Guy Hoffman, USA
I met Guy Hoffman
through the contact with the Stopinder journal. He sent me the out-of-print
Stopinder Volume 1, Number 1, which published his article "The Gurdjieff Work
and the Evolution of Me". Since that time we have had an e-mail exchange. I've
also had the pleasure of reading his play "The Dancing Siamese Triplets" (many
times). All quotations in the interview are from Guys own
GIG: Many years ago, like Ouspensky, when Guy got to know about the Gurdjieff ideas and had read some books, he travelled East. Instead of India he came to Europe and continued to a kibbutz in Israel. How did that happen?
Guy: My first play, Another City - Another Land, was a commercial bomb and I had no idea of what direction my life was going take. When I am lost and confused - that was my normal state at the time - I search in bookstores. I happened to have come across "Meetings with Remarkable Men." I made the rash decision to sell my business and go in search of a remarkable man. But where? A friend had a relative who was a monk in a monastery in Ireland and another friend had a relative in a kibbutz in Israel. The remarkable man I was searching for turned up to be in my neigborhood in New York City.
GIG: At the end of last year you wrote: 'Have you thought of the effect of making a Work New Year Wish?" Your Wish was connected with 'negative emotions'. Would you like to tell us about it?
Guy: Whenever I find myself having an inner negative dialogue, I say, and it's more effect if I'm able to say it outloud with authority, STOP! At that moment, I AM remembering myself. I have since used the "STOP!" whenever I found myself lost in any thoughts or dreams.
GIG: What has helped you with your Wish?
Guy: The knowledge of knowing that it's a waste of energy and the good feeling I get when I stop it from going on and on.
GIG: I got inspired and made my Wish 'to stop smoking, relax and let it remind me to remember myself'. I found out that my body was in a knot, I only needed to sit down for five minutes and during this short time I noticed the tensions in various parts of the body, depending on my position and what I was doing. Shoulders, hands, neck, legs etc. Oddly enough I also noticed 'the knot' inside my head.
Towards the end of January I informed you that I have not yet smoked, I get through the relaxation bit, but that I can not find the energy to remember myself. You answered: "I get energy by doing things like cleaning and washing the dishes; any time I feel that I am running out of energy, I make an effort".
Did you ever smoke?
Guy: Yes I did. I’m sure you have heard many stories on how to quit smoking, so I’m going to add my story—and this happened many years ago, long before I had ever heard of the name, Gurdjieff.
I realized that smoking was a nervous habit (at that time cancer was not an issue) and if I wanted to calm down, I would have to stop smoking. I had tried two times to quit, and both times, after quitting for three or four weeks, I started smoking again. On my third attempt I was successful. And this is how I achieved my aim to stop smoking:
It became a physical problem. In order to smoke, you have to reach for a cigarette, put it in your mouth, and light it. I gave orders to my hand that under no circumstances would it be allowed to light a match for me to smoke a cigarette. At the beginning when it was so difficult and I would get the urge to smoke, I would put a cigarettes in my mouth, but I stopped my hand from reaching for a match. It’s been over forty years since I’ve smoked a cigarette.
I write about this in my new play New York Mystical Tour:
"Tour Guide: Our next presentation is going to show what happens when a playwright is blocked from writing because of his negative thoughts and feelings. (Lights up on Author, wearing a sweatshirt, sitting at a block that has a typewriter, paper, and a bag of chocolate chip cookies on it. Pause. He eats two cookies, reaches for a third.)
Author: Stop with the cookies.(Closes bag. Pause. Opens bag.) No. (Closes bag, paces, open bag, eats another cookie, paces, reaches for another cookie.) This is stupid. (Puts cookie back, closes bag.) I’m going to get sick. I always do when I eat five or six, or seven or eight. I get this nauseous heartburn, (Picks up bag.) Look at all this shit. (Reading from bag.) Bleached and enriched flour, malted barley, niacin. What in the hell is niacin? My God, there must be thirty, fifty different ingredients. And what in the hell is sodium aluminum sulfate and monocalcium? And look at all the calories from fat—sixty, and get this, that’s only from one serving. (Starts moving offstage with bag, stops.) No, I’m not going to throw them in the garbage. (Returns to desk.) I’m going to prove I have the willpower, the discipline to stop. … It only happens when I write. Oh, there are times when I have nothing to do and I get an urge to munch on a chocolate chip, but when I’m writing, it’s different. I get this feeling, this impulse to run, to do something. I know what the problem is—I’m running away from my feelings of inadequacy, my lack of confidence, my despair in thinking I don’t have the talent to write anything of value. Eating chocolate chip cookies is my distraction; my escape from sitting here, and throwing another bag in the garbage is not the answer. I have that feeling now. (Opens bag, starts to eat a cookie.) No, no more cookies! (To hand.) Put it back, go ahead and put it back. (Puts cookie back.) Close the bag. (Closes bag.) No more cookies, not one crumb. Type, type to dissipate your negative thoughts, type to liberate your creativity, type anything that comes to your mind. (Typing.) “Now is the time for all good men to come to the aid of their country.” (Pause - Unconsciously reaches for another cookie.) Damn it! (Knocks bag to floor.) I swear they dump drugs in those fuckin’ chocolate chips. (Pause – Types.) “Now is the time for all good men to come to the aid of their country. New York, New York, what a wonderful town. New York, New York, a mystical tour … Good morning, ladies and gentlemen … and yes, children of all ages.” (Continues typing. – Lights indicate the passing of time – Stops typing, looks at watch.) Oh, no, I’m going to be late for work. (Starts to move offstage, stops, returns, picks up bag of cookies.) It doesn’t make any difference whether you have an addiction to alcohol, sex, drugs or chocolate chips cookies; as long as you’re the boss and you’re in control and your addiction doesn’t control you. (Moves offstage, eating a cookie.)"
