Saturday, October 27, 2012

The hard sell on marriage

 Off I went last night - excited to phone "undecided" voters and persuade them to vote NO on the marriage amendment.

Unless you've been under a rock for the past six months, you know what I'm talking about.

This past year, the Minnesota State Legislature passed the following amendment to the state Constitution.  The voters, however, are the ones who must pull the trigger to give it power.

"Shall the Minnesota Constitution be amended to provide that only a union of one man and one woman shall be valid or recognized as a marriage in Minnesota?" 

I say "no."

Not because I think gays and lesbians should marry if they choose - although I do.

Not because I believe in polygamy or bestiality or whatever other weirdness the Religious Right promises will ensue - although I don't.

I say "no" because I don't want my constitution messing with this part of the social contract between men and women.  I like things the way they are - flexible, free, and  open to the nuance of history.

I learned last night, however, that my reasons for supporting the defeat of this amendment are impotent.

The campaign has its own reasons.  And they have little to do with freedom, societal contracts or the legitimate construction of constitutional content.
We were, in the main, Baby Boomers - all. 


Messing with my head

Of course, the ten of us who showed up to phone filled the little office, unaware.

We were leftie Baby Boomers - all.  Balding, greying, plumping, daring-to-drive-at-night Social Security recipients;  traveling with satchels of organic produce and water, bottled to our own containers - to help us make it through the night. 

We were promised a "training," and we got it, all right.

Our trainers were two overly-pierced and hipster attired youngsters.  The girl was tall, thin, mini-skirted and grim.  She wore black tights (of course), black boots, and gloves with the fingers torn free to expose black fingernail polish, nibbled to the raw.

Her partner was an eggheadian guy, wearing Dave Letterman glasses, oversized black tennie-bumpers and a grim, flannel shirt.

They were the first to break the bad news to us.

We needed, they said, to put away our preconceived reasons for opposing the amendment.  Hearts and minds are not moved, they said, by concern for civil liberties - individual freedom - the protection of the constitution.

Using a tactic that works with the undecided

Instead of talking about "rights" and "laws," we needed to talk about our personal relationship with marriage. 

"Think of your own relationships," the young male hipster instructed.  "Think of all the good things it brings you. Think how sad it would be if only heterosexual couples could experience what you've experienced."

"We want you to - you know - say good things."

A gray, bearded old guy in the back of the room coughed and raised his hand.

"I ain't never been married," he said, "and I ain't never seen a good one neither."

The hipster smiled.

"What about your own parents?"

"Assholes," the man coughed again, and we all laughed.

Sitting beside him, a straight-backed, elegant bottle-brunette in a Chico's silk top and Ecco shoes shook her head and waved at the girl hipster.

"You married?" she asked.

The young girl shook her head.  No - she wasn't married.

"Well, I don't recommend it." the old woman said.  "I've been married three times.  How am I supposed to get on the phone and tell anyone marriage is a good thing?"

"Who's idea is all this?" the man in the back barked. 

"None of us is here to 'recommend marriage,'" said a gentleman in tweed trousers, a corduroy jacket with leather patches on the elbows.  "We're here to support the Constitution."

The hipsters glanced at each other; a furtive, calculating glance.

Three people in the front row stood - gathered their bottles and bananas and exited.

No one called them back.

"Here's the script," scrambled the anxious girl hipster, as she hustled to pass-out a paper covering the evening's talking points.

"You can study it," she said.  "It's only a suggestion.  You're free, you know.  You can talk about the constitution - whatever -  if you want."

"But we want you to - you know," said the boy, "say good things about - you know - about, well - about marriage."

No - she wasn't married.
The poor guy.  We could see it.  He was so disappointed in us. 

I felt the mood in the room shift.

Disapproval from young people is hard for any Boomer to accommodate. 

"It's okay," the brunette leaned forward in her chair."We can do this, honey.  We're cranky, that's all.  Pay no mind to us."

"That's right, that's right," the others chimed.

"We'll follow your little script" the brunette confirmed. "No biggie."

So it came to pass that last night, a room full of cynical elders,  phoned several hundred strangers and lied to them - bold faced - about their affection for the proverbial tie-that-binds.

I heard them as they dialed and chatted.

Marriage, they said, is a beautiful thing.

