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by Amy Evans

 

(Photo courtesy of Roohi Choudry. Pictured from left to right: Beena Ahmad, Kim Foote, Reiko Rizzuto, Kelly Zen-Yie Tsai, Holly Morris, and Roohi Choudhry)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On September 16th, I went to an afternoon performance of Say You Heard My Echo by fellow Hedgebrook alumn Kelly Zen-Yie Tsai at HERE performance space. It was a new performance piece fusing spoken word and theatre in an experimental exploration of the lives of three women of Asian descent attempting to come to terms with loss and find healing in New York City. At least, this was what I took from the performance; it was a thematically rich piece that explored spirituality, love, activism, survival, mental health, and family, a treasure chest of all of the ragged ends that make us each our own delightful and baffling little universe. But loss was the theme that rang loudest in my ears: the pain of losing love and faith, but also the wonder of losing fear.

After the show I went upstairs and ran into Mary Armstrong – another fellow Hedgebrook alumn. (These chance sightings were not actually so much left to chance, I should add, but rather the result of a very concerted and I would say successful effort by Reiko Rizzuto to rally New York-based alumn around Kelly’s performance.) We started chatting, assuming that the audience members would eventually emerge from downstairs and we would all converge and head to another hangout spot to continue discussing what we’d seen. We didn’t realize, however, that everyone else had taken the downstairs exit, and two hours later, as Kelly and her company had nearly finished striking the set, we were still talking. Mary is a prose writer and I am a playwright, and both of us are working on very different themes. (I must remember to ask Mary to tell me more about what writing a mystery is like. Do you know the answer to the mystery before you start writing? Or do you yourself make discoveries as your protagonist does? Are you allowed to surprise yourself, or are you forever in control? And my god, isn’t that the ultimate quest in life: negotiating the fine line between surprise and control?) We both found ourselves struggling with the question of permission: as writers we are always outsiders, but as people – for lack of a better term – our positions are far more complex. We cross boundaries constantly, sometimes tripping over them; we are welcome participants in some spaces and intruders in others. And while the imagination grants us all-access passes – or claims to – there are still boundaries in place that we are keenly aware of, that we must negotiate before we can think about crossing them.

Following our conversation, I was reminded of a woman at a Hedgebrook meeting at the Lark Play Development Center a few months ago who made a comment I noted down on an imaginary post-it note and stuck to the inner side of my cranium: ‘White men do not ask permission to write with authority about anything. And yet they do.’ Does this mean that we should too? The reactionary in me wants so badly to say yes, and it always takes a minute for me to remember that the reactionary in me, for all her zeal, rarely gets anything right. Asking permission is important to me, but permission is a very problematic word, one that too often evokes a desperate need for approval. When I talk about a writer seeking permission, I don’t mean approval. I’m talking about permission to trust the imagination and rely upon our own instinct for truth, no matter how uncomfortable that truth may be. In Kelly’s piece, each of the three protagonists finds for herself a spiritual guide, a female voice that advises, comforts and re-affirms her on her journey. I can’t count the number of times I have requested the assistance – and yes, the permission – of such a guide, particularly if I was developing a character based on the life of a real person. Sometimes my request for permission came in spending hours writing internal monologues, stuff that I knew would never make it even as far as the first draft, let alone the final draft, but that I needed in order to get to the heart of my subject. And other times the request for permission came in a far more literal sense (read: pleading through my tears on bended knees). But this is the work we must do if we want to be true to our craft as writers and true to the stories that we’re struggling to tell, that we feel so strongly must be told.

So who guides you on your journey? Who gives you the courage to grapple with the truth in your writing, especially at those times when it’s painful to do so? And what do you do to thank her for her help?

 

Hedgebrook supports visionary women writers whose stories and ideas shape our culture now and for generations to come. The opinions expressed here are not necessarily representative of the opinions of Hedgebrook, its staff or board members.

Amy Evans
About Amy Evans

2 Comments

  • Rita Traut Kabeto
    7:42 PM - 11 October, 2012

    Hedgebrook sounds like an organization I might want to belong to.
    Listening for echoes? Then turn inward.
    Rita Traut Kabeto

  • SuzanneJacobs
    5:23 PM - 28 June, 2013

    There are filmed adaptations of plays and plays that are, in essence, staged for the film camera. “Between Us,” sadly, is closer to the latter.
    Joe Hortua’s four-handed melodrama about the arc of a relationship between two couples feels stagy, claustrophobic, despite filmmaker Dan Mirvish’s efforts to “open the play up” with varied settings and outdoor footage. And it’s performed theatrically, built to play to the back rows.
    Grace and Carlo (Julia Stiles and Taye Diggs) are newlyweds, visiting the Midwestern home of their college buddies, Sharyl and Joel (Melissa George and David Harbour). Whatever “seems like old times” nostalgia they might share is troubled by simmering resentments, jealousies and old grudges.
    Carlo is a photographer, http://www.agoshow.net/2009-All-Star-Seattle-Mariners-51-Ichiro-Blue-Jerseys-5/ – 2009 All Star Seattle Mariners 51 Ichiro Blue Jerseys a struggling artist. Joel was also a photographer, but he sold-out (or turned practical) and now he and Melissa live in a McMansion. Where they aren’t happy. Carlo and Grace try to endure, support.
    But in the end, they wind up clinging to each other.
    The other couple’s unsettling bickering is just getting started when we switch to another scene, a year later. We’re privy to a second meeting, this time http://www.agoshow.net/Tigers-26-Boesch-red-2010-All-Star-Jerseys-34/ – Tigers 26 Boesch red 2010 All Star Jerseys in Grace and Carlo’s dingy, crowded New York apartment. Carlo is still struggling, social worker Grace is bitter. And who shows up but Joel and Sharyl.
    “It’s great to see you guys!”
    “Is it? After last time?”
    “Between Us” teases out what happened at that first reunion, testy banter and debate among the foursome, who split up into pairs and condemn each other in their best “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” impression.
    Occasionally, we flash back to bar scenes, college years much earlier in the relationship, and to a wedding.
    “I’m not judging” means, yeah, he’s judging. “You must be enjoying this” means no, no one is enjoying the direction the evening’s taken.
    There are surprise revelations and ugly memories, and the battle over the shifting class difference between these two couples plays out in an epic confrontation over a milkshake delivery tip.
    This is a good cast, but it’s all played at a rather shrill pitch that must work better on the stage. The intimacy of the screen makes it all uncomfortably in our face. And as movies often do, the play “Between Us” is deconstructed by the act of filming – showing its holes, its obvious devices and that most fatal flaw of all, characters we would run from if we encountered them at a dinner party.
    BETWEEN US
    2 stars (Grade: C-minus)
    Cast: Julia Stiles, Taye Diggs, Melissa George, David Harbour
    Directed by Dan Mirvish, scripted by Dan Mirvish and Joe Hortua, based on his play. A Montery Media release.
    Running time: 1:30
    MPAA rating: unrated, with profanity, adult situations

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