Nora and Mike Revenaugh: A Marriage Between Prose and Dramatic Writing

Nora Revenaugh is a writer, teaching artist, massage therapist, marketer, amateur Irish musician, and collector of odd jobs. Her storytelling work has taken her on tour with The Moth Mainstage and has also been featured on The Moth Radio Hour. Her fiction (she is currently working on her first novel for young adults) has been accepted to Nova Ren Suma‘s master class at The Writer’s Room in New York City and the Djerassi YA Workshop in California. She was also featured in season one and two of the webseries “The Feels.”

Nora got her B.A. in Writing, Literature and Publishing from Emerson College, but her proudest accomplishment is hunting and capturing the most dangerous game, Mike Revenaugh.

Mike Revenaugh is a writer living in New York City. He has studied sketch comedy at the Upright Citizen’s Brigade Theater in and has received an MFA in Dramatic Writing from NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts. He’s also gotten married to the love of his life and has a nice apartment for the first time in his lifetwo things he can’t recommend highly enough.

Mike is currently writing several pilot scripts including animated and live action comedies, as well as a feature length supernatural mystery. Mike has worked with NYU Tisch’s Future Theatre Artists Program, where he taught dramatic writing to emerging artists who are high school students. Mike’s scripts have placed in several national contests, including the Screencraft Short Film Contest and the Launch Pad Pilot Contest. Mike’s work has also been featured in the ABC Discovers Talent Showcase.

What was your earliest memory of being inspired by creativity? Were you raised in homes where it was encouraged, or was it the opposite?

Mike: I was always drawn to dress-up and pretend so there are a lot of pictures of [me] getting all the weird costume stuff out of the attic. My parents got me into community theater before they got into community theater. As far as creative household? My parents weren’t trained in the arts at all. My mom is more of a craftsperson. She builds. She is skilled that way.

Were they more encouraging?

Mike: Absolutely. As I developed theatrically and creatively, I think they did too. My dad has actually been the head writer on some murder mysteries fundraising for a local theater.

Nora: I grew up in the Irish music community. My dad’s a bodhran player, which is a traditional Irish drum, so growing up, every Thursday night I would sit at the table and listen to my dad and his friends play tunes. People would dance, and we’d go to festivals. My impression of my dad, despite the fact that he was a doctor, was that his real identity was a drummer.

So his day job was being a doctor? [Laugh]

Nora: Exactly! Once in preschool they had us draw a picture of what our parents did, and kids were drawing pictures of their dads with briefcases, their moms in scrubs going to the hospital. I drew a picture of my dad playing the drum. My teacher laughed because [my dad] was their family doctor.

My mom was a writer and my biological dad was a singer, but I didn’t hear about any of this until I was much older. The fruit didn’t fall far from the tree at all. It was funny.

Nora: My mom raised me with a really creative childhood and I knew she hadn’t gone to art school, but would’ve liked to. She’s a great artist. She’s a printmaker now.

Mike: A lot of my parent’s creativity was also for financial reasons. They came up with games, entertainment, and activities that were not that expensive.

Nora: Same. I was an only child so I played a lot of imagination games just because there weren’t other kids to play with.

Mike: I had two older brothers, so whenever I could get away from them, I would have my imagination time.

When did the goal of having a career in writing solidify for you both?

Mike: I got back into writing through the musical theater club in college. They would put on a review at the end of every semester that was completely produced and directed by students. I’m an okay singer and not an okay dancer. In the crowd of the musical theater kids my dance skills are not quite there. [Laughs]

The first year or so, we had numbers that included every club member, and numbers you participated in if you got invited. I was like, “I’m not being invited into a lot of numbers.” Then the president said in the past, people have done sketches. What I didn’t know was that by sketches, they meant three people running around the stage in a circle saying ‘ha!’ and then walking off-stage to cover a costume change.

I went home and wrote four three-page sketches like “Saturday Night Live.” That was kind of the role I created for myself. I kept up with it when I moved to New York. I had a blog to help me with loneliness because I didn’t know too many people. It was a way of motivating myself to get out of the house and go see something you could write about for the blog. As far as vocation, I didn’t think about it until I was applying for the writing program. I was working at NYU and they had tuition remission benefits, so I was looking around at all of the Masters degrees that I could pursue and I found the [Department of Dramatic Writing]. I applied and I got in so I thought, okay. Off to the races.

[To Nora] Did you also have that moment?

