Thursday, June 2, 2011

That Way There Be Dragons

Once again I find myself up and toiling at my blank screen, unable to sleep until I've incorporated my latest ideas into this new project I've been commissioned to write.  I used to view my insomnia as something to be alarmed about, but over time I've come to realize it's simply the price of doing business.  Until I've gotten down on paper (figuratively) the new things that have come to me during the night, I really can't sleep.  And oddly, that's perfectly alright.  First, because I've discovered I'm a morning person by nature, astonishing as that may be.  And second, I prefer writing without distraction and four a.m. is certainly a time without distraction.  I like to warm up by blogging a bit, getting the fingers loosened up, taking the brain around the track a few times, wrapping my mind around the new ideas.

In addition, I seem to be at my least cynical early in the morning.  As the day wears on and things begin to crowd in on me, reading about the latest Republican shenanigans, seeing what natural disaster occurred overnight, checking my emails from producers about my previous day's work, I begin to lose sight of why I do what I do.

Also, the piece I'm working on now has at its very center a large and all-encompassing theme of injustice.  Consequently, it is important to approach it fresh every day.  I'm the type of guy that gets all righteous about injustice in even its smallest incarnations.  An ex-sponsor of mine used to always tell me things that make us bitter and accusatory about other people are usually the same things we abhor in ourselves.  He may have been on to something.  Although, like most people who have been sober for many years, there was always just a smidgen of smugness in his pronouncements that irritated me no end.  He was part of that loutish group of ex-drunks that think the simple act of not drinking for years at a time entitles them to a civic medal of some sort.  I've never felt that way about it.  In fact, quite the opposite.  I've always been of the mind that not drinking for a long period of time is probably a lot closer to normal and pedestrian rather than super-human and parade-worthy.  Lots of ex-drunks get very agitated at this line of thought.  "But, but, but...we DON'T DRINK!  We are SPECIAL!"  Uh, no.  No, we're not.  We're righting a wrong, not inventing the wheel.  We're correcting a character flaw, not instigating a virgin birth.


Speaking of over-indulgence, I had a rehearsal yesterday for this new piece in which I'm involved, The Interlopers, written by Gary Lennon and directed by Jim Fall (plugging, plugging) and after we finished I was standing outside the rehearsal hall waiting for my wife to pick me up (we're a one car family these days) and a young guy, maybe 30 or 35, staggered by me, clearly three sheets to the wind.  It was about 3:00 in the afternoon.  As he got close to me, he abruptly stopped and glanced up at me.  He'd been sort of reeling from one side of the walkway to another.  He was well-dressed, clearly not homeless, or if so, not for very long.  He'd had a shave and haircut recently, and he didn't appear to be too dirty or dusty from his travels.  But he was obviously very drunk and his eyes weren't quite focusing.  So he looks up and says, "What?"  Not belligerently or aggressively, but more like an actual question.  I hesitated a second and said, "That way there be dragons."  He appeared to think about that for a second, shook his head a bit, and kept going.

I thought about that guy for a long time yesterday, off and on. 

This Saturday night my wife has organized a sort of old home week at a local restaurant.  Lots of old college chums that have all moved out to the city of angels for one reason or another.  This sort of thing always makes me feel a bit ambivalent.  On one hand, it's always nice to see old acquaintances.  On the other, I always feel a little like that guy on the sidewalk.   "What?"

I suppose it's a question of self-worth.  Recently I had a meeting with a big-money-producer-type-guy that was interested in having me do some writing for him.  As I was preparing for the meeting, I gathered together all sorts of reviews and critical evidence of my past successes, awards, nominations, hard copy notices, that sort of thing.   Angie saw me doing this.  Eventually, she said, 'You know, you don't have to do that.  You don't have to prove anything to anybody.  He wouldn't be asking for this meeting if he didn't know your work."  As is my usual pattern I had to mull that over for a few days before I could answer her.  Like that wayward young drunk on the street yesterday I was preparing myself mentally to ask that inevitable question, "What?"  The thing is, the question is no longer necessary.

As I mentioned in yesterday's blog, recently I've become sort of obsessed with the career trajectory and writings of Truman Capote.  For some reason I'm utterly fascinated with his journey from wunderkind to sad, old parody.  I read a chapter of his prose in something like 'In Cold Blood' and then I read a chapter from George Plimpton's oral biography about him.  And I try and understand how such a staggering talent could have deteriorated into what he became in the end.  And then I realize he must have spent at least a decade figuratively staggering from sidewalk to sidewalk, encountering people along the way, and asking each and every one of them, "What?"

Now, Capote was certainly not the first, nor will he be the last, great talent to implode under the pressure of his genius.  Faulkner, Hemingway, Poe, Inge, Williams, Dorothy Parker, the list is frightfully long.  Sometimes it seems addiction and writing are two sides of a coin.  Clinically, there probably isn't any evidence to confirm this, but statistically there most certainly is.

Great actors are in the same boat, sometimes.  I very clearly remember reading a passage from Richard Burton's journals, published after his death, in which he writes, and I'm paraphrasing, "I was a far, far better actor at 25 than I am at 50.  No one knew who I was at 25 and I could observe people all day long without interruption.  It is the actor's most valuable tool.  I no longer have that tool at my disposal."  There is also an interesting sentence in Brando's autobiography, Songs My Mother Taught Me, along the same lines.  "I used to become other people when I was young, now I pretend to be other people."

That way there be dragons.

See you tomorrow.

No comments: