Write Now

Uh, that last part of that last post, about being in the present?

It was a lie.

Well, not a lie, exactly. But given my job writing about history, I have to spend time in the past. The key, I think, is this part of the Buddha’s quote: “not to mourn for the past.” You can explore without mourning, yes? And that’s what I often do in my creative writing, using the past as fodder. Though maybe at times the line between mourning and exploring does blur a bit.

Turning back to the past inspired the solo show and was a large part of its thematic concern as well. What amazed me recently was finding a similar work, written about ten years ago, that I had completely forgotten about.

Purging some old work files, I came across one labeled, “The Novel.” Well, that’s weird, because I know I’ve never finished a novel, and I didn’t remember even starting one. But inside the folder I found seventy typed pages, along with some crude handwritten notes and comments on an excerpt of the work. (Name-dropping alert: the comments came from Elizabeth McCracken, a novelist who recently wrote a non-fiction book about her losing a baby during the ninth month of pregnancy. It has been well reviewed, as was her fiction. McCracken taught the one and only workshop I’ve ever taken on fiction writing, at the Provincetown Fine Arts Work Center. It left me convinced I should never write novels. But McCracken’s take on this putative novel of mine was positive, closing with the encouragement to keep writing it. Huh. Of course, she probably said the same thing on everyone else’s work…)

That is Elizabeth next to the tall geek with the beard. In front of her is Laurie Gwen Shapiro, who went on to publish several books, one of which was optioned as a movie. She also co-directed/produced an award-winning documentary and had her first play staged in NYC. She has always been very nice to me. I kinda hate her.

That is Elizabeth next to the tall geek with the beard. In front of her is Laurie Gwen Shapiro, who went on to publish several novels, one of which was optioned as a movie. She also co-directed/produced an award-winning documentary and had her first-ever play staged in NYC. She has always been very nice to me. I kinda hate her.

So, I start to read this “novel,” and I see the opening was stolen from a short story I do remember writing ages ago. But this piece goes well beyond that, and covers most of the stuff in the solo show. Even some of the lines are the same. The novel, of course, is more novel-like: It has scenes I know did not happen to me or anyone I know (unless I was highly drugged at the time), like a groupie unsuccessfully trying to seduce me (Bobby, in the book). Scenes that made me laugh out loud. Scenes I had absolutely no recollection of writing.

I read through the 70 pages and thought, “Shit, maybe this could be a novel.” Though the solo show did leave a bad taste in my soul on going the autobiographical route. Still, maybe… So now, trying to make a workable book out of this “find”  is on the ’09 to-do list.

After discovering that lost work, I came across another. A day or two later, I was looking for a poem, the only one ever written for/about me. I had actually mentioned it in the novel, said it was in some old papers, so I started hunting to see if it were really were. Sure enough, in a manila envelope with various writings of mine, I found the poem. And as I kept digging through the papers, I found the lost musical. This, unlike the novel, should stay lost. But I was amazed at how much work I had done.

About 20 years ago, I convinced two incredibly talented musician friends to write the tunes for songs I wanted to put in a rock musical set in an office (inspired by my one hellacious year working at the headquarters of a major insurance company; cheery setting for a musical). I know I wrote the lyrics for at least two songs, and I think there might still be crude recordings of them somewhere. But in the papers I found not only the lyrics for several songs and fragments of others, but also a detailed outline of the play: characters, settings, scene-by-scene breakdown. When I did I write all this shit that I don’t remember?

I have inherited from both my parents a strong squirreling gene. Especially when it comes to these personal writings, jotted-down thoughts and fragments of my life. I am convinced I could take all my aborted plays and play ideas from the last two decades, mash some together, and come up with something decent. But other times, I read things I wrote long ago, and while thinking they’re pretty good, I realize, “I am no longer that person. I don’t write that well anymore.” I may have a greater accumulation of experiences, a soupcon of wisdom I lacked then, but I have lost some of the inner creativity that could translate the experiences and ideas into intriguing prose (and we won’t even talk about the lame attempts at poetry…). Even with the novel; as much as I like some of it, particularly the voice, I fear I cannot pick up where I left off. Not and be convincing. I am not that person anywhere, my voice has changed, in a way much more profound than the wincing tonal crackings of puberty. I don’t know if the change is for the better. I don’t know if I have the skill to try to find the old voice, or meld the new with the old.

Yet I want to try. I want to keep writing new things, inspired by what I once did, and feeling in some tiny part of me that maybe I have gotten better with age (or just more self-delusional?). A few months ago, I thought about bagging playwriting for good. Since then, I’ve written half-a-dozen short plays and slowly found the inclination – if not the energy – to write a new full length. I also got an idea for a novel, even before finding the old one. Both will draw on parts of my life. So, while I want to be in the now, I think the past still has a role to play. And perhaps help me shape a more fulfilling future.

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~ by mburgan on December 31, 2008.

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