Tag: Arlene Malinowski

Rejectness & Acception

Off Fellows picture
Buildings of the Odd Fellows’ Orphans’ Home, framed, submitted to alley, accepted by me.

I got my favorite rejection of the year in the mail the other day. As a writer, I’m supposed to be used to rejection, but I’m not. I never got rejected from this particular place for that particular piece before, so it’s always happening for the first time.

And as someone who’s done my share of rejecting, I should remember that not everyone’s performance or piece is right for whatever I’m casting or curating, so I should remember it’s not often so much about rejection as it is about incompatibility, but I don’t.

And as my job hunting friends tell me, I should be grateful even for rejections, because someone cared enough to say no, thanks. Apparently the trend in employment these days is, if you don’t hear from us, consider it a no. Thanks. Yeah, I guess, but it still stings. Except for the times when it doesn’t. Like this one.

It wasn’t one of those personalized “Your play is amazing but we don’t have the budget for your time machine set piece” or “The writing is so brilliant even we don’t understand it “ sorts of letters. There wasn’t even a scrawled postscript about how I should send in something else because they liked my voice. It was just a form letter on cheap paper telling me that my play, “Charlie,” wasn’t selected for their ten-minute musical project. Two things stopped me from feeling bad about it, maybe three.

First, the letter said that not only wasn’t “Charlie” selected, but no one’s play was selected. Which made me feel included instead of excluded. I like feeling included, which apparently is okay because that’s part of being human.

Also, the letter advised all us rejects to pay more attention to story, because plot was mostly where these pieces disappointed. It recommended more adaptations. I can take or leave the advice, but at least I have a sense of why they didn’t like my very small story with some big songs (composed by creative wonderbox Charlie – oh, btw, Charlie, we didn’t get in – Hopper).

There’s something lovely about a rejection that reveals just a little of what’s behind the no. It demystifies the whole process in a way that makes me feel less generally inadequate, and more specifically incompatible.

Rejections also feel better when tempered with acceptances. This morning, I got an email with a link to a tiny radio play I wrote, “Go,” which is presented as part of this week’s episode of Chicago Off Book. It’s a smart, fast, funny show that makes me want to go see more theatre. I hope you’ll listen to it—and not just to my 60 seconds of silliness. Arlene Malinowski also has a mini-play in this episode, and there are interviews with Michael Halberstam and Darrell Cox.

Ironically, when something of mine is accepted, I don’t feel a huge rush of artistic triumph. I just think, oh, good, for some reason that worked for them. It boosts my confidence enough to think about sending out more work, and more importantly, it’s the point of the whole endeavor – to share my work, my view, my experiences, with whoever might care to listen.

Like most things I write, both “Charlie” and “Go” are on actual events: one I overheard at a bookstore, and one I saw backstage at a theatre. The more I write, the more I discover specifically what kind of writer I am: an interpreter of the small and forgotten. And I’m proud of it. If you too are someone who auditions, submits, sells, offers yourself parsed out in words or images or knitted hoodies or carved dogs, I hope you’ll keep at it. Because there may be only a few people in this entire universe who really “get” your handmade astrology-themed earbud cozies, but wouldn’t it feel good to connect with them?

Endings and what comes before

sea lion
In the distance, a phone rings. Softly. Insistently. End of play.

Yesterday was my last class with Will Dunne, of the translations exercise I talked about back in October. Over the term, I’ve completed the second draft of my play, “St. George on the bus.” First draft, written earlier this year, was 79 pages and seven characters. Second draft is 33 pages and two characters. I can see things I need to develop more, or unpack as Arlene Malinowski says in my Saturday writing group, but I don’t think the next draft will be longer than 40 pages. Maybe it’s a one-act, maybe it’s a first act in a longer piece I don’t see yet. But I think I see where it needs to go to complete itself. I need to dig back in to push the characters into declaring their wants and needs a little more strongly, so they can fight a little harder, and be a little more of who they are, and make the story more of what it is.

I tend to write characters who are too ambiguous, a tendency that can make a writer feel like she is very deep. ‘Cause the characters are so “real.” And if you have a strong story—that is, a story that your characters are driving with strong wants and needs, then there’s room for ambiguity and yes, it’s super-deep. But if the story is somewhat tenuous, because your characters are half-moving and half-wanting in too many directions at once, it loses momentum. It becomes static.

A collage is not a story. The viewer can certainly make a story of it, but that’s not the same thing. If I order a chef salad I’m not asking for a head of lettuce and a block of cheese. Dressing on the side, sure, but don’t make me decide whether to slice or quarter the egg.

We went to a friend’s the other night and he screened the short film he’s making. It was beautiful, with sure pacing and compelling action and a tone that feels very specific. But then it just sort of stopped. Not ended, but stopped. Or at least that’s how I felt. Then Dave said the same thing, and our friend said he’s struggling with that too. The problem is, how to end it in a way that satisfies all major collaborators on the piece. Turns out each has slightly different thoughts about what front end means, so they’ve created an ending ambiguous enough that you can interpret as you wish. But because the ending didn’t feel like an ending, it made me question what I thought the whole thing was about. And not in a deep way.

Maybe my vision of story is too uptight. Maybe I take stories too seriously, because of my own struggles with middles and ends. I sort of want to add a phone ringing to the end of my St. George play, because as it ends right now, character 1 leaves character 2 behind. It’s kinda sad, because character 1 has made a choice that will propel her into a more honest and brave place in her life, and character 2 has retreated. And the connection they once had is gone. So character 2 is sitting alone at the end. Aw, it’s sad. And if the phone rings, and we can assume it’s character 3 calling, and it rings and rings but character 2 is too sad to pick it up, isn’t that even sadder? And the lights are slowly fading and the phone just rings and rings…are you getting teary-eyed? You’ve only seen that once or twice in plays or movies before, right? Or maybe six or seven times? Or 20? But the real point is, if it were happening in my head and I couldn’t deny it, I would know it was right. It would be an ending and not just an idea.

The other problem I’m struggling with is relevance. But I’ll save that for another day, because Django is bugging me for a walk, and I’ve just received an email from my godmother, telling me about a writing award my distant cousin David Holroyd just won in England, for his story, “Deliver Us From Bobby!” It’s a wonderful piece, incidentally with a perfect ending: “As for the aggressive miner, we never saw him again.”