I have spent the majority of the first part of this process absolutely denying my own existence. Meaning I was trying so very hard not to write another autobiographical piece (this being something I felt I had to prove for a reason I cannot articulate), that I denied any entry point to writing the piece that involved myself. I was resistant to a “quest narrative” because I felt that writing about myself in search of information about this woman would just be too much…me. I kept telling myself that I didn’t have a place in this story and that I could only be an accomplished writer when I actually managed to write something from a point of view other than my own.
When I discussed this apprehension with Micheline, I reiterated, “I just don’t want to write a quest narrative about myself going off in search of this woman.” Micheline replied, “Why the (***) not?” That was all it took. Micheline’s “permission” (which speaks to a larger motif in my artistic process that I must confront eventually: seeking permission and affirmation) was all I needed. I set off immediately and wrote an opening scene for the play. I don’t expect at all that this will in fact be the opening scene of the final product—but I had written. I had finally written down words in connection to this project rather than simply shaking my fist at the history books.
We can fast forward a little bit to a week after my meeting with Micheline. I took a workshop with Michael Mackenzie at Playwright’s Workshop Montreal and among all the insightful advice he gave was this gem (paraphrased), “At the crux of the play is whatever the playwright is going through in that moment.” Basically, it was a “sit in the shit” kind of mantra. Embrace how you are feeling toward your subject and your piece and go with it. Then felt a shift. I asked myself what it was that I brought to this topic that no other writer could bring. After all, the story does not belong exclusively to me. It is based in historical fact and I have come across at least two playwrights and five scholars in my research who have tackled Antonietta Portulano as a subject. I thought all of a sudden that my perspective is vital to the story I want to tell. As the daughter of Southern Italian immigrants, as a female artist within a culture that has long negated its women’s contributions and as a wife rebelling against the “good Italian wife” trope because I have seen the price paid by all the “good Italian wives” I know, my perspective puts me in direct conversation with Antonietta. I think she and I will be chatting more from now on. I am imagining a triptych right now. A triptych that looks at marriage in my culture. Antonietta and Luigi’s marriage. A middle aged Italian-Canadian couple’s marriage in 2014. The whirlwind elopement and subsequent marriage of two young lovers, also contemporary.
These are just ideas for now. I don’t know how much I will keep. I think what’s important is that I’ve brought myself back into the equation.