Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Strindberg on Character



"As for characterization, I have made my people rather “characterless” for the following reasons: 
The word character has come to mean many things over the course of time. Originally, it must have meant the dominant trait in the soul-complex and was confused with temperament. Later it became the middle-class expression for the automaton, one whose disposition was fixed once and for all or had adapted himself to a particular role in life. In a word, someone who had stopped growing was called a character. In contrast the person who continued to develop, the skillful navigator on the river of life, sailing not with sheets belayed, but veering before the wind to luff again, was called characterless – in a derogatory sense, of course – because he was so difficult to understand, classify, and keep track of. This bourgeois concept of the immobility of the soul was transferred to the stage, which the bourgeoisie has always dominated. There a character became a man who was ready-made; whenever he appeared, he was drunk or comical or sad. The only thing necessary to characterize him was to give him a physical defect – a clubfoot, a wooden leg, a red nose – or have him repeat an expression, such as “that was splendid” or “Barkis is willin’.” This simplified view of human character still survives in the great Moliere. Harpagon is nothing but a miser although he could have been not only a miser but an excellent fancier, or splendid father and good citizen. What is worse is that his “defect” is very advantageous to his son-in-law and daughter, who are his heirs and therefore should not criticize him, even if they have to wait a bit before climbing into bed together. Therefore, I do not believe in simple theatrical characters. And an author’s summary judgments of people – this one is stupid, that one brutal, this one jealous, that one stingy – should be challenged by naturalists, who know how rich the soul-complex is and realize that “vice” has a reverse side closely resembling virtue."
From his introduction to "Miss Julie." 

Thursday, June 06, 2013

The Writer, The Hustler


In all the author evenings I attended for the PEN USA EV Fellowship, the idea that now more than ever the impetus is on the writer to promote their book through blogging, or tweeting, or whoring of some nature, has come up time and time again.

The idea of hustling your book feels desperate, cheap. If I were truly the writer I think I am, then shouldn't I be able to sell my book based on the merit of its writing? And more importantly, if I were a real artist, the accolades or success shouldn't matter.

They are diametrically opposed forces. The need to write, to be an artist true to oneself and the success needed to sustain your ability to write. If I'm being honest, there is also the sliver (or slice, depending) of ego that craves the fame and fortune of a successful book. In order to be a writer you have to have some ego, and mere existence of that ego means the desire for acclaim. But, if the writer is by nature a creature of ego, then it is also a creature of insecurity. Pride and fear makes the hustle feel like a necessity born from desperation.

Hustling doesn't start when you write a book, it begins when you start to take yourself seriously as a writer. You're encouraged to go to readings, attend conferences and workshops, make contacts! Contacts will help you get published! Contacts will help you get an agent. I've seen people gain success through these methods but I can't stifle this feeling that success gained this way is ill-gotten. It suggests an achievement won on the back of who you know, not what you wrote.

But it is still success--if the end result is the same, does it matter how you get there? The answer seems to me that if it matters to you, then it matters. And those people who achieved the goal you're aspiring to, still have to write a book. And if they're going to see any type of acclaim or success they have to write a good book (one would hope).

Would the literary greats tweet? Or have a blog? Who knows. What I do know is that the true artists can get away with not doing it, and that idea has stuck with me. One author said that tweeting felt like giving away some of yourself for free. Does it take away from the stores of creativity you have? As if creativity were some pool that could some day dry up.

The people who tweet well seem to have overcome any insecurity that might give them pause before sharing their thoughts or personal details. I have trouble publishing anything into perpetuity (or as long as a tweet lives) that I might regret or feel stupid for writing. I'm not a good enough writer to embue all of my intent in so few words--but I still try, and you can follow me @krisserin (see what i did there?). It's basically this feeling, expressed perfectly by Richard Yates in Easter Parade:


Readings feel the same way to me. Now, I enjoy reading. I've always been a bit of a ham, and I confess that I'm vain (although taking "selfies" or photos of myself for the pure purpose of a facebook profile picture is something I'm extremely uncomfortable with), but readings are strange things. Writing, unless it is for the sake of performance (plays, slam poetry), is meant to live on the page. And when I stand up in front of a group of people my ego gets in the way. I want to look good. Sound good. Come off well. I want people to admire me and walk away saying, "That Krisserin is AMAZING." I mean, who doesn't? But I hate that the performance (which I enjoy) gets in the way of my words. It's a just a different type of selfie.

