the circular runner

Posts Tagged ‘art’

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.


the two-hours of crazy, aka., my writing time

In career, life, observations on September 10, 2012 at 5:54 am


It’s not unusual.  I know this.  But I’m still struggling to figure it out.  How can I get myself writing as soon as I get out of the house?

Let me backtrack.

I do not–not usually–write at home.  (I am currently sitting in my kitchen, though I’d rather not be.)  I’ve always been this way, but until recently, it has always been by choice.  Now, with a baby, it’s a necessity if I’m to get anything done.  My wife is wonderful and understanding, but there’s just something about my typing at the computer that says to her: he can help me.  I can’t help her.  I mean, I want to help. I certainly don’t want to be that lame kind of husband/father who isn’t available.  But the writer needs to write. Know what I’m sayin’?  This need makes me feel a little guilty, and that guilt, in turn, drives me to do the groceries and cook meals and wash dishes and scrub the bathroom (pretty regularly).  I do this to help.  But I also do this because I feel bad for stealing a couple hours every day to write in loud coffee houses.  I like, no, I love loud coffee houses.  The noise somehow focuses me–sort of.

On average, I find it takes me a good 30-45 minutes to focus in and start writing.  I want to check the Twits, read an article or two about God-knows-what.  I long for a day, a whole day of overpaying for multiple coffees as I spend hour after hour in dimly lit rooms, lost to the muffle of my headphones, which often are not playing anything at all. But, alas, I get two hours and I am thankful for them.

I try to make the most of my time, but the truth is, sometimes I just can’t get to work until I use some of it to do nonsense.  There’s something of a procrastinator in me.  I admit it.  But I’ve come to think of procrastination as a result of something, not a cause.  Fear is at work.  I look at the list of things I want to get done: look for some publications for some new stories, read over the last chapter of my graphic novel, write something new.  It doesn’t matter what it is.  I get a tight stomach and a little nervous–not bad nervous, maybe excited is the word–and the nervousness can sometimes overwhelm me a little.  Too many steps.  Too many things to do.  I want to run.  I want to escape. I start wondering what the point to this stuff is.  I should spend this time with the kid and my wife.  What are all these little things I’m working on leading to?  Why am I doing this? What’s the point?

And then, about 45 minutes in, I trick myself into starting.  I give myself a reward, a cookie, a bite of chocolate or a High-Chew, if only I start.  I can do any of the things on my list; I don’t have to start with the hardest thing.  And then, I’m in.  I’ve transitioned to creative-time. I’m happy. I’m free.  At least I am for the hour I still have.  And then, a little sadly, I pack everything up and I’m off to work or back to the flat to hang with The Boy.

Is this sane?  I don’t know.  I’m heartened that I least I do get something done each day.  But Jesus, it would be so much easier if I could just sit down and get to the list as soon as the tattooed young’n hands me my overpriced caffeine.  That’d be great, and I’d also be thinner.  Those pieces of chocolate are staring to add up.


cause it’s hard out here for a p…, i mean, reader

In career, life, media, Uncategorized, writers & books, writing on August 20, 2012 at 5:11 am

It’s a chilly night here in San Francisco, and I spent the evening catching up on some good old blogging-goodness.  Specifically, I came across a lovely post at Blood Ink Diary about books, owning them, reading them, not lending them–basically, loving them.  So if you love books, too,  I suggest you read the post.

As for me, I should’ve just enjoyed the prose and the message.  But I often do not do what I should do, and as I snuggled against my fleece blanket (I think San Francisco thinks it’s in the southern hemisphere), and read the post, I felt a shiver that was not caused by the fact that I live in a town that summer forgot.  Part shame, part remembrance of things lost would be the best way to describe what I was feeling.  The first because at some point as I’ve tried to write and write and get that writing out there, I’ve forgotten the power of great words, of slow-moving words for words’ sake.  It’s been months that I’ve read a book for joy.  A good half-year since I’ve read a long work of fiction.  Why?  It’s like I’ve become some kind of puritan who pooh-poohs the novel for its lack of “usefulness”.  Sure, my pilgrim brethren didn’t read books about branding and social media campaigns instead of reading fiction, but they dismissed the novel and the poem because they could not see the point to reading anything that didn’t build the soul–aka, scriptures.  Idle hands are bad enough, but an idle mind taking in words over the novel-version of the boob-tube, that was just too much.

It’s cliche, and I’ve already said a million times in this blog, but the Catch-22 of loving words enough that you actually want to string some along in new and weird ways for some imagined group of readers demands that you not do that creating very often.  It demands that you do a lot of selling, of yourself, of your concepts, and maybe, your body, which wouldn’t be bad except that I’m married–sorry ladies.

