Monday, January 26, 2009

The Long Awaited (and delayed) Post

Well, my teacher called class a little early, because all he had left on the agenda was to screen a film he wrote that went to sundance called Dopamine, and there wasn't enough time to do so.

I am going to just do a brief little "New Years Resolutions" deal here, not recap the ones I didn't keep from last year. I have more important things to blog about tonight.

So, this year I resolve to graduate. I resolve to get on my bike at least once. I resolve to write as much over Spring Break as I will have been doing all semester (with playwriting and scriptwriting [two totally different classes; playwriting is plays and scriptwriting is actually screenwriting] it should be quite a large amount). I resolve to love more, dislike less, try new things, spend more quality time with my wife and our family (both at home with the cats and the extended groups), cook more often (because I love to cook and haven't done enough of it in the last two and a half years), publish, make contacts, sell myself as a writer. I resolve to be Elliot M. Rauscher, writer.

I want to talk about the writing process, and two pieces I wrote in the last year and a half that I think truly are me, one hundred percent, through and through. These pieces that grew from the mind but evolved from the heart, while growing from the heart and evolving from the mind. What I mean by that is that, well, I have written a great deal from my heart in the past, but my heart has always been on my sleeve whilst doing so. I have also written a great deal from my mind, which has proven ill-fated and hard to read later when I can't figure out where my sentences were going and why they took so long to get to nowhere (kinda like this sentence which I have extended even longer with the parenthetical). What I learned while writing these two pieces is that you shouldn't write from just the heart or just the mind, but both. Let the heart kick the mind up, let the mind ground the heart in reality.

These pieces-and I have excerpts of both of them on here and I'll link to them at the bottom of this post-are similar in subject matter, but approach them differently. It's sad to say that they both deal with death, which is odd, because I have the good fortune of not having dealt with much death in my life. Three of my four grandparents are dead, one of them before I was even born. It was difficult when Granny Rauscher died suddenly, but it was even more difficult six years later to watch Grandpa Rauscher die slowly. I've had three pets that I held very dear to my heart die in the last eight years; one unexpectedly, one slowly and in great comfort (I like to think that the morning she died, the last thing she did when my father picked her up was purr), and one in the cold, clinical fashion most of our pets leave the world. But this is all normal; pets do not live forever; they get old or their adventurous attitude catches up with them. Grandparents die. Parents die, too, and so do children, and brothers and sisters and friends and enemies. People die. This is nothing new. What could I possibly have to say of any value, of any profound consequence, on the subject of death? It's a theme writers and philosophers have dealt with for centuries.

But I tackled it, as I said, from the heart and from the mind. My first drafts were, however, not done correctly. The first of these two pieces, a play, I began writing upon hearing of the death of a friend I hadn't seen in four years. It was too much to tackle at that point, and it poured out of my heart and came out on the page splotchy, bloody, raw, but not emotionally raw; melodramatically raw. Not the good kind of raw. It started with the protagonist (loosely based on your heroic writer) receiving a hand-addressed letter (how romantic, no?) informing him of his friend's death. Only, the audience does not know the nature of the news. It sent the character into a spiral of self-pity and then, lo and behold the (as-of-yet unrevealed to the audience) dead friend arrives. Clearly, it is all in the protagonist's head.

So I put it down for four months and worked on another play, Spice (and more on that in a moment). I thought a lot about what my friendship with this person had been, had meant. I read up a lot on what projects he was working on before he died, as he had been a terrific actor. Lots of people had a lot to say about him online in tribute groups on facebook. And in a way, reading all of that and thinking hard about him made me remember more of our friendship, insignificant as it truly was. And it got me to thinking about how lives cross paths at all kinds of angles, acute and obtuse and right and sometimes they run parallel and bend together for a short while. About how no life is really a straight line, lived from start to finish. It bends, it circles, it splits in two at times. And I wrote The Last Thing.

The second piece is sort of the opposite; I had this idea for writing about a band, traveling to their last gig because they've had it with life as an unsuccessful local band. It was partially inspired by the second ever free-write Friday about Joe Dubinsky. But I had all this stuff in my head about music, and about a band, and it all came out on the page. Actually, nothing about death in the traditional sense, merely the death of a certain musical act, which can seem like a death (believe me).

