Friday, October 31, 2008

I Love America

Even if I live in the fake part.

From my cousin Jack, who grew up in Real America. My money says he is but a year or two of college away from joining us in Fakeland.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008


I am writing a memoir. 

It has taken me five years to admit that.

I set out to write the story of a yoga retreat gone bad in Bali, Indonesia, about five years ago. For the first year, and the first draft, it was a memoir-- at least technically, if not in spirit. I told myself I was just getting the events down on the page so that I could manipulate them into fiction later. I had little desire to write a memoir; too easy, I thought. Too boring. I wanted to write a comic novel, a difficult, serious process. An art form that relies on craft, not just memory and the luck of having had interesting experiences. (I will admit to still holding onto a slight prejudice against the voyeurism of the memoir, the ego of the memoir, the memoir-as-truth. Could be too many years in a PoMo fog. Could be that half the memoirs I've read have made me think, "If you were telling me this story in a bar, I would fake a burst appendix to get away from you and the cruel injustice that was your childhood.")

And now I, jaundiced eye and all, am writing a memoir. I have tossed out the novel based on the true story, because it doesn't work. I spent four + years writing this novel. It has some funny moments, and some in particular I will be sad to let go of. But in re-reading the novel after letting it lie fallow in a drawer for a year, this much is clear: it is the true stories, the events that actually occurred, that have a gleam about them, that feel true and funny and real. The fictionalized bits feel forced and overwritten. It feels like two books smooshed into one. A memoir, and a novel. For autobiographical fiction to work, it must read like a novel. It must be a coherent whole, not a hodgepodge of two different crafts. 

My gut is telling me that autobiographical fiction is not my genre. When I work on short fiction, the stories seem to come from nowhere. I start in with a first sentence and, on a good day, a world begins to emerge. It makes me understand why some people feel that writing fiction has an element of the mystical about it . . . at least for that first draft when you somehow know so much about these strangers you've created. (By the second draft, of course, the magic gives way to pure mental labor.) But I've decided that from now on, if a story is true, I'm going to write it as memoir. And if my goal is to write a novel or a short fictional story, then I will follow the path from one sentence to the next, allowing the characters and the events to unfold.

But here's the truth: Memoir is terrifying. Even trying to write funny pieces about pissdrinking and revirginization. I am terrified of revealing too much of myself. I couldn't count how many times I've overshared with people I hardly know, only to go home, go to bed, and then toss and turn wishing I could have kept myself to myself. I want to choose which aspects of my life to share and which to withhold. I'm sure it comes from my mother, who is also intensely private but not so compelled to tell you every damning thing about herself when she gets a glass of wine in her. 

I've read some beautiful, hilarious memoirs by extraordinary writers. Anne Lamott, Shalom Auslander, Chris Offutt, Mary Karr, Lauren Slater, Christopher Isherwood. These writers jackknife themselves open like oyster shells. When I think about writing as honestly as they do, it feels like doing some sort of violence to myself, that every night when I go to bed I'll toss and turn and wish I could still hit delete, that I could erase it all and go back into my cave, anonymous, safe.

I've often thought that the worst way to be imprisoned would be in an enormous, empty warehouse. Totally exposed. I like a hobbit hole, a cabin, a turret. But this compulsion to expose is starting to feel exhilarating. Terror exhilarates. Maybe I secretly want to be a literary flasher, trench coat and all. Yoga Bitch, the show, is autobiographical, and the closer it gets to the bone, the more revelatory it feels. 

Well, huh. Maybe I don't want to be exposed so much as revealed. And really? I'd like to make you laugh. And if I do my job well, some of the stupid shit I've done will make you laugh. At me. And I'm fine with that.

Wish me luck, please, for the love of God.

A Spring Chicken, Really

I turn 32 this weekend, and this essay by Malcolm Gladwell, from the New Yorker, gives me hope that 32 isn't so old . . .

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Lawrence Welk

My friend Status and I were discussing Kristin Wiig late last night, and this skit from SNL came up. The first time I saw it I nearly injured myself laughing so hard. It was the first thing I thought of when I woke up this morning, so I indulged in a few viewings. 

