Writer’s Desk: Be More Than a Writer

There are people who have known all their lives that they wanted to be a writer. That’s a lot of us, to some degree. Then they tend to face that chasm between the want and the real. Is it a book deal? Getting an agent? Self-publishing and hoping a publishing house notices it? Being one of those strange tables at the publishing convention selling just one book that everyone stays away from?

The comparison between filmmaking and writing isn’t exact, of course. The former is far more collaborative and way more expensive. But filmmaker Mark Duplass made a worthwhile point when he said this:

It’s really hard, and particularly hard for screenwriters, because nobody wants to read your script. It just sucks. Until you’ve made something, until you’ve proven yourself, you’re basically a nuisance to everyone that you’re trying to get your script to, so you have to find a way to make yourself valuable. I know the first response is, “Well, I’m not a director, and I’m not an actor. I’m just a writer.” And my basic response is, “Then you’re going to be stuck.” I’m sorry, if that’s the way you think about it, you’re kind of going to go nowhere…

Don’t be afraid to be a nuisance. Get out there. Bring your book everywhere. Show it to anybody who will glance. Do what you have to do.

Unfortunately, being a writer takes more than writing.

Nota Bene: Twitter, Neo-Nazis, and the GOP

In March of this year, Twitter had an all-hands meeting at which an employee asked why the company can’t do as good a job of keeping white supremacist material off the site as they have done with ISIS propaganda?

According to Motherboard, another employee provided a simple explanation:

With every sort of content filter, there is a tradeoff, he explained. When a platform aggressively enforces against ISIS content, for instance, it can also flag innocent accounts as well, such as Arabic language broadcasters. Society, in general, accepts the benefit of banning ISIS for inconveniencing some others, he said…

The employee argued that, on a technical level, content from Republican politicians could get swept up by algorithms aggressively removing white supremacist material. Banning politicians wouldn’t be accepted by society as a trade-off for flagging all of the white supremacist propaganda, he argued…

Screening Room: ‘In the Intense Now’

In Joao Moreira Salles’ beautifully wrought documentary, In the Intense Now, an impressionistic flow of amateur footage captures the joy and despair of the revolutionary movements of the 1960s. It’s an incredible trip.

My review is at PopMatters:

The movie’s first half (“Back to the Factory”) starts with the street battles that ripped through Paris in May 1968. As far as Salles tries to explain it, narrating with a sonorous moodiness and marveling wonder, the protests were a sudden flaring crucible in which all the ferment of the Sixties burned white-hot over a few short weeks…

Here is the trailer:

Writer’s Desk: If You Cannot Sleep…

Leonard Cohen, 2008 (Rama)

Sometime in the 1960s, Leonard Cohen inscribed one of his early poems (or at least the title) on the wall of a cafe in Montreal.

“Marita, Please Find Me, I Am Almost 30” is a beautiful, heartsick piece that threads the love of creation through a desolate sadness. In other words, it expresses precisely the type of temperament that people normally ascribe to melodramatic artistic types.

But take note of this:

but when I couldn’t sleep
I learned to write
I learned to write
what might be read
on nights like this
by one like me

and just try not feeling and seeing yourself in that moment of joyful, rending creation.

Writer’s Desk: Quality First, Money Second

Gay Talese, 2006 (David Shankbone)

Gay Talese is a great reporter. There are not many of those. He was also a great storyteller—which is not an art that even all great reporters can ever master.

So in the middle of a delightful Men’s Journal interview (sample quote: on how he handles aging? “I go out every goddamn night of the week. Every night. And I order a martini every goddamn night of the week”) Talese explains what he learned from his father about making money as a writer:

I’m the only son of a very prideful tailor. He didn’t make a lot of money, but boy, he took pride in the suits he made. He once told me, “Son, when you look for a job, never ask what it pays.” Instead, he said, master the job, because if you become really good at what you do, the money will come. Conventional wisdom will tell you differently: Hustle, get an agent, ask for a lot, and settle for less. I never did that. And although I wasn’t a tailor, I wrote like one. I cared about every stitch and every button, and I wanted my work to hold up, fit well, and to last. Good work is never easily done…

Be good first, and the money will follow.

Usually.

Screening Room: ‘Woman at War’

In the new Icelandic movie Woman at War, a Reykjavik choir director wages a secret one-person eco-sabotage campaign against the forces of polluting industrialization, taking down one power line at a time with her trusty bow.

