Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Ramblings About Language

My first language is English; it's the first of several and the only one in which I am fluent. I speak Japanese like an incredibly talented infant, and French almost as well.

(I speak better Japanese, but possibly understand it less well, than this child.)

I can mispronounce certain Yiddish words and phrases more or less the way my American-born parents did; as children of immigrants, wanting to fit in and be as-American-as-thee, they shunned that rich and brilliant tongue and lived to regret it.

There are a few other languages in which I know enough words and/or phrases to understand, or, even better, make myself understood, in a pinch. I'm adventurous enough to get myself into a few pinches now and again. But it's English I know and English I love the best. Since I live in my native land, the United States of America, I find myself more often in a flinch than in a pinch.

Sometimes I flinch at the widespread abuse of the language I love; other times I flinch at a perfectly legitimate word or phrase that nonetheless, for one reason or another, rankles. An example of the latter is the use of the word "hysterical." It's in the dictionary; it's an adjective. It's generally used properly. However, the implication of the word (used to describe a state of panic) is that the person it describes is panicking because she is female, or panicking because he is feminine; the "hyster" in question is a womb. I think we should say a person who has reached a certain level of panic is testerical. That at least evens the genderic playing field.

(A real bitch)

I prefer not to call my enemies, of either sex, bitches. I live with a perfectly lovely female Sheltie (named Sarah, if you must know) and would not insult her with such comparisons. I have no standard substitution, though; I name my enemies on a case-by-case basis. (One is "toxic waste.")

Some feral peeves:

1. "Just between you and I." "I" is not an object, but a subject. Would you say "give it to I"?

(The translation is the transgressor.)

2. "That was so fun!" SUCH fun, folks, or so MUCH fun! "Fun" is a noun and is described by an adjective, not an adverb.

(Lip-syncing peeves me as well, but sometimes the artist doesn't actually have a choice... in Italy, anyway.)

3. "I could not help but do it." That means the opposite of what the user thinks it means, and yet is not used sarcastically, as in "I could care less!" (which generally indicates the user could NOT care less). "I could not help doing it" means the user was compelled. Therefore "I could not help BUT do it" means the user was NOT compelled, except possibly compelled NOT to do "it."

(The title is incorrect. I actually find anime pretty annoying, come to think of it.)

4. "I feel badly." Snobby! If you feel badly that means your tactile sense or your emotional palette is impaired. You feel bad. My fiancé smells badly; his olfactory facility is diminished. (He can't tell when dinner is burning!) If he neglects to bathe, he also smells bad.

Some guilty pleasures:

1. "Ain't." I know it ain't a real world; I ain't concerned about it. I use it for emphasis, and only to people who know I know better.

2. "Whatever." I use it to be deliberately dismissive; how rude!

3. "(expletive deleted)." I can stop any time I want. Honest.

(Do not play the above if you prefer your expletives deleted.)

Having exposed my linguistic flaws so publically, I am, quite suddenly, abashed, and no longer wish to pick on other speakers.

Oh wait. Yes, I do!

That relaxation of my linguistic ethics was only a tongue-fart. I beg your pardon.

Monday, July 28, 2008


"Now, I have asked myself, what on earth could this thing [music] be for -- why are so many people doing this? I've made up several theories.... One is a cynical theory and that is that music is very much indeed like language but doesn't mean anything and so it gives you a feeling of thinking. It uses up parts of your brain that normally are understanding stuff, but without the unpleasant consequences of understanding. So music is relaxing in the sense that it exercises the part of the brain that has a drive to think by thinking about things that are meaningless.... The cynicism is saying that thinking is actually unpleasant and so people like this thing going on that relieves it." -- Marvin Minsky in "Computer Music Journal"

Marvin Minsky

copyright Wikimedia Commons/Steamtalks
Easy listening music is difficult for me to take. Its purpose I think is to remind the listener of music but not actually to require of him/her what music generally requires: attention and recognition. (Here's a rule of thumb: if you recognize the artist, it's not easy listening music.) The interactive nature of music is what appeals to me. I don't want to be reminded of it; I want to be involved in it. For this reason, pornography is also a bore. What, after all, is more interactive than sex? (Well, okay: music.) If the only purpose of a photo or a film or a piece of writing is to remind me of sex, it is of no interest to me; I'd rather do it than contemplate it. Still, it's of great interest to a great many people, because it's safely uninvolving. Again, its appeal to many is its means of losing me altogether.

I find Minsky's theory (one of his many, I remind you) unfactual but true. That is, I don't believe that music is meaningless either for its creators or for its listeners, since it is a form of communication among them, and also because (I feel) it somehow stimulates the communication of the individual with him/herself. However, Minsky's theory seems to explain my reaction to easy listening music, as well as to pornography. These things relieve their participants of, well, participation, while exercising those parts of their psyches that have a drive to communicate in the way both music and sex communicate. In either case, it may simply be that despite the urge for expression, the would-be expressor has nothing to say!

copyright Wikimedia Commons/IntroSpection
On the Internet I have found, among other things, photographs of penises. I am sure the model penises are attached to guys, but the pictures don't show to whom. The people who enjoy looking at seemingly disembodied penises don't care to whom they are attached. They are not parts of people but independent objects. They are not even parts of idols; Typ, Atyp and Ob are all missing. I won't speculate about the uses the pictures' admirers find for them, although they must be fantastical, as pictures are, after all, only pictures, unless of course they function as icons. Penises, however, are NOT only penises. Those which are not attached to people are useless; they have no independent lives. Neither have those which ARE attached to people, despite all the old jokes. (Is a penis an extension of its man or is a man an extension of his penis? Are those of you becoming excited by reading the word "penis" imagining a specific person who happens to possess one?) As Maria Muldaur and her predecessors sang, "It ain't the meat, it's the mo-tion.... It ain't the wave it's the o-cean...."

The glorification of the general blurs the individual into nothing more than a part of the body politic. Maybe this is why Buddhism never impressed me; I don't fancy being God's elbow (and to be fair to those of you who believe God is within us, I don't fancy God's being my elbow either). The glorification of the part degrades the individual from which it is extracted and who is, after all, not separate from the part. Zoom in, zoom out. Perspective is all.

nice guy, not for me

copyright Wikimedia Commons/Tsui
Are we still talking about love? Do we have a definition yet? (Did we really expect one? Ask your teddy bear.) Oh dear, we've rambled. I'll admit we did so by design. However, by way of rambling back, I leave you with another short(er) excerpt from Tzaddik:


Once upon a time there was a monster. This monster's name was Love. In this monster's name people enslaved one another, caused one another unspeakable (and sometimes very satisfying) anguish, did one another irreparable and often fatal harm, and occasionally, not without reserve (on the part of the participants and of this chronicler) made each other very, very happy.

