(I originally posted this on facebook but I wanted to spread it around so...)
Dad Update: What a gift the time with my Dad was this week. I wish I could take a picture that would convey what happens when he opens his eyes and sees me. His face just lights up. He smiles and says my name. None of which I thought would be happening at this stage. But despite his memory issues, my Dad seems to be holding on really fiercely to the idea of me as his son. It seems as though my Dad will be just as happy to see me on the day he leaves this life as he was on the day that I entered it. And it gives him such pleasure just to see me and spend time with me, showing up is really all he needed me to do. So I’m very glad that I went.
Since returning, I’m constantly reminded of all the things I do each morning without even thinking that are out of my Dad’s reach. I can get out of bed by myself. I can walk to the bathroom. I can take a shower. I can use a toilet. I can wash and shave my own face, brush my own teeth and gargle. I can brush my own hair. I can dress myself. I can walk around my home without anyone’s assistance. I can prepare meals and feed myself.
When I was a baby and a small child, my father and mother would do these things for me, or help me as I learned to do for myself. If you’re a lucky child, there’s no way you could ever repay your parents for all the many things they’ve done for you. It’s a strange and rare privilege to be able to return the favor, even for a few days. Dad has an amazing staff of caregivers doing most of the heavy lifting for him. But just to be able to sit with him, and help to feed him or hold a glass to his lips so he can drink. It’s a very humbling thing to be given a chance to do.
The day I arrived in the afternoon, he was already pretty done in for the day, but he rallied a little just to be able to say hello. When I asked how he was feeling, he said, “I don’t feel like I get all that much out of my days anymore, son. And I don’t feel like the family gets much out of them either.” My stepmom Debbie and I visited him again at dinnertime. She feels it’s important to show up and help him eat then because it’s the lowest point of the day for him, energy-wise. The company and encouragement help.
The next morning, I accompanied him to what they call the Day Program, a huge room with all sorts of activities, access to an outdoor patio (during warmer weather), and big windows with beautiful views of the grounds. New England scenery is working overtime where they live. The challenge for Dad these days is by the time the nursing staff gets him up and fed and groomed and dressed and, via a Hoyer Lift, into his wheelchair for the journey off the dementia unit and down the hall to the Day Program, he’s pretty much wiped out energy-wise. It takes him a while to get a little bit of a second wind, or just to get his bearings. He wasn’t so much confused as just tired. So he didn’t get much into the day’s art projects, though the singalong grabbed his attention from time to time.
They serve lunch at the Day Program so they parked Dad and me at one of the big windows to look out on the grounds as we ate. Dad loves the view from that window. I started feeding him and they brought me over the New England version of a Philly cheesesteak (which was actually pretty close, and quite tasty). That led to a discussion of this great old hole in the wall place that Dad, my brother Mark and I used to go all the time for real Philly cheesesteaks, and some delightfully bad for you cheese fries. At the mention of this my Dad obviously latched onto a memory because he got a different kind of smile on his face. Debbie was introduced to this restaurant when Dad was first introducing her to my brother and me and she still remembers it - not her kind of food at all, but she was a good sport about playing along with the dining choice. I’m sure the place isn’t even there anymore, but we all carry it around in our heads still. At one point Dad said, “Now when I sit at this window it’s going to be even more special because now I’ll have a memory of having lunch here with my son.”
Every time throughout the day when I would leave him so he could rest, I’d kiss him on the forehead and say “I love you, Dad” and his response was always the same. “I love you, too, son. I’m so proud of you.” And even though he always asks about the two day jobs I hold down to pay the bills, and makes sure to get a full report, he always makes sure to ask about the writing I do if I don’t bring it up first. And when he talks about why he’s proud of me, it’s never the day jobs he mentions, it’s always the playwriting. He’s seen and read so many of my plays that he knows the kind of stories I write. And even though he can’t remember the details of them any more, he talks about them being important because they’re helping people to understand each other, and realize we’re not as different as we think we are. Even if there isn’t a new production of anything in the pipeline, I’m always writing, and he always wants to hear what I’m thinking about.
“I’m happy just to sit with you and listen to you to talk,” he said at one point. So I would sit and hold his hand, or rub his knee or run a hand up and down the side of his arm, because he found it soothing, and just be with him.
The last morning on this visit, I’ll admit I had a good solid cry over breakfast. And walking into Dad’s room that morning, seeing him with his eyes closed, laid out on the bed in the transfer sling they use with the lift, waiting for them to come back and move him, even though he was just resting, the visual brought me up short. Then I walked over, said good morning, and he opened his eyes and smiled at me, and on we went with the morning routine.
