One of the actors in Alice said a few weeks ago said, “That’s how great ideas happen: someone misunderstands someone else and says, ‘That’s a great idea.'” We were going around discussing where we wanted the scene we were rehearsing to go because I had rewritten half of what the creator of this project had originally written (at her request). This resulted in neither halves working. This actor says one thing; I hear another and ran with it. Turned out the idea-no-one-had was a good one and it’s stuck.
That is kind of how I feel about what I wrote yesterday: “I am much less interested in setting up a modern Huck / Jim relationship.” Because today that’s all I can think of doing with the Onsite Commission. It’s like my brain misread what I wrote: “I’m much more interested in setting up a modern Huck / Jim relationship.” As soon as I posted last night, I realized how dangerous a comment that is. Of course you don’t want to revisit that relationship, D, because you don’t want to write a middle-age African American man being subservient to a young white boy because you are not qualified to have an intelligent discussion about racism in America. But as dangerous as it is (maybe because it’s dangerous?) it’s appealing.
I remember very few specifics about Huck Finn, and I haven’t started rereading it. But it’s nuanced, right? It is not a racist book, but rather a book that criticizes racism and slavery through the perspective of a child who inherently knows its wrong. Right? What is the modern equivalent of that? We have an African American man as our president, yet I am still hyper aware that I am not to use a hyphen between “African” and “American” lest I offend. My own misgivings about offending are personal evidence of some yet unexplored awareness of the racial tensions around me. I have purposely incorporated the word “fag” into plays as a means to reclaim what, aurally speaking, is a very interesting word. After the performance, one of my friends said at first he wanted to punch me. That that word had haunted him since adolescence. That it makes him physically ill. But, he said, after hearing it pronounced 12 times in a monologue, he could talk about it. Recollecting that evening now, it might be one of the most gratifying moments in theater for me. Huh.
Would I ever do the same with the N word, which even here I hesitate so long to spell out that I’ve decided to avoid doing so? Going to a predominantly black public high school, the word flew by my ears so consistently that I stopped hearing it. But even in college when repeating verbatim all of Dave Chappelle’s DC comedy special I would either bleep out the N word or at the very least butcher it’s pronunciation, as I do all foreign words, as I whispered it in the safety of my empty dorm room. Not that I have to incorporate the N word into Huckleberry Hostel if I go this route. Really, the conversation of who gets to use it has been had before (if not resolved) and I’m not all that interested in another free-the-word-from-its-culturally-crippling-usage project. There are many other issues to explore . . . but am I comfortable exploring them?