[notes from a talk at the bay area playwrights foundation benefit – a swell event, with some great structures to take into our own on the 29th!
the weil quote you know by now – it’s one of the real points of iilumination this year, and i’ll be working it out for a while…
the “magical breathing/bleeding” line started a couple of days ago may not be all that widely useful, but it’s another notion stuck in my head.]
Octavio was driving. We were in a rented van in south Texas with Raphael Parry, the co-artistic director of Undermain, and Jeff Schmidt, an actor in the company. It was late afternoon, the sun going down to our left. Literally Cormac McCarthy territory, coming into Alpine… We were on our way down a bleached swell on a counterclockwise arc, a steep drop to our left and a rock wall to our right, broken seabed, sharp and loose. A sedan came up the hill towards us, running at a good clip. In a very basic geometric exercise, the oncoming car drew a straight line when it should have continued it’s arc – it left its lane and came right at us. We had to steer towards the drop to avoid the crash, and then swerve back sharply towards the wall to avoid falling. Our correction flipped us over and we rolled the van. In steadying himself, Jeff shot his hand up and held to the edge of the open shotgun window, and the weight of the van was on his fingers for a second as we revolved. This resulted in the only physical injury that was sustained. The enemy sedan was at a gentle stop uphill on the shoulder; we’d gone right to the edge of the drop off but not over it. We were upside down; I was sideways because I hadn’t been wearing a seatbelt. All we could do was pant and blink, then call out to make sure we were all right – listening in a round for everyone’s adrenalized voice to register. That done we crawled out, shivered and peed, then quickly got the small group lie in place – the fact was that Jeff had rented the car and Octavio wasn’t supposed to be at the wheel. The cops came quickly. Vehicles flip in Texas people know what to do. They forgave our exploded case of Shiner, twinkling its amber atoms across the tilted sward of genius highway (Shiner is America’s best bock beer; we weren’t drinking but had a game plan); we shared insurance information and that worked out fine, really fine; the opposite geometer drove of no scratches, no charges; we got Jeff’s hand stitched up at a small, angelic hospital; we stood up under the giant midnight, saw the life in it with new clarity, and wanted in, wanted to run back into life, and life let us back in. Now it’s all a story. It happened about 12 years ago. Sensation is still returning to Jeff’s pinky and right ring finger; there’s still a scar.
This comes to mind for a few reasons. Octavio Solis livess here. I just got in from Texas last night, where I’m working on a new project with Raphael Parry; Jeff’s in it and designed the set. It’s part of the Soulographie series you’ve heard about. Rebecca Novick’s here.
We were out there in Alpine doing research for a play Octavio and I were writing together. We wanted to go on a series of adventures and let the writing come out of that. So we decided to climb three mountains and visit three mothers (mine, Octavio’s, Raphael’s…); we were just coming back from Guadalupe Peak; cold air in mid summer that goes right to the bottom of your lungs, and satellites at night. The play we wrote is called Shiner… some of the material gathered then is in Diamond Dick – the play I wrote last year for Raphael.
This, altogether, is basically what writing is: fidelity over time, the convoy of stories; it is breathing, it is research, it is lies that let reality happen more elegantly; it is good luck – a salvation history. It is family, home, and mountains. In Zen they say that the mountain’s not high, it’s deep. What you end up with is not as impressive as where you come from. Writing is where I’ve been coming from. It’s what’s deep in me even when I can’t make my point. It’s how I’m based in the world; it’s how I make my love public, civic; it’s how I’m home.
When everything we know and everything we can know lines up in satisfaction, when every thing is in relation to the whole and the concept of superfluity is voided, then the universe makes music, the music of the spheres. Simone Weil points out that to exist, etymologically, means “to be outside of,” to be in exile. For reentry we describe creation back to itself, so that we recognize each other, so that we may be undifferentiated from each other, self and the world. To be recreated, we create; we are sung to – so we sing.
Singing is magical breathing. We carry inescapable personal experience – like, say a car crash – through to escape by means of self-destroying technologies of control. We make ourselves more than ourselves by abstracting our breath to rhythm and melody – the medium of breath affirming the ultimate mortality of what we possess, which is our elemental moral gift – our charity – we are built to give ourselves away. Singing is a means of dispossession – way of growing spiritually poor so that there’s more room in us to be made-up by the universal imagination.
Writing is a translation of breathing, a notation meant to further firm rhythm, to make more space, to use silence for singing so as to make more room for sound. Writing is magical bleeding.
Breathing and bleeding in that van in Alpine, upside down, adrenal, we were writing. We were and are writers, because we research, because we’re in family over time, and our models of family and home are open to the angels, because fear blows us open, because drama unhinges our doors, because our own private experience jumps out past our teeth to ask, to hope, to make room for hearing. Because despite all our lost boy and girl running around there’s a deep silence in our blood that saves us and that we protect.
Writing is research where research is understood as witness – we don’t make sense of the world, and even our admirable judgments are not as important as our waiting-with, our wanting in. To re-search or search again is like repentance or re-thinking (I’m Catholic and this is Palm Sunday; it comes up). We search and search as a way of sliding out of our understanding, slipping as water into water, a magic disappearing act; writing is inexhaustible resource, restoring us to source. It is experimental: owned by process.
The Bay Area Playwrights Foundation is a family born to witness. I first met Amy in about 1990 and she’s been a faithful friend to writing through the whole stretch. Graced with patience and discernment she has made room for wave after wave of rising writers. Her house is open, airy, and lets the stories in. The writing scene in the Bay Area is strong, strong in itself and also in its reputation its national and international hospitality. The taproot of this strength reaches to the water of the BAPF. The foundation of the Foundation is in home. There is real, saving mercy-to-the-witness here. Sit up straight. Breathe. Be aware of your heart. We are scripting family today, alive in the house of writing, in this meaningful kitchen, grateful to Amy and the BAPF. Open your eyes and lets get back to work.