HOW TO KNOW WHEN A PLAY IS DONE

January 10th                                                                                               baby, it’s cold outside

Draft two.

People sometimes often ask me how I know when a play is done.

I ask Kenneth Koch. He wrote a poem about it (The Art of Poetry).

I swear by the first rule:

            ask 1) Is it astonishing?

If you can answer that, you probably don’t need all the other questions, but they are good too.

            7) Is there any unwanted awkwardness, cheap effects, asking illegitimately for attention,
Show-offiness, cuteness, pseudo-profundity, old hat checks,
Unassimilated dream fragments, or other “literary,” “kiss-me-I’m-poetical” junk?
Is my poem free of this? 8) Does it move smoothly and swiftly
From excitement to dream and then come flooding reason
With purity and soundness and joy? 9) Is this the kind of poem
I would envy in another if he could write? 10)
Would I be happy to go to Heaven with this pinned on to my
Angelic jacket as an entrance show? Oh, would I?

If you are thinking, don’t you have to sort through more analytical stuff about your play, too?
The answer is yes, but I only do a good job of it when I’m feeling like a poet.

the new york school of poets (painters welcome)

THE DAYS ARE STRANGERS

Oct 16                                                                                                     

Kinderhook Farm, NY.
“Are you here for the tour?” asks a man in overalls. “Yes, is the tour happening?” “It’s happening if you want it to happen,” he says, and walks off.                                                                                                Another woman walks up, and as it happens, she is the shepherdess. For most of the next two hours, there is no one on the tour except for my partner and me. It is blissfully useful. I learn about orphan sheep. She curls her finger into a tongue, to demonstrate the difference between how cows eat grass and how sheep chomp. I ask her bizarre questions and she recommends a movie.

Oct 17

Philadelphia, PA.
10 am – 3pm. Observing the Hothouse. Yury Urnov is leading the room. They are doing relatively straightforward text analysis on a decidedly unstraightforward play about hacktivism. I think: hell yes hacktivism, hell yes, anarchy, hell yes, Wilma. The play, for me, does a brilliant job at highlighting the aggression behind internet humor and memes. It’s a window into disaffected emotional chaos when it is directionless, and how it gathers incredible force when it takes on targets. I think about what it says about me, that I am drawn to that playfully destabilizing energy. Rage is powerful. Collective rage even more so. Collective Rage is also the title of a play by Jen Silverman. In the elevator, people talk about that play.

I also think, f**k… The Internet Is Serious Business and Dionysus Was A Very Nice Man are similarly structured titles.

New York, NY.                                                                                              6:30pm. I am at a fancy party. I found out a couple hours ago that I won an award. Now the award is being announced at the fancy party.

Oct 22

New York, NY.                                                                                              8:30am. Heavy rain. I am getting drenched at this Megabus stop.

Philadelphia, PA.                                                                                               11:30 am – 5:10pm. At an Academic Conference in a UPenn Library.           It is called Timescales: Ecological Temporalities Across Disciplines.            I wish they’d called it something more rocknroll, like                    Collective Academic Rage: Climate Change Is Beyond Real (If You’re Poor) I am there with Pig Iron, as a collaborator on their music-theater project, A Period of Animate Existence.

I find the conference comforting, especially on the heels of the presidential debates. Even though I’m looking at charts of catastrophe, I am relieved just to hear people define their terms and organize their discourse. I make a note to self, to read Dale Jamieson.

We are reminded, in concluding remarks from Paul Saint-Amour, to think of climate change as a condition, rather than a problem. Let’s take our time developing our thoughts, he urges, because this particular condition demands a deeper engagement than panic.

6 pm. Dinner with Walter. Walter has just come from leading a discussion about climate change at The Wilma. Talking with Walter is also comforting.

7:50 pm. Ten-minute nap in my audience seat.

8 pm. When The Rain Stops Falling, at the Wilma. It’s stunning. They’ve carved out a dark dreamspace. I feel the plot working on me, the slow ritual movements working on me.

Oct 23

Philadelphia, PA.
8:50 am. I realize I am collecting a lot of memories at this Megabus stop.

