Worse than empty outrage is the beaming of gratitude onto the unacceptable.
Why celebrate the status quo?
Be relentless with yourself and others.
Gentleness towards the given circumstances is no virtue if it is a privilege.
The reality is that, right (or left) side of the issues or not, your thoughts and righteous ideals are mostly governed by the influence of the interest lobbies that back them.
That means the ideas with the most money are the ones that are probably going to steer most of your thinking.
It doesn't mean these ideas are wrong, it just means you need to take in other variables before jumping to conclusions. Having your mind made up is probably a more dangerous sign than you think.
Just because everyone says it, and it seems bad to not say it, doesn't mean it's true.
It's harder than ever to call it as you see it and say to hell with it all.
You have to expose yourself before you know what it is you are exposing. You might not like what you find out about yourself or what others see. But what matters is that they do see. If your attention is on your own fear of what is inside you as opposed to a genuine wave of responses to what is outside of you, no one ever sees who you actually are. And that is a spiritual death before the physical one. And when people see who you are, they might see the potential for a prophet king or potential for a complete monster. Or something in between... what does it matter? Now you know. And now you have information to act on. As opposed to going through life with this vague grasp of what it means to be alive, or worse, being exposed for something or someone terrible before you had the means to control the impulses that could lead to actions which cause harm.
Aristotle thought that the purpose of drama was to allow the audience to purge its uncivilized impulses so that the harmonious state may remain unthreatened by them. In a way, an artist is meant to keep everyone from eating each other. The audience can experience the work... laugh, gasp, cry, whatever it is... and afterwards take a quick glimpse into the mirror before heading off to bed a bit more aware of their true nature. And that they and the rest of the world are a little safer from it, and all it took was the price of admission or the forms they had to fill out for their library card. And the benefit is achieved when no one else had to see who they were except themselves. They don't realize this is what is happening but it is what happens by virtue of their being entertained. That is their prerogative as the audience.
But the artist has no mirror. There is nothing out there to tell them who they are before everyone else can see it. But everyone else must see it if the artist is to be of any service. An artist is a sacrifice.
All you're risking is a little bit of embarrassment.
No one is going to cut your head off. Not yet anyway. So don't be so humble, you're not that important. But you are necessary... and if artists stop doing what they do, and doing it honestly, for long enough that they suddenly become "important," that's when we're all in real trouble. Because the sacrifice holds status with the gods, and not with the living. And "importance" is about holding status with the living. Necessity is about holding status with the gods.
We can, and must, aim to place ourselves at the center of events. Aim to be seen. Half our work is about removing barriers between us and our audience. And that entails some imperfect decisions. But it's not our business to line up for medals or awards or grants or a place at the shiny institution. All that stuff is important. It is not necessary. It has no status among the gods. And if we find ourselves to be a generation aiming to be important as opposed to necessary we're going to start seeing a whole lot of our contemporaries cannibalize one another. We might already be seeing it. And when we do see it we'll know all that blood is on our hands. Because we were so greedy for our own blood. That blood that was meant as sacrifice to the gods.
And now the gods are angry.
What an opportunity we have to say what we have to say when all has been said before. It's a chance to change what things mean. And that's really all that anything is about. Changing what things mean. I don't know how to be direct about this. Things changed their meaning for me recently. They change their meaning for me every day.
I don't know how to be direct about this so here's a dumb metaphor. The cream might rise to the top, but sugar kills you and the caffeine is what you are drinking the coffee for anyway. It's what fuels you... that bottom shit. I have now changed the title of this post from you have to keep working to that bottom shit.
But you have to keep working.
I have had (have) a lot of pain in my path as an actor (and writer). A lot of pain. But I've never, for a single moment, felt bitter about where I was in the "industry."
I am the industry.
I ought to be on Broadway. I don't believe this. It is the truth. The actor who was on Broadway might have thought, "I ought to be an academy award winner."
Broadway is closed.
And I might crack open wider than I ever thought. Nothing stops me from showing up everyday.
And you have to face every road block from preventing that showing up. And those roadblocks change and adapt as quickly as things change meaning for you. And if you are an artist, things change meaning for you every day.
One day you are in the cave, alone.
The next day, Gabriel shows up and nearly eviscerates you.
These roadblocks are more insidious than bed bugs. They are Oedipus not realizing he is the cause of the plague or the Dauphin's tennis balls at the start of young Henry's reign. You never see them coming, ever.
Praise can be as head spinning and debilitating as rejection. It might send you spiraling because you had no idea anyone was even paying attention.
Praise and rejection are the same thing. Just bullshit that gets in your way.
All praise is to god alone.
You get cast in the big part for the big company, but the reviews destroy you. You're sleeping in a barn with racoons wondering what the hell you're doing for this nothing of a company, but the right person sees you. Whatever... this isn't even the story to begin with. It really isn't. Because you might very well have been sleeping in the barn and have had the reviews destroy you while you did the thing for the little company anyway. And deserved the opposite. What do you deserve? Nothing. Nothing but your work.
