I’ve been thinking about my encounters with folks who’ve inspired me. These folks are also known in their particular artistic fields but whatever fame they’ve achieved is an afterthought; it’s their art that has always come first. They have been generous with their time and art; I might even say ‘heart,’ for behind all of their artistic passions is a tremendous heart for people and their craft. My time with them has affected my own writing and artistic endeavors. Here are three that readily come to mind…
Horton Foote. Writer of dozens of plays and screenplays and winner of the Academy Award for the screenplays of To Kill A Mockingbird and Tender Mercies. I was gifted with a lunch with Mr. Foote through a dear friend of mine in NYC. HF (as my friend affectionately called him) turned out to be warmer and more genuine in person than I could have imagined. He regaled us with tales of working in live television, his approach to writing and how much he loved the theater. What I learned from him was that writing from the heart was critical as well as never giving up. And to keep writing, even if it’s into your nineties.
Ann Hampton Callaway. Ann is an award winning, Tony-nominated singer/songwriter and one of the most gifted live performers I’ve ever had the privilege of seeing in person. Full disclosure: she also happens to be a dear friend. But I can tell you that rarely have I seen an audience (whether it’s large like at The Lincoln Center in NYC or smallish at the Austin Cabaret Theater) so in the palm of the hand of a performer. Ann came up through the ranks through incredibly hard work, grit, giftedness and a wonderful giving spirit. And she has a great laugh. What I’ve learned from Ann is that whatever artistic endeavor you’re following, the heart dictates the gift. And being generous in spirit and otherwise, is its own reward. And you cannot beat the woman at puns. I’ve tried but she’s the master.
Wesley Bishop. Wes is a screenwriter who’s made a living at it for over twenty-five years. Wes and I first met when he was an actor at The Oregon Shakespearean Festival in the mid-eighties. I was barely out of college and trying to figure out this writing and acting thing. Wes was a terrific actor with an undeniable stage presence. But he was also extremely genuine in person. And when I found out he was also a screenwriter I was amazed. Here was a man who was doing (and making a living at) the two things I loved more than anything in the world. I approached him for some advice and help and he gladly gave it, being both firm but encouraging. We lost touch over the years but reconnected almost thirty years later and I’m grateful we did. We’re able to talk on a different level now and I still appreciate his wit, straight-shooting and decency. What I’ve learned from Wes is tenacity; that your absolute best work is all you should show. And if it’s not your best, then keep working on it until it is. It’s a lesson that has paid dividends for me and one I still have to remind myself of when I’m tired and think the works ‘good enough.’
Thank you Mr. Foote, Ann & Wes. I’m grateful for the inspiration. May I carry out your lessons and hopefully be the kind of example you’ve been for me.