Every artist’s least favorite sentence has to be “I have jury duty on Monday.” And I’ve been lucky enough to say it three times in the past two years. My frequent moving means that I’m eligible to be called in multiple places, and everyone seems eager to take advantage of my legal expertise. But as mundane as it is, there are certainly worse things in the world. The last time I got called, it ended up being one of the most signiﬁcant days of my creative life.
I remember being called to a courthouse in Boston, then sitting in a waiting room for ﬁve hours before being dismissed. That was the whole experience. But I used it as an opportunity to catch up on some World Drama homework, and that was the day I read a little play called Uncle Vanya. Anton Chekhov’s masterpiece, the comedy that’s so un-comedic that it had to be written in Russia, is one of the most misunderstood plays in all of theatre. It reads like a drama, and has virtually no plot. You’re just spending two hours watching a bunch of narcissists sitting around a farm and passive aggressively sniping at each other. Everyone else in my class hated it, but I thought it was one of the funniest things I’ve ever read. It doesn’t contain any jokes, per se, but the complete and utter certainty with which these characters state their incorrect opinions struck me as brilliant. Anton Chekhov was adamant that the play is a comedy, but even my professor called it a drama. I couldn’t disagree more.
I remember sitting in that courthouse, laughing out loud. I desperately wished I could write something so unbelievably intelligent. It wasn’t long before I devoured Chekhov’s other comedies, which all come with a heaping dose of subtle delusion. I look back on that day as the ﬁrst time I started to develop my artistic voice. I realized that I loved awkward silences and delusional characters, and that Chekhov was giving me the tools to write the kind of plays that could make me laugh.
I’ve since folded other inﬂuences into my writing, but virtually nobody looms as largely over my work as Anton Chekhov. That is, until I read something fantastic at my next jury appearance. But that’ll be for next week’s blog.
Writer and Reluctant Juror