What Today Brings
“The truth is my light.” - Latin Proverb
What else is the rule of a writer than to expose the truth, to shatter false perceptions and serve up a heaping helping of the Sturm und Drang that is our experience here on earth. “Hazel and Shep” is a ten-minute play soon to be published in the literary magazine, “Snapdragon.” The play is based on conversations I had with a friend who is, to put it bluntly, completely off his rocker. Shep lives emotionally all over the place, his mania counterbalancing deep depression, his delusions of grandeur are often offset with the occasional hallucination.
My need to turn conversations with my friend into a play was not to insult his condition but to celebrate it. I find things coming out of his mouth highly entertaining, spot-on insightful and hyper-intelligent, even when mixed with a bit of insanity. The term bipolar has been thrown around a lot lately, describing anyone moody or simply “over-spirited.” My friend, and now the character Shep, exhibit the real deal. He is, after all, in great company. There have been many a brilliant artist with an unstable brain. The American Journal of Psychiatry describes two of our most beloved like this, “Van Gogh had earlier suffered two distinct episodes of reactive depression, and there are clearly bipolar aspects to his history. Both episodes of depression were followed by sustained periods of increasingly high energy and enthusiasm.” And of Virginia Woolf they said, “From the age of thirteen, Woolf had symptoms that today would be diagnosed as bipolar disorder; she experienced mood swings from severe depression to manic excitement and episodes of psychosis.”
This urge, this insistence to document, has grown stronger as my fascination for people has. Yet, there is a line between art and invasion that is hard not to cross because, barring censorship, the line is invisible. Truman Capote said, “You can’t blame the author for what the character said.” The threat of offending loses to the deep need to put these lives on the page or a stage. If someone talks with a country twang, skewed logic and word choice reflective of another world all together, where grammar wasn’t learned but survival skills were, I grab my pen. It’s gold to discover someone living on the periphery of any seeming influence with such poetic sense of knowledge gained from hard knocks and forty plus years of interactions, squabbles and heartaches.
When someone walks around like a peacock, barking orders with a chip on their shoulder, my imagination follows them home to see how they behave without an audience. If another is arrogant with power, but I know that well-honed veneer would be crushed if their darkest of secrets were revealed, I want to slap on a new name and call them out on the page. “The play’s the thing wherin I’ll catch the conscious of the king.” William Shakespeare. The truth will have been revealed, but so may a lawsuit.
Where does the creative urge bleed into a weapon? Often, I suppose, and that is a less noble power of the pen. We own our stories. Every relationship and situation gives a story to those witnessed. One person may do a painting, or write a song born of feelings from an encounter. If the urge to expose is a selfish one, it would be harder to recognize in a painting than a nasty, damning poem. Calling out offenders on the page is not what I see as the job of a writer, unless you are a journalist. Discovering why the offender offends might be.
In the end, it is most definitely subjective what will interest a reader or a theatre-goer. If you only like science fiction and fantasy, you may not enjoy a ten-minute play about two people on the phone talking about life, one cleaning cat litter in a flowery bungalow and the other bouncing off the walls in a sleek city apartment during a manic episode. Viva la difference, that’s what makes the world go around. And as for the fears many writers face about the relevance of their writing, I will refer to Cyril Connolly, who said, “Better to write for yourself and have no public than write for the public and have no self.”