By Kitty Felde
This is the third year I’ve flown to Denver for the annual festival of new play readings. In the past, I’ve attended Humana, CATF and the National New Play Festival, but the Colorado New Play Summit at the Denver Center for the Performing Arts is my favorite. Seven new plays in three days! It’s like a combination of cramming for midterms, eating everything in sight at a buffet table, and using all your season subscription tickets in a single weekend.
As a playwright, I find it extremely helpful to see that much new work all at once. It allows you to see trends and fall in love with new playwrights and come away with 101 ideas for your own plays.
Here’s a few trends spotted at this year’s Summit:
It was a particularly good year for new plays in Denver. Strong writing, big thoughts.
MOST LIKELY TO BE PRODUCED A LOT:
THE BOOK OF WILL by Lauren Gunderson is a love letter for every Shakespeare theatre in America. The late Will’s friends race against time and lawsuits to publish as many of his scripts as possible. It’s a big cast show, a perfect complement to a season of TEMPESTs and HENRY IVs. Round House Theatre in Maryland has already announced it will be part of its 2017-2018 season.
TWO WORD TITLES:
Don’t ask me why, but I’m fascinated with titles. Maybe because I’m so bad at writing them myself. This year, the trend seemed to be plays with two word titles. HUMAN ERROR and BLIND DATE were two of the new plays featured in readings. THE CHRISTIANS and TWO DEGREES were onstage for full performances.
I predicted that we’d get a flood of anti-Trump plays NEXT year, but they were already popping out of printers by the time I got to Denver. Political plays were everywhere.
The cleverest of the bunch was Rogelio Martinez’ play about Ronald Reagan, Mikhail Gorbachev, and the battle to come up with a nuclear treaty in BLIND DATE. Call it ALL THE WAY for the Reagan years. Very well researched, very funny. Martinez carries off an interesting balancing act, portraying a much more savvy and sympathetic Reagan than you’d expect, perhaps looking back at him with different eyes now that there’s a very different sort of president in the White House. Bravo. (I’d vote for a better title, but that’s my only complaint.)
The politics of Nazi Germany were the focus of a play by the man who wrote ALL THE WAY. Robert Schenkkan’s piece HANUSSEN is the tale of a mesmerist who dabbles in Nazi party politics. It has a highly theatrical beginning, and ends with a pretty blatant rant against Donald Trump.
Schenkkan pulled off a very difficult trick: bringing Adolph Hitler onstage and allowing him to come off as a rather likeable character. Perhaps it’s because he followed the Hollywood solution to making villains less unlikeable by giving them a dog. Hitler’s relationship with his annoying dog was quite delightful. (One wag of a fellow playwright at the conference observed that our new standard for unlikeable characters is now to ask: is he/she more or less likeable than Hitler?)
TWO DEGREES by Tira Palmquist is a climate change play. It received a fully staged production this year, after its debut as a staged reading at last year’s festival. It featured a set with panes of ice that actually melted as the play progressed.
There was also a nod to the protestors in pink hats (I actually spotted one or two of those in Denver) with Lauren Yee’s play MANFORD AT THE LINE OR THE GREAT LEAP. It’s a lovely piece about a young man’s search for an absent lost father, basketball, and Tiannamen Square. How can someone that young write that well? MANFORD is terrific and should get productions everywhere.
WHERE ARE THE LADIES?
Two of the five new play readings were by female playwrights, as were two of the three fully staged productions. (Thanks to Artistic Director Kent Thompson who established a Women’s Voices Fund in 2005 to commission, develop, and produce new plays by women.)
Yet, despite the healthy representation of female playwrights, there was a decided lack of roles for the ladies. Of the 34 named characters, fewer than a third were female. And with the exception of the terrific family drama LAST NIGHT AND THE NIGHT BEFORE by Donnetta Lavinia Grays, few plays featured roles of any substance for actresses. Nearly every one flunked the Bechdel test. The sole female in one particular play will likely be best remembered for her oral sex scene. Sigh.
PLAYING WITH TIME AND PLACE
I always come away from new plays with new ideas about what I want to steal for myself. In this case, the overlapping of scenes in different times and places happening at the same time on stage. Lauren Gunderson’s BOOK OF WILL very cleverly juxtaposed two scenes on the same set piece at the same time and it moved like lightening. Look something similar in the play I’m working on.
