October is high season for applications. As usual, I am helping a couple of high school students with their college application essays, and I am writing essays of my own to apply to “development opportunities” for playwrights. The eligibility requirements for one such opportunity include that the candidate be an “emerging playwright,” a “prolific writer” and “committed to playwriting as a career.” My (stereotypical) image of an “emerging,” “prolific,” and “committed” playwright is someone who has made writing her (or more likely his) single-minded pursuit, whatever the personal costs. No doubt this eligible playwright is also relatively young, since most people who have given over their twenties and thirties to the theatre and have not yet “emerged” will probably seek a more reliable career.
In other words, this mythical emerging artist is not me.
I was an emerging playwright at the age of 21, when my first one-act play won a national competition judged by Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee. That was in 1978 when calls for plays were posted on bulletin boards. Cork bulletin boards. With thumbtacks. I was an emerging playwright again at 24 in 1981 when The Story, a retelling of genesis, was produced at the Magic Theatre of San Francisco in the same season with a new play by Sam Shepard. I am now 56 and still, or again, trying to emerge. In between, I’ve written a handful of full-length plays and a dozen or so shorter plays. Some of them are very good. Some of them have found an audience. But I have fought and am still fighting the fear of being seen as Not A Real Writer because in many instances over the past 35 years, I have chosen to put financial independence, community responsibilities, and family relationships ahead of my writing.
From 1983-2008, I taught at Saint Mary’s College of California—and did my fair share of advising students, serving on committees, and chairing programs. I married in 1983 and my daughters were born in 1988 and 1991. I volunteered in their classrooms, helped with their homework, and cheered ecstatically at soccer games and ballet recitals. Before I had children, I imagined I would write while they played peacefully at my feet. Before I began teaching, I imagined that I could write in the mornings, teach in the afternoons, prepare classes in the evenings, and grade papers on the weekends. And if and when I was lucky enough to get my plays produced, I would somehow sometime attend rehearsals and make rewrites. Thanks to my husband’s equal participation in the life of our family, and thanks to healthy children and having the means to pay for good child care, and thanks to summers and sabbaticals and occasional unpaid leaves from teaching, and many other fortunate circumstances, I was intermittently able to “do it all.” But usually something went by the wayside. And usually it was writing—because writing did not pay the mortgage, and because it was awful to walk into a classroom unprepared, and because children grow up.
I believe my writing is the better for the other passions I have pursued alongside of it. And now I am grateful to be a fulltime working playwright, whether emerging, re-emerging, or submerged.