Saturday, February 7, 2009

Culture Vulture Again

I went to Royce Hall again, tonight, to hear Edward Albee. I bought a series of tickets to The Writer's Word, and this was the second (the first was John Updike, whom I wrote about here). I have a fantastic seat in the middle section of the third row, so I can really see the writers' faces. And I love this. I happen to sit between two other "single" women, and both of them bring hefty books to read while they're waiting for the show to begin. I find this curious and while I'm not exactly self-conscious about attending a literary event by myself, I wonder if I look like them to other people. Middle-aged, that is, alone in an auditorium on a Saturday night. The best thing is that it's relaxing; I'm me, the girl with her nose buried in a book, scribbling periodically on pieces of paper, unaware or at least comfortable in my solitude and nerdiness. I'm not the wife of someone or even a mother with three children. I'm not even strong. I'm just me.

The woman on my left read a book titled Ceremonial Violence which is either really interesting or just plain weird. I couldn't read the title of the other woman's book, but she had a small pile of cough drops on her lap along with a pocket pack of tissues. She kept falling asleep, but I tried not to look her way. I didn't want to embarrass her.

Edward Albee is a small man and tonight he came on stage jauntily. The first thing I noticed was bright green socks and construction type shoes. His shirt was of an indeterminate color but his tie was really wide and striped a sort of pinkish red and green. He wore a jacket that was either leather or plastic. I couldn't tell. His face was tan and lined and hawkish, broken by a bristly white mustache. He was interviewed for over an hour by a very pompous, funny Englishman (don't remember his name) and almost all of his answers were long and funny and to the point. "Art should be useful," I think he said at one point or many times, emphasizing how much he dislikes entertainment that is "frivolous and mindless." He talked a lot about The Theatre, a subject that I confidently know nothing about, but everything he said was interesting and informative. His characters tell him how to write and he thinks about them for a long time before he actually sits down to write. A really long time, I think he said. When someone asked what he did when he got "stuck," he said that he doesn't get stuck because he doesn't "start too soon." I found that really interesting, something to mull over, as we writers generally feel some sort of obligation to be constantly writing, practicing the craft, exercising the muscle, etc.

I love these old writers. I love their process and the fact of their work. I love to sit in an audience with like-minded people of all ages who chuckle unselfconsciously. Whenever I feel my slick, modern, deprecating self popping its nasty head in to say this is all so pretentious or who are we all kidding, thinking that art matters?, it is stifled by its gentle counterpart. It's the only thing that does matter that thin, wispy, wiry voice says. My reverence for The Writer is perhaps too romantic, but I left the hall with Edward Albee's voice in my head and it felt clear and true.


  1. Elizabeth, thank you so very much for the props, not only at HP but on my blog as well. Coming from you I hold those as a very high compliment! Seriously.

    I came here yesterday and your ability to put thought into word just amazes me. As you will see in the next day or so one of your recent entries truly inspired me. In fact it was with me when I went to bed last night and stirred me awake very early this morning.

    Now I come to my computer and there isn't just one but two comments left by you! let's just say that God has spoken to me through you! Thank You!

  2. Thank you so much for taking us along with you. I especially enjoyed your thoughts and observations on being alone at the event and wondering how you were perceived as you watched the women around you.

    I also like Albee's comments on writing once ideas are fully formed. While there is certainly much to be said for a regular writing routine, sometimes I think there is too much emphasis put on it and not enough credit assigned to the idea of letting ideas develop. Of course, the procrastinator in me would like to believe that. :)

  3. I enjoy reading and/or hearing about how it is that fine writers do/have done what they do/have done. Recently, have been reading the Paris Review interview volumes. Love them. Thanks for taking us along with you to see/hear Mr. Albee.

  4. i am so jealous! i wish i could come to these talks with you! what a wonderful way to fill up the well, drink it all in, let it ferment and inspire! did you read the latest new yorker with its many pieces on updike? i thought of you.

  5. That sounds like absolute, unadulterated Heaven! How I wish I were the woman sitting next to you - the one reading the odd book, not the sick one - ew.

    I look forward to hearing about the next writer. Off to check out the Updike link...Em

  6. It's refreshing to know that there are that many like minded people in that room. It sounds like it was a just what you needed.



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