.

The entire writing process is beset by doubts. You can run across a gaping expanse of nothing if you don’t look down, like the Road Runner and Wily E. Coyote, but at the ¾ mark, most writers look down and fall into the abyss.

(Also, Neil was reading Chapter 6 of Graveyard which is the turning point of the novel, and, thinking about structure, I noticed how each section of this chapter started in the middle of things, action already occurring, someone in the middle of a thought or a dream, but always in medias res.)

From Andy Goldsworthy DVD:
Looking for obsessive forms that you come back to again and again.

The thing that brings the piece to life is the thing that will cause its death, that will destroy it.

Total control can be the death of a work.

The real work is the change.

Taking work to the very edge of its collapse.

The work makes itself.

22 - 28 September

So much of this week spent in a blind flurry of doing, constant motion, having a trajectory in mind and then just launching myself at it. I hate weeks like this. Even worse for having, in the back of my mind, the idea of working notes and needing to pay attention to process.

In the blind flurry of doing, there is no place within which to find a quiet corner, no place from which to observe, contemplate, even be aware of what is passing before me, of what I am passing through. Writing does not happen in this place. Consciousness barely happens in this place. And when I arrive here, writing panics me. There is no safe harbor and my conscious mind, thinking it is in control and has to provide words, panics. Once again, I am confronted with the fact that my conscious mind is not the writer, and only when my conscious mind submits itself to my writer mind that I enter the place from which I write. And it is there I find calmness and peace.

So…a scene based in memory. Failed love. I played with the literal scene, then went back and played it as the fantasy – the “what I wished I’d had the guts to say” scene – then the “what should have happened.” It brought up some intriguing prospects for me. The scene turned on the play of words and on each characters’ control over what the other will or will not say and their desire to hear or say something to the other. It is strange, and different, and I like where it went very much.

15 - 21 September

14 September
Why do objects appear outside our bodies?

15 September
My imagination is caught by Linda Bierd’s poems – the intersection of art and science and religion – and I feel an expansion, a gathering of ideas, propelling me into new streams of inquiry. And with it that feeling of fear and reluctance – that it will overwhelm me with the adrenaline rush of it, draw me away from what I have been working on, seduce me, distract me. How to tell what is real and fertile ground from the illusion of procrastination and fear. The fear that I will never understand enough of it to make it source for my words. That I will never be able to stand far enough back to see the entire elephant.

16 September
Tea at the Japanese Tea Garden – what I see. Each gate is different – reminders of mindfulness – every stone, every tree, every patch of grass, gate, bridge, building placed with a consciousness of relationship, juxtaposition, conversation between objects and viewer. The bridges with their uneven surfaces reminding the crosser to be conscious, be aware.

Each gate is different – each entrance and exit unique. Not just a gateway to something else, but an object, a destination, in and of itself.

Some gates are ornate, some simple, some for ceremony, some for the quotidian.

I am drawn to patterns today, repetitions of form. Rows of benches, the weathering of a wooden bench on which I sit to write (even the repetition of sound from the helicopter which hangs overhead – the percussive thrum of the blades beating against the air – we only become aware of air when it pushes against something – our skin, a bell, helicopter blades).

17 September
Doing. Doing. Doing. All day today. Getting the reading series listed in calendar listings, dealing with Pay Pal so that we can AT LAST let people pay for tickets in advance (what a concept!) And can you tell me why “Get me a fucking human being NOW!” does not immediately result in a response by an automated phone system? You’d think they’d have heard it enough by now to recognize it.

Thinking in terms of endings – last act, climax to end – what happens? Where’s the energy?

Jo ha ku – the scatter narrowing down, then pushing into a new jo.

At the school board meeting – looking for dramatic structure, is there any potential there? Agenda and minutes and formal business – clash of personalities (watching the new elementary principal throw EVERYONE under the bus within five minutes of her first time speaking to the board – cool – “I sent it to her, but she lost it.”) How this might spin out in another few months of this kind of attitude – where it would wear on people. Thinking – rancorous meeting, touching on ideas of what we teach and why. Thinking conflicts between evolution and creationism (going back to Linda Bierd’s poems) – what would be the images? The opposing forces?

