Story Problems

Last week I went to see the doc with my 84-year-old mom. The doc decided to run some memory tests on her. It was the usual thing you see on TV on in a movie. A few questions in, the doc told her that he’s going to ask a story problem and I PANICKED.

I can’t do a story problem on paper much less in my head. How was she supposed to do one?!

When I’m forced to do a story problem, I forget the first half before I’m through the paragraph. I never know what’s important to solve the question. They are ALWAYS a nightmare.

In that moment, I was not sure if I was more terrified for my mom or for me and I didn’t have to solve the problem!

Before the doc was halfway through the story problem which he would repeat several times, I felt THE WALL go up behind my eyes. It’s something I’ve had since I was little when faced with math. Once THE WALL is up there’s no getting through it, past it, over it.

Well, that’s not entirely not true. My dad could somehow push through THE WALL and help me figure it out. And he never finished junior high! Needless to say, once I got into algebra, he couldn’t help me any more and my math grades were in the toilet after that.

When I drove home after Mom’s appointment, I was still twitchy over the math problem. At work I write all information down, figure out what I need and what is static. Then I do the math. Then I double check everything. Something is usually wrong. And usually I’ll find it. Then it occured to me that I remember the ENTIRE story problem.

You go to the store with $100. You buy a dozen apples at $3. A tricycle at $20. How much money do you have left?

Whoa. It was like fear had branded it onto my skull or something.

The only time I ever enjoyed math was when I took statistics in grad school which is–I KNOW–totally weird. It made me wonder if whatever triggered THE WALL had been avoided would I have excelled at math?

image from Pixabay

A Not-Great Diner

Photo by Daniel Haley

A Rumination from my dramaturgy of Steven Dietz’s This Random World directed by David Lee-Painter.

I find myself thinking about landscape memories….

One of the settings in
This Random World is A Not-Great Diner. It is where Claire and Gary break up:

CLAIRE. We always joked that people should break up at shitty places they were never gonna want to visit again. Because of the memories… The way that goodbyes… The way that endings just… stick to a place…

The role landscape plays in memory has been examined from a number of perspectives (Harrison 2004, Hoelscher and Alderman 2004, Jedlowski 2001, Schäuble 2011, Schramm 2001). Landscapes are more than memory containers: they shape, and are shaped by, what happens upon them (Schramm 2001:6). The Elizabethan stage at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival is built on an old Chautauqua site. It attests to generations of community, education, and entertainment. Whenever I’m there I’m reminded of when I worked for the Festival, the people who preceded me, and those who are yet to be there.

I imagine it’s a given that we always have a relationship with landscape but there seems to be some places that resonate more deeply with memory. Janet Donohoe’s Remembering Places discusses how place can be more than simply the spot where something happened. It can be an active participant in that caught moment. Where you stood, what it looked, smelled, tasted like when it happened. In some instances, you can stand in the place and feel the memory that is held there. “Places serve… as vibrant, living aspects of memory, tradition, history, and meaning. ….[They] write themselves upon memory just as memory writes itself upon place.”

But not every memory stays with a place. Ed Casey in the same text: “a given place will invite certain memories while discouraging others. The fact is that we can’t attach just any memories to a particular place . . . . only certain kinds of memory, will be pertinent.”

Donohoe again: “Other places are significant for a singular event. These places are less familiar, but still imbued with memory, such as the place where we got married, where one was mugged, or where a parent died. Stepping into any of these places after years of absence, whether a habituated place or a place of a significant event, creates a rush of memories to which the place itself is connected. They are memories that only return due to the sense of the place, the smell, the feel of the air, and the very place itself.”

CLAIRE. It’s kind of terrible. This place. It is really one of the worst places to eat on earth that I know of.
TIM. Why did you want to come here?
CLAIRE. I wanted to change it. Change my memories of it. I thought maybe we could do that.

Some landscapes’ memory will fade or they will be purified. I’ve friends who sage new residences to free the past that may still cling to it. And sadly, there are landscapes that can never be cleansed. After the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary, the school was razed and a new one built on the site.

Donohoe, Janet. Remembering Places: A Phenomenological Study of the Relationship between Memory and Place.
Harrison, Simon. ” Forgetful and Memorious.” Social Anthropology 12: 135–151.
Hoelscher, Steven and Derek H. Alderman. “Memory and Place: Geographies of a Critical Relationship.” Social & Cultural Geography 5(3).
Jedlowski, Paolo. “Memory and Sociology Themes and Issues.” TIME & SOCIETY SAGE 10(1): 29-44 .
Schäuble, Michaela. “How History Takes Place: Sacralized Landscapes in the Croatian-Bosnian Border Region.” History & Memory 23(1):23-61.
Katharina Schramm. Introduction: Landscapes of Violence: Memory and Sacred Space History & Memory, 23(1):5-22.

The Runaways’ Story

“Queens of Noise the REAL story of the Runaways,” that title is ample warning to the reader for what lies ahead. A sensationalized story about a band of teen rockers. The book is enjoyable in the main and my complaints settle around how McDonnell chose to tell the story of this barrier-shattering group.

Queens of Noise is a follow-up to McDonnell’s thesis on Runaways drummer, Sandy West. For this book McDonnell takes us back again to the Sunset Strip in the 1970s with its proto-punk scene. It was fertile soil for the all-female rock band that Sandy played in. It’s a story that interests me. I grew up with Joan Jett’s music and had heard hints of the fabled band that she started, which included heavy metal guitarist, Lita Ford. I was onboard.

I wanted it to be exhaustive, but the book fell short. Some of the band members declined to be interviewed, forcing McDonnell to rely heavily on previous magazine and newspaper articles, and Vicki Blue’s (another Runaway) documentary, “Edgeplay.” The first-hand accounts come primarily from the Runaways bassists and Kim Fowley, the band’s notorious manager, and the people around the group during the three or so hectic years of its existence.

There was one person I didn’t expect to be included in the Runaways’ story and that was McDonnell. Working primarily in an opinionated style reminiscent of ‘70s New Journalism, she comments on every player in the story even describing a music critic of the day as a “sh*tty writer” without offering anything to back up her opinion. Her subject would have been better served by not inserting herself into the narrative. The block quotes she included from interviews are enthralling and would have been much more effective with only minor editorial comment.

Her description of ‘70s LA evokes a curious version of the sinner/saint idolizing of women that flourished then. It was a dichotomy where few female rock groups could find success. Placing the Runaways in its milieu of the hedonistic Sunset Strip gives clarity. These straightforward passages, untainted by opinion, were where I found some of the best writing.

Before long, McDonnell focused on the Runaways through her own lens of understanding. It is a viewpoint that is not insightful and at times reads like a fan thwarted access to her idols.

She does address the myth that they were a confectionary out of Fowley’s fevered mind. While affirming that the young women created the band with Fowley’s help, McDonnell continually lists everything Kim Fowley did for them.

The band was never allowed to be the subject of its own story but always the object. McDonnell even uses them as objects in her book. She dwells over imagery about Lita Ford’s tight clothes. According to McDonnell, Ford’s shorts were snug enough that part of her reproductive anatomy was in public view. She repeatedly mentions how pretty they were, imagines the reactions of the primarily male audiences, and describes guitarist, Joan Jett’s “sweaty grinding” on a bandmate. These short anecdotes are included for no other reason than prurient interest. One despairs that the Runaways will never be able to run away. Instead they find themselves trapped in another gilded cage to be adored, admired, and defined by others.

Errors or editing gaffs in the book are glaring. For instance, claiming that the Runaways opened for Metallica before Metallica had a formed left me wondering which band she meant. Listing Jett’s role in The Rocky Horror Show as “Columbine” instead of “Columbia.” Strange nouns or verbs muddled what McDonnell wanted to say. Perhaps she too struggled to grasp their meaning? For example, the word “gobbing” or stating Lita playing a “wank” on her guitar. While I can hazard out the meaning, it drug me out of the story. I’m still trying to figure out what a “totem manager” is and if she didn’t mean “token manager.” There were also repetitions of blocks of text in different chapters. A few but not all of Jett’s solo hits that were mentioned did not list the songwriter. The reader is left with the impression that Jett wrote “I Love Rock n’ Roll” and “Crimson & Clover” which is not the case.

The Runaways’ story would have been better served by letting the people who lived it simply tell their stories. As is, Queens of Noise is an impediment with uncited interpretations that cloud a fascinating tale of teens who took the world by storm. Despite the morass, the Runaways and their story managed to get through, much as they did in the ‘70s, demonstrating the wit, the panache, and the perseverance required to bring their sound to the world.

Tempus Fugit

by Dona Black, Ariana Burns, & Tim Waterman

I think Tempus Fugit was the closest I’ve come to writing a 10-minute play thus far. It was the opener for a Theatre Outside the Belljar show. I wrote it with two wonderful friends and still like it. It was a part of the “I got this place in my head that ain’t right without you” series that I was writing back then. Below is a snippet.

EMCEE
Ladies and Gentlemen, this is a performance piece. If you derive any pleasure from this piece, it is strictly coincidental. This is art, and as such, should be view by the audience with the same appropriate gravity as any beleaguered granting agency. This piece, in triplicate, has been sent to our advisory board for review. A moment please, I can’t work without a cigarette hangin’ out of my mouth. . .Art is.

TWO
Art is a sedative for the obsessive compulsive.

EMCEE
It consumes.

ONE
It penetrates.

TWO
Hurry!

 EMCEE
Admit One.

 TWO
Are you an Enemy of the Future?

EMCEE
Art rips your heart out.            

ONE
But you think you did it to yourself.

EVERYTHING CHANGES

Everything changes. You can make
A fresh start with your final breath.
But what has happened has happened. And the water
You once poured into the wine cannot be
Drained off again.

What has happened has happened. The water
You once poured into the wine cannot be
Drained off again, but
Everything changes. You can make
A fresh start with your final breath.
–Bertolt Brecht

Translated by John Willett
Bertolt Brecht POETRY AND PROSE
Edited by Reinhold Grimm with the Collaboration of Caroline Molina y Vedia
2006