So the other day I saw this play, Protest, by Václav Havel. You remember Havel: he was the founding President of the Czech Republic, and before that the first President of a free Czechoslovakia. But before that he was a playwright, and also a prison inmate. The two vocations were related.
I saw it in the DuPont Underground, which is a trolley-car barn underneath DuPont Circle in Washington that had been converted into a space for the arts, performing and otherwise. This was kind of ironic, because back in Soviet-occupied Czechoslovakia, Havel was the epitome of “underground.” Like everybody who spoke freely and honestly there, Havel was suppressed. The suppression was so effective that his plays were known as “apartment plays.” That’s because they were staged in apartments, with audiences of eight or nine people, since anything more public would have caught the attention of the authorities.
The remarkable thing is that none of this discouraged Havel. Writing plays is hard work. He must have been discouraged seeing his plays earn such sparse attention from the general public and such deadly attention from the authorities. It must have occurred to him that his condition was hopeless; that the mighty engines of the State would assure that his story, and his message, would never reach a wider audience.
He never acted like his condition was hopeless, though. He just kept writing.
I mention this because I’ve been a little discouraged myself these days. Capital City hasn’t been flying off the shelf. I’ve been worried that I won’t find a publisher for my next book, and won’t be able to write the book after that. And of course there’s Trump, who I now blame for everything wrong in my life.
So I haven’t been writing.
But I have a good excuse! Or at least an excuse. Or several excuses. Here: I’ll show you:
(1) When I get up in the morning, I have to feed the cat, make the coffee, and microwave my breakfast. That takes a great deal of time.
(2) Who reads my damn stuff, anyway?
(3) I often write theater reviews. That counts, doesn’t it?
(4) Writing is hard. Really hard. Exhausting, actually.
(5) And what if I do all that exhausting work, and the book never gets published? I’ll have wasted all that time!
(6) Sometimes there’s a really interesting story on ESPN.com, and by the time I’m done reading it, it’s time for my day job.
Now let’s try to imagine the reasons Václav Havel might have had for not writing:
(1) I’ll go to jail again for two years.
(2) I’ll lose my job at the chemistry plant and be forced to collect garbage for a living.
(3) The last fellow who let me stage an apartment play in his apartment lost that apartment.
(4) Only 100 theatergoers know who I am.
So, OK, now Havel is embarrassing me, since he had so many better excuses for not writing than I do, and he still wrote.
But the thing that really embarrassed me into putting electron to electron was an interview Jodi Lyons conducted on her Fairfax (Va.) cable television show, “Your Need to Know”, with a local author. Lyons is an author herself, specializing in the field of elder care. She is a bluff, jovial presence on the television screen and in the studio. She knows the rheums and whims with which a writer is afflicted, being afflicted with them herself on occasion.
Under her perceptive and provocative questions, the local author gave out what he had learned from his hard-bought experience as an author: persistence. This author, who appeared to be of a mighty age, had experienced a great deal of rejection. “Agents would tell me that they were not in love with my book,” he explained. “So for a while my writing life paralleled my dating life.” But he continued to write, continued to try to get published, and then, for reasons he could not identify, one of his projects found a publisher.
If he could do it, there was no reason I couldn’t — especially since he was me, three months ago.
We did the interview in mid-February, but I only got my hands on the video a couple of days ago. I post it herewith in order to give discouraged writers (such as me) advice about what to do:
Get to work.