The Warehouse Dream, or the inner workings of clocks, trains, and creative machines
Have you ever wondered what life on earth would be like if there was no moon? How would we regulate our cycles or plan feast days or understand the ocean’s shifting moods? Who would dogs howl to and under what light source might lovers kiss? And what about music, from Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata to Elvis Presley’s Blue Moon to Benny Goodman’s Moonglow?
The spark for my song came from something my dad said: the Sun is Einstein’s but the Moon is Newton’s. I found this poetic but opaque, so I did some research, which spawned lyrics. For a full lunar cycle, I carried my song with me on my travels, letting it out to test its latest incarnation. And then one day, in my basement, the rock and roll chorus came to me, a gift from the muse.
Hats off to the mysterious moon!
So I go to the Hare Krishna free vegetarian
food truck in my animal fur hat
and sit across from a mechanical engineering
student from India and tell him my story
of being the daughter of a professor emeritus
in a house by the lake. He smiles at how
children take paths so different from parents;
who are your inspirations? Patti Smith, I say,
because she combines rock and roll with poetry.
Are any of your songs about Seattle? he asks,
and again I stumble over my words, perhaps
they all are, and he tells me that his name
describes what happens when sailors get stuck
at sea, and hope to see the shore again;
that is what it means, Sahil.
My friend Jenny says, a book comes into your life at the appropriate time. She, mother of three-year-old twins, is reading Moby Dick.
This summer I rode down (or is it up?) the Nile with Cleopatra and Caesar, paying homage to Isis and sacred crocodiles. I sailed across the Mediterranean with my retinue of ships laden with gifts for Rome, including a giraffe and golden cutlery. I partied in the ancient city of Tarsus, reveling in excess, and I explored fabled Alexandria with its Canopic walkway lined with colonnades and wide enough for six chariots to ride abreast. At the end of this stretch I saw The Great Lighthouse in all its giganticness.
Before I embarked on this journey I knew nothing of Cleopatra, apart from a vague sense of her beauty. I hadn’t bothered to absorb any of the floating rumors because Stacey Schiff’s Cleopatra: A Life, hadn’t yet fallen into my hands. So I didn’t know that, as a young woman, she disguised herself and wrapped herself in papyrus to sneak into her palace, under siege by Rome. I didn’t know that she bore children to both Caesar and Mark Anthony. And I didn’t know her fate, though I had forebodings. So for me, the book was a fabulous page-turner, a delight, a chance to embody a time and place lost, and celebrate a woman who lived and loved in epic proportions.
Leaving for an early morning flight to Bozeman, Montana, I grab a book off my shelf. The Waves by Virginia Woolf. It’s an odd book, a series of soliloquies, and the cast – Bernard, Susan, Rhoda, Neville, Jinny, Louis – start off as children, then in a few pages, come of age and embark on youthful pursuits. I’m en route to Montana State University, to see my son launch himself. The book reads like a post-modern opera, with each character declaring their perspective in a rush of poetic intonation. It’s mesmerizing, incantatory. I tremble, I quiver, like the leaf in the hedge, as I sit dangling my feet, on the edge of the bed, with a new day to break open. I have fifty years, I have sixty years to spend. I have not yet broken into my hoard. This is the beginning.
Was I waiting until this precise moment to crack open this tome, to let these words spill over me in this transformational moment, with a new set of realities beckoning, hurtling me into the unknown? How did Woolf anticipate my state of mind?
Another early journey, this time to ride various conveyances (train, ferry, bus), to meet my mom and dad at a meeting with a heart specialist. For my commute I grab A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle. I know everyone’s read this book long ago, when they were children, or seen the movie with Oprah. Well, not me! I remember, as a child, feeling that this was an important book, but being exceedingly stubborn (like Meg, the protagonist), I refused to open it, despite loving books, because my sister, Beth, had read it and enjoyed it, and because it had something to do with science, or, at least, space, and I wanted to make a statement (to myself, to the book fairies who keep track of such things?) that I would not be so easily pulled over to the other side.
Recalling all this as if it were yesterday, I open the book (it is my sole selection) and read. I’m sucked in instantly. Amazing how 40 years of resistance can be broken: It was a dark and stormy night. I turn pages, emboldened. Would my life have been different if I’d read this book as a child? Would it have helped to see my own father as fallible, to not feel betrayed by him? Would Meg’s anger have released my own rage, so that I didn’t have to hold it in? She had found her father and he had not made everything all right. . . She was frozen and her omnipotent father was doing nothing. She teetered on the seesaw of love and hate.
Or is this short minded of me? Is it better to focus on the themes: the parent/child dynamic (I wanted you to do it all for me. I wanted everything to be all easy and simple. / But I wanted to do it for you, that’s what every parent wants.) ; fate vs. self-determination (You’re given the form, but you have to write the sonnet yourself. What you say is completely up to you.) ; and love as the ultimate answer – themes that resonate with me at this particular point in time? There is never a wrong time to wander into the worldly, wondrous pages of a well-worn and ever-patient book.
