It’s easy to avoid or shun the eccentrics who wander in and out of our lives, but I learned a little lesson this week, so I am here to praise the eccentric ones.
For they have the courage to live their own lives as they see fit, without seeking approval from anyone. They remind us to be ourselves which can at times be the hardest thing to be. In this, they remind us of what it means perhaps to be human. When you get right down to it, they don’t give a shit, when too often a shit is given for that which is not worth a shit.
So here’s to those who have taken the road less traveled.
I was reminded of all this the other day when my life was touched by an act of kindness by a true eccentric (not the easiest thing to be in a conservative town like Calgary). He wandered into the coffee shop (Caffe Beano) where I writing in my journal. He approached my table and said, “Hi, how are you?” as he always does, then sat down by himself and I would have to admit that I was secretly relieved that our little “Hi, how are you?” didn’t go on any longer than it did.
I could see him out of the corner of my eye, as I continued to write in my journal. He took out some art supplies from a big seemingly bottomless pocket of his over-sized winter coat and then started working on some kind of project . . . even as I was busy working on avoiding any kind of eye contact with him.
I more or less forgot about him, as I ruminated on my wonderful day. (Not so wonderful really: for this reason we learn to write well, to disguise the stark truth.) But when he gathered his things and came and stood in front of my table, well, I could ignore him no longer, and so I wearily put down my pen and looked to the heavens and whispered under my breath, “What now?” and then condescended to deal with the man.
He apologized for invaded my space, you couldn’t teach a young actor to play low status any better than he was playing it. Then he gave me the little painting that I have posted above.
“Here’s a little present,” he said. “Sorry if I’ve bothered you.” And then he walked away.
Here’s what’s written on the back of the painting (it’s a water colour, 5 1/2 x 7”), as well as I can transcribe it:
To Master Eugene
Merry Christmas New Year 2014
My goal is 10,001 Homemade Arts Cards made for the Guinness Book of World Records
Then stamped: PAUL SHYKORA
Artist, Writer, Explorer
Card #8, 838 of 10,001. Titled, An Island Season of Joy!
It’s just early December as write this and I think I have already received the best present I could possibly be given: a little reminder just to be myself.
I really don’t need anything else.
(Well, unless you already got me something, I wouldn’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings. But you know what I mean. And while we’re on the subject, I’m good in the owl department. Really I am. Thanks.)
‘Tis the season, indeed. If nothing else at this time of year, perhaps we can remember to accommodate the eccentrics and misfits who wander into our lives. And maybe not just tolerate them. . . maybe even celebrate them. What’s the worst that could happen?
Thanks for reading and here’s a great Who song with Bryan Adams that at least obliquely reflects on the presence of the eccentric in our world today . . .
Roughriders by one of my favourite artists, Ken Danby
If you live in Western Canada, at least on the prairies where we still care about such things, you would know that on Sunday the Saskatchewan Roughriders will be playing in the Grey Cup, which this year is being held in that province’s capital city, my hometown, Regina.
I actually grew up in the old north end of Regina, two blocks from Mosaic Stadium, or as it was known back in the day, Taylor Field. (Who was Taylor anyway? I’m not sure that I ever knew. Quick edit at this point: please see Aydon Charlton’s comment on this blog for some interesting notes on Mr. Taylor and other Roughrider lore and legend.)
Growing up as close to the Elysian field as I did, it obviously played a big part in my life and in the life of my friends. On game days, my dad would park his car in the garage so I could park cars alongside and in back of the garage. When I was ten years old or so, this constituted the biggest part of my annual income. I would stand on the street with a cardboard sign, hoping to attract some generous fans from the wealthier south end of town. It was a real bonus if they’d had a few drinks because that usually meant they would be more generous.
My friends and I could actually get into the games in a few different ways. One was by hopping the fence which was a little tricky as it was topped with barbed wire and you had to go quickly to avoid being caught by one of the staff (especially the old geezer we dubbed “sausage fingers”), or by the air cadets who patrolled the inside perimeter, ever vigilant for us miscreants.
