One-Minute Memoir

November 30, 2012

First Love

By Jim Sizemore

I arrived at her door nervous, like a teenager on his first date. It was my mother’s 72nd birthday. I was 42 then and had driven nearly six hundred miles from my home in Baltimore to our hometown in Virginia to take her to dinner. My plan was to retrace 40 miles on the Interstate to Lexington, a college town with a decent restaurant. She answered my knock wearing a simple house dress under a thin tan raincoat, her gray hair wrapped tightly in a flower-patterned dime-store scarf. The scarf material appeared to be cheesecloth. I pointed, “Must you wear that thing?” My mother looked at me as she often did, like I was crazy. “It’s clean,” she said, an answer that made no sense to me. Typical — our life together had been one long misunderstanding.

We headed back east to the restaurant, the sun setting behind us; I kept looking at the back-lit mountain ridges in the rear view mirror and the reflected light on the sloping hills ahead. When I mentioned the beauty all around us she shrugged, just sat there, scrunched down in her seat like the wrinkled shell of some creature you come across in the forest. My face had started to wrinkle, too, and I saw that the lines were forming into her patterns. It was eerie. I could look at her face and see my own, thirty years down the road.

At dinner all she did was complain. The place was too fancy, the meal too expensive, and anyway, that “pile of food” would just go to waste. Besides, she said, she didn’t like people to make a fuss over her. I made a mean joke about her “plantation mentality,” her inability to enjoy the good that came her way. We left the restaurant in silence and I drove her home, very fast. Outside the car window the black sky was background for a line of darker mountain ridges. The headlights illuminated flashes of broken white lane marker, and the dash instruments cast a dim, yellow light on my hands, tight on the wheel. I began throwing up curses from my gut, spitting them out in random combinations, alternately screaming and whispering every blasphemous oath I knew. It was an evil performance, variations on a filthy theme, a jazz riff of profanity, of streaming dark passion. The foul words had bulk and filled the dark cavity of my car. I had trouble breathing, seemed to be drowning in my own angry bile. “What does it take to move you?” I screamed, and the words echoed in the tight space.

No reply. I was sure she was smiling at my intensity in the dark. “You damn well should know what’s got me going like this! The sunset! That beautiful goddamn sunset!” After a long silence, I blurted, “What the hell does it take to move you?”

More silence. “Answer me!”

Her voice came back quiet, calm. “I never raised you to talk like that.”

I spit out my reply like another curse. “You didn’t raise me! You were gone by the time I was twelve!”

Not a peep from her, but I knew she was thinking how odd I was. She had always claimed I was different from her other sons, didn’t behave like a regular baby, didn’t cry much — that I was serious, like a “miniature man.” Then she said, “Well, it’s all done and over — the good times and the bad — your daddy and me — me and you. And from now on I’ll not let on like I’ve had all them babies, diapered ‘em, raised ‘em up ‘til they was teenagers or thereabouts, stayed up of a night when they was sick. Kept ‘em clean and fed.”

I took the first exit into town, heading for the Esso station on Main Street. I needed gas, but also wanted an excuse to leave the car before I started bawling. As the gas pumped and I cleaned the bug-plastered windshield from the trip down through the Shenandoah Valley, I tried to stay focused on my hand and the paper towel. But in the bright light of the gas island my eyes moved from the splattered glass to my mother’s face. There it was — that bemused smile on her thin lips, and I’m thinking: Damn, this is one cute woman!

Then a memory of her snaps into sharp focus: I’m a little kid, standing in my mother’s bedroom in the company shack where I was born, over by the paper mill where my father worked, and I can’t be more than three or four because I’m looking up at the window sill, looking up at it and watching dust motes dance in a shaft of light. The warm light is reflected from the floor onto the wall and ceiling and it looks like magic. She’s sitting at her round-mirrored dresser, her back to me, wearing only a full slip, brushing her beautiful auburn hair that looks with the morning light in it like a sunrise, patiently counting the strokes.

Copyright © 2012 Jim Sizemore.

Doodlemeister is looking for short memory pieces up to a thousand 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. And 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 


Athol Fugard On Playwriting, V

November 28, 2012

Paris Review, The Art of Theater No. 8

Interviewed by Lloyd Richards

Some (of my) plays have gone through rehearsal and ended up on the stage without even so much as the punctuation having changed. Others have benefited substantially from the rehearsal process. Sometimes the actors have made me aware, in the course of the rehearsal process, of moments that needed fleshing out and points that hadn’t been made strongly enough.

