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Listen to Paul’s interview.

“All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players… One man in his time plays many parts, his acts being seven ages. At first the infant, mewling and puking in the nurse’s arms.  And then the whining school-boy… the lover,  sighing… a soldier, full of strange oaths… the justice, in fair round belly… The sixth age shifts into… the pantaloon, with spectacles on nose and pouch on side… Last scene of all, that ends this strange eventful history, is second childishness and mere oblivion: sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.” 

— Shakespeare


Although I’m calling this website “a personal memoir in flux,” it is also my hope that the various sections will be of interest to people, whether they know me or not. “Out on a Lim” shares short observations on day-to-day life. “Limerances” chronicles longer remembrances of things past. “Limoscenes” presents descriptions of the plays I’ve written to date, with production photos. “Images in Limbo” shows pictures of the aging process, of me with family and friends. “Limpets” are the non-human dogs in my life, and “Limitations” are tributes to people who are no longer with us. So here I am, past imperfect, present progressive, future tense. Let me know what you think. — Paul

3 April 2010: A Most Singular Final 4!

With the Final 4 matchups in the offing in Indianapolis, Kansas University basketball coach Bill Self has this to say in today’s Lawrence Journal-World:  “There’s four good teams in Indy.  The more I watch, the more disappointed I am in that I think that could easily be us, but in this crazy game it could easily not be us.”

It would be a most singular event if all four teams merged into one, and played ball just for the pure grammatical pleasure of it.

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My Arthur Miller Story

Since Kansas isn’t exactly a beehive of playwriting activity, beginning playwrights in this neck of the woods are almost always told that, if they write about what they know, and if they choose to chronicle their small-town roots,  they could be “the next William Inge,” the playwright from Independence, KS who couldn’t leave his birthplace fast enough but who, his entire life, gave voice in his plays to the people from Kansas in plays like Picnic, Bus Stop, The Dark at the Top of the Stairs, and Come Back, Little Sheba—many of them people who, like himself, lived lives of quiet desperation.

In 1982, nine years after Inge committed suicide in his Hollywood home, and after his surviving relatives donated the bulk of his papers to Independence Community College in Independence, KS, the college did something wonderful by starting The William Inge Festival, celebrated every year in late April, when stars of stage and screen come to town for three or four days, to honor Inge and, more significantly, to pay tribute to the work of other living American playwrights. And so, every year in late April, Independence, KS is suddenly transformed into a mecca for playwrights, a lovefest for the written word because, truly,  “In the beginning was the Word…”

I remember attending the first Inge Festival, back in 1982, staying at the Lamplighter Inn, which had no dining facilities. For food, one had to go to Eggbert’s, within walking distance of the motel.  I remember the first time I had breakfast at Eggbert’s.  All conversation stopped when I entered the tiny diner, and everyone turned to stare at me.  Although the moment was awkward, it passed quickly, and conversation resumed. Truthfully, I think they would all have turned to stare at any stranger in their midst, not just because I looked like a foreigner, an alien, the yellow peril, the lavender mafia.  Back in his day, growing up in Independence, would a homosexual like William Inge have been comfortable at a place like Eggbert’s?

Originally, the mission of the Inge Festival was to pay tribute to American playwrights who were Inge’s contemporaries, those writers who were still living, who were ready, willing and able to spend three or four days in the heartland of America, which for Inge also turned out to be his “hurtland.”  I don’t know if it’s true, but I’ve been told that, in the early days of the Inge Festival, scholars who submitted academic papers for presentation and discussion at the festival were told not to call undue attention to Inge’s suicide, his alcoholism and, above all, his homosexuality.

Arthur Miller (1915-2005) is one of my gods.  Death of a Salesman is the only play that makes me cry everytime I see it.  When it was announced that the Inge Festival in 1995 would be honoring Arthur Miller, I decided to bring nine of my playwriting students from the University of Kansas to meet the man.  Luckily, we managed to book rooms at the same motel where he would be staying—not the Lamplighter Inn, but the Apple Tree Inn, newer and nicer, which also offered complimentary morning coffee and doughnuts so guests didn’t have to trek to Eggbert’s.

Two incidents stand out in my mind about the 1995 Inge festival.

First, there was the Independence Community College production of Inge’s The Dark at the Top of the Stairs, a play which, among other things, deals with anti-Semitism among the country club set in small-town America.  The day after we saw the production, a fancy gala dinner was held at the country club. The president of the Chamber of Commerce in his welcoming remarks told everyone that this was the same country club Inge had written about in the play, but that times have changed.  He said the country club now had some Jewish members.

And then, the next night, back in the auditorium at Independence Community College, we were treated to reenactments of “scenes” from various plays by Arthur Miller, as the man himself and his wife, photographer Inge Morath, sat and watched in the audience. At the end of the evening, when he got up on the stage to accept his award, Miller seemed genuinely moved.  He was quiet for a while, and then he cleared his throat and spoke.  This is what he said: “I did not know William Inge well in life.  Our paths did not cross often. But, whenever I saw him, in New York or in Hollywood, he seemed to be a very sad man.  I wish this town could have honored him while he was still alive.”  And then he sat down.  The audience was stunned.  There was polite applause, and then people filed out of the auditorium, into the dark at the bottom of the stairs.

