Jennifer A. Kokai is a member of The Lab at Plan-B and teaches at Weber State University. Jenny’s play THE ART OF FLOATING is the next offering of our 2016/17 Script-In-Hand Series this coming Wednesday, February 22. The reading is free and at capacity – click here to wait list.
In THE ART OF FLOATING, Marian spends her days hanging out at the senior center and drinking wine with her best friend Fran. One day her estranged granddaughter MacKinzie calls up and asks to live with her. Her dog has died, and this has occasioned a crisis of faith about what happens to pets after death. Marian and Mackinzie don’t know each other, they don’t know much about each other, and they have very different points of view on the world. And then a dirigible crashes in Marian’s backyard.
Generally, I am not one for autobiographical plays. But this play is basically an attempt for me to sort out some things I’ve been trying to understand since I moved to Utah five and a half years ago. Death and the LDS church.
While I have obviously had experience with death before, since moving to Utah my family has had three grandmas, one college roommate, and four pets die. Off the top of my head. One grandma, in particular, left a huge gaping hole in me that even now, three years later, just hangs out. I know where the hole is and how to avoid it most of the time. But it’s still there. She was my most favorite person on earth, the person I called to talk to all the time, and I’m still not really sure what it’s all for without her in the world. So I wrote her and her best friend back into existence. Sort of. Characters tend to take on a life of their own. But even if I had got it all right, just the way I remember her, I still couldn’t explain how it feels to not have her. Grief is a lonely business.
Meanwhile, I relocated to this interesting place where I remain a perpetual outsider in some ways. I have the most fantastic students, but sometimes they deal with issues and problems that I sympathize with but don’t empathize with. While in a lot of ways they are dealing with universal things about growing up, figuring out who you are, who you want to be, some of the particulars they share with me are entirely unique to their cultural experiences. So I listen to them, carefully, and try to understand, just as Marian does MacKinzie in the play, even while I know there are things I just won’t get. So MacKinzie is based on very specific things students have told me about their experiences and my attempts to understand them and the ways in which I fail, and not any huge take on Utah or religion or anything like that. But even if I got it all right, from one person’s point of view, I’d get it wrong from everyone else’s. Faith is a personal business.
So some parts of THE ART OF FLOATING are very true, some parts are very false, and some parts lie somewhere in between. Most of the things I won’t confess to, but here are a couple. The first is that I think everybody is still trying to figure stuff out, whether you’re 75 or 21. We think we’re supposed to get old and wise but I don’t think that ever happens. That was a disappointing thing to figure out. The second is that there truly is Chocolate Wine. It truly is oily in texture and it truly is disgusting. As for dirigibles? Let’s just say we have more of a family history with them than you might think.