My Garden State
A minute of time is such a delicious measurement of a theatrical moment. I’ve never written a one-minute play before and didn’t know how to write a one-minute play. But I did it (twice) – in multiple one-minute intervals. The thing is – Jersey is becoming more and more part of my identity the longer I have lived away from the state. I have found myself defending my roots more often these days. I didn’t come from the South (Jersey that is) – I grew up in a bedroom community (not sure what that even means) of New York City. The skyline just hazy enough in the distance to feel the energy of the city that never sleeps. I didn’t have high hair, aqua net, and a love for spray tans, but I had a community of bursting creativity that allowed me to explore my writing at a very early age.
I’m not sure how many, if any, Maple trees were in Maplewood growing up, but it was a quaint town full of so many possibilities of adventure right off the New Jersey Transit Line. A quick thirty minutes to Penn Station my love for writing on trains started, as I would take any opportunity to jump ship and explore the concrete jungle I now call home. Those minutes in transit would turn into pages of a play, short story, or memory that I needed to simply put down on paper. I kept many of these stories to myself because I was, and still am, horrible at spelling and grammar. Luckily I’ve discovered the amazing tool of an editor or kind friend who is happy to help. During the lazy summer days at the town pool I would get lost in worlds that I created. I never realized when I was growing up how lucky I was to live in such an amazing town in an underrated state.
My pride for Jersey wasn’t always forefront on my mind. In fact when I went off to college in upstate New York I often never admitted what state I was from. Always saying I lived “outside the city”. The City, in my opinion, made me sound cool and hip and edgy. Clearly I was also close-minded in thinking that there was only one city in the whole country that mattered. When it slipped out that I was, in fact, from The Garden State – people would ask me, “What exit?” I never understood, and I still don’t know what exit I lived off of. As time went on and Snooki was born, raised, and let loose on television I realized what the world was seeing was not the place I called home.
Maplewood, New Jersey is where I learned how to unlock my voice. It’s where I learned to express myself. It’s where I learned that no matter what I would be embraced as an artist. I was never steered on a different path, always encouraged by teachers, always told by my parents to follow my dreams…even if my dreams were to never be in a math class again and create absurd stories about Cat Knappers with cheese problems. Recently I was down at my parent’s home (now in South Jersey which is an entirely different place than North Jersey) I went through some boxes filled with memorabilia from the eighteen years of living in Dirty Jerz. What I discovered was my life today is pretty similar to what it was like growing up in Maplewood. Granted I no longer sneak around going to parties or have to depend on my parents for rides to my wide range of activities, but I am still writing, performing, and living a very creative life. I run into more and more people, including one of the directors for the OMPF, that live in Maplewood. My one play was being rehearsed at the culture center I know well. It’s amazing how that small community that I can draw a map of in my mind is still thriving as such a creative town in a beautifully underrated state.
Perhaps all the bad press on reality television is just a cover to keep the gem that Jersey really is locked up safe to those who know it well. I’m proud to be from the Blueberry Capital of the world, and really looking forward to seeing what can happen in one minute.
-Amy E. Witting