the circular runner

Posts Tagged ‘Arts’

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.


i’m a loser, i’m a genius, i’m a loser: a writer’s dilemma

In criticism, humor, observations, Uncategorized on July 28, 2012 at 11:37 am

It’s a sign of age that things are not one extreme or the other. When I was younger, if I failed at something,  I would almost certainly tell people I sucked.  I didn’t mean, I suck at this or that.  I was trying to make more of an existential statement, as in I am a person who just lives in a state of sucking, i.e., a loser.

I was never so confident or clueless to say I was a genius when something went my way.  But I’ll admit that somewhere in the back of my head, I was hopeful I might find that thing I was amazing at. If I’m really honest, I’d add that I wanted to find something I was amazing at without having to put in bone-crushing effort needed to make amazingness.  Of course, even geniuses put in effort–I’m assuming this though I cannot say for sure since, if you haven’t figured it out on your own, I am no genius.  (I know. Big surprise.)

I bring all of this up because a couple weeks ago, I experienced a pretty big failure and a nice success back to back.  The first was a screening of my second short film (the trailer appears above).  The screening happened here in SF at a big theater as part of a festival that happens out here regularly.  As part of the festival, after the screening of each movie is over, the crew and cast go down in front and take questions.  Often the questions are pretty slight, i.e., why did you you use that logo for your production company; do you think you’ll make a sequel to that romantic comedy with the happy ending that couldn’t possibly go anywhere else because it is a short with a happy ending; I love chocolate, and the main character was eating some in that one scene, what kind of chocolate?  You get the point.

But when Cherise, my strange little Cinderella story in reverse, was done, it was like ghost town silence.  We went up and looked out into the vast audience (over 600 people) and you could feel the rampant indifference. What I would’ve given for a question about chocolate?

On later reflection and because my director reminded me of this, I realized that we made the movie we set out to make.  We wanted to make something that was lovely to look at.  We wanted to tell a story with dance and music and through minimal dialogue. We wanted a visual experience more than we cared about story.  Well, we hit those marks.  But still, there was a part of me sitting in that theater harkening back to my younger days, the younger me that often told himself, Jesus, dude, you suck the big one.

A day later, I had a reading. It was the first time I’ve ever been asked to be a featured reader, and I was excited.  But there was also a part of me that was fearful.  Would I suck at this, too?  Would the crowd, mostly poets, look at me and my little fables/fairy tales/ urban micro fiction about old ladies popping happy pills and would they reject what they saw? Would they get all aggro the way poets at spoken word events often do?  What is the opposite of snapping fingers and saying, groovy, man? As it happens, they did not hate me.  In fact, they were very enthusiastic. Some people might have even  snapped some fingers.  And for a moment or two that night, I felt like like I had arrived. I was a writer.

I’m no genius. That thought never crossed my mind even with the snapping, but I’m ok with that. The violins will never soar as I write the great American Novel. I’m no Mozart.  I’m not even Salieri. But with practice, I hope I write something that gets close to great. That’s a realistic goal–I hope it is.

As for the sucking part, the truth is I know I don’t suck, either–not in existential way.  But ironically, that’s almost more disappointing than not being a genius.  If you tell people you suck and you believe it, there’s always a way up.  There’s always room for improvement. And more importantly, if you fail at what you’re attempting, you can wrap yourself in the Sucky Blanket of Low Expectations.

You think I sucked that night?  You think my movie was shite?  Well, of course my dear man/woman, I suck.  I suck the big one.

NO MORE!  It’s time to grow the hell up. I’m just too old to be carrying the Sucky Blanket around. I need to work and not worry. I might die with nothing to my artistic record, but I’m not going down sucking, goddammit.


genius is like porn: I can’t define it, but I know it when I see it….

In media, music, writing on July 19, 2012 at 6:20 am

Recently, I heard an interview between Fiona Apple and Marc Maron.  It was on the WTF podcast, which I recommend listening to if you are interested in Apple or if you aren’t familiar with Marc Maron as an interviewer. I was excited to hear the talk because I love Apple’s music.  Well, I’m not sure I always love the music, but I’m always excited about her albums because I think Apple is a genius.

