In a lot of cases, I might have taken the adage ‘write what you know’ a little too seriously. In my late teenage years I wrote a kind of novelised autobiography; a painstakingly true to life (at least insofar as my own biased recollections could be true) book that I for some reason thought would be super entertaining to anyone other than a nostalgic me looking back. It wasn’t.
I pretty quickly moved on from the idea of unaltered autobiography being something worth pursuing if you haven’t had a particularly interesting life, but that didn’t stop me outright lifting real events to use in stories. Or, in some cases, writing highly specific ‘what ifs’ populated with characters who were basically just people I knew with changed names (Hometown, Reunion, Regression).
Writers wouldn’t write if they didn’t have some stuff in their lives they wanted to work out to some degree or other. The challenge, of course, is making that stuff matter to anyone who isn’t us. Sometimes we do it by wrapping broad themes and ideas lifted from our own experiences in stories with far more action and excitement. Sometimes we do it by writing plays like Three Eulogies for Tyson Miller.
Three Eulogies for Tyson Miller tells the story of Quentin, a twenty-something journalist whose former best friend, Tyson Miller, has recently died in a car accident. When Tyson’s partner Jill asks Quentin to give the eulogy, he is initially reluctant but, thinking back on the good times, decides to say yes. Jill finds his first eulogy too sanitised, arguing that Tyson would have wanted honesty. So Quentin gets honest, in the process digging into what went wrong with their friendship and exactly who was to blame.
Structurally the play moves between the present-day conversations between Quentin and Jill, the three (spoiler) eulogies Quentin ends up writing, and flashbacks to Quentin’s friendship with Tyson that largely take place out of order, drip feeding bits of the puzzle as Quentin digs deeper and deeper into just how he feels about his friend now that he’s gone.
Quentin and Tyson’s relationship is less based on an old friendship of mine and more a direct depiction of it. Except, I should clarify, the real-life friend the play is based on isn’t dead. As far as I know, he’s actually doing very well for himself.
This friendship was something I wanted to write about for a long time. The issue, of course, was trying to find the hook that might make it remotely interesting to an outside audience. I toyed with a few different versions half seriously before stumbling on the eulogy angle. Immediately it gave the play structure and stakes; wanting to not screw up the last public word on somebody’s life is a pretty big deal.
The writing process was somewhere between cathartic and challenging. Personal stories always are; requiring you to hit a balance between honest and conscious of the fact that nobody except for you has any reason to care about this so you’d better work damn hard to give them one. Did I manage it? Honestly, I don’t know.
But I do know the reasons I wanted to write about this. Tyson Miller strays into new territory for me, as it’s a play specifically about the complexities of friendship. Especially friendship between young men. I think guys in their teens and early twenties can be destructive in their bonds with each other. Fuelled by insecurity, friendships can become ugly games of one-upmanship, figurative dick measuring contests that ultimately nobody walks out of happy. Because friendship isn’t a competition; it’s mutual affection and support. But masculine insecurity can destroy even the warmest of friendships, and that’s what this play looks at. It’s honest; uncomfortably so, at times. Like Quentin, I had to evaluate my own actions and, for the first time, admit fault where previously I had protested my own innocence. In re-examining a friendship, I eventually landed at a place where I realised that maybe it was for the best that it ended. On my last day of writing, realisation struck that in some ways what I had put together was both a play and a eulogy for a friendship that meant a lot to me once, but slipped away after years of hurts both real and imagined during which time we became different people and went in different directions. There were times, in writing it, when I felt really sad. Other times I found myself getting angry at decade-old slights. But ultimately I finished it with a weird sense of closure.
So yeah. Challenging and cathartic.
Will it work for a broader audience? I think so. I think it has a lot to say that will be relevant to a lot of people, and I suspect it gets to some ugly truths that are universal across our interactions with each other. I could be wrong about all of that, but if I am I’m still really glad I wrote this. The process was unlike anything I’ve done before; all the way through I challenged myself to ask whether this was what a real person would say, eschewing any kind of stylisation for an attempt at naturalism. I also identified any place where I was starting to feel uncomfortable and made myself face up to what it was that caused that feeling. The result, I suspect, could be something special. As always, we’ll see.
Writing words about writing words.