When I think about my writing and the themes I am drawn to or tend to use, I am struck by an image. My mind conjures up Hokusai's silk-screen tidal wave, with its hundreds of finger-like water sprays that reach out to grasp the faceless, crouched figures in the boat, who remain frozen on silk and forever await the crushing wave. My writing tends to focus on these moments of suspension, at times on the awesome, but destructive power of the wave, and at other times on the fate of the boaters.
When words I overhear or scenes I witness compel me enough to either jot them down or commit them to memory, strange things seem to happen. For example, about a year ago while listening to public radio I heard for the first time about the bus accident Frida Kahlo survived at age 18, only to be tormented the rest of her life by the damage to her spine and pelvis. I could (almost) imagine the pain. A week later, PBS broadcast a special on Diego Rivera, which revealed their tumultuous relationship, and the complications her accident brought to their marriage. The following weekend, I visited friends in Chicago. We wander into a Mexican restaurant for lunch and on the wall, held in a large picture frame, is the likeness of Frida Kahlo. She glares from across the room, and I think, "why is she following me?"
Coincidence? Maybe...but then I am compelled to run out and buy a book of her paintings. I peruse. I mull. I write. "The Spiral and the Cycle" happens. Borrowing images from certain paintings in the book, I explore and elucidate my own creative process.
Scene 1: Without Hope
Cast for this scene: Freddie and Voice
Freddie lies in a bed, but not in a room. The backdrop depicts a desert. Miscellaneous objects (which Freddie has regurgitated) lie strewn all over the bedspread. The objects can be anythingthere just needs to be a lot of them. Obviously, size is a concern, too. They have to be things which can fit on a bed (i.e., a typewriter, a beach ball, pearl necklace, a frame with photograph, a clock, etc.)unless the bed is extremely oversized.
Freddie: Where is she? (vague and feverish look in her eyes)
Freddie: Hope. Where has she gone? I feel lost.
Voice: Not to worry. Shell be back soon.
Voice: When youre ready.
Freddie: It doesnt look like Ill ever be ready. (frantically with the urgency of a person with a very high fever, struggles to lift herself up in bed) What am I going to do with all of this? (Picks up a childs Tonka-like truck, and tries to throw it off of the bed, but it falls from her weak hand and lands close to the edge of the bed, just not over it.) How am I supposed to think straight, write stories, edit thoughts how am I supposed to focus beyond all of this junk?
Voice: It isnt junk.
Freddie: Like hell it isnt. No sense of order. No connection. No common thread holding it together. Its crap.
Voice: You realize, this is your past and your future.
Freddie: What I realize is this is a mess. I need to clean this up!
Freddie: If I could just bulldoze this all away. Then, then
Voice: Then what?
Freddie: Then Id feel better. God, maybe this is all a dream
Voice: You remember what Frida Kahlo says.
Freddie: Not really.
Voice: She never painted dreams. She wasnt a surrealist. She painted reality.
Freddie: Then realitys a mess. Keep your trivia to yourself. I know what I need to do. Clean. Wipe the slate. Start over.
Voice: So, what exactly do you mean by clean?
exhales a rush of air revealing her annoyance.)
Voice: You cant always trust what you read, Freddie.
Freddie: Now, what was it? When you hear a voice when a voice calls out your name
Voice: So, exactly what do you plan to do? Dust? Tidy up? Organize? Get rid of? Are you there? Hey! Freddie. Answer me!
Freddie: You know youre in real trouble, if you see the voice. I mean, if you actually see the words themselves audiovisual hallucinations... (moans while clutching at her stomach and turns her upper torso to one side of the bed, hand over mouth) Oh, god, not again. I dont want to be sick.
(Freddie dry heaves a few times, and then sounds like a cat coughing up a fur ball.) Why cant I keep this stuff down? Christ, there must be something I can do, something I can take...
Freddie: to get rid of all this. Voice: Something you can make?
(Freddie continues hacking. Finally, when she pulls her hand away from her mouth there is a piece of fabric extending from her mouth and resting between two fingers. She straightens out her arm, and like the age-old magic trick, the fabric comes with it. She pulls and pulls in disbelief, because there seems to be no end to the fabric. Lights fade to black)
Scene 2: A Few Little Stabs
Cast: Freddie and the Surgeon
Again, a bed on the stage, but this time it is constructed of steel and sits high on rollers. The bedding is white. Freddie lies on the floor at the foot of the bed. A braided fabric rope (made from fabric similar to that of Scene 1) is tied to the headboard, and drapes across the length of the bed to dangle down next to Freddie. As if it is Rapunzel's hair, Freddie grabs the rope with both hands and uses it to pull herself up onto the bed.
