Writing in the Short Form – Some Examples

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Night Out: post20

Rhonda and I agree to meet at the Auditorium Theater. An expensive night out, but the tickets are non-refundable, so throw caution to the wind and “smoke the last half of the last cigar in Moscow.”

There’s a rally underway in the Chicago Loop to celebrate the White Sox World Series triumph, but mostly I encounter the tail end of festivities. Envelope-size confetti litters blocks of LaSalle like ankle-deep autumn leaves. Michigan Avenue is loaded with scores of young people from the rally who are waiting for rides. And farther south by Harrison or Congress, the Critical Mass bicycle group, several hundred strong, obstructs traffic for a protest to gain more respect for bikers versus cars in traffic. Except they wear homemade Halloween costumes, some sexualized and some modeled after sci-fi characters. With overcoats. A motley crew.

Rhonda waits at the entrance when I work my way past the lively street activity. “Must be a full moon,” I say. We had agreed on the phone to keep it simple; leave the tiara in the safe deposit box and the like. She wears work clothes, except more than casual. Burnt-orange colored cords with trendy clunky shoes and layers of narrow sweaters. Rhonda’s wearing orange pants at the ballet. Her hair’s cut different, a Winona Rider look with too-short bangs. And she has a great smile. What do I care what others think?

We spend ten minutes in the ladies’ lounge; dimpled leather cushions and a long row of mirrors with gilded edging. Women come and go, some dressed in off-the-rack spangled holiday blouses. Others dressed comfortably like us. Chicago is no fashion plate.

We find our seats, first row balcony looking down into the orchestra pit, and we chat while waiting for the curtain. The orchestra warms up and Rhonda talks about Gone with the Wind which she just finishing reading again. “Margaret Mitchell could really write. I mean, some of it was purple prose, of course. But the characters are vivid and the ending has this rhythm that keeps you engaged. All the threads pull together in a crescendo.”

“Crescendo?” I ask. She flashes a guilty smile. “You’d like it. You should read it again.” We consciously avoid questions of student troubles or mama-drama at the artist studios. We’re here to relax and set all that aside. So we wander into bits and pieces about writing. “I thought about writing about Evan and that experience, and filled some pages in my journal, but I don’t know…  It was–”

“I think confessional writing wanders into fiction,” I say. “I mean, it’s personal, just like photos, until something happens in the story. Plot cannot follow real life because real life has no happy ending. It’s open-ended. New threads develop where others fade. So how to make a story? How to present characters and give them background without exposition? No plot and too much exposition, that’s confessional writing. To save the story as a story, fictional elements are needed. You see? Fiction invades confession.”

The ballet’s first movement is traditional with well-constructed costumes and dramatic lighting. I love the ballet because it’s mute. My time’s so engaged with language; I seek relaxation in other mediums. But that angle backfires here. I recite Shakespeare lines in my head while dance gestures pantomime Oberon and Puck and Hermia. “Why should Titania cross her Oberon? I do but beg a little changeling boy, to be my henchman”  (MSND, AII, sc.i, 119-121). I’m adding narrative.

During intermission we try the water fountains, but there’s no pressure. The line at the women’s room swells. “I’m so pleased with our seats,” Rhonda says. “We get to see the patterns of rows of ballerinas because we look into the stage’s depth.” She’s making nice-nice again. “Mezzanine would have cost $125 each. That’s over our heads.” Rhonda reaches for a thought. “I sorta go into a trance from relaxing and the music and trying to see everything. I like it, but I wind up wishing I could capture more.”

“You can’t see all the motion, so spread your senses to ride along,” I reword for her. I push back the intruding thought that I have big bills and no work in December or for next year. Just savor today’s flavor. When I’m old and abandoned in a nursing home somewhere, I can remember the dance and Shakespeare’s lines in my head. “If we shadows have offended, // Think but this, and all is mended, // That you have but slumbered here // While these visions did appear, // And this weak and idle theme, // No more yielding but a dream”  (AV, sc.i, 430-435).

The next dance is modern, the costumes monochromatic, and the dancers side-lit. I like the precision of gesture and tug-and-pull tension. There’s spontaneous applause like at the Olympics ice-dancing events. Chicagoans may be casual, but we know when we view quality. Well worth the price. The last piece is billed as Russian folk dance gone wild with pyrotechnics. None of that happens: who wrote the program? But the dance is exuberant and well-executed. I dread that it will end, certainly a measure for being entertained.

We take the train home. Rhonda starts with one of her get-rich-quick schemes. First it was tutoring rich folks kids, then rewriting PhD papers for profit, then a writers’ salon. “You saw the latest Diane Keaton movie, right?” she asks. “I’m not a Jack Nicholson fan, so I passed,” I shrug. “You should rent it. You would like it, really,” she encourages. “I saw an interview where Keaton said they assumed with this high profile role, the offers would pour-in and she’d be working again.  But nothing, just flat-lined. So she wants to develop stories for women her age. That’s what we should do, write screenplays for older actresses.”

“Hollywood is driven by men who can afford to make movies. A screenplay about women needs special funding and special connections we cannot muster. It’s a brutal business. Besides, they’re looking for domestic drama, and that’s confession peppered with fiction, which I don’t write.” It’s seems I’m always raining on Rhonda’s cheery parade. 

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