Once upon a time, I was so young I thought all artists were progressives. I had taken the long way round to writing but there I was, a finalist for The Texas Playwrights’ Festival not with one short piece but two. It wasn’t the Pulitzer Prize or some such but, “Hey!” I had put my toe in the water and had been given a nod. Then the surprise.
Both of the submissions were monologues, though one did have two characters. In this one, a young photographer talks to a young woman as he snaps photos of her. She sits in a chair with her back to us. We can only see the top of her head. He talks and talks and talks. She never does. There is a rap on the door. The picture taking stops abruptly. Everything is frozen, no movement, breath held. There is more rapping on the door. Then the young man picks up the young woman, moves her over to the bed, puts her in the bed, gets in beside her, asks her to be quiet (she hasn’t made a sound), and covers them both with a tarp. The end.
As rehearsals began, there was an uproar. A group of women associated with the theatre declared the monologue pornographic, the man cast as the photographer quit the part. I was stunned. Pornographic? Censored? The group wanted both of my submissions disqualified or they would boycott the Festival. There were protests. Was this happening? Don’t the so-called religious right do this sort of thing? But artists? If there were Bible-toting, Torah-toting, Quran-toting arch-conservatives carrying picket signs out in front of the theatre, what would these progressives say? This could not be real.
Porn? Anyone who knew me then or who knows me now would laugh out loud. I don’t traffic in porn. I probably had never even seen porn back then … not that I have seen it since …
The artistic director balked, turned the angry mob aside, recast someone else to play the role of the photographer, and both monologues remained as part of the Festival. But my confidence was rattled. Then the review of the Festival appeared in the newspaper and that did it for me for another half-dozen years or so. The “porn” piece didn’t receive a bad review but the other submission … Well, still to this day I remember only three words from that review … “for unadulterated awfulness” … I was riding in a car as I read it. It was like staring at those three words through a long dark tunnel. I put the pen down and gave up writing. My confidence was crushed.
Why do I share this? Do you want to write? Then write. Don’t let rejection stop you. Don’t let a review stop you. Don’t let a protest stop you. It did me for a while and I am sorry for that. I’ve let other experiences stop me as well. And I deeply regret that. So, here I am writing again and on some days I am writing about writing. Maybe my experience will help keep your pen moving?
And there is another reason I share it. Several years after the fiasco, I was cast in a play at that same theatre. It was during rehearsals that a group of women began getting together once a week for food, drinks (mostly drinks), and conversation. Yes, you guessed it: some of the women in that group were part of the mob that wanted my submissions banned from the Festival. I was hesitant about the invitation to join them for a night out, to say the least. But we are still together — mostly over Zoom now — and all these years we’ve referred to our gathering as Womens’ Night Out (men are always welcome). My play Irish Mist is about WNO — “a play loosely based on a semi-true story.” The porn incident doesn’t come up but what does is a dive deep into those relationships. I could have missed out on those relationships.
So, a writing career stumbled out of a bad patch. And a faithful bond between a group of women was born.
Keep your pen moving. You’ll never know what will happen if you don’t.