The Surgeon enters. He holds a scalpel (which will become bloodied as the scene progresses) and begins to work over or in Freddies stomach. Various road signs hang down from the ceiling with wire, giving the appearance that the signs are levitating. Blue spotlight on Freddie and the bed. The white sheets and Freddie are now splattered with black. (Red under blue light appears black). At particular points in this scene an additional red spotlight will flash with a strobe light effect on each of the road signs.
Surgeon: Stop procrastinating! (Red spotlight on Stop sign.) We could be through with all of this (gestures to blood) if youd just let me finish what weve started here.
Freddie: Its not as easy as all that. I need your help. What am I supposed do when weve finished? (Red spotlight flashes on Yield sign.)
Surgeon: Well, well be done, wont we?
Freddie: Thats fine for you but then whatll I do? What if this is all there is? What if what we finish now is really the end? What if thats all there is?
Surgeon: Fine. We wont finish then. (Puts down the scalpel, picks up cloth and roughly wipes the blood off the scalpel and Freddies face, arms, etc.)
Freddie: Dont get an attitude. Dont you see. Ill always have something to come back to. I need that.
Surgeon: I'm not here for any half-ass operations. You'rewe're going to finish...something.
Freddie: But then I'll have nothing to come back to. (Spotlight flashes on One-Way sign)
Surgeon: Is that what worries you?
Freddie: It's what I think.
Surgeon: You think too much.
Freddie: Havent heard that one before.
Surgeon: And I think
Freddie: I know what you think. You think that its all about you.
Surgeon: It isn't?
Freddie: (ignores his last comment) You ask me to show you. You wonder, "Is this really how Freddie thinks of me?" You ask me, "Do you think my marriage is that bad, or do you really see me as such a horrible parent, or do I have a drinking problem?" You doubt yourself. You get angry with me because you only hit the kid once, and not that hard, and now I think and the world's going to know youre a child abuser. You dont even have a clue.
Surgeon: Now Im stupid. Is that it? (Spotlight flashes on Slow-Deaf-Child-at-Play sign)
Freddie: God! It isnt about you, dammit! Aren't you listening? Isnt about you at all.
Surgeon: Then its all about you.
Freddie: Not about me. Of me, maybe. But not about. (sitting up and leaning up on her elbows) You know, no matter how depressed I get
(Freddies voice is muffled as the Surgeon dabs at her mouth with the wet cloth, but she continues talking)
or how alone I feel, its the one thing I have (Freddie grabs his wrist and pulls his hand away from her face) The only thing Ill ever have thats mine!
Surgeon: (softening) Look, Freddie. No ones going to think any less of you if you dont become a writer.
Freddie: (grabs the rope and twists it around her wrists and forearms) Oh, no. Youre not taking that away from me. You want to examine my stories, change my intent, substitute your own experience, misunderstand my meaning. You can do that. You do that. But Ill be damned if you think you can change me!
Freddie shoves against the Surgeon with both hands which propels the bed offstage. Spotlight on Surgeon goes out. Red spotlight flashes on Construction Ahead sign for a few moments and then stage is black.
Scene 3: Girl with Death Mask I
Cast: Child, Man and Freddie.
A young female child runs or skips onto the stage barefoot and wearing a death mask (i.e., a bleached white skeletal face mask). She may be humming or singing. The stage floor is sand-colored or dirt brown. In her hands, the child clasps a sunflower. She stops short when she notices the audience, and drops her flower. From offstage an enormous rumbling is heard. An immense steamroller barrels across the stage, crushes her flower, and exits stage opposite. Her shoulders tremble as she looks at the flattened flower. Man enters the stage wearing a baseball cap, flannel shirt and jeans. He carries a Stanley thermos: a truck driver. Unaware of the Man, the child goes over to her flattened flower and attempts to pick it up. Parts of the flower still stick to the ground and she is pulling them up in strips. Tracks from Hendrixs "Are You Experienced?" play throughout this scene at random, just below the dialogue.
Scene 4: Innocence Wins
Cast: The Child and Freddie
Same backdrop as Scene 3 except the bed from Scene 1 is center stage. The Man has left, but might possibly yell from offstage about his hat. The little girl leads Freddie around the stage, as if she had ordered Freddie with, "Walk this way." They giggle at each other, while they march and skip around the bed, and move in snake-like paths about the stage. Sometimes they pretend theyre airplanes with their arms spread like a condors wingspan. At other times, the child climbs over the bed (and all the miscellaneous objects lying on top of it) with Freddie following always closely behind.
Scene 5: My Birth
Cast: Freddie and the Surgeon.