That word gets overused.  There are very few geniuses.  I tend to think of them the way one should think of a Pegasus. As in you’re walking down some country road and over to the left, you see a pasture and some horses race by.  If you’ve ever seen horses run, not being ridden but just running, then you probably know that the sight is awe-inspiring.  Horses are beautiful animals.  The power, the speed, the grace.  But these animals, as amazing as they are, are not geniuses.  The genius is the white horse running in the opposite direction from the rest of the pack.  The one with the wings.  The one that now is flying toward you.  Jesus, you’re thinking, horses don’t do that.  You might be scared at seeing this.  You might want to get up close and touch this crazy horse.  Maybe you want to do both at once.

Well, damn skippy!!!  Your reaction is natural.  Horses don’t fly.  Neither do writers nor singers nor painters nor fill-in-the-blank.  But occasionally one of these people does the impossible.  That’s the genius.

Listening to Apple sing makes me feel like I’m seeing a Pegasus.  Again, I’m not always loving the music.  But I want to understand it.  I want to know how/why a thirty-something singer gets away with putting out an album with a title that’s got so many words that you have to use an elipsis.  (The most recent title is The Idler Wheel Is Wiser Than the Driver of the Screw and Whipping Cords Will Serve You More Than Ropes Will Ever Do)  Is it pretentious? You might want to say so but I’m not sure.  Mind you, this is an album that has a song on it called Hot Butter, which I kid you not is a pop song that uses kettle drum, piano, and voices in counter-point.  How does Apple pull this off?  How is this not some kind of crazy art song?  How is this song popular enough that it plays on a Starbucks speaker system, which is how I first heard it?

It’s the power of genius, my friends.  You might not like the song, you might not like her music, but you know that Fiona Apple has wings.

i am now an award-winning jack-of-all-trades!!!

In humor, life, Uncategorized, writing on January 16, 2012 at 1:45 pm

I was recently nominated for a Versatile Blogger Award. The amazing Sheriji from Just Sayin’ fame nominated me. I am honored. I also know I’m a bit of a Jack of All Trades, which is ok, except that what comes right after in that famous saying might also be true of me. Masters of Nothing, unfortunately, don’t get a lot of distinction in our ever-niche-efying culture, but maybe there’s a niche for someone like me: the versatile-types.  Let’s hope.

In any case, as you will see, there are rules for people who take on the mantle of Versatile Blogger, and so I will do my best to follow the rules as stated below.

 The Rules: 

1. Thank the award-giver and link back to them in your post. DONE

2. Share 7 things about yourself:

1. I’m a teacher when not being versatile.

2. I am starting to write scripts, and my first short is about to be shot.

3. I am expecting my first child in May, which means I’m expecting a Taurus

4. I’m from So-Cal, so I actually am conscious of my son’s sign and what that might bode for the future

5. I have a goal of making some amount of money from writing–probably from not-very versatile writing.

6. I once was a very serious violinist–not very talented, though

7. I also once studied religion at Harvard–also very seriously but not very talentedly.

BONUS: The English Patient is one of my favorite movies, and Beginners with Ewan McGregor is the best movie I saw last year.

3. Pass this award along to 15 or 20. (This is slightly shorter because I have to be honest, I read slow, but here are some great blogs to look at–in my humble and versatile opinion.

Writing Through the Fog For anyone who likes beautiful pictures and words about travel and culture. Cheri Lucas, you are coolness.

Girl in the Hat I can’t recommend Anna Fonte’s blog enough. If you like creative non-fiction that is true to its word, check this out.

Shadow Knife Pen written by a very interesting and talented  ex-pat in Buenos Aires about that crazy place down south.

John McWhorter’s Blog You may not love everything this somewhat conservative linguist says, but that’s ok. It’s worth the read if you’re interested in politics & language.

Literary Kicks Levi Asher is one smart dude, and he writes on things literary and philosophical. Check him out.

Abominations Hard to describe what Marc Schuster does on this, and that makes it kind of grand and versatile.

Kiyong’s Blog of Creative Pursuits This blog is about trying to make it in Hollywood as a writer. It’s honest and funny.

Modern Rage Fantastically cool by Jesse S. Mitchell, poet, writer, artist–you get the point.

