I've got a big day today -- the kind of day where, if things go well, everything could get a lot better soon. And if they don't go well... then nothing happens. But I'm ready for something to happen. So wish me luck.
How to tell when you've arrived as a decadent intellectual:
- You're reading a novel that's regarded as one of the biggest loads of pretentious wank in modern (or maybe more accurately, post-post-modern) literature. You're thoroughly enjoying it. While reading, you catch and appreciate a three-word reference ("the afternoon's meshes") to an obscure American mid-century avant-garde filmmaker whom you have previously spent considerable time studying.
- The word you use to title of the self-indulgent, otherwise-pointless blog post in which you onanistically write about the inter-textual back-and-forth of your current reading, is itself a reference not only to the load of wank mentioned therein, but also to an earlier load of wank to which it refers by use of a lame pun.
It's been an odd sort of week. This time last week, while trying to shift some boxes of books that curiously posed no problem for me seven months ago, I fucked up my lower back but good. So all this week I've spent the first ten or fifteen minutes every day thrashing in my bed like a turtle on its back, trying to find a way to sit up that doesn't involve pain. The rest of the time I act like I'm 70 years old, groaning whenever I have to bend or twist. It's gradually getting better, but it hasn't been enjoyable. And I still have a bunch of boxes left to move.
Anyway, it's April 23, so it's time for me to inflict my annual birthday love-fest on my friend Earth, who's a bitter, crusty old son of a bitch. He's taken a generally bah-humbug approach to... well, honestly, just about everything this year, most especially birthdays and human relationships of all kinds. The last time I attempted to write something nice about/to him it just sort of sunk soundlessly into the murk.
But I have immense, abiding love for this highly-love-resistant bastard, so I'm going to do it again whether he likes it or not, just to spite him. I hope he'll take it in the spirit in which it's offered.
Earth has had an uncanny effect on my life. For reasons that have utterly nothing to do with him, and through absolutely no action or effort on his part, his presence seems to lead to my life getting better (and more frustrating, but also better.) Since I've known him, I have become happier and more content with my life, I find myself living in a place I love, with a mass of interesting, smart new friends. I've done more of my own work (though never enough for him), and my life is generally much improved. Which, as I said, has nothing to do with him at all. He hasn't done any of the work, doesn't even know any of my other friends, and restricts his active role in my day-to-day existence to a kind of contrarian grouchiness about everything and nothing. Wherever I am, it was all entirely my own doing, as will be whatever comes next. And yet... and yet. Somehow I feel a sort of quiet, humble, inexplicable gratitude to him for everything he hasn't done for me. I feel like I should be saying thank you.
So to him, I would say this: I love you, Earth, I'm glad you're around, and thanks for nothing, asshole. :)
It turns out that my earlier certainty regarding looming disappointment may have been premature. It now seems that disappointment has been, at the very least, pushed back another couple of weeks.
So that's good.
It doesn't actually change the question, though. While I now have, if only temporarily, renewed hope for my immediate future, I've still done a lot of thinking about what I'm actually trying to accomplish in my work. A little stability and an adequate income are necessary regardless of what I choose to do for a job; what I do for my work is still an open question.
Maybe the point is that a part of me wants to put the filmmaking away for a year or two and focus on writing instead.
I've written about all of this before, and I'll probably write about it again and again. But for me, setting aside the technical and aesthetic stuff, there isn't actually much difference between filmmaking and writing, at least not where the end goal is concerned. My objective is basically the same in both cases. I love stories, and I love the little stories of normal people living lives of quiet passion and tiny, unexpected drama. I love the structure of a well-made story, and I love playing with that structure. I can do it with film, or I can do it with words. One requires a lot more force of will for me to produce, but both require enormous effort to do well. So much effort, in fact, that I can't imagine trying to seriously do both at once. Serially, sure, but not simultaneously; I just haven't got it in me.
So acknowledging that from my own perspective, I can accomplish my personal ends with either medium, the next question is which medium currently suits me best. There are aspects of film which I value highly and which can never translate to writing; but the trade-off is that the work is much, much harder for me, not perhaps on the creative level but rather on the practical level. Writing leaves out all of the complex, dynamic process of making a film, but in exchange it leaves me with work that comes to me relatively easily. And I think the obvious point that needs to be made again is that, unlike film, against which I've spent ten years thumping like a moth against a windowpane, I've never made any serious attempt to write. I just spend my evenings reeling off this self-indulgent prattle because I happen to feel like it. I've never approached it as real work, only as a half-assed hobby. So maybe it would be interesting to try taking it seriously for a while. And maybe putting the film aside in the meantime is an acceptable compromise to make.
