From Agatha to ontology, Judith sends messages elegantly to the world

Posted in Duff 'n Stuff

Duff ‘n Stuff, Jan. 22, 2013

My friend, the writer Judith Walcutt, who happens to write a blog for this magazine called “Minding the Sky,” is presently down in Florida for a production of her play “Agatha Christie’s The BBC Murders” at Fort Lauderdale’s Parker Playhouse. The production has been a bit of a harrowing process for Walcutt, also the director of the play, and it was utterly satisfying to me when she recently sent news of the production’s roaring success in Florida.

The headline in the Miami Herald after it opened was one of which every playwright dreams; “BBC Murders’ kills it at the Parker Playhouse,” and the review reflects the excellence of what I remember of the production when it previewed here on Whidbey Island at the Porter Building in Langley in August 2010.

Knowing what it takes as a writer and theater artist to make something like that even happen, let alone make it a success, makes Judith’s smashing play review so satisfying to me. But even more impressive is the emergence of a highly personal kind of  writing that she explores that is quite different from the theatrical work. With her contemplative explorations in “Minding the Sky,” Walcutt has brought us into the realm of ontology, or the nature of being.

In an experiment that explores one’s place in time and the idea of one’s connection to the wider-world, regardless of where one stands on the earth, on her 60th birthday last year Judith sent her poem, “Ontology, the Sea and Me,” out to the world through the very anti-tech and decidedly old fashioned and romantic method of a message in a bottle launched, as it were, from a beach along the Saratoga Passage, on Whidbey Island. How cool is that? It’s somehow post-modern to me, and radical in its simplicity;  in its retro-loveliness. Who among us will say that a message launched out to sea in a blue bottle is not a thousand times more elegant than any message will ever be sent out on the Twitter feeds?

I just love the whole idea of this “slow movement” communication and would like to post her second installment here, rather than in her regular appearance in the Thank Blog It’s Friday section.  I would also like to congratulate Walcutt publicly for her bringing us the astute and highly entertaining “Agatha Christie’s The BBC Murders.” If ever it is playing where you are, go see it; you will not be disappointed.

JUDITH WALCUTT | Minding the Sky

“The Sea Sends a Message Back by Mail”

At this very moment, I am on the other coast and opposite corner from my dear island life. We are in Fort Lauderdale, Florida where our play, “Agatha Christie’s BBC Murders” has just opened and begun a 21 performance run.  Amy Walker is with us and doing a fantastic job, as is our son Orson. Today, instead of going to see the matinee, I am in our “rooms of requirement” at the Extended Stay Inn which is buried in an industrial park area — nowhere near the Atlantic seaboard we have seen just once since our arrival on the sixth of January. On a day off after a fairly grueling schedule of 12 hour days running from noon to midnight, I am trying to pick up the other pieces of my life apart from Agatha and make a picture of them in some way that makes sense.  Outside a warm tropical rain has been falling all morning and I find myself homesick for colder climes and brisk walks up Honeymoon Bay.

Blue bottle on beach (500x364)

Judith Walcutt’s message in a bottle at a Langley beach along Saratoga Passage. / Photo courtesy of Judith Walcutt

Alongside a foot tall heap of script versions and rewrites, I find my way back to folders of my work — novels in progress, this blog, poems new and old — and I am glad to see this particular piece rise to the surface, like a bottle bobbing up from the crashing waves all around it. It gives me refuge and a place to begin to spin again.  Believe me friends, it IS hard to be two places at once — unless the place you are, goes with you, every place you go, which brings me back to the message of the message in the bottle of which I wrote the first and last time here.

Three days after the toss of the first blue bottle into Saratoga Passage, an answer came back in the mail.  A person with the initials L.B. found the bottle on the shore, up past Coupeville and wrote back to me a poem-like letter which opened a window into an invisible life and another secret meaning shared.  I begin to see the possibility of “ontological” cause and effect.  My words go out with the tide and someone else’s come back in with the mail. An invisible thread has begun and an unknown connection is made. I was very moved by the picture which L.B. shared with me, a very private moment — the finding of a message in a bottle colliding with the day already in progress. Something gentle mixed with something unexpected, something lost and something found. Such a discovery could change that day in memory forever.

One begins to think of impermanence again, but newly. The meanings ripple out from the toss of the thought into the sea, altered with the pull of rip tides and salty moons. The poem itself is fluid just like that, changing from moment to moment, much like the tide lines of any shore. Every time I read it, look at it on a piece of paper, open it up on the computer to print it out, I find I cannot stop myself — I always rewrite it — change it by a word, a parsing of a line, a dropped -ing, an added –ed­­ — tiny little changes that feel a bit compulsive and stir up an uneasy feeling that the poem is never quite right, never quite complete. I mistakenly think, if I just do this one little thing to it, make this one little change of tense or article — it will finally rest, “be good,” and lay down upon the page, and finally be finished.

It never goes that way, though, with this particular poem. “Ontology, The Sea and Me” wants to have its sea changes, on each outing.   Changing the poem each time, making in effect, a new poem from the previous version of the poem, becomes part of the meaning of the poem.  It is new every time and its newness is worn away over time again and again like sea shells of a common genus, rubbed into unique shapes by the twisting course of the currents, the pressure of waves pounding away over time, all modified by the play of daily impermanence.

As each message in a bottle goes out into the watery wildness and drifts to who knows where —  the shore it rolls up on may be changed and each person who finds it and reads it, may also be changed. A new nuance in the mysterious meaning of “ontology” arises in the sea and in me — and now in you too, dear reader.

Perhaps when next you walk the beach, you’ll find a bottle with a message and words you never thought before will cross your mind. It’s up to you, then, to capture their meanings, seal them up in a bottle of your own, and send your revelation to its perfect destination. This is of me and this is of you — who finds this poem on a shore near or far — we are the bottle, we are the message, we are the message in the bottle.

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