In all truth, these are nice problems to have, but maybe I'm getting older. The hustling, the self-promotion, even this blogarrhea feels self-indulgent, and revealing, and the environment in which we're releasing our work today makes it really hard to be honest. It feels masturbatory at best and like giving up a piece of yourself at its worst.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

On Getting Ahead of Ourselves


I was at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books this past weekend. It's at USC now (I miss the times when it was at UCLA, when the walkways were wide and a person felt like they could breathe, but that's not why I'm writing) this big sprawling festival of writers and publishers and agents and editors and mostly desperate people, cramped into narrow walkways, over grassy hills, is a miasma of individuals hoping to find something or someone that can help them along the path to their dreams.

Anyone who writes, and especially those like me who are aspiring, know that my demographic -- the people who want to become writers -- is a hugely profitable one. People are making money hand-over-fist on the backs of people's greatest hopes in a ways that are exploitive and dirty. And they are successful because writers are a desperate breed of people. Especially aspiring writers, who all seem to be racing for the finish line (this writer included).

Desperation is an impatient beast. It doesn't have time for hard work, time for classes, time to read, time for revisions, but writing and writing well takes so much hard work, so much time. A serious and aspiring writer friend of mine met another, greener writer and said to me, "I just can't listen to her. I've worked too hard...I just can't." And I totally get what she means. I know what it feels like to have your deepest desire thrown around by other less serious, maybe undeserving, people. How dare they call themselves writers? They haven't worked half as hard as I have. 

I met a lot of these people at the Festival of Books. People who wanted to know how YOU could help THEM. Do you want a copy of my book? Will you publish my book? I have my book here if you want to buy a copy? I'm self published. I'm published. I'm looking for an agent. I get the desperation, I have it too, I just hide it better.

For myself, and for a lot of aspiring writers, I believe the main problem is that we allow our desperation, our hope, to let us get ahead of ourselves. That's why the sight of so many desperate people, all in one place, can be unnerving. I'm going to say something now which might sound a little like hubris, but comes from knowing the fruits of hard work and determination:

I am not worried about publishing my book. I'm not worried about finding an agent.

I believe that these things will come to me if I do my best to produce good work. If my book is good, if I've done everything I can to make it the best it will be, it will eventually find a home. I know this because every thing I've achieved so far has been won on the back of hard work. I know this because In the years I've dedicated to becoming a writer I've read a lot of books. A lot of bad books. A lot of crap gets published so why can't my crap get published? It will happen in time If I just put in the work, and that is the main thing I wanted to get across. Impatience breeds laziness. Impatience allows you to settle with good enough. Impatience allows you to be taken advantage of by people who are looking to make money off of your desperation. I believe that if someone is willing to put in the hard work, the rewards will follow.

It is easy to get ahead of yourself. Especially when you are so close to the finish line, which is why it is important not to think about the rewards. You have to tap into that thing that makes you want to be a writer, the pleasure and self-satisfaction that comes with putting all of yourself into your work. I've been told time and again by published authors that publishing a book will not change your life. So what you have to hold on to is the thing that made you want to write in the first place. Everything else, in the face of that, is empty, fleeting. The work is what is important. The writing is the best part! The satisfaction of taking the time to make craft something filled with beauty and meaning. You can't skip ahead. You have to take your time. You have to roll around in it, enjoy the journey and the success when it comes, will mean so much more.

A former teacher of mine, Les Plesko, once said he allows himself 15 minutes a day to think about his future greatness, then he gets back to work. It's some of the best advice I've ever received.

So:

Get back to work.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Eartha Kitt on Love and Compromise

I've been obsessing with this clip every since I stumbled upon the GIF of this scene on my new favorite (albeit strange and perverse) blog. I want to memorize her words, her inflections and tone and perform it as many times as I can whenever possible. She's remarkable.



INTERVIEWER:
But are you willing to compromise? Within a relationship?

EARTHA:
Compromise?
What is compromising?
Compromising for what?
Compromising for what reason?
To compromise?
For what?
To compromise.
What is compromise?

INTERVIEWER:
If a man came into your life, wouldn't you want to compromise?

EARTHA:
(raises eyebrows)
She laughs
Stupid.
She laughs again.

A man comes into my life and I have to compromise? (pause) You must think about that one again.

