From THE EPHEMERAL…Jason’s new, ongoing column…”Tragedies in Virginia”

‘I was in a coffee shop in Alphabet City, furiously typing away on the umpteenth draft of “Washing Machine” when news of tragedy at Virginia Tech came to my attention. Intensely hunched over my laptop – looking rather comical – I finally came up for air and a stretch. I glanced at the muted television across the room, noticed footage of a college campus obviously shot from a news helicopter, and began reading the closed captioning that seemed to stutter across the bottom of the screen. Updates on the estimated dead scurried across – almost as if they were stock results scrolling underneath a CNN report. And the number slowly climbed.


Others in the coffee shop watched the same newscast with that certain empathetic detachment that we all have most of the time watching others tragedies in such an impersonal manner as on television. We appreciate how horrid the things we are witnessing are. Yet, there’s only so much real emotional investment we can afford to make in a single day. It’s survival. We can’t weep for every single injustice in the world. We need to spare our resources for the injustices in our own little circle of offenders.

But I was touched deeper than I was prepared to be.

I turned back to my laptop. The cursor was blinking at me – anticipating my next key stroke. I had literally just finished another run at the character of the mother. The character of the mother has lost her five-year-old child in a freak accident involving a Laundromat washing machine in a small, unnamed American town. The incident in the play is very loosely inspired by a Washington Post article my director stumbled upon while he was packing dishes with newspaper for his move from D.C. to New York City.

The character of the mother is wrestling with how to proceed with her unyielding grief following the death of her daughter. How does she deal with this horrid thing? Does she ignore it? Does she wallow in it? Does she surrender to it and allow it to consume her?

The small town in the Post article was in Virginia – a small distance from Blacksburg.

Of course, the enemy in that little five-year-old girl’s demise – as well as my own scripted piece – was circumstance.

The enemy in Virginia Tech’s story was an individual who had committed a heinous act.

I remember thinking about the nature of grief. Do we really deal with it? Or is it like a virus? There is no cure. We simply wait until it works its way out of our system.

The friends and family of the Virginia Tech massacre have very specific places to direct their anger. The have very specific places they can direct their ire.

But what – ultimately – do we do with grief?

We wait it out. We let it die. We wait until we have accumulated enough distance and enough distraction and we let it go.

And it’s the most unsatisfying realization I have ever had.

I leaned back over my computer and followed the only path that made any kind of sense to me. I did one more pass on the mother’s monologue. I found new ways she could ask her questions. I found new dramatic ways she could wrestle with her dilemmas.

That’s what we do. We make order out of chaos while the virus works its way out of our systems.’

Fist In The Pocket’s Playwright-In-Residence, Jason Stuart, has just started a new, ongoing column – THE EPHEMERAL – dealing with art, science, life, and the occasional recipe…

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