The wonderful thing about vacations of all durations is not just that you’re not at work, not commuting, not fretting about the politics of the workplace – it is that you truly have choices. Choose to swim, to walk, to bicycle, to explore, to eat out, to eat in, to sit and stare at the ocean, to read. Not seeing films or plays this week, I’ve no reviews to write. Instead, I’m taking photographs of the smaller beach Montauk is sporting this season. And, in between walking along the Atlantic shore, the choppy rough waves pulling at me even though I’m not attempting to swim -- swimming in the pool only! -- I’m reading. Fiction, nonfiction, prose, plays, and occasionally poetry. Quite consistently, I’ve brought more to read than I’ll get around to, since I’m a slow reader.
Book The First
I started this book last week, reading on the bus and on the train. I don’t generally write about what I read because I haven’t a clue how to write a book review. And this is not a book review. This is just a blog about the feelings aroused when reading Terence Stamp’s autobiography -- well, book 2 of his autobiography -- Coming Attractions. Reading Coming Attractions makes me happy.
It’s like hanging out with a buddy, and you’re in a living room, in a basement playing ping pong, on a bus, in a pub, or a coffee shop (not a Starbucks, a regular coffee shop), better yet, a diner. And Stamp is just sitting across from you, talking. That’s what this book feels like. Cozy, the book is. And I like this man who wrote a joyous and cozy and life affirming book. In this autobiography, Stamp reinforces everything you know about how much family matters (family of bloodlines you’re born to and the other family you create in adult life, no bloodlines required), that contributing something, whatever it may be, to your family, by doing what you’re passionate to do is always in the back of your mind. It sounds rather like that “Follow your bliss” routine, but there’s no bullcrap here. There is just Terence Stamp telling his story the way he remembers it close to thirty years later (the book was published in 1988).
But he’s just an actor, you say. Yes, but as my friend Babs would say, he’s a Guy. Just a guy. A man you’d want to know, to barbecue with, to work with, to ride buses and trains with. To speak in the language of his time, he’s a cool cat. That’s what he is.
Stamp is chatting away and he’s very positive, upbeat, hopeful. Were this a novel, I’d fear the worst because I like him and there he is -- he works hard, his mind is open to new ideas, new rituals, infinite possibilities. In the real world as well as in fiction, when everything must and will go wrong, you know it does, so there’d be no joy. In fiction, film, plays, all the rest, that’s what creates dramatic tension. But this is Terence Stamp’s life, and he’ll have none of that pessimism or negativity. And so he succeeds, he does what he wishes to do, he achieves what he works toward, and therefore so may we, his readers. We cannot help but share his infectious certainty.
For this sometimes cynical critter, the simplicity of Stamp’s straightforward language and story telling makes me a total conquest.
Stamp’s life shows it is possible for a simple lad from the East End with dreams and a dense accent to succeed, therefore his readers can be who they wish to be and do what they wish to do. Why? Because Stamp tells us we can by telling us what he did. Not how many pictures and resumés he sent to whom – he didn’t have any. That’s part of the charm as well, of course, this very different time in which he lived – so near and yet so far. Stamp came of age in the second half of the 1950s, when I was a toddler. This whole story is reminiscent of simpler, truly more innocent times. Those years right after World War II and the Korean war, when London fog was toxic, and Vietnam was still an unfamiliar name and the Beatles had invaded no one, those seem to have been idyllic days to me. Not easier times, not at all. But clearer in their lack of technology and material things – the lack of clutter leading to a surplus of clarity. Whatever the hardship, (with probably some nostalgic gauze on the back-looking view), all the people in Stamp’s young life make it through.
Stamp drops names, but not in a name-dropping way. He went to school with Samantha Eggar, he worked as a stagehand on the London production of West Side Story, chatting and going about with George Chakiris; the first production of The Long and the Short and the Tall Stamp appeared in was with Harold Pinter who was acting under the name David Baron. Then Stamp toured – again, The Long and the Short and the Tall, this time with a fellow Londoner called Michael Caine (later his flatmate). I’ve toured, once in the States and twice in Europe. Fabulous days to look back on (not just because I was actually paid to do theatre), but tours are tough. Not according to Stamp – or “Tel,” as Michael Caine came to call him. But then, Mr Stamp et.al. toured the provinces by train, and I am jealous. Vans are not the same.
He tells us how he learned. He tells us what Dragon (a Polish athlete/trainer) told him -- that his head was crooked. “You must work hard to keep head on straight, very important,” Dragon told him. “Crooked head leads to crooked breathing. Every breath has influence but uneven breath, for long periods makes you off-centre.” Is there any better advice for an actor than that? I found myself paying attention to my posture as I walked. I felt my crooked head. I tilt it quite a lot: While I’m sitting before a computer screen, while I’m thinking, wandering, walking. As I walked, and then as I sat reading and scribbling, I kept trying to straighten my crooked head so that I wouldn’t have crooked everything and weaken my breathing. If only I can make my flat feet work! There are some inadvertently provided exercises for feet in Coming Attractions as well, things that Dragon taught Stamp. “Tel” offers a particular way of thinking (this is not a self help book, I assure you. It’s just a vibe, a mode, a way of being he has that comes through). That way of thinking assures me that while I’ll probably fail initially, maybe, if I focus and work hard, I can strengthen my flat feet and keep my head straight, not crooked, breathe stronger, walk stronger, be stronger. And succeed at those things I want to do.
I mull over what I learned from this book as I sit over a pint watching a Yankee game. I feel my crooked head. I straighten up.
Thank you Mr. Stamp. Looking forward to the next installment.
Book the Second
Some time ago my friend Horvendile gave me a copy of Posy Simmond’s Tamara Drewe. Go to the bookstore, pull it off the shelf. Look at the cover. Now look again. It’s not just a pretty cartoon face in a country landscape with sheep in the background. There is action there. Open it up and become mesmerized by the clever drawings, a human story told in both words and pictures.
Each character is sketched, painted in, its environs drawn succinctly. Facial expressions add to the words on the page, while perfectly composed panels advance the action. The slouches, the sprawls, the upright stances, the leaning in, all bring the characters to life. And not just people – country people, teenagers, writers, would-be writers, displaced city people, even a has-been rock star. Ms. Simmonds’ story includes dogs, cows, sheep, and goats, since country life includes them. Posy Simmonds honors all. Tamara Drewe is a simple story, wittily told. Simmonds is massively clever, talented, funny, thoughtful, hilarious. I found myself laughing out loud. Who cares if they think me mad?!
So, before the film comes out, read Posy Simmonds’ Tamara Drewe. Not once, but twice. At least.
~ Molly Matera, signing off for a chilly swim before reading the next one. As the T-shirt says, so many books, so little time….