First Responders, 9/11

Self was in New York just this past fall.

For some reason, she remembered an article she read in Salon, only days after 9/11. It was a first-person piece written by a student at Juilliard who, as soon as he got the news, grabbed his violin and headed downtown.

The Armory was where the injured were taken, and that’s where the music student decided to play. He played, Salon said, “the concert of his life.”

He played until his fingers bled. The weary and bedraggled survivors, the firemen, everyone listening at the Armory were in tears.

When he could no longer play, another student came and took his place.

So, in New York, this past fall, after a very determined internet search, self found the identity of the young man: William Harvey.

Did you know that self wrote her very own 9/11 story? It was very short. LitnImage published it. It was called “Wavering.”

LitnImage no longer exists. The link she posted a while back came back “broken.”

In her story, a businessman was late getting to work because his wife found out he was having an office affair and they fought.

In self’s story, the businessman arrives too late. His lover is up there in one of the towers, and he can’t get to her. And something in him dies, too. Even though he stays married. And all the wife reaps is bitterness.

Recently, Congress passed a law according medical care to the first responders of 9/11. She thinks she heard a figure like, roughly 4,000 first responders developed cancer. (If you add that figure to the number who were killed in the collapse of the towers, the number of 9/11 victims actually doubles and becomes close to 10,000)

On TV a few days ago, on a show about a medium, a wife tells the story of how her husband, a fireman, went straight to the World Trade Center and stayed there for days. When the TV show began, self was expecting to hear that the woman’s husband died during the collapse. But no. It turns out he lived for several years after, but he got cancer.

And self wondered: why did it take 14 years for Congress to pass a bill according these men medical care?

Self wrote another 9/11 piece called “The Walker.” Would you believe, the Yale Review wrote her about it? It was rejected, but just barely. She still has the story in her files. She hasn’t sent it out since.

Roughly, it’s about an insomniac who roams his neighborhood at 3 a.m., whose Filipino neighbor has a counter on his front lawn, counting the days after 9/11: Day 1, Day 2, and so forth.

So the man roams his neighborhood and is struck by the fact that the counter has been put away. It was the day after Osama bin Laden was killed.

When 9/11 happened, self was a visiting instructor at Santa Clara. When she asked the students to write about 9/11, they said “It’s such a cliché.” And six of those students went to the Department Chair and complained about her.

Seriously?

Why wouldn’t you write about 9/11? Especially since it just happened. Self was barely hanging on, it felt like such a travesty to tell the students to do craft-y exercises like construct/de-construct or do meta-fiction.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

Self’s Very Own Wolf Story

One cold February night, Gabe’s wife began to howl.

He thought of a movie he’d seen a long time ago, a movie about a boy who turned into a wolf. The boy-animal became furtive, but fierce. In his wife’s eyes, now, were an animal intensity.

“The Bockety Woman” from Banshee: A Literary Journal

“I know it’s bad but I keep wanting things.”

“Come live with us they said. Come be a person. Crawl out of the story of the martyr. No she said.”

— from Deirdre Sullivan’s short story, “The Bockety Woman,” in Banshee Literary Journal, Issue # 1

  • Deirdre Sullivan is a writer from Galway. She has written three YA novels in the Primrose Leary Series. Her work has been shortlisted for the CBI Award and the European Prize for Literature.

Short Stories, Plays, Process: An Interview With Playwright Penny Jackson

Penny and self have been friends for a long, long, long time. Since before either of us were even married.

Self remembers having Penny over to her little one-bedroom in Menlo Park. She met Thomas, Penny’s then-boyfriend, soon-to-be-husband.

We were in the Stanford Creative Writing Program together. Penny lived in the City. She hitched rides to the writing workshops with Jeffrey Eugenides and his dog. They split on the gas.

In recent years, Penny has been writing plays at a terrific rate. Her most recent production was during last fall’s Solo Festival in New York City.

Self wrangled an interview out of Penny. No mean feat, as Penny is terrifically busy. Here are some of her answers to self’s questions:

What attracts you to playwriting as a form as opposed to, say, writing a novel or a short story? What was the first genre you started writing?

