Friday, July 18, 2014

Stop Acting So Innocent

 In strange, lovely ways, you have come to realize how, across a wide chasm of years, you've used writing short stories as a means of procrastination.  These ways were born upon you during the past few weeks, as reviews on your recent publication of a collection of your stories began to appear.  

The connection finally came when, about a week ago, you had occasion to write the following exchange of dialogue in a short story.

"Stop acting so high and mighty."

"I'm not acting.  I am high and mighty."

When  the time comes for self-editing, you're most likely to remove that last sentence on the grounds of it being unnecessary; the intent and meaning were resident in the more direct response, "I'm not acting."

Although you like the exchange and the story, the dialogue threw you out of the story because much as you want to get this story into the completed draft state, you also want to get an entire draft on the book you're writing, which, in a direct way, is about acting.  You were procrastinating the latter by doing the former, a gambit that allows you to say that you were working and, thus, how could that be procrastination.  The answer is to get up an hour earlier or stay up an hour later, working on the story, but keeping the book on acting as top priority.

Yes, you recognize how funny you are.

Even though this exchange of dialogue, in shortened form, is a keeper, things in stories are not supposed to kick you out of them, rather the exact opposite.  Things are supposed to keep you concentrated on the persons and events of the story.  This brief exchange had the effect of prankster friends attaching a chain of tin cans to the rear bumper of the honeymoon getaway car.

First and foremost, if an actor--in this case one of your characters--is acting, that's a red flag.  The character shouldn't be acting unless the story calls for the character to be seen, assuming a role. For that matter, an actor in a production should not be seen acting; she should come through as focused, entirely in character.  In an entire sense, characters do not act, they are.

Second, you recall back, back in the day when, tiring of the journalism and graphic arts aspects of your focus at Los Angeles City College, you transferred to UCLA to get serious about your studies and to find ways that would encourage your writing times.  The "ways" emerged during your first semester at UCLA.  The "ways" were final examinations, for which you scarcely studied, instead producing a thick sheaf of materials you considered at the time to be short fiction.

Those pages were short fiction, perhaps a novella.  But there you were, procrastinating by not studying what you ought (and for which you are doubtless still making up to this day in terms of things you're reading now you didn't read then.  

Proof.  You were interested in Transcendentalism and Nineteenth Century American then.  How could you not have read all the Hawthorne assigned you, in particular The Blythedale Romance, with its focus on life inside and outside communes?  Should have, but didn't.  Instead wrote a novella about characters on a scavenger hunt, which in its way was a metaphor for attitudes toward material possessions.

True enough; in subsequent years you wrote short fiction as number one priorities, especially since you didn't yet think you were ready to embark on a novel.  Of equal truth, you can think of few more intense ways for triggering the emergence of a short story than to have a deadline for some other project.

Let's get back to that neglected theme, the one of characters and actors acting.  This return of focus brings you face to face with your belief that an actor in theory acts because she or he is busy translating a series of physical and verbal responses to a simulacrum of interpretive behavior surrounding the ways a fictional being behaves.  You accomplish this by transcending the technique and by becoming the character as opposed to the trained, alert individual portraying someone else.  You are that other.

Another possible explanation is that you have still to train yourself with as much effectiveness as you'd wish in the matter of staying on the bucking bronco of a horse of bull for some respectable period of time before being bucked off.

Being told to "Act your age." is another trope that reminds you what's at stake here.  That exhortation means in effect Be the most serious, conservative, gravitas-laden old coot of which you are able to achieve.  It means, Here, take these acting techniques, then apply them to yourself during working hours or family reunion hours, or times when you find hidden, procrastinating, rebellious selves, eager to step forth to take over a one-person show, where, to great effect, you become Stephen Colbert, interviewing Jon Stewart, both of whom are well known to be you.


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