Tuesday, February 7, 2012


The character who is short of breath speaks in bursts, making it seem as though each sentence is peppered with punctuation marks.  Fond as you are of the short, punchy sentence, you are even more devoted to longer ones, languorous ones, whose independent clauses seem to appear as if from nowhere to hook on to the one immediately previous, imparting a sense of a train coupling in a rail yard or of the energetic riffing and spontaneity of an improvised jazz solo.

You begin paragraphs with a deep intake of breath, anticipating a long, adventurous ride, then step forth into the dramatic void, putting a tentative foot down on a plot point, curious to see what will come next, the conscious thoughts of breathing long gone as opportunities for misstep and mischief plop at you like insects colliding on a windshield.

As this play of writing event unrolls, you find yourself in a cadence where your sense of events becomes in effect you as eavesdropper on the inner monologue of your narrative surrogate, the person or individuals who are telling the story.

Breath and breathing had a good deal to do with this aspect of your narrative.  For some considerable time, you had no thought to get yourself out of the picture—you in fact thought it a necessary adjunct of the story.  You were following the work of F. Scott Fitzgerald, whom you still much admire, in particular his ability to throw off observations that impressed you with their acuity.

Being enormously fond of him is not a problem so long as you remind yourself that he was born three years before your father.  Much as you admire Fitzgerald, you admire your father who, although by no means a literary sort, has left you the legacy of his voice and his cadence in your head.  Your father was born scant physical miles but myriad cultural ones from the university where Fitzgerald attended but notably did not graduate.  You admire Fitzgerald, but your inner breath is your father, in particular when he delivers a summary judgment or opinion on the human drama going on about him.

One of your favorite anecdotes to illustrate that last observation came from years when he associated with your mother’s youngest brother in a series of business ventures ranging from the sale of luggage to the repair and refurbishment of it, to auctioning failed or bankrupt businesses.  Your anecdote reflected that, through his long association with your father, your uncle had discovered that Jack was your father’s middle name, and that Jesus Christ was his first because your uncle was frequently heard to say, “Jesus Christ, Jack.”

Breath and breathing have everything to do with what is said and how it is said.  Virginia Gilmore, your drama mentor, impressed you with the story of her first stage appearance with a young male actor who had been terrible during the rehearsals of this, his first Broadway play to the point where many in the cast were complaining to the director, who simply shrugged, then told them to wait until the play was running.

Opening night, and the cast were ready for curtain, but no sign of the young actor, a curious fellow from Nebraska named Brando.  Someone went outside for a last minute cigarette, but never got it lit.  He came storming back inside, announcing, “That little son of a bitch, do you know what he’s doing?  He’s out there in the alley, chinning himself on the goddamned fire escape.”

Brando came in breathless.  He spoke his lines with his air coming in gasps, an approach that caused his lines and presence to electrify the cast and the audience.  The rest was history.


How you say whatever it is you say.

Breath.  Your voice in short, explosive bursts or long sentences seeming to have no end, causing the listener to poise in the wonder of how much longer the speaker can go without pausing for air—wanting it to be for ever.

How do you want whomever it is you want to confess love for you to express that love?  Short gasps?  Long, drawn out syllables?

How do your characters express love for one another?  Having heard the supposed open sesame to the heart, how do the loved ones respond?  Listen, can you get to the point?  I have a call on the other line?  What about Charlotte Bronte’s remarkable, “Reader, I married him.”?

Take a deep breath and repeat after me…