The next morning, unlike all the other mornings, there were no people hovering around Arthur Miller and Inge Morath as they sat quietly by themselves, in a corner of the lobby at the Apple Tree Inn, having their complimentary coffee and doughnuts.  I had been in awe of the man all week, indeed my entire life, had not dared to approach him, had been quite content just to be in his presence.  But, somehow, on this particular morning, I needed to say something when everyone else remained awkwardly silent.  I summoned up enough courage and went up to him.  I shook his hand and thanked him for his remarks the night before.  He was Arthur Miller, the same Arthur Miller who had remained courageously silent and had refused to name names during his testimony before Sen. Joseph McCarthy and the House Un-American Activities Committee, who now could not remain silent on other matters even if it should make him persona non grata, perhaps even a pariah.   Amidst all the hoopla of the Inge Festival in 1995, Arthur Miller had now said what needed to be said about William Inge and the town that rejected him in life but embraced him in death.

Of the 31 playwrights who have been honored thus far at the Inge Festival, one is a person of color (August Wilson); three are women (Betty Comden, Tina Howe, Wendy Wasserstein); and at least nine are homosexuals (Edward Albee, Fred Ebb, Christopher Durang, Arthur Laurents, Terrence McNally, John Patrick, Peter Shaffer, Stephen Sondheim, Lanford Wilson).  The honoree for 2010 is Paula Vogel, a playwright who also happens to be a lesbian.

I don’t know if there’s any special reason why the Inge Festival is always held in late April.  William Inge was born on May 3, 1913 and he died on June 10, 1973.  It would be wonderful if his life could be celebrated in June, the same month which saw the Stonewall Riots in New York in 1969, which gave birth to Pride Parades not just in America but indeed all over the world, perhaps even in Independence, KS.  If William Inge were alive today, he would be astonished, and proud, to see his old hometown embracing, even if only for three or four days each year, a gaggle of gays, a legion of lesbians, a pride of playwrights.

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26 March 2010: Guess Who’s on The Learning Channel?

Sarah Palin is going to get $1 million for every episode of her proposed travelogue about the State of Alaska.  The series will air, not on the Fox Channel, not on the Sci-Fi Channel, not even on the Cartoon Network, but on…THE LEARNING CHANNEL!  Wanna go for a drive on the Bridge to Nowhere with Sarah?  You betcha!  Wanna see Russia from Sarah’s house?  Only if you don’t wink.  And such, I’m afraid, is the state of learning in America these days.

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20 March 2010: Men Up For Grabs?

The April issue of Esquire magazine reports that a study published in the Archives of Sexual Behavior indicates “women often do not know when they are sexually aroused, as opposed to men, who have a pretty good idea.”  There is no mention as to whether or not the women in the study were aware that the men were up for grabs.

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19 March 2010: Joe…the Carpenter?

Today is the Feast of St. Joseph, the wood-working spouse of the Virgin Mary, who gave birth to You-Know-Who, who in His lifetime provided health care benefits to all the sick and uninsured who needed it.  Two thousand and ten years later, it’s clear where standard-bearers like Joe Biden stand on the issue of Health Care Reform, but we continue to have doubting Thomases like Joe Lieberman, Joe Wilson, Joe Scarborough.  And who even knows where Joe the Plumber is these days?  St. Joseph, pray for us.

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17 March 2010: St. Patrick’s Snakes

Legend has it that St. Patrick banished all the snakes from Ireland.  If we pray hard enough, maybe the good saint will come back and rid us of all the snakes in Congress, the red ones as well as the blue ones.  And then, if there’s time, because “sex addiction” seems to be rearing its head ever more frequently these days, maybe he can also tame the unruly snakes in the trousers of seminal celebrities like Tiger Woods, John Edwards, David Letterman, Eliot Spitzer, Mark Sanford, Mark Foley, Eric Massa, ad nauseam.  Tennis, anyone?  Snorkeling?

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10 March 2010: “Thy rod and thy staff…”

Former Representative Eric J. Massa of New York admits that he groped several male aides inappropriately in his office, grabbed another male staff member’s member at a wedding party, and tickled yet another male underling “until he couldn’t breathe,” but that there was “nothing sexual” about these close encounters of the gay kind.  What surprises me is that Massa has not quoted Psalm 23 in his own defense:  “Thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me.”

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My Kurt Vonnegut Story

Like many of my peers, when I was in college forty years ago, one of the writers whom we all admired was Kurt Vonnegut (1922-2007).  I never thought I would actually meet the man but, during one of my trips to New York, meet him I did, sort of, and this is what happened. 

