I’m betting you didn’t know she had one, did you? Well, most celebrities do. Including Welsey Shaw.
They just really would rather not talk about it. Including Welsey Shaw.
In Gwyneth’s case, a man has been harassing her for seventeen years.
Yep, let me say that again—seventeen years.
And after numerous incidents, including encounters that sent him to a psychiatric facility back in 2000, he was just found not guilty of harassing her yet again.
The actress was clearly disappointed in the verdict. “I’ve been dealing for 17 years with the communications from this man … I felt very upset by it [the verdict] … this has been a very long and very traumatic experience already.”
The man’s attorney says he is harmless. Furthermore, she says, he is misunderstood. “He just needs the right medication,” she maintains.
I can’t imagine Ms. Paltrow is much comforted by those words.
The sad truth is the famous and easily-recognizable have to deal with this every day. We know who they are. They don’t know who we are. Which is why so many people who seek out the glow of fame later come to regret it.
Paltrow gave evidence in the case in which she claimed she was sent around 70 messages between 2009 and 2015.
She said the letters ranged from “religious to pornographic to threatening.” Some even talked about her death.
This struck me because there is a similar subplot in Entertaining Welsey Shaw. It could almost have been ripped from the Paltrow case, except that I started writing it first, or at least before anyone ever knew GP had a stalker. In the beginning, to a large degree, Welsey Shaw was modeled on Gwyneth Paltrow. (I’ve since moved away from that to modeling her after a large number of actresses to making her largely her own person, with a pinch of this celebrity and a dash of that.)
What’s truly frightening, and what I wanted to point out with Welsey’s stalker, is that there’s no real defense against people like this. You can get restraining orders, have them put away somewhere, but those orders always expire, those sentences are eventually up. You can’t keep the person away forever. And you never really know when they’re going to end up on your doorstep. After all, they don’t send you a note saying, “Hey, they let me out today!” —Or they do, which is perhaps even scarier.
Paltrow said her stalker “wanted to marry her.” Ironically, that’s exactly the plot line I’d devised for Welsey. Her stalker also wants to walk her down the aisle!
He too gets put away. He too is eventually let out, and attacks again. And there’s not much Welsey can do about it.
Sadly, this is a very bad case of life imitating art. There should be better ways to safeguard celebrities who are stalked, but I have no idea what they could be.
Why do people do art?
Want the quickest way for most people to emit a derisive snort? Tell them you’re an artist.
I got to thinking about this the other day when my writer friend Susan Gabriel posted about what art means to her. She said, “WE MUST–women and men alike–claim and protect whatever creative talents we have, or we run the risk of not recovering.” Pretty passionate. But why is she so? Writing hasn’t made her rich (I don’t think so, at least). It won’t make her thinner or healthier or have better cholesterol numbers or a bigger house. It sure doesn’t impress most people in society—being an artist doesn’t do that, unless you’re a very famous one. People wiggle their finger in their ear when they hear you declare you’re an artist. They privately (or maybe not so privately) say you should get a real job.
There’s a scene in Entertaining Welsey Shaw where protagonist Daniel Ferreira, tries to explain to his father how and why he wants to become a professional writer after college, It’s a conversation many have had, with its attendant frustrations After all, what kind of a job is that? What do you do? Who do you do it for? How do you know anyone is going to pay you? After all, “artist” is not exactly a job you “:get.” There’s no application to fill, no ads to answer, no interviews, no objective skill requirements.
Sounds like a scam.
Daniel’s parents, both retired civil servants who’ve moved on to a nicer home in wealthier climes, try to steer him to their idea of an “artistic” job. They know someone whose son recently started writing copy for a trash-talking radio show host who’s about to go national. This other kid’s doing well. He just bought a sportscar.
But people have not only bothered to be artists—they’ve died for the privilege. A privilege that includes no health benefits, no pension, no IRA and odds of being recognized that are about the same as the odds you’ll be struck by lightning.
It can’t just be ego. People forget egos take a HUGE beating in art. Many artists need the big heads they have, because, like a piñata, people are going to take many swings at it during your career.
The year 1752 might yield a clue.
That’s when Augustus III, king of Poland, acquired Raphael’s Sistine Madonna for the art gallery in Dresden (where it still hangs). Auggie was so moved by the work that he famously ordered, “Make room for the great Raphael!” when the painting was brought into the room and positioned in the sunlight. He and his retinue then spent hours just staring at it. (The cherubs that adorn the bottom of the painting are better-known in this day and age, gracing many refrigerator magnets and T-shirts.)
Imagine this man of wealth and privilege brought to his knees by the scrapings of pigment on canvas. Others had bowed before him, but he bowed before “the great Raphael.”
Or there’s Pope Julius II urging, threatening and finally pleading with Michelangelo to finish his own Sistine masterpiece. For all his power on earth, the pope’s time is limited, and he knows that. That’s one limitation art does not face.
Mighty Russian prince Nicholas Galitzin is remembered today as the guy who commissioned the last five string quartets—widely considered the greatest in history—by Beethoven. I googled him just now and the Beethoven quartets are the first thing that came up. He doesn’t even have his own separate entry in Wikipedia…were it not for Beethoven, Nick would likely be forgotten.
Then there’s the Archduke Rudolph. Known by various fancy titles, Archduke and Prince Imperial of Austria, Prince Royal of Hungary and Bohemia, Cardinal, an Archbishop of Olomouc, and a member of the House of Habsburg-Lorraine, today he’s remembered solely as one of Beethoven’s important patrons. To him was dedicated, among other masterworks, the Piano Trio that bears his name. Many times he and Beethoven would have volcanic fights and the composer would storm off—but it was always the archduke who worried about repairing relations. Perhaps he sensed who in the long run was the most important.
Stephen Sondheim once observed that the only two things that we pass on after we die are children and art. He might have mentioned political and other kinds of philosophy and all-around learnedness, as well as bodies of scientific knowledge, but it could be argued that those too are a form of art.
After all, Rockefeller is gone, but Rockefeller Center remains. William Randolph Hearst died decades ago, but people still flock to Julia Morgan’s masterpiece at San Simeon. And maybe we’re all hoping for a little bit of that. Immortality. Or at least a passing thought, a nod of recognition, from the future. Is it a coincidence so many artists are agnostic or atheist? Perhaps they’re seeking immortality some other way.
Well, I never thought I’d be writing a blog post about Rachel Dolezal in Entertaining Welsey Shaw. But it occurred to me this morning, while I was watching espresso being coaxed out of the machine in my kitchen, that there is a connection to my novel, and a strong one, too.
Welsey loves acting for the reason most actors love acting: it gives them a chance to be someone else, if only for a while. It’s not too different from why I enjoy writing.
Rachel Dolezal seems to be another in a fairly long line of people who identify with someone different from themselves. Or want to be people different from who they are.
It may seem strange to some people. It seemed strange to me, but when I stopped to think about it a bit I realized history is full of self-reinvention. Not all of us take it as far as she did, but we all do it, at least a little.
Sam Clemens was reborn as Mark Twain.
François-Marie Arouet became Voltaire.
Orson Welles was as much a creation of stagecraft as he was a real person.
Benjamin Franklin spent his early years as Silence Dogood.
Erik Weisz was Harry Houdini.
I have a friend who is one of the best jazz pianists I’ve ever heard. Actually she’s not just “jazz,” strictly-speaking; her playing style is past category. She used to be called Liz Gorrill but one day she changed her name to Kazzrie Jaxen. Why? Only she knows, but either way she’s amazing.
I have another friend, Inez, who’s a spectacular Flamenco dancer, and looks as Spanish as the day is long. Only she’s Jewish, and from Cherry Hill, New Jersey. But apparently her insides don’t think so, so who’s to argue?
Edwin Hubble was an astronomer so brilliant they named a space telescope after him. It was he who realized those fuzzy blots on photographs of the night sky weren’t nearby gas orbs but vastly distant galaxies, far outside our own. Hubble was from the midwest, but he seemed a tad ashamed of this, so when he enrolled at Oxford he affected a British accent, started smoking a pipe, and donned English tweed. He showed off his dueling scars; some people said they were self-inflicted.
Identity is destiny, so I guess you can’t blame people for trying to control it. Theodore Geisel isn’t a great name for a children’s author. Dr. Seuss is.
We’ll probably never really know why Ms. Dolezal went as far as she did, but she has said she’s “long identified as black.” I’ve often wondered if actors identify with a role they play so much that they end up wishing they were that person. It’s something I’d like to ask famous actors if I ever found myself chatting them up in some casual surrounding.
What if an actor likes a role they’re assigned to play more than they like themselves? What if they wanted to be that person, adopt their looks, imitate their voice? What if they become utterly obsessed with the perfection they perceive in that character?
Sounds like an interesting idea for a novel!
This may not seem to have much to do with Entertaining Welsey Shaw, which I’ll just remind everyone is the story of two types of people who normally never meet—and what happens after they do. But bear with me.
The first piece on last Saturday night’s concert at the San Francisco Symphony was called Radial Play, by local composer Samuel Adams, the son of local composer John Adams. Music Director Michael Tilson Thomas, who has a very undistinguished parking spot in the hall’s parking lot, by the way, conducted about ninety people as they made strange and wonderful sounds in this energetic new composition. It was touted in the program booklet as the Symphony’s debut performance of the work. The exclamation point was only implied.
I can’t count how many times I’ve seen that on a program. I’ve attended more premieres of works than I can count. It’s highly fashionable nowadays to premiere a new work on a concert with well-known pieces, even war-horses if you will. The problem is I never hear the piece again. It’s rare that it’s even recorded. First performances are common. But works don’t usually get familiar from first performances. And it’s the second and third and fourth performances that are hard to come by. Why do you think everyone—even the most musically-challenged person in the world—knows da-da-da-duuuuum ?
It’s true with authors too. There are countless book debuts that end there. Getting the second deal is tough. So many authors have published exactly one book. It is not the loneliest number. It’s sadly common.
Next on the symphony’s program came a piece by Mozart that most classical fans know, the Sinfonia Concertante for Violin and Viola. If I could hear one last piece of music before I die, this would probably be it. Exquisite doesn’t begin to describe it. Nothing does. The tyke from Salzburg wrote this unbelievably rich masterpiece when he was just 20.
But he never heard the work again in his lifetime. It got a premiere and was forgotten. It was even worse for Mozart, because at least Mr. Adams has had his work performed before, just not by this orchestra. Still, the odds are slight that his piece will make it into the regular performance schedules of orchestras overburdened with Tchaikovsky, Brahms and Mozart (or overburdened with audiences who expect to hear Tchaikovsky, Brahms and Mozart over and over).
In Mozart’s time it was also common to have a piece performed once and then see it forgotten, which is why those pre-royalties guys had to write so much in their lifetimes. But as time went on a canon developed, one that has seen itself both expanded as it needed more works and shut down as it filled. Recordings had something to do with this development, allowing for wider exposure to works while at the same time making certain one highlighted for repetition. Fortunately for us, the Sinfonia Concertante for Violin and Viola, or just good ol’ “K.364” if the formal title is too ungainly, was one of those that’s emerged as a favorite.
That brings me to the third work on the program, Bartok’s Concerto for Orchestra. Another popular work today, it premiere in 1944 to a resounding thud—with audiences at least. Critics approved, but five years passed before it became ensconced in the repertoire. Today it’s considered one of the greatest works of the 20th century—and one of the most popular, despite its difficulties.
It sure brought down the house last Saturday night, as MTT blazed through it like a man on fire. Bartok was paid just $500 for this masterpiece, by the way. Think of that the next time Paris Hilton gets $40,000 a night for being a DJ.
It’s a remarkable idea and a remarkable film. I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it for weeks.
Vanya on 42nd Street is by Louis Malle and stars Andre Gregory and Wallace Shawn. They’re the same dynamic trio who conceived My Dinner With Andre, one of the most audacious films ever made.
