Sunday, May 20, 2012

What Moves You to Make Art?

I'll never forget when the song Fallin’ Slowly, from the movie Once, won the Oscar for Best Original Song - up against three, count them,  three from Disney’s Enchanted.  Glen Hansard received the award with co-writer and co-star Markéta Irglová, gleefully shouting, before he was dragged away from the mic, “MAKE ART!” I wrote those words on a piece of paper and stuck it to my fridge. I hadn't seen Once yet, but did shortly after, and found it lovely. Four years later, (May 8, 2012, to be exact) I went to see the Broadway musical version of Once to find the dialogue had been changed, several compelling characters added, and the most exquisite movement and choreography employed, elevating Once from satisfying film to transcendent theatrical experience. The romance, too, had been kicked up just enough to make the ending unbearably bittersweet. I was sobbing like an idiot just before I leapt to my feet to applaud with the rest of the audience. The making of art, in this case, had been raised to a level I’m sure Hansard never imagined when he uttered his joyful admonition at the Academy Awards.

I’ve been an actor and/or writer my whole life - have rarely known a moment when I wasn’t involved in some creative pursuit. So, though I was inspired by Hansard’s utterance, I didn’t exactly need his permission.  I find inspiration for making art in art: film, theater, music, dance, painting, sculpture, and, of course, literature. Like many artists, the greatness of others fuels me. I’m set on fire by the writers I love: Luis Alberto Urrea, Audrey Niffenegger, George Eliot, Dickens, Neil Gaiman, Shakespeare, Thomas Hardy, and of course, (you just have to read my books to see the influence) Jane Austen.  I get energy from films like Midnight in Paris, The Godfather, Taxi Driver, Moulin Rouge, Casablanca, Stranger than Fiction, 500 Days of Summer, and Becoming Jane,…which makes me think of actors whose performances move me: Anne Hathaway, Meryl Streep, Toni Collette, Colin Firth, George Clooney, Philip Seymour Hoffman.... I'm carried away by the music of Muse, The Decemberists, Patti Smith, Talking Heads, Elvis Costello, Jack White, Beethoven, Chopin and Monk. When I go to a museum I seek to absorb the passion of Van Gogh, Michelangelo, Kandinsky, Monet, Caravaggio, Rodin, Pollack and Chagall...

After seeing Once, I stumbled out of the theater into the lights of Times Square, my world rocked. Perhaps those words, “Make art,” had pushed the originators of the film on to this finer incarnation, I thought, but couldn't help wonder exactly what was the source of their creative spark. So I put hands to keyboard to ask all those artistic souls out there:  What is your Once? Who is your Anne Hathaway, your Jane Austen, which is your Midnight in Paris, your Monk, your Monet? Is it something intangible that inspires you? Is it nature or pain, or joy or spirit? What moves you to MAKE art? 

Video of Hansard's acceptance speech: (don't worry, they called  Irglová back on stage later so she could make her own remarks)
And here's the full version of Fallin' Slowly:

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Dad Made me a Nerd

I'm a nerd because of my dad. Not that he tried to make me one; I'm sure he didn't consider himself a nerd at all. But he loved science fiction. He's the reason I was hooked on Star Trek all my life, and so into authors like Ray Bradbury and Arthur C. Clarke. When he met my husband-to-be for the first time, their mutual conversation about sci/fi made them fall more in love with each other than I might have been with either one at the time.

On April 27th, 2012, the space shuttle Enterprise made its historic flight on a 747 around New York City in preparation for its final resting place on the Intrepid Sea, Air, and Space Museum...and I missed it. Fortunately, I've been to NASA. Twice. The first time was with my dad, the second was last summer during part of my family's odyssey around the western United States to memorialize his life. I freakin' love NASA. We got to see the shuttle up close, and everything involved in making the program function. There is an awesome museum at NASA too, (which you can get to only through an annoying child's play center they recently built), where they have all kinds of paraphernalia from the various U.S. space missions: space suits, journals, freeze-dried food packages, and, coolest of the cool, the actual lunar modules that have been on the moon! I remember my dad being glued to every moon landing, even after many people, including me, I suppose, lost interest in them. Years later though, I was thrilled to death to meet Gene Cernan, the last man to walk on the moon.

My dad's as much a hero, as much a larger-than-life personality as any astronaut. He was an intellectual who never stopped learning - a computer geek into his 80s. He wasn't a scientist, but he was really into science. He loved reading about it and watching shows about it - my husband and my son both share that same kind of enthusiasm. Though I'm not as geeky as them, I'm fascinated with many aspects of the scientific world, especially physics, as of late, since I write about time-travel. I nearly flipped when I found out scientists in Switzerland thought they'd broken though the speed of light, the implications of which translate to eventual time-travel, and made me think that perhaps one day I could journey back in time to Jane Austen's England or pre-Civil War NYC, just like in my books. But alas, looks like the experiment wasn't legit. It's funny that of all things to write about, I'd end up incorporating sci-fi into my books, yet because of my dad's influence, it makes sense.

On this first anniversary of my dad's passing, (May 3rd, 2011) I feel a special sense of national pride in the former space shuttle program, the Enterprise craft, named of course after the Star Trek ship, and all the ventures into space that the U.S. made. I wish we had the budget to keep it going; dad would have loved that. But I think I'll make a special trip to the Intrepid to see the Enterprise once it's installed there. In saluting it, I'll salute my dad and his love for the world of science and space. I know he was proud of this particular nerd-girl.