And now I must insist that you do, too.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Reading, Writing, Rehearsing: A Wednesday Update

I've been so busy with the run of Yoga Bitch at Re-bar, I haven't had time to live up to my blog's promise. So, here's the scoop:

What I'm Reading:
Several things. I finished a great book, Lauren Slater's Lying, a few weeks ago and haven't quite gotten lost in a book yet. So I've been working my way through Italo Calvino's essay collection, Six Memos for the Next Millennium, bit by bit. It's not easy reading. But I love this: 

(Calvino has been describing an image from the Decameron by Boccaccio in which Guido Cavalcanti, while standing in the courtyard of a church, escapes from a band of boys by leaping over a tomb like "a man very light in body.")

Were I to choose an auspicious image for the new millennium, I would choose that one: the sudden agile leap of the poet-philosopher who raises himself above the weight of the world, showing that with all his gravity he has the secret of lightness, and that what many consider to be the vitality of the times-- noisy, aggressive, revving and roaring-- belongs to the realm of death, like a cemetery for rusty old cars. 

I find this paragraph oddly moving. I don't want to crush it with analysis, but I will say that it reminds me, somewhat obliquely, of a production of Medea I saw at BAM several years ago, starring the great Fiona Shaw in the title role. Her performance was a revelation in this heavy, heavy play-- which I'd only ever seen performed with all the gravity of an overcooked pound cake. (I'm thinking of some of those awful made-for-TV British productions they made us watch in high school, with the actors rolling their Rs and eyes, insisting with every thunderous line that this was tragic! That we were watching a tragedy! and inadvertently making us laugh at infanticide, patricide, incest. Oedipus is hilarious!

Fiona Shaw's performance was buoyant. It was quick and sharp and light where traditionally it would be heavy. The play was all the more tragic for her lack of insistence that it would be. 

I've started reading Julio Cortazar's novel, Hopscotch, a book my husband has been trying to get me to read since our first date. I want to steal the structure of this story. (Cortazar gives the reader two options for reading his book: one way is to read straight through to Chapter 56 and then stop. The other option is to read it according to a plan Cortazar has devised, hopscotching from chapter 1 to 53 to 87 and so forth.)

Wandering along the Quai des Celestins I step on some dry leaves and when I pick one up and look at it closely I see that it is full of old-gold dust, and underneath some earth profound as musty perfume sticks to my hand. For all those reasons I bring the dry leaves back to my flat and paste them on a lampshade. Ossip comes, he stays two hours and doesn't even look at the lamp. Another day Etienne comes by, and with his beret still in his hand, Dis-donc, c'est epatant, ca! and he picks up the lamp, studies the leaves, becomes enthusiastic. Durer, the veins, and so forth.

Now, there's some lovely writing in here. And it's pretentious, kinda. (Well, is it pretense? Or is my calling it pretentious some sort of American anti-intellectual populist strain I've picked up on that makes me ashamed of education or knowledge of the liberal arts? Is that response some sort of terrible Inner Sarah Palin? Do I need an exorcism?) ANYWAY. What I find curious is that Cortazar's unabashed pretentiousness-- if that's what this is-- makes me nostalgic. (I suffer from a crippling, chronic, nostalgia, often brought on by movies, music, and novels. I'm nostalgic for times I've never lived in, like Wharton's New York and Schiele's Vienna; I'm nostalgic for every time in my life except for the years K-12; shit, I'm nostalgic for freakin' yesterday.)

Cortazar has written about a collection of bohemian South Americans living in Paris, and it reminds me very much of the year I spent hopscotching around Europe with a cheating South American boyfriend. He and I debated the merits of Gunter Grass, Nikos Kazantzakis, and Eduardo Galeano; we read all of Milan Kundera's books in the Prague Spring . . . of '97; we smoked hash and listened to Built to Spill after breaking up for the thousandth time in Budapest. I'm only a few chapters into Cortazar's book, but it makes me wistful for a time when I pronounced every country's name with the appropriate accent (a practice I mock when I hear it now, as if applying a crude corrective to my former self) a time when we were broke, and we hadn't showered in weeks, and we collected pine cones in a Parisian suburb to take home because when they burned, they made the fire more beautiful.

Ah, sigh. Fucking nostalgia.

Okay, so that's it for reading. I hope to either commit fully to one of these books in the next day or two, or give up on all of them and start in on the stack of books my friend Annie lent me a month ago. 

What I'm Writing:

A project I'm not at liberty to speak of yet. Also, this post.

