Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Way back in my sophomore year of college, I was in this creative writing class. We'd write up an assignment every few weeks and when your turn came around you'd "workshop" your poem or short story or whatever. That is, you'd print out copies of your work for everyone in the class and you'd read it aloud like it's second grade or something and then there's a constructive criticism portion of the evening where everyone tells you how awesome your clumsy, self-indulgent prose is. It never suited me very well, largely because I suffered from chronic writer's block during that period of my life — a period which started around tenth grade and continues to this day.

One of our assignments was to write the first eight or ten pages of a one-act play, which is exactly the type of assignment I despise. In the first few pages of a play, all you're doing is setting some crazy shit up to happen later on, like Chekhov's gun in act one, and I need those remaining pages to prove to my classmates that I'm actually going somewhere with this crap and I'm not just a freaky gun-firing militia nut, metaphorically speaking. I find that this chronic writer's block I'm suffering is a good way to avoid having my innermost thoughts judged. So, back then, I procrastinated, till I had about five hours before my turn to present and the following brilliant verbiage down on the page:

[untitled play]

by jay harris

act one

scene 1
you can see how, even in my early years, i eschewed the artistic banality that is upper case.

Then suddenly, miraculously, the muses smiled upon me and in a fit of logorrhea, a play emerged from my pen, fully-formed, like Athena springing forth from Zeus's head. We workshopped it to rave reviews, which doesn't surprise me since you could vomit on a piece of paper and pass it around the workshop and everybody would come up with something positive to say about it. ("The color of this puke: I really think it makes your characters resonate with me.") I'd like to tell you more about my play, but I really don't know what to say. I believe my play is either really good or really pretentious, and I'm inclined to think it's the latter. It's this sort of surreal, hysterical-realism hodgepodge with more references to the "meaning of life" than could possibly be healthy for a young playwright, although its superficial depth definitely appealed to the workshopping folks. There was this one girl, Sasha, who commented something like this to me, "You know, I don't really know what you're trying to do with this, but I feel like you do," which more or less sums up the problem: I have no freaking clue what my play is about either.

Despite that, I've gotten a lot of mileage out of my play, workshopping it in three different college creative writing classes while being too stuck on my magnum opus to complete anything new. Now, I've learned that there this theater group near my home and they hold workshops for "emerging" and "undiscovered" playwrights. I was on the phone last week with the guy in charge, and he told me to send along something I've written and he'll see if I'm worthy of joining their little writers' circle or if I totally suck. And it's been three years now, and the only thing I've got written is this sophomoric drama. I've become obsessed with polishing it up, which is a very sad, futile process. I'll spend hours agonizing over a single word — should I use "overwhelmed"? "Deluged"? "Engulfed"? — while helpless over the play's huge pink-elephant problems. The characters are distant and unrelatable. The play has no articulable raison d'ĂȘtre. I use obscure and esoteric storytelling techniques that are inappropriate to the material, whatever it is....

Now that I actually write that out, I'm not sure what I'm worried about. Sounds like all "modern art". I'm sure they'll love it.


Chailyn Cole Runewood said...

*snerks* You know, you have a point there. Somewhere along the way someone decided "art" meant "nonsensical."