[Japanese] Emperor Gozu (posthumously deified as Susanoo-no-Mikoto) kills a dragon to save Princess Inada. Artist: Utagawa Kuniteru.

copyright Wikimedia Commons/public domain


"He had recognized a quality in her of which no one else among her companions... was in the least aware. The recognition laid special responsibilities on him for were we not all ultimately charged to live not according to general rules but by our own specific recognition of one another's quality? However, having the courage of one's recognitions was a lesson only slowly and painfully to be learnt...." -- Laurens van der Post, The Seed and the Sower

Atyp's mistake, in which Typ indulges with less dire consequences, is in failing to recognize Ob as an individual. He appears to recognize her as one; he appears to distinguish her from all others -- to render her the most individual individual in his world. In fact, though, he mistakes the collecting of details for their amalgamation into a real person. Ob is, for Atyp, Atyp himself, projected outward. Atyp merely has chosen which collection of details (including physical features and emotional output) suits him, and he may well translate these details into a picture or definition that has nothing to do with the real Ob. If she deviates a bit from the picture or definition, Atyp either won't see it or will make it fit. On his Procrustean bed, the teddy bear's image is stretched or chopped. If Ob dares to deviate beyond the latitude Atyp can offer, Atyp may suffer the equivalent of a broken heart. This may manifest itself quietly or Atyp may feel the need to express it, in which case the bear and not only the image may find itself stretched or chopped.

copyright Wikimedia Commons/MatthiasKabel
Public figures, particularly those in the arts, whose work includes higher emotional output than, say, that of a waitress, are particularly subject to the obsessive attentions of strangers, and often are considered to have, by their choice of profession, invited these attentions, or at least to have consented, by invisible contract, to tolerate them. "S/he should've thought of that before s/he became a star," say folks whose idea of what might be an actor's, writer's, painter's or musician's motivations for working, and for seeking publicity for themselves and the work (and sometimes there is only a very difficult to make distinction between the work and the artist). These folks seem also to have forgotten that not only strangers are victims of objectification and its consequences, and not only stars. Waitresses, too, can find themselves thus objectified, as can persons of any profession and either gender. They can remain untouched by the objectification, or be annoyed by it, or have their lives changed. They can have their lives ended.

In The Tzaddik of Tsurumai, my novel in progress (a polite way to say "novel I haven't got around to finishing yet") an actor is assassinated by a "fan." (I hope you have all been admiring my restraint in not pointing out that "fan" is short for "fanatic"; I hope you're not too disappointed that I finally broke down and pointed it out, since I feel this is an appropriate point at which to do so.) One short chapter, narrated by the slain actor's father, a Polish immigrant, now follows:



I have heard Christians say "Jesus died for our sins." What a funny idea! I think actors do that: die for us, if not for our sins. I am not referring to the real death of my son, Dashiell, but to the deaths actors die on behalf of their characters. We are all afraid of death but we are all drawn to it, too, and are curious, and want to know what it would be like to die, but then to live and remember what it was like, and maybe be reassured.

I have heard that to stimulate and feed this kind of curiosity encourages real-life violence. I do not believe such a thing. Ancient Greek tragedy did not, as far as I know, increase the murder rate in ancient Greek civilization. True, there were no mass media as we know it (but this is a Greek word, is it not?) but our world population is larger now; there are more masses. And furthermore, I wonder, is it believed that the deciding factor is numbers? Frequency? Distance? Is inviting death into your home less safe than going out for it? I wonder, too: if Leopold and Loeb had stayed home to watch something awful on television, would Bobby Franks have grown up and had grandchildren?

But this is not what I wish to tell you. I wish to tell you that actors do not only die for us but also perform for us great heroic deeds as well as murder, and feel for us great emotions that perhaps we are too tired or distracted to feel for ourselves, and be for us people whom we would love to be, die to be, perform great heroic acts to be, but are too tired or distracted or poor or persecuted or lazy or in the wrong place at the wrong time to be. I mean good actors, of course. So then if everyone disagrees about who is and who is not a good actor, is the actor's value to society diminished? I like to read crime novels, not only American ones, and I would like to recommend to you the novels of an expatriated Englishman -- oh, how I think the word Englishman fails to suit him somehow, although all it means is a man born in England -- Nicolas Freeling, whose characters are in their way actors, or at least perform the function, for us, of actors; Freeling reminds us, though I misquote, that bad taste should not be confused with crime.

But, you remind me, my son was literally killed, and literally because of television. Not because of violence on television but because he himself was on television. So television is not dangerous to the general population -- only to actors!

Oh, this is not at all what I wish to say. I mean that people, ordinary people who did not know Dashiell, felt that they knew him, and had opinions about him, loved him and hated him, had expectations of him, and one of them felt so strongly about this that he killed him. Yes, it was a boy, a young man, barely twenty, a fan in the sense of a fanatic, who says now that he is sorry but he could not bear to see such a good man -- a good man! How would he know? -- become so evil. Dashiell had played the villain in a television movie. The orange didn't come up the straw, the cigarettes didn't dance. We saw Jack Ruby commit murder before our eyes, we watched David Frost interview Charles Manson, Los Angeles collapsed in upon itself, first spiritually and then physically, never mind Hitler, never mind Stalin, never mind the Khmer Rouge, we have seen everything there is to see: how can we be so naive?

It is very odd, but in the fifties, when I was first married, there was a big scare about communism, I mean Communism, and a handful, less than a handful, really, of fanatical men decided to control which actors worked and which ones did not. I am not speaking of the House Un-American Activities Committee, which did concern itself with this but also with a much wider range of "activities," mostly imagined; I am speaking of private individuals who appointed themselves the guardians of radio, film and television, and in fact blackmailed the entire industry into hiring only those actors these guardians deemed safe for American consumption. This is bad enough, the blackmail of the blacklist, but there was something else very curious about it, and that is that in retrospect we can see that only bad actors were sanctioned and almost anyone with a scrap of talent was banned. Why should this be? The answer is simple: bad actors say lines and purvey ideas only through words, assuming we are not too bored to be reached, and good actors transmit emotions and make us feel, and feeling the truth is dangerous. Adlai tells me that the Japanese once called actors "riverbed bandits." Shakespeare, who was himself an actor, made asses of them. The only kind of person portrayed by Hollywood writers as worse than the actor is the Hollywood writer (self-hatred is a powerful evil). Yes, there is another amazing thing the Christians say: "And the truth shall set you free." Don't you see that it was not in the interest of the tyrants of the blacklist or of any other tyrants that we should be free? And don't you see now that this is what actors do, and why they are scorned and idolized and feared and loved??

a riverbed bandit?

copyright Wikimedia Commons/Kuniyoshi Utagawa (public domain)
Everyone is objectified to an extent, and objectifies right back. Learning to recognize individuals is a process, and each time we encounter a new person, that person is for us at least partly an object until we begin to recognize his or her individuality. The serious problem begins when the learning-to-recognize process fails to begin. Observation alone is not enough of a catalyst, although it is necessary. Empathy too is needed. Perspective doesn't hurt.

