Wednesday, April 10, 2024

Day 2 – Getting Going

Getting down to writing.  I was given a recipe for a playwriting challenge: write a ten-minute play with the following ingredients:

—An ending you find unsatisfying.

—Be familiar with a piece of literature/story for very young children.

—Three things (non-animal) in your home that AREN’T any of your devices (phone, computer, tablet) and three adjectives to describe each physically.

I came up with something that dealt with three objects in my house and made them come alive.  I won’t share it here because I haven’t shared it with my cohorts.  But here’s a look at the title page.

Tuesday, April 9, 2024

Day 1 – Settling In

I rode from Los Angeles to Palm Springs with Sean Abley, the host of the Desert Playwrights’ Retreat, and D.C. Cathro, a fellow playwright that I’ve known for many years.  We arrived at the rental house and waited for the rest of the cohorts to arrive.  We went shopping for provisions for the week, then went to dinner with the whole crew.  Now we’re ready to start writing.

Here’s the view from my new writing perch.

Monday, April 8, 2024

Getting There

I made it safely to Los Angeles and settled in to my overnight stop in a nice Hampton Inn in El Segundo, which is a nice little beach community.  I met up with Chris Gerolmo, a classmate from St. George’s whom I haven’t seen in person since June 8, 1968, and is now a successful musician and screenwriter (“Mississippi Burning”).  We took over a booth at an IHOP and caught up on over fifty years of our lives: loves, losses, and the adventures of dealing with producers.

I later had an early dinner with my friend and former housemate, Josh, who moved out here to pursue his dream of writing for film and TV.  He’s made friends with my fellow playwrights Franky and Mildred and he has some good prospects.  I will make sure he meets up with Chris…

I’ll be meeting up with Sean, the fearless leader of Desert Playwrights’ Retreat this morning and then heading for Palm Springs and the rest of the cohorts to begin our adventures in writing.  I’ll check in when I get there.

Sunday, April 7, 2024

California, Here I Come

I’m heading out today for the Desert Playwrights’ Retreat in Palm Springs California.

The goal of the Desert Playwrights’ Retreat is to promote artistic fellowship while giving writers from underserved communities much needed time and space to create.

I will be there for a week doing what playwrights should be doing: writing.  I have a play I’ve been working on since the first of the year and I will, I hope, finish the first draft.  But more importantly, I’ll be listening, learning, connecting and reconnecting with friends, new and old.

This means that from today through next Monday, it’s going to be a little quiet here except, perhaps, some photos of the desert landscape and thoughts on how writing is part of who and what I am.

Sunday Reading

Don-Bombing Sedona — Rick Reilly tries a social experiment.

Came home the other night, flicked on the kitchen lights and found Donald Trump standing there. Just about needed the defib.

Not the actual Trump. A life-size, stand-up, full-color cardboard Trump. Blue suit, double thumbs-up, grinning at me. Turns out pulling the Don bomb is a thing. Someone Don-bombed my buddy with it, so my buddy Don-bombed me with it. He said now I had to Don-bomb somebody else with it.

So I decided to Don-bomb the entire town.

I wanted to try a social experiment. I wanted to see how people respond to Trump when no one’s around. Because I don’t think this election is about Joe Biden vs. Trump. I think it’s about Trump and only Trump, the most space-swallowing, ulcer-inducing, fire-starting colossus this country has ever seen.

I live in Sedona, Ariz., which is about as politically purple as a town can get. People are either vortex-worshiping or riding around in 4x4s with a gun rack in the window. We call it “Crystals and Pistols.”

I started by standing Trump up in front of the Safeway, right under the No Loitering sign. I sat in my Jeep 20 feet away and pretended to work on my phone.

The first guy to come along wore a speckled-gray ponytail, a sweat-stained ball cap and a black T-shirt. He looked about 50. He stared at the cutout, saw me and said, “Can I use that for target practice?”

Flat Donald was off to a good start.

Some people smirked at him. Some smiled. But 10 minutes into the experiment, a scowling Safeway employee snatched him and started back inside. I had to jump out of the Jeep and give chase. “Sir? Sir, that’s actually mine. It’s a social experiment.”

He shot me a sour look and handed it over: “We can’t have … that … on the property.”

I took it and left. I did not like the feeling of saving Trump from the compactor.

Next, I set him up in front of the town’s sole McDonald’s, reputedly the only one in the world with blue arches instead of yellow. (It’s a Sedona thing.) People trying to take photos of its blueness were not happy to see Trump in the shot. “You’re going to have to edit that out,” a woman said to her daughter.

I took His Orangeness up a mountain to one of Sedona’s scenic overlooks. It was dusk, and the setting sun was turning the magnificent red rocks purple. I positioned him facing the dozens of tourists taking in the view. A balding, 60-ish guy had his wife take his picture standing beside Cardboard Don, duplicating the double thumbs-up move.

“You’re a fan?” I asked.

“Oh, yeah,” he said, beaming. “Just posted it to Instagram!”

A couple of minutes later, a younger guy in a ski hat came over and said, “Can I push him off the cliff?”

“If only,” I said.

I heard somebody yell in my direction, “That thing wrecks the view!”

An ex-military man with a crewcut told me he admires Trump. “That surprises me,” I said. “Didn’t he fake an injury to get out of being in the military?”

“Well,” the guy said, “yes and no.”

“And didn’t he call fallen World War II soldiers ‘suckers’?”

“Well, yes and no.”

Well, yes and yes.

One 40-ish woman from Germany saw the cutout and faked putting a finger down her throat — the universal ralphing sign.

A guy wearing an AR-15 T-shirt said he’d voted for Trump in the Arizona primary, which prompted his two junior-high-school-looking kids to boo him. “They hate Trump,” the gun dad said. “Hopefully, they’ll learn. But when they’re 18, I’m going to drive them to the polls to vote, either way.”

One guy flipped Trump off. Another went up and hugged him. A woman of about 40, an Illinois librarian, said, “Why would you bring him here?”

“Well,” I said. “Trump lost to Biden in Arizona by only about 11,000 votes, so this state really matters. I wanted to see what people said about him.”

“Well,” she said, “I honestly don’t think he lost last time.”

“Really?” I said, gently. “Didn’t they adjudicate that in court over and over, and he lost every time?”

“Well, yeah, I guess,” she said.

“And didn’t every state recount change nothing?”

“Well, yeah. Kind of.”

Well, yeah and yeah.

People kept coming by to rave or rant about Trump while we stared at him. I made it 60-40, Trump beating Biden, but I noticed something. The Bidens were all-in on Biden, while some of the Trumps wished they had another option.

“I don’t really want to vote for Trump,” the librarian admitted. “But I can’t vote for Biden. … I just wish Trump wouldn’t talk the way he does. I like his policies but I hate the way he behaves. Why can’t he just shut up?”

That’s when it hit me. I loathe Trump and yet I liked some of these Trumpers. I realized that for eight years, I’ve been lumping Trumpers in with Trump, as though they also flame-throw lies and start insurrections. But these were just plain, nice Americans with kids and Hondas and lawns. They just don’t realize yet that they’ve been Don-bombed themselves — by a BS artist I’ve known for 40 years.

As I was heading home, a gully washer hit. Both Trump and I got soaked on the way to the door, and I dropped him as I fumbled with the key. He was flat on his face in the mud, in the rain. While I savored that image for a moment, I realized: This social experiment needed one last stop.

I put Cardboard Don in a dumpster, with his shoulders and head sticking up, grinning. Passers-by either laughed or shook their heads or ignored him, but no one saved him. Everyone just left him behind.

This November, I recommend you do exactly that, too.

