the circular runner

Archive for the ‘writing’ Category

Running in Circles is moving…so come on along

In career, life, observations, Uncategorized, writing on January 14, 2013 at 8:00 am
moving sale sign

we’re not exactly selling anything–except good writing.

In case you didn’t see the previous post, my friends, this blog is a moving to a new spot.  It’s still all the neuroses you’ve come to expect, but it’s a newly designed site with a really new theme: reinvention.

Like I mentioned previously, you can only run so long in circles.  Sooner or later, you need to get moving towards something.  So, the new site is called re-Do or Die, and that’s what it’s about.  Just so you know, this very day, we have our first guest blogger, Joe Ponepinto, from Saturday Morning Post fame.  Joe is the editor of the Los Angeles Review, and he’s a friend of this blog.  Most importantly, he’s an up and coming fiction, and he’s got some inspirational words about re-inventing himself as a fiction writer.

Come on out and check out the post.  See you in my new diggs!

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we are packing it up

In career, life, writers & books, writing on January 12, 2013 at 5:00 am

210440-Royalty-Free-RF-Clipart-Illustration-Of-Retro-Black-And-White-Men-Carrying-A-Were-Moving-Sign

I’m moving sites, and I’m really hoping you will come along for the ride.

For over two years, I’ve been writing this blog, which kind of roamed free over a number of subjects, but the underlying theme was this idea of spinning my wheels and not going anywhere.  Hence, the name of the blog.  Eventually, as the great film, Shawshank Redemption, will remind you: you got get busy living or get busy dying.  I choose life.  I choose motion.  And hence, as a symbolic gesture, I’ve chosen to self-host a blog about reinvention defined broadly.

The new site is called, re-Do or Die.  As I mention in the description of that site, my hope is to chronicle this next year and my goals.  But I am also hopeful the new blog will be more of a dialogue than this blog has been.  I really do want to create a community of and for other reinventionists.

To that end, I’m going to have regular guest bloggers, and I’m going to try and get a little more interactive.  So, come along for the ride.  It should be fun.  At the very least, it should go somewhere, not just around and around.

how do you know if you’re a dreamer (the good-kind) or a dreamer (the loser-kind)?

In career, life, observations, Uncategorized, writing on December 24, 2012 at 6:00 am

img-thing

I sometimes wonder if the answer to this question is akin to that old saying that history is written by the winners.  If you’re not getting my drift here, then let me tell you a little story.  (If you have already received my drift and are thanking me for its wisdom, well, then my story is gravy–haha.)

OK, so about 8 years ago, a good year and a half before I met my wife, I was dating someone at work.  She was a lovely woman–an ex-ballroom dancer, intelligent, pretty, ambitious.  All good things.  I was living in Brooklyn at the time in a big shit hole with a good friend, but I was hating my office job.  I had an interview at a think tank in D.C. for a job heading their communications department.  I hated D.C., but I liked it more than my stupid job, so I was willing to entertain the idea of moving.  The woman I was dating, let’s just call her E., had been through a bad divorce a couple years before and was surprisingly supportive of my prospects.  As I’d later find out, these two things were connected.

At the time, I took E’s enthusiasm at face-value.  We’d been dating a few months, and it was nice that she’d be so happy for me.  But the enthusiasm was a little odd, if not in type then certainly in intensity.  It seemed almost personal.  Still, I tried not to suspect anything.

As it happened, E had an old friend in Baltimore, and she contacted him and asked if I could spend the night after my interview.  The friend, a slightly older man who had a family,  was gracious and offered me a home-cooked meal and a nice bed in his home.  All was great.  Great until we sat down for dinner.  That’s when he started in about E.  “She’s been hurt a lot, Gabe.”  I nodded.  “But E. is turning a corner.  She’s moving up the ladder at work.  She’s going to be really successful, Gabe.”  I smiled, agreeing.  E. was moving up the ladder.  Nothing unusual about the comment, though I have to say that I felt like he was lingering, seemingly waiting for me to say something.  What exactly, I had no idea.  It almost felt like I was her prom date getting interrogated by her father.  Which, as it turned out, was almost exactly what it was, because the very next comment brought into focus something I had suspected but did not want to face: E. wanted to move things along with me, but she wasn’t sure if I had the stuff.  And by stuff, I mean, earning potential.  I know this because the next thing out of this man’s mouth was a pointed: “E used to be a dreamer.  But she’s grown up.  She’s gotten past that silliness, Gabe.”  GIANT PAUSE.  “Have you?  Are you a dreamer?”

Over the next couple minutes, this man would go on to tell me how E. had mentioned numerous times how concerned she was about my wanting to write for a living–a concern she had never voiced before to me, though I knew she was not a fan of my stuff–“too dark, too depressing,” she used to say.