CHANGE IN THE AIR
The man who made the New Play Summit possible – Kent Thompson – is leaving. Kent’s gift – besides putting together a rocking new play festival – was making playwrights like me – those of us not invited to bring a new play to his stage – feel welcome. At the opening luncheon, all playwrights – not just the Lauren Yees and Robert Schenkkans – are invited to stand and be recognized by the theatrical community with applause from the attendees. That may sound like a small gesture, but it’s symbolic of the open and kind community Kent created. He made every one of us who pound away at our keyboards feel that we are indeed a vital part of the new play community. Thank you, Kent.
In the interest of full disclosure, I will share that I had my agent send my LA Riots play WESTERN & 96th to the New Play Summit this year. It was not selected. I never received an acknowledgment that it was even received or read. But the non-rejection does not diminish my affection and admiration for the Colorado New Play Summit.Tweet
Knowledge. Word play of know and ledge. Knowing is being on the ledge to go beyond the limit. It is the edge. I have this strong fascination of Phillippe Petit’s high wire act of 1974 when he honored the calling to walk on the wire tied between the Twin Towers of NYC. What was and is the inherent capacity in him that sleeps dormant in many of us? The artist within is awaiting for the birth of creativity, “The Birth of Cool” a la Miles Davis. We’re all capable of doing something capricious and daring, to rise to our most audacious potential. What knowledge within us lies dormant? What’s keeping me asleep?
The clock on the bottom right corner of my laptop reads 4:34 AM. The page is framed by the edges of the screen. The Operating System is Windows. Windows have frames. Windows are portals to the other side. The scariest thing is going to the other side and not having a return to the familiar frame of mind: seeing someone we love differently, or an enemy as a friend, or home some place we can’t go back to anymore.
For Phillippe, the Twin Towers were probably no longer the Goliaths towering awesomely into the clouds. After he was forced by the men in blue to get off that wire, I bet he was still walking in air when he was back on his feet on ground zero. On a clear night from his backyard, Neil Armstrong probably looked at the moon very differently after he had walked on its surface in 1969. He said “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”
When an employee tenders a letter of resignation to her boss, especially when the boss never thought the employee was capable of quitting, there is that humungous leap and change of perception on both sides of the table. We both let go of that boss-employee relationship. Though the umbilical cord of security of a regular paycheck, benefits and routine was severed, I found a lightness in my being. My breath is easy. My mind is expanded. I feel free.
I’ve been struggling this week to write a blog. Mostly because my life was consumed by the responsibility of passing down what I know and what I do to the successor of my old job. Also, I’m experiencing a rainbow of emotions born from a spectrum of thoughts – from the ultra-violet aura of spirituality (the 7th chakra) to the infra red glow of survival instincts (the 1st chakra). I walk the duality of being human. In between the 1st and 7th chakras is the 4th chakra which is the heart center. What my heart told me was it was time to move forward to the next phase of my life journey.
My boss was delighted that the transition has been one of the easiest she’s known. “Really?” I said. I know of a situations when someone packed up their things on a Friday evening and sent an email of quitting then left their pass key behind and walked away for good. I’ve walked in the shoes of someone who had to draw out the knowledge and practice from someone leaving the company and the person was reticent to convey what they know, because of a grudge. There was also the time when another person exposed their dissolution and bitterness in their exit interview. I sense that the HR person did not check the box “Rehire”.
Yes, “Really”. There is a range of going to the edge when leaving behind a job. I am conscientious to do a good job of teaching and training someone what I know because inherently, I’m a teacher. I don’t do it because it’s polite and gracious, but it’s who I am. I couldn’t leave anyone behind in a lurch or without a rope no matter how well or poorly the relations had been. In the end its better to err on the generous side than on the stingy side, because the path I choose would be what I am at the moment and that precipitates what I will be. My state of mind now is what my state of being will be.
My old job is like my old habit that I will stop wearing, like a nun leaving behind the habit of her convent or even an ex-convict, reformed, having done time. There is a beautiful quote from an interview I heard on the radio. A soprano singer described the suffering of a character as a cleansing of the soul.
