Originally, I was going to use this post to talk about how much flying has changed and how much it sucks now. I even took pictures and was totally ready to talk about the “restaurant” at the airport where you ordered everything via a tablet and the staff was hella, hella rude. I had my literal and figurative receipts READY.
But after a 12-hour travel day (definitely a post for another time: traveling while so, so poor), I found myself having the same conversation I’ve always had whenever I come to a fun playwriting adventure.
Person: So are you flying in from New York?
Me: Um no.
Person: Oh. Chicago?
Me: No. Arkansas actually.
Person: …………………oh. I didn’t know they had playwrights in Arkansas [or something incredibly similar].
And they don’t mean it maliciously. Half the time, they immediately apologize and I tell them I’m not offended and then there’s this whole exchange about how I’m actually from LA but moved to Arkansas for a job in theatre because yes there is theatre in Arkansas and it’s so great and beautiful and blah blah blah. The whole spiel. Every. Time.
And to be honest it’s not worth getting upset over.
Because here’s the deal: On all of my playwright adventures so far (and to every theatre company’s credit there haven’t been that many adventures yet), every single playwright went to either Northwestern, Yale, NYU, or UCSD. Every. Single. One.
So walking backwards for a minute: In high school, I was a complete snob about colleges. I applied to eleven (11!) schools.
The list: Columbia, Notre Dame, Smith, Berkeley, Wellesley, and USC. The backup schools: Puget Sound, CSUN, CSU Long Beach, UC Riverside, and CalState Stanislaus.
My absolute top choice was Columbia but after visiting it I was put off by how intense everyone was and after visiting Notre Dame, I thought “whoa, everyone is so nice here.”
I didn’t do thorough research into any of the schools. My research consisted of “Was it a top 20 school or nah?” At the time, I told myself I didn’t care how miserable I was because all that mattered, in the end, was that I went to a good school.
Because that’s what I’d heard all my life.
When you’re funneled through private school, all you hear over and over again are “Go top 20. Go top 20. Go top 20.” So it sticks with you. And it sticks with you hard.
Because even though I was absolutely miserable, I didn’t transfer from Notre Dame. Because I didn’t think I could get into another top 20 school and my happiness wasn’t “worth it” in comparison to my supposedly guaranteed success if I stayed.
I share all of this to say that for a really, really long time, schools mattered to me. Once, a friend of mine told me that going to an Ivy didn’t matter to her unless that person was still teaching there or still involved with an Ivy school after graduating. And I remember feeling so hurt by that. Like I felt like she’d just slapped me.
(And then, of course, I got over it. Sort of. I obviously still remember it even though she said it like a year and a half ago so I’m not sure how over it I am but I can at least admit now it was a silly thing to get upset over.)
For me, it was about getting out of my neighborhood, rising up, and just shocking everyone. Proving everyone wrong. Proving I was extraordinary. And to me, a big part of that was going to the best school possible.
(It’s honestly something I still struggle with. All the time.)
When it came time to choose grad schools, I had a hard, hard choice to make. I had been dating someone for a year and it was pretty serious and I was told flat out “If you leave, we break up. Neither of us can do long distance.” And it was true. I knew it was true.
So I applied to only Brown and the University of Arkansas. If I got into Brown, we were done. That was it. If I got into U of A, we’d stay together.
But look at me.
I wear mix-matching socks. And a lot, a lot of blue. I’m quirky and weird but pretty basic at the same time. I was never going to get into Brown. I wasn’t edgy enough.
(I recently talked to a playwright who also got rejected from Brown. Their rejection letter was so, so condescending. Like we get it, Brown. You’re the cool, edgy school with your fancy non-formalist writing styles. No need to write the rejection letter in that same style.)
So I went to U of A.
And there are many, many things I could say about the program but for now, I’ll just say this: I went during a transitional time and I myself was metaphorically transitioning as well. I was still figuring out what kind of writer I wanted to be. Who I wanted to be, really. So it was rough time in general for me.
As you can imagine, all of that mixed together created a bit of a malfunctioning complex. Or, as it’s more commonly called, Impostor Syndrome.
Once I did start getting invited to things, I wasn’t sure whether to mention my MFA at all. I had multiple people tell me not to put it in my bio or on my resume. To just leave Notre Dame and not mention grad school because it “worked against me.”
Worked. Against. Me. Imagine going to grad school for three years to find out your school didn’t “count.” And now imagine yourself in a room full of people who went to schools that did count.
How could anyone not feel like an impostor in that situation?
And then, on top of having gone to a school that didn’t count, I also don’t live in a city that counts either. I say Arkansas and people don’t even bother to ask what city because, the truth of it is, they heard everything they needed to hear at “Arkansas.” Or wanted to hear anyway.
So all of those things combined, lead me to feeling like this:
“Well, at least I get to be in the room with the next great American playwrights. I can say I met XXX way back then.”
And it pretty much never crosses my mind that I also might be the next American playwright because it feels like there’s a formula to it and I didn’t follow it.
And then, thanks to my Aquarius moon, whenever I get too deep in the dumps about this, the narcissist in me is like
“HOLD THE FUCK UP. You made it out of a not great part of LA. Survived at Notre Dame and even up bringing a 1.8 to a 3.0 in two years time. And got a job in a field you actually wanted to work in right out of undergrad. You don’t follow formulas. You do what you want and you make things work. Tony. MacArthur. Nobel. Never forget. That’s the trifecta and we’re gonna get it. Tony. MacArthur. Nobel.”
My self-pep talk is much longer than that but that’s just a sample. It’s pretty great. When I remember to think it.
At the end of the day, I don’t know that I’ll ever be great. I don’t know that I’ll ever get a Tony or a Nobel. I’ve had to decide that regardless of the formula and “supposed to,” if I can travel at least five times a year and work on plays, that’s good enough for me. Because at the end of the day, that’s what I love to do.
Really, at the heart of it, I write plays because I want to change the world.
Is that an intense statement? Yes. Is it true? Yes. I want my plays to begin conversations about the social justice issues around us and I want to inspire change. I’m not doing it for the prizes. I’m not doing it for the glory. I’m doing it because (1) I feel called to and (2) it has already started conversations people weren’t having before so I know it works.
In the end, impostor or not, I’m here. It’s happening. And I’m not leaving until I’m literally kicked out. Name school or not. There’s no time to get in my head about it. I should probably be editing anyway.
PRO-TIP: If you’re ever in Orlando, there’s this amazing, amazing breakfast food place called First Watch. I 100% recommend it as a place to eat your feelings because you know a moment isn’t working and you’re not sure why and if you could just figure out the play would be stupid-amazing but for some dumb reason you’re stuck and now you need hashbrowns. Website here: https://www.firstwatch.com/