Friday, June 18, 2010

Advice to Aspiring Writers.

A brilliant and hilarious and hugely talented former student of mine hit me up for advice this week. I have no grand answers, but I had three broad things that may or may not apply to others ... so I decided to post part of my letter here. I've talked about some of this stuff before. So if it sounds familiar, skip it.

Advice #1 -- One thing that ties people up when young and makes them fall short of larger goals is that they confuse the territory for the map. The map is an illusion. It's not really land with trees and mountains and streams -- it's a piece of paper. So people want the territory but the map is much easier to get. The map in this metaphor is the trappings of success. It's easier to buy a cool sofa, rent a place that's too steep but in a hot spot, buy the best clothes, and travel to exotic locales ... It LOOKS like the territory, but it's not. And it's hard to distinguish your map for someone else's territory. When we were newly married (young) and making 17k per year and having babies, one of our friends had a yearly bonus that was three times our total annual earnings. (Dave couldn't afford to hang with him. He went on schwing golf weekends ... But they worked it out, overcame the different trappings of their lives, and the friendship endured.) We could have charged the card, had the map, but we would have then had to pay for the map. In paying for the map, which surely isn't free, we'd have to sacrifice time spent on craft. And therefore we would have lost our shot at the territory.

Advice #2 -- We had what I call a Darwinistic advantage over some others in that we came from a strong herd. My family -- in particular my parents. Basically, my parents would take us in at any point. There are still days -- like this past year -- when I call my parents and only needed to hear them say: You can always come home. I'm 40. I have four kids, two dogs, and a mean cat. Dave is a stay at home dad. I'm the sole breadwinner. I've never had to take them up on it. I don't want to. But knowing I had that net has allowed me to make a few riskier moves on the high wire. And it's given me the freedom not to take some bullshit things too seriously. It gives me perspective. I know the fall would be a soft one. So my herd has allowed me to overcome some fear -- or counterbalance it -- and fear of failure is a huge block for achieving. Not everyone's lucky enough to have a strong herd of family or friends. But if you do and if they're willing to act as net and if you can allow yourself to feel the net, do.

Advice #3 -- This is writer-centric, but it doesn't have to be. If you're in the arts, you're likely holding one job for practical concerns and trying to shove writing in. The one thing I can tell you is that the more successful ones -- long haul -- are writing for more hours.
The competition is writing. One way or another -- through some sacrifice or another -- they are finding the hours. Maybe in an MFA or PhD program or film school or maybe at a colony or maybe living in their parents basement or waking up at 4am or writing after a night shift or living in the lap of luxury (there's got to be a handful, right? though I never meet them) or amid little babies that they can nurse while writing or while pretending to work at a desk job or or or ... The competition is writing. So if you want to be a contender, you have to find the hours.

That's it for now. Hope this helps.


Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Things My Collie Has Said

I asked the collie who he'd want to play him in a Kushner play and he said, sans hesitation, "Pacino." This is RIDICULOUS. He's certainly no Pacino.

Things My Collie Has Said

The collie ate a stuffed toy chicken, and, later, after being caught, said to me, "That really didn't taste like chicken." He regretted eating said chicken, but not for the right reason.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

To Those Married to and Partnered-up with Writers

If someone marries an artist, whether they knew it at the time or whether it came later in the marriage, they're taking something on. Of course, it's implied that you should support the person you love in their endeavors. (Well, not illegal, immoral endeavors. But art? Sure, yes.) Easier said than done, most of the time. Are artists known for being docile spouses? Nope.

But there's more to it. Those who are partnered-up with an artist have another greater role. They're key to cultivating a civilization that is arts-alive. Their role is a holy one, to my mind. They have to be willing not just to (grudgingly) give time to the artist, they have to CHAMPION that artist. This is what true support is about -- it's an emotional effort. (And let's face it. It's not easy to be an artist to begin with.)

And how we support artists -- in our families, in our communities -- is critical to our overall cultural health. I deeply admire and am thankful for those who -- behind the scenes -- support the artists in their lives. We lose a lot of artists who are not supported and who are instead forced to choose between art and family. This is truer for women artists. (Resist that comment all you want, I'm not going out on a limb making that claim.)

If I could give a speech to those who really do support artists, I'd give a thankful one -- but one that simultaneously shames those who do a grudging job of it.

The bottom line is that if you're married to an artist, you can't just grudgingly allow the artist some time. You have to champion the work or they may well not survive as an artist. That's hard, but it's the truth -- at least in my case.

On the flip side, the artist has to be a true artist, someone who is actually working not just surfing the web or smoking pot to get into the groove then eating chips and falling asleep, for example. The artist can't simply be someone who is just carving out some quiet time. Though cool and all for partners to do for each other, that's not THIS deal.

And the artist must be thankful. In fact -- and this might be deal breaker for some -- indebted.

I am indebted to my husband who is a champion of my work, who makes it possible -- when it's income earning and when it's not.

And when he gives me the gift of his time (and urges me to work), I work my ass off -- in part to honor his gift. It's reciprocal and, in best scenario, one feeds the other and vice versa.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

St. Elmo's Fire 20 Years Later -- 10 Thoughts

(and an apologia for not using consistent caps. seriously, it's okay ... just go with it.)

While watching St. Elmo's Fire -- 20-some years later -- 10 thoughts:

1. stalking and flirtation with date rape not as cute today.

2. the movie today would've ended when sheedy (now 48) realizes she loves mccarthy (48) -- not her decision to "be alone for a while". why did she dress as a doily-loving grandma?

3. andy mcdowell (now 52) taking off her coat in slow motion to reveal the black dress has nothing on her walking out of the cabin in the white wool sweater, jeans, and big boots. so many of my life decisions became clear watching that scene. when i didn't want to be lisa bonet (42), i wanted to be andy mcdowell.

4. rob lowe (now 46) - very pretty even when not faking the sax. too pretty? too pretty.

5. what these films -- judd nelson's character (now 50) plus alex p. keaton -- did for the Republican Party -- having raised up the same guys who didn't vote for Obama because they cling to the past and still wear pleat-front pants.

6. we've learned that total abandment of offspring is actually more confusing than being a weekend dad.

7. demi moore (now 48) and her husky voice -- was she a child chain smoker? to this day, i'll never forgive that husky voice, so husky it couldn't properly call "Luke! Luke!" so he could actually hear her in a General Hospital episode oh so long ago.

8. GH as slipping cultural reference point: I had a student by the last name of Devane who'd never HEARD of Anna Devane.

9. St. Elmo's Fire is a slipped cultural reference point... But the only scene I remembered vividly before watching the film again was the one where the blond woman (who wears bib-dresses and cardigans) and lowe are kissing and he discovers her girdle (translation: spanx)

10. but the theme song lives on ... easy listening...