3: Fashion magazines and sharpie

 

Cover photo credit: Julia Forsman

THE TOOLS

Fashion magazines
Sharpie

Photo: A.C. Smith
Photo: A.C. Smith

THE WRITING PROCESS

I love this photo.  The more I looked at it, the more layers I could imagine in this triangle of connection between these three characters.  I loved looking at this radiant, relaxed woman – a beautiful image of femininity and motherhood, empowered vulnerability.  I was intrigued by the thoughtful man who is somehow both present and separate.

But mostly, I found myself staring at the child.  Inventing my own mythology.  Someone else might have seen a child taking a nap.  But I saw a statement of defiance, despair and immaturity amidst such well-adjusted and healthy images of adulthood.  Trapped in a self-imposed isolation, as contented connection takes place over her head.  In need of connection, and alone in a tormented reality of her own making.  Giving up out of frustration – or perhaps lacking the will to even start.

January (when I first tackled this challenge) was not an easy month, and I could feel my struggles leaking out onto the page.  Projected into the image of this child: frustrated, melodramatic, acting out.  The humor of self-indulgence that comes when you know your despair is partly genuine and partly performative for the benefit of those around you.  And the furious injustice of the fact that the world goes on turning – with other people smiling and laughing all around you – when you’ve faceplanted onto an unmade hide-a-bed overwhelmed by the futility of life.

We may know we are ridiculous, but we want to be noticed.  We laugh at ourselves as we demand to be taken seriously.  We yearn for connection even as we choose not to reach out.  And even when we’re aware of our own failings and foibles, sometimes, like an overwhelmed or pouting child, we are powerless to fix them.

This piece is a temper tantrum on a piece of paper.

Defacing a beautiful woman’s image is surprisingly satisfying.

The slickness of the pen moving across the slippery paper let things feel quite wild and free.  And this roughness against the polish of the images had a strangely subversive appeal.

Photo: A.C. Smith

This combination seemed to shake things loose.  I was able to slip in to a rather stream-of-consciousness approach, and found it pulling me into the darker places of my psyche.  As I worked to shape this into a play, I used quite a few bits from this initial material, but switched to the computer relatively early on.  This time it didn’t hold me back (as it did with the graph paper).  It let me keep up with the speed of my mind.

Photo: A.C. Smith

THE RESULT

This image reached me at exactly the perfect moment.

I’d seen a call for festival-length dramatic monologues, and I was intrigued.  While I’d written short plays for solo performer, I’d never tackled a longer piece of this nature, and I was interested in trying it.  I had a tight deadline, and this image combined with the title I knew I wanted – DEAD PLAYWRIGHT – served like an electric jolt of inspiration, pulling the whole thing into process.

Photo: Julia Forsman

This was another idea I’d been living with for a while, but it took on a very different life than I’d expected.  It went down on the page hot and fast.  I found myself rushing to keep up with the narrative, plunging into the darker voice of this character.

We all have our shadow sides. DEAD PLAYWRIGHT airs out the darker corners of my mind – the jealousy, despair, and nasty humour that I shudder to claim as mine.  And yet…

It’s both thrilling and disconcerting to push against the edge of your comfort zone.  In both topic and language, this was something I felt a bit uncomfortable putting my name on.  In fact, I hesitated pushing ‘publish’ on this piece for longer than I’m comfortable to admit.

To put this piece into the world, I needed to give myself permission.  Permission to be sick.  Permission to borrow fragments of images from my own life without any fear the piece will be taken as true.  Or that people will think this character is me.  Or assume that I agree with this character’s conclusions about the world.

The next stage of development is polishing – tightening the storyline, honing the language, and focusing the character to make it ready for performance.

This stage of the experiment challenged me to be more vulnerable in revealing my process.  I had to accept my idealised timeline for completing each of these exercises was not realistic – although I did take some extra time to complete this piece before posting it.  However, if I waited until each piece was perfect, I would never put any of these online.  (Especially, given the length of this piece.)  And more importantly, I would be resisting the point of the experience, which is focused on the process of the writing experience.

Embrace the unfinished.  That’s what this week was about.  What it becomes next is yet to be determined.

THE SCRIPT – FIRST DRAFT

(Warning: Language)

 

DEAD PLAYWRIGHT

a dramatic monologue for solo female performer

by A.C. Smith

 

 

(BEGIN.)

It was a fucked up idea from the start.

Dear Sir or Madam…

Fuck.

