“…during the Q&A session after the reading…that my mother was moved enough to then share a personal story with a group of friends and strangers…was truly a profound afternoon of theater for me.”
about the play WATER CLOSET
The playwright E.h. Bennett has died. Erica Harriet Bennett passed away after a long illness on May 4, 2019. She was a LA FPI blogger since 2010 – from the very start of our blog. Her very first blog was full of spunk. She was brave so brave…in her work and in her life. Her first blog post, 1.PHISHING (2008) introduced us to her frank, unapologetic, sharing. She gave us a week, non-stop of her thoughts on injustices in theater. I liked her right off. She scared me a bit but she also made me laugh – genuinely. I admired her attitude. She was sweet and brilliant and full of words and worlds she wanted to share. Erica’s last blog entitled YOU is simply, elegantly profound ….as was she. She stopped blogging because she had to be about her writing, her time was running out and she knew it. Erica was prolific; she accomplished so much in the time she had left with us. She is missed dearly but she is also still here… in her work. I hear her voice as I read her work and I feel her presence. This is Erica’s week to blog.
You can read all of E.h. Bennett’s blogs at http://lafpi.com/author/ehbennett/.
I have no words. They have left the building, only grief remains…
I used to binge write. It kept me tied in to my creative side. Now, all I want to do is write something every day. One sentence will do. I want to turn off my edit machine and just write.
I’ll even settle for re-writing. It is never good to be a writer who is too busy to write; it is suffocating me…
Today, I decided to create an in-house retreat – set the date, take vacation, create the itinerary, and just do it.
by Robin Byrd
A few weeks ago, I put some things on my “to do” list that I want to finish or start before the new year and took a look around at the space I am in (physical, mental, and creative). I have been here before at this crossroad but didn’t stay long enough to make tracks. This time I am already knee deep in the snow, climbing for the sake of sanity.
I see story in everything. It could be called a haunting but it’s what I live for. Unexpectantly, a coworker and I had a wonderful conversation about writing and how most everyone has at least one story in them. We talked about oral storytelling and the way it becomes theatrical if done right. ALAP (Alliance of Los Angeles Playwrights) has an event called “In Our Own Voices” where the playwright must be the reader or one of the readers in 5 minutes of their work. I have participated twice and am always rejuvenated to the nth degree afterwards. This coworker is not a writer per se but stories are starting to peek out at him. I encouraged him to write them down.
I have work to do as well.
I have been torn between creating new work or tweaking old work but like reading my work aloud, creating new worlds and characters on the page is being reborn every time; it is flying high – up to meet the sun.
The end of this year finds me writing and reading and exploring new ways to hear my words out loud. How about you?
Have a happy and prosperous new year.
The things that make us who we are and the fodder that fills our pens can be some very scary stuff.
‘Succinctly’, that is not a word that describes how trauma behaves in the lives of the traumatized. It is not a brief episode; it will not go away momentarily. Trauma lingers for a lifetime informing the world of those affected by it and it is not neat – it leaves dregs all over the place.
I like to write about secrets, this has been mine. Not that it unknown just not something I shared openly, outside of a story or a poem.
Recently I shared that I suffer from PTSD (Post-traumatic Stress Disorder). Decades after the traumatic events that caused it, I said it out loud in a full sentence – “I suffer from PTSD.” One person asked me, what caused that? My next words were, “I am a rape survivor – a several*-time rape survivor.” I have no idea why after 40 years (from the first event) that I suddenly could say that PTSD is a factor in my life. It is a breakthrough for me and a big one. Dealing with trauma is a 24/7, 365/day affair. One cannot put a band-aid on it, take two aspirins and call it life.
It is never that simple. I came into puberty fighting off hands…
The first 5 years after the rapes, I suffered horrific flashbacks every day. I would sleep run… I found myself on a few occasions in the middle of the road in front of my father’s house, dashing toward the busy street lights. Mid-stride I would stop in the pitch black, not knowing why I was running, what I was running to, and how I got out of the house. I really had to pray about that. I prayed that God would wake me up and He did, I started waking up at the door, then in the room and then the running stopped altogether. Flashbacks are few and far between because I know to try hard to veer away from triggers.
