Wednesday, October 31, 2007

If you write a play and nobody does it, are you still a playwright?

My head cold has now become my head-and-chest cold; my sleep bursts are briefer than microprocessor functions, my dreams all have fever logic and dwell on me being trapped in my day job, and the proposed five-part novel has a pretty complete first part done. So naturally I'm thinking about starting something else, and getting frantic about dumping the novel to write a play that I can send out to all the year-end reading/competition/workshop places because, y'know, it ain't February unless I get a dozen rejection letters in the space of five days. And it ain't March, April, May or June unless I'm in a total funk because of February's rejection letters.

What I'll probably end up doing is sending out Monkey's Uncle to about half a dozen things in the next week or two. But only if I can do it and not care what happens. Y'know, like investing in the stock market. If I'm going to be checking the mail every day like an investor checking a stock price, and freaking out every time it goes down a penny, then forget it. I have to send the play out like it's found money.

This has been a weird year for me. I have not written a single play this year, which hasn't happened in a long time. I've made notes for the one I was working on last year this time, but the spark's not there (or maybe the deadline's not there--I work so much better with a deadline). And what's taken the spark's place is a mix of frustration, desperation, and a hefty chip on my shoulder. Stuff I need to clean out of my system because it usually makes me say things like "Oh yeah? I'll give you something to reject!" and then do something really stupid and self-destructive. And do I know self-destructive.

So I took the year off. Have I cleaned myself out? Yes and no. The "I'll show you!" voice is still there, but I'm not listening to it as much. The "you'll never get another play produced ever" voice is there too, and getting louder. But there's a new voice which keeps saying "You're stuck in a rut and you need to change some things," and that's the one I'm trying to talk with more and more. If I can just shut up those other guys. And not do something stupid.

I am thinking of writing a Christmas play, though. The only hitch is, I have to do it while I'm working on the next seven chapters of Three Dead Slaves.

Oh yeah. And not do something stupid.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Weekend Update

Nothing much happened this weekend (cough) Red Sox (cough). But seriously. When the best team in baseball wins the World Series, how surprising is that?
Yeah, yeah--I know. The surprise isn't that the best team won; the surprise is who the best team is. And why is it a surprise? Because we're all still thinking that these are last century's Red Sox.
In the old days, if the Sox were behind in a seven game series by 3 games to 1, Red Sox fans everywhere would prepare themselves for defeat. If the Sox had a 6-0 lead that suddenly became a 6-5 lead, we would prepare ourselves for the game to end as a 7-6 or even 20-6 loss. We would prepare ourselves for the worst. What we don't know how to do? What we've never had to do till now? Is prepare for the best.
And the best is what this young century's team is giving us. The old Sox found new ways to lose. These guys find new ways to win. When a 6-0 game turns into a 6-5 game, they come back and score three insurance runs. A cancer survivor who has three stolen bases all year steals third and scores on a sacrifice fly. A pinch hitter swings at the only pitch he's ever seen in this World Series and homers what turns out to be the winning run in the final game. I'm sorry. I'm not used to that.
But I can get used to it real fast. Oh yeah. As long as I don't turn into a Yankee fan and start expecting it. If that happens, you know who you are and you know what you can do to me, so do it, because I'll deserve it.
And speaking of the Evil Empire--how classless was it of Scott Boras to announce that Triple-A Rod is opting out of his Yankees contract while the game last night was STILL BEING PLAYED? That's like interrupting your ex-girlfriend's wedding when the priest says " . . .let him speak now or forever hold his peace" by yelling out "Yeah, well, I'm getting married next week--to somebody I met in a laundromat, okay?--so there!"
It's the same old Yankee mentality: they have to be the center of attention, or else they don't exist. They have to be in the spotlight, even when they're off to the side of the stage somewhere. I know, I know--it wasn't the Yankees who did this, it was Boras. So either he's got their disease or they've got his disease, but either way, it's the same all-about-me mentality.

And speaking of all about me.


Listen to your wife.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Memes in Mudville

So now that the Rockies-win-streak story is deader than Viva Laughlin, what's the operative meme for this World Series?

1. Don't count your chickens. As Tom Boswell points out, "Three times a team has won Game 1 by 10 runs, the '59 White Sox, '82 Brewers and '96 Braves. All lost the Series."

2. When it's not the end of the world, it doesn't end. This is an offshoot of the Manny being Manny meme, and is perfectly and succinctly explained here.

3. AL = The Show, NL = AA. "Great pitching beats great hitting" should officially be retired in favor of "AL trumps NL" or "AL pwns NL."

4. 2004 Redux. Down by 3-0 in '04 against the Yankees, the Sox came back to win four straight and then swept the Series. Down by 3-1 in '07, the Sox come back and win three straight and now have a 2-0 lead in the Series. Nobody wants to say it out loud, so I won't. I figure the Rockies will take Game 3. But if they don't? There's only one meme left.

