Theatre, arts, culture, politics, and snark from a practicing playwright and recovering journalist.
Saturday, January 7, 2012
The Year of Living Tentatively
I think I took last year off.
I’m just coming to this realization. Mind you, it wasn’t intentional, nor was I entirely idle. I picked up a guitar nearly every day and practiced my ass off (because it was incredibly fun). Not that I improved all that much, but I still did it, damn it. I managed to make serious progress on the guitar book—wrote probably 120 pages, and roughed out a good portion of the book proposal (and I hate writing proposals). Cleaned up a bunch of plays, getting them in better shape. Did a load of theatre market research. In fact, I ended up doing a bunch of things I wanted to do. Writing or staging plays just wasn’t one of them.
The year started out so damned well. The staged reading of “Immaterial Matters” was probably one of the best of my career, and I was ready to roll big with that piece and a number of other, recent plays begging world premieres, scaling the theatrical battlements with cutlass and eyepatch.
And then...2011 happened. Not just to me, but to almost everybody I knew. It was like everyone took a long, elegant launch off the board...and then hit the water with a stunning belly flop, that immediately emptied the lungs and sent them sinking into the deep end.
In my case, I got sick. Some stomach virus or something that turned into three months of nausea and stomach pain, frightening weight loss, lots of tests, and too many doctors, all which amounted to...nothing. It just worked itself out. Then, just about the time I was starting to feel better physically, my dog died. Wham. The whole goddamn year was like that famous old sports footage of the football player who fumbles, and then keeps kicking the ball farther away each time he reaches for it. You'd wake up, stretch, reach for the door...and the doorknob would come off in your hand.
I have to admit: I generally do a lot of stuff, keep a lot of plates spinning. Always have; just the way I’m put together, I guess. I’ve often had people say: “I don’t know how you do it.” Which I kind of take a certain pride in, because I don’t really know how I do it either, other than: I just do it. Admittedly, there have been times when I’ve felt “I can’t keep doing this. Not at this pace.” But then I’d get another wind, another project, and I’d be off in another direction.
This was the year that didn’t happen. I couldn’t do it. And I didn’t.
Everybody seemed to be there. Pulling back. Retrenching. Fighting this or that thing, with a wobbly economy generally freaking the hell out of everyone. A very nervous year. All the surprises seemed to be bad. So the year became defined by things I didn’t do. I didn’t write new plays. I didn’t take new photographs. I didn’t have productions. I didn’t write much on the blog (which you may have noticed). I barely gardened, just letting the damned thing grow itself. The Northwest weather didn’t help. It wasn’t that it rained and was gray: it was that it rained and was gray more or less straight through to July. The weather seemed to imbue even hardcore, indestructible Oregonians with a besieged aura. What now? What next?
Finally, somewhere around the middle of September, I began to feel like I was getting a little mojo back. I wrote a few lyrics. I sent a few plays out. I took a few pictures. It was all kind of half-hearted, like I was forcing myself. Eventually, it started to feel more natural. I started to get ideas again. Jeff Beck came to town and inspired the hell out of me. (As Buddy Guy gave me a shot in the arm in early July--a memory I kept coming back to when I felt I was backsliding.) I figure I’ll be working on a new something theatrical fairly soon—the kind of piece that takes off, and then you’re running to keep up with it. I’m thinking about pictures again, looking back at old projects. I checked a gardening book out of the library. They're all baby steps, which still make me a little edgy, but there’s a big difference between butterflies and straight-up dread.
Time to dig out Muddy Waters’ “Hard Again” album, the great man’s ninth-inning comeback, to see if I hear it differently. Last time I listened to it, in early 2011, man, it was just the blues.
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.