Monday, February 20, 2012

what we talk about when we talk about reading/writing

"I love this idea—the way any story is an amalgam between the written version and your own experience. We could have a contest where people draw the kitchen table in my story, or in Carver’s, and everyone would depict it differently. The round table you had growing up, or plates on the wall in your grandmother’s kitchen—these details work themselves into the way you imagine the story. And that was what I was working with: not Carver’s story specifically, but my memory of his story."

- Nathan Englander, talking to Joe Fassler of The Atlantic about the new collection. Full interview is here.

and this, of course, makes me go back to the quotation from jeanette winterson at the top of my blog as another example of this. the 'weak signal into the outer space of each other' is the text we strive so hard to make clear to our readers, and yet they are just 'stray words on crumpled paper' and no matter what i say, you will hear it like only you can. because your brain works differently than mine, has different images and experiences stored in it.

but in both cases we are talking about the same phenomenon, which Englander spells out a little more in this paragraph:

"This is something that's particular to fiction. You watch a movie and it becomes a movie in your head, but you don't remember it and mistake it for a memory. Only with writing do people say—when did that happen to me?—and then realize they read it in a book. It's because you construct what you read in your mind, and if a written reality is successful, it becomes a memory. Not remembered, a memory. That's how story functions."

and the thing is, this phenomenon is the exact same in the process of acting. what a reader does from page to imagination is what an actor does from page to body. (which means we, as readers, are all actors in our minds, loves.)

because an actor takes what is given in a script, and by their director, (they don't get to choose the table, but they do get to decide how they feel about it) and then they get to move around the space and flesh out (literally, with their own flesh) all the action that is to take place. not just the action, but every movement, and every emotion--exactly how to express the look of disgust they must give their partner at that one moment. in order to know that, in order to have a grasp of the physicality, one must be in total control of the mentality. in order to give the motivation that lies beneath every last thing portrayed on stage some real, truthful meaning, many actors take what is known about their character and infuse every bit of that--and every bit of back story they can come up with--with their own thoughts and emotions and maybe even experiences. they decide who in their own life their character's dead mother looks like, what the incident that started them on their emotional journey actually looked and felt like, where and when that one vacation that is briefly mentioned in the first scene was taken. they basically set design and storyboard the character's entire life.

so it's actually a super close and active reading of the text. but no two actors will interact with the same role the same way, which is just what Englander (and Winterson) is (are) talking about. and which is why watching a movie of a book is hard when the set designer and director can't see into your head and they get it all wrong.

i've thought for a long time about what would happen if technology ever develops to the point of us being able to download the thoughts and images and emotions in our heads (and hearts and things) into the head of someone else. wouldn't art then become unnecessary? wouldn't closing that gap between our heads make our starships redundant? wouldn't we all just have access to everyone's images and not feel the need to express them to each other anymore? i fear it, i have to admit, i do. because, then what?

i feel on some levels that my purpose in life is to make connection with other people through my words. if words become unnecessary, will i be able to function anymore? what will i do with my time and energy? if all the challenge is taken out of making yourself understood, is it worth trying?

because right now, the joy i get from trying is the one thing i've got going for me. and the challenge is something i'm willing to put a lifetime's worth of energy into. to have the power to put clear and (hopefully) compelling pictures into other people's heads (or to induce them to create pictures in their own heads), even if they look nothing like the ones in my own, that is worth so very much to me. and everyday i'm trying to nurture and strengthen that power. and right now i have faith in that power, not just mine but all artists', being a source of real and lasting good in this world.
(which is why i can't start talking about writing without getting to a meaning-of-life moment, i guess. :P )

Saturday, February 18, 2012

my dream boy

a bit of fiction i wrote this week:
[ed: Saunia Powell]

