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.

Come Down and Get It

So I guess my question is, how wasted does one have to get to play this correctly:


Guitar 1 main riff

Optional Guitar 2 main riff

X = hit strings with right hand or heavy palm muting

^ = bend ½

Guitar 2 during chorus

Gm Bb F
Ain’t nobody slowing down no way
C (main riff) 2x
Everybody’s stepping on their accelerator
Gm Bb
Don’t matter where you are
Everybody’s gonna need a ventilator

Main riff

Gm Bb F
Everybody walking ’round
C (main riff) 2x
Everybody trying to step on their Creator
Gm Bb F
Don’t matter where you are
Everybody, everybody gonna need

Guitar 1 Solo (coming soon)

Guitar 2 Main riff to end

Some kind of ventilator (randomly said to end)


Jesus. The first draft of the new play is finished. How the hell did that happen? At some point, it just took off like a rocket, and it was all I could do to keep up with it.

The working title is still “A Great Fear of Falling” but I’m not quite satisfied with that. In the vernacular of the play, I caint be satisfied. It’s a weird sucker. Not that my plays usually aren’t, but this one’s…a weird sucker. And it involves my long unrequited love with music (the blues, in this case).

Will it work? Damned if I know. I’m just riding the buzz right now, and that’s good enough. As Hemingway said: a place you’ll never know. (Unless you’re a writer, of course.)


That Obscure Object of Desire

First off, I survived “Commission! Commission!” relatively intact. The JAW people are extraordinarily kind to their authors, and we were squired about with gentle care. The whole experience, if a little edgy, was actually pretty fun, and my commissioner gave me a good solid theme to run with. My playwrangler, of course, got a run for her money, but handled my nonsense with aplomb. To wit, seconds before I was to be introduced to my commissioner, I turned to her and deadpanned, “Is this a good time to begin demanding coke?” To which she replied, in equal deadpan, “Which flavor?”

For a write-up on JAW, see: JAW festival gives theater world new plays to chew on

The rest of the summer…will largely be devoted to enjoying the stunning Oregon summer weather (the last phrase dooming us to a month of overcast), weeding and watering the garden as waves of bloom flow through it, working on at least two new plays, one under way and going well, and the other one bumping around inside my skull but feeling promising…and learning to play the red object above right, which has such a weird, seductive pull, that I want to be home with it right now. I taught myself a 12-bar blues this weekend, which, having loved guitar (and blues) from afar lo these many years, I found immensely satisfying. I have no desire to play for anyone but myself, but I’m happy to report that my left wrist aches like a bastard and it’s hard to type with the blisters on me fingers.

Good times.