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Chicago trip

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Wrote most of this entry a week ago, but failed to finish and post it.

Headed off to Chicago midday Wednesday last week (day before Thanksgiving). Turned out to be a fine time to fly, at least from SJC to ORD; no line to check in, no line at security.

Thursday, had Thanksgiving dinner with Mary Anne, Kevin, Kavi, Ellie, and assorted guests.

Friday, M and I mostly sat in various cafés and wrote fiction. I promised myself that I would set aside all the overdue magazine stuff, and not look at email or the web, and just focus completely on fiction.

I had written a couple scenes (about a thousand words, plus notes) for a new story back in February, but other than that hadn't written any fiction in a year and a half. So my fiction-writing muscles were out of shape. I forced myself to just write even though I knew it was bad; I spent a couple hours writing things like:

Joe said, "Blah." [Only with actual dialogue in all the quotation marks here.]

Jane said, "Blah blah blah."

Ralph said, "Blah blah."

Joe said, "But blah blah blah."

Ralph said, "Okay, but how about blah blah blah."

It was deadly boring, but it was all necessary introductory scenes. I was cringing, thinking about how I feel as an editor when I read a story in which nothing happens for the first couple thousand words.

But then something clicked, and I remembered that there are other ways to write dialogue. Not just putting the speaking verbs after the line of dialogue; also leaving them out entirely, and using actions to indicate speaker:

"But why not?"

Joe coughed. "Because it will mean the end of all life on Earth."

And around the same time, I figured out that if I was thinking of these scenes as boring introductory scenes to be gotten through, then that's how they would come across to readers and editors. And suddenly things were flowing, and the phrasing got less clunky, and I got past the introductory scenes and into some action. It's certainly not brilliant--the whole thing will need a heavy rewrite--and I've got a long way to go; I'm afraid this is going to be a novella. But I wrote 2400 words that day, and made some important decisions about various character and plot things I'd been waffling about. So I'm feeling better about writing than I have in a long time; only hoping I can maintain some forward momentum. Maybe will try and write some more this weekend.

Friday evening we attended A Midsummer Night's Dream, directed by Tim Supple, at the Chicago Shakespeare Theater. Here's what the website says about this particular, quite unusual, production:

A theatrical event like no other, Tim Supple’s Dream combines the astonishing skills of 23 actors, dancers, martial arts experts, musicians and street acrobats from across India and Sri Lanka. This bold, revelatory production caused a great sensation in India, and has played to sold-out houses at the Royal Shakespeare Company and across the world.

Performed in a beautiful mix of languages--half in English, half in the seven South Asian languages native to the actors--Dream has been staged here at Chicago Shakespeare without simultaneous translation, just as it was originally presented at England’s Royal Shakespeare Company.

We read Wikipedia's synopsis of the plot beforehand, just to remind ourselves of which one was Hermia and which one was Helena, and the show was therefore fairly easy to follow. (I don't remember whether M had seen Dream performed before; I had seen a couple other productions of it at various times.)

The martial arts and acrobats were fun (though there wasn't as much of them as I'd expected); the multilingual thing was fascinating; the cast were all pretty good. I felt that Titania/Hippolyta's delivery was a little weak, but M felt that her delivery was especially strong, so that balanced out. :)

M overheard a bunch of unfortunate comments after the show. The audience was (I'd guess) about 95% white, and largely on the older and better-dressed side; I'm guessing that many of them had season tickets. From the comments M repeated to me, it sounded like a fair number of audience members were unfamiliar with the idea that any given production of a play is an interpretation of that play; it sounded like they wanted a very specific experience from attending a Shakespeare play. M and I had a fascinating discussion about related issues on the way home; it eventually occurred to me to wonder whether the audience members who objected to messing with the Bard's immortal words (by translating them! into some other language!) would have also objected to a wordless ballet version featuring an all-white cast.

I also thought it was interesting to try to think about theatre from the point of view of someone living in a multilingual society. So much of my worldview is informed by being an essentially monolingual English speaker in a majority English-speaking country that it's sometimes hard for me to remember that quite a lot of people live in places where most people speak more than one language.

Anyway. Saturday, we watched the first few episodes of Mad Men, which I had never seen before. Interesting and stylish, but didn't really grab me; I don't think I'll continue to watch it. Then I flew home.

(I spent a while being annoyed in the security line at O'Hare. Due to not understanding that there were two separate lines, I got into the longer line; by the time I realized my mistake, it was too late to correct. It also turned out to be the slower line, because the person staffing the X-ray machine was apparently a trainee; she was looking very very closely and very very slowly at every bag that went through. And then after I finally got through, they pulled my bag (which happens maybe one out of five or six times when I fly) and emptied out everything in it (which they've never done before) and ran it all individually through the scanner. Slowly. But eventually I realized that (a) the total delay was really only about 10 minutes, (b) I was in no particular hurry, and (c) it could've been much more annoying in many ways.)

The rest of the trip home was uneventful. Kam and Jenni picked me up at the airport. Kam and I watched some more TV.

On Sunday, we played Portal, but I'll talk more about that in some future entry.

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Sounds like a worthwhile trip. It is nice for me to hear that you are creating fiction. But playing Portal will doom that in a hurry-- what a wonderful addiction.


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