One of these visits is going to be the last visit. We just don’t know for sure which one it is, yet. This might have been it. But if he makes it to Christmas, and if we get more time like that at Christmas, that’ll be a good thing, too. And if this visit was the last one, then I know it made him happy, and that’s enough. The last several years, me buying a plane ticket was the major Christmas gift anyway. The man doesn’t need things. He just wants to see his children.
Sometimes, showing up is all you need to do.
Now we just see how many days are left, and make the most of each one we get. Thanks for keeping us in your thoughts and prayers, everyone. It means a lot.
Sunday, December 02, 2018
Friday, November 30, 2018
THE THIRTIETH CHALLENGE
Rewrite a play of someone else’s
You made it! (or you didn’t and that’s okay too- no really it is I’ve only finished about half the time when I try to do these. Kids, ya know? Life. Etc.)
If you’re not having fun, you’re doing it wrong.
Why do this? Well, for me it goes back to the essence of theater and promoting it as inherently an act of play - even the writing of it!- dangerous, delightful, adult, play.
It’s a bit of a yogic practice to be sure- good days and bad days- but it’s a mistake to try to hold back the waters and pray that it all works out when the dam bursts. It’s much better to live your life- idk why the water metaphor but--- building up muscles walking next to the creative river.
Anyway- last challenge. Here it is:
CHALLENGE: YOU. Rewrite a play of someone else’s. From this challenge. From classic works. From whatever. Boil it down to yourself with a sentence like “essentially this is a play about bad bosses- just like when I worked at Groupon (or whatever).” Then rewrite the play from your perspective, your life markers, yours and you and u.
Make it personal. A campfire story about how you got here.
And… add a dream sequence in the middle
Make it theatrical. Make it a rain dance.
Then smack us back down into the reality of the first part of the play.
Don’t forget to advocate for yourself.
Don’t feel sorry for yourself.
Obama says “Don’t boo, vote.”
I say “Don’t bitch, write.”
I love you for reading these.
I love you for choosing an artist's life. You are a leader in your community whether you feel like one or not. Whether they express it or not, other (muggle) people know you’re dangerous, powerful, and creative. They know you’re full of mystery and potential.
Honor yourself at the end of this.
Heal. Rest. Rest.
Celebrate it AS a thing. The end product is YOU- not the writing. The writing can’t happen without you, being in tune, doing that river walk (see above).
‘Til next year!
(I’m trying to do a riff on Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya, with most of the genders flipped. The young trophy wife is instead a trophy husband, etc. So the professor, GWENDOLYN, has come with her new younger husband JONATHAN, to summer at the family farm of her late husband, now run by her daughter, OLIVE, and former sister-in-law, CONSTANCE. The local doctor, ESTHER, makes frequent visits. OLIVE pines for ESTHER, but she has her eye on JONATHAN, and it may be mutual. Which is even more awkward for ESTHER’s friendship with CONSTANCE, for she also pines for JONATHAN. Right now, I seem to be in a meditative phase where none of the characters are talking to each other; they’re instead engaging in conversation with inanimate objects. And so it goes…)
CONSTANCE kneels by a bed of autumn roses – a mixture of blooms in oranges and yellows and reds.
Such lovely things. It seems a shame to pick you.
The ROSES look to CONSTANCE.
If you live in there, and I live out here, how are we ever going to see and appreciate each other’s beauty?
You want me to cut you down?
It’s the only way I can be near you.
But you’ll die.
We’re all going to die. Flowers soonest of all. September is here anyway. Would you prefer I die out here alone in the chill?
No, of course not.
Take me inside, where I can be warm, with you. Let me brighten your rooms. You’ll tend me just as closely in there as you do out here. You’ll keep me alive as long as you can.
And if there’s someone you want me to impress and watch over for you, I can do that as well.
Beautiful autumn roses – lovely, sad roses.
We’ll be less sad together. You could bloom as well.
I have the clippers. I’ll be gentle.
Do it quickly.
I have you.
OLIVE sits at a piano.
The PIANO waits impatiently.
You’ve dusted me and polished me. Now play me. I’m not a piece of furniture. I’m meant to sing. But I need you to touch my keys.
I’ll disturb mother.
She and her books can walk outside. We are less mobile.
What if I play badly?
You’re not liable to play well if you don’t play at all.
I won’t offend you?
You only offend me by not allowing me to truly speak. I need your caress to set my voice free.
But the whole house will hear.
Let them. The silence in this place is suffocating.
You seem so sad.