New York, NY.                                                                                                    11:30 am. Wildlife sighting! It’s the elegant crested tinamou. Ok I’m lying, it was an author, I spotted an author: Rebecca Solnit. My primary hobby these days is reading essays by Rebecca Solnit. She ducks into a clothing store. I follow. I observe her over a stack of sweaters. Have I correctly identified her? I’m not sure. “Excuse me, are you Rebecca?” The condition of admiration also demands a deeper engagement than panic. But I stumble over the few words I can muster. How do you casually say to someone:

“Thank you! I know you don’t know who I am, but I think you’re one of the great thinkers of our age. I am blown away by the breadth and depth and style of your work, by your redefinition of non-fiction, by your bravery, by your honesty. You have gifted me a framework for thinking about activism and optimism that keeps me going. Your words have been a significant wedge for me against despair.”

I am overwhelmed. I say something like: “I’m Kate Tarker, I’m a playwright, I love your work, thank you… for your optimism, I’m sorry… I’m sorry… I’m sorry… I’m sorry.”

Total failure of speech. Who wrote me?

I buy two articles of clothing.

Oct 24
New York, NY.
Drinking coffee. Writing.

thedays_kt_blog_img

TOYS

September 26, 2016                                                                                Writing from an airplane                                                                        Clouds underneath me

toysblog1

Tone.
Tone tone tone tone tone.
Tone tone.

At the beginning of a script, you’re both making up the rules of the game and trying to play it. I find I have to hammer exactly the right words into place in the first ten to fifteen pages, if I want to lose myself in the process after that.

Sometimes that means I have to get really really quiet.
And listen to myself.
And listen to words.
And pull apart words.                                                                                   And listen carefully to nothing.

I’m almost there.

Found these little figurines at an antiques store just outside of Oxford, PA, during a weekend with my family.  Felt such a visual, sensual thrill while browsing that store and its tchotchkes. I’m not typically one to connect deeply with antiquing – in most antique stores I’ve felt once removed, as if performing the enjoyment of browsing. As if walking through an advertisement of someone else’s good time. In this store, though, things got personal. They had light up Hess trucks, just like the ones my grandparents used to send me for Christmas. Beer steins, from the region of Germany I grew up in, made of glass and metal and painted inscriptions; drinking apparatuses to last a lifetime. There were train sets (a little pricey – alas)… one of them a freight car from the New Haven line, where I went to grad school. I slid the small door open. Closed. Open.

I thought: I want toys. Why don’t I have more toys? I am not a grown up. I am a writer. I want things to play with. My least favorite part of being a writer is the anti-sensuousness of laptops.

So I bought little people and a house and a cow and a sheep. Those are all the characters in my play.

They also had a miniature version of the 1964 Worlds Fair fountain in Queens. I broke my toe playing in that fountain. So I bought that too.

DAILY HABITS OF FAMOUS WRITERS

September 12, 2016

dailyhabits_img Every morning Gunter Grass kick-started his daily word ablutions with rolling on the ground. Arms extended, he would propel himself violently from side to side on his Persian carpet, yelling “huppah!” Early in his career, he also found Diet Coke to be an effective lozenge for his creative juices; later he preferred cookies with milk. Grass took great pains to never be distracted by the outside world when doing the difficult and dangerous work of writing. To this end, he would keep the blinds on his window drawn. Eventually, he took this six steps further, and blinded himself.

dailyhabits_img2Susan Sontag held herself to an exacting writing routine. She would get up at 4.5 am, dance around to the Bangles in her Hello Kitty night shirt, get amped on several bowls of sugar cereal, do some acroyoga, and then sit quietly at her desk and get to it. She preferred no distractions. If a bird whistled outside, she would send her pitbull to eat it.

dailyhabits_img3Hildegaard von Bingen was a self-professed flaneuse and carouser, who did her best to take the “writing” out of writing routine. She would begin her day by checking Facebook (sometimes upwards of several times a day), 5 a.m. dialing former flames who were in new relationships, and tweeting transcriptions of actual birdsong. She tried to honor a daily word goal of 25 words. Sometimes those were just Words With Friends. Between sex, drugs, drinking, and long walks in the woods, it’s a divine mystery how she got anything written ever.

I’m considering titling my play DIONYSUS WAS A VERY NICE MAN.