Playwrights' Perspectives

Kirk Lynn on Your Mother's Copy of the Kama Sutra


I’m a member of the writer’s cult that craves early mornings. 5:00 AM, 4:30 in my most maniacal phases. 4:00 is too early for me, but I only know because I tried. 

Quiet. Solitude. Discipline. Darkness. Stubbornness. Stillness.

There are lots of ways to wake up. I love strong, French-press coffee, an ice cube in it so I don’t have to wait for it to cool. And I usually wake up my writing with some small project or exercise I can noodle around with in the first 5, 10, 15 minutes it takes to get my brain cooking. The Austrian writer Thomas Bernhard, who trained as a pianist, called these small projects ‘finger exercises.’ 

For a while I kept a list of everything I ever believed in my life. Cats were girls and dogs were boys. I would grow up to become a barber like my father and marry my mother. There is one solitary sin listed as unforgivable in the Holy Bible and I had committed it. 

More recently I started trying to write the smallest and simplest recipes possible that would create some kind of performance. I call these recipes, “Plays without Words, without Actors, without Anything,” in imitation of Louis-Ferdinand Céline’s “Ballets without Music, Without Dancers, without Anything.” Here’s one: 

A Simple Room

Empty out one room of your house, if you have more than one room. If not, use a large cardboard box. This will be your simple room. Spend as much time as you can in the simple room. You may do anything you normally do, but if you do it in the simple room you may only bring in one item at a time. You may bring a chair into the simple room for sitting. You may read a book in the simple room, but then no chair, no lamp. Read only during the day. You may eat in the simple room, but no plates, no cutlery. Spend as much time as you can in the simple room. You may write in the simple room. Bring a pencil, the walls will have to be the paper. You can bring a camera into the simple room to take pictures of the walls and to get your writing out of the simple room. You can perform a play in the simple room. If your play has no set and no costumes and no props you can invite in an audience, one person at a time.

Another one of these plays consisted of the idea of recreating your entire sexual history, good and bad, with and “on” a partner. 

The more I thought about the possibilities and dangers of this performance, the vulnerabilities and intimacies, the more I wanted to move this warm-up exercise into my day’s main work. I decided to write a play about a couple attempting to share this experience with one another as a means of binding themselves together in intimate knowledge. 

Then, pretty quickly after that idea, my daughter was born. The mornings went right out the window. My wife and I entered a world of perpetual morning. Everyday was 5AM all day long. Everything was just beginning. Everyone was always just waking up all the time. All we wanted to do was lay around and cuddle with one another. It was heaven. 

That goes on for a while.  

Then, when my daughter was just approaching her first birthday, as a finalist or a runner-up for the Herb Alpert Award in the Arts, I was given some time at the MacDowell artist colony. I didn’t want to be away from my daughter for too long. My wife, Carrie Fountain, is a poet. She deserves to write as much as I do. Maybe more. So I have to balance my travel against our family and her work. I decided to go to MacDowell for just a week. The rest of the writers at MacDowell thought I was crazy! But in that very intense week, newly motivated to make my time away matter, I drafted Your Mother’s Copy of the Kama Sutra. It was not quite the play I had imagined writing before my daughter was born. Instead it came to contain a lot of my thoughts about being the father of a daughter. 

People say crazy shit to the father of a daughter. They say different crazy shit to the mom. But over and over again, men and women both expressed to me that when my daughter was a teenager I should want to lock her up. To protect her? To protect me? To protect her future partners from me? It got me thinking about how a grown man should talk to his daughter about sex and intimacy. What had I learned from my wife and all the women who had in some sense helped me grow up?  

Now my daughter’s three years old, and I have a six month old son, too, who’s just starting to sleep through the night.  My mornings are coming back to me. I can’t wait. I almost always want to be home. And when I’m there, I want to go to bed early, in anticipation of an early rise and an hour or two of strong coffee and work before somebody wakes up and needs something.

Kirk Lynn
January 2014