What you are left with



Photo by Chris Bennion

To quote Nick Cave, “I don’t believe in the myth of a personal God,” but sometimes it really does seem as if a higher power is pushing you to do something. First, my editor asked me if I wanted to cover Brooklyn Bridge at Seattle Children’s Theatre at the last minute. I was too swamped with work and personal commitments to take the assignment. Then a neighbor had spare tickets, but we were already cocooned for the evening with a video and snacks. When a good friend I see too seldom told me she had an extra ticket for a Tuesday noon performance, I finally took the cosmic hint and agreed to go – if I could get away from work. After all, Brooklyn Bridge is more than a play about a famous bridge, it’s about writing. Well, it’s also about communities and found family, but let’s focus on writing, since that makes my attendance less like skipping work and more like research.

The Tao continued to support me. An hour before the play, I found myself hung up on my project. It was due by COB, but I was stuck until an email arrived with critical information. I got in the car and drove to Seattle Center, hitting exactly one red light on the way and finding an open street parking space on the same block as the theater. After that much karmic path-smoothing, I figured the universe was about to offer up some sort of creative epiphany.

As always, I was impressed by the quality of SCT, which brings more to its kids’ productions than a lot of professional theater aimed at adults, even here in a theater-rich town. Their sets are always the barest minimum required to create a genuine sense of place without becoming abstract. The performances are always tight. And the stories never talk down to the pint-sized audience. And, as promised, Brooklyn Bridge was as much about writing as it was about a particular span of steel.

The premise: 10-year-old Sasha will fail 5th grade if she doesn’t turn in her research paper on the Brooklyn Bridge tomorrow. Like all of her other assignments, she has learned her topic, but she can’t put pen to paper. In this case, literally. She has lost her pen and can’t find another in her apartment. Although she is forbidden to leave the apartment when her mother is at work (cleaning offices on the night shift) she ventures out in search of a pen, and begins to meet her neighbors. Each encounter teachers her something about herself, the bridge, and how to commit words to paper.

The writing lesson: The first half of writing is research. Learn the facts, learn how they interact. But the second, harder part is deciding what is important to say.

When you have all the facts; when you have the details, the story is what you are left with.

What sticks with you when the data is all done?

Quite often, it’s the cost. My daughter always complains when a character dies in a book she’s reading, or when something terrible happens, and I always have to remind her that without loss there is no story, only a pretty picture. The cost of things (not the price tag, of course, but what is sacrificed) shows us what is valuable. After the loss, what you are left with is the story.


Then again, it’s also a play about communities and found family. Maybe once you’ve got your break from work, and your writing lesson, and your universe pushing you to do something, what you’re left with is a chance to see a play with a good friend.


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