That is an edge for me. The edge of being aware of who I am now. Mindfulness of the states of consciousness of my being. Projecting my future by my thoughts now. I’m not a high wire artist, though I am longing to be aloft and experiencing the high. The closest I’ve been to that state was hiking to the peak of a mountain. It’s so much work getting there and the body produces endorphins that gives that “high” feeling. Though the descent from the top can be tougher than the ascent, it’s part of what could be a pernicious journey. Any trip worthy of growth and evolution has the price of danger and loss of the original self. In Joseph Campbell’s analysis of the hero’s call to adventure the possibilities are: Sacred Marriage, Atonement with the Father, Apotheosis, Elixir Theft. For me it is Apotheosis.
I am that which all other beings are.
(from “A Joseph Campbell Companion”.)Tweet
by Diane Grant
I’ll finish with Walter Kerr’s demonstration of good dialogue – the difference between general language and the way we speak. He says that detail, detail, and more detail is what you are after and quotes two different passages from plays by John Steinbeck – Burning Bright and Of Mice and Men.
I’m putting it in here mostly because I can never read the excerpt from Of Mice and Men without crying. It’s that good!
Burning Bright is about a man who is afraid he can’t have children and he’s talking to a friend:
JOE SAUL: A man can’t scrap his blood-line, can’t snip the thread of his immortality. There’s more than just memory, more than my training and the remembered stories of glory and the forgotten shame of failure. There is a trust imposed to hand my line over to another, to place it like a thrush’s egg in my child’s hand. You’ve given your bloodline to the twins, Friend Ed. But I….
FRIEND ED: Maybe you should go to doctors. There might be a remedy you haven’t thought of.
JOE SAUL: What do they know? There is some dark curse on me and I feel it.
FRIEND ED: On you alone, Joe Saul? Do you feel singled out, pinned up alone? It’s time we sing this trouble out into the air and light, else it will grow like a cancer in your mind. Rip off the cover. Let it out. Maybe, you’re not alone in your secret cave…
JOE SAUL: I know. I’m guess I’m digging like a mole into my own darkness. Of course, Friend Ed, I know it’s a thing that can happen to anyone, in any place or time. And maybe all these have the secret locked up in loneliness.
Steinbeck wrote another play about loneliness and friendship, Of Mice and Men:
His characters, George and Lennie are eating dinner.
GEORGE: There’s enough beans for four men.
LENNIE: I like ‘em with ketchup.
GEORGE: Well, we ain’t got any. Whatever we ain’t got, that’s what you want. God Almighty, if I was alone, I could live so easy. I could go get a job of work and no trouble. No mess…and when the end of the month come, I could take my fifty bucks and go into town and get whatever I want. Why I could stay in a cat-house all night. I could eat any place I want. Order any damn thing.
LENNIE: I didn’t want no ketchup.
GEORGE: I could do that every damn month. Get a gallon of whiskey or be in a pool room and play cards or shoot pool. And what have I got? I got you. You can’t keep a job and you lose me every job I got!
LENNIE: I don’t mean nothing, George.
GEORGE: Just keep me shovin’ all over the country, all the time. And that ain’t the worst – you get in trouble. You do bad things and I got to get you out. It ain’t bad people that raises hell. It’s dumb ones. You crazy son of a bitch, you keep me in hot water all the time. You just want to feel that girl’s dress. Just wanta to pet it like it was a mouse. Well, how the hell’d she know you just want to feel her dress? How’d she know you’d just hold onto it like it was a mouse?
LENNIE: I didn’t mean to, George?
GEORGE: Sure you didn’t mean to. You didn’t mean for her to yell bloody hell, either. You didn’t mean for us to hide in the irrigation ditch all day with guys lookin’ for us with guns. Alla time it’s something you didn’t mean. God damn it, I wish I could put you in a cage with a million mice and let them pet you.
GEORGE: What do you want?
LENNIE: I was only foolin’, George. I don’t want no ketchup. I wouldn’t eat no ketchup if it was right here beside me.
GEORGE: If they was some here you could have it. And if I had a thousand bucks I’d buy ya a bunch of flowers.
Walter Kerr says, “The difference in the two is in the words. In the first, the words remind us of nothing real: the second is specific and the words crackle.”
So I’m looking for that moment that crackles, that puts down that first sentence, that leads me to a protagonist and an antagonist and a struggle between them. That leads to me a story.