I’m not a patient person.  I’m not particularly nice.  That’s what my mother says.  I don’t like animals.  I don’t always shower regularly.  I just want to make it clear at the start that I have absolutely no redeeming qualities.

Someone should have taken me out back and shot me years ago.

I went to see this play.  I took my boyfriend.  Ex-boyfriend.  A guy I went to school with had a play on.  And not just in some dinky, fringe shithole.  This was in an off-West End theatre.  You know, one with decent toilets.  A couple of my other friends come along, we made it a night out.

That was the start.
This is how it happened.

My boyfriend – ex-boyfriend – keeps elbowing me during the show.  He hates going to the theatre with me.  I don’t blame him.  That’s another flaw of mine – I can’t control my face.  Of course, the only reason he’s able to keep it together is that he has no clue what’s going on.  He tells me that later himself.

Anyway, the play.  It was like if Noel Coward and Sarah Kane had a deformed baby.  Created in passionless and sterile test tube.  And genetically modified to be incapable of using or understanding the normal grammatical features of human language.

Noel Coward is a playwright and songwriter famous for his witty and sharp-tongued high society farces.  Sarah Kane, who killed herself at age 28, wrote phenomenally disturbing plays but powerful plays depicting the worst degradation of the human condition.  If you’re coming to a show called ‘Dead Playwright’, you probably got that joke without me explaining it.  But if you’re the boyfriend – or ex-boyfriend – you’re welcome.

During the section where the main character – a young white guy, of course – is fucking his mother in the kiddie pool, I completely lose it.  I feel this wave of rage and nausea welling up from so deep inside me.  I actually think I might be having a heart attack.

A screaming sound comes out of the audience.  I think, ‘Great, just one more thing to make this atrocity even more pretentious and unbearable’.  I turn to my boyfriend – sorry, EX-BOYFRIEND – to roll my eyes, and see the look on his face.

Oh shit.  The sound is coming from me.

I always think it’s stupid in movies when people cover their mouths in horror.  So fake.  But I do that.  I try to use my hands to shove the sound back down inside me.  I succeed, mostly. Luckily most people seemed to assume it was part of the play.

Afterwards, my friend, the playwright, comes running up, so buzzy he can barely make eye contact.  ‘Did you hear? Someone was so outraged during the love scene they actually screamed.’

‘That was a love scene?’  I can’t control my mouth.

‘Well, you know it’s somewhere between a love scene and a rape.’

‘Right.’

He looks at me suspiciously through his glasses.  All playwrights have glasses.  And preferably beards, though those seem to be going out of style.  Us ladies just have to settle for uncombed hair.

Luckily, my boyf – you know, this is getting confusing.  Why don’t we give him a name?

Let’s call him Steve.

Luckily, Steve saves me.  The ways he always does.
(Corrects self)
Did.  Fuck.

Steve says, ‘Congratulations, mate, really… thought-provoking.’

‘Yes, well that’s what I was hoping to accomplish.’  My writer friend says.  ‘To stimulate a dialogue.’

‘A dialogue about what?’  I ask him.

‘About consent, and maternal responsibility, and – ‘

‘I assumed you just wanted to make two actors fuck in a kiddie pool.’

His jaw drops.

‘Kidding!’  And we all laugh, but we know what’s going on.  The playwright knows I hated his gesamtkunstwerk.  I know he knows I kind of wish I could kill him for putting on this piece of shit.  And my boyfriend, Steve, knows that I know he’d really like to kill me for dragging me to this play he never wanted to go to and then being such a dick to the writer.  And I know I’m an idiot.

So in a way, I can’t blame the guy for rubbing it in.  ‘Yes, I just started an attachment programme with the NewSpot Theatre.’

The NewSpot Theatre?

That’s not how it was supposed to happen.

I have five rejection letters from the NewSpot Theatre.  The last one was saying how wonderful they think my play is.  Which is better than the rejections where they think your play is crap, or they just don’t get it, but it can really fuck up your head when people tell you how much they like your work while they’re essentially sticking your script in the shredder.

This last time I thought… they said they might have other opportunities that were right for me.  But he has the placement.

‘That’s great.’  I say.  ‘I’m so happy for you.’

‘Yeah, and guess what?’

I don’t play guessing games.  I just wait.

‘I got an agent out of the NewSpot thing.’

I wish he’d just punched me in the stomach and been done with it.

‘Her name is Catherine Leyton.  She’s fab.  She’s even setting me up with meetings with TV production companies, which is really exciting.  It’s really all because of this piece.  They thought it was really original and daring.  Pushing the limits of what theatre could be.  How’s your writing going?’