Unfortunately, all of that requires involvement, and that is, to many, a pain in the ass.


Das Flötenkonzert by Carl Spitzeg: Couples in Love

copyright Wikimedia Commons/public domain

"In real love you want the other person's good. In romantic love you want the other person." -- Margaret Anderson

Let's ramble back now from the kitchen to the bedroom -- in particular, the closet door. Let's create a context for the relationship, real or imagined, for which the picture is an icon.

What exactly is the relationship between that fan -- we'll call him Mr. Typical Fan -- and that idol (whom we'll call Ms. Object O. Desire)? Ob doesn't know Typ from a hole in the wall, though he buys all of her records, has been to a few concerts and once even blurted out "I'm your biggest fan" while she scrawled her name across an eight-by-ten for him. (That's it, framed, on the dresser; the one on the door's from a magazine.) Her music reaches right out of the CD player and touches Typ, personally. Her breasts point out of the photo only for him. Ob knows this happens on a grand scale but can't produce a mental image of Typ. Typ too knows it happens on a grand scale, but somehow he also knows he's different. He might know other fans, with whom he gathers to discuss such various topics as Ob's voice, Ob's career, Ob's tour dates, Ob's body, Ob's private life, Ob's face, Ob's body, Ob's assets and charms relative to the assets and charms of her peers, Ob's body, Ob's band and Ob's body. Typ says "I love her" and his love is half hyperbole and half something else.

Typ probably doesn't do all of the above. More likely he does only some, and possibly he does none. He might also mix and match from among the following:

He indulges in sexual fantasies concerning Ob.

He uses her picture and/or his fantasies as an onanistic aid.

He tapes her every television and radio appearance.

He writes her one or more fan letters.

He collects products which represent or refer to her.

He hangs out in places where she has been seen.

He collects information about her.

He worries about the veracity and the meaning of the information he collects.

He shares his collected information with others without regard for its veracity and without regard for its possible effect on others, including on Ob.

He feels personally affected by events in her public and private life, experiencing strong positive or negative emotions as a result.

He feels the need to communicate to her his positive or negative emotions regarding her public and private life.

He expresses his love for her and expects a reciprocal expression.

He threatens the safety of Ob and/or of persons associated with her.

He attempts to harm her.
We're still talking about love here, right?

normal fans

copyright Wikimedia Commons/SV Erlenbach
Apart from the fact that maybe now Typ should change his name to Atyp, what's wrong with this picture? Okay, it's not nice to hurt people, and we should be ashamed of ourselves for talking about masturbation, but look closely at what all of the above elements, innocent and less innocent alike, have in common. There's something odd about the above description of the relationship, and the odd thing about it is that only one party in the relationship is aware of (or if aware, acknowledges) the relationship. In her own life, Ob is a subject, and in any relationship its participants alternate between roles, but for Atyp, Ob is both all-important and nonexistent. Atyp does the thinking and feeling for both of them. When Atyp says "I love you" he means "I created you and you're not only mine, you're me."

Atyp is the guy who sleeps with the teddy bear in the shop window -- but only in his dreams. (Unfortunately, to a large or small extent, he believes in his dreams.) If he attempts to touch the bear, glass gets broken, alarms go off and Atyp gets to sleep on a bunk in a shop window of his own. It's anybody's guess whether the bear survives the adventure.

copyright Wikimedia Commons/MatthiasKabel


In Bernard Pomerance's play, "The Elephant Man," Merrick complains that Romeo did not love Juliet because he didn't call a doctor and try to save her; he declares, "If I had been Romeo, we would have got away."

"But then there would be no play, Mr. Merrick," responds the actress, Mrs. Kendall.

"If he did not love her," asks Merrick, "why should there be a play?"

Joseph Merrick, AKA "The Elephant Man"

copyright Wikimedia Commons/Jack1956 (public domain)

One could ask as well, "If you don't know who your partner is, why should there be a marriage?" This brings us to another question, of course: "If you didn't know who your partner was, who did you think s/he was?" The "what" is not impertinent. Almost no one in modern Western culture consciously thinks of another person as a nonsentient being, or object, or thing, but the idea is not unprecedented. We cannot, for example, believe that half of what is now know as the United States is descended from purely evil persons. Yet that half, once known as the Confederate States of America, once kept slaves and maintained a slavery-based economy (as the Sudan and Mauritania do even now). It would be impossible for an entire nation (as it considered itself) of people to keep human beings as slaves unless it were a nation of evil persons, or unless they did not view the other persons as human.

Illustration from 1907 edition of "Review of Reviews for Australiasia": The human being as object is not a new concept.

copyright Wikimedia Commons/public domain

It is easy to justify almost any treatment of nonsentient objects. Why not? They can't feel anything, after all! There are precious objects in the world, many of them classified as "art"; someone who took a chainsaw to a Stradivarius would be considered insane, and the defilement of a Modigliani or a Van Gogh would evoke more horror and disgust than mere property loss would warrant. Perhaps the pain we experience when a book is burned comes less from the destruction of the physical book (apart from our consideration of how many like it might remain in the universe) than from the unshakable feeling that the author exists somehow inside the pages of the book, just as we feel the painter's presence in the painting. Still, things are, after all, only things, and we give lip service, at least, to the concept of valuing human life over lifeless objects. We recoil in horror when we read in the newspaper of the man who got killed for the dollar and change in his pocket. It puzzles me somewhat that we recoil less and less as the dollar amount increases, but no matter. The point is that we purport to know the difference between a person and a thing, and we purport to care.

Where it all gets murky is when lines get drawn. Is a tree a lifeless object? We all know it is not, and we also have heard in recent years that plants scream, that they feel -- but let's face it: those who become vegetarians in order to avoid hurting animals (there are others who have other reasons) do not anguish over the emotional condition of their broccoli. Some who would not poison a rat still might swat a fly. Some who would go out of their way to avoid kicking a dog might shoot a rattlesnake in the head, not only in self-defense but perhaps in simple fear. Is it beyond our capacity to imagine a man who would not raise his voice to a white child who'd been naughty but would have no compunctions against hanging a black man who had wandered into the wrong part of town, or a woman who would volunteer to bring food to needy but would scream at some homeless guy who was raiding her trash can for scraps.

copyright Wikimedia Commons/Shayan Sanyal

This is only possible if we accept that we are exempt from considering the individuality of some living creatures. All of us accept this to some extent. I personally rejoice at the death of a cockroach, and if that cockroach loved its family, too damned bad. If I truly believed that cockroach had a family, that it knew it had a family, that is, and loved it, I would not rejoice at its death. How could I? The plain truth is, I don't believe it. I don't recognize a cockroach as an individual (oh look, there goes WIlbur! Get him!) because it doesn't fit any of the usual human criteria for individuality (cats do; dogs do; rats do; cockroaches don't; I've drawn a line; I'm a species bigot) and I don't value its life. Sue me.


copyright Wikimedia Commons/Wm Jas

(Where do you draw your line? Would you step in front of a speeding car to avoid squooshing an ant? Would you run in front of that same car to save a child's life? What if it was your child?)

