Photo Credit: Nicolas Maloof

Photo Credit: Nicolas Maloof

I knew Andrew Lewis Conn back in the clawing days of college, in New York City. Although we went to different schools, we, like so many hundreds of ambitious artistic innocents, shared an immediate unspoken desire to be ranked as close to all the literary and cinematic "faces" that had dominated our imaginations and infiltrated our lives. The energy of our mutual ambition towards creating "great, lasting things" crammed every inch of my already tiny book squeezed-in dorm room at Juilliard, as he pitched me his idea for his student film he was filming that summer with a quiet but barely containable Tarantino-seeking creative frenzy. One of the coolest things to me, is, many years later, still seeing the same people you knew still facing their dreams full-on, making them happen-- not sitting on the edge of a bed talking about it-- and still putting their heart fully and entirely into their work to create that "great, lasting thing." Andrew Lewis Conn is the author of the recently published novel O, AFRICA! (Hogarth/Random House) and P (Soft Skull Press). Conn has written essays, short fiction, and reviews for The Believer, Film Comment, The Village Voice, Time Out New York, and the Indiana Review, among others, and attended writers residencies at Yaddo and Ledig House in Hudson, NY. Conn’s debut novel, P, was chosen as a best book of the summer of 2003 by Salon, Time Out New York, The Oregonian, and Nerve; one of the best books of the year by the Village Voice and the Austin Chronicle; and long-listed as “one of the best books of the millennium (so far!)” by The Millions. O, AFRICA! has received some very generous pre-publication praise. It was heralded as "a masterpiece" and "a thing of wonder" by bestselling author Gary Shteyngart, earned a starred review in KIRKUS,  and had the good fortune of appearing on best summer reads lists in the LOS ANGELES TIMES, NEW YORK FAMILY, DETROIT JEWISH NEWS, THE ORLANDO SENTINEL, THE SEATTLE-POST INTELLIGENCER, THE ST. LOUIS DISPATCH, and SAN DIEGO MAGAZINE, among others. In the pages of THE CHICAGO TRIBUNE, critic Lloyd Sachs wrote of the novel: "Conn. . . takes his place here as one of contemporary fiction's great word-wranglers, a novelist whose love of language in all its rolling and tumbling excess captures the bounding excess of life itself." I sent Andrew a series of questions for "Perfect Mistakes" that I belief everyone can be empowered from if they take the time to ask themselves, and listen. 

PERFECT MISTAKES: Why do you do what you do? 

ANDREW LEWIS CONN: I have to agree with David Foster Wallace, who said during a Charlie Rose interview once something to the effect that a novel is still the best device that’s ever been invented to teach us what it means to be a human being. That’s it: when I’m gone and someone wants to know what this weird dude who lived in Brooklyn thought about things like time and God and technology and sex and movies and America and work and family, they’ll be able to read these books—hopefully, by then, more than two of them—and, if so inclined, have a pretty clear sense, if not in a necessarily immediately autobiographical sense. The other, more selfish answer has to do with freedom. The deeper I get into fiction writing, and the more I learn about what goes into it and the pleasure one hopes to derive from it, I’ve come to think of it as a sense of total personal freedom. Apart from the aesthetic bliss of stringing together words and sentences and paragraphs; apart from the joy that comes with building characters that achieve a kind of psychological volume and can come to seem very real on the page, the truth is that you do it—or, at least, I do it—for the sense of freedom it provides. In other words, when I’m writing, I can go anywhere and do anything. I am ungovernable. There’s great line in this Bob Dylan song “It’s alright mom (I’m only bleeding)” that goes “that it is not he or she or them or it that you belong to.” And that’s sort of it. When I’m writing I am answerable to no one. I am no longer my mother’s son. I am no longer my wife’s husband or my daughter’s father. I am no longer a Senior Vice President at a global communications company. I am no longer a Nice Jewish Boy From Brooklyn. Now, I also delight in being all of those things. So the balance of honoring those things while rejecting those things in order to create the work—because any work of art worth its salt exists as a statement of rejection of all that’s come before; you will the thing into the world because you believe in its absence and need to exist—this is a tricky thing. The psychology of writers is not the least complex thing in the world. . .

PM: Where does your inspiration come from? What deeply inspires you? 