I spit in his drink and walk away without saying another word.

‘Why do you do that?’ Steve asks, as soon as we get outside.

‘Do what?’  He’s always on my case.  And after all, I’d offered him a smorgasbord of behaviours to loathe.

But he doesn’t answer.  ‘I’m tired,’ he says.  ‘I should go.’

‘I thought you were coming back to mine?’

‘Not tonight.’

I did my laundry specifically to have clean underwear for him to take off.  Whatever.

‘Do you want me to text you to let you know I got home safe?’

‘Sure.’  But he’s already walking to the bus stop.

You’re not supposed to feel sorry for yourself if you work ‘in the arts’.  It’s a long, lonely road.  As my mother enjoys reminding me every time we speak.

I knew it was going to be hard, so I shouldn’t complain about it now.  Because whenever I do, people like Steve say, ‘Why don’t you just stop?  It doesn’t make you happy.’

But he doesn’t get it, it’s not about being happy.  It’s about being less miserable.  It’s a compulsion.  If I wasn’t writing… It’s like I wouldn’t even exist.

We, culturally, love these stories about people who are rejected for years only to have their genius recognised and finally get the recognition they deserve.  But I’m not sure that people who haven’t lived through it themselves understand the cutthroat desperation it takes to survive that endless dark night of the soul until someone finally produces the thing you wrote.

For me, it’s been a long fucking slog.  It’s not just this one night of watching this arsehole’s shitty play.  It’s seven years.  Seven years of being told my writing is great, but they’re not sure it’s commercial.  Or it’s maybe not the right thing at this time.  Or please stay in touch and send my next play.  And the next.  And the next.  And the next.  Lovely writing.  Maybe next time.

I know it’s worse for actresses.  ‘You’re talented, but your voice is too high.’  ‘You’re talented, but your legs are too fat.’  ‘Sorry, we’re really looking for a natural redhead for this role.’  And whatever other crap they have to hear.  That’s really a terrible job.

At least as a writer, it’s not me they’re rejecting.  It’s my work.

Isn’t it?

Is it?

When I get home that night, the house is cold.  We’ve been leaving the heat off to save money.  My roommate doesn’t feel the cold.  She’s probably an alien.  And I’m willing to wear five jumpers.  I thought if I could save up a bit, maybe I could go down to four days at work to have more writing time.

Away from the people, I finally have permission to dissolve completely.  I lock myself in the bathroom.

I’m a shivering, crying, screaming mess.  And I’m a failure.  I’m a failure.  I’m a failure.

What is it going to take to people to appreciate my work?  What do I have to do?

Hovering over the toilet trying not to vomit out of panic, I do what I always do in times of crisis.  I go online to ask Google.  ‘Artistic failure cope with how.’  And that’s when I see the news.

David Bowie has died.  David.  Bowie.

It’s so surreal.

The entire world is grieving.

People are freaking out.

And… his album is primed to go to number one.

It’s almost poetic.  I skip the obituaries.  Instead, watch the download numbers going up, like ripples spreading through a pond.

And it’s like someone has switched the light on and everything is clear.  I crawl back into my room and turn on my computer.  I know what I have to do.

Dear Sir or Madam,

 My sister was a playwright who always dreamed of being produced at your theatre.  Unfortunately, she recently committed suicide, so I’m in the position of having to send in her play.

 I think this is a really powerful and compelling piece.  I don’t know if you’ll agree, but I would very much appreciate it you would give it the benefit of your consideration.

Thank you.  And best wishes.

I sign it from Rachel.  My brand new, invented, imaginary sister.

I think about changing the play’s title so they won’t realise they’ve read it already.  But then I figure, fuck it, it’s a good title.  If they won’t give it another look when I’m dead, a fake title isn’t going to fix it for me.

Logically, it’s a natural time to decide if I’m actually going to kill myself.  After all, I’ve hovered on the edge of total despair for years.  But curiosity wins.

I set up Rachel’s fake email account.  It’s four in the morning.

I send the play.

And I wait.

The last time I sent them a script, I didn’t hear back for three months.  This time, it takes three days.

Dear Rachel, 

Thank you for sending us this extraordinary script.  We are so sorry to hear about your loss.  I wanted to write to you personally as soon as possible to let you know I’d read the script and found it so powerful that I wanted to pass it along directly to our Artistic Director. 

