Click image to enlarge. This cartoon tip originally appeared in the January-February 2016 issue of The Cartoon!st, the newsletter of the National Cartoonists Society. All series images and texts are copyright © 2016 by the artist.
Paris Review, The Art of Theater No. 8
Interviewed by Lloyd Richards
For a long time I thought that drinking had a great influence on my imagination. Not that I’ve used alcohol at any of the few desks where I’ve done my writing; I’ve always sat down at my desk very sober, but alcohol was there as a part of my life. Especially at night, after a day working, I used to enjoy my whiskeys, my wines, my beer. And then with the last carafe at night I brainstormed, putting down ideas for the next day. It was a critical aspect of my writing cycle and it led me to believe that if I decided to give up drinking I would end up not writing any longer.
(My) marriage has survived on the basis of one absolute rule: total privacy. It came about quite unconsciously, without any fuss; we never addressed ourselves to the issue. I think two writers living together can be dangerous. I never know what (she) is writing, what her novel is about, until the first copy comes from the publisher. And she, by and large, knows nothing about the play that I’m working on until she sits down in a preview or a first-night audience. We exchange sighs of relief or groans of despair at the end of the day, but it’s as general as that. They are noises, like two draft animals stabled together, blowing and groaning away.
(W)hen I wrote The Bloodknot, nobody in South Africa wanted to touch it. If I hadn’t got hold of Zakes, whom I had already known from some previous work we had done in the theater, and said, “Let’s do it,” and then tried to sort out the traffic on the stage—in addition to taking on the role of Morris—the play wouldn’t have got done. It was the same with Hello and Goodbye, People are Living There, Boesman and Lena, Sizwe Bansi is Dead, The Island, and Statements After an Arrest Under the Immorality Act.
I only started enjoying the luxuries so taken for granted in the American theater when I came to Yale. I had never had designers in my life. I had never had dramaturges—I’m still trying to discover what to do with that animal; what do you do with a dramaturge? I think they are asking themselves that question as well. God knows I have no conceits as a director. Someone has to organize the traffic. That’s what I do: I see that people don’t bump into each other on the stage. I look after the six-foot rule.
The six-foot rule is that no two actors must come nearer to each other than six feet unless there is a crisis. Get closer than six feet and you’ve got a crisis in the action. So I organize the traffic. I also understand the text, because I wrote it. With those two contributions to the event, I have discharged my responsibilities as a director.
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 VII of the Athol Fugard series will post next Wednesday.
The Tale of the Hare
If I were playing the part of a movie pulp fiction detective (think Bogart’s “Sam Spade”), and a leggy blond perched on the end of my desk asked me to take the “Too Happy for Words” case, a mystery in the form of an essay, the first question I would have is: Why in the world did someone (me, in real life) doodle a guy chasing a hare (or is it a rabbit?) on the last page of an otherwise straightforward essay about marriage, motherhood and fiction writing? I’m sure of one thing, the real me didn’t unconsciously doodle the image as an audition to illustrate the text. If by some chance I were to get such a gig, a rabbit would be the last thing to occur to me. I just re-read the McDermott essay (excellent, by the way), and there are no rabbits or hares in it; and discounting human babies, no small animals of any description. So far, then, my investigation has dead-ended.
The “Too Happy for Words” essay by novelist Alice McDermott (“A Bigamist’s Daughter, “That Night,” “Charming Billy”), is collected in the book The Writing Life: Writers on How They Think and Work, a paperback published in 2003. From the rereading I’ve concluded that the essay is concerned mainly with the different attitudes to marriage and motherhood held by some wary young feminists and their older “sisters,” many of whom have married and are, on the surface at least, happily raising kids. It seems the question the younger women are asking (and some of the older women are asking themselves), is to what extent, if at all, does familial devotion stunt their ambition and creativity. Here’s how Ms. McDermott puts it: “I wonder if it’s superstition: if we feel that to admit to such contentment in life would compromise our status as artists—perhaps recalling the poor actress in The Portrait of Dorion Gray who fell in love and lost her talent.” And Ms. McDermott goes on, “As a writer I recognize that much of this can be accounted for by the demands of plot—no doubt all happy mothers are like happy families: alike. And as Tolstoy warned us, sustained joy doesn’t make much of a story.”
This final McDermott quote I marked provides the clue I need to solve the case. On the last page, just above my doodle, she writes: “Fiction requires the attendant threat, the dramatic reversal, not only because these are the things that make for plot and tension and a sense of story, but because without them any depiction of our joy might appear overstated. We hesitate to include in our fiction what so often strikes us in life as something too good to be true.”
Put another way, Ms. McDermott is talking about conflict, the device that drives all story telling. And with that I think I’ve found my little insight, the knowledge which logically leads to a solution of the original query. Rabbits are famous for having lots of babies, right? In fact, they are the very symbol of fecundity—motherhood squared, so to speak? And is there anything cuter than little bunnies hop, hop, hopping in a field of flowers or down the road? But what happens when you add a man pursuing the bunny with something else in mind, perhaps something sinister like dinner? With those questions in mind I think I can say that the mystery of the connection between and among marriage, motherhood, fiction writing, and my doodle, is solved. My unconscious illustrator seems to have come up with an idea my conscious mind would have surly missed, or rejected: The “attendant threat” of a man on the hunt, and the joy he finds in that, contrasted by the sheer terror felt by his prey. Case closed.
“The Tale of the Hare” is the second in a series of occasional posts under the title Marginalia. In these posts I will display and comment upon a full-page scan from one of my personal library books on which I’ve doodled and/or underlined—or, as some would claim, otherwise defaced a scared text (to the true bibliophile all text is scared). These folks, shocked by the desecration, predict (and seem to wish), that I will suffer some vile punishment for my transgressions. Copyright © 2008 Jim Sizemore.