Doonesbury — Oh, Jesus…

Saturday, April 6, 2024

Friday, April 5, 2024

Happy Friday

Despite the fact that it snowed three feet in parts of New England, spring is definitely on the rise and the daylight is growing longer.  And with that comes the hope for a better and brighter day ahead despite the gloominess brought by news and doom-scrolling on the web.

“Man is, by nature, optimistic.  Otherwise, we’d eat our young.” – John Patrick.

This is a picture of one of the orchids in my yard from a while back, but it’s the closest I can get to a spring bloom for now.

Thursday, April 4, 2024

The Night Martin Luther King, Jr. Died

Photo by Morton Broffman/Getty Images

You have to be over the age of sixty-five to remember Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. when he was alive, but age doesn’t matter in order to understand why he was — and still is — an important person in our nation’s history. Growing up on the outskirts of a city with a large black population, I was aware of Dr. King’s work as a part of the daily news coverage in the 1960’s as we watched the march on Selma, the water hoses, the riots in Watts, Detroit, Newark, and Toledo, and heard the pleas for justice, equality, tolerance, and brotherhood during the March on Washington in 1963 and in every city where Dr. King spoke. And I knew that he was an inspiration to a lot of people outside of the Black community; anyone who faced injustice based on their skin color or their sexual orientation or any other reason knew what he was talking about. In 1968 I was fifteen years old and wondering whether my attraction to other boys was just me or were there others who faced bullying and discrimination for the same reason. In some small way I knew that Dr. King was speaking to me, too.

I remember very well the night fifty-six years ago today — April 4, 1968 — when Dr. King was murdered. I was a freshman at boarding school, just back from spring break, when the dorm master, who was also the school chaplain, called us into the common room and announced with both sadness and anger that “They’ve killed Martin Luther King.” He didn’t explain who the “they” were, but we knew what he meant, and two months later, on the day that Bobby Kennedy was buried at Arlington, James Earl Ray was arrested. Ray pled guilty and went to his grave claiming he was part of a conspiracy, but no one else was ever arrested or came forward to back up his claim. But when the chaplain said “they,” he was talking not just about accessories to a crime but to the attitude of a lot of people in America then — as now — who still believe that Dr. King was a communist, an agitator, a rabble-rouser, and a threat to their way of life. And when Dr. King died, there were a lot of people who thought that at long last those uppity agitators would know what they were in for if they kept up their nonsense.

But of course the dream did not die, and in spite of the tumult and anger that came with the loss there came a sense of purpose borne from the realization that if Dr. King had to die for his cause, it must be a powerful cause that touches more than just the lives of Black citizens. What some take for granted today in terms of equality and voting rights is still under threat; human nature does not change that quickly in fifty-three or a hundred years. Dr. King, like the men who wrote the Constitution, knew that they were starting something that would outlive them and their generations; all they had to do was give it a good start.

If you don’t remember Dr. King when he was alive, you are certainly aware of his life and his legacy, and I don’t just mean because you might get the day off on his birthday in January. Regardless of your race, your religion, your sex, or your occupation, Dr. King’s work has changed it, either during your lifetime or setting the stage for it now. And no matter what history may record of his life as a man, a preacher, a father, a husband, or a scholar, it is hard to imagine what this country — and indeed the world — would be like had he not been with us for all too brief a time. And now, more than ever before, we must not forget.

Christopher Durang – 1949-2024

I was crossing the lobby of the Apple Tree Inn in Independence, Kansas, on the first day the the 2008 William Inge Festival. I passed an open door to one of the suites and glanced in. Christopher Durang and John Augustine, his husband, had just arrived. I introduced myself and welcomed them to the festival. We chatted, and then Mr. Durang (instantly corrected to “It’s Chris”) asked how to get to the college for an event. I offered them a ride in my rented Mustang, and for the next three days, I was their chauffeur and driving companion. I did my best to just listen, but both of them drew me out, asking about my writing, talking about their dog, and John’s interest in antique cars. I got a sense of his humor, his dry look at life, and sat in on the first draft reading of scenes from “Vanya and Sonia, and Masha and Spike.”

His plays run the gamut from poignant to visceral, all with a strong and powerfully funny streak; you find yourself laughing sometimes out of horror or through tears.  He took on such things as the Catholic church (“Sister Mary Ignatius Explains It All For You”) to such icons as Samuel Beckett and Shakespeare (“The Actor’s Nightmare”) to Tennessee Williams (“For Whom the Southern Belle Tolls”).  His influence was subliminal to a lot of writers, including yours truly, and I can’t imagine what modern theatre would be like without him having been with us.

I’ve kept in touch with John since Chris eschewed social media, and this loss is as painful as losing a best friend. I hold them both in the Light.

Wednesday, April 3, 2024

Reading Listless

Give up on any good books lately?

Humor from JiJi Lee in The New Yorker.

You can’t stop thinking about the characters and how you’d like to rewrite them as characters from books you’ve actually enjoyed reading.

You find yourself regularly reaching for the book to squash the silverfish in your apartment.

You keep having to reread the first chapter because you’ve been distracted by an article about Gary Oldman’s movies, ranked from best to worst.

You’re ten pages into the book and think a murder investigation would really liven things up right about now. (You are reading “Little Women.”)

You’re twenty minutes into reading the book and just now realize you’ve been asleep the whole time.

You’re twenty years into reading the book and it’s the only book that hasn’t been burned or rewritten by our robot overlords, and yet you still can’t seem to get emotionally invested in the story.

The book has been described as “thrilling” and “captivating,” but by readers who play badminton.

You want to stick with the book for the first hundred pages before deciding whether you should abandon it, but at your current pace it will take you a year to get through a single page.

You wait for the book to initiate physical contact.

The blurb on the back of the book says, “Does for sawdust what ‘Moby-Dick’ did for whales.”

You stay up all night, tearing through the pages of the book, only you’re not reading the actual words, you’re just looking for the page in which you tucked a piece of scrap paper with your Gmail password on it.

You were thinking about Gary Oldman’s understated performance in “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy,” which leads you to Google whether he was nominated for an Oscar for that film, which then somehow leads you to click on an article about the best hand creams for mature skin, and now you can’t remember what the book is about and have to start over from the beginning.

You would rather get into a conversation with your neighbor who likes to go into very specific detail about their meal-prep routine, before they finally ask, “So what’s going on with you?,” and their eyes glaze over as soon as you start talking and so you end up asking them about which vegetables stay fresh the longest in order to reëngage them in the conversation, just to avoid reading your book.

You are reading “David Copperfield” before starting on “Demon Copperhead,” which was inspired by “David Copperfield,” because you think this will give you a feeling of accomplishment that will make you feel better about how you’ve been cold e-mailing recruiters on LinkedIn for the past year without getting any responses, probably because your only viable skill is reading books you can’t seem to finish.

There’s going to be a film adaptation of the book starring Gary Oldman. You should watch that instead.

I love my Kindle.

Tuesday, April 2, 2024

Shut Up, He Explained

From the Associated Press:

NEW YORK (AP) — The judge in Donald Trump’s April 15 hush-money criminal trial declared his daughter off-limits to the former president’s rancor on Monday, expanding a gag order days after Trump assailed and made false claims about her on social media.

Judge Juan M. Merchan said the original gag order — barring Trump from making public statements about jurors, witnesses and others connected to the case — did not include his family members, but subsequent attacks warranted including them.

Trump is now also barred from commenting publicly about the family of Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, though he is still free to go after Bragg, the elected Democrat whose office is prosecuting the case.

“This pattern of attacking family members of presiding jurists and attorneys assigned to his cases serves no legitimate purpose,” Merchan wrote. “It merely injects fear in those assigned or called to participate in the proceedings that not only they, but their family members as well, are ‘fair game,’ for Defendant’s vitriol.”

A violation could result in Trump being held in contempt of court, fined or even jailed.

Lock him up.