Every Word I Wrote
After the death of an old friend, I went on an excavation of old writings in my computer. I went back 24 years to find a poem I’d written about this friend and waded through so much writing I hadn’t thought about in decades. The thing that stood out to me about this process and encountering the self that made it all was how much I used to believe that what I made would eventually be read or seen. I didn’t necessarily think all those poems would be published — certainly I didn’t feel that poetry was my best medium — but I did think, oh, one day I’ll have a partner who’ll want to read everything I ever wrote or some writerly soul friend who’ll comb through my entire oeuvre and help me bring things to light. I used to imagine that everyone would want to hear every detail of my trip abroad, as well. People used to give slideshows of their journeys overseas!
Now I can’t imagine burdening anyone with all of that. There is no one who wants to read every word I ever wrote. It’s too much reading!
I think I used to think that my true friends would be the ones who listened to every song, read every poem or play or essay or novel I might write. But I have several very dear friends who have never done most those things. Most of my closest friends don’t listen to my podcasts or read this blog. Twenty-four years ago, I would have taken that very personally. Now I know that everyone is very busy and I am very prolific and no one has time for all that.
I used to imagine that theatre companies were sitting around wishing for the perfect play to fall in their laps so they could produce something new and undiscovered. Now I know too much about how the sausage is made to imagine that such a thing could happen. I’d have a better shot of having my work performed somewhere if I were a reality TV star than if I had all the best playwriting credentials. (I also do not have all the best playwriting credentials.) Almost all places that take submissions for plays do whatever they can to limit the numbers of plays that come to them. Folks in powerful positions in the American theatre for the most part do their very best to avoid having to read new plays by undiscovered writers. Everywhere that counts would 100% prefer to NOT have to read my plays than read them. In the old days, I thought someone would read something I’d written, say, “I LOVE this! Where can I read more?” This has never happened. In fact — the numbers of times someone has asked me to send them a play they could read and then after I sent it, never mentioned it again, far out numbers any other count. Do they hate it and just not want to say anything? Possibly. But I think it’s more likely they just never read it. Because even people whose job it is to read plays for a living don’t have time for all that.
I wonder if this sense of perspective is a sign of artistic maturity. I shudder to think about all the things I shared with people, expecting something, hopeful for some words of confirmation of my genius or whatever. But I also know that that young artist made a lot of things with the passionate belief that she was making gold and that belief really kept her going. I know no one needs me to make the things I make and only a handful of people want to see/read/listen to/experience a handful of the things I create. It’s not nearly so hopeful and gimlet-eyed as my younger self’s experience but it’s also a lot less raw. I’m a lot harder to devastate than I used to be. I am so accustomed to indifference; I can walk forward in the face of it and it will not stop me. I don’t take it personally any more. People are busy. Most will never read, experience or listen to my work. Doesn’t stop me. Won’t stop me. Just ever forward like a shark.
I suspect that mature artists mostly don’t thrust their work in the arms of those who do not want it. We’ve all seen the looks of terror on someone’s face when we ask if they’ll read a play or our novel or screenplay or whatever it is. I’m sure I have made that same face. There is no terror like the terror of having to give someone feedback on a terrible piece of writing. But — if you want to get into a writer’s good graces, you could ask to read something and then actually read it and then say, “I LOVED this! Can I read something else?”
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Originally published at http://artiststruggle.wordpress.com on August 29, 2021.