I went to my new writing group. It was much different than my other writing group. We didn’t spend most of the time reading the play out loud. Everyone had already read it thoroughly enough to quote lines and express highly specific opinions on small moments that drive the drama one way or another. They weren’t shy about asking the playwright questions that they expect an immediate answer to. “Did you want us to think she was angry on page 52, or that she really didn’t give a shit?”
In my other group, we follow the Chicago Dramatists model. “The playwright is not here to explain or defend. You can ask questions but the playwright is not here to answer them. You are here to reflect your experience of the play back to the playwright.” I like that approach, but this felt so free. It was only a tiny bit of a bloodbath and nobody seemed to mind. There were also some nice Ikea dressers that the host’s wife had just put together. They looked like solid pine, and I was sad that we hadn’t sucked up and bought one last time we were at Ikea, instead of having another peculiarly Ikea-style non-argument. Clothes are everywhere in here. On the ottoman in front of me, on the radiator beside me, on the small shelving unit we’re pretending is as good as a dresser.
Afterward, I dropped off one playwright at the el and drove another home. The first talked about his writing method, which is somewhat elliptical and seems to result in plays that are hundreds of pages long which will get cut later, when the arc emerges. The other was exhausted after an 8-hour rehearsal for a play of hers that’s being produced by her alma mater. They are so serious about their work, the writers in this group. I feel like a recovering dilettante.
After I dropped them off, I turned on the radio for the last minutes of my drive. A scientist on NPR was talking about the thrill of discovery. The interviewer made some reference to William Blake — how what the scientist was describing sounded more like poetry than hard science. The scientist said something about how art is the highest science, or the highest science is art. He said that while working at the bench is necessarily careful and precise and painstaking, the moments before and after can be as expansive and poetic as any artist’s process.
He referred to the Malcolm Gladwell book about 10,000 hours. You have to put in 10,000 hours in order to become truly great at anything, and once you do that, it’s all kind of the same, up in that echelon. These young writers in my new group seem to be cramming in their hours as fast as they can, while I am hoping mine have accumulated behind me like Pigpen’s dustcloud. Kind of like I hope that on today’s dog walk I encounter a splendid antique dresser in an alley that has been preparing itself for our bedroom, slowly and methodically, in someone else’s lab.