5. If the Red Sox can do it, how hard can it be? To which the only response is: if the Red Sox can do it twice, how special is that?

Smells Like Sox Spirit

I looked up "Statement" in the dictionary when I got to work this morning, and there was a picture of Dustin Pedroia hitting a home run in the first inning of last night's World Series game. So I'm guessing we're not going to hear a lot about how many games the Rockies have won in a row during tonight's game. Unless Tim McCarver says something like "You have to score runs to win games, and the Rockies know this." Or "It's the teams who come back to win, who win it all."
I don't know if it was the 8-day delay or what, but the Rockies looked totally out of their league, like a bunch of Revolutionary War soldiers with flintlocks suddenly coming face to face with a Thompson submachine gun. Every one of them had this dazed WTF/Get me out of here/This has gotta be a bad dream stare on his face. And meanwhile Beckett, chewing gum, chewed them up like they were grass and he was the lawnmower.

Because the Sox were celebrating the 40th anniversary of the Impossible Year team, Carl Yastrzemski was at Fenway; he threw out the first pitch, which Fox only showed in a brief replay because they had to cram thirty minutes of commercials into the 40-minute pre-game show. Whenever I watch a Fox-broadcast baseball game, I think back to the 2004 World Series. A reporter asked Stephen King, "Why did you bring a book to a baseball game?" and King said, "Because it's on Fox. I'll have plenty of time to read."

And speaking of commercials? I'd totally take the lap dog if Dragon Tattoo girl was part of the deal:

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Let's call it 43 Best Books for now

-- that way we can shoehorn a poetry collection and a translation into the mix, okay? Okay.

I'm sure I'll think of more, so this isn't final (I'm still reaching for 100). And I'm not going to rank them, just list them, with five exceptions:

Catch-22, by Joseph Heller. This gets my vote as #1.

Collected Poems/Selected Poems, by WH Auden. This is a tie for #2, so it takes up two slots. You have to get both, because there's stuff in Selected (like "September 1, 1939") that's not in Collected. Don't ask.

Trilogy (Molloy, Malone Dies and The Unnameable) by Samuel Beckett. #4. I'm counting this as one novel instead of three separate novels because it's my list, so it's my rules.

The Public Burning by Robert Coover. #5.

Here's the other 38 in no particular order:

HERZOG by Saul Bellow
THE GREAT GATSBY by F. Scott Fitzgerald
1984 by George Orwell
LOLITA by Vladimir Nabokov
ANIMAL FARM by George Orwell
INVISIBLE MAN by Ralph Ellison
ALL THE KING'S MEN by Robert Penn Warren
IN COLD BLOOD by Truman Capote
CAT'S CRADLE by Kurt Vonnegut
NAKED LUNCH by William S. Burroughs

THE MALTESE FALCON by Dashiell Hammett
WHITE NOISE by Don DeLillo
THE DEPTFORD TRILOGY by Robertson Davies

THE ROBBER BRIDE by Margaret Atwood
BLOOD MERIDIAN by Cormac McCarthy
I, CLAUDIUS by Robert Graves
AT SWIM-TWO-BIRDS by Flann O'Brien

THE CREAM OF THE JEST by James Branch Cabell
BURR by Gore Vidal

THE BELL JAR by Sylvia Plath
THE BIG SLEEP by Raymond Chandler


THE PAINTED BIRD by Jerzy Kozinski
RED HARVEST by Dashiell Hammett
THE GREEK PASSION by Nikos Kazantzakis
THE GOLDEN SPUR by Dawn Powell
MATING by Norman Rush
ANY HUMAN HEART by William Boyd

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Well Read? Or Just Well Educated?

The Modern Library has just published its list of 100 best novels. Between the ones I read on my own (red) and the ones I had to read (green--thank you, Jesuits!), I get a 50. (Well, 49 1/2 really--I never actually finished Finnegan's Wake.) And not a Henry James in the bunch. But please: Henderson the Rain King over Herzog? The Naked and the Dead over The Executioner's Song? (Okay--technically non-fiction, which is why In Cold Blood is missing.) And where's Burr by Gore Vidal? Or The Public Burning? Or Robertson Davies? Am I going to have to come up with my own list here? (Duh.)