What I'm Rehearsing:
Yoga Bitch closed at Re-bar on Saturday, after a really wonderful month-long run. I adore the good folks at Re-bar, from producer Ian to doorman Free, to the bevy of marvelous bartenders. We were blessed with warm audiences and some great press. I couldn't be happier.

Now I'm beginning to think about an outline for my new show, Your Own Personal Alcatraz. More on that to come. 

I'll leave you with this helpful bit of advice from one of the kajillions of lifestyle magazines available at every Whole Foods in the nation:

From Real Simple's article on How to Give Yourself a Pedicure:
(time noted below is in minutes)

0:00 to 3:00 Soak: soften skin by soaking feet in warm water.
3:00 to 6:00 Exfoliate: pat your feet dry, then slough off dead skin cells with a dry foot file.
6:00 to 10:00 Trim and File: Trim nails across using a straight-edge clipper. Use three cuts on each nail, as clipping the whole nail at once can cut too close to the skin.
10:00 to 11:00 Moisturize. 
11:00 to 12:00 Stop Drooling.
12:00 to 14:00 Wake up, and seriously, stop drooling.
14:00 to 14:30 Realize you can't read.
14:30 to 15:30 Go back to gouging your toenails until you bleed. Also note that you're wearing a diaper. 

There's only one name for this kind of reporting: fascism with a friendly face! Yet another example of the liberal media elite trying to run your life for you. Clip your damn toenails any damn way you want, my friends! This is Amurika! Shoot a moose from a helicopter! Yee-hah!

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Read Giles Coran's Letter to Times Subs

Thanks to Kathleen for this post from The Guardian. Priceless!

I don't really like people tinkering with my copy for the sake of tinkering. . . It was the final sentence. Final sentences are very, very important. A piece builds to them, they are the little jingle that the reader takes with him into the weekend. 

I wrote: "I can't think of a nicer place to sit this spring over a glass of rose and watch the boys and girls in the street outside smiling gaily to each other, and wondering where to go for a nosh."

It appeared as: "I can't think of a nicer place to sit this spring over a glass of rose and watch the boys and girls in the street outside smiling gaily to each other, and wondering where to go for nosh."

There is no length issue. This is something thinking "I'll just remove this indefinite article because Coren is an illiterate cunt and I know best."

Well, you fucking don't.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Advice for Seattle's Theater Artists

An interesting piece from The Stranger, by theater critic Brendan Kiley. Some points I enjoyed:

#5: Offer child care on Sundays. This is a great idea. Simple, but the grant proposal writes itself. You keep young parents coming to the theater and teach young kids about theater while they're entertained with drama games for two hours. The only thing I'd add to this is that all of the Seattlites with kids who've come to see Yoga Bitch at Re-bar have wanted nothing more than to have a drink or two afterwards. (They're like escaped convicts! Dropping the f-bomb! Bumming cigarettes!) But if you also take his advice and implement #7, Build bars, then the kids can just keep on playing Zoom-Zorch-McFigliano while the parents have a nightcap right there in the theater. Everyone wins!

#8: Boors night out. Kiley wants us to encourage audience participation. Well, at Re-bar, they sometimes don't need encouragement. That's where #7, Build bars, comes into play yet again.

Two Fridays ago, I had a lively house of mostly women who arrived well before the show started to get lubricated in the bar. By the time the lights came up, the energy in the room was a cross between a Girls Gone Wild video and-- well, like an audience full of mothers who've left the kids with their dads. (See above re: escaped convicts.) They were so excited they nearly gave me a standing ovation the moment I walked on stage. Like, before the show had even begun. One threesome in the front laughed heartily at everything I said, and then turned to one another to affirm the funny. "Isn't it true?" "It's so true." "So funny!" "So funny and true!" 

Another collection of women at the back called out responses and suggestions throughout the show. One in particular had a fondness for calling out my name. "Suzanne! Suzanne. Oh no, Suzanne. No. Suzanne. Noo." (That was during the pissdrinking bit.) (The first time she called out my name, I thought, Do I know her? Which one of my drunk friends is that? But, no. Just a theatergoer blowing off some steam.)

So, for better or worse, I'm doing my part to support #8.

