I expected it to be quiet at Joe Creek. I’m here at The Only Animal‘s beautiful artist retreat thanks to Playwrights Theatre Centre, who gave me a week here to work. It’s a beautiful, bright cottage nestled between forest and ocean. It’s a perfect place to be creative, and I have the place to myself.
But I brought the noise with me.
I came here knowing I would do rewrites on a couple plays already well into their development, scheduled for production and with a host of other people involved. However I mostly came here to work on a new piece, a quiet little voice that’s been whispering to me.
When I was younger, I was a total romantic. The list of my favourite movies and plays reads like an index of tragic romance. I can’t seem to help it. The thing is, I’m also a brutal pragmatist. Since romantics aren’t known for their survival skills, I’ve found myself leaning more and more to that side of myself, hearing the violins and proclamations of love fading farther and farther away. But this little voice insists there’s a story to tell – a love story about everything I know now.
That damn pragmatist is being too loud. Every time I start to write, I hear a barrage of is it produceable? Is that trite? Don’t you think that’s a bit derivative? And so I frequently storm out of the cottage into the outdoors, looking for quiet. There’s a beautiful forest right on the property – due to my almost compulsive refusal to do things the way I’m supposed to, I immediately forget the paths that Kendra showed me, crashing through the forest, carefully leaping over saplings and ferns. How can I start without structure, what’s the action of this scene, what’s the thematic- SHUT UP SHUT UP and the forest loses this time. I take a few gulps of air and I head back.
Either I know nothing about how to write a play, or the things that I do know are making it impossible. My heart and my brain are at war. So I pack my bag and run down to the beach. I want to swim in the ocean. I want it. My heart wants it. But the beaches here are rocky and hard to walk, the water thick with seaweed. Beautiful to look at and so hard to tackle. I remember the warnings in the artist’s handbook. I remember the repeated warnings of my mom and boyfriend to be careful. I’m on a mission though. When I get to the beach I looked, awed, at the shimmering blue of the water, the immaculate clear sky. I drop my bag, pull off my shoes. My feet sizzle on the rocks so I keep moving.
I hit the water and wow, it’s cold. This seemed like a nice idea but the pragmatist guarantees it will not end well. I push on. I can no longer see my feet and they slip on seaweed then catch on sharp barnacles – I fall and slice my hand on something sharp below the surface. It looks nasty and deep but while it’s bleeding hard it doesn’t hurt much and is clearly not fatal. On I go – how, I saw some teenagers swimming here yesterday, how did they do that? Are they born with callused feet or what? Quietly, I hear so get off your feet. Right. I launch into a doggy paddle, just deep enough not to kick the bottom. My breasts immediately fall out of my fashionable but inefficient bikini dammit dammit dammit but I realize there’s no need to be mortified because there’s no one around to see. And despite there being no one around, I am not suddenly pulled under by some invisible current, not dragged below by a patch of seaweed. I am awkwardly flopping along the water but I am still alive. Please, please, I beg. Don’t make me feel stupid for wanting this. Let me have this. And then years of community centre swim lessons come back to me and I roll onto my back, a starfish on the surface of the water. The ocean’s invisible hands buoy me up and I am floating, the sun winking above. Now it’s still, and the only sounds are the water lapping against my ears and my breathing slowing down.
Every act is an act of courage. You need your heart to push you on and your brain to keep you safe. One without the other, and you’ll drown for sure. I did it. There it is, the quiet.
I can hear it now. My story.