Monday, May 28, 2012

Who's in Charge?

You sometimes feel as though you are undertaking one of those entertainment tours of a motion picture studio back lot, except that the tour is not at some physical studio somewhere in Hollywood or Studio city but rather within your psyche.

This is one of the many side effects connected with a life spent loitering and squatting in the landscape of story.  Internal conflict is a key element in story, in its way as loaded with agenda and purpose as the outside forces writers use to beset their characters.

Downstream aspects of internal conflict have been eddying and swirling about in your awareness for some years, ever since the realization hit you that you, as well as some of the stronger characters you’ve created, are an ensemble cast, an acting troupe in metaphor, all trying for the best dressing room, the starring role, the leader of the pack.

With your awareness that these disparate aspects of you are an emotional equivalent of what was once Yugoslavia came the added vision, however muddied it renders the metaphor, of an Italian parliament, spending more time trying to form coalitions than actually passing legislature.

There are indeed wannabe Marshall Titos, strutting about in the nooks and crannies of your psyche or, to extend the metaphor beyond any safety zone for metaphor, you or parts of you are the inmates, running the asylum.

All right, you’ve played fast and loose with metaphor, but you’ve also painted the picture you were attempting to paint.  A number of your aspects see themselves as the natural leader to run the show.  Wide apart in their diversity, each believes, as well-constructed characters believe, that he is right.  His vision is the most nuanced and balanced; he is the silver-tongued devil who, if he can convince no one on the outside, at least convinces many of the component parts comprising you.  There is also an aspect who is quick to admit his fondness for old Burt Lancaster films, particularly the Elmer Gantry sort, who are able to dredge up yards of blather and rhetoric.  There is yet another for whom you have a sentimental attachment; he reminds you of the character actor of another era, John Carradine, gaunt, a replica of many El Greco portraits, a stewing cauldron ready to boil over with emotive gesture and vocalism.  A fine actor, you prize him for his memorable roles as the ham actor, ham as in hamming it up.

There are, to be sure, other actors wanting to portray you, not the least present is the one who relishes the role of the boring lecturer, and please do not fail to include the pugnacious, quick-to-take-offense sort, the sober version of the mean drunk, itching for confrontation.

When a significant event arrives, you become the casting director, watching all these sorts as they audition for the part.  Hey, wanna see my impression of Al Pacino?  No?  Can’t blame you, really.  So many Al Pacino moments on You Tube; why would you want to bother with an impersonation?

A story—all right, one of your stories—requires these types.  Had you realized this earlier, you doubt you’d have opted for some other way of wresting a living from Reality, but you might have evolved into a different ensemble cast, which by your reckoning could have resulted in a much more conflicted you or a more yoga instructor sort.

The payoff is not a matter of mere accepting what you have or, were you of a more spiritual nature, of counting blessings, either from some supernatural force or from the rather terrifying force of evolution.  The payoff is holding frequent casting calls, watching the applicants closely, then bringing the results to the script for which the roles were cast.

This is a round-about way of saying you need to be better able to rely on your bright, dark, and gray sides so that they are free to improvise in all their magnificent, irrational brightness, darkness, and those pesky, difficult-to-match shades of gray.

You are well justified to pose the question, What is the story?

Your justification continues when you ask, Whose story is it?  This question is—and should be—followed by, What is the goal?

So far, that’s a nice, logical package.

Now comes the combustion:

Who are you?

This is not meant in condescension as in, Who do you think you are to presume to tell any story at all?

This is meant to suggest that you’d better know who’s in charge.  Is it the Al Pacino wannabe?  Is it Burt Lancaster?  Is the producer of your story a coalition, perhaps bringing in emotions and insights from parts of yourself you’ve barely gotten to know?

Time to find out.


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