Sharing My Stories: Playwright Manque

When I was seven I was taken to see “Pippi Longstocking” at the local children’s theatre. It was my first experience with live theatre and I was immediately hooked. The color, the music, the immediacy of a story brought to life right before your eyes! I was fascinated by the mixing of fantasy and reality, and how the phony could look utterly real. I knew Pippi’s bright red braids was a wig, yet when she danced and skipped across the stage and pulled one, I winced with everybody else at the imagined hurt.


But unlike many other children, I didn’t want to be on the stage myself. I didn’t want to play Pippi and be the star. I wanted to write the stories and then bring them to life – my own stories, people saying my words – creation at its fullest.


I began to write plays for myself. My actors were my friends, cousins, and especially my little brother. He was my favorite actor because he usually would do whatever I told him to do. But then he got a little older, and a lot bolder. By the time I was 10 and he was 6, he had become a writer/director’s nightmare.


I remember one play I wrote for some family occasion, the audience made up of aunts, uncles, grandparents and teenage cousins. I wrote and directed four younger cousins and my brother in a murder mystery that I was quite proud of for its plethora of red herrings, plot twists, and multiple suspects. My brother played the detective. Since he couldn’t read his lines, his part was small — all he had to do was come in at the end, wearing my father’s suit coat and hat, and carrying a toy gun. He was supposed to walk up to the murderer and arrest him. But as soon as he got on “stage” (the living room) ham entered his soul. He stalked up to each aunt and uncle in turn (they weren’t even part of the play!) and grilled them like suspects, making up accusations and threatening to give them the third degree. His impromptu antics heightened both the suspense and the hilarity, and even I admitted he was brilliantly funny. But my laughter was sort of sour. He literally stole my show by totally ignoring my beautifully crafted words.


After that, I much preferred writing books, where your characters don’t think for themselves.

Compost: My Mother

My mother bought me a burial plot for my 50th birthday, right next to the one she bought for herself. My mother will be buried in the Camellia Garden of Floral Hills Cemetery, and before she lost her mind she liked to visit it and admire the tiny square of grass where her body would lie, thinking about me on one side and my infant son on the other. My mother didn’t believe in cremation, and as for a green burial, she’d never heard of it. She picked out a pink casket and a marble gravestone for herself, simultaneously appalling and ridiculous.  My mother makes me so angry sometimes, but then I see her small shiny scalp all pink under her thinning hair, and her trembling hands laid upon my own, and I watch her searching desperately for words of love, trying to snatch them out of the Alzheimer fog, and all my anger drains away and turns to shame. I hope that Alzheimer’s has allowed her to forget all the mean words I ever said or thought about her, and that she does not realize that my dead body will never lie in a concrete vault in Floral Hills Cemetery. Alzheimer’s, a strange kind of grace for her, and a hiding place for me.

Writing Tip: Don’t Be Appropriate

What are the topics you can’t talk about, because you are afraid it will hurt, offend, or piss off someone?  The key phrase in this question is “because you are afraid.” What you can’t talk about, you can’t write about, and the belief that you can’t places a huge boulder in the stream of your creativity, damming up the free flow of ideas. 


Go ahead and write about what is taboo subjects. What might these be? Sexual subjects used to be taboo, although that’s no longer as true. But there are still lingering feelings about what is “nice” or “not nice.” Write something that is not nice; write something nasty. How about money? If I were to ask you how much money you make, you’d feel I was being inappropriate, wouldn’t you? Even though our culture is obsessed with materialism, many of us are secretive about our money – how we get it, how much we have. Spill your money secrets. Write about how you really feel about rich people, or poor people. Are rich people selfish, or poor people lazy? Some of the most common taboos are our family taboos; things were raised not to talk about – say Dad’s drinking or Mom’s pills, or our older brother in prison. What could you never say about these people? Write it down. Let it rip.


Now read over what you wrote and decide if you want to keep it, modify it, or throw it away.  Just writing what you really think and really feel doesn’t mean you have to use your writing as a way to hurt, offend, or piss off anyone. But at least you are writing. Truth really does set you free.