It’s an impossible situation.  That’s right, Joseph Heller, your little war book is nothing compared to the dilemma of the modern writer.  I was going to say that we writers trade our creative time for money so that we can write more words.  But the truth is that it’s not only the time; it’s also the head space.  To create, to dig the foundation of our imaginary worlds, one has to be kind of pure-minded.  You gotta be focused on the story, not on what that book might do for your wallet after it’s done.

I think that’s why the post I referred to above shamed me a little bit.  Its author is devoted to the words inside all those lovely books on her shelf.  She doesn’t care if they are useful or practical or if they fit the world and its ideas about utility.  A great book focuses the mind, and if you allow me a moment of operatic hyperbole, it focuses the soul.  The same is true of the writing process, of course.  And that’s what I have to remind myself of.  No matter what happens with career or my lack thereof, I cannot forget.  I cannot.

does the D in DIY stand for delusional?

In humor, life, media, writers & books, writing on June 14, 2012 at 10:15 pm

Last night, while trying to raise money for my GED graduates, I got into a conversation with a friend.  It was loud at the bar, but not loud enough to stop what is basically the same conversation I have with this friend.  It foes something like this: he tells me he hates his job; he wants to make money doing what he wants to do; i agree; i like teaching, but i want to also make money telling stories.  The conversation ends with us looking into each others’ eyes and asking: but how can we monetize what we like to do?  It’s almost romantic, wouldn’t you say?

But last night, we took on a new theme–one I’ve been thinking about for some time.  I’ve really been getting into the idea of late that with the amazing technologies all around us, artists can get their work out to people without the aid of big distribution mechanisms (JESUS, I sound like a damn MBA student).  But one thought that comes to me as I try to design my plan to get my stories out in the world is this: what stops me from putting out shite that has no value?  It’s a wonderful world where we can all go out into the world and get some money from a Kickstarter campaign, but even if you do get some very nice strangers to fund your romantic comedy about a vegan zombie with a heart of gold, does that mean you should make said movie?  Are you kidding yourself?  How would you know?

I’ve come across two other writers who have tackled this theme today:

1. The Girl in the Hat has a post that bounces up against the same question.  As always, she writes from her own experience and does so with humor.  The only problem with her is that she’s one of those talented writers who writes about not writing well while she actually writes super well.  So, if you’re wondering if you write well, you might not feel so well after you read her entertaining post.  Oh well, get over it.  Go read her.

2. The other writer who tackles the question of self-awareness and writing is Jack Hitt. He has a new book called, A Bunch of Amateurs.  The book isn’t about artists; it’s really about inventors of all sorts.  Since I think artists are inventors of a sort, I think the book is a fit.  I heard Mr. Hitt on the radio speaking about his book, and someone asked him how you could tell the difference between a genius and a hack, and his answer stays with me.  He basically said, you almost never can know for sure.

Great.  So I will keep writing, knowing that I might very well suck it or not.  History is told by the victors.  Take that, Haters of the World.  I will write my Zombie Rom Com and maybe just maybe it will be the next Titanic.  (Irony intended.)


The Life & Death of a Short Film–my first short film…

In media, observations, Uncategorized, writing on March 5, 2012 at 6:19 am

OK, here’s something you’ve never heard before: making a movie is hard and it’s expensive.

That’s all I got for you.  That’s really all I need to say on the matter, and if it wasn’t for the fact that this is a blog and by nature, I’m verbose (which is why I have a blog), I would leave it there.  But well, I’m here, you’re here, so let’s talk.

I made a 9 minute movie and I got it shown at the Castro Theater here in San Francisco on Saturday.  Getting the movie to show is not as big a deal as it sounds.  I joined something called Scary Cow, which is a film collective that allows people to pitch a movie idea, find a crew, and get something on film.  You have to pay a monthly fee, but in addition to access to a crew, your money goes toward funding future projects.  Anyone in the collective can get her movie to play as long as it’s under 10 minutes and uses Scary Cow members.  If the film places (the screening is also a competition) then you get money for your next project.  It’s a good system and it allows for beginners like me to get involved in film.

