I'm seen as an upcoming writer--and I feel it.
Twenty-six years ago, I received my master of fine arts degree in professional writing from USC. Twelve years ago, I wrote a play called Who Lives? where I had become utterly fascinated about a true event: a citizen's committee devoted to choosing a handful of people who might live from among thousands dying of kidney disease. What constituted "a good life"?
Ten years ago, I started my novel The Brightest Moon of the Century, curious again about the meaning of life from the perspective of an average person over time, from adolescence to middle-age. I did not have an answer going in, but I probed, hoping to discover something. It's why it took ten years.
This month, March 2009, the above two projects came together--not intentionally, but by coincidence. Who Lives? was produced at the Pico Playhouse in Los Angeles (two shows left!), and my novel was published, kicked off with a publication party at Vroman's Bookstore. These two events did not make me famous by any stretch of the definition, but with reviews coming out for each, I've sensed a glimmer of what it means to be in the spotlight.
For writers and many artists, there's a long growing period--perhaps the ten-thousand hours that Malcolm Gladwell speaks of in The Outliers (http://bulletin.aarp.org/opinions/othervoices/articles/too_old_to_succeed_no_but_it_takes_practice.html). What drives a creative person? Sometimes it's fame, sometimes it's money, both of which are unlikely. If it's fame you seek, Paris Hilton may be a better role model than any writer. If it's money, go into medicine, law, or finance. Maybe you'll get an AIG bonus.
The people I've come to know in the arts--such as my colleagues at CalArts and the Art Center College of Design--tend to be deep thinkers, often slamming images, ideas, and personalities together the way nuclear scientists smash atoms. It's about seeing what happens.
The writing life isn't an easy one. Not only are audiences or readers a challenge to find, but the daily frustrations that are simply a part of the writing process is enough to make people clean house, walk the dogs, or drive to Starbucks for the cappuccino they suddenly need. Procrastination becomes one's middle name.
Writing often does what it's meant to, however: comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. Today I was pondering (with my cappuccino) why I'd chosen to make my protagonist in Who Lives?, Gabriel Hornstein, such an irascible and "difficult" character? Wouldn't it have been easier on the audience to give kidney disease to a highly likeable man instead of a manipulative attorney?
Yes, but my own challenge was to create a clear, powerful, headstrong man who some might consider despicable yet make him funny, effective and, in the end, compassionate. Such a person is not simple but complex, with competing motives. What he does in the end can be debated, and that's what I've hoped for.
Good writing helps both the writer and reader think, and it's that thinking that's driven me. I doubt I'll ever write such a large ensemble piece again as Who Lives? To create nine distinct personalities for the stage was a challenge I met, but I happen to now enjoy writing novels, which has its own major hurdles. I doubt I'll write a play again because it's a medium that few people jump into, it lasts such a short time, and takes so much money and devotion to produce. My play was up for three weeks, and the number of hours required of the producer, director, designers and actors is enormous--and a gift. I love the theatre. The fleeting intangibleness of it all perhaps reflects our lives.
I'm also enjoying the readings I've given for The Brightest Moon of the Century. I'm meeting friends and making new ones.
After twenty-six years from gaining my degree, I don't regret where I've gone. Man, this is interesting. And, hey--I'm just starting.
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