In writing this I wasn’t consciously aware that the scene originated many years ago when I stopped smoking. And what’s most important, I just realized – what a great way to start off the New Year - I have to change the ending of the scene. The new ending: (Moves offstage, holding the bag of cookies.)
If you do have a serious addiction, you have go “cold turkey” to eliminate the struggle in your mind between yes and no.
GIG: Things were happening fast and in January you gave me the following report:
I received an email from the LaMama Experimental Theatre that its next production was going to be The Devils of Loudun by Dzieci, a dance/theatre group influenced by the work of Jerzy Grotowski.
I first learned of Grotowski when I read an interview with him in the Gurdjieff book edited by Needleman and Baker. “A Kind of Volcano” is the words he used to describe Gurdjieff.
Avvie and I went to see Devils. As we were waiting to go into theatre, I was reading the Director’s Commentary in the program, and in the first paragraph I was stopped by the words “Holy Affirming, Holy Denying, and Holy Reconciling.” I said to Avvie, “He has to be in the Work.”
The movements of the actors, and their acting, seemed to be spontaneous, as if they were doing it for the first time. It was an incredible, profound theatre experience. I said to Avvie after seeing Devils a second time, “I doubt if I will ever see another play like that.”
After the performance, we waited to meet the director, Matt Mitler. I asked him if he was in the Gurdjieff work? He looked a little surprised, and said, yes.
On Sunday afternoon Will Mesa, Jason Boyle, Corey Hinckle joined Avvie and me to see Fool’s Mass, another play by the same group. The play takes place in an “Insane Asylum.” Father Jerzy dies, and they have no one to give the mass. So they decide to pick someone from the audience. Will was the first choice, but he said something in Spanish that I didn’t understand, and since I was sitting next to Will, they picked me.
Without thinking, without a moment’s hesitation, I allowed the actor to lead me to the podium to give the sermon that was already written out. I felt safe, calm, and confident. I was aware of my presence, the sound and quality of my voice, the audience, the wonderful, crazy actors on both sides of me. I was totally in the moment.
After the performance, there was a dialogue between the actors and the audience. One of the characters in the play had a difficult time talking, and another character would finish his sentences. I said, “I stutter and I can’t tell you how many times my wife finishes sentences for me, and I thought those scenes were very funny. And when you picked me to go on stage, “I felt safe.” Someone from the audience thought I was a “plant,’ a member of the group, because I was so confident and sure of myself. Another person from LaMaMa who knows me said, “If I didn’t know it was you, I would have thought you were an actor. You were very good.”
The next day I received the following email from Will:
“The sermon on stage was an experienced staged for you that day. It is a reward from Above to your many years of dedication to the theater. I’ve had experiences like that in my own life. Everything, including my going to the play and meeting you at the entrance, was prepared for that. Don’t doubt it for even one moment. Even your buying me the ticket was part of the whole thing. You had to pay a price for having the experience. Gurdjieff said to K. Hume, “Wish or no wish, conjury you must believe because all life is conjury.”
Cory said, “I never seen anything like that—you were transformed.”
I heard that Jason went back the next evening to see Facing the Flame, a para-theatrical workshop. I missed it because of my commitment to hear a staged reading of a play Cory wrote.
And last evening, Avvie and I had a most wonderful, intimate conversation about everything.
I do not know exactly what happened, but I’m so happy I was there to experience it. These last three days have been extremely emotional for me—I feel a sense of well being, of being happy, of being loved."
Guy: I have never ever wished that I could be young again—until now. I wish that I were younger so that I could become part of the Dzieci international experimental theatre ensemble.
GIG: I know you're 72, but I think you are young enough. I think you should take it up with Matt Mitler when you meet him next week.
Guy: Perhaps I will!