1. ULYSSES by James Joyce
2. THE GREAT GATSBY by F. Scott Fitzgerald
4. LOLITA by Vladimir Nabokov
5. BRAVE NEW WORLD by Aldous Huxley
6. THE SOUND AND THE FURY by William Faulkner
7. CATCH-22 by Joseph Heller
8. DARKNESS AT NOON by Arthur Koestler
9. SONS AND LOVERS by D.H. Lawrence
10. THE GRAPES OF WRATH by John Steinbeck
11. UNDER THE VOLCANO by Malcolm Lowry
12. THE WAY OF ALL FLESH by Samuel Butler
13. 1984 by George Orwell
14. I, CLAUDIUS by Robert Graves
15. TO THE LIGHTHOUSE by Virginia Woolf
16. AN AMERICAN TRAGEDY by Theodore Dreiser
17. THE HEART IS A LONELY HUNTER by Carson McCullers

18. SLAUGHTERHOUSE-FIVE by Kurt Vonnegut
19. INVISIBLE MAN by Ralph Ellison
20. NATIVE SON by Richard Wright
23. U.S.A. (trilogy) by John Dos Passos
24. WINESBURG, OHIO by Sherwood Anderson
25. A PASSAGE TO INDIA by E.M. Forster
26. THE WINGS OF THE DOVE by Henry James
27. THE AMBASSADORS by Henry James
28. TENDER IS THE NIGHT by F. Scott Fitzgerald
30. THE GOOD SOLDIER by Ford Madox Ford
31. ANIMAL FARM by George Orwell
32. THE GOLDEN BOWL by Henry James
33. SISTER CARRIE by Theodore Dreiser
34. A HANDFUL OF DUST by Evelyn Waugh
35. AS I LAY DYING by William Faulkner
36. ALL THE KING'S MEN by Robert Penn Warren
37. THE BRIDGE OF SAN LUIS REY by Thornton Wilder
38. HOWARDS END by E.M. Forster
39. GO TELL IT ON THE MOUNTAIN by James Baldwin
40. THE HEART OF THE MATTER by Graham Greene
41. LORD OF THE FLIES by William Golding
42. DELIVERANCE by James Dickey
43. A DANCE TO THE MUSIC OF TIME (series) by Anthony Powell
44. POINT COUNTER POINT by Aldous Huxley
45. THE SUN ALSO RISES by Ernest Hemingway
46. THE SECRET AGENT by Joseph Conrad
47. NOSTROMO by Joseph Conrad
48. THE RAINBOW by D.H. Lawrence
49. WOMEN IN LOVE by D.H. Lawrence
50. TROPIC OF CANCER by Henry Miller
51. THE NAKED AND THE DEAD by Norman Mailer
52. PORTNOY'S COMPLAINT by Philip Roth
53. PALE FIRE by Vladimir Nabokov
54. LIGHT IN AUGUST by William Faulkner
55. ON THE ROAD by Jack Kerouac
56. THE MALTESE FALCON by Dashiell Hammett

57. PARADE'S END by Ford Madox Ford
58. THE AGE OF INNOCENCE by Edith Wharton
59. ZULEIKA DOBSON by Max Beerbohm
60. THE MOVIEGOER by Walker Percy
62. FROM HERE TO ETERNITY by James Jones
64. THE CATCHER IN THE RYE by J.D. Salinger
65. A CLOCKWORK ORANGE by Anthony Burgess
66. OF HUMAN BONDAGE by W. Somerset Maugham
67. HEART OF DARKNESS by Joseph Conrad
68. MAIN STREET by Sinclair Lewis
69. THE HOUSE OF MIRTH by Edith Wharton
70. THE ALEXANDRIA QUARTET by Lawrence Durell
71. A HIGH WIND IN JAMAICA by Richard Hughes
72. A HOUSE FOR MR BISWAS by V.S. Naipaul
73. THE DAY OF THE LOCUST by Nathanael West
74. A FAREWELL TO ARMS by Ernest Hemingway
75. SCOOP by Evelyn Waugh
77. FINNEGANS WAKE by James Joyce
78. KIM by Rudyard Kipling
79. A ROOM WITH A VIEW by E.M. Forster
82. ANGLE OF REPOSE by Wallace Stegner
83. A BEND IN THE RIVER by V.S. Naipaul
84. THE DEATH OF THE HEART by Elizabeth Bowen
85. LORD JIM by Joseph Conrad
86. RAGTIME by E.L. Doctorow
87. THE OLD WIVES' TALE by Arnold Bennett
88. THE CALL OF THE WILD by Jack London
89. LOVING by Henry Green
90. MIDNIGHT'S CHILDREN by Salman Rushdie
91. TOBACCO ROAD by Erskine Caldwell
92. IRONWEED by William Kennedy
93. THE MAGUS by John Fowles
94. WIDE SARGASSO SEA by Jean Rhys
95. UNDER THE NET by Iris Murdoch
96. SOPHIE'S CHOICE by William Styron
97. THE SHELTERING SKY by Paul Bowles
99. THE GINGER MAN by J.P. Donleavy

100. THE MAGNIFICENT AMBERSONS by Booth Tarkington

Places in New York that my ghost will haunt . . .

I've been going to one particular spot on the west side of the Sheep Meadow in Central Park since I moved here.

You go in via the southwest entrance across from Tavern On The Green, walk up the dirt path that slowly disappears into grass, and just past the trees on your right is a low hill. On top of the hill is an outcropping of rock (if the Sheep Meadow was the Pacific, this would be Hawaii).

