Sunday, August 1, 2010

Until It's Right

No authority is higher than reality.

Peter Zarlenga
The teleology involved in a work of art is not hard to identify. It isn't Judgement Day or the end of the world, although it may seem that way sometimes to the artist. The culmination of a lot of effort is something finished and good enough for the artist to sign his name to. There is no way for an artist to know how hard the journey is going to be from the first stroke of the brush to the moment of signing.

It is a curious thing that some stories, paintings and other works seem to create themselves while others offer nothing much to the artist but struggle and frustration.
My two long stories, Brian and Christine, and Brian On The Road, seem to have written themselves, whereas some of the others, like the one I'm writing now, The Savior, is asking a completely different dimension from my imagination. It's one of those pieces that needs to be told, retold and retold again until it's right.

I used to have a similar experience as an actor. I did a lot of plays by Eugene O'Neill. Two of the major roles fit me Hogan in A Moon For The Misbegotten, and Con Melody in A Touch Of The Poet were roles I felt were written for me.

For the actor to make a successful work it must be honest, a recognizably real person within the style of the drama. It's the reality of human life and it's articulation by the playwright and the actor that gives the theatre it's vitality and authority.

I understood Con Melody at the first reading of the play, but I wasn't cast in the role. I was given a different part. The actor who had the role didn't understand him and dropped out. I took over the part on a day's notice.

In the case of Hogan I thought I had a good grasp of the character but there was still something missing. One day the director handed me a corn cob pipe, a tin of tobacco, a knife and a box of matches and said "Play with these." I cut the tobacco, stuffed it in the pipe and lit it a few times until I was comfortable with the business. It was the simple act of stuffing the tobacco into the pipe with my finger that opened up all the rest about that character I needed to know in order to play him.

On the other hand I twice played James Tyrone in A Long Days Journey Into Night and each time in order to get to the reward of the silvery poetic writing of the last act I found the first three acts a hard struggle.

The question is why do some things come easily and others don't. Someone watching from the outside might say "You're putting up barriers to yourself." That is probably true but what are those barriers and why do we erect them? I've heard many nonsensical reasons. "You're being to serious." "You aren't taking it seriously enough." "You're too angry." "Use your anger." "You're being too self-indulgent." "You need to put more of yourself into it." And so on.

The easy days are tempting us. One day we stride across home plate amid the cheers of the crowd and the next day we can't get to first base. We forget that we have to work at it and keep working at it until it's right, thumb our noses at frustration, take the dog out for a walk, have a shower, make another cup of coffee and go back to the task.

And we also have to ignore the voice that keeps saying "Look at you. You're a joke. You're a dunce. Whoever told you you could write? Give it up."

For the artist there is no such thing as "give it up."

DB - The Vagabond

Here are the first two words of song titles.
"I got" or "I've got"

The person who comes up with the longest list of song titles that begin with those two words will be the winner. In the case of a tie duplicated prizes will be awarded.

good luck


Bucko (a.k.a., Ken) said...

It is a lifelong journey to find the things we do well, especially since it shifts like the sands of time.

Rita Mosquita said...

And the prize is...