An Acting Imperative

I was recently reminded of a quote by Kurt Vonnegut: “A non-writing writer is a monster courting insanity.” Well, I don’t think I’m a monster, but I if I don’t write often enough I feel my soul will fly up and I wouldn’t want to be around what is left behind. I haven’t been writing and I find myself philosophizing to the point of losing sleep at night. Last night a question was running around in my mind – how accurate should an actor be reciting his or her lines for it to do justice to the intent of the playwright? I’m writing this essay to alleviate my anxiety so that I stand a chance of sleeping well tonight.

A brief note of why this is important to me is in order. I’ve been working on my magnum opus for nearly six years now and studying language has been an important adjunct. In particular, I’m in my fifth year of a Latin course, classes of which only occur once each week. And despite the fact that English has Germanic roots, the extensive focus on Latin grammar consistently over the years has revealed a lot of English grammar that I don’t recall learning in high school or college. The grammar rules may have been there, but applying those rules had not been. Now I find myself seeing the power and magic of words more than ever. And the subject of my concern is the potential (power) held in the voice and mood of language.

I am not a scholar of Tennessee Williams and his work and aside from watching “The Glass Menagerie” performed live once over twenty years ago, I have only read “A Streetcar Named Desire” once. So, I have to make the assumption that he was deliberate in his words and cognizant of how his words may be construed or misconstrued. And recalling the question at hand, I conclude that his words must stand alone in portraying, text and sub-text, implicit mood and explicit emotion. Thus, an actor should strive as always to recite the lines verbatim, with little variation.

The example that got me thinking of this is as follows. In Scene Three of “Streetcar”, Blanche asks Mitch if he has any cigarettes. The lines follow:

Mitch:  Sure.
Blanche:  What kind are they?
Mitch:  Luckies.
Blanche :  Oh, good. What a pretty case. Silver?
Mitch:  Yes. Yes; read the inscription.
Blanche:  Oh, is there an inscription? I can’t make it out.

Let’s suppose instead of Mitch saying “Yes. Yes; read the inscription,”
we hear “Yes. There’s an inscription.”

Two things happen here. First, Mitch’s mood has changed from the imperative to the indicative, a rather active command, becomes a passive statement. This can be (but may not be in every case) extremely important in conveying a character’s personality. For example, an overconfident macho pack leader such as Stanley Kowalski would come across more “in command” if he were to use the imperative mood. However, using the indicative mood as well as a passive voice would weaken his machismo.  But, in this example this is Mitch we are talking about so, there’s a decision to be made: how much of a boss should Mitch be? I won’t answer that question here. Only I wish to import that diction is very significant in a performance.

The second effect is more subtle. The exchange lacks virility. Notice in the case of the actual text:

Mitch: “Read the inscription.” (imperative and active)  Let’s call this voice/mood experience, A.

Blanche: “Oh, there’s an inscription?” (indicative and passive) Let’s call this voice/mood experience, B.

The dynamic of the dialog is lively going from A to B.

In the case of the following deviation:

Mitch: “Yes. There’s an inscription.” (indicative and passive)

Blanche “Oh, there’s an inscription?”  (indicative and passive)

The dynamic in this case is, well, static, B to B; there’s no change. The voice/mood is stagnant.

Of course, there’s no reason to consider that one is better than the other.  Sometimes an exchange should be static rather than dynamic. There is something subtle here.

Being true to the script is an homage to the playwright. Then again, plays are usually written for the zeitgeist of the period. Revivals are therefore anachronistic. This is what makes them potentially fascinating because there is an opportunity to play with the language, to explore a story and vary portrayals.

Enough said. I think I can sleep tonight.

RIP, Beau.

