I have this rock that used to be a boulder. A big, bald, beautiful boulder. And now, after many many years of cool cool water running over it like tickling icicles, it’s just a rock.
Several years ago, I took that rock from its original habitat when I jumped into the coldest river in the state of Washington – a giant pink organ having a spastic-seizure screaming into the stream – and came out with that rock.
You know why I took that rock?
The more important question is why do I still have it? I have lived in 17 different places since I stole that rock from that riverbed. Seventeen. And everywhere I went – across tens of thousands of miles – that rock came with me. Not furniture or clothes or books or even girlfriends. But, everywhere I went, that rock was there and I had no idea why.
Then, one day while stuck on a play, I looked at the rock and you know what it said to me? It said, “Tyler – you’re a chickenshit.”
“What happened to you? You used to have gumption. You used to have guts. You used to jump into rivers so cold you wouldn’t see your scrotum for a week. Now look at you – writing love stories. You make me sick.”
And Rock was right. I was a chickenshit.
I’m married to a beautiful woman and we have a beautiful boy and I love my life. And that is toxic for writing.
To combat my chickenshittedness, I started writing characters who are the opposite of me.
I love taking the most mundane of situations and making them exceptional. Whether it’s the simple act of a man asking for his best friend’s blessing to marry his sister … during a zombie apocalypse, or exploring the theatrical possibilities of a coffin block, or a father competing with super-heroes for his child’s affections – there is great satisfaction in writing characters who jump into the water no matter how cold.
As in my full-length, Dancing With N.E.D.: At the surface is the story of a woman planning her final days – booze and pills being her diet – but what we learn at the end is that she is really trying to come to grips with the mistakes from her past. Claire, the protagonist, takes her death into her own hands and makes the brave decision to decide how her life will play out – grasping death from the jaws of life.
With ChocolateSexPuppyTacos (A Non-Denominational Comedy), I’m exploring faith and religion through the eyes of a stand-up comedian who lacks religion but, maybe, has more faith than he thinks. By helping his preacher brother save his ministry, the comedian sees that his job and his brother’s job are nearly identical – similar messages, different deliveries, more dick jokes. These brothers each have avoided their respective callings but, when teamed together, they become stronger than previously thought.
In my current play, Occupation: Dad, inspired by my own experiences as a stay-at-home dad, our hero is on a journey trying to navigate through the perils of fatherhood. While he’s encountering every day challenges, he’s quickly finding that accepting his new role as a father can only be attainable via mending his broken relationship with his own father. Humor certainly plays a part in Occupation: Dad, but so does the idea of confronting new challenges and feeling as though we may never be ready for the most important roles in our lives.
“You’re a one-trick pony. ‘Dick jokes’ – pfft – your mom tells dick jokes.”
You’re correct, Rock. My mother is actually quite funny.
But, I don’t just rely on the plethora of humor the gods have touched me with. I also look to investigate subject matter I’m unfamiliar with in order to find a story with which I can relate on a personal level.
For my play, Run Kingsbury Run, I came across a story of Cleveland lore and, having been raised in Cleveland, was intrigued to tell this story that I hadn’t heard before. Since the play takes place during a serial killer’s reign some forty years before I was born, it would seem that I had no connection to the subject matter and, therefore, would not be able to insert my voice. However, I connected with the idea of a man facing the end of his legacy and having one last chance to save his name. This allowed me to view the play through his eyes – a man staring at his life, past and future, right in the face – and not knowing how to handle what it is he’s staring at.
While focusing on getting closer to My Voice, I find that the more I write the closer I get. While I’ve been blessed in life, I’m less fortunate in vision and creativity. In order to find plays – including many of my short plays – I like to find the subjects I’m most passionate about, or subjects that bring out the most emotion in me. These subjects can run the gamut from politics, history, social expectations, injustices in an opaque world, or just good ol’ sexy sex times.
These stories, of course, are easy to find when opening any newspaper, or having conversations with friends, or just visiting the mythological trolls of the comments section of any story on YahooNews. The trick for me isn’t just relaying the story, but relaying it in such a way the audience thinks they’re watching characters without knowing what they’re really watching is themselves.
I have delusions of grandeur wherein a husband & wife are driving home from one of my plays and are having an argument about it – what was it really about or what really happened at the end or what did that moment really mean – and have them both be able to support their point of view using the play as evidence.
What my characters all have in common is my need to explore how each of them either got themselves into their current mess (N.E.D.), how they get themselves out of their current mess (Kingsbury), how they try to break their routine of messiness (ChocoTaco), or how they navigate through any myriad of obstacles making a mess (Dad). Also, they have way more guts than I ever did or do.
Like sheep in wolves clothing, my characters and my plays are examinations into the parts of the human psyche I lack but wish I had in full. Many of my characters behave in ways that I think most people would like to if it wasn’t for succumbing to what has been deemed “socially acceptable.” They’re daring, mouthy, and not at all interested in what other people think about them.
And that is what Rock gives me: Rock taps into that part of me that is gutsy, that part of me that falls in love at a moment’s notice, that part of me that jumps into water so cold I can’t see my scrotum for a week.
Like Rock, my characters, my plays, and my approach is, simply, an endless drive to be what everyone once was and wishes we could be again: Bolder.