Entries in writing (3)


The Reluctant Artiste: To Will, With Love


In so far as we can guess, it’s Shakespeare’s birthday today.  So Happy Birthday to him. It seems like a good time to express my gratitude to someone who has been in my life longer than almost anyone of formative significance. But,  as Lulu sang to her (oh so dreamy) Sir, with love, how do you thank someone, who has taken you from crayons to perfume?—or in my case crayons to whole, organic, hypoallergenic herbaceous oils, ‘cause I don’t do perfume anymore, ‘cause everywhere is scent-free these days, but if it doesn’t trigger the dachshund’s asthma, and the oils don’t, I figure I’m good—but anyway, how do thank someone for being Shakespeare? It isn't easy, but I'll try:
1. Thank you for shaping my brain. And my voice. And my priorities. 
I started reading Shakespeare when I was 6. Okay, I know you’re rolling your eyes now, and making gestures with varying degrees of vulgarity. But I did. I was a show-off. A precocious child with a gift for memorization, and a deep need for the attention that my precocity garnered.  So I read way over my head, and parroted those readings, and waited for a nice biscuit.  And:
delivered in a whispery just post-toddler voice was good for a few biscuits, let me assure you,  my friends. 
But it was good for more than that. It was good for me. Like sunshine and apples and not slouching and being kind just for the sake of it, the simple act of saying the words, iambically pentagrammical, and rife with metaphor, and alliteration and music, did things to my brain. And my voice. And what I thought words were for. Not just to make sound. Or get another biscuit. Words were for play. Words were for beauty. Words were to dazzle, and dream, and carry fire. To work at words was an intrinsic good. 
2. Thank you for keeping me (goodly) company. 
Okay, the kid who reads Shakespeare in Grade One does not get invited to a lot of pool parties. But there were books, lots of books—all of them important in getting me through the bookish child narrative relatively intact. But Shakespeare did more than keep me company through the pages. He did it across centuries—through dialect—and under a huge weight of difference. Shakespeare lived in a time with radically different ideas about almost everything, including whether a girl child merited attention of any kind—and yet—when I read him—I experienced a huge, generous, doubting, funny, sad, ironic and oh so human mind that seemed not foreign in any way. Across it all, Shakespeare offered not history so much as family. Which leads to:
3. Thank you for making me know it would get-eth better.
If a bearded, balding playwright four hundred years dead could feel that familiar—then kinship was not out of the question for me. I just had to find someone alive felt that way to me. Who I could make feel the same. By force if necessary (see past blog about my marriage). 
4. Thanks for being better than anyone else.
It takes the edge off right? Why worry if you’re good enough? You’re never going to be that good—so relax.
See, there’s what everyone else doing, here, which is…whatever. And then there’s what he did. Which kind looks after things—anything after him is kind of gravy. 
People are going to think I’m one of the Bard-ist fan girls who just go for a fella with both feet firmly planted in the canon. But that’s not it. I revere writing. I can list off a hundred other writers whose work I feel has made at least my life significantly better—right now—without breaking a sweat. And I think each and every one of them would tell you that they got good by standing on the shoulders of other giants. And each of those giants would shake their massive world-trembling shoulders and say, “Yeah but that guy? That Shakespeare?  I can’t believe him. He grows up a few steps from the cave—writing with a quill, by candlelight, in a world without public libraries, school or water treatment—and like Athena, he springs fully grown from the head of Zeus, starts working over tired old twice-told tales, and somehow, and in some cases in a startlingly modern way, does something that makes post-moderns cringe. He touches something dangerously like the heart of what it is to be human. I cannot touch that.”
Four hundred and fifty years, and I swear to you, someone somewhere is still saying his words every minute of every day? Fuhgeddaboudit. Nobody’s touching that. 
5. Oh, and thank you for the words. All of them.
 Thanks for Hamlet—because it proves that a play can be perfect, hold the whole world and still be a MESS. Thanks for Lear (though my heart cracks when I think on him). For Midsummer Night’s—especially the fairies, “the winter of our discontent”  “Out, out brief candle.” Ariel, Mercutio, Feste. There’s also several sonnets I could not do without.
‘Cause let’s face it, the guy’s got game. 

The Reluctant Artiste: Christmas Heebie Jeebies (Schadenfreude reverie)

I read somewhere that the reason you sweat, clench and throw up in your mouth a little when you see someone’s FANTASTIC NEWS on Facebook is that you are living your life in Real Time and experiencing theirs as a Sizzle Reel. 

Or maybe you don’t do that. Maybe it’s only me. Maybe I have issues. 


Okay. I have issues. 


However. I don’t care how well balanced you are, you are still gonna run for the Gravol when the Family Christmas Letters/Sizzle Reels start to arrive. 


The quintessential one that made the rounds on social media this holiday season was called Christmas Jammies, in which a tall (Dad), gorgeous (everyone), thin (but well-endowed—Christmas jammies are great for clinging to endowments), white (but you know the kids take hip hop classes), affluent (look at their great huge house! Look at their new car!) broadcaster/actor couple with adorable children make a playful music video family sizzle reel, all in support of the couple’s brand new exciting start up—making playful sizzle reels for other people and their achievements. In a dazzling display of consumer-based meta, it is an ad for a family that is an ad for the family’s ad-making. I assume the making-of documentary is forth-coming.


I shudder to think what copy cat videos by less tall gorgeous white thin adorable families were being rushed into production as it began to make the FB/Twitter rounds (Christmas jammies are great for clinging to things other than endowments…words like “crack”, “toe” and “pup tent” spring to mind). Still it was out there. And my acid reflux was riding high.  