RIP, Beau. After 48 hours of vigilant attendance and hospice care, and after every attempt to save him including veterinary house calls in his final hours, our beloved canine family member passed away Sunday afternoon in the company of his three humans. No longer limited by the constraints of their material bodies, he and his caprine brother, Casper, are hanging out together again in a sacred and transcendent space in our hearts. ♥

A Poem: A Relic Transformed

A Relic Transformed

I stood silently staring in the twilight moments after sunset.
An enormous steel structure lay static in counterpoint to a rather pacific ocean.
It was several stories in height and at least a city block in length.
Waves lightly lapping against a motionless grid of solid beams
corroded, eroded, yet structural integrity remained.
The elements of nature collaborated on this rust-colored sculpture
from the relics of humankind’s industry.
Its now-rough surfaces carefully caressed and contoured
Over a hundred years by a salty air;
And every so often a seagull added its deposits
to retard corrosion in places for the perfect patina.

Suddenly my imagination gave birth to a vision,
a vision of cohabitating with this slowly changing seascape.
Some people may see an ugly object where I see a beautiful process.
Some people may see decay where I see refinement and natural transformation.
I thought this could be the framework of a living community of people
for whom the present moment is the only reality wherein
each seeks harmony with the interconnectedness of all things.
The sculpture would then take on new participants in its evolution.

I removed my shoes, walked into the water, and began climbing.
I possessed no fear, neither for falling nor for puncture wounds in my feet.
I felt intuitively safe, like a small child climbing all over his parent.
The steel was still warm from an all-day sun bath. It was rather soothing.
And standing one story high, I looked up and imagined domiciles
artfully stacked and stretched throughout.
I envisioned one future resident playing a flute, another meditating,
and myself, sitting in a library behind a glass wall.

It was a dream, and a lofty one at that.
For I was alone.
I hadn’t seen a living person in a decade of my wondering this land.
I longed for community, even the company of a single man or woman.
A woman – oh, to be with a woman again in heart and soul.
But, I shall make this my home.
I can transform it myself.
Just for me.
Just…for the process.
And so, I did.

A Poem: Dream Child

Dream Child

Sarah is nine when she wants to be. Every morning she tells me about her dreams and it’s clear to me that she must be at least 109. The landscapes she paints, with words few children her age can pronounce, can be horror-filled and paradisiacal, sometimes at once.

She skips down the sidewalk
with tacks in her bare feet
going clickity-clack, clickity-clack.

Stopping by the pond
to look at the koi
she drops to her knees.

And in her reflection
she sees not a face
but a mountainous range spewing lava and ash.

She touches the water with her finger
and the ripples reveal the lava
forming into fish.

They dance for a moment
and dissipate back into lava
as prior to being disturbed.

She wants the fish
to dance some more,
so, she touches the water again.

But the lava now flowing
down the reflection of her face
does not form into fish.

So she swabs her cheek
with her entire hand
and beholds her ash-covered fingers.

To answer some instinctual call
she licks the ash from her finger
and smiles.

The taste was fantastic;
she savored the moment;
and the ash became shiny black crystals.

The crystals were attractive.
They could make a nice neckless
and for that she needed more.

With both hands and vigor
she plunged into the pond
and hauled out two handfuls of black pearls.

She thought they’d make beautiful jewelry.
Moreover…
she could sell some at the market.

Into her pocket
the lot of them went
and she stood up.

Skipping again
with mud-covered legs
she ran through the marsh.

It just made her happy
playfully batting
at grasses as tall as she was.

It was the finest of days,
with sunshine and clouds,
against an azure-blue sky.

But the grasses were getting
taller and thicker,
and the skies grew darker.

Grass turned to sticks,
more rigid like branches,
and she had to move them around as she walked.

She came to a thicket,
and the only way out
was through a bog.

She waded through dark patches
until she tripped
and fell down.

Before standing up
she looked behind her
and saw the most amazing pile of leather shoes.

She found herself in the cobbler’s stall
at the market
when she had an epiphany.

She could trade a black pearl
for a new pair of shoes
if the cobbler was willing to barter.

The cobbler said, “Sure.”
So she reached in her pocket
and pulled out some koi.

The cobbler than said,
“Well, I have a branding iron to trademark my shoes.
You can put them on that.”

It looked like a skillet,
but it made sense to her,
so she dropped the koi on the surface.

The koi mouths opened,
and out came shrieks,
then sizzle-pop, sizzle-pop, fizz.

