Sunday, January 27, 2008

People Are So Interesting - Part two in a series. People and People

You may have heard this story. I guarantee you I heard it before you did.

In December of 1917 the war in Europe had reached a stalemate. The lines had been drawn, trenches dug deep, and by Christmas eve only an occasional shot was being fired – just to remind each side that the other was still there.

Hunkered down in one of those trenches was a farmer from Michigan, young and frightened. He was a new member of MacArthur’s 40 and 8 (At the time, a boxcar held 40 men and 8 horses.) He was a member of the rainbow division – a shoulder patch of red, brown, and green colors. “Through the blood and the mud to the green fields beyond.” Yeah. It was that kind of war.

By early evening of December 24th, the snow had stopped, leaving a clean carpet of white between the two lines of battle, perhaps the length of two football fields apart. Around the young farmer there was talk of Christmas ‘back home,” and what this or that relative might be doing.

From somewhere down the line, someone started singing a Christmas carol. Soon a number of other voices had joined in.

It was then that someone started singing “Silent Night.”

It was then that they heard the sound of the pure tenor voice, drifting across the battlefield. One of the Germans was singing with them.

Soon both sides were singing with great gusto. Language became no barrier at all. Lah lah lah worked just fine.

In the dimming lights the Michigan farmer found himself, among others, standing and moving cautiously into the no man’s land. He was met by an equally nervous contingent from the other side. Everyone was singing. Eventually they exchanged gifts – cigarettes, beer, and sausage.

They stood together in comradeship for perhaps a half an hour. Eventually, in unspoken agreement, they parted, returning almost regretfully to their own sides.

The next day, Christmas day, they resumed shooting at each other. Business as usual.

Have you heard that story? I’ve been told that it’s fairly well known.

But that’s not the end of the story.

The shooting stopped on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month – November 11, 1918. The surrender had been signed a number of hours earlier, and everyone should have been packing kit bags, in preparation for a return home.

Instead, that final day was a period of madness, with both sides attacking each other with a fury that had no reason. Both sides knew they were fighting over territory neither would occupy in just a few hours.

Thousands died that day, and for no reason. At least, there was no good reason the farmer from Michigan could understand. How could there be peace in a time of war, and war where there should be peace?

45 years later an old retired farmer told that story to a quite young but enthralled nephew. With blistered and gnarled hands the old man placed a faded red, brown, and green shoulder patch in the young child’s outstretched hands.

As I’m typing this, I’m looking at that patch.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

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Friday, January 25, 2008

People Are So Interesting - Part One. People and Angels

I feel like starting a series. I mean, I’ve visited enough blogs to realize that themes occur from time to time. So I’m starting a series, ramblings mostly, but comments based on observations. And I’m gonna call the series “People are so interesting,” which is a good thing to call the series, because it’s gonna be about things I find interesting in people. And I’m not going to give a part of the series every time we talk. But I will do it frequently, because I think people are terribly interesting. (I think you've figured that part out, haven't you.)

So this is part one – people and angels.

Some reactions when people meet angels seem to be common in just about everybody.

For example, everybody seems to be afraid of angels. Don’t believe me? Look in the Bible. What’s the first thing an angel says to a human?

“Don’t be afraid.”

This first response by an angel appears to be pretty standard. In the Bible it appears enough times that I suspect an angel is prepared:

“Don’t be afraid.” (This is likely followed by a sigh and a head shake – but I don’t know that for sure.)

Now here’s the interesting part. The Bible doesn’t list what people actually say when they first meet an angel. What prompts the “don’t be afraid” answer?

Delicately, I would suggest that the first thing a human might say when confronting a genuine angel would be:


Why is that, do you suppose? Don’t you think that’s interesting?

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Another Of Those "I've Been Left Alone And Howling At The Moon" Nights

For some compelling reason I have the urge to talk about it tonight- this writing thing, although I’ve heard so many people analyze the “why do I write” question that that particular tired nausea has largely lost meaning, much less any appeal.

In SHOWBOAT, Magnolia sings

The game of just supposing
Is the sweetest game I know
Our dreams are more romantic
Than the world we see …

In A CHORUS LINE, Diane echoes this, if more directly

Kiss today goodbye
And point me toward tomorrow
We did what we had to do.
Won’t forget, can’t regret
What I did for love.
What I did for love.
What I did for … love.

So … I’ve been listening to you – all of you. There’s a collective restlessness. Isn’t there? Can you feel it? It’s not about writing, or the form writing takes. That’s just the means of communication – the best we know. Our companion, the thought that if we put it down on paper – somehow somehow if this time we get it right, or even close to right – maybe we will understand…

Understand what? By putting something into words am I suddenly going to understand something I can’t on my best day put into words?

Something is missing. I feel cheated. Where are the great artists? I mean, the sucking-in-of-breath-to-look-at-them paintings? Are you aware that for the first time in over 300 years, there is not ONE living classical symphony composer? Not one – Copeland was the last. And writers …

Cole Porter wrote

And authors, too, who once knew better words
Now only use four-letter words writing prose …

So something has ended. And I was born too late to be a part of it. And yet I feel like I’m a part of … something. And in listening to you, I know you’re a part of it as well. Do you feel that way? There’s a restlessness, a waiting, a desire for change, an anticipation …

An anticipation?