You miss your shot by seeking it. Gaining status has its own benefits. Real benefits that you will eventually need. But it in itself means nothing.
It's not the same as showing someone the face of god. Which is what we really mean when we say something is art. We see the face of god in it.
You might end up seeing yourself all of a sudden at the center of events... a place no artist would refuse... but then be granted an opportunity to see something or someone no one ever dared to see before. And miss that shot. Because you are afraid of insulting those who gave you the keys to the gate. You miss your shot to truly change the face of god. And if that happens... nothing else will matter.
The Qur'an says that when all else is gone, it is only this face of god that will remain.
Broadway is closed. The gatekeepers will die and be replaced. New forms and mediums will arise and people will start making the wrong moves thinking they are "adapting" when they are just jumping from one shallow hoop to another.
Only the artists will remain. Only the face of god.
I've had a good week. But this good feeling is a lie, I know it.
But it's not.
But it is.
In the grand scheme of things... what is "brilliant" and what is "crap" is all the same. If done with the intention and presence of one who does not answer to the circumstance of this... what do you call it? Applause? Status? Attention? Success? If you just do it for the joy and play of it all. It's all the same. Just more pieces of the face of god.
I am excited to show you what's next not because it's anything different from what came before. But because it is what's next.
Nothing gives me more pain than hearing about extraordinary talent that has been devoured by the woods of circumstance. Some people just don't get their shot. It is a tragic story.
It is a false story.
Because if that person was or is extraordinarily talented, chances are they were (are) doing their work. And someone is seeing the face of god in it.
It might be the keen and sincere (and influential) producer. Who makes that talent a star.
Or it might be the fifteen year old kid eating chips a little too noisily in the back row. Who the world calls nigger. And who sees the face of god and decides they want nothing more than to show someone else that face. And they change the meaning of art on this planet all together. And in that invisible moment, two complete strangers create an unbreakable lineage. All because of the art. And the work.
I don't know about you but that second story sounds a little more thrilling to me.
I am excited to show you all what is next. God willing.
Jeremy Renner. Who did that bastard sell his soul to to end up in Wind River AND Arrival?
Anyway, I like what his character says in Wind River to a troubled kid. When the kid says something like, "I've just got this feeling like I've got to fight the world."
He says he once had that feeling too. But he chose to "fight the feeling instead."
I don't think I can or even have to unpack that exchange. That's the power of great dialogue.
Also, the end of that film? That's exactly how you deal with a monster. Justice is not a human prerogative. It becomes vengeance then. I'm not saying vengeance is bad... I'm just saying justice becomes a different thing all together when employed by humans. And just because something is unforgivable does not mean the perpetrator is outside the boundaries of the universe's compassionate though firm eye for retribution. Being affronted is not a reflection of your moral compass. It is a reflection of your being affronted.
And Arrival is just... just watch that movie. I won't quote Renner's character from that movie here... because funny enough his accomplished scientist character comes off kinda dumb in that movie compared to his character in Wind River. And I'm with Amy Adams' character Arrival... it is after all language that is the cornerstone of civilization. Not science.
Why is this turning into a random movies I like blog?
One of my favorite filmmakers is Jeff Nichols. His first film, Shotgun Stories, is about a violent feud between half-brothers. Three from a father's first marriage... which was miserable and left behind. And three from a father's second marriage, which was prosperous and made the father seem like an upstanding person.
The feud starts when the brothers from the first marriage show up at the father's funeral and spit on his casket.
The film implicates men in the atrocities they perpetuate against each other. But implicates their women enablers just as much. Which is why I love the film. It does not judge. It simply presents the world as the filmmaker sees it.
At the height of the Ottoman Empire, the first born son would order the execution of his younger brothers to prevent any challenge to the throne.
I don't think it's a stretch to say that most killings in history have in fact been brother against brother.
What is it about men that makes us feel like we must destroy each other? Who are we honoring? Who are we protecting?
Why can't we just stop?
I set out with two self-imposed and arbitrary rules with this blog.
I would not make it about my anger. Too much.
I would not delve into my personal life. Too much.
Loss disguises itself in its own shadow. And the last person to notice it is the one which the shadow follows.
The good old coming of age story. The child's fairy tale... these are core narratives. Because they represent an attempt to cross the lonely oceans of time to retrieve the irretrievable.
It may very well be that aging and decay and emotional trauma are faults in our genes. But for now eternity eludes us.
Except in our attempts to live it backwards in the stories we set down about our selves.
What an immeasurable thrill.
Why else would we bear what little life we have already?
A game like chess or soccer has a lot of rules. But you can't play it the same way twice. And you can't plan what each player is going to do ahead of time. It kills the game.
It will kill your art too. Valuing consistency is sham institutional piety. It places the need to please those with financial power over you at the center.
Does consistency count for something? Sure. Showing up. Your health. General common sense and decency and respect. That's about it.
But there is no room for obedience once you're in the ring.
Anyone who tries to tell you this is the way things must be can shove it. Don't tell them that though. Your job is to say thank you very much, and go your own way anyway.
The penguins are just mad at you because they know they can't fly.
Freud said that if you name a terrible thing, it begins to lose its power over you (and for our purposes, the audience).
We spend so much of our lives pretending things don't happen, just to survive. But in the theatre (or the page) everything must be acknowledged, or else the ritual is betrayed. The actor mustn't pretend the vase did not fall off the coffee table even though that was not blocked or scripted; the writer mustn't ignore that thought they know they shouldn't be thinking--that's exactly the thought we need.
Nothing was more freeing to me than being told that acting is a way of seeing. And that one does not have to be or even to believe. One can wipe one's feet at the door. One can leave the pretentions of polite society and political correctness when they enter a space where all that matters is the truth--and of course, the ability to wipe one's feet of what occurred in the space in order to reenter society as whole as they left it (which is what we really mean when we say safety).
It's just as important to look at writing this way. It can be difficult (although very fun) to dissociate oneself from the terrible truths one puts to paper. Just because you can (and must) be held accountable for what you write (and believe me you will) does not mean it is a reflection of who you are or what you actually believe about how things should be (who really knows, in the end?).
The stories you tell--if you tell them honestly--are not a reflection of your beliefs. They are a reflection of what you see. What you see is rarely so correct and fully formed. You control your beliefs. You don't control what you see. You only allow yourself to see. Or you don't. But having been granted the physical and mental privileges to do so, why deny yourself the thrill of seeing?
It is the audience's prerogative to make judgements. Not your own. Judgement is a kind of cowardice for the artist. It is safe. It shields you and the audience from discoveries that might elicit an honest response. And a growth of understanding in who we are.
It is still a kind of vain glory to present the world and people and outcomes of circumstance as they ought to be. It is an invented task. It is waste.
More difficult and more simple and more generous to present things as they are.
Dave Chappelle prefers not to talk about his religion, Islam, publicly because he doesn't want it associated with his own flaws as a person.
Ruth Negga admits to being very territorial about her identity because it's been "hijacked by so many people with their own projections." And that she doesn't trust anyone who's identity does not shift.
Both these perspectives and their lives in action contain immense wisdom.
You are what you claim to be. And it is ok, necessary in fact, to protect that.
And on the other side of the fence, there are people who do not understand the pain of having one's truth denied. Careful around them. And if you do understand that pain, notice the shields people have up about themselves.
And respect them with your life.
Albert Einstein said that he wasn't smarter than anyone else, he just stuck with problems longer. People--including myself--work so hard to make their craft more difficult than it is. Problems with the work almost always come down to a question of commitment. As an actor am I going to stop telling the story as it was written for me because I am bored? Do I stop writing because my work isn't going anywhere recognizable?
The solipsism our society induces within us makes even people-watching seem like an aggravating tedium to most. We can't stay with a thing long enough to allow for surprise. And there always is surprise, if we pay attention long enough.
"I am shocked but not surprised" has been a kind of slogan among my contemporaries over the last half decade. I am sad... not for the state of society but for them. Whoever says this. Because if you are going from shock to shock, you are addicted... continually hunting for the new shock. And the meh feeling you project whenever someone asks how you're doing is not an honest response, it is an attempt to connect in the most safe and predictable way you know; a signal to your tribe of floating meh people.
But if you are surprised, and the surprise further fuels your curiosity, you are paying attention. Some things just aren't worth the time allotted to you. You and I both know what they are. Pick something worthy. And commit. Stick with the problems that count.
You don't have to think twice about how to respond to this moment. Whatever this moment is for you. A moment is already the past unless you seize it. And anything you seize is yours. The moment is yours. You don't have to respond to the moment at all.
You're an artist... you lock yourself up and do the work. You keep your head down and you look up every once in a while just to know what the hell you're doing it all for. What you see can often disturb you.
Turmoil, suffering, danger this is the cycle.
The stories, the beauty, the work, the art we create despite the cycle is the exception. That is the immortal thing.
I care about what happened at the capitol. But, no, I don't care. I really don't. To be honest if people weren't blowing up my phone I wouldn't have noticed.
I cared enough to write this post. I think every blog post is like the remains of an aborted child. Something that could have grown into something more but the world is not ready for it. But the remains are the result of a process that will not be forgotten.
Do I care that I just compared blog posting to abortions? Does that draw me closer to the maniacs who stormed the capital the other day? This sort of non-filter? Am I scared that I wrote that? A little. Yeah. I am a little scared for writing that.
But that's what separates me or anyone else from these utter fools who think they are alive. They're so wildly self-confident they've never experienced the terror of true living. And they've never been alive. The true person, the one who stumbles over their own crippling self-doubt with just enough momentum to do what they were called to do, that is the hero in every single one of us. And we don't need to respond to a call to arms or a call to the streets or whatever call that is loudest in attempting to squelch this wave of anxiety over the collective soul. We have an opportunity to be that hero every single moment we choose to. Because we possess the wisdom of doubt. The wisdom of fear. Fear is our power. The humility to cower before the vastness of our unknowing. Every moment in our lives is a potential for true courage. What a thrill.
