What’s the fun of writing what you know? You already know it.

For those of you who don’t know about the Bay Area phenomenon known as Casual Carpool, it will blow your mind. Basically, drivers pick up random passengers at designated spots on the East Bay and drop them off at the designated spots in San Francisco: the drivers save time (oftentimes, considering the shittiness of Bay Area traffic, they save lots of time) by driving in the carpool lane and going through the carpool toll; the passengers save money on a BART ticket. Some friends tried to explain it to a couple New Yorkers, and they flipped their shit. “Wait. Wait. Wait. You actually get in the car? With strangers?” Yep.

The rules of en-route engagement are up to the driver: he/she chooses the radio station (if any) and sets the tone of the conversation (which usually consists of silence). It’s early. People don’t usually want to talk, especially not to strangers. Casual Carpool is transaction of mutual convenience. But not last week. We get in the car, and this driver turns the radio off, introduces himself, and the chatting begins! He is a therapist at the VA hospital, so I tell him about the Theater of War project I had heard about, and about Sophocles’ Ajax, which I  just read for the first time. We get on the topic of my writing. He asks if I write plays about my own life, my family, etc. I reply, “That would be a really boring play. I have had a blissfully uneventful life. I’m more of a research-based writer.”

Which I guess is kind of true. Maybe. It feels true this week as I start working on a play for Just Theatre’s New Play Lab. They’ve asked me to resurrect an idea I had three years ago when I was living in Chicago about a battered husband dealing with the fact his son is basically invincible—an examination of masculinity. I didn’t actually know if “battered husbands” were even a thing when I came up with the premise: I was simply intrigued by the contrast. Research has revealed it is very much a thing, and a scary thing at that. Now I am sifting through the heartbreaking tales of men terrorized by their spouses for “useful” material. I feel a bit like a vulture. It doesn’t feel good. But I tell myself that if I finish this play and people see it, it could help spread awareness that there are male victims of domestic abuse too . . .

I’m not planning on doing a day-by-day account of this process like I did when I was writing The Adventures of Huckleberry Hostel, and I probably won’t even share much of the research I find because it’s upsetting, but here is one of the least disturbing items I found tonight.

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11 thoughts on “What’s the fun of writing what you know? You already know it.

  1. I totally agree. As I writer, I tend to embrace the process of research and dramaturgy. The fun part is discovering the similarities in the lives of the people you research and your own experiences. Tying those experiences together in the final written document is the best part.

  2. Wow. I think this is an interesting subject you’re exploring. A lot of people don’t necessarily think of a male being battered, and men who are being battered don’t talk about it because it shows a lack of masculinity. I think your play could be interesting and bring issues to light that have been previously kept in the dark.

  3. This is an interesting topic. I’ve heard of domestic abuse towards males but it is still pretty much a taboo topic even though statistics show that it happens more often then we think. Most men are ashamed to admit abuse and even more people are reluctant to believe it. I think that doing a play is a great idea, as it will bring awareness and the needed attention to this awful ordeal.

    1. Thanks Nicole and Larri. It has been a really fascinating and harrowing journey so far. Shame is part of the reason behind the silence, but so too is the fact that speaking out doesn’t do much. In so many cases I’ve read (granted, they have almost all been from the husband’s perspective, or the perspective of the husband’s concerned family), calling the cops does not help. In fact, it usually makes matters worse. The most poignant stories are of those in which children are involved, and the husbands stay to suffer the physical and mental abuse in order to protect them . . .

  4. I agree with the previous posts in that I find domestic violence directed toward men to be an unexplored (and ignored) topic – it should be fascinating to explore in a play. Your comments about the writing process are interesting to me as well and found myself thinking about and questioning my own writing process afterword.

    1. I hope they are good questions! Everyone’s process is different, and I certainly do not mean to discount those works that are inspired by personal events.

  5. Picking up random people on the Bay City Bridge… that sure sounds like the start to a really bad horror movie. Pick up the wrong person and you might end up cut up into a million blood pieces. I’ll pass and I thought San Francisco had a good public transportation system.

    1. There have been surprisingly few incidents that cause concern . . . I think I have heard of one, and it happened decades ago. It is an interesting system of mutual trust. The public transportation system in the Bay Area isn’t bad. UC Berkeley is actually conducting some study of how people traverse the Bay–whether by car, carpool, train, or bus. I sat in on one interview session, and people fall into two camps: they use casual carpool because it saves them time or they use it because it saves them money. It saves me money, so I use it. The public transportation system in San Francisco itself is certainly an institution reviled by many, but compared to many, many cities, I think SF probably has it pretty good.

  6. I totally agree that writing about one’s own life experiences would make for some dull entertainment. None of the stories I’ve written have been exact experiences of my own. Yes there are elements that I relate to, but it’s never the exact same experience. I guess my life has been dull too. Which makes me think, do writers need dull lives so they can yearn for the knowledge of excitement in others’ lives?

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