I used to write, when I was younger, like I was trying to win an argument. I started my career as a poet, and every poem was like some kind of logical construct: given A and B, we can derive C and D and E. A reader had to either be “for” or “against” my proposition; if you were against it, you were wrong, and I didn’t really want you as a reader anyway. What can I say? I was naive.
As I’ve grown older, I’ve gotten better and better at not arguing—both in my writing and in my life. I still get sucked into it from time to time, but for the most part, I’m not as interested as I once was in trying to explain things and convince people of things, especially things they don’t really care to believe. If they’re wrong, let them be wrong… and hey, maybe I’m wrong, too.
I’m not saying I always live up to this ideal, mind you—merely that I acknowledge that it is, in fact, the ideal, at least for me.
This change—dare I call it a maturation, or is that too self-congratulatory?—has affected the way I write. While my work, I think, still has a point of view, I’m not particularly interested in writing stories that depict characters like me “winning” in conflict with characters like “them.” In fact, I think I’m more interested in stories that depict the ways in which conflict between opposing viewpoints is ultimately destructive.
What’s interesting to me is that I made this shift in my work alongside the shift from poetry to playwriting. Poetry is such a solitary endeavor: you have one voice in your head—your own—and you just need to chisel away at the block of granite on the page until what’s left is a solid representation of that voice. Poetry is the art of perfecting your own mind.
By contrast, playwriting demands that I keep many different voices in my head at once. It’s less like sculpture and more like… well, like splashing a bunch of water everywhere, all of it coming from different sources—streams, rivers, lakes, oceans, rain, the tap—then training some light on it and making prisms appear as the electrons refract. With an endeavor that fluid, it’s impossible to keep the thread of any argument… and I think that’s a very good thing.