Sunday, November 20, 2011


It is always fascinating to realize that one has written in harmony, thematically or stylistically or both, with another author, especially when one was barely aware of that author's existence when one has done so. If this seems like a very specific generalization, that's because it is.

In 2009 I took Playwriting, a class I was let into by the grace of its teacher in spite of not having the prerequisite courses for it. It is still one of the classes in which I learned the most about writing in general.

As a final project for that class, we were required to write a 1-act play. My play was described as "very Ethan-ish," which I suppose is a compliment. It was about a mother and daughter, and the person who killed the mother when the daughter was an infant. At the height of the play, the daughter reads the one letter she got from her mother, a letter written by her mother while the daughter was an infant:

“My darling child,

"I write this as I watch you sleep peacefully, your little eyes closed, your little fists relaxed (for once). I am thinking of all the things I want for you, of all the things you will accomplish, and of how proud I will be of you no matter who you turn out to be. But, and maybe this is just the natural worry of a mother, most of my thoughts turn towards things I have experienced or seen or heard that I never wish you to experience. Things I hope I will be able to protect you from. Things I know I will not be able to protect you from—your first love, your first broken heart, your first betrayal.

“My mother, in her semi-mystical way, always used to say this to me: ‘The dragon sits by the side of the road, watching those who pass. Beware lest he devour you. We go to the Father of Souls, but it is necessary to pass by the dragon.’ The dragons in life, I have found, are never what we expect them to be. They are never what we are prepared for. We must face them on the strength of our weakness, that weakness which is turned into perfect strength by our God.”

For one of my graduate classes I just finished reading The Painted Drum, a novel by Native American author Louise Erdrich. This is a novel that is about, among other things, mothers and daughters, and the love that is between them. It was published in 2005, four years before I wrote my play, but as implied, I had not heard of it, much less read it, until this year. A couple pages from the end of that novel we have this:

"There are other things that [my mother] could say to me, things I will never hear. I doubt that many mothers say these things to their daughters... They try to protect us, even when we're middle-aged. So I must supply the words for myself:

"Life will break you. Nobody can protect you from that, and living alone won't either, for solitude will also break you with its yearning. You have to love. You have to feel. It is the reason you are here on earth. You are here to risk your heart. You are here to be swallowed up. And when it happens that you are broken, or betrayed, or left, or hurt, or death brushes near, let yourself sit by an apple tree and listen to the apples falling all around you in heaps, wasting their sweetness. Tell yourself that you tasted as many as you could." (Erdrich, The Painted Drum, 274)

Obviously there are differences--her writing is good, mine is not; my writing has overtly religious content, hers does not; etc.--but they are similar enough to give me a slightly eerie feeling. I suppose some burgeoning writers like me would be annoyed, perhaps thinking that such similarity implied in them a lack of originality. However, I tend to view the finding of such things oddly flattering. I take it, perhaps incorrectly, to imply that I have hit on something universal, or at least somewhat universal. At the very least I find encouragement in the fact that my wild guess at what a universal theme might be in such a case is so similar to someone else's--someone with a LOT of credo, no less.

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