I loved the process though it’s exhausting.  Not only did I pull two crazy days in January filming, I then had to spend countless hours with an editor finding out I didn’t get all the shots I needed or the sound for the shots I did have.  If you watch the movie, which I hope you will, click here for your filmic enjoyment , you will see that I ended the movie in what I would call Gray’s Anatomy style. I.e., I ended with a montage of images accompanied by music supplied by my very talented friend, Brent Newcomb.  Great song, but I sapped it of its charms by making it play along to the sappy images of reconciliation.  Oh well.  This is what you do when you have to.  By the way, what makes the good writers of Gray’s Anatomy inflict the montage-sappy song combo on us?

The hardest part of the film making process happened this weekend.  Harder than the writing of the script, the auditioning of actors, the filming or even the editing, is the screening.  Overall, it went well.  I have caught the bug of screenwriting.  I knew even in November when I wrote the script that I loved the format.  I like collaborating. I like working toward realizing a vision in concrete detail that goes beyond the page, that’s as complicated as any moment in life.  Description through words on the page only has always been my undoing as a fiction writer.  Sometimes I hit the mark, but usually, I feel myself bloating the language when I try to describe in detail and do so aesthetically.  You have to be detailed in scriptwriting, but if it’s not being said, you don’t have to be pretty or artistic.

Aside from the pleasure of writing for the human voice, there is the pleasure of sitting with an audience and having them get what you wrote.  With only one exception, I can report that the audience on Saturday laughed when I hoped it would.  It’s communication, I guess.  The feeling of connection.  AWESOMENESS!!

That’s the positive side of the experience, but then there is the competition.  I never intended for my movie to win anything.  I went in with the idea that I would learn from the experience and nothing more.  I learn best by breaking eggs, and I broke plenty on this film.  But then you get to the screening and you see the other films and you think, hey, my film is ok.  I think I can say that in my division (those movies made my unfunded newbies like myself) The Unfortunate Brother held it’s own; t’s a real story with a beginning, middle and end.  So I started hoping until I found out that I didn’t win anything.

I can’t say I wasn’t bummed.  I can’t say I was surprised either.  The story is a good one, but the execution, the technical stuff of film, sometimes got away from me.  Onto the next one.  This morning, I got up and after sulking for a couple hours and driving my poor wife nuts, I packed myself off to the coffee house and started my next script longhand.  A friend of mine who did actually place with his very pretty doc, was bummed because he didn’t win, and I told him what I am telling myself now: it’s about not giving up.  It’s about writing and not stopping, just like I’m doing with this post.

what’s so great about Mad Men?

In humor, life, media, observations, writing on March 3, 2012 at 7:28 am


NO!  I’m sorry.  I’m trying to be more open about things. I’ve only seen one complete episode and a handful of others I couldn’t finish because I could not get into a show about corporate dudes of yore who look like modern-day hipsters.  I’m sure there’s a lot more going on.  I’m sure that people think this show is great television for some reason I am missing.  I don’t get the appeal of skinny ties and suit pants, personally.  (I get a lot of that with the hipsters walking around SF.)  I also don’t get the appeal of people who drink all the time and make their living selling shit, either.  But I can’t imagine it’s the profession of the protagonist that would turn me off.  I like Braking Bad, and that’s about a meth dealer.

In my younger days, I would belabor this question–even more than I do now.  I would seriously wonder why it is that I missed the boat.  To a certain point, I still think there are explainable/empirical reasons why people like the things they do, and though it’s ridiculous to admit this, I still kind of hope that if someone can explain their likes, I’ll get it and join.  At the root of this, if you haven’t figured it out, is insecurity.  I feel like odd-man out, and I don’t want to be odd.  It’s all just a little too-high school except that the stakes are higher than the fear of not being in the cool group.

Here’s a question that arises for me: what if the real mad man is me?  And by mad, I actually mean, untalented.  What if my lack of seeing the greatness of a supposedly great show is is a sign that when it comes to greatness as a storyteller, I got the short end of the stick?

I’m 40.  It took me most of my 20s to discover that writing was something that made me feel good.  It took my 30’s for me to decide and to admit to myself that I wanted to make storytelling a career.  I’m a late bloomer. I accept that–most days, I try to.  But at the end of the day, am I kidding myself?  Am I on the path and I just need to keep at this until the day I hit with something?  OR, am I the writer’s equivalent of the community theater actor?  That guy who loves to do his craft but who ends his days doing King Lear at the Elks Club.  No way to know.  So I keep on writing.  But it’s hard. (How’s that for wisdom?)

