The Intimacy of Playwrighting

I pace around the community theater, chatting with friends supporting my one-act play in a local festival. Anxiety is stifled with a tight smile and lame humor. Absentmindedly, I rub my hands together, one looping over the other, each squeeze reinforcing my desire to keep my cool and stay calm.

A friend reaches out with one gentle hand and stills mine without saying a word. I freeze momentarily. What am I doing? Why the hand-wringing? What is it about this play? I can’t look people in the eye. I practically raced out of the theater after the first show, hightailing it down the street to a local restaurant and grounding myself in meatballs and fried potatoes. 

My first play was two pages, typed, written in the second grade. The play was about a fearful lion tamer named Freddy, and my teacher made kids perform it as part of a class presentation for the parents. I loved writing and performing. On sunny days I walked the wooded area surrounding our Connecticut home, planning imaginary productions in my head.

My most ambitious imaginary show was based on Walt Disney’s “Babes in Toyland.” My second grade dramatist’s brain thought I could stage the show as a musical, with teachers performing alongside students. The idea grew bigger as I paced the soft green grass; I could see the stage and the lights, and specific teachers acting and singing and dancing. I finally decided to send a letter to the producer who could make it happen – our school principal, Mr. Porter. I wrote out a detailed plan, looked up his home address in the phone book, addressed the envelope and asked my mom for a stamp.

A few days later, Mr. Porter showed up at our classroom door and asked to speak to me in the hallway. My legs barely held me up and I felt every pair of eyes on my back as I walked through the classroom door.

I remember Mr. Porter squatting down to my eye level and showing me the letter. He thanked me for writing it and mailing it to him. He asked if he could keep it, and when I agreed he placed it smoothly in the inside pocket of his suit jacket. I remember walking back into my classroom and inhaling deeply, as if I’d survived an interrogation.

How brave I was to share my ideas with that man! And how kind he was to acknowledge my seriousness without jest or ridicule, just with kindness. It’s hard for me to remember that people can be kind to me – that I can be kind to myself.

A career coach recently said to me, “You think everyone’s a dirtbag.” She’s right. Maybe it’s because I’m an Enneagram Type 4, or an INFJ, or have a fearful-avoidant attachment style, but I believe other people are more likely to harm me than care for me. I believe that people see what’s wrong with things more often than what’s right with them, because that’s how I see things. I believe that people judge everything about me, because I judge myself, and the more vulnerable I become, the less armored I am to deflect judgment so it doesn’t worm its way into the core of my True Self and infect me like a virus.

My recovery program affirms that I will experience growth in my ability to share intimacy. Sharing this play, or any artistic endeavor, with others is an act of intimacy. Intimacy requires trust and vulnerability. But if everyone’s a dirtbag, why on earth would I trust anyone, including myself? Why would I be vulnerable? 

Maybe this play is different because I’m finally acknowledging the tremendous risk of intimacy, challenging old beliefs about my worth and value. I don’t want to believe everyone’s a dirtbag. I want Mr. Porter to be the norm, not the exception. I want to believe that my willingness to be intimate with my words will be met at eye level, lovingly preserved in a jacket pocket. I need to meet my own vulnerability with lovingkindness instead of armor, because my True Self deserves nothing less.

The play went well. I managed to keep one hand in my lap, and the other tucked into my girlfriend’s palm. I remembered to relax my fingers once or twice. I heard kind words and compliments, and saw tears, and heard belly laughs and soft chuckles. My friends liked the play, and took the time to share that with me.

I think Mr. Porter would have liked it too.




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