Sunday, May 1, 2005

Another pass

I've finished the third editing pass.  I'm down to 111 pages; I started at 132. 

So this pass cut 21 pages.

I immediately started the fourth pass.

Each pass gets easier.

The goal:  90 pages.

                          *     *     *

I just finished watching John Travolta and Scarlett Johannson in The Love Song of Bobby Long.  Another adaptation of a novel that wishes it could be a ... novel.

I don't much feel like sleeping.

To cleanse the palate, so to speak, I'm listening to a really successful screen adaptation of a novel:  Wonder Boys.  With a great Bob Dylan theme. 

Listening, because I'm not really watching it.  I don't need to.  I've seen it so often.  The screen's behind me.  As I listen, I can see it all in my head. 

                         *     *     *

I had dinner with another writer the other evening.  On the way home, the subject of my blog came up.

"Writing a blog just seems arrogant somehow," I told my friend.  "Self-centered."

"You know," my friend said.  "That's the one thing that could keep you from succeeding.  Putting yourself down like that.  Anyone who thinks you're arrogant -- what they're really telling you is that you're talented. 

"And that your talent makes them feel uncomfortable.  So to get you to put your talent away, they tell you you're arrogant."

                         *     *     *

I once reacted to my mother. 

I was tired of listening to her criticize her most wonderful dishes to our guests.

I suggested she did that to elicit compliments.

She disagreed, of course.

                         *     *     *

It's good to return to a book.  

Few have influenced me as deeply as did Chaim Potak's novel:  My Name Is Asher Lev

I realize that every time I pick it up.  Lately, I've picked it up often.

                         *     *     *

"An artist needs time to do nothing but sit around and think and let ideas come to him," Jacob Kahn said to me one afternoon on that porch after I had sat on a chair for hours, gazing at the sunlight on the water and the sand and the houses farther up along the dunes. 

"Gertrude Stein said that once.  She was an impossible human being.  But she was wise."

                         *     *     *

One morning, I finished praying and came back across the dunes and found Jacob Kahn on the porch.

"I was watching you," he said quietly.  "I used to pray once.  Do you talk to God when  you pray?"


"I have lost that faculty.  I cannot pray.  I talk to God through my sculptures and painting."

"That's also prayer."

He smiled faintly, the morning sun on his face.  "The Rebbe said precisely that.  You are following the party line, Asher Lev.  But we know it is not the same thing, don't we?"

                         *     *     *

"You are too religious to be an Abstract Expressionist," he said to me one morning.  "We are ill at ease in the universe.  We are rebellious and individualistic.  We welcome accidents in painting. 

"You are emotional and sensual but you are also rational.  That is your Ladover background.  It is not in my nature to urge a person to give up his background and culture in order to become a painter.  That is because it is not in my nature to be a fool.

"A man's painting either reflects his culture or is a comment upon it, or it is merely decoration or photography."

                         *     *     *

One afternoon, I painted a portrait of myself in my fisherman's cap, with my long red earlocks and the tufts of red hair on my cheeks and chin and my eyes dark but flecked with tiny spots of light. 

I looked at the portrait and tucked my earlocks behind my ears.

                         *     *     *

"Asher Lev," Jacob Kahn said softly.  "Do not become a whore."

I stared at him.  His face was indistinct in the dark night.

"It is not likely that you will starve as an artist.  It is also not likely that you will become very rich.  Anna tends to be optimistic with her artists.  In any event, poor or rich, do not become a whore."

I told him I had no intention of becoming a whore.

"No?  You are already on the way, Asher Lev.  I would not object if you did that to your payos out of conviction.  But you did it out of shame and cowardice.  That is the beginning of artistic whoring."

                         *     *     *

"Asher Lev, an artist who deceives himself is a fraud and a whore.  You did that because you were ashamed.  You did that because wearing payos did not fit your idea of an artist.

"Asher Lev, an artist is a person first.  He is an individual.  If there is no person, there is no artist.  It is of no importance to me whether you wear your payos behind your ears or whether you cut off your hair entirely and go around bald.  I am not a defender of payos. 

"Great artists will not give a damn about your payos; they will only give a damn about your art. The artists who will care about your payos not worth caring about.  you want to cut off your payos, go ahead. But do not do it because you think it will make you more acceptable as an artist.  Good night, Asher Lev."

                         *     *     *

He peered at me intently in the darkness.

"Asher Lev, did I upset you?


"Good.  I spoke bluntly.  It is not in my nature to be circumspect about important matters."

I was quiet.

"Good night, Asher Lev."

He went alone into the house.

I stood alone on the porch and stared out across the sands at the water and the night.  There was a wind now from the ocean, cool and damp across my face.  The porch ran the length of the house and was screened off from the outside. 

The darkness throbbed softly with the earth life of an ocean shore.  I heard the tapping of insects upon the screen.  A mosquito buzzed nearby, strangely loud in the pulsing night.  Distant laughter floated toward me, borne by the night wind. 

I felt hot, and I shivered.  And I was ashamed.

                         *     *     *

We did not talk again about my earlocks.  I left them as they had been, loose and long against the sides of my face.

                         *     *     *

He crouched down along the edge of the surf where the sand was moist but untouched now by the encroaching film of water.  His hands gathered sand into a small mound.  I watched his fingers begin to work on the moist sand.

"It pleases me that you have chosen not to abandon things that are meaningful to you.  I do not have many things that are meaningful to me.  Except my doubts and my fears.  And my art."

His fingers were shaping the sand, working swiftly, molding.  I saw a face come to life.  I saw eyes and a nose and lips.  It was his own face.  He was sculpting a self-portrait out of the sand along the edges of the foaming surf.  The sightless eyes stared out across the water.

                         *     *     *

He looked at me and shook his head.

"Asher Lev, sometimes I find your presence a little--upsetting.  You carry with you too much of my own past.  Come.  Walk with me along the beach.  We will look at your Hopper sunlight on the houses.  You will contemplate God and I will contemplate futility."

He smiled wryly.

"I do not enjoy myself when I am like this.  But there is nothing to be done.  It is in my nature to be this way from time to time."

                                        - From My Name Is Asher Lev, Chaim Potak, 1972

No comments: