Bringing Levity to a Serious Issue -A Reluctant Playwright Tackles a New Play

lev·i·ty
ˈlevədē/
noun
noun: levity; plural noun: levities
  1. humor or frivolity, especially the treatment of a serious matter with humor or in a manner lacking due respect.

Whenever I attempt to tackle a serious life issue faced by real-life people in my writing, my aim is always to intersperse the message with a brand of levity that is neither offensive to the reading/watching audience nor disrespectful to the target subject facing the real-life issue being tackled (I apologize for the run-on sentence). This task is not as easy as it probably doesn’t sound, especially when I am a member of the target group I’m writing about. But I tackle issues. It’s one of the things I like to do with my writing. I don’t shy away from the task because it is difficult to accomplish. I embrace it. It’s a challenge a choose to take on.

Back in 2012 I wrote a blog post about Childhood Sexual Abuse and where Toronto area men could go for help to overcome the side-effects of this devastating crime (Sadly and happily it is google search-and-found almost daily by those seeking help–sadly, because it’s heartbreaking to think there are that many victims out there and happily because I’m glad they are finding help through the provided links). I wrote about a miracle worker who has made it her life’s work to heal men and help them recover their lives from the morass of their broken childhoods. Lynne MacDonell brings men from victimhood to survivorhood to thriverhood. She does this with individual therapy and guided and thriver-led group therapy.

 

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I built this Inukshuk on West Fork Trail on Oak Creek just outside of Sedona, Arizona, this past September. It’s a symbol found in abundance in Lynne MacDonell’s office. I built it for my group brothers…

I am now YEARS into my own personal healing journey. One day, while awaiting the commencement of a group therapy session, a conversation about plays and theatre led to a discussion about a play which takes place in a therapy group session. The guys know that I’ve been writing plays for a few years now. At first, it was a bit of a joke. “And we can have the guy who…” and we would outline all the shady/crazy/funny/sad characters that would take the stage in the play. We had all the archetypes covered, all the stereotypes, all of US. It was a discussion of life imitating art imitating life imitating art.

A funny thing began to happen about ten minutes in to our conversation. I got that warm flush of excitement I receive when a kernel of an idea begins to grow and take possession of my creative brain. The downhill snowball effect of the creativity engine kicked in and I became excited. “And we can make it funny–I mean, fucking hilarious, right–because look at us. Even we know there are funny things about us. We’re a cesspool of fodder for funny.” And someone else said, “At the same time, we could educate. We could get a message out. We could immobilize.”

And then, inevitably in discussions such as this, someone swung into that dangerous territory where they spurted out something like, “We could change the world!” And the conversation kind of fizzled out at that point because we all felt just a bit foolish for getting excited about something we were dreaming up as a sort of joke to pass the time as we were waiting for all the others to arrive.

The thing with creativity kernels, however, is that they fester. They live in those dark halls of the mind where a writer’s fictional worlds get built. They occasionally come out of their rooms and clutter your everyday thoughts. They say, “Hey! Remember me!” like they are drugs and the writer is the junkie looking for a fix.

That play idea has been battling for head-space ever since we concocted the idea. It whispers to me while I’m writing other things. It walks across my thoughtscape holding placards that read, “Don’t you forget about me!” It campaigns to be taken out of its cell and allowed access to the playground. Sometimes there is nothing one can do to stop the growth of an idea. Nothing, that is, but write.

So now I’m faced with a large task. Write a play about childhood sexual abuse that audiences would actually want to see. We are talking about an issue that is avoided like the plague. BY EVERYONE. Don’t talk, don’t talk, don’t talk. You spend your life hearing that mantra. You live by it. You swallow the pain. You attempt–incredibly failingly–to convince yourself that you’re okay, that you don’t need to talk about it. You attempt to talk about it and you are silenced. It is THE topic not to be touched. NOBODY WANTS TO ADMIT IT HAPPENS. EVERYBODY WANTS IMMUNITY FROM ITS EXISTENCE. Let the victims deal with it…why should we? It didn’t happen to us.