People advise me, “Doesn’t matter what it is. Write a line a day.” “Take a walk.” “Meditate.” “When you are most frustrated, that’s when the ideas will come.” “It happens to everybody.”
So I think I’ll have a glass of wine and watch Chopped.
by Diane Grant
What I did was go back to a book on playwriting written called How Not To Write A Play by Walter Kerr, who was a playwright in the 40’s and 50’s, a Pulitzer Prize winner, and a critic for the New York Herald Tribune and the Sunday New York Times.
His mantra is, “Avoid generalities. Be specific.”
The beginning of the work arises from something specific, from seeing something or hearing or remembering something concrete that starts your imagination working.
It can be just a glimpse of someone – an old acquaintance laughing, a man crying in a corner, two women jogging, one talking on the phone. It could be a piece of landscape – that enormous, bright supermoon in November, for example. It could be a snatch of dialogue.
My friend, Madeleine, collects things she’s heard on the street and publishes the results every year during the holidays. She just loves to listen. I love to listen, too and I really recommend carrying around a recorder or a notebook so that you can catch something you see or hear that astounds or delights or amuses or just interests you.
Just recently, I looked at my notebook and found two men walking down the street arguing and the one said, “Of course, your Dad thinks Jesus is magic.” Another day, I heard a woman shouting into her phone, “Well, the drugs aren’t working so I’m not going to pay for them.” I heard a man screaming at his wife, “This is my time. Don’t you understand? This is for me! My time!”
My husband and I were at lunch not long ago and heard a full bearded man talking to someone in a big wide brimmed black hat about how he could get her a radio show with an international following because he knew the King of Jordan’s sister. All he needed was some start up money. The person in the hat never spoke, we never saw the face, just the hat.
Where could that lead me?, I thought. Who was the person in the black brimmed hat? Was she old or young? Maybe she was very beautiful. Was she crying? Was she smiling? Was she listening? Maybe the person in the hat wasn’t a woman!
I could do a little research perhaps. (I’m a great fan of Wikipedia.) Does the King of Jordan have a sister? Aha. He has six and he once had a bit part on Star Trek. King Abdullah’s Sisters.
Walter Kerr’s advice is to let all the pieces start to come together and don’t yet criticize. Keep your eyes and ears open and see where they take you. Put down details. One phrase may lead to another, one association to another, something will jog your memory which will connect to something else, and gradually you will have accumulated material to work with. You will put it all together to tell a story.
Maybe the situation would start me off. Maybe, King Abdullah’s Sisters has nothing to do with the King Of Jordan. Other characters might appear, a waiter who knows that the bearded man has run a tab that has to be paid, or a street musician who serenades them, or a woman who says, “Marguerite! At last!”
I don’t want to start with a theme. I can never enter those contests that ask you to write a ten minute play that has a theme to follow – Holey Moley, Curves Ahead, Time Forgot, etc. My brain freezes.
However, recently, I forgot that and thought I could write a play about the friendship between Albert Einstein and Paul Robeson. (And that’s probably when my writer’s block started).
In the afternoon of October 12, 1952, Paul Robeson visited Einstein at his home on Mercer Street in Princeton and they talked for six hours. Einstein was not well and very discouraged and it’s said that he was re-energized by that visit.
How inspirational, I thought. I kept seeing the last moments of the play with Einstein at the piano and Robeson singing.
I read all I could about them and their mutual activism. And the play just sat there. Dead.
I was trying to write about two historical figures, two geniuses I had nothing in common with, had never met, and never would meet – I, a white woman with no mathematical ability or scientific ability like Einstein’s, who speaks only one language, not twenty, like Paul Robeson. (I do sing.)
But the problem wasn’t that I was trying to write about historical figures. I was starting not with specifics but a theme, a generality. I was going to write about altruism and the efforts of two men to help change the world.
And it didn’t work. Back to the book!Tweet
by Diane Grant
I just wrote a paper for a festival and that is about all I’ve written for a while. It’s long, so I’ll put in here in sections. Maybe, it can help somebody with the same problem.
I’ve been suffering from writer’s block. I want to write a new play and have no ideas. So I’ve been thinking about it. How to start again? Can I work myself out of it? Do I wait until it’s gone? Do I just stop?
