Letting the Cockroach In: Spotting the bug in your story that you refuse to write about

I want you to find a roach in your bathroom today. Hands on thighs, cold tile beneath you, I want you to stare at the hair-dust covered floor and wait for a bug to surprise you.

You know that feeling, that deep breath frozen-for-a-second feeling that you just saw the truth, the dirty, the hidden?

I want you to find that today because I want you to use it while you’re working on a project and I’m going to tell you how.

Roaches are reality

I met my first cockroach in Puerto Rico.

When my grandfather was still alive, my family used to take an annual trip to paradise, where he could gamble and eat non-kosher buttery steaks every night.

I hated these trips.

They began when I was about eight years old, the same year I can remember becoming existentially depressed.

To this day, happy beach sand family loud lalalalala vacations are my kryptonite.

At the time, I was diseased with the inability to enjoy things. Vacations would leave me feeling alienated, ugly, stupid, worthless.

These forced depressive vacations are some of the only memories I have of my grandfather and, further to that, of my father whose joint inaccessibility and emotional ignorance commanded these trips, teaching me to internally cradle my pain to the point of escapism.

Puerto Rico is my earliest memory of a physical denial of reality. For my protection.

(Not to mention, my room was always joined to my parents through a door that they controlled so crying was out of the question.)

One night, age thirteen or fourteen, after dinner I go back to my semi-private room. I enter the bathroom and watch myself in the mirror.

Moments like this are the movie-like memories: Time is a joke, reality has lifted its veil, I am staring in the mirror at a face I still don’t know well and I wonder “what next”.

I sit and pee. My pants around my ankles, the pressure of plastic-meets-ass-cheek, urinary release extends itself and I start sobbing.

Hands over my face but then fist shoved in my mouth, I cry, and with my eyes open I see: A cockroach travel across the bathroom floor.

I inhale deeply.

A frozen stare, I don’t know what to think or do and then I realize, Oh yeah, warm climate, night. Yes, oh yeah: roaches.

I jump off the toilet, close the door quickly as if that keeps the monsters away and I climb over the pile of folded blankets at the end of my bed that my father insists the hotel keeps for us in case (insert something weird and controlling), I lie in bed and think about the roaches: Holy reality I am surrounded by bugs.

Why haven’t I seen more of them? Why don’t I notice them all the time?

Bugs hide because we hate them

Bugs represent a very upsetting part of our reality. Darkness, clusters, they eat shit, a lot of them could easily kill us or just fuck up our lives greatly and yet they continue to be tiny hidden surprises in our ecosystems.

I see the roach and remember reality.

We need roaches when we write

This past week, I spent each day in a workshop for my “grandfather” solo show and I have no material.

This workshop came like a bug in the bathroom.

Every time I sit to write this show, I essentially stare right back in that Puerto Rican mirror and I undress, I feel a strange feeling, I feel like I am being held by a sub-reality, a pointlessness, an inverse of charm and I let out a little, I cry as much as I can and I hope that I have written something.

But I have written nothing.

Now, in a workshop, with two brilliant women, I am embarrassed that I have no material for them to work.

If you don’t know what I mean by workshop well join the club I also have no idea what a workshop is but generally speaking it is time for individuals to work on a piece. Here I am and I have no piece but I am asking these women for help anyways.

I keep telling them that I don’t know what we should do, sitting there, I don’t know what I want to work on.

Eventually I am forced to drop my expectations of “work” and just tell them, try to work out, what I want to do with this play.

I try to tell them the story, the point of the story, a story about my grandfather.

I lay a pen on a paper and I draw out any connection I make while speaking. If I say someone’s name, I write it down. If I blurt out a memory, I write down a word from that memory. I draw lines and circle anything that feels like it needs a line or circle, it doesn’t matter, I will never look at this paper again, it is merely a tool for momentum.

I hate talking out shows before writing them but fuck what I hate, I have to try something new.

I voice record the entire experience until I look up and have nothing left to say and, separately but with similar certainty, each brilliant woman says: “This play isn’t about your grandfather. It’s about your father.”

The black bug on the tile floor scurries to the crack in the wall: My father.

I bolt back into reality, shocked into silence until I lie in bed and feel the obvious opportunities for his presence in this terrain.

I have written about my mother many times but my father has remained untouchable. Why?

Bugs hide because we hate them. Find someone who doesn’t hate your bugs. Let them call attention to whatever you pretend doesn’t exist.

There is always this cold water shock moment, somewhere in my writing process and I recommend acknowledging that it exists for you too.

You will inevitably be beginning your project from a point of familiarity. You will write as much as you can (and maybe it isn’t much) with the use of your initial idea but then you’ll start to feel that your text is missing reality.

It will feel a bit like resentment.

Maybe you won’t want to read what you’ve written, maybe you won’t want to write at all.

Maybe you’re there right now in which case I recommend you spend time with a friend or ally. Give them your story. If it happens, let them watch you release whatever you can. Let them point out the bug on the floor.

I recommend making an appointment, a few hours to sit with someone you trust, to tell them your story and tell them why you’re stuck. Then, have them repeat the story to you and have them repeat why you’re stuck, but let them tell you these things based exactly on what they heard.

If not, you’ll be staring in a hotel-clean mirror, waiting for the filth.

Don’t bother waiting.

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