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
to try.


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


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

from a letter to Elizabeth Bishop

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





Title Page

Copyright Notice



Part One:
On Writing Plays

On interruptions

Umbrellas on stage

On the loss of sword fights

On titles—comedy and tragedy

On titles with participles

On titles and paintings

On Andy Goldsworthy, theatrical structure, and the male orgasm

Don’t send your characters to reform school

Should characters have last names?

People in plays

An essay in praise of smallness

Plays of ideas

The drama of the sentence

Investing in the character

The future, storytelling, and secrets

On Ovid

Miller and Williams; or, morality and mystery plays

Calvino and lightness

Satyr plays inside tragedies

On knowing

The necessary

Can one stage privacy?

On neologisms

Bad poets make good playwrights?

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

Part Two:
On Acting in Plays

On nakedness and sight lines

The four humors: an essay in four parts

Greek masks and Bell’s palsy

Greek masks and star casting

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

On Maria Irene Fornes

What do you want what do you want what do you want

Non-adverbial acting

Being in a pure state vs. playing an action

Speech acts and the imagination

Everyone is famous in a parade

Conflict is drama?

The language of clear steps

The death of the ensemble

The decline of big families and the decline of cast sizes

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

in Germany

Eating what we see

Dogs and children on stage

On fire alarms

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

On sleeping in the theater


Is one person an audience?

Chimpanzees and audiences

On pleasure

Reading aloud

Buber and the stage

God as audience: a non-syllogism

Do playwrights love the audience and should they?

Hungry ghosts, gardens, and doing plays in New York

Advice to dead playwrights from contemporary experts

What of aesthetic hatred, and is it useful?

More failure and more bad plays

It’s beautiful, but I don’t like it

Is there an objective standard of taste?

Why I hate the word
And why I hate the word

A scholarly treatise on the parents of writers

William Hazlitt in an age of digital reproduction

The strange case of

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

The American play as audition for other genres

O’Neill and Picasso

Confessions of a twelve-year-old has-been

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

On writing plays for audiences who do not speak English

The age of commentary

Writing and waiting

Theater as a preparation for death

Watching my mother die on stage

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

On lice

Mothers on stage

On motherhood and stools (the furniture kind)

Must one enjoy one’s children?

The meaning of twins on stage

Is playwriting teachable?: the example of Paula Vogel

Bad plays and original sin

A love note to dramaturgs

Children as dramaturgs

Democracy and writing a play

What about all that office space?

Ceilings on stage

Storms on stage

Snow on stage

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

Oh the proscenium and oh the curtain

Exits and entrances and oh the door

as a dirty word for architects

Archaeology and erasers

On standard dramatic formatting

On the summer Olympics and moving at the same time

The first day of rehearsal

On watching
Three Sisters
in the dark

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

On endings

On community theater


Also by Sarah Ruhl

A Note About the Author



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

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