February 26, 2010

death of a voice

Somebody I once knew briefly and minimally took his own life this week or last in Stanley Park. I took a class about improv and acting from him when he was perhaps too young to be guiding other people, but he was kind, and sweet, and encouraging.

In keeping with a theme that kept occurring in my life at that time, he said that one had to write and write and write and create and create and create, whether or not the stuff was good, whether or not it made sense.  To put an hour in daily of just spewing the words out on paper, whether or not the words were gibberish.

I once saw Chuck Jones give a talk at the end of a Looney Tunes meets the VSO at the Orpheum.  He was probably ninety-two or something at the time.  He said he was in an art class, when he was about 17 years old, and that it was his first art class.  He was really sucking at school at the time, maybe he had dropped out, I can't remember.

I believe he said he felt unsure of himself, maybe everybody else was older or something.  But he was surrounded by crumpled up papers, piling up all around his desk.  He would start a drawing, become discouraged, crumple it up and throw it with great, and I'm sure youthful, abandon.

At some point the teacher walked up to his desk and said:  Listen.  You have 100,000 bad drawings inside of you.  And in between those drawings you have the occasional masterpiece.  If you censor yourself, and stop a drawing that you have started, you risk one of two things -- you won't get one of your worst drawings out and you might toss something that would become one of your masterpieces.  (Of course, for Chuck Jones fans or descendants, I'm sure I have this story completely skewed.  Please feel free to correct this story.)

Fast forward one year.  I was on my solo honeymoon in rural Japan (don't ask!) taking a one-day pottery class.  All I could think as I sat at my desk, rubbing my clay with great purpose ... or, um, anxiety, was that I was taking a pottery class!  In Japan!  With some pottery god teacher!  How was I going to live up to this?  I had a potter's block!!!

The teacher was wandering up and down the aisle.  I dreaded him coming to where I was sitting, with nuttin.  He finally arrived.  He picked up a small amount of my clay, fiddled with it in his hands, plopped it onto my desk and pushed his finger into it twice.  Chopstick holder, he said, and he walked away.

At that point I got something that so many people had been telling me in so many ways.  I try too hard.  I always try too hard, and it doesn't really work that well.  What this teacher was telling me was that creating could be easy.  Wow.  What a revelation.

I knew that man who killed himself so briefly, but I can only imagine from the little I experienced of him how much he was loved.  Depression is such a horrible horrible condition, disease, place.  There is no place to go, now way to make things work, when you are in that pit.  If you can't see the upswing, or have faith that it is going to come (especially if the last upswing was a long, long time ago), what gets you through?

Me?  My high school guidance counsellor had me pegged.  She told my mom that I am a survivor.  And I am.  The one time I thought I was sinking too far into the muck, I quit walking across bridges.  It was too tempting.  But I was blessed with the full understanding that there is always an upswing, no matter how dark it seems, and one just has to ride things out, and continue to figure things out.

Tonight there are people across North America who grieve you and are horribly sad that you have gone.  Some knew you well, others just through the work you've produced, the show you were in, the classes you taught.

I pledge to keep a bit of your memory alive by showing more courage, a courage you had, to get my work out there.  To spit my words out and get them down.  I am committed to writing unedited, to just write, and write and write and write and write.  For me, because I am here.  For you, because you were a person that was hurting, but you were also a person who touched people with your kindness, your offerings.

I hope that whatever happens next for you, whether it is a new life, a heavenly home, or mere decomposition, that your soul will rest and that you have found peace.

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