A Modern Girl's Musings

My earliest political memory is of my parents laughing at me when I asked if we were voting for Ronald Reagan. Even I could tell poor Carter wasn't looking so good. I was about five. I think the laughter was accompanied by something along the lines of "for crying out loud!"

Nevertheless I consider myself a Reagan Baby. Those eight years of my childhood were spent realizing that there was still a lot of work to be done, despite Dr. King, in addition to the Kennedys (a lot of them were still alive then), and hopefully including me (if my Quaker education by the hippies was teaching me anything at all).

So after Reagan, after Clinton, after hiding in those Bushes, I am still hopeful, I am still working on my addition, I'm still on my way to a new way of living in this world.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

And Someone Listened: Thoughts on the 2010 Wasserstein Prize

Sometimes people get heard.  And change occurs.

In my previous post I wrote an open letter to the 19 female playwrights who were all rejected from the 2010 Wasserstein Prize.  Since that post, the internet has been afire, and theatre artists came together, via Facebook Petition, to protest the Theatre Development Funds' decision not to award the 25,000 dollar prize.

Yesterday I was asked for my comments about the situation by blogger and playwright Callie Kimball.  Her article appeared today on npr.org.  In it, she cites my email to her.  Below is my email in its entirety.


Thanks for the email.

And this is wonderful you will write about the "debacle", although that term trivializes the matter a bit, I do admit.

Over the weekend, as the outrage gained steam, I began to think about the award and awards in general.  I was surprised by the responses I got on my blog post.  I was away for the weekend for rehearsals for a play of mine, and kind of just got riled up in the moment possibly because I was charged up from my time at Yale Rep, where I feel very very fortunate to be, and for some reason, the idea that this award had been kept from possibly a deserving writer, made me, obviously, very upset.

Sometimes in this business, the gates get kept in ways that are rather painful.  Who gets produced, who gets good reviews, who gets to keep doing this because they have the means (be it family money, access to health insurance, access to a pay check, access to housing, access to the gatekeepers...sometimes these things are just so arbitrary it's almost unfair.  So what got me hopping mad was that an award that should be helping to ameliorate these gate keeping practices didn't open the gate to ANYBODY.  Very curious, especially after Julia Jordan's study.

I was telling a colleague this afternoon, as we discussed the Wasserstein, that when I've adjudicated awards, the spirit of the process has often been rather generous.  In most instances, while there may have been dismay at the plays that sometimes ended up at the top of the pile for whatever reason, there was usually always the feeling that we did indeed WANT to give the award to someone, and were happy to give an opportunity to someone who was just starting out.   Did we have to wade through some plays that should not have ended up in the final rounds?  Yes.  Almost always.  Were there sometimes plays or writers who needed much more time and many more years to grow?  Yes.  Almost always.  But awards such as these (especially the ones I was judging, cause let's face it, I am still emerging myself) are meant to see promise and the start of a career.  And we saw so many different kinds of starts.   Or those who were starting again.  Or starting despite great odds (some of those personal statements are, indeed, very personal and revealing in a surprising way).  

And I am under no delusion I was the best adjudicator.  In fact, I know I flaked out on more than one process.

But in the end, my job was to give out the award.  Not shut the gate.

I was also surprised, quite happily, by how many female writers wrote to me, either through my blog or through Facebook, and said they'd received similar awards (those of about 20,000 or 25,000 for new and emerging writers) and those awards changed their lives.  Perhaps not financially (25,000 for writing a play is fabulous.  But if you told someone you MADE! 20,000 a year, and got all excited about it, many people would look at you funny. While I am sure many writers do things like pay off student loans or credit card debt or perhaps? invest, I think there is another camp  of writers that use the money to breathe a little and not have to work as many day jobs or teach so that they can write or research. And when you do that, that money does not go as far as one would think), but just about every person who wrote to me said getting an award like the Wasserstein made them think of themselves as real writers for the first time.  You can't put a price tag on that type of confidence, and once you think that and believe that about yourself, you never go back. It profoundly changes how you think of your work and your self as an artist.  I know it did me, when I received an NEA Fellowship.  Sadly the money got sucked into having to move because of the residency requirement, but for the first time in my life I was paid to show up to work to be a writer on a regular basis, and it altered me.