Finally, I laughed out loud at #10: Drop out of graduate school. Hell yeah! I'm all for honing your craft, folks, but what I'm absolutely against is debt. Particularly when you'll be lucky if you ever see a penny for your art. The rhetoric of the MFA, with its lists of famous and quasi-famous alumni, exists to seduce young, wannabe Meryl Streeps into going deep into debt in the hopes that when they get out of grad school, the world will suddenly recognize their talent in ways it never did when they only had their BAs. Now, saddled with debt and depression and probably a sick feeling in your uterus any time anyone says the words Suzuki Method, the only thing you can do with that MFA is find some college to hire you to teach acting so you can pay off your student debt, thereby becoming yet another acting professor who never actually did all that much acting. When debating whether or not an MFA acting program is right for you, best to consider this: Would a smart, savvy actress pay $100k to spend three years being told by professors who once had bit-parts in Scary Movie 3 that the Suzuki Method will help you in Hollywood? Ladies and Gentlemen, I call bullshit.

(Unless you get into Yale. Then the connections you'll make might be worth $100k in the long run.)

That said, every time I have a bad day, when I'm overwhelmed by the difficulties of creating theater, or writing, or promoting my work, I invariably think: Grad school. Grad school. Oh, grad school. So, I get the allure. But even then, I don't think MFA in acting. No. I think Iowa. Columbia. Fiction workshops! Because there sure as hell isn't anything wrong with spending three years of your life paying out the nose to sit in a room with other whinging fiction writers, right? No waste of money there, right?

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

The Ambition of the Short Story

A nice essay from the New York Times about the short story:

The short story-- how modest in bearing! How unassuming in manner! It sits there quietly, eyes lowered, almost as if trying not to be noticed. And if it should somehow attract your attention, it says quickly, in a brave little self-deprecating voice alive to all the possibilities of disappointment: "I'm not a novel, you know. Not even a short one. If that's what you're looking for, you don't want me."

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

The Offutt Guide to Literary Terms

By Chris Offutt, who wrote one of my favorite memoirs, The Same River Twice. One of the few books I will find the time to re-read.

From Harper's Magazine: 

NONFICTION: Prose that is factual, except for newspapers.
CREATIVE NONFICTION: Prose that is true, except in the case of memoir.
MEMOIR: From the Latin memoria, meaning "memory," a popular form in which the writer remembers entire passages of dialogue from the past, with the ultimate goal of blaming the writer's parents for his current psychological challenges.
NOVEL: A quaint, longer form that fell out of fashion with the advent of the memoir.
SHORT STORY: An essay written to conceal the truth and protect the writer's family.
NOVEL-IN-STORIES: A term invented solely to hoodwink the novel-reading public into inadvertently purchasing a collection of short fiction.
CLANDESTINE SCIENCE FICTION NOVEL: A work set in the future that receives a strong reception from the literary world as long as no one mentions that it is, in fact, science fiction; for example, The Road, winner of the Pulitzer Prize.
PLOT: A device, the lack of which denotes seriousness on the part of writers.
CHICK LIT: A patriarchal term of oppression for heterosexual female writing; also, a marketing means to phenomenal readership and prominent bookstore space.
PERSONAL ESSAY: Characterized by 51 percent or more of its sentences beginning with the personal pronoun "I"; traditional narrative strategy entails doing one thing while thinking about another.
LITERARY ESSAY: Akin to the personal essay, only with bigger words and more profound content intended to demonstrate that the essayist is smarter than all readers, writers, teachers, and Europeans.
LYRIC ESSAY: An essay with pretty language.
NATURE ESSAY: An essay written by a person claiming to have a closer relationship with the natural world than anyone else does; traditional subject matter is sex, death, and how everything was better in the past.
POP CULTURE ESSAY: An essay written by someone who prefers to shop or watch television.
ACADEMIC ESSAY: Alas, an unread form required for tenure.
COMPOSITION WRITING: An academic development in response to the economic needs of recently graduated MFA students.
EXPERIMENTAL WRITING: The result of supreme artistic courage when a writer is willing to sacrifice structure, character, plot, insight, wisdom, social commentary, context, precedent, and punctuation.
POEM: Prose scraps.
PROSE POEM: Either a poem with no line breaks or a lyric essay with no indentation. No one knows.
DECONSTRUCTIONISM: A moderately successful attempt by the French to avenge the loss of Paris as the global center of literature.
ANXIETY OF INFLUENCE: A term popularized by Harold Bloom to suppress poets and elevate the role of critics.
TEXT: A term used by critics to conceal ignorance of precise definitions.