Flashbacks show up in my work. I was once told that writers should not use flashbacks. I am unable to follow that rule. Writers tend to write what they know.
It is a journey – a long one. There is a book, “When Bad Things Happen to Good People” by Harold S. Kushner, that I read, after the dung hit the fan, that kept me from dwelling in the land of, “Why me?” This book has some good points in it. Another book, “The Body Keeps the Score (Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma)” by Bessel Van Der Kolk, M.D., that I have read recently, several times, has been instrumental in me getting to the point of being able to claim the monster. In the section titled “Breaking the Silence,” Van Der Kolk says, “If you’ve been hurt, you need to acknowledge and name what happened to you… The critical issue is allowing yourself to know what you know. That takes an enormous amount of courage.”
I am striving for a fierceness in my work and that takes courage to do also. So, what now? Same as always, I continue to press toward the mark…because I refuse to stop…
I am writing my world whole…
To others on this or similar journeys toward wholeness…Blessings…
I have been wanting to talk to Mommy, forgetting she is gone. Such an odd thing to have a thought, “I need to talk to mother about that” then remember as soon as the thought hits space, that I can’t because she is gone. That whole week between the date of death, her birthday, and the date of burial, I longed for her, could not get out of bed the day before and day of her birthday. I have a blanket of hers that I have begun to wrap up in, lay my head on, carry in the back of my car – just to be near something of hers.
Trying not to lose myself, I took a seminar in poetry – not sure if it worked.
This shaking off of depression is hard. One year later and I still can’t believe you are gone. Thanks for coming to see me on your birthday. I know I can’t stay here. Seems counter-intuitive – I know you are in a better place. I just did not know how much I loved you and that the hole would be so large.
I did not know you were like air and heartbeat
And blood and bone to me
That the touch of your skin was home to me
(the child who was not breastfed because you had an infection – that used to bother me but mothers must always do the best for their children or at least try. it did not make you love me any less – the old wives tale that breastfed children are closer to their mothers – just not true…)
I am needing to crawl up beside you and kiss the north, south, east and west of your face
I am needing you
And all the remembrances
Needing to shake off this sadness
by Robin Byrd
What are you working on? That’s a question every artist hears and asks themselves a lot. My answer to that question for the last 10 months has been “everything but my art.” So much so that I have overworked myself to the point of illness. I have not had the flu for over 20 years and this past week, I have been under the weather, medicating per doctor’s order for flu-like symptoms. I am so annoyed with myself. I am supposed to be practicing balance. It used to be my way of life and now I am fighting to get back there. True, I have lost a lot this year and the pressure has sent me into a work-away-the-pain-mode but it doesn’t work away the pain, not really, you’re just tired.
What am I working on? Me writing…writing something every day because writing is the best thing I’ve found for pain. I can’t believe I forgot that… even for a moment.
