i'm a white writer. in new york. original, no? i've been blogging since october 2002. this blog picks up in october 2008, when i moved from DC to NY...(and then I moved to Maine in 2012)

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Artist Statement


I've been trying to figure out how to share what is probably the biggest epiphany I've ever had about myself, about my identity.

Last summer I went to have my hearing tested, since the Meniere's Syndrome I was diagnosed with at 18 is something that leads to pretty severe hearing loss, and I finally had insurance that would cover it. I was surprised to learn that the Meniere's was a misdiagnosis and what I have is more like Central Auditory Processing Disorder. I went to the Center for Hearing and Communication in NYC, which is I guess the top place for this particular disorder. I've been seeing a therapist there who is helping me learn strategies for coping and process the huge internal shift over what this means.

It has taken me a full year to really grasp what this means (and I'm still working on it), and it's been a few months since I had the diagnosis confirmed with hours of testing for me to figure out how to put it into words. I've written the Artist Statement below and put it on my website on my About page, since it's central to who I am as a writer as well as a person.

I'm not sure who will read this other than the dozen or so loyal readers who are subscribed to this blog. I don't think I'll share this on Twitter or Facebook because...well, I'm figuring out how to share this and who to share it with. I've told maybe six friends and my mom--half of my friends were totally supportive, but the other half offered radio silence, which is understandable but has made me doubt I'm doing a good job describing it. I think the main obstacle to friends understanding it is that this is an invisible thing and I think I hide it pretty well. So you guys are my guinea pigs.


Why do I write the way I do? What do I care about most? What questions and problems pull me into a play and set it spinning? The answers don't fit a tidy third-person bio, yet they’re certainly the most important in understanding my work.

Many of my plays explore themes of emotional violence and parasitic relationships. I like to set up collisions between characters who have run out of words and characters who have too many of them. My characters live at the intersection of language and power, and struggle to break free from the constraints of class, race, gender, and systemic abuse. I also enjoy writing plays that are adapted from or inspired by literary works—they're especially useful as a lens through which to examine topical and political issues.

My work is informed by a nomadic early life spent at first on welfare. I went to 12 schools by the time I graduated high school. I mention this because it’s at the core of who I am as a person and writer—I'm deeply invested in telling the stories of marginalized people. I also had Major Depressive Disorder from around age three until quite recently, and you can find blog posts about it on
this page. Connecting with people online in 2002 was the start of my journey away from depression—I learned that the world is filled with people who are deeply kind.

Another specific wrinkle in my identity that informs my work is that I have a hearing problem. I was diagnosed with Meniere's when I was 18, but in 2012 I learned that was a misdiagnosis, and that my lifelong struggle of feeling lost, stupid, and overwhelmed most days stems from something more like what's called Central Auditory Processing Disorder. I'm still dealing with testing to figure out what it all means, but so far they've pinpointed that my challenges are in the area of Auditory Memory and Recall. Basically I get exhausted easily because I'm working so hard all day long to pretend like I get everything. I think for the most part no one notices, and yet sometimes I get so stuck that I freeze up. When that happens, if I can't cover, I've learned to quietly leave. This is my first attempt to write about it—trying to explain it face-to-face has sometimes not gone well. Understandably, people are puzzled because this is something invisible and which I believe I generally hide well.

I can't overstate how meaningful this discovery has been about the ways I work each day to understand the world. The greatest gift has been that I can relax, because now I understand the following:

• I'm not stupid.
• There's a reason I often feel detached from experiences or confused.
• My preference for writing over speaking is not a weakness.
• My need for solitude and prep time before meetings or social outings makes sense.
• Trying to hide my struggle usually increases it.
• It's likely that my depression was a secondary symptom, though it was more problematic.

I've taught myself how to talk to people from scratch. This is not as much of an exaggeration as you might think. While I'm sure I had chatterbox moments at times growing up, most of my life was spent in profound unhappiness and shyness. I mean the kind where you somehow manage to embarrass others. In my 20s, I saw how I was making people uncomfortable, so I began to study how "normal" people acted—what they said, the jokes they made. I began imitating them, building a sort of database that I could pull from when I felt stuck. I even wrote these things down in spreadsheets to keep track of them. I learned to ask questions of people so they would talk while I could regroup. I learned how to "cover."

When I explained this new diagnosis to my mother a few months ago—that I didn't have Meniere's, as we'd thought all those years, but something more like a language processing disorder—I fully expected her to dismiss it. We had, after all, been at odds for the first few decades of my life. Instead, she teared up and, I kid you not, said, "Oh my god. This explains everything. Everything." I'll never forget that moment. Before then, I'd had no clue that my struggle with this impacted her in any way. It turns out that whenever she’d ask a question and I couldn't answer, she always assumed I was being difficult on purpose. The fresh understanding for us both in that moment was profound. We had been locked in a perfect circle of mutual misery.

Until I can anecdotalize all of it into a more digestible chunklet, this, in a long-winded nutshell, is why I write so many plays where people aren't speaking the same language, where everyone's realities can seem so starkly different.

Early poverty, moving each year, my hearing problem, and depression made for an isolating early life. Social media and the playwriting that followed have changed the quality of my life for the better. There's an element of translation in both, of using a medium (actors or social media) to connect to someone on the other side, to someone I most likely will never see. The Internet as lifeline.

I'm lucky to have figured all of this out, and I doubt I would have without the hyper-connected world we now live in—I can't bear to think how my life would have turned out without it. I know many people out there are struggling like I have, people who haven't had access to the resources I have, who feel alone and desperate, lost and silent.

In my humblest of hopes, I want to bring understanding to them through the stories I tell.


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