Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Breaking the Fourth Wall

‘Breaking the Fourth Wall’ is an expression coming out of the world of theater. In most modern theater design, a room will consist of three physical walls, as well as an imaginary fourth that serves to separate the world of the characters from that of the audience. An accomplished actor can break through that fourth wall and draw the audience into his or her world, forgetting about the fourth wall there. Artists of every ilk seek to do the very same thing to reach their audience.

‘Behind the Music’ was a series on MTV a while back. The television series covered a number of famous bands and how they originated. Most had been honing their skills in three-two bars and the dance hall circuits for years before some well-written song or lucky coincidence was the break-through they needed to make it to the big time.

Across the board with almost every band was the image of a group of individuals with a fire in their respective bellies. Musicians so dedicated to their craft that they would let nothing get in their way of making music.

Musicians are certainly not alone in that endeavor. The actor, Dustin Hoffman, labored for ten years in Off-Broadway plays before hitting it big with ‘The Graduate.’ Jennifer Lawrence ran the same race.

This quest for recognition and success got me to reflecting why it is that some individuals can talk forever about doing something while others simply do it. Some curb jumpers think about running a marathon but never get past their wishful thinking. Then there are others who begin with a walk, then a jog, a short run and finally begin putting on the mileage.

There are hundreds of thousands of wannabe writers who can’t get past a blank sheet of paper or empty screen. Then there are others who toil for years trying to write something worthwhile but can’t get past the first page. There are only a relatively few who can sit down and write a play or novel or screenplay while so many others never complete that first sentence. What is the difference here?

I certainly don’t have an answer as to why some folks stoke this ‘fire in their belly’ while the majority of dreamers simply wallow in wishful thinking. Yet all of this mindful meandering begs much larger questions as to why do artists or athletes do it in the first place? What drives them to toil in the trenches of an athletic field or in front of a keyboard? Why are they different from the rest of the populous? Can they help themselves or do they want to help themselves? What internal needs are they trying to answer or satisfy?

Passion might be another word for their collective ‘fire in the belly.’ But where does that passion come from? It’s a question that has tugged at my consciousness for a long time and yet never reached a solid conclusion. As such it’s a mystery that has permeated much of my writing.

Not surprisingly the protagonists in most of my novels, male and female, wear a cloak of in-security tempered by blind determination that torments their very souls. One of the phrases that I used to describe my protagonist in “Love in the A Shau” was: ‘Daniel was born hungry.’ The same moniker could be used to describe Robert, my other protagonist in the ‘Debris’ trilogy.

I liked that handle because it so clearly defines the person as a seeker. He or she on their own vision quest. It was what drove them to extraordinary action in Vietnam; it meant traversing the barren and dangerous mountains of Western Arizona or leading a ghostly expedition through the canyons outside of Palm Springs. My heroes had become what they strove to believe in the first place.

For some of us this ‘real world’ vision quest gets tempered with time but never loses its urgency. For a select number of youngsters my age it’s become our age of truth and reason. It is a way of finding ourselves through our art. This quest for authenticity came to me almost by accident. A cessation of my business and a refusal to embrace the acceptable terms of retirement caused me to reflect on that next stage of my life. Writing seemed the next logical step for me.

Now in retrospect I seem to be picking up where I left off at the end of the ‘60s before I got married, settled down and became distracted by life and family and kids. It means forgetting about the miles traveled and shaking aside society’s prejudice, expectations, standards and assumptions. It means recognizing that those were labels and confinements put on us as kids by na├»ve parents.

This personal quest is about finding your freedom wherever it may be while recognizing it’s a different time, different place, different you that is the seeker. Yet beneath the wrinkles and glasses it is the same mental ramblings, inquiries, and occasionally discoveries. It is a journey I’ve chosen because I didn’t know what else to do with my life. I’m guessing the same can be said of most other artists too.

As a writer, retired folks are a category that intrigues me a lot now. Unlike the legendary ‘old men of the coffee shop’ so many retirees have decided that retirement is their time to slow down and enjoy the fruits of their years of labor. While on the surface this seems to make perfect sense, I can’t help but feel it might also one big step in the wrong direction. ‘Riot at Sage Corner’ was an attempt to explore this dichotomy. What to do with the rest of your life when nothing is not an option.

One of my goals in attempting to define ambition is to light a fire under my grandchildren. I don’t care where their interests or passion or focus goes, just so it goes someplace. I want to be there to encourage them to follow their dream whatever it might be. I can’t do it for them but I certainly offer my help.

A life in pursuit of something is far more satisfying than a life just lived.

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