I can’t guarantee anything because we have a very full schedule of programming, but I wanted to let you know that I personally responded deeply to the piece.  It is such a shame we won’t be seeing any other work from this bright young talent.

Best thoughts to you and your family.

 Henry Gilpin-Merlot
Literary Manager, NewSpot Theatre

I call in sick to work.  I go and stand on the platform at the tube station near my house.  I watch the trains go by.  I consider jumping down onto the tracks every time one pulls into the station.  The express trains are particularly tempting.  Seems like a more glamorous choice than the normal trains.  Also, quicker.

What is it about playwrights that makes us love them more when they’re dead?

I suppose all artists benefit from a well-staged death.  I know this.  It’s why I wrote that stupid letter.

Henry’s email should be a true validation of my work.  But it’s like my heart is breaking open.  It doesn’t feel good.  I feel invisible.  Like a ghost, only no one has realized it yet.

Finally, I stop watching the trains and get on one.  I take my ghost-self into town.  I buy an ice cream, to prove to myself I’m still alive.  Cold and sweet.  A ghost can’t eat ice cream.  So I must be real.

I know I should write back to the NewSpot and explain I sent my email while I was upset and probably a little bit drunk.  Tell them I fell prey to the tempting shortcut of a fake suicide.  I’m probably not the first.  I was tired and lazy.  I lied.

The rational part of my brain is very clear.  But the other rational part of my brain shouts back, ‘Are you crazy?  The Artistic Director of one of the most prestigious new writing theatres in the country is going to read your play.’

I try to do the right thing.  Sort of.  Meaning, I don’t make up any more lies.  I don’t write back at all.  I decide to just wait and see.

And in the meantime, I call Steve.

‘Hello?’  He has this strange way of answering when he’s expecting a fight.

I want to come by.  I’ll bring wine.  He says okay.  He sounds surprised.  I usually make him come to mine.

I pick up crisps, too.  I’m feeling that generous.

When I get there, I tell him I want to try role playing.  I tell him to call me Rachel.  He fucks the shit out of me.  It’s the best sex we’ve ever had.

It’s different than our normal fucking.  Namely, not boring.  At first he’s weirded out, then he decides it’s kind of hot.  Rachel works in marketing, volunteers at an animal shelter, and gets very upset when people put mayonnaise on her burgers.  She’s basically the opposite of me.

I probably should have seen the warning signs right there.

‘You seem happy,’ Steve tells me.  And I realise, he’s right.  I am happy.  It’s such an odd feeling, I didn’t even know how to recognise it.  I tell him to shut up and fuck me again.  ‘You mean Rachel,’ he says.  ‘Right,’ I say.  ‘Rachel.’

The happy buzz has worn off by the time I get home.  Because my playwright friend with the kiddie pool – you know, he needs a name, too.  Let’s call him Bobby.  Bobby has been tweeting his face off about the ‘brilliant’ reviews he’s been getting for his turd of a play.  Four stars!  Five stars! Four stars!  Never mind that no one has ever heard of the publications handing these out.  His grandmother probably wrote one of them.

I think about blocking him, but the idea of not knowing what’s going on is even more excruciating than not being able to staple his mouth shut.

I just deal with it.

When I get in bed, I’m too bored to sleep, so I fool around on social media.  For kicks, I decide to make Rachel a Twitter.  Why not?  And then a Facebook.  And an Instagram.  I leave the pages blank, and just stare at the beautiful emptiness.  It feels like a possibility to start fresh.  Clean.  To start over.

It’s a full week before I get my next email from the NewStop.  I think maybe none of it actually ever happened.  Maybe I dreamed it.  Maybe I got sucked into some mental funhouse.

But there it is.  A response.

When I read it, I have to go throw up.

Dear Rachel,

Last week our Literary Manager Henry Gilpin-Merlot passed your sister’s play along to me.  I read it over the weekend.  I was really impressed. 

I’d love to talk to you – or someone from your family – about the possibility of producing this play at the NewSpot.  The lightness and humour is exactly what I’m looking for in my next season, and even more unexpected given your sister’s struggles.

Do let my assistant (copied here) know if you’re willing to come in, and she’ll sort a time.

 Sorry for your loss.

Best,
Tess Durbin
Artistic Director, NewSpot Theatre

Of course I go.

To my credit, I manage to be a good person for twenty-four hours.  I even hover the mouse over the ‘delete’ button twice.  But after sleeping on it, I come to my senses.  I respond telling them I’d love to come in.  We set the date and time.