Do you know someone gay or lesbian?  Do you think that one day they might want to be as happy in their relationship as you are in yours?

Why deny them the elegant bliss of matrimonial heaven?

Why, indeed, I thought.

Everyone deserves the right to experience the raw disappointment, gut wrenching disillusionment and hard, cold misery that only married love can bring.

Gay, lesbian or straight. 

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Imaginary worlds are the best

A new play is a new planet - populated by the strange and the ordinary.

Pulling a story to stage draws down the abstract and concrete parts of the creative process.

A tale cannot be told without a decent setting.

A character cannot initiate or respond without good, strong motivation.  And a plot cannot develop without an underlying lesson.

I love writing plays.

More than critical, social commentary, writing for the theatre offers an opportunity to review, revise and revisit reality.

For over ten years,  I paid serious, important attention to media - listening for inspiration, seeking a hook upon which to hang a critical view of my world.

Writing a play is the direct opposite.

Now, instead of paying attention, I ignore the news.  Instead of seeking to criticize, I yearn to inspire.

It's a loftier calling.

Granted - it makes a woman a little crazy.  Imagine, if you can, what my day is like.

I rise early, walk my adorable dog, do what must be done around my house.

I pack a bag and travel to my coffee shop.  For the next four hours, I no longer live in St. Paul, Minnesota.  I have no children, no responsibilities, no obligations, no bills, no worries, no fear.

For the next four hours, I live in la-la-land.

Sometimes, sitting there alone, I speak aloud the lines my characters bring to life.

"Well, butter my butt and call me a biscuit."

Or -

"You don't have the good sense god gave a gopher."

I know.  My stuff ain't Shakespeare.

It's Holmgren. 


The one who got away

All the leaves are brown - and the sky is grey.

You know the drill - and I've got the funky chicken woman blues. 

My old boy friend Jim Anderson, was the first to call them out for what they are.

Jim was a University of Minnesota summa cum laude graduate and a fabulous pick-up hockey player.

I loved him for almost a decade. 

He was a classic Minnesota boy - blond and blue eyed.  Everyone thought we were brother and sister.  And honey, the man knew how to call-out a funky mood when he met one.

I remember one particular October afternoon as the blues began to overwhelm me - Jim took my face in his powerful hands,  looked me in the eye and said -

"You are as funky as an old chicken woman."

He, of course, was right.

 He was always right. I was too young to understand how rare it was to meet a man so right.

He was so right I had to walk away from him  - and marry someone wrong.

Funky chicken woman blues

I have the funky chicken woman blues. 
When a woman gets to my age (old enough for Social Security and young enough to still be able to make a living), autumn is a tough season.

Old ghosts come to call.

Women of my generation don't need Halloween to visit the living-dead.

The first, raw chill of October, the unforgiving slap of freezing rain, the impossible pile of unmovable, wet oak, elm and maple leaves - everything seems to conspire to the land of the funky chicken.

And let's be frank - living alone makes a woman peculiar. I know this. Being a playwright doesn't help. I spend my afternoons in coffee shops, documenting the conversations of imaginary people and calling it art.

For cryin' out loud.

Wherever he is, I'm sure Jim Anderson sighs in relief when he thinks of me. His days are probably filled with gratitude for his narrow escape.

Even so, when the birch tree sheds her last, dead leaf - and when the robins begin to dwindle at the bird feeder, I think of Jim Anderson.

He hated pretense. He loved ideas.

And once upon a long time ago - he loved me.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Those who can, can't help themselves.

Maybe it's the changing of the light - the coming of winter.  Maybe it's Obama - maybe it's my hunger for his extinguished fire.

Maybe it's because Sheila Shanley has been dead for ten years - and my mother has been dead for almost twenty.

Whatever the reason, during this past week, I've been miserable. 

No.  Not miserable.  The word miserable is too strong.

During this past week, I've been creatively challenged.

What we don't know CAN hurt us. 

Of course - like most funky times - I suffered in ignorance.  I had no idea what was troubling me -  perhaps something material, mechanical or maniacal.  

I thought I could fix it by raking leaves.  Mopping the kitchen floor.  Throwing on four loads of laundry.  Reading a good book.

I began to think the root of the funk was financial.  I thought I should get a part time job - pull down some cash.

I did all that.  The funk hung fast. 

