After three months of work research and drafting (a pretty good pace for me), I managed to finish my most recent play last week. I made a final proofreading pass, typed out those magical words “end of play,” and then set about the submission process. This script was written for a specific submission opportunity, with an end of the month deadline, so with the manuscript set I began the actual submission process. There was some confusion early on, as the website I saw using had links both this year’s and last year’s opportunity, so navigating to the correct page took a bit of time. Once that was done, I began the ever-laborious process of formatting the manuscript to their specifications, writing out a synopsis and a statement of intent (it always surprises me that those are not the same thing, but there you go), and compiling the other supplemental materials required. By the time the process was done and I’d hit the final “send” button, I’d been engrossed in the task for a few hours, oblivious to all else. I opened up a new tab on my laptop, to see what I’d missed in those few hours…
And discovered that the world had completely changed. Specifically, that the Russian invasion of Ukraine was underway.
Yes, I spent what may turn out to be the defining hours of the twenty-first century pecking away at my laptop, finalizing a play submission, unaware of what was happening half a world away. And when I did learn about it, I felt that same gnawing pit in my stomach I remember from the Iraq war, and September 11, and the other Iraq war. A mixture of feelings. Fear and worry, to be sure, but also of impotent frustration at seeing events unfold on a screen with no ability to change anything. And with a fair portion of shame, as well – here I was, happily ensconced in my apartment, fretting over submissions and deadlines while other people were dying to defend their lives and freedoms.
I debated long and hard over whether or not to write about the invasion this week; I try to be conscious of the dangers of artists thinking that momentous events conveniently happening to be all about them simply because they mention them. It tends towards narcissism so very easily, and helps no one. And it’s not like anything I can type will change conditions on the ground in Ukraine. Nevertheless, I do want to take a moment that I managed to get a new play finished and submitted despite all of this, if only because so many of my friends have not.
We’re all burned out. We’re watching this latest horror show and wondering if it’s the start of World War III or only a new Cold War. And it’s coming on top of waves of coronavirus and lockdown and insurrection and so many successive nightmares that we’ve already forgotten half of them. (Like the murder hornets. Forgot about those, right?) We’re doomscrolling and refreshing and vegetating in front of our various screens and we don’t have the strength or the bandwidth to think about a new writing project. We’re paralyzed with confusion and indecision. It’s perfectly understandable.
And it is not the time for that.
I don’t mean that in the sense of “times are hard, folks need to be entertained” sense. There’s a place for that, of course, but I’m talking about something else. I’m talking about the capacity for storytelling to instill values. If you’re horrified that fascism, militarism, and authoritarianism are on the rise, then you need to take a look at how those values have gotten back into our culture. You need to think about ways to re-introduce competing values back into our culture. And since the stories we tell are one of the chief ways we inculcate those values, crafting the metaphors we cling to as our personal mythologies, then we need to figure out the kind of stories that put humanistic values back into our culture. And then get busy telling them.
We need to get busy doing a whole lot of other things as well, of course. Be sure you’re doing as many of those things as you can, no matter how small they may seem. But if you’re following a random performing arts blog you found on the internet, there’s a good chance that the storytelling I describe is something you’re best equipped to do. So resist the urge to hide under the covers as the world falls apart, and figure out what story you want to tell. I mean, if you’re an entertainer, it probably won’t be the story of how you somehow wound up the leader of your nation and became its heroic fig