Then I have a panic attack in the street.

It’s just a little one.  On the scale of panic attacks – it could be worse.  But I’m sweating and can’t breathe, and have to hold onto a lamppost until I calm down enough to move.

What have I done?  There is no Rachel.  What am I going to do, put on a false moustache and rock up to the theatre hoping they don’t remember me from the writing camp I did there four years ago?

Then a little voice inside me says, ‘Of course there’s a Rachel.  Steve fucked her.  She works in marketing, hates mayonnaise, and always hand washes her cardigans.’

(Surprised by her own discovery.)
‘Hand washes her cardigans?’  Alright.  That’s new.

I decide I’ll go just to tell them in person, just to explain.  Tell them it was a theatrical experiment.  I’m converting it into performance art.  People love that shit.

But when the day comes, I don’t quite dress like myself.  I don’t quite feel like myself.  I take out the black skirt I wore to my grandmother’s funeral, and a blouse I think I stole from my mom when I was seventeen.  With some lip tint I got for Christmas two years ago and never opened.

I give my coffee change to a homeless guy on the street.  I always feel bad just walking past but never do anything about it.  Today I remember to leave the coins in my pocket, and I drop them in the lap of a man with a sad-eyed little dog.

I give up my seat to a mum with a baby.

I order skim milk in my latte.

Something is not right.

I get to the meeting, and we sit down in the café which is empty except for us and two other people with laptops.  Which means they can hear everything we say.  I feel a faint paranoia that they’re on to me.  I tell myself they aren’t spies.  Or journalists – even worse.

Henry Gilpin-Merlot smiles at me like that annoying cousin who always wants to tell you about a newspaper article you haven’t read.  ‘I wonder if you truly understand how special your sister’s play is.’

Tess jumps in.  Her hands twitch like little birds.  ‘What really stands out to me, I mean, what really grabbed me is that the play has so much humour and light, but it’s written by someone who clearly knew the darkness.  Do you know what I mean?’

I tell her I do.  And I’m about to carry on and say ‘because I fucking wrote it’ when Henry starts in again.  ‘We’re a theatre dedicated to playwrights, and I want you to know that if you trust us with this play, we will give it the respect and production that it truly deserves.’

Then it’s Tess.  ‘It’s not often as a director that you get something that really grabs you, and this play, I mean, it grabbed me like this, and I just knew I wanted to make room for this in the next season.  It’s new, it’s fresh, and I really want to bring it to life.’

I’m speechless.

‘Are you alright?’  Henry says.  ‘I know it’s a lot to take in.’

‘Yes.’  I say.

‘You can think about it,’ he says.  ‘You don’t have to respond right now.’

‘Can I have a glass of water?’

He gets up to fetch it for me.  Tess is looking at me from across the table, with her nose wrinkled up in concentration.  ‘You look so familiar to me,’ she says.

‘People say I look a lot like my sister.’

‘Who’s older?’  Tess asks.

I should have thought about this.  ‘We’re twins,’ I say.

She smiles.  ‘Identical?’

In for a penny.  ‘Yeah.’

‘I can’t imagine how hard this must be for you.  I wish I’d had the opportunity to meet her.’

‘You did,’ I want to scream, ‘at that workshop where you criticised this play as not “challenging” enough.’  Instead, I wait for my water.

We sit in patient silence.  It’s not something I’m used to.  But in my sensible skirt and my mom’s blouse… it feels alright.

I’m eventually escorted out of the building with requests to stay in touch and get back to them about my thoughts as soon as I’m ready.

I go to this divey biker bar in Soho that my last boyfriend introduced me to.  Before Steve.  I get some strange looks in my outfit, because it’s not really a ‘florals’ kind of place, but the vodka goes down a treat.

I remember the last time I was talked at by Tess.  Can’t really call it a conversation if it happens in a room full of people.  She told me she though the scene I wrote needed to go further.  I didn’t understand what she meant.  ‘You know, really challenge us, be fearless.’  I thought I was being fearless.  ‘Take us into those dark places.’  Then I realised what she meant.  She thought the girl should be raped.  The story didn’t feel real to her until there was violence.  She wanted to be shocked.  ‘That’s not what I meant,’ she said.  But I’ve seen the stuff they put on.  I’ve seen who they give their awards to.

She wanted the kiddie pool.

