Friday, December 4, 2015

Please Send Food

In 1995 between White & Case and Skadden I took a month off and my friend J and I flew to El Paso, rented a convertible, drove down the Rio Grande to Big Bend, where we hiked and rafted for week. The first couple days of hiking in the Chisos Mountains were gorgeous, and we stayed in Big Bend National Park, very remote, where chicken fried steak and Bud Light was pretty much our only fare. We would drink Bud Lights and send postcards to our current boyfriends with terrible fictional tales of the excesses of the other. And make prank phone calls. One night we had J's boyfriend believing we were in a Mexican jail.  We sort of deserved to be because after one trip across the border for a lunch break we were questioned by the INS at re-entry. Are you American, they asked. J replied that we were American but the guys in the trunk of the rental car were probably Mexican.

Five hours later we resumed our road trip. I bring this up only because J's signature line came from that trip. She signs off: please send food.

Yesterday I was hanging out with someone who was preparing for their third trip to the refuge camp in Calais. A place without electricity. A place in darkness except for some occasional starlight. And I remembered J's joke missive except now it is horribly not a joke. Please Send Food.

There are families in that refugee camp - a lot of families - families like yours. The people are accountants, or university professors, or farmers. They have left their country because it wasn't safe. In many instances, bombs that were dropped by planes with our flags made it unsafe.

We are implicated. This is our problem. Those refugees are us. I can't stand the boring, banal nature of that sentence and this is about the fourth time I tried to write it. Forgive the banality and see the truth.

Thousands of people are cold and hungry and stateless. They are without sanitation and nutrition, without education for the children (and there are many more children, I now understand, than the media are reporting). They are bullied by police. There are fires. People go missing. There are unmarked graves. Wikipedia says there are six thousand migrants there. People on the ground estimate at least double that.

At this refugee camp, on top of a former landfill and asbestos-ridden soil, people just arrive. Every day. Having walked across Europe. Having had to sneak past barbed wire or riot police. And many Syrians have sent their minor children on after having been stopped in central Europe. See, what I am trying to tell you is that as we sit home and enjoy the wifi, there are stateless starving children wandering across Europe. This is a real thing. It is in my estimation a great humanitarian crisis. In our backyard.

No state is claiming them. The French State is policing them with riot police.  They are there to intimidate. There are reports of incidents of violence.  Fires. Apparently the locals fire rifles into the air above the camp so that the shells will fall on the refugees and make them feel unwelcome. There are two churches and two mosques. the Afghani section of camp had a great ironic sign at their entrance "TERRORISTS", There are town meetings. The rudiments of something like a city have taken hold but people are overwhelmed. The locals are creating a sort of apartheid, where muddied shoes refugees are not welcome, whether or not they have resources.

But winter is coming.

Winter is coming and governments all want to ignore this problem. They have decided instead to drop more bombs which will of course, of course, create more suffering and more refugees. Here in the UK, anyway, this is what they have decided.  And you know what? The head of the  Church of England backs the government and offers a perversion of international law to the papers so they might run the headlines "Just War". It is not a just war. It is not. It is a big mess that is making the military industrial complex a lot of money. It is a nexus of suffering. I feel now sitting in a cafe in Cambridge waiting for my daughter to finish ballet nauseous, because for the first time I face the reality that my church and the state have become evil, Have ignored the rule of law for their own convenience and power.

But there is no time to reform the state while unaccompanied minors sneak across borders or drown in our seas - there is no justice, just us.

What can we do?

We can send food. We can send blankets. And sanitation engineers and schoolteachers and doctors and lawyers. We do not need to wait for our governments to do this, we can and we must act without them.  We are not powerless against the state and indeed the refugee camp is a stateless, starless place anyway.

We can notice. We can talk. We can organize.

The friends I have who have the least are the friends who have been to that camp. People with nothing. I am ashamed. I want to jump in a van and drive to Calais. But I have a certain consumerist obligation in December and builders in and children with expectations. It feels unbearable, actually. For of course I must ask what world I leave for my children (and their blasted Christmas expectations) if children are sneaking over border at night and starving and I have done nothing.

There is a great war looming inside me between creating a good life for my children and being a good person. The rumors of war are here on this blog.