Violence is something most of us abhor but objectification, or the act of viewing someone as an object, is not usually about violence; it just makes violence easier. It's easy to squoosh a bug. It's easy to deprive a group of people of basic human dignity, to say nothing of what is needed for subsistence, if you believe that the group is lower than you on the food chain. The operative word here, though, is not, as you might think, "lower"; it's "group." The problem lies not in someone's feeling superior. All humans are not equal. Some are smarter, kinder, nimbler, more talented in various skills, more physically attractive to a larger number of admirers, more generous, more sensitive and/or more industrious than others.

The problem lies in viewing a group of people only as that group, and not as a collection of individuals -- individuals who have something important in common, but individuals nonetheless.

I personally belong to a number of groups and am seen at different times predominantly as a member of one or another of those groups. How I see myself depends largely on context. Here are some of the things I am, off the top of my head and in no particular order: Jew, woman, middle-aged person, baby boomer, redhead, fat person, bespectacled person, leaper, Whovian, writer, "lupique" (pardon my French), singer (hey, I didn't say I was any good!), retired teacher, fianceé, daughter, sister, aunt, orphan, herring-eater, genius (I don't put much stock in those numbers but it would be dishonest of me to leave that off this list, as I have been and am judged by it), nullifidean, ailurophile, tenant, former ex-patriot (that sounds like a double negative but it's not), former homeless person.... there is, of course, more. Some of the items on the list were not always true (I was born a blonde girl, not a red-headed woman; I was a skinny child; there was a time when I had not yet ever lived outside of the United States; I believed in a personal god when I was 15 years old) and there are some that may not be true in the future (I hope to reside in my own home one day and not be a tenant; I may -- but probably won't -- lose my taste for herring; with luck I will outgrow being middle-aged and advance to "elderly"; a time will come when "engaged" gives way to "married").

Now, if I were to be identified by one, or perhaps two, of the above labels, all of which are true but none of which is the complete picture, most people would be able to come up with an image of me based on some stereotype which might or might not apply. The more labels I gather and present, though, the clearer the picture that emerges of me as an individual, and their ability to stereotype me most likely would be impaired; they would not be able to help viewing me as an individual. However, anyone who had a strong prejudice for or against one of those labels, or even a strange association that could not be called "for" or "against," might have a hard time viewing me as an individual even in the face of the most overwhelming evidence. Depending on which labels were involved, we would consider that person stubborn, or bigoted, or perhaps wise! In fact s/he probably has been brainwashed.

Dante Gabriel Rossetti: Holy Grail; this lovely redhead is not me, and shares few, if any, of my other labels (if she is holding what she or the artist believe to be the Holy Grail, for example, she certainly isn't Jewish; if she is a damsel she is single although she might be engaged; she isn't American; neither "Quantum Leap" nor "Doctor Who" existed during her lifetime.)

copyright Wikimedia Commons/public domain

There are people who believe that Jews run the world while gladly accepting me and my poverty as a notable exception; they cannot be shaken in that belief. There are people who believe that geniuses are egotistical, devious or prone to be lazy (things must be so "easy" for us -- ha!); one of my high school teachers gave me back a paper with a "B" on it, saying, "This is the best paper in the class but I know you can do better." As it happens I had done my best. There are those who believe that fat people have no self-control, or that we are jolly, or that we prefer to be called "persons of size." (Some of us are! Some of us do! It's an individual matter. I prefer to be called "Gail.") Some believe that women belong in the kitchen. (Some women do. Need I mention that some don't?)

a woman's place?

copyright Wikimedia Commons/Joel Dorman Steel and Esther Baker Steele, A Brief History of the United States, 1885 (public domain)


"All happiness or unhappiness solely depends upon the quality of the object to which we are attached by love." -- Baruch Spinoza

Baruch de Spinoza (1632-1677)

copyright Wikimedia Commons/public domain
Define love.

I'd be willing to bet each of you can come up with a dandy definition and not only not agree with one another but not be able to stick to your own definition for long. There are too many kinds of love.

Is the love a mother has for a child the same as the love between best friends? Is it even the same as the love a child has for its mother? Does the love it has for its teddy bear count too? Does an historian's love for history, or a miser's love of money? How about my love for my cats, or my best friend's love for his dogs? Is the love that dazzles young lovers the same as what sustains them when they are in their seventies? If they are all different, are they still all love?

Pepohoan Mother and Child, John Thomson, The Straits of Malacca, Indo-China and China or Ten years' travels, adventures and residence abroad London: Sampson Low, Marston, Low, & Searle. 1875. p.224

copyright Wikimedia Commons/public domain
Let's eliminate "being in love" for the moment, which implies a kind of exclusivity of emotion and even commitment, and only consider love itself. There is no love itself; we cannot consider it independently of its subject and its object. Without someone to do the loving and someone or something to receive the love, love has no definition at all. It's not a thing; you can't pick it up and throw it, or drive home in it.

We use the word a lot in hyperbole. "Oh, I love pizza! I love to swim!" That's okay; everyone understands hyperbole; no one misunderstands you to mean that you want to marry, suckle or even devote a fair portion of your life to pizza. (Mind, there are those who do, and those people are considered to be ill.) We say it about performers too, and not only regarding love: "I hate him!" can simply mean you don't care to watch his films. "I love her!" could mean you find yourself whistling along with all of her tunes; you might even have her picture taped to your closet door. In neither case does the subject have any personal relationship with the object; the child sleeps with its bear but most of us have never met our favorite performers, or if we have, it was a brief, impersonal encounter. Sometimes, though, we manage to confuse ourselves with words. We begin to believe our own hyperbole. Thus begins obsession.

I have met men who say they love women. This, to me, is as dubious as a claim to be in love with pizza. Of course, these men could be speaking of their sexual preference for women, usually as opposed to men, and/or their fondness for the company of women, sometimes in addition to the company of men, children and members of other species. However, it generally turns out that men who claim to love women -- and the fact that they claim to love them as a group is telling -- have no individual woman in mind. They quite often have various parts of an individual woman in mind, but no whole individual woman.

a whole, individual spinach pizza, worthy to be the object of love

copyright Wikimedia Commons/Nova
These men do not speak in hyperbole. Although the similarity of this sort of love to a love for, say, pizza is chillingly close, they have no awareness or intention of hyperbolizing.

Why should I pick on men? After all, I have spoken to too many women who have expressed an eagerness to be married. "To whom?" I always ask, and they look at me as if I have asked them to multiply 3,492,234 by the square root of 45,730,221 off the top of their heads. To whom doesn't matter. Well, it matters -- he has to be "nice," or "rich," or "handsome," or "tall" -- but it doesn't matter that they have no one specific in mind; what matters is that they crave the married condition; with whom to share it is a variable to be filled in later. That marriage is considered to be a condition rather than a relationship is what I find problematic. Anyway, I'll tell you why I am, at least for a short while more, picking on men: it's because men are traditionally in charge of keeping both attitudes alive.