I’ve decided that writing is kind of like love.  You throw yourself where your heart leads.  You have to go on and love even if you don’t know for sure that that love will pan out.  No guarantees, right?  Hate that.  Hate it Hate it. Hate it.  Not as much as I hate Mad Men, but it’s close.

the anxiety of making my first short film…

In humor, life, media, observations, Uncategorized, writing on January 27, 2012 at 11:45 am


This weekend, along with fourteen other generous and talented people, I shot my first short film. You’d think that I’d be on cloud 9, or at least, that I’d be excited and anxious to get on to the next piece, which is to edit down the footage I have. Yes, that would be a normal response. And to a certain point, that’s how I feel. Normalcy can breach even the fort of craziness that is my head. But just like in those late-night commercials that peddle penis-enlarging pills, my brain is also yelling out, “WAIT, there’s more.”  And that more comes in the form of a question: what was the point of all that work?

My answer: I’m not sure. And maybe that’s the best answer I can give.

Up until I was 23, I was a classical musician, very serious and pretty untalented. My high school music teacher, a strong, opinionated lover of school spirit and Schubert, was unable to sell me on the former, but I took the latter to heart. I also took on her disdain for something she sneeringly referred to as dilettantism.  It’s probably not the best pedagogical strategy to fill your artistically-inclined students with a fear of doing something for the love of it, which is, at least one meaning of the word. But I can also see her point. There is the flighty connotations of the word that she wanted her students to avoid. Mrs. Anderson wanted her students to do things as well as possible. I think that’s all she meant, but I corrupted the lesson somewhere along the way.

When I take on an artistic project, I am less concerned with whether or not I do my best and much more concerned with the purpose of it, by which I mean, will it help me to a career? This not only leads me to judge the validity of what I’m doing, but in the case of this weekend, it leads me to judge some of the people around me, as well.  Basically, as my crew worked the two twelve-hour days this weekend filming my script, I kept having to fight back this annoying gnat-sized voice inside asking why all these people were doing what they were doing. Could this movie lead to anything tangible–beside the move itself?

This little voice is clearly a symptom of my recent conversion to the cult of crass careerism. As a musician, I was always more concerned with practice than with performance–no one, it’s safe to say, gets a career in music by playing scales alone in a room, but that’s all I wanted to do. Then, in my next incarnation, I thought I might be an academic, but once again, I thought about ideas and mastering their lessons without asking myself til a good way into grad school if I could see myself as a career scholar. The answer, I found out, was no, no way in hell!

See the pattern? I know I do. And though I’m glad to say that in middle age, I’ve found mine, that I’m throwing my lot in with writing, that I’d like to make my living creating stories, that I can actually see myself doing what needs to be done for both the craft AND for the career, I can also say that this new concern for career is driving me to ask the WHY question, which is dangerous.  When I think about it, I know there really are two sides of myself battling for control. And to keep with the context of this post, I will liken them to a producer and a director. The producer is practical and worries about budgets, bottom-lines, etc. He is judgmental and always questioning.  On the other side, there is the director/writer side that doesn’t care. It has to be free to play without worrying about what it all means.

Maybe both sides are necessary to making art. Like any team, there’s going to be disagreements, and I need to accept that. But even now, I hear the battle raging. I think of it as subtext for the movie.

The producer inside me is strong and completely uncomfortable with the notion of play for play’s sake. He is feeling a little threatened surrounded by fourteen other playful souls and wondering why they were all there? Then director/writer enters the scene and begins to yell back. With bullhorn in hand, he says: We are a bunch of kids pretending to be in a different world? So what?

Fine, the producer yells back, “but aren’t they concerned about their rents about making it?”

The director smirks, answers by showing and not saying. He yells for the camera to roll and the camera goes on and then the lights follow suit and the sound person starts to make words turn into 0s and 1s on her digital recorder, and soon, everyone is playing. And collectively saying by not saying, SUCK IT, MR. PRODUCER MAN. SUCK IT!


the 10-year itch or why i am still struggling with my career…

In life, media, observations, teaching & education, Uncategorized, writers & books on December 3, 2011 at 8:50 pm


Age is like a riptide. Without realizing it, you get sucked out farther and farther until you die. I say this and I’m not sad or depressed–not a bit. I’m just feeling a little sheepish because whenever I try something, I’m always about 5 years behind.