I guess I could have been angry.  I mean, we’d been dating for a couple months, and I was not looking to get married any time soon, so it was kind out of line for her to go and have this guy vet me.  But the truth is I wasn’t pissed.  I was hurt, actually.  And yet, at the same time, I was sure of what I needed to do.  I needed to break up with E.  I was never good at breaking things off with people, but the fact that E. just didn’t get me–because if she had gotten me, she never could’ve have doubted my intentions as a writer–made it easy for me.  I called her that night from the man’s home.  While lying on a pink, frilly comforter that I imagine belonged to the man’s daughter, I basically broke up with E.

All these years later, I’ve had a few little things happen with the writing, but I certainly haven’t broken through.  I can’t say I ever have felt a need to prove E. wrong about my earning potential as a writer.  My wife believes in me.  I’ve had some support from people I trust and respect.  The money, I still hope, will come.  The only unbeliever I have to deal regularly is myself.  Sometimes, I feel things are coming.  Lots of times, I have no idea.  I know that as an artist, this doubt, this constant back and forth between dreaming I can and the nightmare of failure is par for the course.  Hell, I’m not even sure what failure really means to me.

No. That’s not true–not exactly.  I know that failure really means giving up.  And if that is the case, then I have already won.  That’s right, dear E.  Regardless of how it goes for me, I have won because I won’t give up.  That history has already been written.

 

 

what my holy crotch taught me about writing

In career, life, observations, Uncategorized, writing on December 20, 2012 at 10:50 am
batman

holy crotches, Batman. I’m still reinventing myself.

Last week, I was getting ready for work, and I found a hole in my crotch.  (Don’t worry this is a PG post.) I went to my closet only to find out that all my jeans were in the wash.  I wasn’t about to don the slacks–I refuse to do that on two important grounds: 1. I like to be comfy when teaching and 2. I haven’t had to wear slacks in some time and I think I might not fit into any of them any more–a fact that would depress me, vain man that I am.

I basically had two choices: get a dirty pair of jeans out of the hamper or wear the jeans with the holy crotch, which I had put into the trash a few minutes before.  You might be horrified to know I pulled the holy jeans out of the unholy trash.  But there a 10-second rule on pulling jeans out of the trash–something equivalent to having food fall on the ground.  At least there should be.

I did have a third option, by the way: an old pair of black jeans, which I hadn’t worn in over eight years.  Did I ever think these mommy jeans were cool?  Did I not see the extra room in the crotch that made me look like I had a saggy diaper?  Did these very basic fashion issues get past me?  Was I coming off the 90s?    In the end, I stuck with my holy crotch pants, but not before I went through the pockets of my saggy-butt specials.  And now, here is the point of this story: I found a piece of paper with my writing on it–a list of sorts.  And on that list, number three was:

Re-invent yourself

This means that I have had this vague idea in my head for over eight years.  It’s odd how your memory works.  In my head, it’s as if that were a new thought.  I wake up thinking about it.  I write in this blog about it.  I probably talk to my wife too often about it.  But even so, it’s not a new idea.

How I have not realized this probably has to do with the fact that I keep trying new things, and in the last year and a half, the attempts at reinvention are coming faster and harder: novelist, short story writer, graphic novelist, flash fiction writer, scriptwriter, and now, scripts for commercials.  Oh yeah, blogs, too.  The only thing I haven’t tried to write are instruction manuals, video games, and street signs.  At this rate, it won’t be long until I get to some of those, as well, though I fear that my signs would be a little verbose.

I’m not sure what I think of these attempts at writerly reinvention are really leading to.  Is it better to sit on something for a long time and craft it out?  Or is it better to go where you will, to make stuff that’s as good as you can get it and then move on?  By nature, I think I prefer the latter, but I’m not sure if that’s me just going after immediate gratification.

I will say that finding that list shook me.  It makes me realize the importance of keeping a journal and actually reading past entries.  I wonder how that Gabe, the Gabe who actually liked his black mama jeans with the saggy bottoms would have felt if he’d known where I am now–all Old Navy Premium loos jeans and shit.  Would he be pleased or bummed?  And eight years from now, how will I be?  Will I still be looking for reinvention or will I be reinvented?  Will I be wearing mu loose jeans or, will I be wearing skinny jeans?  Scary thought.

Yoko-Ono-Fashions-for-Men

I guess there ARE worse things than black mommy jeans

Of course, I don’t know. And that’s just it: things always look so different when you’re in the process.  Whether it be mom-jeans that you used think looked good or a script that you thought was strong until you realized it wasn’t.  I guess that’s just life.  You keep evolving.  So maybe I don’t have to feel like a failure.  Maybe I will keep reinventing.  Maybe.  I just hope I won’t be wearing skinny jeans.