my dream boy

One day the most perfect boy I've ever seen showed up right out of nowhere, and then just started being 'around' all the time. It took me a little while to realize it, but it was always the same boy, always just on the periphery. Once I noticed him, however, I couldn't stop seeing him everywhere I looked, as if he suddenly liked all the same people and places and things I did. And it was disconcerting how utterly beautiful I found him. I mean, it's a little unnerving when you are just minding your own business, going about your day, and then, bam! your exact ideal of what a boy should be is just standing there, looking gorgeous, being cool, smiling faintly—-not necessarily at you, just generally—-and you have to figure out how to catch your breath and remain calm. Act like nothing extraordinary is happening to you. It was hard to get used to.
But then I started expecting to see him. And over time I took note of the little things about him that his perfectness had all but blinded me to at the outset. Simple little things that you can observe from afar, like his stellar wardrobe and how well he wore it, the always pleasing variations in how his hair looked day to day, messy or done. How he held himself with such poise-—sitting, standing, at rest, in motion-—I took special note of his gait and ever after could recognize him coming from a mile away.
We circled round each other for a time, never getting close enough to meet exactly, but taking the measure of each other, assessing the possibility of...something. Or at least I was, of course I didn't know what he thought, if anything. Also, this was all new to me, acknowledging this type of attraction, this inability to look away, this desire for a guy like this. I mean, he was exactly my type--to a T--but I wasn't quite ready to deal with the consequences of what that meant. Because I hadn't yet come to terms with the fact that I had a type--at least in this sense--until he showed up. But he was just magnificent. And it did things to me to witness this magnificence and not be able to come close to it somehow.
It was tantalizing, seeing him around almost every day, watching him stand, coat collar up, smoking a cigarette outside, noticing the way he ran his fingers through this hair, witnessing a half-smile break slowly over his face, imagining what it would be like to look in his eyes, to know what his handshake felt like. It bordered on unbearable at times to not know him, inside and out.
I finally gave up any pretense of indifference, which I had been feigning for some time, and decided to make his acquaintance. But I didn't know how to do so. I agonized over it for a long time, trying to figure out the best way to go about it. How do you approach your ideal boy and introduce yourself? Saying something to the effect of, “I've been staring at you from across crowded rooms for what feels like my whole life, and I can't stand being that far away from you anymore” would probably not do, even if it was the truth. (and yes, I was that far into this infatuation, fascination, obsession...whatever you call it, I was in deep.) I was hooked. Addicted might be too strong a word, but only just.
Because then he got a hold of my dreams. And he wouldn't let go. Whether I remembered the dreams or not, every morning I'd wake up with his image behind my eyelids, as consistent as the sleep crud in the corners, as if I'd been staring at him all night and his figure had burned itself onto my retinas like a flashbulb. A lot of them I did remember, tho. Dreams of walking through houses or subways or dormitories or museums together, dreams of picnics and playgrounds and dance parties, of couches and cars and cabins in the woods, of food and drinks in restaurants and bars and kitchens and bedrooms. But always with him. Or it always ended up as him. Sometimes the person I was with would start as a friend or an old lover, but at some point it always morphed into him. I'd look away for a second and my ex-girlfriend, or my old roommate or my co-worker/crush would vanish and in their place would be him: my dream boy. I started calling him that in my head—-my 'dream boy'—-once it became literally true. But then I feared I'd never be able to hold his gaze in waking life. How awkward my crush had become. (I will call it a crush, even if that feels inaccurate to some, because otherwise the word 'worship' would be considered)
I had almost resigned myself to worshiping him (there was nothing left) from afar forever, when one day I turned around and there we was, right behind me. He'd sneaked up and come close to me of his own accord. I was shocked and delighted, but understandably scared. We shyly introduced ourselves and began getting to know each other close up. And, wonder of wonders, he seemed normal and happy and perfectly fine with spending time with me. I was in heaven. Still somewhat nervous, of course, not really knowing what I could do with him, or what exactly I wanted with him, (I'd never really done this before) but enjoying his company to the utmost.
