Living in the moment

Posted: January 7, 2011 in Creative Inspiration
Tags: , , ,
At Mother, detail (Steven Assael, 2001, Oil, wood panel, canvas and steel)

At Mother, detail (Steven Assael, 2001, Oil, wood panel, canvas and steel)

Ok kids, time to start drinking the Kool-Aid

(What? Too soon? Darn, I’ll have to try again next week)

 

Art is Magical; Living in the moment is an art form (can you already see where I’m headed with this?).

I woke up this morning feeling reluctant to leave my bed; somehow, my body knew it was snowing (how does it do that – seriously – is there a scientist in the house?). It was so warm there under the covers, so comforting, so peaceful… and, if I’d only let myself, I’m sure that I could have dozed off for another couple hours. As I lay there, debating what to do, my capricious mind insisted that I get out of bed:  there were posts on the site to put up, an outline to finish for my second novel,  a first chapter to spill out for the same work, dishes to wash, breakfast to cook, editing to do, etc… etc… etc…

What an illogical organ a brain is.

Where was my motivation? What was I going to write? Would it be any good? Would people want to read it? I didn’t know; and the uncertainty scared me. Uncertainty, much like a vampire (at least those that I know from Buffy the vampire slayer), can’t enter your brain unless you invite it to, though, unfortunately for me – I had just welcomed the blood-sucker directly into my subconscious.

Trepidation rapidly became my state of mind; it became my moment. Why should I leave the temperate, comfortable, cushy cocoon of my covers? The only answer my beleaguered mind seemed to want to offer up was: I shouldn’t. I could easily push back working on my second Novel (heck, the first one still isn’t even published), I’d only promised to do 2-3 posts on my blog a week – and here I am this week pushing seven or eight (counting all the little blurbs that go on my info pages) – dishes smishes, editing is for dopes, I could always order out food, what did I care? I was comfortable.

Luckily, I’ve been trained for this.

This is exactly why I love acting, and why I wholeheartedly believe that it should be taught in schools:  motivation is only the backdrop to action. Sure I was comfortable, and unmotivated, so what? I didn’t have to force it (and you should never try to, this is what I believe to be the direct cause of all creative blockage plaguing artists worldwide – where’s that scientist at? Kindly take a note and do a case study would ya?), all I had to do was embrace my state of mind, and wait for inspiration to strike.

When you learn about acting (which, much like writing, cooking, art, or anything creative really, is merely a heightened version of expression), one of the very first things you’ll discover about its history is – over the long years of its evolution – a wide variety of philosophy’s have emerged, that all attempt to tackle the problem of motivation, namely: how to Act.

Some, like the Stanislavski method, take a very systematic approach to a scene. You figure out exactly what your character wants, what he’s after, and what he’s willing to do to get there. You then break a scene down into beats, or, in other words; shorter segments within the action, where you hit mini-milestones on your journey to attaining your predetermined, never-changing goal, and slowly work to fulfill the character arch that you have neatly set out for yourself.

There’s a problem here however. What happens if, on this day of theater when you’re supposed to play the happy-go-lucky-neighbor with the heart of gold, in real life: your dog died? Or, as it was in this case, you simply feel unmotivated to play the role that was set out for you? What are you to do? Act your way out of the problem – use your special acting powers (Team America: World Police anyone)?

Stanislavski’s method was eventually espoused by others (I should note here that, in his later years, Stanislavski altered his own teachings for being too static and unnatural in practice), the most notable of which were: Lee Strasberg, Harold Clurman, and Cheryl Crawford; who together founded the Group Theater in 1931 – right here in NYC – and maintained most of the rigidity from Stanislavski’s original practice. It was their cohorts who I would come to align my own belief system with, and it is their very technique that I would like to share with you all today.

Stella Adler, Sanford (Sandy) Meisner, and Robert Lewis, all broke with the Group Theater, and founded their own schools of thought on the matter, each with its own merits (and each worthy of your time and education), but all circumscribed within the same basic philosophy: Living in the moment.

Live in the moment

You see the one thing Stanislavski’s method could not take into account was the individual feelings of his actors on any given day; feelings that would color performances, and alter the moment to moment interactions between players. We are not mere machines to be programmed so that we might neatly execute a rote chain of commands and eventually achieve our goals. Sadly it just doesn’t work like that. We, as we are right now – right this very instant – are the end results result of a complicated life equation, with factors like; evolution, DNA, RNA, our epigenetic-code, the sum of our experiences, our diets over the last week (speaking of which, I’ve got to eat breakfast soon. It’s a shame I can’t just run on coffee), and also the way we were fed in the womb. With factors as colorful and mottled as this, how can we always be expected to perform at the top of our game?