It’s a weird thing that I act like such a cunt, but I write plays that are hopeful.  Steve says I save the best part of myself for my work.  Twat.  But really.  If I’m going to spend two hours watching a show, I want it to be something exciting, something exciting, something that makes me think about things in a new way.  I don’t need poverty porn and misery.  Cheap thrills for rich people and students who have been huffing too much Kirkegaard.  Yes, there is darkness, and yes, bad things happen – including in my plays – but I don’t need any reminders about how shitty life is.  I already have to live it.

You’ll have to take my word for it, but plays aren’t just empty fluff.  They’re fucking good.  It’s hard earned hope.

I suppose that’s the kind of thing people only value from someone who has offed herself.

I hang out at the biker bar until it gets dark, then I go over to Steve’s.

‘What are you wearing?’  He says.

‘Hi.’  I say.  ‘It’s me, Rachel.’

That’s one fun thing about Rachel.  She may wear the nice blouse, but she doesn’t wear clean underwear.  She doesn’t wear any underwear.

The sex is okay, but Steve keeps looking at me in this kind of weird way.

Afterwards, he asks.  ‘Is this a thing now?’

‘What?’

‘This Rachel thing?’

Suddenly, I’m blushing.  I never blush.  ‘Just for fun.’

He goes to pee, but leaves the door open.  I talk to him.

‘Do you ever think about moving away?’  I ask.

‘To where?’

‘I don’t know.  The countryside maybe.  Or Fiji.  Really just anywhere different.’

‘Not really,’ he says.  ‘Are you thinking of going somewhere?’

‘No.’  Then I leave to go back to mine.

I take about fifty selfies of Rachel.  I look good.  Feminine.  Nice.  Like the daughter my mother always pictured.

I post one of the pictures on Rachel’s Instagram with the caption ‘Sometimes it takes tragedy to inspire us to something new.’  I know it’s gag-worthy.  But it feels right.  My hair looks really good.

The next morning is my day off.  I normally plan a marathon of writing.  But when I sit down at my desk, nothing is coming.  I don’t mean bad writing.  I mean no writing.  It feels different than the really miserable period of writer’s block when I had to force myself into that chair.  There was something in me to be pushed out, even if it was excruciating putting it down on the paper.  Now, there’s nothing.

The emptiness is terrifying.

I don’t know what’s wrong.  What’s different.

It can’t be the NewSpot thing.  Good news, rare thought it is, always sends me into a spasm of productivity.  Not the wilderness.  But I’m lost.

I know I spend too much time fucking around on Twitter.  For the past five years I’ve made the same New Year’s resolution to stop spending so much time on the internet.  I’ve never followed through.  Maybe my addiction’s finally stopped me.  Maybe it’s bled me dry.  Maybe I just need to delete my account and be done with it.

Then I realise, I’m wearing lip tint.  Weird.  I don’t remember putting it on.  I wipe it off and sit back down.  And at last, there are words.  Not particularly good ones, but something.  It’s not a fun day.  But I’m still producing.  I can still call myself a writer.

Fucking Rachel.

Rachel doesn’t give a shit about writing.  She’s very happy with her job fundraising for cancer and spending weekends on good, long walks.  There’s an urge in her to participate, sure.  To enjoy.  Even to celebrate.  But not to create.

I’m starting to hate Rachel a little bit.

But I still wear the blouse when I go out to buy coffee.

I write back.

Dear Tess and Henry, 

Thanks very much for meeting with me this week.  As her literary executor, I’d be very happy to continue the discussions with you about having my sister’s play staged.  

I look forward to speaking with you soon.

Best wishes,
Rachel

And then, I have another idea.

Dear Catherine,

I’m writing to you because my friend Bobby recommended your agency.

The NewSpot Theatre is currently negotiating with me about producing a play by my sister, who is unfortunately recently deceased.  I wanted to see if you would be interested in representing her works and helping me navigate this process.

Thank you for your time.

 Best,
Rachel

Two hours later…

Rachel,

I’d need to read the play first.  Very sorry to hear about your sister.

Cath xx
Catherine Leyton, Agents Anonymous

I send it to her.  And no doubt, her assistant puts in a call in to the NewSpot to make sure this isn’t some fabricated pipe dream hoax.

Hi Rachel, 

I spoke with Henry and he filled me on the details about your sister.  Tragic.  I’d love to represent her work.  Great play.  Muscular yet tender he called it.  When can you come in for a chat to see if it’s a good fit?

xxx

And just like that.  I have an agent.  It’s stupid how easy it is.

I’ve spent years sending things out to agents.  Catherine’s colleague actually read this script.  He thought it was great, but ‘not commercial enough’.  That was four years ago.

