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100 Essays I Don't Have Time to Write
Cover of 100 Essays I Don't Have Time to Write
100 Essays I Don't Have Time to Write
On Umbrellas and Sword Fights, Parades and Dogs, Fire Alarms, Children, and Theater
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Sarah Ruhl is a mother of three and one of America's best-known playwrights. She has written a stunningly original book of essays whose concerns range from the most minimal and personal subjects to the most encompassing matters of art and culture. The titles themselves speak to the volume's uniqueness: "On lice," "On sleeping in the theater," "On motherhood and stools (the furniture kind)," "Greek masks and Bell's palsy."

100 Essays I Don't Have Time to Write is a book in which chimpanzees, Chekhov, and child care are equally at home. A vibrant, provocative examination of the possibilities of the theater, it is also a map to a very particular artistic sensibility, and an unexpected guide for anyone who has chosen an artist's life.

Sarah Ruhl is a mother of three and one of America's best-known playwrights. She has written a stunningly original book of essays whose concerns range from the most minimal and personal subjects to the most encompassing matters of art and culture. The titles themselves speak to the volume's uniqueness: "On lice," "On sleeping in the theater," "On motherhood and stools (the furniture kind)," "Greek masks and Bell's palsy."

100 Essays I Don't Have Time to Write is a book in which chimpanzees, Chekhov, and child care are equally at home. A vibrant, provocative examination of the possibilities of the theater, it is also a map to a very particular artistic sensibility, and an unexpected guide for anyone who has chosen an artist's life.

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Excerpts-
  • Copyright © 2014 by Sarah Ruhl

    1. On interruptions

    I remember reading Alice Walker's essay in my twenties about how a woman writer could manage to have one child, but more was difficult. At the time, I pledged to have no more than one, or at the very most two. (I now have three.) I also remember, before having children, reading Tillie Olsen, who described with such clarity: thinking and ironing and thinking and ironing and writing while ironing and having many children—she herself had four. I myself do not iron. My clothes and the clothes of my children are rumpled. The child's need, so pressing, so consuming, for the mother to be there, to be present, and the pressing need of the writer to be half-there, to be there but thinking of other things, caught me—

    Sorry. In the act of writing that sentence, my son, William, who is now two, came running into my office crying and asking for a fake knife to cut his fake fruit. So there is also, in observing children much of the day and making theater much of the night, this preoccupation with the real and the illusory, and the pleasures and pains of both.

    In any case, please forgive the shortness of these essays; do imagine the silences that came between—the bodily fluids, the tears, the various shades of—

    In the middle of that sentence my son came in and sat at my elbow and said tenderly, "Mom, can I poop here?" I think of Virginia Woolf's A Room of One's Own and how it needs a practical addendum about locks and bolts and soundproofing.

    But I digress. I could lie to you and say that I intended to write something totalizing, something grand. But I confess that I had a more humble ambition—to preserve for myself, in rare private moments, some liberty of thought. Perhaps that is equally 7.

    My son just typed 7 on my computer.

    There was a time, when I first found out I was pregnant with twins, that I saw only a state of conflict. When I looked at theater and parenthood, I saw only war, competing loyalties, and I thought my writing life was over. There were times when it felt as though my children were annihilating me (truly you have not lived until you have changed one baby's diaper while another baby quietly vomits on your shin), and finally I came to the thought, All right, then, annihilate me; that other self was a fiction anyhow. And then I could breathe. I could investigate the pauses.

    I found that life intruding on writing was, in fact, life. And that, tempting as it may be for a writer who is also a parent, one must not think of life as an intrusion. At the end of the day, writing has very little to do with writing, and much to do with life. And life, by definition, is not an intrusion.

    2. Umbrellas on stage

    Why are umbrellas so pleasing to watch on stage? The illusion of being outside and being under the eternal sky is created by a real object. A metaphor of limitlessness is created by the very real limit of an actual umbrella indoors. Cosmology is brought low by the temporary shelter of the individual against water. The sight of an umbrella makes us want to feel both wet and dry: the presence of rain, and the dryness of shelter. The umbrella is real on stage, and the rain is a fiction. Even if there are drops of water produced by the stage manager, we know that it won't really rain on us, and therein lies the total pleasure of theater. A real thing that creates a world of illusory things.

    I have an umbrella with a picture of the sky inside. My daughter Anna said, when she was three and underneath it, "We have two skies, the umbrella sky and the real sky." When I went out with her in the rain recently without an umbrella,...