Sometimes, writing is easy. I’ve written with ensemble groups and know and love how that works. It’s so much fun and so exciting to build a play together with others – from stage to page using research and improv and a writer who gets it all down, then cuts and shapes the work into a whole.
I fantasize that Will Shakespeare came in to work every morning and said something like, “I just read about a man who was poisoned through his ear while he slept. Could it be a king, maybe?” “Not another king,” they say. “No, this is different. He’s the King of Denmark.” “OK. What next?” “Maybe his son wants to avenge him.” And the men say, “How does he know about it?” “Who tells him?” they ask. “What about a ghost? says one. “I play a good ghost, Will. Isn’t that right?”
However, Shakespeare was with one company for a long time and could work and rehearse every day. I don’t know too many companies who have the time and money to do that now.
When you’re alone at your computer, it’s different. I know I always want to have a story, someone to root for – a protagonist who wants something, a conflict – an antagonist or antagonists who prevent him or her from getting what he or she wants – and a resolution – a decision or action by the protagonist that changes things.
But how did I begin before? What started the process?
Here’s what John Steinbeck said, writing to a friend.
I hear from a couple of attractive grapevines that you are having trouble writing. God! I know this feeling so well. I think it is never coming back, but it does – one morning, there it is again.
About a year ago, Bob Anderson asked me for help in the same problem. I told him to write poetry – not for selling – not for seeing – poetry to throw away. For poetry is the mathematics of writing and closely akin to music. And it is also the best therapy because sometimes the troubles come tumbling out.
Well, he did. For six months he did. And I have three joyous letters from him saying that it worked. Just poetry – anything and not designed for a reader. It’s a great and valuable privacy.
I offer this if your dryness goes on too long and makes you too miserable. You may come out of it any day. I have. The words are fighting each other to come out.
Love to you,
Might be worth a try!Tweet
Alyson Mead speaks with playwright Susan Rubin about life, love, mythology and the devil in her play Liana and Ben, currently playing at Circle X Theatre.
What conversations do you want to have? Send your suggestions for compelling female playwrights or theater artists working on LA stages to Alyson Mead at email@example.com, then listen to “What She Said.”
Artwork by Christian Schloe
by Cynthia Wands
A few months ago I read a wonderful account of Sarah Ruhl accepting the Steinberg Distinguished Playwright Award.
This was just a few weeks after the election results and I was fighting through hopelessness and fury. Not great companions – hopelessness and fury. They tend to fuel one another into that other sense: helplessness.
But her words have stayed with me the last few weeks:
“We write to extend the light of our minds into dark hollows. We write to create and model empathy in a ragged land. We write because our minds can always be free in the face of tyranny. ”
Through this turbulent period of time in our culture, I’m challenged to find that what I’m writing is of value. My humor, my sensibility, my quirks, all seem out of sync with what is happening in our country today, this afternoon, this evening.
But, like most artists I know, I’ve always felt estranged from the mainstream culture – and so I’ll continue on this next writing project – not knowing if it really reflects this period of time we’re going through.
I did want to share one other piece of Sarah’s speech, that reflects the financial reality of today’s successful playwright:
“On the morning of the day when I heard about this award, I realized I was about to bounce a check I’d just made out to my babysitter. Walking to the bank to get her a money order, I thought, oh dear. That afternoon, on the phone, I learned of this award and wept with joy and surprise.”
from Cynthia Wands
In two weeks, I’ll be in another place. I’ll be sitting at a table, listening to the read through for the first production of my play, THE LOST YEARS.
The Contra Costa Civic Theatre is producing a premier of this work – after I’ve stamped through different venues with three staged readings, two workshops and a couple of years of rewrites, it’s really happening.
In one of those mirror like twists of fate, the director is a friend of mine from many years ago. Last year year she directed a staged reading of the play for her theater’s new works project. I saw how respectful she was of the actors during the process, and how she was able to guide nuance and intelligence into lines that didn’t quite look that way when I wrote them.
After the read through, I had to go home and get back on the path of submitting the script to theaters, and workshops, and festivals. I did feel a bit like Mama Rose yelling: Sell it! Dammit, just sell it!
But in the best dramatic fashion, late one night last year I received a phone call. And it was my director, who let me know that a scheduled play for their 2017 season had become unavailable, and could they produce my play instead.
