Thinking through and writing about issues that rouse
The premise of my class is that you write plays about what you are passionate about. It doesn't mean that every play you write is autobiographical, but that there is something in everything you write that is about you, in one way or another. I do have a pet peeve when people who have seen or read my plays say, oh now I understand you, without engaging me in conversation about it. They could have pulled something that was antithetical to who I am. Here, I may be saying something very obvious, but I say it anyway. In order to write, you have to know yourself, or be in the process of knowing yourself. Therefore, I have an assignment that the students do a character study of self. I am modeling it for them here.
The best writers are very brave. Maya Angelou, for example, was very brave in baring her soul and personal story in the writing of her books and poems, especially her first, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. I recognize that I am not as brave. But, I am in constant dialogue with myself about how brave to be. I am challenged in this time (January 2017) to be braver. We shall see.
As a guide for the crafting of a play, I am using The Art of Dramatic Writing by Lajos Egri. It was first published in 1946 and last published in 2009. (It is old, the language is old. I will write about why I decided to use it on another blog). In one chapter about character study, he advocates creating tri-dimensional characters. The three dimensions are: Physical, Psychological, and Sociological.
Physical: My ethnicity is Japanese-Okinawan. I think it is important to include that I am half Okinawan in this context of physical description. Because I have this in my genetic make-up, I do not look typically Japanese. I have bigger eyes and a broader face. I am bottom-heavy with sturdy legs and calves. I will be 62 this year. Because of my Asian genes (I think), people are surprised when they learn my age. I don't have wrinkles on my face, except when I smile, but when you look at my hands, especially next to a younger woman's hands, they do look old, lots of protruding veins. I have a few protruding veins in my legs too. It seems I have struggled with weight all my life, but when I look back at pictures of myself in my 20s, 30s, and 40s, I am amazed that I ever thought I was "fat." In my 50s, I was the most stressed in my life, and I was at one time, 20 pounds heavier than I am now. Retirement was good for my health as I believe that reduced stress also led to shedding some weight. My hair is thinning and that is where I see my aging process the most, in my hair. Confession: I dye my hair. At one time, I was going to go natural, but one of my students said to me: "Miss Aoki, why are there cobwebs in your hair?" I don't like that cobwebby look, so I get my hair colored. I never want to be the old woman whose face looks old, and her hair is obviously dyed. As long as it doesn't look obvious, I will color.
Psychological: Every time I take the Myers-Briggs personality test, I come out a INFJ.
"INFJs tend to see helping others as their purpose in life, but while people with this personality type can be found engaging rescue efforts and doing charity work, their real passion is to get to the heart of the issue so that people need not be rescued at all." www.16personalities.com/personality-types
It's pretty amazing, but yeah. One time I took this test, I was the most Introverted of anyone in the room (a group of union activists, no wonder). I realize now that I am an ambivert. I do like my alone time; I am comfortable with my own company, but I do get lonely and need to seek out company and conversation just as equally.
There's birth order. I am a second child. In Japanese culture, I would have the least status in my family because my 4 younger brothers would be more important than me. It really isn't like that in my family, but I think of this when I think of birth order. I am two years younger than my sister. I am smart, but my sister was stellar, graduating second in her high school class. My chemistry teacher called me "Shayne's sister." Yes, I am over this, but there's something in my psychology that still considers it when I describe myself. I defined myself in relation to her. I compared myself to her and always came up inferior. (That was then. I'm an adult now.)
When I was in high school, I had the nickname "scholar." My friend said it was because I always did my homework, and always carried a ton of books. I still don't understand that reputation. But I now wear it proud. I don't think I really deserved it back then, but I may now. Maybe it was a prediction. I remember making a leap towards my identity when I realized I wasn't cheerleader material (my sister was one), and went into student government instead. I also did yearbook, and helped to publish a literary magazine.
I have never been married and raised my daughter as a single mother. This is a huge aspect of my life and my psychology, which could fill volumes. I will just say about this that it was the best decision I ever made in my life. I can't imagine who I would be without her.
Sociological (interactions with society): I am an American, born in Hawaii, raised in Guam. My great-grandfather on my father's side immigrated from Japan in the late 19th century for work in the plantations. I am 4th generation on that side. My grandfather on my mother's side immigrated from Okinawa. Their wives followed later. Not sure about my father's side, but my mother's mother was an arranged marriage. On my father's side, his grandfather found his way to Kona early in the 20th century, and our family has been in Kona ever since. On my mother's side, her father moved them around the different islands from plantation to plantation and eventually settled in Hilo, with others in their family from Okinawa.
Culturally, I am a mix of being raised on Guam, being also from Hawaii, and my ethnic heritage. It's hard to say what came from what. I do think there is something about being an Islander, having a sense of identity because we are surrounded by an ocean. (Okay, that sounds psychological). And because of this, I think there is a sense of connection with each other, a shared love of the island. I have a politeness and wanting to please that probably comes from my Asian side. Harmony is a norm. Don't rock the boat. So in order to speak out, I have to recognize this as a norm, and rock it when I need to, in a way that I can and should. Whatever the genesis of my cultural behavior, I think I have a giving nature, and I find it in Guam, in Hawaii and in my family. When I don't give enough, as in food, I am aware that I did not meet the expectations of my culture.
When we first moved to Guam in 1961, we lived on Andersen Air Force Base, as my father worked there, one of many skilled laborers hired from Hawaii to build up Guam after WWII. When the Air Force needed housing for military forces due to the Vietnam War, we moved to Dededo. I have both military and local influences in my upbringing.
I remember volunteering one time during the Vietnam War visiting wounded soldiers at the Naval Hospital. It is a faint memory, maybe a dream. I know my older friends from the village were drafted. I had some photos they sent in their army gear. I don't remember protesting. I do remember a day in 1973, when we were all celebrating because the war was over.
I wrote letters to the editor a few times in high school. One that I remember was in response to the shooting death of a boy in my high school, and I wrote about gun control, a cause I still feel strongly about.
I went to college in the Disco era. So anti-climactic after hearing about the civil rights and anti-war college protests from a few years before. I had a friend who was involved in the farmworker's movement, and I protested with her a few times. I sure hope I voted for Jimmy Carter back then, but I think I was very ignorant and uninformed back then.
Fast forward to my adult life as a teacher. I became a union activist as a response to what I believed was a wrong and even destructive approach to education, the focus on testing. I wrote lots of letters to the editor mostly on this topic through the years. I still think of it as one of the "causes" I will continue to work on, as it has gotten worse through the Obama years, and even more now. I considered myself an education activist. I've been inactive since I retired, but will probably pick it up again.
Feminism. I think I am in the era that took it for granted. I don't remember having to fight for equal rights. I was a government worker in a union-friendly state, so we fought for rights as workers, male and female. But I do think it is important to empower women, to raise girls to be strong women, in control of their minds and bodies. Strong women can raise and inspire strong men. Strong men are not intimidated by strong women, so it all weaves together.
This is me in three dimensions. I know there is a lot that I left out; this is more of a sketch than a portrait.
Diane Aoki is a writer who explores other modes of creativity as her intuition leads her.