Saturday, December 8, 2012

Different Forms of Writing

Set Notes:
                As this is a monologue and takes place in a vague space that changes with Jeanie’s mental space, there are no props or set pieces. The lighting should be sparse, mostly dark with a spot on Jeanie as she walks, except where noted otherwise. If desired, however, a screen could be placed upstage center behind Jeanie as she talks, and I have noted ideas for images that might play on the screen to add visual dynamic. It is noted as optional because it is merely added effect and is easily removed.

Jeanie Brosnan
(Jeanie, a 44 year old single woman with an aversion to people and a habit of sarcasm, is standing upstage, looking at her hands. There is a spotlight on her. She addresses the audience as if talking to a new friend.)
I’ve got this throbbing in my fingertips and I’m not sure what it means.
It started in only one finger, I think it was my pinky
on my left hand
but now I don’t know how to make it stop.
It started in my sketching hand, which was bad enough
because it made holding a pencil difficult
and I don’t have time to wait for it to subside because images are fleeting,
you know? Birds fly away.
But then it spread to my bird-watching hand and that’s more annoying
because the throbbing is distracting and
when you’re holding binoculars for hours on end it can get painful.
And if you drop the binoculars at that crucial moment
when you’ve got the beautiful plumage in crisp
Technicolor focus
it’s a moment that slips and breaks away and is lost forever.
I don’t know what this means for my birding life
if I can even call myself that yet.
I feel like I am on the cusp,
the tween of the birding world:
more serious than a bird-watcher but not quite accepted into that society, you know?
The society of birders, of avid avian fanatics;
the community invested in the winged and the feathery,
who gather in the dense woods and
line up at the edge of the sounding sea .

I’m not exactly there yet.
Not that it matters much to me,
Lately I haven’t been one for societies.
I’ll let you in on this secret, since you’ve been so kindly
listening to me whine
(that’s the nature of the hypochondriac, and I’ve been one all my life):
People as a whole tend to have this horrible habit
of just letting you down.
(She turns on her heels and paces stage left, then stops and puts her finger in the air with the air of a storyteller)
Elnora Brown first taught me this valuable lesson in the 7th grade
and I would thank her for it
if she hadn’t punched my nose in,
“doing me a favor because it was too Jewish before,”
outside the girls’ locker room,
which I remember because my blood got on the lockers
and I had to clean it up.
When just the day before
she had smiled at me in the hallway,
said “Hello, Jeanie,”
under the watchful gaze of the hallway monitor;
but that’s how people are. Just when
you think you’ve reached solid ground
they shove your little dingy off into
the crashing waves again.
(She sighs and casts her gaze out above the audience, as if recollecting from a far-off memory. The stage lighting assumes a bluer cast, as if night, with silvery undertones like the glow of the moon.)
That night after my mom had patched it up she wanted to sit by me
as I slept
and make sure that I could breathe properly,
make sure that the white bandage and purple swelling
didn’t constrict my breathing.
But I told her that I wanted to be alone.
That night I first looked out of my window
at the deceptively calm night
and guess what I saw?
A nighthawk!
For a fleeting second, I saw it flit past,
dive to the ground, out of view, in chase of some bug.
Such a little bird, but such incredible speed.

Then I heard the characteristic boom,
(The boom of a nighthawk’s wings is heard- it is less like a concussive boom and more melodic in nature, almost a whistling of wind past something heavy. Optional: on the screen behind Jeanie, a nighthawk plunges from a great height only to pull itself out of the dive at the last second.)

the sound of its wings pulling it out of that dive
and I had no idea what it was, so I looked it up
in an anthology we had lying around, luckily for me.
There’s still a spot of blood in that book,
but in my excitement I don’t think I even knew I was bleeding.
I like to think of that night as the beginning of my bird-watching,
though it took me many more years to return to that calling
because as a young child I hadn’t lost that adorable innocence.
(Her gaze is fixed back on the audience, harsh, and her voice is bitter, edged with poison. The nighthawk footage fades away but the lights remain darker and blue.)
But oh, that innocence had to chip away sometime.
Todd Woolsey saw to that. Todd Woolsey, with the beautiful blue eyes,
and the winsome smile, and the toned arms,
and the deep tan, and the meaty hands
that wrapped around my wrists,
and the slightly crooked Cupid’s bow
that turned up in a sneer when he called me ‘bitch’.
I was twenty- three then. I hadn’t been called a bitch since
the petty days of high school. I thought all that
was behind me but the word still stung,
smarted in my embarrassed cheeks.
 I don’t think I cried that night
after he allowed me to leave his car
after stealing a kiss I didn’t want to give.
I think I was busy breaking down all of the stupid columns
that supported my faith in people. I was deconstructing
the logic I used to continue deluding myself into trusting
these people that only tried to hurt me.
I don’t remember any tears on my face when
I looked out my window again,
at the cloudy moon, obscured by the leafy branches of an oak tree,
and stared right into the lunar gaze of a Great Gray Owl.
(Optional: On the screen displayed behind Jeanie a pair of great yellow eyes open slowly and stare out at the audience, or perhaps a Great Gray Owl’s head swivels around to stare)
They’re not common in Colorado, you know.
Sightings do happen, but I think I was meant to see him that night.
He gave a hoo, the most beautiful, haunting sound you ever heard;
it’s true, I remember it.
(She pauses and looks straight out at the audience with a small smile on her face. A Great Gray Owl’s call is heard, maybe once, twice, and then fades away- with it, the image of the eyes. Jeanie smiles broader.)

