Saturday, April 10, 2010

Masters, Margaritas and Demanding People

Sorry for the long hiatus. I've been..well...busy. (c:

The life of an artist is never dull I guess. I've had projects and things like my real job trying to drown me.

I should learn how to say no.

I have found time to read some outstanding books, though. That's a plus. I've been turned onto some Russian literature by a co-worker of mine and it's really fantastic. This particular co-worker is actually Russian so I've been able to go directly to a source and say "what is this referencing?" It's been great.

My first venture into this wide world of wonderful stories was called "The Master and Margarita." It's by Mikhail Bulgakov. Once I got into the flow of things and figured out who everyone was and what all their nicknames and professional names and surnames and the such were, I found the story to be really engaging. It's a politically charged near satire of 1930's Russia. Sort of. And a love story. And a commentary on what it means to be creative. And philosophical. And spiritual.

There are a handful of main characters, one of which is Satan. The Devil himself shows up in Moscow on a spring day and begins to wreak havoc in a very distracting and anti-theme of the times way. (What's not to love already?!?)

The tone is at times deadly serious but there is always a subtle undercurrent of irony. The book is divided into two sections: the first deals with one of the main characters (not Satan) named Ivan Ivanovich who is a writer. The second deals with Margarita-a woman who has fallen in love with a man who calls himself The Master. The Master was/is a writer and has written a book on Pontius Pilot. It causes him to fall out of favor with the government and gets him committed to an insane asylum. Meanwhile, Ivanovich's tale begins with him as he witnesses the death of his friend, Berlioz, (which was prophesied to happen by the Devil himself during a conversation in a park) and sort of goes off the deep end. Ivanovich ends up in the same looney bin as The Master. It's a beautiful commentary on what it means to be "insane" in a time when freedom was a dirty word. Mix all this in with the "real time" telling of the events surrounding Pontius Pilot(pitched at times as part of the manuscript The Master wrote and at times as current day events) and a prophet named Yeshua as well as a very intense demonic ball towards the end of the story and you have an experience that is unlike anything I've read all wrapped up with a cleverly designed cover.

Reading The Master and Margarita and then trying to explain it is a bit like trying to talk about a dream that you had three years ago but that you still have vivid recollections of...or like trying to explain what exactly it is you're seeing when you catch something out of the corner of your eye but isn't actually there when you turn around.

All of those things cause very real, emotional memories and the general sense of an "experience" but when you have to find words to give light and structure and concreteness to them, they begin to vaporize. I could give a very long and drawn out plot synopsis but it would ruin the story while simultaneously completely failing at conveying what the story is "about".

It's a book where what it's about is not just related to the story that is being told. It's about the experience of the book. It's about all the things that were going on historically when the book was written. It's about the fact that-to quote the book-"handwritten manuscripts don't burn"-which in an age of nothing but propaganda (both now and then) is such a beautiful thought that it could make me cry if I thought about it long enough. The character that says it in the book makes it all the more powerful of a statement.

My second venture into Russian literature is Boris Pasternak's "Dr. Zhivago". I tried to read this book once, when I was 14, and it went straight over my head. I'm thrilled to have the chance to settle into it this time though, now that I'm more prepared. Russian literature isn't something you just sort of accidentally read.

Here's a random tidbit. I got interested in The Master and Margarita through a play that was put on by the grad students at UMKC. My first experience with Dr. Zhivago was the movie with Omar Shariff (spelling?) and Julie Christie. I'm named after her character-I'm excited to see how the book tells their story versus what Hollywood did with it. I can already tell that things are going to be very different.

The demanding people mentioned in this post's title are managing to pull me away from all this great reading (which hasn't just included Russian lit but also some really great, fun, entirely indulgent fantasy novels I've been reading) and it's beginning to grate.

I get that as someone who is trying to make an established name for themselves and their work that you have to take on projects to gain experience. My beef comes in when people pitch a project to you, drag their feet for 5 months (5!!!), and then suddenly crack down with demands of an expected due date. Oh, and did I mention they have started telling everyone but you, their designer, that they have all sorts of functionality expectations? The poor messenger that's been working with me directly on the project is not really to blame for any of this poor planning...but it's still just a crock.

The thing that really kills me is how little compensation is involved. If they were paying me like a standard client would pay me, I could see them getting a little demanding. But they aren't. They aren't even close. I was fine with this until now. Augh. Pft.

To end on a less gripe-y note: I am the Visual Arts Director for the KC Fringe Festival this year. I'm excited about all the potential and new endeavors! I've got a long "To Do" list for it but I think I can knock a good portion of the really important stuff out in a few concerted hours of work.

Well-it's late. As always. And the weather has been beautiful and I got new road bike cleats and shoes today and I intend to go a-riding. Clear out some of the stress and insanity that keeps trying to accrue like debt and plaque in my brain.

No comments: