Time and energy seem to be my biggest obstacles to writing these days. I have a day job where I’m writing a lot. And running all over town. And shocking though it may be to admit, I just don’t have as much energy as I used to.
I consume vast amounts of tea and chocolate to fuel my writing periods, but it’s just not enough. There aren’t enough hours in the day for work, exercise (ballet and swimming), opening the door for the cat, and kissing my husband. Oh, and many days I’d much rather be pursuing my other creative outlet: sewing. I can spend an entire weekend at my sewing machine and plan entire trips to various cities just to shop their fabric stores. (My last trip to NYC was split between seeing theatre and seeing the Balenciaga exhibit and the costume exhibit at Lincoln Center.)
I’m trying to take the long view. I’ve written ten plays over two decades. I don’t have to do it all in 2011. I am entitled to just sit around and be a vegetable sometimes. I don’t have to write everyday.
But that’s the rub, isn’t it? On days when I don’t write, I’m not as nice a person to those around me. Growl.
Guess I’ll summon the energy to write a few lines.
“A camel is a horse designed by committee” – Vogue, 1957
Mayhaps you’re all watching what is happening on The Hill… a room full of (mostly) men are sitting firm on their political high-horses, battling over what IS and IS NOT good for the American public… They’re making decisions based on what they deem “right” (OR) “left” and the rest of us restlessly sit and wait.
Anybody else find this macrocosm representational of the more mundane parts of life? Anybody ever scratch their heads at the “people in power” and wonder just “How in the hell” they became the megaphone for our “Voice”?
I’m interested in the parallels in politics between “their” and “here” – the White House to Theatre House -because it seems that I’ve been privy to a few conversations lately that make me wonder just when it was that these people lost touch with the world and began, for lack of classier language, touching only themselves.
I think it has something to do with hats.
You see… I’m broke. And I live IN the world. I’m not shoveling gravel, or hauling garbage… no, those blue-collar citizens might look at my liberal artistic self and roll their hard-working eyes. But I am struggling, I am walking around in the shoes of the well-traveled and hungry. And I’ve got about a dozen or so hats to juggle as a result.
Which means I can’t ever get too comfortable in just one.
I write, I teach, I tutor, I am the web-master/social media maven for my current employer – I also blog (for my own sake and as the occasional guest) and edit a LosAngeles centric webzine. I am a daughter, friend, and (yippee) girlfriend – which means I am involved in the lives of those around me and I have a stake in their happiness as well as my own. I work with students and faculty, and I do my own friggin’ laundry… I drive a beat up little Hyundai and my “grand” dreams of upgrading involve another… wait for it… Hyundai.
So, you see, I wear a lot of hats…
And I live a pretty down-to-earth existence.
But the people in “power” seem to have forgotten what it is like to live like this…
It requires compromise… it requires flexibility and ingenuity…
It requires the ability to put oneself in other’s shoes.
But instead, we get people wearing their “Control” hat (the one that shoots you the whammy if you disagree) and folded arms, standing atop their pillars of salt as though it’s all going to go their way or no way at all.
Mayhaps, and here’s the theatrical segue, the answer is to tear down and start over.
Whoa, whoa, wait a minute! WHAT?
Just hang in here with me a moment longer…
I hear a lot of chit and a lot of chat about theatre companies NOT producing enough: new work, work by women, culturally specific work, devised work, political work, etc. I hear a lot of theatre companies turn around and bemoan the lack of quality in said work, the lack of faith, and the lack of $$…
The people in charge, are dealing with budgets and spreadsheets, and trying to read the minds of their paying audiences and benefactors and otherwise worrying about keeping the “business” afloat, while the people creating the art are dealing with paying rent, trying to get produced, struggling to be relevant, and worrying about keeping their lives afloat.
What would happen if the two switched places for a while?
Probably something on par with what would happen if our Congress and Senate switched places with some “real folks” for a while: Total and complete madness, followed by a (gasp) revolution of thought and of practice.
I mean, I am talking about some good old fashioned Freaky-Friday changes in perspective here, people!
Might we not all be able to head back to our “tired, stuck-on, and stubborn” hats with a little more perception? Might we possibly come back to our “positions” (as power-player or peon) with a little more flexibility and ingenuity?
Or would it only strengthen our resolve to lock ourselves away in our tight little corners, unwilling to trust or listen to those we stand among, atop, and for?
Everyone does it: sometimes in a restroom, in a corner of a park, in your bedroom, hell – some people even do it in a public cafe.
We all steal time to write.
I say steal time because it feels selfish, inward, private.
And it just feels so good. Especially when it feels horrible during the process, it feels so good when you’re done. Writing is very much like spinning class in that way.
The true reason we steal time to write, though, is because we find it so easy not to write.
There’s laundry, the dog, the kids, the love interest, the season finale we could consider research, the day job, sleep, Facebook, Twitter, blogs about writing – no matter how you add, multiply or divide the time, these only equal procrastination.