I first began writing stories when I was in college (Barnard). I am very comfortable with writing in short forms, and I have adapted three of my plays from three stories, All Alices, Louise in Charlestown, and Before, which have worked very well onstage. Although I wrote a novel, Becoming the Butlers (published by Bantam when Penny was a 20-something), I find writing a novel to be more challenging. Keeping track of the plot and characters over a length of time is difficult. Perhaps I like playwriting now because each scene is like a short story to me, with a beginning, middle, and end. That’s not to say I won’t return to novel writing. I still love fiction writing, and unlike playwriting, you have a sense of control you have to somewhat relinquish when you hand your play over to your director and actors.

Are there conditions that need to be present before you feel you can write your best?

Absolute quiet and no distractions. I joined The Writers Room, which provides a haven for writers. I wish sometimes that the Internet did not exist. When I was at MacDowell, there was no Internet, and I could really focus.

What keeps you writing?

The world. I am inspired all the time by the news and what I see in the city and hear from my friends. I write to be able to understand the complexities, the unfairness, and also the joys of life. If I didn’t write, I think I would go a bit crazy. I hear the same sentiment from actors: if they don’t act, they can’t handle the world. Right now I’m sick about the gun violence in our country, and writing about the issue really helped me with my sadness and disgust at our politicians.

What is the biggest difference between playwriting now and playwriting when you were just starting out? Does it get easier? Why or why not?

Playwriting is becoming somewhat easier. I’ve had the wonderful opportunity to work with several brilliant directors, actors, and dramaturges. I understand the form better now. What is not easier is finding a theatre to produce your plays if you are a female writer who is not a recent Yale graduate. Ageism and sexism very much exist in theatres, when I began and still today.

Do you experiment with form and/or dialogue? Who or what inspires you?

Because I’m trained in fiction writing, which is character-based, I always begin with people. An old lady drinking in a decrepit Irish bar. Two teenage girls talking to a mysterious older man at Starbucks. A drag queen waiting for his show in Las Vegas and having to talk to his daughter about marriage.

I love dialogue. I write down snippets of dialogue I overhear in the streets of New York City all the time. And if you follow me on Facebook, you can frequently read about remarkable conversations with New York cab drivers.

In your opinion, what is the best play ever written?

I am a huge Eugene O’Neill fanatic, so I will say Long Day’s Journey Into Night. Family secrets and family guilt and pure poetic language. But of course, King Lear is top of the canon. King Lear howling about his dead daughter still takes my breath away.

Which playwright has taught you the most about your craft?

Rogelio Martinez is a wonderful playwright who has taught me so many important aspects about playwriting. I also love the Lark Development Center which gives you the space and time to try out new works in a safe environment.

Did you have a mentor? Do you think playwrights need one?

Yes, having a mentor is important. So many women directors have been my mentors: Joan Kane, Gloria Kadigan, and Shira-Lee Shalit are three tremendously talented women artists who inspire and instruct me. Writing is a very lonely business. You need a cheerleader!

What’s the worst thing about being a playwright?

That it’s just too damn expensive to produce a play in America. Unlike Europe, we don’t have government funding for theatre. The costs are astronomical. As a female playwright, I face other challenges. Walk down Broadway or The West End. Do you see any female playwrights on the marquee? My organization, The League of Professional Theatre Women, is working so hard for gender equality in theatre, but it’s a very long, frustrating, and seemingly endless battle.

 

 

Gatskill Sentence of the Day (Story # 8, BAD BEHAVIOR)

“Connie, yo!” Franklin appeared with his hair in his eyes and his pores flowing magnanimously.

— “Other Factors” (Story #8 in Bad Behavior)

 

What if Self Had a BFF Who Said Things Like

“You have a way, you know, of shoving your vulnerability right into people’s faces. Or something that you call vulnerability, anyway. You sometimes do it immediately upon meeting them. You force people to deal with it.”

“Deana.”

“No, listen to me. You don’t do it as much as you did. But you used to do it a lot, and it’s kind of strange to be confronted so aggressively with somebody else’s frailty. Some people will want to protect you, as I did, but some people will want to hurt you.”