ALC: Going back to the "why…" One of the simplest and most profound explanations of why we write that I ever heard came from Bruce Springsteen during a Charlie Rose interview. (And anyone who doubts that Springsteen is one of America’s supreme story writers, equipped with an actor’s ability to inhabit the skins of wildly different characters, has never listened to Nebraska.) Asked about his creative process, the Boss said something to the effect of: “You write about what you love and you write about things you’re trying to make sense of.” That holds true for me, certainly. I’m trying to figure things out about the world and myself through the filter of my characters. Similar to actors, I get to explore other lives, or investigate parts of myself I long to explore through the process of identification and amplification. But, yeah, anything can inspire you. I’ve always been especially wary of planned epiphanies, like, “I’m going to Burning Man and it’s going to totally blow my mind!” I think the world is a lot stranger and more unexpected and non-negotiable than that and that any insight and inspiration one is granted one usually catches on the fly. The trick, I think, especially as one gets a little bit older, is not to calcify, to hold onto a kind of youthful openness coupled with a well-quipped bullshit detector (to be applied with equal ruthlessness to oneself as to others).

PM: What's one of the greatest “perfect mistakes” you've ever made and are willing to share? The primary purpose of this blog is to see the value in the obstacle, to see that those things that "hold us back" are actually the things that have the potential to set us free. And to be able to have the courage to use it. That's why it's called “Perfect Mistakes.”

ALC: In Ulysses Stephen Dedalus famously says, “A man of genius makes no mistakes. His errors are volitional and are the portals of discovery.” But, um, we’re not geniuses (and neither is Stephen, at least not in the frame of the book, which is one of the reasons Ulysses is so great; it’s Bloomsday, not Stephen’s). I’ve failed at many things. I failed at making a movie when I was twenty (ed. note: it was said youthful failure that originally brought the interviewer and interviewee into each others orbits). My second novel remains unpublished, its characters left lonely and unknown and moldering in a desk drawer. I’ve failed at relationships. I’ve lost dear friends I thought I’d keep for a lifetime. O, Africa! went through four top to bottom rewrites over about three or four years----and shed 230 pages of manuscript weight---before my agent felt confident enough to send it out. Failure is a coin of the realm; you carry it in your pocket always. Who said the humanity racket was easy?

PM: Okay, we all love a good success story. What's one of your greatest dreams? How can your success relate to your followers and why would anyone (who doesn't know you) even bother to care? Can you connect that common thread and inspire success in them?

ALC: My dream is to be able to write fiction full time and spend more of the time I have in this life committed to the work, the real work, I’m confident I have in me. I’m not an especially money or power-driven person, and suspect I would bore easily strumming a ukulele on a beach. But I think I would enjoy having some cultural influence; having my work read and appreciated on a wide scale; being recognized for being publicly smart, that sort of thing. But the reality of it is that none of those things really come into play when you’re really cooking on a novel: because it’s all about the practical mechanics of getting a very specific set of characters into and out of a very specific number of rooms and situations in aesthetically pleasing and emotionally meaningful and psychologically believable ways.

PM: Lets talk about Legacy-- what is that you want to leave behind? Personal accomplishments are great when we are living to share them, but the true test is what we leave behind when we are out of here, I believe. Do you think your book can and will allow someone to "see" the world in a different way? Quote from “Tommy Boy:” "Did that leave a mark?" Sorry, “Tommy Boy” is the best I got.

ALC: I’m 40 years old. I’m not ready to start talking about a legacy or estate planning. What I can say is that I’ve written two books that I feel are pretty much free of compromise, and if you can do anything in this world that’s 90-95% without compromise, that’s pretty good. But legacy, no, I’m not ready for that kind of graveyard arithmetic just yet. To quote Woody Allen: “I don’t want to achieve immortality through my work; I want to achieve immortality through not dying. I don’t want to live on in the hearts of my countrymen; I want to live on in my apartment.”

PM: What's one of your favorite short stories of all time? Why?

ALC: “The Dead.” Joyce was just 25 when he wrote it and the last two or three pages are, to these eyes, the most perfect piece of prose ever written in English.

PM: What's one of your favorite novels of all time? Why?

