Long after I finished writing my first novel, SOMETHING MISSING, I discovered, only after my wife and therapist pointed it out to me, that I had written a book about my battles with post traumatic stress disorder, my hatred toward my evil step-father and my longing for my absent father.
I didn’t know any of these things while actually writing the book. These revelations were only pointed out to me much later.
Upon finishing my second novel, UNEXPECTEDLY, MILO, I discovered that I had written a book about the challenges that I’ve faced throughout my life as a result of refusing to conform. Though readers might think me crazy, it turns out that the most noble character in that story (at least for me) is Louis the Porn Fiend, a character who my agent suggested I cut and who only appears in one chapter. Louis’s nobility derives from his willingness to remain true to himself, even though the world around him may be repulsed by this essential truth.
As Budo says in MEMOIRS OF AN IMAGINARY FRIEND, “You have to be the bravest person in the world to go out every day, being yourself, when no one likes who you are.”
In the process of writing MEMOIRS OF AN IMAGINARY FRIEND, I discovered that I was actually writing about my obsession with mortality and my near-constant existential fear as a result of two near death experiences and a robbery at gunpoint. In fact, an armed robbery takes place in the book, but while writing the scene, it never occurred to me that I might actually be writing about my own experience and the fear still surrounding it.
Books can be funny this way. You think you’re writing about one thing and you’re actually writing about something entirely different.
It turns out that playwriting is the same.
While watching last night’s performance of The Clowns, I wondered why Jake, the play’s protagonist/antagonist, appeals to me so much when so many audience members expressed dislike and even hatred toward the character following the previous show. His likability has been a question that I’ve been considering for quite a while, and the answer finally struck me like a load of bricks last night during the first act.
Jake is me when I was his age.
The Jake who I wrote is far cooler than I ever was, and the actor playing the role is even cooler than the character written on the page, but at his heart, Jake represents someone who I once was, and in that instant, I understood the character completely and knew that needed to be done to mitigate the loathing that audience members felt for him and develop him further.
This couldn’t have happened had not the actor, Richard Hollman, not fully inhabited the character to the degree he has. I don’t think I will ever think of Jake without thinking of Rich. There may be other actors who play the role of Jake someday, but in my mind, Jake will always be Rich, and Rich will always be Jake. It was only through his performance that I was able to truly see the character, and in many ways, see myself.
All this probably sounds a little hokey (and I agree), but I can’t adequately express how stunned I felt when this realization finally dawned upon me. Not only did the character of Jake become instantly clear to me like never before, but I suddenly understood myself in ways I had never even approached.
It was an honest-to-goodness moment of epiphany.
Once again, I find myself thinking that I am writing about one thing when in reality, I am writing about another.
I should stop being surprised, but I can’t. It’s so bizarre.
Writing is a strange gig. I often say that I get paid for making up stuff in my head, and while this may be true to some extent, it turns out that writing is far more complex and mysterious than it ever seems.
At least for me.