The other way, which was safer and actually paid something, was to become a hustler for a man known as Spud Leggett. There was no beer at the games in those days, so you were effectively selling mix to the fans who, generally speaking, may have been a lot of things, but sober was not one of them. I preferred selling pop corn or peanuts because they weren’t as messy as pop. Spud’s pre-game pep talk to the motley assembly of rugrat hustlers should have been taped for the ages, but I remember the bottom line was in fact the bottom line, with Spud saying, “The better yous guys do, the better I do, so get out there and sell, sell, sell.” Or words to that effect.
As I grew older, I became more aware of the players in our community. When I got to grad 8 at old Albert School, we had an actual Rider for our phys ed coach. His name was Dale West and he had been an all star defensive back. Not only that, he was a really good guy. It was a big deal for us to have him as a teacher, a real brush with greatness at that young and impressionable age.
In high school at Scott Collegiate, a knee injury prevented me from playing football, so my dream of actually playing for the Riders some day died early. But I did play basketball. The coach at Thom Collegiate (north end rivals) was Al Ford, probably one of the last players in the league to play both defence and offence. He was a punter as well. It was a big deal to shake his hand at the end of the day.
Over at Central Collegiate, Ron Lancaster was the head coach, and again it was a big deal to play a good game against Central and somehow earn his respect. I also shared a few cigarettes with Ronnie in the waiting room of the old Grey Nuns Hospital emergency ward on one occasion. With were both in for some kind of procedure – you know how it is for us athletes. I think I was having an infected blister on the ball of my foot treated (ouch), but I can’t remember why he was there.
(And yes it’s true, I am old enough to remember smoking in a hospital. It seems like a million years ago.)
Bill Baker, a defensive lineman for the Riders who came to be known as Baker the Undertaker for his penchant to try to decapitate opposing quarterbacks had gone to my high school. He gave a speech at my grade 12 grad.
And so it was in my part of Regina, at least, the team was involved in the day to day life of the community and they were loved, we lived and died with them. When they won the Grey Cup for the first time in 1966, I was 10 years old and I assumed my life would be full of many Grey Cup victories, but such was not the case. The next one didn’t come until 23 years later (Lancaster’s number had been 23, for those who believe in such things) in 1989.
I had been living in Toronto prior to that where the CFL hardly registers, but got back to Regina in time for that Grey Cup. I watched the game at my brother’s house and then as it was a fairly mild night (only -20 or so) I walked home to my apartment downtown. To get home I had to cross Albert Street, which was a steady slow-moving stream of pick up trucks by the time I got there.
Most of the trucks had some good old boys in the back of them, probably sitting on hay bails. One of these guys saw me and said, “Hey! Where’s your beer?” I shrugged my shoulders, showed my empty hands, and he reached down and came up with a Pilsner tall boy for me.
What the hell? The Riders had just won the Grey Cup!
I don’t know what the team means to people in other parts of the province, or in the far-flung region of Rider Nation that literally spans the globe, and I don’t know what they mean to fans in Regina and Saskatchewan today, but they sure meant a lot to me growing up in the shadow of Taylor Field, and they still do to this day.
What can I say? Cut me, I bleed green.
Go Riders Go!
Thanks for reading. Here’s a song by one of my favourite Saskatchewan bands.
The way we were: cast and crew of Sitting on Paradise, playRites ’96/ Photo by Trudi Lee (I think).
There’s word in Canada’s national newspaper, The Globe & Mail, that Alberta Theatre Projects’ playRites Festival will end after this season’s installment.
The reputation I made for myself in the theatre and the body of work I’ve been able to create can largely be attributed to Alberta Theatre Projects and the playRites Festival.
Back in 1993 when I arrived on the scene, the Festival (which began in 1987) was really gathering momentum. The model at the time was to offer main stage productions, in rep, of four new plays, with full production values, which was and probably still is unheard of, even unthinkable. At the same time there were three or four plays in development that were workshopped and then given readings in the rehearsal hall, known as Platform Plays. This is where I, and my play “No Moving Parts,” could be found at playRites ’93.
