Monday, October 21, 2002



The river of cars on 580 slowed to a trickle
not the raging current of the workweek 
and there it was, the song of the broody pullet 
growing stronger each morning 
on the apartment balcony 
my wake up call, familiar out of childhood, 
a crooning hen as she tried out her new song
from her perch on third story balcony
incongruous pastorality in the neighborhood
both waked and soothed us
and kept us anchored to the rhythms of the past.
But when the woman began to sing on the balcony
the chicken’s song rose to terror pitch
as I watched the shadow on the wall.
The woman sang, raising her left hand
then her right with the chicken in it
three times to the east, a quick twist,
then, a vast silence.


the motion hypnotized the chicken
(rest is missing)

My cousin and I call our aunts “bags”; but we’re bags in training.... so I can relate to the handbag... after all, the ubiquitous backpack (this is where I usually break out into a rousing chorus of broody chicken calls to the consternation of my neighbors.)
Did I mention the Eretreans have taken to slaughtering chickens every Sunday from a balcony in downtown Oakland? You can tell when the drums begin to pulse.

SACRIFICE (missing text)


there it was, the song 
of the broody pullet 
growing stronger each morning 
from the apartment balcony 
my wake up call, 
familiar out of childhood,
crooning hen
as she tried out her song
from her perch on third story 
an incongruous pastorality 
in the neighborhood
both waked and soothed us 
and kept us anchored t
o the rhythms of the past
But when the woman
began to sing on the balcony
the chicken’s song rose to terror pitch
as I watched the shadow on the wall
the woman sang raising her left hand
then her right with the chicken in it 
three times to the east
then silence. The motion 
hypnotized the chicken


This is one of those ASCII swallowed poems. I was able to save this much, but not the ending.  I don't think I have a hard copy either. 

more orphans

My cousin and I call our aunts “bags”; we’re bags in I can relate to the handbag...after all, the ubiquitous backpack (this is where I usually break out into o a rousing chorus of broody chicken calls to the consternation of my neighbors...

did I mention the Eretreans have taken to slaughtering chickens every Sunday from a balcony in downtown Oakland? You can tell when the drums begin to pulse.)
The river of cars on 580 slowed to a trickle
not the raging current of the workweek

Thursday, October 17, 2002

House of Memory (Cissy Speaks), monologue rev.


Note Bene: This monologue is an offshoot based on the original play, “The Steward of Christendom,” by Sebastian Barry (1995), a story is about a Dublin Castle policeman Thomas Dunne who is going senile; his wife and son are ghosts. Two of his three daughters have abandoned him. Only Annie, whose back is deformed by polio, visits him. The play is set in Baltinglas, County Wicklow, Ireland, circa 1930. Barry recounts the story from Thomas’ point of view. The main conflict is that Thomas, a Catholic, was a chief constable for Dublin Castle, was considered to be a traitor to the Catholics because he worked for the Crown. The poetry of the script resonated within me. But I kept thinking about the poor wife Cissy who died in childbirth ca. 1904.

This monologue which came from a small poem I wrote while attending the play reading in Sept. at the Irish Historical Society. I imagined another version of the story his dead wife might speak from the grave. I wrote a lament, and later went back to glean scant biographical material from the play, there wasn’t much. Then, asynchronous time became an issue for revision. Cissy’s story stops in 1904. The play takes place in 1922 and 1932. How much does a ghost know? How does it learn new material after death? Hamlet’s ghost is cognizant and seems to be able to learn new material after death. Then I found out that this is based on a true story—Barry’s family—and that there are a couple of books out on it. So that complicates things a bit. I didn’t know whether to jettison it or adhere to what little biographical facts I do know. So I felt I had to rewrite it to fit the facts as Barry’s still very much alive. I’m at that stage where I wonder if it’s wise to continue with this character or to move onto fresh territory. But I can hear her speaking to me. She won’t shut her gob. However, the actor who read Dunne’s part, knows Barry, so I’ll try and get the books, do some research and see if this is something worth pursuing. For a possible rewrite, I thought Annie could also be present with the mother talking to her, but Annie, not hearing her, has her own monologue about life treating her unfairly, being a spinster, wanting a family, feeling abandoned, feeling guilty about committing her father to the asylum...

The events recounted are of W.W.I. Willie is their dead soldier son. Dunne’s wife, Cissy, inn a cottage in the Wicklow Hills, is speaking to Annie’s photograph.

CISSY: (Seated at the kitchen table, she is talking to her daughter’s photograph.) Ach! Annie-girl, your father, he was out walking again in the lunatic meadow after telling me you mustn’t be talking to shadows... and there he was conversing with himself, the trees, and God Almighty—for all I know. The ginger cat was following him like a dog, her tail curled in a question mark, as if she attended to every word he was saying. Stopping to sniff the flowers like a large hairy bee with whiskers and mewing as if to answer. Silly creature. I wonder what she said to him because soon enough he quieted down like a lamb. And the birds singing by the hunter’s moon. It was all wrong I tell you. What were they saying I wonder and when did we forget the language of birds? Was a time we knew, you know.

I don’t blame you for committing your father to the hospital. Really I don’t. Imagine him brandishing a sword over your head like that. You’re absolutely right. Something had to be done. It scared the living daylights out of me and I felt so helpless because I couldn’t even comfort you. What use are these arms? All I could do was watch. My penance, for I don’t know what, reduced to nothing but a shadow myself I am, ’tween worlds. I couldn’t bear it seeing his arms raised up to the night sky and the watery stars weeping. And him keening like Absalom. Thing is, as he railed and ranted, I swear the moon coyly paused behind a cloud as if to listen.

Maybe it was the Kiltegan witch’s curse taking root after all. Took a long time ripening. A sad harvest. That field belonged to the witch was next door to theirs, you know, and her washing the milk buckets in the same well always made them a bit queasy. A sudden chill. Again! Uisht! Do you hear it? Sure, I shivered. And who was busy walking on my grave? There’s been enough of that lately. And the way they paraded round and round that meadow until I was dizzy with grief. Even the small fingers of sunlight couldn’t banish all the fear rising up from the dark eye of the well.

Funny how the mind plays tricks. Even now. I kept thinking of Hamlet chatting up his dead father like that. No, I said, Thomas, you come in from the cold. Willie’s not coming back. He’s dead. Sure it’s your nightshirt all wet from the dew, I said. Sleep, that’s the ticket. But the grief began anew each time as if it was the first time he heard of it. He turned his face to the wall. Then the awful silence. No. I don’t want to hear that speech. To sleep no more...

Talking to shadows he was. I don’t blame him. But I do blame the hawthorn he slept beneath all the next day, and the bees breaking their hearts over the closed flowers in the stillness of that late afternoon. And I was so afraid. I wanted to bring him some tea but it was no use. I thought to myself, if only we could catch the honeyed words. Put them in a jar for some creature comfort later. Ach, I could kill for a good cup of tea. Make it strong enough for the mice to skitter across it. Give the cat something to do to earn her keep.

You remember what they say about sleeping under the hawthorn? I’m sure that’s how it all began. His mind wandered to all sorts of strange and fantastical places. Once he said he was with Hannibal crossing the Alps. Imagine that! Poor lummoxing beasts climbing mountain passes with no more understanding of snow than the man in the moon. Him worried about the elephants trembling at the sight of snowflakes. Wanting me to knit them all sweaters! Imagine that! Me, a knitter of elephant sweaters for creatures more ‘un 2000 thousand years dead. I thought to humor him but I’d never hear the end of it in the Hereafter. Should I use the popcorn stitch or a cable stitch like Aran sweaters, dogtags for the drowned fishermen lost at sea.