Until today.  Today, I went back to work.  I'm working on my new play, GROWING UP GOODRICH.

Like magic, the fog lifted.  The sunniness of my disposition returned.  Coffee tasted better.  My bank account no longer freaked me.

To hell with sex, drugs, rock'n'roll. 

Writing is my Kick-a-Poo Joy Juice.


Taking my own good advice.  


 I once taught a class at THE LOFT LITERARY CENTER entitled, "Monday Morning Blues Buster."
(The title, I believe, became the inspiration for the name of the Northfield coffee shop - one of my legacies to Rice County!) 
The course was designed to jump-start stymied, stuck, bored and burned-out writers into a new frame of mind.  I taught it because I'm the only writer I know who is never, ever "blocked."  I always, always have something to write, something to say.

Only a portion of it is worthy of consumption, of course - but nonetheless, I'm a frickin' font of wisdom.

I remember my dismay - my surprise - my genuine shock - at how many writers complained about the pain of writing.

"I hate to start," one person said, "because I hate to re-write.  And everything is so terrible, I know I'll have to re-write."

"What if I fail?" asked another.  "What if I'm no good at it?"

"I experience physical pain," one compained, "in my soul, my heart.  And of course - my back! Writing gives me SUCH a back ache!"

After six hours of this, I cracked.

"Look," I said.  "No one is holding a gun to your head.  No one is forcing you to write.  If you hate it, stop.  If it makes you suffer, don't write.  Give it up.  Try water colors." 

Needless to say - I offered the course only once.   I had so little to offer. 

 Rockin' on with my bad self.  


My play GOD GIRL is ready for the next step.
GOD GIRL is ready for the next step at The History Theatre - where it was selected for RAW STAGES production, January 7, 2013.

PAPER DADDY, while  dormant, is tighter, leaner, better than when it premiered in Northfield. 

SWEET TRUTH awaits my revising review - The Berlin Theatre expects a rewrite in February.

But right now, GROWING UP GOODRICH has my undivided attention.

 The story of the 1957 Midwest printers' strike; the hardship imposed on Minnesota families - the violence, the anger, the fear and the dread that visited my optimistic Swede parents - is a story that will resonate with Baby Boomers and the children who struggle to understand our idealism.

Write to bring to the light. 


Of course - that's not why I'm writing it.

This play, like all the others, has a life of its own.  The characters scream for release - push and strain for freedom.  The plot shapes as my mind swims in detail.

Damn, I love this life!

A pen, a great pad of paper, a clear mind and the time to write -
There is no angst in my wonderland. 

Friday, October 12, 2012

An Election Day of "NO" When We Mean "YES" - Same Sex Marriage and Voter Freedom

Unless you're intellectually challenged, educationally stunted, emotionally vague or dispositionally stupid, you understand the positive message behind the negative word.

Peppered around Minnesota, orange and blue signs encourage you to vote "no" on two constitutional initiatives.

Counter intuitive - yes?  (Or - do I mean, "Counter intuitive - no?")

One might think "YES" is a positive thing.  Think again.  Sometimes (in this case!) your YES shuts down your freedoms - and mine.

Two initiatives - one to limit the freedom to "marry" to one man and one woman.

The other - to insist that everyone who casts a ballot in Minnesota carry photo identification. 

I'm not a lesbian (although, if you GOOGLE my name, you'll see how many times I am labeled such!) and I'm carry a photo I.D.  So - technically, I have no dog in this fight.

I am, however, free.  And I hope to stay free as long as possible.
(Granted - one day my adorable children might choose to confine me to a facility where I'm strapped into a wheel chair and fed three meals of pureed beets and chicken vomit. Until then, I'm hanging tough to the little freedoms I own!)

Freedom's just another word for nothin' left to lose. 

A big part of my freedom (and yours!) is the freedom to engage in normal, acceptable loving relationships - where the world joins you - and calls you "good."  ( I lose nothing.  You lose nothing.)

Another part of my freedom (and the freedom we all share in this great land!) is the ease, comfort and accessibility of our most treasured franchise - the vote.  (I lose nothing.  You lose nothing.  Get it?)

Many elderly people no longer have photo identification.  Many African Americans and new immigrants do not own cars - and do not carry photo identification.