All those wasted years.  Were these people secretly this nice all along?  Or is it only because I’m dead now?

I find a kickboxing video online to get the aggression out.

I draw a noose on my arm with a Sharpie.  It’s high enough so that Rachel’s cardigan can cover it.

But when I see Steve, I forget, and take the cardigan off.

‘What’s that?’

‘A lightbulb.’  I tell him.  ‘For inspiration.’

‘It looks like a noose.’

‘Well, I’m not an artist.’

He asks if I want to have sex.  I tell him no, but then change my mind.

I’m actually having a pretty decent time when he asks.  ‘You’re being Rachel, aren’t you?’

I consider the evidence.  Drawing fingernails down his back in a way I never do.  Leaving tiny little butterfly kisses on his neck.

‘So what if I am?’  I say.

‘I don’t want to have sex with Rachel.  I want to have sex with you.’

Which doesn’t make any sense, because objectively speaking, Rachel is way more fun and fuckable than I am.

No point finishing.  For either of us.

We watch stuff on YouTube until Steve falls asleep.  Normally, I would get out of bed and write, but tonight I don’t feel like it.  I roll over and fall asleep like a normal person.  Rachel sleeps way better than I do.

Henry asks me to pop in for a quick coffee during one of Tess’s breaks in rehearsal.

‘You need to prepare yourself and your family for the amount of media attention this may get.  The critics aren’t always kind, and they don’t always recognise genius when they see it.’  Oh really?  Wonder what that would feel like.  ‘Plus with your sister’s death, this will be a very unusual kind of premiere.’

‘You know, I’m a playwright, too.’  It bursts out.  I see them exchange a wary glance.  They’re not interested in anything this cardigan wearing dummy has to say.  It’s me talking, but all they see is Rachel.

Henry sits up a little straighter.  ‘We’d be happy to read some of your work, of course.  That’s why we have an open submission process.  But I think for now it’s probably best that we focus on your sister’s play.  That’s why you brought it to us, isn’t it?’

‘Yes.’  Rachel mumbles.  Rachel is very agreeable.

Tess quotes, ‘Every time a person dies, a library burns.’

Why couldn’t I be patient?  Why couldn’t I take my little portion of gruel, keep working and wait my turn?  Because it wasn’t fair.  The writing was good enough all along.  I was good enough.  They just couldn’t see the value until I erased myself.

I call Cath, my agent, my agent, and tell her there are more plays.  I’ve discovered some more stuff in my sister’s papers.  I tell her the outline of the piece I’m currently writing.  Cath is thrilled.  She’s convinced we can build a real legacy for my sister.

I hold the phone for a long time after we’ve hung up.  It hurts to admit it, but I finally have to face the fact I think I’ve known all along.  I’m not going to tell anyone the truth.  Because there is nothing I want more than to have my play on.

It’s not my sister’s legacy I’m so desperate to create.  It’s my own.

I once read an article online about a woman who started submitting under a man’s name.  Just as an experiment.  Her positive responses tripled.  I’m not surprised.  She should have seen what happened if she made him dead.

We want to see things that match our image of what success should be.

The tortured artist that dies too young.  Sarah Kane.  Vincent Van Gogh.  Virginia Woolf.  Sylvia Plath.  Shelly and Keats and all those fucking romantics. Chekhov.

There are many others who were also good enough without being dead.  But it’s their deaths that keep us fascinated with them.  Particularly the suicides.  Sometimes I feel like all the best ‘inspirational’ quotes on Twitter are from people who killed themselves.

Speaking of Twitter.  It’s no wonder I feel like a ghost.  I’ve been so careful.  I haven’t posted anything new since this madness started.  I haven’t even favourited anything.  I’ve been watching the world from the outside, with my face pressed up to the glass.  It’s agonising.

How long can a person stand outside life without losing their grip on it entirely?

Look.  I’ve drawn little nooses on each of my fingers.

I make a mindmap.  Something Rachel would do.  She’s very organised.  Likes making her ideas visual.  I usually scrawl things on napkins and lose them.  That’s the bizarre thing about identical twins.  Sometimes they’re practically the same person, but sometimes their personalities are crazily different.

I’m not going to tell.  And if I’m not going to tell, there are two options:

One.  Really die.

Two.  Pretend to die.

There is no way out.  This is the choice.  If I die, it’s easy.  Job done.  But I wouldn’t see the production.  So let’s say option two.  What happens if I stay alive?