But as I said, I wrote this one from the mind, not releasing my passion for music, just some technical jargon. Which is not to say it didn't have any heart in it; the friendships were written with heart, because I had learned that with The Last Thing. But in a sixteen page story, three pages with heart do not equal anything good. This story was called "North for Salvation" and, while parts of it were good, it fizzled for me with every read.

So I got to thinking about death again as I was redrafting, thinking about it because I felt mortality creeping up on everybody I know; not morbidly, not immediately, but I feel the steady drumbeat of time, and it dawned on me that each second passed is a second less to live than a second ago. Now, this could cause some heavy breathing and angst amongst some people, so instead of dwelling on this, I just let it happen to one of my characters. Not the angst, but the final passing second. My main character's father passed away. It got me to thinking of what I would do if I were that person; how does one cope with that? It's not the same as a cat. It can be the same as a grandparent, but for me it would be more immediate. There's a generational buffer between us and our grandparents. There is no such buffer between ourselves and our own parents.

Suddenly, I found the heart of the story. Not to keep saying heart, but I found it when I started writing from the heart. The result is something more profound than four guys riding in a van trying to live out their last rock 'n' roll glory. The result is called "Before Rock Attained Perfection."

Anyway, these are the two pieces I am currently going to push forth as the heavy artillery in my arsenal. The Last Thing is very nearly polished to perfection; "Rock" still needs work but it is getting there. These are the works that are going to go out to contests, magazines, etc.

You can find the excerpt from The Last Thing here. Currently, no excerpt of "Before Rock Attained Perfection" can be found on this blog. However, you can find an excerpt from the original draft of "North for Salvation" here.

And now, to other business. Remember the debacle that was Surfacing Emerging Playwrights Festival 2008? Well, it's back, but this time in better hands. In fact, it's in the hands of the same person who rescued it from oblivion last year. And this year, rather than being commissioned to write a piece and guaranteed a spot regardless of the crap I turn out, I opted to submit work and hope for the best. I actually submitted three pieces: the aforementioned The Last Thing, a dramedy set in a restaurant called The Office Bar and Grill, and a romantic comedy entitled Spice (no excerpt posted [and none forthcoming, read on]). I had hope for The Last Thing, knew that The Office Bar and Grill was a long shot, and I submitted Spice because I knew it would play well onstage and fit in very well because there are moments of absurd comedy played against the reality of a young couple falling for each other over Thai food. I was originally going to suicide submit just The Last Thing, but Surfacing is known for selecting plays with parts for both men and women, hence the other two.

Anyway, I received confirmation last week that Spice has been selected this year! And the best part is that I won't have to direct it! Which is a big relief, because that was very time consuming and stressful. I had offered to direct a play if none of my written work was selected, and you can bet your last dollar I was doing my best to will fate to select a play so I wouldn't have to direct. I would have taken the director's chair for a play, if needed; you can't renege on a promise once you've made it, unless of course it's a promise to be more of a consistent blogger...

Well, there you have it. My long silence is broken.

I would like to take a second to ask for a moment of blog silence, to mourn the dismantlement and removal of Gerald's blog turbochubs. He assures us he will come back some day, showcasing his amazing skills of an artist. Yes, I said skills of an artist. Ten points to anyone who can recognize that reference.


Molly said...

Hey... I put a comment on here last night... and it's not here! What's up with that?

I think I said something along the lines of loving this post. You may not write OFTEN, but when you do, it's a doozy. :)

notawritersfather said...

So, if you want that bike ride to end in a great fifteen-mile panic-driven sprint, take me with you. Just remember the words "heart attack" have lost all meaning for me at this point. Can anyone say "more training needed here?"

bridget said...

You almost had me with the "each second passed is a second less to live than a second ago." I started to panic thinking "why am I spending time reading this??? I've just passed 20 seconds!" But I want you to know that the feeling passed and I continued reading to the end. I also want you to know that I'm "saving" the reading of the excerpts for later...when I'm not feeling the panic of losing seconds of my life!