It was a Saturday afternoon, sometime in the early 1980s.  I don’t remember what play it was we had been seeing, or which theater on Broadway we were in, but during the intermission at that particular matinee performance, we were all mingling in the lobby, and there he was, standing right next to me, towering over me, a shaggy bear of a man—looking like something the cat might have cradled and then dragged in from the monkeyhouse—the great man himself, Kurt Vonnegut! 

I was still drinking in the power and the glory of the man when I saw two teenage girls coming up to him, shyly but bravely asking him for his autograph.  We all tried not to eavesdrop as the man cleared his throat, paused dramatically, and then spoke in a voice loud enough for everyone to hear.  “I’m sorry,” he said gruffly, looking at his watch, “but I never sign autographs at 3:30 on Saturday afternoons.” 

The champion could have had all of us for breakfast, and he did. The two girls shrank and turned to me in confusion, because I just happened to be standing next to the man.  “Sir,” they asked me haltingly, trying to cover their embarrassment, not knowing whether or not to ask me for my autograph, “are you anyone?”

“No,” I mumbled apologetically, fleeing from the scene, back to the safety of my seat inside the theater.  During the entire second act of the play, I thought of all the things I might have said to console the two girls but didn’t, to cut the great man down to size but didn’t; and I hated myself for not being quick-witted enough, for having been in awe of a hero, for wanting the same thing those two girls wanted, the man’s autograph. 

In the introduction to BAGOMBO SNUFF BOX, Kurt Vonnegut lists eight cardinal rules for anyone wishing to write short fiction.  Here’s Rule #6:  “Be a sadist.  No matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them—in order that the reader may see what they are made of.” 

Perhaps, back in the lobby of that theater in New York, at 3:30 on that particular Saturday afternoon in the early 1980s, Kurt Vonnegut was being deliberately sadistic, leading his young fans into that familiar slaughterhouse, teaching us all a lesson in life, liberty and the pursuit of celebrities.

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My Robert Anderson Story

Robert Anderson died of pneumonia at his home in Manhattan on February 9, 2009.  Because the 91-year-old playwright had also been suffering from Alzheimer’s disease for seven years prior to his death, I feel compelled, now more than ever, to share a personal anecdote about him before it too slips from my memory.

Years ago, when I was a teenager in Manila, my friends and I saw TEA AND SYMPATHY, a movie based on the play by Robert Anderson, featuring Deborah Kerr as a sympathetic older woman who’s running a dormitory in a boys’ school in New England, and John Kerr as one of the “sensitive” boys in the dorm.  At the end of the movie, because she feels sorry for the boy after he is suspected of having homosexual tendencies, Deborah Kerr goes into the boy’s bedroom and decides to help him disprove what doubts he might have about his own sexuality. She sits on his bed, begins to unbutton her blouse, takes his hands and guides them towards her opened blouse, and utters a line full of enigmatic pauses as the movie ends. 

My friends and I argued heatedly about those enigmatic pauses, so we found a copy of the script.  In the published text of the play on which the movie was based, this is how the line appears:  “Years from now—when you talk about this—and you will—be kind.”  My friends and I continued to argue about the interpretation of those pauses.  Some thought she was gently asking him to forgive her in the future for what she’s doing now:  “Years from now, when you talk about this, at that time, I beg you to please be kind.”  Others thought she was being completely realistic, and that the line ought to be read sardonically:  “Years from now, when you talk about this, and I have no doubt that you WILL talk and boast about this, when this happens, please try to be kind.”

And so, back in 1960, I took it upon myself to write Robert Anderson, care of his publisher in New York, to ask him which of these two interpretation he had intended when he wrote the line.  I never really expected to hear from him but, weeks later—lo and behold!—he wrote me back.  Although I no longer have the letter, even now, I remember how Robert Anderson settled our argument fifty years ago.  “Both interpretations are correct,” he wrote. “If you thought I intended it, then I must have.” 

In the early 1980s, when I actually met Robert Anderson at a function sponsored by the Dramatists Guild in New York, I told him this story.  His eyes lit up and he said, “Yes, I remember that letter from the Philippines.” 

I was astonished.  “You do?  Seriously, you do?” 

“Yes, of course.  It’s not everyday I get such intelligent letters, and from fans so young, in the Philippines!”

Another decade later, when I saw Robert Anderson again, in 1994, at the William Inge Festival in Independence, KS, it was he who came up to me this time, and reminded me about that letter which I had written him all those years ago.  It was kind of him to remember, and it now makes me sad that these sort of memories were being erased from his remarkable mind the last seven years of his life. 

It is my hope that, years from now—when my own time comes, if anyone talks about me—and they will—be kind.

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2 March 2010: Relief Fatigue

First, New Orleans.  Then Haiti.  And now Chile.  How much more can a modern-day Job take?  How much more can a modern-day Job give?  The spirit is willing, but our own economy is weak.  It’s hard to turn off the news about disasters abroad, but what about ongoing daily disasters at home, if you’ve still got one?  How do you spell Relief?  Jobs, Jobs, Jobs.

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