Sunday, November 25, 2012

Your part in the writing of story

The driving route from Santa Barbara to Santa Fe is not by any stretch of the imagination direct.  Stretch of the imagination is a vital passenger in the undertaking.  The landscape begins citified and cluttered, wending its way through semi-arrid terrain into no-nonsense desert, then into .mountainous excursions with a gradual rise in elevation beyond the six-thousand-foot plateau.

All the while, the landscape resonates in emotions and colors for you.  This is your part of the world, just as now your evening walk is a part of your part of the world.  In both trips, you see distance and shifts of demographic and of physical landscape.  You see places that impress you more on an emotional level than a visual one.

Both are integral tools to the inner life you've forged for yourself in your experiences with early beliefs about your choice of a profession.  All you have to do, you thought in early naivete and exuberance, is locate the path, then follow it.  In so many ways, the guidance for this undertaking comes not from Aristotle, who had a nifty habit of classifying things and making them seem thus more logical and approachable, but from Lawrence Peter Berra, better known as Yogi Berra,famed for, among other things, the wisdom of "When you come to a fork in the road, take it."

Daily walks and occasional road trips lead you to view your own process of association as the beneficiary.  You need as much time coming to the fork in the road as you do writing yourself in fork-in-the-road situations.

Somewhere on this latest road trip venture to Santa Fe for a Thanksgiving visit with family, you were reminded of your two splendid, near iconic forks in the road, your two mentors.  There was never any clash between what you got from either, nor would they in any real sense disagree with their interpretations of the craft you seek, the craft they sought, and the craft they attained at such a high level.  One was a writer.  The other an actor.

They are both dead although you hear them in your memory.  The actor, you were surprised to recall, will have been gone as a living individual some twenty-seven years.  The writer at least twenty-five.  In that special way of nightly walks and road trips, you have frequent conversations with these ladies, articulating the things each gave you.

Virginia not only acted, she taught acting at Yale, and shared some of her process visions with you.  Perhaps it is a coincidence, perhaps not, but she became a serious vision in your psychological growth, thanks to you having returned to see a particular film, Pride of the Yankees, in which she had a single, piercing scene.  She was the flirt, sent to tease Gary Cooper, in his portrayal of the naive baseball star, Lou Gehrig.

Years later, in her den, you watched the scene again, as she showed you what she did and how, through actions and gestures (which are themselves actions) she accomplished it.

From about that time, you saw as you'd never seen before, the connection between story and acting.  After all, didn't story have characters?  Didn't you have to embed goals, drives, abilities, and defects to make them simultaneous generators of believability and humanity?

This parallelism is well covered in your recent book, but still you read about the process of acting.  The actor needs more than an entrance line of dialogue to "fit" into a scene; she needs some action to bring her into it, say the tearing up of a letter or an invoice, the turning of a portrait to face the wall before saying "I will not have that face, staring down at me."

Since about the time of Virginia's death, you'd had the thought of a joint actor-writer workshop.
On this particular venture into your inner process, you engage in some conversations with Rachel, and her early passions for the approach Sherwood Anderson took with his stories, accepting this "conversation" as a nudge to reread Sherwood Anderson.

But you also hear Lawrence Peter Berra and his advice about the fork in the road.

Is it an accident after all, that among your things for the trip are two books you've undertaken to write reviews for, is one title Acting with [Stella]Adler?

Was it an accident for you to have had two mentors, a novelist, story writer, and an actor?

And you can surely hear Stella Adler, directing her students:  "What is your action, sequence by sequence.  Physicalize.  It is better to use your body than to speak words"

And you hear yourself asking, How do you manage to physicalize these thoughts?  How do you bring them into dramatic worth?

And you grip the steering wheel, listening to the hum of the tires on the grainy road.

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