—From CB—

I’m exploring history. My historical lifetime, to be specific. Creatively, by choice: remembering my life and strapped to the keyboard.

It’s not a memoir: it might as well be, though lots has happened that’d be irrelevant, as happens in life. I find myself in the throes of adaptation: old plays to prose fiction. The first was REALISTS and LONG SHADOW, then BLIND WALLS, and most recently TAPDANCER. I thought initially it was a hedge against running out of stories to tell, but the human race is bent on supplying thousands daily. Then I thought to preserve my creative output against the probability of death, but that privilege extends to only a few books of still fewer writers.

Now, it’s simpler: I find that telling old stories uncovers new forms of sea life swimming in there that you’d never imagined before.

This time it’s an adaptation of an adaptation: a version I wrote and staged in 1968 of Euripides’ HECUBA, retitled THE BITCH OF KYNOSSEMA, though I can’t recall what we called it in the entertainment listings. But it held the question I ask of every project: why bother?

In this case, the answer loomed. I always tend to write something horrid after writing something sweet, and vice versa. TAPDANCER isn’t entirely sweet, but kinda. It’s at least what passes for me as funny. Then too, I’ve also seen HECUBA as—well, not exactly flawed, but kinda clunky: my first play, many since then. Could I do it better now?

The first rough draft was very short, not even novella length. But how to pad it out: as slender and compact as a prima ballerina, you couldn’t just add thirty pounds. But I see that the story now is in the years before and the many years after: my gut relation to its content, to my relation, at second hand and at third, to war and the madness that drives it.

And maybe in 1968, I was still hung up on the notion that Greek tragedy had to be tragic. Perhaps Euripides won so few prizes and was only popular in the next century was that the conflicts at the heart of his great plays were profoundly self-contradictory: the essence of comedy. Medea murders her children to avenge herself on her hubby, Pentheus has his head ripped off by his mother, who thinks she’s killed a lion, on and on.

My own history is recent, as history goes. I recall hearing about the end of WWII, when we moved from my grandparents’ farm into town, where my mom got another job. She had been commutiog to the bomber plant in Omaha, where she’d likely put rivets in the wing of the Enola Gay. And then came Vietnam and other wars that didn’t win any Oscars, right up to the present, when we’re counting the dead on the fingers of one hand—our dead, at least. (The other dead, on the fingers of a millipede.) But how do you write about an experience you’ve never had?

I guess you write about the experience you did have. The movies, the books you’ve read, the newscasts you listen to, the very few episodes of violence you’ve been part of. Arrows or automatic gunfire do the same job of killing, and the Mideast still echoes the dead Achilles’ demand for a bride and the threat that no one goes home till he gets the one he’s been promised.

Perhaps what was lacking in my long-ago staging of the play is that I didn’t fully understand I had written a farce. Can I write one now?


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