All that remained
were shiny brass tacks
in a pile.

“Perfect! I can use these on my boots,” said the cobbler.

Then Sarah awoke and shared with me this “tale of a long protracted journey” – her words – of her soul. Her visions seem wise beyond her years.

Mid-September News

I’ve been on a writing hiatus since the beginning of August in order to facilitate moving my family into a new home.  Only this weekend are we finally moving things from storage to the house. Tomorrow will be the third and final day of loading and unloading a 20-ft truck and not enough room in our small house for all of it to stay. It’s time to simplify and rid ourselves of so much clutter. A yard sale will happen next weekend, and probably the following weekend or two as weather permits. We have way too many things to go through to do it all at once.

While I intend to write intensively in October, in the mean time I will publish some poems here over the next few days that were written earlier in the summer.

I’m officially back on duty as Secretary on the Board of Directors for the Friends of the Orcas Island Public Library (FOIL). After a leave, I can now attend the monthly board meetings and volunteer again during the week. Next month is our annual meeting for all  members and there’s a bit of work to do.

Remain resonant for some poems to follow!

m.

News update…

After one personal crisis after another, there is a light at the end of the tunnel. My family finally has a home – albeit much smaller than ideal – on this paradise of an island where we live. So, among other things, we are moving this week.

My children’s story book is coming along and hope to publish in November.

I have two active short story series I’ve posted which I need to complete.

New poetry will be coming in September.

And I’m planning an article on imagination and manifesting reality with a book recommendation.

Stay tuned!

PS: Now, if I had written “Remain resonant!” – would you have picked up on that? I like the sound better. Although the imperative use of the verb is naturally demanding. Perhaps I could use the optative perspective in the subjunctive mood: “May you always remain resonant!” That works for now.

May you always remain resonant!

Short Story Series 4: Just a Matter of Time – Part 3

[…continued from Part 2]

William would rather be early than late and that’s how he planned everything. He didn’t, however, wish to be too early for his meeting with Dina at her parents’ house. He knew the neighborhood – old estates with nicely manicured lawns. So, he planned just to be early enough to walk around the block once enjoy the various flower gardens he would invariably encounter. And at a minute past 6:30pm, he rang the bell to the Georgian style manor which belonged to the Marcotta family. Dina answered and welcomed William inside.

“Good evening, Dina. Thank you for the invitation.”

“Thank you for being willing to look at the clock. Come. I’ll introduce you to the antique and while you have a closer look, I’ll go prepare some tea. It’s right over there.”

“That will be fine. But, please forgive me. I’ll have to get a lot closer before giving a reaction to it. I am extremely nearsighted and all I see from here is the outline of a dark reddish brown blur.”

“Oh, I’m sorry please come take a close look.”

After closing the door, Dina took his arm and led him across the spacious foyer. Just inside the entrance and directly to the left was a sitting room which they walked past only to return there later for tea. The side of the room opposing the entrance was the spot where the tall case clock stood. To its left side was a passage way deeper into the home. Behind the clock and to the right was a stairwell descending to the right in an arc and terminating at floor level with the entrance to a library.

“Magnificent,” said William.

“Would you like a black tea or an herbal tea,” Dina asked?

“Black is fine, thank you.”

“Great. I’ll bring a pot for both of us. Sugar or crème?”

“Neither one. Thank you.”

Off she went. For the first thirty seconds or so he forgot why he was there. He was close enough to the clock to enjoy its detail, but he had yet to put on his glasses because he was lost in the scent of Dina’s perfume. He couldn’t help wondering if he should have the opportunity to get to know her. Questions flooded his mind. Was she single? What does she do for a living? What is that scent? By the time his spectacles were in place, he could hear her footsteps returning down the hallway.

Then focusing on the clock, he looked at the face behind the glass noticing no sign or name of a manufacturer. He thought perhaps there were markings elsewhere in the clock, clues yet to be discovered.

As Dina approached carrying a tray with the tea pot, cups and some sweets, William asked, “May I open the side access panel?”

