some things you just can’t improvise

In Alan Arkin’s role as Singer in Carson McCullers’s screen adaptation of The Heart is Lonely Hunter, he plaus a deaf-mute whose silence was an articulation and metaphor for all the lonely life impaired citizens in a southern town whether black or white; an emotional magnet that cut between solitude and bottomless discouragement.  In the film he walks with his hat scrunched on his head,among all the strange denizens ranging from the obsese, the mad, the infirm and all in-between, and he conveyed intelligence. When he sauntered through the night, talking to himself with his hands, he perfectly captured the dramatic expression of what thinking is.

---JJ: Where did your musical influences come from? AA: There was music in our house all the time. My mother played the piano and my uncle was a pretty well-known composer. There were people coming over to our house all the time; they played guitars, piano and sang. Woody Guthrie, Lead Belly, Paul Robeson were all at the house. I met all these people. Music was part of our everyday life. ---Read More: image:

His new autobiography is a peculiar little book that poses more questions than the anecdotes can respond to.He grew up in a far left household and his father was hounded for alleged Communism activism. Then the practicing of Zen Buddhism by Arkin on a serious level. Its a fascinating life. But it also struck me as a somewhat lonely life; again the blurry line between solitude and loneliness.

“when you grow older a dreadful, horrible sensation will come over you. it’s called loneliness, and you think you know what it is now, but you don’t. here is the list of the symptoms, and don’t worry – loneliness is the most universal sensation on the planet. just remember one fact – loneliness will pass. you will survive and you will be a better human for it.”…‎”remember: the time you feel lonely is the time you most need to be by yourself. life’s cruelest irony.”- douglas coupland

Wait Until Dark. 1967. ---Writing about 1979’s The In-Laws, he Eeyorish-ly admits, “I found myself having a good time while working and there was nothing I could do about it.” Read More:,52942/ image:

solitude is an unsettling condition for many.The philosopher Martin Buber Buber  said  solitude is an area of purification.That is,  solitude, not loneliness. But,  you purify yourself  to be able to go back and be prepared to meet or have an engagement with the world. Lonelinees is also a perplexing idea;  in solitude there is a way to be in fellowship, but not loneliness cuts of that connection.  Miguel de Unamuno : “only in solitude do we find ourselves; and in finding ourselves, we find in ourselves all our brothers in solitude.” Theoretically then,  one is never alone. So, loneliness may be a phantom concept, a manufactured idea that we create to suit ourselves. Loneliness is a commodity and solitude is anti-consumerist.

In the book,  Arkin seems to prefer talking about his Zen meditative practices, the many improvisatory workshops he’s led. They have both  informed his life a great deal, but I would have liked him taking the narrative to a higher level: How his political beliefs are informed by his spirituality. And is the sentiment of loneliness predicated on the absence of religion?

The Big Trouble. 1986.---Arkin, who’s studied eastern philosophy, explained Scorsese’s behavior by likening it to Zen Mind, the famed book of teachings by Shunryu Suzuki. “By saying these things he was putting himself into a place where he was looking at the event with fresh, open eyes,” Arkin said, “which allows for possibilities.” Read More:

That is, is solitude  a choice to be acted on meaning that loneliness is a condition falls into or is willing to accept ? At an extreme level, solitude gravitates  towards a monk like existence, the age of the desert hermits, but its also conducive to a wholesome  secular life while avoiding some of the “noise”.  So, these are quasi- realities that can be created, like masks that Arkin is habitually gifted to create, characters that can be conjured up. But for all the technical and subjective skill the bullets sometimes miss the target.  It was Schopenhauer who said that you can do what you will but you cannot will that which you will. The nearest to an act of free reality creating is temporary solitude for the purpose of purification. Of course, this is not to exclude that the lonely, like Viktor   Frankl said, are unable  locate a purpose, a logos, from which to use as a point of departure  to engage a process of healing.


The second experience happened in the living room of our apartment. I was playing on the floor while my mother was consoling a friend who was in the middle of some kind of personal crisis. My mother listened patiently while the woman sat there crying her eyes out. I was halfway across the room, now pretending to read a book, but of course I was much more engrossed in the drama being played out in front of me. I watched the woman pouring her heart out to my mother and found myself slightly revolted. “I’m not moved by her performance,” I thought. “What is she doing wrong?” I examined her clinically as she tried to get her story out through her pain and tears, and I finally came to the conclusion that I wasn’t moved by her situation because she was crying too much. If she wanted to interest me, I thought, she’d better cut back on the tears a little and leave some room for me and my feelings. Of course, what I was watching was not a performance; this was real life. But life, even at age eight, was merely food for my obsession with acting. For me, theater wa

re important than life, more educational than life, and certainly more moving than life.

The Magician of Lublin. 1976. Read More:

As I look back, I think what irked me about the woman’s outpouring was that it was filled with self-pity, not an attractive quality on or off stage. Had I been more emotionally engaged at the time, or perhaps a few years older, I might have realized this, but I was too deeply into “all the world’s a stage,” so I was precocious in one way, not so much in another.

Many years later, at a time when I had become more connected to my own emotional life, I had an experience with an actress that gave me my first warning of what the craft of acting could do to people if they weren’t careful. I was working on a television show that was not going well, and a couple of weeks in I was informed that one of the actors had been fired. This actor was loved by the whole cast, and for some reason it became my job to inform the other actors in the company.

The first person I told was a regular on the show, a woman I had worked with for some time. She was a fine actress and a lovely person. “I have bad news,” I said to her, as gently as I could, trying to brace her. “So and so’s been fired.” The woman’s jaw fell open and she froze for a few seconds while she kept looking at me. Then she said, “Can you see the look on my face?” She pointed to her face and held the expression. I knew immediately what she was doing. She’d had a spontaneous reaction, but it was too good to just feel and let go, so she was taking note and filing it away for future reference. It might be useful later on, in some performance. She wanted me to notice it, too. I could see her checking my reaction to her now-frozen expression, paying careful attention to how much I was moved by it, which would let her know if the look was effective.

I fell into immediate despair. Not just for her, but for myself too, because I had done the same thing on countless occasions. It is a habit that now fills me with revulsion — a habit perhaps valuable for the actor, and for his craft, but not so good for the human being living inside.

From An Improvised Life: A Memoir by Alan Arkin. Copyright 2011 by Alan Arkin. Reprinted courtesy of Da Capo Press.

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Hune-at Martin Buber-Institute : In Zen we are asking the mind to assess the mind and then tell us what we should do with it, to it and through it. then we say that the mind is a delusion, but truly we have no grounds to make that assessment about it. If the tool we use is flawed, we cannot trust the accuracy of its measurements. The mind cannot discard itself as discarding is an act of the mind. An empty mind is still a mind, empty. But to make a distinction between ‘contents’ and ‘mind itself’ is also a questionable philosophical argument. Read More:

‘religion without socialism is like a spirit without a body and socialism without religion is like a body without a soul.’ – martin buber

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