Everything is problematic. Write about it anyway.


It would be no surprise to those who know me that what drives my work and what I write about are issues I am passionate for. Whether that’s creating visibility for Asian characters or giving queer folks happy endings (things I care adamantly about), what drives us as artists is deep-seated care for real-world ideas.

Whether that be injustice or beautiful music, passion for something in “the bigger picture” is what drives us. And there are many things wrong with the world today. The 2016 presidential election. Mental health crises. Islamophobia. Transgender rights. War. Zika. There is no shortage of things to write ardently about and with fervour.

And yet, mistakes happen. Last summer, I was enrolled in a children’s literature class and read books on kids in poverty, trans kids, kids who are disabled, etc. It seemed like no matter how well-intentioned these books were, the class always found a flaw in them. Granted, many were written decades ago and the world has become more cognizant of the nuances of social issues. But knowing that good intentions can backfire gave me quite a bit of fear. What if I want to write a story with a meaningful intention, but it ends up more problematic than helpful?

Last semester, I wrote a short film about a trans kid. I was very committed to the story, and I knew it was an important story, but as someone who isn’t trans I was afraid I would make a discriminatory mistake somewhere. So I went to a forum (r/asktransgender) and posted a brief summary of the premise there. Much to my relief, the overall response (from people with real trans lived experiences) was positive and encouraging.

But I know the story can’t be perfect. Those r/asktransgender folks never saw the finished product (and neither have I, I don’t have the financial resources to make this film–just yet)! But if and when the finished product does come out, no doubt will I expect feedback, positive and negative, about how I handled the subject matter.

I expect that feedback. And I’ll accept it. After all, there’s always more to learn, and always an even better way to do things.

The truth is, everything is problematic, at least on some level. Do it anyway. Push the envelope. Tell the stories you want to tell, to the best of your ability. If you have good intentions, people will see that.

Oh, and never underestimate the value of running things through an expert in the subject matter! Even if it’s your lived experience, you might not be an expert, you know. I’m Chinese-Canadian, but honestly I only know my own lived experience as a Chinese-Canadian. I could sure use some additional education on the matter.



On pseudonyms and non-English surnames

For a while I used a pseudonym, “Tawney K.” The “tawney” came from reading a poem back in Grade 12 where the colour “tawny” stuck to me. (I’ve since forgotten what the poem was called). The “K” comes from the name of the main character of Franz Kafka’s “The Trial,” and is also the main character’s name in Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami, one of my favourite books. I know, it’s all pretty pretentious…

I chose a pseudonym because I really really dislike “ethnic writing” and the baggage that comes with having an “ethnic” surname. When I was growing up, all the authors with ethnic surnames had books attached to them that had to have some ethnic edge. I can’t tell you how many Coming To Canada To Build The Railroad And Endure Racism novels I’ve seen attached to people with Chinese surnames. I thought: why can’t a person with an ethnic surname write about a “normal” book for once? Like high fantasy? Or a detective story?

As I’ve gotten older and learned more about history, I’ve come to appreciate more the importance of storytelling from the real perspectives of lived experiences. I can see the importance of Coming To Canada To Build The Railroad And Endure Racism stories. I’ve realized what I thought as a kid to be a “normal” story was something middle-class, white, North American, and Western. And really, there’s no evidence that that is a “normal” story.

But at the same time, I’m still a little alienated by these stories because my family, incidentally, did not belong to the wave of immigration often fictionalized and immortalized in mainstream Asian-Canadian/Asian-American historical fiction. And not all Chinese-Canadians do.

Where, then, was my story?

My story was loudly absent during my childhood, but it makes me smile to know that it’s (slowly) getting more visibility. Shows like Master of None and Fresh Off the Boat directly star Asian-Americans in contemporary settings, in stories I recognize and relate to.

Still, there is something about putting my non-English surname on an English-language publication that, well, kinda “others” me. Maybe it’s all in my head. After all, there is nothing strange about my writing in the English language despite my non-English background. I was born, raised, and educated in an English-speaking country after all.

