Yesterday, my sister let me borrow an amazing graphic memoir to read by Alison Bechdel called “Fun Home.” She recommended it because Bechdel is not only a brilliant writer, but an “archivist of her life,” having kept a diary since the age of 10. Growing up, I wrote in diaries on and off. I haven’t been completely active and aware of my past in a constant reflexivity, but I am a believer in the power of memoir and the “self” as art, whatever that means.
Bechdel’s writing is powerful, touching and unflinchingly honest. She often draws herself naked, engaged in sexual activities, even revealing the most painful hidden family secrets to reflect upon her own journey. “Fun House” is a memoir about family and how family shapes someone. It’s nature versus nurture at its finest. In her memoir, Bechdel describes her childhood home as an artist colony, each family member engaging in their art in an OCD obsessive fashion, and completely separate, using their creative impulses to cope and survive.
I’m not sure how an artist is born. Is it nature or is it nurture? I do think someone needs a creative brain, but without some sort of spark to ignite it, making art is impossible. It’s like having a baby. Without sperm, an egg can’t become a baby, just that without inspiration (good or bad in genesis) one can not create.
As Joyce says, “I am tomorrow, or some future day, what I establish today. I am today what I established yesterday or some previous day.”
The past few years I’ve been extremely frustrated in auditioning for roles that I didn’t think were interesting or fulfilling. I’ve always had the drive to create something, but I could never follow through and finish anything. There was no spark yet. My favorite artists have been people who have unflinchingly pulled from their own lives to change an audience – Spalding Gray being one of my absolute favorite performers.
Last year when my father had a stroke, I spent his entire time in the ICU and at rehab writing his story and my story, the story of the father that I know and that I don’t know, a man whose life was ending when mine started, a man who told the same stories over and over to such an extent that I now believe those are the only things that happened to him. My father’s struggle changed me as a person and artist. I now have a vision to share.
A few years ago after seeing “Doubt” on Broadway, I noticed John Patrick Shanley’s email address was listed in the program. In a, why the hell not moment of inspiration, I sent him an email about how his play inspired me and made me think. I was going through a particularly rough time at NYU and faced with taking a semester off to recover from a crippling eating disorder. I lost my passion for art, acting and most things.
Mr. Shanley generously responded:
Take as your guides natural things. Cultivate a relationship with the sun, the stars, the wind, the earth. In one African tribe Carl Jung visited, every morning each member of the tribe spit into his hands, rubbed them together, and held them palmwards towards the dawn. When Jung asked a fellow why, he said he didn't know. They'd always done it. The reason was lost. If you need affirmation and steadiness from life, then look to certainties for certainty. What is certain? That you were born. That you will die. That the sun is life, the wind is life, that breaking is a relationship between your inner and outer world. Enjoy the momentariness of all things and strive towards the realization of visions, yours and others. Your letter touched me. You have the blush of fire in your heart. Be well. Figure out how to enjoy whatever is happening.
My Very Best,
John Patrick Shanley"
Yes, what is certain is that I was born and that I will die. I am looking to these certainties in my past and my future, knowing that everything is cyclical and letting art come from it. I feel like I’m finally letting that blush of fire within my heart come to life. I am growing and sharing.
What artistic spark or blush of fire within impelled you to create? Who inspires you?