I am going to send food. Please, you too, send food. Send something. Notice. The Guardian website has a great interactive tool to find a charity that can help.

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Wedding at Cana

So this play OneWheaton commissioned for Homecoming 2015 from me has made it to Soundcloud for six months. If you have an hour and fifteen minutes, you can listen to Wedding at Cana .

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Various Plays and a leavetaking

I have tried to avoid anything self-referential in this blog. Tedious in the extreme is every line of writing about writing. This blog is neglected. I have such a hard time finding time to write. That kind of stuff. I write for the story, not the story about the story. But I must break that rule to tell you that I will be taking this blog down shortly.

Over the last six years I have sporadically chronicled true love, parenting, Occupy, mental illness, British culture, writing and seeing plays and posted my favorite poems.

296 posts since February 2009. The first was about Williams v First Government, the predatory lending case I tried in 1997, age 29. That was quite a story. It was a story of our times and we didn't even know it.

I have since written the play of that case, called Kerching.

This blog though is mostly known for Occupy.

The most popular post is one of my worst entries, a series of random observations on the rule of law and children ("The Trial Is Friday"). The second most popular is Why Is The Economist Confused. This was written before Occupy but after the London riots over, guess what, a race-related police execution. I write in there that I always wanted to be in a riot but the truth is I'm a middle-class pansy and pretty adverse to physical discomfort and even being kettled by the police was such an anathema to me. Anyway if you ever wonder what any of my plays are about, read Why Is The Economist Confused. About alienation and fear in a consumerist society and the failures of my generation.

So around Occupy I sort of used this blog as my engagement with those wonderful people at the London camp via twitter. I mean I was still going there all the time. I remember my husband Rhys with his impeccable manners asking sweetly if I would be going to London and risk arrest on Saturdays indefinitely?

In the middle of Occupy I got a call from Guy Masterson and I started writing him some plays. One is touring London, Adelaide and Little Rock next year. It's called Bill Clinton Hercules.

And then there was This Is Water with ADC and Seven Words for Love for Twisted Willow and most recently, Wedding at Cana which will be available to listen to on Soundcloud in the coming days.

It's been a busy period my life and it's intensifying, so I will say goodbye to the blog for a while. Here are some updates for the die-hards (three of you I know by name)
Faranelli and the King: What is it with Rylance? Magic candelit show. Hidden depth. Such a night at the theater.

Nell Gwynn: Charming and wonderful although Nell's no River Song.

Edinburgh 2015: I am in a weird period where I super disagree with popular opinion and critic's choice so it was a strange Fringe. I liked I'm Not Here Right Now, I was not overly impressed with The Christians. Man to Man was ridiculous despite the rapturous audience reception. I mean I really wanted to break into the sound booth and forcefeed a sedative to the tech. Smoke and Mirrors was a strange dance work with moments of total poignancy. Really worth seeing. After all my years in Europe I was somewhat snobbily shocked that these sensitive and subtle dancers were from like Arizona. Arizona!

The best show was This Will End Badly - a Rob Hayes one man monologue that weaves a terrifying love story, a potential suicide, obsessive compulsive disorder and testosterone. It ends on one of the most magnificently theatrical moments. An ejaculation of light. The casual observations about the characters Hayes creates especially about hooking up with drunk girls are devastatingly accurate.  An extended constipation arc. I was absorbed.

Goodbye and thanks for all the fish.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Three Day Play 2015: The Secret of the Baker

So a dozen kids are making a play with me and Sochel Rogers in my backyard. Here is my shot at a synopsis. A world divided into zombies and humans. A town with a camp for the zombies. Some humans feel kindly toward them, but the intellectuals, fearing their tempers, seek to eradicate them.

The action opens in the neutral territory outside the camp where the baker Alicia is hawking her baked goods. Enter Owlboy, looking for a man named Bob. He is warned away from the zombie camps by the baker. Blueberry, a witching student (thank God there is only one Hogwarts student in this production, this is the fourth Three Day Play, in the first two years it was nearly all of them) - Blueberry is robbed by a mercenary. Owlboy stops the theft. More by luck than skill, because Owlboy is just a normal human orphan. Owlboy does not find Bob.

