Mapping “The Road Not Taken”

Note to self: This is not a diary, it’s for public consumption. But never be boring, make each entry a joy to read. The readers can see what other people had for dinner and get some juicy news elsewhere—for now, stick to the series…

After years as a playwright, documentarian, blogger, sketch writer, cabaret performer/creator, I wrote a book. I could tell a juicy lie about The Road Not Takenthat I saw the coming of quarantine and knew that theatre would be dead for the foreseeable future—but we’ve already been lied to enough, and any more of it will make me climb onto my balcony ledge and jump.

The truth is, I wasn’t aware that these spaces would soon recede—but I did want to get away from the complexities of doing a play. I was sick of actors, directors and designers. All of them are underpaid, and in Los Angeles, they have a constant yen to get out of your play and get a movie or TV gig that actually pays. You can hardly blame them, but questions like “I am on hold for a commercial for opening night, is that okay?” became unbearable.

One man did my play while he went through a crisis because he had turned 33, and felt he hadn’t accomplished as much as Jesus had by that age. He responded by showing up late for his entrance, and ran on stage with a huge subway sandwich that was not part of the scene. He proceeded to eat it, making his lines inaudible, until his leading lady grabbed it from him and threw it on the floor. I’m not sure Jesus did stuff like that.

There were crying fits about costumes that had “obviously been shrunk by the cleaners” in the week between shows. Nobody could tell that person that she had expanded and that was why the costume was too tight. (That particular pain in the ass actress was me.)

After many successful but excruciating World Premieres, with great reviews that had no idea what the play was about, I was done. The documentaries stopped at the same time because we had already written about every atrocity facing women. But I have always been a storyteller—and I couldn’t put that part of me to rest. Other kids who didn’t even like me in my younger years would sit at my table because of the stories I told as we stuffed down meatloaf and other crappy food.

My stories were always surreal. The characters I created constantly climbed into mysterious caves with walls made of rubies, emeralds and other colorful things; found rooms filled with weird characters way before Star Wars. I couldn’t stand naturalism. I wasn’t wild about reality in general. I made up strange, mysterious stories.

With the theater and documentary life gone, I decided to write a book about a woman who meets her twin sister and kills her. (My sister and I still had a lot to work out!) But when the story began to pop out of my computer, the twin woman became a mentor—a woman 50 million years old who had chosen my protagonist for a very specific journey to fly her through Space and Time, and who would introduce her to mythical and real characters who were now dead to give her a good look at the universe we live in.

True to my own instructions, I’ve been told it’s a joy to read—lots of sex, art, myths, time travel. I am excited to see people respond to a woman as she determines her own life choices and become friends with Vincent Van Gogh, sexually dabbles with the Greatest Egyptian god and ultimately decides the fate of our world.

And then…no. That’s where I end today. And then. (If you already want more, click here to pre-order the book, which comes out in September.)

The book is filled with magic. Not abracadabra magic, but the magic of women discovering why they are alive. Looking back, I see how many people on this planet don’t know the answer to that question. Some even find it annoying.

Since the election of 2016, the world has changed so drastically I think only those who are truly dead inside don’t want answers to the more serious questions we now face: How did we tolerate the lawlessness, the disgusting behavior towards women, the women who enabled the disgusting behavior towards women, the cruelty to every living thing that government has control over?

But I believe my story is filled with questions that are also a matter of life and death. For instance:

Why are you alive?

This is the largest “magical question” asked in The Road Not Takenbut it isn’t the only inquiry that bears further exploration and excavation. I’m going to begin digging even deeper into the historic and mythical underpinnings of the book, here and on social media @SusanRubin1 on Twitter and @SusanRubinWriter on Instagram, in a new series: Mapping the Road Not Taken. Together, we’ll travel through the pages of my book—and at every stop, I’m going to ask you to dig deeper, too. Into magical questions. Into the stuff of life. Into your life.

Come along with me. Tell me your stories, and I’ll continue to tell you mine. We have a lot of time to kill at home, anyway.

The Power of Telling Stories By, For, and About Women

I am a storyteller. At six years old I told stories that took my character deep into a cave where she discovered walls of colorful jewels and cavernous rooms filled with weird creatures. 

Naturalism I learned for my many documentaries where the strong-of-stomach can be sure they will feel sad and enraged after even the shortest look. I wrote about the condition of women in the world. It required many breaks to slam my head into my desk and try to deflect the pain from my soul to the red hematoma I had developed.

In between the years of writing docs-to-order, meaning the subject matter was dictated by who would see it, I wrote plays which were freeing because I chose the topics, the characters, the storyline. But if you’ve ever worked with actors or directors, you know that actors don’t always say the words on the page. Directors are sometimes clueless about the playwright’s intention.

Finally it lead me to write a book.

The Road Not Taken started out as a story about a woman who finds she has a twin sister, and then kills her. As it progressed, it became a journey through Space/Time, living and dying but still being alive, Egyptian mythology, the history of Weimar Germany and many other seemingly disparate elements: The story of the girls in Nigeria captured by Boko Haram and the huge indifference that caused in the world, the importance of having a human spirit, the problem of whether planet Earth is worth the energy it burns in the universe.

Here is my most honest and I hope, most intriguing story of all. It is not about me, though the locations are often landmarks in my life: the West Village, the inside of Van Gogh’s bedroom at Arles where I finally achieved my lifelong wish to visit the painter but couldn’t find a way into the canvas. Until I wrote my way in. The corner of Bleecker and 6th where I went to school, songs we played on 45’s, sex and the finer points of enjoying it. These were part of my real life but told through the voice of a woman who has at the beginning, no idea why she is alive. I always knew.

Stories are the most important tools we have. The Bible, which I find largely reprehensible with its efforts to curb women’s curiosity to a “how to” on raising two children, favoring one so much they both end up dead. The New Testament isn’t much nicer – it has been used to train people to think some of the most disastrous lies ever. But as a book of stories, it can’t be topped for its influence. 

I do what I can to tell different stories.