I made a habit of studying him. All the little details one can collect as being the personal traits of someone—-mannerisms, the ways of being that each being possesses that are unique unto her- or himself—-how each of his facial expressions was formed and what they indicated, the way he chewed his food or held his lips when putting on lip balm, how he checked his pockets for his keys/wallet/phone, the tone and timbre of his voice (he had an exquisite voice), the way he leaned on things-—walls, railings, streetlamps, door frames-—yes, i admired the way he leaned. how his hands moved when he lit a cigarette; how he used his hands generally. They were expressive but not fidgety, square but not thick, long but not spindly, and he used them to the utmost effect, bringing attention to their grace and surety without ostentation. I admit was a little bit in love with his hands.
I became a connoisseur of my dream boy, committing to memory every angle of his face, every line that he cut in his well-fitting clothes, every movement and attitude of his body. it was everything I could do to keep myself from resorting to the adult version of teenage fandom—-like tacking pictures of him all over my bedroom walls-—whatever that would be.
And slowly, surely, we got closer and closer. We spent time together everyday-—we were fast becoming inseparable. We spent hours at at time hanging out together, sharing everything with each other. I never got tired of his company, in fact, I increasingly required it as much as possible. He, bless him, was happy to comply. It was remarkably easy to be together because we were actually (surprisingly, to me) very similar. Soon, I thought I knew him well enough that I could look at the world through his eyes. I had been able to get inside his head—-had been allowed entrance—-and I felt comfortable there. It was a novel but not altogether foreign viewpoint. It felt really good to see him this way, to take on his frame of mind, it was intimate and safe, somehow. And I was welcome. I started to spend more and more time inside his head, getting a feel for it, coming to rely on his viewpoint to inform mine. And I was grateful for it.
One would think that knowing him so well might mean a falling off of my worshipful stance, but not in his case. The more I knew about him, the more highly I regarded him. Yes, it's possible that this was a dangerous predicament to have put myself in, but I had not a thought for myself, for the safety of my being, I had abandoned all thought of going back at this point. There was nothing for it but to continue on. Toward what, I was still unsure.
I had by that time become closer to him than to any other person in my life, and still I wanted to know him better. It was 'As if increase of appetite had grown /By what it fed on'. I wanted more than anything to get at, not the trappings of his being, but the thing itself. I had an insatiable desire to 'pluck out the heart of [his] mystery', to discover the pure essence of this perfect boy. This ideal specimen of the masculine gender. This meant I had gotten to an emotional place I had not expected to be: in the throes of the desire to plumb the depths of his heart, to penetrate into his inner core, to mine every inch of him, and make it fully known to me. The natural progression of this thing I can only call a relationship, was to bring him home with me. Since he had shared my head every night for months it seemed only fair to invite him to share my bed.
And then the real exploration, and epiphanies, began. It was appalling how turned on I could get by looking at his body, my gaze a caress he welcomed with apparent relish. Touching him was a whole other level of pleasure, and we took our time with each and every sensation. The first time I felt his body on mine, my head exploded—-ecstasy of the highest order yet. His hands on me sent a thrill through every nerve, his chest on mine made me want to weep, his hips, his ass, when they met my own, begot a joy unspeakable, a need unmanageable, a drive unstoppable. I'd thought I enjoyed being inside his mind, but the first time I was inside his body, desire bit into me so hard it hurt, and I almost couldn't bring myself to come out again. How had I not known that this was what I had been needing? Everything made sense for the first time. I felt whole. Replete. Content. And, dare I say it, at home. I had lost myself completely in him.
At that moment I knew, finally and without a doubt, that I had to let go of my fears and love myself enough to take the final plunge. To let go of who I thought I was and embrace the new possibility this perfect boy had engendered.
And so i became committed to grappling joyfully with the image of my dream boy, striving with my whole self to learn how to be inside of him. I’m learning that he is a good fit, and he comes easily to me. There is just one last thing left to do.
I need to tell you. To make you understand. To ask you to not come looking for me as the girl you knew, because she is gone. All that's left is this boy, the one whom I've brought from fantasy into the flesh. My flesh. The boy I've dreamed of being.