Balance the art…
by Robin Byrd
Death, spirits, the ghosts of memory, these are the things that turn up in my plays. I used to think that I was weird, not that weird is a negative word to me. I am peculiar and I am okay with that. In Proof by David Auburn, Catherine states while talking about her dad, “He’d attack a question from the side, from some weird angle, sneak up on it, grind away at it.” I love that sentence, it’s all we can do in our world of doing art – attack from our perspective and grind away…
I have been reading The Art of Death: Writing the Final Story by Edwidge Danticat. What I mean is I have read it several times 4 and a half times to be exact. I am working out the processing of my mother’s death. She left this earth in April of this year. It has been difficult to write it yet write it I have – to request to drop classes I was in at the time of her death, classes I have had to repeat and get past the point of her death in each of them. One, I made it through, weary but victorious, the other, I am still weathering. It is amazing the depth of grief. I read somewhere that grief causes forgetfulness, that and the lack of sleep… Except I know the forgetfulness of sleepless nights well and this thing – it is scary and it is a demon whose head I am chopping off with a twice dull blade. I will be rid of it. I have found comfort in the stories that Danticat shares in The Art of Death; at one point, she asks her mother, “Did you rage enough?” this in response to Dylan Thomas’s poem “Do not go gentle into that good night”:
“…Do not go gentle into that good night. Rage, rage against the dying of the light.” by Dylan Thomas
Similarly, before the thin veil of denial left me, before I bought the ticket and made the journey home, I spoke to my mother’s spirit, “Mommy, do not go gentle into that good night wait for me, I’m coming home…” And, I watched her fight until the end unsure of the road… She almost died 3 days before, we sat in the nursing home around her bed for hours but she would not leave. She wanted a reprise. She wanted to be bathed… Almost like a baptismal service, two young nurses, bathed my mother from head to toe in preparation for the day. She lay there knowing it would be her last bath with breath in her body, resolved to meet the day…clean…. Clean from the blood that had begun to seep from her body in clots of pain, clean from the last of things no one can carry with them into the presence of God. I took to sitting through the night with her, on guard. I did not want her to die alone. I blessed the room and sealed it (in the name of Jesus) from anything that was not like God…so she could rest in peace until that appointed time. I had asked God to let me be there and had traveled from Los Angeles on a ‘red eye’ to make sure I was there the entire month of April. I asked Him, rather demanded that He let me be there, “I want to see her when she leaves, not in a dream, like with Dad, and the others, I want to see her! I must be there, it will not be alright if I am not there. I do not want to get that call.” So, there I was by the grace of God, sitting beside my mother’s deathbed…taking notes in my spirit… and then it happened, and God let me see:
I saw her when she left, the lift off, her eyes shown like glassy circles of pure glee, the hologram of her Self barely visible but not her smile, it was wide and happy because she knew I saw…my mother, my mother – the wind of God…
I wrote and read a poem on behalf of my mother at her funeral titled, “Getting it Right” – the thing my mother had on her mind the last days of her life. I had sat by her bed every day from April 1st till she passed at the end of the month, 2 days before her 83rd birthday. She continually told me to “Pay attention Robbie, you’re going to have to write about this… We got to get this right.” How could I fail? “A mother’s song should be heard in the voices of her children”…it should never be lost to time. I found her song in the space where breath had left her and became her voice for a time… I could feel her there with me… adlibbing…
Part of getting it right is forgiving and letting things go. We all must do it…
It is difficult…these days… not because I do not know that my mother is with Christ…
“…We are confident, I say, and willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with Christ.” Paul the Apostle, II Corinthians, chapter 5, verse 8
It is difficult because the moments have germinated and taken root and are sprouting trees so tall it is hard to see the sky. It is renewing and stripping but best of all, I did not lose on the moments that the last of things said to me by my mother set in stone her confidence in who I am – a Writer…
by Robin Byrd
“Trying to teach my hands to do what I hear in my head” John Hartford, fiddler
Every year I try to work on a new play or writing project and part of that entails finding different ways to tell the story. I have all these stories in my head that I want to tell and at times I feel like John Hartford, that I must teach myself a new way into the story before I can get what’s in my head out. The last few years, I have noticed that even when I hear “first words,” I must still wait until the structure is revealed to me as well. At other times, I must prevent myself from overriding what seems to be outside the realm of textbook playwriting – more theatrical than normal for me.
David Henry Hwang states in his author’s note in M. BUTTERFLY, “Before I can begin writing, I must ‘break the back of the story,’ and find some angle which compels me to set pen to paper.’
Compelling angles are very important to giving a story a fair chance to have a life on stage.
Each play is different. Each time we write, we must find a way to get words on the page worthy of living out loud on the stage – always new, always the same but different, always the best journey to take to “The End.” And then, we start all over again trying to get more stories out of our heads…