Thursday, March 31, 2005

The baby's real, Larissa!!! The baby's real!!!

Maybe it's like this for everyone. Maybe having someone who's in a field you know about profiled automatically renders you incapable of enjoying their in-depth New Yorker spread. Were news anchors everywhere up in arms after the Dan Rather bio? Perhaps. And as far as I know, chefs everywhere go crying into their delicate greens when the Food Issue comes out.

What I do know for certain is that Larissa MacFarquhar's profile of Edward Albee is totally and completely lame. Lame to the point of almost not being worth reading, except that I happen to believe in the cleansing power of the truly awful to remind us what goodness is. Anyway, it's utterly stupid and pointless and shoddy and makes me want to kick her in the face. No, strike that, it makes me want to send Marian Seldes to her home to eviscerate her with withering glances and scabrous asides. Or maybe scabrous glances and withering asides . . . Anyway--

How can it possibly so lame, you ask? Well, we'll start with the big picture and move to the smaller details. Biggest big of the big picture being that I'd be willing to bet nontrivial sums of money that Ms. MacFarquhar has never seen an Albee play produced. I love reading plays more than your average bear, but even I will admit that plays are written to be performed. They are not fully alive until they are performed and, in particular, it is very hard to tell exactly what is going on, particularly in plays (like Albee's) where people lie all the time. Without a production, everyone's lines are just sitting there, and their "truth" is pretty up for grabs. Or, in this case, up for the grabs of a dingbat journalist who picks and chooses moments from Albee's plays to pair suggestively with details from him life. Such as:

In 1965, in the middle of the "Tiny Alice" fiasco, Albee received a phone call from his parents' secretary telling him that his mother was ill and lonely. (His father died four years earlier.) He went to see her, for the first time since he left home. "I hear his voice and it all floods back, but I'm normal," A, in "Three Tall Women" says of this meeting. "Well, hello there, I say. Hello there to you, he says. Nothing about this shouldn't have happened. Nothing about I've missed you, not even that little lie . . . There are no apologies, no recriminations, no tears, no hugs; dry lips on my dry cheeks; yes that."

No A bloody doesn't "say of this meeting." A wasn't there! She's a fictional character! Bad Larissa! Based on his mom, sure. Inspired by his mom, fine. But it's not the same thing.

Do you know how big of a fucking temper tantrum I would throw if anyone ever tried this with me? Some playwrights, yes, they're autobiographical and they say so (although I still think that kind of sneaky elision is crap), but Albee is not a one-to-one correspondance writer. Or, as David Finkle put it in his Theatre Mania review, "Albee is on record as maintaining that he doesn't write crypto-biography. . . he recently claimed to interviewer Leslie Garis, "This play ['The Play About the Baby'] has nothing to do with me at all, except my theory that everybody's reality is determined by their need."

Which brings us to the two central flaws of this piece. Overall, it's poorly researched and redactive for days, but on some big deep level, the writer just doesn't "get it" -- not what Albee's doing and not who he is. As evidenced by Flaw 1:
  • She is way too willing to believe. The best sentence to illustrate this point is the alarmingly stupid one from page 71, "Albee was pampered but unloved." WHAT???!!! This is a biography???!!! Who in the hell are you to ever pass judgment on whether someone is or is not loved? Was he loved in the way that would have been best for him? Looks not. Was he given the kinds of attentions he wanted as a child? Doubtful. But unloved? Come on now, that kind of summary of a childhood belongs in A Series of Unfortunate Events, not a supposedly nuanced biography of a real person. And it's not even "Albee felt unloved" or "Albee believed himself to be unloved" but just a "was." Wanna ask Mrs. Albee about that one?

Which brings us to Flaw 2

  • She is not nearly willing enough to believe, which we see in a sustained summary of what she believes to be the "single theme that runs through Albee's work . . the importance of being open to a full consciousness of life, with all the social and emotional risk that that entails." Big Marian Seldes eyebrow raise to that one, but moving on to how she proves it. Brief capsules of the "illusions destroyed" in Albee's major works, including this one:

    Man and Woman, in "The Play About the Baby," destroy Girl and Boy's fantasy that they have a baby.

