I recently attended a public reading by a working playwright who also happens to be the director of the MFA creative writing program I graduate from next month. It is this program that has opened my eyes to the power of dialogue, point of view as social comment, Aristotle’s Poetics and Bertolt Brecht. Any one of which would have been worth the price of admission. There is a well-known saying that those that can’t do, teach. And those that can’t act, direct. Then there are individuals like our director who prove these words wrong by presenting evidence they are capable of doing it all well. I’m still looking for the writer who can’t drink, but until I locate that elusive unicorn we’ll go with what I know.
At the aforementioned reading, Director read from his latest work in progress, a play engagingly titled We Started Without You. I overhear conversations all the time between writers who confess they struggle with titles. Once I even heard an author say an entire book had been completed and even received an advance, but still had only its working title. The writer revealed that the publisher was pressing for a better one or else they’d come up with one on their own before publication. I can only speak for myself, but the thought of someone who isn’t me naming my work would clear my mind quicker than Miralax clears a colon. That’s not to say I haven’t spent my share of time staring at a blank computer screen. I’ve just never experienced that particular blockage where my writing is concerned. It makes me wonder if maybe there’s a niche market to be exploited where one can earn a living thinking up titles for blocked writers.
The title of Director’s play refers to words in a note discovered at the scene of a suicide. The play’s protagonist is unable to sleep since her neighbor plunged to her death from an open window, and the cryptic words left behind form one more enigma surrounding the tragedy. The great thing about the Director’s reading was that despite the seemingly dark theme, the portion read aloud was hilarious, vivid writing that consistently hit its mark. Sitting in the audience I couldn’t help but identify with the character’s plight even while laughing at the surreal mayhem. It served to remind me that it is in the writer’s hands to create a universe that is at once recognizable and yet wholly apart from everyday reality.
Such is the thrill of writing. It’s clear that as technology soars, it is a thrill more and more people seek to feel. In this current golden age of self-publishing, anyone with anything to say has the ability to unleash their thoughts, platinum or tarnished, upon the reading public without censor or limitation. Sidestepping the traditionally competitive world of agents, editors and literary journals, a motivated writer can still find a platform. Or many platforms. This is a boon for self-expression. The anti-boon is that too often quality is upstaged by quantity. There are no filters to sift out the banal, the derivative fluff, the pompous manifestos. For serious writers, the challenge to reach hard-copy print is upped.
As school ends and the next part of my future begins, I am attempting to enter print publishing at a time when bookstores are closing faster than Apple releases new iPhones. The next big thing might very well be reducing literature to condensed versions which readers can use to consider themselves well read or determine whether it’s worth their time to read the complete work. I fear that too many will decide the short version is enough. Sadly, writers that register complaints about this state of affairs run the risk of sounding curmudgeonly. Like oldsters talking about how deep the snow was in their day and how many miles they had to walk in it to get to school. Nobody wants to hear that. Unless it’s worded hip and clever and published in the only book it can be certain everyone is reading, Facebook.
On a spring break trip to Tucson we discovered San Xavier Del Bac, a 17th century mission that rises out of the Tohono O’odham Indian Reservation in southern Arizona