Thursday, June 28, 2007

group work

I’ll let you in on a little secret: Part of the reason I’m a fiction writer is because I’m lazy and impatient. Think about it. If you want to make a film, you have to find financing, assemble a cast and crew, shoot, most likely re-shoot and edit. There’s a reason so many actors knit. It’s because days on the set are slooow.

As a solo writer with just a laptop and my imagination, I am light on my feet. I think it and it is. No equipment, no committees.

But then I found myself planning a performance with Jamie and Alanna. We wanted it to be multidisciplinary and slightly more cohesive than your average “here’s a bunch of artists all doing their thing” evening. Alanna, who has a way of thinking that I can only describe as diagonal, said, regarding potential themes, “I’ve been fascinated with the idea of live blogging.”

Then she laughed her signature laugh, sort of a can-you-believe-this guffaw. Jamie and I liked this live blogging thing. We didn’t 100 percent get it, maybe, but we liked it.

And suddenly there was equipment, and a committee.

I wasn’t great at this collaborative thing, and I had occasional flashbacks to “group work” in elementary and high school, which usually involved drawing a circle with lots of idea-spokes coming out of it on a big piece of butcher paper.

Our live-blogging-show conversations went something like this:

Alanna: What if we added audience participation and a slide show? What does blogging mean to you guys? Like, philosophically?

Me: That sounds complicated. How about we make a list of the order we want to perform in, and then we’ll perform in that order.

Jamie: I hate all my poems.

Okay, I’m exaggerating a little. But in general our roles seemed to be Conceptual Artist (Alanna), Worriedly Introspective Artist (Jamie) and Wet Blanket (me). But while I kept pressing for the aforementioned list, I quickly realized how different and wonderful it felt to be outside my comfort zone. Yes, people were zinging ideas at me that sometimes felt overwhelming, but how priceless to have a little chaos cross my path.

Unlike music and poetry, fiction writing can occasionally feel too much like a series of problems to be solved: What convinces Eliza her brother is in Kuching? Why doesn’t Felix go to grad school when she’s accepted? Sometimes a big, dark, messy direction for a story will creep into my head, and I’ll quickly shove it away, thinking, I’m not going to tear down the whole house because I want to put one new brick in the foundation. But, I discovered, thanks to my free-spirited friends, how great it can be to live in the moment of “what if?”

I hope that, simultaneously, Jamie was realizing that her poems are precise and vivid, classic but with delightful jagged edges in unexpected places.

All of which is to say, come see us tomorrow night. Who knows what will happen.


Claire said...

Not needing anyone else to do it is one thing I've always loved about writing. Good filmmaking requires so many people...and so much equipment...and usually more money than anyone has handy.

If I were remotely close, I'd totally be there. Break a leg! I'm sure it'll be great! I look forward to the post-show blogdown.

Cheryl said...


And even bad filmmaking has always sounded pretty difficult to me. Sometimes I watch movies and think, "That 80 million could have fed so many people." Whereas a bad novel only kills a handful of trees.