Two weeks ago, I took Shana with me to the Cocoran Art Gallery for a flash fiction workshop. This was my first experience with flash fiction and first experience since college writing about art.
The workshop was led by a writer who works at the Corcoran, who previously worked at MOMA in New York, and has published works. There were fewer than 10 of us in attendance, which made for a comfortable and open setting. The workshop was based around a current exhibit, Shooting Stars: Publicity Stills from Early Hollywood and Portraits by Andy Warhol. Here is a portion of the description from the website:
Shooting Stars features promotional photographs of early Hollywood film stars alongside Polaroid portraits and black-and-white images by Andy Warhol. Made half a century apart, these two bodies of work illustrate some of the ways photographers have contributed to our understanding of celebrity and fame.
The purpose of the workshop was to view the exhibit and then write about a work in the voice of a celebrity. It could be from the voice of the celebrity in the photo, the voice of a celebrity viewing one of the photos, or really anything. We read same sample works, either written about a celebrity, in the voice of one, or dedicated to one, and then took an hour to view the works and write. Then we re-convened to read our pieces aloud.
It was so surreal and also serene to have the gallery almost to ourselves. (There was one other group touring it.) We got to sit (but not lean against the wall, as I learned) and just write, surrounded by all this art.
I didn't expect it to go so well, to be so inspired by the portraits. I shouldn't have been surprised because I do admire and appreciate art, especially portraiture, but I'm a very slow and meticulous writer and can't usually think and execute so quickly. There were actually several photos that inspired me and had me creating stories in my head.
The one that grabbed me the most was one of the early publicity stills. The subject was a Richard Barthelmess, circa 1927. I had never heard of him, but just now looked him up and he was a silent film star. This is the exhibit photo:
He reminded me so much of George Clooney that I decided to write in the voice of George Clooney viewing the portrait. And this is what I wrote:
Look at him. Look at me. Same eyebrows, same hair -- or same hair 20 years ago -- same eyes. He's a dashing guy. He's a good looking son of a bitch. Thank, god. That's all that matters here, right?
He has the right look, the right car, the right address. Maybe he even has the right pedigree, not too focused on either collar, blue or white. He did his time in the chorus line, so to speak, before jumping in to the lead role. He probably even has a shiny award or two, or at least he's been nominated. It is, of course, just an honor to be nominated.
But let's get to the good stuff. He's got the girl. He always has the girl. Or a string of girls. Women, actually. He's not Errol Flynn. No one should ever be Errol Flynn. So what if he rotates them every 2 years. Doesn't mean he's gay or asexual. It means he's bored or choosey or a dedicated bachelor. It's a thing. People magazine said so.
He doesn't have a stint in rehab, but give him time; his next film will be a flop.
But let's go back to his look. that perfectly tailored coat with its artfully popped collar.
The cigarette, so close to slipping out of his fingers, but so clearly a vital part of who he is, before the surgeon general has a say.
I could do without the pinky ring, but to each his own.
But that stare, wow. What is he looking at? Do I look like that? Could I look like that?
I want to know what he's thinking. I think I know.
He wants them to stop talking about his love life. To stop referring to his looks in the past tense. He wants to write and direct more. He wants to be asked in interviews about writing and directing instead of why he isn't married.
I think he wants a drink, a large drink to fill his brain with fuzzy thoughts. Happy thoughts. Because they aren't always there. He isn't always happy. Money, fame, awards, isn't always enough. He wants a break, a drink. He doesn't know what he wants.