100 Essays I Don't Have Time to Write

BOOK: 100 Essays I Don't Have Time to Write
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For my mother, Kathy Ruhl, who taught me that the etymology of the word
essay
is
to try.

 

More than in any other human relationship, overwhelmingly more, motherhood means being instantly interruptible, responsive, responsible. Children need one
now
 … It is distraction, not meditation, that becomes habitual; interruption, not continuity.


TILLIE OLSEN,
Silences

I guess I don’t really like solitude. The fun is hammering bits of it out of a crowded life.


ROBERT LOWELL,
from a letter to Elizabeth Bishop

I wanted to make something. I wanted to finish my own sentences.


LOUISE GLÜCK

 

Contents

 

Title Page

Copyright Notice

Dedication

Epigraph

Part One:
On Writing Plays

    1.
 
On interruptions

    2.
 
Umbrellas on stage

    3.
 
On the loss of sword fights

    4.
 
On titles—comedy and tragedy

    5.
 
On titles with participles

    6.
 
On titles and paintings

    7.
 
On Andy Goldsworthy, theatrical structure, and the male orgasm

    8.
 
Don’t send your characters to reform school

    9.
 
Should characters have last names?

  10.
 
People in plays

  11.
 
An essay in praise of smallness

  12.
 
Plays of ideas

  13.
 
The drama of the sentence

  14.
 
Investing in the character

  15.
 
The future, storytelling, and secrets

  16.
 
On Ovid

  17.
 
Miller and Williams; or, morality and mystery plays

  18.
 
Calvino and lightness

  19.
 
Satyr plays inside tragedies

  20.
 
On knowing

  21.
 
The necessary

  22.
 
Can one stage privacy?

  23.
 
On neologisms

  24.
 
Bad poets make good playwrights?

  25.
 
The place of rhyme in theater and is it banished forever?

Part Two:
On Acting in Plays

  26.
 
On nakedness and sight lines

  27.
 
The four humors: an essay in four parts

  28.
 
Greek masks and Bell’s palsy

  29.
 
Greek masks and star casting

  30.
 
Subtext to the left of the work, not underneath the work

  31.
 
On Maria Irene Fornes

  32.
 
What do you want what do you want what do you want

  33.
 
Non-adverbial acting

  34.
 
Being in a pure state vs. playing an action

  35.
 
Speech acts and the imagination

  36.
 
Everyone is famous in a parade

  37.
 
Conflict is drama?

  38.
 
The language of clear steps

  39.
 
The death of the ensemble

  40.
 
The decline of big families and the decline of cast sizes

  41.
 
Color-blind casting; or, why are there so many white people on stage?

  42.
 
Eurydice
in Germany

  43.
 
Eating what we see

  44.
 
Dogs and children on stage

  45.
 
On fire alarms

Part Three:
On People Who Watch Plays: Audiences and Experts

  46.
 
On sleeping in the theater

  47.
 
Wabi-sabi

  48.
 
Is one person an audience?

  49.
 
Chimpanzees and audiences

  50.
 
On pleasure

  51.
 
Reading aloud

  52.
 
Buber and the stage

  53.
 
God as audience: a non-syllogism

  54.
 
Do playwrights love the audience and should they?

  55.
 
Hungry ghosts, gardens, and doing plays in New York

  56.
 
Advice to dead playwrights from contemporary experts

  57.
 
What of aesthetic hatred, and is it useful?

  58.
 
More failure and more bad plays

  59.
 
It’s beautiful, but I don’t like it

  60.
 
Is there an objective standard of taste?

  61.
 
Why I hate the word
whimsy.
And why I hate the word
quirky.

  62.
 
A scholarly treatise on the parents of writers

  63.
 
William Hazlitt in an age of digital reproduction

  64.
 
The strange case of
Cats

  65.
 
Can you be avant-garde if you’re dead?; or, the strange case of e. e. cummings and Thornton Wilder

  66.
 
The American play as audition for other genres

  67.
 
O’Neill and Picasso

  68.
 
Confessions of a twelve-year-old has-been

  69.
 
Is there an ethics of comedy, and is it bad when comedies make people laugh?

  70.
 
On writing plays for audiences who do not speak English

  71.
 
The age of commentary

  72.
 
Writing and waiting

  73.
 
Theater as a preparation for death

  74.
 
Watching my mother die on stage

Part Four:
On Making Plays with Other People: Designers, Dramaturgs, Directors, and Children

  75.
 
On lice

  76.
 
Mothers on stage

  77.
 
On motherhood and stools (the furniture kind)

  78.
 
Must one enjoy one’s children?

  79.
 
The meaning of twins on stage

  80.
 
Is playwriting teachable?: the example of Paula Vogel

  81.
 
Bad plays and original sin

  82.
 
A love note to dramaturgs

  83.
 
Children as dramaturgs

  84.
 
Democracy and writing a play

  85.
 
What about all that office space?

  86.
 
Ceilings on stage

  87.
 
Storms on stage

  88.
 
Snow on stage

  89.
 
Gobos, crickets, and false exits: three hobgoblins of false mimesis

  90.
 
Oh the proscenium and oh the curtain

  91.
 
Exits and entrances and oh the door

  92.
 
Theatrical
as a dirty word for architects

  93.
 
Archaeology and erasers

  94.
 
On standard dramatic formatting

  95.
 
On the summer Olympics and moving at the same time

  96.
 
The first day of rehearsal

  97.
 
On watching
Three Sisters
in the dark

  98.
 
The audience is not a camera; or, how to protect your audience from death

  99.
 
On endings

100.
 
On community theater

Acknowledgments

Also by Sarah Ruhl

A Note About the Author

Copyright

 

Part One

 

 

On Writing Plays

 

1. On interruptions

 

I remember reading Alice Walker’s essay in my twenties about how a woman writer could manage to have one child, but more was difficult. At the time, I pledged to have no more than one, or at the very most two. (I now have three.) I also remember, before having children, reading Tillie Olsen, who described with such clarity: thinking and ironing and thinking and ironing and writing while ironing and having many children—she herself had four. I myself do not iron. My clothes and the clothes of my children are rumpled. The child’s need, so pressing, so consuming, for the mother to
be there
, to be present, and the pressing need of the writer to be half-there, to be there but thinking of other things, caught me—

Sorry. In the act of writing that sentence, my son, William, who is now two, came running into my office crying and asking for a fake knife to cut his fake fruit. So there is also, in observing children much of the day and making theater much of the night, this preoccupation with the real and the illusory, and the pleasures and pains of both.

In any case, please forgive the shortness of these essays; do imagine the silences that came between—the bodily fluids, the tears, the various shades of—

In the middle of that sentence my son came in and sat at my elbow and said tenderly, “Mom, can I poop here?” I think of Virginia Woolf’s
A Room of One’s Own
and how it needs a practical addendum about locks and bolts and soundproofing.

But I digress. I could lie to you and say that I intended to write something totalizing, something grand. But I confess that I had a more humble ambition—to preserve for myself, in rare private moments, some liberty of thought. Perhaps that is equally 7.

My son just typed 7 on my computer.

There was a time, when I first found out I was pregnant with twins, that I saw only a state of conflict. When I looked at theater and parenthood, I saw only war, competing loyalties, and I thought my writing life was over. There were times when it felt as though my children were annihilating me (truly you have not lived until you have changed one baby’s diaper while another baby quietly vomits on your shin), and finally I came to the thought, All right, then, annihilate me; that other self was a fiction anyhow. And then I could breathe. I could investigate the pauses.

I found that life intruding on writing was, in fact, life. And that, tempting as it may be for a writer who is also a parent, one must not think of life as an intrusion. At the end of the day, writing has very little to do with writing, and much to do with life. And life, by definition, is not an intrusion.

 

BOOK: 100 Essays I Don't Have Time to Write
10.95Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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