I care about what happened at the capitol. I looked up. And then I put my head back down and got back to work. Because that is what I have. And no one, no one can take that away from me.
No one can take it away from you, either. Get your ass in the chair with that brush or that keyboard. Teach yourself to sing, call a meeting for your grassroots campaign, solve quantum gravity... whatever you are called to do. There is not much time.
Is it a privilege? Yes. Privilege is a word. A beautiful word. It used to mean something nice. Life is a privilege. Seeing, hearing, feeling. All privileges. All entail responsibilities afforded by privilege. These responsibilities are demanding. Going after them will make you feel cold and alone because the responsibility is to make what was not there before into being. Something new. Something people don't yet understand. And people so fear what they don't understand. Our own families will doubt their love for us when they encounter something we make of ourselves that they do not understand.
There are people who have this privilege; this responsibility who won't go all in--not because they are lazy, they are often far from it, but because in their heart of hearts they think they do not deserve a place. And so they play at an idea of doing something worth their while in order to hold themselves at a distance from the pain this sort of path may entail. I have no patience for such people, though I have been there. Maybe I am still there. Today I am not there. No. But tomorrow is a new story.
Pay attention. Get your outrage out of the way. Get yourself out of the way.
Stop feeling so ashamed of yourself.
I think maybe that answers your question is a sentence I heard while listening to an interview recently. In fact, I must have heard some variation of this sentence in every interview I've ever listened to. It is such a strange and beautiful phrase.
I think maybe that answers your question. The interviewee seems to want to appease the host... look, I know I'm a fallible fool but I am working so hard to be clear for you! If anything, I am complimenting you because your question is so complex and interesting I really have to search deeply for my response.
How does one answer a question? Like actually answer it? When is a point of perfect understanding ever reached? Has anyone ever truly answered a question? Has anyone ever truly asked one?
Plenty, I'm sure. And I don't need to name them.
My point is this,
questions and answers. The most exciting of human endeavors is the process of increasing the former and decreasing the latter.
The villain is always more dynamic; more fun. And even if they're not a fun sort of villain their story is always deeper; more layered. The villain is carried with an inspiring and insurmountable conviction and resourcefulness. The villain is always played by the better actor in the movie. Why do I always root for the villain?
It's not a race thing. I'm not talking about Cowboys and Indians; I'm talking about dynamics that have flesh.
And it's not because of some "natural capacity for empathy." No, nothing so cliched as that.
Why do I find the classic hero so unbearably obnoxious but their cosmic role so compelling?
The hero has their perks too. People like to look at the hero. And I like to be looked at. So it's clear I want to be the hero, too. The hero has a destiny.
I still love the classic story structure--hero and villain driving unstoppably to an unforeseen but inevitable meeting point.
How this structure evolves depends on how they get to this point, and what they do when they get there.
I want to live in a world where this meeting point is more rewarding for the villain, and more punishing for the hero.
And that's when we can ask the real question,
what is the incentive to do good?
God commanded Abraham to sacrifice his child,
and at the last minute god said,
This was not a malevolent test of loyalty. It was a trial of trust.
All of the best stories; all of the best jokes operate as a trial of trust.
Just before the end faith is all but forsaken, only to be replaced by an even stronger faith needed for the more challenging trial that emerges from this end. A new beginning. A new story.
How far can you and your audience go together before dropping the ball? Before you go so far afield they never forgive you; never return? How do you get them to follow your lead somewhere even crazier than before?
Abraham forgave god.
And went on, at god's command, to leave his spouse and child alone in the desert.
Abraham's child in the first story went on to father the world's most celebrated bloodline.
Abraham's spouse and child in the second story were blessed with a well-spring of the earth's purest water, which continues to be drunk with zeal by millions of pilgrims every year from across the planet.
That is the power of trust.
That is the power of a good story.
What if we understood one person's rigor and commitment to address a specific question as the result of an irresistible build up from a kind of human web of internetted thoughts? An internet of thoughts that existed thousands of years before the computer age. And I don't mean prophets, artists, scientists or philosophers building on the work of previous prophets, artists, scientists, and philosophers.
I mean the cumulative psychic affect of a bunch of normal people going about their lives thinking these amazing thoughts; thinking up these passing questions that just scream for an answer and the universe finally going I've had it!
And picking someone and going, you! fix this.
Copernicus was not the one. Whatever one which had been built on the residue of the exploding human thought web somehow landed on him.
So daydream; think; you don't even have to write it down. It will be remembered. And the energy will always find an outlet. Your effort is not required.
Just your presence.
In his book, The War Of Art, Steven Pressfield says, "Call it overstatement but I'll say it anyway: it was easier for Hitler to start World War II than it was for him to face a blank square of canvas."
Hitler wanted to be a painter.
Do your art for the sake of attention and adoration and the blank canvas will drive you to destruction.
The blank canvas is your teacher. And your only one. Besides death.
Run away from the lessons of your one true teacher, seeking out charlatans who will sell you an image of having a place among the ranks at the expense of your soul, and you just might destroy the world.
