Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Metaphors be with you.

José is 16 years old. He used to try to hit on me until he figured out that I am 21. "Oh, I'm really sorry," he said, "I thought you were 15."

My boss, Ron, had me working one-on-one with
José last week, because he was having a hard time understanding what a metaphor was and how to create one. Ron wanted the kids to use a metaphor to describe a sculpture in Millennium Park and then to use that to write a character monologue.

Ron's example of a metaphor was comparing himself to a burning candle. He is short, and he is getting shorter as he gets older, but he refuses to go out just yet, and he wants to spread the fire he has to as many other wicks as possible before he is extinguished.

With that as an example,
José was convinced that the definition of a metaphor was a series of ideas that aren't actually true and don't make any sense together anyway. He kept trying to create something that would fit that definition, but everything he wrote made too much sense or else felt too true, and he got frustrated. That's when Ron sent him to me.

We sat together and stared at the sculpture. He told me the sculpture looked like an upside-down turtle. "But the monologue is supposed to be from a person, not a turtle. I can't write a turtle monologue. I don't know what turtles think, and turtles aren't people, and, and --" Ok,
José, calm down. Write for a few minutes about what an upside-down turtle is like.

He wrote: "Stuck. Helpless. Vulnerable, because his shell is in the wrong place. He keeps trying to get up, but he rolls back. He might get killed and eaten."

José, forget the turtle, and talk to me about a person who is stuck and helpless and vulnerable and is protecting himself in all the wrong places and can't get up no matter how hard he tries.

José named the character Ben. Ben used to live with a girl named Maria, but it started getting weird after they slept together, and she moved out, heartbroken. He wasn't heartbroken. He hadn't let himself get close to her. He wouldn't let himself get close to a girl at all. But that was years ago, and he's starting to get lonely and desperate. He works at Chili's, and he should talk to the girls there, especially the one he thinks is so pretty, but he can't, because he is protecting himself from getting hurt. Ben has a best friend named Adam. Adam calls Ben and talks about the latest drama with his boyfriend. This makes Ben tired, and it makes him miss Maria. Not Maria, because he never really liked her, but he misses the idea of Maria.

José? Ben is an upside-down turtle. "No, that's not true at all. He's a waiter at Chili's." But he's stuck and miserable, even though he's tried to protect himself.

"Oh. .... Oh! Oh! It's a metaphor!" And then he wrote for twenty minutes.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Wedding Days

There have been so many weddings this summer: A.J. and Catherine, Joe and Jane, Ryan and Gretchen, Spencer and Marjorie, Nathaniel and Bethany, David and Emma. I think Mike and Chelsea are next, and I'm sure I'm forgetting a couple or two. I'm not feeling too overloaded, because of all of those, I've only gotten to see the Spencer-and-Marjorie wedding. It was lovely, but I do not feel old enough for my friends to be marrying each other.

I babysit for three families. Two of those families have 5 year old girls. They are teaching me different perspectives about how marriage works.

One of them, Lauren, likes to play princess, and she has me be the queen, who is either good or evil, depending on whether she is the mother or the stepmother. The plot that recurs most often is the one where Princess Lauren has to find someone to marry her or she will die.

Me: How come you'll die?
Lauren: Because that's what happens if you don't get married.
Me: I'm not married.
Lauren: That's because you're not beautiful. Only beautiful people get married. Maybe one day you will get married, and then you will be beautiful like my mom.

Usually, the game ends when Princess Lauren has gotten bored of lying still on the ground waiting for her little brother (Christopher, age 3) to man up and marry her. She dies and pouts for awhile, but he is too busy playing fireman to notice.

This weekend, I was cleaning up the kids' supper things when I heard this conversation between Tyler (age 8) and Grace (age 5).

Grace: You have too many girlfriends, Tyler.
Tyler: Yeah, well, you're in love with Joe.
Grace: I am not.
Tyler: Yes, you are. You want to marry Joe.
Grace: I do not.
Tyler: Then who do you want to marry?
Grace: I am not going to marry anyone until I meet him in college.
Tyler: But what if Joe goes to the same college you go to?
Grace: I still won't marry him.
Tyler: Grace! That's so mean! He'll be so sad!

The argument went on until Tyler showed me some of his favorite Feist music videos while Grace took a bath.

Tyler is 8, and he has favorite Feist videos. Maybe if he didn't already have so many girlfriends, I would wait and marry him.


I've got my car all packed with cassette tapes and sweaters and loose change and cheap cigarettes.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Ah, who cares? You always end up in the city.

I have become a commuter. Monday through Thursday, I take the 6:57am train into the city. Then I walk a few blocks and get on the subway to Division, then walk a few more blocks to my internship. I am there by 8:45.

My internship has a strict tank top-and-sweatpants-only dress code, so I stick out among the businesspeople in blazers and slacks. I use 10-ride Metra passes and can walk as purposefully as any of them, with iPod and travel mug (of tea, not coffee) and everything, but it is still obvious I'm not going to an office building.

I am an intern at Free Street Theater. Before the middle and high school students got there, the college-aged interns wrote a play. It is now being performed for younger kids in parks around Chicago. If you meet a character who is a lot like Martha Stewart except that she eats children, that's the character I wrote.

Now that the student-artists are there, a typical day begins with an hour and a half of yoga, some contact improv lessons, and writing exercises. After lunch, we do workshops in anything from the meanings of symbols to poetry writing to organic movement. (I am increasingly confused about the definition of "organic." My cereal is organic, and so is this piece of concept art I watched, and so are things with carbon.)

It's all solid acting and writing tools, and yoga is hard work, but the whole thing is couched in vaguely New Age rhetoric. We talk a lot about being free from the self. We also talk about accessing the self and exploring the self and tapping into the self and connecting the deep well of the self with the big mind of the universe. I do not know what most of that stuff means, but it's getting good work out of these kids, most of whom are from poorer school districts that don't have much in the way of arts programs. Still, the whole Self talk is confusing. I tend to ignore it.

The most impressive thing is how the directors treat the kids. The kids learn how to eat well, how to exercise, how to sit still and pay attention, how to give and receive, how to interpret symbols and metaphors, but none of it is condescending. The directors treat the kids like artists, and the kids act like artists.

Right now, the students are working on their solo silent performances, which they'll take to the streets next week. Part of my job as an intern will be to help make sure the kids don't get kidnapped or anything.

The rest of my job is to be part of projects that include fitting as many people of different sizes and races as possible into the smallest car possible, driving five miles, and eating vegan food.

There is no Free Street on Fridays, but I go into the city anyway for my Writing for the Stage class at iO. I didn't make the Harold team, but this elective comes with experimental performances, so I'll still get some stage time. Classes without stage time seem kind of pointless to me right now. How else are you to find out if what you are learning works unless you try it in front of an audience?


Someone somewhere asked me, "Is there anything in particular I can help you with?" All I ever wanted help with was you.