Sure, I didn’t know what to make of it. There he was, ranting through the ages, a fine white snow covering him. Petals drifting down on him from the hawthorn until he was blanketed white as snow. I blamed the hawthorn, I did. We were told never to pick it or invite trouble into the house. Thorns into the bed. Or a changeling. And that he was. A changeling.

Annie, your father was like Hannibal all alone in Abyssinia, he was leaderless after he turned over Dublin Castle to them. A loyal servant of Ireland and the Crown he was. The Crown was good to us. I remember when the king came to visit. It was after Queen Victoria died. Your father called her the Flower of Christendom, he did.

Did you know that King Edward he praised my beautiful hair? Blue-black as the barrel of a rifle it was. It was 1903. I wore a polka-dotted dress. All the little teacakes staring up at us like Christmas presents. Oh! How I loved to dance. But your father, he stood like a great tree in the middle of the dance floor. I was afraid he’s take root right there. They began to whisper and laugh. Shame spread like Brigid’s red cloak. I had to coax him off the floor with the teacakes. And them laughing.

Annie, don’t be so hard on your father. There was a time when he was a different man, he wore his invincibility like a cloak but after he turned Dublin Castle over to Collins and the like, he was a different man. After that, he was always after dreaming candlelight into song and questing for distant horizons. The glory of Rome. He admired Michael Collins, you know. But they called him a traitor. Blamed him for Larkin’s death. And the others. He never even carried a gun. Just the billy club was enough. He kept Dublin orderly and safe. It was his job. Ach, it was terrible the way they treated your father. There was some trouble with his pension, with the new government, and him chief constable of Dublin working for Ireland and the Crown 45 long years! And they called him a traitor.

There’s always betrayal at the heart of it. They should look to themselves. And who was it gave the order to kill the Big Fella? Themselves alone. How he wept when Collins died. There was real hope for the Big Fella, you see. Not for “King” de Valera, him with the stone heart of a mathematician leading us back into slavery with rings through our noses like cattle to Rome. Dev, the called him, more like devolution. Fine Gael or Fianna Fáil. Soldiers of destiny they called themselves. All it brought was more civil war. As if there wasn’t enough bloodshed.

It all began with your brother Willie’s death, it unsettled your father something terrible. You know, he was never quite right in the head after that. I swear he saw God in the face of his newborn son. That settled him down right enough. But why is it fathers and sons never see eye to eye until it’s too late? Poor Willie! All he wanted was a kind word. And your father like a big lump of a stone. Poor tyke. He was only six when I was with Dolly in the childbed, my own blood racing to meet Lough Derg. Such a long night it was. And I couldn’t stop it for the life of me. When the candle failed, the birds began to sing, it was my father came to me, but it was so queer, he was my husband with my father’s face. I didn’t know who I was talking to. He began to keen. Hush, I said. But the candle guttered. Him crying like his heart would break.

’Tis a pity I never got to hold Dolly. My arms and breasts ache for her. Where is she now? America? And your sister Maud? She never comes home. Only you. Why do you keep returning to this house empty of memory with no family of your own to fill it? Poor Annie. Your poor back curving like a riverbend of hammered pewter at dusk that no man would ever set sail on.

Poor Willie. He gave his young life to save Europe, so proud to be in the Rifles. Caught in the crossfire. But you can’t lose a son without blaming yourself, your father said. You can’t fight a battle without spilling some blood. They said it was a whole generation Irish blood—not English—that fed the fallow fields of the Somme. Fodder for the Crown. That’s all they were good for. Fodder, that’s what your father said. They say there’s guns and war medals enough rusting on uniforms in the shadowed back rooms in every country of the world. But in Ireland even more so.