Writer Down, Mayday Mayday!

In career, Uncategorized, writing on December 10, 2012 at 7:30 am

A good friend of the blog, Joe Ponepinto, blogger extraordinaire and creative force behind The Saturday Morning Post, recently wrote a heartbreaking post about getting rejected.  I often write about rejection, but Joe’s post, which you should read, made me think some very sad thoughts.

Thanks a lot, Joe.  I’m not really looking for help when it comes to pessimism.

Kidding aside, because he is a good writer, Joe brought up concerns for me that any creative person should think about: what do you do when you get your heart broken by your art?  It’s hard to know what to do.  It’s hard to know if you should keep going, give up, or change something?  And as you get older, and the success does not come, the doubts grow exponentially.  And yet.  And yet.  I know Joe will keep writing, and he should.

It’s easy to say that and mean it when you’re talking about another person, but it can sometimes be almost impossible if you are having doubts about yourself.  I don’t know about you, but I know I have and do exaggerate how much of a hack I am.

So what to do?

I’m reminded of a bit I once saw Dennis Leary do.  Basically, he’s screaming that life just sucks, and that we need to get used to it–rejections and disappointments included.  As he says it, “life is hard, get a helmet.”  Yes, true enough.  But as funny as the bit is, it’s not so simple.  Life’s just hard sometimes, and there’s no helmet that’s going to do the trick.

what Walt Disney taught me about getting the job done

In career, humor, life, observations, Uncategorized, writing on December 5, 2012 at 5:01 am

It’s no secret that the secret to better writing is to put words on a page often and frequently.  (Yes, I now there’s some irony to what I just wrote.)  What’s also ironic is the fact that I seem to come to this conclusion every few months as if it were the first time.

Case in point: this past weekend, I applied for a Disney Living Worlds fellowship.  Or is it a grant?  Is there a difference?  Whatever it is, I applied for one.  I actually applied with two different projects.  It didn’t cost anything to apply, and there was no mention made as to a limit applications you could submit.  The really interesting thing for me is that I wrote both applications over the weekend.  These weren’t the most in-depth applications, I’ll admit. There were tight word limits, and basically, you had to explain what your project entailed and how you would incorporate multi-media into it.  Tight word limits can sometimes be more difficult because you really have to choose your words wisely.  You have to get to the point.

I’m not really sure I did a great job on these apps.  But what’s worth pointing out is that I just forced myself to get them done and turn them in.  In the end, I think that’s a lesson I’ve come late to.  There’s a quote, I think it’s Emerson.  I’m paraphrasing, but it’s something like,

“perfection is the enemy of progress.”

I’ve never done anything perfectly, but I know I’ve tried to make things so good that I’ve become paralyzed or overwhelmed or so frustrated that I have given up.  You need not look further than the hard drive of this computer, which has on it 3 versions of 2/3 of a novel, which I referenced in an earlier post. The novel was never going to be perfect.  Maybe it was never going to be good, for that matter.  But if I would have finished it, I could at least say I had a novel done and be free to move on to the next.

I know there are some who are going to argue that this is facile.

    • How do you know something is done?
    • There’s real value to sitting on something until it is as good as it can be.

To the question, I’d say that it’s done when you can’t think of anything else to do with it and when a trusted reader can’t come up with something that you think is valid.

And to the other point, DUH.

But at the same time, I’m reminded of a podcast interview I heard recently with Mark Duplass.  He’s a filmmaker, supposedly some hero of the mumblecore aesthetic.  That’s not that important. What was really cool about this podcast is that when asked about his process, Mr. Duplass basically said it’s all about being good enough.  It’s not about being perfect.  It’s about giving it your best and then moving on.  Mr. Duplass, where was your wisdom when I was struggling that beast, AKA, my novel?

So, my application this weekend.  Hey, I’m not saying it was genius.  But I had a goal of getting that thing in, and I did it.  And I’m feeling good about that.  I’m not going to let myself think I could have done better if I’d taken more time.  I’m not gonna.  And neither should you.  Go out there and get shit done.  Done, being the much more important word than shit, by the way.

 

1 lesson for writing and life: simple is good…

In career, media, Uncategorized, writing on December 3, 2012 at 5:30 am

Last week, I joked that even though I knew in my heart of hearts that simple was the way to go, I was unable to comply.