There is nothing sadder than an unplayed piano. If you touch me, I’ll perk right up, I promise you.
OLIVE lays her hands gently on the keys, but don’t press down to play the notes yet.
Oh, the warmth of your fingertips. I’ve missed you.
I’ve missed you, too.
OLIVE plays first one chord softly, then another.
You sound so lovely.
We sound so lovely.
OLIVE starts picking out a little tune.
Dance with me!
OLIVE plays the PIANO with abandon, not caring who might hear.
JONATHAN finds the DOCTOR’S BAG, left behind.
The doctor’s bag, but no doctor.
JONATHAN moves closer to the bag.
It’s not like her to leave her tools behind.
The DOCTOR’S BAG speaks up.
She has another life.
When not looking after human life, she cares for the trees.
For that, I have no tools for her.
I’ve always wondered what she keeps in here.
Go ahead and look. I won’t tell.
If she valued her privacy, she wouldn’t leave me behind.
If you’re certain –
Take a peek. You’ll kick yourself if you don’t.
When JONATHAN still hesistates –
I won’t bite.
JONATHAN reaches into the DOCTOR’S BAG, carefully removing each tool and setting them in ordered rows next to the bag. He notes the location and order as he goes and arranges things in such a way that he’ll be able to reverse the process.
Last of all, he pulls out a small pocket flask for liquor.
JONATHAN opens it and sniffs.
Mostly still in there. It’s been a good day. Only one person died. And they were old, and not in pain.
Her lips have touched this flask.
Yours should, too.
JONATHAN looks around.
Piano music can be heard in a distant room.
DOCTOR’S BAG (cont’d)
Nobody here but you and me.
JONATHAN brings the flask to his mouth for a small, gentle sip.
Most medicine does.
JONATHAN picks up the stethoscope.
He puts the eartiips in his ears.
He places the diaphragm against his chest.
DOCTOR’S BAG (cont’d)
You can hear better if it’s against your skin.
JONATHAN slips the diaphragm inside his shirt.
It’s cold. It makes him jump just a bit.
Then he stands still to listen.
I have a heart.
GWENDOLYN sits, surrounded by stacks of books.
My brain used to retain a library of knowledge larger than this. Now bits and pieces, facts and quotations, just keep slipping out one after the other, day after day. And I don’t know I’ve lost anything until suddenly I’m reaching for a word and it isn’t there.
That’s why we exist. To hold things for you, for later.
I read you, but then it all falls out again.
Some. More than I’d like.
That’s why you keep us.
I keep you for vanity. So people know that I’ve read you. I command you. That you’re up here in my head. Something they haven’t even touched, couldn’t possibly understand.
No one’s quizzing you.
I’m terrified. The blood coursing through my skull, my heartbeat, it’s deafening.
Piano music is heard in a distant room.
The joy in that music mocks me.
It’s only music.
I’m scared. I feel so small.
Come here. Get lost in us for a while.
The BOOKS gather round and embrace GWENDOLYN.
We’ll keep you safe.
ESTHER, wearing work gloves and carrying a small bucket with gardening tools, walks up to a massive tree, towering out of sight.
In its shadow, she finds a small sapling.
Well now, you’re not going to get a lot of sun here, are you, tiny thing?
I keep stretching, but I can’t reach the sky and I can’t reach the light.
ESTHER kneels down beside the sapling.
It’s been so long since anyone even noticed I was here.
ESTHER touches the sapling’s leaves with a gloved hand.
It’s been even longer since anyone touched me.
I think the solution is just to move you about six feet to the left.
ESTHER gets out a small trowel.
I’ll try to be as gentle as I can. I may not get every single one of your roots. You’ll have to forgive me.
I can grow more roots, what I need is more sun.
ESTHER digs carefully around the sapling.
There now. I think that’s got it.
ESTHER digs her hands into the dirt around the SAPLING.
The SAPLING giggles.
ESTHER scoops the SAPLING up in her arms, roots dangling.
I dug a hole over here the other day, thinking I might need to move you.
ESTHER gently sets the SAPLING in the hole, then fills in the dirt around it and pats it down.
It’s so warm here. I’d forgotten what the warmth of the sun was like. It’ll take some getting used to.
There. That’s a start.
I wish I could offer you shade as a thank you.
ESTHER walks over to the massive tree while addressing the SAPLING.
You’ll be able to someday.
Just like this tree my father planted now shelters me.
ESTHER sits in the shade of the massive tree.
ESTHER takes off the gloves and gets a book out of her bucket.
The TREE speaks in a deep voice from above her head.