Cause I’m jealous right? Must be that, right? If I was dancing on camera in stretchy red and green jammies, I’d looked like cherry-lime jello having a grand mal seizure. Seizure Reels just don’t have the same cachet as Sizzle Reels. Except perhaps in very very specialized fetish communities, and frankly I don’t want them looking at my Christmas Jammies.


 My life isn’t new hybrids and adorable moppets breakin’ it down. It’s interesting, and rich, and occasionally unbearably sad, and often hilarious, and full of stuff that does not so much sizzle as plop. And as I am not going to share the plopping with the social universe (‘cause even if I were willing, who would want to read that? Except for the aforementioned fetishists?), as a habitual truth-teller, and regular wanderer on the downright gloomy side of the street, I can’t share the good stuff, can I? Not and continue to feel morally superior to the Christmas Jammie-sons, who I imagine completing their adorable recording and then promptly stripping off their Spanx, flopping down,  lighting crack pipes and firing up some nice porn.  I think of their (completely undocumented, fired only by my raging jealousy) hypocrisy, and turn rosy with the warmth that comes from my sense of moral snooty-ness. If I made my own holiday sizzle reel, I’d have to give that up. And my imagined higher ground is all I have to cling to some days. 


So all I can do is sit here, sizzle-less, and try to think of what to say in my inevitably written after the fact Christmas letter. 


It was a year. Things happened. Since everyone in the family is basically a decent if flawed human being, everyone tried their best, even and possibly especially when making mistakes. Things changed, ‘cause that’s what they do, and we made the best of it. There was a day where everyone was okay and safe and happy all at once, and we had a cake, ‘cause we know better than to take that for granted. There was a day when things were very bad indeed, and we didn’t freak out, because they’d been like that before and we’d gotten through it, so we knew we could again. We had a cake for that too. 


There were days. Which completely and utterly beats the alternative. 



Peace, joy and light in the new year from Eric, Jessie, Sam, Finn, KJB the Reluctant Artiste, and the dreadful dogs. 





The Reluctant Artiste: Avoiding my bliss

Danse (II) --Matisse, 1909, but it looks like joy to me....

I have had the opportunity in the last couple of weeks to view sorrow and joy in extreme contrast. I had a series of losses this fall, and as a result, I have time to do something daily that I have only been able to do in micro-bursts in the past: write. And so, most days, I get to watch the jolt of joy that comes from writing hard and well cut through, and burn off the general fog of my grief.

You would think that would lead to some kind of realization about following my bliss, or using my finite hours only for what imbues my life with meaning, or something like that. You would think that I would be eager to ditch the sorrow for the joy. 

On the contrary. I am dragging my ass to the computer each day, actively resisting emersion in happiness, as if it were icy lake water, and my sadness the warm sun of the beach.

I will scrub dachshund pee rather than approach my office (I do have an incontinent or at least imprudent dachshund; I don't wander the streets looking for a home that seems to need that sort of attention. Yet.) I will dig away at the hardened molasses at the back of the fridge, unaddressed since the pursuit of the perfect ginger cake, Xmas, 2012. I will even f*****g vacuum rather than write another scene in my new play.  

I love this play entirely. I hum like a kettle of bees as I write it. My toes curl. I force strangers, cold and frightened, into my house, and more disturbingly up to my second floor, to listen to a bon mot I just got down that is simply too good to go unwitnessed.

So what is my, and I use this word quite consciously, damage? 

I'm going to put this down to something I call "The Chump Factor." I think most writers have experienced the "I leap onto stage crying Tah Dah and am met not with applause but silence--save for the cougher in the third row" kick in the gut that can follow the euphoria of creation. You thought you had painted Venus on the Half Shell in words. You acted as if you had painted Venus on the Half Shell in words. In fact, you got a broken Barbie, some gull splatter and a bad clam down on the page. And then said Tah Dah about it. You are a Chump. Again. 

Particularly when the warm ooze of grief is offering not only predictability (the gut punch and the loss has already happened, you won't get fooled again; you are already doubled over, retching in the ash can) but the comfort of accuracy (not going to get grief wrong. Not going to go Tah Dah, and find out that there's no grief. The older you get, the more hard core, bone-aching losses you have in the tear cistern, ready to roll out in a mighty heaving sluice, or slide down so steadily no one recognizes your face dry), particularly when grief is justifiably quiet and withdrawn and totally Chump-proof and normal when compared to creation--it is not all that surprising that I have to drag myself away from it, to the aberration of joy. 

I give myself the speeches. "Once more into the office, dear friend...you have nothing to fear but fear of looking like an idiot itself--and people think you're a bit off anyway..." (I have no career as an inspirational speaker in front of me). That sort of thing. It doesn't work. Thinking about it doesn't work. Because while your brain is busy doing its zappity do dah thing, your body is just experiencing grief. And pain. And knowing that the joy of creating may shut that down for a bit, but that will only mean it comes back sharper, more clearly delineated, because it has an other to define itself against. Better to just be evenly sad. 

Except. Except. There is no evenness to joy. It does not measure.  Grief may fill every cranny there is, but the joy I get when I am writing,  punches new nooks into the crannies, leaves indentations that wait to be filled again. It makes me hold more.  Of everything. Even the grief. I hold it. It does not hold me. 

I believe that now, because I am writing this. In an hour, I will be a Chump, vacuuming.

At least the floors are clean.