Woman at War is playing now. My review is at PopMatters:

This is a movie where the line between real and unreal is as porous as a Greek comedy, so a little bit of tweaking from [director Benedikt] Erlingsson and his co-writer Olafur Egilsson isn’t unwelcome if it gives the heroine some more time on the loose…

Nota Bene: ‘Ethics’ as Fear Tactic

A so-called “Ethics in Journalism” bill introduced in the Georgia state legislature proposes the creation of a board that would establish a “canon” of journalism ethics and sanction any journalists who broke them.

According to the Columbia Journalism Review:

The bill would also grant interview subjects the right to request any photographs, audio, and video recordings taken by a journalist, ­­free of charge and at any time in the reporting process. Reporters that fail to respond in a timely manner would face civil penalties.

What kind of penalties?

While the bill would compel journalists to turn over records to interview subjects freely and for free, Georgia’s legislature is exempt from the state’s Open Records Act. Those state agencies that must comply with record requests can charge fees to access public documents, and response times for such requests can run longer than the three days afforded to journalists under Welch’s bill. Once those three days elapse, the bill stipulates, journalists would be penalized $100 per day.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution noted:

The measure was sponsored by Rep. Andy Welch, R-McDonough, a lawyer who has expressed frustration with what he saw as bias from a TV reporter who asked him questions about legislation recently…

Writer’s Desk: Go Deep and Go True, But Make it Good

Tom Waits, 2008 (ntoper)

Back in 2001, J. T. LeRoy was the literary world’s mysterious enfant terrible (The Heart is Deceitful Above All Things). That was not long before the transgressive little gutterpunk Bukowski facade was exposed in the most fascinating literary hoax since, well, just about ever.

Before that happened, though, Vanity Fair had Tom Waits interview the person then calling themselves LeRoy. A couple things jumped out of that exchange. First, this:

Tom Waits: The world is a hellish place, and bad writing is destroying the quality of our suffering. It cheapens and degrades the human experience, when it should inspire and elevate. You are an exception.

J. T. LeRoy: Wow, thanks. One thing I realized is that to just have merely suffered isn’t enough…. [I was given] a book by this guy who had been in prison and writing about his experiences. He had a really horrible life, but it was so horribly written that I just didn’t care.

Your experience matters, as does that you’ve just heard about, but if you can’t write about it in a way that makes anyone attention, it will never be noticed.

Make the pain count.

Nota Bene: What They Have Done Right

As a riposte to all the post-Mueller hand-wringing about “the media” (some justified, most not a bit), Steve Coll provides in the current New Yorker a handy reminder of what it is that journalists do all day and how it impacts real life:

  • “While covering the Administration’s “zero tolerance” policy of removing immigrant kids from their parents, Ginger Thompson, of ProPublica, obtained and released a recording of young children crying in a holding facility. Her work provoked a public outcry, and the Administration reversed its policy.”
  • “Reporting by the Indianapolis Star helped bring to justice the child molester Larry Nassar, of USA Gymnastics.”
  • “A series of stories in the Baton Rouge Advocate found that a Jim Crow-era law, which allowed defendants accused of felonies such as murder to be convicted by a split-jury verdict, fostered racism and mass incarceration. Louisiana’s Republican-led state legislature approved a referendum to reconsider the law, and, in November, voters chose to require unanimous verdicts in trials involving felonies.”

Screening Room: ‘Combat Obscura’

During 2011-2012, cameraman Miles Lagoze tracked the lives and deaths of his fellow Marines as they battled the Taliban, boredom, rage, ennui, and bafflement at what the hell they were even doing in Afghanistan’s Helmand province. When he came back home, there was a lot of footage the Corps didn’t want the public to see.

The result is his documentary Combat Obscura, which is playing now in limited release. My review is at PopMatters:

The best and most vital documentary about front-line combat in the never-ending Wars on Terror since Sebastian Junger’s Restrepo (2010), Combat Obscura comes in swinging, with something of a chip on its shoulder…

Here’s the trailer:

Screening Room: ‘Babylon’

Asward’s Brinsley Forde in ‘Babylon’ (Kino Lorber)

Back in 1980, a movie about West Indian youths in London scrapping for a piece of something to call their own premiered in Cannes and promptly disappeared from sight over concerns about its controversial treatment of racism and violence.

Babylon is just now getting its American release. My review is at PopMatters:

It’s in many ways clumsy and ham-fisted. And yet, somewhere in between the densely layered dub and reggae soundtrack, Chris Menges’ evocative cinematography, and the sharp spark of political agitation, there’s something to the movie that cannot be so easily dismissed…

Here’s the trailer: