I finally finished this wonderful book, and I can’t begin to collect my thoughts about it, about what it means to me and what it suggests to me of my life. So rather than try, here are some passages from the dozens of pages with turned-down corners.
“Every artist makes himself born. It is very much harder than the other time, and longer. Your mother didn’t bring anything into the world to play piano. That you must bring into the world yourself.”
“…What you want more than anything else in world is to be an artist; is that true?”
She turned her face away from him and looked down at the keyboard. Her answer came in a thickened voice. “Yes, I suppose so.”
“When did you first feel that you wanted to be an artist?”
“I don’t know. There was always--something.”
“You weren’t ready for it eight months ago.” Fred leaned back at last in his chair. “You simply weren’t ready for it. You were too tired. You were too timid. Your whole tone was too low. … You were fumbling and awkward. Since then, you’ve come into your personality. You were always locking horns with it before. You were a sullen little drudge eight months ago, afraid of being caught at either looking or moving like yourself. Nobody could tell anything about you. A voice is not an instrument that’s found ready-made. A voice is personality.”
“…To go back to your question, Dr. Archie, you can believe I keep my mind on it! That’s the whole trick, in so far as stage experience goes; keeping right there every second. If I think of anything for a flash, I’m done for. but at the same time, you can take things in – with another part of your brain, maybe. It’s different from what you get in study, more practical and conclusive. There are some things you learn best in calm, and some in storm. You learn the delivery of a part only before an audience.”
“Heaven help us!” gasped Ottenburg. “Aren’t you hungry, though! It’s beautiful to see you eat.”
“What is it, Mr. Harsanyi? You know all about her. What’s her secret?”
Harsanyi rumpled his hair irritably and shrugged his shoulders. “Her secret? It is every artist’s secret” – he waved his hand – “passion. That is all. It is an open secret, and perfectly safe. Like heroism, it is inimitable in cheap materials.”
Artistic growth is, more than it is anything else, a refining of the sense of truthfulness. The stupid believe that to be truthful is easy; only the artist, the great artist, knows how difficult it is. That afternoon nothing new came to Thea Kronborg, no enlightenment, no inspiration. She merely came into full possession of things she had been refining and perfecting for so long. Her inhibitions chanced to be fewer than usual, and, within herself, she entered into the inheritance that she herself had laid up, into the fullness of the faith she had kept before she knew its name or its meaning.”
“…Then he walked down Broadway with his hands in his overcoat pockets, wearing a smile which embraced all the stream of life passed him and the lighted towers that rose into the limpid blue of the evening sky. If the singer, going home exhausted in her car, was wondering what was the good of it all, that smile, could she have seen it, would have answered her. It is the only commensurate answer.”
I think this is a book, like Salinger’s Franny and Zooey, to which I will return again and again. (I picked that book up again this fall after about ten years, and felt like I was reading a letter from my 18-year-old self, what with all the underlining and notes in the margins.) They both have so much to say about being an artist/singer/actor, and about how tough and painful and lonely but ultimately rewarding this life can be, if one really gives ones’ self over to it, although the rewards may be impossible to quantify.
I feel very heavy. Not down, not sad, just heavy. As if I just – finally, fully – accepted the weight of my life. It’s a good heaviness, but heavy, nonetheless.