4. Contact your chosen bloggers to let them know about the award.  Will Do!!

Being Defeated By a Blank Screen and a Flashing Cursor…

In humor, life, media, observations, teaching & education, writers & books, writing on December 12, 2011 at 1:42 pm

It might be a sign of our virtual times, but I’m getting a beat-down by nothingness. Specifically, the nothingness of a blank screen on my scriptwriting software. How the hell does that happen? It’s been a week, and I keep managing to do anything but write my spec script. Jesus, what is wrong with me? I know what I have to write. I have the plot lines all mapped out, and I’ve even gone over them with a professional writer who gave me the OK.

(The fact that I feel the need to mention this is part of the problem. Why do I even need that someone else gave me the ok?)

I gotta say that getting a pummeling by a blinking cursor is a humbling experience. It reminds me of some of my GED students who are tough as all get-out and yet are complete mush-pots in the way that they won’t even try a new math problem without me sitting there and giving them permission. Maybe, it’s about guts. Maybe some people are just more brave about trying new things than other people. But I suspect things run deeper–for both me and my students. The young people who come to me lack confidence in the smarts-department. I don’t know why that is–probably no one ever stopped to tell them they were capable, which is a crime but it is what it is. For me as a writer, I can’t exactly cry a river. It’s not like I’ve had crazy success, but I have had some support from generous readers and teachers. That said, I do have something in common with my students: we all are fearful of trying because we fear failure.

As a teacher, I’ve gotten into some arguments with my colleagues who also work with GED kids because their way around that fear has been to not push the students too hard–the thinking here is that if you don’t push students too hard, they will eventually try on their own. My thinking is that we should push the living shit out of them (in a nice and gentle and nurturing way) because the world doesn’t wait around. The difference is that I try to be there for my kids and to let them know that it’s not only ok to try, it’s ok to fail–whatever fail means.  I will be there for them so that they can get up and try again and keep trying until they hit the mark.

Well, those who can, do and those who can’t, …GOD, I hope that saying is wrong. I know that what keeps me from actually putting words to paper–unless those words are a blog entry explaining with other words on the page that have nothing to do with the words that would appear on my script–is a fear of failing. I can’t handle the pressure because the pressure I have building up on me isn’t just about the damn script. Just like my kids who are freaking out about adding fractions, it’s not the thing in front of us that holds us back. For them, it might be their pasts full of bad teachers and crappy learning environments. For me, it’s my screwed-up sense of the future. I turned 40 a couple months back, and before that, I never once was much about looking back. But now, trying to get myself to try to write a spec script, all I can think about is the fact that I’m trying to do something that most other people do when they are in their 20s. That I will have to put up with the odd looks and TSK’s. It’s dumb. It’s futile. And I know full well that I’m only pushing back the inevitable because at this rate, I’m going to be 41 and trying to write my first script, which is one year worse than my current situation. I tell my kids the same when they tell me that their little brothers in the fourth grade are learning fractions. They don’t admit it because they’re too tough, but I know they’re basically saying they’re stupid, or at least they feel like that. I tell them that they’re learning at their time, the right time for them and that they shouldn’t compare themselves.

Good thing they don’t read this bog. But then again, what’s that saying again? People who can, do, and teachers? What is it they do or don’t do. I forget.  I must really be getting old.

The Harry Potter Paradox: A movie about magic that manages not to be very magical…

In observations, writers & books, writing on July 21, 2011 at 11:58 am


I saw Harry Potter last weekend, and though I enjoyed it, I left the theater a little sad and a lot deflated.  This feeling I had might have something to do with the fact that I was looking forward to the movie–really looking forward to it.  As in, Christmas morning, my-wife-and-I-giddily-walking-down-the-streets-of-SF-giddy.  But I’m not so cynical that I don’t believe in the possibility of having your expectations met from time to time, so I don’t think it was about inflated expectations.  I think the problem for me is that though the Harry Potter series is about magic, every time I go see one of the movies, I’m reminded of the fact that they are not very magical.  They are movies about good v. evil as that battle would take place in a world where wizards an goblins walk among us.

