Archive for the ‘Beckett’ Tag

More Thoughts on Journaling (With a Little Help from my Friends)   5 comments

A few of my journals.

Those who know me either through this blog and my other writings, or from real life (whatever that is – I hear it’s overrated!) will know that I am an inveterate diarist.  One of my favourite and habitual activities is writing in my journal, an activity I carry out in various coffee shops around the world, most often in Calgary’s Caffe Beano off of 17th Avenue South West.

I have been doing this since the mid 1970’s and now I think of my journals and diaries as one huge amorphous oeuvre, comprised of, by conservative estimate, two to three million words.

After perhaps a million or so of these words had been recorded in my various notebooks, I had managed to achieve a sufficient amount of fame or notoriety to warrant the creation of my archival collection at the University of Regina. This collection, which I believe anyone is welcome to view in the library of the U of R, contains, for now at least, early drafts of some of my plays along with letters and laundry lists and other pieces of paper from the day-to-day of my ever so fascinating life.

But coming down the road, that long dusty road that plies its way through the prairies of my home province, is this flood of words and the books they are written in, destined to end up with all my other writings in the archival collection.  (This is a horrible metaphor, as if a flood would travel on a road. Perhaps it’s more of a caravan or convoy. Or maybe there is no road. But you get the picture, muddled as it may be!)

The point remains, the journals are destined to repose of the shelves of the library of the University of Regina as part of my archival collection.

Here’s the thing: how does the fact that one knows that one’s journals will be open for public scrutiny some day alter the writing? Can one continue to be as honest with one’s innermost thoughts that are, essentially, private in nature but that obviously find their way onto the page, when one is aware that someday in the future (near or distant, who can know?) others will be able to read them?

I’m forever telling people whom I get involved with on many levels, from business to romance, (though there hasn’t been much of either, lately, alas) that they will be written about and the books they are written in will be around for some time to come. And that I don’t pull my punches. And that little bit of information should make a few people reading this at least slightly nervous.

My thinking on this is that by the time they hit the shelves, I’ll be dead and people and events I write about will be insubstantial shadows, so what will it really matter, anyway? Well, it might still matter to you, dear reader, so I suggest you govern yourself accordingly. (You know who you are, even if I don’t, exactly . . .)

The other alternative I suppose would be to do as many writers do and burn the journals before I shuffle off to sing with the choir invisible. Or if I’m too feeble and deranged at the end to do it myself,  leave instructions for someone else to do it should my passing be sudden and unexpected, which I am sorely hoping it will be. But burn those two or three million words? It doesn’t seem to me to be an option.  In many ways, I think of this gigantic sprawling work as the greatest artistic statement I cam capable of making. Burn it? It just seems too self-negating, and those who know me will know self-negation is not something I’m exactly known for.

The trick is to remain honest and true, not censoring your thoughts or opinions, yet being mindful that at some point in the distant reaches of time, someone will surely read those words, and in your absence, and they will be all they have, really, from which to form an opinion of you and the people and events of your life. I find that prospect both scary and exciting at the same time.

Now, this was all meant to serve as a prologue for a lovely letter (via Facebook) I received a while back from my friend, who for now I shall call R,  which you will discover as you read was prompted by other of my musings (or ramblings) about journal writing.

It’s seldom that we take the time anymore to write a well-reasoned letter, and I was so touched by this one that I decided to share it here.

It’s a good reminder that a well thought-out letter, written with care and attention, may be rare these days, but it is perhaps more than ever a worth-while endeavor.  In fact, it’s downright precious Here it is . . . .


Hi Eugene,
I read your note about your journals yesterday morning. For some reason it stuck with me and I kept thinking about it all day, a day, when for some reason, and no reason in particular, I was feeling generally sad and out of sorts. Then, on the c-train, I read this and felt maybe I was meant to share it with you. Not sure what it means, if it means anything…but I am compelled to share it here, so here it is, quoted by Margaret Atwood in Negotiating with the Dead, from Hjalmar Soderberg’s Doctor Glas:

Now I sit at my open window, writing – for whom? Not for any friend or mistress. Scarcely for myself, even. I do not read today what I wrote yesterday; nor shall I read this tomorrow. I write simply so my hand can move, my thoughts move of their own accord. I write to kill a sleepless hour.