Let's go back, then, to the men who love women. You'll find breast men and leg men, butt men and even the romantic eye men. A good whole-woman man is hard to find, and when you find him I have no doubt you'll also find that his idea of loving a whole woman is loving the sum of her parts. There is no individual, integrated woman in his fantasy. She is a combination of qualities.

copyright Wikimedia Commons/Matthew Bowden
Of course we all tend to idealize: children dream of the ideal parent long before they begin to seek partners, and a mother wonders what the little mite in her womb will grow up to be. Alas, the little mite, once born, might remain an idealized object of its parents' plans for it. They might or might not ever love it for itself. First comes recognition of the individual; without that, there is only objectification. (Ever ask your teddy bear who it really is?)

Who is this bear?

copyright Wikimedia Commons/Matthew Bowden
Marriages can fall out that way too. One spouse discovers that s/he has no idea who the other spouse is. The whole deal was concluded, from daydreaming to first meeting to courtship to the birth of the first couple dozen kids, without any attempt to recognize the individual hidden within the illusion of the ideal. "I don't know who you are anymore!" cries the frustrated partner. "You never did," comes the sad, accurate reply.

Ramblings About Actors and Acting -- EXPRESSION OF THE WHOLE SOUL

prostitute in the Middle Ages; how my father tended to view actors

copyright Wikimedia Commons/public domain

Although my father maintained that all actors were prostitutes, he still came to see every play I did in school (he couldn't come to the ones in L.A.) Perhaps he trusted me more than he trusted other actors, although I, like they, shamelessly gave away my emotions, bared them for all to see. What impelled me to expose myself like that, while also hiding behind my own face, the mask I wore, as the fictional Guy Burgess (yes, there was a real one) put it, only to be who I was?

(Motivations may be plentiful job is twofold: to be who s/he must be and to be in the situation [emotions count as a situation] in which s/he must be. That is all. convince him-/herself of that in order to convince us, and all is well.)

Whether they are intensely private people or gregarious, actors must have a need to share their beings. (I recognize in myself a need to share who I am, a need to be understood and known.) True, their job entails being other beings, but the fabric from which they create those other beings is... their selves. It's all they have, finally. Oh yes, and a little makeup, sometimes some prosthetics, costumes, props, and lines written by other people, not to mention whatever was created all around them by others, from sets to interplay with other actors to feedback from audiences, and the direction they receive which comes from others, but the lowdown is they use themselves to create these others.

Costume for actor Frédérick Lemaître in "Paris le bohémien" by Joseph Bouchardy, Théâtre de la Porte Saint-Martin, Paris, April 18, 1842

copyright Wikimedia Commons/public domain
Why this need to share themselves? (Why does this not extend to a need to share details of their private lives? Ah, this is a whole other issue!) We call it expressing ourselves, but as much as a painting is an expression of an individual, the painter smears paint on the canvas, not literally his or her guts! This is not to downplay the personal nature of other arts; I put a lot of myself into my writing and showing it to others is showing others my soul. It's not showing them my whole soul all at once; I can send it out without following it, whereas Bakula, for example, can't send himself out without following. He has to be there. He has to be that. I have to be here, writing, but no one sees the physical me, whereas even if Bakula doesn't have to be there in the movie theatre with us, he sends himself out there. It does make a difference.

Even if an actor is shy, then, must s/he be something of an exhibitionist? More likely it's a cry to be known. If so, it's also a cry to know, because an actor gets to meet his or her creation, and understand and get inside that person, and get that person inside him/herself! So many actors have said they began to act to escape reality but I think many do it (even the same ones who are escaping) to find a reality, even more, to make a reality. They run to as well as from.

Don't we all, in our way?

Källunge kyrka auf Gotland. Hauptportal: Eidesleistung; two people sharing (as this author sees it) in their everyday lives

copyright Wikimedia Commons/Wolfgang Sauber

Ramblings About Actors and Acting -- MIND AND BODY, BODY AND SOUL

The actor Henry Samary, painted by Henri de Toulouse-:autrec, 1889, said painting hanging in the Musée d'Orsay, Paris

copyright Wikimedia Commons/public domain

Acting is physical. I know I already said that, or at least that emotion is physical but I mean something different this time. There are five actors I can think of offhand who consistently and with absolute integrity "live in their bodies" and I am on shaky ground here trying to explain, even to myself, what I mean by that, especially since although I believe that this physicality is vital to acting, I am not putting these folks forth as the best five actors in the world or anything of the sort. The world is too big and the one percent of its working actors who are superb amount to a great many actors indeed! Still, I do not hesitate to present these five actors as special in the way I am about to describe: they are Alan Bates*, Martin Shaw, Gary Cole, Glenda Jackson and Scott Bakula. I repeat that there are many fine actors about, some of whom have qualities that shine above those of the gang just mentioned, but what I see among other things in these five is that they are so intensely physically present during a role. They don't just say lines, they don't just feel emotions, and they don't just run and/or jump and/or climb and/or fall and/or take off their clothes (and I think Bates takes his clothes off more, and takes off more clothes, than Bakula!) They don't even just use their whole bodies to express themselves, although that's part of what I mean.

I saw Bates in a pretty bad movie once, one of two bad movies he did in the late sixties/early seventies, one called "Very Like a Whale," which is a reference to Hamlet, and the other called "Impossible Object." There is a scene in one of these two bad films (I can't remember which one) in which he is sitting in a chair. That's it. Nothing else about the scene is in any way memorable, at least to me -- just that he was sitting in a chair. Exciting, huh? -- but I remember his hands. They weren't doing anything. He wasn't shaking them or gripping anything with them, clenching them, moving them or in any way calling attention to them. There certainly was no closeup of his hands in that scene. Yet there was turmoil in his heart and I knew everything he was feeling by looking at his hands.

detail of Da Vinci's Mona Lisa; her smile is mysterious; what do her hands reveal?

copyright Wikimedia/public domain

Most of my friends are by now tired of my harping on a particular scene in an inferior but pleasant "Quantum Leap" episode, "Animal Frat." Sam is in the library, trying to persuade Elizabeth to give him another chance, when Duck comes to her "rescue." He and Sam struggle briefly, and he accuses Sam of not caring about ending the war in Vietnam. Sam backs Duck into some shelving and books tumble down onto their heads; this and perhaps Sam's recollection of why he is there effectively stop the fight, and Sam walks away. Suddenly he turns back and, barely containing himself, tells Duck that he lost a brother in Vietnam (this episode precedes the "Leaps Home," in which Sam reverses his brother's fate). As he turns again to leave, Duck shouts out that maybe Sam didn't care enough about his brother. Sam stops but does not turn. We can see everything he's feeling in his back, just as Bates' hands told all. Most likely Bates didn't sit there and think, I am now going to do something with my hands. He probably wasn't even aware of what he was doing with his hands, although he might have been; what an actor intellectualizes and what s/he does intuitively is his or her own business, as long as it works. Bakula surely wasn't thinking, now I'm going to do something with my back. No: he was feeling that pain all over and it came out of his back the way Soon-Teck Oh's death came out of his stomach.

