And here's the conclusion: PLAYWRIGHT I don’t know, Pat. I really don’t remember. Why don’t you tell me? What are you doing in my head? PAT Jesus. Search me. You’re in charge, right? Supposed to be anyhow. ALEX (To Playwright.) Maybe you need her. I mean, maybe you need somebody like Pat in your head. Like Demeter and Hecate, right? When Demeter was all like “I don’t know what to do” Hecate helped her, right? So maybe that’s what you need and your brain’s just telling you that. JOAN Alex, love, you have been paying attention to all those myths I’ve read to you. ALEX Well, yeah. How could I not? They’re pretty great. PLAYWRIGHT So you think I made Pat up because I need her? ALEX Yeah. Maybe. Whatever. PAT I sorta like that. PATRICIA So, Playwright, my question is, Why do you think you need Hecate in your head? What is the witch at the crossroads saying to you? PLAYWRIGHT Oh crap. All I need is for my characters to start psychoanalyzing me. Come on, you people. I MADE YOU ALL UP. Sure there’s bits of me in all of you, but I made you up. You’re not real. You aren’t. I made you up. GRANDMOTHER Then what are we doing here? LAURA Yeah, Playwright. Why did you invite us here and tell us to talk if you don’t want to hear what we have to say? PLAYWRIGHT Once again, Laura, for the record, Laura, I did not invite you. Your being here, however, shows me really clearly why you and your mother did not work out in the novel, or in the play. I had an agenda for you. I was being preachy. Subtly, or so I thought, but it really wasn’t, and at some level, I knew it. It turns out, now that I hear you out of your context, that you’re both stock characters and vehicles for my preachiness. So thank you, and good-bye. You, too, Annie. Good-bye. LAURA But. . . PLAWRIGHT Go. I said go. Do not darken my computer screen again. LAURA This is worse than being shot by that clown. ANNIE (Stands.) Come on, Laura. She’s done with us. LAURA (Breaks down in a childish temper tantrum.) No! I don’t want to! (Annie takes Laura firmly by the hand and bodily drags her offstage.) PAT (Calling after them.) Well done, Annie! PATRICIA (To Pat.) Wait a minute. Why are you still here? The Playwright said she’s done with your play or novel or whatever. PAT Yeah but. She didn’t say she was done with me. PLAYWRIGHT No. I didn’t, come to think of it. Because I’m not. You’re the only one in that play who isn’t a stock character. I think. Let’s see. (Looks around the table.) Okay. What have I got? Two grandmothers who do their own thing— PAT Three. I do my own thing too, right? PLAYWRIGHT (Revelation.) Oh. Yes. Of course. Sorry, Pat. You do. Your divorce and the kid you disowned and the greenhouse and speaking your mind. . . PAT Yeah, yeah. I am a tough old bitch. Huh. Maybe I am a what you say is a stock character? PLAYWRIGHT No, no. I don’t think so. I’ll think about that later. So now I’ve got three grandmothers, two colluding grandchildren and one difficult daughter. GRANDMOTHER Two. Mine’s just not on stage. PLAYWRIGHT (Typing while she talks.) Yeah, yeah. Good. So now the question is: Do I want to keep going with Red Riding Hood and/or the whole tree business, or do I want to do something else with you? JOAN I like the tree business, but that’s not surprising, is is? ALEX Hey, I’ve got an idea. Why not write about a bunch of old women sitting around talking about things? Like their grandchildren, or their daughters, or whatever. PLAYWRIGHT Hm. I guess that’s a possibility. PAT What the hell do you call this? Here we are. PLAYWRIGHT Oh. Oh, you’re right, Pat. Here we are. PAT You could stretch it out some, I guess, if Joan and Grandmother. . . hey, do you have a name? I mean, “Grandmother” isn’t exactly a name, you know, and I really don’t want to call another old lady “Grandmother.” GRANDMOTHER I don’t have one, do I? Why not? PLAYWRIGHT Well, you see, in the play, you’re basically just Grandmother. It’s what Red calls you. You don’t actually need a name because. . . GRANDMOTHER Defined by my role. Despite your idea that