I think I yelled YES. I might have cried, I don’t know how professional that is. But I was tingling like I had been dusted with lightning. One of the best phone calls I have ever had.
And so, here we are months later, about to embark on this journey with the script.
The play is cast, the other theater artists have been assembled, and now we have the time to read it, and rehearse and learn from one another. I’ll get to watch a few of the rehearsals.
I’m so grateful to have this experience. I have no idea how it will sound/play/resolve itself. It is after all, a comedy. You know what they say about comedy. (Dying is easy, comedy is hard.)
I’m feeling such a need for important plays in the world right now; about our leadership and our climate and the future of women, that to have a comedy try and tinkle out the laughs, seems a bit off for the times.
But personally, I’m also feeling the effects of compassion fatigue/outrage and I could use a dose of knowing laughter.
So I’m getting a wish to come true. I’d love to hear any advice from other women playwrights about their first production: was there anything you wish had or had not done for your first show?Tweet
I was there, in that picture, just a few weeks ago. The Women’s March. That Saturday, I traveled to Los Angeles, where I used to work, and where I would see plays and opera and dance performances. But that was a long time ago. I didn’t know it until I got there, but I was afraid of downtown Los Angeles. I’d been away too long and I didn’t know it anymore.
But I took my cue from the people around me: I followed them out of the train, and then on to the metro and then out into Pershing Square. There were outrageous signs, and pink pussy hats, and lots of sunglasses. And people smiling big white teethed smiles.
There were…so many people. So many women. So many races. So many helicopters and pot smoking hipsters and families who brought their small dogs on a leash.
I was, I’ll admit it, worried.
What if there’s an earthquake right now?
I tried to focus on the beauty of the crowd, the amazing women dancing and marching, the men linking arms together and chanting slogans that made you laugh.
Now would be a bad time to have an earthquake.
I could look around and see a lot of children: children in strollers, and carried in backpacks. Children with flags and signs and hats.
It seemed like there were hundreds of people, thousands of people, hundreds of thousands of people. I have never seen so many people together in one place before. The weight of all these people around me, made me feel a little panicked. My chest felt tight, and I could hear my heart beating in my ears. I was supposed to meet friends at eleven o’clock. I think I was ready to leave now, before something bad happened.
But I looked at the parents of all these children – and they didn’t seem worried about an earthquake. They were marching and struggling with water bottles and sunscreen and missing flip flops. The parents seemed to know how to handle this crowded feeling.
Now would be a bad time for a riot.
I stopped and realized, no one would bring their dog to a riot. There were lots of “Excuse me, coming through”, as folks tried wiggling around the marchers. “Sorry, I need to step in front of you here, thank you…” “Love your sign, can I take a picture of it?” “Great!” “Will you take a picture of me with your sign?” “Look at that sign!”
Now would be a good time for you to kick those fears out of your head.
So I kept breathing, with those 750,000 people there, breathing, and I braved the March for a while longer. And listened.
After a couple of hours I found my friends and we sheltered in the shade, and watched. After a while, the noise started to sound like an enormous beehive, with the music, the sirens and laughter and the drums and shouting.
I was so grateful when we went inside the City Hall building, our friends flashing their City Hall Employee badges to the police ringing the doors. We climbed the back stairs of the building, past the watchful eyes of more policemen. And with some of the other city staff, we were briefly allowed access in the tower, to look out across the city of Los Angeles. We watched the masses of people, and heard them roar in response to what the speakers were saying, and what they were feeling, and what needed to be heard. I will never forget that noise. Or the weight of all those people, coming together to show up, march, and be counted. I know this moment with 750,000 people will be a part of our culture going forward, part of our theater, our stories, our history. I think there will be more of these, and I intend to be there.
And before I left, I took this photograph from the tower.
It’s been 9 months since I last blogged for LA FPI and the world feels like a drastically different place…a terrifyingly absurd place…the kind of place that I used to think only existed in dark, independent foreign films (a favorite to watch, though less favored to live in). Through all the political cacophony and “alternative facts,” one real, indisputable fact has emerged: Fear creates action like a motherf*cker. Advertisers, politicians, and religious zealots have harnessed this power for decades…but I’m not here to talk about any of that…I’m here to talk about creating.