  In a corner of the neutral territory Bob sits in a cafe. A kindly 55-year-old man named Bob, a former police officer, he has come to town to produce a zombie show. He befriends the public relations person for the zombies​, who is herself a zombie -Gertrude . He convinces Gertrude (and also Gerald Lizzie Duckworth​ her PR assistant who could only join us today) to help him put on a zombie show in the neutral territory. Gertrude and Gerald agree. The last zombie show had ended in chaos and anger and the creation of the camps for the zombies. So Gertrude and Gerald are being very brave.

Two healers who witness the petty thief stealing the wand lure him back to their sanctuary. They want to hire him. They seek to make a potion to turn zombies back to humans.  For this they need him to steal the secret of the baker. He figures he is too expensive for them but then they promise to make him a potion to bring back his memory if he can steal the secret. He agrees.

Another intergalactic mercenary - this one a cat -- breaks into the house of the nearby inventor. He begs the the inventor to make him a human disguise to end his lifelong loneliness. The inventor cannot be bought, but her fondest wish is to be the greatest scientist and create a vaccine to prevent humans from becoming zombies. For this she needs the secret of the baker. (The baker is like the old lady in the Matrix she can change people into zombies and does so at will, so both the inventor and the healers think she holds the key.) So two mercenaries going after the baker. The amnesiac is unsuccessfully questioning her about her secret when he is tackled by the cat. They have a vicious fight, broken up by the beloved superhero Owl Boy. The baker beseeches the mercenaries not to eradicate the zombies, and all are moved to tears by the incredible cuteness of two zombie children who wander into the bakery. Somehow I find my daughter cast in this role. She seems to enjoy it when people sob at how cute she is.

Owl Boy returns to the neutral space where people slowly lead him to Bob. He tells Bob he will kill him because Bob killed his parents. Owl Boy takes off his mask when he announces this grave intention. The sight of Owl Boy's face restores Bob's memory and he explains he is Owl Boy's father and not a killer. Owl Boy satisfies himself that Bob speaks the truth and they embrace.

The mercenaries -now in love with zombies- return to the humans who hired them and explain that they refuse to go after the secret of the baker. (this is also name of play).  However, the cat still wants his mask and the amnesiac still wants his potion so they demand payment. (Only in England would this be a plot point.) The humans refuse but give the mercenaries a chance to earn their payment. The healers and the inventor both want to show the mercenaries the justness of their cause as well, so they go to Bob's show in the neutral space and attempt to trigger the uncontrollable Zombie temper. They hassle Blueberry, a new zombie now, until she runs into the Zombies as they start their dance. The neutral space and Bob's festival ignite in a huge fight. Owlboy is gravely injured; fighting ceases as they gather in concern. The healer is called. The healer's assistant and the zombies quickly gather unripe apples and holly leafs and cure Owlboy. All are united in the effort and agree to live in peace and get rid of the zombie camps. They all dance.

It's on tomorrow. Please don't email me pointing out gaping holes in the plot until it's all over. This is exhausting but it's also good. The Secret of the Baker is a good show.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Screen Free Week

Screen Free Week:

First Day, Monday:  7:00 – wake up. 7:15 - Son collapses at breakfast table saying he can’t take any more. Dog gets a long walk and daughter makes up new trampoline game involving her ballet costume. Strange not to be able to Google things I don’t know.

Tuesday: We went to Rock Road library after school. What a magic place. The kids now sitting around before dinner reading. After dinner, we listened to music and danced around. Kids into Fleetwood Mac. 

Wednesday: I break out the Yahtzee game and teach it to the children. The sound of the dice rolling makes the kitchen a little Las Vegas-y. This is like pre-poker. After baths we read By The Shores of Silver Lake, one of the Little House on the Prairie series. Mary and Laura had lives of hardship and no screens. 

Thursday: My son misses Minecraft. Refrigerator magnet Minecraft block magnets on the fridge make him nostalgic when he comes downstairs. 

Friday:  Friday night is pizza night. Instead of pizza and a movie, we invite friends over for pizza and charades. My children don’t get me acting out “Harry Potter” even though I use ‘sounds like’ to get to “Hair-see Pot-fur” and draw a lightning bolt scar on my own forehead. Husband laughs. Later he refuses to shout out “Ice Age” from “Mice Rage”. He enjoys my silent depiction of rodent fury.

