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?
Surrender was the theme that presented itself throughout the week. Allow and accept. Let it be. Let go.
Back in October, Constance wrote a great blog on the theme of “Surrender”, and it was succinct and straight to the point. I liked it.
My take on surrender is like a lazy windy old river. I will meander on.
At my last yoga class I taught Yin Yoga. Yin requires surrendering to the force of gravity to allow the muscle to relax so that it allows access to the deeper and denser connective-tissue. This is different to the traditional yoga classes which use more muscle to move into the pose and to hold the pose.
Then I recall my short-lived acting life at the “Imagined Life” studio. I wasn’t very good. I had the tendency to be in my head rather than my heart and my body. The teacher tried different techniques to help me drop my judgmental-analytical mind. One assignment I had was to play a mother, “Rita”, who has a fling with her son’s best friend. My resistance to the character was the problem. I was playing rather than being; and judging and not accepting – “That’s not me”; “I could never do that”. But once I allowed myself to fall under the spell of this woman’s imagined life, I became authentic.
Surrender also applies to my writing too. I had the best intention of writing every day of my blog week, especially as it is my last week before the start of the new year. But I was more concerned with product rather than process. I was pulling at ideas rather than letting them come to me. Forced writing is more applicable to “work” (like doing a user manual; writing software specifications; or a project proposal). Writing from the gut is organic and flowing.
This piece almost wrote itself one very late night (or early morning) and I was in a half-conscious state. The theme was inspired by the mythology of Demeter. Upon the discovery of her daughter Persephone’s disappearance, Demeter, as Mother Earth hailed drought upon the lands. The crops withered and the land was barren for a very long time. She could not be appeased, until she finally conceded to the fate of Persephone’s marriage to Hades upon Zeus’ persuasion. Upon Demeter’s surrender the land became fruitful again. But Persephone also had to descend back to the underworld for part of each year, and when she returned to earth then the corn crop would also return. Life needs this cycle of active and passive stages. This is Yin and Yang.
December 15th, 2018 is the 11th month anniversary of Bruno’s fatal accident. This past year I’ve had many times of being powerless to the weight of my grief. I felt like Demeter losing my light. And when I resisted being down, I felt more incapacitated because I wasn’t being authentic to my feeling. I was resisting the feeling of the pain. It’s like lightning struck down half of a whole tree. I just wanted to get the season of winter over and done with. But it doesn’t work that way. These things take time. When I decide to surrender and let go of my idea of being “okay”, and allow myself to stay in the dark cocoon of grief till it was ready to melt away then the tears flow; and it passes.
Forgiveness is also a form of surrender to my idea of being right or being granted justice. It’s not fair that Bruno died in the hands of a hit & run driver and that I’ve been robbed of my dreams with him. It’s wrong that this person is still at large. It’s unbelievable that I had to fight to get my green card status, because the INS didn’t believe my marriage to Bruno is real. The list can go on about how life is just – just – just blankety blank-blank. But at this moment, I choose to let it go. I surrender. I can forgive, because I must otherwise I can’t move forward to let spring and summer arise and bear fragrant flowers and sweet fruits into my life. I need air. I have to breathe again. Exhalation is surrender.
day three hundred and twenty-six 6, december 2018 3 days of rain already overflow gutters garbage & fallen fronds lantern fruits paint grey skies international-orange persimmons fatten seasons bright finger tips press firmly, imagining ripeness forgiving peace hope love
Whether you’re submitting a new play or coming out to your family–the goal is same: approval. Approve of me, validate me, recognize the work it took for me to get here, be kind, see me and hear my words in the way they were intended.
I’m dating a woman. I’m bisexual, and I’ve known and been open about it for well over a decade, but this is the first time I’ve dated a woman. Not uncharacteristic for me–it took 29 years for me enter a relationship with a man.
The play I was working on has been paused as I found there were not enough hours in the day to work two jobs, launch and run a business, be a person, and finish a play. So, in leu of playwriting anecdotes and stories, all I’ve got is my life. I hope that’s a satisfactory enough offering. I believe playwriting anecdotes can still be made (see: first paragraph). I’m nothing if not a terrific multitasker.
Approval. The word has been beating against my brain all week after having been told I did not have someone’s approval in regards to my dating women. I hadn’t asked for their approval. In fact, I’d wrongly assumed I had it, in so much as one person has any kind of right to “approve” of another’s life in these matters. It had caught me off guard and has been eating away at me–my brain launching into hypothetical arguments in a constant subconscious stream throughout the day.
As any kind of creative knows, living your life in constant search for approval is the surest way to burn out and begin to hate the very thing you love. At a certain point, you have to turn that off–that search for validation–and you have to find ways to validate yourself, to make the kind of art that you are proud of, to live the kind of life and be the kind of person that you need to be in order to have pride and peace within yourself.
If you go through life only creating art intending to please this person or theatre or that, or to live a life that this person or that approves of, all the while denying your own vision, truth, passion, and violating your own morals…well, what a waste of talent, time, and life! Let those people do the things they need to do to be authentic in their lives and art, and if you don’t understand it or think it’s weird or wrong…don’t do it, but also, maybe examine why you think that and find out more about it because we are so quick to judge things that are different to what we’ve been exposed to as “evil” or “bad” (Fun example from our local mega-church this past month: https://www.news-leader.com/story/news/local/ozarks/2018/11/12/james-river-pastor-yoga-has-demonic-roots-springfield-yogis/1897249002/) that we close down any chance for communication that could allow us to understand each other and learn how to care for one another in more helpful and healthy ways.
I’ve only recently gotten to a point in my life where I am able to be proud of who I am, to love who I am, to feel good in my skin and know that even if someone rejects me, it doesn’t change my value as a human being. I am whole and stable and fulfilled on my own, whether I am in a romantic partnership with another person or not (and whether or not those I love and trust are able to see and accept me as I am — oof, okay still working on that one).
It’s a good place to be. And I feel stable in that–even as I wrestle with that ole bugaboo of approval again. I admit, I want that approval, I try really, really hard to get approval, I have anxiety around not being accepted (who doesnt?!) but at the end of the day, I have to come back to myself. Can I lay my head on my pillow at night and be proud of my actions? That approval trumps any other, because if I can’t do that then I won’t sleep and if I don’t sleep, I won’t function, and I won’t live.
So, whether you’re struggling with feelings of inadequacy or acceptance in your writing or in your personal life–I hope this post will encourage and remind you to take a minute, take an afternoon, heck, take a lifetime (!) and pause to look within and ask yourself if you approve. If your actions are in line with your morals, if you are being authentic, if you are creating honest art, if you are proud of the human you are becoming…and, if the answer is YES, how much it really matters if others don’t agree.
Dang, I do believe I straddled that fence quite nicely, eh? I guess, in the end, playwriting and being queer really were one in the same. Wow.
When I was in France in September for an impromptu trip, I had about two days to spend in Paris. I’d never been there before, I didn’t speak the language, I had a lot of work I knew I’d be flying home to. I was happy and grateful but stressed.
But there was one thing that I felt drawn to, the thing that I couldn’t leave Paris without doing: visiting the grave of Oscar Wilde in Père Lachaise Cemetery.
It felt like a pilgrimage. I’m not a religious person. I probably couldn’t truly articulate what I believe. Energies, maybe. Ghosts. I don’t know. I’m not even a hard-core Oscar Wilde fan. But I needed to go there.
I didn’t bring the right shoes for the amount of walking I’d been doing all week. My feet and legs ached. I got turned around a dozen times just finding the entrance of the cemetery. Once inside, I wandered for a long time, searching for the exact location of the grave. Père Lachaise is well organized but its long winding paths can play tricks on you. I could feel every cobble stone under my shoes. It was cold and I was hungry and I felt like I’d never find him.
Obviously people make this trek all the time. I am not unique. Roses and gifts littered his grave. Lipstick marks covered the protective glass installed around the huge grave stone to combat graffiti from adoring fans. Tourists from England and Sweden and Germany paraded by in the half hour or so I spent there, sitting on the curb across the path from the grave. I felt almost embarrassed that I didn’t have a flower to offer. He probably hated that.
Instead, I sat there and asked him questions.
How did you do it? How did you have the confidence?
I thought about the tragic way his life was cut short. And felt silly for asking him anything, since anything I had experienced is nothing compared to his life. But still, I admitted to him, that while I don’t deserve it, I’d sure like this advice.
Can I do this? This writer thing?
I feel silly saying I did this. But it was a pilgrimage to connect to something deeper, some sort of literary history, to figure out if I’m crazy for doing what I’m doing, for wanting what I think I want.