I would be a so-called “good example” for a grandchild? That makes me a stock character, doesn’t it? Well, I’m out of here. If you can’t even be bothered to name me, forget it. I’m not going to be in any of your plays. (Stands to go.) (Playwright is speechless.) JOAN (Stands.) I’m with you. That’s appalling. (To Grandmother.) You and I do have to talk. What do you want me to call you, since you aren’t Grandmother? GRANDMOTHER How about Amelia? I like the sound of that. JOAN Amelia. Excellent. RED Wait! Grandmother! Can I still call you Grandmother? GRANDMOTHER Huh. I don’t know. It depends on where you end up. Joan, where shall we go? PAT (Stands.) Mind if I come, too? JOAN and GRANDMOTHER (Assenting sounds.) PAT ‘Cause I know a nice greenhouse. At a crossroads. Coffee’s on. JOAN That sounds perfect. (The three women link arms and exit.) PLAYWRIGHT (Stands.) Hey! Hey! RED (Stands, looking after the grandmothers.) Grandmother? ALEX (Stands and puts an arm around Red.) Let ‘em go, kid. They were pretty good grannies, but we’ve got stuff to do. How about we head back to your gram’s studio and make our own coffee and do some art? RED Sounds good to me. (They exit.) PLAYWRIGHT Well, damn it all. Now what? PATRICIA (Stands.) I suppose I should go, too. That is, unless you need me. PLAYWRIGHT Yeah, you might as well go. Go ahead. Go ahead. (Patricia starts for the exit.) Oh, but wait! PATRICIA (Turning.) Yes? PLAYWRIGHT Maybe you should stay. I might need help getting things re-organized. There is some stuff in here I might be able to use, I think. (Sits at the computer again.) PATRICIA Oh. Well. I guess I could. All right. Let me see. . . (Stands behind playwright and looks over her shoulder at the screen.) PLAYWRIGHT (Looks up at Patricia.) Well? Any thoughts? (Curtain.)
PLAYWRIGHT (Typing furiously.) Good, good, good. Hang on. I need to get this down. “A job, not a passion . . .” PATRICIA Give me a break. ALEX Wait a minute, Mom, I didn’t know that. I just think Gram is cool and you aren’t. What did you want to be when you were my age? PATRICIA Oh, a singer, if you must know. Singer-songwriter. I had a nice voice and I wrote some pieces that were very well received at open mics, and a local company wanted to make a tape. JOAN I didn’t know that. PATRICIA I never told you. You were always working on a book and you always had that Do Not Disturb Under Pain of Death sign on your study door. ALEX Gram? Really? JOAN Yes, Alex. It’s true. Trisha, I’m sorry. I am so sorry. It’s just that after your father left I was determined to make something of myself. I had to get the academic world to take me seriously, —to show him that folklore was every bit as important as organic chemistry. PLAYWRIGHT Wait, wait, wait. . . . I can’t keep up. What did you say after the “Do not disturb” sign business? PATRICIA Wow. I never thought about that. You were in competition with Dad? JOAN Did I ever tell you why he left? PLAYWRIGHT No, no. Stop. Stop right there. That’s all I need to know about you right now. PATRICIA But. . . PLAYWRIGHT No. I mean it. So. Joan came out of my undones, and I guess Patricia is, in a way, a kind of offspring of that. I am super organized and controlling, too, but for other reasons. ALEX What reasons? PLAYWRIGHT None of your business. But okay. You, Alex. I wanted a relationship with a grandmother, so I invented one. One of my grandmothers died before I was born, and the other died when I was seven and she lived in Cleveland and I only saw her three times. So I always wanted a grandmother. RED Wow. Did you invent Grandmother for the same reason? PLAYWRIGHT Probably sort of, but I think she’s a little more complicated than that. When I became a grandmother, I got to thinking that maybe the best thing a grandmother can do for the kids is be an example of someone who can do what she wants, in her own way. So, Red, your grandmother came about for that reason. She loves you dearly, and. . . RED Yeah, when I come over, she’s always busy at her easel and I have to wait till she’s at a good place to stop before she talks to me. GRANDMOTHER (To Red.) And you had an easel in my studio, remember? At least, in one of the drafts. Or maybe that was in the story version. Whatever happened to that, Playwright? PLAYWRIGHT Oh, you’re right. I’d forgotten. I think it was in the story. Better put it back in. Hang on a minute.