Willie. Named after a heroic warrior, Willie he was our only Finn MacCool. We called him William after your Gran’Da. But the others, they thought it was King Billy we were referring to. And they shunned us at the market. Painting the door orange. Calling your Da a spy for the Crown. We were good Catholics, we were. Sure it was the Crown who put the food on our table during the Troubles when there was little to be had. What else could we do? They were jealously counting all our Sunday roasts stacking up into eternity like a leaning tower of Pisa. Accusing us of putting a little something aside for purgatory. But jealousy is ever the traitor’s mistress. The Have Nots hungering after the hard-earned good fortune of others. I told him it was enough to make any man crazy serving two mistresses, Catholic Ireland and Anglican England. But he couldn’t hear me. Not a single thing I said. ’T’was a pity I was only talking to the shadows.

‘T’is such a pity the old man completely went off his mind babbling in the waving grasses like a babby wanting his mother. Annie, I swear he wouldn’t have harmed a hair on your head. The sword was a symbol of the power he’d lost. ’T’was the grief of only his wounded pride speaking in the graveyards of betrayal. The crows diving at him like banshees. When the candlelight fails, when they’ve killed the heroes, and the potential of the father’s only sons lies buried in the cold clay, when that stony love slips down their cheeks into the glittering face of the well, what loyalty was left for there to crown? There’s a good girl now Annie, put the kettle on the hob for some tea?

Friday, October 4, 2002

Stoppard’s “Night and Day” Marginalia 


First read of “Night and Day” was tedious and I thought it dated and insubstantial. A big name like Stoppard, and he wrote this? Not his best work I presume. I liked the play's opening with a dream. Confusing the audience early on makes them vulnerable, and more receptive to accept the world of the playwright. 

Guthrie, the photojournalist is a “type” I recognize from hanging out with paparazzi. I was earning my living as a photojournalist (and poet) in rural Sonoma County, but a poet friend Carolyn Forché said, don’t just write about guerrilla warfare, bear witness. And so I went to Latin America and the USSR, documenting whatever I could. I know Guthrie’s egocentric world of by lines, getting the news, and then getting it out, telexes, I was in the USSR right before the fall, and before email and had to get news out via carrier pigeons… 

Opening Ruth’s scene with drums clues us in that there’s a war going on (or the natives are restless), and it sets the scene. Dry humor: is he asleep or dead? Followed by tea, so very civilized...dichotomy of drums and tea. Neo-colonialism. Mad dogs and Englishmen under an African sun. Interesting overstepping of bounds, boundaries, territories—the English in Africa, Guthrie in Carson’s house, the Africans with each other. 

Interesting use of “Ruth” surreally spouting off what would never be uttered in company, polite or otherwise. Makes it farcical, and breaks the 4th wall nicely. We know we'll be hearing from her: when the two Ruths collide, something will happen. Red Alert. Ruth’s very outspoken, an issue of class, sparring with Guthrie about cultural sensitivity as in “boy” vs. Francis....but Francis is still a slave. Ironic. But he'll run off and join Col. Shimbu's ALF commies at the end. 

“Proper drink.” Propriety will be maintained. Which means the crux of the story will use a breakdown of “proper” form. Stoppard is giving us all the germinal bits of the story in the opening lines. Territorial squaring off between Ruth and Guthrie. The barely concealed venom beneath velvet gauntlets. 

“Ruth” resorting to The Beatles' “Help” is funny. Wag-ner Vagner jokes (The Neiblunglings are evoked—more disaster threatening in the wings). I always pay attention to character's names...clues are buried. Ruth-less...without mercy. Guthrie: a good tough guy name. Let George do it. Milne? Gawd: not Winnie-the-Pooh? But Milne has a bit of that in his character. Carson: I think Carson City, comstock mines...lo and behold he's a miner! So we've got the miner wanting to protect his investments. Guthrie: Did you clock the telex? The thirty-somethings aren't gonna get this very specific reference. It carries a lot of weight. Pre Marshall McLuhan global village. It means you can litera(ri)lly get the news in Conrad's Heart of Darkness. Even the hotel doesn't have one. How backwards is this place? An urgent message for Stanley (Mr. Livingston, I presume?). 

