October 10th, 2006

In Which Han Ong Kicks My Ass

Last night was my first playwriting class and, wow! The class was full of impressive and high-powered people: directors, media executives, working actors, theater professors, and the like. Twelve of the fourteen students were women, and I really liked the dynamic that created. No one seemed hesitant to speak up, despite the wide discrepancy in ages, experience levels, backgrounds and the like. And Han Ong! He’s a great writer, but no one mentioned he’s also a great teacher! And - though I probably shouldn’t admit it - extraordinarily charming and really cute.
In any case, I wasn’t too intimidated at first, because I was one of only three students to have written a play before. I figured that might get me somewhere, or at least prevent me from looking like a fool. And then Han Ong kicked my ass.

We did a twenty-minute monologue-writing exercise, where we were supposed to envision one of our characters and write in their voice. If we came in with a concept, we were to flesh out that concept; otherwise, we would start a new play. So I took my concept (Anne Sexton, time travel, the usual) and wrote one of the core monologues, where this guy is trying to convince Anne Sexton not to kill herself. I thought it was pretty good - a powerful moment, and not portrayed badly given the twenty-minute constraints.

Then we got our crit, and ow. He said he liked the premise, and then tore me a new one. “He’s talking like the blurbs on the back of a book cover” is the one phrase I remember, but it went on from there. I need to make his language more idiosyncratic, his passion for Anne Sexton more specific, his motivations more hidden. He did say that last was also a strength, that I was able to be so raw and forthright with the character, but overall I left feeling like I need to start completely over, maybe ditch the character, maybe leave this particular monologue until I have a better sense of who he is, maybe just learn to write.

Fail faster, fail better, right? That’s what I’m telling myself today, anyhow. Whatever I write next week can hardly be worse.

Actually, I think it’s a good thing, even if it’s a little painful the first time around.  The whole point of taking this course is to learn what I don’t already know about writing. I just need to plan to have a thicker skin next time. :)

Book Month!!

How could I not have known it was Book Month!!

In celebration, I’ll ask a question gacked from Creating Passionate Users (an awesome blog, by the way): what’s a book you wish everyone would read?

She’s got rules, like one fiction and one non-fiction book, but this is my blog and we do things my way!  You’re welcome to list as many books as you like, as long as you provide an explanation (silly, serious, whatever) about why you think that everyone should read the books you’re listing.

Me, if I don’t keep it to strict limits, I’ll be sitting here all day - so I’ll go with one fiction, one non-fiction, that I read this year.

For my fiction pick, I’d choose Revelation Space, by Alastair Reynolds, along with its sequels Redemption Ark and Absolution Gap.  (Ha!  See?  Three recommendations in one!)  This far-future nanopunk space opera trilogy is fantastic reading, with a plot that won’t let you put it down and surprising choices at every turn.  But the reason why I think everyone should read it is because Reynolds is a master at putting his characters in unpalatable situations where sticky moral decisions are pretty much a necessity.  In an age where black-and-white thinking seems to govern much of our public discourse, a novel that dramatizes the bad things good people are pushed to (and vice versa) under the right circumstances seems important to me.

For my non-fiction, once I put aside anything I’ve read for school, the choice pretty much made itself: Linda Hirshman’s Get to Work.   This self-admitted manifesto is a quick read - only 92 pages - but an incredibly powerful analysis of the cultural forces pushing women to make certain apparently “personal” choices, and the consequences that those choices are having both for individual women and for the feminist cause as a whole.  Her discussion of why economic theorists seem blind to the economic bargains made within a marriage is brief, incisive and more or less mind-blowing.  Even better, she includes specific life prescriptions to help women avoid painting themselves into a corner.  Whenever I wake up wanting to throw up my hands at all the work I have to do, Hirshman makes me happy that I’ve got meaningful work, the opportunity to exercise my genius, and the chance to live a morally and personally productive life.

Your turn now!