Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Asking Why

Note: So this draft has been sitting in my "to post" pile for a bit and is a little behind where I'm at. So I'm getting it posted now before I get any further behind and try to use the next post to catch up. Enjoy.

For the most part, I'm not a mystical person. Horoscopes tarot, dream interpretation are all fascinating and use bits of pop psychology to seem relevant to our lives and personalities, but aren't logical or legitimate. However, things have been weird and illogical as of late, especially in the realm of my dreams. Yes, yes, I know other people's dreams are boring, though I've never found them so (who said that? Was it Oscar Wilde? It seems like a sort of Oscar Wilde thing to say), but just bear with me here. I dreamt that a friend of mine was angry with me only to have the feeling that dream gave me actually occur during a conversation with them. I had this sort of half-awake dream that a former coworker of mine was engaged and found out that she recently had become so. And for some reason, I'm being asked again and again why I do what I do (in dreams and in my waking hours). Overall, my dreams have been making me question myself which has made the last few weeks rather interesting.

This isn't a post on mysticism or dreams or anything of that nature - I can't explain that and who knows if it's just coincidence or something more. What I'm intrigued by is the sudden onslaught of the question "why" and how fundamentally important it is in what I'm doing right now.
I've always been the person who was too curious for their own good - badgering my parents with questions, talking to professors - well, professors who made me ask "why" - during their office hours, over-analyzing everything and wondering what makes us do things certain. But when it comes to my writing, I haven't always asked myself "why" in the same terms. I know why I do dramaturgy - because I love collaboration and theater and research and history and, to steal a line from "Hamilton" I want to be in the room where it happens - the rehearsal room, in this case. Writing, however, I've been doing a lot longer. Since I was eight or nine. The first thing I remember writing was a retelling of Washington Irving's "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow," in a sort of fan-fiction thing. Writing is something I just started doing because, to use my child logic, I had a lot of words in my head and I needed to do something with them. I started asking, "What if?" with stories and ran with it. It was something I enjoyed and a way to do make-believe on paper and find a way to entertain myself being an only child in a neighborhood of older adults with no young children.

I'm far different person than I was all of those years ago. But writing has remained. It's taken on a whole new meaning for me, one I haven't given much thought in recent years. I write because I write, simple as that. Except it's not.

For those of you just tuning in, I've gone through a huge change since last July. Along with the hurdles of other baggage I was going through, I found myself not wanting to write, not caring about writing, and, well, not caring about a lot of stuff in general. For the first time in really clear, powerful terms, I faced the belief that I was a crappy writer head on. Not from an outside critic, but from myself. This wasn't a new issue - all creators of any kind struggle with ideas that they aren't good enough or wasting their time or bad at what they do. But this was the first time, in regards to writing, that I no longer wanted to do it. I couldn't find a way to express what I was going through, to care about the characters I created. I believed that all my stories and all my characters were dry, boring clones of each other and that I was incapable of writing anything new or interesting or original. (There are certain trends - I tend to have an emotional-repressed females who think they're awkward struggling through something and care strongly about feminism. And often there's an otherworldly element). Worst of all, I felt that those around me didn't see me as a writer but as a silly person with lots of ideas but no where to take them that no one cared to read if I did ever get them down, likely in a sloppy, ill-formed way. For the first time, I wondered what it would be like if I stopped writing. Everything sounded so blasé and bland and boring and I believed that I couldn't write diversity and I couldn't write about anything interesting because a writer can only write what they know and I don't know anything and haven't done anything with my life.

This is a huge steaming pile of shitty lies, though it never sounds like it when I hear it from myself (as Andrew Solomon says, "The truth lies"). I wouldn't have blogged for so long and have people who read this blog if I was an utterly terrible writer. While there are certain trends in my writing that stay the same, my female characters are likely not all the same. And while things get all muddled when you're stuck with them in your head, that doesn't mean that my ideas are boring or uninteresting or not different.

So I've been working through that on my own, while also finally showing my writing to people in a playwriting class, a medium of writing I (sadly) hadn't much explored since high school. This boosted my creativity and got me writing again. And then, just a few weeks ago, I ran into a former coworker of mine on the light rail. I was talking about my writing (I think I'd mentioned my playwriting class) and she asked why I wrote. I was stumped for a moment - why did I write? Wasn't this the very question I'd been struggling with earlier? My coworker was wondering what the point was - if we're all going to die, why do we strive so hard to create something in the hopes that it might outlive us? Doesn't it all feel a bit pointless?

Yes, it does at times. I wonder about that often. But I took Emily Dickinson's quote, "If I can stop one heart from breaking, I shall not live in vain" very much to heart very young. I haven't succeeded in sparing broken hearts, I fear (especially my own) but I write in the hopes that if one person reads and learns something from my writing, or sees the world in a different way, then I've succeeded. Ideas pop into my head and I feel compelled to write about them because I think they're interesting or important or they just won't leave me alone until I've penned them down. I mainly hope to give voice to something different, to strive for diversity and work through issues, to better understand the world.

I also write to fight against problems I see in the world. Lin Manuel Miranda said this in a recent interview and, because he said it more brilliantly than I ever could, I'm going to quote him:
What I can tell you is that works of art are the only silver bullet we have against racism and sexism and hatred… Art engenders empathy in a way that politics doesn’t, and in a way that nothing else really does. Art creates change in people’s hearts. But it happens slowly. (x)
On top of that, writing is a bit like breathing for me - I don't really know how to not do it and live. There is a vaguely destructive and all-consuming edge to this, as writing is not breathing, but as long as I'm doing a little each week, things are generally okay.

Along with all of this pondering, during coffee with an actor/artistic director I'll be collaborating with next year, the importance of why was brought up again, this time in regards to Simon Sinek's book and TED talk about starting with why:

I might have posted this video. I know for a fact that I've seen it before - half-way through watching it, I realized I'd seen it during my ill-fated time at Globe University, thinking I wanted to become a paralegal in my post-undergrad soul-searching. Now that this video has come back to me in a completely different framework from a completely different person at a completely different time in my life, its ideas are even more important and I have a completely different reason to be asking why.

The actor I spoke with said to try and summarize why you do what you do in a short phrase or two words if possible. I've been thinking about this while waiting for phone traffic to pick up in the box office and realized what it is that I've been trying to do for so long. I'm interested in other people's stories, in hearing what they have to say, as well as finding a way to convey my own stories. In short, I want to give voice - especially to stories that don't always get told. I've been a fan of Studs Terkel since I was a college sophomore and when I heard about his gathering of stories for the book Working, I was mesmerized. I wanted to find my own way of doing that and I think I've finally found a way to make that happen.

Asking why is such an important question, beyond even what Simek describes in his video. As an artist, I have to ask myself why because people are always going to ask me. But I'm also going to ask myself. In the dismal days of last summer when I was wondering why I bothered doing anything, it would have made things easier if I had better ammunition to support myself with. When you doubt your own authenticity, it's important to have a strong foundation to pull from and prepares you for criticism from others. And, while I constantly search for acceptance and approval from others, I'm not often going to get that. More often than not, I have to provide it for myself, and give others a reason to care about why I do what I do. And it's time that I give myself what I need to make my why happen.

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