Not everything works out quite as planned.
Somewhere on your hard drive, or in a notebook, or file cabinet, or heck, a drawer, is that play that never gelled, that cake that never rose, that fallen souffle of an effort that you let go of like a reasonable person and then went on with your writing life.
It's still there. Abandoned.
Somehow, failed art never quite dies. Ideally, it rots down like compost and then one day a shoot of something destined to be glorious bursts from the rich soil, etc., etc. Ideally. One hopes. But. There are other possibilities. Ghosts. Condemned buildings. Bad pennies. (See George Saunders' Lincoln in the Bardo for a brilliant read and on second go, an accurate depiction of what's happening in an artist's abandoned work drawer.) There are those failed plays that won’t die nicely and rot productively, choosing instead to hang around in a half-ass way, annoying their author. Should I tackle this thing? Do I have a better handle on it now? Could I try expanding it? Or condensing it? What do you want from me, Bad Idea? I’m sorry you are not architecturally sound, or dramatic, or even interesting. I tried, I really did. But you’re just doomed! Go away!
A conversation with playwright and performer Daniel McCoy got me thinking about what's in my gone but not forgotten file. He described leaving a first draft behind at a metaphorical amusement park, where the thing quickly went feral and hid under the carousel. He's going to have to go back for it, and probably pay a fine, and it's going to get ugly.
But it sounds worth it. That back-of-the-mind space, that nagging. There's a reason it hasn't gone on, a reason it still haunts. There's something there, demanding a longer look. A true listen.
Mine? Well, there's that thing set in medieval Germany that plays out on a chessboard and yeah I don't play chess well enough to keep the moves in my head so I tried mapping it all out to the stalemate finish of two characters (playing Knights) forever failing to checkmate the king. It's like the second play I ever attempted to write and still, STILL, it's hanging around the edges of my psyche, asking if I'm good enough to pull it off by now. (No, I'm not.)