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Thursday, January 14, 2010

Digging, um, Deep?

In a moment of week-day weakness, I allowed my daughter to watch a “for fee” On Demand movie yesterday afternoon. OK. I admit I watched too (and I can only justify this by telling you that it was after writing a blog post and serving lunches at the Senior Center and attending a two hour meeting focused on generating more business for LCS Writes, and sitting in the car for a half-an-hour behind a raised drawbridge, then grocery shopping--though none of this mitigates my guilt at watching a movie at 4:15 in the afternoon--so do me a favor, don’t tell).

Anyhoo, the movie, Fame, is a slick, surface redo of the 1980's hit about four students who attend the School for Performing Arts in NYC, that I fell in love with in a wooden floored movie theatre on Martha’s Vineyard the summer after graduating from college. And thank you, we don’t have to discuss the fact that when my daughter realized that its been 30 years since I first saw the movie, she had to push her eyeballs back into her sockets with her thumbs after exclaiming, “Wow.”

We have the original movie on DVD, and since sitting through the watered down version yesterday, I've contemplated using my "Magic Mom" powers (picture Super Woman with middle-age-spread here) to make it required viewing over the weekend. That said, while the new film left me with a wrinkled brow as I tried to understand any of the four main characters’ motivations, one story line, however poorly executed, resonated. It happens, as it were, to focus on a piece of gristle-filled meat that I have been attempting to chew and swallow for some time now.

In the remake, a teen character is beseeched by his drama professor to dig into his troubled emotions. The boy presumably lives a challenging life and is coping with the loss of his little sister to a gangland bullet. The teacher tells him that until he can tap into his feelings, he will fail as an actor. After repetitive browbeating over the course of his high school career, the young man speaks of the loss of the little girl, but when prodded to talk about the emotions he experienced as a result of his sister’s death, he stomps out of class.

This scene reminded me of a post I read last Saturday on WM Freelance Connection called Writers to Watch, Norman Prady. The interviewer quotes the author’s directive that writers must “stand naked on the street corner” in their writing and asks him to elaborate. Prady says:
“I think there are two kinds of writers: flies and frogs. Flies walk on the surface of the pond, barely getting their feet wet, never immersing themselves into the work they're doing - or think they're doing. Frogs first sit on the shore and observe the pond, then dive in, swim about, probe the entire area, and are then able to write with meaning, with understanding, with conviction...Frogs are honest. Flies are not."

Both the fictional drama teacher and the real life author touch a core truth. In order to be successful, an artist of any sort must confront his or her emotions so as to create from the soul while sinking into the water surrounding the piece he or she is trying to craft.

My guess is that almost everyone lives in front of emotional doors that they’ve sealed with Super Glue. How does a writer open the gate without drowning in the resulting flood? I, for one, struggle with that challenge. The key to the door is tucked into my blue-jeans pocket, and while I may have pulled it out and turned it over in my palm a few times, it feels safer to slide it back in. To be a writer, a real writer, a good writer, I have to fit that key into the lock, yet how do I convince myself to turn it?

The same way the remake of Fame is a fly above the lake, so far, my own writing buzzes on the surface. It’s time to challenge myself to hold my nose, fill my lungs with air, and to jump to the bottom of the pond. Truthfully though, it feels like I need to take some life saving lessons first.

How about you? What did you do in order to open your door?


glnroz said...

super glued , duct taped, chain wrapped , bondo'd and let me see what else. Yep, I am the fly and not the frog, but I am working on it. I have a suggestion though,, ribbit

J.B. Chicoine said...

To be honest, I’m not sure of what all of that really means—tapping into our feelings or emotions—when we’re writing or expressing ourselves creatively. I guess I always assumed that was a given. Perhaps not.

I sure hope it doesn’t mean that I’ve got to dredge up all the stuff that I keep so tightly corked, and write about that or similar scenarios. Does it mean that because I’ve experienced some really gut wrenching stuff that I’m going to be more effective when I write about someone’s fictitious gut wrenching stuff?

Is it the difference between writing something sterile and something that makes someone’s gut wrench along with mine?

I’ve thought a lot about it, and I haven’t truly figured it out yet.

Arlee Bird said...

I try to keep the door cracked open and take a peek in now and then. It's like when my kids were little. While they were sleeping, every once in a while I had to take a look and make sure everything was okay. If something seemed wrong--they were crying or sounded sick perhaps--I would go in and check it out. Likewise, I like to keep my world in check so that when I ready to write about it I'm not totally out of the loop.

Liza said...

Glen, suggestion? Bridget, I think...though I'm still working on it, that it does mean revisiting those things or the emotional response to those things, so that what you write is real. Does that make sense? Lee, hmmm, a cracked door, like a room you don't always have to go into, but can enter at any time?

Helen Ginger said...

For those of us who would really rather not open the pit door and leap in, perhaps we do it by getting into our characters' heads and hearts and writing their stories. I have a character, a young girl in a dysfunctional family. One scene I wrote for her, I bawled through. Then every time I read it, I bawled. I gave the manuscript to a trusted reader and when she called me she was crying so much I thought surely a friend or someone must have died. Turns out she'd just come to that scene.

Perhaps instead of psychotherapy, we can face our emotions through our characters.

Straight From Hel

Sharon said...

Thanks Liza. I, too, am working on this is emotional gristle. Chewing on this eloquently described conundrum, all I can ask is: "will going back to examine the tadpole change the beauty of the frog?"

glnroz said...

suggestion: perhaps, that is why some writers, write under a "pen" name. To help cloak themselves behind some sort of screen. I think we all shelter our inner self to some degree