It hadn’t occurred to me until now, with this topic, how little I think of actual publishing these days. I keep wondering if its because I’m not writing faithfully, which is true, or if my gears have changed in another direction, which is also true, or if my life force is thinning. Which is also true.
A few nights ago I was preparing a couple of plays to send off to the Porter Fleming competition, having gotten lucky last year. These were plays I hadn’t looked at in a while, they gave me joy. While I was rewriting and tweeking passages of them I thought “Damn. These aren’t bad. For anybody. I like these plays, even if someone else had written them, I’d still like them.” They had soul, which is what I measure a work by. They had fire. And I wrote them!
Not only did I write them but I had that peculiar and scary pleasure of seeing my words come out of someone’s mouth in the spotlight. Striding the boards. That is a very strange thing, and a humbling thing to see, your work interpreted by someone else’s art according to their own talent, their own way of seeing. Of hearing your flawed, occasionally wooden dialogue sanded down and smoothed by the tone of a human voice. And then at the end, that terrible, cringing moment when the last line is spoken and the spotlights go out and you sit in the dark feeling like Dr. Frankenstein as the hot smoke is still rising from the neck bolts of your creation, waiting for the twitch of a finger, an eyelash, a caveman grunt, any sign of life. And then the ripple of applause begins, and you can relax. It’s alive! That is validation.
Sermons are like that too. You work on a theme which has to be finished in twenty minutes, about 1500 words. And that has to have soul. Before you begin you have to ask yourself, how does my idea rate another person’s time? How does this thing that fascinates me show the way to be a better, a little kinder? You have to know that before you begin, and as with other forms of writing, your understanding is constantly changing, and if it has soul, your topic, you find new colors when light is shone through it.
And then Sunday morning comes, you’re nervous, a little afraid, the cabled kites go up in the lightning storm, the table with its bandaged figure rises through the castle roof and it all begins again. Traditionally sermons are not applauded, its nice when they are. But they are a different art, closer to theater than an essay. You have an audience. You want to reach past your own fear to touch your audience, knowing you’re not the wisest person to be doing any of this. Its something you stepped up to do because you want to give back.
And then there’s age. I’m convinced more than ever the energy by which we fuck, and pray, and write, all comes from the same place. The desire is the same desire but with different masks. When the energy is diminished the other things feel the impact. The flame is there, but the candle is reduced. You don’t see the people we grew up reading and dancing and listening to cranking them out like they once did. It comes harder to them too, even though time and experience have vastly improved their grasp of craft.
It seems sometimes that the better we become at saying something, the less we have to say.