Thursday, June 12, 2008

“sometimes I force my kids to be bored.”

As I trudged down 5th Avenue in a dress and sandals, my purse seemed to be approximately seventy pounds and each breeze that blew through the steaming, roiling, 100˚ city felt like a blast from a blow-drier. When I finally saw the promising green corner of an “S” peering from behind a building, I literally thought the Starbucks was a mirage; luckily, it was real, and it was the place where I was to meet playwright-cum-mother Suzanne Maynard Miller.

Miller kindly made the pilgrimage towards this coffee Mecca on the subway, all the way from Brooklyn and with a sick child in tow. A playwright who claims to have once “had an affair with essay writing” but eventually returned to her “original love,” Miller writes realistic comedic dramas that focus on what she believes to be the most vital ingredient in theater: honest human-to-human connections.

Which is ironic, I muse, considering the fact that I am asking her about the state of questionable human-to-machine connections. Ironic still is the fact that in grad school, Miller actually did write about humans and their relationships to machines in the half-completed play called “The Utility Place.” The piece was a series of three vignettes that each revolve around a different household utility (such as the telephone, gas, and television). One of the characters was a female telephone operator who mystically hooked-up telephone-users from 1976 to 1776, a link that transcends both the human-to-human and the human-to-machine connections we know and love.

“Technology is great and important,” she allows, “but in the end I worry about the wires and chatter that constantly surround us – there is no longer any sacred time for thinking. The cell phone is a double-edged sword.”

Miller values the concept of both a physical and metaphorical “empty desk” when writing, a sort of Lockonian tabula rasa that works in tandem with the calisthenics necessary to hone creativity’s erratic wings. When she taught writing at her alma mater, Brown University, and at the Rhode Island School of Design, Miller encouraged students to leave their physically confining computer screens and get off their lazy butts (my words, not hers) when researching for papers.

“There’s something exciting about searching the stacks for books – though there is so much available online, leaving your chair and getting the blood pumping is important. I always connect physical motion with creativity,” she says.

Miller seems to have adopted a similar parenting philosophy. “Sometimes I force my kids to be bored, just to give them the space to make up their own games,” she says. I wholeheartedly agree with this notion, recalling that my own childhood consisted of make-believe camping, hairdressing, homemaking, and teaching – none of which would have materialized had my boredom been constantly subdued with T.V shows and mind-numbing electronic games.

The concept of being bored has become almost obsolete, a quaint notion that reminds us of 19th century ladies sitting primly in their parlors doing absolutely nothing. Such a situation would never occur today – if you have nothing to do, turn on the T.V! Search the Web! Stalk your friends on Facebook! Technology and boredom are like oil and water or country clubs and hippies – they just don’t mix.

On occasion, Miller has used the Internet professionally. She was recently working on a project for which she needed to learn modern teenage slang – or, in other words, “how the heck kids talk these days.” Rather than interviewing a bunch of teenagers (who, quite frankly, probably would have answered in monosyllabic grunts), someone directed her to

As the name suggests, the website offers thousands of slang words and their definitions, one of my favorites being, “megan: to laugh until liquid comes out of one's nose.” On my planet, Megan was still just a girl’s name…and I am one of the aforementioned teens who supposedly speak this way.

So now it’s back to the central theme in theater and, I suppose, in life: human connection. Did SlangSite allow Miller to be temporally efficient (and to discover a hilarious new website), or did her lack of face-to-face interaction devalue her “research” experience?


dgold911 said...

From slagsite..."a monet"- someone good looking from afar but not so much up close. Funny!

Nikki said...

danielle! that is from clueless - bet ya didn't know that! cher refers to amber as a "full on monet", as in from far away she looks ok, but up close she's just one big mess.
in one way or another that movie relate to everything that exists on this planet.

Laura said...

i was just about to say that nikki!

Tai: Do you think she's pretty?
Cher: No, she's a full-on Monet.
Tai: What's a monet?
Cher: It's like a painting, see? From far away, it's OK, but up close, it's a big old mess. Let's ask a guy. Christian, what do you think of Amber?
Christian: Hagsville.
Cher: See?
(thanks imdb)

regardless that website is hilarious and beautifully out of touch:

jamp: past tense of the word jump
Example: Last week me and the boys jamp gopher mounds out beyond the cornfeilds.

dgold911 said...

hahaha, and i thought I was relatively "in touch" for a mom. I love that movie and have seen in many times, but I guess I suffer from middle age memory loss. oh, well I try! thanks, girls for "clueing" me in (pun intended)!