27 February 2013
My dad was a physicist. He’s retired now, but when I was a kid, we’d go out to a pizza place, he’d bring a lab notebook, a slide rule and a calculator, and he’d write equations and notes in it. Sometimes, he’d write jokes.
His entire work life is in those notebooks: everything from Synchrotron experiments to the work he did on the Viking Lander’s GCMS project to the TOMS project (for which he won a NASA prize) to the Hubble Space Telescope, just to name a few projects he’s worked on.
The notebooks were a good chunk of his work product, but they’re not that comprehensible to the uninitiated. It’s not like the next-door neighbor back in Vermont, a farmer, who used to take his kid out on a tractor with him. That kind of work is far more comprehensible to outsiders.
So I suppose it’s no surprise that writing as a career doesn’t seem odd to me. After all, it’s not that dissimilar to the scribbles my dad did in his notebooks way back when. It just has a different audience and result.
There’s a funny thing, though, about both acting and writing. It can be really difficult for others to know where the work ends and reality begins because we get so used to fluid movements in and out of artistic headspace. With actors in particular, that can include whole mannerisms and ways of being. (Maybe some writers are like that, too, but I’m not. I don’t think.)
I was in the shower one morning thinking about how a male character I was writing would approach women, and a thought came out fully formed.
My first reaction thought was, “Well, I’d never think that.” Quite aside from my being straight, I found his thought process compelling but repugnant.
Followed by the mental double-take because: I. Just. Had. Thought. That.
Once I got over my initial reaction, I found that it was comforting: I’d been able to distance the character in a way that made him easier to write now that I had a point of significant difference (from myself) to hang other actions on. I had bounced out of the art and bounced back in.
Sometimes, when others see us, they don’t know what part of us they’re seeing, and that can be disconcerting. It’s also easy to confuse the artist and the art.
With other art forms, the process and result is so much more concrete. My friend James (NSFW link), well, you never know where he is. “Where are you?” I ask. “On a hilltop on Maui chasing nude women on horseback.” Now, see, that’s a far more concrete thing than “I’m laughing my ass off in front of my monitor at two a.m. because I’m writing a funny scene that 61 people will ever read and two of them are in Malaysia.”