Writing Plays – Method and Mindfulness

 

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My latest work, Sad Fuck Pub will feature at the Galway Fringe festival and its safe to say I’m pretty happy.

A minor feat to some, but a reasonably important one to myself. My previous play, Once More for Toby Jugg was a collaboration between my father and a rag tag band of other fantastic people. The learning curve involved in putting on a production of that length, with a cast of that size and with such little experience was, mathematically, a convex function. In terms of hillwalking it could be seen as the first ascent of the North Face and in terms of cooking it was like serving an Ortolan Bunting at a kids birthday party; the main point being it was quite difficult.

I suffered, what I can only imagine other writers might feel when they spend too long with a script. It felt more ‘writer’s fatigue’ than ‘writer’s block’. It was a nagging dislike for what I had written, manifesting itself physically in the form of minor anxiety attacks topped off with a confusing existential sense of self doubt. Why was it that the longer I spent crafting the script, the more I hated it? I mean, I never really ‘despised’ it, but I suffered from a sort of inverted Stockholm syndrome. A graph could chart my own familiarity with the script increase relative to my frustration, increasing ten fold when I finally sat down to a final re-write following its staging in the Smock Alley Theatre.

So, born out of that feeling I began writing something, anything else. Sad Fuck Pub began as a conversation (as most plays might) between three men at a pub. I was consumed with the idea of creating my own autonomous piece out from under the safety blanket of my father’s text, but I’m happy to admit I literally had no idea where to start. Rather than getting hung up on the context, or setting, or even the goal of the piece I began writing a dialogue I could hear in my head.

[Quick aside] I had once attended a performance of David Mammoth’s ‘Glengarry Glen Ross’, where my father was in direction of a sixth year class. I remember him recounting the school’s request to tone down the use of bad language; to which he replied ‘It simply doesn’t work without the cursing’, and he was right. Watching a seventeen year old boy (while I was only twelve myself) call another young boy, a ‘cunt’ really stuck with me. Since then I realised that cursing is part of the shared dictum. Expletives act like little jumping off points for words, the most natural form of expression when conveying an emotion. “Close the door” won’t garner the same reaction as “close the fucking door you Cunt”. Its the verbal equivalent of padding a bra, it just fills sentences out.

So, with that same pattern of thought I began writing. No names, no title, no indication as to who was who and why they had said what they had said. It was therapeutic, and incredibly freeing to simply mash into the keys what flowed through my brain (John Keat’s ghost would have been giving me a dainty clap at the speed I typed at) and at about a thousand words in I realised that I did indeed have a plan in mind for these characters. I realised that the cursing and the quips between them, in the most colloquial Dublin I could imagine was slowly forming a plot. Even though I had not titled the characters I knew ‘who was a who’. I slowly mused about putting them in differing situations. If Edgar met Ghandi what might he say, and how would Sonny deal with learning that his favourite Ice cream parlour no longer carried his favourite flavour?

Kurt Vonnegut’s Breakfast of Champions came to mind, specifically the scene in which Kurt throws himself into the text, revealing himself to Kilgore Trout as his creator. To show to Kilgore that he was indeed his creator (by virtue of being the book’s author) Kurt took him across the world and across all time, only to have him break down and cry for being shown that he was merely a character in a book. Now, I didn’t have such cruel intentions for my three bar flies, but it soon became apparent how trapped the characters were. I could at a whim toss all three of them in the ocean, or set fire to the stools beneath them but instead I decided to allow them to very slowly realise that they themselves, were not real (an arguably crueler fate).

This realisation organically began to appear the farther into the text I got. It was a process of slow manipulation and by its end I couldn’t help but attach crueler and crueler intentions to my characters, all the while stuffing their mouths with words I’ve heard said and words I meant to say. Now, when writing a piece concerning love, or lust or any other clichéd human emotion you have to be cautious about how much of yourself is added into the text. Bearing one’s soul is certainly in keeping with my idea that art is truth, but the real truth is most of our lives are mundane and what seems momentous to ourselves may seem like a ‘Made in Chelsea’ advert trailer to others. To circumvent the theatrics I, like a magpie building a nest of emotions began to borrow from conversations I’ve heard, text’s I’ve read, emotions I’ve felt and shit all men have said drinking pints of their own tears. Again, this may not sound like anything new but there is a little bit more skill involved in creating character’s that are meant to represent elements of masculinity, than expected. The more static the character the more important it is that you accurately represent that type of person.

Its always difficult to be certain when a piece is finished. I usually abide by the rule that a piece is only finished when any additional writing would ruin or detract from the intention (The very lack of which made finishing the piece even more difficult again). Self analysis never gets close to a scathing (and usually correct) critique by a trusted friend, but I was close to certain the piece was finished. I was able to tie the ends together, like a folded picnic blanket of male misery.

The cyclical nature of the surreal purgatory came organically. It ended when Edgar (the most boisterous of the three) finally succumbed to a soliloquy of his own. Once the three characters had said all that they could and would ever say, by virtue of the fact that they were mere representations, it came to an end. There is a finite amount of conversations that men can have after being broken hearted and I felt I managed to cover a good few of them. The play ends explaining to you that it will never end, or at least suggests those conversations in both tone and nature never will.

