About two months ago, during one of the busiest times in my adult life, I decided to shut down one of the many email accounts I maintain. This was an old account, used almost entirely for signing up for things: a place to collect spam, process transactions, and give out to salespeople I don’t care to hear from. Slowly but surely, day after day, I removed myself from all the lists I’d joined, clicking that familiar little “unsubscribe” button in the footer of almost every email, and updated my email address with a few online presences I wanted to stay in touch with. The task became a kind of ritual unplugging, and it brought me great calm during a chaotic thrall of creativity and construction in my writing life. With every click of the delete button, I felt both freer and more powerful.
Eventually, when the account started getting no more than an email or two a day—almost all of them spam—I removed the corresponding icon from both my phone and my tablet; checking messages from my laptop was more than sufficient. And then, at long last, even that mode of checking became unnecessary, and I let go completely. I’ll check back once a month for a while, then maybe put an auto-responder on the account so that people know I’m not there anymore.
I will not miss having one less channel of information to plug into. (Would you?) In point of fact, though, I’ve actually shut down three email accounts in the last few weeks, not one. The second account to which I’ll no longer be responding is the one I maintained for The Welders, the playwrights collective I co-founded. My fellow co-founders and I just gave the entire non-profit theater company away to a new generation of artists, who are happily building it into something profound and beautiful that they, too, can give away in a few years. Since I’m no longer obligated to keep up with the day-to-day management of the organization, I don’t need to answer those emails anymore, so I deleted the account from our server. I felt lighter the second I did it, too.
As it happens, my first day as a former Welder was ALSO my first day no longer running tech support for the New Play Exchange, the technology platform for connecting playwrights and producers for which I serve as Project Director. From that moment forward, users could no longer reach me by emailing tech support, thanks to the addition of a new part-time staff member to the New Play Exchange team. (You probably never knew you were emailing me, given that I answered you with a pseudonym almost every time to protect my anonymity.) Providing tech support has meant responding to emails with no more than a 24-hour turn around every single day for the last year-and-a-half. Managing an unrelenting stream of conversation has been impossibly difficult, and you cannot imagine how relieved I am to be rid of the task.
Do you know what having three fewer email accounts means to me? As a writer? It means that for the first time in a very long time, there’s a tremendous amount of quiet in my mind. Don’t get me wrong, mind you: I still have my primary personal email account, my Woolly Mammoth email account, my National New Play Network email account, and my Facebook Messenger account… not to mention the text messages on my phone. But there’s so much more balance than there has been, and that balance between conversation and silence is, for me, what creates invention and possibility. It’s that space from which both The Welders and the New Play Exchange were born, in fact, along with all my best writing. Getting back to that space is precisely like coming home… in this case, after what feels like a long time away.
But what have I come home to? This is the question I’m wrestling with, the reason I’m writing this blog post: What should I be doing with all this fresh capacity? As it happens, I have three very different plays in very different states of development, and I’m thrilled to be able to sink into them more deeply than normal… but as anyone who knows me well enough will recognize, my work as a playwright isn’t always enough for me. In my heart, I’m a change agent. I need to be scheming and dreaming and planning and building something big. Again, that’s the impulse from which both The Welders and the New Play Exchange arose, not to mention my annual demographic survey of the DC theater scene, or the I Follow Playwrights list on Twitter, or the recent addition of artist subscriptions at Woolly. And it’s an impulse I simply can’t resist.
I’d be lying if I didn’t say that I’ve already got one or two (or three?) irons in the fire, some of them burning more brightly than others. I’ve had discussions with a few people, taken meetings, sketched out a few ideas, daydreamed… and I intend to do a lot more of that, too, in the coming months. The trick will be to try to hang out in this space of possibility for as long as I can, letting my creative fields lie fallow and recuperate for a while, before sowing more seed.
But while I’m here, frankly… I could use help. I don’t prefer to do this stuff alone. My energy emerges from conversation and collaboration. Without my collaborators, obviously, The Welders would never have gotten off the ground. Without the Twitter community with which I debated the merits of a crowd-sourced database of scripts, and the artists I met with all over the country, I’d never have been able to build the blueprints for the New Play Exchange. I synthesize at least as much as I invent. I’m not a lone genius working in some garage. (Are those even real?) I listen and absorb and imagine and research and connect ideas and then, in time, try to make things happen.
So come at me, people. Tell me what you think needs to get done in the American theater. (Hell, in the world theater!) What thorny problems need to be solved? What new structures need to be designed? What patterns disrupted? What genuinely novel ideas have you encountered? What are you starting to work on? What should we make together? What do you wish would happen? What change would you like to make manifest? What fresh collective needs to be assembled? I’d like to hear it all.
And do you know how you can send me those thoughts? Via email.
Thanks, world. Let’s get some great things done.