Wednesday, November 29, 2006

The Discreet Charm of Amy Herzog

Question by question, Justin Deabler builds an intimate portrait of Amy Herzog:

JD: Amy, thanks for joining us in the studio.

AH: Good to be here.

JD: Out of the thousands of letters, notes, and curious phone calls we’ve gotten about you, we’ve narrowed our questions down to just five.

AH: I’ve got nothing to hide.

JD: Let’s dive in. Dolly writes from Peoria on scented pink paper: please identify your personal hairstyle best and worst. How old were you? What was the style?

AH: My worst personal hairstyle is commemorated still on the mantelpiece in my parents’ home in New Jersey. It s in a folding frame in the other half of which is a picture of my brother with a perfectly acceptable and timeless haircut. For a long time my mother and I were engaged in a silent war that consisted of me closing the frame and laying it on its side and her opening it up and repositioning it on the mantelpiece. Eventually I gave up. In the picture I was twelve or thirteen, just hitting puberty. My hair went through puberty too and spontaneously became wavy in a narrow strip on either side toward the front. The rest of my hair remained stick straight. As puberty progressed my hair becamemore and more curly and I have pictures to document my near banana curls toward the end of high school. In college it straightened out again. But on humid daysit still misbehaves. My best hairstyle was a bob-like thing when I was fouror five. There are pictures of me in a black dress covered with little roses and this very short hair. At that age I still had small ears. I don’t remember when my ears became disproportionately large, but it must have been soon thereafter.

JD: Bobby of Sacramento emails us: first thing that comes into your mind, firstthing first thing: what thing do you remember most about your childhood home?

AH: There was a staircase that led virtually right up to my room, so that if you were in my room facing the full-length mirror (full-length for a five-year-old) you could see in the mirror if anyone was coming up the stairs behind you. When I read your question Ithought of the time I was very pleased with myself for having gotten dressed totally by myself (for the first time?) and with pride I turned from the mirror to facemy dad as he cleared the last few steps. “Oops! No shirt!” My dad said. I had put an undershirt but I forgot the shirt. I was very embarrassed and disappointed in myself.

JD: OK. Lily from Queens writes, in angry, quite disturbing handwriting, actually: have you ever been wronged by someone in an office? What’s the most egregious, humiliating wrong done to you there?

AH: Hmmm…as I’ve thought about this question I’ve remembered five or six incidents that seemed really egregious and humiliating at the time but now seem kind of funny and harmless and even charming. That makes me feel optimistic about life generally. But toanswer your question…I once worked in a particular office during a particular time in my life when I was, well, crazy. The office’s hours were officially from 10-6 but I often worked from 8 AM – 9 PM, or longer. My boss was a workaholic himself, and of a somewhat competitive nature, and when he saw me already hard at work when he arrived at 8:30 or 9 each morning he would say “damn! Beat me!” It’s hard to explain whyit was clear he wasn’t joking. Maybe a more helpful greeting might have been, “hey, you work hard and that’s great, but maybe you should relax a little, enjoy your twenties, eat something. Have you considered eating?” So at the end of one particularly arduous day when I was feeling tragically underappreciated he walked by my office on his way outand asked me if I needed to borrow his key to lock up. (See what I mean by harmless? That’s the punch line. Of course I had a key. Because I locked up, like, every day, and opened up every morning. So I was mortally offended that he absent-mindedly asked me if I needed a key. That’s the whole story. Sorry.)

JD: Hey, no apologies here. Benjamin from Princeton wants to know: who is the literary character with whom you most identify?

AH: Emma Bovary. Do I have to explain that?

JD: This last one is on the technical side, from our staff here in the studio: what are your common writing habits? E.g., time of day, outlining scenes, free writing, idea journal by the bed?

AH: The last few years I have been big on the journal. My fantasy is that one day I’ll meet someone to whom I have an overwhelming desire to turn over my entirejournal. That’s the sexiest thing I can think of. But since September I have really been slacking off on journal writing. I write for deadlines. I spend a lot of time being really anxious and then I sit down and do it and remember that I love to write. Sometimes before I write a play I write a whole bunch of prose first…almost like chapters from a novel. Or sometimes I do no preparation at all. The uniting factor here seems to be inconsistency.

JD: Thanks, Amy. And now, a word from our sponsor.

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