Amber C. Wheeler

“Oh! So, you gonna’ be the next Tyler Perry?”

How a Young Girl from Baltimore Had Stumbled Upon Her Life’s Purpose

 

The hours of the ghoulish, and the profane had passed already, and the moon had long since departed. The sky was suspended in indigo, greys, and blues, and the sun was due to make its appearance in another hour or so. And I was awake to witness it all.

I was sixteen, sleep-deprived, and typing my life away. Time didn’t matter to me, nor did the thought that I might not be able to fully function at school that morning. But what did hold my attention as firmly as a balled fist, securing my mind in the palm of its hand, was the revelation of what I wanted to do with the rest of my life: I want to be a writer! Nah, nah. I need to be a playwright.

I had to have been on my 10th or 11th draft by then, when the thought hit me like a bodacious lightning bolt, piercing through those flimsy, milky clouds, to strike me personally; it truly was an honor. I didn’t know how I was going to do it. Or when, or even by what means, but what I did know was that my fate was sealed with every stroke of a key.

I was working on my first ever written play, And Still, for my junior playwriting class, and wanted to make sure that I had incorporated all of the notes that I had received the week prior. Though my ensemble and I had already submitted our pieces to Richard, my legendary high school acting instructor, to be critiqued and subsequently chosen or denied for a place in our Junior Scene Night performance, I still felt that gut wrenching urge to revise.

With my creative destiny seemingly hanging in the balance, everything felt at stake, since I had decided– that morning–that I could live my life no other way apart from bringing the strange, and complicated lives of the people in my mind to life. I had accepted the fact that I wanted to be deceitful, and selfish, and make a career out of coaxing audiences into seeing themselves in my fragmented depictions of reality, and even enjoy the fantastical ride along the way.

As I only had mere hours left before I knew if my brain child was liked enough to be given the opportunity to shine, nothing mattered outside of that screen, and that keyboard. I was high off of youth, possibility, and prayer–those addictive substances– and wanted to type my future into existence. If I kept at it, if I kept writing, whether or not I was chosen to debut my work at school wouldn’t matter, and I could cope with the blow to my pride, should it come. I would soon discover that my preparation had been in vain.

Later on that same day, my ensemble and I were gathered together in our usual classroom. It was an open space with a brick wall full of chairs, a whiteboard (stained through years of use, and non-dry erase markers) mounted against a white wall, and several props: a student-made, makeshift stove, an out of tune wooden piano, and a chipped black bench that served as everything our imaginations needed it to be. This was my home away from home, and now it had transformed itself into a courtroom; the battleground from which a verdict of guilty, and sentenced to do hard time on the stage, or not guilty of being captivating enough.

I remember it feeling as if everyone was holding their breath, and was waiting to release it once they knew where Richard’s loyalties lie. There was casual talk here and there, and even a few snatches of honest discussion concerning who we thought ought to be chosen, but that stopped once the door swung open, and in walked our teacher.

He carried his infamous black clip board, which was known for being the place where your dreams of thriving in Hollywood died if his comments– which could easily be interpreted as bullets in a gun–took aim at your monologue, and fired unapologetically. Today, he didn’t look that bent on slaughtering our hopes of fame, and recognition, but he was wearing his favorite blue shirt, with the sleeves rolled up; so, you never know.

He took his seat at the the lone desk in the room, and proceeded to take attendance. We were all present for Judgement Day. Junior Scene Night at my now alma mater, the Baltimore School for the Arts, was the same as premiering at Sundance for the first time, in my mind at least. All of the plays that I had sat through years prior were memorable, if not award-worthy, and today would determine who was to carry the torch. I had the passion, and the heart, but was I good enough to be put on stage? Could my writing really reach an audience as deeply as it touched me in the comforts of my teenage bedroom? Apparently, it could.

Richard went on to ease us into his decision with the usual, “Everyone had something great to offer, and each play was unique in its own way,” but what we were all waiting for was the glorious, or dreaded, sound of the shoe dropping. When it did hit the floor, the impact was incomparable. My play had been chosen along with four others, and was now in the process of being revised once more, and given faces to the names that I had created. James was to play Mr. Troy, the wise cracking owner of T’s Diner, Natar was the simplistic, yet complicated leading lady, Cassandra, and Travoye was to become the sweet-hearted Lorenzo, who would get another shot at love.

This confirmation of my abilities, and Richard prompting everyone to submit their work to the renowned local theater, Center Stage, would lead me to receive a Young Playwright Award a few months later, and have actors from the theater come to the school, and do a cold reading of my work in front of a great portion of the student body. Since blossoming into a serious writer in the eyes of those around me, I have continued to embark on literary quests that I hope will shake the world we live in, cause brows to furrow, and minds to expand. From my college award-winning poem, “Spine of Stee(a)l,” that focuses on where I tend to find my strength, to my reinterpretation of the “Humpty Dumpty” song, which I molded to represent the fickleness of love, and the fragility of a dedicated woman, I thought back to that day of acceptance in that small room, on the second floor of my high school. It was the pace that I had been reborn.

In the wee hours of the morning, I found myself, my voice, and my path. In the wake of a new day arising, something within me woke up, and hasn’t been to sleep since. I thank my former theatre department for that required class, and my ensemble for the brutally honest feedback that helped shape that play into what it is known to be: a staple of how far I’ve come, and how far I have left to go. As I’ve said before, I don’t know when, or where, or how I’m going to become the embodiment of this now three year old dream of mine, but I know that the path is going to be paved in loose leaf paper, colored in with various pens and pencils, and coated with affirmations that I am capable of reaching the emerald city ahead.

I hope one day that you, or whoever may need this, will wake up and see yourself just as clearly, and smile at the thought of what is waiting for you at the end of your yellow brick road.

© Amber C. Wheeler

A. C. Wheeler is a new student intern at the Loch Raven Review, and a sophomore English major at the University of Maryland: Baltimore County. She has done editing work for, and has now written for, the Loch Raven Review. Upon graduating, she plans on attending graduate school.

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