Wednesday, March 9, 2011

The Old Man and the Sea

A movie I try to watch at least once a year is The Old Man and the Sea, starring Anthony Quinn, adapted from Ernest Hemingway’s work. It tells the story of Hemingway, stranded on an island resort in Cuba. While he waits for his car to be fixed, he observes an old fisherman who hasn’t caught a fish in 84 days. “There’s a kind of dignity in that kind of perseverance,” the actor remarks to a waiter, empathizing with the old man. “Respectoso,” the waiter replies. “More important than life – respectoso.”

What I relate to most in the movie is the stubbornness of the old fisherman, Santiago, the one with the streak of bad luck. At one point his daughter says to him, “God isn’t giving you any more fish because he wants you to return home and live with me.” And so it seems to the outsider. Santiago responds appropriately, “So now you know what God wants?” Even when people around him urge him to quit, Santiago keeps at it.

The next day he stands in his boat and proudly rows out farther than the others. Santiago talks to himself as he goes, asking when the talking began. “Oh yes, when the boy left.” His young helper had been forbidden to go out with Santiago after a while. Nobody wanted the old man’s bad luck to rub off on the boy or on the village for that matter. He’d been outcast by those around him. Even his daughter in Savannah had heard of the bad luck of Santiago. When urged to leave, he replies, “I’m a fisherman. I belong out there, fishing.”

Pushing past the doubt of those around him, Santiago rows to where marlins live. Following a seagull, he catches his fish – or his fish catches him. The line draws taunt, Anthony Quinn plants his feet and his boat heads out to sea, pulled by the fish. Three days later he returns to the village a victor, vindicated, though he brings home a mere skeleton after the sharks are done with it.

The sub-plot of the movie follows the writer and his struggle to pull the story out of the man as the man pulls the fish out of the sea. The story captures the work of the artist – both artists, the old man and the writer.

Eighty-four days in the life of a writer or illustrator is nothing at all, but when it becomes eight years and you still haven’t caught anything, it can feel like a long time. When people draw back from you, laugh at you or tell you to give up, will you still row out with your manuscripts or portfolios and follow your seagull? When the large fish finally grabs your bait and starts to pull you deeper into the sea, will you face your fish and fight with it till it gives up and you finally land it? After the critics are done with your fish and you return home, will it be a victory – respectoso? Will you be vindicated? I hope so.

And I hope our chapter will be there too, standing by you like Santiago’s young helper, keeping you in your boat, believing in you, getting you fresh bait and cheering you on. One of the best ways we can do that is by hosting our fall conference. Be sure to check out the details in this newsletter. We will have a registration form in your mailbox before March. It will be limited to 200, so register early and take advantage of the early bird rates. Keep writing and illustrating.