I usually park myself on the slope in front of the rock. In the 25+ years I've been doing this, I have never failed to find a spot to lay out, no matter how crowded the place is. Maybe everybody knows it's my parking space. Maybe the rock is radioactive. Maybe that explains the baldness and the headaches.

But this is where I come every Memorial Day weekend to start the summer off right by catching some rays; this is where I end up on July Sundays and Saturdays (usually after a movie); and this is where my ghost will lie, flat on its back and listening to a CD, as it turns from pale white to slightly freckled to tanned.

If my ghost is going to haunt any place on a weekend in the 22nd century, it'll be here.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Weekend Update

Vampires Baby Vampires. Are you over Anne Rice? Are you tired of romance novels where the only decent human being a girl can find to date is a vampire? Are you sick of movies that put the sucker in bloodsucker? Then go see 30 Days of Night. No Byronic whiners here; the bad guys are evil incarnate, and they're all Russkis, some of them with gang tattoos. If this movie had been made 60 years ago, critics would have called it a Cold War allegory. The operative world being cold. Creepy, scary, and much better than the comic book it's based on.

Gone Baby Gone. Good really good. Could have been better (during which rewrite did "Angie Gennaro's character" become "Patrick Kenzie's appendage?") but the moral dilemma of the book is intact, even if compressing the convoluted plot into two hours results in a final 20 minutes that make your head spin. If you've read the book, you won't be disappointed. If you haven't read the book, this'll make you want to. And if you've never been to Dahchestah, this is just as good as going there.

Sox Baby Sox. Okay -- Matsuzaka only gave up 2 runs, not 4, and Ortiz' "little guys" didn't start jumping until my nails were bitten down to the second knuckle, but you know the Fates are on your side when infield singles take weird hops, umpires call opposing baserunners out when replays show they were safe, and opposing third-base coaches make inexplicable errors in judgment with the game on the line. The question now is: which team are the Fates going to be french-kissing for the next two weeks?

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Nail-Biting in Mudville

It's 2 in the afternoon and I just saw Gone Baby Gone (more Boston authenticity in the first five minutes than The Departed had in 2 plus hours) and at the tail-end of the credit roll, Ben Affleck thanks Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz, probably just for being themselves. They weren't themselves last night, but thanks to JD Drew they didn't have to be.

Tonight however is a different story.

This may come back to haunt me, but here's my prediction for Game 7 against the Indians. Matsuzaka is going to give up 4 or 5 runs. It's what he does. If the Sox can score 6 or 7 runs, they'll win. If they can't, they'll lose. And it won't be pretty.

Do I wish they'd saved five of last night's runs for tonight? You bet.

Do I hope they'll jump all over Westbrook in the first couple of innings? Oh yeah.

Do I think the Sox will win tonight? Yes.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Unlike George Bush

There's Always Next Year in Mudville

The latest episode in the long-running sitcom that is Manny being Manny brings up an interesting question.

When did "There's always next year" become the same thing as saying "We don't care enough to win?"

When did saying "It’s not like the end of the world” become the same as saying "We're not going to play like we want to win?"

Isn't it healthier to put things in perspective rather than view the world as a series of near-sighted do-or-die hurdles? Or does this fall under the "110% Rule," which states that you're not part of the team if you don't say things that make no logical sense?

Me, I prefer the long view.


Would never hire me as his manager:

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

No Joy In Mudville

In the old days, when Red Sox pitchers gave up four runs a game, you could count on the 8th and 9th place hitters to score like six runs apiece, never mind the power hitters whacking the ball into whatever parking lot sits outside whatever stadium they're in.

Now? Now you yell at the TV screen "Swing at the first pitch strike, you morons!" and go to bed with your left knee throbbing because you sprained it pacing up and down your living room floor.

I remember when the Celtics were going up against the Lakers in the '85 finals and totally blew them out of Game 1, I mean laughably blew them out of Game 1, so much so that the game became known as the Memorial Day Massacre. Who ended up winning the series? LA, four games to two. During which I just sat there in front of the TV wondering, "Hey--what happened to that Game 1 team, huh?"

Same thing here. But it's not the Game 1 Red Sox that are nowhere to be found. It's the Game 1 Indians. Like good teams do, they learned from their loss and got better.

Which means, unless the Sox can do the same thing, we're looking at a Cleveland/Colorado World Series.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Weekend Update

Elizabeth: The Golden Age. I could subject you to a long list of crimes against history which this movie commits, beginning with the fact that Elizabeth is portrayed as a mid-30's hottie rather than the 55-year-old Bette Davis lookalike she really was in 1588 (and meanwhile Geoffrey Rush, like Cate Blanchett's personal Dorian Gray portrait, ages twenty years between February 1588 when Mary Queen of Scots is executed and September 1588 when the Armada sails), but what's the point? By the time Blanchett shows up in armor as England's version of Joan of Arc (Cate of Oz?), you've either been swept away or swept aside.

I do have one technical question of minor importance. The camera in this movie does just as much swooping and diving as Michael Bay's camera did in Armageddon, but in Armageddon it was annoying and nauseous -- in this movie, it's sweeping and operatic. And it's not like the plot of this movie is any different from any other Elizabeth I movie ever made (head versus heart, duty versus love, woman versus Queen, my country is my boyfriend, roll credits). Maybe I just like swooping shots of Aussie actresses more than identical zooms around Bruce Willis and Billy Bob Thornton. But then who wouldn't?

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Eloi and Morlocks

So I was watching The Time Machine on Turner Classic Movies last week (not so much because I wanted to, but because it was on), and I got to thinking: aren't we the Eloi already? Y'know, except for the totally blonde white Aryan thing. Aren't we already being bred and controlled and fed and clothed by creatures of darkness?

Let's see. The Eloi laze around all day doing nothing (well, okay, we have day jobs, but our dream is to laze around and do nothing, right?); they all look 25 tops (the reality of the rich and the dream of the poor); their food magically appears (cough) grocery store (cough); they don't know the first thing about farming or sewing or how to survive on their own (I'm raising my hand on this one, how about you?); books have fallen to dust in libraries (well duh); and when they want to find out about their history, they can listen to spinning rings (CD's anyone?). But nobody cares about history, so nobody listens to them.

Oh yeah--and when one of them is drowning, the rest of civilization as we know it just lies on the beach catching rays. The only things missing in that picture are laptops and iPods.

So if we're the Eloi, who are the Morlocks?

We are so totally screwed.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

He Vas My Badlands Boyfriend

You know what makes this city great? Friends. Just like the people you work with are the ones who make your job bearable, the people you walk beside as you maneuver your way through the 50-page Greek Diner Menu of opportunity that is New York are the ones who make living here special.

Two of them made me feel like (y'know) a New Yorker Tuesday. And I don't care how long you've lived here; most of the time you feel like there's so much going on that you'll never be able to grab it all, never mind one or two pieces of it. But then there are those moments when you get to do something that makes you say to yourself, "Now that was a New York thing to do," and you feel connected like you never did before to the heart of this city.

That was Tuesday afternoon and evening for me. My friend Rob had an extra ticket to the invitation-only dress rehearsal of Young Frankenstein; and my friend Bill knew someone with an extra ticket to the Springsteen concert at Continental Arena. Thanks to them, my dreams last night were a wild mash-up of Puttin' On The Ritz and Candy's Room.

Thanks, guys. You rock and/or roll.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

That's why they call it Warner Brothers

From Newsarama:

According to LA Weekly’s Nikki Finke, Warners isn’t interested in making films with female leads. Her source? Warner Bros president of production Jeff Robinov who Finke quotes (through three sources) as saying: "We are no longer doing movies with women in the lead." Finke said that Robinov's sentiment/statement was confirmed by three producers.

This totally explains why the Wonder Woman movie has been retitled Steve Trevor and is now starring Owen Wilson, who has also been cast as John Ripley in Alien 5: The Planet Crashers.

Someone who does what he can

Why do I like the two-issue JLA/Hitman special?

Because it stars a dead DC character who has stayed dead, and it makes you feel like his death is a loss.

Because the JLA members are five different characters, and not the author's voice lettered into five different speech balloons.

And because it's one of the best things you'll ever read about Superman (It's also the best Wonder Woman currently on the stands. The three page dialogue with her and Superman nails them both. Compare it to Judd Winick's Superman/Wonder Woman scene in the Black Canary/Green Arrow Wedding Special, and try not to weep for what passes as "writing" in the current DCVerse. Go ahead, try. I dare you. )

Like any other talented mortal, Garth Ennis fluctuates between writing and typing. (Preacher? Writing. Wormwood? Typing. The Boys? A little of both.) Put this one firmly in the Writing pile. Put it right up there with Hitman #34.

Fair Game: The writing thing

I got an e-mail from a friend of mine who was asking about the whole writing thing. It's one of a number of questions I get asked a lot:

Is writing by nature narcissistic? Is this why i resist it? Because I think it's too self-indulgent?

The honest answer? Yes. Writing is totally self-indulgent. For most of us normal mortals, we start out writing because we think what we have to say is so important that the world should stop in its tracks and listen to us the moment we open our mouths. "Me me me!" we cry. But if we keep at it long enough, we grow out of the Me stage and into the You and Us stuff that is writing about the world and about ideas and about people, instead of just our own egos.

Some lucky people can do that right off. Not me. I went through the Me stage and I've never really gotten out of it, especially in my science plays, where I'm so obviously saying "See how much Matthew knows!" And I have to admit, I dream of the day I'm walking through Times Square when suddenly the sky opens up, a dove descends to hover over my head, and the voice of God proclaims for all to hear: "This is my beloved playwright, in whom I am well pleased. Give him an advance just for living."

So maybe you never lose the self-indulgence; maybe you only wear an unpretentious jacket over it when you go out in public. I do know one thing, though. It's one of the rules I live by.

MATTHEW'S SECOND LAW OF WRITING: The first draft is always therapy.

I've learned through experience that (unless you're like Noel Coward) you never show your first draft to anybody. Anybody. It's always too personal, even if it doesn't read that way to you when you've completed it. It's the second draft that counts, the one where you take whatever the hell was on your mind and turn it into something that a total stranger can relate to. Hopefully. Which sometimes takes five or six or ten drafts. At the end of which there may be very little left of your original words. Which is not necessarily a bad thing. Because

MATTHEW'S THIRD LAW OF WRITING: If you're in love with it, cut it.

If you keep going back to a scene or a line or a monologue, and you read it with a smile, or rework everything else around it to make it work better, or you think it's the best thing you've ever put on paper, Vegas bookies will be laying odds that this scene/line/monologue is shouting "Me me me!" which is why you don't want to get rid of it. Rule of thumb: the second you say "I have to keep this in" about anything, cut it out. Second rule of thumb: if you have something you've cut from another piece and you keep trying to work it into new projects, don't. Post it on your blog and move on, because whatever it is, it's all about you.

So what's Matthew's First law of Writing?

MATTHEW'S FIRST LAW OF WRITING: The more you do it, the better you get at it.

Which is also a rule of life, but as far as writing goes, the Writer's Way system never (repeat: never) fails to result in something creative if you keep at it consistently. If you write two pages a day about anything--if you complain about your job or record what you remember about last night's dream or describe the woman sitting across from you on the subway or jot down notes for a story or a play or a novel, then the more you write, the better you will get at not just putting words down on paper, but at organizing those words into beginning, middle and end. It's like there's an unused muscle in everyone's brain that can not only see order in something, but create it. And when you exercise this muscle by giving it 500 random words a day to digest, it is going to arrange them into something. Trust me on this: it will automatically happen. It's like your hard drive needs a certain amount of input before a program kicks in and starts to arrange that data sequentially. That program is resident in all of us. But it's not something you can access from your mental desktop. It needs something to open up, like Picasa.

Bottom line: yes, writing is self-indulgent. But you shouldn't resist it because it's self-indulgent. You should embrace it because it's self-indulgent. And then point that impulse out, into the world, so that it can embrace me.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Joy in Mudville

I was in an upper west side bar Sunday night trying to have a conversation while the Yankees were playing the Indians, and the way the knot of Yankee fans around the TV were cheering every time a Yankee pitcher threw a strike or a Yankee batter got a hit, you'd think they had all just won the lottery.

A Cleveland pop fly? "Yankee baseball, Yankee baseball!" A called strike against Sizemore? "That's what I'm talkin' 'bout, YEAH!" An actual single by Damon? One woman starts screaming like she's delivering twins. "Imagine what she'll sound like when they actually score a run," I said to Ava. Five minutes later, I didn't have to.

Now I'm a Red Sox fan. This means that, while I am only casually acquainted with winning, I am intimately acquainted with losing. And one of the things that losers habitually do is cheer every little minor victory they see, because the big one is always out of their grasp. I know this because I've done it myself, for years. And I can see it in other fans. I can see it in Yankee fans. They haven't won the big one in so long, they go bazoo when they win the little one. (And for Yankee fans? "So long" is less than a year.) It's like your grandmother doing an end-zone dance when she wins two bucks on an instant Lottery ticket. It's kind of sad and nutty at the same time. You watch her and think, "Wow, you really don't know what winning is like, do you?"

Except that it's about losing. About knowing what losing is like. And that is something which is not in the Yankee Fan genetic code.

Back when I was turning 50, I started writing myself a birthday play, and as usual it turned into about fifteen different things at once, and maybe someday (not today) I'll turn it into a novel; but one of the things I did was give myself five monologues, one to start each act of the play. The third act monologue was about the Red Sox and the Yankees. Bear in mind that this was written in 2002, before the Sox beat the Yankees (cough) greatest comeback of all time (cough) on the way to winning it all.

ACT THREE, Scene 1
[Spotlight on Max. He puts on a Red Sox baseball cap and stares out at the audience.]