I recently learned the hardest part about being self-employed: when deadlines aren’t met, you mostly disappoint yourself.
When I don’t write, I only disappoint myself.
Time to stop talking about it and start doing it! See you later………
If Gilbert & Sullivan played within three hours of us, we saw it. We bundled in the car, return trip full of patter songs and arguments on the character interpretation or a set piece. I auditioned for NYU with Pinter and was accepted, mostly because I astonished the Dean with my resume, listing only male roles and whores.
I know we all mostly are slashers (actor/writer/producer, for example), but this list just feels ridiculous.
As much as some of those day jobs were hated, they fuel my creative bank. Who doesn’t like a good story about temping in an adult products factory? Seriously. Everyone in LA has the crazy day job story. It’s a rite of passage here, like visiting the Getty for the first time or realizing you can’t get to the 101 south from the 134 west.
In May it all added up, when I started calling myself a Storyteller. The title encompasses all the ways I tell stories: outreach, novel, poem, play, PR, resume, blog, branding – and now, I tell stories all day. It’s pretty cool. Honestly, it’s the only thing I actually know how to do. (Did I mention both my parents are also librarians?)
Now that I love every hour of my work, I hope I won’t lose that connection to completely random people in Los Angeles brought only by the day job. That would be a shame. Most of my stories originated within the hours when worth is measured by a time-clock. At least that’s the story I tell myself when I need a temporary gig.
I think, then, as I wrap this monster up, that the thing to remember is that we are all of us aspiring towards the extraordinary.
This is not an easy, or necessarily “friendly”, field. Neither is the theater industry is a snake-pit either. (Hello Hollywood!) But the journey of the creative spirit continues to ask of us an incredible balance: making art for art’s sake is one thing, commercializing it quite another.
If a theater company is interested in diverse theater, or if a theatre company generally produces plays about/by men, and if I am a white female playwright, do I keep writing the way I have, or do I write more characters of color/or/male? How do we maintain our integrity in our strides to get ahead, be we author, producer, or artistic director, while we also strive to maintain cultural “fairness”?
Or is thinking about it too much a danger of another sort?
As a literary manager, I must remember to value balance – I would not want to see a whole season of plays written by “privileged white men” anymore than I would like to see a wholeseason of just about anything else. The key is to create a balance within the designated aesthetic of any given theater company… And the theatre company itself has every right to decide what that aesthetic is.
My job as playwright then is to try to find theater companies who’s aesthetic matches my own… or even (perhaps) those theatre companies who look to be open for a feminine revolution.
The struggle then continues to be both global and internal; to engage in the community we so want to conquer, but to do so as best we, the individual theatre artist, can. We will continue to juggle our own perspectives of what makes a play “good” and what makes it “necessary” and we will continue to fight for those that stir our convictions.
Meanwhile, there will continue to be conversations among those at the top and between those on the bottom, about how in the world to manage things better…
I guess, what I’m saying is, I can’t wait to be one of those people at the “top” – where the discussion is less about surviving as it is about setting the trends.
I’ve always been a big advocate of “Competition of Self” – what I mean by this is that as I navigate the playwright’s landscape, I may see many people winning accolades that I myself covet, but I truly believe that the only course of action from such observations is to learn from these talented writers as I myself strive to top my last work with the new. I may feel a flash of jealousy or of heartache, but I never think to myself “They won! They beat me!” Instead, I think to myself “DAMNIT! (sigh) Alright… well, what can I learn from this writer so that I can do better next time?”
It’s one of the things that keep me sane.
But, in exploring this week’s train of thought, I have to ask myself who my scripts are in competition with… It’s certainly not the brain-child of Sarah Ruhl or Martin McDonough! While I like to think I write on par with them (don’t we all) and while I have been influenced by both, no theater in their right mind is currently weighing my playscript and one of, oh, say David Lindsay-Abaire’s, in their hands wondering “Gee, I wonder which we should go with.” Because I’m simply not a big enough fish yet to be part of that kind of decision. Instead, my scripts are sitting in piles with other “emerging” playwrights – those that have a few awards under their belts, but no BIG productions… yet. We are engaged in silent battle for desk space and shelf space… We go head-to-head for literary manager’s time and interest…
We playwrights just aren’t present to witness the literary carnage.
And so, we send out scripts to various competitions, hoping that we’ll win a reading or a ribbon, or, if we’re lucky, some kind of travel or monetary prize… OR, if we’re really lucky, an airline ticket stuffed with cash all wrapped in ribbons and trade magazine announcements exclaiming our brain-child a total GENIUS…
Yeah, that happens.