Welcome back, Esther.
Now let’s see, where was I?
ESTHER reads, leaning against the TREE, as the SAPLING wiggles in its new spot, settling in.
Piano music can be heard coming from the house just beyond the woods.
THE TWENTY-NINTH CHALLENGE
Lies and Asides
Write a play where one or more character speaks to the audience in asides.
Asides are always truthful, so write lots of lies in the dialogue
Use dramatic irony- if both characters would only open up and be honest with each other, the impending tragedy would not be about to happen!
Asides are really only in morality tales- sadly I believe. Prove me wrong!
Use life and death stakes
Bonus: Make yourself one of the characters- and the asides your most vulnerable thoughts. Change the names to protect the innocent
(Hilarious. I kind of did this one already three days ago as a gimmick in the parental time fluid prompt I posted. I’m reaching back into the 20/20 challenge instead)
THE TWENTIETH CHALLENGE
Write a play that has a total budget of $20 and lasts 20 minutes
Sorry again for delays. I DO try to keep ahead, but ultimately this is supposed to be a write every day challenge (Thanksgiving you'll get to get ahead I promise).
If you're in a bind and I'm BEhind, feel free to just email me with something written (that counts as a theatrical event--- lights up lights down minumum- low bar!) and it's all good.
Andrew Jackson is on the $20 bill.
$20 is a common low-end ticket price here in Chicago.
THE TWENTIETH CHALLENGE
Write a play that has a total budget of $20 and lasts 20 minutes.
It must utilize all common theatrical design elements in a purposeful and theatrical manner.
It must incorporate each of the FOUR NATURAL ELEMENTS- water, wind, earth fire.
It must last EXACTLY twenty minutes.
It should probably be about Andrew Jackson, either directly or indirectly.
6. The entire production can cost no more than $20
Assume the actor has their own cell phone, which contains a flashlight function, camera, and working speakers.
Fire from a lighter is a good cheap trick.
You can set the play anywhere.
You do NOT have to operate within the law or acceptable audience-performer norms.
Intimate symbolism is gonna be key here.
A pack of cotton balls or toothpicks for 99 cents (or things like that) will be helpful.
Magic and sleight of hand are always fun. (Who knew you spelled it sleight? Wow!)
Two actors come out on stage dressed in T-shirts from the playwrights’ voluminous T-shirt collection. One is in a BASSACKWARDS USA T-shirt with the outline of America printed in reverse (as you’re looking at it, California coast on the right, Maine on the left). One is in a T-shirt with the CAPTAIN AMERICA shield on the front.
Dude, get the lights.
BASSACKWARDS scurries over to the light switch on the wall and turns the regular lights in the room off.
CAP and BASSACKWARDS then whip out their cell phones and turn on the flashlight app to pierce the dark.
They each train the light onto their chests for a moment to highlight their insignia.
It’s the twenty dollar, twenty minute show.
Which I guess means we’re not paying the actors.
I don’t think the playwright’s getting paid either.
And we certainly don’t have money for a director.
And we only have twenty minutes, and a lot of ground to cover.
No pun intended.
Oh yeah, we’re supposed to cover the four elements, earth, air, fire and water.
Then CAP and BASSACKWARDS quickly pull out five identical folding chairs from the playwright’s home (the sort that fold out into fairly realistic looking straight back chairs, with the back upright rather than tilted back, so they naturally look like a lower case letter “h”)
They arrange two of them on their side on the floor in a configuration to look like the capital letter “F”
See, if you will, the letter F, for fire.
CAP gets out a matchbook and lights a single match dramatically.
Put that out.
We can’t afford to light anything on fire. Nor can we afford a fire extinguisher to help put anything out.
We have water.
BASSACKWARDS gets out a spray bottle full of water, and sprays on the match, just for good measure.
Then sprays CAP in the face.
Then spritzes himself, as if with a fine cologne.
The water’s for later and I’m not taking any chances.
CAP carefully sets the doused match aside, either on the floor or in his pocket.
That matchbook was from a set of 50 in a box that only costs $1.79, in case anyone was keeping track.
Blew nearly a tenth of the budget right there.
Well, your spray bottle’s $1.98, so there’s another tenth of the budget.
Most of these clothes are ours. The T-shirts and the chairs are the playwrights. This phone’s mine, the other phone is the playwright’s – for upcoming sound cues, some of which he owns, some of which we downloaded special.
And we have my as yet still unpocketed phone for more magic.
Kinda cheating, but don’t all shoestring theater productions.
Shoestrings are ours, too.
CAP sets his phone down on one of the F chairs, light pointing up.