I have a project in mind. It occurred to me a couple of years ago, and strikingly few examples of similar work seem to exist. Not as many as you'd expect, anyway. It has potential for broad general appeal, and tons of amazing source material available. And to actually undertake the project, which would be immense, would be an act of sheer love and passion on my part. The downside: it's hard material to work with, especially in writing, and especially coming for a basically intellectual perspective. It would not be a simple or easy thing to accomplish. It would be a challenging bit of work for even a brilliant writer, much less me.
To put it as simply as possible, for a half-formed idea: I want to write about the greatest performing comedians -- not just the good ones, but the transcendent few -- and about stand-up comedy as a modern vehicle for hard philosophy and the seat of society's hardest collective work. Bruce as a post-modern philosopher king, Pryor as catalyst, Hicks as prophet, Kaufman as holy fool. The most serious intellectual matters disguised as light entertainment. I want to take their art as seriously as they did, and root around in it the way people do about the work of Dylan, or Picasso, or Joyce. Because I believe very strongly that in their way they were artists of equal stature; but because they worked in one of the low arts, what they were really doing has been mostly missed by society if not by their individual admirers.
I mean, you're all smart; you can imagine how something like that could go horribly, dreadfully wrong in the writing. But if it worked...
The good news is that I have some other material to work on as a dry run, stuff that's similarly intangible and resistant to discursive definition, but about which I feel just as strongly, the work for which would be just as much an act of love, and for which I have my subject within easy first-hand reach. If that initial project was successful, it would be a good step up to dealing with this other, more complicated material.
The other thing I've been thinking about this is that, were I to set off in this direction, I think I must resolve to get past my unrelenting need for outside approval. Even starting to think about doing this, I immediately started to think about how I would know whether I was good enough, to what authority I might appeal for judgment, what proof of qualification I should obtain. But my quest for a stamp of approval, I know, is ultimately just another way for me to uselessly spin my wheels. It's probably time I take up creative responsibility and turn to myself as my own authority and judge.
I came home from work tonight to find the household in a dejected mood -- the dog bolted out the door sometime tonight and hasn't been seen since. All realistic steps have been taken, but a young, fast dog can cover a lot of ground quickly and make recovery almost impossible. Even I am a little sad, and I barely knew the damn mutt. He's a fine beast, and I hope he makes his way home.
I was already feeling rather downbeat. Something that ten days ago was a major source of hope for my immediate future has probably become, I'm afraid I have to acknowledge, a rather bitter disappointment. I'm feeling discouraged and frustrated and a bit like giving up. Which isn't to say that I will; just to say that my passion is at a low ebb for the moment with no obvious relief in sight.
I've spent the last several weeks nibbling at David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest, and I'm still only about two hundred pages in. It feeds into my love of big, thick, dense books that often seem to be more about the reading process than about their actual content. It's an arrogant book obviously written by a young man who knows how good he is, and I mean that in a complimentary way. These books don't always work on me -- I've basically given up on ever reading Gravity's Rainbow, not because it's not worth the effort, but because I've never enjoyed the process of reading it. Ulysses, on the other hand, is one of the few books I read (in bits and pieces) year after year, because even without moving through the arc of the whole story, chewing on a page or two is fun when you're in the right mood. Reading Ulysses aloud feels good in the same way that reading Shakespeare aloud feels good. Infinite Jest doesn't work on precisely that level (or I wouldn't say so at this point, anyway), but there's enough there on a page-by-page basis to make plowing through 1000+ pages seem bearable, even when you know it may take you months to do. And it's frankly an amazing thing for any author to have accomplished, a big, mad work of obsessive passion that must have been agony during the writing. The quality of his writing aside, I have to offer Mr. Wallace my epic respect for having the balls to write such a monster.
At moments like this, I tend to obsess over my inability to figure out what to do with myself. Why haven't I found myself a big, obsessive, undeniable project like that?
I have this thing that I've spent most of my adult life chipping away at, with considerable determination and honest love, but so far with very little to show for it. I have this other thing that many more people have suggested I pursue more vigorously, as it would appear to be the thing to which I'm more naturally suited. Making films, for me, is all upstream swimming, which is part of why I love it so much. But it's often an overwhelming psychic effort for me to embark on a project, and one that I admit I don't often face squarely. And yet year after year I refuse to entertain the idea of admitting defeat.
And then there's the writing, the idea of which I have a lot of trouble taking seriously. I can sit and I can write, and while the work can be hard (on the rare occasions when I apply myself), I understand what I'm doing on a instinctual, innate level. I understand how written language works, and I feel more comfortable and fluent with it than I do with literally anything else in my life. It comes to me naturally, such as it is. I sit, I write, the words come, the paragraphs form almost on their own, and second drafts are uncommon. 95% of what you read here is lazily, sloppily composed in an off-hand way, with no foreplanning other than a bit of intellectual mulling over and an occasional visit to the dictionary or thesaurus. I'm phoning this shit in, not even really trying. I know, you can totally tell, right? And yet I also know that it hangs together reasonably well for a bunch of barely-composed horseshit, which counts for something.
The problem is that I honestly don't know that whatever I've got is what it takes. I don't know how to realistically measure it, whatever it is, to determine whether I have any particular talent or not. I think it's entirely likely that I don't, or at least not anything special. I can slap a sentence together, so what? Are any of them good enough to pursue their construction professionally, even as a sideline? I think the thing that trips me up is that writing is so easy for me, so mundane, so well-duh obvious, that it's unreachable by doubt or question -- I can write just like I can walk or drive or boil water. It's so easy that I don't quite believe that it's not just as easy for everyone else. I'm really just waiting for someone to come along and confirm for me that all the people who tell me I'm good, even the ones who read books and understand good writing and still tell me I'm good, are just being kind and supportive and that I don't truly have anything significant to contribute. And to hear that wouldn't be a disappointment or a blow of any kind; it would only be the simple truth that I've always suspected I'd hear sooner or later.
On the other hand, if what I wri,te in a first draft at just gone midnight, after a full day at work, in a dark mood after the previous night in which I only got four hours of sleep -- if that writing is not completely, unreadably fucking dreadful, what might I produce if I actually worked at it?
My other problem is that I'm inclined to devote myself to other people's work much more than my own. My dilemma is in trying to determine whether I'm just naturally a sidekick in search of a protagonist, given to first-tier subordination to someone more aggressive and driven, and in which subordination I might in the long run be more fulfilled and satisfied. Or whether, in truth, that's just something I tell myself to avoid having to face doing my own work. I think either could be true.
And if it's my own work I need to do, do I continue the upstream swim, or should I see what happens when I turn around and try to follow the current? But if I do that, won't I be losing more ground? Or is my refusal to make the turn itself the bigger waste of time?
Regardless, at the moment I have a glut of projects that need to be finished, including both film projects and written pieces. Not until those are cleared off my plate can I really consider any bold new moves. But thoughts on things I can do to determine my best course of action in the meantime would be helpful.
This afternoon is (mercifully) my last session with the little girls. We're "editing." Then, when we're done, I'll take all the footage away and start editing it for real. I don't want to take any of the control away from the kids, but seriously -- they're all ten years old, we've had four hours to "write" and "shoot", the thing is a dog's dinner no matter what; at the very least, I want to put together a couple of minutes to make them giggle at themselves.
Every time I go to work with the girls, I'm struck by the same thing: they're all so natural about themselves. They're at the very end of childhood, adolescence bearing down in the immediate future, at that moment right before they do what practically every girl I've ever known has done. They hit eleven or twelve, maybe thirteen if they're fortunate, and they just seem to collapse in on themselves. The confidence drains away, the inhibitions take over, and they turn into walking knots of self-criticism and self-doubt. Do boys do that, too? Maybe they just express it differently. I hate to see it happen, though. Right now these girls are totally at ease with who they are, don't see anything particularly wrong with themselves, and seem totally free to be silly and goofy without a hint of the self-consciousness that will overwhelm them soon. In a couple of years many of them won't be able to conceive of a sense of self-value that derives from anywhere other than the attention of boys, the approval of parents and teachers, and the unrelenting demands of the beauty industry. But I can never figure out where that collapse originates. Is it internal or external? Is it inherent to femaleness, or is it something we learn? And how could you ever prevent it?
Speaking of girls, it appears that my new housemates will be having one. Apparently they had a sonogram yesterday, and they're now 95% certain that their little larva is female. I overheard the name they've chosen, but I can't quite believe they're actually considering it, so I'm not going to repeat it yet. I keep getting names wrong here anyway, so I'm working on the assumption that I mis-heard and will be corrected forthwith. Because nobody actually names a kid Lulabelle.
I knew it would be a girl, though. How? Well, every single fucking person I know who's had a kid has had a girl. Within my circle of friends and the first tier of acquaintances -- including, say, ten babies so far -- every single damn one has been a girl. I know of not one single boy born to anyone I know first-hand within my generation. Statistically, there should be at least four; but no, not even one. I find this disconcerting, because while my own aspirations toward motherhood are somewhat weak and will likely as not falter in the face of life's other pressures, on the off chance that I had a kid myself, I'm pretty sure I'd prefer a boy. Not that I have any problem with a girl, but I've always tended to get along better with guys, and that seems like the one place where I might really need that extra help. The absurdity being, of course, that as a bearer on only double-X chromosomes, I would have utterly no say in the matter. I could maybe avoid getting knocked up by a guy with a lot of sisters, but otherwise it's beyond my reproductive domain.
Not that any of this is especially likely to happen anyway.
I spent most of yesterday napping; today or tomorrow I'm hoping to take a walk over to N. Mississippi and have a proper look around. If I'm going to be here for upwards of a year, I want to get to know the neighborhood. With spring at hand, I want to get out and do more stuff, see some new parts of the city, expand my proverbial horizons. I need to meet some more people, too. I have a decent clutch of friends here, but almost all of them are over-scheduled and underpaid, and the one who isn't is a hermit and thus useless for exploratory outings. What I really need is a pizza-and-movie buddy. Where do I find one of those?
It doesn't seem like it's been that long; it also seems like it's been a lot longer. At the moment I find myself dealing with the same general disorientation that I was struggling with those first few weeks -- the vague sense that I'm not quite where I'm supposed to be. This is entirely to do with the move, obviously. I'm in a different house, with different people, in a different part of town. And yet this time it's all running parallel to a sense of familiarity -- going to work will be different, but the job will be the same. I'm starting to get a much better sense of how the city is connected, so that my navigation around town is very nearly fluent. Portland isn't yet home, but it's not terra incognita, either.
Another six months should do the trick.
I spent the day getting the day-to-day parts of my life unpacked and put away. My room is pretty much set, and while I wouldn't object to a little more square footage, it fits me well. And having a bathroom of my own is going to be amazing -- I've been living out of my travel kit ever since I got to town, so unpacking all my girly toiletries was a definite high point. Being able to put out my toothbrush and leave it out is the very height of luxury. I have a bathtub, and a linen closet, and a medicine chest, and a cabinet for all those other things that don't really belong anywhere else, and I have two windows that get lots of sunlight. In my room, the window next to my desk looks out on the backyard. I have a view of a tree full of magenta roses, another tree of white roses, the greenhouse, some kind of tree with dark purple buds sprouting on it (there are lots and lots of flowering trees in Portland) and way back next to the fence another tree with roses and some big orange tree. It's a lovely view. My room is quiet, it's sunny, and with the right lighting it's even lovely at night.
The next step will be to unpack the rest of my life, and finally move in for real. Tonight, however, I'm devoting to rest. I spent this evening working with the little girls again, and that used up whatever tiny reservoir of energy I'd managed to replenish. I'm sore, I'm sleepy, and I'm comfortably but totally exhausted.
Moving day has arrived. I'll be up at 6 AM to get started, and my mission is to get everything from SE Portland to N Portland leaving no trace behind by the end of the day. Complicating matters is one huge thing that'll be happening in the afternoon and will suck up several hours of my time, but I'm not going to say any more about it for fear of jinxing it. Not that I believe in such things. If it goes my way, you'll be hearing plenty more about it. Just wish me luck.
But I'm here in my strawberry ice cream-pink room for the last time, eating a cookie and trying to relax before what will surely be a stressful day. If any motherfucker says "April Fools" to me, I might have to stab them.
I don't know exactly what my internet connectivity status will be in the new place, so if I'm unreachable for a couple of days, that's why.
I bet I won't be able to sleep tonight.
Update: As of 10:30 tonight, I have successfully completed all of my tasks for today. It was a fucking demanding day, but it all got done, and all pretty well at that. I'm now tucked into my fresh new bed in my new room, picking up a wireless signal from god knows where. The signal could be a little stronger, but the connection is fast.
Tomorrow I have to get up early again to take the van back, and then much of the day will be spent putting things away as best I can. I'm going to take it slowly, though. In the afternoon I have another session with the little girls, and the day after tomorrow it's back to work.
This is actually a nice little room. I think I can make it quite pleasant and comfortable.