Mannequin Monday – You Need an Idea
Another Mannequin Monday. This week we look at shaping ideas into tactile form. Sculptor Steven Whyte works from his studio in Carmel, California. Molding clay into sculpture. Dancer Twyla Tharp speaks of her creative process. Shaping movement into dance. “Scratching” to find ideas to kickstart the creative process. And I include a bit of my own writing, a story I am currently “scratching” at, looking for the truth in my characters.
This Week’s Reading and Discussion
Today we’ll “read” the sculpted form. Sculptor Steven Whyte maintains a studio in Carmel, California. One of his recent works is Comfort Women: a memorial erected at the St. Mary’s Square in downtown San Francisco “to remember hundreds of thousands of Asian women…who were forced into sexual slavery by Japanese troops during World War II.”
In Whyte’s Facebook bio, he says of himself: ” I am primarily a sculptor of people. A historian, recording a likeness and creating characters of yesterday’s community and today’s society for tomorrow’s viewer. I manipulate clay to found into bronze for the consideration by an audience, in the home, the street and the gallery. ” Check out Steven Whyte’s Facebook page. You can find images of Whyte’s work there. Every one of his pieces radiates strength, power.
His Facebook page further says: “The production of art is based on the fundamental struggle to liberate and express a captive vision of creativity. For Steven Whyte this struggle takes on an added element. More than the mere rendering of a visual image, each time Whyte begins to work with his clay he attempts to produce a presence enriched with distinct personality, spirit and vitality.”
I think that last sentence says it nicely: “…a presence enriched with distinct personality, spirit and vitality.” One can easily apply that to writing. Well-written characters create a presence enriched with distinct personality. Plot and setting provide a framework for a story, but it is the characters that in-spire the story with life.
This Week’s Podcast/Interview
I’m in the middle of reading Twyla Tharp’s book The Creative Habit: Learn It and Use It For Life. I like Chapter 6, Scratching. Tharp describes scratching as a habitual routine of looking for “something.” Looking for traction to keep going. Searching for ideas to get her creative process started.
She opens the chapter this way. “The first steps of a creative act are like groping in the dark, random and chaotic, feverish and fearful, a lot of busy-ness with no apparent or definable end in sight. There is nothing yet to research. For me, these moments are not pretty. I look like a desperate woman, tortured by the simple message thumping away in my head: ‘You need an idea.’ It’s not enough for me to walk into a studio and start dancing, hoping that something good will come of my aimless cavorting on the studio floor. Creativity doesn’t generally work that way for me. (The rare times when it has stand out like April blizzards.) You can’t just dance or paint or write or sculpt. Those are just verbs. You need a tangible idea to get you going. The idea, however minuscule, is what turns the verb into a noun – paint into a painting, sculpt into sculpture, write into writing, dance into a dance.”
The concept of scratching characterizes how I often put one of these blog posts together. I’m looking to link a few pieces of fiction, bits of story, notes on artists I know or have recently discovered. And I pick at lots of stories, art, interviews, writings…until connections come together.
My Current Writing
This is an excerpt from a piece I wrote for a course from the University of Iowa’s International Writing Program. I wrote the full novel, Buried Lies, in third person POV over five years ago. I then re-wrote it as a play and put it up on Amazon Kindle. I’m now “scratching” at it, re-writing it again as a novel. Struggling to find the truth of the characters in the story. In this excerpt I experimented with changing to first person POV:
It’s been four days since the funeral. Since Clare buried her Patrick. Sorry. Since we buried our Patrick.
My bag is packed. I have nowhere to go. But I’m ready. Clare doesn’t want me here.
Patrick chose me. I know that. Know it as sure as I know my own name. Yes, I admit he loved her. But he was so conflicted in the short time I knew him.
We met a few months ago, entirely by accident. One Friday we were both in the same subway car riding home after work. A couple of jerks stood over me. Kicking my leg. Shoving me.
I saw a man who looked like a construction worker stand up. He put his tool bag on his seat. Stepped over to where I sat. “You know these two?” he asked me. I shook my head no. He grabbed each one by the back of the neck. Squeezed hard enough to put them both on their knees. I thought they were going to pass out.
When the doors opened at the next station, he told them to get up. He walked them to the door. Waited till it started to close. Shoved them hard out onto the platform. Before they could find a breath, the train was moving out of the station.
I bought him a drink to thank him. A quiet little bar I knew, nearer to my place than his. Conversation was awkward, but I worked hard to keep it going. We met every Friday for a while. It was the highlight of my week. No, it was my week.
My job laid me off in mid-December. Merry Christmas! I was already a month behind on my rent, thanks to transmission work on my eight-year old Chevy. Patrick told me he could finish the work he had been doing on his basement by early January. He had planned a rec room for his son. He would make it a small apartment. He wanted me to move in. I was thrilled. “How will you make this work? I asked him. He shrugged. “You can be my cousin. Over from Ireland. Looking for work.”
It had been a sub-zero January night. I had moved in the week before. We should have waited. Should have told Clare first. I was downstairs in the basement apartment. Small, cozy, not well lit. I was waiting for the cold spell to break before I looked for a job. I wanted to pay rent, carry my weight. Clare’s washer and dryer took up a small corner of the basement, but we managed to dodge each other most of the time. A few nights a week I ate dinner upstairs with them. I loved seeing Sean. Their two-year old. Loved watching Patrick play with him.
Clare came home early that January night from a church bible study meeting. Apparently they cancelled it when almost no one showed up because of the bitter cold.
Patrick had come downstairs with two cold beers. He never came downstairs. Not when Clare was home. And she was almost always home.
Only one lamp lit the basement. I was wrapped up in a blanket on the daybed. Trying to read but not caring about the story at all. He held out a beer to me.
I felt a smile break across my face. He pulled the blanket aside and crawled under with me.
Oh God, I can remember what I felt. Warmth. Tingling. Anticipation. For a few minutes we talked about how he couldn’t justify this… this… love? He was conflicted. Torn. An Irish, Catholic, construction worker. Married. With a son. Living in a traditional blue collar neighborhood. No room for infidelity.
I put a finger to his lips. “Hush,” I said. I kissed him. He pulled back. Looked deeply into my eyes. I saw longing. I saw fear. He leaned in and kissed me back.
I felt his hands caress my neck. My ear lobes. I shuddered. The wonderful first touches.
We hadn’t heard Clare come home. She must have looked around the house upstairs without finding Patrick. The door to the basement had been open.
I heard a scream. Looking over Patrick’s shoulder, I saw Clare halfway down the stairs. Still wearing her unbuttoned coat. We were shirtless under the blanket. Patrick leaped up, tripping on the blanket. I pulled the blanket back.
“Patrick! Jesus Christ! What the hell is going on?”