Category Archives: tips for artists

JKHOA Pt. 2.4 Being Other People

Mona_Lisa

All portraits are self-portraits.

I don’t know how you make up people, but here’s how I do it. First off, when I say “make up people”, I actually mean create a character. I’m of the mind that writers simply call it “character creation” because it sounds more sane. It’s not. At least for me. But I get into it, so I suppose I enjoy it. Here’s how it goes for me.

Let me make clear I’m speaking of intentional characters. These are the ones I’ve intended to be in the story from the get-go. There are other characters that sort of end up happening because plot, but I always try to give them the love they deserve too. This just isn’t about them. The intentional ones get lots of time. I usually first look for a model for this person. An actor, a performance, an actual person, another fictional character. But it helps me to have a visual model. They may experience some drift over time, but once I “cast” my character in my mind it’s a go. And characters that refuse to find a model are infuriating.

I do the written exercises. I write several pages of their biographies, and I do Syd Field three “P’s”. That is: What are their Personal lives like? What is their Profession? And what do they do in Private? My personal favorite is what they do in private. What one does when one is alone is probably more telling than anything else. Rocky Balboa tells stories to his turtles. Gollum talks to himself. Dexter kills people. Walter White just sits there, thinking. And often revealing what a character does on their own is where some wonderful story telling sneaks in.

Obviously, this requires a lot of thought. And how I deal with it is role-playing. I consider my self as this other person and pretend to be them. I do this normally while going about my daily routine. I imagine what they would say or do in various situations. How they walk. What their speech patterns would be like. How they act and react. And if you ever catch me seeming not myself, it’s because I’m trying that person out on you.

I’ll tell you what though, it’s more difficult to be some people over others. I’ve written so many different people from different times and circumstances, I’m not even going to list them. And, yes, of course they all get a lot of me. But, to my mind, finding what’s “like me” in a character is finding what makes them human, to my mind. It’s what makes them sympathetic. And even a “bad guy” ought to have that. But the worst are the ones that reflect back on “like me” something I’m not overly-keen to see.

My latest fellow is probably the worst of a fairly varied lot that includes both the innocent and the wise, as well as the murderous and distasteful, and a lot of places in between. But I just had to pick a depressive this time. It’s very difficult to be objective with someone who is already “like me” in a way that I’m less than excited to admit. He’s a lot worse off than myself in some ways, and I pity the guy. But it’s like looking at your pores in a magnifying mirror, or trying on bathing suits under florescent lights. Uncomfortable.

So even if my carriage of myself may be off, or I may seem a bit down. Don’t fret. I’m taking an honest look at man who of himself, would have this to say, “Think of me as one who died young. All of my life might have been.” And remember that I’m giving him a lot more life than he ever expected or would have wanted. So, he’s in for a lot more pain than he already has. Torture time! Poor guy.

Maybe if I can pity him, I can do the same for others who may or may not be a bit “like me.”  Maybe I can even find room in my heart for just me.

 


Phighting Rocky When You’re Phrom Philly

록키 발보아 Rocky Balboa

With Rocky, language doesn’t matter

I love the term “curse-bless.” I think I first read it in a Dylan Thomas poem. And there’s no better way to describe being from Philadelphia than as a curse-blessing. I call it “The Rocky Syndrome.”

Philly is a great town to learn the First Noble Truth of Buddhism: “All life is suffering.” Sandwiched between our nation’s capital and the inimitable New York City, Philadelphia must struggle to define itself. A struggle that often manifests in the town’s well-publicized “addy-tood.” And I’ve spent my  life struggling to reconcile myself to it.

Part historical treasure, part post-industrial collection of neighborhoods and failed factories; travel where I will I find two names associated with the place: Ben Franklin and Rocky Balboa. But everyone mentions Rocky first.

And I can’t blame them. Rocky is a truly great film that transcends culture and language to touch people on a gut level of existence. And while the language-crossing may be down to Rocky’s own struggle with English, who can’t help but feel like and for Rocky?

The film itself is a series of body-blows, and it all comes down to one man’s ability to take those blows and remain standing at the end. He loses the fight, but earns his own respect.  Two hours of pain and struggle for one moment of glory and release. Like life. A lot like life in Philadelphia.

Rocky, like every “filu’fian,” is obsessed with being a “bum.” In case you don’t listen to sport radio, that’s what Philly fans call their teams or players whenever they stop living up to their potential. When they lose heart they become a bum.

No one likes a bum. No one wants to be a bum. Rocky shows us how not to be a bum. And there’s no better place to learn that most difficult of lessons than in Philly. And yet it’s so easy to slip into.

Philly’s a tough, gritty, depressing town. For all the advertisement, unless you’re in medicine or pharmaceuticals, it’s a great place to become a bum or, if you’re ambitious, get out of. And even if you do, it’ll haunt you, well, Rocky will.

You can learn to enunciate, you can even do well for yourself — go back in the ring against your personal Apollo Creed or Clubber Lang — but deep down inside you wonder if you haven’t lost heart. . . if you have, indeed, still wound up a bum.

Like the curse-blessing he is, Rocky himself shows us the way out. Think of Rocky’s training compared to Apollo Creed’s. Rocky gets up,  puts on his Chuck Taylor’s and old grey sweats and drinks raw eggs before he goes out to run the Art Museum steps. It’s about doing what you can with what you have at hand, not the spiff accessories of success.

It’s also about loving Adrian. About taking the girl in the glasses out ice-skating after hours. About telling her that she’s beautiful until she believes it. It’s when she loves you even though you may lose.

Nobody is guaranteed some big win in life. But if we can have the heart to take the punches, to fall and get back up and to be standing when that final bell rings, we don’t have to be bums. As much as it pains me, here’s one Philadelphia intellectual whose glad to claim Rocky. And now I’m going to go beat up a side of beef…


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