artistic unknowns by Chris Matarazzocreative writing

Still, we create

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The other night, I caught the last hour of a movie masterpiece on TV: Sidney Lumet’s 12 Angry Men. It is an inspiring film to watch, in and of itself, and it is full of that 1950’s mixture of sinewy intellect and bongo-driven, twelve-tonal avant-gardeness. It is a film that simultaneously, as much of the art of that period did, praises and condemns the register of human action and tendency. 

But the old stream-of-consciousness kicked in when I again saw Lee J. Cobb, the disgruntled father who wants a young man to hang as a result of his own feelings against his own rebellious son. Seeing Cobb made me think of Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman, in which he played the first Willy Loman.

I can’t even think of that play without feeling emotional. In my humble opinion, it might be the highest work of art in the history of American letters. Miller captures the common human struggle in that play in a way in which only he can. I have always seen Arthur Miller as a hero — as the writer I wish I could become. 

(To give you perspective, when it was announced that Arthur Miller had died, in 2005, I was driving and had to pull to the side of the road to contain myself. Granted, I am an emotional guy, but it rarely comes to that. )

At any rate, when I was watching the film and I thought of Death of a Salesman, I got an all too familiar pang: Please, God, just let me write just one thing that good — one thing that can move someone else the way Miller moved me. This is an ache not unlike the feeling of an earnest young crush — a passionate, pure love for someone else who doesn’t have the slightest idea that you cry and sigh at night, just praying for the feeling of her palm in yours. 

I have known this feeling at increments all my life (both for love and art), and while I recognize it as real, I am also aware of its fiery transience, just as I am aware that Miller didn’t write his masterpiece in a rush of passion but in a series of intense intellectual, meticulous visions and revisions. 

Still, I went to bed with that ache, thinking of Willy and his son Biff — of the seething secret that connected them; of the real tragedy of Americans dreaming of grabbing a prize they cannot define; of Miller’s deep, realistic yet mystical wisdom in painting a portrait of what can go so terribly wrong with the American dreamer. 

But the next day, as I looked out the window and saw my nine-year-old son wearing his baseball cap and tossing a ball into the sky and catching it with elaborate dives accompanied by announcements of glory, living, in his imagination, the fame he knows will be his, someday, in the Majors, I realized the stark truth that all writers must face, even (maybe especially) in the afterglow of great inspiration: The wonder and the reality and the profundity of this moment — of a boy imagining, dreaming and pretending — has never been and will never be captured by a pen. Not with all its colors and shades. 

Life is so much bigger than art. Strange as it may seem, it took me a few decades to really believe that. The messenger of reality’s wonders doesn’t stride the stage boards, bellowing and gesticulating as if to tear down heaven’s roof; he wears a tiny ball cap, hates baths and laughs belly-laughs at the mere mention of flatulence. 

Still, we write. Still, we paint. Still, we compose. Still, we are driven to create, hoping that we can shine a perfect light on something for just one second out of an eternity. That’s cool.

Chris Matarazzo’s ARTISTIC UNKNOWNS appears every Tuesday.

Chris Matarazzo is a writer, composer, musician and teacher of literature and writing on the college and high school levels. His music can be heard on his recent release, Hats and Rabbits, which is currently available. Chris is also the composer of the score to the off-beat independent film Surrender Dorothy and he performs in the Philadelphia area with the King Richard Band. He's also a relatively prolific novelist, even if no one seems to care yet. His blog, also called Hats and Rabbits, is nice, too, if you get a chance...
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