It’s a story-line we’re all familiar with: A person has a near-death experience, survives and realizes what really matters to them. They quit their job, get out of that toxic relationship, sell the clutter, and live more simply in pursuit of their legacy. That may mean investing more time into your relationships with your family, or it could mean spending more time creating that masterpiece–or both! Or neither! Or something else entirely! Only your heart knows. The question is: If we all know the story, why aren’t we able to extrapolate the lesson of it without the near-death part?
Fear gets a negative connotation, some of which is justified, but fear is also adrenaline, it is motivation, and it can be the cold, hard hand of reality that slaps you across the face when you’ve tuned out on your life.
If you’re terrified of ending up as the person who always said, “I’m a _____,” or “I’m working on______,” or “I’m going to ________,” and then never became, never did, never got there…then you will do something. When the fear of not doing the thing becomes greater than the fear of trying and failing, you will do the thing. And when you do the thing, you’ll buck head-on with that fear of trying and failing like never before, and finally be forced to confront (ie. breakthrough) that fear. The good news is that the more times you breakthrough that fear, the further you’ll be able to go.
So, my advice? Be afraid, be very, very afraid. And do it anyway. Set yourself up to confront scary situations on the regular. Go take that stand-up routine you’ve got tucked in your pocket up on a stage in front of people and fill the space with your weird ass humor. Don’t just finish that book, put it out in the world–tell people, ask them to read it and tell you what they really think…then, send it to your idols–why not? Produce that play that you’re the most proud of but that no one has said, “yes” to yet. Start that business you’ve been dreaming about for 20 years.
In other words: LIVE LIKE YOU WERE DYING (because you are).
True: You might “fail.” You might fall flat on your face in the most humiliating way. Maybe no one laughs when they’re supposed to…maybe everyone laughs when they’re not. You will cry and there will be sleepless nights. You might go bankrupt. Maybe you go for it with all you’ve got and come up short. Maybe you’ll be forced to realize that you’re not capable of doing what you’ve always wanted to…yet. You could perish mid-pursuit…but, more terrifyingly, you could die never having tried at all–never having spoken your thoughts–never having shared your he(art)–never knowing what could have been…and then, you’ll have no one to blame but yourself.
It’s not hyperbole to say these decisions are life and death. Your life and your death…it’s your legacy in your hands, your decisions plotting your path. It’s a lot of responsibility to admit that to yourself. While “success” is a personally defined moving target–much of which involves timing and luck that is out of your hands…your effort, your output, and your action…well, that’s all on you, kid. Life is so, so weird and no one knows half of what they seem to know…rather than try to make sense of it, embrace the absurdity. Rather than wait for someone else’s validation, proclaim it for yourself: you belong. You’re voice, experience and perspective are the rarest, most valuable assets you have.
ANYTHING CAN HAPPEN! There’s just one catch: You have to try.
I promise you, if you let it, fear can be the biggest gift you give yourself (along with a hardy dose of kindness).
My Top 4 List of Scary Things From The Last 9 Months
1. True Confessions: Goldilocks & the Three Dildos
Back in September I had the opportunity (ie. volunteered) to get up on a mic in front of people and tell a true story from my life. True Confessions is a local storytelling event in the vein of The Moth and provided the perfect opportunity to scare myself shitless. It’s one thing going up in front of people under the illusion of character, costume and set, and another thing entirely to speak truthfully about truly embarrassing parts of your life that you think might be funny and poignant, but that could also just be quietly unacceptable to utter out-loud. I did it though (you can listen at the link above!) and the most surprising thing came from it…I was able to own my story in a way I never was before–always worried what others would think if I shared it…suddenly, that fear had no power over me anymore. I let go of shame and learned, by doing, how to be grateful for every odd, painful quirk of my story…for giving me such a great story to tell.
