One of the reasons I love Tolstoy is because he claimed his characters ‘got away’ from him; as he wrote, he found his own creations taking over the story, saying and doing unexpected things. Same thing happens to me.
Yesterday I started up on the script again. I figured what the hell – I’m not getting two weeks off for the holidays like I’d hoped, and my head isn’t retaining much of Dutch – so I’ve no reason to wait and nothing stopping me. My well laid plans, the outline I’ve been tinkering with for a month or more, like all plans of mice and men, went down the toilet in the first 200 words.
It’s okay. What I got is funnier than what I planned.
The day was perfect – overcast, so it was naturally dim and put me in the mood. My bro headed off for his weekly sparkling conversation over Marvel Universe chronology at the comic book store, and I was left in blessed dark silence, the perfect environs for me to bring out whatever’s been cooking on my back burner.
What emerged is a new version of the family I’ve portrayed. Any stiffness I may have felt in act one is gone – I tossed out my outline notes and promised myself I wasn’t going to care until I had enough words written to call the script finished. That may have been the best thing I did. I’d been trying to contain the characters in this or that mold, to show that one character was the distant one, one character the nasty one, etc., etc., but people in real life are multi-dimensional, not flat with one major personality trait always at the forefront. By ignoring my own ‘rules’ for the characters, I set them and the script free. The mother character has grown from a distant and uncaring figure to…well, there’s no other way to say it, to a characterized version of the narcissist in my own mother. Her shtick is to moan about how no one appreciates her – an oft repeated line in my own home growing up. The father is cursing more. I hope that doesn’t put off prospective theatre groups, but I can’t write him without plenty of cursing – again, he’s based on my own father, and the curses I write are direct quotes from my dad’s colorful selection of swearing. I haven’t decided if the wife of the eldest son will actually remain in the play – she may get turned into another sister or written out entirely. At least one of my big plot ideas is out the window, too. I’d planned for the mother to announce she was leaving because she’s gay. Instead, I wrote a spat between mother and father that’s far funnier, and again draws on real life – the mother’s denial that her sister is gay. I was able to use what I couldn’t use in my childhood: the family gossip and rumors, the stories of her husband finding her in bed with another woman, etc. None of that could be discussed openly in my family. Nasty comments behind your hand, said in confidence to one other family member – oh, that was fine! Perfectly acceptable! But you couldn’t bring the subject up at the dinner table. I brought it up at the dinner table in the play. I’m bringing up a lot at the dinner table in the play, as a matter of fact. Lots of things I always thought but never said.
Best thing, naturally, was I didn’t even think once about my sexual desires. That’s getting distracting for me, just thinking about sex, sex, sex. I feel like I’m bleeding 20 again. It’s good to know I can shut it off during the creative process.
And smoking – yes, I smoked too much yesterday. I haven’t quite made up my mind that quitting smoking is something I want to do with a Trump presidency. After all, if we’re all going to hell (and I think we will) in the next four years, why not smoke? What’ll it do – kill me early so I don’t have to see the Orange Emperor again? Oh, cry me some crocodile tears and play the world’s smallest violin. Death is an attractive option when that man is out walking the world.
Sunday: the day Doctor Who never lands on because Sundays are boring. Got to agree with him. There’s things I should do, like cleaning the house and reading more Dutch, and then there’s things I could do, like writing more on my script, but the (sad) truth is I’ll probably sit and play on my computer for most of the day. Why not? It’s fun, and considering my base mood runs pretty close to melancholy, a little fun is always a good thing for me. Besides, I know my brother won’t leave the house today and no matter how hard I try I can’t write well with someone else awake and walking around the place. It’s terribly distracting. Not the little noises people make, but just the presence of someone else. Like I can hear their thoughts – not well, just enough to make a background noise that makes hearing my own thoughts difficult. My brother suggested once I try writing in a public place. A public place! So many minds up and active around me, I could never write anything. Maybe a poem. Or half a poem. But not a story.
Let’s face it: if you’re going to give birth to characters so strong willed they wrestle your own story away from you, you’ve got to have a bit of peace and quiet. Giving birth to anything is a difficult and often messy process. I don’t need random on-lookers gawking at me while I do it. Nor interrupting me, and it’s one of those ironic truths to life that when you do get involved – with a story, with a lover, with anything – that’s when people crawl out of the woodwork to interrupt you.
I need one of those ‘Do Not Disturb’ hotel signs to hang around my neck.