Hi-Ho, the Glamorous Life: Horror Vacui

Marissa Skudlarek abhors a vacuum.

This blog just got named one of Theatre Bay Area’s “Blogs We Love” and in response, I am going to write my worst column ever.

When Charles Lewis, our newest columnist (welcome to the blog, Chuck!) interviewed me over the summer about my play Pleiades, he concluded by asking me about my future plans, and I responded by quoting a line from a Claire Rice play: “What a great burden an open and unknown future is.” I’m feeling that sentiment, now more than ever. Pleiades closed eight weeks ago, I finally got my script for my Olympians Festival “Dryads” play in a good place, and I don’t have any artistic projects lined up for the first half of 2015. There are some things bubbling under the surface — I’m not dead, after all — but they’re either things I’ve promised not to talk about, or things I don’t feel ready to talk about, or things I’ve talked about in previous columns.

Plus, I had planned to have a lovely, quiet evening last night in which to write a column — and then the Giants won the World Series and I got stuck downtown as revelers blocked off Market Street and MUNI stopped running. I walked two miles down Market Street, stopped off for a cocktail at the Orbit Room, and finally caught a MUNI train to take me the rest of the way home, whereupon I collapsed into bed. Despite the way it upset my plans, it was a fun night, and it felt good to be out among the cheering, high-fiving crowds. And I feel that taking part in such experiences will probably be good for me as a writer and as a human being, in the long term. But in the short term, it means that I have a deadline and nothing to show for it.

So today, I’m feeling weirdly uninspired. And feeling panicked and anxious and afraid — and not the good, Halloweeny kind of fear. Sometimes, I think that in order to be truly scary, a haunted house shouldn’t feature ghosts or vampires or things that go bump in the night. Instead, maybe all that’s needed is a mirror in which you are forced to confront your own feelings of shame and inadequacy. A mirror which is also a blank page.

I know I should love the blank page, rather than fear it. I am a devotee of the musical Sunday in the Park with George, which concludes with the line “White. A blank page or canvas. His favorite. So many possibilities” — and I want to take that lesson to heart. But the thing is, Seurat wasn’t a minimalist. His pointillism was obsessive — covering every square inch of the canvas with tiny dots! Was it love or fear that prompted him to cover over the blank space this way?

I wonder, too, if my writing a biweekly column is harmful to my art, rather than beneficial. Perhaps, if I want to make great art rather than feuilleton chatter, I should let my thoughts live in my head for months and years before committing them to paper — instead of writing and publishing everything as soon as I think it. This summer, I read the justly acclaimed memoir Act One by Moss Hart, where he describes his early experiences in theater, leading up to his first Broadway production at the age of 25. And I’m currently reading another amazing, acclaimed memoir, A Time of Gifts by Patrick Leigh Fermor, which recounts a trip he took, on foot, all the way across Europe (Holland to Istanbul) at the age of 18. Both men waited decades to write about these incredible experiences they had in their youth — Hart was in his fifties, and Leigh Fermor in his sixties, when his book was published. And I think that both of these books derive a great deal of their power from the fact that they are a middle-aged man’s recollections of his youthful adventures. The boyish exuberance bubbles off the page, but it’s counter-balanced by the adult’s deeper knowledge of suffering and hardship and the ways in which the world has subsequently changed. Perhaps it is the young person’s duty to live life and the middle-aged person’s duty to write and reflect on previous adventures. But in the twenty-first century, the social media era with its horror vacui, where we must either publish or perish, such a leisurely output seems like an unaffordable luxury.

Marissa Skudlarek is a San Francisco-based playwright and arts writer. Her short play The Dryad of Suburbia will have a staged reading on Wednesday November 5 as part of the San Francisco Olympians Festival. Find her online at marissabidilla.blogspot.com or on Twitter @MarissaSkud.

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