New and upcoming:
-Come to Three Friends Café on Monday, November 18 at 7 pm to hear me read with Cindy Stewart-Rinier and Kate Carroll deGutes.
-Read my interview with author Jay Ponteri on Oregon Arts Watch up today.
-Take my Revision class at the Multnomah Arts Center for six Fridays starting October 25th from 10-12:30.
And the longer, richer meditation:
“I must lie down where all the ladders start
In the foul rag and bone shop of the heart.”
-William Butler Yeats, “The Circus Animals Desertion”
I can see you cringe and hear you clicking away from my newsletter, saying “Why do I want to hear someone call her heart, and probably by extension, my heart, a foul rag and bone laboratory?”
Fair. You could be watching a baby polar bear learn to walk. But linger with me—a good story can burn more slowly in the mind than an adorable video, which I’ll hyperlink again at the end of this story.
My father passed away almost three years ago. I am still learning to be a young person who lives without parents. This is hard. Takes time.
Following my father's death, I started working on a story called “The Chronicle of the One and Only Traveling King Lear Family Players.” It’s about a family destroyed by death and madness, genius and depression, pettiness and narcissism. There are hand puppets and bizarre deaths, which make it more absurd and not just sad. The speaker writes from hindsight and after a few years of therapy, which means the story is both easier and harder for me to write. This has been a very very hard story for me to write. It takes time.
It is fiction. The story begins when the girls’ actress mother dies and their father decides that they are going to perform King Lear (ONLY King Lear) as a family on tour for all the foreseeable future. He is a zealot: He plays King Lear and directs while his tender grieving teen daughters play Lear’s daughters. The Cordelia/youngest daughter/worst actor narrates the story and ends up being the sole survivor of the tale. Through this trauma, she discovers that she is an artist, apart from her father’s genius.
Draw what conclusions you may about me from the plot. It is fiction (and what is fiction if not the stuff of real life?)
Here is a picture of the drafts from 2013. I’ve done 8 radical rewrites since the first draft. It used to be 9 pages, now it’s 26. It used to have quotes from King Lear itself that broke up the narrative and made the story more meta, now it’s a letter. 6 or 7 other family members have entered different drafts of the piece, and now it is the story of a nuclear family.
I’ve had to extensively study King Lear, hand puppets, murder laws in California, elephants, Chicago streets, Catholic conversion ceremonies, Australian culture, and the course of death by anorexia. Most of these research projects only show up in a line or two of the prose.
I read a new draft to my boyfriend last week—he’s heard me talk about the story for the past three months—and his feedback was, “I see how that’s a good story. But why don’t you just tell it as if you were the character? You were an actress; you know how to do that, right?”
I was so pissed at him for being right.
Because “right” doesn’t mean that there is an easy answer. Right means that the research that the story needs comes from my own heart. That I need to embody the character and be her mouth. Not just write about her or around her.
“I must lay down where all ladders start.”
This is a picture of my mother and father early on in their marriage—1975?-- before they had children.
How do I translate the complex feelings that I have for of these gone (and yet not) parents to the voice of a slightly insane grieving puppeteer?
I dunno. But that’s the question I need to solve in ten days when I finish the next draft of this story, because I am determined to send a completed new version to three short story contests by Halloween. Also because I’m tired of not succeeding at this story because I’m scared to tell it. The only reasons I might be too scared to tell it would be a) that I don’t have the tools, or b) that it’s my own story. I should think I’ve developed enough tools by now.
“The Circus Animals Desertion” poem by Yeats that I used to open this email begins thus:
“What can I do but enumerate old themes...”
So I here I come with Draft 9 (or 10 or 13—I stopped counting in 2011) enumerating the old themes that I know best, back to the rag and bone shop, back to the start. Hopefully by going back I’ll work my way somewhere towards an ending. Thanks for reading and happy good, purposeful work to you,