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  • Writer's pictureZachary Desmond

#3 of 18: LATE NOVEMBER IN REVERSE

Updated: Sep 8, 2023

// MISSED JIF RIGHTS //

November 17, 2022

Vol 1, Issue 3



Hey Good Human,


It was an enormous month, floppy and flailing at the front. Too unruly a month to lift up, let alone stuff into a mischief rite. [Offering you an arm] So walk with me? We’ll promenade through the last week and a half and let the sizable squash of late October rot on the vine.


Welcome everyone new to the MR, this is a monthly newsletter that I began because I’m receiving a thousand dollars a month from Creatives Rebuild New York just to be an artist and one of the things I’ve insisted I would do if I had more money to write is write more. Each issue has its own flavor and the previous two installments provide some more context (and content, yum yum):



A CALENDAR IN REVERSE

Today is Tuesday, days ago by now I’m sure. I am full, well-worked, dopamine doused. The sun is out and I’m stretched and sweated from a morning spent climbing artificial boulders. Roger is next to me at a cafe in downtown Brooklyn with high ceilings and an immersive terrarium. A gigantic triassic fern is literally reading over my shoulder as I write this. I’m sipping iced green tea and breathing through my hips.


Speaking of breath, I’m on vacation after ten or so of the most creatively challenging and fulfilling days in the last year. We’ve been on the run since mid-September, but the last week and a half was a spirited gallop down a giant slalom ski slope, so I’m spent and trembling and thrilled not to have run headlong into a tree. In fact, grab your hooves and wear a helmet because this peaceful promenade is slip-sliding into a reverse chronological touchstone tour of the last ten downhill days.


MONDAY NIGHT (11/21)

CONCERT. Christopher Sears, musical seer and potent piano pellegrino, plays 9 Black Cats for a crowd of fifty at Rockwood Music Hall. Chris’s music makes me want to walk in the desert until my clothes unravel. A full-throated, belly-out sound that is providential and playful, I laugh more than appropriate and, for propriety’s sake, whoop half as often as I’d like to. Each time I see him play I leave wide-eyed and joyous, hungry to go home alone and write til dawn.


MONDAY AFTERNOON (11/21)

PLAY READING. I am MILLER, a blackpilled incel in love with loneliness and starved for purpose in Degenerates, Else Went’s new play about three young men drowning together in a torrent of toxic masculinity and digital communion. The reading at New York Theater Workshop, directed by Emma Went, was 2.5 hours and followed by an all too brief talkback; some of the words used by viewers to describe what the play is: unsettling, uncanny, exposing, caring, conflicting, depressed and depressing, hopeful, humane, hot, erotic, disturbing. Else Went is the best playwright you’ve never heard of. But you will.


SUNDAY NIGHT (11/20)

AUDITION. I am SIDNEY and DAVID and it’s been hours and hours of gravel dragging to put together a self-tape for an understudy role in BAM’s upcoming production of The Sign in Sidney Brustein’s Window by Lorraine Hansberry. A total triumph though, with Piper’s very patient help, to capture a take of two clear and distinct characters (understudy roles tend to cover multiple characters) and I send it off a few hours before deadline.


SUNDAY AFTERNOON (11/20)

RESEARCH. I tell myself I’m preparing for Degenerates and writing this friggin’ Rite of Mischief at the NY Public Library’s Schwarzman Building, but mostly I’m reading about FIFA’s institutional corruption, the economic history of Qatar, and the thousands of mostly central and south Asian migrant workers who have died during the construction of eight Olympic-sized soccer stadiums over the last 10 years to prepare for the 2022 FIFA World Cup; also, I spend an hour investigating the permanent exhibition of bizarro-couture capitalism that is this artificial archipelago in Dubai because The Internet. Roger shows up and pulls me from my wiki-reverie. We read Degenerates and eat leftover tortilla soup.


SUNDAY MORNING (11/20)

READING. Piper and I wake up late. We pull a few tarot cards: Ten of cups, Page of swords, The Devil. The arrival of resources, the initiation of ideas, and the chains of addiction.


LATE SATURDAY NIGHT (11/19)

AUDITION. Piper gives me another crack at The Sign in Sidney Brustein’s Window. We get a couple good takes for SIDNEY (the eponymous leading man-child and entrepreneurial idiot), but DAVID (the queer loner abstractionist playwright) is still eluding me. It’s 2am. We sleep.


SATURDAY NIGHT (11/19)

PLAY WATCHING. Rob Yang dishes out the single best acting performance I’ve seen in New York in Catch as Catch Can, a three-hander directed by Daniel Aukin at Playwrights Horizons. Yang is clear, dextrous, endlessly surprising in his simplicity, playing a mother and her son in a cross-racial, cross-gender, cross-generational performance that at once confounds and reveals the heavy inheritance of American identitarianism. He spends about 8 minutes alone onstage in a dialogue with himself about ¾ of the way through and I am completely rapt. It's an aria, perfectly executed.


SATURDAY AFTERNOON (11/19)

READING. I finally sit down to read The Sign in Sidney Brustein’s Window. It is complicated and moving. Hansberry also wrote A Raisin in the Sun, Les Blancs, critical essays and articles in support of pan-Africanism, civil rights, civil disobedience, and decolonization. She died of pancreatic cancer when she was 34, young, gifted, and black. I try to imagine all the plays she had yet to write and hit a grief fence, look through the slats.


FRIDAY NIGHT (11/18)

PLAY READING. The kale is over-salted, but a little lemon juice cuts through and lifts the sliced red onions and fresh thyme into balance with the sweet potatoes and apple cider vinegar. The tortilla soup is ready but I’ve made way too much. Six of my Mercury Store friends are here to read Troglobites, my most recent play. I have a reading coming up but it’s been lying dormant for about nine months, or gestating, so we read the play for two hours and then talk about it. Mickey says: “Act one: We encroach on Nature. Act two: Nature encroaches on Us. Act three: We become Nature.” This resonates with the table. It’s good but not great and I will spend the next couple weeks trying to solve for better. Semi-public Zoom reading on December 12, let me know if you’re interested in attending.


FRIDAY AFTERNOON (11/18)

REHEARSAL. Daniel, Glenn, and Eboni sit us down after tackling Act 4 of The Cherry Orchard by Anton Chekhov. We ask about the shadowy and precipitous thoroughfare of being professional theater makers. There are no maps, but every so often a one-way street, and that’s a relief. Keep showing up, they say, recalling one of many twelve step mantras. What you’ve given up to be here may eventually be its own reward.


LATE THURSDAY NIGHT (11/17)

AUDITION. Piper helps me with my first crack at the tapes for The Sign in Sidney Brustein’s Window, but I haven’t read the whole play yet and I’m just toast. I stop before humiliation sets in. This is wisdom.


THURSDAY NIGHT (11/17)

PLAY READING. A playwright- and dramaturg-only reading of Act 2 of Degenerates at the Public Theater. Else Went, the playwright, is a member of The Public Theater’s Emerging Writers Group and it’s Else’s writing’s turn to emerge. We read through TARGET’s and MILLER’s half-hour in-person encounter, the heart of the play. One of the Public’s dramaturgs, Sarah, winnows her way to the moment of very greatest danger (and greatest possibility) and places gently her fingers on the play’s pulse. It’s an inspiring exchange of dramaturgical concision and dramatic expertise. Else is emphatically thankful for the notes, so specific, so useful. I love working with people like this.


THURSDAY AFTERNOON (11/17)

REHEARSAL. We talk about imaginary people like they’re our family, laughably predictable, endlessly mysterious. Their names are unusual, and many: Renevskaya is also called Lyuba which means Love, haha, of course it does. Dunyasha (who is not Dashenka) is either terribly sensitive and delicate or pretending to be, but neither impresses Lopahkin, a.k.a. Yermolay, a.k.a. “Little Peasant,” an upstart in his thirties or forties who is quite possibly in love with Varya (Lubya’s adopted daughter) and unable to act on it, or in love with Lubya herself (“In love with LOVE!”) and unable to do anything about it, or neither, or both. People are complicated. Anton Chekhov gives every character a shot at tragedy. Most come hilariously short of the mark.


