August 5, 2008KR BlogUncategorized

The Art Of Lying

I returned to NYC this Wednesday after my five-week stint with adolescents in Connecticut. Yes, the leftover sheet cake has been thrown away, and I am back in the world of the fully grown. I’m housesitting in the West Village at the moment, and as my brain re-calibrates its hormone levels, it simultaneously intends a zealous pilgrimage back to my Young Masters of Theater: specifically, to our jaunt in this very neighborhood.

Yes, the main purpose of our weekend field trip to New York was to see some big musicals and have dinner at Planet Hollywood (a study in manic overstimulation that I would rather not revisit). But during the afternoons, while the young actresses-in-training dragged their pack-mule chaperones through Fifth Avenue chain stores (“I KNOW it’s the Gap, but it’s the Gap in New York!”), I pulled the Playwriting Teacher card and snatched up my student and a freshman intern for a lesson in the Art of Literary Escape.

We went to the Drama bookstore, where my 13-year-old contemporary expressionist Andrew restored my faith in the future of dramatic literature by emerging with a stack of Buchner, Wedekind, Suzan-Lori Parks and Sarah Ruhl. (I gave him the Ruhl, but he picked out the others; I’m in love with this kid.) We went to the Morgan Museum (http://www.themorgan.org/), resting in the library’s red velvet belly, swollen with ancient paper and awe. We shed a tear on the glass cases of the Gutenberg Bibles. (OK, I got misty, while the boys stood awkwardly in the corner until they could politely escape to the sketch exhibit.) We went to the Strand (www.strandbooks.com) and the Taschen bookstore in SoHo (http://www.taschen.com/pages/en/stores/979.store_new_york.htm). And once we were weighed down and worn out, I convinced them to make the most vital sojourn of all: a stop into my favorite jewelry store. My justification: For a writer, EVERYTHING is research.

To make the outing more productive for them, I put them to work as my jewelry consultants, which they took to with unnerving speed and enthusiasm. After putting the kibbosh on several pieces I thought were quite nice, we finally found a ring we could all agree on. We stood at the checkout counter, planning our next move, and suddenly the intimidatingly beautiful unsmiling woman behind the register asked Ben (the 18-year-old intern), “Are you two brothers?”

To which he replied (after a pause), “Yes.”

Now, I knew what he was doing. Having been a peer mentor to Andrew for the past several years, Ben was nudging a gentle nod of affection Andrew’s way. But, you see, I am a terrible role model (further evidenced by the fact that my students were helping me buy jewelry instead of writing villanelles at Cornelia Street Cafe or something) who can’t resist a fiction. So what popped out of my mouth? “Yeah. They look like their father. Actually, I have three more at home. Girls. A set of twins and…uh…another one.”

The boys’ faces lit up. And thus it began. We talked for a while with the jewelry lady about the girls, and the fact that, since I don’t like girly stuff and the boys and I have similar interests, the girls often go shopping with Grandma on 5th Avenue while we go to bookstores. We discovered that, actually, we do this every Sunday. We talked about what it’s like to have a relatively large family. We talked about the fact that the boys look nothing like me, but that they look like each other.

As we left, we began to spin out our fiction: Wouldn’t it be funny if, on our next stop, we pretend we’re on our way to the Methadone clinic to get Mother her pills? Or what if we have a public argument about the fact that, “Mom, we CAN’T go to New Haven because you know you have to see your parole officer Friday afternoon”? (Notice how the fictions began to revolve around criminal behavior on my part…)

Well, I put an end to the game before we could dig in any deeper. But I’ve been thinking about it. Here’s the problem: this is the exact same process by which plays are made, this move from invention to assumption to declaration of a false reality. Why was that exercise such fun for all three of us? We three share a love not only for writing, but for the peculiar subset of DRAMATIC writing, for the reach toward incorporating invented beings and animating them in made-up worlds. Are playwrights, in some sense, simply really good liars, hijackers of other people’s situations and realities?

In some way, perhaps the boys and I were practicing. Perhaps it was an unintentional “teaching moment” for us– a lesson in sudden invention, a form of improv, an unconscious co-writing of a scene– as well as a minor lapse of moral integrity. As creators of live fictions, how can we tease these apart?

As I sit on a terrace blocks away from the scene of the crime, I find I miss my boys. I hope they read those plays they bought. I hope they get into some good creative writing classes next year. And I hope they practice lying (at least on the page) until they’re absolute experts at it.