Saturday, March 20, 2010

Post-partum and the Playwright

Geoff and his son

In January I gave the Creative Writing Class an assignment called "Person, Place, and Song" from What If by Anne Bernays and Pamela Painter. Students were required to use the following formula for their opening line: "The first time I (or NAME) heard SPECIFIC SONG TITLE by SPECIFIC ARTIST OR GROUP, I (or NAME) was down/up/over at PLACE and we were doing ACTION.

Geoff Robinson wrote this beautiful story with a poetic sensibility.

Post-partum and the Playwright
By Geoff Robinson -

When I first heard Nihilist Assault Group (Parts 1, 2, 3) by the London-based post-punk neo-Krautrock group Stereolab, I was at my word processor in my home-office attempting an outline of my third play. Grace had just given birth to our second daughter three weeks before, and she was in the other room on the day-bed, collapsed in exhaustion. Grace wasn't taking the situation well, and to be honest I thought she had post-partum depression. She didn't seem herself, at least in comparison to the weeks subsequent to our first child. It seemed she hadn't said ten words to me since the delivery. I had been told that Caesarian births were tough on moms. Something about the anesthetic removing the body-memory of the experience set mothers up for feelings of isolation just after the giving birth. Not exactly a subject that I knew much about.

Anyway, I thought if we hired a nanny this time Grace could be more rested. I did not anticipate the emotional vacuum that came from what used to be my charming and ebullient Grace.

She was the light of my life; she was the fire that kept me warm, the calm in the center of my storm; my moral compass, my grace. I missed her. I savagely pecked out a sketch of the first scene of the second act. My play was about a high-functioning autistic adult finding love for the first time.

Joel’s apartment walls are covered with children’s portraits, landscapes and street scenes, all in black and white.
Mandy: “I’ve always wanted to see this”
Mandy is awe-struck by the sheer number of photographs, some in frames, some taped to the wall with silver duct tape and peers at them, mouth open. The dimly lit kitchen table is clean but cluttered with several stacks of papers, magazines, and books. Chrysanthemums sit in a vase on the window sill.
Joel opens the refrigerator and drinks from a jug of orange juice.

Joel: “I don’t really have anything to drink, but I can offer you some orange juice or water.”
Mandy: “Water will be fine”
Mandy studies Joel’s movements over the sink. She thinks to herself that there was definitely something different about this guy.
Mandy (reaching out her hand):“I’m Mandy”
Joel looks blankly at her and turns to close the freezer, dropping ice cubes into the glass on the table. He places the glass down in front of her and walks into the other room. Mandy smiles uncomfortably, turns and watches Joel sit on the couch.

Joel, the main character was an outlet, maybe even a parallel identity for me. In fact, I felt so isolated and lonely that I may as well have been in a social and cultural cocoon, an autistic, shut off from the rest of humankind.
Bright sun poured through frosty windows onto the floor to the left of my feet as tree branch shadows danced to the pulsing sound. The Stereolab song got to the second part where everything slows down, the organ droning, Laeticia's light soprano lilting over the synthetic aural sculpture, passive, yet so powerful. Laeticia Sadier's voice was the personification of my love for Grace. Before the birth while listening to Stereolab, Grace noted my obsession with Laeticia and got jealous. I tried to explain to her that the singer was somehow representing the powerful feelings of love that I had for her, my beautiful wife Grace Young. Grace didn't buy it. I couldn't have expected her to.

Sometimes, as much as you love someone, they don't understand how intensely you can feel for something as abstract as music, and how it can be related to your feelings for them simply because the level of intensity is similar. No matter when or where I listened to this music, it reminded me of her.

I printed the draft of another scene, the first kiss for my character and his new love.
Joel: “Can I get you some more water?”
Joel is mesmerized with Mandy’s movement toward him.
Mandy: “No, I’m fine. I have everything I want.”
Mandy sits down next to Joel on the sofa.
He stares at her, paralyzed.

Mandy: “Joel, do you have a girlfriend?”
Joel: “No.”
Joel gets up and walks into the kitchen, looking for his cigarettes. As he begins to light one up he notices that Mandy has walked into the kitchen as well.
Joel: “Why did you get into my car?”
Joel flicks his lighter several times without getting a flame.

Mandy: “I got into your car because it was open. I had to get away from the insanity at that party and your back seat was a good place to hide”
Mandy smiles mischievously.
Mandy (still smiling): “Joel, isn’t this a no smoking building?”
Joel lays the lighter and cigarette down on the table. Mandy approaches him and kisses him on the lips. As he stands motionless, eyes closed, he starts to laugh. Mandy begins laughing too. Now Joel kisses Mandy and wraps his arms around her waist, holding her close. Joel smiles as they kiss. Mandy backs away from Joel and stares intensely into his eyes. She reaches out for him and he looks at her hand nervously.
Joel (loud and anguished): “Mandy, you make me feel good.”
Joel is looking at the floor. He looks up into her eyes.
Mandy: “Joel, I don’t want to go back to Seventh Avenue tonight, I want to stay with you.”
Mandy puts her arms around Joel’s neck.
In that instant, Joel forgets about his need for routine, his fear of communication, and his photographs. He forgets about all the pain from the popped balloons, the jeering classmates, and the isolation and loneliness of his apartment. All he thinks about is that moment with this wonderful person.

While reading the scene, I burst into tears as Laeticia and Stereolab's mesmerizing song tore something loose in my heart. I wadded up the paper and threw it on the floor. I couldn't think! Nihilist Assault Group (Parts 1, 2, 3). I thought about the title of the song as I looked at the CD jewel case insert. Assault, yes assault! It was a skewer into my mental landscape, a dagger into the breastplate of my soul. Yet I was floating in bliss! This was not nihilism!

The baby started to cry. I guess I had the player a little loud. Angelina the nanny crossed the hall into the nursery. I said "I'll get her." She ignored me. I walked up to the crib and looked into the sparkling blue eyes of my infant daughter Noa. "Angelina, let me." I said and reached down and gently cradled Noa into my arms. Noa smiled and her eyes seemed to understand my emotional predicament. Her warmth merged with my heart and I wiped the tears off my face. Laeticia Sadier became less important in that moment. I was Joel, awkward, lonely and reclusive, awakened by pure, unconditional love.

In my loneliness, I had wandered into an autistic photographer's apartment and the sonic world of Stereolab, and Noa had pulled me out. Kids have a way of doing things like that.

By Marc Chagall

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