Being an artist is very very scary. Being an artist with diagnosed GAD (Generalized Anxiety Disorder), MDD (Major Depressive Disorder), and IBS (you don’t want to know) just adds to the creative panic pile.
I’m pretty sure everyone in theatre/writing/visual art/music/miming/leather treatment/decorative book binding/artisanal soapmaking experiences the paralyzing possibility that anything they make will be superfluous garbage. Plenty of humans don’t feel defined by what they do and are content to figure out what they enjoy as time goes on but don’t feel destined to anything specific. I don’t necessary think myself Fated to be a great writer, but I maybe feel Fated to try to be one. As much as I want to fall in love, maybe make some kids, and travel, I’ve always felt like sharing stories is my big Purpose.
Consequently, displaying any sincere attempts at that Purpose feels like peeling my skin off in front of everyone I respect and/or envy. I do this hoping that people will observe my beating heart, but fearing what they’ll notice instead are the globby orange fat deposits like the ones in that cadaver frog from 11th grade that make me gag if I think about it for too long. If it turns out that I’m untalented, or even just mediocre, then who am I? And what the what do I do with the rest of my life?
For a while, I thought it was just me who dreaded doing the thing I most loved, and then I heard “Die Vampire Die” from [title of show] and realized that all creative people experiences this confusion of terror and joy.
I used to have similar misconceptions about athletics. I thought surely running felt easy for the girls who finished the timed mile a good six minutes ahead of me (sadly not a humorous exaggeration, merely a pitiful fact). But when I asked one such sexy track girl if running hurt for her too, she replied with a big old, “Duh.” Writing is the same way. Even though it’s the thing I most want to do and have done often, writing a first draft makes me feel as if my fingernails are getting ripped with pliers wielded in turns by every unrequited crush I’ve ever had.
Yet, for every hundred sessions of hair-pulling frustration in coffee shops, pre-dawn typing sessions through tears, and hour-long showers spent sobbing “I don’t have what it takes!” without irony, you get a day like the one I had in San Angelo when my play got its first major stage reading.
I’m excessively proud of my chalk calligraphy here.
I’ve spent most of my life thinking of myself as A Writer without any complete extracurricular works to back up that identity. Attempting my first full-length play initially felt like a fun idea to be inevitably abandoned, much like the 873 unfinished anime pilot scripts once stored in my 1997 Dell. I clearly remember the afternoon I first started scribbling dialogue for what would become Bury Me on a legal pad while I sat in a warm patch of September sunlight on the driveway of my dumpy rental house.
Time passed, pages kept filling up, but in the back of my head I assumed that eventually I’d lose focus, or fail to keep the plot going, or disintegrate into a steaming pile of self-doubt and half-digested Cheetos Puffs. But somehow (or maybe because of?) my first big heartbreak, a baffling stint of binge-drinking and half-assed hookups, several depressive meltdowns, the graduation of my class (minus me), and a lonely, sticky summer spent cocktail waitressing and hating my life, I finished a first draft of agoddamn play. A whole 80 pages of shit that I wrote! I was hell bent on submitting it to a competition to get my ass to the American College Theatre Festival, and, thanks to Dr. Kae Koger, Queen of Encouragement, I met the deadline.
Just looking at this picture makes me want to cry.
I ended up treating that afternoon sort of like a wedding. My wedding, to…..art? Writing put a ring on it, guys! Every new audience member who walked into the reading filled me up with joy like a lady-shaped balloon. Greeting everyone at the end sure felt like a receiving line. I couldn’t stop taking pictures. You spend so many hours making a play in your head–hearing voices, positioning bodies–then there it is in front of you, and, if you’re lucky enough to get the right people reading the roles (I was) it’s better than you imagined. It is vulnerable and bizarre and magical. Also vindicating, since I made a room full of adults cry (and gasp!!!) with stuff I made up.
Admittedly there’s a huge aspect of ego to feeling like I’m a Writer, but I’m not convinced that’s a bad thing. Maybe it cancels out how much I hate myself for chronically oversleeping/overeating/overdrinking/sometimes forgetting not to pick my nose in public/farting the farts of death.
But more than boosting my self-esteem, that day gave me a sense that, yes, I have correctly identified my Purpose.
For this nugget of certainty, I have lots of people to thank:
Connor Konz, the only person I trusted to read my first draft, for delicately delivering honest feedback in a way that my baby-bird-writer-self could handle
My parents, for their simple certainty that I am supposed to be doing this
Laura Jacqmin, mentor/role model/guardian angel, for nudging me to get going on a full-length already
Dr. Kae Koger, Purple Queen of Dramaturgy, for reading and annotating my first draft in two motherf***ing days and for believing in me even when I kept showing up thirty minutes late to class with my hair unwashed
Shah of Persia Rena Cook and Tom Huston Orr (aka Zedekai) for agreeing to let me tag along to San Angelo for a bonus week of barely-post-grad education
Christy Cobelens, for giving me the seed that grew into this play
Kyle Bradford, for driving two hours just to see my first table read and convincing me to opt for the alternate ending (SUCH a good call dude)
Sammy, for (however unwittingly) inspiring so much of the story and giving me the experiences I need to write it truthfully
Everyone who came to a reading, including the two ACTF respondents Jeanette Farr and David Blakely who spent an hour sharing their thoughts with us, and especially John Steele for inviting basically every person on campus with whom he made eye contact
Also my sweet angel playwriting classmates forletting me monopolize a whole day of class
My casts from the first table read and the San Angelo stage reading – Lindsey Marsland, Chandler Ryan, Suzy Weller, Meghan Flood, Madison Edwards, Jon Clothier, Scott Johnson, Chase Durrett, and Jessie Mahon. The readings couldn’t have happened without your gorgeous enthusiasm for my word-baby. I am awed and humbled by the ways you made my imaginary friends real.