And then he flew away, and his wings were massive.
I was astonished. Astounded. I went out the next day and
bought a pair of cheap binoculars and a book on birds.
It was just a hobby then,
a weekend thing when I didn’t feel like reading.
(The convivial, friendly atmosphere returns. The blue lights fade back into the simple spotlight on Jeanie. She is enthusiastic, eyes aglow)
But now, after so many years of stories and getting so angry,
the strangers who stare at me on the street
because of the binoculars swinging from my hips
and my frizzy hair
I know what I really want! I’m going to be the best
birder you’ve ever heard of.
If you can’t impress them, beat them.
This weekend I’m going to get a camera,
just a little digital thing, but I can’t always get the birds
on paper quickly enough.
I’m going to learn all of the birdcalls. Just listen;
(She composes herself, closes her eyes, takes a deep breath, and clasps her hands together. She then brings them to her mouth and lets out a low, throaty whistle, modulated by opening and closing her hand on top of the other. It is obviously amateurish but she is enthralled. As her birdcall is ending the call of several other common barn owls is played over the sound system, further away, distant.)

Did you catch that?
It was the common barn owl! I bet you’d have recognized it if you lived in the country.
I’m going to learn how to do even more,
and then when I flip through my sketchbook and
see all the beautiful birds I’ve seen,
I’ll also be able to remember how they sounded. 
(She begins to lose herself in a daydream, strolling slowly through imaginary forests, her right arm tucked at her side as if carrying an imaginary sketchbook. Dappled golden spotlights fade on, the briefest suggestion of a forest, and she is smiling. Optional: on the screen behind Jeanie, the trunks of many trees as if seen from regular height while walking through a forest.)
I’ll get out into the wilderness
all by myself, just me and my sketchbook, and my binoculars,
and of course, all of the avian wonders that await me.
I’ll sit by a tree in a folding chair-
or maybe just on the ground! Who cares?

And I’ll stare up and up with my magnified vision,
catch the sound of flapping wings and low whistles.
And I’ll fill up my sketchbook with those birds,
flying and perching and swooping and calling;
it’ll be bliss.
 (She stops her gentle stroll, dropping her arm to her side. Her expression is once again somber. The dappled lights begin to fade away, as does the image on the screen if present, leaving only her spotlight, as she talks.)
And the best thing is,
I don’t need people to do it.
I’ll be on my own, independent,
happy in my own right.
I’ll never again have to deal with people and
their lies and
their petty grievances and
grudges. Always begrudging me for one thing,
if not another.
Always smiling when what they want to do is strangle you.
I’m done with that.
There’s something freeing in being happy without them.
It seems daunting now,
that dark forest and the seclusion.
But I know when I get there I’ll feel different.
I know the magic will come back
and the birds will take me under their wings.
I can escape into the trees and the birdcalls,
watch the misty mornings turn to golden afternoons,
and even the night will be no obstacle
because I’ll have friends in the wise gaze of the owls
and the plunging nighthawks. We’ll dance.
(As the daydream fully leaves her, she is returned, frustrated, to the ‘real world space’.  She tries, forcefully and with a touch of the earlier bitterness, to convince herself that her dream is attainable.)
I’ll never have to return to people again.
No one will miss me. And I won’t miss anyone either.
My parents, shriveling away in that
cage of a retirement community;
they won’t even notice I’m gone.
What did they say when I told them
I wanted to go to Colorado Springs
and stake out a spot on the central flyway?

“You’re an adult now,” they said,
“Do something useful with your life.”
What, like sitting around
whining about the temperature?
The highlight of their week is when
they venture outside and take an assisted
dip in the pool.
My friends? What friends?
I don’t have friends. I don’t need them, either.
I like to think that the woman at the bookstore,
Ellen, I think her name was,
will miss me a little bit. I think she knew me
as the crazy bird lady. Better birds than cats.
But that’s no friend.

Significant other?
Don’t make me laugh. That ship sailed long ago.
But I’m not bitter.

I have the birds,
and my graphite,
and the feel of binoculars banging on my thigh,
and my sun-dappled forest.
That’s all I want. That’s all I need,
complete separation from that noisy,
abrasive, grueling company
of people.
(There is a pause. She is spent, her rambling leaving her at a loss. After a beat, she looks back down at her hands, wonderingly.)
That’s why I’m so worried about this
damn throbbing.
It’s like a heartbeat,
ba-dum, ba-dum
tying me here to society. I can’t get away from it.
What is causing it? I looked it up on the internet
but I only got hits for arthritis.
I’m not that old, yet.
What if it doesn’t go away?
There’s no room in the forest
for my birds and my binoculars
and this throbbing.
(The light in her eyes, whatever was left, dies. She drops her head and holds her hands, palms up, a foot or so from her face. Then she stares helplessly at the audience.)
I’ll have to go to a doctor.
He’ll have to fix this. Or I’m finished.
He has to save me.
And then set me free,
let me grow wings and fly to
the one thing I want:
to be alone in the forest
with the booming nighthawks.
(A nighthawk call, buzzy and harsh, fills the air as the lights go down. It echoes, and then is joined by the sweeter calls of other birds; sparrows, thrushes, accompanied by the rustling of leaves. Jeanie’s last expression is one of loss.)

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