Monday, May 11, 2009

Good timing.

Hey pudding,

For the first time since my first entry in this blog, I'm blogging from somewhere other than Sackville! It's an occasion. Somebody should probably be making a cake of some kind. If that's not a reasonable expectation, I could also accept several broken triscuits hastily iced with store-bought artificial vanilla frosting. Or something. Sprinkles would be a nice touch.

So yes. Blogging from the home town. Which in my case is not so much a town as it is a big, awkward house my parents built in a gravel pit in the woods of eastern Ontario. Nonetheless, it's good to be back, if only for a few weeks. Come a little nearer to the end of May I'll be making my way back to Sackville to take up my position as intern at the Playwrights Atlantic Resource Centre. You can 'spect to hear from me about that and whatever else is going on with me in the shire once every fortnight over the summer. Cue the looks of suspended excitement?

Okay. So. Okay. I'm here in Ontario. Which is good for many reasons, not the least of which being that entirely without prior knowledge and/or careful planning, I seem to have timed my return to coincide beautifully with the tail end of Arlo Guthrie's current tour. So last night, accompanied by my brother and my darlin' friend Benjamin, I got to see this long-time hero of mine perform at the Grand Theatre in Kingston.

Funny thing about seeing Arlo Guthrie in Kingston: I spent one semester of my high school career in a program called Theatre Complete; it was in Kingston, and I'm pretty sure Arlo Guthrie was most of what got me into it. I performed the second half of Alice's Restaurant (you know, the whole draft-dodging section) as my entrance monologue. I prepared that monologue for ages in advance of my audition date. I practiced it in my bedroom, in the shower, while walking between classes, and while rowing around Patterson Lake with my aforementioned darlin' friend Benjamin one sunny summer's day. I was basically just so excited to have an excuse to openly obsess about that particular obsession of mine that I more-or-less forgot to be nervous...for the audition portion, that is. Following the audition, there was an interview, which it's safe to say I bombed entirely. I was convinced I had no chance at getting into the program after that, but lo and behold, I guess I wasn't the only Arlo fan in the room during that audition. The big ol' hippy who ran the program decided to give me a chance, and if I had to pick one semester of schooling that had the most concentrated, positive effect on my development into some kind of decent human being (still working on that, by the by), it would be that one. Not only did I come into a number of cheesily life-changing understandings about how theatre works and why I love it so freakin' much, but I also learned a whole heck of a lot about education, activism, and building communities where these three things can mingle freely and make cute, smart, awesome little activismeducationtheatre babies.

Anyhow. Back to last night: it was magical and stuff. He played his old songs; he played his new songs; he played new versions of his old songs; he played his dad's songs; he played his friends' songs; he played old songs somebody must have been responsible for at some point, but which are at this point kind of anybody's songs if they happen to want 'em. As anybody who's ever seen Arlo Guthrie play live knows, he's not the guy you go to see if you just want to hear the music without a lot of extraneous commentary. Heck, some of his best known songs are 99% extraneous commentary. I happen to be a pretty big fan of this kind of rambling, conversational showmanship, which is one of the reasons I was looking forward to seeing Arlo in concert at last. Sure enough, he spent plenty of his stage-time pontificating on various historical, autobiographical, and fictitious points, including a hilarious spinning of what little he remembers from playing at Woodstock when he was nineteen years old, and a prolonged pause right in the middle of This Land Is Your Land to explain how the whole Bible happened, and how it almost didn't...but I think maybe the moment of patter that stood out for me the most was what he tells people who ask him about songwriting, which went something like this:

(In case it is of importance to your mind, this is the song to which that patter segues.)

Funnily enough, what he said echoed something I had heard from a completely different source just a few days earlier. For one reason or another (I think the original search had something to do with Neil Gaiman), I had stumbled upon this video and kind of loved it:

I know nineteen minutes is kind of a steep time-price to pay for a video these days, but in my estimation, this one's worth it if you're any kind of creative person, or aspire to be so. Also, the rest of this post probably won't make a whole lot of sense without your being familiar with the above.

There are a lot of people out there saying this same thing one way or another. Another something I recommend along these lines is Tony Kushner's essay With A Little Help From My Friends (published in this book, and also as an afterword in some editions of Angels In America), in which he takes a big ol' sledgehammer to what he sees as the capitalistic American fetish for the image of the artist as an individual who does something all by coself because co is the brilliant one. I first read this when I was seventeen, and it's kind of still in the process of blowing my mind. Admittedly, I'm still mighty susceptible to the notion that I do the stuff I do, me me me me me myself. But I don't. If I'm being good, I "show up for my part of the job," like Ms. Gilbert says. That's all I can do. Record and refine. That's what I control. Any brilliance I get to partake of will come from without -- not just from these mystical creatures Gilbert suggests we might try believing in as an experiment in staying sane, but from intimates, acquaintances, every teacher from kindergarten to university, artists and writers and performers who've had a knack for tugging and squishing my internal organs around in helpful-if-sometimes-painful ways, strangers overheard on buses and in restaurants and on the radio, et cetera et cetera et cetera. A few months ago, sputtering in rewrites of a particular script, some inexplicably sane part of me (again, probably more of an external force) grabbed a pen and started writing down the various contributions people other than myself had made -- knowingly or otherwise -- to the play thus far. By the time I'd filled two pages with clear influences I could think of off the top of my head I was feeling a lot less sputtery -- because the task wasn't so monumental and lonely as all that. That was just something I told myself for the sake of feeling important (which is something I like to do sometimes, although I can't really explain why). Really, I had two pages of collaborators who, whether they knew it or not (some of them were strangers and some of them were dead), had contributed in their own little and big ways, and my job, although not little, was far from undoable. My only job was to write things down. Recording and refining. Doing my duty.

That script was the last thing I finished. It was a couple of months ago, and as I believed I've mentioned here since, that's abitfuckingterrifying. I'm not Elizabeth Gilbert with her freakish successofabook; the play hasn't even done the bare minimum of what a play is supposed to do yet -- but nonetheless, I have gotten this story down, more-or-less as I'd like to see it, and what if it was my last one? I've kind of been muttering that to myself in all those muttery moments one has in a day, pretty much every day since I released it into the wild (by which I mean, you know, Toronto). And that's stupid. Because of course I don't have any more stories in me. I'm not supposed to. That's not where stories come from. Who the hell do I think I am, anyhow?

More Life,

P.S. - It's me-asking-you-a-question time, remember?

P.P.S. - (That wasn't the question. The question is coming.)

P.P.P.S. - What dead stranger has exerted the greatest influence on you?

1 comment:

Ray MacLeod said...

You're blogs are so much longer then mine and more interesting.. Mine are just pants, shoes, shoes, clothes, shoes :)

Glad you got to go to Arlo Guthrie! It must have been awesome!