I think it is important to find stillness and ask these questions. To a god, to a literary giant, to someone you’ve lost, to yourself. You’ll get an answer if you ask the question. It may not come in the form of words and a life plan, but in the form of a warmness, a feeling in the pit of your stomach, a sudden lightness in your breathe, in your step.
I made my way out of the cemetery, but it wasn’t easy. I was pretty convinced the ghosts wanted to try to keep me there, confusing me, sending me down more painful cobblestone paths to drain me. But then I found the opening.
I spent the rest of the night wandering more streets, eating cheese, reading, and drinking hot chocolate. And felt like myself. And at peace with that feeling.
We’re getting close to the new year. I’m watching friends and family achieve things, get married, have babies, buy houses. Lovely choices and happiness in so many forms. Seeing others’ choice can sometimes make you question your own. So make your own pilgrimage. Maybe not to Oscar Wilde’s grave (if you do, bring shoes that can deal with those cobblestones) but to a place with the energy that will help you focus and ask that question that’s burning in your mind.
Women writers aren’t afraid to ask the tough questions and neither is Wendy Graf in her play Exit Wounds, one of two recipients of the Moss & Kitty Carlisle Hart New Play Initiative Silver Medallion, playing through December 16 at GTC Burbank. So LAFPI decided to ask Wendy some questions of our own.
LAFPI: What inspired you to write this play from this perspective?
Wendy Graf: I became interested in what happens to the families and love ones of evil people and/or people who commit evil acts. I started watching a number of documentaries like Hitler’s Children. Then there was, of course, another mass shooting and that story opportunity kind of clicked in my head. I wondered what if anything was the effect on the shooter’s loved ones and families and if that effect bled out to future generations. I also felt it was a vehicle for me to vent my anger and frustration and desperation about the ongoing lack of gun control in this country, even in the face of every day tragic massacres.
LAFPI: We love when women writers tackle current social issues from a woman’s perspective. How do you view gun violence as a feminist issue?
Wendy: I view gun violence as an EVERYONE issue. As a mother I suppose I view it through a feminist lens, for when I see all those children and families affected I do relate to it as a mother and as a writer, putting myself in their shoes. But please let’s not make it only a feminist issue. If we do that I’m afraid that, sadly, it will be diminished in the eyes of the gun lobby and supporters, for whom it is already so diminished and dismissed. Attention must be paid!
LAFPI: How do you see the nature/nurture debate playing a role in your play?
Wendy: One of the things I was also interested in exploring in this play was the notion of viewing a family member through a lens of another family member. Is this legitimate, do they actually see these qualities in another family member or are they projecting these qualities onto them? In the case of Exit Wounds, does the father actually see the qualities of the troubled brother in his son or is he projecting in hopes of early identification? Does the past dictate the future? These are the questions I love exploring!
LAFPI: What message would you want victims of mass shootings to receive from this play?
Wendy: I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry we could not do enough to stop this madness, but we will keep trying in every way possible.
LAFPI: The woman character of this play shares certain rules to live by which were passed down to her from her father. Do you think there are still universal rules which have molded the current culture of American society and what rules do you live by?
Wendy: I think there are definitely rules that have molded the current culture of America, but the trouble is we are not in sync anymore in America about what those rules are. We no longer agree what universal rules are molding us and which we are adhering to. It’s like my character in the play says “Guns are a Rorsharch test, Danny. Or like one of those drawings that you see one thing when you look at it one way and then you turn it, look at it from another angle, and you see something else.” Sadly I’m afraid we have come to a point in America where the “universal rules” are like that. We seem to be seeing different things completely. I feel like my universal rules are moral and based on life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness for all, as we all are created equal, but the other side feels those are their universal truths, yet they see things completely differently. We have hit a very tragic time in America when we don’t all see our universal, fundamental truths as being the same.
LAFPI: What would you like audiences to take away from this play?
Wendy: I don’t presume to offer answers, only questions. I have no agenda for what I want the audience to take away, other than to see the truth of human behavior and something of their own humanity. To see something of themselves reflected in the characters and, without necessarily condoning or accepting them, to somehow understand their actions. I leave it up to the audience to answer the questions. I hope it will start conversations about why, and maybe if we can talk about why and try to understand, change will become possible. Maybe we can move toward seeing our fundamental, universal truths closer to being the same.
LAFPI: Is there anything else you would like to share with your fellow artists of LAFPI?