A hospital bed lies center stage and as the scene progresses it slowly rotates as if on a mechanized lazy-susan. It might be the same bed from Scene 3. Freddie lies in the bed with her knees bent and her heels firmly stuck in stirrups. She wears a hospital gown and another sheet is draped across her mid-section which protrudes up from her torso, the bed and her thighs, even though her knees are bent and her feet flat on the bed. The Surgeon sits on a swivel foot-stool at the foot of the bed and between her open legs. He stares straight ahead. A tray table holding instruments stands to the right of the Surgeon. The bedsheets are stained with blood. But rather than splotches or large spots of blood soaking into the sheets, the blood lies sprayed across the sheets, as if it had shot out from open wounds in the wrists by panicked and flailing arms. Freddie is expelling large bursts of air from her lungs in groups of two. The sound of a metronome ticks out the time and an oversized metronome may even appear onstage.
Surgeon: Dammit! Youre not breathing properly.
Freddie: And I suppose you would know.
Surgeon: Its heech, heech, heech and hoowh, hoowh, hoowh. Not huh, huh, huh.
Freddie: This isn't easy. Have you ever been (labored breathing) on my side of the table before?
Surgeon: Again. Try again.
Freddie: (laughing breathily) That sounds silly. (inhaling deeply) It reminds me of
Surgeon: Just do as youre told. Breathe! Dont hold it in. Just breathe.
Freddie begins to mimic the Surgeons breathing technique, but has difficulty keeping up the tempo and trios of breaths. As the scene progresses, Freddie will gradually pick up the rhythm and will continue to parrot the breathing pattern, especially during the Surgeons more lengthy dialogue sections.
Surgeon: (He lifts his head up and gazes at Freddie for the first time) God! Would you look at what youve done? (She feebly attempts to look above and beyond her stomach, while still trying to breath.) Youve gotten blood all over everything. Didnt your mother ever teach you anything? Like how not to bleed? I wish you'd just listen to me. Take my advice.
Freddie: How much (heech, heech, heech) is it (hoowh, hoowh, hoowh) worth?
Surgeon: Youll learn, once you receive the bill. You pay through the nose, and by the nose, but most often between the legs. At least one time.
Freddie: Look I remember, you told me (heech, heech, heech) "Stay away from people or situations which stress you out." Shouting orders, (hoowh, hoowh, hoowh) correcting me all the time, and your little sermonsnone of that makes much sense, or makes this any easier. (Freddie resumes breathing pattern.)
Surgeon: How dare you speak to me like that!
Freddie: Well, aren't you supposed to have the ability, the know-how to fix me?
(The Surgeon reaches over to the tray and picks up a cleaver.)
Freddie: Hey, that isnt a scalpel!
Surgeon: But I am the doctor...
Freddie: What the hell do you think youre doing?
Surgeon: ...and this...
Freddie: Put that thing down. For chrissakes!
Surgeon: (turning the cleaver in the light) is stainless steel.
(She attempts to press her knees together. He drops the knife back on the tray and with his left hand grabs her left leg just below the knee. With his right he feels on the tray, picks up a vice-like object and straps it to her left leg. He quickly straps the other end of the vice to her right leg. As he turns the screw mechanism, Freddies legs are forced apart.)
Surgeon: You should be equipped for anything. Preparation is the key.
Freddie: Please. I dont think I can I dont want I cant do this anymore.
(He picks up the cleaver again.)
Surgeon: Just one minor incision, one little splice and everything will be smooth sailing. (He reaches down between her legs, beneath the canopy of the sheet.)
Freddie: Incision? What the hell are you cutting? We never went over this!
Surgeon: Im making it easier.
Freddie: But its not easy.
Surgeon: I know. Thats why you need me.
Freddie: To have control.
Surgeon: To share control. Help you breathe. Lead you through. Let you know when its time.
Freddie: There isnt time. There isnt enough (her sentence is cut off by her own scream)
Surgeon: There. (He places the knife back on the tray.) That wasnt so bad. You didnt even feel it, did you?
(Again, his hands and arms disappear beneath the canopy. Freddie is moaning much like an animal caught in a trap in winter.)
Surgeon: I can feeltheyes, thats the spine. Its smooth. Not knotty.
Freddie: Spine? Who cares about the spine? Can you see it?
Surgeon: Just shut your trap. All your questions and godforsaken wailing doesn't help. It wont erase the feeling. The pain. The joy. Trust me. I know what Im doing.
Freddie: Okay, but
Surgeon: You just need to listen to me, allright? Now what I need you to do is push. Okay? Really push. Come on. Push!
Freddie: No. I cant. Please. It hurts.
Surgeon: Youre doing fine. Were almost done here. Just a little more now. Come on, let it go.
Freddie: (Her rhythmic breathing gives way to tortured screams and moans. She tries to reach over her distended stomach with her hands.) No, no, I cant. I told you, it hurts. Please. Put it back. Push it back in. Im not ready. Please put it back. Its not ready! (a lengthy wail extends from her last syllable)
Surgeon: (He brings his hands out from under the canopy and flips the sheet over her knees. He holds a book, each hand closed around a bottom corner. He triumphantly lifts the book up over her knees, his arms straight out. The cover of the book faces Freddie.) Well. We made it. Finally. Whooh. Now that wasnt so bad, was it?
(She pulls the sheet across her legs and down over her calves. In a last surge of strength, Freddie sits up rips the book out of his hands and swats his hands away) Dont you touch it! Doctor or not. Dont you dare touch it. Its mine.
Scene 6: Fruit of Life
Cast: Freddie, the Dove, the Voice and Passion Fruit
The stage is lit in yellow light. Freddie stands a few feet in front of an orange-red mango, a sliced-open fleshy watermelon, a papaya, and a bunch of bananas. Her back is to the audience. She has her head tilted to one side, resting on her right hand which rests on her left arm, bent at the elbow. She shakes her head and walks up to the fruit. Freddie guides each piece of fruit with her hands, carefully placing the mango next to the melon, the bananas to the left of them, etc. She then steps back to examine the affect. A dove flies down, on cables preferably, and lands between Freddie and the fruit. Freddie waves her arms at the dove.
Freddie: Shoo, shoo. Come on. Get out of here.
Dove: I belong here.
Freddie: No you dont.
Dove: Youve been waiting for me.
Dove: I have arrived.
Freddie: And you can just as quickly leave.
Dove: I have come.
Freddie: And now you can go. Get it. I dont need you here.
Dove: I have come to tell you that you have arrived.
Freddie: What? I dont need you here to mess things up.
Dove: That isnt why Im here.
Freddie: (waving her hand at the fruit) Its not how I want it. And youre distracting me. Shoo, shoo. Go on, fly away. (examines arrangement again) Somethings not right. It isnt what I pictured...
Dove: It usually never is.
Freddie: (frustrated) But I dont think I have it just right.
Dove: Just let it be. You have to give up control sometime.
Freddie: But its not quite right. Its not (pauses while shuffling her feet) perfect.
Dove: It never will be. Once you put it into words, somehow that changes it. It can never really be what was in your head, can never really be exact.
Freddie: (defiantly) I want it to be.
(Freddie rearranges the fruit again, but roughly this time and around the Dove. After she finishes and steps back, she stops. As she examines what shes done, the fruits begin to switch places. One may even begin wandering away from the group or even offstage.)
Freddie: Stop! Just stop it. Get over here!
(She grabs at the fruit and shoves them back into place, but as soon as she takes her hands off the mango to move the papaya, the mango steps out of place.)
Freddie: This isnt right.
Voice: Freddie, let it be. Language is not a perfect medium.
Freddie: This isnt how its supposed to be! (She stomps her feet) Why cant I get this to work?
Voice: Because its finished.
Freddie: I am not finished!
Voice: Freddie, youre not listening. Its never good enough, is it Freddie?
Freddie: (tiring) But I want it to be.
Voice: Just let it be.
(Freddie watches the fruit wander about the stage, and finally sits down, cross-legged, her head resting in her hands.)
Freddie: I think (covers mouth with one hand briefly) Oh, no. God, not again. (hands to her stomach) I think Im going to be sick.
Tomas sits at a piano. A doorway stands in the middle of the stage. The stage may or may not house two separate rooms. Jules is on the other side of the doorway. She might be washing the dishes, scrubbing the floor, folding clothes and putting them away, or primping in front of a mirror. What she is doing is not extremely important, just that her hands are occupied in some task.
ii. In the Interim
A sparse representation of a living room. The summer sunlight spills in through the windows. Tomas leads Jules into the room. Although he is fully clothed, his hair is soaking wet. A stereo plays loudly.
iii. Another Scene
Tomas' living room. Low lighting--to give the appearance that only the lamps are lit. Tomas paces in front of Jules as she sits cross-legged on the couch.
BIO: Jennifer Ginzinger lives in Hamtramck, Michigan, a 1.9 square mile city with (at last count) 38 different ethnicities residing within its boundaries. She received her Master's in English Literature from Wayne State University (Detroit) in May of 2000. Currently, she is collaborating on a screenplay with a fellow writer.