Monday, February 29, 2016

"Say, Didn't You Used to Be What's His Name?

Today, as you sat in the regularly scheduled meeting of the six principals of the literary journal of which you are senior editor, you were mistaken for someone else, adding not only to the number of times this has happened but to the variety of possibilities.


In past events, you were not so much mistaken but approached because you so reminded someone, in gesture, voice, and appearance, of her late father. The daughter-in-law of a noted actor, who was now deceased, gasped  at the similarity when she first saw you. A number of individuals have mistaken you for favored authors. In one amusing incident, a man verged on an argument with his wife because of his insistence that you were an old schoolmate of his. You were not.

But so it goes, coming as a surprise whenever it happens because you do not set out to look or behave like anyone other than yourself except for the times when you are doing so in a context designed to demonstrate your abilities at mimicry.  It also goes that you do not object to being mistaken for another for at least two salient reasons: (1)You take seriously the need to create individuals who differ markedly from you in all aspects, height, weight, age, gender, nationality, and certainly in political and philosophical visions. (2) You take seriously the construct that there is more than one aspect of you, running about inside of you, trying to make not only sense but art and commentary on this experience we call life.

One of your dearest friends, a splendid writer, actor, and polymath, was a roommate at one time in the early days of his career, with the actor, Anthony Newley. Between the two of them, there was one good suit, which they took great pains to keep clean, neat, pressed, to be worn for auditions. They were in substantial agreement about the priority to keep the suit in good health. The part you like best about the story is that both agreed that the suit should be used only for business,not for dates,

You appreciate the story because of the times when your finances were best expressed either with red ink or minus signs, where you were afraid to check your bank balance or, even worse, your prospects for being paid for anything. 

You can see the multiple aspects of yourself, having the equivalent of that suit, which was a manifestation of equipment, to be used only for the serious business of presenting yourself as a professional. No matter that there were times when you actually showed up in a suit, only to face a producer or publisher or editorial client clad in jeans with torn knees and tennis shoes with glum countenances.

No matter that there were (and are) times when the aspect of you most likely to sit in the director's chair is out in the kitchen, making some elaborate sandwich that requires eating over the sink, and some aspect of you decides to see what it is like to sit in the director's chair. There are moments when you feel like The Sorcerer's Apprentice, sure you know how to make the magic begin but, alas, not yet schooled in effective ways to shut it down for the night.

There are times when that aspect of you is in the process of reading something and is weakened by the effects and technique of the material to the point where he is not ready to make command decisions. Some other component of you, thinking to show bravery or perhaps show off some originality, takes control, orchestrating aspects of you you'd long ago decided need some additional schooling, but you'd never got around to providing that schooling.

The man seated at the adjoining table, wearing a natty black Fedora from under which tumbled long blond locks, wanted to know in how many episodes of the iconic Western TV drama, Gunsmoke,  you'd appeared. He was serious, and from his seriousness, you were able to tell which of the actors he mistook you for.

You were impressed with the fact that the man in the Fedora did not, with remarkable politeness and charm, interrupt your meeting conversations until you'd begun speaking. Actors and characters do express themselves through dialogue and action as well as through a conspicuous lack of dialogue and activity. These are things for an actor to learn but these are by no means inappropriate tools for a writer.

Given your teaching schedule and your out-in-the-world schedules, you value silent time as well as talking time. But even in your silent times, which on good days can last for eight or ten hours, you are aware of the aspects of you, conversing or not conversing, arguing or not, propagandizing one another to secure the kinds of coalitions you read about in countries with more than two political parties.

You are silent but you are argumentative, a used-car salesperson, reminding yourself of those wonderful photographs of Lyndon Johnson, when he was Senate Majority Leader, trying to sweet talk some implacable foe into however brief an accommodation. You see yourself as able to rule these components of yourself with conversation and persuasive logic and an open willingness to hear the other individual out, all this rather than controlling the components with stratagems of fear.

But how nice to be recognized for the you who sits in the director's chair much of the time.

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