Today’s piece is written by Gary Lennon, a writer on “The Shield.”
Both of my parents were dead before I was 11 years old. That is why I write. At least that was where the desire was born. I had all of these feelings inside and I didn’t know what to do with them until I picked up a pen and put them down on paper. My world was turned upside down at an early age and I needed to make sense of the chaos known as my life. My problem was I picked up the bottle before I picked up the pen, so I had a late start. But better late than never.
I grew up in Manhattan’s HELL’S KITCHEN before it was deemed CLINTON and before it was known as the dance belt capitol of the world…which it now is. At the age of 11, I had no parents, two older criminal brothers and a grim prospect of a future, but I did have an Aunt named MOO, short for MURIEL, who was an usherette at the Broadway houses. Luckily for me, one day my aunt MOO took me to work with her to stuff the understudy announcements into the play bills while she booked numbers for the other usherettes. Nice. The play MOO took me to was EQUUS and the lights went down and then came up and I was hooked. I saw naked people on stage and I thought, I LIKE theater. I can do this. I found home. I will surrender. YES! In short I found a hobby, a therapy, that became a vocation. A carer. I found a place to make sense of my chaos.
At first I saw many plays, but the plays I saw didn’t reflect my life experience. The plays I saw were about rich people with country homes. The plays were about people who had jobs and careers and shit like that. I couldn’t identify. I lived in a railroad flat with the bathroom in the hallway. I was waiting for something to speak to me. Then BAM! Magic. I saw a Steppenwolf production of a play called BALM IN GILEAD, and the play was filled with pimps and whores and drug addicts and I thought ahhh….my family, these people I know. These people I can relate to. These people I can write about. A BELL went off. A green light. A sense of permission washed over me and allowed me to tell my story, no matter how dark it was…and I picked up a pen and began to find the GOLD in my mud. My life. I began to write what I knew and I began to make money.
I first wrote a play called BLACKOUT, which became the film DRUNKS and I started working and very gratefully I haven’t stopped. I’ve sold a bunch of features and I recently have been working on TV. I feel blessed. I just got to write on a show that I was a huge fan of. I just did the last year of THE SHIELD and found that I liked collaborating. I liked the writer’s room. Sometimes I have to stop and take a breath because I know I am living my dream. I can’t believe I get to work with the talented people that I do and this all happened to a kid from Hell’s Kitchen who didn’t graduate high school. Who didn’t think he had a future and was ashamed of is past. I didn’t realize that by owning my past, I’d find my voice and that would allow me to brighten my future.
I truly feel privileged to go to work everyday and dig into my tool box and use my tools that were given to me. My DNA, my history, my life and put that down on paper and in doing so transcend my circumstances and make my journey authentic. I write because I have to. I write because I love it. I write because there are stories to be told…and I love telling stories. I’m Irish.
WHY WE WRITE is a series of essays by prominent – and not so prominent – TV and Film writers. Conceived by Charlie Craig and Thania St. John, the campaign hopes to inspire and inform all writers. If you’d like to comment, or tell us why you write, visit the Why We Write WordPress site or contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.