    No, no and again I say no! The baby is real, Larissa!!! Don't believe me? Didn't get to actually, ya know, like, see a production with a pregnant woman and a baby onstage? God, that's so time-consuming, I know! Well, how about turning to the
    man himself who said, "It is about a real baby who by the end of the play ceases to exist." The baby is real. And what's also real (and what makes the play so horrifying) is so is the human tendency to trick ourselves to avoid pain. Or, as that guy, what's his name, oh yeah, Albee, put it: "We lie to ourselves. We invent things. We deny things according to what we can tolerate, and this play is another extended metaphor of that."

MacFarquhar is so invested in the story that, ahem, she wants to tell (about the sad little boy who likes to destroy big, bad illusions) that she can't look at the facts (of Albee's life or his work) the way they are. She denies what she can't tolerate and writes a lame-ass profile whose last line unwittingly undermines her entire approach and its simplistic conclusions. Quoting Albee, who said "Once I figured out who I was, whatever care or interest I may have had in where I came from vanished completely--I was indifferent to my past."

Is he "telling the truth" and therefore negating MacFarquhar's entire autobiographical line of reasoning? Or is he "lying" and perpetuating a delusional fantasy that needs to be destroyed, thus negating her other thread? You tell me, Larissa, you tell me.

Thursday, March 24, 2005

Good Friday

So it's almost Good Friday, and I've been a pretty mediocre observer of Lent. I mean, heading into the last stretch of Holy Week beaming w/ pride would have been a little weird, but I'm pretty far off the wagon. [total and complete non sequitur: when I was in middle school, I decided that the French translation of "off his/ her rocker" would be "loin de sa chaise" and I still find this uproariously funny.] Anyhoo -- I'm going to try to make it to church tomorrow at noon, but it'll be the first time in longer than I care to admit.

Last weekend was Palm Sunday and I was up in NYC for the production a play I wrote, Burned Over. Seeing the production was wonderful, if exhausting, and I owe Beloved Fiance big time for how much he helped (and is helping out). Actually, let me rephrase that: I pretty much owe every single friend, acquaintance, family member, and colleague/spouse/friend of friend out there. So thank you. A lot. The hope is that this will keep happening (productions . . . plays . . .), and I'm going to ask you all to show up again, so enjoy your free weekends while they last. But, asides aside, I was staying in Brooklyn and the church I would have wanted to go up to was in Washington Heights, and I got to bed at 4:30 in the AM, so, long story short. I went frondless. I'm hoping to do better this weekend, and actually make it up to one-hundred-and-sixty-whatever-the-hell-it-is and attend my dear good friend's church with her. Pray for me and for the subway, and I might have a shot.

This spring is turning out to be so much about rebirth and change as to be almost cliche, but I think if I'm about to head off into some big new self-definining phase in life, it couldn't hurt to check in w/ God on the most important holiday first. Plus, I could maybe wear a pretty dress if the weather holds.

Monday, March 14, 2005

I know U R, but what M I?

Beloved Fiance is out of town (side effects include: more frequent blog posting and no food in the refrigerator), but I'm doing all right, mostly because I've got somebody new to occupy my thoughts and dreams: Isabel Briggs Myers. Sigh. As part of Week 1 of Pre-Cana BF and I had to take the Myers Briggs personality Indicator. I did this once already in high school, as part of a leadership seminar or some such thing (I ran the gay club, which, if I were more of an egomaniac really would have been called "Friends of Dorothy" . . . but I'm getting ahead of myself here). Back then, I was an ENTJ (Analytical, logical, and objectively critical but w/ danger of becoming abrasive and dictatorial). As such, I took the test and was mostly annoyed at the implication that I was supposed to use it to help get along with those inferior to-- I'm sorry, I mean "differently-personalitied than"-- me.

