A Failed Attempt at Method Writing
I recently streamed a documentary about the Stanislavski “school of acting”–aka, “The Method.” Like all other artistic endeavors that get over, there’s a bunch of pretentious pontificating associated with The Method (which first got big in America about seventy-five years ago). Once you get past all the verbiage and “pillars,” the Method is mainly investing your own emotions in a character, to “become” the role you are playing. If the character is supposed to be sad, think of the day your hamster died and act accordingly.
To illustrate this the documentary showed clips of “mannered” performances from the 1930’s–those in which stage-like performances were filmed because talking film acting had yet to be invented. These were compared to James Dean and Marlon Brando emoting. To be honest with you I smelled plenty of ham baking in the early Method film performances. Marlon must have really loved that hamster named “STEEELLLLA!!!” But who am I to criticize?
Anyway, it got me thinking about bringing the Method to writing. I experimented with bringing forward a memory of someone I hated and attempted to use the emotion in fiction.
Here’s the poor result from my attempt to channel childhood fear and hatred:
When I was six, and still believed everything I was told, my Temporary Cousin Vicki (briefly a “relative” via one of my mother’s six marriages in five years) used to get her jollies by scaring the hell out of me. She was eight and a hateful little bitch.
The first time we visited Temporary Aunt Claudia and Temporary Uncle Jim, Vicki, who was the youngest of three, got stuck with me because she was closest to my age. I was an extremely shy and small child who did not care for people anymore than I do now; but at the time I’d yet to develop the rage that has been getting me through the years. (Then again that rage didn’t exist until I met Vicki.)
“Hey, Leila, have you been baptized?” (She sometimes called it “Christened.”)
At six, I was ignorant of religion. But these Temporary relations were practicing Catholics. Vicki told me that people who were not baptized could not pray to God without someone who (like her) had been baptized/Christened doing it for them (proper connections appear to be the soul of Catholicism). But instead of sharing the grace of God, Vicki decided to use her religious education against me.
“Dear Lord Jesus, Leila won’t mind me–she is sinful. Maybe you ought to do something bad to her Mom.” We’d be alone in her room, the sun casting the pattern of maple leaf shadows on her bed, and Vicki would clasp her hands and bow her head and recite that sort of “prayer” if I refused to do something like eat a potato bug or fetch her a soda (even though her mother had said no to the latter–and knew nothing of the former). I was incredibly credulous even by the undemanding standards of six-year-old skepticism. Naive people are often betrayed by their imaginations. The little witch made the suggestion and my mind did the rest. And although I cannot possibly recall what it was like to be that age in any other way, I can still remember the pure fright I experienced.
Fortunately, she was only a Temporary Cousin (I had at least thirty of those along the way, with some step siblings I never met thrown in); made legal by one piece of paper, revoked by a later document. I knew Vicki for only a few months and haven’t seen her since. Mom’s fickle (to put it mildly) nature and the fact that we never lived in Vicki’s school district made that possible. And as my worldliness increased my fear of Vicki and the meatballs like her vanished. But I have never forgotten her, and I hope that Jesus has told her how fortunate she was not to have crossed my path down the line, after I’d learned that fists outnumber faces two to one for a damned good reason.
Alack and alas, The Method experiment died alone; the stench of failure wafted off it toward heaven, in the place of a soul. I was unable to artificially recreate and wield my hate for Temporary Cousin Vicki in a fiction. It’s not that time has gentled my appetite for vengeance, but every time I think about it I rue allowing Temporary Cousin Vicki to go into the future with all her teeth. I suppose I could hunt her down on social media and remedy the situation–the same way 12-Steppers make amends, but that might cause more trouble than gain. Sometimes, you have to let go of the dead hamster. It’s called maturity.
Artless Method Segue
Who can accurately map their inner-workings well enough to say exactly where a story was born in their souls? Not me–but this week the stories kept a-coming, and however they came about we are glad to have them.