18 September
Watching Krapp’s Last Tape in Alice’s class – rising action, increasing tension between the voice on the tape and Krapp’s reactions (realizing, there’s more than one character on stage in this play). Rises to the climax of him finding the image of Bianca on the boat – suddenly, all action stops, a moment of suspended motion, speech – everything stops. All tension narrows down to this pinpoint of light shining on a tiny scratch on her thigh and “Gooseberries” “Let me in.”

Structure – tension created in Krapp’s reactions to the earlier self, tension between what was and what is. The desk and piles of detritus, the locked drawers and bananas filed away. The moments where Krapp disappears off-stage. All these are in service to the idea of memory.

19 September
The thing about ambiguity or abstraction is that it is not the absence of information. It’s the essence, implication, subtext, suggestion, shadow of information. It demands more specificity and concreteness than something presented literally.

20 September
Oh, so not sure I’m doing this assignment right. Somewhere between intention and execution is the play I really meant to write.

21 September
The climax equals transformation. That’s what I keep reminding myself. It is the realization, understanding, that makes something happen that means nothing will be the same again.

8 - 14 September

9 September
At the gym, on the treadmill. Price is Right comes on. Displays of consumer goods like sets moving past the contestant – “and what would you be willing to do for this?” on the treadmill – too obvious? Too static? Thinking Beckett made a complete play with Billie Whitelaw walking back and forth on a line on the stage “1,2,3…wheel” – what made that work? I need to go read it and think about how it looked on the stage.

Thinking – structure like a cup – it’s liberating in a way not to worry so much about the shape of the thing but how to take character, action, plot and make it fill the vessel.

Google Zoe Keating – cello player.

10 September
Ideas to consider for two people
– an almost-affair, the arc of entire relationship from meeting to “divorcing” in the space of one conversation.
– after the funeral of a famous person, the children trying to decide on which papers are valuable, trying to preserve a public “persona” vs. showing the real person. Talking about narratives and how construct the story of our life – what is says and what we’d like it to say.

At the farmer’s market – it was a good year for berries, but not for apricots. Cycle of seasons and how each year varies. Also, the uglier the fruit, the sweeter and better it tastes and that sweet and bland fruit grows on the same tree – what makes the difference?

11 September
- next you’re going to tell me he molested you
- no, but I did walk in on him once masturbating in the shower
- that’s disgusting.
- I know, it scarred me for life.
- no, that you would tell me.

12 September
Moving quickly through the day towards Ian’s Bar Mitzvah. How when I am focused on task the reflective reflex goes away. I don’t stop to think about how things impact me, I just do them. To write about them, to notice them, is to take a step back from them, a step away, rather than being in the muck of the moment.

13 September
Structure of the Bar Mitzvah service – like Bernstein using the Catholic mass as the structure for The Mass and at the same time encompassing the whole of man’s creation of religion from a simple song of worship to a highly structured, mannered entity with a right and wrong way to do it. Call to prayer. Reading from the Torah – the idea that these words are the same words that have been spoken on this day for the past 5,000 years, that every Jew in the world reading from the Torah on this day reads the same words that my son is reading to us. Taking a place in that lineage, moving into a larger sense of community and family.

14 September
Not even going to pretend that I started working on the 40-line play before this evening. Not this week. But funny thing of writing – I so don’t know what I’m doing, and yet, the thing begins to live on the page. Like watching Frankenstein’s monster take its first breaths on the slab, these two paper creations begin to think and move in my mind, start taking up space, begin to have a voice of their own, a personality, begin to ask to behave in a certain way. Such an odd way to go through life – having people taking up space in your mind, and they’re living, breathing fully embodied people except they have no bodies at all.

Purpose of the blog

This blog was created to be a repository for my working notes, a tool used in a playwriting class I'm taking that tracks the creative process, both in general and for specific projects. I've found this to be an invaluable tool in keeping me engaged with the creative process as well as making the process more visible to myself.