— “Other Factors,” Story # 8 in Mary Gaitskill’s Bad Behavior

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Yesterday on the High Line: A Message

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

Story # 8 in Gaitskill’s BAD BEHAVIOR

“Secretary” was over surprisingly quickly!

All self has to say is: the movie took a slight story (one of the slightest Gaitskill stories self has ever read) and made of it a fully realized film.

Who directed the movie? Must find out! He/She deserves kudos!

Self hardly feels anything for the character on the page, but in the movie, her heart went out immediately to Maggie Gyllenhaal’s character. Rent it on Netflix, if you haven’t already seen it!

Now to Story # 8 in Bad Behavior:

She remembered something he had said to her sometime before: “Don’t worry, Connie. In fifteen years, I’ll be doing my retrospective at the Whitney and you’ll be publishing regularly in The New Yorker.” He paused. “But by then we’ll be ugly.”

LOL!

To close, another picture self took yesterday, while walking the High Line:

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There is a Museum of . . . Sex? Self learns something new every day!

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

 

 

Gaitskill: “Secretary”

Self said she was going to stop reading Bad Behavior but that was an obvious lie.

She said she didn’t believe any secretary would let her boss spank her and she still believes that but she’s still reading “Secretary.”

Gaitskill’s corrosiveness is so amazing. Just listen to what she does in this single sentence:

In light of their enthusiasm, the only intelligent course of action seemed to be immobility and rudeness.

WAAAAH! Why can’t self nail her mood with Gaitskill’s precision?

Of equal import, today self achieved one of her life-long dreams: to walk the High Line!

It was freezing! Freezing! (She wouldn’t have been freezing if she’d only bothered to dress properly. But she thought she’d be spending the day inside the Whitney. Not walking the High Line. So of course all she had to defend against the elements was a jacket)

Of all the days self had to pick for this historic and groundbreaking walk, why oh why did it have to be the day when New York’s temperature plummeted to the 40s? But, never underestimate self’s stoicism! She made it from the Whitney all the way to about 30th street.

She’s going to be dropping the pictures she took over the next few days, so stay tuned.

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Horizon, Sky: Walking the High Line, December 2015

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Sky, Glass, WOW! Who are the architects? Stunning.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

 

Advice For Writers: Story # 6 of BAD BEHAVIOR

If you really want to be a writer, then don’t move to New York. You’ll just wind up in some dank little dump in the East Village with bars on the windows, and oh, I don’t know.

And:

She had to admit that a large part of the reason she was even trying to get a job was for the approval of people she’d known in Illinois, many of whom were living in New York and thought of her as a hopeless neurotic . . .

— “Trying to Be,” Story # 6 in Bad Behavior

It’s after Story # 6 that self decides she will leave the collection. Because Story # 7 is “Secretary,” which was made into an excellent movie about self-mutilation (The main character was played by Maggie Gyllenhaal, a casting choice that was sheer genius) and how much Maggie’s character wants to be whipped by her boss, played by James Spader.

And self doesn’t believe for one moment that there exists in the universe a woman who secretly wants to be whipped by her boss. Of course, this is fiction, and Gaitskill does have a point she wants to make.

Nevertheless.

Why has this trope proven to be so enduring? Fifty Shades of Grey, hello!

This evening, self went to Barnes & Noble on 86th and had just mentioned to the woman at the Info desk that she was looking for The Strain when the woman said: “Science fiction. Shelved by title. Look under del Toro.” Impressive!

It’s exactly the same type of reaction self got when she was in Hodges & Figgis in Dublin. She barely even had time to say The Bane Chronicles when the saleswoman said, “YA. Look under Cassandra Clare.”

Stay tuned.

 

Molly Antopol in Ecotone (The Migration Issue)

Because self is starting to prepare for her next round of classes, she is on a very intense reading binge. She picks up Gaistkill and alternates with literary journals.

The journal of the day is Ecotone. The issue is The Migration Issue (Fall 2013). The story is “My Grandmother Tells Me This Story” (fiction) by Molly Antopol. The sentence of the day is:

  • There were so many things to be afraid of in the forest.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

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