chanse-headshot2015Why are you afraid?

Um. What?

 

You seem nervous. Are you worried about something? Unsettled maybe?

I usually am—worried about something—so yeah. I guess probably.

 

Just relax. You have nothing to worry about.

Okay.

LFV FRONTACT 2

SCENE 4

A laundromat/coffee shop hybrid establishment.

Day 10.

 

     We hear the sounds of a busy coffee house: 

     The hissing of an espresso machine, the clattering of ceramic dishes, conversations being carried on at low, and not-so-low, murmurs.

     There is a smattering of applause—not the most enthusiastic.

     An open mic is in progress.

     The HOST of the open mic is at the microphone.

 

And our next comic is new to the room, and she looks a little nervous. So please give a warm welcome to our first female comic of the night, Lydia Clark-Lin, everyone. Come on, make some noise.

Darci Picoult headshotPlease explain what just happened.

I heard children playing outside and a classical piano playing next door. Now there is a horn beeping. A man laughing. Life.

 

What is your earliest memory?

Seeing a lion on the wall of my bedroom and screaming for my brother to kill it. He made it vanish (with his fist? mind? a combo of both? don’t remember) and I thought he was a hero. Still do. A few years later I yelled to my sister that a cow was outside my window. She didn’t believe me until she looked and alas, saw it too. It wandered up the road from a nearby farm. We both had a hard time getting it to leave. Called the police who thought we were drunk and at a bar. “A cow outside your window?” I was maybe 12 years old. Finally the owner came and wooed the cow back to pasture

The plays of Mac Wellman. Pretentious nonsense? Or clever fun? Damned if I know. Over the years, I’d read nearly every play by the sexteguagenarian, Obie-award winning, Guggenheim fellowship recipient, thus developing an unhealthy obsession with bad pennies, cheese, crows, and engaging in analytical discussions about every Wellman-loving director from Jim Simpson to some undergrad. I thought, “Pshaw. I’ve got this.”  

I was determined to not be the ditzy, inarticulate actor who gushes “I love Mac Wellman” and then, when asked to support her view, dishes out a puzzled look. I had smart things to say about the kooky, yet philosophical writer. Still, I wasn’t going to drone on with doctoral gobbledygook about Brechtian storytelling, Beckettian landscapes, puppets, social metaphors, and references to Shakespeare, Greek tragedy, and meter.

Tante Nan made ragdolls by hand. She lived on a family farm in the country, near sugar cane fields. She once had been busy outdoors, a self-sufficient wife and mother with eggs to gather, animals to slaughter, and crops to tend. My great-great aunt was elderly when she sat down with fabric and thread to create the toys.



Maintaining a spirit of play as opposed to laboring under the “rules” of writing is a troublesome task. There is an entire industry to teach us the rules. Play, not so much. Inside the playfulness of writing we forge our connection to the reader. It’s behind rules that distance is bred. I was reminded of this over the weekend. I was part of an audience at a gladiatorial arena, also known as a play-date. Surrounded by four- and five-year-olds at the local playground, the other parents and I gave our thumbs-up (“Way to run away from that kicking kid!”) and thumbs-down,  (“Don’t kick that kid in the head!”) responses to children who would have ignored us were we not controlling the purse strings when ice cream rolled our way. I was a solo parent for the weekend, my wife having earned parole in the form of a women’s retreat, and in order to maintain my and my son’s sanity I had orchestrated the gathering with families from my son’s pre-school class. Several classmates came, the weather was Grillmaster hot, and the playground was being tested by three-and-a-half foot tall humans pounding through, on, and around it, water sprinklers and squirt guns in full spray.

Recess

By Mary Hendrie

Writing

A couple weeks ago, I decided to try writing fiction, something I have told myself for a very long time that I simply couldn’t do. I started by putting on my headphones and opening a blank text file and typing away. Then I did it again. And again. Until a character started to emerge, and I started to learn about her life. It started out boring and difficult. It was very slow going, but it was also rewarding work. Like all writers (and perhaps all human beings), I live with some people I call my inner critics. They are noisy, rude, condescending, and generally counter-productive. But when the work is exciting enough, it’s possible to shut them up long enough to get something done.

So, for the past couple weeks, I managed to keep my inner critics hushed up long enough to write a first draft of a short story. As soon as the draft was complete, I handed it off to a couple trusted readers, and immediately the critics began chomping at the bit to get out and make some noise. Tempting as it is to stuff the critics further down into my already crowded psyche or to submit to feeling tortured and insane while they engage in a psychological prison riot, I believe that even my inner critics are part of myself, so today, I let them out to breathe.