ALC: Let’s take Ulysses out of contention because I’ve given already given St James his due in this interview. . . So, looking to some brawny American authors. . . I’m hard-pressed to name a book that tells us more about America than Norman Mailer’s The Executioner’s Song. Reading the four volumes of John Updike’s Rabbit tetrology in quick succession one summer was another signal reading experience for me. Philip Roth is another enormous influence and Joe DiMaggio figure for me: the way his work is both manic and controlled, comic and high-minded, colloquial but literary. My two favorite Roth books are probably The Counterlife—which shows how to do postmodernism right, without bells and whistles, and is the book where Nathan Zuckerman undergoes that seismic shift from being a mouth to being an ear—and Sabbath’s Theater, which is just stunning. The juxtaposition in that book of real pornographic content (I mean, stuff that would make little Alex Portnoy blush!) and the most profound meditations on family, memory, mortality, it’s like watching a gymnast execute a quadruple flip and land in a perfect split. Just impossible combinations of moves there, and it remains, I think, Roth’s strangest and greatest achievement. (It’s no accident that book is the one he’s chosen to read from on his retirement tour.) What else? I probably learned more about what it means to have a writer’s “voice” from the great film critic Pauline Kael than any novelist, so I’d throw her collection For Keeps into the mix. Lolita remains a continual source of renewal and inspiration and ravishment. The opening section of Don DeLillo’s Underworld might be our most perfect fifty pages of the last quarter century. You know, the usual suspects. . .

PM: What's one of your favorite movies of all time? Why?

ALC: Depends on the day or year or mood or weather. . .  I’ll rattle off a few that spring immediately to mind: On the Waterfront, Notorious, Vertigo, Mean Streets, Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, The Godfather I & II, Persona, Tree of Life, The Up series, Dr. Strangelove, The Shining, 2001, Last Tango in Paris, Dead Ringers, Citizen Kane, There Will Be Blood, Blue Velvet, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Chinatown, Manhattan, Dog Day Afternoon, The Wizard of Oz, Lawrence of Arabia, Y Tu Mama Tambien, Topsy-Turvy, Miller’s Crossing, Rushmore, Waking Life, the list just goes on and on and on. . .  But if I had to choose one, today, typing this interview late at night on a Monday, it’d have to be Fellini’s 8 ½, because I’ve seen no other movie that comes as close to mimicking in film a kind of literary stream of consciousness in the way it mixes past and present, dream and reality. And, in its story of an artist who doesn’t know what’s next and then realizes his material exists all around him, the picture is a reservoir of surprise and inspiration. And it’s hilarious. And Marcello Mastroianni is the coolest mother------ ever to wear a pair of sunglasses.

To order Andrew Lewis Conn's novel O, Africa!

http://www.amazon.com/Africa-Novel-Andrew-Lewis-Conn/dp/0804138281

(Amazon)

http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/o-africa-andrew-lewis-conn/1116930109?ean=9780804138291

(Barnes & Noble)

http://www.powells.com/biblio/9780804138284  

(Powells)

 

http://www.powells.com/biblio/9780804138284

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

"Watching It Happen" The emotional, physical, and mental "state" of an artist

"Watching It Happen" The emotional, physical, and mental "state" of an artist

 I hadn't worked on this drawing since Christmas break. I decided to change the title. Originally, the drawing was called “Life/Art” but that felt supremely artsy-fartsy, so I scrapped it. I jumped back in and played and rediscovered some new ideas I'd like to share with you.

This drawing goes through two different thought stages. The first stage (back around Christmas break) was that I wanted to say that the inanimate object in the drawing-- in this case, the coffee cup at the bottom left-- was just as important as the dancer on the stage, or the girl watching the dancer on the stage in the wings. To clarify: the object in a scene, book, play, movie or in life can be just as compelling as a character's choices depending upon what's happening in the scene. Or maybe that the little things can have just as much meaning as the big things.

The second stage of the drawing is more interesting to me. It's about the watcher, the little girl, and the juxtaposition between the little girl and the woman dancing on stage. A sub-title for the drawing could be “The Dancer and The Dance.” I like this title better, however: “Watching It Happen.”