“Of course! I don’t think you can do it any harm and I trust you, of all people, will treat it with the delicacy it deserves.”

“This is intriguing. It’s unusual for the movement to be enclosed like this. It’s encased in a metal box so robustly – perhaps, hermetically,” William noted even more emphatically.

“The pendulum and weights are unique, too,” Dina remarked. “I always wondered why there were no chains – only those short cylindrical rods. Perhaps that’s why it never worked.”

“I don’t suppose you have a key for the pendulum cabinet.”

“No. I believe it has been missing my whole life. Can you pick the lock?”

“In my shop, most certainly and without any damage.” He paused for a moment, and then continued, “Dina, I really would love to examine this clock in detail. It’s difficult, of course, to give an estimate for repair with so much unknown about it. However, I would like to make an offer to you and I beg you to accept.”

“Go ahead!”

“If repair is possible, I will do so gratis and you need only pay for parts. I will cover the cost of transporting it to and from my shop. I have a friend who is a courier of parcels, large and small. How about it?”

“William, you’ve got a deal. I’d shake your hand, but I’m still holding this tray.” She smiled widely. “Let’s go into the front study and have some tea and…talk a bit.”

“After you.”

Once in the study, sitting down and sipping tea, they were both eager to shed the trappings of business.

“How long have you had your shop,” Dina asked?

“About 10 years now. I’ve worked on clocks, though, since I was a teenager.”

“Then you went on to apprentice with a master clock maker, I suppose?”

“Actually, no. I was a physicist for a long time, mostly theoretical. I was craving to work with my hands and to spend my hours doing something in which my productivity could be examined in a tactile manner. So I changed careers. ‘To artfully express the mechanics of time…’ would be my motto, if I had to choose one right now.”

Dina’s eyes widened and mouth opened a bit in surprise as she said, “What a coincidence! My father is a physicist! He teaches at the university. My mother is also mathematician there. I suppose I have them both to thank for my scientific endeavors.”

“Really? What do you do,” inquired William?

“I’m a botanist. I’ve taking a liking to research in the area of dendrology, the study of trees; specifically, I study growth rates and the formation of patterns in branches and foliage among variant species as they may correlate with sunlight, weather patterns and stochastic factors. Fractals and nature – I can’t get enough of it!”

“Wow! I’m blown away. That is fascinating. That’s something I’d love to read and hear about. To be honest, my vision is very near-sighted and branches in trees are hardly more than a blur for me. I have to imagine them, something I often do on my walks. So, I spend more energy on their scents. I do love gardens, this I can tell you. They are my favorite place to eat.”

“Then we shall have a picnic sometime,” she suggested.

“I would like that very much. Perhaps this weekend if the weather permits.”

“OK. Call me. So, about the clock. When will you pick it up?”

“I’d like to get it as soon as possible. I can arrange something for tomorrow morning. My good friend, Jeffrey, is an antique dealer and he moves clocks for me from time to time. Can I call you later this evening with a set time?”

“Sure.”

“I’m looking forward to this more than anything at the moment because I’ve never seen such a clock. It’s a mystery I hope to solve and repair for you as soon as possible.”

“I shall appreciate whatever you can do. More tea,” Dina asked?

To be continued…


© 2018 Michael Armenia

Short Story Series 4: Just a Matter of Time – Part 2

[…continued from Part 1]

William’s walk to his shop was usually casual. While working he was often hyper-focused, so he preferred to remain relaxed and open to discovery along his route, taking in sights as blurred as they were together with sounds and smells, just observing the moment in his outdoor environment. But on this particular day he was focused on the vision before him. His heart rate increased as he started walking again to match the woman’s gait. She was on a mission, not sauntering. He didn’t want to get to close for she might think he was stalking her. And it didn’t help that she left a trail of alluring perfume in the air.

