Writer’s Brock – “I bow only for the curtain call.”

I began college a year early, having skipped sixth grade, but that never dissuaded me from believing I could tell the world how to act. So when a new friend asked me to direct his then unfinished play, I agreed to do so enthusiastically. It began on a drunken night at freshman orientation. My roommate there turned out to be a boozer and a playwright. When he and I were both wasted his play sounded good, and I thought I could direct it without a problem. Both of these turned out to be false estimations. The play was perhaps the most self-indulgent piece I have yet to read. It began with a twenty-five minute monologue, this to the end that the audience realize how hard it is to really know someone. Whether this lesson was worth boring onlookers until the rest of the play bothered them occurred to me, but not to the playwright. More than once I begged him to break up the long existentialist rant that had come to its author during a trip on LSD. Each time I was denied with scorn. That I could consider such a compromise a possibility at all, even as it was evident to me and to most of the cast that the playwright needed to make changes. For his part, this playwright was a devout follower of Ayn Rand, which is to say he was an insufferable jerk. Collaborating on artistic outcomes was considered to be forfeiting the basic rights each artist had. This may have worked for the writer with novels, but the theater is necessarily collaborative. This playwright was about as easy to work with as a gorilla who knew sign language. I could communicate with him, but most of the time it was clear there were fundamental concepts this guy could not understand. Still I went with his vision, myopic though it was, and through a force of will and neglect of my studies made the play happen. The play presented a challenge of finding a lead actor. For this I had an idea to drum up turnout. I convinced a U of M football player, the linebacker Dhani Jones, into joining the cast. When it became clear that he hadn’t the time to memorize lines, I gave him the role of the monologue only. To make that possible I had him read the lines from a leather folder. The lights being low he needed a flashlight to read, and this became a prop. With Dhani on board, the project gained buzz around the campus, even landing the playwright, the player and me on the front page of the student newspaper. Meanwhile, I did all the grunt work. I built and painted the sets, designed and hung the lights, and made the program as well as doing all the work of a director. That I did all this for a piece of writing I never liked much says a lot about my pride. I thought I could make a bad play good. I was mad, of course. Doing all the work meant that I stayed up all night over and over, until I got used to life without sleep. It was only a matter of time before I got used to life without sanity as well. The last dress rehearsal I broke down in sobs during the intermission. I couldn’t take the feeling that I had wasted so many people’s time, especially my own. That night I was sure the production would be a disaster. To my surprise it did not work that way. It came off okay. Just okay. This in its way was a worse fate than disaster, for the artists I’ve met all seem to loathe mediocrity more than being hated. At least hate is passionate response. There were few of those either way. What I took from the play more than anything was a distaste for any art form where I needed to rely on others. More than any single experience, directing that play drove me to become a novelist. After it I began a first manuscript. I can still see that football player with a flashlight reading the monologue from a folio, the rest of the lights low and the crowd necessarily bored. When I do, I remember an old man and his daughter who approached me after the play was over. I was in front of the theater smoking a cigarette. He told me that the lesson in the work was the same lesson in any work. “It’s all about the love, man. The love.” For just that moment, and perhaps only that moment, the disaster felt like an accomplishment. It was one achieved at the price of my sanity, however. Within weeks I had been kicked out of school and was in a psych ward. For just that moment of love, though, I felt I could reorganize the world in the image of my madness and thus become sane. So I sought the most autocratic way to remake everything; I appointed myself as a dictator of words. I became a novelist. To this day I sit on that fool’s throne thinking myself a king to amuse those who really rule. I bow only for the curtain call.