There is something so spectacularly haunting about storytelling. The characters I dream up and the plotlines that flourish underneath my hand linger in my mouth like strong espresso. At first, it’s bittersweet and critical: all I can say to myself after reviewing the first draft of a scene is, “Oh gosh...this is not good...at all.” My entire body shrivels up with cringe. But once I let the scene sit with me, much like the second shot of espresso I definitely shouldn’t have had, I grow to appreciate the unbalanced flavor profile of my work. The typos, misspellings, and plot holes of those first drafts are what make the piece quintessentially mine.
The typos, misspellings, and plot holes of those first drafts are what make the piece quintessentially mine.
Workshopping What Firouzeh Saw with Wayward Voices is redefining the very essence of writing for me. For so long, my stories were peppered with insecurity; every scene screamed, “Validate me!” Years of dictation from English teachers made me feel like my language was too flowery, elaborate, and imprecise. It seemed as if I could never get it right: my stories were either strangely vague or unnecessarily specific. Looking back, I wasn’t writing to create imaginative worlds that render curiosity. I was writing to prove myself to teachers and peers. The noise from my compulsion to please people coupled with countless “Scripnotes” podcast episodes made me afraid to write.
There comes a point where the urge to resist storytelling becomes unbearable, much like a disproportionately large piece of bread that is stuck in my throat. That icky feeling of resistance consumes my every waking moment. I’ll take feedback made with a red pen any day if it means I finally get to swallow that piece of bread. So much time was spent trying to be “perfect” when I could have been creating entire worlds.
At our first read-through of What Firouzeh Saw, I confessed that I don’t know what I’m doing. This proclamation was made from a place of excitement rather than insecurity. This is the one time where I don’t know what mistakes I’m going to make and can’t refer to previous workshop experiences because, well, this is the first. There is something so magical about not knowing and I don’t want to rob myself of it. While rewriting, I tell myself, “I don’t know how these scenes are connected but I know that there is a story here.” The uncertainty of not knowing makes this process more exciting for me. I don’t have all the answers but with the magic of uncertainty, I can certainly dream them up.
(left, read-through of What Firouzeh Saw)
If I had a dollar for every time I heard someone say, “embrace uncertainty in these unprecedented times,” I would be incredibly wealthy. The “hustle culture” gurus of the world set a thick fog upon my world. The various dimensions of storytelling have always been uncertain. Sure, there is the typical linear path of going to school to get a BA or BFA, humiliating yourself in audition after audition until something sticks, and putting in your 10,000 hours. But the tenets of this “plan” have always been riddled with contingency. It bothers me when someone says, “embrace uncertainty” to an artist during the current state of the world because it undermines the true nature of storytellers. We are and have always been a reflection of the chaotic society that we live in; a prism that filters through worldly events through our personal experiences. We absorb the uncertainty of society, interpret them, and put them into artistic mediums.
As much as storytelling is uncertain, it is also innate, persevering, and comes with the human plan. It’s like the free toothbrush you get after going to the dentist: you can’t refuse it. I have a strange infatuation with people who write their screenplays and novels at the many Starbucks locations in Southern California. Before the pandemic, I would get unbelievably excited whenever I walked into a crowded cafe and hear the loud humming of keyboards. The optimist in me would think, “I can’t believe that somebody in this room is writing the next Death of a Salesman or Citizen Kane.” I also loved strolling into a Barnes and Noble and stumbling upon the people who would sit against bookshelves, compulsively flipping through the pages of a book that they were not planning on buying. Even though I can’t see those strangers physically anymore, I have faith that the next King Lear is being written in a small, two-bedroom apartment on a light gray futon. I trust that the person who used to spend hours in Barnes and Noble has finally started purchasing books and still reads cross-legged on their living room floor.
As much as storytelling is uncertain, it is also innate, persevering, and comes with the human plan.
I know that you’re probably rolling your eyes at this optimism and thinking that I have spent way too much time romanticizing the experiences of the lost generation and the writing process itself. Well, you’re not completely wrong. I have a problem personifying things, people, and ideas. I am at fault for thinking of the past with presentism. But my faith in the sustenance of great stories doesn’t distract from our current condition; it makes the challenges that artists are facing today all the more real. I wholeheartedly recognize and feel the anguish of millions of artists who have lost their jobs and have their livelihoods at stake. Despite this hurt, storytelling is not doomed. I know this because I have gone to countless Zoom productions, listened to radio plays, and experienced the TikTok sensation, Ratatouille the Musical. Stories are still being told! They may look and sound different, but they are still serving the purpose of inspiring us to hope for the possibilities to come.
I urge you to think of that writer on the light gray futon or the teenager on social media putting out two-minute sketches. Recognize that storytelling has always been uncertain, but it will morph itself into anything and everything to keep our humanity alive. Everything may be an enigma right now, but the presence of glamorous tales or heart-wrenching dramas will never be questioned. Here’s to telling more stories.