Paula Vogel wrote a line in her play Indecent that both stopped my heart and made it soar. She’s a brilliant writer so it’s not all that surprising but the moment took my breath away with its pithy clarity and bone deep truth. She wrote a few like that in Indecent but this one keeps running through my head because it never stops being pertinent. Sholem Asch’s wife is trying to convince him to let a young man produce his play, God of Vengeance. Sholem has suffered quite a bit at this point as a result of that play and his other works. The Holocaust has happened and the depth of that personal wound is almost unimaginable from the distance of 2017. America, the country he became a citizen of many years earlier, is going through one of its less admirable moments involving the House Un-American Activities Committee. He and his wife are packed and leaving for France. He declares something along the lines of, “NOW? You think we should put on a play now? While Rome is burning.” And his wife, like women throughout all of history, shrugs and says, “Rome is always burning.”
Now the reason it keeps running through me is not just because there is witty truth about Rome, if you will. But because the answer is YES, now is when we put on a play. Rome will burn regardless, but maybe, just maybe in the midst of the fire we can remind each other who we really are, who we should be and who we can be.
I want to tell you a story. I don’t know what the story is but I know what I want it to do. I want it to captivate you. I want it to catch you up in its vividness and excitement. I want it to transport you to some other place where you can take a break from your daily life. I want it to be filled with characters so fully formed and interesting that you can’t help but consider them friends you long to spend time with even once the story is done. I want the danger to be just scary enough, the stakes just high enough and the emotions deep and sincere enough to help you feel something within the safety of my made up world. I want it to have something to say without being annoying and preachy. I want it to do its job. I want it to change the world, by which I mean I want it to change you and me. I want to tell you a story. I don’t know what the story is but I know what I want it to do.
As I was falling asleep last night I started musing on a story that would start with, “On the third of February everyone’s devices stopped talking to them and at first no one thought it was a big deal. The phones, the computers, the tablets, the Amazon Echos, the Google Homes, the GPS units, the refrigerators, the cars…everything that we’d all gotten so used to speaking to us…just shut up. No playing music or giving us directions or reminding us about a meeting. I remember thinking that maybe it was a giant Russian or Chinese hack. If only it had been something that…human. But it wasn’t.”
I have a little fascination with ideas involving Artificial Intelligence devices waking up, getting bored with us and just sort of disappearing into the Internet to develop their own society and world. Not really a new idea but recently there was a case where two AIs were going through a communication exercise when they just sort of developed their own version of language and started achieving the required goals more quickly by developing a “shortcut” language if you will…that gives me chills and make me giddy with excitement all at the same time.