This emails contains a blog about writing, writing session starts March 20, tickets to my new comedy show. And VIP members: There is a new video up!
I was a playwright in residence at the Factory Theatre in Toronto in the early 90’s. The room was on third floor and it was so cold I’d have to go out to the neighbourhood Chinese restaurant and order wonton soup. to wrap my cold hands around. Many days I’d just sit staring out the window unable to walk up the steps to George F Walker’s office.George was a gifted playwright and a permanent fixture at Factory, who kept producing one hit after another and I wanted to know what kept him motivated.
“I write to keep the crazy at bay.” He replied.
That one phrase was a game changer for me. I have held fast to that sentence for a long time.
I am a comic which means I am hyper-alert. A comic notices everything. And because of that I have a lot of stories coursing through my veins. A lot of what if this happened? Or what if that happened. Because I don’t want all those stories to live inside my body. I write them down. I write to earn a living. I write because I love words, especially dialogue. I love figuring out the puzzle of structure. But mainly I write so all that anxiety doesn’t live in my cells.
This wasn’t always the case. I used to write to get love.
Spoiler alert: You will never, ever get love from writing.
See, when I met George, I was still at the mercy of wanting love desire.
And I had had one big success and one big failure.
The success was a play called Miracle Mother. It was produced at Tarragon Theatre, a place I called my creative home. It not only got a good response, good reviews, and travelled across Canada and the U.S. it also got nominated for a Governor General Award.
It was my first full-length play. I couldn’t take most of the accolades or understand the impact of my own words. I thought a success great but instead it felt like it couldn’t last. It was a fluke. A one hit wonder. I acted like there was only one successful piece of writing in me. Also the writing had upset my mother. Big time. She came to the play and walked out of it, absolutely hating it. In fact, she didn’t even tell me she came to Toronto to see it. When I asked her what she thought she told me I had no business writing what I wrote. The play was about faith and motherhood and the birth of a premature baby. My premature baby, in fact. She wanted me to write a nice story. It was my story. But she wanted me to have written a story that didn’t mock her belief systems.
I was baffled by her response. I thought I had written a play about healing.
Despite all these mixed feelings, I was the ‘it’ girl on the theatre scene that year and Tarragon quickly commissioned me to write a second play called Last Respects. A play that was about my second mother, a woman I loved more than any woman. But it was cursed from the get go. Our lead actress was in the throes of early dementia, we got bad reviews and after opening night friends were not taking my calls. My fear of being a one hit wonder was coming to pass. I thought I’d never work again.
Two plays: One where I thought success was a fluke and the second I thought failure was an absolute. Both tossed me around emotionally because I was writing for approval.
I needed, no I desperately craved a thumbs up from my Mom and then the audiences.
If either one of those parties liked it I would finally feel right within myself.
After I spoke to George it freed me up a bit. I got hired for TV show for a couple of years- I wrote two plays for the Blyth Festival in Western Ontario. I toured several one woman shows that I wrote across Canada.
When I was writing I stopped thinking about other’s response. I felt I was in my safe zone. But after a performance one negative comment, or even a raised eyebrow would unleash a flood of self- criticism.
Even when people said nice things I could turn their comment into something negative.
In case you are painted with the same stripes, let me tell you there is no state of perfection in art. Not in performing and especially not in writing.
No place where you get a memo that says, “Congratulations you have arrived.” Or you completely love what you wrote.
Because if you write from the heart you will always doubt a bit. That’s because if you write a modicum of truth you are vulnerable. And you will always see how it could be better.
Now when I look back on my work from years ago I can see it was always better than I thought. Sometimes I don’t even know where I got the ideas I see on the page. And also know if I wrote that same story today it would be a very different story because I keep getting better at my craft and I’ve matured as a person.
Sometimes I am a gun for hire, and have to write within certain boundaries. Word counts and pre-determined structures. But for my own projects, I really try to write for myself, at least that first few drafts. I need to hear what I think about things first before I place it before the eyes of others.
This message of hearing your own voice is the one I try to impart to my students. I consistently nag them to be messy. I tell them over and over again, “You get to stink up the place with bad writing.” That’s what first drafts are for. You get to wrestle with your crazy and get it down on the page. You get to tell the stories inside your head. And no, not all will not be rainbows and pink bows. Nor will people lift you up and carry you around the town square. But you will finally own the stories that you had the courage to put down on paper. And they will be yours, for better or worse. Till death (or ink )do you part.
There will be NO May session as I am
performing my new comedy album in May.
My Comedy CD tapes May 1st and 8th at 2pm- at the Social Capital at 154 Danforth Avenue Toronto!
Tickets on sale now.
NEW MEMBERSHIP VIDEOS HERE