Friday, October 21, 2011

Labor Intensive (or: Playwriting as Therapy, again)

I feel like I just went through labor.  Apologies to all the actual mothers out there - I certainly don't mean to trivialize what you have all gone through - but this scene I just finally finished writing was an intense, prolonged labor.  I have struggled with it all week and it just wouldn't come and wouldn't come, I would only get little bits at a time, and I could scarcely believe last night that after several days of working on it I only had 4 pages.  4 pages I wasn't even sure I could use.  I was wishing there was some pill I could take to induce labor to speed this along, to get this damn thing out of me.

It's a simple scene, really, and of which I have written at least half a dozen previous versions, so I didn't know why it was giving me so much trouble.  Angie is confronting Vivian (her mother) over what to do with Frank (her grandfather) who can no longer live by himself.  Two days ago I realized that there was a big gaping whole in my backstory that I thought might be causing the block in the scene.  Angie was really wanting to fight with Vivian over her handling of this, but I couldn't figure out why.  I knew it had something to do with how Vivian had reacted to Angie's brother's suicide 2 years before, but wasn't sure what. I realized I had never really figured out the full force of the impact that death would have had on them and their relationship.

So I spent most of the day yesterday writing backstory, just free-form writing in Vivian's voice.  I figured out a bunch of stuff, including the source of Angie's anger.  And when I identified Angie's anger, I realized something else: her anger is my own, a deep-seated issue from my childhood.  It's something I am at peace with now (thank you, therapy), but nonetheless it still stirred up a whole bunch of emotions for me.  I think now part of my block for writing the scene was not wanting to stir up that pot. 

One line emerged last night that summed up both her feelings and mine: "I'm the baby of the family but somehow I always have to be the fucking grown-up!" As soon as I wrote that line, the whole scene unblocked, and I was able to finish it today. Still the most painstaking 10 pages of this draft so far, but at least I got to the end of it.   I'm not sure it's good -- I will have to step away from it before I can really tell that -- but I think it is.  (And I hope it is, cause I'd really rather not have to do it all again).

People often ask me if this story is autobiographical.  It's not.  None of these characters are people in my family, none of these events happened to us like this.  But there are definitely parts of it, parts of each of these people and their struggles, that are emotionally autobiographical. This was clearly one of them.
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