WEDNESDAY NIGHT (11/16)

PLAYING. I continue to respond to Grace’s email. I start to read The Sign in Sidney Brustein’s Window but get distracted about fifteen pages in and play my guitar for two hours instead. Regret!


WEDNESDAY AFTERNOON (11/16)

REHEARSAL. We share the opening scene of The Cherry Orchard with the full cohort of 30ish other Mercury Store artists. I play Yepikhodov: “My boots squeak--and squeak, which is intolerable,” and we all lean in to hear an imaginary interlude of boot squeaking. In the other studios: a femme and non-binary tribute to the ten-film Fast & Furious franchise with live sparks provided by a Burlesque Grinder named Nina; an experimental adaptation of trans girl suicide museum by Hannah Baer in the form of a choreographed house party unfurling in reverse.


WEDNESDAY MORNING (11/16)

THERAPY. Waking from a Groundhog Day-like dream and immediately jump into a session with Chuck. I’ve been here before. “When you’re not awake, you tend to repeat patterns. And you’ll keep repeating those patterns until the uncanny feeling registers, that sense of deja vu. Might be an invitation to ask, where might I wake up more in ordinary reality? Where might I have more lucidity?”


TUESDAY NIGHT (11/15)

CONCERT. Nimal takes me to my first live Moth Storytelling event. I wear my rain pants and rain jacket, the first really abysmal day of autumn. The theme for the evening is “Don’t Look Back” and the last story stands out because the storyteller is the sole survivor of a 1992 commercial airline crash in the mountains of Vietnam who was, after a week of drinking poncho-caught rainwater, discovered by a Buddhist monk. She was torn from a jungle-induced transcendence by the man in orange cotton; he from his walking meditation by the woman in blue plastic. They did not share a common language. The monk, who had never seen a white person, assumed she was a ghost and left. Two days later, a rescue team arrived. The storyteller proceeded to live a life. A decade later, she returned to Vietnam and met the monk. She introduced her children to the monk. They laughed, via a translator, about not understanding one another. He was with the rescue team, but she hadn’t realized. This was the final story of the night. But the line I remember most clearly was from the host’s introduction of Hasna Muhammed, another storyteller: “When asked what she was glad to have left behind without looking back, this storyteller told me: Shame. Guilt. Fear. Pettiness. Regret. Insecurity. Worry. Comparison. Impatience. And doubt.” I liked her story as well.


TUESDAY AFTERNOON (11/15)

REHEARSAL. Daniel’s most frequent direction is “Be More Boring.” I watch Glenn and wonder how he’s pulling it off: without doing anything remotely interesting, he is riveting to watch. We are not here to stage or perform or “work” any of Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard, but to read it. All. Week. Long. We are discovering the play within Daniel’s experimental reading approach. The constraints/freedoms are these: everyone is assigned a character or two (you will be asked to play other characters too, so don’t get attached); there is no “stage” but you are free to move, stand, sit, exit, and enter the scene however and whenever you have the impulse (you will be asked to move elsewhere or to go back to where you were, so stay loose); the scene begins in silence, wherever you happen to be in the room, at which point Daniel will count to three, arhythmically, “1… 2… … … … 3,” and your job is to begin your next line at the exact moment that Daniel says the word three, which is never the same moment twice; whenever you pause, for any reason, you must wait until Daniel counts to three again before continuing. In the silence between one clause and another, anything can happen, but nothing has to happen. Being interesting, or doing your idea of “the character” is a trap. Be more boring. We go at it for five hours and get about a third of the way through the play. As one adapts to this slower rate of listening, speaking, and reading, something happens to our brains… the language begins to flower in the pauses between speech. We can hear each other and ourselves. The weight of what we’re saying bounces around the room. Details we’d never have noticed shine like bright pennies on the hardwood. We pick them up, delighted to show them to each other, spin them like tops.


MONDAY NIGHT (11/14)

WRITING. I receive an invitation to submit tapes for an understudy role in The Sign in Sidney Brustein’s Window, but it’s due at the end of the week so I transcribe an interview I did with Tamie Parker Song about her favorite books, television series, and films. My favorite part is this exchange regarding the 32 literary pieces that Tamie has included on her recommended reading list:


Zack: Okay, for the readings, you have two tasks: The first is to name two categories into which all of your readings could fall, but not necessarily exclusively.

Tamie: Tricky. Category 1 is, Readings That Will Make You Want To Change Your Life, Or The World (RTWMYWTCYLORW).

Zack: And Category 2?

Tamie: Irreducible Stories That Just Make You Want To Look Out The Window (ISTJMYWTLOTW).

Zack: Great, let's categorize them accordingly!

Tamie: Oh god.


Steven Galloway’s The Cellist of Sarajevo is the book to begin with and is a category unto itself. If you want the rest of Tamie’s list, let me know, she’s given me permission to share. It is a fine digest.


SUNDAY NIGHT (11/13)

AUDITION. Piper and I tackle her audition tapes for New Amsterdam. She’s very good in the role and we are having fun but the house where she’s dogsitting is definitely haunted which confers, as I have heard it said, a vibe.


SUNDAY AFTERNOON (11/13)

RESEARCH. Tamie and I begin our interview right on schedule. She’s been collecting Recommendation Lists from everyone in our Making Your Life As an Artist (MYLAA) group, typing them up and sending them to the six of us in letter-form! Analog baby! [Good band name.] The six of us met in Sitka between 2013 and 2016 and, inspired by Andrew Simonet’s book and movement, eventually became a regularly gathering digital community under Tamie’s leadership. We had our first in-person retreat in August, which I wrote about, albeit opaquely, in the first issue.


SATURDAY NIGHT (11/12)

PLAY WATCHING. We’re fifteen minutes in and I am ready to climb into the cab of the road salting truck with Peter and Basil even though the heat isn’t working and it’s well below zero this morning in Evanston, Illinois. These rundown public workers are best friends played by the exceptional Ken Leung and Jeb Kreager, but I know them and love them and am desperately worried for them and their boss Maiworm because something bad is coming up from under the ground and it’s going to kill us all. Piper and I talk for hours after about the New Group’s production of Evanston Salt Costs Climbing, directed with care and craft by Danya Taymor, which will play at the Pershing Square theater Signature Center through December 18th. See it if you can.


SATURDAY DAY (11/12)

WRITING. You better believe I’m cooking up this very Mischief Rite, but it’s not happening sister. I write to Grace instead. I’ve been working on a response that honors the care and vulnerability and deliberateness of her last email but it’s taken weeks. Grace was responding in part to the latest Mischief Rite, which I proceed to re-read.


TODAY, TWO WEEKS LATER (11/26)

GRATITUDES.

I want to thank you for reading, it’s a real treat to read your responses when you have a moment to spare. As always, let me know if you’d like to stop receiving these. Piper helped me by reading this and also giving me such lovely space to write this weekend. I also want to thank the aforementioned Tamie Parker Song and my friend Peter Bradley, who both inspired me to start this little periodic ritual because they invited me into a community of anonymous fellowship by sending me their newsletters. Tamie has written over fifty highly compelling “Dispatches” since the pandemic began, boldly essaying a huge range of topics personal, political, social, and scientific, in a variety of formats. During a summer artist residency in Sisters, Oregon, Peter wrote fourteen “Herring Scraps,” brilliant bursts of investigative poetry, reportage, speculation, and historical analysis about Pacific herring in Sitka, Alaska and the sac-roe fishery that is its great existential threat. Those scraps and dispatches were portals into the mindworks of two artists I respect very highly, and it was unexpected and exciting to see their art happening in process. To be part of something both communal and semi-private inspired me to send some of my own work regularly to the inboxes of my esteemed friends and colleagues, where I hope you are reading it now, considering what you might write or draw or craft to share with some of us, when you have the time or resources or will to do so.


Yours in Missed Jif,


Zack


--


P.S.


Some affirmations for the coming week, the next time you're breathing.


I am safe, grounded and stable. My roots run deep.

I allow myself to experience pleasure. My power lies in my sensitivity.

I am powerful beyond measure. I accept myself fully.

As I learn to love and accept myself, I also learn to love and accept others.

My voice deserves to be heard. I listen with compassion.

I am in touch with my inner guidance. I trust my intuition.

I am connected to the infinite wisdom of the universe.





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