The 1968 Oscar-winning Ken Russell film "Women in Love" has so many scenes in which Bates' physicality is an integral part of his expression of the character as well as of the moment that it is hardly worth picking one or another to describe, but in the same film, Glenda Jackson's dance for the bulls and subsequent taunting of Oliver Reed is astounding. She, like the four gentlemen I mentioned, is so physically present. When she is there, all of her is there.

two actors wearing a costume, 1870s

copyright Wikimedia Commons/Fratelli D'Alessandri

*Alas, the world has lost Bates since I first wrote this article.

Ramblings About Actors and Acting -- SENDING LOVE

Actress demonstrating initial reactions of fear andpanic

copyright Wikimedia Commons/bantosh

Most actors study something called sense memory. This means reproducing in ourselves an emotion we once felt by remembering whatever produced that emotion in us. This sounds difficult; it is.

First of all, those who first try this are tempted to remember the emotion itself. This is rough because emotions are abstract, not concrete, although they produce in us physical reactions which are concrete. How do you remember "love" or "fear"? Sense memory therefore involves a certain amount of trust, both of our own ability to feel the emotion as a result of having the memory, and of our audience's ability to perceive what we are feeling even though we do not try to "pretend" to have those feelings. If we do not trust the audience, we will indicate. If we do not trust ourselves, we will indicate.

If, however, we allow ourselves to remember what our five senses perceived at the time we felt the original emotion, those memories will bring the emotion back to us. If, for example, you are seeking to reproduce fear, remembering a fearful time in a vague way may not be enough. Remembering what we saw, heard, touched, tasted and smelled at that time will bring the emotion to us, and this is where the second problem with sense memory comes into play: no one enjoys feeling fear! If we are not willing to reexperience the negative emotions as well as the positive ones, perhaps acting is not what we should be pursuing.

As for trusting the audience to know what's going on, we would not be wrong to do so, because emotion does not only produce physical reactions in the person feeling it; it is transmissible and produces similar reactions in witnesses.

Elaine Funk taught us to call up emotions two ways: one was purely physical and the other used imagery, often but not always drawn from memory, but became physical. (Emotion, good or bad, is physically stressful.) The imagery we used to call up an emotion was up to us, and depended on what emotion we were after, but it had to be concrete. However, the point finally was not just to call up an emotion but to transmit it. We spent a lot of time and energy transmitting emotions to each other.

Mrs. Funk could knock a person backwards, from a distance, by contracting certain stomach muscles. (I could too and think I still can, but I never do.) She could also attract you to her with different stomach muscle movements. It wasn't hypnosis or magic. It was simply the fact that we are drawn or repelled by the emotions of others -- have you never walked into a room and found the tension in it palpable, even before you noticed the expression on anyone's face? Have you never sat quietly with your husband, wife, lover, friend, not even looking at him or her, but feeling the love s/he has for you and that you have for him/her? This isn't fancy; it's real! To an actor it's a major resource.

We learned to call up sense memories and other imagery and use it to create within ourselves the physical sensations attached to the appropriate emotions, and we learned to tell what those sensations were and how to create them even without the imagery (hey, I can't wiggle my ears but some people can!)


copyright Wikimedia Commons/steenslag

an involved audience

copyright www.sxc,hu/leocub

(After a performance of Lanford Wilson's "Serenading Louie," in which Big Bob had to sit quietly for several minutes, facing the audience, and slowly begin to weep, we asked him what imagery he had used to call up the tears. He told us he was remembering how, when he was a child, his bicycle had been stolen.)

One day Amy's younger brother, Jeb, decided to try something. We were all sitting, as was our custom, in a circle, on the stage, transmitting (we just said "sending") love -- something I was very good at. Ironically, considering that one of my chronic ailments is lupus, which involves an oversensitivity to sunlight, I always sent the sun! I just took the nice, warm sun and put it in my stomach and there it grew and grew and spread all over my body and rayed out to everyone else, and I would find everyone in the circle leaning in toward me, which meant I was sending very strongly. (Later I was able to begin with the warmth in my stomach by controlling the appropriate muscles there, but the results were always much better when I called upon the imagery.) Jeb decided, without telling anyone, to send hate.

We were very disturbed by this. We couldn't have known what Jeb was doing by looking at him because our eyes were closed, but we felt something wrong and one by one opened our eyes to see where the wrongness was coming from. It was Jeb, and he was cramping up and curling into a ball and hiding inside himself and he wouldn't come out. We kept telling him to stop, that he didn't have to do this, but I guess he did; I guess he had to know. He felt pretty sick afterwards. Anger does feed on itself, and although they say revenge is the best medicine, anger really isn't. Jeb was making himself sick, in a relatively safe environment after all (because we refused to return the hatred he was sending out and instead kept sending him love until he had to stop) as a kind of experiment. He never repeated it.

body language

copyright www.shc.hu/januszek

When Bakula is strapped to that bed, Nolan is feeling all that pain, but Bakula has to feel it too in order to transmit it to us. He has to make himself sick, and everyone around him can feel it too, which means the crew must be feeling pretty uncomfortable watching him even from a distance. Acting can be playing but think of all the fear Bakula had to call upon, voluntarily, to play Nolan, or to portray Sam in many episodes of "Quantum Leap," most particularly "Shock Theatre" and "Dreams." Ted Levine may not really have smacked Gary in the face with a shotgun (in a harrowing episode of "Midnight Caller"), but Cole had to feel it, and its aftermath, nonetheless; when Tina died in Jack's arms, it was Cole who had to experience Jack's grief; those were not onion tears, I assure you. Martin Shaw took his lumps, physically and emotionally, in "The Professionals"; in the British TV film "Ladder of Swords," witness his mixed dread and resentment in any of his scenes with Bob Peck.

I was fortunate enough to see two performances, by the East-West Players (another small repertory theatre company, this one in Los Angeles), of the Stephen Sondheim musical "Pacific Overtures." In one performance the male lead was played by the wonderful, underrated and underused (often misused) actor Soon-Teck Oh, who in the other performance played the male lead's wife. As the male lead, Oh was killed; he fell to the ground (the stage, which was not far from any seat in the house; I happened to be right up against it), rolled, and died. As he rolled, the ray of emotion he was sending cut right through me. It was coming from his stomach. I felt his death; I nearly leapt out of my seat.