Wendy: Keep on writing. Keep on questioning. Keep on asking “what if”?
Los Angeles Female Playwrights Initiative is a sponsored project of Fractured Atlas, a non‐profit arts service organization. Contributions for the charitable purposes of LAFPI must be made payable to “Fractured Atlas” only and are tax‐deductible to the extent permitted by law.
My nearly-three-year-old got sick. He yacked all over the place, and then I felt like I was going to yack all over the place, and he definitely yacked all over my husband, and I definitely almost yacked back, so that took several days to recover from.
We’ve been traveling. My husband presented at a conference. The tot finally got better, then we got on a plane, and then we got to spend a day at the beach. Who wants to hunker down with their laptop when the San Diego beach is in your face?
I have grades to enter. Students to email. Lesson plans to make. It’s Thanksgiving break, and I’m thankful for the time it gives me to get caught up.
My toddler is screaming. He has a poopy diaper, but he likes it that way (apparently) because he is screaming at anyone who approaches to try and change it. Speaking of poopy diapers…
Donald Trump is president.
I wake up everyday with trepidation… What will happen today? Whose shoe will be the next to drop? How am I supposed to write when there is all this news to obsess over?
I’m pregnant. My back hurts. I’m tired. I’m making another human, even as I panic about the world going to absolute shit, and I wonder how irresponsible it is to be creating life in the face of so much global disaster. It’s exhausting.
The cats are meowing. They want some of my cinnamon roll… well, they want the butter I slathered on top of it. They’re adorable. I definitely need to spend the next thirty minutes trying to convince them to sit in my lap and snuggle.
My imagination is tired from imagining how many ways the apocalypse might come, what shape it might take, and what we’ll do when it gets here.
The night before the mid-term election, and my cat, Ted, is sensing some troubling words..
Yes. No. These are decisions I get to make tomorrow. I get to vote.
I’m particularly anxious about this election, (as many of us are), but I think Ted is picking up on a sense of helplessness, and pent up rage. And apparently he doesn’t like to hear me read the ballot out loud. I call this his “Fur Emotion Sponge” posture.
When I’m writing, and he’s sitting next to me, he likes me to play new age soundtracks so he can listen to the sound of rain, and frogs, and maybe some thunder. If it isn’t too ominous.
So, I’ll write more later. Right now, I have some cat paws I have to gently reposition on my political agenda. And I’ll get to vote tomorrow.
I think it has finally happened. I think I have writer’s block.
When I started writing, I was taking classes to learn how to write, the different genres and structures. I was also reading books and articles about writing and from the beginning I read how there was no such thing as writer’s block. I always thought about writer’s block in terms of not being able to continue to write. You know, you’re half way through your story and you don’t know what happens next.
But since I finished my last play, I have written bits and pieces of ideas and thoughts, but I never thought of what I was going to write next. It usually just came to me and I sat down and wrote about it. I would write and re-write the same thing, different ways, working the story out. But right now, I’m at a loss. I finished the story, had my characters yell and scream the things people don’t dare to say out loud. I had found the perfect setting for this to happen and made the cast small enough to include all the backstory I had dreamt up. And now. Nothing. I can’t even see the next thing. Instead of writing a play, I sit trying to finish a collection of essays about the same subject, and am rehashing the same stories in different settings, trying to get a different audience to understand.
Right now I can’t imagine another play, another story I want to write. When I was writing, I was reading different blogs and books about the subject. Different viewpoints, trying to understand the story from all sides. Listening to podcasts and interviews, talking ad-nauseum with friends about their thoughts on the subject. But nothing. I can’t imagine that I am done with the subject. It still keeps me up at night, or wakes me early in the morning, usually at 3 am. But why can’t I write anything more about it? Why can’t I see it anymore and better yet, is this writer’s block?
In the articles I had read about, they said there was no such thing. It’s a figment of your imagination, you’re just not working hard enough. Even trying to write this on this blog this week has been a pain staking task. Racking my brain. What do I say? How do I say it? Who will read it? Does it matter?
But wait. A glimmer of hope. I started this post on Monday. It’s now Sunday night, my last day to post and there is a story brewing. While getting lost in distraction and procrastination this week, I found a new book to read and a different angle on my story. Actually a whole new play. Now starts the ruminating.
I would love to hear your thoughts on writer’s block, because I’m sure it is not done with me.