Thursday, January 27, 2011

Playwriting meets Buffy (or, my battle with a demon)

Sunday evening, a mere few hours after I wrote my last blog post, I battled a demon.  It wasn't nearly as glamorous and exciting a showdown as those between Buffy (the Vampire Slayer) and Spike (the Vampire), but my relationship with my demon does have some parallels:  he appeared early on in my development and keeps coming back, over and over again; we fight viciously most every time we meet, though now and then in a fit of uncontrolled passion we have a good roll in the hay instead. But either way we both always walk away a little battered and bruised, and I can never seem to actually kill him (or him me).

My demon isn't nearly as sexy as Spike, though he can be very alluring.  He makes promises of success, fame, fortune, untold doors opening, endless possibilities that might come within my reach if I would only take his hand and tango.  But I know this demon and I know the toll he almost always exacts from me if I follow, and thus I must fight him.  Again. And again.  And again. 

Unrealistic expectations.

I had set myself a very, very ambitious goal before the new year of finishing a rewrite of my play by Feb 15th.  (I was invited by a producer to submit my play for a reading series she is curating, and that is the due date.)  My original plan was to start that immediately after the new year, which would have given me 6 weeks to do it.  Highly highly ambitious, but not actually impossible.  I was on track -- I met with my playwriting coach on January 3rd, walked away with a whole new vision for how to address the main problem with the play, and was ready to dive in.

But then... life happened.   Between work I had to do for my voice studio and being horribly sick, by the time I was ready to start writing, I was faced with a ludicrously unrealistic deadline of completing a full-scale rewrite in just three weeks.  Rather than feeling motivated to get cracking, I found myself resisting writing at all.  I was at a standstill, neither moving forward nor content with taking a break.  It was time for a showdown between me and my expectations.  It went a little something like this.

Me: It's just not possible.  There is no way I can finish a rewrite in just 3 weeks.

Demon: Of course it's possible, if you just devote every waking minute and many of those minutes you waste sleeping to it.  What happened to the woman who got up at 6 am to write before going to the gym before going to work?  

Me: That woman burned herself out pretty badly -- remember how sick I've been for the last few weeks?  That's what happens when I go long stretches -- like a whole YEAR -- without enough sleep.  I can't do that again, at least not yet.  I'm still recovering.

Demon: You're lazy.  You clearly don't want this. 

Me: Yes I do. I just have other things I want too, like--

Demon:  If you really wanted this, you wouldn't be wasting time on other things.  This is a big producer, she likes you for some strange reason, she is interested in your work, how can you possibly miss this opportunity to send her your play?  

Me: Even if I do what you say and I somehow manage to finish a draft, I won't have time to hear it out loud to make sure it really works; to polish it and make sure I'm sending her something good.  I don't want to ruin this opportunity by sending her something that isn't ready.  

Demon: Now you're just making excuses.

Me: No I'm not!  Part of being professional in this business is knowing when your work is ready to be seen.  She'll respect that and I'm sure there will be another chance.

Then my demon leans in close and whispers in my ear, his fangs piercing the skin just above my jugular:

Demon: You're sure, are you?  What if this is your one shot?  What if this was the universe opening a magic door for you that you were supposed to walk through, and if you don't, it will close forever and you will never get to be a real playwright and you won't even know what your life could have been if you had only--


Because at this point my demon has reduced me to a self-deprecating, depressed, pathetic puddle of inadequacy, "shut up" is about the sharpest rebuttal I can come up with.  He's a little startled by my sudden adolescent outburst, and steps back, long enough for me to get behind a barrier and regroup.  I hold a cloth to my neck to staunch the blood flow, gather what little bit of strength I have left, and look him wearily in the eyes.

Me: Then I guess that's just the chance I'm going to have to take.  I'm only human, unlike you, and there is only so much I can do.

I walk away, wounded, weary, and not entirely sure even I believe myself.  I look back over my shoulder and see the demon following me, but he keeps his distance.  He looks a little dejected himself -- perhaps he doesn't like it when I remind him he's not human.  Or maybe he just feels sorry for me.

With the demon temporarily off my back, I was actually able to face the blank page without a well of anxiety filling within me that I'd never finish in time.  Thus it was that Sunday night and Monday, I completed an outline of the next draft of my play, and sent it off to my coach for feedback.  I like some of the discoveries I made, and I think the rewrite will actually flow pretty quickly once I begin writing it.  I'm also left with room now for seizing other opportunities, like writing a 10-page play incorporating a Grimm Fairy Tale for a cooperative project at my new writing school, ESPA.  If selected, I'll get to work with actors and directors from the school, and my writing will actually be seen by people at a real theater company.  I've already chosen a fairy tale, have the 4 characters named and pictured in my head and have a basic idea of the outline of the story.  I'm really looking forward to writing something completely new for a bit.

I slyly pick up a rock and quickly turn and hurl it at my demon.  See?  There will be other opportunities.

The demon catches the rock.  You haven't been selected yet. Heck, you haven't even written it yet. 

And we both trudge on into the night.
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