poking the envy

This past weekend, I went to a screening of the film, Poser, an indie feature produced by and featuring artists and musicians from Columbus, Ohio.

First, I have to say, I was blown away by the film. It was truly impressive and one of the most original things I’ve seen on screen in quite a while.

Seeing the film did provide the slightly jarring experience of being transported, both to a scene adjacent to the one I came from and to a time when my life was a little more colorful.

The scenes featured in Poser were strikingly similar to people I knew, shows I went to, and moments from my own life (although not nearly as dark and twisted at the film itself). I walked into a theater in Los Angles in the year 2022, the lights went down, and suddenly I was running around Columbus, Ohio sometime in the early 2010s.

While I was sufficiently inspired by the film and its music, the experience did stoke something else in me: envy.

Seeing a film–a really good film–shot and produced just up the highway from my hometown, depicting an outsider trying to permeate the local music scene (a feeling I’m well acquainted with), made me ask myself repeatedly: “Why didn’t I make this movie?

One of the parts I like least about myself is my tendency for comparison. I have a habit of reading books, seeing movies, and listening to music, only to ask myself, “Why did I make that?” I find myself measuring my work against my peers, a task proves to be exhausting. All this achieves is amplifying my own insecurity.

I try to remind myself to stay humble, to be happy for the success of others ,and recognize I’m walking my path and no one else’s. I often turn Anthony Raneri’s “Letter to My Younger Self” in these moments, in which he says:

Do your own thing. Be the flame and not the moth.

You are going to watch band after band jumping on a bandwagon, following a trend and taking the easiest route. They are going to appear seemingly out of nowhere and pass you by. They will form, sell more records, draw more tickets and make more money than you in less time than it took you to get your first record deal. And then they will go away.

The most valuable lesson that I have learned is that it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter because they will go away. It doesn’t matter because they are doing what they do and you are doing what you do and one has nothing to do with the other. You are going to get angry and jealous of bands, of other men and anyone who’s got it better than you. You’ve got it good.

Don’t waste your energy hating anyone or anything. It will only make you miserable.

I’ve found the trick becomes funneling my envy into inspiration, taking the parts that stoked such energy and enthusiasm in you, then finding your own version of those things. Take what you can use, leave the rest behind.

Art isn’t a competition. As Seanan McGuire says, “Don’t let anyone tell you, ever, that this is a zero-sum game. Your genius does not threaten me. It delights and inspires me.” (And believe me, there’s a fair amount of genius at work in Poser.)

Ultimately, you won’t make the things that make you jealous, but no one else is going to make what you make either.

And now for something entirely different: One of the best parts of Poser was the phenomenal soundtrack, featuring Damn The Witch Siren, wyd, Joey Aich, Z Wolf, and a whole stable of Columbus musicians.

Linklater on time

Linklater has been one of my favorite filmmakers for some time now. From Dazed and Confused to The Before Trilogy, School of Rock to Boyhood, Linklater has always managed to capture youthful enthusiasm in tandem with the human experience of navigating time.

While I’d always enjoyed his films, it wasn’t until I saw Kogonada’s video essay on The Before Trilogy (created just prior to Boyhood‘s release) that Linklater’s genius really struck me.

In a recent interview for The Award Chatter Podcast with Scott Feinberg, Linklater expanded upon his exploration of time:

If you get really close to organic storytelling of all of our lives, they’re all based on time…I always saw it as a structuring device.

How do you count you own life? By events, by your age. You know, we’re all living through our own epic. And I just find time structures more interesting than plot devices.

This is something that’s always fascinated me as well, particularly as I’m someone who might be a “calendar synesthetic.” I’ve always measured time in songs, in colored circles, in stickered notebooks, and creative seasons, both with regard to input and output. The events of life fill in around these things, adding shape and texture to an already colorful spasm of days, weeks, months, and years.

I suppose to hear Linklater discuss how own perception of time with regard to narrative is validating. It reminds me of the scene in Pixar’s Soul, in which one character tells another a joke:

I heard this story about a fish. He swims up to this older fish and says, “I’m trying to find this thing they call the ocean.” “The ocean?” says the older fish. “That’s what you’re in right now.” “This?” says the young fish. “This is water. What I want is the ocean.”

