Saturday, August 12, 2023

Baby, Take a Bow

My mother and her brother on stage, 1935


People have always laughed when I curtsy. I’m the kind of person who likes to curtsy. In fact, I’ll find any opportunity to curtsy. I curtsy after I give a little speech, or a toast or a dance or a class. I curtsy as a way to say thank you. I’m not talking about a walking through the motions curtsy. I’m talking about a full-out curtsy where I cross one leg in front of the other, delicately lift up each end of my imaginary skirt, bow down, stay like that for a few moments, while the imaginary applause is reaching a crescendo, and then finally, slowly stand up and offer the imaginary audience a big Shirley Temple smile.

This is what happens to a person who is raised by Vaudevillains. 

Maybe you weren't raised in a family of Vaudevillains. Maybe you were raised by a group of architects or farmers or house-painters. Or maybe you were raised by wolves! The point is, you were raised in a context. A time and a place. And whether or not you liked your family very much, they created a frame work for you.

Most artists have interesting family stories. It may have been a love fest or a fight fest, but it was something that inspired you to embrace a creative life--whether that be writing or sculpture or music or dance.

Creative friends, your assignment for this week is to think about the things you do automatically and ask yourself what was the genesis of that gesture or this habit or that turn of phrase. Follow this question back to its origins--a person, a place or a thing. Picture your Uncle Fred in Key West in 1962. He wore that funny pork pie hat. He said okey-dokey way too much. You and your sister Eloise found him kind of odd and also very compelling. So, the two of you put on your Nancy Drew personas and followed him down to the pier one night, tracing his steps in the shadows, stalking him, really. And when he stood under the yellow moon looking out at the black and roiling water, a floodlight switched on and illuminated your entire world. You knew the truth. You were never the same after that, because everything about the orderly world of your parents was called into question and overturned by something else.

Is this the moment you became an artist?

I think so.

Now go on. Shine a light on each memory, each mystery and you will have all the material you'll ever need for your art.

Oh, and have fun.



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