Today I’m beginning a new presentation. I originally gave this in Milwuakee three years ago. I think it still says a lot about writing and story telling. I hope you enjoy it. Let me know if you do. – John

A Brief History of My Tattoo

Thirteen Things I Never Told Anyone Before


The Handout

Each of you should have received a handout.

There were some problems and there are more

people here than expected, so if you don’t have

a handout, please look on with your neighbor.

The handout lists the twelve things you must

know in order to achieve success. Without these

I’m afraid you’ll have pretty rough going, and

ultimately will fail. But here are the simple rules,

a list of resources and the practical timeline you

need, all clearly spelled out for you to succeed.

If neither you nor your neighbor has the handout,

ordinarily I’d say raise your hand and I would

give you one. But, I’m sorry, I just don’t have any

additional handouts—that’s what I’ve been trying

to explain. I know that may not seem fair, but

this is something addressed at great length in point

seven of the handout. In fact all your questions

are answered by the handout. Success would be

yours if you had a handout. Life would be easy

if you had a handout. If only you had a handout,

happiness would be guaranteed.


The Perfect Crime

I’d always thought it would be my son and I doing things together, but it is my daughter and I who are alike. Sometimes too much alike. After she graduated from NYU in theater she got a job as an understudy for an off-Broadway play, “The Perfect Crime.” She did this for two years. Unfortunately, the lead female—the only woman in the production and the one who had written the play—prided herself on seldom missing a performance. My daughter rarely got to go on before a live audience. Eventually Pam quit and then suffered the usual problem of actors in New York: trying to get roles. So she decided to come back home to the Midwest and attend graduate school in education. After being accepted to the University of Wisconsin she didn’t much attend classes. Instead she formed her own theater company with the intent of putting on an original play—if Wisconsin couldn’t go to New York, then she’d bring New York to Wisconsin.

“Pop,” she said, “you have to audition for this play. There’s a part in it that would be perfect for you.”

I’m not much of an actor but agreed to try out. I thought it would support her effort and give us a chance, as adults, to work on something together. I did the audition and she turned me down.

I admit I had chosen an unusual vehicle to show off my talent, or lack of talent. My monologue was of a soul leaving a recently deceased body. The words were those of Martin Luther King, Jr. but given a different, dramatic emphasis:

“Free at Last”—relief. “Free at last!”—glee. “Thank God Almighty…” —uncertainty“…I’m free at last—dread.

Perhaps she thought I was making fun of her audition process. Part of the try-out was for her to work with the actor, giving direction to get more out of the person’s chosen lines. How much direction can you give a disembodied soul? And no matter what she said all I was capable of was a sort of silent screen version of relief, glee, uncertainty and dread.

I wanted the production to be successful, and it was, but there was always this small part of me—a teeny part—that resented being excluded, especially when she confided in me about problems she was having with the actors she picked—not learning their lines, being late for rehearsals, etc. I would never have done that, I told myself, as I listened with sympathy— “sympathy.”

 Then the last performance of the last week of the show, something strange happened. One of the actors, a young college girl, left the stage after her early scene and went out the back door of the theater. She left the play and the theater in the middle of the show—the one unforgivable theatrical crime. The other actors improvised as best they could around this void, and when the final curtain came down people applauded as other audiences had.

But I sometimes think about this girl.

She had had all the direction and stress she could take. So she just packed up and left. And, somehow I felt…

Well I could picture her walking down the dark alley to her car, and perhaps saying to herself,  “Free at last. Free at last! Thank God Almighty, I’m free at last.”

Thanks for being here this evening. I have subtitled this performance, “Thirteen Things I’ve Never Told Anyone Before.” And you might ask, “Why hasn’t he told them?” Well, one reason is, in the case of this last episode it was my story to tell. But in a way I made it my own by asking my daughter to direct my telling of it at the Cornerstone Theater in Milwaukee where this first was performed. How’s that for irony. But I wanted to see what would happen. For in reality most story ideas won’t be things that we already know and have settled. Settled things make for explanations not for good stories. Instead, these are more often situations or people or memories that are troubling, things we want to work out and understand for ourselves and invite others along for the ride. It’s kind of a game we play with ourselves.


4 thoughts on “A BRIEF HISTORY OF MY TATTOO – Part 1

  1. Why you thought you are not an actor is bewildering to me. Your entire workshop was such great theater. You are just one rascal of a person and I am glad you have a daughter just like you! Oh the great universe.
    I gave up waiting for that handout and just started writing… good,bad,who cares. I learned from one teacher to just get the damn story down. I learned from you to take that hunk of nice clay and shape it…..into theater

  2. I like this new posting. I like what you said about most stories not being settled things….but troubling things we want to work out and understand for ourselves. Now the task is to make it a ride others want to go on with you. I like that way of thinking about writing. The entire story can be made up but the underlying power is real.

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