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Tuesday, October 6, 2009

TODAY I AM A FARMER (Or at least a gardener)

Somebody once quoted Peter Brook to me as having said “Scratch a playwright and you’ll find a farmer.” The young woman who attributed the statement to Brook was pretty obviously all coked up. I have since searched in vain to find this statement linked to the great director. If anyone can provide me with a source, I would be most appreciative. (A pair of opening night tix to my next show, anyone?)

The statement makes complete sense to me, as it explains my propensity toward my two obsessions – writing for the theatre and growing food. A friend of mine who is a farmer and an editor has a poster on his wall of a cartoon guy riding a tractor. In large letters it says “I don’t want to be rich. I want to be a farmer.”

I do intensive gardening, including experiments in growing food more densely. A lot of vegetables come out of that garden. Despite a withering blight this year, friends and family were able to enjoy produce all summer long.

I have five crops in the ground now – Swiss chard, escarole, radicchio, beets, carrots. The three greens are frost resistant to varying degrees. With a modicum of luck, these crops will yield into early December. By heavily mulching the beets and carrots after the first frost, sweet roots will be available through January by reaching down through the snow and straw. Then they will be the first food from the garden in the spring.

I cultivate my own ginseng patch in my woods. Every summer I harvest the ginseng berries and plant the seeds in October. It takes two years for a new ginseng plant to appear and nine years before you have a root to harvest.

What does this obsession have to do with being a playwright? Nothing. However, there is sense in Brook’s statement (if it was in fact his). Farmers keep at it despite crop failures. Playwrights keep at it despite flops and other forms of rejection. Then there are the long periods without money – writing or waiting for crops to come in – and, hopefully, the occasional bountiful cash crops for farmers or income-generating productions or grants or movie money or whatever fro dramatists.

So anyway, this afternoon I’ll be putting ginseng seeds in the ground. In a couple weeks, I’ll plant next year’s garlic crop. Autumn is here and the truth is – I’d rather be spending more time in Manhattan. Money is so tight right now, though, that serious husbanding of funds is required, and the city is a place of constant expenditure. Sometimes I daydream what it would be like to deliver ginseng to some herbalist in Chinatown and have that pay my way. The ginseng patch would have to be a couple generations along to pay for a night at Elaine’s, though.

At least it’s incredibly lovely here on my little patch on the side of the mountain. The leaves are turning. Friends are calling and emailing about coming out to visit. And the city is only a little more than an hour away.

This morning I woke up all sorts of excited about blogging. This is how I feel when a script or story is going really well. So the blog is serving its purpose. I was also enthused due to a Face Book email exchange with Heidi Rodewald last night. Heidi is one of the creators and the musical director of the Tony-winning Broadway show (and now Spike Lee movie) Passing Strange. I first met Heidi in the Cafe Un Deux Trois one night after the show when it was running at the Belasco last year.

Heidi is one of those super smart people who enhance your thought process just by being in touch with her. Since I hadn’t heard from her since we first met, I couldn’t help thinking “Maybe she heard about my blog.”

I knew it was absurd. However, the absurdist influence runs deep through me and my playwriting. So I had a laugh at my own expense and had the pleasure of hearing from a super talented person. Anyway, that exchange was the basis of my excitement about blogging today.

If I had money, I’d be rich. Instead, I’ll play at being a farmer.

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