One-Minute Memoir

September 28, 2012

 My Piano Lesson

By Jo-Ann Pilardi

On the Monday after a Saturday dance at my small, all girls’ high school, Pittsburgh circa 1959, Sister Mary Magnus, our principal, called a full school assembly in the gym.  A non-Friday assembly meant something serious was up.  Exchanging fearful looks, we girls proceeded to the gym.  Upon taking a seat in one of the cramped rows of metal folding chairs, I straightened the Student Council badge on my shiny navy blue gabardine uniform.

Sister Magnus was a woman of significant bulk and height, and one who never retreated, flinched, or allowed excuses.  That day, she began the assembly by reporting that “vandalism” had taken place during the Saturday dance.  Someone had carved a girl’s name into the top of the dusty old upright piano in the gym.  Through clenched teeth, she commanded that we tell all, and she threatened that the assembly wouldn’t end until there was a full accounting by the guilty party.

Moving menacingly up and down the rows of girls, Sister Magnus reported that a single clue had been left behind by the culprit:  “It’s the name ‘Jo-Ann’—that’s J-O-Hyphen-Capital-A-N-N,” she said.  Others in our school of 300 had the same phonetic name, i.e., there were a few “Joannes,” at least one “Jo Ann,” and a couple of “Joanns” and “Joannas.”  But there was only one hyphen afoot—me:  “Jo-Ann.”  I knew my spelling was unique.  Magnus knew it too—and so did the other nuns and all my classmates.

Magnus stopped to stare at me, silently inviting—virtually forcing—me to confess.  Student Councilor Me.  President of the National Honor Society Me.  Member of the Latin, History, and French Honor Societies.  Winner of the city’s “Seven Wonders of Pittsburgh” essay contest.  All those Me’s.  Was I also Guilty Me?  And would I be a Confessing Me?

Of course I knew who the “vandal” was.  He was a friend of mine—Ronnie R., cousin of my best friend, and a chronic tease.  Ronnie attended the nearby boys’ Catholic high school, so if I informed on him, within minutes the word would reach the Christian Brothers who ran the school, and Ronnie would be yanked out of class and . . . who knows what?  The thought of being an informant disgusted me.  On top of that, I couldn’t make a public Confession to the assembly just because it was my name engraved on the piano and I knew the vandal. Confessing meant accepting one’s guilt, and I was guilty of nothing.  Besides, Sister Magnus would never believe that I wasn’t a party to the act.  Remaining silent to save Ronnie was also a way to save myself.

The tense interrogation continued as Magnus repeated the histrionics, threats, and calls for a Confession. But I continued to stonewall her.  I already knew that the spoken word can intimidate, but now I understood the power of silence.  So I faced down my Inquisitor—Jo-Ann of Arc Me against the judges of the court.  Not guilty of the sin of vandalism, I wouldn’t confess.  Guilty of the non-sin of knowing the vandal, I wouldn’t confess.  Surprised by my own willful silence, I learned something about my own values.  Maybe Sister Magnus learned a little something too.

Copyright © 2012 Jo-Ann Pilardi.

Jo-Ann Pilardi is retired from Towson University where she taught Philosophy and Women’s Studies for 38 years.  A working class Italian from Pittsburgh, she moved to Baltimore in 1969 and was active in women’s movement groups through the 1970s. Currently, she teaches for TU’s Osher Institute, reads and writes, gardens, travels, and studies jazz piano. In the schoolyard photo above, Jo-Ann is in the center, and her friend Noriene is on the right.  (Click images for larger views.)  She thanks Jim Sizemore for help in shortening and editing this original essay for Doodlemeister.

Doodlemeister is looking for short memory pieces up to 500 words, on any subject, in any style — as long as it happened to you. Whatever the subject, we have a bias for the lighthearted tone. If need be, we’ll help you to edit and/or cut your piece. If you’d like to submit a story, please contact us at jimscartoons@aol.com 
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Neil Simon On Playwriting XIII

September 26, 2012

Adapted From Paris Review, The Art of Theater No. 10

Interviewed by James Lipton

The darkness in my plays reflects the way the world is now. The darkness in the plays, strangely enough, seems more beautiful to me. I think anything that is truthful has beauty in it. Life without the dark times is unrealistic. I don’t want to write unrealistically anymore.

I can’t write outside of my own experience. I’m not like Paddy Chayefsky who could go off and do six months of research and then write something extremely believable. I’d like to write about Michelangelo, but I don’t know Michelangelo. I don’t know what his life was like. I wish I could extend myself, but I don’t think that’s going to happen.

Resolution doesn’t mean a happy ending—which I’ve been accused of. I don’t think I write happy endings. Sometimes I have hopeful endings, sometimes optimistic ones. I try never to end the play with two people in each other’s arms—unless it’s a musical.

When I was writing three-act plays, a producer told me the curtain should always come down on the beginning of the fourth act. A play should never really come to an end. The audience should leave saying, What’s going to happen to them now? . . . . I can’t write a play as dark and bleak and wonderful as A Streetcar Named Desire.

