I sent an email this morning, which is not abnormal, so I should probably start with the fact that I sent an email to one of my business partners, also not abnormal. I run a theatre company. Someone recently told me that this theatre company was most likely a hobby since none of us had seriously considered moving it to Detroit, yet. Serious making of art is happening in Detroit since New York has become untenable when it comes to rent. I had to consider that this individual might be correct, but I also reminded myself that the benefits of the comforts of New York and my life here far outweighed the isolating experience of moving to Detroit to “really make art”. If it had to remain a “hobby” in, New York then it would have to remain. In any event, I sent an email to my partner. The email detailed the need for a contract, specifically a contract for my most current play. The theatre company is producing it in the mid part of 2016 or slated to produce, at least. I am not under a contract yet. Now, this may seem to add weight to the “hobby” comment, but it actually speaks to a deep trust from my partners. They think I am a better person than I am. They assume I won’t back out because well, I want my play produced because in actuality nobody behaves like it’s a “hobby” even if Detroit is not in the picture. Also they believe without a shadow of a doubt that when all else fails I have some sense of fealty to them. They are wrong on all accounts, which is unfortunate for them, but more unfortunate for me.
In my early twenties in the mid-ought’s I revisited Joan Didion, and by revisited, I mean obsessively read everything I had already read and then everything I had not. I am at most times bleak and thus Joan suits me. Honestly, I think most people pretend to like Didion. She’s wildly depressing and she is always only revealing something deeply personal about herself to make sure the reader is aware of his or her own personal or cultural failing. It’s quite masterful actually, but leaves the reader feeling terrible if appropriately digested. She does it beautifully, which only heightens its impact, and that bad taste left in the mouth is either palatable or the reader feels obligated because someone with an opinion that matters said he or she should. Didion, is not for everyone, but she is indeed for me. In my twenty-eighth year, my obsession continued and as I was wont to do on occasion I revisited Joan Didion, The Art of Fiction No. 71 Interviewed by Linda Kuehl. As I was reading I noticed the following response, “I was struck a few years ago when a friend of ours—an actress—was having dinner here with us and a couple of other writers. It suddenly occurred to me that she was the only person in the room who couldn’t plan what she was going to do. She had to wait for someone to ask her, which is a strange way to live.” As an actress I suddenly recognized this as true and at the same time horrible so that afternoon I sat down at my computer and wrote my first play. Didion says she writes to understand and in that moment I wrote to understand my place as a creative person who was continually told to wait. Several years later I write less to understand my place in the creative world and write more to understand my place period or more accurately the place of the world around me. And so this is how we have arrived at my present email.
Didion didn’t just give me writing. She gave me those terribly self revealing words meant to reveal that I am indeed maybe not the stellar human that I think I am. The self revealing phrasing that reminds me that I am indeed less selfless than I ought to be. The sentences that remind me that the society that I live in is quite muddled and that nothing is as it seems. The paragraphs that tell me humans need a narrative filled with heroes and sermons to get through the awfulness that is generally living a life. The essays that remind me that the world is never quite as it seems on the surface, that it is indeed cracking underneath the weight of all that we aren’t. So I woke up this morning and realized that I would not deliver this play if not under contract. In A Book of Common Prayer Joan writes that, “you have to pick the places you don’t walk away from”. Isn’t that true. Isn’t the natural course of things to not fight, to let things fall apart and to walk away as if it never happened? Isn’t our natural desire to run and not keep on “nodding terms” with the people we used to be? Isn’t that too hard? So it would be easier to walk away from the play for a host of reason the least of which is that people will eventually have to see it and in all honesty no one really wants that. Knowing myself and all the things that barely hold me together, I would not be opposed to walking away after money has been spent, which might be horrible, but I am surprisingly okay with it.
I don’t quite have the better nature we’d hope for in a human. I am trying to survive and writing often bumps up against that just as life does. See this play, it’s about all those human nature things. It is about those uncomfortable revelations that we should have around the lives we lead. And it is confrontational. It’s hostile and while Joan says that writing is a hostile act I would say I am indeed unready to be hostile with the world. I would rather back out and so I am entirely in need of a contract. My business partners assume I sent that email to maintain good business practices and we will let them continue to assume that, but you and I now know that I am indeed unwilling to continue of my own accord and I guess that is what it is. But some of us have to write to figure out how we think and feel and so here I am at the end of it all, knowing that I am in need of a legal obligation to do the thing I should do anyway. Slightly less than the ideal human we hope for, but maybe more honest.
Morgan McGuire, a playwright and actress living, acting and writing in New York City. She is the head of development at The Shelter. And is currently authoring her first continuous full length play "The Red Room". She is fun on Instagram as @msmorganm