An extended laugh, Eartha throws her head back in amusement

A man comes into my life and you have to compromise? For what? For what? (pause, demanding) For what? A relationship is a relationship that has to be earned! Not to compromise for. (pause) And I love relationships I think they're fantastically wonderful I think they're great. I think there's nothing in the world more beautiful than falling in love. (pause)  But falling in love for the right reasons, falling in love for the right purpose. Falling in love. Falling in love! When you fall in love…what is there to compromise about?


INTERVIEWER:
Isn't love a union between two people? Or does Eartha, fall in love with herself?

EARTHA:
I think, if you were to think about it in terms of analyzing... (beat) Yes. I fall in love with myself, and I want someone to share it with me. (beat) I want someone to share me, with me.


Thursday, March 21, 2013

On Idol Worship

They have everything your bones ache for. You want to consume them. You want them to be your friend. Your mother. Your father. Your lover. You want them to see brillance in you, because their approval is the validation of your entire identity as an artist, writer, human being.

You think it'd be something to eventually grow out of. But as an artist, or someone with an artistic pursuit, I find myself falling into idol worship all the damn time. I can fall in love in a sentence. Fuck that, I can fall in love over a word so perfectly chosen it feels like it's grabbing me by the spine.

Then, if you're lucky enough, you get to meet your idols. If you're luckier still, you get to talk to them, take classes with them, learn from them -- the lighthouses of your dreams.

It is a humbling weakness. I want to be confident in my abilities, in my talent, in the results of the hard work I've put into my reading and writing, without needing the affirmation. I'm terrified people will think I'm a hack, a shitty, talentless writer, or worse yet, a dilettante. I don't want them to see the insecure, approval-seeking wannabe hiding behind my ambition. It is a painful reminder of my immaturity as a writer, as a person.

Approval seeking is a big part of that fear and the high you get from it is fleeting. It lasts as long as the moment lasts if not just a moment longer before you're aching for the next fix. More affirmation, more approval, special treatment.

I know enough to understand that gaining approval shouldn't be important. Having something to say is what is important. Putting in the hard work to say it in a way only I could is what is important. But it's still there, sitting in my chest, my pilot light of hope, waiting for you to love me.

Friday, February 22, 2013

On Finding Inspiration.


I looked for inspiration and when I found it, it looked annoyed.
“What do you want from me?” Inspiration said.
“The usual,” I said. “You know, what everyone wants.”
“Everyone wants something different,” Inspiration said.
“Okay,” I said. “Give me something sad.”
“Something sad? I can do that.”
Inspiration changed into the shape of my old dog. She wagged her tail at me the way she used to when I came home from school. I thought of the last time I saw her and felt sick.
“That’s too sad,” I said. 
Inspiration changed back.
“You want something happier?”
“Happy is boring,” I said. “Give me something different.” Then I had a thought. “Show me what inspires you.”
“What inspires me…”
Inspiration changed into a scene. A quiet morning, or maybe it was night, one small lamp glowing on a desk, and a person writing in a notebook.
I watched the scene for a moment. The person wiped their eyes, drank from a cup, and continued to write.
“What is it?” I asked the tableau.
“It’s Dedication,” Inspiration said. “It’s Discipline. It’s you.”


Friday, February 08, 2013

When I think of Los Angeles

Julius Shulman

I don't think of traffic, or smog, or Hollywood or the vain and vapid people who make the city intolerable at times.

I think of the mountains and the desert and the orange trees of the San Gabriel Valley and the way they blossom and fill the night air with a magically sweet smell.

Me and my friend Bando in Apple Valley
I think of what it must have been like in 1920 when my great grandparents came here from Oklahoma and Indiana. Or what it was like when my Mom moved to El Monte in the late 50's from Minnesota and before that from the Philippines. I imagine my Dad with his chin length hair seeing the Doors play in West Covina, driving around with his windows rolled down blasting rock and roll when it was in it's prime.
That's my Dad second from the right (What a stud),
with my Uncle Richard, Aunt Debby and Uncle Danny at the Grand Canyon.

I think of a town of limitless opportunities and unparalleled diversity. I think of home and the people that inspire with their suffering and their success. Los Angeles isn't a town for the soft-palmed and fearful. It's a place that awards the confident and adventurous. The outside world might look at us and see wannabes and coteries but I see hardworking people. People who have to push themselves everyday.