Being a playwright is clearly not for the faint of heart.
You struggle with personal demons, endanger the sad remains of your personal life, rip open your tortured soul, live on coffee, hope and charity in an agonizing solitary battle to coax forth a dramatic story that might perhaps be of interest to others. Then it gets hard.
Other people get involved, all of them well meaning, as you slog through a dizzying round of readings and workshops and meetings that culminate in pronouncements about "too many characters" and "unlikable characters" and "just one more rewrite." So staring into the abyss, you open your veins for one last rewrite. Then it gets hard.
You get produced. In Philadelphia, the carefully wrought apocalyptic vision of a factory town burning itself up for arson money which concludes your play is interrupted by the artistic director scampering on stage to solicit the audience to stay for a post-play discussion. In southern California, you find yourself at intermission moving your car so unhappy theatregoers can escape. There are wonderful productions, but along the way you see your work eviscerated beyond comprehension and your vision turned back on itself and you face a critical caterwauling that would send a sane person into a strongly sedated long-term seclusion. Then it gets hard.
There's another play stirring inside you, so you circle the wagons and try to protect this fragile voice which has gotten you this far. You shut out all the other voices, the actors who know your characters better than you do, the directors who see things in your work you never imagined, the critics who seem oddly reminiscent of cockroaches in your first New York apartment, endlessly feeding off others, afraid of the light, impossible to get rid of. You're living in a world of elaborate revenge fantasies, consumed by a perversely difficult pursuit that offers virtually no chance of material success. Then it gets hard.
Life slips in as years slip by. You get married. From a certain odd angle it might appear you have something close to a normal life. You want more. So, hiking up your skirts and whistling at the drunken sailors, you make your way to Hollywood, renowned for its sensitivity. Now the voices in your ear grow exponentially and are heard far earlier in the creative or not-so-creative process. As it turns out, everyone in Hollywood is a writer; most of them just don't have the time to write because of their important jobs. So you plunge into lucrative, soul-deadening projects where you replace other writers only to be replaced by other writers in an endless dance of writers receiving detailed instructions on how to write by people who really would write if they only had time.
You're working all the time and after several drinks in the right company this might even feel like success, until you suddenly choke on the horrifying realization that you've had nothing produced in several years and you wouldn't recognize a human emotion if it grabbed you by the throat and squeezed. Then it gets hard.
You're drawn back to the theatre. But it's different now. You don't circle the wagons; you burn them. You don't hide from the voices; you seek them out. Even with the ominous stench of critics in the house, you force yourself to sit in the audience. You mingle in the lobby at intermission, overhearing the dark mutterings of people lamenting that they could have gone to see "Deep Impact" instead of "this." You read every word of every review, regardless of the hammer-headed savagery at work. You find that the actors and directors who connect with your work can help you take it someplace you never imagined.
But it isn't just the voices in the theatre; you find yourself embracing the more important voices, the voices of your life that give you your own voice. You discover a cache of your father's letters which shatter your smug assumptions of the past. Your mother's journals heartbreakingly conjure the last year of her life. And the voices you hear every day, the steady reassurance of your wife, giving you strength, the laughter of your son outside the screen door on a summer morning. Hope, more powerful than reason. And the jagged glittering smile of mortality, piercingly glimpsed in the dark. You finally have found the strength to throw open the door and let in the voices.
You receive an e-mail from a dramaturg in Berlin expressing excitement about their first rehearsal of your play with full cast and string quartet on stage. You don't remember anything about a string quartet, but you book your flight so you can attend opening night.
On the plane, you look out the window and wonder. The desire to hear all the voices, to experience everything that your solitary voice has inspired in others—joy, fear, loathing, desire, incredulity, hilarity, horror, contempt, sorrow, glee, repulsion—this seems as if it could be some permutation of actual maturity, a late-blooming appreciation of the value of your work. But, on closer and more unsettling reflection, it seems to have elements of a descent into madness. Why relentlessly expose yourself? Why keep putting yourself in the perverse position of having to hear the worst that people can say about you? Why work so hard at something which offers so little in return? Then, somewhere over the Atlantic, the lines between maturity and madness seem more and more arbitrary. It doesn't matter, you say, and what's more, you feel the primitive stirrings that will soon drive you to write a new play. Then it gets hard.