MAX: There are two kinds of people in the world. Yankee fans and Red Sox fans. A Yankee fan is a cocky, arrogant pretty boy who walks into a party expecting to be the center of attention; and if he doesn't go to the party, then it isn't really a party –- and don’t you forget it. Yankee fans never lose; they have victory taken away from them. They never say that the other guy won because he played the game better; they say things like, "We had a bad day," or "We made some mistakes," or "We didn't play up to our potential." If they were a bank, they would only give credit to themselves. And when they don't win like they're supposed to, then there has to be something wrong with the world -- not them. The Red Sox fan knows exactly the opposite. The Red Sox fan knows that the world, like baseball, is not about winning, it's about losing. The Red Sox fan knows that the world, like baseball, is a beautiful place where horrible things happen for no good reason under the wide-open eyes of God. It's a hard place, with hard rules, and one of the hardest rules of all is that the longer you play, the more you lose; but by losing, you know more about the game. And you appreciate not only victory, but the skill and courage it takes to continue playing. And you develop something that winners, and people who think they deserve to be winners, never have. Compassion -- for everyone except those fucking Yankees.

That was then. Now? Now I have total compassion for Yankee fans. It can't be easy, walking around like you're King Of The Mountain when you can't even make it past the foothills. It can't be easy, walking around like you're cock of the walk when you can't even get it up. It can't be easy, when the label you print out and wear, the one that says WINNER, ends up crossed out or covered with graffiti. My God, it's like you're a walking metaphor for America's place in the world. And I wouldn't wish that on anyone. Even a Yankee fan.

But I do want to point something out to all you brand new citizens of the real world.

When you lose in the first round of the playoffs three years in a row? It’s not stunning, crushing, anguishing, staggering, frustrating or tragic. When you do the same thing three years in a row? It’s typical.

Monday, October 8, 2007

Weekend Update

Classic Rock. Nothing like listening to great rock 'n' roll in a storied Village venue, but it's an added pleasure when the performer is Bernie Shanahan and the crowd is filled with Cedar regulars and staff, some of whom I haven't seen in almost exactly a year. Visit Bernie's home page; you won't be disappointed.

Influential, adj. You know you're dealing with a true visionary when it's impossible to see the world without looking through his or her eyeglasses. As far as the 20th Century goes, we see it through Freud's monocle, Kafka's bifocals, or Einstein's telescope. But the 21st Century? We see that through the Panavision lens that shot this film:

It's playing at the Ziegfeld through Thursday. Go see it; you won't be disappointed.

West and Wewaxation at wast. Ava is flying back to Oz today, which means I can finally catch up on all the sleep I lost this past week trying to keep up with her. The brain cells however are lost forever. See you at Chwistmas, you scwewy wabbit.

Saturday, October 6, 2007

Fair Game: Teenager in love

We are all capable of manufacturing romance. We know exactly what we're supposed to feel, so we make ourselves feel it; we know exactly how we're supposed to act, so we play the part to (cough) perfection (cough). In the end, like everything else of any consequence in this world, it's a fashion choice. If you're lucky or unlucky enough not to have the Real Thing konk you over the head like a caveman on a third date, you can actually go for a lo-o-o-ong time thinking that the $30 knockoff number you're sporting feels exactly the same as the four-figure original.

Until, of course, you try that original on, and your skin goes nuts because it knows the difference between silk and sandpaper even if you don't.

It's the Skin Thing, folks. You touch someone, or someone touches you, and all you want to do is not let go -- like, y'know, ever. Do you want to talk? Yes--you want to say "Shut up and kiss me." Do you want to share your hopes, your dreams, your fears? No--you want to share a shower. Do you hear the music of the spheres when you see each other, or an aria from Mozart? No--you hear "Hot For Teacher" and you can't get it out of your stupid head.

That's me right now: suffering God's revenge on those who think too much.

GOD: You think too much? Okay--here's a girl who's gonna do an end run around your brain. Try thinking about that, sucker. Oh and by the way? This is what the Real Thing feels like that. Try to remember that, the next time to manufacture it out of thin air. [Cackling laugh.]

Friday, October 5, 2007

wonder wheel

Bruce does a Bruce album

Pull quote. A man rides the roads looking for a lost connection, but the only thing he can connect to are his old albums.

Soundtrack to a story. Haunted by the death of a close friend, a man is desperate to feel something, anything, but the old connections are either dead and gone or just gone. He turns to a woman he met in Lucky Town, confident that she'll come his way, and sure in the knowledge that all the bad times that froze them out on Tenth Avenue haven't happened yet. But he knows this woman well--she's her own worst enemy. And thinking about enemies makes him remember his lost friend, and a conversation about right and wrong. It also makes him think of his lost youth, which is everywhere he looks as he watches the lovers walk by, and all the girls in their summer clothes, none of whom stop for him now, because they can see he's been hurt, they can see he envisions his salvation in their eyes, in their company. But they pass him by. So he turns to the current woman in his life and recommits to her, promising to work at her love, even though his vision of faith is like a long staggering walk through the stations of a secular cross. He thinks back to the carnival, to that night in the tunnel of love, the night they saw the sideshow magic performance, but not even sleight of hand can change his life, all it can do is tell him what his future will be as a predestined end. And what is that end but a long drive with his wife beside him and his kids in the backseat, listening to a radio that brings him news of a war that is like his marriage, and a marriage that is like a war that has all been a mistake. He tries to figure out what went wrong, but he's been turned out of his house and can only wander through his home town, remembering the words of his father, words that echo the magician's prediction that "this is what will be" by reminding him that a courthouse flag represents things that are set in stone, things that will never change, defining who we are, and what we can and cannot do. And he thinks back to the carnival again, only now it's mingled with thoughts of the war, with visions of dead soldiers and sunlight on graves, with faith and the woman in his life, and he's back where he started, crying out to feel the beat of a heart. And then silence, and finally, at the end of that silence, he says goodbye to his dead old friend in an empty room in Nebraska.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

