humility

by Sandra

Okay, so some of you may be aware—I’m taking a playwriting class this semester. Earlier in the term, I was writing a very autobiographical play. And I mean very autobiographical. So biographical, in fact, that I was having a lot of trouble dramatizing it—i.e., I couldn’t divorce my personal experience enough to make the plot stage-able. Frankly, I didn’t know how to condense the story, which plot points to really focus on in the 90-or-so pages I had to work with, and I just honestly began to get nervous. The play was just hitting too close to home. So I played around with staging options and came up with a couple of scenes that that my professor said resembled Mac vs. PC ads. Ouch, maybe, but I had, in essence, lost the verisimilitude (that’s his word) that my earlier scenes had had.

Fair enough. At this point I had gotten so tangled that I just put the material down for a while, yet the thought of how I was going to make that play work was constantly in the back of my mind.

That was until one sort of lax Sunday morning, when I woke up with a completely new, non-autobiographical, fully formed stage play idea in my brain. It was like I had woken up with this gift—like the Tooth Fairy or the Easter Bunny or Santa Claus had paid me a visit. I was like Paul McCartney when he wrote Yesterday. I happily sprung out of bed and jotted down 10-pages worth. And the next day I wrote another ten and then the next day and the next and soon I had over 70 pages written. Hooray!

And all that was until I started getting feedback on the new pages I was turning in. Suddenly, the world was not so rosy. And in truth, when I’d gone back and read over those 72 pages of play, I myself was not moved. Something about the whole endeavor felt very episodic. I’d been so excited about jumping horse mid-stream during the semester and suddenly it all felt like that had been a very bad idea. Those wonderful pages I’d come up with at the beginning of the semester started to feel like a fluke. Would I ever get back to that level? Hell, WILL I ever get back to that level? I’m just not sure.

Tonight’s class was a bit rough. The consensus is that the new material is distant, dull—which is certainly not my goal, and in reality, I do have a week’s time to spruce it up and make it something better. Which I’m sure I’ll be able to do, yet aside from all that I learned a valuable lesson tonight, and that is this:

On my way home I started to feel sorry for myself, started questioning myself and the gifts I’ve been given, my choices in the writing program. Yet, further on in the evening, I realized what was really going on in my brain, something that illuminated my character for me. After I had received such wonderful praise on my original pages, I had become more concerned with maintaining that level of praise—to be well-liked—by my colleagues, than writing and turning in good work.

That’s revealing, isn’t it? And quite humbling. I wonder if every artist goes through this thought process. If it’s part of the creative process—the getting over yourself part. I was emailing with my friend Natalie early this evening about my discouragement, and she reminded me that maybe because of the previous level of my work, that I was being held up to a higher standard. Perhaps this is true, and I do have an inkling that she’s correct in saying this. And I realized that there’s really no excuse for dallying about, for not knuckling down and giving my work the best that I’ve got. Also, I’m reminded of the parable of the talents, that God gives much to those who are good stewards of what they’ve been given, and that includes the talent of writing, which I don’t necessarily think I’ve been serving.

So, enough moping. I feel as if it can only do myself and my work a disservice, thinking less of them, being neurotic, doubtful. I don’t know if I’ll switch horses again in a week’s time—and not to worry, I think Lee’s going to force me to write that first play as my thesis, but whatever I turn in next Wednesday is going to be the best damn thing I can turn in, guaranteed.

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