January 1, 2016 by T. Gregory Argall
As a playwright with a penchant for road trips, I have often been privileged enough to meet some of the wonderfully creative people behind several productions of my plays. Whenever possible, I’ve kept in touch with them, because that’s what you do with you like.
One such person is a young man named Ian who was involved in the Suffield Players amazing production of “A Year In The Death Of Eddie Jester.” Ian recently sent me a message, inquiring if I would be willing to assist him with a high school project by answering some questions.
If you have seen any of the dozens of sitcom episodes where this sort of inquiry leads to all sorts of confusion and hilarity, you’ll no doubt recognize the basic premise of the school project in question; “Find an old(er) person, ask them about life, try to salvage some level of wisdom from their rambling answers.”
Many high school students dread these assignments because most people, on instinct, would flee from such requests. I immediately chose not to flee. I long ago accepted the fact that from some perspectives I am “that old guy.” Now I had a chance to (at least try to) be “that wise old guy.”
I’m glad I said yes to Ian’s request. By necessity the questions need somewhat broad and open-ended, but they are not questions we ask ourselves often enough. They seem simple enough but I’ve never really given them any real consideration or thought in the past. Honestly, for half of the questions I had no idea what my answers would be until the words were already on the page.
Today is New Years Day. The start of a new year. A calendar relaunch signifying new beginnings, new goals, new dreams, first day of the rest of your life, blah blah blah and all that. It’s the perfect day for each of you to ask yourselves these questions.
Your answers may surprise you.
And who knows, maybe Baz Luhrmann will record your answers as a spoken word song and have another hit.
Thank you, Ian, for choosing me as the potentially wise, definitely old(er) subject of your assignment.
What has been the most significant invention in your lifetime? Why?
Text messaging, which has been around longer than you think, but not nearly as long as I have. I feel it’s significant not because of its convenience but because of the impact (for ill or good) it has had on language. Language is constantly changing and evolving, and text messaging has brought that into focus. Text protocol and etiquette differs from verbal communication and even from other written formats. Apparently ending a sentence with a period in a text is considered rude. Who knew? I may take issue with some of the linguistic changes that texting has given us, but I can’t deny its social significance and rippling effect.
What has been your greatest accomplishment? Why?
Seeing my words travel further than I have.
I have written several plays and I consider each production to be an accomplishment simply because of the number of people required to make it happen. As you know, producing a stage show requires months of work and effort from many people and in order for it all come together, everyone involved needs to absolutely want it to happen. From where I’m sitting, I need to make all of those people (whom I have likely never met) absolutely want to make my play happen, using only things that I’ve made up in my head, and the words I used to convey them.
Somehow, I’ve managed to do that several times. I think that’s quite an accomplishment.
“A Year In The Death Of Eddie Jester” is the one for me that has had the most success overall. It has had productions on six continents. I try to get to as many productions as I can, but it’s not always possible. A couple of years ago I was in Iowa for the premiere of one of my plays and that same week a production of Eddie Jester was mounted in Australia.
Following my scripts wherever they travel has allowed me to meet some amazing people and form some strong friendships.
What is a goal that you would like to accomplish in the next five years? Why?
I have a bottle of Writer’s Tears Irish Whiskey that I have been saving for whenever I have a truly significant sale for one of my writing projects. Whether it’s for a novel or a screenplay or a graphic novel, or something I haven’t started yet, I would like to be able to open that bottle, pour some glasses for my friends and toast my success. That would be nice to do in the next five years.
How is life most similar being a teen in your day as compared with life for teens today?
It sounds cynical, but people still judge each other for all the wrong reasons. In high school social divisions are made based on the music you like, the clothes you wear, the books you read, whether or not you read books, the color of your skin, the color of your friend’s skin. There’s an endless list of reasons to shut someone out and none of them are valid. But it’s important to learn that it’s going to happen anyway. The key is to not be a part of it and, more importantly, to not let it affect you. That’s always a challenge and teens have always had to deal with it and always will, but eventually most of them realize that if you keep finding reasons to ostracize people, soon you’ll be left with a group of one. And no one wants that.
What is a piece of advice you would offer to someone younger than you?
Mistakes are lessons. Learn from them. Not everything you do will work the first time, but if it makes you better the second time, then it’s not a failure.
When you look back on your life, do you feel satisfied, or disappointed? Why?
I do not feel disappointed. “Satisfied” implies that I’ll settle for where I am and I’ve done all I set out to do. I’m not done yet, but I am very happy with where I am on this road. There have been disappointments, but for them, I point you to the answer to the previous question. I have managed to gather around me people of value, good people, strong people, generous people, people who enjoy smiling and laughing and loving. Whatever else I accomplish or don’t accomplish, having good people in my life is what matters.
Try to be nice to each other.