What Is It Really Like?

What Is It Really Like?

Mr. Lipton turns to Andre Gide and Mike Nichols for some inspiriation.

This is my seventeenth blog. Hard to believe. And even harder to believe is the heartwarming array of responses from you.

As I write this, it’s a Sunday evening, and I’m alone in my study. It’s utterly silent – which is my favorite “sound,” as those of you know who have heard my responses to the Pivot Questionnaire. You’re somewhere out there, your names and thoughts unknown to me until you elect to make them known by responding to whatever will pop up on this screen in the next few minutes.

At this moment, I have no clearer notion of what it will be than you do. You’re busy with your own lives, blissfully unaware that somewhere in Manhattan, I’m reaching out to you. And I’m facing a nearly blank screen with a nearly blank mind, which for a writer is a pleasanter state than you may think – because anything is possible.

In his novel “The Counterfeiters,” André Gide, created a character named Uncle Edouard, a writer who kept a diary. In short order we discover that Edouard is in fact Gide, performing a remarkable triple task: creating the novel, playing a character in it, and, through the diary, describing the process of doing both, thus giving us, in addition to a masterful work of art, one of the greatest essays ever written on the literary craft.

I recall, from some distance (it’s been years since I read the book), an observation by Gide which has influenced me profoundly, and which I paraphrase here (without Gide’s inimitable gifts). What Gide is telling us is that he is never happier than when he becomes less writer than reader, when the characters, enchained in their own dialectic, seize the reins from him and gallop off in entirely unexpected directions, saying and doing things that amuse him, touch him, surprise him, even dismay him – with Gide running as fast as he can to keep up and record these utterly unexpected words and occurrences.

I doubt that there’s a writer in the world, neophyte or master, who wouldn’t say amen to that. It doesn’t happen often, but when it does, the writer’s probably on the right track.

So…back to my blank page – which isn’t blank anymore! It happened, just as Uncle Edouard – and Gide – said it would. Gide, bless his soul, wrestled the keyboard out of my hands and gave me the subject of this blog: the creative act, barely significant in my case and monumentally important in Gide’s. But the process is the same.

Here, in my book “Inside Inside,” is the great director Mike Nichols on our Inside the Actors Studio stage, addressing the matter:

“Look, there’s only one question. ‘What is this really like?’ Never mind the conventions and the decisions we’ve all made together—and never mind, in fact, the script. What is it really like when this happens, when somebody seduces someone, when somebody kills someone, when somebody loses someone? What is it really like?”

So endeth the lesson. Thank you, Mike, thank you, Gide. My screen – and my grateful heart – are overflowing.

Now back to work preparing for my next guest, Hilary Swank – who shows us what it’s really like each time she steps in front of a camera.

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