JULIA CAMERON #2
[This transcript is excerpted from an Art of the Song interview as broadcast nationally on Public Radio. Click here to listen to the complete show with music.]
Viv: You mentioned “Love in the DMZ”. The play that we’re working on together. “Love in the DMZ” is a play that you wrote, remind me the year.
Julia: It was probably written ten years ago. The way that it came to be written, we talk a lot about men having female muses. I’m a female, and my muses are male. And I had been touring and teaching with a composer and flute player named Tim Wheater and we had recorded a poetry album together. Then he went off to Australia and left me to mix it. And I found that the crew didn’t listen to me the same way they listened to him. So I was frustrated. And so I was living up in Boulder, Colorado, trying to finish this album and I thought, “This is how it must feel for women when their husbands go to war and everything falls apart in their absence.” So I began to write the play, “Love in the DMZ” and I took my feelings of abandonment and gave them to the wife. And I took my sense of mission and distant places and gave it to the husband. It isn’t an autobiographical play but it’s grounded in autobiographical feelings. I think that the strength of the play is that people can identify with the feelings of loss, abandonment, betrayal, distance, the difficulty of keeping a relationship in tact when you can’t communicate as you’re used to communicating every day. So it’s a play in letters. The letters from the wife to the husband in Vietnam and his letters back to her. There are some letters that we will hear as an audience that the characters don’t send. They write them when we hear the writing but the husband witnesses an atrocity. He witnesses a massacre and he’s reluctant to tell his wife the horrors that he sees. So he doesn’t send the letter and she just has the silence. So she thinks, “Is he dead? What’s wrong? Has he been captured? Is he a POW?” Meanwhile, the husband is getting letters from the wife saying, “The oven door broke. The car won’t start. The back door is off its hinges.” And he finds himself telling her, “Get a handyman.” As if a handyman could replace him as a husband.
Viv: It makes my heart ache because it’s so uniquely human. It’s also uniquely of this generation. It’s set in the Vietnam War. I think one of the things that I’ve loved about the play so much is that it’s not necessarily a historical document, but it is an emotionally historical document. The DMZ is reflected not necessarily as the husband writing from a demilitarized zone but the DMZ becomes a metaphor for that gap that comes in relationship.
Viv: Can you talk about that a little bit?
Julia: Well, I was working at the Washington Post during Watergate. Also, during the tail end of the Vietnam War. And we would hear stories and I put those stories into the play, but I gave them all to the same character who was writing home. And you might not have had an exposure to a My Lai Massacre or you might. There’s one particularly haunting image I found. The husband is in charge of a platoon of younger men and one of his men goes crazy with the war and has to be shipped home in a straightjacket. As they ship him home, his colleagues in the platoon decide to pack up his things and send them to his mother so that if he comes around, he still has continuity and contact and reality of what he has gone through. They’re packing up his things and they discover a teak box, a carved wooden box, the kind that you can get an import stores here. And they open the box and it’s full of apricots, dried apricots. Then they realize, “Oh my god, there are no apricots here. Those are ears!” He had sliced the ears off of the people that he had killed. And some of the ears were little children’s ears. When the husband sees this box, he’s so grateful that they didn’t send it home to his mother, but he’s so haunted because he has two little boys that he’s left behind with his wife and they have perfect ears.
Viv: That’s an incredibly complex and deep image that reminds me of poetry. And poetry has played quite an important part in your life as well as playwriting and screenwriting. Can you talk to us a little bit about the world of poetry and how it has inspired you?
Julia: My earliest writing, when I was a teenager, was poems. I think a lot of teenagers write poems. And then, when I went to Georgetown, I wrote poetry that was published in little tiny magazines. And then I found through the years that there are some situations which can only be expressed poetically. I lived in Chicago, as I said, when I made my movie “God’s Will” and wrote the Artist’s Way, and Chicago had a place called “The Green Mill”. And “The Green Mill” was Al Capone’s hangout. Every Thursday night they had what they called “poetry slams” which originated in Chicago with a man named Marc Smith who was a Vietnam veteran. He would get up and read his Vietnam veteran poems and I would be listening in the audience. And I would go home and write my Vietnam poems. So I found myself writing impassioned work. In the play, “Love in the DMZ”, the wife puts her feelings into poetry when she’s unable to express them in more conventional letters so her husband keeps saying to her, “You’re a poet”. And she’s modest and she says, “Oh no, I’m not a real poet”. But she is.