Until recently, I did not know that the Department of Motor Vehicles issues photo identification to all citizens - for a small fee.  And if I did not know this simple fact, I'm certain - dead certain - that a majority of underprivileged, undereducated, under-represented Minnesotans do not know it either.

You may not like the fact that all Minnesotans are welcomed at the voting booth.   Stupid people - poor people - handicapped people - illiterates - incompetents - the blind - the deaf - the amputee;  the many miscreants you don't like and don't want your daughter dating.

But hey, Bunky.  This is American.  Land of the free - home of the imperfect.

And last time I checked, when all Minnesotans vote - we all win.

Even when we vote in the negative.

This time - two "NO" votes - and the "yes" wins!

Wednesday, October 10, 2012


Audiences are not stupid.  They buy a ticket, go to the theater with one purpose in mind; entertainment.

As the playwright, your first (and only) job is to entertain.  If you write well, your work might also inspire and educate.

But do not be confused; if your audience is not first entertained, your play is dead.

Playwrights are clever little murders.

We, unknowing, kill our characters, our plot-lines, our scripts as casually as you slop together a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for your five-year-old.


Below are three writing devices that feel like script writing. They're not.  Instead, they're cheap, easy ways to murder your script. 

Any time you find yourself “writing” any of the following devices into your work, stop.  Replace them with actual writing, and your script will live.
We don't need no stinkin' narrator.



Hey, we don’t need no stinkin' narrator.

True - a monologue is easy to write, easy to stage.  But for your audience, a monologue is cheap and boring.

Ask any Artistic Director what he or she thinks of monologue.

Instead of telling us how your actors reached your dramatic moment, show us.

Show us how they feel about each other through actual behavior in a scene. Make them individuals, not narrations.


 I don’t know how this one got started, but I see it everywhere.

It begins about halfway through ACT I - a secondary character has some kind of an irrational, ridiculous, physical and/or emotional breakdown.  Some playwrights place it before intermission, thinking the audience cares.

The audience, however, is not stupid.  The audience knows when you are sinking to cheap manipulation.  And emotional breakdown is not a common, human experience  - and so, to your audience, it has no meaning.

Breaking down is not actual behavior.
Why?  Because most of us cope with our lives.  To the majority of us, breaking down is not actual behavior.  Instead of throwing one of your characters into a crazy-ass breakdown, meet your audience where they live

Show them the nuanced, internal dynamics that lead to existential despair, confusion, pain or sadness. In doing so, you'll challenge your actors, inspire your director and move your audience. 

Yup.  Show.  Don't throw!  



Oh, my god.

Once - - once! - - - I'd like to go to a "festival of plays" and exit without (once again) being lectured, taught, trained, informed, on the many, many, many struggles faced by our gay, lesbian, transgender and queer brothers and sisters.

Lest I sound intolerant - - read on!

Writing a play about the GLBT community (even if you are a member of the community!) is now, officially, overdone.

We're all on the side of the angels!
We'ver heard it all - and listen to me. . . WE ALL AGREE!!  We're all on the side of the angels on this one!

Theatre-going audiences are among the most accepting, educated, sophisticated audiences in our communities.

If you, as a playwright, hope to reach them, it is important you step outside the cliche of our time and into the unexplored, dangerous world of original story telling. Try to shock your audience by not trying to - well - shock your audience. 

Time, my friend, to integrate GLBT characters into your scripts as the accepted individuals they are in our communities.

Aren't you tired of putting all our "weird" stuff on GLBT folks?  In my experience, some of the strangest people I've known are so heterosexual, they should be in prison!

Let some of them share the weirdness of our collective tales of challenge, decay, glory and redemption.

Stories that expose our GLBT friends as uniquely perverse bore your audience.

I know, I know. . . there are stories to tell about the GLBT struggle.  Bullying in schools, discrimination at work, equality in marriage - blah, blah, blah.

Sorry, bunky.  We've heard them all.

This is not to say - if you have an original take on this theme - bring it!

Beware, however - the choir has been preached to, one too many times.    Your plot must contain a real story - - not another sermon to the all-ready-converted.

Speaking of which. . . 

Do you have any idea how hungry your audience is for a real story?  A real plot - with real conflict?  Something that reflects our real, common humanity?

Struggle with this one, kids. You'll be happy you did.

Your audience will rise up - and call you blessed!