But now, softened by getting kicked around a little in a university and spending the past three years of my life working with little kids, old people, and teenagers, I have emerged as an ENFJ. Feeling now trumps thinking and I'm (ya know, according to the test) warm and imaginative with a tendency to worry, feel guilty, and doubt myself (again, I'm just saying what the test booklet tells me.)

Due, I believe to a combination of my F (feeling) and N (intuition) sides, I now love the Myers-Briggs test. I read the booklet every morning at breakfast. Having long since memorized my own description and that of BF (a "sensitive, introspective, and complex" INFP), I'll just sit and read about other personality types. Do I know any ISTJ's? How about ENTP's? I've tried to back-diagnose my family and friends and will start using these descriptions in regular conversation. Actual transcript from talking at work w/ a friend today: "Yeah, I mean, and I'm not much of a J, but I'm more J than P, you know." This was about buying a washing machine.

Anyhoo . . . I'm certifiably nuts about this whole thing. But, you know, it's probably just because I'm "highly attuned to others." Right?

Saturday, March 12, 2005

Baby Mama Drama

Listening to too much radio yesterday because of driving too many places, I probably heard Fantasia's song "Baby Mama" at least three or four times. "B-A-B-Y M-A-M-A." If you've heard it, it's in your head now. On WKYS, my favorite radio station in DC, the song was almost always preceded with call-ins from local single mothers, expressing their thanks to Fantasia for performing the song, and I got to hear a bit of an interview with her, explaining why she chose to sing it. And, I can't decide if I like it or if it creeps me out or both.

Urbandictionary defines "baby mama" as "The mother of your child(ren), whom you did not marry and with whom you are not currently involved." In all of their sample sentences, it's a word to be used solely by men. In the tradition of "queer" and some other words I don't feel comfortable typing, Fantasia's reclaiming a word for a group traditionally used to demean them. Instead of the phrase"my baby mama" coming from a man's point of view, she sends her song "out to all my baby mamas." What's more, the song's encouraging -- offering sympathy for the limits of paternity support and the difficulties of being a single parent. So far, so cool . . . and yet. . .

Here's when I kick in to being a horribly conservative Daniel Patrick Moynihan/ Dan Quayle knockoff. I mean, I don't clearly. For one thing, no bowties. But I can't completely get behind a song that says, "Nowadays it's like a badge of honor/ To be a baby mama." I want to be supportive of everyone and their choices, and I'm certainly not recommending we bring back the Scarlet A, but it's tough shit to be a single mother. Or to be raised by one.

The stats are depressing. The majority of black children in this country now live outside of two-married-parent families. And, without trying to explain why or finding somebody to blame, I think that's got to be hard and that it's a problem. Not impossible, not set up to fail, and of course, not worse than living with a terrible husband. But it's hard.

Reading plays last month for the Young Playwrights' Theatre contest, I couldn't help but notice that the vast majority of the plays written by high school students in DC were about mothers and fathers who did not live together. Some were from the perspective of children of divorce, who shuttled between their mom's and dad's house. Some were from the perspective of children who never knew who their fathers were, until one day they dropped by to visit. And some were about teenagers, who had children outside of wedlock and were figuring out how to share parenting. The phrase "baby mama" came up more than once. The prospect of getting married was raised only once in one play, as a joke.

And then you throw into this world, a song about baby mamas on the one hand and an article about celebrating the pregnant bride on the other, and I don't know what's helpful and what's harmful. Fantasia said in the radio interview that 13-yr-old mothers come up to her at concerts and tell her thank you for making the song. Which I guess is good, and it's good that she's a role model of successful single motherhood, but still . . .

In the end, I think Fantasia gets the last word. Quoting Nietschze, she tells all her baby mamas,
"Remember: What don't kill you can only make you stronger/ My baby mama." True? Perhaps. But nobody should be satisfied with a childcare situation that gets compared favorably to murder. That's not saying a hell of a lot.

