Sending out special thanks today to Charles Holdefer for interviewing me on his website. I’ve been a big fan of his since I saw him speak at a writers’ retreat some years ago, and his novel The Contractor demonstrates, in the words of one particularly astute reviewer, “why the novel will always be a viable art form and why the small press is so important to keeping that art form alive.” In the interview, we talk about the impetus behind writing The Grievers, my prep school experience, and my apparent fascination with costumed characters.
I’m trying to find the right word to expresses how I feel about something. I’m not wholeheartedly behind the issue at hand, but I also wouldn’t say that I’m only halfheartedly behind it, either. I’m somewhere in between. Is there a word for my attitude?
Yes, but it’s German, and they’re not telling us what it is. Given their reticence to give up the goods (as it were), I propose we make up our own terminology: Maybe you’re five-eighths-heartedly behind the issue in question. Or possibly only nine-sixteenths-heartedly behind it. More generously, perhaps you’re fourteen-seventeenths-heartedly behind this issue or, if you’re really close to giving over your whole heart but not quite ready to hand over that last sliver, three-hundred-twelve-three-hundred-thirteenths behind it, whatever “it” may be. The important thing, especially in dealings of the human heart, is to reduce everything to a measurable quantity. As all English teachers know, nothing matters more than accuracy, particularly when it comes to writing!
I think the word I was looking for was “mostly.”
I thirty-five-thirty-sevenths-heartedly disagree.
Hmm… This is actually the last of the sketches I wrote for Madhouse, so calling this “A Week of Sketches” may have been a little bit generous on my part. Oh well…
The setting: a stage. Major characters include a director, a writer named Barry, and an actor named Todd. Other actors mill about, until the director calls them all together.
DIRECTOR: Gather ’round, everyone. Great to see you all here for our first rehearsal. We’re lucky enough to have the playwright with us today, so I was thinking that, Barry, you might set the scene for us to give Todd a sense of where this whole thing is going.
WRITER: Right. Well, the play is called A Walk at Sunset. We open on Larry, alone on the stage. He’s just had a fight with his girlfriend of four years. This is the one. He’s on the edge, ready to chuck the whole thing, understand? And the first thing we hear is, “Whatever. I’m going for a walk.” And the whole rest of the play is Larry walking through his old memories. How he met his girlfriend, how they fell in love, what led up to this stupid fight. And at the end, he realizes that, yes, she is the love of his life… In fact, she’s everything to him.
DIRECTOR: Got it, Todd? Okay, then. From the top.
TODD: “Listen up, babe. I’m out of here.”
DIRECTOR: Nice, nice. I like it. Great attitude.
WRITER: Just—sorry, just a second. The way I have it in the script is, “Whatever. I’m going for a walk.” You see, everything hinges on that “Whatever.” It’s pregnant with all of the character’s exasperation. And all he can think at that point is that he needs to get out of their little apartment and clear his head.
(TODD looks at the DIRECTOR. The DIRECTOR looks back at him and shrugs. They both roll their eyes.)
DIRECTOR: Fair enough. Why don’t we try it Barry’s way and see how it works.
TODD: You’re the director. [Gets into character.] “Whatever, babe. I got shit to do.”
WRITER: Stop. No. It’s “Whatever. I’m going for a walk.”
TODD: I got the “Whatever,” didn’t I? You said everything hinges on “Whatever.”
WRITER: But then there’s the next line. “I’m going for a walk.”
TODD: Sounds kind of lame, don’t you think? I mean, “I’m going for a walk?” Who says that?
WRITER: But that’s… The play… It’s called A Walk at Sunset. So the first line has to be, “Whatever. I’m going for a walk.” It’s the whole point.
DIRECTOR: Okay, Todd. I kind of see where Barry’s going with this. Let’s try it his way one more time.
TODD: You got it, man. I’m a professional. But what if he says something like, “You think I need this shit? You really think I need this shit, bitch?” before we get to the first line? You know, to set the tone.
WRITER: No. That’s so… That’s just…
DIRECTOR: Not exactly what you’re going for?
WRITER: Not… even… close.
(The WRITER tenses. The DIRECTOR holds up a hand to calm him down.)
DIRECTOR: Okay, Todd. It’s “Whatever. I’m going for a walk.” Let’s try it again. From the top.
TODD: “Whatever, babe. I’m going out.”
DIRECTOR: Great, Todd.
WRITER: No. It’s not great. It’s not what I wrote.
TODD: Oh, right. The script. [Todd puts air quotes around “the script.”]
WRITER: Yes, the script. What am I even doing here if you’re going to ad lib the whole thing?
TODD: I was wondering the same thing myself.
DIRECTOR: Guys! Fellas! Compadres! I’m sure we can work this out. What’s the problem? What’s the issue we’re having? Talk to me.
WRITER: Have you been here for the past five minutes? This guy’s mangling my words.
TODD: Sorry, man. I just don’t see this character saying that line. I mean, he’s his own boss, right? A man of action. What’s with all this “going for a walk” bullshit? This guy doesn’t back down.
DIRECTOR: Sure, sure. I see what you’re saying.
TODD: I mean, if I can’t get behind this character, how’s the audience supposed to believe in him?
DIRECTOR: Valid point. Barry?
WRITER: You can’t be serious.
TODD: How’s this for an idea? Props.
DIRECTOR: Sure thing, Todd. What did you have in mind?
TODD: I don’t know. Maybe I have a trash bag and I’m taking out the trash. Because that would give me motivation, right? I mean, I need a reason to go out, don’t I?
WRITER: Your reason is that you just had a blowout with your girlfriend.
TODD: Then what if I’m taking the dog for a walk. Everyone loves dogs, right? Maybe we can do a Marley and Me kind of thing?
DIRECTOR: That would be a little tough to manage.
TODD: Right. The poop and all.
DIRECTOR: Exactly. The poop. But maybe he has a bird in a cage.
TODD: I like that. Because this character—Larry, right?—is like a bird in a cage.
DIRECTOR: And how about this? The bird? It’s a mockingbird.
TODD: And it’s mocking Larry. I love it. But does the guy’s name have to be Larry?
DIRECTOR: I don’t know. Barry, what do you think? Does it have to be Larry?
WRITER: Yes, it has to be Larry. That’s the character’s name. And he doesn’t have a bird, and he doesn’t have a dog, and he doesn’t have a bag of trash.
DIRECTOR: Then what does he have?
WRITER: A soul boiling over with turmoil and confusion.
TODD: Kind of hard to show that on stage, don’t you think, big guy?
DIRECTOR: Todd’s right, Barry. But if we give the guy a mockingbird, then the audience gets a visual cue. They know that he sees himself as a caged animal.
TODD: And how about this? At the end of the play, he opens the cage and sets the mockingbird free.
DIRECTOR: Love it, love it, LOVE IT!
TODD: Because at the end, he realizes that he doesn’t need this woman in his life. All he needs is his freedom.
DIRECTOR: Freedom. Exactly. And that’s what this play is all about.
WRITER: No! That’s the opposite of what this play is all about. Have you guys even read the script?
TODD: Of course I did. Well, my people did, anyway, and they tell me it’s the perfect vehicle for me.
DIRECTOR: It is, Todd. It really is. PERFECT! From what I’ve read of it, anyway.
TODD: So I think I know a little something about “A Walk in the Moonlight.”
WRITER: SUNSET! “A WALK AT SUNSET!”
TODD: Whoa! Calm down there, shotgun! What has your panties in a knot?
WRITER: What has my panties in a knot? I’ll tell you. My script is ninety-seven pages long, and the so-called star of the show can’t even get through the first line. That, my aesthetically challenged friend, is what has my panties in a knot. [Turns to director.] And you! I’d be amazed if you could direct traffic on a one-way street, let alone my play.
DIRECTOR: You know what? Let’s all take a deep breath and count to ten.
WRITER: Count to ten? This guy’s lucky if he can get past two.
TODD: I don’t need this shit. Do you know who I am?
WRITER: Yeah. You’re the idiot who’s wrecking my play.
TODD: Whatever. I’m going for a walk.
(Dumbstruck, the WRITER and DIRECTOR watch TODD stalk off the stage.)
WRITER: Wait! That’s it! That’s the line! COME BACK!