What is this dissonance I feel then? Why do I feel that if I attach my name to a work of literature, that piece of literature has to do something for the culture of my name? Like I have to “represent” something, “tell” people something. Be a mouthpiece. Do some activism, even.

To fully give this topic justice, I would have to write way more than a blog post. But I think the bottom line is this: the Anglicization of non-English surnames is, well, kinda problematic, if you look at it from a historical lens. It’s a remnant of colonialism, and it fails to translate the nuanced meaning and history of the surname at the very least.

Of course, I recognize the impracticality of walking around without a surname whilst living in my English-speaking corner of the universe. Some things are status-quo and you just can’t change them.

But you can change what you decide to attach to your work. Some authors use pseudonyms, J.K. Rowling being one of the most famous ones. Her pen name Robert Galbraith was “was kind of a basic desire to distance this persona as far as possible.”

I realized I wanted to use my Tawney K. pen name to distance myself as well, and as a way to distance myself from my cultural background. My non-English background isn’t something I chose and I remain having mixed feelings about it, having been grown in a completely different (western) atmosphere. To be honest, I don’t know if I can identify with my surname as much as I could identify with an English surname.

But my cultural identity remains, for better or for worse. And, the older I get and the more I educate myself about my cultural history, colonialism, and the colonial reverberations that run through my family (my parents and grandparents grew up in colonial Hong Kong as British subjects—not citizens, there is a difference!), the more I’m willing to draw closer to my surname.

The fact that it is an inaccurate representation of my real surname in its native language remains, however. That is why I have since opted to stylize my name as “Surname-First English Given Name-Middle English Given Name.” While preserving the Anglicized spellings, this re-ordering at least preserves the traditional Chinese ordering of surnames-first, followed by one- or two-character given names. It’s tough straddling multiple cultures as a first-generation citizen of a family with an already-existing history of colonialism. But names are more than just words. Even Romeo and Juliet knew that.

Why we’re obsessed with labels

When I was around nine years old, I developed a very strange habit. I did certain actions in even multiples and in a specific order before going to bed. I was obsessed with cleanliness, and I had recurrent thoughts I couldn’t get rid of. For no reason, these rituals would change or I would add more intricacies to them, and even though I knew very rationally that this behaviour was irrational, I kept on acting on my compulsions for fear that something would go horribly wrong if I stopped.

I never met a psychiatrist. I never told my parents. In fact, I tried very hard to hide my weirdness, because that’s what I thought it was—weirdness. Eventually, the anxiety waned. It wasn’t until many years later, in my late teens, when I started reading about psychology, that I realized this childhood experience wasn’t weird at all, but was actually similarly experienced by others. It was a legitimate thing. My behaviour was made up of textbook Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder symptoms.

Finally, I had a word to describe something I had until then believed been unique to myself. And with that word, I could talk about my experience.


What am I trying to get to with this story?

The feminist and LGBTQ+ liberation movements have an ironic contradiction in that they advocate for the doing-away of existing systems, such as binaries and words, yet are seemingly obsessed with language. Every day, it seems, I learn a new word. Gone are the basic categories of “gay,” “straight,” and “bi.” Now we have grey-asexual, aromantic, pansexual, gynosexual, androsexual etc. So why are we so obsessed with labels? Why do we say “don’t label yourself” and come up with a new plethora of labels all the time?

Labelling people is potentially harmful because humans don’t fit into nice little neat categories. Somewhere along the line of LGBTQ+ history, someone figured out that many people aren’t just “gay,” “lesbian,” or “bisexual.” Human sexuality, and human experience, for that matter, is more nuanced than that. Instead of being exclusively attracted to one sex or equally attracted to both, our sexuality can be understood on a spectrum. Hence a lot of people prefer to think of themselves as somewhere along the Kinsey scale.

But the Kinsey scale negates people who are asexual and also non-binary people. Hence we have come up with terms like “pansexual” to describe attraction to all genders, not just male and female. Meanwhile, “panromantic” describes romantic attraction, not sexual attraction, to all genders.

