Visiting The Visitor
Within minutes our conversation had expanded to cover our travels, heritage, the borrowing of tribal face paint in a spring fashion collection from a designer on the Iberian Peninsula, and the Mythopoetic Men's Movement. At some point we veered into our respective work, and I mentioned that I was considering attending a talk by actor/writer/director Tom McCarthy at Penn the following week.
It so happens that my friend works at Penn, near the Kelly Writers House where the event would be staged, and we arranged to meet beforehand.
Part of the aforementioned "considering" involved the fact that I typically don't go into Philadelphia more than a few times a year, a training excursion last fall being a rare and notable exception. It's not that I don't like the city (though I confess to grumbling about its dreariness, which Jenifer claims is my invention) but that I don't particularly like driving in/into/out of it.
In any case, on Wednesday afternoon I begin my journey. Soon I am motoring along the Schuylkill Express, a narrow strip of tar betwixt river and rock. It helps to imagine yourself doing a trench run on the Death Star, because that would be more fun and less stressful. If ever there was need for a monorail (or flying cars!), this would be it.
A roadside accident ensures my late arrival, but soon enough I'm past the mess and looking for the South Street exit. A well-placed sign, however, tells me the exit is gone, not there, destroyed by the Empire. It appears the bridge is out.
I phone my friend. He picks up and advises me to take the 30th Street exit. I do this, or do it as much as I can while remaining a dozen stuck cars back from the sign. I continue and, per his advice, check in every so often to update him on my progress.
I ring him again and tell him I've reached 30th Street. "Good," he says, "here's what you're going to do." His next bit of advice staggers me: "Now you will stop the car and ask someone on the street for the directions." What?!
I disregard this advice, not out of macho pride (as I later relate to him), but out of something else, whatever the opposite of macho pride must be. There is nowhere to stop, and cars are behind me, and the pedestrians are scattered and likely to regard my panicked look as indicative of something other than idle bemusement. No, I will not stop the car on 30th Street.
(I should point out that this portion of the trip was improved considerably by its being next to the train station, a monumental monolith so mindblowingly massive it recalls Jim Burns's vision of the Temple of St. Alia-of-the-Knife in Frank Herbert's Eye. I didn't know modern-day earth people made buildings this large.)
The rest of the drive goes without incident, as I orient myself on the grid that is the city's layout (a big shout-out to Ben Franklin here) and arrive safely in the parking garage. Soon I am in my friend's office, where he shares with me a sampling of the inspiring community outreach work he conducts for the university, and then we are off to the event. As we walk across the quad, my friend tells me that someone using the pedestrian portion of the South Street bridge apparently had the misfortune of putting their foot through it, and thence was it deemed in need of repair.
My friend drops me off at the Kelly Writers House, a really cool cottage, and I find a seat way up front, as the room is packed with Penn students. Within minutes Tom McCarthy is introduced by Penn's Kathy DeMarco Van Cleve, writing instructor, novelist, and writing partner of John Leguizamo.
Like most of the industry folks I've met, Tom is humble and witty, and his talk is a fun account of his journey as a writer and director, and how his training as an actor informs his writing. He's probably best-known for writing and directing a pair of critically acclaimed indie hits, The Station Agent and last year's The Visitor, starring Richard Jensen. I do not admit to being behind in my Netflix queue, but I am able to follow along all the same, and especially appreciate the anecdotes about the hilarious notes he's received from development executives.
I ask Tom about his writing process and whether he actually has a discernible method. He describes it as something like this:
You're going along and you think maybe you've missed your exit. But you're not quite sure and so you put on some speed, looking for it, looking for it, and then you finally acknowledge that in fact you did miss your exit and you have to go all the way back to the beginning and start over.
Hmm. Perhaps that is as good a method as any: create a plan, set out when you feel the time is right, anticipate the inevitable roadside construction, and keep on trucking. And don't get out of the car.