Oof, it’s been a long time. But I have a good excuse this time! Better than ‘it was vitally important that I watch the entire season of Homeland’ (although I’m not gonna lie, that happened too. That show is so good!)
I wrote a play! You see, in my non-writing-about-that-guy-who-looks-like-Matt-Damon-on-Game-of-Thrones time, I’m an MFA candidate in Dramaturgy at Columbia. And as part of that program, they require us to take a year-long playwriting class. The thinking is that it’s necessary for any dramaturg to understand what goes into the writing of a play, how hard it is to actually dive in and make a fleshed-out, fully-told-story kinda theater piece, and all the anxieties that go along with that. And man, am I glad they make us do that. Because after actually attempting to write a play, and then to put it together into a reading for people outside of the safe cove of my class to experience, I can say with confidence that writing a play is really, really hard. And sitting in a reading listening to people hear your play is really, really terrifying. And although I had the greatest of respect for writers before this particular exercise, now I am in awe. Way to go, you guys. That is not easy.
So, that’s where I’ve been. We had a reading last week, which was populated by many of my talented genius friends (many indeed – I wrote something with about fourteen different characters in it. Rookie mistake.), and beloved family and friends came and listened while I basically peed myself with fear in the corner. So thanks to all of you guys, for being awesome and supportive and not throwing rotten fruit at me afterwards.
I thought that I would share with you one of the scenes from my little play, since it’s been a lot of work (although it’s not finished yet) and since I don’t actually have to watch you experiencing it (thanks, anonymous internet!). Just to give you the set-up, my play, currently called ‘Birders’, is about a journalist, Jason, who comes to Central Park to write about the Red-Tailed Hawks that have been nesting on 5th Avenue. He ends up spending more and more time at the park, getting to know some of the birdwatchers there, including a couple, Ben and Anna, who are always found in the park together. This scene is Jason’s interview with Ben and Anna. Enjoy!
SCENE FOUR: PAIR BONDS
(JASON interviews BEN and ANNA, the pair of birdwatchers he met earlier in the park. They are in their 30s, both healthily attractive, and both dressed as though they travel and camp frequently. Though they aren’t dressed alike, there are definitely similar elements between them – both wear scarves that are tied similarly.)
JASON: So how long have you guys been birdwatchers?
BEN: We prefer Birders. And for me, all my life.
ANNA: For him all his life, but for me, about seven years now.
BEN: She was a mushroom hunter before this.
ANNA: It’s true, I was a mushroom hunter.
BEN: But my parents were birders, and ever since I was little, I was a birder too.
ANNA: His parents say when he was old enough to point, the first thing he pointed at was a cardinal on the back porch.
BEN: And said ‘bird’.
ANNA: Well, ‘buh’, probably, you were only six months old.
BEN: I was very advanced.
ANNA: (throws him an amused look). Anyway, Ben grew up in Massachusetts, and his family used to go on birding trips whenever they went on vacation.
BEN: Costa Rica, Alaska…
ANNA: And he kept it up all through college –
BEN: I went to U Hawaii at Oahu. I wanted to be near the albatross colony there.
ANNA: He loves albatross.
BEN: And there’s a very important colony there, Laysan albatross, pretty rare.
ANNA: There’s some proof they’re lesbians.
BEN: They’re not lesbians! I thought we agreed on this.
ANNA: Sorry! They’re not lesbians.
BEN: There was this whole media storm-
ANNA: -albatross are monogamous, mate for life-
BEN: -it was really blown out of proportion.
ANNA: -they found some of the pairs were the same gender.
BEN: -they’re not sure, it’s really not established yet –
ANNA: It’s not established yet, but there’s some compelling proof –
BEN: Besides, birds aren’t lesbians, that’s – it’s not the same thing. Humans are lesbians, birds –
ANNA: Well, if it’s two females mating and bonding, aren’t they lesbians?
BEN: Lesbians implies a sexual attraction, these are albatross, if it’s true then –
ANNA: Yes, but there isn’t a better term, really –
BEN: It’s probably more a companionship thing. Or maybe a population gender spectrum issue.