Two options:

One.  Nobody finds out.

Two.  Somebody finds out.

If I look at it rationally, I can see that the likelihood of someone finding out is pretty high. And if they find out – I’d be in all be in the tabloids, probably.  ‘Playwright tries to trick way into West End.’  They’d probably interview my family.  My mum.  Jesus Christ.  I’d be a joke.  Nobody would take me seriously.  And nobody would produce my plays.  Ever.

It comes back to the same two options:

One.  Really die.

Two.  Pretend to die.

To be or not to be.  Always the same fucking question.

I’m happy when I’m Rachel.  Even though she can’t write.

But as me… have I ever been happy?

I take off the lip tint.  I take off the cardigan.  I take off all my clothes and look at myself in the mirror.  Me.  I’m cold, but I don’t care.

What is there worth saving in this?  I thought my purpose was to create plays, but it’s only when I don’t exist that people have any interest in putting them on.

What am I here for?

On my street, there’s a home for adults with mental disabilities.  In front, there’s a crack in the pavement.  And every spring, a daffodil blooms through that pavement.  Fighting to the surface to enjoy a few weeks of glory.  I’ve always thought of myself as being like that daffodil.  A fucking warrior.  I love that flower.  It’s stronger than I am.  I’m too tired to keep fighting my way to the surface.

I wish there was a way to erase myself without it having to hurt.  Or offending my mum.

I know I should get up and get on with it.  Life.  But now I’m lying on the bedroom floor and sobbing.  And I can’t get up.  I’m still self-aware enough to realise I’m being a self-indulgent pain in the arse.  But that doesn’t make the feelings any less true.

I try to remember a time in my life when I’ve felt worse.  I can’t.

At some point, I become dehydrated enough that I manage to stop crying and crawl under the duvet to warm up.  I call Steve.

‘I’m thinking about killing myself.’

‘Ha ha.  Very funny’

‘I’m serious.’

His tone shifts.  ‘Should I call someone?’

‘No.’

‘I’m coming over.’

‘No.  Just talk to me.’

I listen to his breathing.  I feel tears.  I’m starting to leak again.  ‘I’m a bad person.  Why do you love me?’

‘I dunno.  You make me laugh.  You’re really creative.  I really like being around you.  You feel comfortable.’

‘Comfortable.  Like an old jumper.’

‘No.  Like… something really good.’

‘You know what people do with old jumpers?  Throw them away.’

‘Stop it.  You’re not an old jumper.’

‘I did something really stupid.’

‘What?’

I don’t even know where to begin.

His tone is careful.  ‘Did you cheat on me?’

‘No.  I don’t have time for that.’  I’m offended, even though I’m so sad.

‘What did you do?’  He asks.

I’m too embarrassed to tell him.  I’m even more embarrassed about pretending to kill myself than I am about actually killing myself, which is unbelievably embarrassing.

‘Do you like Rachel?’

His voice gets tense.  ‘I should have known something was up with that.’

‘Like, would you want to date Rachel?’

‘No.  She’s weird and annoying.  I told you.  I want to be with you.’

‘What if I told you that you had to choose?  Rachel.  Or nothing.’

‘Why aren’t you an option?’

‘BECAUSE THEY’LL ONLY PUT ON MY PLAY IF I’M DEAD.’

It all comes spilling out.  The email.  The meetings.  The express train.  The daffodil.

He listens in silence.  I wish I’d told him to come over so I could see his face.

‘I don’t know what to do.’

‘It’s easy.  Burn the blouse, throw out the lip tint, and tell the truth.’

‘Steve,’ I’m pleading with him now.  ‘This is the only way I can become a successful playwright.  I have to think about my legacy.’

‘You don’t have a legacy!  You’re not dead yet!’

‘I think I am on the inside.’  Dead playwright.  Just the way we like them.

There is a long silence.

‘I don’t know what to tell you.’  He sounds oddly far away.  And tired.

‘Are you going to tell on me?’

‘No.  Are you going to kill yourself?’

‘I don’t know.’

‘Is there anything I can say to change that?’

‘I guess not.’

‘You know, even if you do something psycho and change your name, even if you become Rachel, eventually people are going to find out.  From the moment you wrote that email, you only left yourself one way out.  It’s your play or your life.  Is it really worth it?’

I hang up and put on my lip tint.

I still hear his question.

‘Is it really worth it?’

Yes.

Unequivocally.

Always.

Yes.

(END.)

Photo: A.C. Smith

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