So what do I mean when I speak of “magical”?  Well, other vague terms spring to mind, like mystery and wonder, which I’ll try to define later, but for now, I’ll say that these words point at a comfort with that which can’t be explained or shown.  Of course, then I could say that the medium is to blame.  Can a movie, something visual, really be mysterious?  In order to become aware of something in a movie, we have to see it, right?  I guess I like not seeing everything, so maybe books are better suited to deliver the magic I’m looking for.  Though as I say that, I start thinking about another smaller movie I saw recently called Beginners.  That was a movie about people learning about themselves and about love.  It was magical even though there was nothing fantastical going on.  But there’s also Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (both versions for different reasons), which I think were magical and filled me with wonder, and both had supernatural elements.

A couple thoughts come to mind regarding both of these movies: 1. the magical can come in hyper-realistic packages.  2.  When fantastical elements are employed, I want them to highlight human nature, not fantasy.

Point 1 scares me a little.  Mainly because my writing for the past few years has centered around mixing the fantastical/supernatural with the real.  And I’m wondering if maybe that’s been a little bit of a cheat.  I’m reminded of something I read by Flanner O’Connor.  In her book, Mystery and Manners, she writes,

fiction is about everything human and we are made of dust, and if you scorn getting yourself dusty, then you shouldn’t write fiction.

I think this is why Harry and his friends left me cold, and it’s also why I think some of my own fiction, if I can be honest about it, is sub-par.  The world, described well and accurately has plenty of mystery to it.  If the story you’re telling requires overtly supernatural elements, then so be it, but the dust–not fairy dust–needs to be there, which leads to my second point.  From the Harry Potter movies at least, you get the feeling that Harry’s story is a story we’ve all heard of before–that, in and of itself, is not a bad thing.  But if you take away the magical elements, you are pretty much left with Dickens.  Still, no problem there.  But for all its spells, the movies don’t bedazzle the way Dickens does because they are kind of clunky when it comes to the emotional life of the characters.  Some might say that I’m being harsh.  That the movies are for children, and so emotional sophistication is not really necessary.  To which I say that the Harry Potter movies haven’t been kids’ movies in some time.  And even if they were, I’d counter that fiction for children should be just as emotionally sophisticated as any adult story, if not more so.  Again, I’m reminded of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, another book/movie “for kids” that was just as fantastical as Harry Potter while also being emotionally genuine and wondrous and, yes, dusty.

As a writer, I guess I should be glad about my disappointment with HP7.  Keeps me on my toes.  It makes me ask myself some hard questions about my own work.  Am I using fantastical elements to hide an uninspired story, flat characters, poorly written descriptions?  Though I’d like to think this isn’t always true with me, I know some of the work has suffered from it.  I haven’t gotten as dusty as I should.  Maybe I should let myself write something naturalistic and still try for the wondrous.  Maybe.  Or maybe, I just need to try harder to write the stories I want to write without forcing things one way or another.

In any case, seeing HP 7 has made me realize how high the stakes are.  I’m sure a lot of people won’t agree with me.  They think the movie was amazing, but for me, it just makes me sad.

There’s magic in them thar hills, and as a viewer, I want to find it.  As a writer, I want to help point readers in the right direction.  It’s hard, but I think it’s the job of a storyteller.

50 to go…week 2–Story 2: a fable

In writing on June 12, 2011 at 10:42 am


It’s Sunday, which means 52 Stories, a really wonderful blog on Tumblr, is publishing my second of 52 short-short stories for the year.  Last week, I mentioned this, but as a dare to myself, I have joined this group of writers and artists on 52 Stories to see if I can come up with one flash-fiction piece every week.  The stories have to be short–under a thousand words–which is both easier and harder than what I normally do.  Knowing where my fiction is heading, the stories will probably be fables or magical in nature, unlike last week’s Donuts story, which is older, but which I hope you might check out as long as you’re at it.