(She types.) JOAN Grandmother, I’m curious. Would you rather be eaten by a wolf or the sun? Fenris, of course, eats the sun, so if you are in the sun, he’d eat both. GRANDMOTHER The sun itself works better for me. You see, in the first couple of pages of our play, I told Red that I was trying to find out the exact color of the sun, and one day—at least in one version— I vanished. So Red came over as usual with that horrible bag of granola bars and yogurt from my daughter, and I wasn’t there. I think nobody, even the Playwright, knew what had happened to me. But since you ask, I’d prefer the sun. It’s simpler, and stays with the grandmother-as-artist idea better, don’t you think? The search for color? JOAN Maybe. But I am intrigued by the idea of introducing the Nordic myth, and, of course, the wolf who is in the original Red Riding Hood tale, but it does complicate things. PLAYWRIGHT Okay, okay. Enough already. Who’s next? PATRICIA I think that’s all of us. PAT Ahem. PATRICIA Oh, right. Playwright, what about Pat? And why, pray tell, do we have the same name? We’re hardly the same character. PLAYWRIGHT (Looking up, long thinking.) Same name. Hm. Okay. As I recall, ages ago I did “The Artist’s Way” and I had to come up with five imaginary selves. And I called one of them Patricia. She was an office manager, or something like that. Very efficient. Basically you. Huh. I’d forgotten that. The subconscious is rather fascinating isn’t it? And Pat. Well, who knows? I do know a really sensible woman named Pat, but I didn’t meet her till after I started this whole story. It just suited her. PAT But hey. I mean, you said back there I was Hecate or whoever. I don’t know who she is. JOAN She’s a goddess. Witches summoned her. She was the goddess of crossroads, and magic. In the Demeter myth, she . . PAT Hold your horses there. Crossroads? That’s the name of the greenhouse I own. In the novel and play both. So that’s why. But still. How come a greenhouse for, whatever, a witch’s goddess? PLAYWRIGHT I don’t know, Pat. I really don’t remember. Why don’t you tell me? What are you doing in my head? PAT Jesus. Search me. You’re in charge, right? Supposed to be anyhow.
This is being revised now because some of my playwright colleagues think it’s worth working on. But I’ll keep posting the original draft.
PLAYWRIGHT Great. Make-believe people asking me questions. Okay. Go ahead JOAN Where did I come from? PATRICIA Yeah, that’s a really good question. I suggest you go around the table and tell each one of us where we came from. PLAYWRIGHT In what way will that help me with these—TWO—plays I’m trying to write? GRANDMOTHER Who knows? That’s the fun of art, isn’t it? LAURA And why didn’t you invite me? PATRICIA All right, all right. Playwright, where did we come from? And there’s three plays, whether you like it or not. PLAYWRIGHT Okay, okay. You win. But I’m not going to go around the table. I’m going to start with Laura because she’s the oldest. LAURA You’re kidding, right? I’m only twenty-four. PLAYWRIGHT No. I’m not kidding. You’re the oldest in literary time. So. I don’t have a daughter, right? I have a son, who never gave us any kind of serious trouble. So one day I got to thinking, if we’d had a daughter, what would she be like. The opposite, is what I thought. LAURA So I’m your anti-son? PLAYWRIGHT Yup. LAURA Really. PLAYWRIGHT Yup. Conceived on a journal page early one morning about twenty years ago. LAURA So I dropped out of school, did drugs, ran away, got pregnant by a street person, had an abortion. . PLAYWRIGHT . . . you had the baby, remember, but he died. . . LAURA Oh yeah. I forgot. Anyhow then you made me run away and join a circus and get shot by a