In 1986, I enlisted into the Army, going through Basic Training at Fort Dix in the dead of winter was a shock to my system to say the least. “You have three orders soldier: 1. Do as you’re told. 2. Do as you’re told. 3. Do as you’re told. Stay alert, stay alive!” An onslaught of training, 4 am wake ups, alerts, and “hurry up and wait” was the norm. It seemed that we waited forever for everything and when we weren’t waiting, we were training…hard. Once while waiting in line, I asked a drill sergeant if I could sleep. “Sure, as long as you remain standing. Do not lean on the wall. Do not lean on your buddy. Stand ‘at ease’ the whole time; you can sleep all you want.” He laughed and walked away. I promptly went to sleep standing two inches from the wall in the ‘at ease’ position just about to start snoring when…. “Is she touching the wall.” “No, she’s about two inches away from it.” “Is she sleep?” “She looks sleep.” “Byrd. Byrd! Are you sleep?” “Yes, drill sergeant. I was sleep. You said I could sleep as long as I didn’t touch the wall.” “How in the ___ are you doing that?” “I don’t know drill sergeant.” “Well, wake up. Looks weird.” “Yes, drill sergeant.”
Sometimes, waiting looks pretty weird when you have to be ready to move at a moment’s notice and you can’t lay down on the job, when you are training for action behind the scenes, and the dedication it takes to wait is as draining as the training itself. Catching a quick rejuvenating nap with your boots on takes skill and focus. Like waiting for transition as a writer, it can take years. You must be diligent; you cannot lose focus. Normally, people don’t wait more than a decade to be able to do what they have been doing all along. Artists, however, wait for as long as it takes. It’s hard to forget the dream when it makes up the very fiber of your being. So, you hurry up and meet those deadlines, finish that play, get to that conference, sit in on that workshop, study that master playwright; you hurry so you won’t be lacking and you wait… You wait on alert status because it’s nearly impossible to put a dream on hold when you can’t go very long without doing that thing you do.
When I wake up in the morning, after my ‘good morning, Lord’, I think about writing. On my way into work, in the middle of Los Angeles traffic, I think about writing. I’ve got a cart I drag into the office full of my research, snippets of plays, and books I may need ‘just in case’ — just in case I should get a moment to write during the day, just in case I get that next line for that piece that’s sort of on the back burner but can’t seem to wait it’s turn; all to do with writing, all to do with who I am as an artist. I am constantly being asked, “What’s in the bag? What’s in the cart? Are you a student?” I’m a writer; I write plays and I don’t give them timeouts for bad behavior, they don’t get vacation, and I don’t have daycare. Every day is “Go to work with Mommy Day.”
Does it matter to you how many perplexed looks cross the faces of people who ask what it is you do when they find out you haven’t had a production in a while but have just started a new play, again? Do you become self conscious, or simply, stand at ease? Because, that is what playwrights do, we write plays, in season and out of season, we write creating worlds peopled with all our good intentions. There is no rule that says, if we don’t get a production every year we must stop and do something else. My thought is that one must be ready, be on alert because one day your gift will make room for you and bring you before great men (male/female) and you would want to have a lot to offer. So, while you are waiting…write…. Build your repertoire…be about the work… Hone your craft…stay on alert status, the alarm will sound and you will need to have your boots on and laced all the way up…