In 2004 I decided to write a novel. As a devoted reader of difficult books, I had massive ambitions. I wanted to write something personal, experimental, universal, tragic, poetic, epic, complex, controversial, and affirming.
I felt capable. I took tons of notes. I began writing with great zeal.
My novel concerns itself with Tremont, a young man recovering from a mental collapse caused by the dual traumas of grad school and his mother’s rectal cancer.
He drinks whisky from the bottle. He chain-smokes ’til dawn. He reads dense social science anthologies like Rethinking Context: Language as an Interactive Phenomenon (Studies in the Social and Cultural Foundations of Language).
He’s not an asshole per se. Like he’d never purposely hurt someone. He may have broken a few hearts, but that’s just ’cause he’s young and hot and broke and maybe an alcoholic and also an aspiring writer and potentially bi-sexual.
And although he’s never pinned a woman down against her will, he considers himself an average guy. No one really knows him, though. People describe him as brooding, mysterious, charming, aloof, and wry. But he’s very very alone.
Probably because he’s tragically flawed.
I got 23 pages into writing before I started hating myself. I was regurgitating a cliché.
Of all the many many types of humans who could have inhabited My Great Novel, why had I chosen that tired-ass trope? Why was I burning brain cells out over a troubled sociopath? And why did I date him more than once? Whose wet dream was this?
Um, everyone’s, for about a decade. I came of age in the 90’s, the era of the Brilliant Damaged Bro and the Sad Chick Who Hates Herself For Loving Him. Which does NOT hold up, friends.
Luckily I figured this out before chapter three. I shut my novel down and turned the parts I didn’t hate into a play… this play! Which is currently running in Seattle at Washington Ensemble Theatre through October 8th, if you’re in the nabe.
My hero is now a programmer chick named Jess who goes on a road trip with her dead father so she can reckon with her past and cope with her future. She’s tragically flawed (fist pump) and drinks too much, but that’s about where the similarities to my former hero end.
It’s big and messy and visual and has a killer cast and a brilliant design team and a smart-as-hell director. But if you like your plays straightforward with cleanly drawn lines and one clear sonorous wail of a message, definitely stay home and watch Reality Bites again. Please.
Jess has a monologue in a dive bar where she discusses the kind of dude she wants to take home that night, if you’d like a taste:
THIS CHICK WALKS INTO A BAR...
We don’t have an appointment.
He may not even exist.
But here are his stats:
He is skinny
The kind of skinny that makes people nervous
It’s partially genetic
But mostly he just smokes a lot
And forgets to eat
I’m so jealous of that.
He wears gorgeous clothes.
Clothes I’ve only seen in photos.
The kind I could never bring myself to buy.
He spends every penny he makes on them
He’d rather be poor than have an unfit garment touch his skin
But he isn’t superficial
He just loves himself
Some people do.
He looks like my father. Who died when I was two so I can’t call upon his face with any precision but that’s probably okay ’cause now I can make my small inventions around the parts I do know such as his body type, his complexion, his hairline.
He’ll have no qualms about allowing a tipsy degenerate to take him home.
We’re gonna have some crazy epic drunk sex. Slamming against walls and tearing up bedsheets, et cetera. Someone will probably get a black eye. It’ll go on for like, ever.And eventually his particles will become mine and we’ll shrink down all microscopic. We’ll travel into the corpuscles of strangers, in and out of cells and cilia, through mucous membranes, beneath fingernails, then out into the earth, through the roots of a grass blade, through the hard shells of Amazonian insects, onto the tongues of termites, and oh then we’ll get fucking HUGE! We’ll billow upwards into the galaxy and cloak the constellations, wrap ’em up like wedding gifts. And then we’ll collapse in the pull of our own gravity and reconstitute as a white, heatless star, and wash the universe in our ghostly glow.
This is more me than him but he’ll fall asleep right after and I’ll just stroke him and talk to his sleeping body like people do on TV.
I’ll tell him this:”I am stroking the space between your ear and your shoulder
I am stroking the space between your hip and your thigh
I am stroking the space between your spine and your navel
I am consumed with your spaces between”
First he’s gotta walk through that door.