The more we learn about the human experience, and how wide-ranging it can be, the more words we use to describe it.

But here’s the caveat. If the human experience is so wide-ranging, diverse, and unique to every individual, we cannot possibly find a word for every single thing.

It’s like music genres. Yes there is rock, pop, classical, and hip-hop, but there’s also hardcore, softcore, skate punk, ska punk, black metal, death metal, and heavy metal. But at the end of the day, doesn’t each band have their own unique musical style?

Hello My Name Is (15283079263).jpg

Travis Wise CC by 2.0

Labels do have a purpose though, and I think that purpose is similar to my experience with OCD. Labels give you a way to talk about things, and to find other people who have experienced those things, or even just find out other people with those experiences actually exist and you’re not alone. Many LGBTQ+ people, for example, can remember a point in their life when they hear about the label they fit with most for the first time and have a lightbulb moment. “Hey! This fits me! This is me!”

Reading about OCD gave me a sense of legitimacy. That all the bizarre stuff that happened to me wasn’t just something I made up because I was “crazy.” Realizing that this phenomenon of being meticulously obsessive was a thing that exists enough to have a label gave me an enormous sense of relief.

Of course, I identify with many labels, and I have mixed feelings about many of them. For example, I don’t know if I should identify more as a Canadian or a Chinese-Canadian or a Canadian-born Chinese (CBC). Similarly, words like “queer” have a long and complicated history with a multitude of polarized opinions.

Words are interesting, and while it may seem like we can do away with some of them, remember that a word always exists for a reason.

The real reason why I miss England (Study Abroad reflections pt.1)

It’s been a few days since I’ve returned home from my three-month study-abroad stint in England. Thanks to jetlag, I’m asleep by 10pm and up at 5am. For the first time in three months, I’m not living with 12 other people in a dormitory, nor do I need to read or write essays, so it’s been eerily quiet. Time and space to think.

I haven’t written in three months; that’s how busy and wild and chaotic and hectic it’s been. I apologise (look! I used an S instead of a Z! the British way!). But if you knew how many times I’ve had to sleep at 2 and wake up at 4 to catch a plane/train/something that moves, you’d understand.

I’ll talk about the trip. I’ll talk about the stories, the people I met, the shenanigans I got into, and of course the deep and reflective stuff about paradigm shifts and world perspectives and growing up and blablabla—but before all that, I want to talk about just one thing.

I miss England. Deciding to do a semester-long exchange instead of a year-long one was the worst mistake I’ve ever made. (Granted, I didn’t really have a choice because if I did do a year I’d delay my already super-delayed graduation). Yes, I miss England because I miss the places I found and the people I met. I miss cream tea in gardens and used bookstores with hidden back rooms and endless galleries and cobblestones rippling with hundreds of years of stories. I miss group selfies that never turn out right, midnight pranks on roommates, and even that time I was certain I’d miss my flight at Stansted because security thought my hands were—and I quote—”explosive.”

But what I miss most is myself. The me that was there.

Let me be clear: I’ve never lived away from home before. I grew up right on the borders of one of the nicest universities in the country with a program well-suited for me, so I had no reason to leave home for school. And although I know how to take care of myself to the extent that I sometimes cook for my parents, the comfort of home and the need to respect the rules that come with a free roof have always been there.

But taking care of myself wasn’t a life-changer for me. What changed was my approach to things. Unencumbered by authoritative limits and living in a land I had not explored, I was pretty damn motivated to do things. Be my own chooser of adventurer. I made it a point to travel somewhere new basically every weekend, to embrace the unknown, the foreign, the strange, the discomforting. Another thing to be clear about: safe at home I’m powerfully introverted—I prefer to be alone, I get tired of socializing, my walls are usually up. But over there…my walls lowered just a little. I went out a little more, interacted a little more. I even asked someone out—which I’ve never done before—and although I wasn’t successful, I’m pretty damn proud I did it.

