Take Home Tuesday with Leslie Parrish
UPDATE: The winner of a signed copy of BLACK AT HEART by Leslie Parrish is LEE!!! Please send your physical addy to contests @ knightagency.net (remove spaces). Thanks to all who participated. Hope to see you next Tuesday!
Finishing the Hat
People who know me are aware that I’m a big Broadway musical fan. Stephen Sondheim is my favorite composer and "Sunday In The Park With George" one of my favorites of his shows.
The play is about Impressionist artist Georges Seurat, famous for his enormous painting “A Sunday Afternoon On the Island of La Grande Jatte” which hangs in the Chicago Art Institute. He’s also famous for the artistic concept of pointilism…his paintings are comprised of thousands (millions?) of tiny dots of paint. When you look at the painting close up, all you see are dots—points of light and color. As you back away, your eye blends the points into images and you behold what the artist was trying to convey. (FYI: If you’ve seen the movie Ferris Bueller’s Day Off…this is exactly what Ferris does with Seurat’s painting when they visit the art institute!)There are several songs in the show that relate to the life of any artist—painter, sculptor, even writer. And I often find myself listening to this CD, or humming a few lines of it when I have to deal with issues Seurat deals with in the musical—which is probably why it’s one of my favorites.
First, the issue of pointilism. I find myself thinking about it when writing a mystery-suspense novel where I have to instill tiny hints, clues and red herrings to lead the reader in the direction I want them to go. As the reader comes across those “dots” he doesn’t necessarily see the whole picture yet, but later, when all of them are taken together, the entire scene becomes clear. That’s the best kind of suspense novel, when you get to the end, see the picture, and realize every one of those small points that seemed unimportant have blended together to form something that delights you.
But it’s not all about the art. There’s one song where a modern-day artist is trying to balance his vision of his art with the business side of the art world: “Art isn't easy. Overnight you're a trend, you're the right combination, then the trend's at an end, you're suddenly last year's sensation!” He’s scrambling to be in ten places at once, keeping investors happy, courting buyers and museum reps, wondering how he’s actually going to have time to create another work.
Wow…most people who write for a living will recognize that one. How to balance the promo, the blog, the interviews, the agent, the editor, the bookkeeping, the mailings, the copying, the contests, the taxes, the galleys, the revisions…and still have time to write the next book?
Like the man said…art isn’t easy: “Every minor detail is a major decision, have to keep things in scale, have to hold to your vision.”
Have to hold to your vision. That’s the key line in the song. For me, when all the other stuff gets too loud and intrusive and distracting, I find myself going into a quiet room and sticking earplugs in my ears. I’m trapped in my own head, able to focus on nothing but the story. Quite often, when I hit some kind of wall with my writing, that’s the only way I can push through all the nonsense and focus on the story. Holding tight to that vision pulls me through.
There’s one more song I love in that show, which contains a lesson I think is most important of all. It’s called "Finishing The Hat." In this one, Seurat is trying to do something vitally important to him—finish painting a lady’s hat in his epic work. Meanwhile his mistress, Dot, is drifting away, tired of being pushed out. She always comes second to his work and eventually leaves him altogether.
I think of this song sometimes when I’m trying to prioritize my life. Sometimes I get so caught up in the work that I allow myself to forget I’m supposed to be living a real life as well as creating fictional ones. It’s too easy to say, “Later,” when one of my kids wants to show me something, or to say I’m too busy to attend this party with friends…but I’ll try to make the next one. Like Georges, I find myself instinctively wanting to “finish the hat” rather than pay attention to the people I love.
But unlike Georges, I am usually able to put things back into perspective. Life is short and childhood so fleeting. The people you care about are far more important than any job or even any work of art ever could be. The art is impersonal, it doesn’t feel hurt when you push it aside, doesn’t grow up too fast and leave home while you’re busy doing other things.
People though…spouses, children, siblings, friends. They’re a different story.
So when those moments come, I think about that song. I think about how Georges ends up alone and full of regrets. I put the hat aside, and I pull out the earplugs and I walk into the brightest room of the house that’s filled with the people I love and actually find the time to live. Always knowing that the hat will still there waiting for me when I’m ready to go back to it.
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