This week we welcomed two old friends (one will place a second visit at the end of this post), a pair of new ones as well as a dubious person who should have told her Temp Cousin Vicki to fuck off years and years ago. The subjects are as diverse as our authors–involving curmudgeonly satire, beauty appreciation, art in poverty, as cool a killing as you will ever see and dubious content.
There are certain titles in the language that usually mean one thing when said about a person and another when stated as a form of identity by a person. “Bitch” and “MoFo” come quickly to mind. “Curmudgeon” is one of those titles. Too often it is misused to describe a You Kids Get The Hell Off My Lawn sort of individual, of a certain age and temperament. But used correctly, in the guise of a social cynic and critic (self professed or otherwise), then you might have sighted Doug Hawley, who made his eleventh appearance with Valentine’s Day Massacre. It began the week on Monday and is indicative of the wit and wisdom of our favorite curmudgeon.
Since we have a resident curmudgeon, I nominate Tom Sheehan as our site Laureate. He gave me another reason to think that way on Tuesday with The Lady Has a Following. Although a surprisingly large part of myself blushed while reading it, one should perhaps appreciate beauty more than violence.
Josiah Crocker was the first of two debut contributors. His beautifully off-centered Half Broke and Fully In somewhat ironically landed in the middle of the week. There’s hopelessness and despair aplenty in this piece, but there is also music. Human music. And what really gets this across is Josiah’s excellent narrative, even though in the first person he is objective, and adds no further observations other than what is going on.
Kiersen Clerkin shook things up on Thursday with Fake Teeth Yarn. The great capture of the naturalistic voice drives this intense piece forward. It has humour and yes, bite. And it is an insolent thing that refuses to explain itself.
People like Temporary Cousin Vivki are indirectly responsible for what happened yesterday, Friday, when my Some G.O.A.T. staggered on stage. I apologize to the ghost of E.B. White and his young at heart fans for my tresspasses.
Our thanks to Doug and Tom and Josiah and Kiersen and the non-litigious ghost of E.B. White for their efforts. And now…
One For the Road
It is the Memorial Day Weekend in America. And we can think of no better way to honor those who gave the full measure of devotion (no matter where, no matter when) in service by presenting a piece by a veteran of the Korean War, our own Tom Sheehan
Letter to Colonel Kim by Tom Sheehan
Saugus, MA 01906
10 September 1999
Dear Colonel Kim,
The last time I saw you was over the tailgate of a six-by as I was starting my rotation stateside. It was February 1952; it was cold in a long, narrow, snug little valley. We were, I believe, in Mung-dung-ni, though some names begin to bounce these days. The last words I heard you say were, “Is Sgt. Sheehan aboard?” I was. Our eyes locked over the tailgate. I believe there was assessment in those pairs of eyes. There was in mine, and they have managed to carry a remarkable memory alive in a recess behind them.
The driver shifted into gear, and I was on my way.
You are the soldier I remember most.
One of my professors at Boston College, to which I matriculated seven months after leaving Korea, said, “Tom, I surely would like to have met that man, to have shaken his hand.” That was after reading “Cool Cool Kim”, one of my assigned class essays. He was a great teacher and one of the most sincere and perceptive people I have ever met. His name was John Norton and for years he was the nestor of the English department at Boston College. His markings still ride on my skin like merit badges, as do yours: we somehow never undo our making, no matter how we learn or where. My not having all the responsibility and decision-making you had to contend with, allows me to remember more details of that relationship when I carried the 300 Radio on some of those memorable days. It is also easier looking up than down.
Do you remember the quart of Ballantine Scotch you thrust into my hand in your blackout tent on the side of the hill, asking if I could get it back inside the Radio Tent without the rest of the company seeing it? My trying to recite Lochinvar the night before in the Radio Tent? Your visit? Stan Kujawski? Earl Peterson? Bob Breda? Frank Butcher? Londo Leuter? James Blackburn? The guys in the Wire Crew?
