Sunday, September 16, 2012

Janna Malamud Smith's "An Absorbing Errand"

Janna Malamud Smith is a writer and psychotherapist. Her books include, Private Matters (1997), A Potent Spell (2003), and My Father is a Book: A Memoir of Bernard Malamud (2006).

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, An Absorbing Errand: How Artists and Craftsmen Make Their Way to Mastery, and reported the following:
I've been scratching my head, wondering if Ford Madox Ford's words of wisdom about page 99 are truly wise or just a guy reaching for a cheap thrill. My first take was "That's foolhardy." But after opening some books, I realized he's got a point. Any single page can show whether a book's well-written and interesting - or not. And page 99 is as good a one to sample as any.

My page 99 in An Absorbing Errand is not high drama, but it helps nail my point about artists and mastery. I describe several scenes from Charlie Chaplin’s movie The Gold Rush in which Chaplin’s character “The Prospector” scrambles frantically preparing to host a New Year’s Dinner for some pretty girls who we, as audience, know are going to no-show. He kills himself to put on a meal he can’t afford. He dresses to the nines. He’s so eager he could pop. It’s crazy embarrassing. Imagine yourself in his shoes, and you’ll feel like curling up in a ball under the bed. Which is why the scene provides a great illustration of Shame. My book is about art-making – and how, if you want to work as an artist or a craftsman, you have to learn how to stay in the game long enough to get good at your work. The book guides you with stories about other people’s experience. My goal is to keep aspiring artists from getting hijacked prematurely by a bunch of negative emotions that kill the mission. And shame is a big player, a crucial one, really. The chapter around p. 99 describes what a profound emotional state shame is, and how it can either stop artists cold in their tracks, or how it can become the powerful turbine, the great source of energy behind their creative process. Much of Chaplin’s genius came through his transforming his early experiences of terrible shame into hilarious and heartbreaking scenes that his audiences relished. I use his story as illustration to help readers learn to do the same thing in their own art-making.
Learn more about the book and author at Janna Malamud Smith's website.

--Marshal Zeringue