While I was in college, I wrote a very meta, very pretentious, very bad play called That Day This Day. It’s about Adam, a gay man from the South (ahem) whose coming-out to his family didn’t go well (ahem, ahem), so now he’s restaging the episode with a cast of his own choosing in order to make sure things unfold the way he wants them to.
But of course things don’t unfold the way he wants them to, because he tries to control everything and rewrite history instead of dealing with his actual feelings of hurt and shame.
To play his mother, our hero hires a bearded lady from the circus. I don’t remember why. For a love interest, Adam somehow assembles a kind of Frankenstein’s monster made up of the best parts of exes. This beautiful creature doesn’t speak and is named Patois (regrettably).
Reality intrudes in the person of Adam’s actual mother, brought into the proceedings by Adam’s chaos-adoring assistant, whose name is Tweak (regrettably). But the expected showdown between truth and pretending never really materializes and instead you get a lot of masturbatory jibber-jabber about literature, suggesting that the author of the play had failed to reckon with his own feelings of hurt and shame surrounding the autobiographical events he was so obviously tap-dancing around.
(We’re talking about me here, in case you forgot. I was that masturbatory jibber-jabberer, and, to some extent, I still am.)
Not counting juvenilia, That Day This Day was the first play I ever wrote. I have not saved a copy and the work’s only performance was a reading in the undergraduate playwriting course for which it was composed.
Maybe the writing is better than I remember. Maybe we should extend compassion to our younger selves. After all, what did they know?
To earn a living, I eventually pivoted toward other forms of scribbling—arts journalism, corporate content creating, travel writing. To paraphrase Sinatra’s “That’s Life,” I’ve been a proofer, a playwright, a pundit, a peon, a pawn, and a prole.
Still, I have been known to pen the occasional one-act to this day. A handful of these scripts have been produced and a couple have been published in literary journals.
This month, as it happens, both of those things are happening: A short piece I wrote is being staged (virtually on account of the pandemic) in a 10-minute play festival and another of my compositions is appearing in the lit mag of a small liberal arts college.
The 10-minute play, entitled Away Up North, is about a failed writer living in Chicago (write what you know). The other piece is about a married couple who have fallen into a deep, dark pit with no way out. That one is called The Pit. My own spouse would want me to assure you it is in no way autobiographical.
A few weeks ago, the small liberal arts college hosted an event (virtually on account of the pandemic) to celebrate the debut of the lit mag’s latest issue. Several contributors read brief excerpts from their pieces. I was the only one reading from a dramatic work; the other passages came from poems and short stories.
So I had to do all the characters as well as the stage directions. And at one point I had to approximate an Australian accent.
I’d like to believe my performance went okay, though it’s difficult to know for sure because participants in the Zoom videoconference were muted except when it was their turn to read. Consequently, I could not hear laughter at any jokes or applause when I was finished.
Basically, it felt like I was sending my words into a cold and silent void.
Which, now that I think of it, is a pretty accurate description of the writing life.