Obviously when it comes to the question of telling stories about other people’s lives in a situation as political as South Africa, you get to be political. So political commitment isn’t really something I’ve had to look for; it was an automatic by-product of my being a storyteller—one who is going to try to tell stories truthfully and through them bear witness to the South African situation. Talking with young students at Yale recently, I was asked whether I agreed with a fellow South African writer . . . who said that all writers in that country had an obligation to make a political stand. I got angry about this because I don’t think any writer should presume to give orders to another. The place from which you take your orders is probably the most secret place you have. If you have a word like God in your vocabulary, then that is an area in which you and God deal with each other. So, no writer must ever presume to tell another writer what his or her political responsibilities are. It is a poet’s right in South Africa to write a poem that seemingly has no political resonance.

Some writers do nothing but talk about the objective moral obligations that artists must live up to. If you’re Brecht, you’re going to write as Brecht writes; you’re going to be as committed as Brecht. There may be pale imitations, but there will only be one Brecht. Every artist does as he needs to. There is a desperate tendency to try to legislate artists, to try to lay down rules for their obligations to society. Just leave artists alone. If you are a true artist, you will have a very finely tuned moral mechanism. If you’re a Georgia O’Keeffe, a Bertolt Brecht, or a Harold Pinter, you’ll do it your way.

Exile is a phenomenon I have watched with morbid curiosity over the years because it is a fate that has befallen a lot of my friends. It is something I have watched but not experienced. I do not consider myself to be in exile. I could play around with words and say that I consider myself an exile from the society that I believe South Africa should be, but that’s just being clever.

Art has a role. Art is at work in South Africa. But art works subterraneanly. It’s never the striking, superficial cause and effect people would like to see. Art goes underground into people’s dreams and surfaces months later in strange, unexpected actions. People bring a sort of instant-coffee expectation to art; they’d like the results to be immediate. It doesn’t work that way. I like that image of art dropping down through the various layers of the individual’s psyche, into dreams, stirring around there and then surfacing later in action.

If you’d like to read what playwrights such as Arthur Miller, Sam Shepard, Joyce Carol Oates — and many more —  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 VI of the Athol Fugard series will post next Wednesday.


Today’s Gag

November 26, 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

November 23, 2012

Flag Change XII

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.

Athol Fugard On Playwriting IV

November 21, 2012

Paris Review, The Art of Theater No. 8

Interviewed by Lloyd Richards

I think every writer has a special relationship with his most recent work. In my case that would be The Road to Mecca. Firstly, the process of writing it, creating it, the traumas or difficulties that you live through in order to get it written—those are close to you still. Also the most recent play says something about where you are in your life. It still needs a certain protection; it is very young. Its life has just been started, and you feel very paternal about it.

My most important tool is my notebook . . . . I jot down random images, thoughts, ideas, speculations, and a little bit of personal misery. It’s a five-finger exercise. Every one of my plays started off a long time before the actual writing took place as an image in those notebooks. There comes a point when one of these images from the past . . . . If it is the right moment, and if . . . there is a coincidence between the external and the internal, the things start happening. First I just free associate. It’s almost as if the seminal image has a certain magnetic power of its own that helps me focus on the things of daily living that relate to it. This is the first step. It usually results in an accumulation of ideas, scraps of dialogue, rough structures for scenes and a mass of paper. I can lift up that paper and feel its weight metaphorically and think, Yeah, there’s enough here now. Next it’s got to be ordered and organized. I never actually start to write a play . . . until I have completely structured the play. I have never started to write a play without knowing with total certainty what my final image is. Other writers work differently, I know. They say, Oh, the material did this to me, I got surprised, it sent me off in a different direction. That has never happened to me. While it may be a flaw, I am absolutely brutal about my disciplining of the material before I write the words page one and get to work.

It’s a very slow and painful process. I’m very conscious of how faltering the first few steps are, how much stalling and drowning in the blankness of paper there is. Nothing flows in my head. There have been occasions when I’ve found my head working away quite energetically with my hand a foot behind, watching in amazement. But there have never been sustained outpourings. If I’ve got three full pages done, longhand, that’s a good day. That’s a damn good day in fact. Sometimes there is nothing, or what I have written goes into the wastepaper basket. I tear up and throw away furiously when I write. I don’t accumulate a lot of paper. For something to stay on paper longer than two days it has to pass some very critical tests. I usually work through three drafts, longhand, in the course of writing a play; it takes about nine months.

If you’d like to read what playwrights such as Arthur Miller, Sam Shepard, Joyce Carol Oates — and many more —  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 V of the Athol Fugard series will post next Wednesday.


Today’s Gag

November 19, 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

November 16, 2012

Flag Change XI

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.