“Take my hand. Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.”
Since I began writing, ages and ages ago, I don’t think I have ever completed a project that hewed to its original outline. When I was teaching theatre and wrote four or five plays a year for my students, I would begin by imagining an overall theme, then create characters to match the strengths and needs of the student-cast, and I would plan and plot, scene by scene, the action, where the song breaks would be following formulas for placement of exposition/getting to know you numbers, the character numbers, the I WANT and I AM numbers, the comic relief numbers, the eleven o’clock numbers (and, as you might imagine, wordy as I am, and having LOADS of students needing their own moments, sometimes — despite the ages of my charges — they really were eleven o’clock numbers) and then, after all of that charting and index carding and careful calculation I would start to write.
And by the time the characters took over, none of the original plan remained.
So, it should come as no surprise to me that the project I’m now working on, a story meant to be about two lonely men who end up running a boarding house type of home for the wayward, who both have secret lives they share with no one, who find solace from their pasts in their friendship, new ways of connecting in a social media, virtual world, and a new definition of family, home, and love, should SOMEHOW have taken me back into the 1930s and 1940s backstories of the mother and aunt of one of them and the house in which they live. I keep telling whatever is forcing me back there; “I DON’T DO HISTORY DAMMIT. I’M NOT THAT KIND OF WRITER.” But, the characters won’t listen. The muse demands.
So, I’m moving VERY SLOWLY, because I know next to nothing about this area in the 1930s and 40s, and while the muse whispering the plot and action (well, SCREAMING) at me is forceful, I’m not sure of the veracity of the voice. So, RESEARCH. Ugh.
But, it’s beautiful, because, dear ones, it’s been a while since I heard the voices in the way I used to when I wrote for the kids. I loved those voices. I felt as if they came from the needs of my students, as in, the voices were the energies of stories my charges wanted to tell, wanted to make sing in the universe, from that glorious life-force those kids embodied and wanted to birth into the real world; I felt like the work we did together gave them the strength and spine and courage and skill they needed to go out and tell their life-stories to a universe badly in need of love and truth and song.
So, yes. I welcome the voice, even though it is challenging me.
Meanwhile, the universe blesses me with a banquet of salves and gifts to encourage me during this challenge. Like, uhm, oh let me see — my glorious New York trip. And if that wasn’t enough to keep me smiling until I reach my nineties, yesterday I found out that Idra Novey, the brilliant author of the novel Ways to Disappear, had quoted me on her website. Look here WAYS TO DISAPPEAR/IDRA NOVEY’S WEBSITE — there I am alongside Amy Bloom, Karen Russell, Leslie Jamison, Booklist, Kirkus, The New York Freaking Times! Such an honor to be included with such luminaries and, even more, to have someone of Idra Novey’s gifts and insight and talent think I belong there. Great day, right? Yes. (In case you missed it, click HERE for the blog in which I wrote about Ways To Disappear — which, if you haven’t read, you MUST.)
And other blessings, like I’m reading a wonderful new novel by Molly Prentiss called Tuesday Nights in 1980 about which I’ll be writing soon. I mentioned it on Twitter and a dear one DM-ed me with a warming message and is sending me another book she thinks I will love. Still more joy, and then a dear one gave me Ruth Reichl’s Tender at the Bone, which I also love and will be shouting out soon. And another dear Twitter-pal posted a pic of Julia Murney, who I have long loved, and I commented about my adoration (semi-stalking) of her and she thanked me. (Small world note: the child who started my writing of shows, the one for whom I first KNEW I had to make theatre specific to her talents; Beth C., as a grown-up appeared in a show with Julia Murney!) The world is a lovely place, and the Twitter world is even lovelier. And I have made plans to meet a dear Twitter friend in real life later this month! And I am having dinner with my dear Diane tonight. And this Sunday is Mother’s Day, and two days later is the birthday of my dear sister, Debbie, and so this weekend I am making a feast for family, fifteen so far, for which I’ll be concocting and composing and cooking chickens and hams and macaronis and cheeses and red velvet cupcakes and yellow cakes with peanut butter icings and chocolate lava cakes and . . . it will be a fest of family love and celebration.
I have a lot of love. And I have a lot of research to do. And the character, Hughes, just this morning whispered to me another secret about his aunt, and now I’ve got to find a way to access old newspapers around here for supporting facts for the fiction he’s given me and so . . . darlings, I leave you with Julia Murney singing about a Beautiful Boy (the lyrics of which supplied the opening quote of this blog entry) because I am a beautiful boy (wow, that is SO HARD to type, but, I did it for the Duchess and Sissie and all the others whose love has taught me how much I am loved, how beautiful I am, and I must honor them by believing it and living it every day, not surrendering to sorrow and self-deprecation) and while this life is NOT what I planned, while all of my original outline has bitten the dust (and swallowed it, and digested it, and shat it out, and … you get it) well, the energy and life-force of it– the yet to be told stories — wants to be expressed, and if I don’t, then who will?
Happy Day, my dears.