Posts Tagged With: Masters Degree

On My Second Marriage

For twenty-five years, I was wed to theatre.

In second grade I saw Godspell in the high school auditorium attached to my grade school. My sister’s friends were in it, and I have a – probably incorrect – memory that they acknowledged me somehow as I sat in the audience. In any case, because I knew their real names, I felt somehow “in.” It’s an intoxicating feel, the giddiness of those who become intimately involved with the stage: the feeling that we belong somewhere. I developed a crush on theatre that day.

I saw Les Miserables on Broadway soon after that. Who knows why my parents let me go (I wasn’t even allowed to watch Doogie Howser). I guess they didn’t want me to feel left out, having missed so much family action because I was born much later than my teenage siblings. A need to belong permeates most of life, yes?

I didn’t understand half of Les Mis (French Revolution? Prostitutes?) But my god did I sob when it became clear Val Jean would die. I was hysterical for the last twenty minutes of the show, leaning into my sister and not even watching. Sitting close to the last row of the balcony, I had a visceral emotional experience such as I have only ever felt at live performance. I fell deeply, earth-shatteringly in love that day.

But last year, theatre and I broke up. The manic romance of the lifestyle was no longer enough.

Theatre is romantic: that determination of pluck and passion overriding limited resources. That group effort, a unity of direction and focus. That chance to touch a life, an audience member who feels the words and actions taking place in real time in a deeply resonant bone marrow place. That sense of belonging.

Nothing beats the high of these experiences.

On the other hand, theatre is like a bad relationship: it never pays the rent. At the end of every production, that manic high slides sharply into tears and soul-crushing emptiness. There is no stability; theatre is never satisfied with you. As you peddle yourself in one job interview after another, you get an overwhelming sense that you are never enough.

There is little opportunity to get ahead in theatre. Even after ten years of professional work, I had to fight like a newsboy to get paid fairly on one off-Broadway show. My experience mattered little in an industry that will cut corners by undervaluing people. While I loved my long-ish term part-time theatre gig in NYC, I was constantly looking for something else to survive. That job was a microcosm of a relationship you stay in too long: I loved it and appreciated it, but we were just meant to be friends. No matter how much of my heart I gave to it, I was just not the “one” for it. I would never be full-time.

Now I’m doing this other thing: narrative nonfiction. It’s why I’m in London, to study a craft I only became aware of a few years ago. Theatre is so obvious, it’s a crush on George Clooney. Any old seven year old can have an affair with theatre. Theatre is kind of a whore.

No seven year old wants to be the next Paul Theroux or David Foster Wallace. Complexity of thought and awareness of the wider world only come with age; you learn there are more career opportunities than doctor or ballerina or policeman.  Les Mis was broad enough that even my seven year old self could fall victim to its emotional manipulation. Narrative nonfiction is a personal, hard won discovery. It’s subdued, not flashy. It creates the same kind of life-transforming resonance, but in a private, eternal form: you can touch and carry a book. This writing is more satisfying: it suits my innate confessional need. I can write a story or essay or book and it will live fully on the page, a complete entity. When I wrote plays, I always needed a crowd of others to make my work live, and those crowds were hard to come by.

This is a typical second marriage. I’ve grown up and better understand what is important, what I want. I want a sense of gratification that is less dependent on others. This marriage involves sitting quietly alone in a room most of the time, and being content with being alone. How mature, right?

But I saw the Les Mis movie earlier this week…I mouthed every word to every song, stuck in the recesses of my memory from years of detailed soundtrack comparisons. My god did I cry.

I wish I could have been a part of that movie, to act as one small but necessary facet of group creation. I miss theatre. I ache for that sense of belonging, no matter how ephemeral and fabricated it may be.

My divorce was the right decision for my mental health. Theatre could never love me as much as I loved it. I love narrative nonfiction much less, and my smaller investment of emotion means there is less chance of getting hurt. There is a chance for a mutual and deeply satisfying, if reserved, relationship. Partners who sleep separately, I suppose, rather than having mind-blowing sex every night (a metaphor that is weird but appropriate).