The seacoast of Bohemia

Sometimes education can ruin you for the simple pleasures of life. Like watching movies, for instance. There's a film called The Great Sioux Massacre with Iron Eyes Cody playing Crazy Horse. I've only seen it once, but it was during my read-anything-about-Crazy-Horse period, and there's a moment in the movie when Crazy Horse is making a speech, and all the other chiefs are agreeing with him by talking in Sioux. Specifically saying the words "Tashunka witko" over and over again. And I'm cracking up, because "Tashunka Witko" is Sioux for "Crazy Horse." It's his name. All these chiefs muttering "Crazy Horse, Crazy Horse," it's like watching a toga movie where the emperor is giving a speech and the extras have been told to say something in Latin 'cause it'll sound authentic, but the Latin they're given to say is "Augustus Caesar."

Yes, I'm too smart for my own good. We know this. It's why my plays don't get produced.

Moving right along -- it's not just the stuff I've read on my own that ruins me for entertainment; it's the stuff I was taught when I was young, impressionable, and thought that knowledge would actually get me somewhere besides a day job in a midtown Manhattan sub-basement.

When I was in high school, I took three years of Greek and four years of Latin. Dig up somebody who died before Christ was born, and chances are, I can shoot the shit with him. Despite all my attempts to have these high school neurons erased by drinking copious quantities of alcohol, my brain still retains a lot of useless facts about Ancient Greece and Rome. Like the fact that Sparta was called Lakedaemon, although I don't remember why; and the fact that it's located smack dab in the middle of the Peloponnesian peninsula.

Don't believe me? Here's a map of Sparta. Notice how far it is from that blue stuff in the corners that represents the sea.

Sparta: the Kansas of ancient Greece, because when you think Kansas, the last thing that comes to mind is beach-front property. As I say, thanks to the Jesuits of Boston College High School, stuff like that is lodged in my head and will probably never be erased this side of the grave.

Picture then, a movie theatre in midtown Manhattan on Saturday, May 15, 2004. Picture the movie Troy, with Brad Pitt as Achilles and a woefully underused Sean Bean as Odysseus. Picture a lot of serious people taking this movie very seriously, until approximately ten minutes in, when somebody sitting on the aisle starts guffawing like a chain-gang prisoner watching that Mickey Mouse cartoon in Sullivan's Travels.

That hyena is me. Why am I guffawing? Because I see this on screen:

I know what you're thinking. You're thinking: "It's literary license,” right? If, for the sake of this story, Sparta is on the sea, then what’s the big deal?

Agreed. On that level, there is no big deal. Shakespeare gives Bohemia a navy, Elizabethan laborers live right outside the Athens of Theseus, and Jackie Chan politely ignores the mountains of Vancouver in Rumble in the Bronx.

But on another level? Maybe I’m reading too much into a ten-second lower-third, but this is a prime example of the casual ignorance of this country about the rest of the world, never mind history. Just imagine the amount of hooting “Port of Sparta – Greece” received when Troy played in Athens. That Greek audience would have every reason to believe that Americans are total morons. It'd be like watching a French movie about America and seeing the words "Port of Denver - Colorado." Or a Russian movie about the Civil War set in the state of Gettysburg. How snooty would we get over stuff like this? Pretty damn snooty.

That’s the point where “literary license” fails as an excuse. The world is a lot different from the days when Shakespeare could rearrange European geography and have the upper class audience smile while the groundlings wondered what the joke was. The odds of somebody from Bohemia watching Winter’s Tale at the Globe? Pretty damn slim. The odds of somebody from Sparta seeing Troy? Pretty damn huge.

I know what you're thinking. You're thinking: "You think too much, Matthew,” right?

Well, duh. And here's what I'm thinking. I'm thinking that there’s no excuse these days for ignorance about the rest of the world, never mind history, even in popular entertainment— hell, especially in popular entertainment, because that’s our public face to the rest of the world. I’m thinking that this kind of lazy ignorance is exactly the kind of ignorance that gets us into land wars in Asia. I’m thinking that calling it literary license is just an excuse for sloppy thinking, and we all know where sloppy thinking gets us (cough--Iraq--cough). And I'm thinking that, if people don't care about getting the little things right, how the hell can we trust them when it comes to the big things?