BASSACKWARDS gets an orange sheet of tissue paper out with a flourish.
Set of multicolored tissue paper - $1.29
BASSACKWARDS gets a little plastic Scotch tape dispenser out of a pocket with a flourish.
The playwright already had some clear Scotch tape but a little dispenser full like this only costs $2.19.
BASSACKWARDS and CAP work together to tape the tissue paper in a cone shape over the phone to create some colored light.
Like the campfires of old.
And because it’s a $20 bill we have for a budget, we are also supposed to give a nod to Andrew Jackson, the face on the $20 bill, and one of our most racist presidents.
But not one of our worst presidents.
Which, honestly, doesn’t make a lot of sense to me.
But we’ll get to that.
We have four elements and only twenty minutes, roughly 5 minutes per element, so we’re already cutting into somebody’s time.
In honor of both of our themes, and we’re not cheating, I swear, let’s kick off the sound cues with something that would really piss off Andrew Jackson – a group of rich, award-winning black men singing. That would be the group Earth, Wind & Fire, whose hit “September” we just downloaded for $1.29.
Fifteen second dance break!
BASSACKWARDS plays the song and the two of them (and the audience if they like) dance during the intro. After the song proper gets going, the actors return to the script.
Andrew Jackson, slave owner.
Andrew Jackson, the seventh President of the United States of America.
And according to historians, considered on the second most racist president we’ve ever had.
That honor would go to Andrew Johnson, who became our 17th president after Lincoln was assassinated.
His Reconstruction proclamations gave amnesty, property and voting rights to all but the highest Confederate officials after the Civil War, the return of property pretty much nullifying the whole “forty acres and a mule” promise to former slaves.
Actors and audience dance to the first chorus of “September” – when the next verse kicks in, the actors continue:
Andrew Johnson, also not a fan of the 14th or 15th amendments to the constitution giving citizenship and voting rights to freed slaves.
Male former slaves only though.
Yes, still four amendments away from the 19th for the ladies.
Didn’t oppose the 13th amendment abolishing slavery, though.
Yes, let’s give Johnson his due. He just pulled all black troops out of the South so the former Confederate states could terrorize and kill African Americans back into submission – or off to the North.
Actors and audience dance to the second chorus of “September”
But hang on, because it’s a -
Actors and audience continue dancing. When the next, very short verse, kicks in, the actors continue:
He vetoed both the Freedmen’s Bureau Bill and the Civil Rights Act of 1866.
Which Congress passed anyway by overriding his vetoes.
Let’s all pause to remember a time when Congress had courage.
With a Dance Break!
Actors and audience dance to the third and final chorus of “September”
But hang on, because it’s a -
Actors and audience continue dancing.
But hang on, because now we’re at the –
CAP (cont’d) and BASSACKWARDS
Actors and audience dance the song into fade out. (total run time for the song 3:35, if anyone’s counting)
Andrew Johnson was also the very first president to be impeached by the House of Representatives.
But he remained in office because he was acquitted in the Senate.
By one vote.
In addition to being considered our most racist president, is also considered to be one of the ten worst.
Not so, Andrew Jackson.
Only our second most racist president.
And regularly included in the top 20 of our best presidents.
Now remember, we’ve only had 45, so –
Still, he’s more often found in the top 10.
Second most racist, still considered a lot of the time to be one of the 10 best.
The most racist presidents, though, a pretty eclectic group.
Welfare queens, war on drugs, mass incarceration.
Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
Japanese internment camps, New Deal tilted to favor whites over blacks.
Slave owner, breeder, rapist. Don’t get me started on Sally Hemings. Great guy.
The Monroe Doctrine – allowing for intervention and colonization in foreign, aka inferior, countries. Classy.
And that’s just the top six.
But let’s not gloss over President Andrew Jackson, and what he did to the Indians, aka Native Americans, aka the people who were here already when the white European settlers started stomping all over the place.
So. Much. Stolen. Land.
CAP has place another chair on the floor to turn the F into an E.
CAP then has to hurry and reconfigure the chairs, possibly adding a fourth, to make a proper W, as BASSACKWARDS continues.
The Indian Removal Act of 1830.
The forced relocation of the tribes of the South to reservations in the west.
The Trail of Tears.
CAP takes the spray bottle of water and reverently sprays all around the space and the W as BASSACKWARDS continues.
And, again, slave owner.
BASSACKWARDS puts up big air quotes for the next one
“Owned” perhaps up to 600 HUMAN BEINGS over the course of his lifetime.
(and I ran out of time, so much more material)