When at the end of "The Deer Hunter," Christopher Walken put the gun to his head, smiled and shot himself to death that first time we saw it, Erik jumped in his seat; it was not the noise of the gun; he wasn't startled; he wasn't even surprised (we knew it could happen! -- and we had heard louder noises before in the film). He was hit with the sudden absence of the human being who had just been there, and the pain of the one who still remained. That wasn't an intellectual reaction; there was no time for an intellectual reaction. Something had been transmitted.

I have felt what these actors feel, and if I were to work as an actor I know I would have to commit myself to the extent of being willing to feel pain, angst, grief, rage and all manner of extreme unpleasantness when necessary, because otherwise I couldn't be satisfied with my work. I don't think Stockwell could be satisfied with his work either unless he gave of himself like that, and at the same time I don't see his being willing to cross a certain line; that is why I don't think Stockwell would ever take a part like that of Nolan or even Sam (age and the ridiculous concept of type aside); he would take parts he could bear to take. Therefore it is actually Stckwell's integrity which keeps him away from roles that Bakula would accept. (I imagine that Stockwell has enough credibility and respect in Hollywood that he is offered a variety of roles; indeed he has played a variety, some of them fairly challenging.) The pain in "M.I.A." must have been real enough and he did that beautifully, so he was willing to go that far. I don't think a lesser actor would have been willing or able to do so.

drama masks

copyright www.sxc.hu/plasmatic

Ramblings About Actors and Acting -- COMMITMENT

Allegory of the Five Senses

copyright Wikimedia Commons/Gérard de Lairesse

At the WTC I studied improvisation, scene preparation and performance, fencing (which I soon quit because I was afraid of being poked, since my eyes were so weak -- I had not yet read J. D. Salinger's Seymour: An Introduction, or I might have realized that I did not need to look so hard), dance (oh, if I had only had then what I have since gained by taking so many aptitude tests: a sense of spatial relationships!) and something else which is hard to name and even harder, it seems, for most people to accept is true. We called it "sending"; if we had another name for it, I don't remember it, but it is related to sense memory.

The WTC was not an acting school but a small repertory theatre which, in order to support itself, regularly took on a limited number of students, most of us in our mid-teens. We were instructed, or trained, if you will, not by professional acting teachers, but by professional working actors. (One of them, Arlen Dean Snyder, with whom I did not study, played the sheriff in the "Quantum Leap" episode "Promised Land"; another WTC performer of that time was John Hillerman, a regular on "Magnum, P.I.") I don't remember hearing the word "method," though I think what we studied was the technique, or collection of techniques or attitudes toward acting which is commonly called "method." What every one of our instructors emphasized again and again was honesty.

Our improvisation instructor, Bob Darnell, who shows up in series television now and again, was relentless in his insistence on our commitment to the honesty of the moment. We had to be in the reality, totally, or else.

In our improvisational exercises generally two students were given common information about a scene -- who they were, the location, the general situation -- and then each was given other details privately. Perhaps both neophytes would be told that the setting (in truth a grubby room with a few ratty-looking pieces of furniture in it) was a park, that today was Monday and that they were strangers to one another. Then one would be drawn aside and told that she was hungry and that her goal was the get some money from the other; the other would be told that he was a lonely man looking for a lover. (This is not a real example, but, off the top of my head, the type of thing that would set up enough of a conflict to force both actors to think on their feet and to avoid making facile assumptions and cliched decisions; it would also leave enough latitude for a story to happen.) Once my friends Amy and Jane were in an improvisational scene in which they had been told in common that they were coming home from somewhere, walking into their own apartment. I don't know what they were told privately to create the conflict but they certainly were not told that Big Bob (as we called him to distinguish him from the WTC's other resident Robert, the less strapping and therefore "Little" Bob Spencer) would be sitting there on the sofa when they walked in. When they did walk in, together, they saw him sitting there and began to giggle. Big Bob was furious. If they came home to find a total stranger sitting on their sofa, he demanded to know, would they giggle? Could that possibly be an honest reaction? He sent them out to make their entrance again. This time he stood up on the sofa and draped himself over the doorway; as Amy (I think) happened to walk in first, he immediately grabbed her, threw her against the wall and screamed, "Now do you believe me? Now do you believe me?" She believed him, she believed him!

A few years later, in college, my best friend, Erik, and I prepared for our final acting exam. We had selected a scene from "Waiting for Godot" by Samuel Beckett (no relation to the fictional time-traveling physicist). Being young and confident (I hesitate to add foolish), we chose not to block the scene but rather to memorize the lines together and work on our characters without regard for our physical movements on the stage, which we felt sure we could work out a mere half-hour before performance. I don't know whether our idea was mainly to keep it fresh or to keep ourselves from working any harder than we had to, but the scene involved no props, no scenery and no fancy footwork so we weren't worried; we trusted that our movements would come from within our characters and our motivations, and in fact we had no trouble blocking out the scene in the time we had. That was no problem. What was a problem was that from the moment we started, the whole thing felt terrible. We didn't miss our lines, we didn't wander about the stage, but we were as lost as if we never had found the stage. Then came the moment when Erik had to remove his boots and I had to comment upon the smell of his feet. Erik had a little difficulty getting the boot off and I didn't have a line to say.... Suddenly I was hit by what should have been my driving force all along: I had no idea, after all, that Erik was going to remove his boot or have stinky feet. I was just waiting for Godot! So I waited for Godot. Godot never showed, but eventually Erik got the boot off and I smelled his feet and commented, and we proceeded. Everything was just fine.

Our teacher looked at us afterwards and shook his head. He said it was our finest work ever, except he couldn't understand what the hell we'd been up to at first. From the time of the boot, though, it'd been superb.

"Waiting for Godot"

copyright www.shc.hu/sphaera

Ramblings About Actors and Acting -- HONESTY

Jessamyn West in her office

copyright Wikimedia Commons

When at the age of 15 or 16 I developed an interest in acting, my parents allowed me to study with the actors of the Washington Theatre Club in Washington, D.C. This was magnanimous of my father, since he believed (or claimed to believe) to his dying day that all actors are prostitutes. I think my father's mind and mine must be similar, since one reason I admire actors so much is their willingness to get naked in front of us -- only unlike my dad I mean emotionally naked (though certainly many are called upon to remove their clothing as well, and often, too, to simulate sex -- whether or not to do this is also a matter of choosing how far to go; also unlike my dad I do not believe that every actor's avocation is hopping in and out of bed with other actors.) On the other hand, perhaps what shocked my father about actors was after all their emotional nakedness; he was an extremely generous man whose generosity seems the more marvelous when contrasted with his suspicion of anything which was designed, or which conspired as he most likely saw it, to move us. He did not want to be fooled and I think he saw acting as trickery. He even saw rock 'n' roll that way, and the more attracted to it he was (and I believe he was tremendously attracted to it, as he liked both folk music and true blues) the more furious he became.It is possible that my father confused fiction with falsehood and mistook it for the opposite of truth. Jessamyn West said, "Fiction reveals truths that reality obscures." Edward Albee added, "A play is fiction -- and fiction is fact distorted into truth." Pablo Picasso was more brutal in his assessment: "We all know that art is not truth. Art is a lie that makes us realize truth." Alan Bennett, in his play "An Englishman Abroad," put these words into the mouth of real-life spy and traitor to the crown, Guy Burgess: "If I wore a mask it was to be exactly what I seemed."