Vanya on 42nd Street started when theater director Andre Gregory decided he wanted to rehearsal a recently-translated version of Chekhov’s play Uncle Vanya. Rehearse it. He didn’t want to do anything else. There was to be no performance. The whole idea was the rehearsal.
They started in a loft, but quickly moved to an abandoned theater on 42nd Street. And I mean abandoned. It was a crumbling shell, with rats scurrying about. I understand the stench of urine was fairly intense.
This was their workspace. I doubt OSHA would approve.
They rehearsed Chekhov’s play just to get familiar with it. To become truly intimate. A few cast members, such as Julianne Moore, whose star was just starting to rise at the time, said they resented all this work at first for something that would not be put on. Later they said they resented it when Gregory decided to in fact let some people in.
Just a few.
Each cast member could bring “two loved ones” per show. That amounted to about 20 people, give or take. Still, for the next three and a half years, on and off but mostly on, they rehearsed this work—to what end?
To no end. Or rather, that was the end. It became a massed catharsis for the actors, who did it differently each time, exploring new possibilities. There was no blocking. Few props. They wore their street clothes. One of Gregory’s points with the experiment was that with great literature, props and sets and effects are almost unnecessary.
Finally Louis Malle, the great French filmmaker, decided he wanted to record these rehearsals for posterity. This presented some problems, in that for the purpose of the film the play had to be staged exactly the same way each time for cutting purposes. So in a way we’re not seeing a filmed rehearsal. We’re seeing a simulation of a filmed rehearsal, which itself isn’t the play but an imagining of the play. So it’s a simulation of a conception of one potential actuality. Head spinning yet?
Malle shot the film in two weeks, and that the was the end of Vanya. They all left their smelly theater with heavy hearts. (And probably headed straight to the dry cleaners.)
The film is remarkable in that, like My Dinner With Andre, it can spark so much imagery in the head of the viewer even while it itself just points a camera at actors talking to one another against generally uninteresting backgrounds.
But were it not for the film, almost no one would know this little experiment had ever happened. And as I said, since they constantly kept changing things, only one conception was immortalized on celluloid.
It got me thinking, though, about whether it’s okay to just do art for yourself and not share it. I’ve been considering an urge lately not to publish—through a publisher or on my own—Entertaining Welsey Shaw. I wrote it for specific reasons, those reasons have been realized, and maybe I should just move on.
Did I write it for you or me?
No easy answer.
But what made it more interesting was that a few days later, I watched another film, Krzysztof Kieślowski’s Blue, the first part of his so-called Three Colors trilogy.
In this film a woman who has suffered a terrible loss decides to cut herself off from the world and live without any emotional engagement.
And the film argues that ultimately you can’t. You have to interact. You have to dance with them that brung you. Julie, played with amazing reserve and pin-point precision by Juliette Binoche, realizes this in the end, even though no words are spoken.
Both these films have been in my mind a lot since I saw them.
To share or not.
Kieślowski seems to think you have to. (And he says it in the most gorgeously poetic way imaginable.)
Gregory comes down on the side of isolation.
No easy answer.
A while ago I started submitting Welsey Shaw to agents. Not surprisingly it’s a tough haul.
I was thinking of just forgetting the whole thing. Even going through the trouble of self-pub and the related promotion seems like too much work. What does that have to do with writing? Or why I wanted to write Welsey Shaw in the first place?
But then there’s another part of me that is also at work on a sequel.
It takes place five years later. A lot of things have changed for both major characters. It reexamines many of the same themes from sort of a reverse point of view. (Believe me, I’m not one for sequels normally, but this one jumped up and kissed me on the lips and I couldn’t resist.)
So part of me wants to continue with a “franchise” that nobody wants so far in the first place, and another part of me wants to just tuck it all away like Andre Gregory did with Uncle Vanya.
As I said, no easy answer.
What to do?
Maybe I’ll watch both movies again… That’s it.
Maybe that’ll work.