“Life is more fun if you play games.” -Roald Dahl
We often defeat ourselves with our attitude. Something troubles us and we see it as a burden. If you’ve got a problem, make it a game. Bend, mold, twist, and turn it in your favor. And have fun. The best part of life is figuring it out.
Yesterday I went back through the play I wrote over the summer to make some additional edits as I prep it for playwriting fellowship applications. It is a deeply personal work that is layered with lots of bits and pieces of me inside all of the characters.
Many are pieces I am not especially proud of. They are bits that often feel like microscopic shards of glass that I step on over and over again. The hardest part of writing it has been to see the light, the humor, and the release, even in the moments of the play that portray incredible pain and sadness.
People have asked me if it’s a comedy or a tragedy. There are bright spots, and dark spots. It’s happy and sad and happy again. It’s a roller coaster. It’s a different ride for each character because they all know something different. Want something different. Feel something different. They each live the same set of circumstances and yet each has a different lens on them. They’re all trying to heal. They’re all trying to survive the plot and emerge from the other side a better person. It’s a lot like real life. It’s messy, and beautiful, all at once.
This summer I’m taking my first shot at writing a full-length play. It’s challenging, heartfelt work based on a story that’s been rattling around in my mind for over a decade. I’m not sure what I’d do without my friend, Trevin, who has supported the idea since I first mentioned it to him earlier this year and has read the very first words formally put to page. In a 30 minute FB chat, I learned more about playwriting from him than I did in an 8-hour playwriting intensive class that I took a few months ago.
By the end of my time in LA, I plan to have a completed first draft and new insights into my own life and skills as a writer. Already, I’ve learned so much in this process and I’m only one scene into the play. We have to keep challenging ourselves in our craft, whatever our craft is. We have to push our boundaries. And we have to ask for help from those who are able to support and guide us in our new endeavors. Whatever the outcome of this play, writing it alone will make me a better person. And that’s what art is all about – it’s a means to improve ourselves from the inside out.
“Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. Buenas noches, mis amigos! I am delighted to be here with you this evening because after listening to George Bush all these years, I figured you needed to know what a real Texas accent sounds like. Twelve years ago, Barbara Jordan, another Texas woman, made the keynote address to this convention – and two women in 160 years is about par for the course. But, if you give us a chance, we can perform. After all, Ginger Rogers did everything that Fred Astaire did. She just did it backwards and in high heels.” ~ Ann Richards, then-Governor of Texas, at the 1988 Democratic National Convention
The play Ann, now at Lincoln Center through September 1st, opens with this quote delivered via archival video footage of the late great Ann Richards. And though this about sums up her vibrant, spit-fire, take-no-prisoners, gutsy, straight-shooting, truth-in-comedy personality, it is nothing short of an absolute delight to see the brilliant Holland Taylor portray her on stage for two hours in one of the finest one-person shows I’ve ever seen. I was enthralled from beginning to end. Taylor also conceived of the idea and wrote the play, which I find even more remarkable than her stunning performance.
Within two hours, I learned so much about her life and legacy. I laughed. And laughed and laughed. A lot. And then I cried a little when I realized how wonderful she was, how rare she was, in politics and in the public eye in general, and how I will never get the chance to meet her in person. This play made me believe that I did know her, and that’s how everyone felt about Ann. She was exactly who she was, all the time, in front of everyone. From humble house wife to Governor of Texas, she was someone to be reckoned with and yet everyone had to find her charming, regardless of whether or not they disagreed with her. I wanted to have her over for dinner and I definitely wanted her in my corner.
She was a stronger advocate for women, all women everywhere, than anyone else in the public sphere has ever been. And though I’ll never have the chance to know her, I did take away one great comfort. Madeleine Albright once said that there is a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women. I believe that the converse must also be true. There is a special place in heaven for women who do help other women. Therefore, I’m certain that Ann Richards is looking down on all of us, cheering us on, bolstering us up, and encouraging us to fly higher than even our own dreams dare imagine. Even death can’t stop that kind of indomitable spirit. And for that I am both grateful and inspired.
Go see Ann. Two hours in her company, and Taylor’s, and you’ll walk out of the theatre and into the world a little taller, a little prouder, and a whole lot more determined to do something extraordinary. (If you’d like to read Ann’s convention speech in its entirety, click here.)
I grew up in the dirt, literally. There was (and still is) a tractor crossing sign across the street from the house where I grew up. My rural hometown fostered a childhood that involved climbing trees and making mud pies. When I was little, I was convinced that there was a dinosaur skeleton hiding under the ground in my backyard. I enlisted my sister, Weez, to help me dig and dig and dig. All we found was a small mouse skeleton, but I thought it was clearly a prehistoric mouse! Other kids wanted to be doctors, firefighters, or teachers. I wanted to be a paleontologist. I still do.
My childhood was far from idyllic, but there were some very positive things about growing up in the sticks. I got my hands dirty in the process of making things. I ate organic food because that’s really all there was, not because it was trendy. Animals were my friends and companions, as much as people. Maybe even more than people. I learned to appreciate the Earth, her majesty and her power. Weather was a way of life, and I still watch it with fascination and wonder.
An article in the New York Times last weekend talked about a movement in this fine and fair city I now call home to bring more nature into the lives of city kids not by taking them out of the city, but by bringing nature to them. Brooklyn Forest, a husband and wife startup, “takes toddlers into Prospect Park to promote learning through creative play like building teepees out of branches.” 7 students were in their first class. Now there are over 200. More people are eager to get into mud these days; I was a pioneer.