Other ancillary events included Brief New Works, which consisted of readings of short plays throughout the community; Celebrity Hors d’Oeuvres; TheatreBlitz!, a mini festival for high school students; the announcement of the Harry and Martha Cohen Award; Blitz Weekend, for theatre artists and journalists from out of town to come and check out the work; the 24 hour playwriting competition; later, Plays on the Plaza in the Shackter Theatre (holding an audience of ten) on Olympic Plaza, etc. etc. etc. It really was a festival in the true sense of the word.
In 1993, before the advent of the Auburn Saloon (which closed its doors earlier this year, alas), there was even an after-show bar in the lobby of the theatre called Martha’s Bar. In 1993, I read a piece at a literary event there hosted by Brad Fraser, whose play Unidentified Human Remains had received its first production at playRites a few years earlier and gone on to tour the world.
They called it at the time “The hottest six weeks in winter,” and that was an apt description. Masterminded by then Artistic Director Michael Dobbin and run by the indefatigable and exacting Bob White, it was an event unlike any other we are likely to see in this lifetime. It was also tremendously expensive and to pay for it, Dobbin had the moxie to prize some big bucks out of the not-always-so-supportive-of-the-art-thing oil companies. In fact, early on in my tenure there, Michael told me, confidentially, even conspiringly, that if oil ever reached 20 bucks a barrel, we’d all be dancing in the streets.
It did; we’re not. End of story.
At the same time, Bob White had the respect of playwrights from across the country, bringing the best available new work to the stage – in Calgary, no less. This included not only original plays written in English, but works from Quebec and even Mexico in translation which seemed quite daring at the time. Bob was (and still is, now at the Stratford Festival) a very intelligent and sensitive, at times ruthless, dramaturg, and in my experience, one of the country’s best directors. With him running the show, artistically, you could rest assured that the quality of the work was as good as it could possibly be.
It’s hard to explain just what a magical event it was at that time. You almost had to have been there to know how exciting playRites was in its day.
That first year I was there for my platform play reading, one evening after our rehearsal I sat in the Martha Cohen Theatre and watched one of the main stage plays. Actually, it didn’t matter that the play wasn’t so great (notice I’m kind enough not to name it), because I was blown away by the beauty of the theatre, the physical space, and offered up one of those silent prayers we all offer up from time to time, bargaining to sell my soul to god or the devil or whomever if I could just have my work produced in that theatre once. Just once!
1993, following playRites, I went back to my home town of Regina. It was a tense year for me, waiting to hear whether my little play, which I had since renamed “Some Assembly Required,” would be produced on the main stage at playRites ’94, or if I would sink back into relative obscurity, the beautiful dream over before it had really begun.
As it turns out, they did have me back. My play did well enough for me to become playwright in residence for ATP (a one year contract that went on for ten years). I wrote five more plays for the company, all of them premiering at the playRites Festival. Three of them received second productions in subsequent seasons at ATP, and so I ended up having nine productions in total in the elegant Martha Cohen Theatre. (I think my soul is still intact, although that may be up for debate.)
Some of these plays have gone on to having many other productions in other cities and countries, but there was something about the playRites production that was, for lack of a better word, magical. And that didn’t just happen, magically, it was the result of a lot of hard work. I was fortunate enough to have Bob White directing my work. The plays were cast with some of the finest actors in the country, with great designers (including now Calgary City Councilor Brian Pincott) and with Diane Goodman and the big ATP machine steadily behind it all.
I was really very fortunate to have been there at that time, and obviously I have very fond memories of the Festival. Because of all that ancillary programming, there was so much work for the theatre staff during those hot six weeks that it almost killed us, though I guess we tend to remember the good more than the bad. But make no mistake, it was hard, and relentless. There was pressure to be not just good but amazing. It was a great place to open a play, but it was hard on the nerves, not for the faint of heart.
For playwrights, the Festival was important for a number of reasons. It offered sensible and intelligent dramaturgy (or play development, if you like), so the work produced would be as complete, as good, as the playwright et al could possibly make it. It offered the best production values a play, new or otherwise, is likely to see, anywhere. It provided an audience, a big one in fact, as the Martha Cohen Theatre holds around 400 people. Finally, it brought the work exposure in the media (remember the media?) and to artistic directors from all over, making second (and beyond) productions of playRites-premiered plays commonplace.
