Tuesday, August 25, 2015

A Perfection Rant

I have ranted about perfectionism before, but I recently experienced a problem with it that I hadn't thought about before.

I coach a song, a theatrical scene, or a speech in 4 stages:

The body, where we learn the best use of the vocal mechanism. For songs, that stage also includes the pitches, rhythms, and harmonies. 

The mind, where we pay attention to the words, the sentence structure, all the literary aspects of the piece.

The emotions, where we apply our own interpretation of the meaning of the piece.

Finally, all the aspects of performance - involving the audience, use of gesture, body movement, etc.

We had reached the third stage with a Gluck song. I was emotionally drawn into it, completely involved as an audience member, when the singer stopped, then repeated the last phrase he'd sung. For the 1st time in more than 30 years of teaching, I let out an expletive. "What the f . . . are you doing?"  

"I didn't like that last run," he said. "I can do it better."

When I told someone later about this incident, he said, "The effect was like someone answering their phone halfway through intercourse."

Exactly. The singer interrupted a creative, emotional experience with self-criticism that belonged way back in stage one. That's where we work on the mechanics, using all the knowledge we've acquired, working out the kinks, getting as close to perfect as we can. It's work that is meant to be self-centered.

But our emotions are responses to something other than self. In this case, to the emotional meaning of the song, to memories, to audience, to the creative impulse. 

Nothing excites me more than a beginning student who says, during stage three, "I lost myself."    

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Reading as a Creative Act

In a long conversation with another writer recently, we discussed why some reading experiences are memorable and others aren't.

I think we remember what we connect with emotionally. Even an exciting new idea, which we would ordinarily classify as cognitive, not emotional. Many, many times I think I remember exactly where I came across a new idea - I can "see" it somewhere in the upper third of a left page, and remember it word for word. But I'm not an underliner, and when I go back to look for it, it's not there. There's only a word or a phrase of the sentence I was sure I had remembered exactly. No, that word or phrase had made connections in my brain, and I had myself created the entire sentence I thought I had read.

I think we also respond to the emotion of the writer. If writers are truly engaged in the character, the words they use, the length of sentences, will engage the reader and make even a minor character memorable. Last night I read a chapter that mentioned a name which, because of the circumstances, should have appeared in a previous chapter. I skimmed that earlier chapter three times, but couldn't find her. I don't know who she is this morning. I also read a chapter from a minor (at least, so far) character's point of view in Alex Grecian's The Devil's Workshop. I remember this morning that he dropped and broke a tea cup near the beginning of the chapter and that he felt useful, at last, when he cleaned up the mess he'd made at the end of the chapter. I remember how he walked up the stairs, how helpless he felt when he was asked not to open a door. And a particular moment when he leaned his head against the door, hoping that would somehow help him see what was on the other side. I believe that Grecian had to have been inside that character during every moment of that chapter, feeling the emotions he was feeling on each step of the stairs.

If I reread that chapter now, I may find that what I remember is, again, not exactly what's on the page. But what is on the page allowed me to be inside that character, to re-create and believe in him.