Saturday:  Rainy and cold. A day made for movies. Instead we did some grim DIY. Wonder about the anti-austerity protests in London.  Activist news is mostly found on social media. Today we felt a little deprived.

Sunday:   We have a BBQ in the evening to get through the home stretch. Weather good. Son helps with the strawberries. He and his friend develop a sort of cage fighting game on the trampoline and daughter improves on the slack line.   

Signed back on to Facebook today to see a torrent of postings about racism in wake of the shooting in Charleston. It seems oddly impotent to me. At the beginning of the screen free week, I felt like my being Administrator of Occupy Movement - Cambridge was  almost 'essential work' (permitted by the rules of screen free week).I guess by the end it didn't seem like that as much.  There are the people who get shot and the people on the streets and the people doing things and then there are the people on FB. FB seems impotent to make the changes we want to see in the world. It only gives a transitory satisfaction in that moment when you say what your friends knew what you were going to say anyway. In that blue square with the friendly f, everyone agrees with me about sexism, racism, consumerism, the human rights crisis and capitalism eating the rule of law and democracy. And you know what, that and $8.00 will get me a bagel at Newark Airport. It's nothing. It's not enough. And while I was tired after the weekend of high-octane fun, I missed the kids on Monday. 

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Magna Carta Day

So I don't really know anyone who is happy with the election results. I actually don't know anyone who was happy with the candidates they had to choose from. No one would tell me who they voted for, even when asked point blank. I feel like these three sentences are deeply related.

Tomorrow is a bank holiday. A blank holiday. No Labor Day Memorial Day Fourth of July President's Day Martin Luther King day. No specific things to remember together. No ritual to bring a sense of unity. Just a bank holiday. Funny how everyone laments the erosion of "British Values" when they participate in a culture that does very little to prop them up. I mean. Bank holidays? The banks are calling the shots. That is what you see when you look in your calendar the first and fourth Mondays in May.

I propose that we call this second May bank holiday Magna Carta day. I totally dig the rule of law and I feel like it is really something everyone can get behind. That mythical document signed at the tip of a sword at Runnymede - the granddaughter of the Charter of Liberties gave a number of concrete rights, some of which are really no longer with us. But what I really want to celebrate - along with habeas corpus and trial by a jury of your peers - is what the Magna Carta was - a reminder to the sovereign that it serves the people and the people will only take so much.

Power is taken. Power is taken by people acting together. But when people won't even talk to each other about who they voted for, well, then, they are not exactly empowered. The guy sitting next to me last night at a dinner party had no idea who his wife voted for and no desire to know. Voting is secret. Good lord. As long as people's participation in politics is confined to a single silent strangled exchange in a ballot box, then the sovereign is going to do what it wants.

Most people are appalled at the privatization of the NHS. Of the Royal Mail. I mean Royal Mail is driving out competitors with low prices now that they are a private company (yet apparent out of reach of the competition authorities). They will then proceed to raise prices and extract private profit from the public duty of the government to provide a mail service.  Shareholder return at the expense of the people. Network Rail. Stagecoach. This just keeps happening.

The election passed with not a word spoken about how the weapons we sell - the UK's number one export- ultimately fall into the hands of people in the Middle East. The election passed with everyone enthralled to the immigrants are bad narrative. UCL and LSE have done extensive studies which both concluded that immigrants are a net benefit to our economy. But where is a narrative that immigration is good? How is it that someone facing criminal charges has to pay a fee to plead guilty and a larger fee to go to trial? How is it that jury trials are now basically non-existent? Why is it that no one discusses the Bank of England's role in harming the union of the United Kingdom with their treatment of Scotland? How can it possibly be that there will be a vote on whether to leave the EU? A lot of terrible things are happening.

We are too busy to change the narrative. We are too busy and tired with our jobs and our jobs being consumers to do anything but be consumers of the provided narrative. After the kids go to sleep is a rough time of day to unravel the half-truths, swim upstream, exercise your own judgment. And even when we could at a dinner party say what we think the narrative could be, we don't dare eat that peach.

Funny how consumerism is defeating the intellectuals. Such a sound defeat as well. There are trains to catch - ever more expensive- there are houses to renovate. There are celebrities to love and hate. There is a lot of competition in the culture right now around being able to slow-roast a pork shoulder and eat giant hamburgers on brioche rolls. There is unhealthily over-involved parenting to mete out. There are a million things to distract us from our relationship with the sovereign.

So perhaps join me in calling this bank holiday Magna Carta Day and for a few moments consider your own power. Your own British value.  In this United Kingdom. For we all stand united in our desire to have more power come to us, the people. Make this bank holiday a people's holiday.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

This Is Water

“..There are these two young fish swimming along and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says “Morning, boys. How’s the water?” And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes “What the hell is water?”

--David Foster Wallace 

When I moved to Cambridge, I moved to 1958. And there are some great things here. My son bikes home from school by himself. We have a backyard and the kids walk the dog in the huge park behind the backyard. My children see their grandmother every week. This is a great place to raise a family.

However, the sexism is thick out in the provinces. When I had the opportunity to write a play for an evening of plays set at the Scott Polar Museum in Cambridge, I went to the museum looking for inspiration, but all I could find was 1958. All I could be was angry. Because that expensive little temple on Lensfield Road is a temple to white privately-educated brotherhood. So I wrote an angry play - an angry, funny play. In it, Mary Magdelene Jenkins, mother of Violet Jenkins and chaperone of Violet's girls' school trip to the museum tells the story of the fish to the headmistress of the school. Sometimes the things that are the most ubiquitous are the hardest things to find a way to talk about, and tomorrow night, Mary gets to talk about the water. What the headmistress, Esther, and Mary's daughter, Violet, do with the news, well - David Foster Wallace had terrible depression and it finally killed him. Let's leave it at that. East Anglia does not like hearing the news that it is not the singularly most wonderful place in the whole world. The world does not listen to the content if it has an easy objection to the form. And "crazy" is a very popular formal objection.

I write mostly because I am thankful for this moment tomorrow and it feels really special - it feels like real theater. I have been so delighted and fulfilled with the hard work of the talented actresses (Sue Maltby, Flaviana Cruz, Zoe Walker Fagg) and the director (Darren Bender) and the producers (Kim Komlijanec and Trish Rawson of WriteOn) and so pleased at all the wide eyes and nervousness about my controversial play (controversial, I hasten to add, for Cambridge). At every step I felt like I was listened to, and I could speak from the heart, and at every step people spoke from the heart back at me. Darren is a drummer and a producer. His direction has rhythm and a bottom-line orientation but also this generous openness. The conversations in rehearsals were inspiring.

Together we have worked and worked and for one shining twelve minute period tomorrow night all the energy and talent of these good people will come to an ephemeral fruition and Mary will point out the water. I am grateful. This is what I always wanted from theater: people all in a room together (a sold-out room I might add) on a particular night, never to be repeated, finding a way to catch a glimpse of the water.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

The View from the Bridge at Wyndham Theatre - SPOILER ALERT

So last week I went to see the much-lauded production of Arthur Miller's A View from the Bridge. It originally opened at the Young Vic last year and it is up for every award every in the history of London theatre. The actors deserve their nominations, they are to a person phenomenal. The production of the play, not so much.

In 1989 University of Chicago put on Miller's less known play American Clock. It was unlauded and didn't sell out. But I went to see it and sat in the empty back of the theatre with with my friend Kevin and Arthur Miller. I have been in the same room as him so I am obviously qualified to speak to what he would like and not like. I don't think he would like this production.

First, the set. The play takes place in Red Hook, Brooklyn and revolves around a hard working American who lets two illegal immigrants stay in his house. He is in love with his niece, and refuses to let her marry one of the immigrants, Rudolfo, when they fall in love.  The piece is thick with Miller's working class American males, appeasing women, economic reality, frustration and work, work, work. It is intensely kitchen sink. The immigrants challenge Eddie to lift up a chair.

However, the Belgian director has set the piece in an incredibly futuristic sleek glass and steel stage. There is no furniture. There is no Brooklyn closeness. It's like people from 1930's Red Hook found themselves beamed into a stripped-down shiny starship. Hey, guys, the view is not from the Bridge of the U.S.S. Enterprise! It's the Brookyln Bridge.  They might have misread that part.

So when Marco, one of the immigrants, challenge Eddie, they have to bring out a chair. An anomaly. It looks out of place on the starship, it's not integral. The American magic of making due, of finding something in your surroundings to become a symbol of power, that was lost when the chair was ceremoniously paraded out.

And it wasn't just the set. It was like a European had walked out of an SNL parody and put on the play. Eddie kisses Rudolpho as well as his niece, as if his incestuous love for his niece is a cynical power play he tries out on the men. Too far. There was an ominous Requiem playing between the scenes (Durufle?), and the play ended in a heavy-handed  shower of blood.

You know, having lived in Europe for the last thirteen years, I am very familiar with the conventional wisdom that Europeans have a higher aesthetic, that their art is better, especially their theater. I have even actually bought into this conventional wisdom on occasion. And when I lived in the United States I did think there was something that was more ineffably cool about being European. But it was obvious to me at Wyndham Theatre that what Europe brought to this play lessened it somehow. It lessened the subtlety and beauty of Miller's simple tale of human struggle. The theatrics made it less theatrical.

I think Arthur Miller wants Eddie to die in a tenement, not in a starship. He dies in a place you could die.

This seems to have sparked an Arthur Miller revival - RSC is doing Death of a Salesman next season - and that's a good thing. I only hope that the American aesthetic will be preserved in that production,  We don't need soaring Lachrymosas and Gothic arches to tell our tales. We can find them simply, sitting in the back of a theater, looking at a crowded, homey stage.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Not Waving But Drowning

the quintessence of British life in one awful, glorious poem:

Not Waving but Drowning

Nobody heard him, the dead man,   
But still he lay moaning:
I was much further out than you thought   
And not waving but drowning.

Poor chap, he always loved larking
And now he’s dead
It must have been too cold for him his heart gave way,   
They said.

Oh, no no no, it was too cold always   
(Still the dead one lay moaning)   
I was much too far out all my life   
And not waving but drowning.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Tree by Daniel Kitson and Tim Key

When I went to the Museum of Childhood in Bethnal Green a few years ago, we drove into London and I become incensed watching the pedestrians because apparently everyone had received a memo about wearing topknots and I never got the memo. There I was with my blow-dried hair looking at old doll houses in an old train station, excruciatingly without a topknot. I was 45. I guess 45 is when you stop getting the memos.

I can report from last night at the Old Vic that the memo this year required a combination of dark-rimmed glasses and excruciatingly vitamin D-deficient skin for any gender. Transclucent levels of pale. But men, chin to collar bone, need to look like Montana separatists who spent the winter cleaning their guns and shooting antelope. 

No one's beard is longer than Daniel Kitson's. I don't know how long he has been growing it, I have never seen him live before. He is a phenomenon. His shows famously sell out in a heartbeat. In ten years of him at the Edinburgh Fringe I have never managed to get tickets. But my friend E managed for Tree. 

There is a tree in the play, Daniel is hidden up the tree for the play, hard to see. Underneath the tree a man in a hurry appears with a picnic. They begin to talk. It is easy to be bored with two characters revealing their backstories in anecdotes but this was done with a charm and a mindfulness. They snuck up on the audience, it seemed so innocuous at first, an English eccentric who lives in a tree and a man planning a picnic. Amusing enough, maybe a bit boring at parts -  I mean, are there no confident romantics on this entire island? Does every British man have to have this Hugh Grant-style emotional incapacity/slapstick/acute embarrassment? 

But then in the last twenty minutes of the play something happens, and the parallels between the characters emerge, not at all in a didactic way, in a quietly amazing way. In a subtle way the parallels expand to us, sitting in the audience, staring up at the tree to get a glimpse of the recluse. Our choices are indicted or at least reviewed. What are you committed to and why? How much of it is inertia or is shaped by the world around you? How does  your commitment matter? Do you tell yourself the truth when you answer those questions? 

Gently Kitson questions, and his long beard almost seems a disguise, because how could someone with so much insight care about the memo?