In other words, I was in a really healthy headspace. I was driven, and I had this belief that there were so many things to do and I had to do as many of them as possible before time ran out. As a writer, my mind was overloaded with stimulation, and waters blasted open the dam that is writer’s block. I was in a place with so much literary history and so many stories wedged in its street corners. It was then that I vowed to return again for a solid year (or even more) and be in this mood again.

stirling highlands

Spontaneously-found viewpoint in Stirling, Scotland (on the border of the Highlands).

That’s it for now, but stay tuned for more stories.

How to deal with self-consciousness and insecurity as a writer

I’m almost absolutely certain I’m not the only person who writes who also feels tremendous bouts of self-consciousness and insecurity. In fact, I Googled “being insecure as a writer” and found lists of affirming articles that give my hypothesis a nod.

I think insecurity is natural in creative and introverted types. Creative people put a lot of effort into, well, the things they create, and of course they want their products to be perfect. Creating art is different than, say, creating expense reports for your boss. To create is to cut a slice of yourself out and feed it to a world of mauling, angry dogs eager to criticize and judge you.

So I think the first step is realizing that feeling insecure is totes normal. In fact, it should be a good thing. It means you have high standards of achievement for yourself. It means you’re not a loser!

But why, exactly, do we feel insecure about our abilities? Here’s what I think:

1. We set a perfectionist’s goal. Like I said, it’s a good thing to set high goals and be ambitious, but sometimes it also helps to be a little realistic. I think goals should be set in ranges: minimums and maximums. So you can say: at a minimum, I want to write one good short story by this year; but ideally, I want to finish writing my novel this year. That way, you can still feel proud of yourself for hitting the range but not the exact top goal.

2. We compare ourselves to people who have accomplished more. I hate comparing, but it’s human nature. Everyone does this. We compare ourselves to our peers who are top 20 under 20. We compare ourselves to child geniuses who can solve Rubik’s cubes in 20 moves. It’s a disease, I tell you, a DISEASE!

It’s important to remember that everyone’s running on a different path, and what you see in other people’s accomplishments is just that: their accomplishment. Their result. Their path leading up to it may have been completely different than yours, yielding different opportunities, events, people, settings, instances of pure luck that you didn’t have.

I’m not saying you should dismiss other people’s accomplishments as “Oh, they were just at the right place at the right time” but do recognize that playing fields aren’t all created equal. Instead, try to make someone’s success productive for yourself. Ask them how they go to their position, what opportunities they used that you may have missed. What their attitude to work is.

3. We underestimate our accomplishments. You may be behind the person you’re comparing yourself to because you were distracted by other things, such as getting a black belt in karate or whatever. Hey, that’s an accomplishment that your comparee doesn’t have.

Yes, it might not be in the same industry (but you should be proud anyway!). As for succeeding in your industry, remember that every little thing along the way counts. You’re building your career, lego block by lego block. And there has to be setbacks.

4. Setbacks count. You can’t expect your career to be a steadily-rising tower of success growing in a crescendo towards superstardom. You need to fail once in a while, in order to learn and make your next success a real good one. I always say: you gotta write horrid, tepid, shitastic, kerflopping writhing bundles of sloppy mess before you can write good. You need to know what doesn’t work to figure out what does.

5. Your only failure is not writing. You can’t be good at something if you don’t do it, so by golly just do it. Now for some of us (including yours truly), this is exactly what drives our guilt and insecurity. We’re so insecure we don’t even try, and then we feel bad for not trying. It’s a difficult cycle to break, but hey, it doesn’t have to be broken with grace.

In fact, go now. Write, like, 10 words. Not even 10. Write three. Write three words and it can be complete utter crap.

And then go from there.

6. Oh, one more thing: just because you’re an award-winning uber-author, doesn’t really mean you’re “good.” Writing is a subjective, icky business. Some of us worship Twilight like it’s the blood that keeps us alive (see what I did there?). Others question what insane intoxicated editor allowed it to be published. So what makes some authors good and others not?

“Good” is however you define it. Good can mean selling well to your target audience. Good can mean getting someone to actually finish your manuscript without falling asleep. For me, good simply means convincing someone to continue reading without feeling it’s a thing they owe me as a friend.