GOBs (Good old boys) trading “war” stories a la Hemingway. Guthrie's speech about the neophyte getting the best shot. Front page scoop envy and newspaper rivalry. I found the free press versus closed shop scene a bit hard to follow on the page (I was glazing over and not retaining the information—didacticism at work) but when I saw the play, it worked well. Red Alert: The playwright's political message: scabs vs freelance...a microcosm of this war? Newspapers listed in order of importance. Miss the deadline, kill a story. Milne's naivitŽe is excruciating, the naive opportunists get the scoop, but the penalty is that they'll die young: Milne and the Groupie. (Parallel structure foreshadowed.) 

Curious that Ruth, who has suffered at the has of sensational journalism in the scandal sheets, would have had a fling with Wagner, then Milne. Of course, journalists are hierarchical, these guys aren't in the yellow tabloid business. Subplot of love triangle, er, quadrangle is vaguely humorous, but not necessary to the plot. It give Ruth something to do on-stage (if tedious). Did playwright run out of steam? She obsesses on her easy virtue (such as it is) and the trivial realm because women have been marginalized so, but she too wants to retain her power, all the characters are fighting for petty kingdoms on one front or another, whether it be Guthrie, Wagner and Milne; Carson, Shimbu, or Mageeba. 

I like Ruth's warning: to watch out for President Mageeba's laugh but Wagner misses the connection and we are given a taste of real brutality in the midst of a farce. As the tension mounts, Wagner gets his exclusive interview and spar with Mageeba on the relative merits of the free press, but Wagner's beating is the turning point of the play; it will be tragedy from here on out. Milne's death is a necessary martyrdom, part of the story of journalists living on the edge, a tribe apart. Mageeba is a dangerous leopard revealed as Caliban after all. Propriety fails, the white handkerchief of truce ignored, Milne shot. I am reminded that All's fair in love and war... 

Skillful storyline. The course of action in the play takes place on one afternoon and into the wee hours of the next day. The Potteresque musical use of “Night and Day” to close the play brings us back to Ruth's farce: “That’s why the a tramp.” And the grim realization that they're all whores, every last one of them. 

Oct. 4, 2002 
CW 810, Thorstenson 
Assignment #4 

Stoppard’s “Night and Day”: a Critical Response


“Night and Day” was my first introduction to Tom Stoppard the playwright. I’ve been hearing about Stoppard’s genius for years, as my partner Neil, who was in a local production of “The Real Inspector Hound”; he recently met Stoppard at UC Berkeley and he was raving about Stoppard’s genius. Because I found the reading of the play both dated and tedious— I will address this later—I also took it upon myself to scan a few of his other plays including “Indian Ink” and “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead”. I loved Stoppard’s innovative plots and ideas, restricting the amount of information Rosencrantz and Guildenstern have access to, and embedding bits of Hamlet within the framework of the play, or having two dueling critics riding shotgun throughout the play in “The Real Inspector Hound.”

However, the difference between “Night and Day” and Stoppard’s other plays was literally night and day. In the other plays, I got a better sense of the famous Stoppardian farcical style. Moral: don’t judge a playwright by only one play—certainly not the dated “Night and Day”. But this raises another issue: shouldn’t a work of art stand alone and not be supported by the oeuvre and charisma of the artist?

I admit some of my difficulty with reading “Night and Day” had to do with a wandering attention span. Perhaps my mind went narcoleptic because of the datedness of the material, but some of this has to do with my inability to fully visualize a play on the page. I am a practicing dyslexic. I have trouble visualizing the actions of words on the page. I have to see a play or a poem on its feet. I have to hear the spoken word first in order to appreciate them on the page. I have to hear a surrogate author’s voice in my head.

