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Broken Pillar, Shattered Dreams ~Book 29~

Quotes are from Journal 29 written in 2004. Much of the rest comes from the original collection of essays that I wrote in 2020/21 which I would eventually whittle down to what is now my solo play, Diary Bonfire. I've told my story of Edinburgh many times over the last twenty years. Reading the pages I wrote that August was hard but affirming: I had remembered it right. I can't believe how well the journal excerpts support what I had to say about it decades later.

Aug 30, 2004
I walked around the cobblestone streets and sighed at the cold rain, my neck seizing up underneath my cold wet hair. ( I have no hair dryer.) I let my nose run. I ducked into our venue’s toilet thinking, “Never return to the scene of the crime.”  We had shattered our pillar there, behind the venue in a dirty dark alley. Not so dark as dirty. It was more for Tony than for me. I didn't find it that rewarding, but tried to buck up. My tears were relentless. I cried at the end of “pierced!” underneath the booth, in the dark, embarrassed by the crappiness of the final show. I cried when Lucinda and Richard hugged me, knowing full well I had disappointed, unable to hide my sadness, shocked that I couldn't mask it. (They thought I was sad to see it end. Well, perhaps…) I tried to keep it together, but, no, I was pretty incapable. I left the restaurant alone and sad. Showered. Enjoyed hot water washing away tears that barely had time to form. Dried off all but my hair and then tried to sleep. I lay there for just as long as I could stand it. I got up in the room I had tried to make darkish. I dressed as warmly as I could. I went out, CD Walkman – damaged as it is–  stuffed in my pocket with four licorice candies, two pieces of gum, and one pound-twenty to my name. Hoods up, I traveled, searching for a bar called the Hogs Head which I really didn't care to find or not, but it gave me a purpose to be on the street instead of in the flat. One long sad day. Things too big to figure out here, to figure out alone. I need a real break.

Here’s a story: 

During my first year in New York, I went to Edinburgh, Scotland with a couple of friends and my little self-written play. We worked our asses off to get there, to make it happen, and it nearly cracked me to pieces.

Front of postcard inside Journal 29's front cover + back in the back.

Here’s a thing:

When you write and perform your own play there is nowhere to hide. You, the actor cannot blame the shoddy writing, and you the writer cannot blame the hollow/lazy/overwrought/overthought/poor performance. Whether it’s the concept or the execution that is under fire,

when the criticism comes,


are for whom




8-5-2004  It is a very lonely thing, this acting. Surrounded (if only by five and only for 45 minutes) with attention directed my way, and then – blink– it is over and I am singular. Dependent on myself to fill the voids, pat the back, etc. etc. Still, I am not ready to leave it behind.

My play wasn’t entirely slaughtered in the reviews –except by one critic who made a play on words comparing the Greek myth content to the set, which she called as cheap and tacky as a Greek wedding. I paraphrase, but it was pretty disparaging. I mean, she wasn’t totally wrong: my sole set piece did crumble steadily throughout the run, but a pretty offensive remark toward the Greeks, y’know?

However, the premiere critic at the The Scotsman saw my play and did not pummel it. It was an intelligent review that highlighted some things I got right. It was no rave. In short, and in a flourish of what I and everyone else –and you, by this point–expected, he essentially gave me a B.

These review excerpts were supposed to help promote my show.

This was pasted on the pages of Journal 29.

Mostly, we just couldn't get people to come.

My little theatre company was comprised of only me and three of my friends.

We had nothing. We had no money. We raised donations from friends and family during the months leading up to the travel and kept our shows as economically sensible to produce as possible. My set included a collapsible hoop that my dad built on which we draped long strips of sheer fabric that we hung from the ceiling and a small white plaster pillar that we bought from a home and garden shop and shipped from New York to Edinburg.  Plaster. Shipped. Overseas. Geniuses. It arrived in compromised condition, but enough of it was there that I could still sit and stand on it. But try as it may, its structural integrity could not withstand the (show-storage-show) schedule of a festival run. It was breaking before our very eyes.

Like my will.

“Broken pillar, shattered dreams” we joked.

But it wasn’t really a joke, was it?

I felt lonely,

But I was simply learning life:

I could achieve any number of things, but the world owes me nothing in return.

Hard work. Degree. Awards & honors. Years. 

Do not equal validation.



That shit has to come from within.

Aug 27 2004  Clarity. Today is about clarity. My neck is killing me. But there is sun out. I walked the base of Arthur’s Seat and the sky and the air seemed so clear. I have done the work I need to do and going back to New York is now what it has to be. There are choices that I have to make in order to live with myself. For happiness. To…

I stopped writing. The rest of the page was blank.

Here’s a conclusion: 

I keep coming back to the story of Edinburgh because it is the grandest example of a pattern I have established: Work really hard, Wait for my reward, Wallow in disappointment, Start the whole thing over again.

Constantly putting oneself up for judgment takes its toll, but sometimes, one is recognized and forgets to recognize it herself. I write this post in early April of 2024 while I happen to be enjoying a burst of success. So, let’s put that in print, too: there are rewards for the risk-takers. Warm, fun, exhilarating rewards. Sometimes the rewards appear to be granted immediately and in direct proportion to the effort applied. Oftentimes, they seem bigger or smaller than our perceived effort, and/or they take years to manifest. 

Like, maybe the rewards I experience today are in some way a result of efforts that I have been putting in for decades. Maybe the solo performance I get to do at 50 is the result of the work I did when I traveled to Edinburgh, Scotland at 30. And speaking of thirty . . .

Aug. 31, 2004

I feel cheerful. I am on to Jack and Diet Coke. Diet Vanilla Coke to be exact.
It feels okay to be going back to New York. a big part of me has been shattered, but it was for some reason. I am starting over again. I had to hit this low to begin an ascent.

The next book is the thirtieth journal. 

Here is what I have read so far:

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Apr 13

Here's to the risk-takers

The timid-bold who break fear's bonds

And learn that the ultimate reward

Comes from within.

I can't even express how envious I am of risk-takers like yourbadself. I'm pretty sure I've never taken a true risk in my life; anything conveying such an appearance was, examined in greater detail, merely the actualization of a carefully plotted, mentally rehearsed-ad-nauseam, fully-previewed plan. Not to say I'm a good planner (I'm definitely, desperately not), but that to deal with the fear & anxiety inherent in the consideration of my Big Ideas, I will endlessly attempt to preview them in my mind in order to circumvent the fear of Diving Into the Unknown.

So kudos to you for trying and…


Kelley McKinnon
Kelley McKinnon
Apr 08

raw truth that squished the breath out of me. Gorgeous

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