When I turned 15, I decided I was going to be a professional violinist. It’s an odd thing considering I came up poor an no one in the family was musical. But I met a great teacher my sophomore year of high school, and he made me think I could do it. So I went for it.  I mean I WENT for it. From the age of 15 to 23, I practiced 7-8 hours a day and missed no more than a handful of days in the practice room. It was hard. Not only is the instrument brutal to learn, not only was I not a great talent, I also was ancient in the classical violin world. I can’t tell you how many times I had these little 7 year-olds go up before me at a recital and just sound amazing while I, the old teenager just sucked it. I mean, SUCKED it. Out of tune, bad rhythm, the whole sucky stew of lame. But I didn’t give a damn, or I tried not to. I stuck to it, and I started getting better and I think I might’ve even ended up being pretty decent by my early 20s. I started to gig a lot. I played some nice venues and in some good orchestras. If I would’ve stuck with it, I would’ve never been an amazing musician, but I could’ve made a decent living between gigs and teaching. I also had caught up with all the little kids who were now in their early 20s and who were not quite so amazing as I’d once thought. I was, if not as good as them, then certainly in the running for my age.

And then, I started getting antsy. I’m that classic case of a person who won’t be part of any club that would have him. SO, just as I was getting decent, I bailed on the violin–left it and didn’t look back.

I’d been a good student in high school, and I guess I realized how much I missed reading books at that time, so I took a philosophy class at a community college and POW, a year later, I was off to New York to study Religion. I was 24 when I entered Columbia University, young by most standards, but once again, I was the old man for what I was doing. Undergrads thought I was the TA in almost every class. I was starting to lose my hair, which didn’t help me any with the young ladies. I could’ve gone for a grad student, but I felt inept and lame, so I kept to myself and my books. In a way, I didn’t have a choice. I’d been out of academic classes so long that I was always behind. Once again, I was the lame old guy who couldn’t keep up.

8 years later, I’m inn grad school, completely miserable because again, I had the itch. I didn’t want to spend my life chasing after academic minutiae AND there was the fact that I finally had caught up again with the people around me for where I was. I wasn’t the youngest person in class, but I wasn’t the oldest, either.

To cope with grad school, I started writing fiction, and I loved it. I started a novel the same year I left school. I was 33–kind of old for a first novel, but not impossible except for the fact that I didn’t have the chops for the medium. Seven years later, I’m still at the writing thing. I feel old, though. There are a lot of people in their 20s and 30s who are trying to break through as I, 40 with a wife and kid on the way, am trying to do the same.  Struggling to get an agent to rep a collection, a graphic novel and a first script, and not having much luck. I’m trying to get out there. Network. But the tide is pulling at me and it scares me a little. I’ve never been one to look back, but some times when I hear people my age who are making a life in the arts, and I hear how they’ve been cracking their heads against walls since they were in their early 20s, not more than ten miles from where I was sawing away at a violin that now is quite dusty and neglected, I get a little wistful. I wish I’d started to put myself out as a writer then, not now.

Again, but by necessity, for the last time, I’m the old guy.  Again, I’m late to the party.


How To Regain the Clarity in Your Art (via STORY WROUGHT)

In Uncategorized on June 12, 2011 at 10:51 am

I really love this. I think it speaks to something I find myself wondering a lot. How do the days go by in such a way that I feel I have no control over them?

How To Regain the Clarity in Your Art What's your greatest priority in life? Beyond family, friends, character, what is your greatest ambition?  What do you feel driven to do?  What is your purpose in life? I'm not sure the exact year I felt it, but since that young age, I've felt compelled to write.  I've always looked at the world through words, through metaphors.  I've even gotten sucked into the dictionary numerous times, lured in by the syllables and synonyms.  If I were to die … Read More


Somerset Maugham and middling art…

In Uncategorized, writers & books on May 30, 2010 at 12:36 pm
Sketch of W. Somerset Maugham.

Image via Wikipedia

Just finished reading an article in the New Yorker about Somerset Maugham.  (LINK to be found below courtesy of d_Taoist)  The piece was ostensibly about a new biography, but at the heart of the article was a question about Maugham’s reputation as a writer.  Put simply, Maugham’s is not great according to the author.  I tend to wonder who establishes reputations for artists.  Obviously, we are still reading Maugham. ( Steinbeck is another writer who comes to mind who I know from grad school is considered middle brow and yet stays with us.)  I imagine scholars are responsible for reputations.  Maybe this is why I didn’t love grad school, but I seem to have a fondness for writers who are not considered masters.  (Though I can see it with Steinbeck, I love Maugham.)  I also love Graham Green, who I know is also sometimes considered good but not great.

Full disclosure: the only reason I probably even care about this questions is rooted in insecurity.  I want to know why I can’t see what the supposed experts see.  Is this a failing on my part?  Could I fix my own fiction and be better as a writer if I could see the problems?  I guess there’s not much point to this kind of thinking.  The best thing I can do is to just keep working, so I’ll get back to the story I’m putting off writing.  I promise.
Here’s the link:

%d bloggers like this: