Tag Archives: blogging

The Writer’s Hotel Conference Part II

 

 

Thursday and Friday were long full, days. I took the C train from the Kingston-Throop station to Bryant Park each morning, had workshop at the Casablanca Hotel from 8:30-11, quick break for lunch, then went on a tour at the New York Public Library on Thursday, followed by a seminar on Writing Performance, a lecture on Revision, followed by an open mic. Friday I went to a lecture on The Novel in the afternoon and then a reading at the Cornelia Street Café and KGB bar after a quick coffee and sushi stop in the West Village with my new writing friends Tom and Carolyn. After the readings Friday, I attempted to go to a show at the Comedy Cellar, but I had no reservations and didn’t want to waitlist so instead I went to The Grisly Pear, a B comedy club a couple doors down (pretty sure Pete Holmes filmed an episode of his HBO show Crashing here). The comics were still good.

After some two stiff drinks at each place I was feeling pretty toasted and so took the train back to Brooklyn, weaving down the sidewalk as I walked back to the Brownstone I was staying at.

Saturday I slept in till 9. Justine made coffee. I chatted for a bit with her then headed back to the City for lectures from Steven Salpeter from the Curtis Brown Literary Agency and Kevin Larimer, the editor in chief of Poets and Writers Magazine. I finally had an afternoon off so I walked uptown for a quick rest in Central Park, stopping for a late lunch at Rue 67, a French-inspired restaurant. Many people, thousands really, were all strewn on the lawns shirtless and in bikini tops in the middle of the Park, soaking up the Saturday June sun of one of the first hot days of summer. I tried to take a nap but just more or less just closed my eyes for a moment. After a quick stop at the horrendous Central Park public bathrooms, I took the R back downtown to Third Rail Coffee to prepare for my reading. The sun and humidity slowly wrapped me in a blanket of sweat and dizziness.

I read that night at the KGB bar and knocked it out of the park. Then I went out for drinks and food with everyone after. It was a great day. And, also my birthday.

Sunday was a bit more depressing. It was agent day so after a morning of workshop where I got some good feedback on a novel about Utah I was starting, we had a brief orientation on what the afternoon would look like. We’d all line up in a queue in front of a specific agent and then have four minutes to pitch them our book. Then we were told we’d either get a card or email, or simply a polite, “No thank you, this isn’t for me.” I felt nervous, but ready.

I pitched my book:

“It’s More Like Horror is a memoir about youth, faith, and depression,” I said. “It’s about depression in everyday life and follows me on a journey from Denver to Portland to Salt Lake City as the romantic ideals of my zealous evangelical youth are met with the realities of death, suicide, miscarriages, and a loss of faith.” But the first agent merely looked at me blankly and said, “Memoir’s are tough.”

There were ten agents in total and around half were only interested in genres I didn’t write in, so I skipped them completely. Pretty much all of the agents said the same thing: The idea was interesting but memoirs were tough to sell unless I had a crazy platform or insane writing credits. One gave me some good feedback to focus on the story of leaving my faith rather than depression, as depression was a subtext of the story. I thought this was good advice but at the same time, my story wasn’t some salacious tale of leaving a repressed religious community, although, who knows, maybe that would sell if I were to frame it like that. Suffice to say the afternoon was discouraging. Good feedback and learning experience I guess, but no one was all like, “OH my god, send me this book now!” So, now I am left once again to rethink my book, a book I’ve already spent nearly five years on. I may just be too young to write a memoir at this point. That’s how it goes I guess though. As Scott, one of the main faculty of the program told us in a good debriefing/motivational speech/boxing analogy, the next day: “You’ve put the gloves on, you’ve stepped into the ring, now you better expect to get hit. Then you keep punching back.”

 

Monday was our last day. One final workshop and lecture followed by a reading at The Half King, a bar in Chelsea underneath The Highline where we heard a hilarious piece by Rick Moody, some moving poetry by Tim Seibles and some excellent fiction from both Scott and Shanna.

I took the A train back to Brooklyn, packed, passed out on the couch, and woke up next morning to head back to SLC via JFK.

It was all in all, a fantastic trip, though I may need to hibernate for some time in a cave alone so I can sleep, process, and rethink my writing. I also may need a new liver transplant. But hey, it’s all-good, I’m one stop further down the tracks to becoming a professional, published writer. It all takes time.

 

 

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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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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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