On Writing, Redux


a person who pretends or claims to have more knowledge or skill than he or she possesses; quack.
impostor, mountebank, fraud, fake, phony.
If you haven’t visited the Young Centre for Performing Arts, you really should go.  It is a beautifully converted space, large enough to make you feel comfortable, but intimate enough to see the expressions on the faces of the actors.  The former home of Tank Houses 9 and 10 of the old Gooderham & Worts Distillery is now home to Mamet and Miller and – last night – Friel.
The three troubled characters who inhabit The Faith Healer tell their stories in long, uninterrupted monologues.  I use the plural form of the word quite deliberately – there is in fact only one story, but told from such different points of view that the audience is left wondering what really happened, and who – if anyone – is telling the truth.
Or maybe they are all telling the truth.
The background notes on the play state that Friel described the play as a “metaphor for the art, the craft of writing”.
“A writer sets out to create a fictional world – a lie – and to fill it with as much truth as she can find in herself and express.  Sometimes, magically, it coalesces and audiences are touched.”*
About a week ago, I explored the work of Spalding Gray, a man who freely admitted that although his stories were based on his own life experiences, these experiences were clearly viewed through his own particular lens, filtered by his own brain, and quite possibly altered over long periods of time. 
Have you ever found yourself wondering if an event really happened in the way that you remember? 
We can go through life feeling certain that we know the characters of other people, that we know ourselves, and find that others have a completely different perspective.  How is it possible to know every side and angle to another complex human being?  We see only what that person chooses to show us and we see only what we want to see.
Perception.  Filter.  Distortion.
Writers go one step further.  We have the audacity, the narcissistic tendency, the burning need…to write it all down.  We are not content with viewing and filing away, we instead choose, in our own charming form of madness, to tell the story.  We challenge the audience by laying ourselves bare and saying “Here is what happened, here is what I think, here is my voice.  Make of it what you will”.
Friel also said that “there is an element of the charlatan…in all creative work”.
Quacks.  Mountebanks.** A person who pretends or claims to have more knowledge or skill than he or she possesses.
Yes, that sounds about right.
As a side note, it’s getting a little depressing to continually see only older audiences at the theatre.  Most companies, like the amazing Soulpepper, offer heavily discounted tickets to younger patrons.  So, what are you waiting for?
* From the Playbill Background Notes, beautifully written by Soulpepper Associate Artist Paula Wing.
**  A word I am trying desperately to fit into everyday conversation.

9 Responses to “On Writing, Redux”

  1. May 12, 2010 at 10:56 am

    What fascinates me—as writer and reader—is that even though stories are told through a filter, through one person’s viewpoint and imagination and memory, somehow we still relate. We read a piece of prose and gasp and warm and think, “Yes! Yes! That’s it exactly! I completely understand!”

    You, I, any writer—we tell our stories, in our own, individual, unique, one-minded way. And every now and then, if lucky, our story’s message is universal. It transcends. It is so much larger than we are, as the writer, sitting alone in her study, typing away.

    • 2 shoeboxdweller
      May 12, 2010 at 11:25 am

      As you’ve likely discerned by now, I find it fascinating, too. Every so often, the kaleidoscope stops at a pattern that reaches someone in an intimate way. Sometimes, it reaches many. Then it turns again, and reaches someone else.

  2. May 12, 2010 at 3:05 pm

    I love going to the theater but sadly I don’t really have anyone to go with. I think I should just woman up and start going on my own. (I also love going to ballets but again, no one to go with me.)

    I think what I love most about reading other people’s writings – whether it’s in a newspaper, blog, magazine, book, etc. – is to see the world and experiences through their eyes. Life would be far too boring if we viewed everything in the same manner.

    • 4 shoeboxdweller
      May 12, 2010 at 3:18 pm

      I prefer going to the theatre with a friend (which is why I always buy tickets in pairs, I mean, who can resist a free trip to the theatre?), but I have also gone on my own. Attending the theatre as a single provides a great opportunity for people watching, another favourite hobby.

      You have fabulous theatre opportunities in DC! Enjoy them!

  3. May 12, 2010 at 4:12 pm

    We can go to a show when I come visit! 🙂

    • 6 shoeboxdweller
      May 12, 2010 at 5:03 pm

      Bring lots of those US $1 bills that we can stuff into their G-strings.

      Oh, you probably meant a play.

      *Cheshire Cat grin*

  4. May 13, 2010 at 8:07 am

    There are so many opportunities here in D.C. that I sometimes feel overwhelmed by the choices. I worked in theater for a while and enjoy seeing a good play from time to time (The Mikado is being done out at Wolftrap next week, woo!).

    As for perception, even if two people see something with their own eyes, two different filters will show them different things. I try my best to write truthfully about what I see, but that’s not always the case. Maybe that’s why I like photography so much, it’s a lot harder to lie with a picture.

    • 8 shoeboxdweller
      May 13, 2010 at 9:00 am

      A picture’s worth a thousand words, right?

      It looks as though there are a lot of DC folk wanting to go to the theatre – y’all should make a date and take advantage of those opportunities!

  5. 9 twistedspinster
    June 16, 2010 at 11:27 pm

    Darling – Was just flouncing about in my headscarf (SO ‘Little Edie’ Beale) when it occurred to me that since you finished law school you could become a lawyer and definitely work “mountebank” into everyday discourse. Or at least courtroom discourse or a brief or something. I have always tried to rock the English language pretty hard in all venues, and now that I am an adult I hardly ever get jumped in the cloakroom. Double air kisses! TS

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