Three of seven

February 3, 2012

Dear Patronopolis,

Ooo ooo ooo! It was a good week. A week in which this quote felt really active and alive:

"The only way to learn how to write plays is to see your plays done. And particularly to see them done in an environment where you’re learning for yourself whether they work or not, and determining the terms on which you consider whether they are effective of not." — Arthur Kopit

I’ve had those words up on my bulletin board for a while, because when I came across it months ago, it felt right. But as I worked on Reserve & Green this week, it went from an abstraction to a lived experience. Because I’m starting to understand better the terms on which I am measuring the success of the show. In simpler language: I’m starting to understand what I want. And that is a powerful thing.

So what do I want?

Well, this story is deeply allegorical for me. Walls. Bunkers. Containers. Traps. Traumatic events, and our responses to them. Fear, and its affects on our relationships. Rebellion, and its costs. Isolation. Self-sufficiency. Interdependence. Rational behavior leading to irrational situations. Seemingly crazy instincts concealing surprising wisdom.

These are the sorts of things I’m grappling with here; chewing on, putting on display (or trying to). I’ve known this from the beginning, but somehow I wasn’t fully owning it. The ground is shifting underneath me, or inside me, and I feel like I’m circling closer to writing what I mean to write. And it feels good! (Insert James Brown soundtrack here!)

Knowing what I want helps me surrender even further to my utter lack of control over anyone else’s opinions or emotional responses to the show. I’ve never felt I was writing this for anyone else, and I’ve always known, in my conscious mind, that I had to be my first and most important audience member. I have to like it, to care about it, to feel it — and in many ways, that’s all I can worry about. But it’s one thing to know this consciously, and another thing to feel it sinking in, getting integrated into the bedrock.

That’s the amazing thing about art-making. It’s really healthy for me. We all have this stereotype of the self-destructive artist whose best work comes out of their greatest disfunction. But it’s so hard for me to relate to that, because it’s just not my experience. For me, this work I do, this path I’ve chosen, leads me to (or echoes) new learning, new levels of growth, better self-care. I do so much better in the studio when I’m well-fed, well-exercised, well-loved. It just makes sense to me. If an expectant mother smokes and drinks and eats crappy food, she feels worse, and her baby is less heathy. If she eats her greens and gets enough rest and takes walks every day, she feels better, and so does the life she is nurturing.

And a healthy baby, in turn, is easier to manage, easier to love, easier to feed. Health begets health, whether we’re creating new humans or new works of musical theater.

That being said, it’s not always so easy to find my way to those healthy places. The ways I block or condemn or attack myself aren’t always obvious. That self-destructive stuff doesn’t tend to manifest in big dramatic ways for me — I’m not likely to become a heroin addict, or a recluse. (I mean, c’mon, I’m from Iowa. We don’t do things like that.) So it’s all a little more mysterious, a little less extreme, a little quieter…but it’s still in there. That urge to self-destruct, self-limit, self-abuse. More than anything, perhaps, that tendency to abandon my self, my intentions, my desires. To simply let go of it, like a child letting go of their favorite balloon, and watch, helpless and sad, as it floats away.

This week, I didn’t let go of the balloon. In fact, every day in the studio, I felt like I found another one, and blew it up, and tied it onto the others, in a growing, multi-colored bouquet. I know enough about the process to know that everything is fleeting, and there is no nirvana where doubt and fear and other forms of internal darkness just go away. I wouldn’t even want that (sounds freakish, really). But it is sort of an amazing gift to have moments or days when things flow, and to feel the external expression beginning to move closer to the internal need.

Yeah for art! Yeah for music! Yeah for the Patronopolis!

See you next week,