“So long as I remain alive and well I shall continue to feel strongly about prose style, to love the surface of the earth, and to take a pleasure in solid objects and scraps of useless information.”
The Little Stories
Reading George Orwell’s Why I Write, some excitement trembled when his description of his younger days when he felt almost compelled to mentally describe his actions as if writing them out.
For minutes at a time this kind of thing would be running through my head: ‘He pushed the door open and entered the room. A yellow beam of sunlight, filtering through the muslin curtains, slanted on to the table, where a match-box, half-open, lay beside the inkpot. With his right hand in his pocket he moved across to the window. Down in the street a tortoiseshell cat was chasing a dead leaf’, etc. etc.
Finally, someone who admits doing the same thing that we all do. Mine is different, I do little teachings. Even the mundane, I find myself teaching how to do what is being done.
“Put the skillet on the stove and set it to medium-high heat now before you get out your fixings. I use Extra Virgin Olive Oil because the American Heart Association lists about nine very good things that come with using oil. But you can use butter for flavor instead. All you need is fat. Nora Ephron said that one of her great joys was to sit in bed with a bowl of mashed potatoes and put a little pat of butter on each bite. Good! Now, crack the eggs, we don’t want to break the yoke. The salt and pepper will come at the very last because the salt can pull out the moisture, leaving you with dry eggs. Okay, lets try to flip.”
And so on.
It would be pompous for me to call them teachings, instead I call them little stories. I have rehearsed in my head hundreds of little stories. The Story of Loie Fuller or The Story of The Cradle will Rock. Crafted to be short and interesting with a pay off at the end, I’m ready to tell the tale.
Part of this comes from endless teaching in the theater. I have taught, one-on-one, how to hang a lighting instrument many times. Beyond the “hang, aim, focus and frame”, each lesson gets a little extra. Maybe the story of the Fresnel lens or how the tungsten cycle works or that Martha Graham called a single down light, “The Finger of God.” And then how to tie several knots or how to coil a cable, each is so very basic that it deserves a little extra and I know it and have rehearsed it too many times.
I found it very interesting that one of the prime motives for George Orwell to write was because of the impact of the Spanish War. This was the same war that drove Pablo Picasso the paint Guernica; perhaps his most famous piece and once hung on the wall of the United Nations as a reminder that we must not go to war.
My little stories have a built-in failing. They all are built on a big thing to tell a small thing, a little bit of interest. The failing is that my audience often won’t know the big thing.
The Cradle Will Rock is a great story and introduces a minor character Jean Rosenthal. But what if my listener does not know Orson Welles? Hint: he was the final cameo in the Muppet Movie. He was also an artist activist who took on Hearst in Citizen Kane. That activism is what drives The Cradle Will Rock and the support of labor unions. But, the little story becomes a long dreary story of I have to go back to the beginning and explain about Orson Welles.
Loie Fuller has a great story. She went from vaudeville to become the toast of Paris at the Folies Bergère. The finisher is that she was a lesbian but so respected that the press never outed her and/or splashed headlines about her being a lesbian. Going back to explain Degas and Toulouse-Lautrec and the Orpheum Circuit could take hours, I’m sorry.
How can I tell the story of when Jean Rosenthal changed dancing lighting forever by putting side lights in all the wings if my listener doesn’t not know about George Balanchine? George is the big thing that the story is built on and backing up to explain about the greatest ballet choreographer of all time makes for a very long tedious story and takes away from the little finisher with the phone call he made to Jean to apologize.
There is opportunity every day. In the World of Warcraft game, there can be sixteen people waiting on the seventeenth; all on headphones and bored. The chance to tell the fine tale of Tallulah Bankhead meeting Chico Marx is there — and it is a dirty story, sure to have interest. But, my listeners have never come across Chico Marx, Tallulah Bankhead, Orson Welles, the Folies Bergère, George Balanchine, Nora Ephron, Vaudeville, Martha Graham, the Spanish War, Pablo Picasso, George Orwell or Extra Virgin Olive Oil.
Hint: Cruella de Vil in 101 Dalmatians is based the look and style of Tallulah Bankhead. She was famous! I promise!
So I sit like a puma. Waiting to pounce if you even mention something close to one of my little stories. I could be your worse nightmare.