The scene was like this.

It was the first warm day in a very long time, and the third graders at the local Catholic elementary school were going absolutely stir crazy to get outside. The first couple hours of the day felt interminable. They dragged their feet through every work sheet, math problem, and sentence diagram. Lunch gave them a glimmer of hope despite the bland so-called “spaghetti.” They ate in a hurry, guzzled down their milk, then dashed outside for recess. That’s when the screaming started, along with the face-making, booger flicking, and creative name calling. Some of them spun in circles while counting to thirty, then attempted to run full bore across the school yard. Some of them puked. But that’s all rather predictable for kids who have been cooped up too long.

But then something truly strange happened. Once the kids worked out all their unruly energy, they came back to me, formed a circle around me, and then proceeded to hold some kind of intervention. It was awful. It was like the “the cheese stands alone” verse of “The Farmer and the Dale.” And the worst part was that they all appeared to have an absurd, kind, over-protective concern for me. They said stuff like, “Sweetheart, this fiction thing you’re trying … we understand that you want to branch out and expand your creative abilities, but … maybe you should stick to poetry and nonfiction.”

“Yeah,” another piped up. “Poetry doesn’t even require a plot. You don’t even really have to make things up. You can just play with pretty words. It’s easy.”

A grumpy one off to the side said, “Well, poetry’s not exactly easy, but at least you’re good at it … sortof. I mean, you’ve done it before. So, technically you know how to do it. You’re not that good, but …”

“Well, what about nonfiction? The story and the characters are already there, so all you have to do is write them down …”

“Yeah, but it’s hard to get that stuff right. Real, believable people on the page? I think you’re asking too much of her.”

“All we’re saying is maybe you’ve set your sights too high.”

“Maybe work more on what you know already.”

“Maybe take a break from writing for a while.”

At this, the crowd lost focus and began to murmur among themselves. First in whispers, and then in shouts. They gave contradictory advice of all kinds but they did agree on one thing: I should probably give up because I’m not really as good as I’d hoped. Finally, I spoke up.

“Um. Guys? ” They continued to talk over me. “Guys!” Finally, silence. “The draft is written. It’s out of my hands now. I’ve given it to some people who will read it, and I hope they will do so kindly. They will probably give me some suggestions. And then I can decide to go on with the piece or not.”

“You GAVE someone your DRAFT?” Someone shouted.

“Oh sweet Jesus. We’re really in for it now. I mean, I saw that draft with my own eyes, and it was not pretty.”

“The typos!”

“The awkward dialogue!”

“The plot holes!”

“They’re going to think you’re an idiot! Seriously. Who would write something like that and call it a story?”

“Of course, WE know you’re not an idiot. We know it’s just a first draft. We know it’s a work in progress. But why would you go showing anyone something in that state?”

I cringed but held my ground. The piece was out there in the world now, incomplete and flawed as it may be. It’s out there. So be it. Luckily the recess bell rang just as the kiddos were looking too exasperated to go on. They got up from where they had been seated on the grass. Some of them had little twigs stuck to the backs of their chubby thighs. Their cow licks were going wild. They smelled of people who were too young to use deodorant but old enough to start needing it. They were sticky around their mouths and fingers. Some of them gave me mournful looks and kicked the dirt as they shuffled past me and back toward their classrooms.

It’s an odd sort of victory, but it seems I won, simply by outlasting them.

Of course, a victory of this kind is also temporary. Every day, every time I sit down to write, and every time I send off a story, poem or essay, they begin to chime in. I do my best to lull them to sleep with music or lure them away with candy or otherwise shut them up long enough to write a few thousand words. Luckily, having seen them for who they really are, I find them much more bearable. They’re not the grumpy old men who used to hang out at the coffee shop where I worked, because deep down, I never cared what those assholes thought. They’re not my junior high school English teacher who shamed me to no end when she found a note I’d written containing lots of foul words regarding the boys in my class. They’re not my boss because I don’t even care if he understands my creative endeavors, and that ain’t what he pays me for anyway. They’re not even my husband because luckily, he loves me even if my first draft sucks, and even if my second, third and fourth drafts don’t get any better. They are just kids. Sticky, smelly, ignorant yet opinionated children who need a chance to scream and shout and act immature yet condescending before they have to go back to class, sit in their desk and learn something.