Now, I’m not a professional writer (not yet!), just another sympathizing soul 🙂 But I found some pretty neat resources for fellow stragglers in the writing game:

“The Insecure Writer: 3 of the Most Common Insecurities & How to Overcome Them” by Sarah Burke

“The Writer’s Guide to Overcoming Insecurity” by Henri Juntilla

“3 Easy Steps to Turn Your Writing Insecurities into Strengths” by Lynda R. Young Yes there’s a support group for insecure writers…

“Get a Handle on Writer Insecurity” by Alex Cavanaugh One of the things I forgot to mention in Cavanaugh’s post is recalling past praise!


Rekindling your childhood creativity

Ask anyone and they will tell you: kids have stronger imaginations than us boring adults. They are more creative, they embrace the impossible; when we say “no” they say “why not?”


By Suzanne Szasz, 1915-1997, Photographer (NARA record: 1997309) (U.S. National Archives and Records Administration) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

When I was a kid, I’d staple or glue a bunch of paper together and make picture books. Often, I didn’t know what I was going to write about til I put pen to paper (or, rather: marker and crayon to paper). I’d think: “Hmm, I think I’m gonna write a book today! Like Roald Dahl!”

Now, as an adult, it takes me a long time to find the confidence to even start writing. I convince myself instead that I have to plan: sketch out my characters, plot out a story arc, find weak spots where things will may through. Paranoid that something will fall through and my audience will point and laugh as a result.

Why do we get less creative? And how do we “re-activate” our childhood creativity? Sam McNerney from Big Think says:

What happens to our innate creativity when we age? Zabelina and Robinson discuss a few reasons. The first is that regions of the frontal cortex – a part of the brain responsible for rule-based behavior – are not fully developed until our teenage years. This means that when we are young our thoughts are free-flowing and without inhibitions. Curiosity, not logic and reason, guides our intellectual musings. The second is that current educational practices discourage creativity.

As a means to compromise childlike creativity and adultlike realism, McNerney mentions artist Dave Devries, who turns kids’ monster doodles into professional, digital paintings with realistic shading.


From Devries’ online gallery.

So raw, unhindered creativity isn’t the be-all. Adult knowledge and acquired skill has its uses.

What I think we need to learn to do at times of creation is shut off the part of our brain that judges us with a headmistress’ voice. At least in the first stage. In the beginning, you should just be concerned with creating, nothing more. If that means creating something totally shitty, do it. Along with peacocks and cherry-blossom trees, God created slugs and hairless cats too, right?

We need to stop judging ourselves. Yes, now we have co-workers, bosses, workshop buddies, classmates, and potential significant others to impress. Gone are the days when any doodle on Mother’s Day earns you worship. But we can’t begin to produce our best work without from somewhere, so we have push out everything and anything we can. Then build from there.

I love digging through my old computer files. I’ve got all these crazy stories stored in floppy disks from back in the day. I love looking at all the crazy writing I did as a kid and how ridiculous some of those plotlines were, but now and again I’ll find a useful nugget or two. And hey, who knows? Maybe one of these childhood adventure stories will mature into an adult book.

And if you’re still stuck in an adult-rut, remember that it was adults that made this video… At least I hope it was adults.

The wonder of a blue sky and a change of seasons (pretty pictures included)

seoul namsan

Namsan Tower in Seoul. One of my better-composed photos. The pure blue sky and the changing leaves sure add to it.

Have you ever looked up on a clear day—an absolutely clear day, with no clouds in sight as far as your vision could reach—and marvelled at how delightfully blue the sky was?

I couldn’t help myself. I had to take a picture of it:

blue sky

Such blueness is a rarity in the rainy Pacific Northwest. Most of the year, the sky looks a sad, bleached grey. It’s only May, but summer came early to us this year, coinciding with the end of the university year.

I know the colour of the sky is not a big deal but it’s very provoking for me…it’s weird when what you colour with a crayon in a picture is true in real life as well. It’s weird when cartoons get that close to reality.