2. Art Hung on Gallery Walls
Art was always my Mom’s thing. She’s the professional artist. I was the artistic hippie who did all artistic things, but left the “serious” artistic pursuits in my Mom’s lane. I’ve always made art but rarely placed much value on it. It’s “my Mom’s thing.” As if my placing value on my work could in any way take anything away from my Mom–but I so clearly recall an incident in my childhood with a competitive friend when one of us crossed into the other’s artistic lanes and sparks flied. “Hey, that’s my thing!” To my Mom’s credit, she’s never been anything but supportive of my art. She’s even bought (ie. paid real dollar bills, yo) for my art (which is crazy to me–LOVE YOU, MOM). It’s completely my own neurosis. In the last two years, however, I’ve made more art than I have had space for and people started inquiring about buying, so I re-activated my Etsy shop and started reaching out to galleries to do shows. This makes me feel boarder-line legitimate artistically…and that means being vulnerable for my work to be judged through that lens as well…which is scary. In the last 9 months through to the next 9 months my work has shown at (for judgement and purchase) or will be shown at: BookMarx, Springfield Art Museum, Springfield Regional Arts Council, Tea Bar & Bites, and Arts & Letters.
3. LET’S TALK About My Poetry Book
I’ve been writing poetry as far back as I can remember, but like my art I never took it “seriously.” In the last few years, I have become more and more cognizant of the power of representation. The #BodyPositive movement, the #BlackGirlMagic movement, and #effyourbeautystandards among others are powerful because they provide much needed examples of strong, confident, successful, and beautiful that aren’t being shown as regularly in mainstream media and advertising. I’ve realized that my voice and perspective could add to the chorus of voices that have re-shaped my mind and my perspective on others and myself in monumental ways. And what if those people had never seen the value in their voices? My life, undoubtedly, would be vastly different today. This collection, LET’S TALK, has been in the works for the last 2 years and will be available on Amazon later this year through their self-publishing platform CreateSpace. It’s scary putting this book out there–it’s an expense–no, an investment. What if no one buys it? Or what if they do? What if they leave really awful reviews? But, more importantly, what if it helps? Anyone at all, even just a little…to feel less alone in life?
4. SEEK HELP & Seeking Funds
This was the biggest leap. This one was and is the scariest. No question. I wrote a web-series called Seek Help way back in 2012. It came out of me in a huge, easy burst of inspiration and I really loved it–which, if you write, you know how rarely that outcome occurs! I wanted to make it, but it required a specific set and a few other things that I didn’t have access to at the time. Every few years I would pull it out, re-read it and proclaim, “I want to make this!”
Then, this last year I was reading it with my friend Matt and it SPARKED. This was it. The time was now. We talked and decided to do a crowdfunding campaign to raise money to make it–and make it right. I was so scared to do a kickstarter…imagine asking for money for a project you really believe in and finding out just how many people find you or your he(art) project unworthy of giving to. But then I thought about all my friends who had had successful campaigns and how I had happily donated to many of them and I thought…okay, we can do this! People do this!
I made a plan, we made a video, we made a kickstarter, I researched, I submitted, I PR’d and I posted and posted and emailed…and then, I started to panic…like, dry-heaving, crying actual tears, out of my mind SCARED that because not enough people were responding that it meant that no one believed in me. I felt betrayed. I felt embarrassed for trying. I felt briefly like I was not worthwhile. Then, right in the middle of it, the election happened. To be clear, we were not on target for meeting our goal before the election happened, but once it happened, all progress slowed to a complete stop. Understandably people had bigger concerns–as did I.
In a weird sort of way, I found my perspective again. I stopped feeling sorry for myself and started feeling so grateful for everyone who did support me when there are so many other very worthy causes to support. When we failed to make our goal, I wasn’t yet ready to relinquish defeat. When I thought about making it any way we could scrape it together, I felt excitement and peace. When I thought about giving up, I felt depressed and incapable. So, it was simple. I didn’t want to feel depressed and incapable…I wanted to feel excitement and peace. Amazingly, some of the people who’d donated wanted to keep their pledges and help us make it. So, we reconfigured, re-cast, and re-committed. There have been no less than 5 major set-backs (all SCARY) since that decision was made, but this week I finished the rough cut of the first full episode which we shot this past weekend and I haven’t been able to sleep un-medicated since. I’m so incredibly giddy with excitement. I go to bed late and wake up early and don’t feel cranky about it…and this is the thing, guys…
THIS IS THE WHOLE ENCHILADA…
The joy you get from doing the thing? When it’s your thing–whatever that may be–is more than enough to absorb the fear and the setbacks. You only live once (probably)–SO GO FOR IT! And don’t hesitate to reach out to me in the comments if you want an accountability partner, or someone to bounce ideas off of. I love being an accountability and encouragement partner–especially for other strong, creative women! <3