“My wife (actress Maria Dizzia) and I have a new little person in the house, Albertine,” says Will Eno. “She keeps funny hours, so our sleep is sort of unchartable.” Unchartable is a strong word, one that few would snatch up so casually to describe something as simple as sleep patterns. Especially when the speaker has admittedly gotten little sleep since his daughter was born 14 months ago. But Eno certainly knows how to use language to lasso.
Best known for the Pulitzer-nominated Thom Pain (based on nothing), Eno is one of the more laureled playwrights of our day. His lean, distinctive prose marries the cosmic to the banal, isolating raucous humor in the midst of paralyzing sadness. It also has the rare feel of people saying exactly what they mean, which too often fails to mean anything at all.
Eno is a Guggenheim Fellow, a Helen Merrill Playwriting Fellow, a resident at New York’s Signature Theatre and a recipient of pretty much every playwriting award short of the Tony. In his own words, here’s how he balances the life of a writer with the life of a new father.
Albertine sometimes likes to laugh and yell from about 1 a.m. to 3 a.m., so we try to make sure we're awake for that. I thought I was going to start taking naps and I even started the Googling process to see if there were napping products around, but I don't remember what I found and I haven't taken any naps anyway.
I have been writing and, overall it’s been a great thing to have this wonderful reason to get things done so I can get back to playing on the floor. And the sleep deprivation can take you to some fantastic places. I think any new parent who makes it through the first year without being hit by a car should consider it a triumph.
I had one morning that I thought was evening, and it was amazing to be wrong for as long as I was, and then to have to adjust to my new understanding. I took a nap on the couch, somewhere in the first month of our daughter's life, and when I woke up everyone was asleep and I went out to get a slice of pizza and some groceries and supplies. The sun was on the wrong side of the sky, but it was one of those sunrises that looks like a sunset, just a round orange sun in a hazy sky, so I thought it was evening. I got to the pizza place, which was closed, it being six in the morning, and couldn't figure it out for another minute or two.
Once I looked around, there was nothing but information to tell you it was early morning — people walking with coffee, no traffic, the sun in the east, etc. It was kind of beautiful and incredible to realize, in a very short span, how different it feels to be getting ready for the day, as opposed to the night.
Of course, writing or making art of any kind also requires a pretty intense energy. There are plenty of times when I end up watching baseball on TV or eating snacks instead.
I'm getting close to finishing a play, which is always something to look forward to, even as the actual finish keeps receding into the mist. And I'm heading out to Los Angeles a few times this winter. Rainn Wilson is going to be performing Thom Pain (based on nothing), at the Geffen Theatre, and I'll be going back and forth for rehearsals and opening.
Our little family is heading out there for a week, and I'll be doing some things with the Taper Theatre. One of which is a public conversation with a neurologist/psychologist — we are going to talk about how and why the brain creates narrative. Narrative in this case meaning, yes, stories about stuff, but also just reality. The information we get from our senses is filled with all these gaps and omissions and we put it together in our heads as this continuous stream of reality. I'm interested in trying to exploit (for lack of a better word) that, in the writing of a play.
I think there's something to be said for sleep deprivation — in terms of how it can make you drop the act, and even the act behind the act, the very private face or front you put on just to manage being yourself with yourself. You can get to a pretty unvarnished place from which you might surprise yourself, here and there. At some point, you need to get some sleep so you can look at all and organize it into a form with a rhythm of some kind.
As for fatherhood having an effect on my writing, in terms of subject matter, I'm sure there will be a huge difference. There are a lot more things that make me cry in the world. Little things make me cry more, and I mean physically little things, little hands, little people, or animals, a little sound, etc.
I remember when we were thinking Albertine was about to roll over, and how exciting it was, and I sometimes look around at groups of people and think, wow, all these people were born and spent a bunch of months lying on their backs and had parents staring at them wondering when they were going to figure out how to roll over and then it happened. Donald Trump learned to roll over.
I’ve read a few good things lately. One was a memoir called Lord Fear, by Lucas Mann. Just plain great writing about a really sad and almost unsharable thing. He also wrote great book about a year with a minor league baseball team called Class A. David Eagleman, the neuroscientist, wrote a cool book about the afterlife called Sum. It's 40 versions of the afterlife. In one, God is a fighting couple. It's got some pretty outside-the-box — or, just-to-the-side-of-the-box — scenarios in it. Oh, and I’m in the middle of Understanding Comics by Scott McCloud, which is a comic book about the art of comics. It’s pretty dense and deep and I’m liking it a lot.
Albertine really likes books and it’s fun to read to her. She likes something called Pat-a-Cake. It's mainly about patting a cake, but if you stick with it some other stuff happens, too.
It is like nothing I’ve ever known on Earth, to get a hug from this 31-inch tall person, and I had thought I generally knew what the deal was.