And now it’s gone. I find it hard even to try to put a good spin on that. I’m sure it’s been a very difficult decision for the current staff. It will certainly leave a gigantic hole in the Calgary theatre season, and in the Canadian theatre scene as well. It’s a tough loss not only for playwrights but for actors and others for whom it represented at one time one of the best and longest gigs in the country.
And yet, the playRites Festival as I have described it here, the way it was 20 years ago or so, has been gone for some time and for the last few years, there just didn’t seem to be the same buzz, the same excitement about it. It felt like the magic was gone, like a little of the air had seeped out of the balloon. I wondered if maybe this was just my own personal perception, as I’m not involved anymore, with nothing at stake. But it would seem, clearly, that wasn’t just my own perception. And now, the great idea, the noble initiative, has run its course, and it’s time for the company to move on.
Move on to what? That’s not for me to answer. I’m sad to see playRites end, it will be sorely missed in Calgary by many. (By people like Joyce Doolittle, for example, who has seen each and every main stage play at the Festival, well over 100.) But I hope something new and wonderful will emerge from this resilient and important theatre company.
Thanks for reading.
Here’s the curtain call music Bob White chose for the playRites production of my play Sitting on Paradise in 1996.
A few days of steady snow and it doesn’t take long to switch from summer mode to winter. You hear things out here like “Well, at least we made it through October.” It’s true, we mostly did. But now only three days into November, October seems like a long time ago, and the world suddenly looks different, the colors have been drained from the landscape and the world now appears in black and white.
Just last week, I heard the old refrain, the old wishful thinking: “Maybe this year it won’t snow. Maybe this will be a warm winter. Maybe this year it won’t happen. Maybe global warming isn’t such a bad thing after all . . .”
But of course, it did snow. It needs to snow. Have a look at some of the photos of the depression from out here and you’ll see for yourself what happens when it doesn’t snow. My mother used to say that the thing that near drove her mad in the ‘30’s was the dust. Dust and fine dirt everywhere, no avoiding it, impossible to keep anything clean, it would even get in your mouth. No water and everyone thirsty all the time, a mouthful of dirt, well, sorry to inconvenience you but we need the snow.
As for the cold, I don’t know that we need it but we’ll get it. It’s only adults who mind the cold. Kids don’t notice it. When I was a kid my mom’s biggest worry was getting us to do up our coats and put on our mittens, even on the coldest days. In high school we shunned boots and wore Converse, the only concession to winter that we would put on an extra pair of socks. This at 40 below, where the Fahrenheit and Celsius concur that it’s fucking freezing.
In Saskatchewan when I was a kid it would go on for weeks like that. Cars developed square tires, if cars would start at all. Remember the sound of someone trying to start their car on a cold dark morning. The hacking sound of the ignition, the whine, the silence. Again and again and again, until the thing turned over, and then you’d have to listen to the person rev the shit out of their motor for ten minutes before the car could crawl away, spewing huge flumes of white steam out the tale pipe. Either that or the sound of the car door slamming when the person finally gave up and went back in to call someone for a boost.
The sound of your footfalls squeaking into the thin dark air. The cold made audible but the air too thin and brittle to hold the sound for long. It’s a sickly sound, the sound of ice, the sound of the deep cold. You might want to do up your coat if it gets that cold and you have to walk a ways, but by and large you don’t think too much of it, it’s just how it is.
And so many ways to express it. It’s cold. It’s chilly. Breezy. Or the interrogative form: Cold enough for you out there? Sure, it’s a tad frosty out there. Colder than a hooker’s heart. Colder than a well digger’s ass. It’ll freeze the balls off a brass monkey. Exposed human flesh will freeze in less than 60 seconds. And it did, and it still does, but apparently human flesh thaws out again.
And everything now rendered in black and white. The white snow and the dark endless night of winter. White breath pluming out against the black sky, remote white stars above twinkling cold and eternal as if you have been caught and fixed in space along with the constellations. And even the sun when it bothers to shine, and shine coldly, radiating cold, shines almost as white as the moon and about as warm.