ANNA: Population gender spectrum issue?
BEN: Anna, we’ve talked about this…
ANNA: Fine, they’re not lesbians.
BEN: Thank you.
ANNA: They’re Sapphic Avians.
ANNA: Female birds who prefer the company of other female birds.
BEN: Come on.
ANNA: (increasingly giggly) Plaid-wearing lady pairs.
BEN: Oh, for goodness –
ANNA (losing it now) I’m sorry! I’ll stop. It’s just – (to JASON) – he hates the lesbian albatross thing.
BEN: It’s not funny!
ANNA: (trying to get control of herself) No, I know, honey. I’m sorry.
BEN: This is my work!
ANNA: I know honey, I know. I’m sorry, I couldn’t resist.
BEN: She always does this.
ANNA: It’s just so easy. I’m sorry, honey, I’ll stop.
BEN: Thank you. (to JASON) They’re not lesbians. They’re albatross.
ANNA: (quietly) Lesbian albatross.
ANNA: No really, honey, I promise now.
(BEN shoots her a suspicious look.)
BEN: Can we just please move on?
(She makes the zipped lips sign, so he continues, but one eye still on her).
BEN: Anyway, after college I kept traveling on birding trips, my job allowed me to set my own schedule.
ANNA: He’s an I.T. specialist.
(BEN shoots her another look, as though reminding her she promised to be quiet. She acknowledges it.)
BEN: I’m an I.T. specialist. And one year I was in Italy, visiting the Lake Como area – it’s just beautiful out there, Common Mergansers, Black-headed Gulls, Falcons, some really great birds. One afternoon I was out walking in the woods, seeing if I could find a Corsican Nuthatch – they’re a small gray bird, a threatened species, and they’re really only found in that area – and I ran into Anna.
ANNA: Literally. He was looking up for the nuthatch, I was looking down for the Caesar Mushroom. It would have been an adorable meet cute if there hadn’t been bone fractures.
BEN: But then we had a lot of time in the Italian hospital –
ANNA: – Have you been to a hospital in Italy? It’s frightening.
BEN: Almost medieval. You half expect someone to walk in with one of those, what do you call them –
ANNA: Plague masks on.
BEN: Right, plague masks. With the beak.
BEN: So we had a lot of time to get to know each other, waiting for our splints to be applied.
ANNA: And he told me all about the Corsican Nuthatch, and how rare they are to find, and how he’s been hoping to find one all his life. And I thought that was so beautiful.
BEN: And she told me about the Caesar Mushroom, and how it’s prized everywhere but common in Italy, if you know where to look.
ANNA: You have to look next to the ancient Roman roads.
BEN: But they look just like another kind of mushroom, which is very poisonous.
ANNA: That’s right! You have to be very careful. (To BEN) I’m impressed you remembered.
BEN: You have to make sure it doesn’t have the little white gills under the cap. Of course I remembered.
(They smile at each other.)
ANNA: Anyway, we bonded. And then we paired up on our hunting trips into the woods, and he told me all about his list, about which birds nest where, and all these details about birds, which frankly, I had never really thought were even slightly interesting.
BEN: You did. Maybe you just didn’t realize it yet.
ANNA: Well, I realized it then. And the more we walked through those forests, the more I looked up instead of down.
BEN: We found no Caesars on that trip.
ANNA: But we got the Corsican Nuthatch.
BEN: We got the Corsican Nuthatch.
ANNA: It’s a beautiful bird.
ANNA: And after that, mushrooms just didn’t seem so interesting anymore. I mean, they’re hard to find, but when you find them, you’ve found them. Birds – they move, they hop, they fly – you could find them and still keep watching for hours. Finding them is just the beginning.
BEN: But we still like to keep an eye out for the mushrooms when we travel.
ANNA: I always bring my dehydrator, just in case.
BEN: We’re staying here until December, and then we’re taking a trip to visit my alma mater in Oahu. I want to visit the old colony, see how it’s doing.
ANNA: I’ve never met the albatrosses.
BEN: It’ll be good to catch up.
ANNA: Especially since marriage is legal for them now in many states.
(BEN storms off.)