The Silken Remains of Something

For Zel, as she wrestles with Kate.

A stone flower can last for centuries. A real flower lasts only a season. We write about the real one––the one we lost. It’s the one that matters to us.

Creating a character is similar to this. We want to create something fallible. We want something mortal. Something we can lose, and therefore something we can love. We do not want the character that stands as an ideal through the centuries. The ideal is nothing but stone. Lifeless. Untrue. A thing not one of us can recognize.

In the current part of the artistic cycle, more artists are selling out to the creation of ideal characters. They pretend they aren’t ideal by giving them some kind of “edginess,” and the result is a character we don’t necessarily love, but that always manages to do the politically correct thing, if not the correct thing––a character that teaches us. This is completely backward. Real artists create characters we love in spite of the fact that they often do the wrong things, just like us. And so we connect with them. Real characters, characters we love, can rarely be role models. They don’t teach us anything, but we learn from them because we feel what they feel.

After all, creating a character, in acting or writing, is the process of delving into vulnerabilities, not the process of cataloging strengths. Creating an ideal character is little more than an intellectual exercise. Creating a real character is a true artistic experience, visceral and spiritual.

The stone flower is what a flower should be. The real flower is flawed, insect bitten, partially wilted, and has pushed up through hard dirt and mire. Its beauty goes beyond its aesthetics. Its beauty is not derived from perfection, rather its perfection is derived from its flaws and vulnerabilities.

Because the real can die does not mean it doesn’t stay with us in some way. Each experience with a real character is its own moment. And while that moment is quickly lost, what is left in its wake is the possibility of renewal. Its “silken remains” are always there. They manifest themselves from time to time as a “magic in the belly,” a swell in the throat, or a new resonance in the voice.

from The Seven Last Words

There is an island in the dark, a dreamt-of place
where the muttering wind shifts over the white lawns
and riffles the leaves of trees, the high trees
that are streaked with gold and line the walkways there;
and those already arrived are happy to be the silken
remains of something they were but cannot recall;
they move to the sound of stars, which is also imagined,
but who cares about that; the polished columns they see
may be no more than shafts of sunlight, but for those
who live on and on in the radiance of their remains
this is of little importance. There is an island
in the dark and you will be there, I promise you, you
shall be with me in paradise, in the single season of being,
in the place of forever, you shall find yourself. And there
the leaves will turn and never fall, there the wind
will sing and be your voice as if for the first time.

––Mark Strand


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