What's been happening today, too, is people have been (mostly on David Adjmi's Facebook page) citing female writers they felt were young (under 32.  why 32?  we're still not sure) and talented.  Many people named Annie Baker which is so wonderful, but this is what this business LOVES to do: choose one player and place ALL the burden of whatever on that one person. Let Annie Baker be Annie Baker (because she is wonderful) and let other young women ALSO flourish and shine. We can do that.  We really can.

Okay, still on my soap box obviously but will stop typing now.

Thanks for emailing me.


Saturday, November 13, 2010

To Those 19 Playwrights

This week it was announced that the 2010 Wasserstein Prize was not awarded because its judges felt that no woman playwright who is 32 or younger in America is worthy of the prize, which is supposed to honor promise in emerging  playwrights(newsflash, though, you could have raked in 500 thousand in prize money, commissions, advances, and house sales, be 57, and STILL be considered emerging in this business).

So this being the age it is, I just signed an email petition to let those who decided such a matter that this is absolutely ridiculous.  My colleague Michael Lew voiced many of our playwright community's concerns brilliantly in his blog.

And I must admit, when I first clicked on the link to his post, the first thing I thought was: 32?  Seriously?

At 32 I think I was only beginning to realize what it means to be a playwright who is also female. 

Here is what I thought it meant:  when I began to think I wanted to be a playwright, I had no idea women could really do such a thing.  I was a senior in high school and had just plowed through TO BE YOUNG, GIFTED, AND BLACK, but Lorraine Hansberry had died young.  I did not want to die young.  So I pushed her out of my mind and just thought about all the other playwrights I was not like at all:  men playwrights, white playwrights.  I had not yet met the works of Shange, Nottage, Parks, or Corthron that made me think: OH!  I could do this.

I also thought being a female playwright just meant  that usually girls don’t do this kind of work.  I didn’t realize that they do, and when you look around any given conference, workshop, production experience, or fellowship opportunity and do not see someone who resembles one of your demographics, you should wonder why.  You should not always be the only.  And if you are, you should not accept that you really ARE the only, but that there are others (female, black, poor, or what have you) who are not there for a reason, not because you are so much more talented than they are.

I had an inkling being a female playwright was considered “different” when I got in to Humana and Marc Masterson said, early on, before I even got into the rehearsal room, ‘be prepared for people to call this the year of the woman, since all the plays are by women this year except one’.  I am pretty sure, when there is only one woman in a line up of plays being done, that people do not call it the year of the man.

But then I experienced something that really only women experience.

I had a kid.

Then another.

While boys have kids, too, I am pretty sure they do not complete commissions for rent money while breastfeeding.

And given how so many developmental programs are geared towards LEAVING your home for weeks on end, I am pretty sure that while most  male writers in our modern age are more aware of childcare issues than they were fifty, twenty, even ten years ago, most probably do not lug their kids around the country to work on plays. 

All this is to say that, at 32--since I had my daughter at 32--I had no idea what the full extent of being a female playwright could possibly mean. 

I had no idea I’d have to place many writerly things on ice while I went about the kinda messy dealings of learning to be a parent.

I had no idea I’d have to say no, at times, to a career I’d spent over a decade and a half creating.

And yet, something continued to burn, something continued to make me need to write, even when my self was at odds with how and who was celebrated as a writer.  In this business.

So to those 19 who were rejected:  your beginnings are burning.  Your need to do what we do is real and right and necessary.

Fold that letter carefully and put it where you will not be tempted to read it or believe it.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Me and the Duggars: Full Steam Ahead

I am sitting on my hands and knees on the slightly dusty parquet floor of the Company Housing apartment that has been our other home for almost a month.

K is in a cot, purchased especially for this trip, covered in blankets and one of her sheet sets from home. H is asleep after having thrown all the soft things I tried to set in his pack and play for him over the side. 

Okay, the floor is very dusty.  More than slightly.

Each time I try to sweep it, the kids go absolutely nut bag.  They go to the front closet and pull out all the cleaning instruments the theatre has provided.  They sweep and dust and try to mop with abandon, narrowly missing the flat screen TV, the glass coffee table, and the wall of windowpanes.

I would clean when they go to sleep, but I am just too tired.

Truth be told, I lie on the floor at home like this, as K “drifts” to sleep.  It started as being better than fighting with her about bed.  She is a clingy one.  Now it is just our way.  And it is not entirely bad.  I get a lot more writing done this way than when I was mean mommy taking her begrudgingly to the bathroom over and over (potty training really makes one second guess oneself) and yelling IT IS  BEDTIME!  NO MORE TALKING!  which is not really conducive to sleep. 