The little girl is off-stage, veiled in the shadows, watching the dancer-- this graceful, beautiful dancer on stage. Maybe the little girl is watching her dance teacher, maybe her mother, or maybe her older, future self. The little girl is waiting in the wings, hiding behind the ladder... We don't know if she's ready to take to the stage either or if she's going to run away, back further into the shadows of the theatre. “Do I dance or not?” We don't know. Then I thought, there's more going on here... When you're in an inspired state, you essentially become "the watcher." You fall into the innocence that I wanted to capture in the watcher, watching the dancer dance. When you're “in state” (deeply connected to your subject), you have heightened awareness, and you watch “it” unfold... you watch it happen. Some artists (or performers or speakers), will describe the execution work as an "out of body experience." You always want to throw a rock at these people when you hear that, except when it happens to you, then you understand that expression, and you get the luxury of saying to yourself, "Dude... that was like an out of body experience." It can happen. It's a great thing when it does. It's magic. And that magic can occur whether that's listening to a phenomenal rock concert or participating in some kind of great life-changing workshop or falling in love or getting married... peak experiences. You're utterly fascinated and enthralled by what is happening. You'd easily lock yourself in a library to immerse yourself more in the subject. And so you become the watcher. You're innocently looking at something. I believe we have to be more fascinated than judgmental. (Not that “judgement” or strong, biased opinions don't have their place.) If I can approach anything with "intended innocence," that is, to put myself into my subject with the fasciation of a child looking at something completely unobjectively, wanting, or waiting, to know how to feel about something... that is the ultimate measure of willingness in approaching the “canvas.” That is the absolute desired state to create, along on the lines of what Picasso was talking about, I think.

I just googled three juicy quotes from Picasso talking about that desired state of innocence. Let 'er rip, Pablo:

“It takes a very long time to become young.”

“Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up.”

“It took me four years to paint like Raphael, but a lifetime to paint like a child.”

Approaching the work like a child isn't always that easy. In fact, it takes enormous conditioning to be "open." It means to open up the floodgates of all our five senses, and to allow all our different ideas to step into a great gathering place so that hopefully we can experience the world with the same immediacy and wonder that an infant might see the world. Man, talk about creative, emotional calisthenics! "Painting like a child..." maybe not necessarily in terms of clumsy execution on the canvas or the stage, but the mental mindset. Open. Wondering. Loose. Isn't it worth it? It's so worth it.

To become the watcher. And to experience watching it happen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Working With Denver University Theatre Students

Working With Denver University Theatre Students


I'll trudge along this road of life and go and go and occasionally soar and help others and feel really good about it, and begin to scrape away at the ceiling of my creative potential, and think I really understand my purpose and thank God for all the great gifts He's given me... then, whammo, I'll hit the wall, go into fear, and think this is a mistake, this shouldn't be happening, and why aren't I over "there," not having to deal with this "here." And then I remember, dammit, I'm the guy who has become the guy who is all about making The Perfect Mistake. The guy who is all about Using The Obstacle As The Opportunity. See, I've backed myself into such a corner that it's almost impossible or at least too painful not to live "The Perfect Mistakes Creed," which is to "actively seek out the value and potential pleasure in hitting the wall." To risk failure in every way shape and form for a new kind of freedom. Embracing the rug-pulled-out-from-under-me moments allows me to share this from musician Kim Gordon (ground breaking band Sonic Youth) who has made an entire career on painting  with cascading rock/ chaos/ sound that is fractured, fragmented, brilliant, and utterly intentional: "I'm interested in art that looks like a mistake-- for example, paintings that are sort of baggy, or pieces that don't even look like art-- because then it'smore about the process and meaning of the work and less about 'making an art object,' which almost seems to me like doing arts and crafts, at this point." 

And this from painter Georgia O'Keefe:  "I got half a dozen paintings from that shattered plate."

And this from author Anais Nin:  ‎"...and the time came when the risk it took to remain in a tightly closed bud became infinitely more painful than the risk it took to blossom."

I need these quotes tonight. To get through the shattered plate of tomorrow.

 

 

 

 

 

Transforming Lives and Businesses With the Power Of Theater

Transforming Lives and Businesses With the Power Of Theater

"Two roads diverged into a wood... and I?"

You know the sentence. "The Road Not Taken"-- Robert Frost's famous poem. Simple. Powerful. And pretty much sums up the human drama, the eternal universal drama of Choice and Change.

All together now:

"I took the one less traveled by. And that has made all the difference."

