I used to be in a writing group. They were called The Lampshades because sometimes they were switched on and sometimes they were switched off.
It was the local TAFE’s answer to the French Enlightenment.
But instead of Jean-Jacques Rousseau revolutionising 18th Century Political Philosophy, we had Alice, who liked to trace pictures of her hand.
Another member was a budding play write. Rachels’ play was almost ready for public consumption 2 weeks after my fateful joining of this mostly switched off group. But after 1 session I sat next to Alice and traced my hand. I dare say if the play had called for a character who liked to trace her hand, Alice and I would have been all over it. But some artists treat their art too seriously, as though they really care about it and the finished product.
The play as I understood it, with my waning attention, was a comedy. It was hard to help write it because no-one else in the group had written a play before, and without the help of Rousseau, or any other of the great minds of the French Enlightenment, it wasn’t a piece of art that members outside of the group would recognise.
Unlike Alice’s hand.
These were hard times. Our lives were bad. The play was hard work and no amount of re-writes got it to the standard Rachel wanted, which was “too at least make some sort of sense”.
Then one day things went from bad to I-wish-I-was-dead bad.
We were told we had to act in this play. There was no option. We were all to become literally, unwilling actors on an unwilling stage; the Leeton Eisteddfod. We didn’t want to be there and I was pretty sure none of the students wanted us there; we were all bad puns delivered through a permanent mode of debilitating stage fright.
Now writers are a unique breed. We like to hide behind words on a page, we don’t like to stand emotionally naked in front of an audience, pretending to be someone else. That’s what characters are for. We decide what the characters say and when and how much they get to drink. We don’t like taking on the guise of another person’s creation. That’s what Jake Gyllenhaall is for. And according to his agent, no, he would not be available to act in the play.
My character was an alcoholic. I don’t remember much more than that, I blocked most of the event out of mind. It’s locked away, in the deepest reserves of the deepest part of the darkest part of my mind. Even Freud couldn’t undo that padlock of humiliation. I do remember doing what any sane person would do in such an insane circumstance. I drank real alcohol on stage. So at least whilst I was being mortified in front of a bunch of school kids, I would be drunk. And I was.
In year 4 I had been in the school play and I knew then it was not something I would ever do sober again. I was a tree. I didn’t have to move or speak and still it was embarrassing. Plus I was facing the back curtain which I later found out was the wrong direction.
In the Eisteddfod of pain and suffering I had one small monologue and I forgot most of it. At one point I was a dear in the headlights, mind blank. Everyone was starring at me with sympathetic eyes. After some sort of time lapse that only a physics major could discern, I picked up from where I could remember and prayed for the zombie apocalypse to break out right then so I could be eaten alive, which would be less painful that the moment I was stuck in.
The little bit of my monologue I did manager to deliver was drowned out by a passing ambulance, sirens blaring, so no-one heard me anyway. I suspect this is was why I wasn’t awarded ‘best actress’.
Needless to say, my tiny foray into a world of adoring fans complimenting me wherever I walked and dressing rooms filled with wine and flowers, ended before it occurred to me it could begin. I liked the character that is me too much to pretend to be someone else.
The play was an experience and as Rousseau wrote, “the person who has lived the most is not the one with the most years but the one with the richest experiences”.
Apparently I am immortal.