At the beach, the New Zealander asks me, What are your musical influences? I am someone who has just been dropped in a tall well, and coming up for air, finds herself speechless. Influences? I guess I don’t have any. Then I muster a tepid, Bjork? receiving a nod of encouragement. I rack my brain. Kristin Hersch, from Throwing Muses? Her name doesn’t ring a bell for him, nor does the slow trickle of names that take leave of my brain. All those 4AD bands – Cocteau Twins, This Mortal Coil, all that dreamy and gothic stuff I go nuts for. In an attempt at solidarity he suggests, The Cure? Sure, but I’m on to more obscure bands – The Raincoats, for instance. When I mention their Englishness, he starts listing English bands – Radiohead, David Bowie. Yeah, I guess I’m into female voices. Like PJ Harvey, her ability to continually transform herself. Like Bowie, but more significant to me because of her femaleness. Amy Winehouse. I like female artists that stand on their own, that don’t fit into a category because they are a category onto themselves.
I head to my bicycle, then while I twist the combination lock, it hits me. My favorite album of all time, written by a 16 year old New Zealander, Heroine by Lorde. I rush back to the beach to share this parcel, this newly gleaned insight! He’s never heard the record, I gush over it, her lyricism, the coming-of-age perceptive, which lives in me, how Lorde taps into that specific ageless female experience. He struggles to come up with another famous New Zealander. Crowded House? No, it’s Lorde and Lorde alone. He says he’ll listen to the album when he gets home. I pedal away filled with the pantheon of my influences jostling for stage time in my sun-drenched, grateful brain.
Here are a few parameters that help in creative tasks and that occured to me as a result of my current project of filming one song a day, for 26 days, with each song corresponding to a letter of the alphabet, and filmed in a particular outfit.
- Have some elements of your project pre-ordained so you don’t have a chance to second guess yourself. (In my case, the song, the letter, the costume.)
- Make the ritual of setting up the shot and grooming the self be part of your process.
- Have a time limit for the product so you don’t have to deliver a perfect take. (Instagram has 1 minute limit for video.)
- Play with visual elements. (The visual realm is highly gratifying to me.)
- Be able to put the work out into the world at the moment of its completion. (Instantaneousness is gratifying.)
- Design your project to span an arc of time. This way you can gain mastery over a period of days or weeks, which builds confidence.
- Set up your daily creative assignment so that it is a healthy stretch. In other words, set yourself up for success.
The dresses on the left represent the past. The dresses on the right, the future. It’s a way to mark the passage of time, 26 days, 26 dresses. I’m making a song video for each dress, marked with a pin and a tag, A-Z. 26 songs total.
It’s not that I had trouble marking the passage of Time. I wanted to plot an orderly arc through a unruly and vibrant landscape.
It was Victoria Page in The Red Shoes whom I most dreamed of becoming as an adult.
The trouble with Vicki Page and the troubling aspect of assuming her persona was that she killed herself by jumping off a balcony onto a speeding train. ..
Yet, still, I went on buying dresses as close as possible to the teal shade of blue of the dress that Vicki Page wore the evening she climbed the steps to Lermontov’s villa and he told her he would create a dance for her. . .
(Years later I would wear an evening dress of the same color to the opening night of my first produced play.)
Adrienne Kennedy – people who led to my plays
On seeing photographs of Picasso sitting and walking amid large canvases and eating from plates decorated wth his drawings of fish, I realized imagery in my work could take up a larger space. . . More and more I tacked up on the wall cards, prints, and photographs, even carried them with me. Finally I took to Scotch-taping my typewritten pages on the wall. It began to make a difference in my work.
Adrienne Kennedy – people who led to my plays
Make sure you gather every piece of clothing and be sure to handle each one.
Marie Konde – The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up
Isn’t it strange how in this digital, sensorily-amplified, modern landscape, actually touching objects, and interacting with letters, patterns, fabrics, textures, words, is a transformative, even radical, act?
Today I’m inspired by Adrienne Kennedy’s book people who led to my plays. Her headings: Chekhov and my brother; Marlon Brando; Bette Davis in NOW, VOYAGER show that any person (or event or object) can be a place marker for one’s interior revelations. I think up my own place markers: Seattle rain; A Trip to Russia; Ibsen’s A Woman From the Sea. This selection process allows the writer to spin a vast personal mythology.
At the same time, I’m following Marie Konde’s transformative approach to the magic of tidying-up, starting, as she suggests, with clothing and gathering everything into collections: tops, pants, skirts, sweaters, coats, etc,. I had to fetch myriad coats from the basement to ensure that they were all accounted for. Each piece of clothing is held so that I can hear its story – past, present and future – and then release it to fulfill its unique destiny.