As they approached the entrance to the town, the woman made a left turn onto Maple Street where William’s shop was located. He wondered if he would lose her and considered picking up his pace, but that seemed to him an unjustified action. So, he remained in the moment savoring the fragrance that lingered in the air. When it was his time to make a left turn, he slowed down considerably at the serendipitous moment that lay before him. The woman had stopped in front of his shop. At first she was looking through the window, shielding both sides of her eyes for a sharper view. Then she looked at her watch to discover the shop wouldn’t open for a few hours yet. Just then William, not quite yet at his shop’s premises, seized the moment and shouted ahead as he continued toward her,

“Good morning, Miss! Can I be of any assistance? You see, that’s my shop and I usually do not open the doors until 10AM.”

“Oh, I’m sorry, sir. I should like to come back later then.”

“Don’t be sorry. In fact, while I consider every moment of time to be priceless, I am never too rigid with schedules. Many a quality experience would be lost in its strict adherence,” Williams philosophized.

The woman quoted, “’The hours of folly are measured by the clock; but of wisdom…’”

And they both finished together, “…no clock can measure.”

“William Blake,” William said astonished! “I’m William Devereaux,” as he extended his hand to her.

“Dina Marcotta! A pleasure to meet you,” she countered as she shook his hand and smiled.

“Please come in and tell me how I can help you.”

“Are you sure?”

“Absolutely! Please!”

He unlocked the door, pushed it open and motioned for her to enter.

Dina walked into a wall of olfactory bliss; well, at least she thought so. For all the finished clocks in the room, there were an equal number of unfinished works in progress made from a variety of wood: pine, cedar, maple, oak, and many others. In addition, her exceptional sense detected various oils and finishes, as well as metals in the air from the clockworks.

Dina was a formally trained as a botanist with a special interest in dendrology, the scientific study of trees. She had a real appreciation for woods, not just in the growth and proliferation of the vegetable kingdom, but in their use as raw materials in art and functional instruments of humanity. She was clearly in a state of amazement.

“Oh, how lovely it is to be in your shop. I never knew there was such a place on this street.”

“It is my pride and joy. Are you looking to purchase a clock,” William asked?

“Actually, I am interested in having my parents’ grandfather clock restored to working condition as a gift to them. They still live in the house in which I grew up and not once in my recollection did I ever see that clock working. Now, that I can afford to do something nice for them, I wish to repair it.”

“That’s sweet,” William said. “What make of tall case clock is it?”

“Tall case?”

“Tall case is just a simpler trade term for a grandfather clock,” William answered.

“That’s the problem. I’m not sure and my parents don’t remember. They say it was passed down the generations from my great grandfather. But, I do have some pictures.”

“May I see?”

“Of course.”

Dina took out photos from a folder in her large black messenger bag and handed them to William.

Looking at the first picture of the tall case against a stairwell with a wooden banister he commented, “Beautiful piece.” The next picture startled him with mysterious delight.

“Very unusual face…WOWWW,” he exclaimed in a light whisper. “This is not just a clock face with sun and moon disks – it’s an astrolabe with the planets…Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune…there’s no Pluto…of course! Regardless of its planetary classification, the clock predates the discovery of Pluto in 1930, if it truly originated as far back as your great grandfather. Look! It  also has the positions of the constellations that comprise the zodiac. This is a phenomenal work of art.”

“It’s also very heavy. It is solid mahogany, not a veneered wood,” said Dina. “I was hoping that, if you were willing to restore it, you would be able to come and collect it or have someone who could transport it to your shop.”

“Certainly I can arrange something. I definitely would love to see this in person.”

“If you wish, you could look at it tonight at my parent’s house. They are visiting family out of state for the whole month which is why I am eager to have it restored at this time. I’ll give you the address and meet you there at 7pm. I live nearby. Better yet, William, why don’t you come by at 6pm for tea?” She took out a pen and scribbled something on a piece of paper and extended it to him.

“How about 6:30pm, he asked as he took the paper? “I usually close at 6pm and I’m expecting a customer to come by at closing time today.”

“Perfect,” Dina said.

“It sounds lovely, thank you, Dina.”

With a happy and positive outlook, Dina turned toward the door and looked back at William. Then she looked around the shop walls at all the clocks and let out a sigh of contentment, “I love your shop!”

To be continued…