You make the ranks every day you decide to face the blank canvas.
There are two trains in my mind on a collision coarse.
One train says, history is dark, misleading, useless;
Another train says, when I look into the past all I see is immortality.
One day, when these trains finally collide, I might come up with something worthwhile; so worthwhile I might add a significant portion to the excesses of our own time. Excesses that some poor soul one thousand years from now will look back at and agonize, like me, about how preoccupation with it is affecting him. Is it killing him? Or giving him more life than anything he can see, taste, or touch?
I just hope he feels alive, like me, in the agony.
There is a pernicious shadow haunting every single one of us trying to make our way in the world of pleasing an audience; it is that our work must contain some message or have some point to make about the world; it's not so much that we are forced to make our work that way but those who consume it are so deluded by the overbearing need for usefulness that they assume any artistic output that isn't blasting CGI all over a wide screen--the artsy fartsy stuff--must contain some edifying quality. And so they project their own paranoia and suspicion of the author's point of view (which they, in fact, can never know even if the author wanted them to) onto the work; this is egregious. And I know it happens because right now I am more audience member than artist and I commit this sin all the time. So this isn't just another angry rant, it is also a confession.
There is a wonderful essay by Susan Sontag; I'm sure you've heard of it; it's called Against Interpretation. I still have to read it many times again before I can say for sure that I understand it, but my point is you should all read it.
Our efforts to interpret things have ruined our ability to just surrender to our senses. It's ruined everything from scripture, to greek tragedy, to shakespeare, up until our contemporary age.
I'm not saying artists (or audiences) should never hold a point of view--political or otherwise--but if they wanted to tell it to us they have other avenues. I was introduced to Sontag (who was a fiction writer and filmmaker in her own right) because of her apparently incendiary essay in the New Yorker the Tuesday after 9/11 (which I stumbled upon years after its publication since I was seven at the time of the events); she was the only one in that New Yorker feature who wrote something that refused to play into the punditry of American victimhood after the terrorist attacks. You should all read that too. An incendiary essay in the New Yorker is a good way to tell the world what you think and get in trouble for it. Sontag was incredibly political, but she didn't let it cloud the way she read a book or watched a movie or witnessed any other creation.
Here's the truth: I am an amateur. Right now this is a very scary and very stupid foray into the world of writing for me. Writing blog posts; writing short fiction; writing things for myself to perform (my feverishly made and thoughtless podcast). There are things that I plug into my writing because I read them somewhere and I find them curious or fascinating and like any good amateur I am still unable to resist the temptation to show how smart I am. But those references don't really mean anything.
Because I don't want to be useful, I want to be entertaining. The question I want asked (if there is anyone out there who has listened to my podcast) is not "hmmm, what does this say about society?" or worse, "what does this say about the author?" The question I want asked is "What's going to happen?" or "Wasn't that funny?!" or "Oh my god did you see that coming?"
Well, what about stories like, say, The Constant Gardner? Doesn't something like that have a very obvious political message? Interesting point. But I'd venture to say that a) the circumstances in The Constant Gardner really are just how the world works, and so there is nothing "political" about them, and b) those circumstances make for a good story, and c) if John Le Carre thought his twenty two novels were an effective way of relaying polemics against corporate imperialism he wouldn't have spent so much time writing speeches and giving talks and interviews in which it was very clear he was issuing such polemics.
I love essay books. Because I love reading an author's point of view. James Baldwin wrote incredible essays that were very political. Mary Oliver wrote incredible essays that were mostly non-political but also expressed her environmental ideals. And it isn't as if any author could ever completely filter out their opinions in their poems or novels or films--that would just deaden them--and it would be dishonest because the point of writing is to be true to yourself. But if these authors truly cared about their opinions they would just write them out directly (which they do) instead of couching them in the improper form.
Sure, a novel like Go Tell It On The Mountain could be seen as a protest novel, in part (among a multitude of wonderful things). But I love it only because when I read it, I couldn't get a line like "I don't care how many times you change your ways, what's in you is in you and it's got to come out" out of my head; I don't even remember which character said that line.
As an audience member it's best if I just unburden myself from the assumptions I fling onto the author.
Of course, as an author, my constricted imagination can only go so far... obviously what I build will inevitably reflect some perspective on the world that I happen to hold at the time. But that's not the point.
My fiction, if anyone cares, is not about expressing my opinion. I just want to make that clear at the outset, so that there are no misunderstandings when I've actually written a considerable amount of fiction.
I have this blog so that I can tell people what my opinion is. But even then, I don't think I have the amount of craft necessary to let you know the full complexity of what I think when I choose to open my mouth and express an opinion.
Again, I'm an amateur; my opinion isn't really worth anything (yet) but I might as well practice.
Then again maybe I should stop writing and acting all together. Seems much more trouble than it's worth.
I really love this quote from Synthesizing Gravity, a book of non-fiction prose by Kay Ryan
Workshop. In the old days before creative writing programs, a workshop was a place, often a basement, where you sawed or hammered, drilled or planed something. You could not simply workshop something. Now you can, though. You can take something you wrote by yourself to a group and get it workshopped. Sometimes it probably is a lot like getting it hammered. Other writers read your work, give their reactions, and make suggestions for change. A writer might bring a piece back for more workshopping later, even. I have to assume that the writer respects these other writers’ opinions, and that just scares the daylights out of me. It doesn’t matter if their opinions really are respectable; I just think the writer has given up way too much inside. Let’s not share. Really. Go off in your own direction way too far, get lost, test the metal of your work in your own acids. These are experiments you can perform down in that old kind of workshop, where Dad used to hide out from too many other people’s claims on him.
I want to send out the final episode and epilogue of Speaking Into The Fog before Christmas Eve. I get it that this Christmas thing is kind of a thing. And I want to leave people alone for a few days.
What was I thinking? I wrote Instalment six in a sort of fever... the story took a turn in a way that surprised me. I was just figuring this out as I went along. Installments (almost) daily, just whatever I was thinking at the time and the microphone on my phone and some catchy tunes...
Now that I am so close, it feels like the easiest time to give up. Who would care? Who would even notice? I can let myself off the hook...
But it's never about others, it's about the place I get myself to. If I can move myself, I can help others move.
Or maybe I'm just an idiot.
Time Traveler: A Scientist's Personal Mission To Make Time Travel A Reality, by Doctor Ronald L Mallet.
This touching and ambitious autobiography chronicles the life of one of the (still living) pioneers of theoretical physics and time travel theory.
Dr. Mallet's story starts with a childhood need--to reverse the premature death of his father. And ends with discovery and bittersweet beauty.
It made me want to be a theoretical physicist. But my affections did not that way tend... I read a lot of books but could never grasp the science. But it taught me to approach the rest of my life with a sense of wonder and the nerve to explore one's despair--even in the good times; especially in the good times.
True And False, Heresy And Common Sense For The Actor, by David Mamet
I never gave myself full permission to be an actor. And then I read this book... I disagreed with everything. I agreed with everything. But I knew I had to be an actor after reading it. What one agrees with never really matters with a book does it? What matters is the book affirms your place in the world.
And David Mamet knows how to do that. All of his essay books are worth devouring... but I mention this one because it came at such a vulnerable moment in my life. I read it once through standing up in the Barnes and Noble Theatre section. And I haven't looked back sense.
Sure, Mamet has been a bit of a shit show (in his writing) the past few years. But this is a reality of my life I can't just cover up.
How Should A Person Be? by Sheila Heti
I read this just a few months ago.
It rearranged my molecules. Lifted me out of a crippling indecision.
It is also one of the funniest and most disarmingly honest works of fiction that I have read. The language is simple and striking and always shipped with a humor that could make the most brutal of civilian impulses worth laughing at.
Safe to say this book is the reason I am being so bold as to write this on-the-fly-podcast, who's final installment will come within a day. And I have never written for myself before.
It is another book that seemed to affirm my place in the world.
I almost swore I would never make book lists.... there are just too many books, too many authors that hold a special place in my heart. And often I will be so sure that one book is my favorite or one author is my favorite because their work just happens to have extra resonance in that specific period of my life.
But in retrospect, it is these books that are the ones which have led (so far) to epochal shifts in who I am. Into decisions that I made to act a certain way or take a certain path.
It is the books not that comfort or pleasure you or get you excited by a new insight or way of looking at the world (though that is always important too) which are truly life changing. It is the ones that get you to actually act.
I can say for certain that these three books have done that for me.
I could not see the end when I started, because I started with nothing. Just a need. A need to create.
But now the finish line is so clear it's as if this story wrote itself.
I know it's not perfect.
I know I could have used a better mic.
I know I could polish a lot; cut a bit. Refine.
I know I could have cleaned up some of the diction. A lot of the diction.
But the goal was to not stop. And I haven't stopped.
And trust me,
This installment, and the two (or three) that will come after it, are going to blow your mind.
If I write them.
Which I will. Because I've gotten this far. And I ain't turning back, even though I have to push myself harder than ever.
Enjoy Speaking Into The Fog Installment Six: In which the universe councils me in my despair... and the terror becomes all too real...
It's a game changer. Or at least, the one that comes just before the game changer. Isn't it always so hard to tell? Between the goal and the assist?
A double play is one whole in of itself. Separate the two outs and it isn't the same play.
And the crowd doesn't cheer nearly as hard.
Call it youthful arrogance but I do think there has to be an eternal value placed on what we do whenever we crawl like little wretches out of bed to face the glowing screen or wait to enter our stage from the wings.
There are artists for whom my respect is so great, I would eviscerate myself into particles of sand if it meant that it would help their works echo through the oceans of time.
Don’t take my word for it I like being alive :)
But you know something? I just want to say,
Sometimes my best work is the sincere emails I send to better artists.
