How to tell a story

How to tell a story

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Two projects I never finished -- and two more important ones I did

Writers, it seems to me, are serial monogamists. I certainly am. I am passionately in love with the project I'm working on -- until it's done, when my affection immediately transfers to something new. And sometimes a new project woos me away from what I'm working on before I finish it. Twice important projects got interrupted this way, one more than once, and they never did get finished.

The Quantum Quartet. In the early 1980s, I conceived of four plays that would follow the relationship of two genius physicists from teen years to old men. In the middle, between plays two and three, one would get a sex change operation. I called the project The Quantum Quartet, I outlined it, and I talked about it with Bob Hicks in a profile he published about me at the time. And I finished the first of these plays, called The Sadness of Einstein. Then several conflicting energies converged at once, leading me to abandon the project.

To start with good news, Sadness found support in Seattle, where it was scheduled to showcase a prestigious new play festival. A feather in my cap! But suddenly the festival lost its funding and crashed. Just as well, it turns out, because in the meantime I received the commission that introduced me to hyperdrama and completely changed my interests as a dramatist. I never marketed Sadness further, and I never finished the quartet. I published it in a collection of non-produced plays, including The Death Cycle (of one acts), which I still regard highly. There waiting for a director to discover them. Hint, hint.

An original opera with libretto and melody lines. Ever since writing the libretto to Dark Mission for composer John Nugent, I've had the fantasy of writing my own opera. I don't have the musical craft to do this, other than to note melody lines I hear in my head. So this was the plan. A starter kit for a genuine composer. And I actually started such a project four or five times over the years, always abandoning it when something came along that I was more qualified to do. No loss, missing this one, even though I was preoccupied with it for decades.

The two monkeys. There were two great monkeys on my back for decades, material I knew I had to write about, great material from my personal life, but which somehow never could find expression. (I've written about this before, here and here). These were my Cold War experiences and my experience with the late Polly Stewart, a presumed soul mate who became a lesbian right before my blinder-covered eyes. The former led to Baumholder 1961 and the latter to several things, most importantly The Half-Life Conspiracy, Kerouac's Scroll and my short film Deconstructing Sally. It's much more important that these projects got done than that others did not get done.

In the long run, the work gets done that needs to get done, I suppose. I try to encourage young writers not to be too hard on themselves when a project stalls or fails. Bumps in the road, even periods of abandonment, are part of the process. If you are writing inside-out, which is to say, writing as an act of exploration and self-discovery, your unconscious will deliver the goods when it's time -- and no sooner. Find your process and learn to trust it. I did, many times over.