Speaking of categories: if we take as a given artists' capacities to express themselves in multiple forms, it is only natural that you excel at writing, performing, songwriting, etc.
Right. As opposed to “schizophrenia?”, the question mark, it’s just “organism.” Period.
How does your work in different genres cross-pollinate? How have you been SHAPED by the shapes you make?
It's funny--I feel more pulverized than shaped. I think I'm being blown out--that's the literal translation of nirvana. The more you run after your desires, have them met, the less solid you become, the less you are. And that's what our protagonists are always doing in our narratives. They go after something they want and then when they get it, they find that they've changed, and that changed self doesn't need exactly what they used to want-- we walk toward the horizon and never get there. That's why we perceive it, to keep us walking.
Exactly. It is one of the reasons that linearity in narrative is not always an appropriate fit--what's at the end of the rainbow is not the point once the journey has affected you--it may be about climbing the tree, just to the side of the rainbow and cawing like a crow.
In a moment that you wouldn't expect to be having a realization--on a bus in Massachusetts--I felt that the only purpose which I could never refute that we have as living beings--be we human, animal, water, tree, rock or air--is to be in relationship with each other. That's it on a very basic, holy level. And this is where our divinity gets to play itself out.
I think about the ways that certain buildings, cities, vistas have called to me, awakened things I was not even aware of which had lain dormant, challenged me through their particular pressures, gravities or magnetism, and been sites of profound rites of passage. What are your places--and back to snapshots--how do you see yourself activated by these places?
Place is memory. And memory is what gives our present meaning. Of course we are rewriting memories every time we revisit them. They shift, they weary, they creak and wrinkle. Place is not only visual but olfactory. So the smells of the night blooming in California hold entire worlds, just as Proust's madeleine can. Mendocino County literally saved my life many times and is a magical respite. Birmingham, my grandmother's house—the place where I set the one act I wrote in Adrienne's class—so much of my creative life feels like it was born on her stairs and down on the floor below them...I still have dreams that take place there. I will imagine novels I read are taking place there. It's about drawing the unfamiliar into a translatable space....which is the trick and purpose of language and communication, perception.
Bulrusher is contingent upon place. And it interrupts a narrative. When Vera comes to Mendocino from Birmingham, her story about black womanhood doesn’t hold there. And the lesson is what would happen if we willingly disoriented ourselves from the kind of symbols that reinforce our narratives.
There’s that wonderful Anna Deavere Smith quote about artists daring to be homeless. You know, always. Even when we have our apartments, we are homeless. So what becomes home? Maybe your home is a book, or it’s a song that always finds you and cradles you.
Your inheritance is here, but now you’ve made this body of work. You’ve now contributed this new thing. Not only formally, but in terms of content. You’ve used different strategies…what about the questions you’re asking generationally? As in Ramp, there’s not a way to divorce the struggles of the heart from the struggles of the ecology.
That’s exactly right. That’s it. So many of our dialogues about change are about separating spheres. Like is this personal, is this political, is this social, is this emotional, is this psychological? And so much of our separating things is just about the production line, about division of labor, and branding, and marketing… and what I’m trying to get at with Ramp is that the way that we treat the world and the way we enter the world is about how much we feel we’ve been loved and how much love we want to give. The power struggle that’s going on between siblings ends up having this global impact, you know?
Do you pick form beforehand or does content guide you to form? Do you decide this is going to be a play and then write a play or do you start working and it turns out to be a song?
I usually decide the form first. I say I'm gonna write a song, or I'm gonna write a play—then I ask--what goes in it? But I've also had moments where I just wrote and then it became a song. Or it became a poem. Or it became a play. The words came and through them was the form revealed.
In Angela's Mixtape, for example, there are moments when song appears and they feel as though they could not possibly be anything other than a song—they function like staircases between levels in the piece.
I recycle a lot, like Adrienne [Kennedy]. Because we are compulsive and obsessive, we return to moments and make myths of them. So a song I wrote at 16 shows up at a concert I play at 40, in a musical I'll write at 42.