I’ve written a lot of material about those days. My first novel, my first of eleven done and none yet published, was “Nailed To The Cross of War.” It sits in a drawer waiting my hand yet. I wrote about Capt. Keifer. Met Ado Comido back here in Everett, MA where he was principal of a grade school. Talk now and then to Sgt. Stan Kujawski, the Radio Sergeant, now in Crown Point, Indiana. The radio truck, which had been named Kimbanchero, burned one night in a fire. Tex Goode’s out-of-tune guitar went whistling through the night into the middle of that fire. No more night singing from the voice that couldn’t carry a note in a briefcase.
I have published three books of poetry: “The Saugus Book” (on Amazon.com), “Ah, Devon Unbowed” (out of print), “ Reflections From Vinegar Hill” (now going into its second printing for a fund-raiser here in my home town, trying to save open space for the future).
Yesterday, on 9/9/99, my tiger of a son, Matthew, was 25. My grandson Jasper (Jeep), Matt’s “cosmic nephew,” was 3. Jamie is 21 and in his last year of college, working three days a week and taking classes three other days. Betsy, 24, has a 16 months old baby, Alexa, and they come by every day to visit, and brighten this old house built in 1747 (I write about it, too). I have an older son Tim (Jeep’s dad), who lives on a farm in Franklin, Maine with crops and animals and blueberries and wooded lots he cuts fire wood from, and a daughter Laurie who works for the Post Office. My wife Beth is a hospice nurse; “The best damn nurse ever to walk through these doors,” says the company CEO. I write about her, too, a most special lady with a special gift for the terminally ill and their families.
Matthew and Jamie and Tim played football and baseball and hockey and Matt and Jamie were captains of their teams. Matt was captain of his college team and an honors grad in an honors program. He is a driving force in an entrepreneurial company south of Boston. They had 62 customers when he started his internship with them while at Bentley College. Now they have 3000.
I finished Boston College in 1956 with an AB English degree and retired nine years ago from Raytheon Company. We made the Hawk and Patriot missiles and were visited by Pres. Bush after Desert Storm. I was a writer and analyst there.
Currently, if you are on the Internet, you can check out a site that I help run. It is newwriters.com and tries to get some landing space in the publishing world for new writers, or unpublished writers. We had run into some very unscrupulous agents and editors over the years, and are trying to grease the skids for others. I’m always trying to land with a good agent who likes my work.
I got your address from Karl Lowe after I sent a message to the 31st RCT Guest Book on the Internet.
I hope that all has gone well with you over this long span of years, closing down as it does now on half a century since we last saw each other. I trust that your health is good and that all things range from better to best for you and yours.
I’ve often wondered where your road took you, thinking the last thing I might have heard was a stint at the War College at Carlisle Barracks, but not sure of any of that.
Last year I visited Pete Leone in McKees Rocks, PA and Frank Mitman in Bethlehem. Both were in my basic outfit at Fort Devens in 1950. In Korea Pete was in the 49th Artillery and Frank was in the 17th. One beer and we were old comrades all over again. Pete had tears in his eyes when I left him, as I did
Somewhere in the confines of this old house is a scrapbook of “Stars & Stripes” articles, and many from “The Polar Bear” and the Division paper “The Hourglass”, as well as copies of a column that appeared in a local paper, “A Soldier Writes Home From Korea.”
All memories are precious, having followed you in your sanity and the sanctity of the mind. I try not to throw any away or lose any, though I see the slow emptying of some people, which is a great torment I hope not to meet.
But I remember well so many things about you and those days. The first paper I wrote for John Norton at BC was about lighting my last cigarette with my last match one night when I was on guard duty over there. The following Monday, after collecting them from class, he came back in and read mine to the class, a twenty pager, then asked me to visit him in his office. He tossed a book of poetry in front of me, open to “Shot Down At Night” by John Frederick Nims. “Have you ever read that?” he said.
My life changed again at that moment.
As it changed serving with you.
We are always lucky to know well the things that do us good.
God’s blessings on a great soldier, a memorable soldier, and good luck in all things.
Sincerely, with fondest memories,