Yesterday I read The Great Gatsby straight through in one sitting.  I knew it would take me six hours or less, because that's the running time of Gatz, a new theater piece  based on an actor reading the entire text aloud.  I imagined that with the advantage of not having to speak the words aloud I might do it in four hours.  But as it turned out, six is what it took, allowing for meals and bathroom breaks and maybe the briefest of naps somewhere in there.  

I hadn't been planning to re-read Gatsby, but a variety of different factors came together and inspired me to do it.  I happened to read about an upcoming Fitzgerald movie, The Beautiful and the Damned, that will star Leo DiCaprio as Scott and Keira Knightley as Zelda. It's not an adaptation of the similarly titled novel, but rather a bio-pic about the author himself.  This seems similar to the strategy of my Fitzgerald musical, which uses This Side Of Paradise as fodder, but is about the real life Scott, not his fictional alter ego, Amory Blaine.

Leo-as-Scott seems like pretty good casting.  My thoughts went immediately to a couple of past DiCaprio roles:  First, there's the story of the lower-class boy and the upper-class girl, as seen in Titanic.  This is similar to the romance at the center of my musical, between the (relatively) poor Scott and the fantastically wealthy Ginevra King -- said to be the model for Daisy Buchanan in Gatsby.  And then there's the smooth-talking grifter, Frank Abignale, from Catch Me If You Can -- who reminds me of Fitzgerald's creation, Jay Gatsby... who in turn reminds me of Fitzgerald himself in his huge ambitions and pretensions.  

In preparing for this round of rewrites, we've talked a lot about the theme of identity, and about young Scott's obsession with the "mask" and the "pose" in his quest to define himself.  Suddenly, it seemed essential that I re-acquaint myself with Gatsby, the ultimate poser.  And if I wanted to better understand Ginevra King, then I needed to revisit Fitzgerald's portrait of her in Daisy.  And Tom Buchanan too.  He appears in my story as Tyler Pierce, the rich rival who ultimately marries Ginevra... but also as Scott's idol Trip Everett, one of those "careless people" who smash things up.

Once this idea of a reading marathon occurred to me, I found still more reasons for doing it.  Most obviously, I wanted to avoid having to do my rewrites.  It's easy enough to say to myself, "Well I shouldn't start writing until I've done my homework... laid the groundwork."  Six hours zipping through 200 masterful pages of Fitzgerald is a lot more pleasant than six hours slogging away at 4 new pages of my own.

Even more than that, though, I wanted to do it as an exercise in absorption.  This goes to what I was writing about the other day as regards The Hidden Sky:  "Blessed is she who is lost in her work," proclaims a lyric during the extended math sequence.  And I believe that.  And I want that for myself.  The best things I've written have always been the result of deeper, more intense focus.  But that's a place I can never get to anymore in my writing.  Life is too busy and distracting; I've lost the power of concentration -- which is the essential skill for writing... holding the scene before one's eyes... extended creative "dreaming."  As much as I might like to do it, I don't think I have the mental discipline right now to get lost in my work.  But maybe getting lost in someone else's work would be a step in the right direction?  I wanted to see if I could at least focus my attention for a longer length of time.

And so I embarked.  I'll spare you my thoughts on the novel itself, because this post is already plenty long... and I'd probably end up sounding like a bad college book report. Suffice it to say, I'd only ever read it in high school -- never as an adult. So much of it was startling and new to me... and just excellent.  Excellent in a way that reminds me of how things can be excellent.  And how I must aspire to that.  I must do better.  I must try harder.  Tomorrow I will run faster, stretch out my arms farther...

Musings Past