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By Bill Diem

Humans can do things that are optional. You can have the pleasure of painting or singing or writing poems, even if you aren’t Picasso or Prince or Amanda Gorman.

When I moved to London in 1995, I tried to see a play every week, at a West End theater or upstairs over a pub. Ever since Shakespeare, Londoners have loved the stage. I began to write plays while I was there, part of the Hammersmith Writers and Actors Group. Some of us wrote plays and others would read them at our meetings.

My play “On Hammersmith Bridge” was once chosen for a reading, and I felt as good as if it were staged. That play was inspired by a brass plaque screwed into the handrail on the bridge, commemorating a WWI veteran who dove into the Thames to try to save someone from drowning.

In France, I had a friend who was teaching an acting class, and I volunteered to write a play for her. The students produced “Reine Renee” at the Comedie Bastille theater in Paris. It is about a girl in Paris who learned to share with her friends during a round-the-world trip underwritten by a rich uncle.

In France I learned early on that my French wasn’t good enough to enjoy live theater, so I switched to watching movies. Although I have fiddled with writing short films, stage plays seem to fit my creative juices better. When I retired from daily journalism a few years ago, I dusted off an old project and solved the problem that had idled it. “Curly Maple” was written for folks in Curtis, where there is a long history of putting on shows. Curly cuts pulp for a living and would like to start a sawmill on land that a rich downstate fellow wants to develop for construction.

When COVID locked us down in spring, I thought I would write but I didn’t. I wondered why. Some creative friends agreed to participate in a Zoom conference, and we talked about lockdown creativity. Some had done creative things. Tom was stuck in New Orleans, and he played his clarinet in empty streets. Henrietta and Sylvaine made photos of emptiness that you only saw during lockdown. Doug worked like he does every day on crime novels. Jeanne and Sylvie and I didn’t do much.

So I decided to write again. I began a play that I called “Next,” because it was the next one. A young American woman is hitchhiking in southern France and gets stuck in a small village. When the play was finished, Madison had learned self-confidence thanks to the friendly French and English people she met.

Some people who had made suggestions thought “The Camino Way” was all right. Five friends took on the five roles and read the play for me on Zoom two weeks ago.

Thanks to “Reine Renee,” I am a playwright. People went to a theater to watch actors bringing my words to life. But even had that not happened, I would think of myself as a playwright, just as much as a journalist.