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“Nothing big, just jot down about 400 words.”

Those were Renata’s final instructions to me when she asked if I could do these weekly pieces. “Nothing big just 400 words.” Each week when I sit down, usually at Building on Bond in Brooklyn or Common Ground in Pittsburgh and try to articulate what is really on my mind at this exact moment in time while struggling to suppress that little voice that always likes to creep in and insert its own message of “this is too overwhelming a task to accomplish in one sit on a Tuesday morning over a cappuccino that is rapidly growing cold as I stare at a fading red zinnia that is competing for my attention.” And then I take a sip of coffee repeat my mantra of “It’s only 400 words. That’s not so much, is it?”

Barbara and I are on a bit of a respite this week before heading back to Memorial Sloan Kettering for “The Marathon” (as Barbara calls it). A meeting with Dr. Brian who looks a lot like Patrick Wilson (we think that’s a good omen) on Monday before jumping in for the long haul that begins on November 7th (Barbara’s birthday another good omen). Inpatient treatment for about a month followed by the “hundred days” a carefully monitored period of outpatient recuperation during which we have to remain within an hour of MSK at all times. We will have 3 cats in residence at our Brooklyn apartment, so that, while it passes the Geographical test, it fails the health inspector’s standards. We will instead be encamped (for free) at what looks like a Holiday Inn on West 32nd Street. As long as she wears a mask we can walk to the theatre. As I write all this out it feels huge and a bit overwhelming, but it’s just a lot of little 400 word days. Likewise, the drive back from Pittsburgh on Sunday, our umpteenth of the last three months, this time with the whole menagerie aboard, is not a long haul but a series of little fifteen minute segments-24 in all, but each one just an easy little jaunt. My favorite is the stretch that begins at the tunnel east of Somerset and ends at the Steak ‘n Shake at the Midway Rest Stop. A 400 word walk in the park

I finished the adaptation of our new Brecht last night. It’s been a long time coming, (a lot of 400 word sessions) and I sent it off to the company for their feedback last night. Something of a vulnerable moment for me. I hope they limit their criticisms to 400 words.

Barbara and I watched Casablanca again a couple of nights ago. I was curious to see it because it was made at almost the same time as Brecht wrote the Good Person of Setzuan and it featured two of his most admired Hollywood actors: the German emigre Peter Lorre and Humphrey Bogart. As I wrote and rewrote, adjusting the text and tone of the play, I found myself hearing the voices of Bogie and Bergman and Lorre and Sidney Greenstreet and the rest. The Warner Brothers early forties noir style seems to have exerted significant influence on the tenor of the language of our version. Rehearsals begin shortly before Christmas.

Before that we have our first History Pop-up in early December. This one covers the rise of CBS and how it grew to become America’s most trusted source of news, and this is now starting to feel just a bit overwhelming. 400 words

And this piece is 602 words. And all this is what’s on my mind today. This and the ear worm of Bogie saying, “The problems of three little people ….”
And Happy Birthday, Terry.


Jim Niesen


Author Irondale

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