Friday, September 21, 2018

ceci n'est pas une histoire

“So what do you write plays about?” 
The question grates on my ears like my interlocutor's accent. I grit my teeth at that constantly recurring question. Interiorly, and later out loud in a car with my best friend on the way to margaritas, I answer: I write stories about people and they’re all about different things because human beings are all different and thus their stories are all fucking different.

But then I realize, halfway through a margarita, actually, I write stories about one thing. All my “unique” dramatic narratives are  all about the same damn thing. They’re about how human beings do the stupidest, meanest, most terrible things to protect ourselves from getting hurt. We pull the pettiest, dirtiest stunts to keep people from us. Or, rather, to keep ourselves from others. We do everything in our powers to avoid actually being vulnerable to one another, meaning being at their mercy. We go to crazy lengths to preserve the comforting false illusion that we are little unassailable islands that don’t need other people to become fully human.

We build these walls of selfhood and individuality, and we lob ridiculous missiles across our walls to preserve our fragile defenses and to keep the dangerous species known as “other people” at bay. That is what my plays are about.

But my plays are also about the beautiful, silly, tender, brave, tentative bridges we extend to others to try to reach them. I write stories about how we shove others outside our walls, but how, at the same time, in spite of or because of our selves we also never stop trying to reach them.

On Wednesday, a questioner asked Marilynne Robinson where her characters come from. They are not me, says Robinson.

Mine are not either. They do things I am not always sure how to do—like love, remain, and forgive. I think I have written them half as puppets to teach my imagination how to live with a heart wider than it currently is. They also are prophets to me. They come from somewhere that is not simply my own factory of ideas and break out of their pages to remind me that in some corner of my heart I have already lived this moment. I have already played with the decisions for light and dark, the inescapable choice to be either angel or demon, to be hurricane or Mary, I have already weighed the image of what each choice will make me.

The characters achieve what we achieve in our best moments—we lay down our arms, in spite of our because of ourselves. We do not just simply successively try and try to reach others. We complete the miracle of successfully reaching them.

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