I’m not quite drowning in an overload of information, but I’m not exactly swimming either. I see myself more as treading water in a turbulent ocean. I’m pushing against the current, moving constantly to stay afloat. I’m suspicious of the life raft being offered to me by mainstream academia. My muscles are starting to ache. I’m not sure how much longer I can struggle. What I’d like to be is Sicily: an island, independently afloat, having absorbed all the histories of my conquerors and distilled it into my very own version of events.

World Beautiful Islands - Sicily Island Italy (4)

I use this type of running metaphor when I feel confused. When I am grasping for words. I am treading the waters of my vocabulary…I have uncovered many source materials. None about Maria Antonietta Portulano. I’ve started to call her MAP even though she leads me to nothing, only questions. Of course there is nothing to be found about this woman other than the ways in which she affected Pirandello’s life.  What I have found, however, are so many areas of study that would contextualize this play. The history of mental illness and its treatment in Italy intersects with the fields of politics, religion and medicine. Sicily, politically speaking, is Italy’s Quebec. It views itself as a conquered region. For most of its history, it did not desire to be a part of the unified Italy. Its people are historically linguistically disenfranchised. The Sicilian dialect is very far from standard Italian since much of its words have Arabic and Spanish roots.

There were only three scenes I was absolutely certain I wanted to appear in this play. They were, generally speaking, the first meeting between Antonietta and Pirandello, their wedding and the onset of Antonietta’s illness. I dreamed of these scenes. I saw them staged so clearly in my mind even before I applied to begin this project. My research so far has absolutely contradicted my vision for two of those scenes.  I need to remind myself not to be so precious about ideas, not to become attached to anything. Ideas are alive and the creative process must remain fluid. I am still treading water.

Why am I obsessed by this woman? Once while discussing 8 Ways a man asked me when I was going to write a “real play.” A play with characters, he clarified. I wasn’t aware that the 15 people filtered through my voice and body were not characters. Oh well. So sorry to disappoint. Now I am one author in search of one character. One person. This woman. Where are you, M-A? You’re MIA in the records…

I went back to Ottawa last Saturday. I was asked by members of a prominent Italian organization who had seen 8 Ways (a play I have written and then performed many times) at The Gladstone to return for a special event. I performed for 150 people over the age of 60. I was asked about upcoming projects.

I started, “I’ve always been a fan of Pirandello…” and I heard a chorus of approving “hmmms” in the audience, accompanied by one “Brava!”

I continued, “And I’ve decided to create a new piece about his wife.” A loud, male voice cut in, “Ha! His wife!” I’m not sure what he meant by that. I’m not sure he’s sure what he meant. What a visceral reaction you bring out in people, Maria Antonietta.

It feels as though I could read for five years and still not have a sufficient grounding in the subjects relevant to this piece. Yet I am nearly a quarter of the way through the proposed timeline of this project.

I’d like to be an island right about now.