Edward Albee

copyright Wikimedia Commons/Carl Van Vechten

Perhaps my father believed, as many do, that that actors can't be honest, that they have to act all the time. First of all, as I have said, acting isn't pretending (and it mustn't be dishonest), and secondly, it's hard work, so no one could or would even be tempted to do it all the time on purpose, much less be able to get away with it. Of course there is an aspect of acting that is playing too, a lot of fun and very gratifying, and I like that part a lot; it has a place in my life, but its purpose is not to fool people. I have some facility with accents. I am imitative and enjoy assuming personalities I have observed or using aspects of my own self to create characters. I do this with my friends, who know who I really am and who know I am playing; I don't do it to get good press coverage, win friends or influence people! (Yes, we each put on a charming smile during a job interview, even if we don't feel so great that day, but it's our own smile, isn't it? -- I don't think we need to feel deceitful about that.)

Joan Crawford's act wouldn't fool many today, but Michael Jackson's hype still draws crowds. Perhaps the difference is that Michael's fans know it's hype and like him anyway, or even because of it. Joan's followers believed her publicity absolutely. Still, Crawford had quite a machine working for her (as does Jackson) and those closest to her certainly knew the score. If my father, an intelligent man, was afraid of being taken in not only by an actor's hype (which does not have to be the concern of someone who enjoys the actor's work -- do we ask whether our plumber is cheating on his wife or whether the clerk who checks out our groceries has paid her taxes?) but by his or her work, whose purpose is momentarily to take us in, then was my father not in fact more afraid of his own susceptibility than of the actor's prowess? Indeed, an actor's ability to move the audience depends neither on its susceptibility (the advertisers, not the actors, hope we are gullible dupes!) nor on his or her dishonesty; it is an actor's honesty that moves us.

If acting isn't an inclination to be dishonest, or to pretend, or to fool people, what the hell is it? What makes people act, and how can they stop when it's time to stop? Beats me; I can only speak for myself. At first it was, as I said, a relief to be someone else for a while to overcome shyness, and a way to free myself to say and do things I otherwise wouldn't. It was also a way to interact with others in a safe environment, and to learn about people and experiences not normally within my environment. Later, pride in my craft became a factor. Interestingly, people with Multiple Personality Disorder use their multiple personae much as actors use acting, but with an important difference. The person with MPD most often uses other personalities to protect him- or herself from emotions (generally reactions to events of the past, appropriately or inappropriately perceived as being a part of the present) while the actor uses his or her inner population (and if you don't believe we have an inner population, read Steppenwolf by Hermann Hesse) to reach out safely for new experience. MPD is an incredibly sophisticated, intelligent, frightening and inconvenient way for a psyche to survive the unsurvivable; acting is safer in that it has defined boundaries. I don't think Sam Beckett will leap into Bakula at the dinner table to protect him from a sudden unwanted memory; I would be surprised to learn that Jack Killian (or more frighteningly, Lucas Buck) emerged to protect Gary Cole from freeway traffic; most likely Martin Shaw has not lately seen much of Raymond Doyle.

Joan Crawford

copyright Wikimedia Commons/Yousuf

Friday, July 25, 2008

Ramblings About Actors and Acting -- SHYNESS

copyright www.shc.hu/bvdwiel

I was painfully shy as a child and young adult, but I never had stage fright, since the person on the stage was not me. You don't have to be shy in every situation to have shyness. I am no longer painfully shy and indeed in most situations I am as bold and aggressive as I need to be (some would say more but I pay them no heed). Thus it is even more surprising to me than it used to be when I suddenly find myself in a situation where I still am shy! It does happen.

I have noticed that Scott Bakula has some facial expressions and gestures (in interviews, etc.; I mean as Bakula, not as a character he portrays) that indicate to me that he is not shy but, what's the word: unassuming? and that he may have moments of shyness. Still, what I see in Scott isn't exactly shyness. What is the word? It is something I do recognize! It's certainly not embarrassment -- that's different. The thing is, what killed me most about my shyness is that I have a big mouth! Now what do you do when you're shy but can't shut up? Ho! You take up acting is what. Maybe Bakula had a little of that.

Acting isn't pretending. Pretending is indicating, pointing to an emotion instead of feeling it, pointing to an action instead of doing it. All acting teachers say don't indicate! Dean Stockwell pretends that he indicates instead of acting but he's full of it. He acts, and he's damned good too -- very damned good. Something, though, puts Scott in a class above him, and this has nothing to do with talent but rather has to do with how far each man is willing to go. I just don't see Stockwell allowing himself to do that scene from "The Invaders," strapped to the bed, writhing and screaming, crying in fear. See, to do that, he'd have to feel all that. Maybe I'm wrong about Stockwell there (and I know some of Stockwell's fans are well prepared to show me the error of my ways!), but even if I am right I don't disrespect him, I really don't; I've seen some fine work from him. How far to go is his choice.

Who has made that kind of choice is something I believe I can see. I have many disabilities, if you will, not like being shy an arm or leg, and I don't even mean my poor eyesight or my chronic ailments, but stuff like being afraid of airplanes and not swimming... not being good in math and science... not being able to recognize faces well (except of actors!) However, I have some abilities that are just as quirky, and one of them is this thing that lets me see. Now it's not all that special. I'm not psychic and I'm not so tremendously talented, here, but I know I see things in people that others don't and which are proven time and again to be correct. I see this limitation in Stockwell, and I see this openness in Bakula, and it's this which makes Bakula the better actor, not the fact that he's younger and more handsome (for indeed Stockwell was once younger and quite handsome himself, not that he isn't still handsome, and Bakula won't always be either!)

Welcome to the random ramblings of the Random Rambler. My rambles will seem, perhaps, to have no rhyme or reason, but this is, of course, an illusion.

Some of my rambles will be on topics that have been on my mind; others will be put into my mind by sponsors. This doesn't mean my opinions are bought and paid for; you can ask me to review your website (and we can talk about a fee) but you can't ask me to be other than honest about it. Be assured my opinions, and the expression thereof, are my own.

I have sponsors and I may link you to them as appropriate. If you have trouble with any of my sponsors, I would like to hear about it, so I can check into it and drop any sponsor who's doing something I find unacceptable.

A random ramble will follow shortly; meanwhile here are, respectively, a link, speaking of links, to a place you can read a great deal of my existing work (not to mention unbloggy, rambleless stuff I will write in the future), and another link, this time to a sponsor's website, speaking of sponsors:

Check out my published content!

uBid is the marketplace you can trust!

PPP Direct