Friday, January 09, 2004

So anyway…
Didn’t sleep so well last night. Bit of dust in the room I suppose from some extra cleaning done during the day. I am allergic, and so it made sleep rather difficult. We have a very small living space and there are five of us in it, so space to occupy your mind when it is hard to sleep is at a premium. There are a couple of places in town to go late at night, a few bars and disco clubs and five or six all night grocery places. But what there isn’t, is an all night coffee shop to sit in. What to do?
So I set myself up on the floor and dropped the desk lamp down into a corner and thought it practical to use the time to study the language a little. I am getting better. Russian is a difficult language for people in the west to learn I think. I studied French in school, and though there is a bit of extra gender rules to French than we have in English, it is nothing like the ever changing, ever moving, ever agreeing Russian situation.
More than having to remember a very large group if spelling rules, in Russian, you have to remember that the basic philosophy of the language differs from English. If I were to try and make a stab at sound biting the basic ideas of both, I might say that English is about articulating ownership and Russian is about assessing the direction of the energy of the thought. For me, coming from a language where the nouns are always constant and only the valuation of the verbs change, it drives me crazy to have to try and remember the declension class, the sex and from what direction it is approached in the sentence. And not only that, I don’t understand why they have to do it all so concretely. The phrases “If I were to” and “I might” simply do not exist in Russian. On the other hand, once you get the general gist of it and some practical experience, one can see how the Russians claim that they have the simplest language in the world to learn is possible. But like I said, it is possible to get it if you are willing to sweat it out for a while.
So there I was on the floor with both English and Russian language grammar books and ostensibly simply for textual examples, a copy of my play Pod Klablukom. My plan was simply studying the case system but after five or six examples- of the hand, with the hand, by use of the hand, to the hand- I got caught up in simply reading the play. And you know, I still like reading it. When I wrote the thing I felt I had written something substantial but I was extremely happy to find last night that it is still a pretty good play.
Now, I think all authors when they return to something they had previously written come to have a few about changing some things and last night I was no different. Here and there I found a few spots I thought I would like to change a little like the reference to the Belarussian Olympic debacle which is now quite dated. And some of the English jokes spoken by the Russian characters would be really impossible I now know. But overall, I still find the Russian version to be really quite good. I think A lot of credit for this needs to go the people that helped to translate the text. I see now that they managed to bring out specific qualities in the characters with the word choices and I am very happy with that.
Unfortunatly though the play though accepted, was bypassed for performance last year and last night I began to wonder if the relevance of the situation depicted is still appropriate. I was wondering if the play will go out of date before it ever gets on stage.
When I wrote Pod Kablukom, I think I was trying not only to illustrate a love triangle situation, but to also illustrate the subtleties of how that situation is handled culturally. I certainly know a lot more now about both the language and the culture then I did when I started the project, but nevertheless, I still feel I for the most part hit the mark. The situation is that the relationship between Nadia and Edward, a young attractive Belarusian couple is called into question when Nadia meets a handsome American on the train back from school. The vast economic difference between Robert and Edward distort the situation beyond the issues of heart and love. It is one thing to lose a lover to another, it is another thing when the world throws you away like garbage simply because the guy who stole your love is from a place in the world infinitely wealthier than you. And, as this was a Russian drama, I included all of the people in Nadia’s family into the argument and tried to show how the tension in the situation affected them.
Now, as I said, the play still reads well, but is this still a true story? Well, if my play is becoming outdated, it is not due to a change in the economic standards that would create such a situation, but a change in the attitudes towards such things as ideas of morality and love. When I first came to Belarus in the summer of 1997, I saw a world filled with highly educated and remarkably open, thoughtful and idealistic people. I think a lot of westerners would have seen them at the time to be… innocent is a good way to say it. The more jaundiced of us might use words like quaint. I do think that the family I wrote about came a bit more from there, than from the year 2002 where the place was something of a disaster area. And, I absolutely know that they don’t come from 2004 with its more active (if still yet remarkably impoverished) business first attitude. That innocent world is now certainly gone and directness of attention to money far and above beyond any idealistic ideas has become the new cultural norm.
A few nights ago we watched a new Russian made-for-TV-movie that had a similar theme. A young Russian girl asked a friend to write letters to a French guy in the hopes of sparking a romance. The French guy comes to Russia and gets involved with the letter writer. There are a lot of funny scenes with the family and friends all of whom are drunk from the New Years celebration. The girl has a fiancée who angrily duels with the Frenchman in a vodka-drinking contest. All for comedy. But in the end, of course, she gets the guy and goes off with him to Paris and the fiancée finds a replacement girl. This being the most satisfying conclusion I guess, these days.
In the television movie, the ideas of love and connection are shown to be easily fixable. All of the broken hearts in the film need only to drink a little and they find that their love is easily replaced.
Pod Kablukom doesn’t let its characters off so easily. The difference between my love story and this one (other than its getting played!), is that the play I wrote was about what it actually feels like to be that thrown away boyfriend. What it is like to be in the family of a girl who has a chance to be rich, and all she and they need to do to get the money is to throw away every cultural and moral ideal they have every learned. And of course, they must do this without even a guarantee that the riches will come. I think loss of innocence is at the center of Pod Kablukom. I wrote about the pain of the situation and tried to salve that pain with a little humor and acceptance. I thought that would be the culturally normal ting to do.
I think if I were to have to say, black or white if the play still had merit, I would say that it has, though not in such a way as it would have two years ago. When I wrote the play, I addressed the idea of nostalgia- then a very real attribute of a massive social depression. Now, I guess I would only make people nostalgic for the nostalgia.
I have an idea for another Russian play, but it doesn’t seem to want to come out of me. A lot of that has to do with what happened and my “lack of face” here because of it. And I don’t know how I feel about it really, but I don’t seem to even want to write plays anymore. It’s like that part of me is missing now, gone away. I used to believe in the activity and the ideas of play writing. I used to feel that I was making a social contribution and I liked doing the work. It might be that I have to pay for all of my computer time now; I don’t have a nice laptop anymore to work on. But more than this, I think it is because I find myself thinking so much about how broke I am, about how difficult and painful trying to fix all of the broken parts of my life are going to be, that I simply don’t have the energy, humor or heart to think so romantically anymore. I have nostalgia for those times when I was writing dramas. It was a lot different than trying to be an essayist, which is all of then writing I seem to be able to do anymore. Writing plays were a lot more fun. Who knows; maybe this is sort of what I was writing about in Pod Kablukom. Pod Kablukom means “under the heel”, you know. Ah shit, It’s a good play. Check it out.