I believe that everyone is at a crossroads in their lives. I believe that the best characters in the best dramas are entrenched in a heart rendering, palm-sweating, hair-raising inner battle between this road or that road... "The road I couldn't possibly go down, could I?" "The road nobody thinks I could go down." "The road I once thought I could go down, and now..." Areas that pull that character radically a part, choices presented that could triumphantly transform or destroy, that allow that character to be immersed in darkness and disillusion or flooded with the light of awareness and profound inspiration and life purpose. We are those characters in our own movies, our own life dramas, and we are on our own stages as Shakespeare affirmed, constantly given choices and the space to choose. 

 "Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom."-- Viktor E. Frankl

That space is Crossroads. Crossroads is the name of a program I've created with a wonderful team of people and am sharing with the world.

Crossroads is designed for people to experience deep transformation in their personal lives, relationships, and businesses. Crossroads is for teachers, incarcerated teens, veterans, trial lawyers, CEO's, senior citizens, and anyone with a heartbeat and a willingness to try something different in their lives. I believe that if we were made more aware of the crossroads in our own lives, if we were given the space to "objectivity" our life experiences, the easier it would be to navigate our way towards a life we might have only been given a glimpse of in a dream. Crossroads utilizes time tested theatre and storytelling tools, masks, music, movement (non-verbal expression), and is inspired by Stephen Covey's The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Within a short amount of time, Crossroads has changed peoples lives. Crossroads was recently shared in several prisons in Colorado. Crossroads gave voice to the voiceless and it was awesome! Sharing Crossroads with people has profoundly changed my life. 

Within two opposing themes, Crossroads creates the space to go through the hero's journey for anyone to discover, experience, and live their life change (or “stretch”). The role of the "storyteller" is to explore the two crossroads in their life: the place you were, the place you're moving towards now.  

Here are some examples of the themes explored, rediscovered, embraced, interpreted, and shared in the lens of theatre within the Crossroads seminars and workshops:

Judgement/Trust

Fear/Love

Authentic/Dishonest

Conditional Love/Unconditional Love

Co-Dependent/Self-Reliant

Anger/Forgiveness

Despair/Hope

Arrogance/Humility

Self-Delusion/Awakening 

Perfect/Perfectly Imperfect

Any of these crossroads ring a bell? If you're willing to share, I'd love to hear some crossroad themes you've experienced or are currently experiencing in your own life journey. There will be much more sharing on Crossroads and how it's showing up in peoples lives, but to go back to Robert Frost...

What's your road less traveled by? How has that made all the difference? Or has it? Are you going down that road? Are you at the crossroads right now? Are you standing at the precipice of change and cannot allow yourself to go backwards? What are the 2 roads you're facing? If you're at the crossroads... you're in a great place, trust me.

Because you have the choice to do something incredible with your life. 

 

 

Outside Looking In

Outside Looking In

Writing “Faces On My Wall” has made me think a lot about this thing called “personal ambition.” The role of the personal. “Taking things personally.” “I am personally motivated.” “He has offended me personally and professionally.” “Personally, yours.”

What does it really mean, taking things personally? I understand this idea in theory, most of the time. Doesn't mean I practice it, but I understand it. I understand this in relationship. I understand this through the years of hard-core pain of a previous marriage that 90% of the arguments I've had, with anyone, is because I've taken things personally; that is, they are personally important to me. That means I am guarding something, I have a treasure, and I am holding onto it for dear life, and if you take it away from me, my life will end. Maybe not that extreme, but I think that's the basic idea. And it's the anticipation and the worry before someone takes my treasure away from me that is even worse than the end result because I'm thinking about losing something that I want and the minute I think something is mine, I'm in a state of fear.

I understand this: she is not mine, I am not hers, we're on a journey together like two trees, growing separate from eachother... Sure I get it. What I see is a projection of me from your eyes-- I don't need to take your crapola personally. Why? Because it's your crap. Not mine. I didn't pay for it. Or as a flamboyant waiter friend of mine used to say in regards to annoying customers, “Baby, don't let them rent space in your head.” I get all that.