Well the Gods of Simplicity heard my little joke, and they decided to make their case once more, just a tad more forcefully.  Below, is a link to a very wonderful little film.  It’s two minutes.  There isn’t a lot to it, and still, for my money, it packs quite a punch.  It’s lyrical.  It’s wonderful, in the true sense of the word, as in, it’s full of wonder.  And I know I feel this way in large part because it is just…it’s just…I can admit it, because it’s so damn simple.

Gloam from We Are The Forest on Vimeo.

It’s not a good idea to compare yourself to others, but comparisons, of done correctly,  can lead to better ways of doing things.  After seeing this short, I am filled with the desire to craft something this small and wonderful, but as in life, I tend to complicate things art.  I know that if I were the filmmaker in charge, I would worry that I didn’t put enough in, that my viewer would get bored or not get the message.  Actually, come to think about it, I wouldn’t even let myself do something this small and open-ended.

There’s a real talent to keeping things small without also being vague, and the filmmakers achieve this.  And though I’m not a natural at the whole simple thing, and thuogh I’m not promising I’ll learn the lesson and apply it my life, as an artist, I will keep at it.

If you want to know more about David Elwell and Gareth Hughes, the filmmakers, check out this article on The Atlantic. These guys are really worth following.

an early new year’s resolution: SIMPLIFY, SIMPLIFY, SIMPLIFY

In career, humor, life, observations, Uncategorized, writers & books, writing on November 28, 2012 at 4:45 am

Who’s kidding who?  I’m not going to do that.  I’m genetically programmed for complex.  I like hard.  I am unsuited for calmness.

Some of this is hyperbolic, of course.  I am not a complete nutjob.  But I do have a habit of choosing difficult things.  As a kid, I decided to be a violinist–yes, a professional violinist.  More specifically, I had this idea that I’d be a soloist.  If you can’t quite imagine what that means, I would liken my chosen career path to wanting to be a professional athlete, but not just any professional.  Being a soloist is like being the top player in your sport, the Michael Jordan, the Pele, the Lance Armstrong without the doping.

You might be thinking this is impressive on my part.  Please don’t make that mistake.  I started seriously practicing at about the age of 16–soloists usually start when they are 4.  I didn’t have a great ear, either.  I practiced like the dickens, it’s true. I can say this without exaggeration: from the age of 16 to about 23, I might have missed 5 days total in the practice room.  But the truth is that I was not smart about practicing.  I was a grunter.  I was all about effort.  I took pride in how hard I worked and not in how good I sounded.

True, I got decent eventually.  By the time I stopped playing, I was good enough to gig for a living in LA.  My last year in LA, I played more Korean weddings, Jewish high holiday parties–more pick-up gigs for more local orchestras than I can tell you.  Basically, by the time I stopped playing, I was…ok.

Did I mention I had gnarly stage fright?

My need to strive beyond my talents did not stop with the violin. As a writer, I felt the same kind of calling.  I let my need for complexity cloud my judgment.  For four years, I put in hour after hour on the computer working on a novel that I didn’t have the chops to write.  I was reading The Corrections at the time and Kesey’s Sometimes a Great Notion, was rattling around my cranium.  In fact, I was trying to channel these big books as I wrote my own “big” book about a group of caretakers looking after an autistic man the year his elderly mother was dying.

Did I mention that I had some Salman Rushdie magical realism mixed in with some elements of Sound and the Fury.

I am no Faulkner…I know, you are surprised!

YES, dear reader.  WTF?  This “masterpiece” was my first attempt at a novel.  I probably could have written three novels in that amount of time if I’d just kept it simple.  I’m not saying they would have been great novels, but by just getting through a whole thing, I would have learned a lot more than writing and re-writing and tri- and quad-writing the same 2/3 of that thing.  I mean I got into writing after reading Raymond Carver and Richard Yates and Somerset Maugham and Graham Greene.  I still think they are great writers, but they are not extremely sophisticated, uber clever writers like Rushdie and Faulkner.

Did I mention that I am neither clever nor sophisticated?

an author with the skills to be complicated.

Did I mention that I have come to the conclusion in middle age that I am not exceptional?  Oh, you know that already, don’t you?

I tell you all this because I am doing it again–at least, I fear I am.  In January, I’m moving away from this site, packing up the verbal luggage and moving over to a wordpress.org self-hosted thingamajig.  Why, you ask?

I have decided I want to try and focus on something in my blog-writing.  More details will come over the next few weeks.  It’s enough to say that I have been learning the HTML and reading up about traffic and blog structure and some other tech-craziness.  I’m enjoying it, but I’m nervous I’m being complicated to keep myself from really doing the hard work of digging in.

And yet, and yet, I feel alive.  The great Joe Ponepinto, whose blog is very cool and worth a look, recently mentioned in a comment that I should just follow my bliss.  And maybe that’s the thing: I bliss out doing shit the hard way.  I don’t know if it will be good for the writing career, but I think there’s something to this strategy.  Let’s see.  I’m just hoping some of you will come over with me to the new site.  Come on!  It’ll be different, but I promise I will fill those posts with the same kind of neurotic-complex-loving love I show here.

That’s a promise.

a rejection letter to be thankful for…

In career, Uncategorized, writing on November 26, 2012 at 10:29 am

I am not one to be thankful when it comes to writing.  Even when I get published somewhere, the euphoria only lasts so long.  Soon enough, I’m starting down that sad, useless road of comparisons.  If, by chance, you are not a writer/artist of the neurotic persuasion, this road is full of distracting signposts along the way. Ones that tell you that of course you got your story into X or Y magazine.  X or Y are not The New Yorker.  They aren’t even some top lit mag like The Missouri Review or Zoetrope.  X or Y magazine aren’t good; in fact, they are desperate.  As the road keeps going, you see another signpost: if X is a print-only mag, the next signpost tells you that you are never going to get read by the piddly few readers who actually subscribe.  If Y-Mag is web-only, the next signpost on the road tells you to turn off and cry because you aren’t good enough to get into print.

You get the idea, I think.

It might be a sign of where I am now; perhaps I have learned to ignore these unhelpful signs along the way.  But that’s unlikely. Still, just a couple days ago, I received a lovely email from the editor of The Fairy Tale Review, a mag that is especially open to the kind of fantastical (not to be confused with fantasy) fiction I tend to write.  I am going to quote the complete note here because…oddly enough, I’m proud of it:

Dear Mr. Martinez,

Please forgive this atrocious lag in response time. FTR is a small operation – my pair of eyes only!, unless you include my glasses, of course. Whereas I absolutely loved your story (I read your submission many times and found it more and more sophisticated and smart with every read!), sadly, we are going to have to pass on it right now. Please understand that this decision has nothing to do with the quality of your writing. I have struggled to create the most balanced and delicate issue, which means making impossibly difficult decisions, heartbreaking ones, such as not taking your story. Please please please consider submitting to us again in the future!

Yours, with admiration,
Lily

This isn’t about bragging.  It’s just to share a nice point of light in what can sometimes seem like the bleak silence of putting words on the page.  How many days/weeks/years do artists toil in obscurity?  The hardest part for me is not the work.  It’s the sense that no one aside from your friends and family think your art is worth a two-penny damn.  How can you know–really know–if you haven’t hit it with readers/publishers/agents because you just haven’t found your way OR because you just suck.

The answer, the sad sad sad answer is that YOU do not know.  You just write/paint/sing and you put yourself out there.  And then, you wait.  AND wait. And wait some more.  But sometimes you get a nice email, and you add some hope to all the wait.

Here’s hoping!

ps. if you want to read the very short fairy tale, check out my portfolio site:

1 scary idea writers should avoid, though I can’t…

In career, humor, life, observations, Uncategorized, writing on November 21, 2012 at 4:21 am

Recently, I have spent hours figuring out how to put columns into my posts.  I like the magazine look of…uh, magazines.  But I am a bit of a dunderhead, and so instead of learning to do it the proper way, I hack my way through some short code plug-ins and spend a lot of time–not sure why–struggling to make my posts not look like shite.

Now, from the last sentence, you might have noticed that I am spending a little too much time reading web-shite.  I never before this post have used the word, “hack,” at least not in verb-form.  I have used the word in it’s more writerly sense–as in, I don’t want to be a hack-writer who uses jargon unnecessarily because that would be…uh, hack-writing, which is very different from the idea of hacking my way through this blog, which could either refer to my sawing through something, like your patience, dear reader, or finding a workable solution.

Jesus.  I need to get out more often.  I say this, though I do not think I will get out more often because I am working my butt off trying to figure out how I can make money–more money.  And this is what the problem is.  Why am I not writing more?

Lately, I’ve come to this scary idea: what if I am not writing more because I don’t really want to be a writer?  What if, in fact, I’d rather spend my time figuring out how to make blogs look cool?  Or what if I’d rather figure out how to connect all the strangds of social media for clients, like what I am doing, or trying to do, for my writing career?

Don’t I want to write books? You know, I’m not sure I do.  I don’t obsess about books or writing.  In all honesty, if you asked me what I am obsessed about, I’d say there are two things: 1. design and 2. making more money.

Weird things to admit considering I am a writer.

So what’s going on?  Am I finding myself?  Have I just drunk some strange brew of Bay Area tech-coolaid?  Or, something else?

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