Goodnight, dear void...
Who am I writing for? (And does it matter?)
Photo by Barrie Kreinik: New York, NY.
Happy new year!
Okay, I guess it’s a little late for that, but really, will it ever be too late to celebrate our transition from the horrors of 2020 into the somewhat-different-but-still-very-much-alive horrors of 2021?
Well, maybe horrors is too strong a word. After all, we have a new (and newly competent) administration running the government, millions of people are being vaccinated against COVID-19 (though not without an accompanying dose of inefficiency), there’s an impeachment trial underway (déjà vu, anyone?), and people are finding new ways to distract themselves from, well, everything (enter frolicking pandas).
We’re still wearing masks, and eating outdoors in subzero cold, and generally wishing we could hibernate until this winter of our discontent finally turns into glorious summer. (Or perhaps fall.) But hey, at least it’s a new year! Time to turn over a new leaf. Or snow pile. Or something.
It’s been two months since my last blog post. I’ve spent most of that time hunkered down in my blanket-fort recording booth, reading books aloud like it’s my job…because, well, it is. I’ve also spent time wading through Manhattan’s many slush puddles and freezing my ass off hanging with friends in the city’s hottest meeting spot, Central Park. And I’ve been working on a writing project, spending hour after hour typing and deleting and sipping tea and marveling at how much longer it takes to create things than we ever expect it to.
I’ve also been laughing at myself for believing, as I did last spring, that I’d be able to keep churning out an essay for this blog every single week.
They say if you want to build an audience for your blog, you need to provide content on a regular basis—preferably a weekly or even daily basis. But hey, I’m not trying to become a professional blogger: I started blogging because I have things to say and I want to be able to say some of them in a timely fashion, without having to pitch and submit and wait for responses. So…if I’m simply doing this to flex my authorial muscles, does it matter how often I pick up the weights?
The answer is: probably not. But lately, my restless mind has tugged me down a path toward another question, an enemy of creativity that has blocked me from posting anything for the past two months.
Art, as I wrote in my very first post, is meant to be shared. But the sharing of writing and the sharing of live performance are two completely different experiences—and as a multihyphenate artist who’s currently doing a lot more writing than performing, I’ve been feeling that difference in quite a visceral way.
In the theatre, the initial creation process takes place in the rehearsal room. But the piece is then created again and again onstage, revivifying with each new audience. Consequently, the performers’ connection with that audience is immediate and vivid. You can hear them cheer, laugh, or groan; you can see them smiling, frowning, or falling asleep. It’s an exchange of energy like no other…one that I, along with millions of other performers, have been missing for almost a year.
Writing, on the other hand, is a solitary art form. I’m engaged in the act of creation as I type these words, as they flow out of my brain, through my hands, into my keyboard, and by some miracle of 1s and 0s, onto my computer screen. At some point, when I’ve carved this chunk of words into something resembling a coherent essay, I’ll paste it into my browser and click Post.
And then…that’s it.
I might get comments from a few people, either on the blog itself or via email. I might obsessively check the view count for the first 48 hours to see how many people have read it. (I mean, I never do that, what am I talking about?) But any audience interaction I have will be totally separate from the actual act of writing. In contrast with the actor’s simultaneous creation and response, a writer gets a response only after she’s finished creating. Which means that while I’m writing, I can only engage with an imaginary audience.
For someone who’s accustomed to the energy of performance, this lack of immediacy can feel a bit demoralizing. One’s ego starts to become dependent on weak shreds of evidence such as comments and likes. The inner critic’s voice gets louder: Is anyone reading this? Does anyone care? Will anyone notice if I never blog again??
The answer is no. The answer is yes. The answer is…it actually doesn’t matter.
“Sometimes I wonder about my life,” muses Meg Ryan’s character, Kathleen, in that most rom-com of all rom-coms, You’ve Got Mail. “I lead a small life. Well, valuable, but small. And sometimes I wonder, do I do it because I like it, or because I haven’t been brave? So much of what I see reminds me of something I read in a book, when shouldn’t it be the other way around?”
She is writing to her anonymous email pal, a guy she met in a chat room before the phrase “met in a chat room” developed sketchy connotations. They’ve had many a thought-provoking exchange so far, but Meg-as-Kathleen quickly asserts that this question is a rhetorical one. “I don’t really want an answer,” she continues. “I just want to send this cosmic question out into the void. So goodnight, dear void.”
Here’s a question for late, great screenwriter Nora Ephron: if Meg really just wanted to ask the void…why ask Tom Hanks?
I think I know why. Because even if she didn’t want an answer, she needed someone, anyone, to hear the question.
The reality is, I’m writing this blog not only to hurl my thoughts into the bottomless, rimless abyss of the internet…not only because I want to get my ideas down on figurative paper…not only to explore, to question, to wrestle, to invent. I’m writing this for you. Whether I know you or not; whether I ever meet you or not; whether you respond by liking or commenting or emailing, or not. We may not be in a theatre, breathing the same air—and let’s face it, no one should be breathing the same air right now—but if I publish what I write and someone reads it, I have, in some small way, made a connection.
And connection is what art is all about, Charlie Brown.
So goodnight, dear void. I know you’re not truly empty.
In your silence, I hear words.