About the Author-
  • Sarah Ruhl's plays include In the Next Room, or the vibrator play (Pulitzer Prize finalist, Tony Award nominee); The Clean House (Pulitzer Prize finalist, Susan Smith Blackburn Prize); Passion Play, a cycle (PEN American Award); Dead Man's Cell Phone (Helen Hayes Award); and Stage Kiss and Dear Elizabeth. She has been the recipient of a MacArthur Fellowship, the Helen Merrill Emerging Playwrights Award, the Whiting Writers' Award, the PEN Center Award for a midcareer playwright, the Feminist Press's Forty Under Forty Award, and the 2010 Lilly Award. She is currently on the faculty at Yale School of Drama and lives in Brooklyn, New York, with her family.
Reviews-
  • Publisher's Weekly

    June 23, 2014
    In these meditations, anecdotes, and stories, award-winning playwright Ruhl (Stage Kiss) hits upon the ideal gimmick for the time-starved author and overburdened reader. Ruhl praises the “beauty of smallness,” showing in pithy probes that “small, forthright words... might have an idea buried in them as large as the most expansive work.” As in her plays, her wide-ranging subjects—some treated in no more than a paragraph, line, or single word—tend to be the subversive. She rallies her readers to “fight the mania for clarity and help create a mania for beauty instead.” Parenting scenes provide the book’s tenderest moments, while discussions of playwriting and theater offer valuable instruction on craft. The two themes converge not just in their similarities—“both parenting and theater involve an embrace of impermanence, and both are embodied art forms”—but also in Ruhl’s belief that theater, playing to the childlike love of illusion, can deliver pure joy. In bold, incisive strokes, she advocates for the creation of art that captures the “humor and the desperation of life,” and for the observation that the tiniest details, in the hope that smallness can “wreak transformation at the most vulnerable, cellular level... in order to banish the goliath of loneliness.”

  • Kirkus

    June 1, 2014
    An acclaimed playwright reflects on her art and craft.MacArthur Fellow and Pulitzer nominee Ruhl (Drama/Yale Univ.) is a busy mother of three whose work is often interrupted by her children's needs-for food, say, or "a fake knife to cut...fake fruit." Instead of writing "something totalizing, something grand," she has collected some thoughts on theater: writing plays, acting, watching productions and dealing with "Other People: Directors, Designers, Dramaturgs, and Children." Though she claims that she knows "next to nothing," she notes that theater is not "about knowing, or putting forward a thesis," but about "making knowledge" from the prismatic perspectives of a few characters. Ruhl's essays, generally a page or two, sometimes are much briefer. In "An essay in praise of smallness," she writes, simply, "I admire minimalism." In an essay entitled "Is there an objective standard of taste?" she responds, "No." Several essays consider the power of language. "In the world of imaginary things, speech acts are everywhere," she writes. "One declares the imaginary world into being." For Ruhl, theater depends on physicality rather than psychological analysis. Future playwrights, she maintains, would do well to study juggling rather than literary theory. "Words like 'liminal' and words like 'unpack' should go in essays about theater and get banished from rehearsal rooms," she writes. "Actors used to be akin to prostitutes in the public mind. Now we are akin to professors." The author laments the lack of freedom for a playwright to fail, caused in part by subscription audiences who may "feel that by subscribing, they have been inoculated against failure" and in part by the cost of mounting plays. She also laments the "whitewashed" stage: Casts are predominantly white, unless a playwright specifically calls for a nonwhite actor in a particular role.Ruhl's musings may remind readers of Lydia Davis' aphoristic short stories: fresh, piquant and slyly irreverent.

    COPYRIGHT(2014) Kirkus Reviews, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

  • Booklist

    September 1, 2014
    Noted playwright Ruhl worried that life, read children, might intrude on her career as a writer. But when she put keystroke to computer screen (twenty-first-century talk for pen to paper), she realized that without children and all of life, there is no writing. Her droll musings begin with those thoughts, plus a random 7 added by her two-year-old son. Is this a collaborative effort then? Not directly. After essay number one, Ruhl manages to keep the littler typists at bay as she waxes philosophical on a crazy array of topics, per the book's title. Each is either directly or tangentially related to the theater, specifically American theater, from writing to staging, acting, and watching. The pieces are of the on-the-run sort, most no more than a couple of pages in length, but no less entertaining for it. All readers, including theater buffs, will appreciate a behind-the-scenes vision of a harried Ruhl, shoeless toddler under one arm, tiny sneakers dangling by shoelaces from her teeth, stubbornly typing these pithy, diverting goodies with the other hand.(Reprinted with permission of Booklist, copyright 2014, American Library Association.)

  • Lisa Shea, Elle

    "Probing, bracing, and captivating . . . a cornucopia of compact, playfully profound observations on life in and out of theater."

  • Charles Isherwood, The New York Times 2014 Holiday Gift Guide "Delectable . . . Admirers of Ms. Ruhl's stylistically audacious plays will not be surprised at these oddly shaped but neatly chiseled pieces, none of which run more than a few hundred words or so, and some of which are just a sentence or two. But each is tightly packed with fresh thought, smart thinking and lively humor . . . I stopped dog-earing the pages of my favorites when I realized there were barely any pages left uncreased."
  • Rachel Cusk, The New York Times Book Review "100 Essays I Don't Have Time to Write is in fact a work of profound moral organization . . . its deeper purpose is to define the artist's relationship to truth and to demonstrate how, from within the correctness of the artistic process, life can be meaningfully understood . . . Ruhl has found the time to ask the right questions--it's up to us to make the time to think about her--and our--answers."
  • Tomi Obaro, Chicago Magazine "Ruhl writes pithy ruminations on language, art, and theater with a roving intelligence and compassion that are refreshingly accessible."
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100 Essays I Don't Have Time to Write
100 Essays I Don't Have Time to Write
On Umbrellas and Sword Fights, Parades and Dogs, Fire Alarms, Children, and Theater
Sarah Ruhl
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