December 23

I recently came across imaginary tiny Walter Bilderback (Wilma’s Literary Manager/ Resident Dramaturg), nestled between two branches of a holiday tree in a hotel lobby. Tiny Walter was perched on a bulbous red ornament and fixing a defective Christmas light.

Here we are.

The end of the year.

Cheers, to 2017.

What a terrible year this has been.

It has also been a great year.
I got engaged, for example.
The world has many narratives.

You wrote our play.

I did! First draft.

How do you feel?

Proud. Happy. Tired. Baffled.


At the end of a draft, I often don’t feel like I wrote the play.

Did you manage to forget yourself, while writing?

Yes, despite endless hours of conscious effort and revision.

I know of a poet who doesn’t look in mirrors on days when he’s writing, that’s how urgent the need is, to forget the self.

Walter plugs in the Christmas lights.

Sometimes I think we would be a much kinder and wiser species if we just got rid of mirrors.

The lights turns on.

Aaah! It’s like looking at the sun!

He turns the lights back off.

I am blind.

I’m sorry.

Contemplating the self is like looking at the sun.

They drink tea and think about that for hours.

All I know is, we are most alive when we are inflamed with passions that draw us out of ourselves.

The self is greater than the self.

The self is greater than the selfie.

May we discuss sleep and creativity. You sent me this draft at 3 am.

I don’t keep banker’s hours.

No regular writing schedule?

It’s never the same. Last week, I took a two-hour nap in the evening, then woke up and had five new insights about the play. A few days later, I implemented some of those intuitions from 5 am to 9:30 am. Another day later, I wrote down the rest of it from 10pm until 3 am.

I hope some day you are blessed with a regular writing schedule.

Me too.

Do you want to talk about dreams.


Let’s talk about dreams.

Let’s talk about Picasso. He said something true about process. He said (I paraphrase): The first brushstroke is always a mistake. The rest of the work is trying to correct it.

Have you had dreams about Picasso?

I used to have one recurring dream. I would dream he was trying to seduce me, in his studio. He wouldn’t recognize me as an artist.

Picasso looms large in your personal mythology.

I think these dreams had something to do with giving up painting.

To me, Pablo embodies that collective modernist dream of the male artist as a tempestuous, lecherous, drunken man-child.

Yes! He represents this enormous life force. Unapologetic, enormous drive… the walking id… the seducer who does not worry about social norms or expectations. In my commission play, there is a character named Polybus. I drew him partly from the ribs of Silenius and Picasso. Both are handmaidens of Dionysus.



Walter is asleep on the branch, dreaming of sugar plum fairies.

See you in the new year, Walter.

Alex Katz, Winter Branch, 1993.


December 4
How is the weather relevant?

In the light of America’s regime change, playwrights and theaters are inevitably asking themselves,  “How is what I am doing relevant?”

How is this play relevant?
How is this season programming relevant?
How is buying holiday gifts relevant?
How is taking a bath relevant?
How is this toothbrush relevant?
This chair. Relevant, or not?
How is going about my day relevant?

Awareness of The Thing is, naturally, already finding its way into my post-election writing, and I’m sure it will continue to do so in many guises.

I am thinking about it constantly and yet, I do not believe every second in our heads should become about The Thing. I also will get bored if every American theater programs Rhinoceros. Although then I suppose I can write a play called “100 Productions of Rhinoceros,” satirizing our times.

The Thing is so intrusive. The Thing is a constantly blundering fool. The Thing is a master of distraction. How to address The Thing without letting it shrink the landscape of our minds?

An offering:

In Victorian and Edwardian days, the theatre had curtain raisers. Programming would include short pieces at the beginning of the evening, or sometimes after pieces following the main event.

Why not bring this back?

It would allow theaters and writers the ability to respond swiftly to our political situation in the face of ever-shifting circumstances.
It would expand civil discourse.
It could spark debate and engagement.
It might even lead to greater understanding.
It could get your patrons talking to each other.
You could program voices you don’t necessarily agree with.
Even if you have already programmed your entire season, you could still make this change.

It could be a way to celebrate the voices of emerging playwrights whom you’re not quite ready to program but whom you fanatically adore.
Emerging directors, too.
It could spark ideas for plays to commission and develop in depth over the next season.

You could program international writers, because what is happening to us is happening in a larger context and it is easy to miss that fact. One of the weaknesses of American theatre is our paucity of exchange with other countries.

It could be a way to expand the breadth of voices that get heard in the theater.
It could be a way to defend artistic freedom and freedom of dissent.
It could be really fun.

I have programmed a sum total of zero seasons in my life. I speak only as a concerned citizen and writer.


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
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)






November 1st
Partly cloudy & alarmingly warm

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

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

Horatio’s philosophy

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


A list of formal elements that I am chewing on

socratic dialogue
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
mock crowning and decrowning of the carnival king
people who get everything wrong

A list of human emotions of interest to me

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:


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


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


They drink beer.