Beached writer Melissa Bubnic talks writing.
I write about things that make me wonder why we are the way we are, and consider whether we can be something different – can we transcend our nature? I don’t mean to sound pessimistic but I’m not convinced that we are capable of change. I think we’re capable of occasional outbursts of better behavior but at our core, we’re petty, insecure and cruel so when we rise above our baser instincts and exhibit kindness, generosity, sincerity – that’s worthy of celebration.
In the case of Beached, I was fascinated about why someone would eat so much that they become imprisoned in their own flesh, and why people who love them enable it. It struck me as profoundly sad, unfathomable. So at its core, the play is about a boy and his mother who love each other but are stuck in a destructive pattern.
Beached deals with the sensitive and personal topic of the human body and body image. Though dealing with sensitive topics, it’s actually never occurred to me to self-censor for fear of offending anyone, largely because I hope my characters are always grounded in truth and sympathy. I’ve written characters that are racist, sexist, and do appalling things – but I love character flaws – I think that’s the very juice of good characterisation. It’s the same in real life, actually, whenever I encounter someone who seems too good to be true – I don’t trust it. I’m always thinking, your opinions are so right on, and your life seems so blessed, but surely you’re into flashing small girls or you suffer from crippling anxiety or you stole from the Jeans for Genes collection tin at work? No one can be perfect. No one can be wholly good or wholly bad. I can’t imagine my work upsetting or offending someone but then it’s a question of taste. I’m offended by movies like ‘He’s just not that into you’.
I don’t know how to write comedy. I’m not sure anyone knows how to do it. I write what I think is funny. So much of life amuses me, and strikes me as ridiculous: the way dogs look ashamed when they poo, the bullshit arguments between friends over paying a bill, David Koch. Whether anyone else will find what I find funny is in the hands of the gods.
How do I feel when I’m writing? Is it fun? No. I wouldn’t say I find it fun. You know that sort of cocktail party conversation (I don’t literally mean ‘cocktail party’, I’m not going to cocktail parties, I wish I was going to cocktail parties, looking ravishing in a plunging neckline showing off breasts I don’t have, knocking back martinis, eating delectable things off toothpicks but I am not Melanie Griffith and this is not Working Girl) when people ask what do you do and I say, ‘Um, I’m a writer’ and they exclaim, ‘Oh, how wonderful! I would love to do something like that’ – I’m telling you now, no, no you wouldn’t. There is nothing stopping anyone from being a writer – other than fear of failure, fear of financial and professional instability, and profound insecurity. Those of us who write are fools who persist despite those fears.
Writing is work. Sometimes I find the work really satisfying. A good day is when I’ve written something, a great day is when I’ve written something I think is good. A bad day is when I can’t write anything and a really bad day is when I realise the stuff I thought was good is actually wet poo smeared on the screen. I did a writing workshop once and we had to say why we wrote and one woman said writing for her was like being intimate with a wonderful lover and I had no idea what the fuck she was talking about. That’s not how I would describe my experience at the kitchen table, in my tracksuit pants, eating a boiled egg in front of the laptop. That said, there is no other job that I would rather do. I consider myself immensely fortunate that I’ve written a play and enough people liked it to make it happen. This really is a dream come true.