I hate reading, because I want my writing to be that good. I hate going to the cinema and the theater, because I want my acting to be that good. The word; the voice. They still hold so much power; they can change the face of one life and that one life can change the face of history. See I was born a fanatic. When something strikes through my bones and makes my heart burst out of my chest shrieking like a mandrake, I can’t help but proclaim,
This is the truth.
It is inexplicable and unmistakable.
And when I’m able to look back at my so far brief and so far long life, it is moments where I’ve experienced this which make even the most horrible and despairing moments of my life seem like what they in fact are… footnotes in the epic story of a beautiful time spent on earth.
Actors; writers; those who direct and design and research and find the talent that is all too hidden in the crevices of a cold cruel world… these are my people. People who’ve helped me up and people whom I want to help up.
People whom I’ve hurt. People who’ve hurt me.
It’s all for the work, in the end, it really is.
To do our best with it as we do our best with each other.
The work matters. Death is real.
But the work matters.
If it helps you carry on, still that quiver of loneliness in your bone marrow, or quell the despair just enough to do what you need to do please know that if you have a hint in your heart that this letter was written especially for you;
you’re right. It was written for you.
Maybe it is all just youthful arrogance.
But like the fanatic, who always holds a secret doubt, I must continue to believe in the truth;
it’s the only way I’ll find home every night.
Five good minutes. That's all John Patrick Shanley needs, to know that a play is good.
When I set out to write this podcast before I knew what I was doing--writing out the scripts and recording them the day of--that's what I set out looking for. Five good minutes.
With this fourth installment of my podcast Speaking Into The Fog, now released, I will be at close to seventy minutes done with this story. My cap is at one hundred and eighty.
I don't know what the hell I'm doing.
I'm just giving my version of the answer to the question which is the first sentence in Shanley's play, Doubt, the best play written by an American to date.
What do you do when you're not sure? Asks Father Flynn
The fuck I want. That's what.
I'm just chasing those five good minutes.
And I think I'm getting closer.
Sometimes Ignorance Leads To Innovation
There's something our younger generation is afflicted with and I like to call it perpetual student syndrome. I'll try to find a better name for it. Another version of this affliction might be called hero-worship. But what I'm talking about isn't quite hero-worship.
Admittedly I bring it up because I'm guilty of it my self. Not so much that I am constantly reading biographies of people I admire. Biographies are dreadfully boring and tend to amplify some of the uglier aspects of a person's life because people think that's juicier. Ultimately a biographer is just another writer, someone who is trying to be read. My point is I'd rather not know about an artist's life and just appreciate how they contribute to the form, either through their work or what they have to say about it by virtue of their experience.
In that sense, I felt ok about picking up a little gem called My Lunches With Orson. Which isn't a biography, just a series of printed conversations that the actor Henry Jaglom had with Orson Welles at Welles' favorite restaurant toward the end of his life. It's illuminating in surprising ways, and it's where I got this idea about "perpetual student syndrome."
For those who don't know, Orson Welles is one of the most iconic actors and radio/film/theatre makers of the twentieth century. His film Citizen Kane which he helped write, direct, and star in is considered one of if not the greatest film of all time.
The conversations in My Lunches With Orson are again, illuminating. For one, Orson Welles is incredibly erudite and has compelling perspectives on history and literature.
But aside from that, something that really struck me was his attitude to movie-making all together. Here's a quote from the book:
"I don't read books on film at all, or theater. I'm not very interested in movies. I keep telling people that, and they don't believe me. I genuinely am not very interested! For me, it's only interesting to do. You know, I'm not interested in other filmmakers--and that's a terribly arrogant thing to say--or in the medium. It's the least interesting art medium for me to watch that there is. Except ballet--that's the only thing less interesting. I just like to make movies, you know? And that's the truth! But I do know quite a bit about early movies, because I was interested in movies before I made them. And I was interested in the theater before I went to it. There is something in me that turns off once I start to do it myself. It's some weakness. In other words, I read everything about the theater before I became a theater director. After that, I never went to plays or read anything. Same thing with movies. I believe that I was threatened, personally threatened, by every other movie, and by every criticism--that it would affect the purity of my vision. And I think the younger generation of filmmakers has seen too many movies."
I emphasize those last two sentences because it's the point I want to make.
If you're my age or older and have been an amateur for at least as long as I have, you've seen enough movies/plays/read enough books to know what your tastes are. Perhaps you've seen too much; I know I can relate to that.
If your taste is like mine it's quite a demanding one. I know what I like and I know why I like it. The problem is, having such an ideal for what a movie or play or novel should be can be paralyzing for anyone who wants to make their own.
Around college and when I first began my acting career in the Bay Area--I was watching and reading everything. If I was in my own performance and couldn't watch other plays (which for better or worse was most of the time) I was catching late night showings in movie theaters. In periods when I was homeless the movie theater was a nice place to have an extended nap. But most of the time, I was taking everything in like a student.
Of course, watching other actors you learn a lot. And one learns quite a lot about what good dramatic writing is too. Often times I would listen to the dialogue and just imagine what it would look like on the page... what's the difference? Did it meet the script's intention in a surprising and compelling way? Was the original intention a good one to begin with?
Also one starts too look for little details like where the actor places their eyes and how intentional their movements are.
One does learn quite a lot from watching this way.
The other side of that coin is one starts comparing their own work to the work of others. Or tries to consciously employ the things they've seen others do. It's not quite imitation as it is an intellectualization of an essentially mysterious process. It's trying to make something that worked in one situation work completely outside the context it was intended for. Which is death for any artist.
It's also difficult to not want your own work to match the work that you really love. This can be a quite paralyzing feeling. And what's the use of trying to "learn" from others if one isn't going to strike out into the dark on their own?
There's an obnoxious habit among actors my age that is the fawning over who they perceive as "great." I'm not saying one shouldn't respect other's experience, or try to learn form them or take their advice.
But you're not an idiot. If it smells like bullshit, it's bullshit. A lot of times we'll watch a performance that is total shit and try to come up with reasons for why it's great just because we had already decided it was supposed to be great before we've even watched it.
I've been across actors with some of the best reputations in the community I've worked in. No doubt they earned those reputations some how, but often times I'll be working with them and can barely hold back the need to yell "would you please stop making so much of that damn line!" I'm sure no doubt other actors have felt this way about me too. That's one of the deals one makes when they become an actor; they are going to hate others and be hated by others for many irrational reasons. Just because someone is great in some projects doesn't mean they're always great.
My point is whether you're working with someone with experience or are experiencing the work of someone with experience, don't let the idea of their greatness infiltrate your own convictions.
When I'm on the set of a student film, it's heartbreaking when I watch the crew agonize over a scene set in, say, an office because they're wondering "well, how would Martin Scorsese film an office?"
Why are you comparing yourself to someone like that? I don't ask because of how successful Martin Scorsese is; I ask because Martin Scorsese is not you.
Who knows? You might be better.
I also hate it when student filmmakers want to do a "master shot" only because they feel like they have to. It's their homework as opposed to something that will actually contribute to the project.
Do what you need to do to make the film/play/book, not the thing that will impress your teachers or the thing that your hero does a lot.
The truly illuminating thing about studying the work and process of those you admire is that you start to see that the true greats are the ones who held on to their individuality. Orson Welles rarely if ever did master shots and almost always only filmed what was going to be in the movie. He didn't cut; he didn't really edit.
I'm not advising anyone to go about movie making this way. I'm still in the process of learning myself. But this struck me because we're often told "Filmmaking is editing."
I still believe that, but at the end of the day that's only a platitude. It's a truism but not a truth that must always be applied.
Techniques and education are important. But not if they become a prescription which squashes out the essential artistic impulse.
The artistic impulse is always about breaking the rules.
In fact, let me rephrase that. Because there are no rules to begin with. Rules apply to decent society not to the life of a poet (or actor or writer or filmmaker).
One does learn a great deal from studying what came before. One really does. I'm not advocating against this.
But those who came before us; those who's shoulders we supposedly stand on didn't make their art for us to study it. What a dreadful intention. They made their art for us to enjoy it. To be entertained by it. To gain an insight about our lives. Not to make an ultimately futile attempt to intellectually grasp that which attempts to make the mysterious concrete.
In the end, we are only witnessing the attempts of others. Not the solution. One should go to the theatre or pick up a book for one reason and one reason only--to enjoy it. To accept the artists' gift of seeing a world that no one else saw before they wrote it down and/or performed it.
The only thing one can actually "learn" from that is how to have the courage to do what that artist did. Which isn't to employ the form and execution which has already been invented, but to have the mindset and discipline to make their own form all together.
Behind every story is the story of the one who told that story. They were able to tell that story because they were in touch with who they are in their own unique way.
They were innocent and stupid. They figured things out as they went along. They invented new methods without knowing they were inventing them.
In fact, there is a great interview where Orson Welles talks about being completely ignorant about lighting techniques while working on Citizen Kane. Just watch the first two minutes of this clip, here:
Get to the part where he says "I didn't know what you couldn't do. I didn't deliberately set out to invent anything. It just seemed to me 'why not?' There is a great gift that ignorance has to bring to anything, you know. That was the gift I brought to Citizen Kane... ignorance."
Now of course this raises as many questions as it answers. Who is the real innovator here? Orson Welles? Or Gregg Toland the technician who had mastered many camera and lighting techniques for movies?
The symbioses of Toland's technical mastery combined with Welles' limitless and untainted curiosity is what made so many great frames in Citizen Kane. Of course, you need your Toland as much as you need your Welles.
And within yourself you need a spirit of ignorance along with a rigorous attention to technical detail.
But too often the need to study begins to overwhelm the need to discover. And ultimately, what an actor or writer does is not something that if a certain pattern is consistently applied to it, the same quality and results will emerge. There is a mystery at the heart of it all. And the hardest part is throwing away all the notes and techniques and preparation and finally actually creating something.
So please continue dissecting the technical intricacies of those who's work you admire, if that's what you truly enjoy. Just know that it's not the same as being an artist.