“Write your manifesto!,” playwrights are told. “Know what you want to say!” Marsha Norman talks about “the lost girl” being her bailiwick; Tennessee Williams was brilliant at damaged people of interesting sexual bents; Lillian Hellman cornered the market on greed and its aftermath…
Never mind that many seldom have enough life-experience to know who they are or what they think on any but the most superficial of levels. Understanding what you’re about is not something you’re born knowing. However! one must declare!, even to avail oneself of early (and by “early,” I mean tertiary-level) educational opportunities, not to mention the hotly contested professional opps. Like Dorothy Gale of Kansas, we cannot know what’s interesting much less universal about ourselves until we’ve lived enough to find out. A colleague recently posted on social media that he was young and white and despaired of having anything to write about. He is far more self-aware than most, and if he has true moxie, he’ll stop sharing his writing until he formulates or discovers something unique, interesting, transformational that demands to be said.
But I digress.
Even seven years ago (when I became a playwright) I was already well into the second half of life, with quite a bit of experience on many levels and topics under my proverbial belt. Over time I’ve written countless essays and manifesti and explanations and apologia in aid of submissions and applications to developmental opportunities and schools and contests and conferences, and each time, I wrote true things about what interested me, about what I was trying to do or hoping to gain or share or all of the above.
The fun thing is, I never guessed what was driving it all. But just this morning, I had a d’oh! moment.
A few weeks ago, I wrote a proposal for a fellowship which would culminate in my directing a play. When answering what project might interest me and why, I discovered the hole at my center. We all have one, an inner space, an absence that drives us throughout our lives, not necessarily damage, but an opening, if you will, a soulular viaduct. We go about the filling of that space in myriad ways, most to assuage but artists in particular tend to explore as well.
In today’s emailed discussions with a research-colleague, I realized that in every single thing I’ve written – a dozen full-length works and more than 40 shorter plays – there is an underlying theme, a curiosity, a drive-to-understand. And, yes, to fill. Oddly, I don’t write to soothe myself (or others), but to open more questions that, yes, might lead to a modicum of comfort, but might lead farther into the woods.
So. I’ll write my manifesto now, and have a much easier time with the varying supporting-materials requirements of those upcoming conferences and workshops and opps. Maybe I don’t even need to write it, maybe defining it narrowly will stunt future creativity. Or frustrate me so that I’ll have to break out of that narrow box and back into the larger, simpler question. The one that drives my life. Because it does drive my life – in another conversation about ten minutes ago, I was led to understand that this is a question I’ve been examining one way and another since a very small child.
Isn’t that the writer’s journey, anyway? Finding out who the heck we are? And helping others do the same?
So happy manifesto-writing, y’all. Or not. Enjoy the journey.