Nora: I don’t know if I do, because I have known since the moment that I came into the world that I wanted to write. It seems weird, but Mike can vouch for this based on all the primary source materials in my parent’s basement. I dictated my first book to my mom when I was probably two-years-old, and I wrote stories in books all throughout my childhood, which continued into high school and college. I never really swerved from that being a part of my identity.

I think I was lucky to grow up in the Irish music community. The best fiddlers I’ve ever heard in Ireland are so well-known for what they do, but there’s not this idea that it has to be a job, that it should pay rent. There’s a difference between trad music and proscenium theater orchestras. Trad music is played in the round, for one another. There isn’t this hierarchy of musician and audience. The musicians are also the audience. I feel like I approach writing the same way. It would be nice to get paid for it (and I have) but the identity of being a writer is not tied to having it be my day job.  I’m actually very wary of that. I want that collaborative, joyful, untethered-from-Capitalism version of creative work that reminds me of being in sessions when I was a kid. It’s the thing that you do to be a whole person outside of the thing you might do during the day.

This is also why I love community theater, where me and Mike met.

Tell me about that.

Nora: We met when I was 10 and he was 13, and it was a production of “Scrooge: The Musical” in Utica. We were both in it.

Mike: My parents were in it. Her dad was in it. Her dad played Tom Jenkins, the hot soup man. My dad was Marley’s ghost. That was a yearly tradition in Utica, up until this past year.

Nora: We’ve done, like,  at least 10 shows together.

Mike: We didn’t really have the same social circles. We went away to college in opposite directions, but thank God for AOL Instant Messenger.

Those were the days.

Nora: The modern equivalent of an epistolary romancechatting on AOL Messenger.

Did you guys connect on based on your writings as well?

Nora: We didn’t connect based on the fact that we were writing fiction, but it connected us in that we had a long-distance friendship for over a decade. Our relationship was built on the fact that we were both sensitive teenagers who were awkward and had all of these issues in our own schools.

Mike: As an anxious and sometimes awkward person, I really do like instant messenger. Being able to edit yourself and take a couple of seconds to craft responses, use wordplay—it sharpened my writing abilities as much as anything else. It gave me the ability to not get in my own head and trip over my own tongue, especially while fighting teenage feelings.

Nora: I think our writer-selves are in some ways the best parts of us, so our writer-selves could have this relationship online while the rest of our adult personalities were still a little messy.

You both love writing, but you also have full plates and very full lives. What gets in the way of writing at the current?

Nora: We’re both writers, we both love writing, but getting together gave us a really good reason to procrastinate, which is that we enjoy spending time with each other.

Darn it! [Laughs]

Nora: So even though we know we only have so much downtime—our days are so full—our downtime is also the only time we have to spend together. It can definitely be tricky to figure out, but we’ve been actively working on it. Something really helpful is that we help each other with our writing, which I think is unusual even among writer couples.

Writer couples can be tricky for that reason.

Nora: I never wanted to be with a writer. It’s kind of incredible to me that I am. I think it works because our types of writing are really different. Dramatic writing is very structural. It has to fit in a certain shape in order to work.

Mike: You’re limited to what you see and hear, so it’s less internal for the characters. It’s like, okay, so how does that happen?

Nora: It’s all in the scenes.

Mike: It’s all what the camera can show the audience and I don’t have much experience writing prose where an entire chapter can encompass five seconds.

Nora: I think that the best novels and screenplays have the combination of strong plot structure and strong story or emotional structure. But I do think screenwriting can privilege plot structure over emotional structure, whereas novels can privilege emotional structure over plot structure. He has helped me become a more in-scene writer, a cleaner writer, and a more structured writer, and I think I’ve helped him too.

Mike: She’s helped me to become a much messier writer, digging into the characters and all the emotional motivations of why they do things. Not just because something has to happen because I need a cliffhanger. It’s easy to get caught up in bullet points and hitting this and this, and then we’re done.

Nora: And to rely less on what’s easy about character tropes and archetypes. You’re very funny so everything that you write feels original.

When you write, do you need solitude? Do you write separately or write together?

Mike: [Laughs] I need solitude. She loves writing in groups.

Nora: Not in groups, but around people.

Like coffee shops?

Nora: Yeah. My problem is—and I think some of this might be slightly gendered too—it’s nearly impossible for me to be alone in a messy house and not privilege housework over creative work. I often need to go out into the world and sit somewhere where my only job is to drink coffee and get these thousand words down. This is the time I’ve bought myself. So that’s one workaround that I need. I can also work very early in the morning. For example, if I wake up and do writing before I go to work, I can be pretty productive.

[To Mike] Do you also write before work?

Mike: I’ve gotten better at it. My magic hour(s) used to be between 11PM and 2AM. That doesn’t really work anymore. I’ve gotten into getting up and going to the gym, then coming back and having a half hour of writing before I go to work. I try to find a quiet corner that is not in my office, because once I’m there, so many things begin pulling at my time. I need to isolate myself basically. I took it to the extreme a couple of years ago with The Cabinet of Mystery.

Nora: Oh yeah.

Mike: There’s a very strange cabinet in our kitchen. It’s not put together very well. It’s a small door but the cabinet goes all the way back to the wall and meets at a right angle. It looks like it should be a very small cabinet but it is a very large cabinet. It is approximately large enough for a person and a notebook, so there was a time where I got a lot of productive writing done in my kitchen cabinet. [Laughs] We called it my office. Well, my home office.

A lot of writers care about our emotional lives for obvious reasons. During your darkest hours, what were some things that helped you climb out of it?

Mike: I’m going to circle back to my blog. When I first moved to New York I had a horrible job. I was a narcotics investigator.

That sounds like a job in a cartoon or something.

Mike: Basically. Then I quit when I realized that definitely wasn’t the place for me. I spent several months unemployed, alone on Staten Island, which is not a great place to be if you’re working on mental health. It was very difficult for me. I leaned toward the fatalistic and the depressive at that point. It got to a point where I would wake up, check the job boards, send resumes to things, and then play video games for eight hours. That was my routine for a while.

My blogging was a way of saying, you can’t just keep doing this. The imaginary audience of my blog, mostly friends and family, would be looking forward to a blog post, so I have to post one. So I’d figure out a place that I hadn’t been before then go. I was experiencing life through the lens of having to present it to someone. That was very beneficial for me at the time.

Nora: I wish I had something as tangible to offer. For me, one of the things that lead me to become a writer is an acute sense of empathy and interest in the lives of others, and how their lives are similar to or different from my own. When I was a young adult, before I really developed the valve to turn that off (still working on that!), I was becoming a mirror of all the desires of others, and everything inside of myself felt unknowable or non-existent.

That all came to a head when I had a serious nervous breakdown in my early-20’s. I had to come out of the closet as a queer person. I had been able to hide that from myself by always trying to gauge what the people around me wanted from me. When you’re too much in your head, you can become very confused about your real desires versus the ghost machine of desire that only churns out shadows.

For me, I think the thing that helped the most was finding very physical and tangible ways to strip everything away and ask my physical body what it really wanted. Coming out as queer was a part of that. It’s interesting to say the thing that solved my writing problems had nothing to do with thinking about it and a lot to do with learning to be in my body, and to listen to my instincts. Around that time is also when I became a massage therapist. I started doing very hard physical work and it simplified a lot of things. It is a tangible process of someone coming to you in pain and leaving in less pain.

I definitely relate to that. I still struggle with making boundaries where I know what’s mine and what’s other people’s stuff. It can be really difficult.

Mike: I’m begrudgingly coming to accept that there is a mind and body connection. My relationship with my body has been kind of fraught. I was the youngest of three boys and internalized this image that I was always smaller. Then middle school came and the puberty fairy visited me three years after everyone else, so I got this sense of myself as not being good at sports, not being able to compete in these arenas, and I learned to not enjoy physical activities.

I do think our relationship with our body is divided by gender. There’s certain images of men that I cannot relate to. 

Mike: It’s gendered in the narrative forms that gendered-ness takes. My experience is that it’s tied to achievement and victory. It’s not just to develop yourself because [developing oneself] is an end onto itself.

Nora: And I feel like growing up and becoming an adult in a female body has been a process where when it was at its worst, my body was a completely separate entity from who I was. My body moved through the world and was told what people wanted things from it. I was always aware of…

The male gaze?

Nora: Yes. The gaze and the desires of the world. How I needed to be outwardly to feel safe and to get what I needed. That can create a terrible combustion, combined with the ability to mirror the desires of others. It can take you really far off-path before you figure out what is happening.

Looking at the present, what are some things you do together or separately to take care of yourselves?

Nora: I think one of the nice things about being married is we’re never left alone to our own devices. We can outsource self-care to one another. If I’m able to identify when he’s struggling, I can remind him of the things he needs, whether it’s going to yoga or sitting down and writing, even if he says he hates it. Or, eating something because he forgot to eat that day.

Mike: It’s not that I forget. [Laughs] It’s that it takes 10 minutes and who has that kind of time. [Laughs]

So someone else can step in if something is off.

Nora: Over time, I think we’ve learned. When you’re in the deep dark place, even if you know that swimming helps, you think, swimming is the worst thing I could possibly do.

Mike: That’s basically me every week. “I have pages due for this group. I can’t possibly spend half an hour swimming. I have to get home and bang out these pages.” Then I do it [swimming] and I go, “That was incredible.”

I know you have a pretty consistent sleep schedule, which can be very hard for writers. Well, people in general.

Mike: I was very much a night owl. I wouldn’t start writing until 11:00 at night. But yeah, going to the gym has been a big one for me. She’s gotten me into yoga, which I am increasingly okay with. I went by myself for the first time recently.

When I was left to my own devices, I would rarely take an hour to just make myself feel good and relax. I feel like yoga and many meditation classes are just someone else to giving you permission to relax.

[To Nora] I know you do yoga. Do you also meditate?

Nora: I should meditate more. One of my coping skills that comes from my anxiety and depression, is sort of putting one foot in front of the other. I keep moving. I keep doing life anyway. I let go of perfectionism and the anxiety that it causes. That kind of continuous motion creates a positive inertia away from the bad stuff. My meditation is often moving meditation. I enjoy running and swimming, but I also need to get better at allowing myself to not always be moving. I joke that being a massage therapist is my meditation. I love it.

Mike: That’s another difference, because I enjoy the sitting still. [Laughs] I’m a lot better at sitting still with guided meditation. I like exercising, but I like complaining almost just as much.

One of our other secrets, and it gets back to the bedtime, is we read to one another.

Nora: I feel like that’s one of our biggest self-care secrets.

Mike: Yeah. It’s amazing.

Nora: And it’s, like, middle-grade books. You’re not going get literary fiction.

Mike: You’re not going get “Beowulf.” [Laughs]

Nora: We read these middle-grade or YA books. We’ve done it for two years.

Mike: It’s just like, no screen time and the soothing voice and the low stakes.

A way of unplugging your brain.

Nora: it’s like a transitional state between awake and sleep that doesn’t involve screens.

I’ve never heard this before but it’s kind of brilliant. Now I want try it.

Nora: My Moth co-teacher does the same thing with his partner. Every night they read middle grade novels until they fall asleep. It’s a wonderful secret.

Mike: My parents read to me when I was smaller and apparently there was a time when we stopped doing that. Why?

Who are some of your favorite authors?

Nora: L.M. Montgomery is one of mine, if I had to pick one that had the biggest impact on my voice and philosophy of writing. She wrote the “Anne of Green Gables” books, and she wrote “The Blue Castle,” which I love. There’s this essayist who wrote in the LA Review about how Montgomery treats the smallest moments of rural women’s lives as deserving of our closest attention and our best language. In her work, stories don’t have to have global stakes in order to be meaningful. I also like the playwright Sarah Ruhl.

Mike: I’ve got like dude answers. [Laughs] Kurt Vonnegut. Martin McDonagh. Douglas Adams too.

Nora: Sarah Waters is another one of my favorites. She has this gorgeous literary style and she writes queer stories into history in ways that they existed at the time.

Mike: I’ve read a couple of those.

Nora: They’re good right?

Mike: Yeah. Over the last few years I’ve had a lot of reading assignments. [Laughs]

Nora: Dorothy L. Sayers. She’s great.

Mike: Who’s another one? Jane Austen.

Nora: Yeah, I did make you read Jane Austen. We have this running gag where he insists on thinking that George Eliot is a man. Oh! I did make you read a couple of Edith Wharton books. Wow you must have been in love with me.

Mike: Yeah.

Nora: I’m so sorry. [Laughs] I love Edith Wharton, but I understand that she’s a bummer.

Mike: I remember one of the earliest tests of our relationship was she assigned me to read “The Handmaid’s Tale.”

Definitely not light and breezy!

Nora: I didn’t say anything, I just told him to read it. He cried.

Mike: I’ll throw Shane Black out there as far as screenwriters go. And “Transparent.”

Nora: Oh, Jill Soloway?

Mike: Yes.

Nora: I love her. Actually, Jill Soloway is one of mine too.

