It’s my week to write our blog (which we alternate with) and I knocked it off by Wednesday. Then the week started happening. Along with the usual madness, there was Chapter Nineteen of the pandemic, there was the killing and the riots, and to finish it off, we watched two Sixties films by the Mayslees brothers, SALESMAN and GIMME SHELTER, both moving and enormously unsettling. Come today, what I wrote on Wednesday seemed, beyond words, irrelevant.
But I’m putting it out there, perhaps because anything *relevant* that I’d write has already been written a hundred times over. The best thing I can do regarding that subject matter is to give it more thought: if it’s taken a hundred fifty years to grapple with some of these issues, I can give it another two weeks. If an asteroid hits us in the meantime, problem solved.
So for those who’d like something refreshingly irrelevant, read on.
Being of sound mind and quite a ways over twenty-one, I recently spent the first $180 of our yet-to-be-seen “stimulus check” on, arguably, an absurdity: a year’s subscription to MasterClass.
For any who haven’t seen the ad blitz, it’s series of about 80 accomplished folks giving talks, lectures, meanderings on their chosen fields. My first six choices: Neil Gaiman, Judy Blume, Steve Martin, Ron Howard, Martin Scorsese, Annie Leibovitz. Three writers, two directors, a photographer. They’re all interesting in radically different ways.
Why do I call my subscription an absurdity? Only because that’s what many people would call it. I’m 78, I’ve had a decent career in under-the-radar playwriting, directing and acting, now engaged in the truly jaw-dropping task of writing novels. Any brush with “lectures” has a kind of poison-ivy effect: reminds me of 19 impatient years of schooling (up thru the Ph.D.); my own problematic teaching years; my age; and how much I don’t know and never will.
Nevertheless . . .
For me, the objective is only incidentally to take a chance on learning something useful. That may happen, and I’ve made my first choices among artists of one sort or another. But I’m equally eager to hear from experts in cooking, gardening, interior design, or poker—endeavors in which I have no skill, scant interest.
Why? A number of reasons beyond gathering useful tips. Above all, I recall my most prized teachers, long past: Leon, Gerry, Charlie, and well, sorta, Alvina. Yes, from them I learned some facts, some techniques, but mainly, from each I assimilated a mind, a way of thinking that intersected with but wasn’t entirely my own. Sometimes, in fact, utterly contradictory minds, but all invaluable in forming that multifarious stew that I call my head.
I’ve never done a piece of work without all four, and sometimes others, making their presence known over my mystical shoulder. Not hero worship—I was hypercritical in those days, still am—but assimilating elements of soul, of thinking and doing, of their ways of seeing reality and making it into story. I get the same from my mate Elizabeth: we couldn’t be more different in temperament or skill set, yet apart from our direct acts of collaboration, she’s inside me whenever I work.
And so this subscription thing? In part, it’s a people-watching fling. In part, it’s hearing the keynote speaker at the conference going on much longer than scheduled. In part, it’s a stimulus to view the work I’m doing right now through other eyes. In part, it’s an avoidance of facing my challenges in Chapter 26. In part, it’s a race against the Reaper. Above all, I guess, it’s simply adding more garlic to the stew.