WE NEED WORDS THAT SING

November 20, 2016
Salt Lake City
sun and shadow

I had a workshop of the commission play during election week, in Minneapolis, at the Playwrights’ Center. Dominique Serrand directed (despite his protests: “I am not going to direct. I am just a first responder.”). Walter came out to join us. We had some of the funniest and loveliest Minneapolis actors in the room. I didn’t have a public reading, which freed us up to play and explore the entire time. We switched actors into different roles endlessly, casting against age and type. The first act is in a solid place.

I was in a hotel room on election night. Lulled into the sleep of confidence by polls, I thought I’d write all evening, checking the internet once an hour and then go out for a drink when Hillary won. Instead, I couldn’t look away from the news until 3 am.  Then I wrote. In a daze of pain.

What now?

I come from a large Pennsylvania family that is part of the “white working class.” They are not liberal. That is an understatement.

What does that mean, “white working class.”

What does that mean, “white.”

For that matter, what meaning do any words hold, when the word of the year in America and Britain is “post-truth”?

They still hold immense meaning, but it is the meaning of prosody. If content is dead, form is everything. Words are king. Rhetoric, you’re our last hope and savior.

Make America Great Again. In content, that is meaningless. In form, it is supreme.

Stronger Together. Two words ending with weak, unstressed syllables. It pains me that prosody calls those “feminine endings.” That other slogan too has a feminine ending, but only after three hard punch hard stresses, and the energetic iambs of am – ER- i  -CA.

Then, there’s this (which has already been pointed out by another writer):

I’m With Her
vs.
She’s With Us

Uneducated voters chose Trump. I am reflecting on my speech, our speech, and our need to find words that sing.

Our language of tolerance is extremely educated. Academic language speaks to academic people. It does not speak to people outside of that realm. Can we come up with another compendium?  Racist. To me, that word hits like a bomb. To them, it hits like a bomb in a foreign country that has nothing to do with them. They don’t spend all their time dissecting racism and why it’s problematic. So just calling them that isn’t enough.

Besides, my family calls each other names all the time. “You’re an ass.” “That man is an animal.” What’s another insult to people who trade in insults? They also trade in God. “I will pray for you.” They speak God and we speak academic. They speak crass and we speak carefully vetted internet. I have started speaking God back.

We need to go high and low. Humanity is both high and low. I have been trying out words like bully. Sin. Compassion.

I know we can do better. The City of San Francisco issued the most eloquent and inspiring manifesto for its status as a sanctuary city. Yes We Can, We Still Can.

Call your representatives, call your relatives, see you over hard conversations and in the streets.

Installation Sam Durant’s “End White Supremacy” (2008) at Paula Cooper Gallery (photo by Kyle Dunn)
Installation Sam Durant’s “End White Supremacy” (2008) at Paula Cooper Gallery (photo by Kyle Dunn)

 

 

 

 

LIST OF LISTS

November 1st
Partly cloudy & alarmingly warm

A list of things I’d like to see more of onstage

silence
representatives of the animal kingdom
uncontrollable laughter
existential confusion
soundscapes – intricately composed sonic worlds
things that go on too long
to-do lists
slapping flights
physical games
bull fights
food fights
skillful debate
There are more things on heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy
freedom of speech, thought, movement
a completely fearless world
solving problems through collective action (note for the future)
children in Halloween costumes (note for the future)

A list of things I’d like to see less of onstage

furniture
projections
Horatio’s philosophy

A list of things I don’t know how to address without replicating trauma

rape

A list of formal elements that I am chewing on

socratic dialogue
confessions
character as the expression of a philosophical idea, to be put through tests
testing of an idea and its carrier by means of temptations (and maybe martyrdom)
going to extremes
going to heaven
going to hell
going on an adventure without going anywhere
making your own reality
diatribes
symposiums
praise
mock crowning and decrowning of the carnival king
people who get everything wrong

A list of human emotions of interest to me

self-pity
indomitable optimism

A human behavior of interest to me

propensity toward self-destruction

A list of ideas I want to test

We can move to a new country and build a utopian society
Eat drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die
Love is all you need
Be good
Everything in moderation
There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so
Productivity destroys the world
Laziness is a virtue
Life is a party
Life might be better if everyone just drank beer all day instead of coffee

To illustrate the last question:

A SHORT POLEMIC AGAINST COFFEE

They are sitting around.
They are bored.
They drink coffee.

HUMANS
Wheeeee!

They have a lot of energy. They destroy the world.
They look at each other.

HUMANS
(sobbing)

They drink beer.

 

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