I write. It’s pointless, I know. I’d surely be serving a higher purpose by breeding goats or juggling live gerbils. But I get up in the morning and write.
I guess if you start it in high school, you’re stuck. I remember writing a poem and feeling despair that it was the best thing I’d ever write. It had to do with crickets. I remember writing a comic sketch for a high school variety show, and amazing, we got laughs. I recall writing a stage play based on a Kafka story; after writing 30 pages of stupidity I gave it up.
And I have clear visions of my senior year English teacher telling me after class, “Conrad, I know how much you want to be a writer, but I don’t think it’s right for you.” To which I said, “Well, Mrs. Coad, I don’t want to be a writer, I want to be an actor.” To which she said, “What a shame, you have such talent.”
I started writing plays as a stage director—translations for production, but they became more and more adaptations. When we broke away from academia to start a theatre ensemble, somebody had to write the stuff, and that was mostly me. I’d written maybe 20 shows before thinking of myself as a writer.
That came when I wrote a play that was selected for the O’Neill Playwrights Conference. Suddenly I was a “playwright.” With a dual career. For our own company, I wrote the stuff that made us a living on tour; for other theatres, I wrote plays that gave us sudden bursts of royalties and vilification. And I shared the billing with my mate: nothing went out until we were both fully satisfied.
For many, many years. Now age and the Covid plague have blitzed the touring, and our play agent died. The last ten years, we’ve turned to fiction—ten novels, many short stories—with miniscule sales. We’ve never established a recognizable “voice,” certainly no fixed genre: the story becomes the story it wants to be.
For the first time, we’re writing separately, though we edit each other mercilessly—Liz writing memoir, I flash fiction (very short stuff). I realize this has always been a calling: for our own performance, we’ve always had a show of short sketches in rep (maybe 250 over the years), and I once wrote a radio series of 65 90-second dramas. One chapbook is out there (14 stories), another imminent (25 stories), and a third chugging up the hill of I-think-I-can.
I ask myself often, why do I write? I might as well ask why I breathe, given the long-range prospects of that hapless endeavor: at some point you stop. I guess I write because i’m a writer.