I was in Seattle this weekend, and, driving the way home to Portland, I passed Fort Lewis, a major U.S. Army base, also located near the huge McChord Air Force Base (as well as near a V.A. hospital). It's the home of I Corp and includes the 3rd Brigade/Stryker Combat Team, which at one point relieved the legendary but then exhausted 101st Airborne Division in Iraq, being some of the first Stryker's deployed over there. Stryker's are these eight-wheeled light-armor vehicles. Despite their high-tech shielding, electronics, and armaments, they're still prey to IEDs, particularly the "shaped charges" used to penetrate armor.
Fort Lewis is a relatively old base--I think it was built around the first World War, with some of those military buildings that look like they belong on a faded 4"x4" color print (the kind with the edges that seem to have been cut by Pinking shears). This being the Northwest, the area's very green and lush, though somewhat suburban, homes and businesses peeking behind tree trunks, and you see signs in the strip malls like "Military Loans" and "Tactical Tailor."
At one point, an overpass crossing Interstate Five connects what appears to be two sections of the base, and just as the car was about to slip into the bridge's shadow, I looked up to see that, along the entire span, flowers have been tied or wired to the pedestrian railings. Long dead, the bouquets have dried to a hard, brittle black, but no one has taken them down. The entire overpass.
And then it was gone, receding in the rear-view mirror.
Struggled into consciousness this morning with "I am the Walrus" playing it my head. Not on the radio. On a repeating internal tape loop. This, I thought, does not bode well for the day.Christ. Maybe I am the walrus.
A few years ago, I was musing about the usual stuff--writing, Bob Dylan, whether life has any purpose--and I had an odd sort flash into my own writing. Hadn't looked at it for some time, but I thought about it this morning and went back in the archives, and damned if it was still kind of interesting. I sometimes think on school where students are asked to explicate at heme for a piece by, say, Gogol, and, as a writer, you think: I'll make you bet Gogol never sat down and said, "I think I'm going to write to this theme." It just happens. Usually, the last person you want to ask to explicate a theme is an author.
Anyway, here's the piece:
This morning, I was listening to Bob Dylan's soundtrack from the Sam Peckinpah film "Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid," one of those films that has always resonated with me on a level that's sometimes difficult for even me to understand, and I found myself pondering: who's the main character in this story? Pat or Billy? Or are they equally weighted?
I finally decided it was Sheriff Pat Garrett's story as his narrative opens and ends the film, and it is his dilemma whether or not to track down his former friend (Garrett was an outlaw before becoming sheriff) and kill him. Pat changes with the times--the closing of the wild American West--and lives; Billy does not, and, in the end, is killed. Wistfully, these days I identify more with Pat than Billy.
And I thought how, in a way, Billy is a part of Pat that he has to subdue to survive, an aspect of his young, free past, and that they are two parts of the same character. In that way, they sort of represent what Freud called the ego and id, with the ego having to tame the id's powerful, basic impulses, or--in a model I more readily identify with--Carl Jung's framing of conscious and unconscious mind, the unconscious being the vast mind that lurks beneath the surface of ordinary consciousness and comes through in drives, neurosis, dreams, fevers, intoxication, etc.
That's a great theme, I thought. A conflict that I feel in my soul. That'd be a hell of a theme to write about, and I realized it underlies two of my other touchstone films, "McCabe and Mrs. Miller" and "Apocalypse Now." That's when it struck me: it is my theme. It runs through much of my work, some of which, like "Delusion of Darkness," give the advantage to the unconscious, and others of which, like the war plays (in which the characters' rationality must overcome their attraction to the raw madness of violence), give the conscious mind the winning hand.
To give creedence to the power of the unconscious mind, I was not fully aware of the theme until now.
The simple answer is: frightfully busy. I realized that, following last year's ridiculous burst of productivity, I've have at least three plays still languishing in notebooks waiting to be typed up. (I write first drafts in longhand. There's a couple reasons for this, one being I like to write in cafes far from phones, dishes, or other interruptions, other than fending off people asking for change or trying to sell hot goods. I also type about 75 wpm, which is great for office work, but it means I go too damned fast. The pen slows me down, gives me time to think.)
So I've been typing up plays. I've also been working on my angels+demons photo project. I started it last year with the idea that it seemed an amusing premise--have some theatre colleagues channel their inner demigods and shoot the various resulting angels and demons with the same lighting plot and background to give the series continuity. What's happened has been a startling success: the shots are turning out great, and when I put a new call for models, I was deluged and became totally booked through mid-May, when I have to put it aside to do what looks to be my last show as a producer (though never say never). More on that when we get closer.
Ironically enough, I seem totally bereft of new writing ideas. I was feeling the itch the other day and thought, oh, I'll just start and see what happens, if I get any voices and follow where they take me. It's worked before--I've gotten a couple of interesting plays out of the process; it's also sometimes led to false starts and abandoned projects. This time, an hour's worth of "work" produced: "Lights rise on a bare stage."
So I think I just have to leave it alone, which means I'll probably have a new idea tomorrow. The ironic part is you have to keep working at it, even if it gets you nowhere, to find something, but finding something sometimes means looking away from it enough for the unconscious to let it bubble up into the light. Tricky process, creativity.
So I'm also putting submission packages together, doing the necessary work to get plays in front of theatres, and I have a bunch of plays floating around out there now, doing whatever it is they'll do (mostly get bounced). But it's important to feel like you're in the game. And, once in awhile, some absolutely crazy shit happens, like a theatre writes or calls you and says: we want to do your fetid little play...we haven't lost enough money lately. Working to get a new batch together to send Monday--might as well wait until the postage comes up so the SASEs will make their way back sans postage-due.
Plus I've been enjoying spring--May and June are the months when my garden bursts into its hammiest glory, and it's just a pleasure to get home from work and see what's transpired over the day, it sometimes happens so fast. The clematis jackmanii is already up to the roof. The ants are crawling on the peony buds. The bluebells are belling blue in azure swaths. Lots of annual poppies are coming up from seed, as are the blue nigella and adobe-flowered yarrow. Put in some new ornamental grasses this year, and took out a new swath of lawn out front, planting miscanthus, spirea, salvias, and cistus. The cistus planted last year have spread monstrously and are studded with buds, and, speaking of studs, this one oriental poppy out front, which blooms brilliant orange with a black throat and purple-black anthers, must have ten thumb-sized buds on. I predict spectacle.
He spent more hours looking and thinking than he did painting. People who watched him say that he sometimes waited as long as twenty minutes between two strokes of his brush. He himself said that there were days when he looked at his subject so long that he felt "as if his eyes were bleeding."
Steve Patterson has written over 50 plays, with works staged in Portland, Los Angeles, Chicago, Detroit, Austin, Tampa, and other U.S. cities as well as in Canada and New Zealand. His works include: Waiting on Sean Flynn, Next of Kin, Farmhouse, Malaria, Shelter, Altered States of America, The Continuing Adventures of Mr. Grandamnus, Bluer Than Midnight, Bombardment, Dead of Winter, and Delusion of Darkness. In 2006, his bittersweet Lost Wavelengths was a mainstage selection at Portland Center Stage's JAW/West festival, and, in 2008, won the Oregon Book Award (he also was an OBA finalist in 1992 and 2002). In 1997, he won the inaugural Portland Civic Theatre Guild Fellowship for his play Turquoise and Obsidian.