Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Doubling-Back

After Kip's birthday two weeks ago, a bunch of us ended up at Odessa, eating potato pancakes, kielbasa, and peirogis, and drinking beer. There were too many of us to sit at a single table, so we split into two, our table talking mostly about theater--shows we did and didn't like, the great performances of 2010, Patti vs. Bernadette. I think we bored Joe. Sorry, Joe. I thought to myself: Please let it be like this for the rest of my life. I really did think that.

It felt like old times. When I first moved to New York, my roommates and I always ended up at Odessa, or Veselka, or Kate's Joint, after having seen something (good or great or bad) at Theater for the New City, or PS122, or The Ontological-Hysteric. Or somewhere else. Then, the long--it seemed at the time--ride home on the F Train to Astoria. We felt like part of the culture. We were part of the culture.

I admit, I'm getting sentimental. Later the same week, I watched the Martin Scorsese documentary "Public Speaking," which is about Fran Lebowitz. Fran talked (among other brilliant things) about the richness of audiences back in the day--about how they demanded the best, every single time, because they had seen everything. In Patti Smith's "Just Kids," which I was also reading at the time, she writes about the opportunities artists had in the 60s and 70s. Opportunities that could never be now.

My tendency is to think that all this nostalgia is just, well, that. But then, we went to see the revival of "Angels in America," and during the intermissions of "Perestroika," the couple sitting next to us talked on and on about how the liked or didn't like the various choices that the characters were making. He said "I don't know any of these performers." His date (sister? friend? girlfriend?) said: "I hate plays like this where everyone is just talking." I felt a bit deflated.

It's a good thing that the play is a masterpiece. It lifted me back up. The Signature Theater's production is terribly, terribly good--even if one wonder's if Zoe Kazan's earthy strength is right for Harper, and why Christian Borle seemed to be playing everything so weird to me, or if, as my agent wrote, "why Joe seemed to be given the most unhappy ending. Well...besides Roy." Zachary Quinto's performance as Louis is nuanced and obvious at the same time--his technical skills are sometimes on the outside, and I liked that about it. The thing is, though, all these things make the play, the experience of being in the theater with a piece as fucking brilliant and difficult and striving as Kushner's, and actors as sharp and skillful as this ensemble, more exciting. It was really, truly fantastic.

The rest of this story is about me noting how everything seems to be talking to itself. Novelists recognize this as a message from the universe that it's time to get serious. Or, at least, I do. This kind of doubling back, these overlapping strains of thought are your subconscious trying to tell you something about what you're thinking about. Your job is to translate that into the work. Not that it's easy.

The second novel has been such a struggle. Huge roller coaster emotions, false-starts, insecurities. It must be going just like the first one went, but I don't remember making the first one that much. Really. It just kind of came out of me, boom, like a sad, confused hustler bursting out of a party cake the shape of a rain-soaked New York City. (Lol?) And for the last three years before it was published, there was 250 pages of it--lots of clay, as it were. When I sat down to work with it, there was lots to work with. This new thing is still a mess, stretched out in too many directions, too many characters that don't know what their stories are. Sometimes I don't know how I'm going to do it. No, really. I feel like I might explode. I feel like I'm going crazy.

I try to feel buoyed up by the life around me. But we're so close to the edge of crazy, we're right on the other side of this thin membrane. I feel totally pressed against it sometimes. It's a good thing there are so many things to keep us, the collective us, together. Friends who, half-drunk, say things like "Would Arthur Laurents just go ahead and die already?" And Kip. And potato pancakes and vegan turkey sandwiches at Kate's. And the F-Train. And Fran Lebowitz and Tony Kushner. And Patti Smith. And Patti vs. Bernadette.

(Who are we kidding? Bernadette, all the way.)

2 comments:

j3black said...

1) I got to see the original production of Angels in 1994 with most of the original cast. I've watched the HBO film version, and I've read it. No naysayer could ever talk me out of my admiration for the writing. I think of it every time I write, which inspires me more than it intimidates me.

2) Having not finished my first novel, of course I've been thinking about my second and reading about what writers say about writing subsequent novels. A lot of them say writing each one is a different experience than the first. But I have a feeling what's similar is that you have to first make the clay, and they you mold it. The way you make the material is probably what's different. Once you find out, let me know.

3) Because you favor Bernadette, you can be my friend forever. Her version of "Send in the Clowns" is one of my reasons to live. And I don't care what anyone says: her "Rose's Turn" is the best.

Jamie said...

(Jamie here on NIck's account... he left your blog up on the computer before he left this morning). I was also inspired by Public Speaking... I loved it when Fran said the most important part of her day was talking with her friends at their local bar and that this time talking with friends was where art or ideas were born. Nostaligic, yes, but I would like to think it's still possible.