clown. PLAYWRIGHT Except in the play you weren’t going to get shot. LAURA I thought I would. PLAYWRIGHT I never got that far in the play. You only just ran away before I gave it up. LAURA I hope I get shot. It’s more dramatic. PLAYWRIGHT Well, if that’s what you want to believe, believe it. Because I’m not going to write it. You’re history. PATRICIA Could we please stick to the subject? What about Annie? ANNIE If Laura’s your anti-son, am I your anti-self? PLAYWRIGHT Crap. I don’t know. I made you up. I just don’t know. ANNIE I let Laura get away with everything. I thought everything she did was wonderful. I never disciplined her at all. After her father died. . . PLAYWRIGHT Well, yeah. The point, I mean, the point I was trying to make, was something about the unlived lives of parents. If you’d been a Latin scholar after all, if you’d had a life outside motherhood, things with Laura might have been different, don’t you see? PAT There it is. What-ifs. You can’t do what-ifs all the time. It’s what I kept trying to tell you. It’s why the damn novel didn’t work. PLAYWRIGHT Thanks, Pat. At least I got you right. PATRICIA What do you mean by that? You got me right, I think. PLAYWRIGHT Yeah, yeah, I guess so. You are a controlling bitch. PATRICIA Thank you. I do my best. JOAN Wait a minute, here. Are you saying that the rest of us aren’t what you call “right”? I beg your pardon. We are absolutely doing what you created us to do, in the very limited space you’ve given us. Alex and I have had only four pages so far. PLAYWRIGHT I know, I know. Which is why I called this meeting. I need to know you better. I guess what I mean by Pat and Patricia being right is that their voices are really clear to me, and have been from the beginning. It’s the rest of you I’m not sure about. You, for instance, Joan. Are you ironic, or straight-forward? Stern? I was thinking you were rather stern, but now I’m not sure. PATRICIA Speaking of my being a controlling bitch, how about your going back to telling us where we came from. You could keep going with Joan. PLAYWRIGHT I could, couldn’t I? Okay. Let’s see. I think Joan may be the scholar I wasn’t. The anthropologist, folklorist, classicist. ANNIE Oh. Maybe that explains me, too! PLAYWRIGHT Please be quiet, Annie. Yeah, I’ve always been interested in those things but never really did anything but dabble. And I’ve been interested lately in the connections between people, especially women, and trees, and looking for those myths. What intrigues me so far, is that in most of the cases, the woman became a tree to escape something. You all know about Daphne, of course, but then there was a woman in a San tale. . . PATRICIA All right, all right. We don’t need to know all this, do we? Just that Joan is a could-have-been of yours. Next? JOAN No, wait a minute. This is good for me to know. Now I’m wondering if you, Patricia, have a “could-have-been” in your past that makes you so bitchy. Did I hold you back from something? Did I fail to encourage you? PATRICIA Did you fail to encourage me? Mother! Are you kidding? You hardly even noticed me, you were so busy with all your research. Early on, I decided I wouldn’t do that stuff. I’d find a job that was just that, a job. Not a passion. And I’d be involved in my daughter’s life, and I have been. ALEX I’ll say.
The first speech is overlapped from part 2. PLAYWRIGHT Shit. Okay. (Calling to stage hand.) Another chair! (Stage hand appears with a chair, opens it. Annie sits next to Patricia.) As I was saying. Annie is Laura’s mother. Laura was a character in a novel, a long time ago, in which she ran away to the circus and was shot by a clown. I should have left her there, bleeding in the sawdust, but no, I resurrected her in a play that did not work. At all. And now for some reason known only unto Laura, Annie, her poor mother, has to deal with her again. Annie, I’m sorry. ANNIE I still don’t know what’s going on, but then, I guess I never did. Who are these people? PLAYWRIGHT Characters from plays I’m working on. I’m not