OK, my peeps.  Happy Sunday and good reading!

running in circles–anxiety as a way of life…

In observations, Uncategorized on May 18, 2011 at 10:11 am

Let me start by saying I run, which does not mean I am a runner.  I am not.  I run for two reasons.  1.  Because I don’t have to make plans to do it with other people, so I can just get out there and sweat whenever I feel I need to.  And 2. because my wife is a talented baker and because I like sweets and because I don’t want to become poofier than an eclair.  And when I run, I try to run on a track.  In an anti-eco friendly move, I actually drive a mile and a half each way so that I can run in looping quarter miles.  Don’t ask me why I do this.  Partly, I guess when I’m running, I don’t care about seeing stuff.  I enjoy the constancy of going in circles even if I don’t always enjoy the running itself.  It’s kind of meditative, which I need.
I used to like running more when I was younger.  I’m not that old, mind you, but I am starting to feel a slight twinge in my right knee and the little creaks and cracks all over can be disconcerting.  The great Catch-22 of running when you are nearing 40 is that you are running so you can keep your weight down, but the added weight you already have brings you down and holds you down so you want to stop running, which in turn, allows you to gain more weight.  Still, with me, the real problem isn’t physical as much as it is mental.  Running, you see, makes me anxious.  Or maybe it’s better to say I’m more anxious about everything, even running.

To give you an idea of how deep the problem goes, let me give you an example.  For the past two months, I’ve been running more often and trying to run longer.  I had this goal that I would add a mile every other week until I got to ten miles.  Then I would go back down to something more manageable like six miles and work my way back up again.  I set myself these little goals in life as a way of feeling like I’m going some where–yes, even though I like to run in circles, I still want to go somewhere, which probably adds to my anxiety.  In any case, the problem is that once I make a goal, I lose heart.  I start worrying (though I couldn’t tell you why) that I can’t hit the mark I set for myself.  Sometimes I can push through–like two weeks ago when I forced myself to hit nine miles–36 circles in all.  But even as I was running, there was this voice inside me telling me to stop because I couldn’t finish.  And when I did finish after about an hour and 20 minutes, I started hearing a voice inside doubting that I could do it again.  In fact, for a couple days, all I could think about was that in two weeks, which is today, I would never in a million years be able to hit 10 miles.

Now if you think I’m crazy about my running, an activity I don’t claim as being near to my heart, then think about what it’s like for me to write.  I’m no runner, but I am a writer.  So you know the self doubt stuff is in full force.  I’m not sure why this is, and I’m even less sure if I can do anything about it other than to laugh a little at the complete battiness of it all.  If that works, then maybe I’ll change the blog’s name to Smiling Through Life or Why I’m Happy and Carefree.  Or maybe Running in Rainbows.  For now, know this: this blog tells the story of a man who runs in circles most days.  He does not know why he does this.  He just does.  He hopes that he will sometimes get out of the circle–at least when he is not running for real.  When he is running for real, though, he makes no promises.

Ken Tucker, you suck!!!

In writers & books on November 11, 2010 at 10:24 pm
Cover of The Bride Stripped Bare

Image via Wikipedia

I am a big fan of NPR’s Fresh Air with Terry Gross.  Some people don’t like her voice.  Some people think her questions are inane.  I don’t.  I think she always listens and allows her guests to talk, and that is unusual nowadays.  I also love the variety she brings to the show.  Artists one day.  Politicians the next.  Really great.

That said, at the end of most shows, she has reviews–sometimes books, sometimes, rock or jazz albums, movies and TV shows–and except for the TV critic, David Bianculli, they all suck.  Lloyd Schwartz, the classical critic, sometimes tries a little too hard to emote about Bach, as Maureen Corrigan does when she starts in on an author she loves.  I’d hate the movie critic, David Eddelstein, more except that he’s consistent.  Basically, I know to do whatever he tells me not to do.  If Mr. Eddelstein loves something, I know I’ll hate it.

As much as these lovely souls bother me, I don’t hate any of them as much as I hate Ken Tucker.  He is either generous to a fault as a critic, being bribed by the record companies, or he just sucks.  I can’t say I know for sure, but I have a pretty good idea I know which of these categories he falls into.  If you don’t believe me, check out this review for the recent Bryan Ferry album.  The prose is purple.  The music is horrible.  It’s like the guy has no ear for music or language, which is a pretty dire condition for a music critic.

Here’s the link:

Why short stories matter…

In writers & books on November 6, 2010 at 9:08 am
Short Story

Image via Wikipedia

I recently took part in a back and forth about the importance of the short story on the Ploughshares blog. Greg Schutz, the writer of the post that I responded to was kind enough to allow me my two cents. Though with inflation, two cents ain’t what it used to be.

Here’s the link:

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