Monday, September 20, 2004
Sunny, cool, gorgeous
I think, by this point, I’ve watched all the episodes of Rescue Me several times. The writing is outstanding. The acting is terrific, too, as are all the production values (I have a feeling the budget is pretty tight, but they sure put the money on screen instead of in middle executives’ pockets), but the writing, especially, stands out. Not only has the show helped me regain some emotional footing when it comes to dealing with 9/11, I’m getting a lot out of it on an artistic level, too. And isn’t that what this work is supposed to do?
My only disappointment is in the female characters. They are well-written and well-performed. I just wish there’d be some women in there that were more intelligent and had lives outside of the men. Are the characters realistic? Absolutely. I just wish these characters had the chance and the reason to cross paths with some more interesting and intelligent women.
But now we’re getting into dangerous territory – liking a piece but wanting to rewrite it in my vision. As a writer, I hate it when someone wants to do that to me. So I must give another writer the same respect.
When I lived on 42 St. in Manhattan, there were several neighborhood fire houses, and I had daily contact with a lot of the guys in them, as I went about my day. Everything from simply a friendly hello to the smart-ass repartee to actual conversation. I asked one of the guys (who died in 9/11, may he rest in peace), why waste so much time with Twinkies? The answer was interesting: “When you come home from a day pulling people outta a burnin’ building, and maybe some of them didn’t make it, you wanna go home, have a few beers and get laid. You don’t wanna have to worry about keeping up a conversation.”
He was on the crew the morning we had a fire in the building. I’ll never forget how, within the thirty seconds of a neighbor banging on the door to wake us up that there was a fire, six floors below us, the entire place was so full of smoke we could barely see. We grabbed shoes and cats and ran for the fire escape. Because the windows in our apartment were illegally barred so we couldn’t get to the fire escape, we had to run the length of the apartment, then the length of the hall and get out. The fire crew ended up having to carry a large mastiff dog down the final ladder. The dog was great about coming down the fire escape, but when he got to the last bit, the round-runged ladder, he balked. So one of the crew draped him over a shoulder and carried him down. Good thing the guy had his helmet on. The dog drooled all over him.
The firefighter I mentioned above was the one who helped me down the last bit. I had Felicia (now my oldest cat) tucked into my down vest, which I’d thrown on over my t-shirt and the pants I’d managed to pull on. She was holding on quite well, so my hands were free. My roommate at the time had Olivia, then the Queen of our Feline Household. Olivia immediately started holding court. She was well aware that the Egyptians worshipped cats, and she believed we were all here to worship her.
Once it was pretty obvious that the fire itself was out and it was time to clean up, the fire fighter went into the deli next door and brought out a can of cat food and a plastic spoon, whereby he fed both Olivia and Felicia as we held them. He also came back inside with us to the apartment to find Maude, the third cat who’d escaped from our arms and run back into the burning building. I was afraid she’d be dead, and knew I’d completely lose it. Maude found a safe place to hide in the closet. She smelled like smoke, but she was fine. “They’re smart about that,” he said. She even let him pet her – and she hated all humans except me. (She’d been horribly abused as a kitten before I got her).
I was the only person who’d thought to shut the door behind me without locking it, so ours was the only door they hadn’t had to break down with an axe. Which means we were the only ones with a working lock still on the door. So everyone on the floor brought us their valuables until they got new doors. The fire fighter always teased me that I was the only one paying attention during fire drills all those years in elementary school.
The world lost a wonderful man when he lost his life on 9/11. That’s just a single example of what we lost. There are nearly 3000 others.
My work, pre-9/11, was much more realistic/naturalistic than it is now. While Leary writes the world as it is, with faults and all its rough edges, and makes us face even what we don’t want to face, my work has taken a different tone. While I deal with some of the same issues, albeit very differently, I’m also writing the world I want it to become. That maybe naïve on my part, or even stupid. But isn’t visualization the first step to creation? And not creation as in the sense of a work of art, but creating one’s life?
That’s not a rhetorical question, by the way. It’s one of the questions to which I am searching for answers.
And because Rescue Me raises the bar so high on both artistic and emotional levels, it forces me to identify and articulate the questions I’ve avoided.
How does this/will this affect my work? I probably won’t have the answer to that question for another twenty years!
Back to the nuts and bolts of daily life:
I’ve been researching information for Cutthroat Charlotte, with the help of some friends in writers’ group. I needed to know the legal intricacies of the time as far as inheritance and guardianship. They kept urging me to make Silvanius a relative, but it simply won’t work for the story, and therefore I won’t. They did guide me to a great deal of interesting information and we managed to brainstorm details of the business partnership and what sort of business it is. I knew I wanted it to be shipping. Tobacco will be their main cargo, with the rift between partners caused when Silvanius starts shipping slaves on the side, against the wishes of Charlotte’s father. I wish I could go back and rewrite the first few episodes, but I can’t, so Charlotte will have to find out that Silvanius is trading in slave cargo later on.
I decided that Charlotte and her father only recently moved to Carolina, from either Boston or New York. I don’t want there to be too many parallels between Charlotte and Widow’s Chamber – yes, they are a hundred years apart, but a common Massachusetts ancestry might make them too similar. Although Charlotte is more of an out-and-out firebrand. Nora tends to burn more slowly and tries to control it before she explodes.
One similar thread that runs through both CC and WC is how abhorrent slavery is/was. Every time I remember the article in the Nashville paper about the modern secessionist group in Tennessee that wants to secede from the United States to form a union with low taxes, no gun control and where slavery is not considered a black mark on history, I am enraged. Does this mean all slaves are glorified, all Northerners are angels and all Southerners evil in my work? Of course not. The issues are far more complex than that, and so are the people dealing with them. But I do have a strong belief that slavery is both wrong and evil, and that infuses the work.
I’m setting quite a bit of work in Massachusetts lately, and I wonder if part of that is because I want to move back there. Although I’m looking at houses farther upstate in New York, a part of me wants to move back to MA. But I can’t do that until the transition is complete from theatre professional/writer to full-time writer. And that’s a three year transition. There’s just not enough theatre work in Boston to keep me going, or to keep my insurance.
I also realized that I have to figure out the individual members of Anne, Mary and Calico Jack’s pirate crew. I already have some historical information on Anne’s friend Pierre, based in New Providence (Nassau). But I need to figure out who is actually on the ship with them day-to-day. I also want to see if I can track down copies of transcripts of their trials, because I want a big section of the piece to be about that, the women’s pardons, and Calico Jack’s hanging.
I’m behind on the non-fiction articles I have to write, so those need some attention as well this week. I’m far, far behind on Widow’s Chamber – this is supposed to be my week to concentrate on Cutthroat Charlotte and, instead, I have to work on both in tandem, which should make the comparisons/contrasts even more pronounced.
So I better get to it. This was my warm-up. Now it’s time to run the marathon.