When Melanie Marnich was a visiting artist at The University of Iowa, she had us all do an exercise: imagine where we saw ourselves in 1 year, in 3 years, and in 5 years. We thought about our personal trajectories and, in some way, how we would get ourselves there through short term goals. Something that I've been lacking lately is a focus on goals. I don't quite have any. Okay, that's not entirely true. I suppose I don't have large, specific goals. We often are asked to define what success means for ourselves since success, especially success as a playwright, is so personalized. I've been concentrating a lot on my family, my wife's goals, and have had some very distracting business going on at the day job, so my playwriting goals have been out of focus. Mainly the goal has been "I want to write plays." I've also extended the goal to "I want my plays to be performed." Easy enough.
What I've decided to do is take bite-sized action towards this goal by submitting at least 1 play a week. It's not as ambitious as Brian Doyle's 1 submission a day, but it's doable for me. It's been especially easy after having done all the prep work as recommended by Donna Hoke. I can get a play submitted in about 20 minutes, not including research about the theatre or contest. The most difficult part of the process will be pairing the right play with the right theatre. I just recently sent off a copy of Father Bob, a play I haven't sent out in a while, because it seemed like the one play of mine that would work in terms of theme and casting. Maybe. I don't know. All I can do is read the missions of the theatres, look at their previous productions, and try to be honest about whether or not one of my plays would work there. I'm doing my best to not send something simply to send something.
In other news, I have a fun new project that's going to start in December. More info to come. I hate being vague, but it's coming soon enough!
I begin with a short report of the business side of my playwriting career:
For the first time in a long time, I've sent out play submissions. I sent out an electronic one last week, then sent off 2 mailed submissions today. My wife had offered to mail them for me to save me some time, but I told her that it was important for me to send them myself. I'm not sure why, but it felt very, very necessary for me to be the one to walk into the post office, weigh those packets, put the postage on them, and watch them disappear from the chute. They're out there in the world now, on their way to New York City and California. Last week's submission is now living in Chicago. Another couple of electronic submissions I did today are living here in Columbus. In the next couple of months, my scripts will head to different parts of California and even to exotic Iowa.
This is the most I've submitted since 2011. In 2011, I submitted to somewhere between 5 and 10 places. In 2012, I just couldn't get up enough energy to send out any submissions. I was tired of the preparation and energy it took to get those packages or emails ready and then the emotional energy it took to deal with rejections. Last year, I sent out 3 submissions to places and opportunities in town in order to get myself back into practice. Now, I'm on my way, submitting.
My playwriting database, which I created in Filemaker Pro (something I needed to learn for my day job), I wrote a quotation from Walt Disney: "All the adversity I've had in my life, all my troubles and obstacles, have strengthened me... You may not realize it when it happens, but a kick in the teeth may be the best thing in the world for you."
In terms of the creative side, I just wrote/finished, like, seriously a couple minutes ago, wrote the first scene for my play about Persephone. I had a very clear image of the beginning of the play, helped along by a scene from the pilot of Breaking Bad when Walter White is getting his diagnosis from the doctor. I saw it very clearly in my mind and it was very easy to write. It's helping me establish a tone for the play: ethereal, dark, but very playful. The play might be performed by middle school girls, so I'm thinking that I don't want to make it too dark. But I'm going to write the play as it wants to be written. Right now, the play's theme song is Sympathy for the Devil by the Rolling Stones, but performed by a woman. I haven't found the right version to sit in the back of my mind as I write. I'll keep searching.
So, my fellow theatre-makers, how has your writing gone lately? Starting up new projects? Have you been submitting plays?
I'll leave you with one last Walt Disney quotation: "We keep moving forward, opening new doors, and doing new things, because we're curious and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths."
Be excellent to each other.
I'm currently home from work on a 10-day vacation which I've dubbed my “loose ends vacation” in which I can take care of all the things I’ve been letting slide and haven’t gotten done, you know, like writing a blog post. I've done a lot of thinking about what I wanted to say in this blog post, and the topic that has continued to come up for me is “investment.” When I say investment, I'm not only talking about money, I'm also talking about how we spend time and energy and effort.
Part of the reason that investment has been on my mind lately has been the blessing of the CATCO and Greater Arts Council Playwright Fellowship. I'll have, as a coworker at my day job so crudely put it, “five G’s” to use to further my playwriting career. So, how can I make best use of this blessing? What does $5000 buy? What do I invest in?
In wondering about that, I've also been wondering the hierarchy of where time and effort and money should go in reference to my various selves. At my day job they often talk about “Work/Life balance,” which says that in order to be a functioning human being, you have to take time away from work to have a life. That life can be whatever you define it to be whether it's exercising or driving fast cars or sitting down and watching Archer or doing gardening or spending time with your family. The hierarchy of my life has my priorities in a very delicate balance. As a husband, father, and, of course, playwright, I find it difficult to juggle all the needs that emanate from each “self.” Oh, and forget that I'm also a worker bee in my day job. When I'm a father, I can't necessarily be a husband. When I'm a playwright, I can't necessarily be a father. When I’m at my day job, I can’t be a playwright. At any given point, I can only be one self. Now, I know that some people would argue that being a father and being a husband can happen simultaneously, and I do agree with that on some level, but, really, there are some things in being a husband that you can’t do while your child is watching. And I don't just mean that thing that you just thought I was talking about. I mean other things, too.
When I was getting my MFA, I had a different balancing act to do. I had classes, I had rehearsals late at night, I had reading assignments my theater classes, I had books to read for an anthropology class that I thought would be awesome (And it was, but very difficult and work-intensive), and I still had to find time to write plays, be a husband, and have some semblance of a social life. To get through it, I had to constantly assess what I was getting out of each activity. What was I getting out of the Anthropology reading and assignments that would be worth the time? But at that time, there was not a genuine hierarchy; everything was on the same level of importance, so what I was really worried about was scheduling. I was charting every single hour of my day, that was the only way that I could keep things straight. I didn't pencil in any social life or husband life or anything like that, but I was able to figure out everything else. And that's probably why the social life and the husband life took a backseat to being a student, writer, and my part-time day job. So, the process worked: I finished all my work, I wrote two plays each year, I had a reading or a production each year, and I was able to see lots of great theater from my colleagues. But now, outside of school, the balancing act that existed has intensified. Now the job is full-time, I don't have the same support group of fellow MFA students, and I'm still trying to write plays. However, I can see the hierarchy. I know now that there are things that are more important than others and that their respective importance can shift at any point.
I’ve started using an app called Clear that keeps track of all my “personal projects.” These “personal projects” are anything from doing dishes to submitting a play to cleaning the bathroom to charting what plays I want to write later on to crafting far away and long-term goals that I've given myself creatively. This is not an ad for Clear, I’m not getting any money from them, I’m giving you a tactic that I’ve been using. With Clear, I can simply hold and drag and change positions of which tasks are more important by moving them higher up in my list to the things that are less important by putting them lower on the list. I’m able to very quickly shift my priorities day by day or hour by hour. These are the projects that I have on tap for my days that are my own, when I'm myself, not when I'm a father, not when I am at the day job, not when I'm a husband, but me as a writer or as the guy who cleans the bathroom and does leaves in the yard.
That’s how I prioritize and handle the hierarchy of my life, let’s return to my “self” specifically as a playwright. The Fellowship has given me a lot to think about in terms of what will do the most good for me. Printer toner was very important to me, getting new report covers for submissions is great.. But what else? I've given myself part of the fellowship to have the week away from work before the reading of my play, Books & Bridges in June, so that's one thing. I've also booked a trip to Los Angeles to work on a screenplay with my friend and writing partner, Ryan Lacen, because it takes us forever to get our scripts finished because we’re each dealing with shifting hierarchies and responsibilities. This takes all those things completely out of the way for 5 days!
As playwrights and writers we have to figure out what we need to survive. We have to invest money in things such as a website (with a personal domain, too?!). We have to invest time in maintaining social media if need be. We have to do research for different submissions and take the time to follow the rules of each submission. We also might have to pay for memberships such as the Playwrights’ Center or the Dramatists Guild. Do these memberships do anything for us (Not to imply that they don't)? I've read through the benefits of both the Playwrights’ Center and the Dramatists Guild countless times, wondering what I would do with those memberships and whether the money I would pay for the membership (and their benefits) would be worth investing in, would be enough of a payout so to speak. I mean, we’re spending money on postage, paper, all these things take time and money, and how do we know if we are investing in the right things? Are we putting quarters, dimes, dollars into slot machines that will eventually payout? Or are we throwing money into the abyss where it won't amount to anything? These are the things I think about when I have enough time to think about them. Most times I'm just grabbing for those scraps of time to actually write.
As you can see from my list above, right now my priority is writing this blog post. After that, I'm finally going to revise my resume, and then I'll use the 63° weather to blow leaves that are in our backyard and have been in our backyard since Thanksgiving because of the various travels to visit my mom and dad for Thanksgiving in Albuquerque, to visit my mother in the hospital in Denver, and then to visit my mother’s grave in Santa Fe, the leaves just didn't seem important. I suppose that's the thing, you have to decide what's important at every given moment. When my son is home, It's important for me to sit with him and play with him and maybe teach him a new body part. Last night, he learned fingers, toes, and arms. He can identify the letters A, B, and C. Elmo, Ernie, Big Bird, or his favorite, Abby Cadabby, can’t teach him everything, nor do I want them to. My writing, again, is a very important part of who I am, but it's no longer the one thing that defines me. I know that I struggle with this shifting or priorities and doubt that I’m investing in the right things money wise and time wise, and I'm sure other people are struggling with it. What do you invest in? What are your priorities? What are those things that you have that are completely necessary that are non-negotiable?
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I think the leaves have just moved up on the list…