Thursday, May 30, 2013

"The Mysterious Connection"

I am meditating in the morning, just after I wake up.   (Meditating before you wake up is called sleeping.)  And what should pop into my consciousness but a story about me and Miss Sternberg, my Toronto Hebrew Day School art teacher when I was seven.

All I recall about Miss Sternberg is that she wore oversized horn-rimmed glasses, and she was big, though when you’re seven, who isn’t? 

I would – I believe fairly – adjudge myself to be creative in one and a half areas – writing and half music.  But I am terrible at art, and I always have been – I’ve been doodling the same stick figure for sixty years.

I don’t know.  My mind sees stuff, but when the image gets sent down to my drawing hand, my perplexed fingers go, “What do you want?”   It is utterly hopeless – Morse Code tapping out to a person who can’t hear.

So we’re sitting in art class.  Our assignment:  To recreate “an outdoor activity”, with crayons.  Our drawing paper was of extremely low quality – it had chips of wood in it.  Though a few arboreal remnants did not seem to deter other people, by whom I mean people who could draw.  My friend Ira Friedman was a natural.  Years later at camp, he painted a picture of “Dennis The Menace” on my canoe paddle.  (And canoe paddles are all wood.) 

For my “outdoor activity”, I decide to draw a “badminton scene”, badminton being a game which, though heartbreakingly inept at other sports, I was not entirely terrible at.  It’s like the “Sports Fairy” had mistakenly delivered “Badminton” to the wrong house.  And I kept it.

The problem is, the thing I draw worse than everything else I can't draw is people.  (Even my stick figures are unidentifiable.)  So I made an immediate decision.

As a result, my finished picture offered a rudimentary house, and a side yard boasting a “badminton height” net supported by two poles, four misshapen rackets lying on the ground, alongside a mutant facsimile of a “birdie.”

That was my picture – a “people-free” Badminton Tableau.  I finished quickly, because…what was it?

Miss Sternberg passes from desk to desk dispensing encouragements and adulations, deserved or otherwise.  I recall hearing the words, “I like what you’re going for there, Arye”, delivered to a would-be Picasso who landed in the ritual slaughtering racket. 

Then it was my turn.  Miss Sternberg eyed my effort, struggling to say something that, if not high praise, would at least not make me cry.  Finally, she found the appropriate observation.

“It looks like badminton.  But where are the people?”

Critics!  They never give you a break.

Though hardly a quick thinker, I desperately needed a “saver.”  And startlingly, one came to me. 

Why were there no people in my Badminton Tableau?

“It’s raining.  And they all went inside.”

I heard a sound which I would later recognize as a person choking down a guffaw.  I feared for her internal organs, a suppressed laugh bubble causing an helpless spleen or gall bladder to explode.  Miss Sternberg moved away in silence.  Though her shoulders kept jerking up and down.

That’s the story that came to me as I meditated.  And I was grateful, because I had nothing ready to write about that day.  (“That day” being today.)  This happens quite frequently.  I do not get an idea till it comes to me.  And when it comes to me, there it is – a ready-to-go blog post idea. 

What if nothing comes to me?  So far, that has not happened.  Though I cannot for the life of me imagine why. 

The fact is, I do not overly concern myself with why ideas come to me – I have too many other concerns I can’t do anything about occupying my mind.  But I do sometimes ponder why this one floated to my consciousness at this particular moment.

“Why did I think of that just now?” (In contrast to the uncountable other things I could have thought).  Kind of an interesting inquiry, don’t you think?

“What brought this decades-ago triviality suddenly to my attention?”

Well, just like you – or at least I – cannot make a thought appear, I cannot make the explanation for why that thought appeared appear either.  It has to come to me.  And an hour or so later, it did.

The “badminton-picture-with-no people-in-it” story seems to be about me, surrendering, perhaps too readily, to my perceived limitations.  And it came to mind, I believe, because of a recent houseguest, a friend of half a century who, though he may not have received the career-related blessings that I’ve enjoyed, has never ever stopped working. 

And he continues to today.  Toiling simultaneously on an e-book, several plays, a miniseries proposal, a children’s book adaptation, and a feature film, shot entirely on an iPad.                          

Me, I saw the handwriting on the wall, and the handwriting said, “Go home.”  And, after a couple of rejected pilot scripts and an unsold screenplay, I did. 

It was definitely raining.  But I wondered, for the first time, if I may have retired to the indoors just a little too easily. 

An unconscious thought offered up a story.  And the story illuminated the unconscious thought. 

I discovered the connection this time.

I wonder what my other stories are telling me?


Johnny Walker said...

Hurrah! I hope you re-consider your self-imposed "retirement", there's so many creative avenues to explore these days.

I'm just watching TAXI for the first time ever (I'm 35 and I remember catching a few episodes as a kid -- my parents loved it). What a show! Often when I go back and watch older sitcoms, I have to train myself to slow down to their pace. I get restless after growing up with TV that runs a mile a minute, but with TAXI I haven't had that at all. I think it's because the stories and characters are so good that I'm hooked. It feels more like "real life" and therefore more relatable. In fact, I find myself actively disliking moments when the show get too sitcom-y and the characters stop being real.

It's like THE WIRE of comedy or something. I wonder if it's not just me and people might be open to a slower series right now.

Anyhoo, the reason I wanted to comment was to ask you about the benefits of meditating. I've been considering getting into it myself. Someone once said that creativity is a constant battle with your self-awareness, and for me that's definitely true. I wonder if meditating might help with that (hey, it worked for Andy Kaufman).

Thanks for your blog. I have to go and rifle through your archives for TAXI stories now.

pumpkinhead said...

I agree that you have other avenues. Actually, I suggested this to you like two years ago. You have indeed surrendered to retirement too easily.

Andy Andy said...

Like most of your fans, I'll join the 2 prior posters who say you went too easily into the night. As one who was forced into retirement - tho not from the creative genre - and I was definitely not ready to go, it's easy to fob my thoughts off onto someone else.

Completely different topic: I just happened to discover the A&E series called LONGMIRE, a modern day western set in a fictional section of Wyoming. I've watched the first 2 episodes of the first season. Curious if you've seen it and if so, what you think of it. Like yourself, I'm a fan of the western. I'm undecided if I'll continue with LONGMIRE.