What Not To Write
I was in college when I took part in an unusual theatre experience. Actually, it was all objectively new to me, because it was only the third show I had ever done in life, and the first that was not a one-act.
Part of the experience was a months-long workshopping (read: rewriting) of the script. You’d never get away with doing that in most cases, but as we were a college, I suppose we had more leeway. Or, our professor didn’t give a shit, and did it anyway.
It was a trying experience for me during the first month or so. I didn’t know most of the people in the show very well. Being the introvert that I am, I liked to think before I answered, and most of the rest of the group liked to think out loud. (Quite boisterously at times.) They found chaos in most cases an exciting impetus to creativity. I found it to be headache-inducing to the point of withdrawing from the process and refusing to even try to talk over the madness after a while. I was getting shot down all the time anyway.
Short cut to the irony in all of this; what started as a frustrating, unproductive waste of time for me ended up being one of the most rewarding experiences I have ever had in theatre. Perhaps in life.
All of us had great fun being in the eventual show that came about. I knew early on that I had been affected by the experience in ways that the others had not. I admit I couldn’t at the time understand how most of them missed the significance of what we were able to accomplish, but in the end I was content with the fun we had together. Between one October and one January, antagonists became friends. That, I had never experienced before.
Eight students all told. For a while there, we were most of one another’s free time in a way that even theatre doesn’t usually require at that level. We even all had to come back to campus a week early from Christmas vacation, and somehow I didn’t mind.
Then it was over. We came back one night to campus from the venue we had taken the show to, took the shit inside the theatre, and that was that. Literally, the eight of us were never in the same room at the same time ever again.
Most of them left the college after that year. I and a few others didn’t. That summer I decided to commemorate the experience which even months later was informing my perceptions on the power of collaborative arts. I wrote a brief, (80 pages), what I hoped to be pithy but warm “memoir” of the experience. I planned to gift to each one of them a copy.
It was of course from my own point of view, but one with which they were already familiar. There were some friendly jabs in it, but none that we had not made in person during the experience. I had a great time that summer mentally reliving the experience as I wrote down anecdote after anecdote about the (for me) one-of-a-kind show.
In retrospect, I know this was the time when the seed of a realization was first planted in the soil of my creative mind; sometimes a writer should not write something.
Perhaps I overstate the case. But perhaps not, considering what followed.
Two of the people involved read it, and said they enjoyed it. Simple as that. I’d hoped for a little more, but if they smiled, great.
One, then out of state, wanted to read it, and I sent him a copy. He sent it back with a few thoughts. No condemnation of the effort, but it was clear he thought I’d been a bit unfair. In either case, that polite-enough note was the last significant communication I ever got from him.
One started, but didn’t feel like finishing it. Two were not interested, one straight up refusing, saying that they didn’t want their own memories of the show affected by someone else’s perspective. They preferred to remember it “in my own way.” Attempts to befriend this one on social media were abandoned years ago, when it was clear that said invitations were not going to be accepted.
The other one, I flat out do not remember if they read it or not.
Though I have, presumably, the only remaining copy, (paper at that), I myself haven’t read it in years and years. The response to the memoir lessened even the memory of the show itself.
Sometimes a writer should not write something.
Did my mild Autism make me blind to an otherwise obvious truth? Did I misjudge so many other people to such a large extent? To a degree I imagine both are true, at least with some of the people involved.
Yet I have wondered for quite some time now if the real lesson, (if there is any) was that writing words is different. It changes things. It alters the meaning, the staying power of even a true event. Observations spoken and jabs batted back and forth among “friends” can become, to the very same friends, distasteful when written down and read.
Can I prove beyond doubt that my writing of that memoir was the direct cause of some of the distance that evolved between me and some of the others? No. The timing sure adds up though. Couple that with good old fashioned instinct and I feel justified in the deduction still.
I still communicate with two or three of them. Funny thing is, they are the two or three I got along fine with from the very start of the show before the communal realignment that made us all fond of each other those short months. Four lifetimes later, it’s like it’s back where it started. Possibly because I may have seriously misjudged the nature of my own writing.
Perhaps my fiction suffers from a similar problem. Does my fiction occupy an unusual point of view and follow a narrative so off kilter from the our world because of my mild autism? Am I once again latching on to what I perceive is touching or exciting or just a damn good yarn because of my atypical, Autistic perceptions and understanding of what would make an appreciated written gift to the world?
I lack the answer.