Thursday, January 3, 2008

A Living Cliché

I resemble this more than I would like to admit: John Turturro as Barton Fink

I feel like a bit of a cliché right about now: the struggling writer. The new draft of my play stares me in the face whenever I open up my computer, I'm reading Anna Deavere Smith's Letters to a Young Artist in the hopes it will provide some wise advice, and a few days ago I watched Barton Fink, one of the canonical movies about writer's block.

I liked the movie, but it didn't exactly reassure me. It insists that some people, like Barton, are just destined to be one-hit wonders. Not what I need to hear right now! Not on the day when some people I trust finally responded to me after reading the first draft of my new play--and we all agree it needs a lot of work.

I didn't intend for Barton Fink to parallel my situation like this--I first watched it because I am curious about Clifford Odets and knew the character of Barton was loosely based on him. Also, I'm a Coen Brothers fan--loved their dialogue here, especially the dead-on parody of Awake and Sing! But why the constant need to denigrate Barton? Joel and Ethan, you're writers too--can't you have some sympathy for the guy?

Another maybe-inspirational thing I just read was Wendy Wasserstein's Shiksa Goddess essay collection. Many of the pieces are short, satirical, and past their sell-by date; but others are more serious and valuable, dealing with feminism or playwriting or the arts... The last and longest essay is about the birth of Wasserstein's daughter Lucy Jane, who was born premature and required several weeks in an incubator. Because of this--because Wasserstein is a female playwright--my subconscious mind associated the difficult birth of a baby with the difficult birth of a play. The night after I finished Shiksa Goddess and watched Barton Fink and started really obsessing about my play, I dreamed that I had given birth to a premature baby and was nursing it back to health. I don't doubt that it's a metaphor for my feelings toward revising and nurturing this play.

I'm actually pretty impressed with my subconscious mind for devising this metaphor--it's more truthful than anything my conscious mind has devised lately. I wonder what male writers dream about as they struggle with their work--since they obviously can't dream about pregnancy and birth!

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