Every year it comes as a bit of surprise, no matter how many years you’ve had in the cold, you manage to forget, the summer effectively erases all memory of the long hard winter so that every winter becomes the first winter.
More than the cold and the snow, though, it’s the darkness that pervades everything. If summer is one long endless day, winter is an even longer more interminable night. It presses in from without. It works its way inside, seeping in, leaching all color leaving only the black and white outline of things: trees, fences, brown-black grasses poking up through a blanket of white snow, shadows of things under stark street lights, outlines of buildings, white swirling snow passing through the feeble white cone of a street light.
And yet for all that, life carries on. We lash wooden boards to our feet and head once again to the mountains, even more beautiful in winter than in summer. And there is beauty to it too, but not the lush, plentiful and easy beauty of the tropics. It’s austere and even barren. We have no choice to fill it up with something, and so we create art. Into the void, we feel we must offer something, from Shakespeare and his Hamlet to Beethoven and his 9th Symphony to the Group of Seven and their sublime and timeless images of the land and the climate. To this little effort of mine. We do try to fill the void.
In this way we carry on, and maybe even prevail.
And if nothing else, it only lasts for six months.
Thanks for reading.
Here’s a wonderful Gordon Lightfoot song from Sarah McLachlan.
I have mentioned elsewhere on this illustrious blog of mine that for the past few years, on and off, I have been teaching about “cultural vocabulary” at a place called ABES in North East Calgary. (Please see Cultural Vocabulary at ABES and Work, Work, Work.)
On thing I believe it’s important for my students to know is who’s on our money, from the Loonie on up. I guess I might well ask at this point, to my Canadian readers, if you know, exactly, for all the times you’d handled, say, a ten dollar bill, whose picture appears on it.
I ask this because one day last week, I came upon a conversation between one of my students, a doctor from Pakistan, and a Canadian–born student from another of the programs. She was asking my student just what, exactly, we focus on in my class. (Another way saying, “What the hell do you do in there all day?”)
By way of example, he mentioned that he now knows who appears on our ten dollar bill. I asked her if she knew, to which she said she had no idea. The good doctor then informed her “It’s Sir John A. MacDonald.” To which she asked, “Who?” To which my student, who has been in Canada for all of six months, replied, “Our first Prime Minister, and The Father of Confederation.”
I guess we still must teach Canadian history in our schools. But I was really surprised, one might even say shocked and appalled, that a young, intelligent woman who received her education in Calgary wouldn’t know the answer to this.
While we might believe that all American students learn about George Washington (as we do in Canada as well), there are clearly gaps in the American system, as the following story illustrates.
A number of years ago, I found myself (not that I was lost, but you know what I mean) in New York City, specifically in Spanish Harlem. I was there with a program developed at Calgary’s Epcor Centre for the Performing Arts called the Playwrights’ Web. We had partnered (I hate using nouns as verbs, but sometimes it seems inevitable) a Calgary junior high school with one in Harlem, the idea being that we would learn about each others’ cultures through the vehicle of playwriting.
The class in Calgary had been quite into the spirit of the project, but when I walked into that classroom in Harlem, it almost seemed to be the first they had heard of it. One young, diminutive fellow in the class walked up to me, in the midst of utter pandemonium, stood there looking at me, arms akimbo (as we used to say) and said, “Yo! You’re the man! You’re the big tall white man! Do something! Teach us something!” And then he returned to his seat, getting high fives and low fives from his classmates as if he played for the Yankees and was returning to the dugout after hitting a home run.
I remember at that moment looking at the door thinking to myself, “New York City is just beyond that door. I could just leave. Why don’t I just leave?” It was very tempting.
As I stood there contemplating the closed door to the classroom, three girls in the front row who were all in their best attire, and unlike anyone else in the room actually seemed interested in the program, engaged me in conversation. One of them asked, “Do you all got your own money up there in Canada?”
I said yes, indeed we do. I happened to have a Canadian 20 in my wallet and so I fished it out and held it up for their consideration. At the moment I held it up, the whole room went quiet. No more pandemonium.
The young dude came back up the centre aisle looking at the bill with great confusion and suspicion. At length he asked,
“Whut da fuck’s that?”
“That’s a 20 dollar bill, I said.