Is life a cartoon? I used to have that conspiracy theory as a kid, tracing the outlines of my surroundings with my eye’s pen. I was really into drawing, like most kids were, so I was obsessed with making things up that didn’t exist. I believed that drawing something made it exist. So someone had to “draw” our world into existence, right? I also had this conspiracy theory that my family’s life was a TV drama, like the ones my parents watched on TV, and that somewhere someone was watching our lives like a TV show too.

wreck beach

My local beach in the summer. #westcoastbestcoast


I’ve been going to classes twice a week this month. It’s been a surreal, oddly-flexible few weeks contrasting with the previous year of full time working. Sitting at home in pyjamas doing my coursework almost feels like a sin. I feel that I should be outside in a dress shirt doing something, being productive, earning my bread. Instead I’m procrastinating with a bowl of ramen and laughing at a computer screen during my “lunch break.” Even reading for class feels like “over-relaxation” for some reason.

I’ve always thought I’d do more writing while I was working because I would have the evenings to myself, homework-free. I find myself writing more now that I’ve returned to class, though (okay, not this blog, but in other places). The place most conducive to creativity? Class. Ironically enough. It’s the perfect place to daydream.


Clouds have their upsides though, I guess…

Summer is a weird time. A liminal space between two academic periods. Time almost stands still. While you’re in summer, the hours of sunlight stretch, making the days longer. Then, when summer’s gone, it feels like only yesterday was June 1, and you’re steeped in depression. To quote Green Day, “Wake me up when September ends.”

Sometimes, in the summer, you feel great bouts of energy. If you usually go to school, you’re free, so you do stuff with your friends. You climb mountains. Paddle boats. Play guitar in hippie beach circles. You might even go on vacation. Or, you just sit on the porch and read until the sun lulls you to sleep. Wake up with a tan.

Summer is what you make it. I’m not sure what I want to do with mine yet…for now, it seems like I have a good degree of both motivation for classwork and eagerness-to-have-fun. What are your plans for the summer?

Writers: do you write in a diary/journal?

Written in moleskine.JPG

Journals, diaries, notebooks, ideabooks, whatever-you-call-’ems have always given me mixed feelings. I’ve been *trying* to write a consistent journal since I was a kid, but all too often the deed feels like homework. At the end of a long day, you just want to kick back, relax, and watch cat videos, not think about what word describes your day the best.

It makes me feel guilty. And kind of…inadequate. Because I actually write a lot of fiction in my spare time—hey, I might even consider myself a writer—and most writers from Samuel Pepys to Anne Frank have journaled diligently. It seems like a healthy habit too; how many times have I had brilliant ideas during the day only to have them vanish into the ether a week later? If only I had written stuff down.

I do carry a small Moleskine with me in my purse in case a really good idea comes to me while I’m out. Otherwise, I have a big stack of barely-written-in notebooks of random beginnings of things. Lots of “chapters ones,” if you know what I mean.

But I’ve never really had a “diary,” a place just for personal thoughts. There could be a myriad of reasons why this is so. Perhaps I don’t like homework. Perhaps I don’t like dealing with my feelings, particularly negative ones—I prefer to shove them away, or forget them and move on. Perhaps I have a fear of writing down the darkest things within me, of regurgitating them into black-and-white textual existence, because that would make my biggest fears real.

So perhaps I’m just messed up. (Hey, at least I blog. That counts for something, right?)

I do like the value of writing down your life though. Feelings come and go, and it’s very difficult to recreate a moment. Writing down moments in your life can keep alive little fires, whether they be good fires or bad. You can open up your diary one day and say, “Huh, I used to feel this way.” You can even think, “Hey, this was a shitty time in my life…but I can sure use it as material for this short story I’m writing!”

Do you keep journals? Personal journals? Idea journals? What are your thoughts on journal-keeping?

Image: “Written in moleskine” by Homonihilis – Own work. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Motherfuckitude, speed reading, and writing top 10s

Happy Sunday, world! It’s been 10 days since I last spoke with you. Absolutely scandalous. In these last two weeks I’ve been busy wrapping up my projects at work because my co-op term is ending—also working on my own final project for the semester. Busy, busy, busy, with scraps of socializing here and there and racing to finish library books by the due date. You know how thrilling life can be.

