Monday, April 06 2009
As a member of both SAG and AFTRA who retired from active status in films, radio and televison, I still needed an outlet for the creative energy that pressures some of us, so I renewed my interest in the personal writing I always did. Personal observations and insights that would later become a springboard for professional writing.
At that time I did not realize the cathartic value of this practice, which often produced insight I would not have had otherwise. The old saying about writing out your anger to someone in a letter you never send is an example. You have released the emotion without hurting yourself or anyone else. I also learned the difference between the two expressions -- acting and writing. When acting I applied emotion to someone else's words to arouse feeling in the audience. When writing I had to dig deep inside, reach feeling, and carefully choose my words to arouse emotion in the reader.
I carefully honed this basic desire to express in words through the fiction course offered by The Famous Writer's School, now sadly extinct. It was the leap I needed to have that "something wrong" inner feeling explained and corrected. The Course was excellent, and gave back according to your input and your use of the good direction being offered.
Years later, after eleven years as a senior editor and two published books under another name,* the memories of those early observations are still crystal clear. But what is amazing to me is that they are still as pertinent today.
New York City during World War II was an experience I shall never forget. One that provided endlless observations. Grand Central Station was a treasure-house for this, so I made it my official meeting place because of the drama I could watch while waiting.
Where did that young Corporal come from? What State is now minus one? The ribbons tell that he has experienced the full drama of war, and in what theatre, but not his feelings or his fears. Not the love he left behind, or maybe has since experienced against a backdrop of wailing air-raid sirens and the stale air of bomb shelters.
Or that Navy Lieutenant, immaculate in navy blue and gold. Had he ever really experienced the sea before he boarded a Destroyer or the floating city of an Aircraft Carrier? Before vigilantly patrolling the blacked-out cities of the East Coast in a PC?
Or the look on the face of the tall khaki-clad Sergeant as he holds his baby tight and openly lets his tears wet its soft little cheek.
Or that good-looking Air Force pilot -- alone and trying to casually ignore the emotional goodbyes taking place all around him as he lights a cigarette.
Or that older couple standing a bit apart. What is New York City to them? Home? An adventure, long anticipated and finally enjoyed? Family? Old friends? A tearful goodbye to a son or daughter who is now part of a larger world?
The observations were endless, and so were the stories they promised. Is it so much different now? We are still saying goodbye to husbands and wives, sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, good friends.
The drama has not changed. The observations have not changed. Only the time and place.
Monday, April 06 2009
A LIFE LESSON
A certain man desired very much to learn to swim. Being a capable person, he decided to save the cost of an instructor and teach himself, so he promptly joined the nearest YMCA and set aside three periods a week for this endeavor.
Desire, plus initial effort.
On his first visit to the pool he decided to observe and size up the situation. He sat quite a while watching the other swimmers. He picked out a confident looking fellow that had a fancy stroke. He certainly made a splash and show. Our beginner then went to the shallow end of the pool and, taking courage in hand, pushed off from the side and started in. The results were violent and not too successful, but at least he didn't sink!
He took the plunge
Because he was persistent, he eventually was able to go from one side of the pool to the other with quite a bit of effort. The lifeguard, himself an excellent swimmer, came up to him one day. Because our friend was sincerely trying and had such a desire to learn, the lifeguard was prompted to help him.
"Say, I've been watching you. You seem really determined to lick this thing. Mind if I make a suggestion?"
Since our friend was sincerely seeking, he welcomed all suggestions.
"Why yes, I'd appreciate it."
"You are dissipating your energy in your stroke. Reach with your full arm, do not curve it and therefore chop your stroke. It may look fancy, but it actually cuts your stroke in half."
Our friend tried it and found it true. He found he got farther with less effort by following the suggestion. And while practicing his newfound arm technique, the Y swimming champion came over and made another suggestion. This one was about his kick.
"It's the stroke beneath the water that carries the power. The less splash, the better. Roll from the hips and keep the stroke submerged."
Our friend tried it and it also proved workable and right. Now he had some rearranging to do of his previous ideas. He had to discard his original model of what he thought constituted a "good" swimmer. In short, he had to admit the "splash" technique might create more stir, but was far less effective. And because both of the suggestions proved practical upon application, he did rearrange his conception. He looked at the swimmers around him with new eyes.
The ability to discard old concepts when they
One of the other swimmers he admired gave him a tip on breathing, which he also applied. But he still lacked the absolute smoothness of motion he observed in some other swimmers. His own mind told him that all three suggestions needed to be synchronized. He must bring them all into harmony.
He tried, and kept trying although he sometimes got discouraged. He often felt he was so close to his goal but couldn't break through and demonstrate what his mind knew to be the right way.
Still, he kept on trying and one day --- in the middle of a stroke --- he felt a rhythm surge up within and swing his arm stroke, his leg stroke, and his breathing into coordinated action and harmony. The result was beautiful to see. Even more so to experience. He could now cover a good distance with much less effort. He could cover it powerfully and easily, and the joy of doing something really well gave his whole mind and body a lift. He had succeeded.
One day a friend commented on his ability to swim so well.
"Why thank you, John. Never had a lesson, you know. Taught myself."
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