But how do you not take something personally when you love it? Love it to the core of your being. How is it possible to love more through detachment than attachment? I've heard it said, “It takes more to love by letting go, than it does by holding on.” Snatch the pebble from my palm... I get all that. But how do you not take something personally when you want to be the Beatles or Ernest Hemingway. How you do make something more important than your own ambition? How do you stay up at night and obsess over something, ad nauseum, risking everything, “taking it through the fire” as Picasso said it, to not take it personally? How do you do that and avoid something just becoming a hobby? How could being an author just be a hobby? Can you be unbelievably passionate about something if it's just a hobby? And then of course add, “Hey, I need to making a living here?” where it's not just a luxury, but a necessity. How do you not take it personally? Is it even possible. Is it the greatest con in the world to go through life and say you don't take things personally? Writers, artists, musicians, dancers, please tell me that you don't take anything personally when you're “putting it out there” for the world.

I don't have the answer.

I won't pretend to have the answer.

This blog post is not about a clever solution, necessarily, but maybe just making some kind of peace with the question. This is, entirely, the core dilemma, the main character of Jamey Fuller in “Faces On My Wall.” He takes everything personally. I once heard a wise old man describing himself as “an ego maniac with an inferiority complex.” Jamey Fuller is an ego maniac with an inferiority complex... but whenever ego is running the show, who isn't? Eventually, Jamey learns to stop looking “outside himself” for approval or validation for anything or anyone... and he eventually discovers the beginning, the tremor of his “real voice.” Sometimes I envy my main character. Sometimes I don't. 

And whoever said this one is a bona fide genius: “We teach what we need to learn.”

They must have known something about pain. 

 

 

Whose dream are you following?

Whose dream are you following?

“... Nervous. Edgy. Trying to put the book out of my mind and be 'present.' Sailing towards Jamaica with Branda. Carnival Cruise. On deck, sucking in the ocean air. The book. Spectacular view of the ocean, 360 degree view. The book...

Heavy day yesterday, today thank God feels like it's mostly passed, I think. Well, not at the moment. Wanted so badly for dad to love, to 'get' the book. Wanted him to recognize the 'triumph' at the end of the book... Jamey Fuller seeing his dad as 'just a man. ' A man doing the best he can do. Not a 'face on my wall.' Just a man. A great, beautiful man doing the best he can do with what he's got... But aside from loving the humor in the book, he failed to see, I think, the true intent behind the story, and saw only a 'sad story,' I think, and perhaps, an unilluminated father/son story, too. This concerns me on a lot of different levels, but mainly, I'm fearful that the population of new readers will feel the same way. 'This book is a downer,' they'll think, 'this book is a...'

Stop it. Enough. I just stopped myself.

I believe it's important to be aware where changes can and should be made, if necessary. If it's appropriate for the integrity of the book. Lose sight of that... who am I writing for? For them? For dad? Realize the irony of writing this: this inner-debate is exactly the point, the message, of the book!

But Jesus, I wanted dad to like the book. I wanted him to love the book. Why didn't he love it? I think he may be too attached to the 'back story.' He did admit to me on the phone these 'old wounds' are still open regarding the family history, and perhaps the pain of the past is still so acute that it's impossible for him to be objective about it... or let it go. Maybe.

You're totally taking this personally, of course, you know that. You love this book. You've seen it through. You've lived with it for so long. (Even though you're trying to not look at this book as you're book, right, Jesse? Right.) You never wanted to hurt anyone. That was never your intent. That would have been a different book: some kind of angry Hollywood F-You Dad/World/Juilliard tirade. Not this book.

It's too early to see where you need to make changes, any way. You'll know what you need to do when enough people have given you feedback, and those reviews... blah, blah, blah. Right now, enjoy the journey, brother. It's your second book, but it's your first real novel. Nobody finishes anything anymore. That's got to be good enough for now. Relax, take it, easy. Buy your wife a drink. Buy you a drink. But first...

Do you love this book? Did you imagine what it would be like reading the book if someone else had written it, if you were that kid in college who might benefit from reading it.... I did. I do. I do. Good.

And now as your last mission this morning, think about all those places where you wrote the book. Think about those places like they're your best friends: the hotel room up near-- who knows where it was-- during that awful summer, writing till 2 am. That was great. And the front seat of the car, while you waited for your step-daughter in her swim team. And of course, the coffee shops when you got lucky when nobody but you inhabited them. And the airports, the blessed stretches of time to write. And the airplanes, when the rest of the people around you were zonked out and you were typing away 30,000 feet above the world. And your brothers house in LA, knocking off that first draft and getting it into your editor in time. And during snowstorms (those are the best times), and the pots of coffee brewing, and the rare moments of sacred silence lapping around you. Think of all those places you wrote like they're your greatest friends because those were sacred places because you got to write, whether it was till the wee hours of the morning or four minutes. You wrote. And you weren't thinking about it. You wrote.

I did the best job I could possibly do with this novel. I can honestly say that. I can. Good. Now enjoy the rest of this journey.

Bon Voyage.”

 

Eat Sleep WriteHey Everybody! I'd love you to check out my recent podcast interview on an awesome Florida literary program called "Eat Sleep Write." Host Adam Scull fires away some very insightful, and very tough questions on writing and acting. I had so much fun doing it!

[Interview with Eat Sleep Write Podcast]
[Download/Listen on iTunes]

Faces On My Wall Blog Tour

My latest novel, FACES ON MY WALL, is on tour! It kicked-off on Monday and runs through March 21st. The tour consists of reviews, interviews, and guest posts; follow along for more chances to enter the giveaway (details below). Thanks so much to all the bloggers that are hosting me for the tour.

Faces On My Wall by Jesse WilsonGoodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | iTunes | Kobo

A coming-of-age story and a comedic tour-de-force, meet Jamey Fuller, a cocky California kid who achieves his wildest ambition: admission to The Juilliard School in New York City, the country's most prestigious acting school. Once there, he is sure, he will find fame and glory. He will dance on tables, as in "Fame." He will take his place among the Great Actors of his time, freed from the fear of becoming just like his father, a director of Hollywood TV spots. But the reality proves hilariously brutal, as Jamey grapples with Shakespeare, lust, disillusionment, cut-throat classmates and imperious teachers. FACES ON MY WALL is a privileged glimpse into the bizarre hidden world of an actor's training, a poignant father-and-son story, and the chronicle of a young man's painful gropings toward maturity. 

Tour Schedule

(hosted by JenHalliganPR)

Monday, March 3rd - A Book and a Latte
Tuesday, March 4th - Eat Sleep Write Podcast
Wednesday, March 5th - Jennifer Tressen
Friday, March 7th - Book Blogger Mom

Monday, March 10th - Once Upon a Twilight
Tuesday, March 11th - Daily Actor
Wednesday, March 12th - Plain Talk Book Marketing
Friday, March 14th - The Real Bookshelves of Room 918

Monday, March 17th -  Heather Reid
Wednesday, March 19th -  Lost in Ever After
Friday, March 21st - My Life in Books

Giveaway

One winner will win a signed copy of FACES ON MY WALL and a $30 Amazon gift card (US only), and 5 winners will when an ebook copy (international)!

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Actress In Makeup Class, The Juilliard School

Actress In Makeup Class, The Juilliard School

What were the faces on your wall growing up? Here's a few of mine... Kerouac, Brando, Zeppelin, Henry Miller, Picasso... Yours? 

I posted this question on the various sites from Facebook, twitter, linked-in, and email. Among the surprising number of responses I received, here's a few highlights from people of totally diverse age groups, occupations, and interests: 

 "Gene Kelly was on my wall, but so was Queen Latifah, Poison, Blair Underwood, Tom Selleck, Donnie Wahlberg and Mark Wahlberg and some of the New Kids on the Block. I know! Stop laughing! I was boy crazy and didn't date till I was 20! Bob Fosse!! Fred Astaire, Anthony Michael Hall, Madonna, The Chicago 8 (I have always kept Bobby Seal in the group), Eleanor Roosevelt, Paula Vogel, Rosie the Rivoter, Duran Duran, The New York Skyline. Woody Allen, John Lennon, various females, Ferris Bueller, The Police, Calvin and Hobbes... Depends on the exact time period, but I had busts of Abe Lincoln & Tom Jefferson on a shelf; posters of Carol Alt, Madonna & some blonde wrapped in a flag on one wall... I kept the faces behind left bunk-side table, behind books, so rarely visible... New Kids (shoot me now): in my defense, mostly filling empty space. Fred Savage: Above bunk bed (last to see before sleep, kissable distance). Various popular groups and artists of the time, placed strategically, like flashcards, around the room. A desperate attempt to learn about those things which were relevant to my peers. Oh, the dreadful 80's! When I knew you in HS, Jesse, Bob Marley! At some point before that GNR. Clearly very important people..." 

