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bad environments



Why do people often feel bad in good environments and good in bad environments?

Why do people often feel so bad in good environments that they prefer bad environments?

Why is it that a man riding a good commuter train from Larchmont to New York, whose needs and drives are satisfied, who has a good home, loving wife and family, good job, who has unprecedented “cultural and recreational facilities,” often feels bad without knowing why.

(Walker Percy via Spalding Gray)

but it is interesting, because when i was looking around for youtube links of spalding gray to post to facebook, twitter, etc, i shied away from them and went with a clip from eric bogosian, who is lumped together with spalding gray as part of the eighties performance art thing. i ended up linking to bogosian because his performance did not “push” me away, he does not roll out his vulnerability and rawness. i admire spalding gray’s openness, and the “fool”ishness, but yes, there is something about it that alienates, or scares me. eric bogosian is much more defended, and therefore more easily digested, approached, shared.

Thx for the tips Marcy. I surely didn’t say or imply that one should strive for safe emotional distance in a family. My family was discussing literary devices, not privacy policies. I am not sure whether Spalding was more of a performer than a writer “at heart”. He did both, and surely more of the latter as he wrote fiction, and non-fiction in addition to his plays. As for “going English Major” on performers. I was once a Theater Major have been an actor, playwright, director, an artisitic director of a theater festival, and a screenwriter. I was never an English Major. I was merely making some observations about writing styles. As for putting performers in a live context, I am not sure where else one can put them since this is where they exist. I saw Spalding live. I was not able to hide from him, but wanted to sometimes.

Might just add … in a house, as in a family, there is no such thing as Safe Observational Distance. In literature, yes. But not with actual people.
Spalding Gray was – at heart – a performer. And you cannot go English Major on performers. You have to put them in a live context. They require an emotional commitment, and you cannot look away. There is no safe distance, and no hiding place.

In our house, the conversation of the week is “safe observational distance” as a literary device. Percy was the master of this notion, and Spalding was the antithesis. I have a theory (unoriginal) that all American literature evolves out of Huck Finn: A flawed innocent on a journey of discovery makes the clumsy forgivable mistakes- mistakes our country and its people make every day. Funny and revealing this template can be reused again and again as long as the flaws of the protagonist are endearing and familiar. It is an inside out tale where the narrator is also the protagonist, and the distortion of his/her lens provides the tension and the laughs. Holden Caufield is Huck Finn, is America, is you. The turn to me comes with F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Tennessee Williams. They present characters who make choices that are not familiar, nor necessarily forgivable. Since Gatsby, Stanley, and the Wingfield’s are too far afield for empathy, an observant (and less flawed) narrator/protagonist becomes essential- a tour guide for viewing the unseemly. This “safe emotional distance” allows us to view the intoxicating worlds of damaged characters without the need to empathize with them. They are not us. Thank God. This convention does still allow for the realization that while “they are not us”, they are out there and part of the collective we that defines us. Discoveries are made about culture and society without the alienation associated with self-observation and/or self-examination.
The subject of an earlier itchy post, John Cassavetes, was perhaps the first American storyteller to embrace magnification over distance. His films were too difficult and too personal for most. Unforgivable characters need a black hat, or a narrator, or Americans won’t buy it. Of course, Cassavetes is my favorite filmmaker for just this reason. Who cares. He liked to open the door of a room where a painful operation was happening inside, one most did not want to see. Spalding Gray (and his collaborations with The Wooster Group) explored a new way to break the two big American forms. He forced a separation of the layers- an examination of self through a breaking of the mold. Watching one of his performances was hard emotionally. He introduced himself as the protagonist, but just as you adjusted to accepting him as the lovable Huck, he introduced you to revelations and choices you were not ok with. Choices that he, as the narrator, also abhorred, and yet they were choices that he, the protagonist made. Just when you settled into the duality, he became a clown- The Fool in Lear observing from above while dangerously begging us to wish he would go away.This jarring shift between safe emotional distance, and exploratory emotional surgery made it hard to feel safe in your seat. It was difficult to know one’s role as a listener, as an audience. Is he talking about me? Why did he just say/do that? Should I be bothered? That is me. That is not me. It is him. I don’t like him. I hope this isn’t what we’ve become. I never felt comfortable watching Spalding Gray. He was not comfortable either, and of course that made me even more troubled. Later in life, I am glad I went, though still find that disturbance as discovery is an unpleasant way to learn and feel. In conclusion, Keanu Reeves. Have you read “The Correspondence of Shelby Foote & Walker Percy”? You should.

This is part of a longer quote that Spalding Gray inserted between two chapters in his book, Sex and Death to the Age 14. This book yaks on about a cultural moment that came and went very quickly. I suspect that the nostalgia for it had more nuance, and lasted a lot longer than the actual moment. It’s right down the street from the Nan Goldin moment, but not exactly the same, and happening to a boy.

I would have attached the definition of schizophrenia from the DSM-IV, instead, but since I am not a mental health professional (now you know), I don’t have a copy of that. I have heard they are very expensive.

I am not saying that Spalding Gray had schizophrenia, because I have no idea what he suffered from, though he obviously suffered way too much. I just wanted to draw a lazy, concentric circle around the “he is the one” conversation in The Matrix. (I am the one. I don’t know if I am the one. I might be the one. The oracle says I am not the one. My girlfriend says I am the one. Am I?) That conversation COULD be said to relate to the symptoms of schizophrenia, which might not even be a clinical term anymore. More on that later.

I just feel very badly for Spalding Gray. The way that he escaped his bad environment was so italicized, so bold-faced, so elliptical and done with it all.

On another note, Keanu was channeling the Little Buddha all over the place. Trim and fit, he was.

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