Sunday, April 25, 2010

Why Write? Screenwriter and Playwright Arthur Jolly Speaks

Arthur M. Jolly is a screenwriter (Nicholl Fellowship 2006) and playwright. Works include Past Curfew (Next Stage Press), Guilty Moments (Original Works Press), and A Gulag Mouse. Past productions: How Blue is my Crocodile, Tiger in a Cage, Better by Candlelight, The Bricklayer, Howie’s Last Words, The Christmas Princess, and others. Learn more at

Why is writing so important for young adults?
Young adulthood is a time of some of the most intense emotional experiences in our lives. Psychologists talk about "primacy" — the first time experiencing an event is more vivid, more powerful. No kiss is as memorable as the first one — and adolescence and young adulthood is a time of many firsts, a time of exploration; but it's also the turning point when the mind is developed enough to communicate subtleties. A tale told by a 6-year-old will be meandering, disjointed... but in the teen years, the ability to present a coherent viewpoint will be there. There is, for the first time, the ability to express something true to oneself, in a period when no other way may be offered. A 17-year-old cannot vote, may have difficulty even getting his or her parents to listen. ... but writing is nothing less than thought transference, the ability to send one's ideas out into the world, beyond time and distance, taken at the value of the words, unbound from the speaker.

A 17-year-old girl creates a dark fantasy of a doctor resurrecting the dead, and almost two hundred years later, we are still telling the story she invented. (Mary Shelley's
Frankenstein). I would argue that the world we live in — the arguments made for and against the limitations of scientific advancement — would be very different without that story in our collective subconscious. Tom Stoppard said, "The right words in the right order can nudge the world." That is a power that every young adult has ... to ignore it, to cast it aside, is to miss out on the greatest of opportunities.

What do you know now that you wish you knew when you were a tween or teen?
As I write this, I'm watching my hands on the keyboard. (Still not a touch-typist.) On the back of my left hand, there's a very faint crescent-moon shaped scar. I was six, trying to cut open a horse chestnut with a miniature keychain pen-knife. I was curious. I've got another scar on the knuckle, from being bitten by an endangered skink, while working in the reptile house of the Jersey Zoo as a teenager. On my ring finger, an angry V-shape, courtesy of a broken glass while doing the dishes the same week I got married. And I know what's inside a horse chestnut (it's white, and for some reason there's blood all over it), and I know that the scales of a Round Island skink feel like a micro-mosaic, and the scales of a Gaboon viper are as soft as velvet, and I know never to do the dishes if you can possibly avoid it. I also know that my wife will put aside her phobia about blood, and help me in spite of everything when it's necessary. What I wish I knew as a teen was that the scars are part of the memories. There will be a time when you look back on some of the most painful times in life, and wouldn't trade them for anything.

How has the ability to express yourself helped you in life?
If a tree falls in a forest, and no one hears it, did it fall? If a human lives a life, and no one knows it, did they live? Expressing yourself is everything.

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