Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Truth in lending

You are fortunate to have had two mentors, each of whom was wildly different from the other, thus imparting an expanded sense of subtext to you while allowing you to see where their goals were, in the long run, quite similar. 

One was a writer, the other an actor. Although she did not address the matter directly, Rachel, the writer, bade you to listen carefully to people when they spoke so that you could interpret what they really meant when they were speaking. Virginia, the actor, wanted you to watch with gimlet eye for the props, mannerisms, and affectations an actor assumed to convey more than mere intent but rather intent-in-spite-of-something.

Once, when Virginia's acting teacher discovered her childhood sense of inferiority to certain types of sales persons, particularly sales persons in high-end stores such as Bergdorf or the then Saks, he sent her and her chum, Lee Remick, into Bonwit, Saks, and Bergdorf, under the guise of trying things on but in reality picking arguments with the sales persons. 

The lesson to be learned was that Virginia was still shy, after all her successes and performances, after being on stage with Brando. But as the person she had to be in order to stand up to sales persons, she was able to be effective, reminding me that Lee Remick had never suffered the sense of being cowed by sales persons and was thus able to laugh at them when they were in their own role-playing persona, trying to be arch or imperious.

Rachel spoke of trying to see the inner core of a person, the better to be able to "get" that person on paper. Virginia called it the truth of a particular character, the actor's vision of what and who Willy Loman really was, demonstrated so dramatically when Lee J. Cobb, who seemed to you to own the role, performed, then you were able to compare it with Dustin Hoffman.

Which brings us by a circuitous route to the existential question of the truth of you. How would two different actors "get" you as a character? How would they see your truth? Which leads you farther down into the interior of the self. 

 Peter O'Toole could, you believe, capture a flicker of you, projecting your classroom bombast and your conversations with editorial clients. Kevin Spacey, a superb mimic, could have convinced your late mother that he were you. Not to question his acting ability, which you think is considerable, but would he get the truth of you or would he instead mime a refraction of you. Back to the question: You are an actor or a writer and your chore is to portray you on page or stage, right? And so what do you look for? Where do you begin?

Dylan Thomas wrote,

I in my intricate image, stride on two levels,
Forged in man's minerals, the brassy orator
Laying my ghost in metal,
The scales of this twin world tread on the double,
My half ghost in armour hold hard in death's corridor,
To my man-iron sidle.

Beginning with doom in the bulb, the spring unravels,
Bright as her spinning-wheels, the colic season
Worked on a world of petals;
She threads off the sap and needles, blood and bubble
Casts to the pine roots, raising man like a mountain
Out of the naked entrail.

Beginning with doom in the ghost, and the springing marvels,
Image of images, my metal phantom
Forcing forth through the harebell,
My man of leaves and the bronze root, mortal, unmortal,
I, in my fusion of rose and male motion,
Create this twin miracle...

There is comfort in the knowledge that he was looking for answers in himself and finding precious little but a place to toss up his lunch in some unsuspecting garden.

Have you become so focused on others--the real ones about you and the ones who visit you in your dreams and fantasies--that you know only mimicry things about yourself? You know what kind of coffee and ale and wine; which authors, which musicians, which actors, but are these traits or trail markers on a twisty path.

Sometimes, when you are rummaging through a notebook or a pile of papers, you come across something of such interest that you are drawn into reading further, the growing certainty overtaking you that it was you who wrote these things, felt these walls, blinked your eyes at the candles guttering in the sconces, you and not a student or a client.

Who was the person who wrote them and what was his truth in writing what was written? And if you can't answer that question, maybe you can get some help by asking, What was his intent?

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