Of course, unless you know these people who wrote about the faces on their wall, it's probably not nearly as interesting (like hearing about family members laughing over a board game), but what is interesting, I think, is the accumulative need to have the faces on the wall in the first place... by anyone. The faces, all those faces on the wall, can encourage us, inspire us, force us at times to get through the horror of it... but if you were anything like me, the faces can also entrap, imprison and foster a load of disillusion you get to carry around for way too long. But that came later... At the time, thank God for those faces. They were necessary, maybe as necessary as Fred Savage to the girl who'd hadn't been on a date yet. There was a time in my life growing up in LA, where there was not one single space on my wall that wasn't dominated by someone else's face. (Preferably if those faces lived life rotten hard and were incredibly famous.) Or a place that was so far away from my bedroom, like that friend who wrote about having the New York skyline on their wall. (I had that city up there on my wall, too, until I moved there!) For those who fervently subscribe to the "law of attraction," I've known people who keep "manifestation walls" in their homes, and I suppose you could say this was my teenage version of the manifestation wall. Looking back, though, I didn't know anything about what was going on behind those faces... I just knew that I wanted to be them. Not like them. I mean, quite literarily, be them. Because they were different. And they weren't my face. Every face on the wall was, quite literally, an escape, an attempt at flying beyond the dreadful city I was born into. The funny thing is, because I went to bed and woke up looking at those faces, even though I looked at them as friends, I didn't know them at all. In reality... those faces  were complete strangers. After reading about many of the lives behind those faces, later on it became hard to keep those faces on the wall. And one by one, over the years, I took those faces down and learned to live with this one.

I like this face now. And especially, I like what's going on behind it.

 

 

 

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"Next"I did a lot of research for the novel "Faces On My Wall," a lot more than I originally intended. Initially, I wanted to simply know more about the history of Juilliard, but as the research unfolded, I became immersed in the story of the program, in particular the Drama Division, trying to find a pattern to the evolution of training in relation to my own at Juilliard, but mainly, I think, to validate the enormous amount of fear that I carried into the school and much of which I swept under the rug during those four grueling years leading up to graduation day. Fortunately, I didn't have to look too far. After reading John Houseman's autobiography (founding Juilliard Drama Division Director), "Final Dress," it struck me how much fear, uncertainty and doubt had played such a large part in my own development as a young actor, and I suspect in the development of many other young artists as well. It is a paradox to be in an arena where there were such high expectations from the faculty and from ourselves, while at the same time being in a position of absolute vulnerability and total uncertainty. (I've heard that much of the intense atmosphere at Juilliard has eased up since then, especially with the inclusion of President Polisi's impactful book "The Artist As Citizen.")

In Houseman's "Final Dress," there are several examples of students who either dropped out or "lost it" due to various pressures, and I witnessed such occurrences during my time at Juilliard. (I wrote about a number of those occurrences in the book, under a fictional guise.) The idealistic notions of a young student, such as I was, were challenged by the realities of “the real world.” Since my graduation in 1995, many alumni that I have been in contact with have shared similar stories of this conflict. This struggle often serves to help the artist identify themselves in their creative endeavors. Alternatively, some students end up abandoning their dream and never return to the program. A story of this conflict has a general appeal, I think, to anyone in a major transitional stage of their life, but I believe it's particularly relevant to performing arts students about to venture into the professional world where so much of their career depends upon maintaining that openness, that vulnerability in order to "land the role." Throughout the writing of "Faces On My Wall," I would think how this story could help that one performing arts student transitioning inevitably into the "unknown," the great big stage of life, as it were, without any real preparation beyond how to slate your name in front of the camera, where to get a good headshot, or how to write a resume. Humility, for example... Is that being properly taught? That's huge. Empathy. Compassion. Self-Awareness. Self-Acceptance. Relationships! Yeah, I look at those ideas today as deeply and as equally valuable as my arts training. How much of a price have I had to pay to get those ideas pounded into me? (A lot more than my student loans!). I'm thinking of the quote by Mark Twain: "Don't let school interfere with your education." (I shared that quote recently as a key note speaker at a high school graduation and I think I ticked a few teachers off.)

So here's my question to you-- how prepared were you for "the real world" during your school years? Looking back, what could have helped you, above all, as you broke through the bubble, and walked out onto the big stage of life?

I wanna know.