But I guess I’m learning that clichés are annoyingly true. You never really get over your first love.

Categories: Fluff and Philosophical Nonsense, New York City | Tags: , , , , , , | 2 Comments

The Reason Hemingway Wrote in Paris

It’s because no one in France understood what he was writing, so they didn’t give him crap about his own language.

There’s an (unattributable but maybe GBShaw) saying, “England and America are two countries separated by a common language.” Now you see what I did there? I used double quotes. I have recently learned that not only does our language thwart communication, but so does our grammar and spelling. I’m looking at these people I live side by side with as though I’m from another planet.

A planet with more common sense.

The English put single quotes around a quoted sentence, or a line of dialogue. Then if there is a single word within a sentence, they put double quotes. How does this make “sense”?

Quotes are cushions, they keep the words safe. Why would you choose to use half the amount of protection you are lavishing on a quote? If you appreciate another person’s words so much you want to quote them, respect them enough to give their quote the full benefit of fortification. Double quotes stand out. They are noticeable. Sometimes I don’t even see single quotes and then I don’t realize I’m reading something important. Why do single words get this treatment but not entire sentences? It seems mismatched – you’re overwhelming a single word with all that quotage, while leaving the sentences or paragraphs to fend for themselves. I don’t get it.

I say double quotes for all! Maybe it’s my over-consuming American nature, my more-is-better-than-less complex, but single quotes are basically apostrophes with an overinflated sense of self, and I don’t like them.

There. I said it. I am starting a rumble with single quotation marks.

Then there is the issue of “z.” Which is “zed” over here. Let’s not even get into it. I don’t care to know why a letter gets to be a word…and why it’s the only letter which merits such status. It’s not like you use it that way when writing words. Zedoo. Zedest. Zedydeco. Zedeitgeist. Zedodiac.

No. you don’t do that. That would be dumb. So why call it that in the first place?

On top of that, you English you, poor little “z” is already underused and unloved. So why are you trying to take away some of its action? Why organise? Why characterise? Why specialise and recognise? These words have a sexy little zzzzzz to them. Why diminish them with that stuffy old “s”? Don’t get me wrong, “s” is one of my favorite letters. Also one of the most used. I guess I’m an alphabet socialist. Redistribute the spelling so everyone gets an equal share. (But you know, I don’t support the “z” for “s” swap. Bratz. Those dolls suck.)

We could talk about the additional “u” in words where you don’t hear it, but what’s the point?

As someone trying to make my life out of words, these things are kind of a big deal to me. It never occurred to me that doing a creative writing Masters in England would stifle my creativity in ENGLISH. But it is. My three American classmates  and I (one quarter of the course) were told to line up our words with the British way of thinking. Spelling, grammar. But that feels so disingenuous. I am an American writer. My story is American. Not British. To write “favourite” and “colour” – that’s not who I am. It feels like I’m trying too hard to fit in.

I deal with this a lot, in every day conversations, choosing my words: do I say my American word, or do I try to use the British equivalent, with sounds harsh or tacky or ingratiating coming out of my mouth? But when it comes to my writing…I’m trying to be creative. I’m not writing an academic thesis. I’m writing a book. It may be nonfiction, but it’s going to be the inner workings of my mind, a first person narrative, a memoir. And my first person “I” double quotes everything (even my air quotes are double) and recogniZes the value of that alphabetical “caboose.” if i chose to do the entire book in lowercase letters that would be my creative prerogative because i’m trying to express myself in a unique and accurate way.

So I might be putting my battle gear on. I’m gonna fight for my Americanisms, because no matter how much I love this country I currently live in, it is not mine. To write like it is would make me look like an arse (see? Doesn’t that sound lame coming from me?)

“ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ”! Game on. I never thought the English would be my foes, but sometimes you just have to stand up for what you believe is right.

(Also, standard letterhead paper here is 8.3in x 11.7in. Can’t we all just get along?!?)

Categories: Fluff and Philosophical Nonsense, London | Tags: , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

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