A Critic's Meta-Review: 5/5
The Bear by Anton Chekhov (REVIEW)
They call this thing a “joke in one act” and, after just now reading it, I can see why. The entire time I am sitting here scanning each line in anticipation, with each piece of dialogue pitter-pattering off of the previous one in this scurrying set of dominoes that kept taking turns in directions that I did not expect though, oddly, came to accept rather quickly due to how natural it all seemed to flow. Reading this play is like watching a game of ping pong in which, every few serves, the ball is swapped out for a completely different one, but one that would still make sense to be hitting with a ping pong paddle.
It just flows, man. It don’t worry ‘bout where it’s going. It ain’t got time for none of that. That worrying stuff - it’s for the birds. And this is not the work of a bird. Nay, this is a master of his craft. The great Anton Chekhov, author of over five hundred short stories, sure knew how to tell a tale. There was not one point when reading this when I felt like I was “reading” something. This was a man who knew what he was doing when he was putting his pen to the paper, well before he had even dipped it in the inkwell.
Eh...I am not sure if he was that old, come to think of it.
Maybe I’ve got his process down all wrong, though. Maybe he’s just like any other great writer - just a dude (and by dude I do not refer only to men but to anyone who embodies the overall ethos exhibited by one such as this) with some time to kill and a mind that is unable to respond affirmatively to requests of prolonged silence or disengagement with all of the various thoughts available to sift through like LPs in Uncle Todd’s crawl space.
Maybe, just like all these other dudes, he sat down and wrote “The Bear” on a piece of paper and then let it all unfold from there. This is, after all, a technique used by a number of great writers. At least, it is (or, rather, was...unfortunately) a technique used by one great writer - Ray Bradbury. Indeed, I first learned of this approach while reading Ray’s infinitely informative and inspiring Zen In The Art Of Writing, which I would recommend to just about anyone who wants to do just about anything at just about any time in their life. What you will learn from reading it - the mindset you will acquire - is going to extend far beyond the realm of “writing” and into the deep, dust-covered crevices of your cranium, whacking away all the cobwebs, plopping down a nice, comfortable lawn chair, cracking open a cold can of something sudsy, feeling its way through the rest of your merry existence. It will change your life. At the absolute least, it will give you a glimpse into the process of creation so that perhaps you can better understand how things get made. In this scenario, you have not delved deep enough into your soul to realize that everything Ray is talking about applies to you, too, so you look at it like some neutral, objective observer or something. I am not sure; I can’t relate to such a disposition.
But enough about Ray Bradbury, as great an author as he was. We are here to discuss the works of Anton Chekhov - particularly, one of his plays that he has named “The Bear” after a line of dialogue that does not appear until right at the very end of this play.
This, by the way, leads me to believe that he probably did not use Bradbury’s technique (you should still definitely check out that book, though). This story is far too intricately woven to have been the result of a simple word association exercise, as useful as it may have been for old Ray and useful as it has been for me (though I must admit I have only really used it a couple of times, and one of those was a song). I think the title was definitely an afterthought, as it typically is with works that seem to just flow like this one. I think that our buddy Anton sat down with a story rushing across the corridors of his consciousness, pleadingly banging on the inner walls of the cerebral cave until it could no longer contain itself and forced its way onto the page. Chekhov just held the pen in his hand - there was very little thinking involved. He just sat down and, before he knew it, a story was telling itself. A story that he was even surprised by the ending of, and one that he enjoyed every minute of writing.
I know this to be the case because I do not actually believe that works of genius like this could possibly have been created by the human mind alone. To make stuff like this, you need to quiet your mind and let the divine take over.
We all have the potential to tell stories like this, or even better.
Yes - I said it. Better.
But this is a great story and you should read it. I am not here to discredit it. I just think you all should give it a shot sometime, too.
Just sit down and...write. Just keep on flowing...don’t worry ‘bout where you’re going.