working on yours, so I didn’t invite you. Or Laura. ANNIE Oh. Or Pat? Is Pat coming? Pat? (Pat enters, carrying a chair, which she sets up next to the grandmothers.) PLAYWRIGHT Geezum. Is there no such thing as creative control? PAT Yup, and we’ve got it. Introduce us, please. PLAYWRIGHT Okay. Pat, Annie, Laura, meet Grandmother and Red from one play I’ve started, and Joan and her daughter Patricia and her grandchild Alex from another. This is Pat, everyone. She ran the greenhouse that Annie worked in. She kept tryng to talk sense into her. Huh. Come to think of it, that stupid play was an attempt at mythology, too. It was so long ago, I’d forgotten. PAT Mythology? You mean like some fairy tale? I thought all our stuff was pretty real. PLAYWRIGHT Not exactly a fairy tale. It was about Demeter and Persephone. You were Hecate. PAT Who? LAURA Oh wow! I’m Persephone! (Stands and starts dancing.) PLAYWRIGHT Sit down and shut up, Laura. ANNIE Persephone didn’t die in the myth. She just went underground for half the year. I mean, back when I was a Classics major, I. . . PLAYWRIGHT All right, all right. Let’s start again. You all now have a basic idea of where everybody comes from, right? Laura, sit. LAURA (Sits.) Wow, you are so demanding. PLAYWRIGHT Right. I am. So, everybody keep talking. Except Laura and Annie. You know all you need to about them. PAT Three grannies, three kids, two daughters. Looks good to me. PATRICIA I really want to hear what Laura and Annie have to say. And Pat, of course. ALEX Me too. (The sound of general agreement,) PLAYWRIGHT From the land of the dead. Oh, whatever. I give up. LAURA Well, if it’s all grannies and daughters, this is about you and your daughter, isn’t it? PLAYWRIGHT I don’t have a daughter. I said that already. Before you got here. LAURA Oh. But you are a daughter, right? So it’s about you and your mother. PLAYWRIGHT No. No it isn’t. My mother was nothing like yours. She was strict. Nothing at all like Annie. LAURA But I still think. . . PLAYWRIGHT You know what, Laura? I don’t care what you think. You’re wrong. Whatever you say is just plain wrong. ANNIE I don’t think that’s fair to poor Laura. I mean, you created her. PAT She has a point. PLAYWRIGHT But I want to listen to the other characters here, the ones I actually invited. Patricia, help me out. PATRICIA I agree with Pat. Look, you’re making three plays. . PLAYWRIGHT Two, damn it. The one Laura’s in is trashed. A failure. It’s in the wastebasket. PATRICIA Well, however many, they’re all about mothers and daughters. PLAYWRIGHT No. They’re about grandmothers and grandchildren. The mothers are incidental. RED That’s what you think. PLAYWRIGHT What? Really? RED Yeah. I mean, if it weren’t for the mothers, we wouldn’t be, like, so attached to our grandmothers, right? PLAYWRIGHT But your mother isn’t in the play at all. RED Yeah, but. Grandmother’s an artist, right, and she does whatever she wants. And my mother isn’t an artist. She’s like, very sensible, or something, in an organic kind of way. And she doesn’t get how it is with me and Grandmother. And that’s why me and Grandmother get along so good. ALEX Yeah, yeah. Like me and Gram. Mom doesn’t get it at all. I mean, look at her. PATRICIA You have no idea, Alex, what it’s like to deal with a mother like mine. ALEX Nope. Just what it’s like to deal with a mother like mine. PAT Jesus. And I thought our play was complicated. But at least ours doesn’t have a grandmother in it. ALEX But you’re a Gram, right? I mean, you’re old enough, no offence. Were you kinda like a grandmother to Laura? PLAYWRIGHT I really, really don’t want to talk about Laura. LAURA Why not? Do you find me threatening? PLAYWRIGHT This isn’t about me. GRANDMOTHER Of course it is. All art is about the artist. JOAN You wanted us to talk, so we’re talking. How about we ask you some questions? PLAYWRIGHT Great. Make-believe people asking me questions. Okay. Go ahead.
This is the second part of the exercise I wrote, using vague characters from plays I was stuck on. Or with.
JOAN Ha. Well then. Yes, Patricia, we do laugh at you behind your back. And like Grandmother and Red, Alex and I “eat funny” just as you suspect. And she/he/they is indeed in cahoots with me. PATRICIA You haven’t said your name yet. Or what you think you’re supposed to be doing. JOAN Oh, well. I beg your humble pardon. You said my name, I believe. PATRICIA Did I? JOAN And you think I’m dotty. I am Joan. I am a retired academic folklorist and I would like very much to learn how to turn into a tree. GRANDMOTHER A tree? That sounds exciting. JOAN Yes. A tree. The alternative to being put into some dreadful kind of place by my charming daughter here, who is all efficient in her little suit. PATRICIA A tree? Well, that just goes to show that it’s not safe for you to be living alone anymore. I’m going to see an attorney, and. . . ALEX Mom! Gram’s fine. She’s just fine. I should know because I see her a lot more than you do. At least, I’ve seen her for what, Gram? Three pages? JOAN Four. ALEX See? We didn’t even know what you looked like. PATRICIA Well I must say, I certainly did not expect any child of mine to appear in public looking like, like. . . ALEX What? A typical teenager? What did you expect? An Instagram poser? A Tik-Tok celebrity? PATRICIA Oh for heaven’s sake. Stop running your mouth and introduce yourself. ALEX I’m Alex. I don’t really know my mother, yet, but I do know Joan, my Gram. I like her a lot. I didn’t think I disliked my mother anymore than any kid does, but now that I’ve met her and see what a jerk she is, well, I don’t think I like her. If I were Gram, I’d want to turn into a tree, too. (Laura enters, graceful, dramatic. She stand by the table, smiling. There’s a silence while they all look at her.) LAURA Wow, you started without me. (Reacting to the silence.) What? PLAYWRIGHT I didn’t invite you. LAURA Really? Well, I’d have thought that my relationship with my mother was the point of this whole thing. PLAYWRIGHT It isn’t. These are plays about folklore, about mythology. Not at all about you. LAURA Come on, everything’s about me, and you know it. I want a chair. Where’s a chair? (Turns toward entrance.) Hey you back there! I want a chair! (Stagehand enters with a folding chair, opens it and sets it up.) LAURA Not this kind. It’s not good for my back. I’m a dancer, you know? I have to be careful of my back. PLAYWRIGHT Fuck your back. I don’t want you here, but since you are, you can sit down and shut up. LAURA (Sits.) I thought you wanted us to talk. PLAYWRIGHT Not. You. Just be quiet. ANNIE (Enters, harried, looks around until she sees Laura.) There you are, Laura. I’ve been looking for you everywhere. I thought you were in Florida, with the circus. PLAYWRIGHT Oh, terrific. LAURA I was, but then this happened. (Gesturing toward the group.) ANNIE And what is this? Would someone please tell me what’s going on? PLAYWRIGHT Okay. Everyone, this is Annie. As I’m sure you’ve gathered, she’s Laura’s mother. Laura is, or she was. .. LAURA I think I should speak for myself. PLAYWRIGHT No. You shouldn’t. Shut up. I’ve thrown you away so many times. I don’t want to hear your smug, self-indulged voice ever again. LAURA Whoa. Bad energy there. PLAYWRIGHT (Rising and threatening.) I’ll give you bad energy. . . ANNIE What’s going on? Laura, what are we doing here? Who are these people? PLAYWRIGHT Shit. Okay. (Calling to stage hand.) Another chair! (Stage hand appears with a chair, opens it. Annie sits next to Patricia.) As I was saying. Annie is Laura’s mother. Laura was a character in a novel, a long time ago, in which she ran away to the circus and was shot by a clown. I should have left her there, bleeding in the sawdust, but no, I resurrected her in a play that did not work. At all. And now for some reason known only unto Laura, Annie, her poor mother, has to deal with her again. Annie, I’m sorry.
(Stands. To audience.)
She’s right. I don’t know what to do because nothing I do matters. I thought it was us, all these centuries. I thought Zeus made the storms and Apollo drove the sun. I thought the corn grew because of me, those yellow waves in the sunlight. The harvest was mine, and the storerooms full of grain. I thought my daughter made the spring come, and then when she left, I thought I made the autumn—my grief colored the leaves and made them fall, my tears watered the ground. And now—the times are wrong and I see. It happens anyway. It happened anyway, and always did. And we immortals, what are we? Stories. We’re only stories, half-recalled. And we will fade. We are fading, and we will fade. . . we’re only stories. . .
(Turns her back, muttering, as lights go out.)
I seem to be writing more plays than poems these days. Here’s a bit of one I’m working on about an elderly Demeter and a middle-aged Persephone.