For example, the first time I read Martin McDonough’s “The Beauty Queen of Lenane” I hated it, I really thought the script stunk but when I saw it produced at Berkeley Rep, I gained a better appreciation of the play (though I found the pacing and the bad Irish accents to be amateurish and tedious—not up to usual Berkeley Rep style—but it was early in the run. They did improve with time.)

Which brings me to the cult of Stoppard vs. the play, “Night and Day.” Before I saw the ACT production, I attended the special ACT Prologue interview with Stoppard and I also heard the Michael Krasny radio interview on KQED. I fell in love with the brilliant wit and self-deprecating style that Stoppard is justly famous for. This swayed my judgment so much that I enjoyed the production more than I expected and the storyline as well.

Some of my enthusiasm was because the set was so simple yet dazzling. Clever idea to have the house open up like a clam to reveal the living room but when it wouldn’t close again due to mechanical failure, the actors did a stellar job of carrying on with the play, though many of the outdoor scenes took place in the living room. A surrealistic touch I hardly noticed...except for Francis’ incongruous pillow gathering, the journalists jamming up in the door of the office and the “other Ruth” walking offstage from behind the office, seemed a little odd. I remember being vaguely puzzled by their odd activities, but I was still engrossed enough in the storyline to maintain a suspension of disbelief, though the timing also seemed to be a bit off. And the inconsistent use of spotlights on some of the other “Ruth”’s asides also confused me—especially when Ruth is talking to Jason Milne. I thought she was blurting her subconscious thoughts which was pretty funny as we all have that fear.

What I learned from this Stoppard play, is that if the direction and the pacing are good, a less than stellar play can indeed shine. As with “House of Blue Leaves”, I missed much of the juxtaposition of dialogue and timing cues during my first read. John Guare said that timing is so critical in farce—even a 30-second delay can disrupt the flow of the scene. And Stoppard, like Guare, has a superb sense of timing. Besides, they’re just plain funny playwrights. It comes through in their writing.

One tip that was enormously helpful to my appreciating “Night and Day” was Stoppard’s own comment that he likes to present differing points of view, and that all the voices, including Mageeba’s, are really the playwright’s voice. Once Stoppard confessed this, I breathed an enormous sigh of relief. It gave me permission to step back from the play and listen to Stoppard’s subtext. I used to think that having running arguments in my head was uniquely Catholic trait. Something the nuns hammered into us about God and the devil struggling over your mind except that God was actually too busy to be involved in the archetypal struggle of free will among the vast populace, so he sent guardian angels along instead. Do not lead us into temptation...and all that.

Stoppard’s theatrical timing is superb at building suspense. Though I knew that President Mageeba was going to hit Wagner, I was on the edge of my seat waiting, so that the strike was a bit anti-climactic, as if MY timing was off...and I realized that throughout the play, Stoppard is in our heads, playing with our timing, throwing us off balance from the very beginning. The opening scene is a Checkovian microcosmos of metaphor that echoes and reverberates throughout the play—something lovely I completely missed until after I saw the play and then reread it again.

On some level, I suspect an audience wants reassurance that the author is indeed in control of his subject matter so that they can trust him to set defined perimeters so that they can suspend their disbelief and enter into the somewhat voyeuristic partnership of observer/observed. I think this has to do with audience expectation and the dual role of the predictability / unpredictability factor.

Perhaps a surreal digression will back light a murky point I’m trying to make on audience. A psychologist friend and I once sat at a pub window in Amsterdam’s Red Light District, observing a tableaux before us. I was struck by the sheer theatricality of hookers gyrating behind blacklit windows, pantomiming to an eager audience of trench-coated johns in the alley. It was a predictable play. The johns strutted in for the climax of the show, but minutes later, they slunk back out seeming more depressed than anything. Meanwhile the shopworn hookers bounced right back in the picture windows, right on cue for scene two.

