Tuesday, November 10, 2015

A Story Worth Telling

I've haven't shared this before, but I'm writing a play called "Hair Like the Sun." It's set to premiere next year at the Texas Repertory Theater. This play is a labor of love, and I'm proud to be a part of it. The reason I haven't mentioned it before, though, is because talking about it makes it real. Suddenly I'm not just noodling around in my workshop, tinkering with a hypothetical script for a hypothetical play. Now I have to face the fact that this is happening.

This project is listed on a website. It has a date. It's been printed on flyers and mailed to people. This is a real thing that has a real date with real people who are investing real money. Already this is generating real buzz which means a real audience will fill a real theater to fill real seats. And for me, this is real scary.

When this project was just a fanciful idea, a "what if" scenario, there was very little consequence for failure. It was a small project known only to a handful of people. If it didn't work in those initial stages, we could have always told ourselves that it would have been wildly successful if not for events that weren't our fault. But then the unthinkable happened. We got a green light to actually produce this play. 

Now if this fails, it's on us. And don't think that I won't take the majority of the blame, because I'm a writer. When I don't think I'm God's gift to the literary world I know in my heart that everything I've ever written is awful. (If' you're a writer or any kind of artist you understand.) This means that the pressure has been turned to eleven, and I realize that everyone is counting on me to turn in a great script. Suddenly what I'm writing really matters, and I'm both in awe of this opportunity and terrified of my responsibility. 

Actors will spend weeks learning lines I've written. People will construct sets, make costumes, find or build props, all because I wrote it. I guarantee this isn't an ego trip, it's me telling you why I'm on the verge of curling up into a ball of insecurity and vowing to never again to put myself under this kind of pressure. All these people are counting on me, and I'm terrified I've let them down.

So why am I putting myself in this position? After all, I could just have easily have passed on this opportunity and used this time to put a dent in my video game backlog. There are a lot less stressful ways to live my life. Instead, I didn't hesitate to get myself mixed up in a project that's occupied me for years. Why?

Because this is a story worth telling.

That's the reason. I have the opportunity to tell a story about an amazing woman whom everyone should know. Her name was Ruth Mix, and when she was a teenager she spent three years in a Japanese Internment camp called Gila River. She didn't have to; she and her mother were among the few Caucasian volunteers who went there to help the unjustly imprisoned Japanese Americans held there. (Her mother, Frida Mix, had marched for women's suffrage and even been arrested for it. She wasn't about to not become involved.)

Not only did Ruth work as a nurse, she also smuggled in supplies to the prisoners. This smuggling wasn't just food and toiletries, either. She smuggled in things like camera film, which would have gotten her arrested for treason had she been caught. The film was so the people there could take pictures, so that no one could deny that we did this, which is why Gila River was the most photographed of the camps.

Can you imagine finding yourself thrust into a situation like that? Not only did she give up everything to live at the camp, she was also despised herself for being sympathetic to the imprisoned Japanese Americans. She became an outcast and was viewed as a traitor during wartime. Imagine going through all that, but as a teenager. 

Ruth's daughter Claire Mix filmed a documentary and wrote a book about all this. That's how I got involved. Through a Kevin Bacon-esque friend-of-a-friend type situation, I was asked to turn Ruth's story into a play. I count myself privileged to have been able to speak with and work with Claire Mix before her tragic passing. (Ruth had already died several years prior.) After she died, I was, and still am, determined to complete this final project.

Again, I never met Ruth, I only knew Claire for a short time, yet this story has become my story to tell. My name is on the poster and in the playbill. Why am I so involved when I have no personal stake in it? Why am I stressing myself out so much I fear my hair will fall out in clumps? Because this is a story worth telling, and that's what writers do. We tell stories with telling.

That's why I will see this through. Many writers spend years searching for a story worth telling. I've found one, and I'm telling it. I know that over the next few months I will go back and forth between ecstatic joy and paralyzing insecurity. I will feel blessed to be a part of it and curse the people who roped me into it. I will both love and hate my script. That's my cross to bear as a writer and I'll gladly bear it. 

Because this is a story worth telling.

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