I spend more time on the titles of plays than on the names of the characters. What I’ve tried to do over the years is take an expression from life that has a double entendre in it, for example, the musical Promises, Promises, so that every time people speak the words it sounds like they’re talking about your play. Or The Odd Couple—people sometimes say “they’re sort of an odd couple.” If you mention an odd couple now, you think of the play . . . . Come Blow Your Horn comes from the nursery rhyme. Barefoot in the Park came from what the play was about. There’s a line in the play that comes from my life, when Joan used to say to me, Stop being a fuddy-duddy. Let’s go to Washington Square Park and walk barefoot in the grass. Chapter Two was, literally, the second chapter of my life, after my wife Joan died . . . . Prisoner of Second Avenue was a good title for a play about a man who loses his job and is left to live in that little apartment on Second Avenue while his wife goes to work. He has nothing to do but walk around the room ’til he knows exactly how many feet each side is—so he’s literally a prisoner . . . . The Star-Spangled Girl was a better title than a play. I liked Last of the Red Hot Lovers. It seemed familiar. It comes from Sophie Tucker’s slogan: last of the red hot mamas. Lost in Yonkers—I love the word Yonkers and I wanted to put the play in a specific place. I said to myself, What in Yonkers? These boys are lost, Bella is lost, this family is all lost . . . in Yonkers. Jake’s Women is literally about a man named Jake and three women.

If you’d like to read what people such as Arthur Miller, Sam Shepard, Joyce Carol Oates and other famous — and not so famous — playwrights have to say about the art and craft of writing for the stage, type “On Playwriting” into the small sidebar window and tap the “Search” button.

Part XIV of the Neil Simon series will post next Wednesday.


Today’s Gag

September 24, 2012

To purchase reprint and/or other rights for this cartoon, buy a framed print, or have it reproduced on T-shirts, mugs, aprons, etc., visit my archives at cartoonstock.com and jantoo.com by clicking the sidebar links.

Copyright © 2012 Jim Sizemore.

Hip Shots

September 21, 2012

Clouds V

By Jim Sizemore

(Click images for larger views.)

The “Hip Shots” series of photographs will feature images that were grabbed “on the fly,” with little or no regard for framing and focus. The object of the exercise is to create dynamic pictures, not perfect ones. With this ” shoot-from-the-hip” method the more frames exposed, the better the chances are that you’ll come up with something interesting — a related series that may be arranged as a post. If you’d like additional tips for using the technique, or to submit your own images, drop a question or note in the “Leave a Comment” section, below. This feature will appear most Fridays.

 

Copyright © 2012 Jim Sizemore.

Neil Simon On Playwriting XII

September 19, 2012

Adapted From Paris Review, The Art of Theater No. 10

Interviewed by James Lipton

In the first production (of Jake’s Women), a couple of years ago, there were a lot of things wrong. It was miscast, I had a director I was unfamiliar with who didn’t really understand my process. We opened with a play that was about a sixty-two on a possible grade of a hundred. I brought the play up to about a seventy-eight. As we got toward the end of the run, just prior to going to New York, I thought, you can’t get by in New York with a seventy-eight. You need at least a ninety-six or ninety-seven. So, I said to everyone, Let’s just pull it. And we did. I thought it was dead forever, because I’d put so much into it and wasn’t able to save it. Two years later I took another crack at it and did a major rewrite in which . . . I had Jake speak to the audience. The play took a whole new turn. I thought it was finally up in the ninety-percent bracket.

(I)n the case of  . . . The Gingerbread Lady, which was a flawed play, the producer was going to put up a closing notice in Boston. Maureen Stapleton, who was starring in the play, came to me and said, If you close this play I’ll never speak to you again . . . . It needs work but don’t walk away from it! I thought, What a reasonable thing to say, because all it amounted to was more of my time. The producer said he wanted to close, to save me “from the slings and arrows of the critics in New York.” I said, I can take the slings and arrows. I’ve had enough success up to now. I’ll learn from this one. What finally made up my mind after reading three terrible reviews in Boston was that while waiting at the airport for my plane, I picked up The Christian Science Monitorand the review was a letter addressed to me. It said, Dear Neil Simon, I know you’re probably going to want to close this play, but I beg of you, don’t do it. This is potentially the best play you have written. You’re going into a whole new genre, a whole new mode of writing. Don’t abandon it. So, I called the producer and said, Please don’t close the play. Let’s run in Boston and see what happens. Then I didn’t want to get on a plane and arrive in New York an hour later; I wanted a four-hour trip on a train so I could start the rewrite. By the time I got to New York I had rewritten fifteen pages of the play. I stayed in New York for a week and came back with about thirty-five new pages. And we went to work. The play was never a major success, but we did have a year’s run and sold it to the movies. Maureen Stapleton won the Tony Award, and Marsha Mason, who played the lead in the film version, got an Oscar nomination.

Maybe the plays matured because I matured. I do want to be taken more seriously, yet I want to hear the laughter in the theater. The laughs are very often the same gratification to the audience as letting themselves cry. They’re interchangeable emotions.

If you’d like to read what people such as Arthur Miller, Sam Shepard, Joyce Carol Oates and other famous — and not so famous — playwrights have to say about the art and craft of writing for the stage, type “On Playwriting” into the small sidebar window and tap the “Search” button.

Part XIII of the Neil Simon series will post next Wednesday.


Today’s Gag

September 17, 2012

To purchase reprint and/or other rights for this cartoon, buy a framed print, or have it reproduced on T-shirts, mugs, aprons, etc., visit my archives at cartoonstock.com and jantoo.com by clicking the sidebar links.

Copyright © 2012 Jim Sizemore.

Hip Shots

September 14, 2012

Clouds IV

By Jim Sizemore

(Click images for larger views.)

The “Hip Shots” series of photographs will feature images that were grabbed “on the fly,” with little or no regard for framing and focus. The object of the exercise is to create dynamic pictures, not perfect ones. With this ” shoot-from-the-hip” method the more frames exposed, the better the chances are that you’ll come up with something interesting — a related series that may be arranged as a post. If you’d like additional tips for using the technique, or to submit your own images, drop a question or note in the “Leave a Comment” section, below. This feature will appear most Fridays.

 

Copyright © 2012 Jim Sizemore.