Last night we went to see a play. A Groupon for season tickets to the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco meant that we saw the play for less than the price of a movie. Sure I spent a fair portion of the evening relieved that I overcame mild childhood acrophobia, but it was a good show. What follows is not quite a review, not quite a "Doing stuff....as a writer," and not quite pure unadulterated navel gazing, but it has elements of each.
The show was pretty good. I figured a deal like that and we would be getting tickets for VERY early in the run, and I was right, so there were still a few kinks they were working out of being in front of a live audience. Plus theater acting in a venue so large is always going to feel just a bit too...well staged. (It wasn't just the fifties parts either.) But that's the cost of doing business in theater unless you're dealing with crazy high production values--which mean crazy high ticket prices--or you are dealing with that sublime strata of writers (coupled with decent directors) who make it easy on the actors to be natural. But they can't all be Shakespeare, Chejov, or Tennessee Williams. [True story though, that saying "Chejov" reminds me of. I'd love to write (or see) a play one day with a gun on the mantle piece, and in the third act it just goes off randomly in the middle of an intense scene. No one dies, and everyone just kind of looks around and then goes on with what they were doing. Comedy gold!]
The play's main theme dealt with the trade off of modernity with fifties culture. A couple goes into a closed community that reproduces the 50's exactly, right down to the social intolerance. The guy of the couple is Japanese, so there is a lot of post war prejudice that he deals with. The women are repressed. One of the main conflicts is about homosexuality being way way way in the closet (which I won't ruin with details in case any of you decide to see the show--it's quite good!) But at the same time that this world is backwards and repressive, especially to them as a "Mixed Race Couple" ("But we are a mixed race couple," Katha says. "Yeah, but he said it with capital letters!" Ryu replies.) they also discover that there is an undeniable feeling of purpose in the 1955 simulation. They enjoy the privacy of life without online transparency. They enjoy the fact that they can't bubble themselves away online, but have to talk to people all the time--even an operator to make a phone call. They enjoy working to create things that matter directly to the world around them, and they find a certain comfort in a society that tells them what to care about. 2012 is TOO easy. It's TOO instantly gratifying. And with no rules, sometimes people don't know what to do. And when you get anything you want with the press of a button then it's tough to feel any gratification when you get what you want. When society limits them (even tells them what to aspire to) they find a certain freedom.
It makes me grateful that I've always wanted to write. I look around at so many people just trying to figure out what they want out of life and miserable because "anything you want" is simply too big. I wonder if a fair bit of my happiness hasn't been because I've always known where I'm going and the only real question I've struggled with is how exactly to get there. In fact, some of the most difficult and miserable periods of my life were when I put writing on the back burner or I wasn't sure about pursuing it with all my heart. Well, those and my divorce. That pretty much sucked rocks too.
This personal perception sort of snowballs into my own experience with others as well. Though it's anecdotal, the writers I've known, and artists in general who have pursued their art have had a sense of purpose that fuels them and many have seemed pretty happy. Even the depressive angsty emo ones seem driven and passionate about how much they need to reveal that the world sucks. They have a reason to get up, a reason to get to work and pay the bills, and a yardstick by which to gauge how their life is going that isn't vaguely controlled by social pressures. It's the artists who have given up on their "foolish childhood dreams" that seem like they've most suffered and wandered and usually seem kind of miserable and out of place. So if you want to write in a way that burns your soul, there are worse things you could do than to design your life in such a way to give you the opportunity to pursue that honestly. No one's going to tell you what it means to win in 2012--not like in 1955, anyway--so it's up to you to tell yourself.