But this thing in my head won’t be silenced. Some bonehead in my men’s childhood sexual abuse recovery group made a tiny little suggestion one day a year or so ago, and like that tiny fucking piece of metal in the woods in Stephen King’s TOMMYKNOCKERS, I stumbled over it. I have fallen victim to it. I have been digging. And, ladies and gentlemen, it is getting bigger. The synopsis of TOMMYKNOCKERS goes something like this… After a writer discovers a piece of metal sticking out of the ground in the woods behind her house, she starts to dig — and dig and dig. For me, that little piece of metal was the flip suggestion that I put our experience on a stage. AND that I make it funny. But more poignant than funny, because what would be the point of making it a comedy? I believe the term dramedy was bandied about.

Enter LEVITY. Enter LAUGHING. Enter ‘Make it respectful’.

Enter a fine-edged sword. It’s a monumental task to walk the edge of a sword without getting cut. But I think I have found my next project. Or, rather–and this is totally WRITER TALK talking here–my next project has found me. My mission, should I choose to accept it–like I have any choice in the matter–is to write the play. To make it funny. To make it eye-opening. To make it a topic of discussion for those imagined audiences that may or may not ever see it. To open the door and shed the light. To make us real but not pathetic, lovable but not pitiable, funny but not caricatures or stereotypes, endearing but not detestable.

THE TRUTH IS some see US as contemptible and unappealing, pariahs who would invariably perpetuate the cycle of what we have endured. Some are incapable of stripping VICTIM from our personhood. Or, even worse, they are incapable of stripping PERPETRATOR from our personhood. They believe in the monkey-see/monkey-do ness of the crime, the dreaded VAMPIRE MYTH. That look we sometimes get…like the person looking at you has already determined your guilt. Or, even if they don’t determine your guilt and your potential of perpetuating the crime-cycle, that other look…the suspicion of your complicity in what happened to you.

YEP. These are all things. And here I am about to jump into the waters of this idea that will not rest. Here am I about to attempt to write a play that may never have an audience because of its potential ICK factor. I am also aware that the therapy group setting has been done…successfully. I go into this with only one wish: WRITE A POIGNANT WITTY SOMETIMES BREATHTAKINGLY SAD KNEESLAPPINGLY FUNNY PLAY THAT WOULD APPEAL TO A LARGE AUDIENCE. No biggie. Thanks for planting the kernel, guys. I’ll now attempt to hit this one out of the park for the brotherhood…and for our incredibly fearless champion, Saint Lynne of the Broken Boys Healing Club. With levity.

LIGHTS UP…

Real Life Heroes – Who Are Yours? And How Do You Honour Them?

I have had a few readers ask who I’m referring to in my latest novel dedication. Half Dead & Fully Broken released on January 19th. I spend a lot of time writing my dedications. Maybe even more time than it takes for me to write the novel itself. (-:

First, let me share a screenshot of the dedication with you…

DedicationWe all have heroes. If we’re lucky, we have more than one. If we’re really lucky we have more than we can count on two hands. I take my hero worship seriously.

The first in the above dedication is my late uncle. He was loud, opinionated, overbearing, at times scary, and, most of all…an amazing kind-hearted soul who would do anything for the ones he loved. I don’t know why he had such a soft spot in his heart for his nephews, but he did. And he would tell us, too. I remember that he loved me and wasn’t afraid of showing it in his way. And I remember that his laughter filled every crevice of a room. Hell, it filled the sky and the trees and the grass and the bees when he happened to be outside when he laughed. Just as a room or a cathedral could not harness his laughter, the great outdoors was also no match for it. I would do anything to hear it again. And a part of me will never stop hearing it. With all of his flaws, he was an amazingly good person. His legacy proves this. So, I wanted to mention my Uncle Don in my most recent dedication.

The first thing we should do, when it comes to heroes, is remember that nobody is perfect. Don’t look for flawless perfect people to look up to. Heroes can be tarnished and flawed…and, yet, still be beautiful.

The second person in my most recent dedication, Lynne MacDonell, is someone who has dedicated her life to rescuing men (and women) suffering the serious and life-damaging side-effects of childhood sexual abuse. Lynne is a tireless champion for men (who happen to be a marginalized group in a world that still has not fully come to the realization that boys too can be victims of sexual abuse). Not only does she run her own practice here in Toronto, but she flies across North America as part of the MALE SURVIVOR WEEKEND OF RECOVERY therapist team. And on Tuesday nights, she runs 2 groups for men. TWO! Every Tuesday. Every single Tuesday. Not one, but two.

Sometimes I think of the axiom, NO MAN GETS LEFT BEHIND, when I think of Lynne and her efforts to save male victims of childhood (and otherwise) sexual abuse. She will not rest.

From Lynne’s own website (linked above):

My Practice involves the healing of survivors of childhood sexual abuse. Although I work with both men and women the majority of my clients are men and their significant others. I offer two groups for male survivors covering topics of trauma issues, safety, healthy and unhealthy coping strategies as well as many other issues. I work with my clients in groups, in relationships and as individuals.

As a member of the award winning team of Malesurvivor.org, Weekends of Recovery, I have been involved developing training for and awareness regarding male survivor issues for OPP, Canadian Centre for Abuse Awareness, Ontario Victim Witness Services as well as many others. 

I choose my words carefully in my dedications. We crave heroes in our fiction. It is to be expected that there will be at least one hero in every work of fiction. And, as writers, we try to find the right flawed-characteristics-to-heroic-characteristics ratio…in order to make those heroic characters seem real, believable, honest, true, plausible.

Lynne MacDonell defies the logic of Fictionlandia. Does she have flaws? Sure…I’m almost positive she does. If I’m going by the belief that we all do, I have to concede that she does too. Have I seen any of them? NO. This is the part where I say, “I’m not just the president of the Hair Club for Men. I’m also a client.” I’m there, in Lynne’s second of two Tuesday night TIME FOR MEN groups as often as possible. I don’t make every single Tuesday…but I certainly try.

While my characters are stumbling around in the dark attempting to help each other, to be heroes to one another, Lynne MacDonell is out in the real world…saving lives. I know this because she played a significant role in saving mine. Including her in the front dedication of one of my books? Easiest decision I ever made.

Who are your heroes? Before you answer that question, think about what HERO means to you. It doesn’t need to be someone capable of swooping down into your life from on high to save you from Niagara Falls in that crucial last second before you go tumbling over into nothingness. We should recognize our everyday heroes. Those people who, through either big or small ways, make our lives a little bit brighter. Who offers you sunlight in your moments of darkness? Who tells you that everything will be okay? Who simply goes along for the ride with you when times are trying? Who says, “You are not alone” at those times you feel most alone?

Something else to think about. Every day, each of us has the opportunity to be someone else’s hero. Every minute we have that opportunity. Just be your best self, and you never know who will benefit from that. Every moment, we have the power to effect the life of another…both positively and negatively. If you are carrying around a pocketful of heroes, make sure to emulate them.

We can be heroes…for ever and ever…

Toronto (GTA) Help for Male Child Sexual Abuse Victims

Today, I would like to do something different. Please be patient while I use this forum for an important public service announcement.

Even as more and more men are coming forward about their experiences with childhood sexual abuse, even as the media is flooded with more and more horrifying stories of CSA and the perpetrators of these crimes, it is still ever difficult for men to find help.

In the TORONTO (GTA) area, there is help in the form of an amazing woman who does tireless work with (and for) male CSA victims. Lynne MacDonell is a member in good standing with the Ontario Association of Counsellors, Consultants, Psychotherapists and Psycometrists. She is also a member of the award winning team of MaleSurvivor.org. Lynne runs two groups (TIME FOR MEN) for male survivors of childhood sexual abuse. The groups cover such topics as trauma issues, safety and healthy & unhealthy coping strategies.

Lynne MacDonell’s office is located on Bloore West inToronto (and she can be contacted here through her site), just steps from the Jane subway line.

If you are living in Toronto—or anywhere in the GTA—and you are suffering alone, you need to know that you are NOT alone. AND it’s not your fault. Help is out there. If you’ve been seeking that help, you need look no further. Just follow the link below (CLICK ON THE INUKSHUK) to be taken to Lynne’s website. You will find a CONTACT ME link at the top of her homepage.

 There are many resources to be found on Lynne’s site. Her web address is http://www.lmtherapy.com (That’s an L and an M, not I’m) You will find answers to frequently asked questions, crisis line information, etc.

If you’re struggling and looking for support, call or email Lynne today. It’s time to start your healing journey.

(Updated to include Lynne’s Twitter account: @lynneintoronto

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