Every so often, it’s nice to engage with a work of art that recognizes the water for the ocean.

Creative wishlist: Linklater makes a film or TV series baed on Jennifer Egan’s A Visit From The Goon Squad.

sharing your thoughts

An old friend came to visit me this weekend.

Not only was it a joyous time spent catching up and reminiscing, but also a lesson in one of the primary drawbacks of living alone: the importance of sharing your thoughts with someone.

I moved into a one-bedroom apartment nine months ago. This is the first time in my life I’ve lived alone and while I’ve thoroughly enjoyed watching TV whenever I want, leaving my dishes in the sink, and not having to negotiate taking out the trash, there are times when coming home to an empty apartment stokes a smoldering loneliness in me.

I’ve maintained a healthy creative practice, continuing to write daily, make collages, paint landscapes and abstracts, and pump out even more acoustic covers of songs I love. However, there’s much of this work that feels muddled and stifled. I’ve struggled lately with a sense of malaise that must be cut through before creating.

Catching up with this friend (who happens to have once been a roommate) served as a stark reminder of how important it is to share your thoughts with someone. Since living alone, I don’t frequently communicate what I’m thinking to people on a day-to-day basis, and as a result, can sense this in my art.

Instead of taking the time to put my observations and ideas into words for the sake of sharing in conversation, these unspoken thoughts often end up rolling back into my head, untouched and unknowable, even to me.

This certainly isn’t to say every thought is worth sharing, but I do think process of refining one’s thoughts for the sake of articulating them is important.

Of course, writing serves as one way to do this too. (As William Faulkner once said, “I never know what I think about something until I read what I’ve written on it.”) But I suppose I’m pointing to the ways we engage in small conversations that allow us to process our lives; things like talking about the music we’re listening to, the movies we’re watching, the food we’re eating, even just the daily experiences of being a person in the world.

This is one of the reasons we need other people, even if just for the purpose of discovering our own thoughts.

See Also: Great conversations with my roommates, including why failure is awesome, making your home a playground, the importance of putting yourself on the hook, and that time Landry from Friday Night Lights killed a guy.

some assembly required

Maya Angelou famously said, “There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.”

I’ve been feeling this agony a lot lately. I simply have too many ideas and must often decide what’s worth putting on paper and what isn’t. After finishing Oliver Burkeman’s Four Thousand Weeks: Time Management for Mortals, I’m especially aware of the fact that I can’t and won’t ever manifest all of these ideas. Therefore, the decision of which ideas I spend my time on becomes infinitely more difficult.

The process makes this difficult as well, as I can’t simply churn out a story in one sitting (see my gradual disillusionment with Kerouac). Stories come in pieces, little bits at a time that need to be assembled as they’re generated. This is the purpose of revision. Revision is nothing more than the assembling of various parts of a story.

Stories come in pieces and have to be assembled. This is the process. This is the work.

be findable

Over two years ago now, I hosted a reading of a play. For obvious reasons, that play never went into production.

I spent two years twiddling my thumbs, telling myself my play would get produced “as soon as all this ended,” and taking solace in the wisdom of George S. Kauffman, whose Broadway debut was interrupted by the 1918 Spanish Flu Pandemic. (After being trashed by critics, Kauffman rather glibly suggested the best way to avoid crowds was to come see his play.)

a public reading of my play, All Stations Distress — January 2020

As the world continues to dust itself off and slump towards something resembling normal, I find myself frustrated by the lack of progress with regards towards this particular play. As with so many things, the pandemic robbed this project of its momentum. It’s only now that I’m trying to generate that momentum again.

As Austin Kleon (yes, him again) says in his book, Show York Work, “You don’t really find an audience for your work; they find you. But it’s not enough to be good. In order to be found, you have to be findable.”

With that in mind, I’ve put All Stations Distress out in the world, although maybe not how you’d expect. The script is available at both The Playwright’s Center and The National New Play Exchange. There aren’t actors or costumes or set pieces, but putting the script out there is a leap of faith, a radical act of hope that someone out there may read the story I’ve written and decide it needs to be brought to life.

After all, what’s the point of making work if you’re not going to share it?

what I’ve been up to

It’s been a little while. Things have been crazy for me lately and as a result, things like posting here have fallen by the wayside.

Here’s a list of things I’ve been up to and a few observations I’ve made:

  • playing in a church band
    • Ever notice how musicians refer to pieces of sheet music at “charts?” I love this vernacular, as though the sheet music is a map, leading the reader on a voyage to parts unknown.
  • directing a short film I wrote
    • When creating on a large scale, building the infrastructure around you is as important as anything else. Surround yourself with people capable of helping you orchestrate accidents, capable of finding and handling magic. Look for like-hearted individuals with whom you want to march into battle.
    • Sometimes, the sole reason for finishing a creative project is so you can come out on the other side and say, “Oh, now I know I can do that!”
    • Little miracles occur when you’re focused on building a community of people to collaborate with.
from my short film “We All Say God,” featuring Will Rothaar
  • crafting an idea for a novel
    • Write the thing that terrifies you. Go to the personal place, to the darkest corners of your experience. Shine a light on what lives there. These may be the only things worth writing about.
  • researching and drafting a play I’ve been mulling for seven years
    • Ideas are like fruit: they need to ripen. Sometimes, you’re not always the person capable of capturing the idea you have. You need to work, to languish, to change, to grow into the person capable of channeling the idea before you. My biggest creative accomplishment over the last two years is the work I’ve done on myself.

Also, some worthwhile reading and watching I’ve done:

  • Eleven Rings: The Soul of Success by Phil Jackson– an insightful spiritual guide through NBA Coach Phil Jackson’s career with the Chicago Bulls and LA Lakers. This was an invaluable resource as I prepared to direct my short, as I wanted to craft a spiritual centeredness and sense of presence on set.
  • Winning Time: The Rise of The Lakers Dynasty — I’ve been on a basketball kick, can’t you tell? Some dynamite writing, directing, and acting. Incredible technique, some first-rate breaking of the fourth wall, and a story that’ll get your blood pumping.
  • The Fairly Odd Parents — sometime, you just need to get stoned and watch cartoons, ya know? I’m amazing how well this series from my childhood has aged, with jokes that still land, life lessons I didn’t even know I was getting, and some of the best opening title music out there.
  • The Shadow Club and The Shadow Club Rising by Neal Shusterman — two more flashbacks to my upbringing. These YA novels from Neal Shusterman stuck with me for years. It’s only after rereading these books for the first time since junior high that I realized how profoundly they shaped my outlook on the world.

dance to your own music

I was at a party recently where a professional DJ was curating the music on the dance floor.

He wasn’t a particularly good DJ. No one seemed to be into what he was playing.

It didn’t matter though: he was the most excited person in the room. He danced to his own music. He waved his hands. He clapped. He whopped and hollered.

“He’s not very good at this,” a friend of mine said.

“Maybe,” I replied. “But he’s also really excited about his music. And that’s something…”

After a little while, people started to dance. This made the DJ even more excited, which made the people on the dance floor excited. It became a feedback loop of joy. After a little while, the whole room was dancing.

Sometimes, you’ve gotta dance to your own music. Be patient. Give it a little time. The right people with join in, but only if you’re dancing first.

See also: If you don’t hang up your own artwork, how can you ask anyone else to do so?

tomorrow

I recently stumbled upon a letter E.B. White wrote in response to another man’s despair and loss of faith in humanity:

Dear Mr. Nadeau:

As long as there is one upright man, as long as there is one compassionate woman, the contagion may spread and the scene is not desolate. Hope is the thing that is left to us, in a bad time. I shall get up Sunday morning and wind the clock, as a contribution to order and steadfastness.

Sailors have an expression about the weather: they say, the weather is a great bluffer. I guess the same is true of our human society — things can look dark, then a break shows in the clouds, and all is changed, sometimes rather suddenly. It is quite obvious that the human race has made a queer mess of life on this planet. But as a people we probably harbor seeds of goodness that have lain for a long time waiting to sprout when the conditions are right. Man’s curiosity, his relentlessness, his inventiveness, his ingenuity have led him into deep trouble. We can only hope that these same traits will enable him to claw his way out.

Hang on to your hat. Hang on to your hope. And wind the clock, for tomorrow is another day.

Sincerely,
E. B. White

I love this sentiment: tomorrow is another day. Tomorrow, we can be new again.

Years and years ago now, I went to a Twenty One Pilots show. They were a three piece act making noise in the local music scene. A friend of mine had send me their demo, which had profoundly impacted me.

back when Twenty One Pilots was three guys ripping up the local scene

After the show, I went up to Tyler Joseph and told him, “Your songs saved my life, man.” He got quiet and asked me if I was okay. I told him I was. He looked at me and said, “The beautiful thing about the morning is, it’s a chance to start over. You get to be new again.”

Here’s to tomorrow. Here’s to the morning. Here’s to being new again.

studio time

One of my favorite conversations ever took place in a donut shop on a fall afternoon.

I was there with a musician friend of mine. We drank coffee and ate donuts and talked about creating stuff.

I told him I was jealous of him. I’d always wanted to be a musician because I loved the idea of “studio time.” I wanted to spend time in a designated creative space where you play and make things and fool around with your collaborators in the pursuit of an idea. I suppose this picture in my head came from the “Fallen From The Sky” sequence in the film, Once.

“But dude,” he shot back. “You’re a writer. The whole world is your studio…”

Amen.

something to lose

I’ve spent a good amount of the last few weeks trying to hold it together. This seems to be the case for most of us these days.

Something I’ve found distressing in the midst of it all has been my inability to engage with certain media. Watching TV is often difficult, despite the fact it’s a medium I want to work in. The same is true of watching movies. So often, the things most people use to relax stoke anxiety in me. They feel like work.

Reading fiction frequently stokes this feeling as well. It’s difficult to pick up a novel and turn off the noise in my head long enough to really engage with what’s happening in someone else’s.

Non-fiction has become a quasi-remedy for this, as it’s a form in which I have no aspirations. Chewing on a 10,000 view of the Marvel comics canon or medical findings regarding near-death experiences offers me a moment’s peace because it’s harder to find myself in these things.

I was listening to an episode of The Moment with Brian Koppelman the other day, in which Joseph Gordon-Levitt expressed a similar feeling.

“I read non-fiction books now,” he says. “That’s what holds my interest. The last few books I read were like, a history book, a macroeconomics book, and a science book. And I find them fascinating. They’re page turners for me. And I try to open up a novel and it usually loses my interest. What the fuck is going on with me?”

Brian Koppelman responds immediately with some profound insight.

Brian Koppelman

“Fiction, when you allow it to, fucks your shit up,” he says. “As you get older and you have children and you have things you can lose, the stakes are so great…Fiction is about death. That’s just what fiction is about. And so, it forces you to be willing to grapple with what matters in the deepest places, where it’s really so primal and almost beyond intellectualizing…[Fiction] is the grown mechanism. And growth is painful.”

“It’s easier to read nonfiction because you get to be smart,” Koppelman continues. “When you read nonfiction, it’s like, ‘Oh, this is grown-up stuff, I’m able to be smart.’ The truth is that’s not the grown-up stuff. The grown-up stuff’s the other stuff.”

The conversation then pivots to Camus’s The Stranger, a book Koppelman cites as one that touches a primal place.

Koppelman: The Stranger is the best. Go read The Stranger. It’s a really good time to read Camus.

Gordon-Levitt: I mean, I read it when I was probably twenty or something like that.

Koppelmen: Oh, yeah. It’s different at forty.

Gordon-Levitt: I bet…

Koppelman: Read it at forty.

This conversation speaks to my own reading experiences, as I’ve discussed on several occasions that sixteen was far too early to read The Great Gatsby. It was impossible for me to comprehend the weight of delusion, the sheer magnitude of the emotion, and the profound tragedy of a book like Gatsby so young. Despite all the posturing, no sixteen-year-old has the depth of soul for that book. It’s different for me now, at thirty. Just as I imagine it will be different again at forty.

But what strikes me most about this conversation is the sense that my shying away from fiction means I’ve woken up inside. I’ve reached a level of emotion I didn’t know was coming. I’ve assessed that my life means something, that I’m holding on for dear life during these turbulent times, that maybe I know now I’ve got something to lose.