Saturday, March 05, 2005

The Interview

So, as maybe most of you, maybe most of you who are out there (Are you out there? Hello? Am I an exhibitionist or a hermit? Maybe a hermit with a glowing neon sign saying "Hermit Inside" on the front of my grotto.) Anyway, where was I? Right. As maybe most of you know, I had an interview at a scary, prestigious drama school this week for their MFA playwriting program.

I was a bundle of nervous nerves the whole month beforehand (I have, I'll admit, a pretty bad case of "I know I failed THAT math test"-itis), but the day was finally here. I'm leaving Tuesday afternoon on the 5pm Vamoose bus, only to find out at 2pm that Vamoose has conveniently cancelled its 5pm bus. So, I change to a 6pm Chinatown bus -- so far, so okay. Beloved Fiance offers to meet me at the bus station with a sandwich because he's wonderful like that and I make it onto the bus. Bus unexpectedly stops in Philadelphia, adding another half hour or so to an already-delayed trip. But that's still not too bad . . . I get off in Chinatown, walk to the subway and make it up to 168th St by around 11pm. Have some cold pasta and bounce off the ceiling with anxious energy with Catherine and her friend Heather until around 1am at which point everyone retires to bed, couch, or floor to sleep. Except that I don't sleep. At all. It's not too bad because I'm not unhappy, just totally wound up and incapable of sleep. I think of lots of different things and eventually start to notice the way the sunlight comes into the room in early morning. I am not a(n?) habitue of early morning. Get out the door by 7:30am, enjoy the morning rush to school and work and make my way to Grand Central Station. Where the one train that I am taking is the one train whose gate is not listed. With coffee and doughnut in hand, I wander from sign to sign, from computer to mechanical wooden lists and nothing. Finally find an information booth and inquire as to which gate I need. Make it on the train and luckily someone has left a Wall Street Journal, which is secretly my 2nd-favorite newspaper, aboard. Score! Read the Journal, make it to New Haven, and make it to a delightful lunch w/ two friends from college. One of whom spends lunch telling me his take on difficult admissions decisions: "Basically, they should just take the top 25 people and have a lottery. It's not like getting in means anything about your being more qualified than anyone else." This is both comforting and discomfiting.

Go to interview which is fine, I think, but it's an interview and you can never tell and what did that last thing he said mean and maybe I shouldn't have talked about exhibitionists on the corner in trenchcoats and prostitutes and reading the Bible cover-to-cover (all true). Have tea w/ a couple friends before leaving town, everyone is super-sweet and understanding and hand-holding to me, and I'm feeling good, if starting to get chilly, when my cab pulls up to the train station 5 minutes before my train takes off. I reach for my suitcase. And it's not there. Just not there. I let the cab go and then run dementedly after it, wondering if my suitcase might be in another part of the backseat. The cabbie finally stops and lets me check. There's not another part of the backseat. It's just, you know, a backseat, and my suitcase simply isn't there. So I run back to the train station, calling the restaurant where I just was on my cell phone. I check the departures list and make it onto the train, while trying to orchestrate the successful retrieval of my possessions. Take a deep breath and call BF to tell him about suitcase fiasco. As we're talking, the conductor comes to take my ticket. And he looks at my ticket. And tells me that I'm going in completely the wrong direction. I have missed the 5:45 train to Washington, DC and am now heading north to Old Saybrook on the commuter line.

It is at this point that I start to cry.

Around 6:30 we pull into Old Saybrook, a town, I would like to point out, whose train station does not sell a single magazine or newspaper (my book, of course, being in the suitcase left at the restaurant). At 7:45, the next train to Washington, DC pulls into the station and, with no books to read and only a copy of the Amtrak magazine "Arrive" (whose title mocks me from its little string holdy-case -- "If only I could arrive, 'Arrive!' If only I could!") I pass the hours until 2am. At which time, the train pulls into Union Station. Beloved Fiance comes to pick me up, and I get a good 5 hours sleep until Thursday morning when I have to wake up and teach my 3-5th graders how to write a play.

This story is either a sad story or a funny story. I didn't know which one until yesterday; now I know it's funny.

I got into the grad school.