But the point is, we hope we will win accolades so that we can use the 5-seconds of fame to edge out the other scripts in that “emerging” pile to the left of the Lit Manager’s elbow. (The pile that sits depressingly close to the lip of the desk and the gaping mouth of the trashcan…)
So what happens when a theatre company run by someone like that first artistic director endeavors to fill slots according to a cross-cultural quota? Does such thinking narrow the question from “Who’s the best playwright?” to “Who’s the best Latino playwright? Who’s the best Woman playwright?” or “Who’s the best transgender-African -American-who-walks-with-a-limp playwright?”
And is it helpful?
I don’t know the answer… I wear enough hats to recognize that it’s overly complicated. There have been times when, in reading a winning script, I’ve scratched my head and thought to myself “Jesus, I wish I had thought of this!” And there have been times when I’ve looked over lists of contest winners that read like a United Nations meeting, but included plays that I had actually turned away for (what I perceived to be) poor writing. I’ve been on both sides of the selecting and entering… and I still don’t have an answer.
Because I want to believe that the best man or woman will reach the stage. I want to believe that if I keep growing as an artist, if I keep writing and dreaming and running this race, that my work will be recognized, produced, and applauded regardless of my gender or (lack of) ethnicity. I want to believe that I will get there on merit…
But as a woman playwright who is all-to-aware of the numbers before her, I will also take any advantage I can get.
I will enter contests designed to honor female playwrights, and I will challenge any contest or theatre company that seems to eschew balance in (perceived) favor to male playwrights over female. I will also look at a list like that one from the “UN” and sigh with frustration – What were the parameters of their evaluation if not totally and irritatingly PC?
Because I want it both ways.
And it all speaks to the one achingly human truth – no matter the rules or the designations, we are all of us reaching and scraping for the finish line. It’s a business, it’s a dream, it’s a damned difficult trail. We try to find the best shoes to get us there… sometimes they’re ugly, but if they get us there…
Well, more often than not (and no matter their “how”) we will defend those shoe’s merits to the death.
Because that goal, that gold, that rising above the tides to be seen, heard, my GOD, produced? Doesn’t it seem built on a lot of hard spilt blood and tears all the same? Isn’t it the mountain we look down on, and not our feet, even as we focus our eyes on the next looming peak?
I was more than happy to be a fill-in blogger this week, my imagination already percolating with a crock-pot of thought… Then I went and started a new job… the capitalist inside of me (and lets face it, the survivalist as well) is veeeeery happy to be (finally! Hallelujah) earning a paycheck at last. The artist inside is a bit nervous about the next two weeks of “project necessary full-time-ness.”
Even though I know it’s only two weeks of this 40-hour business, my little muse is shaking in her boots at all the writing she may not get done… and it’s not necessarily that she was projecting a wordsmithing windfall, it’s just that now, if she does want to bury herself in verbage, she’s going to have to do so late into the night…
And so it goes… the starving artist taking what she can, cobbling together a patchwork type of life made of imagination, tender typing, and hard-earned bread.
In any case, I’m going to amuse you today with this little gem a dear friend forwarded to me (see below for link) – it’s an acceptance speech by Joss Whedon (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Serenity, Firefly) as he receives an award from Equality Now, an organization his mother founded to support women. He is being honored for creating so many strong women characters, and I think the things he says about his choice in creating these wonderful roles are very moving and inspiring! Just the type of fodder for a good Monday start.
I’ve been trying to decide if I want to go back to grad school.
There are several factors involved: I haven’t been able to land a job (other than the part time, odd and ends, type jobs – Census, PA work, etc.) I recently interviewed for an English Faculty position but was told that my lack of coursework in the English field (countless playwriting classes & MFA not-withstanding) was under-impressive, and, well, let’s face it – School is Cool and I’d like to spend some more time in that soft scholarly nest.
But then the inevitable question arises: What would I study?
It seems that the degrees I am most drawn to are the ones with the least stability: Film studies, directing, screenwriting, photography. In these fields I have great diligence and passion. Pursuing an English degree, even just a Masters, seems like… welll, a lot of work.
But don’t I work hard already? Aren’t I used to “difficult”? Don’t I eat, sleep, and breathe “challenge” by the very nature of my chosen path; playwriting?
I will spend countless hours at my desk, for days on end, tapping out a play or outline or treatment, I can work tirelessly on my photography/art without giving bathroom breaks and tea-time a second though. But the moment I start to think “maybe I should go get a practical degree with all this free time currently on my hands”, my hearts starts to skip a beat and I get sweaty all over.
Am I that stubborn and artistically crazed that I truly can only bear to do that which I love? Or is it the fear that all this time spent in pursuit of my dreams will be jeopardized or minimized by “realistic” time-lines? If I were to get an MA in English, would I really then go crazy trying to get a teaching position in that field, or would I just graduate with the paperwork, another loan in the hole, and get back to my playwriting – get back to chasing after theater faculty positions?
It’s enough to make a girl go a little, well, crazy.
But you know where a girl can really lose her mind and not worry too much about it? Film school…