So maybe I’m not too late, after all. And you are not too late.

Maybe we all are early. A vanguard. Maybe something is coming, and we’re a part of the beginning of it.

Wouldn’t that be nice? I'd like to think so.

And how was your day?

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Everything Old Is New Again

A day or so ago I read an interesting post written by a new friend in San Francisco. She was listing – correctly – many of the woes that presently face us on local, national, and international levels.

This all sounded familiar – too familiar – to me, and I sent her lyrics to a song I remember first hearing 40ish years ago.

She had obviously never heard the song, and I made a point or two. With the thought that you also think our present times are uniquely depressing, may I offer you three young men, guitars in hand, entertaining a large crowd of people with bell-bottom slacks, tie-dyed shirts, headbands, peace signs and flowers.

The Merry Minuet
------Kingston Trio
They're rioting in Africa. They're starving in Spain. There's hurricanes in Florida, and Texas needs rain.
The whole world is festering with unhappy souls. The French hate the Germans, the Germans hate the Poles.
Italians hate Yugoslavs, South Africans hate the Dutch. And I don't like anybody very much!
But we can be tranquil and thankful and proud, for man's been endowed with a mushroom-shaped cloud.
And we know for certain that some lovely day, someone will set the spark off... and we will all be blown away.
They're rioting in Africa. There's strife in Iran. What nature doesn't do to us... will be done by our fellow man.
And how was your day?

Because it is there ...

This was another of those "wow, what a great picture" discoveries, and I wanted to share it.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Pay attention - I'm talking about you!

I went to my Writer’s Group meeting last night. An eclectic bunch of people, this group, as prone to light gossip and rabbit trails as they are to critique and commentary. Perhaps that’s why I’m comfortable in that company. No pressure.

But there’s something else. We speak into each other’s lives. This began innocently enough – “Here’s what I was thinking/feeling when I wrote this …” And the conversation turns to those “feelings,” rather than the finished work, yet without intrusion.

Perhaps then, that’s why I thought of you as I was driving home. Tell me – because I’m curious – why do you blog in the first place? Are you just putting words on paper as an emotional release? Or, when you write, do you have the expectation that somebody is gonna read what you have to say, react, and respond? Don’t you know that when you involve me in your life, you become important to me?

To the one in the mid west who told me about her dead cat: When I die I want you to write my obituary.

To the one in Canada who lost her boyfriend: Several of us want to be assured you are okay.

To the one on the west coast who was bothered by unruly children in church: Thank you for understanding that you can rail all you want, and we’ll still be there for you.

Am I explaining this correctly? Can you understand what I’m saying here? High on my list of favorite writers is John Donne. Although I haven’t read anything he may have written in the past year or two, one of his older writings seems to express exactly what my stumbling words cannot.

No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend's or of thine own were. Any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind; and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.

And how was your day?

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Can you remember?

Evening again. Late. What is there about the night? Do you remember? Can you remember?

Can you remember, sitting on the back porch? Inside, behind you, the adults are talking, the sound muted, muffled, drifting absently in your direction. In front of you nothing is visible except that small familiar stretch of grass and the old tree that’s been there since forever, now a blackness against the blackness. You take a step forward, and then another. The house behind you dissolves into the unimportant memory that it is. Even the voice sounds now blend into the larger symphony of the night – wind gently blowing, a train whistle – properly forlorn – somewhere in the distance, cricket sounds and – best of all, most of all – there is the sound of the living earth, softly breathing. If you stand there long enough and if you are quiet enough and if there is still something ancient and primal in your soul, then then then – just then you might realize your heartbeat is in rhythm with the night.

Can you remember?

Can you remember the fields behind the house? Can you remember going, going – the fields, the thrust of trees, a promise of the deep woods beyond. Can you recall the small creek beyond, just enough rocks spaced that you almost think you could make it across dry? Did you know – absolutely – in your heart, that you were the only human being that ever did or ever would stand in this very spot? Did you have the pull in a direction that was pulling you almost desperately, knowing that if you followed that pull you would never turn back, never even look back. Even once?

Can you remember? Can you remember why you didn’t do it?

I can.

I wonder about that sometimes.

So do you.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Why I'll Never Write a Nude Scene ... again ... probably.

Sometime ago I attended the premiere of a play written by a friend of mine. Between acts I was outside, furiously trying to inhale an entire cigarette with one mighty suck (my last cigarette, by the way. I quit.). Being properly ostracized from politically correct (and condescending) society, I overheard this slip of conversation:

She: I’d do nudity if it was a good role and the play absolutely depended on it.
He: Lemme know when, so I can buy a ticket.

The event that prompted this exchange was a brief bathing scene in the second Act of my friend’s play. As an homage to modesty (or more likely to keep the theatre from being closed by city council members looking for any excuse) the “nude” scene was performed by a somewhat pudgy actress in a flesh-colored body suit. As you may well imagine, she looked like a hundred and thirty pounds of potatoes stuffed into a hundred pound bag.

Now I’m not in the least suggesting that women have any kind of monopoly where a marked lack of discernment is concerned. What prompted this memory – and this present discourse – was a conversation I had with a male actor friend, just a few days ago. In this conversation my friend was looking forward to auditioning for a production of THE FULL MONTY (male nudity.)

Soon – in brutal honesty, the play may come to town. My friend may audition. He may be cast. He may perform brilliantly. I will never know. I plan to be out of town during the run. I may be out of the state. I’m not kidding you, nobody’s stomach is that strong.

All this cognition leads to a couple of true-isms. These are not moral or religious judgments, but the results of common sense and 20/20 vision.

First. I’ve not done a tremendous amount of research in this area, but it’s my impression that most people – actors included – probably look better with clothes on than they would look with clothes off. This conclusion was reached after spending a fair amount of my social life in a McDonalds when the lights were on.

And then, there’s another side to this problem (or perhaps it’s the other side.) A number of years ago I wrote a nude sequence into one of my plays … (See? There is a point I’m trying to make after all. You just had to be patient.) I wanted to depict one character in the play as being totally dependent on another for everything, down to and including air for breathing. It’s not a pretty scene, nor is it intended to be, and it is very – very – focused. I eventually re-wrote the scene. The lady in the body suit, even if it works, is not what I envisioned. And the “let me know when you’re naked and I’ll buy a ticket” idea is infantile.

So I feel inclined to tell you, friend, that I do not favor censorship. But in the future I’ll most likely avoid including nudity in my work. It’s my fervent wish for you to see what I see, feel what I feel, and in the way I see and feel it. If you don’t or can’t, then it doesn’t matter if my imagery was correct or not. I failed.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening

Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village, though;
He will not see me stopping here
To Watch his woods fill up with snow.

My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.

He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sounds the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.

The woods are lovely, dark, and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

Robert Frost

Thursday, January 3, 2008

The Play Scripts That Bloom In The Spring, Tra-la

Why do you keep doing this to me?!

I mean, I appreciate it when you tell me your hopes and plans for the upcoming year. I do! Haven’t I already told you how much I enjoy sharing adventures with you? I know I did – I remember me saying it.

But don’t you know that in telling me these things, you’re encouraging me to do the same thing? I can’t help myself! I’m such a sheep! Ba-a-a. I’m gonna throw myself under a bus … or a sumo wrestler (what a disgusting thought that is.) Or maybe I’ll just throw myself under the bed. It needs dusting under there, anyway.

So. What are my plans for the year? H-m-m. I’m not sure I have plans.

As a matter of fact, I think plans have me! A-a-a-h! (That felt good, actually.) A-a-a-h!

I think I need a cup of coffee. Check out the next blog for a minute or two, and then come back to me. (Please and thank you.)

Do-be-do-be-do-o-o …

Okay. Better now.

There’s a reading of my play “Rough Draft” set for late in February. The play is about a writer, and you see the characters acting out the story as it unfolds. I’m not sure how it ends after the characters kill the writer. (Not only did I run into a brick wall, I think it then fell over on top of me.) Fortunately, I work well under pressure (ohgodohgodohgodohgodohgod.)

In late March a mid-Ohio theatre group is going into rehearsal for another of my plays, “From My Vantage Point.” This play is a religious work, (kinda sorta maybe) touching on moments during the life of Christ, as seen by people who were largely clueless about what was happening around them. Since I’ve been clueless for most of my life, this was an easy one to wright.

About a year ago my one-and-only children’s play, “The Disenchanted Frog” was produced in Little Rock, Arkansas. Someone from a church organization apparently saw the production and asked if the play would be available to be produced by them as part of a street fair this summer. Since the play had been originally commissioned for an outdoor Arts Festival, I said yes, and am now waiting to see what happens next.

My main effort this year is the play I’m co-authoring with my friend Julie, a talented screenwriter and journalist. The work is very rewarding – I’m confronted by a viewpoint other than my own, causing me to constantly re-evaluate what is or is not important. I love it. As a writer, it’s stimulation in a way I’ve not experienced before. I suspect the play, “Alyce Times One,” will be completed sometime this fall, and then off it goes in as many directions as I can imagine.

So. Those are my goals for 2008. Theatre goals.

I have one other personal goal. There’s a fuzzy red-brown squirrel who lives in the tree in front of my house. By tossing out bread crumbs and sitting still, my bushy little friend would come within a yard of my outstretched hand last year. My goal for 2008 is for him to take bread directly from my hand. That’s my goal.

Oh. And world peace. I suppose that would be nice, too.

And how was your day?

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Fireflies in a German forest

There is absolutely no reason for this picture to be here. I just saw it and loved it.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

In case there was any doubt at all

O, what a rogue and peasant slave am I!
Is it not monstrous that this player here,
But in a fiction, in a dream of passion,
Could force his soul so to his own conceit
That from her working all his visage wann’d,
Tears in his eyes, distraction in’s aspect,
A broken voice, and his whole function suiting
With forms to his conceit? and all for nothing!