How to tell a story

How to tell a story

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Q & A in a dream

Why aren't you writing?

# I wrote 24/7 obsessively for almost half a century. This work is in two large archives at two universities. I've written enough.

Aren't you disappointing your readers?

# What readers? At this point in time, I have few readers.

Then write for yourself. Writers always have to write.

# I am. In Zen, poetry is not the words on paper but the mode of thought in the mind of the poet. My mind is as active as ever.

Do you wish you had more readers?

# Well, of course - that is, if they left me alone. Not if I'm  expected to become a salesman and a "literary figure." I'd like more readers to be blown away by something I've written, privately and permanently. I'm sure more have than I know about.

# How can you be sure?

Now and again I hear from one or one reveals this to me - like Sirc expanding my 1967 essay into a book almost 40 years later. 40 years later! This is the writer-reader relationship at its best.

So you are happy about the direction of your career?

# Let's put it this way. In this culture, my career has little to do with me. What you surely refer to, better called what it is, fame and fortune, is a crapshoot. My most visible decade, as a playwright in Portland in the 1980s, had more to do with three directors and one drama critic than with me, because they vigorously supported my work. They made me visible. When they disappear, I disappear.

You must have hated that.

# For a while, yes, because it's flattering to think all this attention actually has something to do with you. But I began to understand how the arts really work in this culture when I started judging plays myself. In a classic example, I was one of 3 judges asked to select ten scripts from 70 for the Illinois Arts Commission. We began by making our own top ten lists. Then we compared them. There was not one duplication! Think about that. We did not agree on a single top ten playwright. So you tell me: what does this have to do with the playwrights?

Are you depressed?

# Ha ha! I find reality liberating. Look at Frankl in a concentration camp. How can bullshit like this be depressing? I know I live in a culture that has made the arts commodities in the marketplace and--

Surely the arts matter more than this?

# If the arts mattered to the culture, reading Graham Greene's The Quiet American in the 1950s would have made the Vietnam War impossible. If American writers worry about performing in the culture, they get swallowed up. You best do your work and hope for the accident of individual readers finding and being moved by it. In this regard, I consider myself blessed. I've gathered some true fans along the way.

What are you up to today if you're not writing?

# Life is good. I love retirement. I am revisiting classical Greek lit, taking an online course. I discovered Shastakovich! A major connection, and I don't have enough years left to explore all his music. I dabble on my ukulele. I'm helping my wife recover from a heart attack. I'm getting ready to sell our house and move. I hang with Sketch, our rat terrier. There aren't enough hours in the day.

Thank you for taking the time here.

# Can I wake up now?