So today I’ll just do a simple Weekend Wrap-up. Have a lovely Sunday! The weather’s getting warmer and the skies are getting drier, so go out there and kick a goddamn ball. Or just read a book.

I’ll have a real, original post coming up this week on Sucking Less And Winning More. It’s, y’know, unconventional life advice and shit.

Lists of writing things

  1. Top 10 quotes on first drafts. “I hate first drafts, and it never gets easier. People always wonder what kind of superhero power they’d like to have. I want the ability for someone to just open up my brain and take out the entire first draft and lay it down in front of me, so I can just focus on the second, third and fourth drafts.” —Judy Blume
  2. 6 John Green quotes in nice pretty gifs. Because we all need a pick-me-up from good ol’ Mr. Green on a Sunday afternoon.
  3. 11 writing tips to remind us that, for example, “[p]ublication is not the only definition of success. Count the small victories, too: solving a difficult plot, writing daily for a month, completing your first novel, entering that contest.”

List of literature things

  1. Why copyright extremism will kill creativity as we know it. Something I’d like the music, TV, film, and publishing industry to read.
  2. Modern literature’s greatest anti-heroes and unreliable narrators. We all love the bad boys and the badass bitches.
  3. Writing advice: The Art of Motherfuckitude. Title says all.

Because it’s exam season

  1. How to speed read, and
  2. Why you shouldn’t speed read literature. Sorry English students.

Why you should go see a play

Cruikshank Pierce' Egan's Real Life - Drury Lane Theatre 1821.jpg

Many writers, artists, and musicians are also heavily involved/have knowledge of the dramatic arts. I’m not one of them. This may come as a shocker to some, but I’m not particularly fond reading plays. Plays are intended to be performed; otherwise, in my head whilst reading them they just appear as endless scenes of people standing around and talking.

Nevertheless, I enjoy the odd night out at a playhouse. Who doesn’t? Live entertainment is a unique experience. Each iteration of a performance can never be replicated again, and there is an intimacy with the audience even the most poignant film cannot express.

I need to see more plays. Of course, geographical distance, finances, and the effort of getting out of your house are all obstacles you must somehow overcome to see a play. This past year, I had the privilege to see, well, two plays…which is two more than I usually see in a year!

The first one was The Bacchae 2.1 as performed by the drama department of my university. It was both a modern and primal retelling of the classic Greek tragedy. Sensual and crude, colourful and challenging, with a psychedelic trippiness, it had “something to offend everyone” (as a faculty marketing specialist informed me personally). The play attempted to knock down the towers of social gender constructs and did so quite successfully, shock value abounding in the wacky costumes the design team no doubt had fun creating.

The second play was part of the city’s Fringe community—a one-man production on a character’s addiction to virtual reality called Virtual Solitaire written and performed by the talented Dawson Nichols. The performance was breathtaking and superbly impressive, as one actor captured the audience with his ability to interchange between 15-20 different characters. Expertly written, borrowing from both technological and human jargon, I bought the play (to properly digest it afterward), got an autograph, and shook the hand of the talented fellow afterwards. Still stunned, the only thing I could really say was “Um, I enjoyed your play very much…”

I think seeing plays are extremely educational to us writers because they put at the forefront the importance of words, and not just how they’re written, but how they’re delivered. One key thing I learned in first year creative writing was that a play is based on the power of dialogue, while a film is based on the power of moving images. As writers of prose we tend to rely on the power of both. As a writer whose skills in dialogue are not as effective as her skills in everything else prose, seeing plays stimulates the dialogue part of my brain.

Do you enjoy seeing plays? What kind of plays do you prefer, and where do you see them?

Cruikshank Pierce’ Egan’s Real Life – Drury Lane Theatre 1821” by George Cruikshank – http://collections.vam.ac.uk/item/O164364/print-aquatint-print-collection/. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.