We can’t. Sometime we need a little help.

The beautiful thing about the “New school” of American acting teachers, was that their emphasis had severely shifted from affective emotional memory (E.G. Stanislavski); where we draw on past life experiences (such as how easy it was to work the day before) to make us feel a particular way in a scene, to: living in the moment, and (after thoroughly learning who your character is), merely reacting – in the moment – to your current circumstances, rather than trying to live up to some unwavering, unrealistic representation of them you’d conjured in your mind before ever having stepped foot on the stage, I.E.: life.

“All the world’s a stage, And all the men and women merely players.” ~William Shakespeare

The immortal bard was right; the world can, without much effort, be likened to a stage, and we are all merely players acting out our individual roles on it. If we don’t feel inspired, it’s perfectly OK. That’s simply our role for the day. Just make sure to get out of bed (I did, and nothing bad has happened yet… *Look out!*), and attend to the tasks that don’t require much focus. Trust me, if you’re open to it, inspiration will inevitably strike.

But, Mr.smarty-pants man, how will I know when inspiration strikes?

Well I’m glad you asked that question bold centered typeface, and my answer to you is: you might not. I didn’t today. I made it out of bed, I did my mindless task (the dishes are in the drying rack, say thank-you), and still… I had nothing. But, rather than plopping down to watch TV, or forcing some of my Novel’s outline to squeeze out of me like that last bit of toothpaste that just won’t come (and likely requires a steam-roller for its extraction), I instead jumped on my computer, and actively sought out inspiration from my fellow blogging community.

That is when i stumbled across ferrebeekeeper’s blog, which has to do with reflections on Art, Nature, and humankind in general.

Cool.

Art, being the ethereal intangible thing that it is, is the perfect medium (at least in this authors humble opinion), to aid in the lubrication of one’s thoughts. Take a long hard look at these two realist oil portraits done by native New Yorker, Steven Assael.

Club Kids (Steven Assael, 2001, oil on canvas)

Ask yourself, “How do they make me feel”, “What am I looking at”, “Who are these people”; that’s the beauty of Art – these are all are valid questions. Personally, I found myself in awe at how beautiful an image it was, while at the same time it depicted something that I had labeled in my mind (Gothic culture), as crude, barbaric, and even perhaps (I’m afraid to admit) silly…

I then came to my next chain of thoughts, that went something along the lines of, “Wow, that must have been an amazing time to live” (I suppose, being that what I was looking at was art, my brain automatically filed what I was observing under history) “Look at these people: what kind of world could breed such things?”

As I quickly came to realize – our world, and our time. Right now, 2011, there are people who languish in the rich Gothic world, and thrive under the wings of its lifestyle. It would seem that I had been far too judgmental (something I always try to keep in check, as it will only serve to keep my mind grounded), of this subculture, and had been entirely too quick to pass it over and assume that I wanted to distance myself from this aspect of modern life. Look at these portraits, these people, they’re beautiful…

Suddenly, as this realization hit me (and I opened my heart to something new), my creative block was lifted: I’d been inspired by the works of a fellow artist, and now the ideas had begun to flow. My mind flitted around various ideas and topics – like a butterfly in an open field of flowers – from the beauty on the screen before me, on over to the perceived impasse in my novel and blog.

I’ve got it!

And that’s all there was too it.

I’d experienced the fabled “Ah-ha” moment, and dined on the subsequent of fruit of my efforts, simply because I got out of bed, kept an open mind, and lived in the moment. By embracing the cold dreary day all around me, and letting it hit me however it would, I tackled a topic which (in my own imperfect mind), had been – in and of itself – cold and dreary: the Gothic subculture of our modern world; and look what beauty it’s wrought.

Silly boy… I should’ve known better: never pass judgment; merely remain observant, and keep an open mind.

Today creative people, I’d like to invite you all to not pass judgment – on yourselves. Remember that some days are easier than others, and, if you try to force your creativity, that it might turn on you and run away – never to return home again. Keep an open mind – at all times – and just be ready, because your next great moment of inspiration is just over the hill, you just have to have faith in yourselves to keep walking down that road.

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