The play will run for three days during a lunch-time slot between the 21st and the 23rd of July. I would rather the production was at night, in a pub, to catch those watching unawares. I would rather the audience in a maudlin sigh stare down into their pint listening to reflections of their own lives; not to depress anyone but instead to stir them. That great feeling that comes with seeing a piece of art where one thinks “Jesus that is life, my life, in its truest form. It may not look exactly like it, but there it is, my life on stage, deeply understood by someone I’ve never met”.

 

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The relative usefulness of comparing Donald Trump to Hitler

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What has Donald Trump got to do with the daily lives of the average Irish person? Why does the Irish media cover, not only the American presidential race but also the Republican and Democratic primaries? Why is it that the man on street may have a better idea of American politics than he may have about our own inept and dysfunctional system of governance? “I heard that bollox Ben Carson is gone” “Be garra, what GOOD NEWS that is”.

It could be to do with our basic economic dependency on the ‘shtates’, our shared culture and influence, or the fact that we as a nation only really thrive when we exist as a tax haven for big American business. Whatever the reason, Irish people are very aware of American politics and ‘Oceania’s influence on the world so I, a ginger Irish man have an opinion on it.

What I want to discuss here is what I see as the relative usefulness of comparing Donald Trump with Adolf Hitler, so here I go.

To begin, Godwin’s law states “As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches ” which is elaborated on by Godwin’s Wikipedia page, saying “ if an online discussion (regardless of topic or scope) goes on long enough, sooner or later someone will compare someone or something to Hitler or Nazism.”

Moustache and Hair

To say that Donald Trump is similar to Adolf Hitler is useful only if there is any truth in the statement that history is cyclical and doomed to repeat itself. The list of superlative comparisons is extensive; bizarre aesthetic quirks denoting deep-rooted insecurities like Trump’s crap hair and Hitler’s crap moustache. Hitler is famously said to have modelled his moustache after Charlie Chaplain, believing people might see him a likeable human being in the same sense that Trump doesn’t believe that a business mogul like himself could be bald (the Lex Luther comparison might be too much to handle).

Hitler’s own sexual oddities are also extensively chronicled, being descried as everything from a syphilitic sexual hermit to, according the controversial historian Ian Kershaw, a man that “Preferred younger women who were easy to dominate and mold”. Trump himself has also been quoted discussing his daughter’s sexual prowess. When asked about her potential participation in Playboy he was quoted as saying, “It would be really disappointing — not really — but it would depend on what’s inside the magazine. I don’t think Ivanka would do that, although she does have a very nice figure. I’ve said if Ivanka weren’t my daughter, perhaps I’d be dating her.”

The comparison here, although again superlative is at least entertaining, so you can see why it is joked about so heavily online. The equation of power and sexuality that they both appear to share conjures up images of Frank Underwood (from Netflix’s House of Cards) quasi-incestuous relationship with reporter Zoe Barnes; “A great man once said, everything is about sex. Except sex. Sex is about power.” You could feel the uncomfortable collective shudder around the world when this scene aired, and likewise when Trump made his own comments.

What needs to be kept in mind here that these comments are products of the opposition media’s PR offensive. Yes, both Hitler and Trump look weird and have creepy views of sexuality, but this is merely “Hello magazine” gossip level of criticism. If the American populous were to vote for a president’s based on his or her chaste behavior, John F Kennedy probably would have been taken as seriously as Vermin Supreme (the American presidential hopeful that wears a boot on his head).

The Race to Racism

Where the Hitler comparison matters and is at least useful is in how we analyse his campaign, his politics. Racially charged, jingoistic rhetoric served on a steamed bed of violence. The economic strain of Mexican immigrants perpetuated through crime is paralleled by Hitler’s own comments on Jewish Germans in Mein Kampft. “The Jewish train of thought in all this is clear. The Bolshevization of Germany – that is, the extermination of the national folkish Jewish intelligentsia to make possible the sweating of the German working class under the yoke of Jewish world finance – is conceived only as a preliminary to the further extension of this Jewish tendency of world conquest…. If our people and our state become the victim of these blood-thirsty and avaricious Jewish tyrants of nations, the whole earth will sink into the snares of this octopus.”

Trump’s own comments are perhaps less verbose in nature but they are certainly just as consistent in their economic racism. Both tap into a historic racism that preceded them. “When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re not sending you. They’re not sending you. They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.” The message here, while not panning all Mexicans as rapists (keeping that door open for the self-loathing Mexican vote) is a new world approach to the same racist endeavour. While Trump is unable to blame all of the economic woes of America on the shoulder’s of one of its poorest and most marginalised ethnicities, he is certainly able to pin conservative America’s fear of drugs and crime on the influx of Mexican immigrants without batting an eye-lid. Instead of creating an economic enemy out of thin air, in the form of Mexican immigrants, Trump is drawing on a pre existing racism that is already deeply ingrained in his voter base. ‘You are right to hate these people’, is the crux of Trump’s comments.

It’s as though Donald Trump keeps a ‘Cliff Notes’ book on Fascism under his podium with a dog-eared summary page on hate-mongering constantly open to remind himself how this process works. “Make America Great Again”, is a slogan that I’m sure Joseph Goebbels would have been proud of. It immediately implies that America is currently not great (an idea that most lower income families in America could justifiably subscribe to) while then calmly asserting that the reason it is not ‘great’ is because of an ethnic minority, or foreign economic enemy; China. Does he mean ‘Great’ as Hitler meant wanting to return to pre-Versailles treaty Germany under the Kaiser’s control, or does he mean the Great America that used to have racially segregated schools? One has to ask, at which point in America’s past was it greater than now? It’s vague, patriotic and it fits neatly as sticker to the back of your Pick-up truck.

With all that said, Barack Obama’s “Change” slogan could also be pasted to the back of a Toyota Prius run on one’s own sense of self satisfaction but this really only explains the pageantry and over-simplicity of American elections in general; what matters is the socio-political direction the rhetoric leans towards. Obama’s presidential slogan pointed vaguely forward while Trumps points eerily backwards. Even our own little nation’s previous governing party, Fine Gael had a slogan modelled on that same idea of political direction. “Lets keeps the recovery going”, implied everything from ‘all is good so let’s keep going’ to ‘if you don’t vote us in the economy will collapse’.

Manipulation of Violence

The similarities between Trump and Hitler, relative to the violence of their campaigns can also be seen in the organisation of their political rallies. Again, I stop short of comparing a Trump rally to the Nuremberg rallies as I genuinely believe that whether it is a Republican or Democratic rally, all American presidential elections necessitate this level of spectacle; but there are some convincing theories around Trump supporters doling out punishment to protesters, namely that the situations that lead to this violence are contrived by Tump’s own campaign. One theory surrounds the cancellation of a rally in the urban, racially diverse (and after the arrival of trump) politically cantankerous college of Illinois in Chicago.

Protests mounted outside the rally causing delays, and after some hours of waiting an announcer spoke to the crowd, claiming the Chicago police department had called off the rally as a result of the possibility of violence. The Chicago police had made no such claim, and a statement made by a “CPD spokesman Anthony Guglielmi told The Associated Press that the department never told the Trump campaign there was a security threat at the University of Illinois at Chicago venue. He said the department had sufficient manpower on the scene to handle any situation. Guglielmi says the university’s police department also did not recommend that Trump call off the event. He says the decision was made “independently” by the campaign.”

Whether the decision itself was, as some claim, taken to provoke the already heated situation outside it does certainly does warrant a comparison to the seeds of violence incited by Hitler’s Beer Hall Putsch (and as the History channel berates us into remembering) the consequent global violence of the second World War. Trump on this occasion is maybe not so brazen as to seize a Beer Hall but in the same vein as saying ‘most Mexican’s are not crime perpetuating rapists, but quite a few are’ Trump manages to show us the 21st centuries version of the same call to arms.

Hitler was imprisoned after this incitement to violence but it garnered sympathy amongst those that viewed his violence as a necessary answer to the Germany’s destitution. Even Winston Churchill lost the general election following the second world war in 1945 to Clement Attlee, as the Briton’s viewed Churchill as a war time prime minister. The theory being that Churchill was the best man to lead the country during war but not in times of peace. Trump is a war-time president in that sense, and in order to convince the American population to vote for him, he must convince them they are at war. Violent skirmishes and political unrest at his rally’s can only work in his favour. Lets go backwards, let us use violence and let us blame this minority.

Hyperreality

To return to Godwin’s law, it asserts that as a result of its ubiquity, the comparison to Hitler might have lost its edge. As the Rubberbandits highlighted, in a characteristically bizarre video, our perceptions of reality as per the media are influenced by Baudrillardian Hyperreal Simulacrums; (which is actually quite a funny string of words when spoken with a hammy Limerick accent). This is to say they we exist in a state of Hyperreality. “Hyperreality is seen as a condition in which what is real and what is fiction are seamlessly blended together so that there is no clear distinction between where one ends and the other begins.” The Rubberbandits highlighted our immunisation to ISIL violence, and our detachment from genuine elements of evil. If we see grotesque elements of violence on a revolving basis, we move further away from being able to consciously digest it as real. If we hear YouTube Comment troll ‘CODSNIPEZ13’ compare Caitlyn Jenner to Hitler, we begin to lose interest the usefulness of that comparison.

Of course Godwin is correct in asserting that we in popular culture use Hitler as an anthropomorphic version of the abstract concept of evil (and as a result we use it too often) but as the Rubberbandit’s also highlighted, this dilutes the reality of the comparison. Hitler’s universal standing as the ‘the most evil man ever’ washes away in popular discourse the genuinely scary shit he did and used in his (lets not forget this little comparison) democratic election and subsequent rise to power.

This is not to say that I in anyway advocate fear mongering, but instead an objective take on the very real connection between the two. The reason that the Hitler comparison exists is because we must learn from history, we must learn to separate the apathy implied in Godwin’s law (however true it may be) and realise that Hitler exists as a warning to all of humanity, especially in the west. When we begin to see the same tactics employed we should take stock and really question, if Trump is elected why would we expect any alternate result?