And this, also quoted in the Atwood, from Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty Four:

For whom, it suddenly occurred to him to wonder, was he writing this diary? For the future, for the unborn…For the first time the magnitude of what he had undertaken came home to him. How could you communicate with the future? It was of its nature impossible. Either the future would resemble the present, in which case it would not listen to him: or it would be different from it, and his predicament would be meaningless.

Then, she says:

For whom was Samuel Pepys writing? Or Saint-Simon? Or Anne Frank? There is something magical about such real-life documents. The fact that they have survived, have reached our hands, seems like the delivery of an unexpected treasure; or else like a resurrection…The older one gets, the more relevant Beckett’s play Krapp’s Last Tape comes to be.

Happy Day to you :o)

And happy day to you, dear reader. Thanks for the visit . . . .

59 Minutes: A Collective Creation   Leave a comment

I have just finishing up teaching another playwriting class, this one known as  ENGL 371 at St. Mary’s University College here in Calgary.  As often as I have taught such classes, I have at least a rough idea in my head of how it might go. In fact, you might think that we followed some kind of rigid plan, known these days in academic circles as a syllabus. But with this ENGL 371, such was not the case.

Good thing too, because in my mind in a creative writing classes, the syllabus is really a worst case scenario. What one hopes for, as an instructor (and no doubt the students do too), is for some kind of divine intervention to throw the whole thing off course and take you to places you never dreamed of being in.  And that’s what happened with a handful of amazing students and me this semester.

The original plan was for us to follow some classic texts as we explored the mysterious and arcane process of writing a play. As we followed Hamlet and Willy Loman and those strange creatures in urns in Beckett’s Play (please check this out for yourself on YouTube, it’s amazing!) and even Luke Stike from my own play Writer’s Block (maybe not an actually classic, but you get the idea), we would learn how to write dialogue and monologues and scenes and learn about raising the stakes and all about status and of course conflict and the rest of it . . .

A little ways into the semester, we were invited by Alberta Theatre Projects to attend the dress rehearsal of their co-pro of a play called Good Fences by the Downstage Theatre Ensemble.

Seeing that play changed everything for my class and me and for the course we would find ourselves on for the duration of ENGL 371. When we got back to the classroom, we talked about the process of collective creation. I asked the students to use the “clustering” technique in their notebooks to come up with some ideas that interested them. When we came back, there was a true consensus that what interested everyone was gender identification and the extension of that, relationships of the romantic variety. (No big surprise, they’re university students, after all.)

And so we spent the rest of our time writing scenes, monologues, poems and even songs along these themes and Hamlet and all the rest of them soon went out the window. Funny, once the students were focusing on a subject that really engaged them, things like dialogue and structure didn’t prove to be a big problem. They just took care of themselves, somehow. I gave some feedback and talked about things like keeping the stakes high and reminding them that the dialogue they were writing had to be spoken by human beings, but by and large, more and more, I just got out of their way and let them run with this idea.

Well, sometimes, maybe at the best of times, teaching is nothing more than just getting out of the way and letting the students take the initiative. I had the faith and confidence in my students to do that and they didn’t let me down. I can say modestly that some of them told me that ENGL 371 became one of the most meaningful and dare I say inspirational classes they have ever taken. Less is more, indeed. It wasn’t bad for me either!

We presented our findings in the form of the script, 59 Minutes, at the fabled Auburn Saloon on Monday evening for an audience of 50 or so family and friends and fellow students.  To use the popular vernacular, we rocked. At one point in the evening I had to shake my head and remind myself that the people up there performing were, after all, merely students who had signed up for a creative writing class.

Yet, as they performed 59 Minutes is was clear they had reached far beyond that. For that 59 minutes on Monday evening, there was magic in the air and anything seemed possible.

The members of ENGL 371 rehearse "Booty Call."

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