One of the really wonderful things I experienced while working on THELMA was just a quiet granting of permission to have fun.
Most of you know that I’ve performed comedy for a long time, so fun is something that I’m accustomed to in theater. In fact, for improvisation my personal contention is that it should be all fun, 100% of the time. I think that even when a group is maybe a little off, or their inexperience shines through a little too much, all can be forgiven if they’re having fun. I love watching performers enjoy themselves and love each other. I hate when you’re watching a show and you can see improvisers stressing out and getting pissed at each other for not listening, missing the mark, etc. It’s one of my least favorite things.
It’s make-believe, for goodness sake. If you hate a scene, make believe that there’s a time machine there to blast you seven minutes into the future and BAM, the bad scene is over. Sky’s the limit. No, sky’s not the limit. The imaginary galaxy way past the sky is the limit.
But anyway, I’m getting off track. The point is that I’m good at allowing myself to have fun, and be ridiculous on stage – but I was never good at expressing myself that way in my writing.
This is a true story – the first creative writing project I can remember was in third grade. My lovely teacher who happens to be named Mrs. Pettee asked us to go back to any time in history and pretend to be an observer there. Write about the things you see, hear, smell, etc.
Lots of my friends wrote about castles and princes, some wrote about being a teen in the 1950’s and hanging out at a soda shoppe. I had just learned about slavery, so off to the antebellum south I went! I vividly remember sitting at my desk, imagining and writing about smelling blood and cotton in the air. Heavy for a kid, but I felt transported and excited by exploring really hideous things. It was a really enveloping experience, and kind of changing for me.
Mrs. Pettee was really impressed/concerned.
I followed that piece up with an epic poem inspired by the tearing down of the Berlin Wall brilliantly titled “When the Wall Comes Down” I think that one ended happily with Reagan and Gorbachev embracing each other like they were brothers. And yeah, that might actually have been the utilized rhyme. Don’t try to steal it. I’ll find you.
In high school I wrote two plays – one about homelessness, one about the Holocaust. I think you’re starting to get my point. For whatever reason I’ve equated deadly seriousness with meaningful writing for years, decades actually.
Turns out, that kind of gravity has almost nothing to do with my personality or writing strengths. Yes, I have a respect for great wordsmiths of human suffering (tons of respect). But more than twenty years after my abolitionist paragraphs, I’m comfortable admitting that it’s probably not me.
I’m starting to write another piece now with an older protagonist and I have to check myself constantly. Realistic doesn’t have to mean depressing. I remind myself to have fun, be unafraid of comedy, because that’s what feels natural and quite frankly it’s what I’m good at. Go forth and have fun.
*A wee note! THELMA was accepted into a pitch contest here. There are going to be some agents involved and there’s a poker motif…but I’m not sure I truly understand the process yet. I’ll let you know if something good happens!