BREN DUBAY

Coming Home to Write

Use Your Hands

Tools and work bench
Photo by Philip Swinburn

Not that I go around dreaming about biblical characters or saints … but Joseph showed up the other night. Yeah, that Joseph. The one who went from quietly dismissing Mary so she won’t be stoned to death to serving as her midwife then high tailing it to Egypt with her and the infant. All because of this dream he had. (I’m just guessing that he must have delivered the baby. The story is a little short on details at that point).

Anyway, in my dream, Joseph opens the door of his house and greets me with a grin in his eyes, “Peace be with you, Craftsman.” Evidently, in this dream, I’m coming to visit his workshop. But now I’m standing at his front door wondering why he is calling me “craftsman.” I enter the home, am struck by the furnishings — all hand made/carved, aesthetically pleasing, exceptionally beautiful, simple, and solid. I turn down the tea offered. I’m eyeing the door I suspect is the entrance to his workshop. I look at Joseph and he’s smiling at me.

“You can open the door,” he says.

I do. It takes my breath away. The shop is impeccably organized, with every tool in its place. It’s clean. Oh, it is definitely well used but it is swept up between projects and it looks loved.

Joseph opens another door in another part of the workshop. I see what’s there and can hardly believe it.

“Recognize it?” he asks.

I recognize it. It’s the set for my play Irish Mist. Only better.

“What?” I’m confused by what it’s doing there.

In Irish Mist, Jamie O’Hanlon is a theater set designer turned pub owner. She is renovating an abandoned bar turning it into an Irish pub, passionately, urgently using all her artistic skills to do it — You eventually find out why all the passion and the urgency. But I am in the dream now, standing in Joseph’s workshop looking at the stained glass sign behind the bar. It reads O hAnluain & O Donnabhain. [Who knew Joseph knew Irish]. My eyes drift from the sign to the tarp that covers the bar. I know what’s underneath.

“Go ahead,” Joseph directs me to take the tarp off.

I comply and there it is — the bar, a work of art. Intricately carved Irish symbols cover the facing and sides — claddagh, Celtic love knot, bodhran, fiddle, Irish flute … It’s perfect. It’s beyond what I hoped when I described it in the stage directions.

Joseph breaks into my staring. “I’ve been pulling for you for a long time.”

I tell him I appreciate that but I don’t understand what he’s talking about or why I’m in his workshop staring at my set.

“You’re a craftsman. Like me,” says Joseph. “Or should I say ‘craftsperson?'” He smiles then keeps going. “You design, carve, hammer. Build.”

I tell him I’m not a carpenter.

“You and I have the same talent. Your medium isn’t wood. It’s writing. It’s organizations. You sculpt them. You’re good.”

[Hey, it’s a dream. I’m just reporting what happened in it].

“And you’ve been pulling for me?” I say to Joseph.

“Who was your grandfather?”

“A carpenter,” I answer.

“Yes. He was.”

“Not biologically related.”

“Like Jesus and me?”

I nod.

Joseph goes on. “That’s always made you sad for me. We’ll talk about that some time.”

I look at the set again. “You inspired this? In me?”

Then I wake up. I don’t know what an interpreter of dreams would make of all this. For my part, I open my eyes and find myself mulling about writing. I know for certain that I can’t think a play into existence. Oh, I get snippets. I may “hear” a piece of dialogue or “see” a set. I knew at a certain point the tables in that Irish Pub would be moved and in front of that gorgeous bar, there would be dancing: hesitant dancing at first, then dancing with great abandon. No words would be spoken during that scene, just the dance. I “knew” all this. But it wouldn’t go anywhere if I didn’t use my hands. In my play Secrets, a character shows up and I use my hands to write the play because I want to find out who she is. I had no idea. In another play, a girl stands at a picture window watching the rain. Something is really wrong. I don’t know what. I start writing to find out what.

I have to use my hands. My fingers hit the keys on the keyboard or move the pencil across the paper. (It’s always a pencil, never a pen for goodness sake. I have my idiosyncrasies). With my hands, I carve, I sculpt, I sometimes hammer the words to create a picture, a scene, a mood, questions, answers, feelings. My hands find who, what, how.

Use your hands. It’s a craft. You’re a craftsman. Craftsperson. Craftswoman. Use your hands. That’s what Joseph was saying. I don’t know why Joseph. Doesn’t matter. Use my hands. Good advice.

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