The Madness is in The Method

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Some writers start with a title. Others write and let the title reveal itself. I can fall into both categories. Today, because I wasn’t set on what I wanted to write about before putting my hands to the keyboard, I want you to see how “I don’t know what I’ll be writing about” becomes a finished piece.

“Process leads to product” is what I’m practicing here. It’s a concept I learned from writing teacher Jack Grapes while studying with him in Los Angeles some years back. Jack created writing processes meant to move the writer towards (hopefully) finding his or her deep voice along the way.

The deep voice is the one that stills people, grabs and holds their attention due to its unbridled authenticity and fearlessness. It’s the voice that reveals the true human experience and creates a bond between writer and readers.

It requires a willingness to visit dark corners  – the corners where we’d rather sprinkle salt than shine a light. That’s why I say “hopefully” the writer finds his or her voice because many people will never allow themselves to go to the dark corners. Or, they might tiptoe over there and hightail it back to “safety”. Method Writing asks the writer to show up to the page without knowing what might pop out.

As I’m writing this now, I feel tremendous gratitude for all my classmates back then who regularly showed up in service to uncovering their deep voice and to their fellow writers by doing so. I owe each one of them a deep bow and I offer it now – wherever you all are.

Jack named his creation Method Writing, and went on to teach (and still does) countless writers, actors, poets, and performers in and around Los Angeles over at least four decades. His books, Method Writing, The First Four Concepts and Advanced Method Writing are available on Amazon.

On my introductory night of Level 1 class, Jack said, “By practicing these processes, some of you will end up writing a novel, others a memoir, a book of poetry, a screenplay, or a play.”

I ended up writing a memoir. While practicing the Week 2 process (Yes! WEEK TWO!) called Massage the Transformation Line, I ended up with the following piece:

IT AIN’T THE HEAT 

I snatched the 20-dollar bill out of his hand and ran into the house. 

On the other side of the locked front glass door, my mother and I taunted him. Well, my mother taunted him.  She was seeking revenge. I thought we were just playing. 

When he was angry, my father’s jaw muscles had a funny way of throbbing, just like the bellowing cheeks of an exotic reptile.  This occurred nearly every time he came over and had to interact with my mother. 

Buffalo’s dense summer humidity weighed on him. His shirt was glued to his body as if he’d showered with it on. 

Following my mother’s orders not to give him back the money, I strangled that 20-dollar bill in my 11-year-old hand. 

My sense of play started trickling out of me and I was filling with a nervous feeling.  I wondered what my father would do with all his pent-up rage stuck between that locked door and my mother and me.

My answer came immediately, right along with the sound of jangling glass, as my father’s fist met us on the other side of the door.

This was the moment my mother had been waiting for. Her rage brought her to life, just like electricity had done for the Frankenstein monster.

She picked up the baseball bat that we kept in the entryway and unlocked the door. Focused like a laser beam, she strode in the direction of my father’s car, parked at the curb.

The old man had to know what was coming next. My movie-star handsome father, who bought himself a brand-new car every year – sometimes twice a year – but had allowed my childhood home to be foreclosed upon and yanked out from under us – whimpered, as my mother swung the baseball bat to shatter his windshield.

On the day of Class Number 3, I stood in my bedroom practicing the piece out loud as I’d be expected to read out loud in class.

After the second reading, I could feel the enormity of this story in my body; before reading out loud, it was just words on a page. “Wow,” I thought. “That was a pretty violent incident.” I was 11 years old all over again.

That one, short, potent piece of writing – born of my practicing a process with no idea what would emerge – became the first piece of my childhood memoir.

Once the dam had busted from the telling of an unexpected and long-forgotten childhood incident, the waters of my challenging childhood were finally able to flow freely. Over the course of writing the memoir, I was regularly astounded at who and what stepped forward asking for their story to be told.

On my 60th birthday, I performed a solo show in a local theater based on this memoir, and was finally able to purge some of the secrets and shame, share my heartache and fun, and indulge in the beauty and madness of my life from ages four to fourteen.

All of that came from practicing a process. All that came from not being attached to an outcome; to not having to “be good” or to “know what I’m doing” – death knells that straitjacket one’s creativity and overall enjoyment of life.

So, here you go, friends. This is what I wanted to tell you today. About writing, about cooking, about style, about friendship, about love. About everything we happen to call life. It’s all just a process.

And if we surrender to the product, we’re oftentimes astounded at what might show up once we step out of the way of our limited knowing.

P.S.: While writing this piece, I realized that it’s time for me to teach another METHOD WRITING class. Let me know if you’re interested. Trust me, it’ll open up your life and your creativity in ways you’ve never imagined.

P.P.S: And here we are: 1039 words later, when a couple hours ago, I had “no idea what I was doing.”

 

 

 

 

Penultimate

Earlier today, after sharing a lengthy conversation with a man and his wife at Alon’s,  swapping stories of caregiving, death,

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