“No it ain’t,” he said.
“Yes it is,” I said.
“Where da fuck’s that from?” he asked.
“Canada,” I said.
“Yeah,” he said, “Where da fuck is dat, anyway?”
“North,” I said, “North of the Bronx.”
“And it’s like its own country?” he asked.
“We like to think so,” I replied.
“And you all got your own money up dare?” he asked.
“Yes we do.”
He leaned in and looked more carefully and then asked, “Who’s the fuckin’ chick?”
“That’s the Queen of England,” I told him.
He worked that around in his brain for a moment before asking, “What da fuck’s she doing on your money?”
To which I said, “That’s a very good question.”
And after that little interchange, we managed to have a very good week together. I taught them a bit about the theatre, a bit about playwriting, a bit about Calgary, and a whole lot about the American Revolution, which oddly enough, they seemed to know very little about.
And so it begs the question, “Who’s on your money, and why are they there?”
Have a look sometime. You might learn something.
Thanks for reading!
Last night I saw John Cleese at the Jack Singer Concert Hall in Calgary with my friend Zenon West. This was one stop on his Last Time To See Me Before I Die tour. For those interested in the phenomenon of Monty Python and really, the history of comedy in England from the 1960’s till now (which I am), this was a very entertaining and informative show. Mr. Cleese uses clips from the Monty Python TV series, as well as his films such as “A Fish Named Wanda” and the amazing Fawlty Towers to illustrate his points and to break up a very generous lecture of sorts – half lecture, half stand up comedy – which is always charming and informative.
The two hours go by so fast. It really is a brilliant evening. The audience is so appreciative to be in the presence of someone who has made us laugh for so many years. What a gift he has given us, the gift of laughter. I can think of none greater.
As I sat there, listening to one of my favourite people on the planet, I was taken back to an evening some forty years ago in my home town of Regina. It actually goes back maybe a year or so before then . . .
Some of you will have no frame of reference for this, but back in the 1970’s, not just in Regina but most anywhere, there were only a few channels on TV which were mostly black and white, and if you wanted to change the channel you had to physically do that on the set with a dial, there were no remote controls.
In Regina, there were two channels, CTV from Regina and CBC from Moose Jaw. (2 and 9, as I recall.) On Thursday nights at 9 on Channel 2 there was an hour long detective show on called Mannix, which I loved to watch. My friend Rick (aka Richard Campbell) told me about a new show that came on at 9:30 on Channel 9 called Monty Pythons Flying Circus which I wanted no part of.
On Friday mornings Rick would ask me if I’d watched Monty Python but I stood fast and remained true to Mannix. (Hey, if nothing else, I’m loyal.) Finally, one Thursday evening a little after 9, Rick walked over to my house and turned the channel on our old Zenith TV and made me watch Monty Python and from then till now I was hooked.
That summer, Rick and I learned that the Monty Python troupe was actually coming to the Saskatchewan Centre of the Arts. We could hardly believe it. (No one came to Regina back then other than Valdy and Supertramp.) We were able to get front row tickets for the simple reason that not many people had heard of them by this time.
We were treated to an amazing show, all their TV sketches done live, and done word for word, as well. For a couple of aspiring theatre artists, this show must have had a more profound impact on us at the time than we could have known. I doubt that I’ve been more enthralled with a performance since.
After it was all over – after the flying edible missiles and dead parrots and cross-dressing lumberjacks and all the rest of it – Rick and I went back to stage door and waiting for them to come out. (The only time I’ve ever done such a thing.)
And then they came out. It would be hard to put into words the generosity they showed Rick and me that night. They not only signed our programs (which I have since lost, alas) but had Rick and me sign the various books and magazines they were reading, anything on hand really. As their cabs (and one limo) waiting to take them to their downtown hotel, they stood and engaged two young high school kids in conversation for what seemed like a good half hour. Amazing! It seemed so then and it seems so now, so many years later.
So, all that was going through my head last night as my friend Zenon and I watched Mr. Cleese’s very charming performance. After a well deserved standing ovation, it was over. Back in the day, back in Regina some 40 years ago, when the show was over they projected PISS OFF onto the curtains. The beauty of Monty Python was that we laughed at that. Of course we did. It’s funny.
No such thing last night, and when it was over, Zenon remarked that John Cleese genuinely seems to be a nice man, and I couldn’t agree more.
To end, here’s one we all know, that they did in Regina a million years ago and that Mr. Cleese shared with the audience last night.
Enjoy, and thanks for reading!
Some of you may know that after defining myself artistically as a playwright for the last 20 years or so, for the last year I have been writing a novel. I have written over 20 plays in my lifetime, 18 of them have been produced at least once, some of them many times. The writing process by and large ends with the first performance, although we might sometimes go back and tinker with a few scenes here and there. This usually happens in the unlikely event that the play is being published.
And so I know my way around the process of writing a play, I think. This is not to say I know, absolutely, how to write a play, just that I understand the process of how one might go about doing it. The question I have been asked over the last few months is how I am finding the process of writing a novel, and how it differs from writing a play. So this post is an exploration of those questions.
One thing that both processes have in common for me is that I typically hand write a first draft, and then transcribe it into the computer which becomes in effect draft 2. The plays I have written have almost always been written in fountain pen on graph paper. I wrote the first draft of the novel in pencil on graph paper in three small notebooks. The novel in fact magically ends within a page of the end of the third notebook.
When one is writing a play, one of the most important things to monitor is the voice of the characters, making sure they are clear and distinct. My novel is written in the form of a daily journal and so the voice of my protagonist is of the utmost importance. It’s close to my own voice, but it’s not my voice, it’s his. So in a way, it has rather been like writing an extended monologue, and in this regard it wasn’t too much of a departure for me, if I thought of it that way.
This perhaps begs the question, could this novel then be adapted for the stage? The simple answer to that is yes, it might possibly work as a one-man show. Another question might then be, why didn’t I just write it as a one-man show? The simple answer is, I don’t know. The surprising thing about it is that if this were to happen, it wouldn’t interest me to do it myself. Again, I don’t really know why.
When I write a play, I am very tuned into the page and word counts at the bottom of the screen of any Word document. These counts tell you, roughly, how productive you’ve been on any given day. In a play, because of the nature of dialogue, it is possible to leap ahead in pages without drastically altering your word count; writing a few hundred words might swell the script by 5 pages, and you can feel that you have put in a pretty good day’s work in doing so. For some reason, I can remember that my play A Guide to Mourning is about 18,000 words long. It is, by today’s standards, a full length play, and so that has always been an unofficial benchmark for me.
Also, if the play is in two acts, you can reasonably tell by the word count if the two acts are of roughly the same length and therefore duration. This is important because you don’t want to end up with a first act that is 90 minutes long and second act that is only 15 minutes, say. You get the idea.
This is obviously not a concern in a novel. But what I have noticed is that while the words pile up, the pages numbers tick by very, very slowly. Like a glacier, receding. A few weeks ago, I seemed to get stuck on page 87, no matter how long I worked or how much I typed, I just seemed to be stuck there. (I noticed this because I don’t like the number 87, it being 13 less than 100. Another strange example of living with tridecaphobia!)
I have now typed just over 45,000 words, transcribing the written version of the novel from my journals into the computer. I am just starting the third and final volume. Some people ask why I don’t get someone to do this for me, but this is the most critical and creative part of the process. Hardly a sentence gets typed that isn’t changed, somehow. More often than not, the handwritten version is quite compressed and needs expansion, illumination. And of course at other times it just has to be thrown out. Sometimes, it actually has to be changed because I can’t read my own damned handwriting.
Overall, the main difference I suppose is the sheer volume of the novel. It really does take discipline and even courage to go on. You also have to manufacture your own enthusiasm for the project. Some days that can be difficult as you find yourself convinced that they guy who wrote the first draft is a babbling idiot. How James Joyce lasted 17 years in writing Finnegans Wake is beyond me. And he didn’t have Facebook to distract him!
Courage, discipline, optimism are what I need now. So far, so good. I am looking forward to sharing this tome with the world when the time comes. When it does come, I am looking at an innovative way of going about publishing it.
But for now, the writing continues.
Thanks for reading!