There’s something to be said for the slow life, the life we build rather than the life we buy shrink-wrapped and delivered right to our doorstep. Creation builds confidence and bolsters the imagination. It makes us self-sufficient. I’m all for it, for our children and for us. There’s a lot of beauty down there in the mud.
Yesterday I took a playwriting class. I started my career in theatre management so it’s a genre that I worked in and around for many years. I’d like to get back to it, but in a different way this time. I’m not sure if that means as a writer so I thought I would take this opportunity to explore the option. Also, I have a story I’d like to tell and as much as I tried to put it into narrative form, it’s meant to be seen as well as heard.
There were a lot of nuggets of knowledge in the class. I learned about dramatic structure, character development, story arc, and the role of timing. It gave me enough to get started. And that was perhaps the most valuable piece of insight.
Our instructor urged us to get going and finish as soon as possible. Dump a first draft out on the page in a month, 2 months tops. Don’t worry if it’s messy, disjointed, and rough around all of its edges. Just…get…it….out before it looses steam, before you get too scared to have the story you need to tell stare back at you. This is a time to be hasty, as hasty as humanly possible.
What’s true for playwriting is also true for so many projects in life. I firmly believe that we hold ourselves back far too often. We become so intentional, so purposeful that we lose sight of the joy found in spontaneity. We worry too much about failure, and when we’re done with that we worry too much about success. We have all kinds of reasons for not doing something we really want to do – most of them are rubbish.
There will be time to refine, time to tweak and fix and finesse. But that time is not at the start of trying something new, it’s not at the beginning of the beginning. As hard as it may be, put your perfectionism aside. Calm your mind by reminding yourself that no one has to see your first draft of anything. You don’t even need to tell anyone you’re creating a first at all. Just begin. Start. Try. Play. Make a mess. Now. There is no time like the present.
Yesterday the play that’s been in my head for over a decade began to take shape on a page – a yellow legal pad in blue ink. I needed to see this beginning in my own hand rather than in uniform lettering on my laptop screen. It feels more deliberate, more personal in my own scrawl.
Stories stuck in the mind of storytellers serve no one. For stories to be useful, we must share them with others. Put them out into the world and let the world have at it. Some people would prefer to run naked through Times Square than put ink to page and let others critique their ideas. I understand this sentiment. It took me a long time to be comfortable with critique, mostly because I was fairly beaten up by criticism early on in life. As I grow older, I realize what a gift it can be. I have enough conviction and confidence now to keep only those critiques that improve my work. I let the others roll away as if I have a Teflon shield around me.
This play is one of the things I’ll be crafting into the new year. 2013 will be a year of making, a year of thoughtful and purposeful creation for me. More details to come as we wind down the month of December and turn our collective and hopeful gaze toward January.
I’m very certain you have some kind of story in your head, too. In 2013, I hope you’ll take up your pen, get it down, and share it with the world. We’re all ears.
For several weeks, I’ve been combing my bookshelves for activities to incorporate into my LIM College class on social media marketing. I wanted games to drive home the information in unconventional, interactive ways. I went to my theatre books, my business books, and my books filled with writing exercises. Nothing seemed quite right. And then O’Reilly Media sent me Gamestorming. It felt like a gift out of the sky. My anxiety about the class diminished a bit more with every page.
Gamestorming details games that engage groups, both large and small, in learning and discovery. They work in corporations and in schools, and I’d like to add that they are a valuable tool for navigating just about any decision and complication in life. I found myself noting in nearly every margin how to use each game. The clear, concise description, depictions, and plan for each took a great deal of thought and care from the authors.
The metaphor of life as a game is well worked over. The trouble with the game of life is that there are no rules. You don’t make them and neither does anyone else. They change from moment to moment, and the rule that seemed to work today may never be useful again. We are forced in every situation to think on our feet. Gamestorming gives us more confidence and empowers us to take our futures in our own hands. Get it here.
With such beautiful weather in New York today, I headed to the park to continue reading Street Gang: The Complete History of Sesame Street. At the start of chapter 16, Michael Davis opens with the line “sometimes life in like the movies, a story in 3 acts.” I’ve been thinking about that line, particularly with respect to my post from yesterday about being in a state of flux with a dash of confusion.
Davis reminded me that in act 2, there is always a series of challenges that the protagonist has to work through. I wonder now at the ripe old age of 33 if I’m at the tail end of the first act or have just entered the second act of my life. This slight act of separation, some might call it delusion, helped me think a little more clearly today. I’m able at this moment to step away from my life a bit, and just observe what’s happening in context of a broader set of possible outcomes.
It also helps to know that in every great story there are always twists and turns, that few if any read like fairy tales of sweetness and light. There are fairy tale moments, though they tend to not be the ones that are the most interesting or insightful. The trade-off for learning and insight is often a bit of struggle and discomfort. It involves rising when all we feel like doing is laying low. It asks us to be greater spirits than we believe we can be.
Surviving and thriving through act 2 requires us to take a deep breathe, several if necessary, put our heads down, and get to work, on ourselves and on the exterior circumstances that effect us so that we can sail into act 3, riding high, wiser and more certain of our direction. It helps if our co-stars, friends and family, can help us – a protagonist rarely appears in act 3 triumphant as an island. Guides and assistance often appear as the plot lines intertwine with growing complications, exactly when we need them.
A story takes a while to unravel, to reveal itself to the audience, and to the protagonist. There will be moments of confusion and tough choices to make. It’s all part of the drama and the comedy; it’s all part of life.