Packing List

Space and time. Earlier this year I decided that’s what I wanted for Photo Play. In pursuit of my goal to develop it into an evening-length work, I thought about what I would need. Money is nice – and necessary in the production phase – but for right now, what I really want is dedicated physical work space, and the time to create. Beautiful luxuries for any artist. Either of them by itself is rarely enough: a room of one’s own is no use unless ‘One’ has the time to use it, and time is useless without a place to go, to escape from everyday obligations.

So I tossed out some nets, and the first opportunity has been caught: a writing residency at Holes in the Wall Collective in the first week of May. Though brief (4 days!), it will be just the thing to jump-start the next phase of my work on Photo Play: a place to focus sustained attention on its architecture and narrative through-line – something that has been sorely missing from the process so far.

I am both excited and terrified of this gift. I think every artist with a support job is always holding a little of herself back, in the struggle to locate the energy it takes to keep the mechanics of life humming along. But this will be a chance to see what happens when every bit of energy is aimed at creativity. What a leap of faith, and again, what a luxury.

For now, I prepare. In the interest of coming to work “with my pockets full”, as a teacher of mine once advised, I’m plotting like a squirrel before winter about what to bring to the residency and how to spend my time there.

In addition to physical necessities, I will bring:
– An openness to impulse
– A dedication to the value of structured time
– A willingness to let go of what does not seem to be working

I will leave behind:
– The need to know about every breaking news item as it breaks
– The obligation to loved ones and how they will fare without me
– The worry of “what if…this doesn’t turn out like I hope/ the work has no merit/ the narrative architecture I identify isn’t compelling”.

Better get packing

Perpetual Motion

Though I’ve basically abandoned my “20 Years 20 Stories” writing prompt, it still feels like a very New York-y year. I find myself thinking about the-City-with-a-capital-C a lot as I move through it: how it shapes its citizens, cultivates habits, and never, ever stops changing.

Thanks to The Hairpin, I discovered The Long-Winded Lady: Notes From the New Yorker, by Maeve Brennan. It’s a collection of observational essays about New York City that appeared regularly in The New Yorker from 1954 to 1981. Though the pieces vary in length from a few paragraphs to several pages each, they’re somehow exactly the right length to read in bed before falling asleep with a cat nestled in my hair. (Coincidentally, Brennan did own a cat who makes cameo appearances in a few of the essays, but for once this is not a post about cats.)

Brennan’s writing about New York City is disarmingly simple – it can feel like a stream-of-consciousness on paper, a trail of notes dashed off without much considered thought. A closer read reveals precisely-cut gems made up of intimate yet impersonal observations that – here’s the thing – ring as true today as they must have when first published. Part of that is due to Brennan’s keen observational sense: she is direct and unsentimental, but also clever and occasionally wry. Her vignettes don’t follow any scripted form and end suddenly, without resolution, which makes them a perfect expression of New York City. The way she documents lives (including her own) as if jotting down thoughts on a cocktail napkin captures the way every New Yorker’s life bumps into countless others as we engage in our everyday routines.

The stories are striking, in spite of their plainspokenness or – I suspect – because of it. Our modern multi-tasking fog means that we’re not used to reading anything that isn’t engineered to manipulate our attention to a calculated end. Brennan simply writes what she sees, without comment or agenda. And what she sees much of the time is change. Churn. Turnover. Perhaps the most surprising thing about The Long-Winded Lady is that Brennan was every bit as rueful about the destruction of her “true” New York as we are about ours today. There are frequent mentions of favorite restaurants closing, buildings being razed, and entire neighborhoods losing their character when particular trades became obsolete. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised by that, but I am. I like to think there was a time when popular opinion favored maintaining the status quo (in terms of beautiful architecture or culture) over erasing it in the name of whatever’s new and lucrative. But New York has never stood still, for better or worse. I’m not opposed to change, just to change for its own sake, or for profit over community value. And despite its sprawl and mottled appearance, New York City is a community; one that remains in perpetual motion, perpetually pursuing the next, new, lucrative thing.

Image of 5Pointz by Laura Itzkowitz for untappedcities.com

Image of 5Pointz by Laura Itzkowitz for untappedcities.com

 

Switching It Up

Without a doubt, a highlight of the past few weeks was being invited to participate in the No, YOU Tell It! Reading Series – a workshop in which four writers develop personal stories based on a theme, and then trade stories with another writer for a live reading in front of an audience. If past readings are any indication, it’s a fascinating exercise in point of view and interpretation, as you listen to one person’s experience – complete with cadence and character – come out of another’s mouth. I am thrilled (and a little intimidated!) to be participating in this round.

As I write, I’m trying hard to put aside notions of tone and style as they relate to being read out loud, and just tell the story. But I’m always aware that there’s a difference between how someone might perform (and how an audience will interpret) a first person monologue, versus a piece with a lot of description and exposition. Nonetheless, it’s a thoroughly enjoyable challenge.

The next No, YOU Tell It! reading will take place on Monday, November 12th at 7:30pm.

 

Dancing on Common Ground

This week I got to interview musical comedy duo extraordinaire Mel and El (otherwise known as Melanie Adelman and Ellie Dworkin) for G.L.O.C (Gorgeous Ladies of Comedy), a wondermous website that promotes the work of…well, you get the idea.

I am not making it up when I say that I had a kick-ass time chatting (or as someone’s unfortunate high school boyfriend used to say) “clamming” with them. They are (as my world-traveled Canadian-Great-Aunt-by-marriage Phyllis used to say) a laugh and a half. 

The interview is posted here, so please enjoy, and go see their shows when they’re back in action. I’ll be there!

It’s always thrilling the first time you find common ground with someone – especially if very few people graze on that common ground in the first place. Listening to Mel and El talk about their creative process, the symbiosis between their work and their friendship, and their frustration with the way friendship between women is typically portrayed, I felt a huge sense of kinship and…relief. There were SO many parallels to my experience working with Kath and Sabrina that at a certain point I had to stop myself from nodding and saying “…yes…YES” because a) I started to sound like a deranged life coach, and b) I was recording our talk and needed their answers to be audible for transcription. But it was great. And it made me remember why comedy-ham-types like us need to get out of the rehearsal room once in a while and compare notes with others of our tribe. We have to go to each other’s shows, laugh, yell stupid shit, and have drinks afterward. Be a community. Especially ladies but boys too. As the divine Jen Kirkman recently said, we have to talk to the dudes too.

Ok, now I REALLY sound like a life coach. Enjoy this video of Sam Kinison to charge your rage batteries and restore your nihilistic disgust for humanity.