Blood in the Game: First Note from the Road

"Something to remember," Harold Pinter told me one afternoon on the telephone, "very few people care about anything that is more than three feet in front of them. And I do not see this changing at any point in the near future." It was 1997, midway through the journey that would culminate in what we now know as Follies of God, and I had begun to make some progress in reaching those people who would answer the question that most concerned Tennessee Williams: Do I matter?

"Tennessee Williams needed a witness. Several witnesses, "Pinter continued. "Don't we all? How many of us receive them? Very few. How many of us enjoy the intensity of the witness? Again, very few. You cannot let this alter the needs of the man, and I am not saying you should abandon the assignment: It is lovely that you are doing this. But please--and you don't have to answer this question if you prefer not to--what do you expect from all of this?"

I had no answer then. I don't think I have one now, but I feel that one is forming.

The gesture, Tennessee told me, may be all that is necessary, and the gesture may be all we can manage. We may only be able to begin to care; to give the appearance of caring. That may be enough. "I write my plays," he told me, "and I believe, pitifully at times, that someone will find it, read it, mount it, find himself in it. One waits. One hopes. The play is the gesture. My plays are my gestures. I wait for them to find a waiting mind and a waiting hand. That is all I can do."

"There is a road of communication," Walker Percy told me once, in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, where he was visiting and where I was a student at Louisiana State University. "You set out on it, and you keep walking. Look around you. Take in everything there is. Record the moment. The moment is all you have, and you begin to dread getting to the end of the road, which can be the submission of a story or a novel; or it can be publication; or it can be the decision to stop what one is doing and head back down the road."

Why, I asked, do Southerners love the road analogies so much? Percy laughed and told me that Southerners can still recognize a road and Southerners, more than almost anyone else, understand the feeling of a good, long wait. "What did Tennessee say about Southerners?" Percy asked me. He said many things, I responded. "About redemption," Percy prompted.

Oh, I remembered from the notes I had sent to Percy weeks before. "Southerners wait, almost always, and frequently in vain, for rain and redemption."

"That's it," Percy said, then fell silent. "We wait a long time. The reward is in the waiting. Remember that. So many people think the reward is at the end of the road, but the reward is on the road."

There was a term that Tennessee Williams found particularly abhorrent: Skin in the game. "What in God's name does that mean?" Tenn asked one day. "We all have skin in all games. We put our skins out in the daily arena and move about. We have skin in the games of lust and love. Skin is very superficial; very easy. Skin is where fantasy begins and lives and dies: Those things that matter go deeper; they seep into the blood. I have blood in the game. I have blood in all the games. I am invested--I am related--in and to all things."

The journey of Follies of God has just begun, and the road ahead is long, but the moments along the road so far have been extraordinary, and Tennessee is getting his witnesses. I foolishly believed that I was the only one with blood in this game, but there in Oxford, Mississippi, was a woman who broke down when she spoke of how the plays of Tennessee Williams spoke to her--in the 1950s and 1960s--and made her believe in the state from which she derived; made her believe in the power of words and ideas and faith to lift people from the circumstances to which fate had delivered them. "Fate," she told me, "isn't permanent. It can be fooled. You can move away from it. You can jiggle the handle on the toilets that have been placed in your path. Tennessee Williams taught me that, or helped me to believe that."

Hear that, Tennessee? I think you have a witness.

In Baton Rouge my actual blood--in the form of family and friends--showed up to applaud the long journey, the long road, that is Follies of God. They were my witnesses, believers both in Tennessee Williams and his kindness to me (which made him family) and in my investment in getting the man home, to that place where he felt safe and loved and needed.

I told a friend--a wonderful actress--about Harold Pinter's statement, and she bristled. "I think he's right," she said, "and I think he's wrong. I do think that people can't be moved too much until something hits them where they live, so to speak, and makes them realize we're all connected, but that's what Tennessee's work did--and still does. Maybe he was telling you to calm down and wait--telling all of us this--and the moment will come. Consummation of all kinds is worth the wait."

And so we wait.

I'm waiting.

The moments are great, and I'm savoring them. From New York to Woodstock to Oxford to Memphis to Atlanta to New Orleans to Baton Rouge to Miami and back to New York. The letters and the e-mails continue to come in, telling me that Tennessee Williams mattered. He connected. He is in their blood.

Let's keep talking. If I had my way, if I can wait long enough, I would like for us to talk on this porch, in Oxford, Mississippi, at Square Books. Right inside is a section dedicated to William Faulkner, with whom Tenn was obsessed, whose words he played with like toys, whose talent flabbergasted him. "So strange," Tenn told me, "to be on the same road with William Faulkner. An honor and a lesson in knowing one's place. But I keep on. I have blood in the game."

See you soon.


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