Fame

 

Famous

From Kanye’s controversial, slightly misogynistic, NSFW music video for his song “Famous.”

 

He had always wanted to be famous. He envisioned himself on radio talk shows and late night TV shows. Being interviewed by Jon Stewart or Terry Gross or Conan O’ Brien or … whoever, really. He’d be sly, funny, witty, humble. Famous enough to be on said shows, but not famous enough that he was an asshole.

He wanted to be famous for creating something beautiful. Something dark and true and resonating. Something to validate his existence. To make the hard times worth living, because others would be there, with him, in the struggle. Whether it be painting or writing or music or film—it didn’t matter. He just wanted to be famous, for something. Have others experience what he experienced. Perhaps it was validation. Perhaps it was pity. Perhaps it was a boyish need to have others accept him for who he was, for others to empathize with just how damn hard living in this world was. But he wanted to be recognized. In fact, he didn’t know if he could go unrecognized.

So he wanted to be famous.

If he were famous, however, he’d criticize fame, the spectacle of it. The American drive or myth that says everyone can be famous. Because we all want to be movie stars and rock stars, and advertisements tell us we can. Perhaps his own drive to be famous was born out of the same mythology. Perhaps this was why he was disappointed. Because he was not a movie star and his life was not like a movie. Because fame is a slippery thing.

He wanted to be famous because that meant making a difference in the world. You could say things people would listen to.

He didn’t want to be extremely famous, like Justin Bieber famous or even B movie star famous. Just famous enough so that people would respect him. Not that they didn’t respect him already. He was a respectable man—but not a famous one.
Fame gives narrative structure to failure. It evokes social empathy. If you’re simply a drug addict, you get little sympathy. If you’re a famous drug addict, you get narrative. People will then weave stories around your childhood, your demons, your fall from grace. And though it might not be pretty, it’s a story, and it’s better than what the bastards no one’s ever heard of get, which is no story. Sure, they have stories. But none worth telling because they’re simply some drunk who went to war or who had mental illness, not some drunk who was so brilliant that he could not deal with his own inherent genius and creativity and depression or manic anxiety or whatever else accompanies greatness. Or maybe there is no greatness, but there is fame. And that alone warrants more story than none. It at least gets people thinking. No one thinks about the drunk at the park. The heroine addict. The kid drinking cough syrup. Their stories are less interesting when they’re not famous. They’re just losers. Fame is the ingredient that makes all things allowed.

As much as he wanted to be okay with a simple life, a life of love and service and small deeds done in patience, he didn’t know if he could be. As if he would feel like a failure if he was never recognized, never given attention or, in his deepest fears, if he never created something worth recognition or attention. He wanted to live simply. But be famous for living simple. He wanted to be famous, but famous for criticizing fame. Anything else would be a diminution of his aspirations, to be known, and yet known for criticizing the known. That’s what he wanted to be known for. His own known knowingness of his known darkness in criticizing the known. Because somehow … that would help.

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Missing You: Two Poems

Missing You
I.
I missed you,
your smell especially. The dry
earth hidey pungency of which
only those who love your kind
will appreciate.
I missed: Your unconditional love
obviously, but also, weirdly,
your saliva, dripping,
on a long drive to some destination
you trusted us with. Like a fool.
We could have been shipping you
to your death. Yet, you smiled:
pink tongue flapping. Content
to lay there in the green
grass at the rest stop, licking
your butt with a deep sigh.
And yet, at the end of the day
there’s no one I’d rather share a bed with.

II.
I missed your hair
curled and/or straightened
through hot metal, looped
around the same device
like tiny Ferris wheels.
That smile,
the way your face was a lantern
And a hot knife.

Help Send me to the Writers Hotel Conference in NEW YORK!

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Hello World,

I am looking to raise funds to attend a writers conference in NYC called The Writers Hotel, called as such because it takes place in multiple hotels in midtown Manhattan. See here:

https://funds.gofundme.com/dashboard/send-levi-to-the-writers-hotel-conf
 

The conference is limited to under 100 people and fairly competitive so, you know, kind of a big deal. I will pitch my manuscript to agents and editors, and participate in readings, lectures, and workshops. BUT first I will work on my unpublished manuscript closely with an editing team at The Writing Hotel who will help me get it to that next level. This means four professionals in the publishing industry will be editing my work, which alone would cost about the same amount. My current manuscript is tentatively titled “It’s More Like Horror: A Memoir of Youth, Faith, and Depression.” So, super exciting and really the next big step for me to take as a writer after finishing my MFA in December at Antioch.

Right now I can cover some of the cost, but not all so, here we are. Go Fund Me!

I know this ain’t kickstarter but if you donate I will send you a copy of my chapbook of short stories, or a bag of coffee roasted by yours truly, or both. Seriously. But I will need your addy.

Also, the conference is in June, on my birthday, so you could think if it like a b-day present. Or not.

Deadline: April 30th. I can pay some of this on a cc but will then need to pay it back relatively soon.

