At the end of May 2012 I take the summer off from writing this blog. School is over. I’m exhausted and need to rest and reconnect with myself. And to find my imagination. It goes underground when I’m teaching, or at least the crazy, off-the-charts, zany, outrageous, and ridiculous parts are in hiding. I don’t know who I am at the end of semester because I give so much to my students that when it’s over, I’m over too. Not in a bad way. Teaching is also an expression of my creativity but it’s external and writing is internal. At the end of June I leave for Truro, MA and the small cottage I’ve been renting for thirty years. I have five weeks.
This summer, I know what I want to write. I’ve taught about the issues of women’s reproductive freedom for years. Each semester I get more anxious when—in the eighth week—“Abortion” comes up on the syllabus. I never know what will happen.
Twenty-five years ago almost all the students were pro abortion and thought a woman had the exclusive right to control her own body. Now it’s much more complicated and there’s always a group who are totally against abortion. Every semester I tell myself I have to write about this. The students’ attitudes reflect the change in language in the general population. Politically and personally, the word “fetus” has been forever changed to “the unborn child.”
I want to write a ten minute complex play about abortion that makes people think. It must be funny, sardonic, and revelatory. I know I’m taking a huge risk. Will an audience be willing to laugh about the topic? Only under certain conditions. The goal is to take them by surprise, not to shock them. I discard the most usual scenarios: unplanned or unwanted pregnancy, abnormal fetus, and risk to the woman’s health/life. Instead, I decide to have two adult women play little girls—sisters. One is five the other, seven. When the play opens, the girls are joking around. There are two single beds on stage, a carpet on the floor with stuffed animals, pillows, and socks thrown everywhere…
Older Sister: Let’s play house. (Throwing a pillow.)
Younger Sister: We always play house. (Throwing back a pillow.)
OS: No we don’t. (Toppling the younger sister.)
YS: I don’t want to play house with you.
OS: Why not?
YS: ‘Cause you always get to be the daddy. I want to be the daddy.
OS: You can’t be the daddy.
OS: You have to be the feedus.
YS: Feedus? What’s a feedus?
OS: I’m not sure, but I heard Mummy talking on the phone to Auntie Linda. She said she was at the doctor’s yesterday.
YS: OOO! You were listening—
OS: But I didn’t get caught! Mummy was talking really soft—even whispering some times.
YS: So what’s a feedus?
OS: I think it’s something that was inside Mummy’s tummy. But it fell out or she lost it somewhere…
As the scene continues, the older sister convinces the younger sister to play a new game. The older sister will be “the unborn child” and the younger one will be the feedus (fetus). The girls have a puppet show with their socks that is a conversation between the fetus and “the unborn child.” In the end, the younger sister (the fetus) doesn’t want to play anymore.
While writing “Feed Us” I am scared and keep censoring myself. No one will perform this. The thoughts crowd my brain. The actors will be booed off stage. I’ll never be produced again. How can I write a funny play about abortion? I don’t know how I do it, but I write a first draft. And even read it to three different women. All of them think it’s risky, but worth it. I finish my retreat determined to rewrite the play and send it off.
But I haven’t. Not yet. It’s too scary to go back to “Feed Us.” I know if I was in the cottage, I could do it. I’m protected there. At home, living my every-day life, it feels unsafe to go back to the material. It’s as if I have to literally and physically leave my real life behind to finish the play. I see how the “Right To Life” movement is impacting me, taking away my choices, and silencing my voice. I want my voice back. And I don’t want to have to go to the cottage, be all alone, and not read a paper or (not) listen to the news in order to write about abortion. But what if that’s the only way I can finish the script? I don’t want to wait another ten months before I can write the word “fetus” again. Women are counting on me. I’m counting on me. My life depends on it.
Jyl Lynn Felman
Jyl Lynn Felman is the author of three books, Hot Chicken Wings, Cravings, and, Never A Dull Moment: Teaching And The Art of Performance. Her many performance pieces, include “Burning In Cuba,” and “Silicone Valley” about lesbian sex after breast cancer. “If Only I’d Been Born A Kosher Chicken” is available on C-SPANS’s performance series. She is currently touring with “Girl Kicks Girl” about her experience in Israel and Palestine. She can be reached at www.jyllynnfelman.com.