Lately I have been thinking quite a bit about mothering and work.  Last night I saw a program about Amish weddings.  It was not the best documentary.  I came in late, since I was, yes, lying on the floor for its first half, so I must have missed the part on why true Amish people would allow themselves to be filmed.  And, granted, one couple was not allowed to keep on filming as their wedding date approached; however, it was engrossing, as are most programs about people who live so far removed from the mainstream that, well, people with cameras go and get all up in their faces, trying to make them tell us more about themselves so we can examine the gulf between our worlds.

During the program an elder Amish man spoke about his community’s feelings about family.  No surprises here.  He explained a woman’s duty was to her family and that things work better when wives don’t work.

My feminist self might cringe if it weren’t for the fact that another larger part of myself agrees.

Not that women should not work, but that, the way we’ve created workspaces makes it very difficult to both be a very good mother and a very good worker, whatever the work part of us happens to be.

I can say with absolute certainty that our house runs more smoothly when I am not working regular hours. 

I can also say with absolute certainty that I would cease to feel I had much of a worldly purpose if all I knew how to talk about was poop, teething, potty training, and breastfeeding.

There is a schism.

Today I tried to take my kids to my work. 

“Mommy’s work” is a mystical mythical place.  Because I am a writer and field emails in fleeting five minute increments and do rewrites after I’ve peeled myself off the floor next to my daughter’s bed, often “mommy’s work” is located on the living room couch.  But, at times, it is located in a classroom or a rehearsal hall or a theatre, and I actually have to get up off the couch at odd hours and go away.

Such is my life currently. 

Each week, sometimes once, sometimes twice, although really it should be more, I feel, we make the two hour trek so “mommy can work”.  It is a herculean effort.  Trust me, sometimes I say this to myself in the shower “this is a herculean effort”.  Because this requires me to pack up house,  move all the stuff that is toddler world with us, buy food for two households, and procure childcare.  To make sure my kids don’t completely flip out on me and feel more confused than necessary, I also make sure everything is done in the same way at the same time in each “home”.  Dinner equals 5:15.  Bed equals 7.  There are still time outs and kisses and hugs and sweet treats.  But, yes, this is all herculean effort.

When I have done this in the past, it has been for a week.  The longest was for three when I took my then only child to Sundance.  But this current stint will last, when all told, for two months.

People like to commend these efforts until I explain what usually happens to me physically in order to accomplish them, which is that my body, in someway, at some point, just stops working.  I spend the entire time tending to two very needy humans and rewriting and by the end, I am exhausted.  The kind of exhausted nineteenth century writers talk about, when they go to someone’s country estate to rest or something.

I do not know anyone with a country estate and even if I did, I am sure I would not be able to find a sitter so that I could go there and walk to moors or whatever while I “rest”, so I make do with reality TV and ice cream.

Okay, it’s liquor, not ice cream.

And while every single theatre has always been more than helpful to me and my family, I keep wondering: what if?

What if this were seventy years ago. When you did not have to get that much childcare, just a comfy hotel drawer, so your baby feels like it is in a cradle, while you go do your theatre work so all you all can eat for the next month? 

Then I thin of Eugene O’Neill and how that is how he grew up and look how fucked he was.  The first great American playwright, sure, but the guy was a hot mess and then some.

So then, what if more of the jobs we do were like the circus?  Cause the OTHER show I watched last night was CIRCUS on PBS, and IT was all about The Big Apple Circus, and I thought, mmm, what if we just trained our kids from very young ages to be AROUND us as we worked?  Some of these brilliant circus artists are ninth and tenth generation performers.  That means circus is all their families have ever done for hundreds of years.  And while I am sure not all of us want to be accountants like our dads or lawyers like our moms, I know that when I look at what my family and relatives say they choose to be, we all end up being similar things.  For the most part we are all writers or teachers or social workers or some off shoot there of. 