Anyways, thanks for listening. I wish you all the best in this troubled, beautiful  world of ours.
www.writershotel.com

Sincerely,
Levi

https://funds.gofundme.com/dashboard/send-levi-to-the-writers-hotel-conf

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I Don’t Like Musicals, So Why Did I Like La La Land So Much? A Self-Investigation. La La Land and the Year in Movies

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I’m almost embarrassed by how much I liked La La Land. On the surface it is the exact type of movie I should not like, i.e.—a sappy rom-com musical, based on an era I don’t particularly care about with ridiculously good looking actors who struggle for a period of time but then succeed beyond all expectations. Ugh.

But I liked it, a lot. And I’ve never ever been a musical guy. This means, along with Hamilton, the number of musicals I like has skyrocketed to two (!) in the last year alone. I mean, what. the. fuck. is happening to me? I told my photographer friend Mike (a fellow dark and cynical artist) that he needed to go see this movie called La La Land and he turned to me with a straight face and repeated the title: “You want me to go see a movie called Laa Laa Land?”

But yes, La La Land seduced me and cast me under its hypnotic, romantic, magical spell.
The music! (by Justin Hurwitz, good luck getting the songs out of your head).
The acting! (by the always excellent Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling).
The writing! The directing! (especially that freeway scene) by Damien Chazelle (who previously wrote and directed the taut and intense Whiplash).
Generally, films like Manchester by the Sea are more in line with my taste for movies. Casey Affleck, the main actor of the film, referred to Manchester when he hosted SNL as “a testament to how unbearably sad movies can be … funny, but crushingly sad.” That’s generally what I like. Crushingly sad movies. Or else weird, art-house flicks. Birdman was one of the only films in recent memory that I thought was absolutely brilliant and way too weird to win Best Picture, and yet did.

https://www.nbc.com/saturday-night-live/video/casey-affleck-christmas-monologue/3442501?snl=1

What’s even more telling, however, of how much I like La La Land, is that I still like the movie, even after the hype of winning seven Golden Globes and being nominated for FOURTEEN Oscars. Generally, once a movie wins awards, I pull that move pretentious music people do and say something about how “I was into that movie before it won all the awards.” La La Land is a great film, but I don’t think it’s great enough to sweep anything per say, which it nearly did. And the song “City of Stars” (which won a Golden Globe for Best Song) is good, but “Another Day of Sun” and “Someone in the Crowd,” happen to be great songs.

Still the question remains, why did I like this particular film so much? I don’t know. Maybe as a secret romantic, I’m just sucker. Perhaps it’s because I’m white, as it is undoubtedly, a very white movie.
I think though, more than anything, it is a movie that, as my cousin Dane put it (who I saw the film with in Hollywood while visiting), “sticks to its convictions.” It embraces its antiquated musical numbers, its tap dances, its sentimentality and romanticism and melancholy. Not to mention everything in the film, whatever you might think of the content itself, is crafted with perfection.

Why did other people like the movie then? is perhaps a better place to start.
I’m pretty sure a lot of people liked La La Land, consciously or not, specifically because it was based in Hollywood nostalgia, and people in Hollywood, i.e., people who make up the Academy and vote for awards, love movies about Hollywood, they love movies about movies, and films about films, and anything about how wonderful they and their industry are. I can almost imagine these people touching themselves as they watched La La Land. (There was even an SNL skit about a guy being arrested because he said La La Land “dragged in the middle.”)

http://www.nbc.com/saturday-night-live/video/la-la-land-interrogation/3457925?snl=1

But also, because of the shit show 2016 was, maybe everyone just wanted to feel good for a couple hours.

Why I liked La La Land however, is not really a mystery. I knew immediately why I liked it so much and it was the ending. The sense of optimism and romanticism that begins the film, soon ends in two people who should be together, not being together. It is both tragic, simple, and in some way, a metaphor for how life goes awry and upends our expectations. I don’t know why, but that wrecked me. I wanted to grab Emma Stone through the screen and tell her to dump her shitty husband and run away with Gosling (though the husband actually seemed like a pretty decent guy).
La La Land did the thing all cliché movies do. It “touched a nerve” or “tugged at my heartstrings,” probably because I spend a lot of time in my head—in nostalgia or fantasy (not for some sort of “Golden Age” but pining for some sort of world or reality that never existed in the first place). I spend a lot of time thinking about what could have been versus what is, wondering if either one would make a difference in a sort of existential or universal sense, and I spend a lot of time thinking about what I don’t have and what my life could look like, even though I don’t particularly dislike my life as is. There’s something within me that can’t help think what if, which is essentially, what that whole montage with Emma Stone towards the end of the movie is about.
The ending is also, “surprising, yet inevitable” which, as writer and my previous Antioch mentor Peter Selgin says, is exactly what makes a great ending in fiction. The ending surprises you, but in a way that you say, “Of course, it couldn’t be any other way.” And it is in this “turn” at the ending where La La Land transforms from a 1930’s garish Hollywood musical into something else. A meditation on art, romance, relationships, love, nostalgia, and struggle (though, in typical Hollywood fashion, both of the leads are successful in their career pursuits, unlike, say, Don’t Think Twice).