Mike: I love [comic book writer] Matt Fraction. Basically, whatever series he’s on becomes the best series in that franchise. Also Ryan North is doing amazing things on the “Unbeatable Squirrel Girl for Marvel.”

What are some things writers you believe we as writers should be discerning about, in order to maintain a good quality of life?

Nora: Finding ways to disengage from what other people might want you to create or think about your work. It’s different from having good editors and having an outside perspective. If you think too much about the marketplace when you’re in the creative stage, I don’t think there’s anything helpful that comes from that.

Mike: That’s one of my main struggles in creative work—divorcing the quality of the work from what success is supposed to look like. Even when I was in the program I was like, “Man, can’t wait to sell out!” [Laughs] I’ll just write some crap, get paid for it, and be happy with it. Then I wrote some crap, got paid for it, and realized that wasn’t satisfying at all. I need to write crap that I really want, not what I think people want to see. So give yourself a break from commercial viability. You just have to put out the art that you can do, that only you can do, because that’s really the only thing worth showing people.

Nora: For me it’s helpful to think, you’re part of this tradition, rather than a profession. You can still achieve a level of mastery. You can have the respect of your peers. You can become better at it as you get older. All of those things can happen separately from the marketplace. If you are engaging with the tradition in a deep and authentic way, that can be a metric of success that doesn’t have to be served by your paycheck.

This is now an Oprah session. What are your favorite things about each other? 

Mike: Oh gosh.

Nora: Everyone’s going to hate us because we’re so in love.

Mike: Always. Always so in love. [Laughs] What’s not to love? [Laughs]

I think it’s come across just from the discussion we’ve been having, but she just has a lot of the qualities that I don’t have and I’m kind of in awe of them. Like her determination in getting her massage therapy license. The dogged persistence. Her ability to just keep plotting ahead and going way beyond the point in which I would have given up. Her overwhelming sense of empathy. We say that she’s a truth siphon. She can sit down and have a conversation with anyone and they’ll just start bawling and baring their soul to her. It’s an amazing quality that I’ve rarely seen in anyone.

Nora: Oh man. Edith Wharton has a quote. “I have sometimes thought that a woman’s nature is like a great house full of rooms: there is the hall, through which everyone passes in going in and out; the drawing room, where one receives formal visits; the sitting room, where the members of the family come and go as they list; but beyond that, far beyond, are other rooms, the handles of whose doors perhaps are never turned; no one knows the way to them, no one knows whither they lead; and in the innermost room, the holy of holies, the soul sits alone and waits for a footstep that never comes.”

Before Rev and I got together, I really believed that that quote was true, that you can never really feel known by someone. But one of Mike’s superpowers is that he sees people clearly—he sees me clearly, even when I can’t see myself. He can see into that secret room. He doesn’t give himself enough credit, but he’s maybe the smartest person I’ve ever met and also the funniest.

I’ll attest to that.

Nora: And he has empathy superpowers [too]. Because it’s a gendered thing, I think that it’s harder to be that smart and that empathic and grow up being socialized to be traditionally masculine. He’s also reliable in all the ways that I’m not. We joke that he struggles to see around the curve of the next few years and to plan ahead, but then I have none of the short-term stuff. I will take the cap off the toothpaste, or off a jar of jelly, or leave the stove burner on next to a rag. I feel like living with me must be this experience where my eyes are so fixed around the curve that I’m lighting myself on fire in the immediate.

So you’re basically trying to prevent a “Final Destination” movie from happening? [Laughs]

Mike: Basically, but I get to pretend I’m a detective. Sometimes I’ll come into a room and there will be a pile of something and I go, “Wait. I know what happened. She probably saw a dog video that made her sad and she completely forgot she opened this container.”

That shitty Staten Island job is coming into use now. You have to own that. [Laughs]

Nora: Even just like walking around the house, I’ll routinely forget to put on pants and he’ll have to point out that it is a thing that needs to happen before I go anywhere. The things that annoy us about each other a little bit are also the things that we love. I do not thrive in structures or institutions at all. Structure is really useful to him and he’s good at it in a way I envy.

For me, coming home to someone like him, he creates this safety in the house. I know when I come home that things will not be chaotic. He helps to make sure that structure exists. While I’m bad at creating structures, I enjoy having it a little bit in life. I hope that in addition to being a chaos monster, the parts that I’m good at helps him come out from the parts of structure that are not helpful.

And also, he’s cute as heck.

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