Miscellaneous Mental Musings of an Emerging Artist
I appear to have forgotten joy.
There’s a great little film called The Four Corners of Nowhere that failed to find distribution in 1995, and may only run occasionally on IFC or Sundance these days if it runs anywhere at all. It was written and directed by Steve Chbosky, best known for his novel The Perks of Being a Wallflower and for his screenplay adaptation of the musical Rent.
I have a copy on tape, somewhere, if anybody wants to borrow it. It’s not a perfect film by any means, and in some ways it hasn’t aged well. That’s partially my fault, since much of the attitude and many of the ideas were things I felt more strongly in college than I do now. It has pacing and editing issues. There are scenes that come across as indulgent and seem like parts of another film. But there are also moments in the film that still strike me to core, that still ring true with a simple, effective prose that reminds me of something I didn’t realize has become a part of my past instead of my present.
There’s a character in the film, a painter named Hank, who throughout the beginning of the film has been unable to paint anything, instead channeling his frustration into baking pastries and practicing his future appearances on Oprah. He finds himself obsessing over his inability to tap into his “inner turmoil and pain,” often represented in his mind by a Tom Petty concert he was not allowed to attend.
Eventually, it is brought to his attention that he in fact has no inner turmoil or pain; that it is an illusion he has created for himself because he believes that such things are the foundations of artistry. And he is asked, quite plainly, if he has thought about making art through joy instead.
He and his girlfriend later cover their bodies with paint and make love on a tremendous canvas.
I’m not saying I need to do that. I am saying that I have forgotten joy.
The past four weeks I have been in Too Much Light I have felt no pride in any of the written work I have brought to the table, and I have taken little satisfaction in their performance. During the hour-and-change that we are performing the show, I feel inundated with oxygen; high on the experience, but immediately after it ends I am overcome with weight and regret and the anonymous voice of paranoid angst, that thing that tells me you are letting everybody down. You are a fraud, a tourist, and people are hoping you will simply have the good sense to recognize that and fall on your own sword before they no longer find you even minutely tolerable.
Not coincidentally, these last four weeks of writing Contraption have also been hell.
Because I have forgotten joy. I have forgotten that I enjoy doing this work, and as a result I have forgotten how to interweave that enjoyment into the work.
The eyes of my writing have gone dead and blank, like those of shell-shocked soldiers fresh from the trenches, and I have done a poor job of helping it convalesce.
I do not remember joy, as yet. But I remember that joy was once there, which is a marked improvement.