Benny and his friend Griffin at Ocean Beach in San Francisco.

Sunday, March 30, 2003

How Sticky Do You Wanna Be?

It's Wednesday, which is an excellent day to restart my Michigan diaries. Even after six months away from the Biz Times, I still wake up on Wednesdays with a sense of urgency. Around lunchtime, I often feel a strange, keening urge to sit in a small room with four other hungry people and moan about art.

Instead, I've got some great stories to work on today. Such is the life of the humble freelancer. One of my current assignments is for a business newspaper's inside section. The assignment (I swear I'm not making this up) goes like this: "Businesses that sell glue to tool-and-die companies. What's in the glue?"

So I'm calling up companies like Seal-Tec in Grand Rapids, Mich., and asking: "How sticky do you wanna be?"

Oh, oh, oh, and did you know that experts have tips on reducing workers' comp claims? Businesses might save money! Didn't I write that story, like, eight years ago when "Quark" meant a duck with a New Jersey accent?

No, I'm not bitter. What I'm doing is updating my resume. Being a clever girl, I saved the help wanted ad that Jim wrote to replace my position. It made my job sound very impressive -- I didn't realize I did all that!

When I'm not talking to local business folks about innovative workplace safety measures, I'm working on my crazy book. This week I created a hot Venusian nightclub called "The Space Orgy." Odd how it resembles a Las Vegas nightclub. I didn't realize I was doing research at Jessica's bachelorette party.

Not only that, but inside the club, my heroine meets a beeping killer assassin robot on the dance floor. It's one of 10,000 crawling all over the system, each programmed to only recognize one person's DNA. They blindly search everywhere, pinging everything from potted ferns to 6-year-old boys. When they locate the person with the target code, they kill them instantly with a laser beam. The bots look really benign (like silver fence posts with wheels) so people think they're some new census-taking device.

Nothing like 10,000 killer robots to liven things up. Ha!

Anyway, back to reality -- or semi-reality. Namely, my new playwriting group. It's kind of bizarre. There are some very talented people, but most of the members are crazy as loons. The demographics range from a young University of Michigan student to Eric, who's 60-something and has a new medical problem every time we meet.

The main problem with the group is that the good writers submit material only occasionally, while the less-talented people churn out reams of dialogue. So we sit through play openers like this:

WIFE: Am I disturbing you, honey?

HUSBAND: No, I'm having trouble writing anyway.

WIFE: Don't be discouraged.

HUSBAND: You'd think after 10 years I would have this book written.

WIFE: Would you like some lunch? Then we can take a walk.

HUSBAND: Tell you what, let's skip lunch and take a walk right away. Do things differently.

(they laugh merrily)

Just shoot me now. I'm trying to stay in the background because, well, I've only attended two meetings. There's nothing worse than someone who joins a group and tries to take over.

Honestly, these folks deserve a play of their own. Here's an example:

The old guy, Eric is by far the nuttiest. He's very into workshops and seminars and books that begin with chapters titled "The Draft of Discovery." He and a few other members have attended workshops led by some guy named Vincent, the Detroit area's God of Drama. So Eric's comments run along the lines of: "Obviously the letter opener in this scene is a physical corollary to the protagonist's dramatic choice." Which is actually kind of neat; I'm as much of a sucker for literary analysis as any former English teacher. But it gets kind of tiring.

Worse, Eric peppers his comments (monologues?) with "Vincent believes" and "As Vincent teaches" and "Vincent's philosophy supports ..." He's like the Disciple of Vincent. At the first meeting I attended, Eric ran out to his car to get the book "A Writer's Journey" by the Great Vincent and threatened to read passages. Thankfully, Steve, the group leader, convinced him to just Xerox some relevant parts for next time. Even more thankfully, Eric forgot to do so. I'm thinking of ordering some bumper stickers: WWVD?

So I looked forward to Eric's submission last Monday because a) He's been to all these seminars so he probably knows what he's doing and b) the group's rules state that the author can't talk during the discussion. Before we read it, Eric posed a series of deeply complicated questions and everyone dutifully wrote them all down except for me. I had no intention of talking about how the diversification of thematic elements contributed to the scene's philisophical integrity.

Then Eric talks about the role of music in his play. It's all very baffling; even Steve the Leader looks confused. But we get the point when Eric scurries over to a small boombox and prepares to play specially arranged music during the reading.

So we begin reading parts aloud. We read three lines and then Eric starts playing a piano concerto. It lasts for nearly two minutes, and Eric won't let us read lines aloud as it plays. So we just sit there for two minutes trying to look respectful. I'm trying to imagine a playgoing audience that will tolerate watching a girl play the piano for the first two minutes of a play. Then the dialogue begins, and yes, it's the dialogue that I quoted earlier. The husband and wife quickly switch from dull and domestic to addled and full of angst. "I know something is bothering you," the husband pleads. "I always get this feeling when something is bothering you and I'm getting that feeling now."

WIFE: No, let's just have lunch.

HUSBAND: I thought we were taking a walk.

WIFE: You never value my needs!

HUSBAND: I don't understand. What are you trying to say to me? I don't understand.

The husband kept saying that and I completely sympathized. I didn't understand any of it. So we discuss it, and since Eric can't keep his mouth shut, we finally learn that the scene isn't about lunch at all, but that the wife had an affair 10 years ago while the husband was attending an amazingly powerful London production of Wagner's Ring Cycle.

Then I got Eric mad because I said that the music appeared to function as a device to enhance development of the play's various characters, rather than a fully formed character in its own right. Oh well.

Steve the Leader plans to submit my one-act "The Europa Society" at a future meeting, but I'm in no hurry. From what I can tell, I've already broken every Vincent Commandment possible. I just know my thematic devices aren't diverse enough.

Oh well, back to my sticky glue story.


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