Rex Emerson Jackson
June 13, 2016, 7:53 p.m.
I recently decided to tackle the subject of my eating disorder in a play. I signed up for a weekend workshop and committed myself to exploring an idea about developing a one man show. Now, over the 10 plus years of my journey with this eating disorder, I have tried this before. I’ve always felt the desire and drive to write a show about this profound experience of being at war with myself – but I’d never managed to do it. So often, the material was just too close; I was still too deep into it. I couldn’t find a voice that had any perspective. It all came out cliché, or every word was so laboured over that it didn’t sound like me.
So I got to this workshop and started trying to figure out how to approach this huge part of my life. I wanted to be able to remember without romanticizing. I wanted to be able to live in the immediacy of it without hurting myself. At first, I didn’t think I could do it. I distanced myself. I made the focus of the story not on me; rather on someone else, someone fictional. And then I was like “but why can’t it be me?”
As I participated in the writing exercises and started trying to discover who this character of “me” was, a voice started emerging. He was in turns, darkly funny and deeply honest. He put up this façade of humour to deflect his fear at this situation he found himself in, but would still let you see he was afraid.
He was me.
But not the “me” that other people tend to see. He was the “me” that I had been afraid to show people, the “me” that I was very familiar with but no one else really knew. All of the sudden, this voice was coming out that was unflinchingly honest. And so help me, I loved the guy.
As a writer, I’ve experienced falling in love with a character before. But this time it was me, it was my inner monologues and all of the flaws and things that make me weird that I was seeing almost like it was the first time. By writing this person, I was seeing me, and seeing other people see me. I was coming face-to-face with this quirky, kind-of-nerdy guy who I actually felt like I should be protecting.
I’ve spent so much of my life trying to keep other people from seeing me. This “me” was going to tell his story, and I was going to let him... and I was proud.
I realized that the opportunity here was huge. I was finally in a place where I could approach this matter. After letting my eating disorder write the story for so long, now I was holding the pen. I was going to write my own recovery. I think we tell our stories to make sense of them, and then share with others what we learn and understand. I’m definitely not finished the show yet, the weekend was only about getting started – but I now have the opportunity to not only voice what made me sick, which I had done unsuccessfully countless times in the past, but to voice what is making me well. It’s the crucial second half of my story that until now, I’ve never articulated.
I don’t know if writing about what has made me well will keep me well forever, but I have hope. If I can face all of my quirks and strangeness and fall in love with that guy, what else is possible?
I’m pretty excited to find out.
Rex Emerson Jackson graduated from McMaster University in 2015 with a BA in Theatre and Film. He is a playwright who lives in Hamilton with his cat. He has had several theatre pieces performed locally and is currently working on a musical play about issues and feelings common to people in their 20's today.