Monday, February 13, 2012

narcissism and self-loathing in one convenient package

this set of images, which originated *here* (please go look at the originals because they are actually gifs that don't seem to play on blogspot and the movement in them is important to what follows) and had this caption: "I just wanted to point out Benedict’s phone answering dance, now documented in two very different films." sparked the below conversation with a fellow trans-masculine person who is also somewhat Sherlocked:

me: i can’t even begin to express how happy it makes me to watch this. especially the swing of his hips in the second frame. yes, i’m entirely too sherlocked for my own good, and yet, this is still a jd’s eyeliner moment. thank you, benedict cumberbatch for doing your (not so small) part to bring a touch of femme-sexy back to men’s roles on screen.
wt: I love it when you find an actor's quirk that is so ingrained it shows up in every character. I worked with an actress once who always added a hitch step/ball-change step when changing direction during arguing or angry dialogue. not sure why I love it so much but yes, there is pointed smiling going on over here. also, it makes me think that's how he answers the phone in real life which is a very satisfying idea.
me: my thoughts exactly. like, since he was young he has believed that it is always necessary, if you are going to be using only your voice to communicate, to readjust your stance so it's at least 4 inches wider than normal.
wt: clearly it's a business to be taken seriously. also, apparently a hand in the pocket is key.
me: ‎(oh, god. why is he so perfect?? how do we become him? *despairing sigh* ) ... you know, the other thing that is fantastic about this is tho the dance is clearly necessary no matter who he is playing, it takes on a different form depending on the role. peter and sherlock do that dance very differently. it is so clearly a bit of b. cumberbatch shining thru, but it is still refracting thru the lens of each of his characters. ♥
wt: this is one of those times when I wonder how you have enough time on your hands to think so deeply about a fan crush. :)
me: heh. it's the product of visual multitasking while aurally working and spending my life obsessed with (mostly masculine) presentation on and off screen/stage. the fan-crushing is just a byproduct of my super-objective. :P
wt: see now you have a purpose, I just develop intense fan crushes from time to time. more often of the "be you" variety than the "do you" variety. I suppose it's a byproduct of having to intentionally cultivate and groom my personal presentation of masculinity, having missed out on 24 years of socialization.
me: exactly. it's the same thing for me, really. it's just that the writer in me analyses my process of crushing (which is actually fubu-ing*) and makes it into an essay about masculinity and gender and presentation in society. over and over and over. :/
but because we have to do it intentionally as adults, i have to believe we are in the perfect position to articulate it for others, yo.

this conversation highlights two points:

1) the last thought is bordering on my manifesto for 'johnny depp's eyeliner', or it's at least the founding thought process. if i, at 30+, am figuring out what range of masculinity i want to fall within, and am using images in popular culture to pinpoint it, i might as well write about it and show the images of what i'm trying to articulate. namely, that there is a range of masculinity out there and the part of it that have at least a hint of the feminine are incredibly compelling. as someone who is unable to deny the feminine parts of my masculinity, i delight in finding the same things in cis-men who have found where they are comfortable on the gender spectrum. (yes, i'm basically a teenager looking for role-models. but in a postgrad gender theory/media studies kind of way.)

2) because i think a lot about the performative nature of everything we do in real life, when watching actor's performances i tend to be able to zero in on the moments and glimpses when they aren't acting, they are just being. and when they are being, they are, at least in some measure, being themselves. these moments totally exist on screen, and i am a big fan of the directors who know how capture them. i agree with coatcollar that benedict cumberbatch has figured out the most important rule in acting: to be as truthful as possible in imaginary circumstances, which has the corollary of: the only way to be completely truthful is to bring yourself into the role. so yes, the phone dance, different for each role, but nonetheless there, because it's his own.
this concept strikes so deeply into the heart of my love of theatre/film, says so much about my own writing, even speaks to my asterisked comment below on attraction, that i don't quite know what to do with myself. i'd say more if i thought there was a clearer way to elucidate my feelings, but i don't know that there is.

(and yet, of course, i must at least attempt):

it's those little bits of truth, those moments of a person's true self shining thru, that i live for, generally, in my life. with everyone i know, and everyone i see. cuz we are all playing roles, we are all acting for someone, everyone, (ourselves...?) but we are all humans, each with our own self inside, which so much of the time is hidden from sight. some people would say that actors are the worst at showing their true selves, being in the business of performing, but i believe the opposite. i believe they are the ones most able to understand how to let themselves--their true selves--be seen thru the characters they take on. and by extension, by our witnessing of their efforts, to teach us how to do the same. this is why theatre and film are so important, they create the imaginary circumstances for truth to be brought forth, as an offering in the service of bettering humanity, to us.

*f.u.b.u is the dilemma of being unsure whether your attraction to someone is due to your desire to fuck them, or to be them: ef you / be you = fubu. it is also called the 'frank sinatra complex', as referenced by wt in the form of 'do be do be do'.
for me, becoming someone--getting inside their body and their mind--is such a sensual, all-encompassing process, so similar to fucking them, that i don't think i have a difference in my desires between one and the other. if i am attracted to someone, i almost surely want to both be them and do them (and yes, i'm very aware of how problematic this can be, trust me).
in the case of mr. benedict cumberbatch, this feeling has manifested as a physical ache in the pit of my stomach, and an alternating blind belief in the possibility of being somewhere close to his perfection, and a despairing realization that there is absolutely no possible way of even approaching it. this is my life as a transmasculine genderqueer with body dysphoria and a certain taste for beautiful men. and this, my friends, explains the title of this post.