We as audience come to the theater with certain expectations. We eagerly anticipate and sincerely hope to be entertained.. But what is our role in the larger play of things? To be teased and titillated or to bear witness? What about catharsis? But if John Guare is right, that theater is where we come to find the truth (versus the sheer entertainment value of TV and film), how do we access a deeper truth when portions of a play have become timeworn and stale? Supporters were raving about the timeliness of this dated play, I found this to be a contradiction.

Poet Wallace Stevens wrote: “it is difficult getting the news/ from poetry/ but men die miserably/ every day/ /for lack of what is found there.” Unfortunately “Night and Day” is a prosaic play. There is a certain timeliness to Stoppard’s play in that news is sensationalism—show biz as it were. Why bother to do this play now? We already know all about yellow journalism, narcissistic self-worship of print media’s altar-ego (stet.) and the minuscule media bytes of cable network news. So what’s the NEW news that we as audience are supposed to come away with? What new truth is unveiled? Perhaps it’s unfair to judge the play, an artifact of its time, against today’s current events—it’s a fossil relic of the news machine of the 1970s. Historicity repeating itself?

If the subject matter of the play, that is, journalism itself, is not the news, then I am led to words as artifacts. In “Night and Day,” Stoppard heavily relies upon didacticism as his modus operandi to carry the play. There is more than a fair amount of belabored didacticism and rhetoric that hinders and slows down the action of the play—especially during Wagner and Mageeba’s exchange. Didacticism’s role is to instruct. I am thrust back on Aristotle’s maxim that learning should be pleasurable, and that theater should provide catharsis for the audience.

What else, besides subject matter, dates a play? The anachronism of the telex didn’t bother me, but the didacticism did. Perhaps the didacticism didn’t seem quite so tedious when the play first opened in 1978, when a maturing generation of angry young playwrights strutted their stuff. But the nature and duration of catharsis is ephemeral. How quickly a fresh idea becomes clíchéd. So, why produce “Night and Day” now? To borrow a cliché, we have witnessed that history is condemned to repeat itself. That much is certain.

Oct. 12, 2002
CW 810, Thorstenson
Assignment #5

Beckettian Notes to “Happy Days”


Just finding a copy of Sam Beckett’s “Happy Days” was a descent into the Dantesque inner rings of Godot. I found a mutilated “withdrawn” (well, a somewhat shy) reject copy from the Livermore Library in the fifth used bookstore on my list as it’s OP and not even listed in the Alameda Co. Public Library system, nor was it carried in the SFSU Bookstore. I couldn’t imagine anyone in Livermore actually reading Beckett, let alone understand it. But I digress.

OK, all those stage directions had my dyslexia stuck in overdrive...I never got past page 17 every time I reread it. I couldn’t tell where I left off, and the deja voodo text began. So I resorted to highlighting all Winnie’s lines in order to read the text....the stage directions had to come last. I wanted the experience of the language, such as it is. (Langue chats and madelines (think Proust, not handbags)...ooops, wrong play, she said earnestly, Wildely clutching at straws in the wrong memory lane...) Did I even notice the structure for all the bawdy parts? I latched onto vignettes as if a lifeline counted for anything. I hardly noticed the purgatorial structure for the trees, er, words. Back to the drawing board.

OK, my Dutch philosopher friend taught me to always read the copyright date, etc., in order to put work into context. © 1961. Scary is the thought that the Fifties were in full swing (no that was the swinging Sixties) the Fifties were in full repression and by this time Beckett must’ve considered himself more Parisian than Irish. Was this play written in English or French? What I hear in Winnie’s voice is a suburban whingeing voice of the 80s. Imagining this play in the 60s is positively mind-boggling. Reminder: Beckett’s “Play” has a similar premise. the fulminating mind at subconscious. Yes I am aware that whatever you read into the text is what it’s about, but it first helps to have a literary pallet or was that palate? I will go with whatever suits the tongue.

As I read “Happy Days”, I am wrestling with playwrights under the prodigal bedcovers. Stoppard, Beckett and Checkov. Checkov who brings the minutia of detail to build a bridge to the “human psychological condition,” (Stoppard quote); Beckett in the idea that he wanted to write a play without words (think minimalism); and Stoppard in his Chekovian reference from the KQED interview with Michael Krasny on the superior craft of the use of microcosms versus overt didacticism...which he acknowledged that he is guilty of in “Night and Day.”

(Note bene: You did ask for marginalia, a literate form of laternalia...where the mind goest...) The parts assemble the whole: Winnie begins her day with a prayer, talks to herself in imperatives: “Begin your day.” Then worries about Willie and the mundaneness of language sweeps us off our feet, we’re somnambulists at the wheel...all the claptrap clichés are dredged up from Victoriana onward. A much quieter rage than Osbourne’s “Look Back in Anger”; Winnie is well padded in platitudes. “Can’t complain” she says and does nothing but. Genuine. She’s 50, her breasts, her memories are buried, and resurrected.

When in doubt, focus on character analysis: Willie is an insubstantial gadfly, Winnie can neither live with nor without, as she is self-defined by how she imagines herself as seen through his eyes. But he’s a bit dim and she can’t shut her gob. No wonder the ‘brolly burst into flames. Because Winnie sees herself only if she imagines herself through Willie’s eyes, it’s O Happy Days whenever he answers, even if in a grunt. Winnie’s day is made if Willie acknowledges her presence, he is an appendage of her ego, a remora eel on the shark belly of relationships. She is keeping up appearances despite all odds. She traverses her life backwards through a handbag. Worries about her figure but even the ground’s getting tight.

Winnie says a line then amnesia wipes her memory banks, she’s having no trouble with words like “setae,” but forgets what a hog is as in “hog setae”... while we’re stumbling over setaes. I was immediately launched into another reality with Artaud or Jenet at the helm and I began to read darker deeds into the words that skim along the surface of social intercourse. What exactly is a hog indeed? Harley Davidsons aside. But I mustn’t tamper with the Ur-text. Nay, the “old style.” A narrative topo map? Becket as minimalist watchdog of language, syntax and meaning.

(I forgot to mention I have thin boundaries between words, things, assignments, this is supposed to be marginalia but the whanking mind has idea of its own so maybe this is a creative response to marginalia...Too close to the genitalia which Winnie does manage to bring to the text. Actually if truth be told, I resist, bristle armor at the idea of typing up marginalia on the plays as the mind is not on a leash even on good days. Whoa! Down, boy.)

Speaking of made-up words? What the hell is an “emnet”? Sounds like Bold Robert Emmet reduced to an ermine or stoat. Sneaking through the subconscious (or one’s pants, if one is a male) on a dare. OK, this could be “Watt” in feminine guise...after Magritte? all those businessmen raining from the golconda smile of the sky. “Empty words,” Winnie would say. At where I imagine the apex of the play to reside, poetry comes into play, what are these exquisite lines?... not like the thrush or the bird of dawning...[in]...The eye of the mind.” If only my eyeteeth could see what they’re chewing on.

Mr. Shower I presume? in the living -Johnstones of first kisses and whatnot. For whom the inventory bell burns. Speak Memory even from a watery grave..full fathom five...even if I can’t fathoim the play, it’s obvious she’s up to her neck in it alright. (Reminder, this is pre Monty Python. Aristotle enters into it. Dux et machina!) One mustn’t lose one’s classics like a misplaced coat. A scary view of Alsheimer’s before it’s begun. That’s what happens when you’re bogged down to the armpits, or the neck. One is both changeless and racing furiously to the finish line at the same time, Winnie is both child and woman with one foot in memory lane and the other in the grave. The problems of being interred thus include copious list of personal grooming do’s and don’ts. Oh happy days...(crescendo of gospel song of the same name...) when Beckett watched, oh when he watched all our sins away. O Happy Days.

CW 810, Thorstenson
Assignment #5
Oct. 4, 2002