Cause this Circus show reminded me of an author I once heard on NPR’s show THE CONNECTION, years ago as I waited in the pick up line when I was a nanny.  He mentioned that if you ask an indigenous person how much time he spent with his kid, he’d look at you funny.  Cause the kid was just always expected to be around, learning how to live from his or her parents.  And this all makes me think about old times.  Maybe cause it’s Thanksgiving soon and so I just read a book about the Mayflower to K and it had historical interpreters in it dressed up like Pilgrims—awfully clean ones, though, I guess cause yeah, it is a kid’s book and showing everyone all pukey with their collars all browned would be gross and scary for children—and the main characters were child apprentices and I thought, mm, no childcare here, these kids are just THERE.  Soaking it all in.  I mean, I know they were probably maybe in reality not really enjoying the best crust of English life, but still.

And THIS all made me think of The Duggars, that Arkansas family with the nineteen kids.  Today the daughter in law announced she is expecting baby number two.  If you are unfamiliar with the mothering set, baby number two is a huge deal, and here she just announced it on TV and is very calm with it because the life she leads expects it.  If you are unfamiliar with the mothering set, then you do not know that  If you don’t want baby number two, there is the pressure you feel every time people look at the already pretty f n cool being you ALREADY are steering into the world, and say “will you have another one?”  That, or every time you say you are tired, people ask if you are pregnant with baby number two.  Or, if you know you’ve always wanted to pop out babies til Mother Nature says your time is through, there is the pressure of when and then how many more and then how do we pay for all these freakin’ kids and then what happened to my so called life anyway?

But here was this twenty two year old person very calm with the idea baby number two was on its way and you could knock her for it, but I know I can’t.

The Duggars are an obsession with me.  They do a lot of things I just don’t or won’t do.  They home school.  They don’t use birth control.   They don’t read conventional literature. They are evangelical  to the point where the girls don’t wear pants and the boys don’t wear shorts and they perm their long hair in that way people such as that seem to do. They are not just Republicans, but are pretty much the kind of right leaning set that wants to ensure as many white, their brand of Christian, non pant/permed out/no mainstreaming people populate the United States before other browner less Christian people do.  And it’s my understanding that they feel the other browner less Christian people are doing just that very quickly so they’d better get on it.  But this is hearsay, their website makes no mention of this non brown person thing.

I just can’t get enough of these people.  My sisters laugh at me.

At first it was the nutter factor.  One would like to believe anyone who does all the things listed above is a fruitcake with extra walnuts baked inside.  What woman would choose to get pregnant every year of her adult life?  I mean really.  If you only have one kid and you had a lovely pregnancy and your baby sleeps and you don’t even know what colic is and all your relatives are just the best babysitters and your boss said oh just take as much time as you need and I can just send these checks to your home address, right?  and your husband does dishes and laundry and wakes when the baby wakes and does not dress your kid in mismatched clothes when you are not looking and when you specifically grouped matching things together so your kid looks like she comes from a home cause you drive a Toyota, not a fancy car that people can look at and say oh they dress their kid like that cause rich people can pull off the mismatched thing AND you’ve already lost the weight, then don’t answer that. 

Over the years (yes, I have been watching them that long) I have realized a lot of what the Duggars believe is not that very far off from what I believe, when it comes to family.

That does not mean I do not think women should work outside the home or we should all start perming our hair.

What I realized is that like the Duggars, I would like to believe that there is something so special about children and family and parenthood, that the lines between all these things should not necessarily be easily defined.  When I watch Michelle Duggar, the mom, after she has had a baby, I am amazed at how regulated the addition to their family is.    Usually Michelle Duggar has the baby on one of those Brest Friend things you can use to breastfeed, with a modesty throw over her shoulder.  This woman who wears three layers of clothing in summer in Arkansas, is very forthcoming about the whole breastfeeding/new baby in the house thing.  And it makes me wonder.  It makes me think what if.  What if we did not have to compartmentalize ourselves in our workaday world.

Granted, I know I can’t take my kids to rehearsal.

I tried tonight and their voices were so loud, even as we sat outside the room, waiting for a break so I could check in, that I basically had to banish us, with my three year old stating “WHY?  MY VOICE IS NOT SO LOUD!”

And my fifteen month old growling at fever pitch at a picture of the college’s stuffed mascot from 18 something or other. 

As I tried to hightail it out of there (the assistant stage manager had come out and so yes, indeed, it really was loud) I dropped my daughter’s babydoll, all our coats, and the two cups of water I’d tried to keep them quiet with.

Not very graceful.

So despite my dismay over the Republican sweep, there is something to be learned from those Duggars, whom I am sure are not very excited about Obama, although they were mildly respectful of him when their reality show sent them all to Washington DC once.

Perhaps there is a Shangri La where I do not lie on parquet floor wishing my work life and home life met at less jagged angles.

Until then I can be seen dragging two kids, a babydoll, and many cups of water that did not work as they were intended from the rehearsal halls I hope to be asked to attend to in the future.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

3, 3 Buzz, Buzz

It is trendy, when writing a post about your kids, to refer to the age of your kid and refer to it in the third person and expound about how horrible this particular age is.

I have resisted writing these kinds of posts.

One, I don’t like the idea of being trendy.  I didn’t buy Crocs until this summer and even when I did, I bought the ballet flat looking kind, not the kind that make your feet look like some kind of modern art museum.  I don’t have an I phone or an I pad (okay, mostly cause I can not afford an I pad),nor do I download anything onto an I pod and listen to it while I “work out”.  I resist trends not because I am too cool (cause if you’ve met me, you know that isn’t true) but because it all just takes too much energy.

But I can no longer resist writing this post.

I have a three year old. 

And just in case you are listening 3, you are really getting on my nerves.

I love my daughter.

I am not a fan of three.

Sometimes my husband and I, as we pass each other while one takes out the garbage and the other is wiping someone’s dirty poopy butt, will quip, “don’t you just love this age?”  And the other will retort “I just LOVE this age!”  Then one of us laughs while the other, who is usually the one neck deep in 3! at that moment, usually does not.

3! came early to our house.

You know 3! 3! insists she can do it herself, then dissolves into tears because she “can’t do ANYTHING!”  3! Is very sweet at preschool.  While whining about needing to eat ice cream for breakfast and then asked if she speaks like this to her teachers at school, 3! looks genuinely horrified.  NO!  3! declares.  There’s no whining at school!  3! decides she is too stubborn to blow her nose, so walks around with snot literally bubbling out of her nose and acts as if you are Joan Crawford when you try to come at her with a Kleenex. 

Perhaps 3! is so challenging because you are out of the magical Black Forest that is babyhood and are now called on to really get in to the nitty gritty of socializing a person before she or he goes on to become a homicidal maniac.  Because we’ve all met kids who kinda hang out around 3! for too long.  Chances are one of your friends has one of those kinds of kids.  That’ll never be ME! You say when you watch your college friend who used to do a mean jello shot be reduced to pleading with her offspring to please put on his shoes or else Santa and the Easter Bunny and even Christopher Columbus will never ever come and bring presents again.  Who’s Christopher Columbus well just you keep this up and you’ll find out who Christopher Columbus is and just put on your freakin shoes because I said so that’s all you need to know!

What is exciting about 3! is that we are watching this tiny being become a person, with likes and dislikes, with preferences and strange aversions.

Our 3! has decided she will only wear skirts and dresses.  This means no pants, no jeans, no sleepers, no pajamas with bottoms (unless they have ruffles, but that is a whole other post entirely).  This also means no sneakers or shoes that are not ballet flats. Because, of course, those go with the skirts. 

Sometimes these skirt ensembles will be accompanied by a costume.  This could be a pair if fairy wings or, as was the case last week during grocery shopping, a fuzzy bee costume.  She sat in the car shaped cart wearing it.  If I was stopped a beat or two too long in an aisle, she would jump out (the safety belt was torn off.  Trust me, I tried to strap her in there) and yell “I’m buzzing, I’m buzzing, I gonna STING YOU!” 

One fellow customer found this delightful.  He was one of those fellow customers who comes in around the same time you do and you just can’t shake.  They’re with you near the lettuce, in front of the juices, beside the dairy case.  Usually I feel badly for those people, having to be subjected to my very loud grocery goings.  But this guy ate it up.  “There’s that BEE!”  “Oh, don’t sting us, BEE!”

But what often usurps the excitement of watching someone come into being, is the fact that 3! is often irrational, demanding, rude, and annoying.

“It’s hard because you’re socializing a person from scratch,” is what my mom has pointed out.  And unlike two years previous, when you’re just so charmed by anything the little darling does, you think to yourself, this could be the moment when it all goes down hill and I raise a brat.

And often, that is what 3! seems like.

Let me repeatL we love our daughter.

But 3! is kicking my ass.  3! Is stinging us over and over and it’s lucky she is so cute doing it.