Both Manchester by the Sea, Moonlight, Arrival, and even Hell or High Water are more profound, complicated, and richer films in many ways. Manchester and Moonlight especially deal with grief, tragedy, and often untouched or “unfilmed” emotions of unspeakable depth. Both films are generally the sort of stuff that is in direct contrast to business banking or even “award garnering” movies (and they are BY FAR the two best films). And yet, La La Land did indeed win me over. Even if it is to the dismay of my own sense of self and overall identity.

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No Other Loss Can Occur So Quietly

I’m pretty proud of this blog I did for Lunch Ticket at Antioch, where I’m getting my MFA. By far the most response I’ve ever gotten from a piece of writing on my Facebook. I’d stopped writing about faith issues a while ago as to not be pigeon-holed as a “Christian” writer but I think this shows how many people out there are in such a grey area of faith no one ever seems to talk about much.

Check it here if you’d like.

Now More Than Ever

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New blog up. Proud to be a part of Lunch Ticket and Antioch University Los Angeles MFA to be able to explore new ideas and get such great feedback from fellow peers on a topic I might normally attempt solo. I couldn’t have done this piece without them. Also shout out to Lidia Yuknavitch and Micah Bournes.

Now More Than Ever, Kendrick Lamar and Beyoncé

Thoughts on The Wire, Writing, and Perspective

the-wire

 

Here is another blog I did for my MFA programs lit journal, Lunch Ticket. Read it at your leisure or on your phone on the bus or on your computer at work while pretending to work. It’s about The Wire, writing, perspective, and how I’m mad I still don’t have a book published.

 

Salud,

Levi

 

Thoughts on The Wire, Writing, and Perspective

On Patience, Grief

This is a blog I’m pretty proud of. More to come. I wrote it for my MFA program’s lit journal Lunch Ticket: On Patience, Grief

Annotation-Behind the Beauitful Forever’s

btbf

Hey Friends, (all three of you who ever look at this site)

If you want, read along with me as I parse my way through MFA program reading multiple books a month. I already have to write these annotations (metadata, comments, review, diagnostics) so may as well share some of my favorites. It’ll be like an online book club.

Most of the time, but not all, it will be a look at craft. How the writer accomplishes what they are doing on the page.

First up: Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo

Behind the Beautiful Forever’s is the first book by Katherine Boo, surprisingly. However, Boo’s work as an investigative journalist for the helped develop her highly detailed work as a writer and she’s written for both the Washington Post and The New Yorker covering themes of social justice. In other articles she’s explored the intellectually disabled, poverty, welfare, and marriage.

You could perhaps call Forever’s “Micro-focused.” This is both the main strength of the book and perhaps it’s main criticism. It touches briefly on the state of India’s economy, caste system, globalization, etc., but for the most part the book is a highly detailed account of a small group of people in a slum across from the Mumbai airport—a family of Muslim garbage pickers, a one-legged woman, a woman “mob” boss of the village with political aspirations (basically a smart woman who runs the village through bribes and money while also working with the local government and law enforcement), her educated daughter, and some tragic young men who do anything they can to make some money. It’s been hailed as the best book on India in twenty-five years.

What is remarkable is Boo’s attention to detail and the countless hours she spent researching and living with a particular group of people. We really go deep into characters lives which is often sorely missing in narrative nonfiction reporting on poverty. As Boo says in an interview with Guernica Magazine Boo:

“When I pick a story, I’m very much aware of the larger issues that it’s illuminating. But one of the things that I, as a writer, feel strongly about is that nobody is representative. That’s just narrative nonsense. People may be part of a larger story or structure or institution, but they’re still people. Making them representative loses sight of that. Which is why a lot of writing about low-income people makes them into saints, perfect in their suffering.”

This is the strength of Boo’s work. The nuance and delicacy and realness she doesn’t shy away from when detailing the lives of the people she’s chosen to follow. They’re complex humans, each with their own sense of morals, character, perspective, aspirations, and so on.

Boo’s book also sheds light on some of the broken and misleading truths with regards to NGO’s and nonprofits. There’s one scene in which the local leader of the village, pays people to come to the unveiling of a new well built by a NGO, so they can put on quite a show to the rich Americans and hopefully get some more money. The money and well were obtained, of course, through bribes and local corruption, as is the norm in India and many other developing countries.

However, while the book is a stunning and complex portrait of people living in poverty, many readers could be frustrated with Boo’s failure to bring in hardly any outside social commentary or, “So what?” factor. It’s a terrific portrayal of Mumbai slums and a look inside the thoughts and lives of people who live in them, but Forever’s leaves a bit of an empty feeling, which is perhaps Boo’s intent.