the circular runner

Posts Tagged ‘media musings’

Am I a Brand?

In life, media, observations, Uncategorized, writing on May 24, 2012 at 6:08 am

Lately, I’ve been reading a book called, Branding Yourself.  Though I am reading it with a type of excitement that a once purer, less-commecially-minded me would have reserved for a novel by the Bronte sisters, the book also fills me with a little bit of dread, which is also like the Brontes come to think of it, though for a different reason.  Erik Deckers and Kyle Lacy, the authors of the book, are very clear about what they are trying to teach: that you need to go out there and get people interested in you.  Why? You ask.  Because you are your own brand.

Really?  Am I just like this?

I don’t think so, because I’m not getting paid the way Coca-Cola is.

All joking aside, it must be in the summer air (I know it’s summer because I live in San Fran, and it’s cold) but for the rest of the northern hemisphere, it’s warm and writers are ripe with a desire to get to the next spot in their carers.  I recently discovered, Livia Ellis’ blog, which I very much recommend.  I was especially taken with her post about writing as a business.  Livia has some interesting insights into this question, and I want this and a couple following posts to be a type of dialogue. For now, let me say that I’m surprisingly excited about this whole branding thing, and yet there’s also a part of me that agrees with Joe Ponepinto at the Saturday Morning Post.  He only puts up one post a week now so as not to get so caught up in the business of getting read that he neglects the business of writing.

Joe is a wise man, and I keep his thoughts in mind as I slave over my branding statement, which is making one thing clear to me: I am not a natural at branding myself.  It’s not false modesty.  Really, it’s just a mindset thing. For me, writing fiction has always been a bit abstract–not the stories I tell or the process behind them.  The abstract part was how to get my stories read by the people who like what I write.

I’ve kept that process vague out of fear, I think.  Is there a market for what I’m offering? As a brand in the making, I need to be thinking about this even if the answer might scare me.  At the same time, as a writer, marketability is probably not a good thing to obsess about because it limits the imagination.  Who the hell knows what will catch on?  Did Mr. Coca-Cola know that some syrupy, bubbly dark liquid would become a world power? I can’t imagine he could have.

For myself, I’m not in any place to make definitive statements one way or another.  I will say that for now, I’m trying to find a way to get people aware of what I’m doing.  That’s a crazy process, and I will share it in the next post.

In the meantime, I’d love to hear from other writers about how they try to manage the needs of commerce with their own needs as writers and artists. How much time, if any, do you spend working on the business of business and how much on the business of putting words to the page?

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the problem…my problem, your problem, and that guy next to you in the cafe, his problem, too…

In media, observations, Uncategorized, writers & books, writing on May 19, 2012 at 8:06 am

OK, here you go.  A way into the problem, my problem for sure, but it might be yours, too.  I’m writing this post as I listen to A Tribe Called Quest in a poorly lit cafe.  I’m surrounded by other Apple users who are working on God knows what, but I’m sure whatever IT is, IT is something that makes it possible for them to own three thousand dollar computers and not have to work in an office during a weekday.  Many of them are pasty and wearing anorexic jeans, but they are happy.  I imagine this is because they have avoided the bullet of office work. Then again, they might not know any better.  But I digress, which I probably wouldn’t be doing if I weren’t listening to Tribe and checking my email at random moments because of the amazing new app I downloaded yesterday that allows me to see who is emailing, Facebooking and Twittering me without opening a window.  Little text boxes are opening in the corner as I write these words.

On a recent post, I know I mentioned I was changing, my brain, actually, was doing the changing.  Specifically, I’m concerned with the part of my brain that comes up with stories.  I am wondering if this need for apps and the obsession I spoke about in the last post with websites themes is connected to the fact that my taste in imaginative narrative as a producer and as a consumer is changing.  Let me start this by saying that digital culture is a more visual one, by its nature.  And, as I’m going to explain in a second, I think that this connection between the digital and the visual has some deep implications for people because it has deep implications for how we tell our stories.

So here’s the problem because I kind of always believe there has to be one.

I increasingly tell stories in visual media, which is fine.  Fine except I wonder if that means that I’m giving up on staying with characters, lingering with them, finding out what they are about in the slower, more internal way that the page allows and the screen does not.  This is writerly insecurity, I’ll admit. But it’s deeper, I suspect than just a matter of aesthetics.  Different media stress different things about stories.  Or, maybe it’s better to say, different media have different weaknesses.  Some might argue with me, but generally speaking, a visual medium like film or television or even a graphic novel though to a lesser degree, cannot get you in the mind and heart of a character.  Internal conflicts have to be simplified in film because unless you have a ton of voice overs or lame-o exposition through dialogue, you have to express emotion through what one can see.  And no matter how good the script or the actor, you can’t get at the crazy twists of the human mind.  You can always use visual metaphors to help get at that craziness, but even those are up for interpretation, which mean, you might lose the viewer or confuse him.  The page is just better suited to the mazes of internal conflict.  I say this, but for the life of me, I am struggling telling stories like that.  In fact, I will admit this, I get bored with a lot of so-called literary fiction.  (By the way, I realize as I write this that I am equating literary fiction with fiction on the page, which is not cool, but let that one go for now.  I don’t know enough “genre” fiction to speak to it.)

I guess, put simply, I’m wondering if visual culture is a less human one?  Less human in the sense that its stories do not deal with what makes us most human: intention, the stuff that cannot be seen.  The stuff that one has to slow down to understand, slow down in a way that I and my apps and my compatriots here at Cafe Hipster might not have patience for.  Is that a bad thing?  Is narrative changing? I love books, but I have to say it, I’m reading a lot less fiction than ever.  As a consumer and as a producer of imaginative narrative, I’m going more and more with visual media.  And I don’t think I’m alone.

I’d be curious to have some writers/lovers of fiction discuss here.  Maybe I need some absolution for a guilty conscience over my lapsed New Yorker subscription and my new MacWorld one.  I don’t know.  Is there an absolution app?  I think someone needs to invent that. Quick.

Young People Fighting in San Francisco & Other Ugly Things I’ve Been Thinking About…PART 2

In life, media, observations, writing on January 18, 2012 at 11:50 am

Ugly Thing #2: I’m a fan of the podcast, WTF with Marc Maron. I’ve said this already a million times, but I am one to repeat myself, and I’m getting old so there’s that. But for those not in the know, this is a show in which a comedian interviews other comedians (though there have been a few non-comedians as well) about life and the art of making people laugh. Even if this doesn’t sound like your cup of tea, give it a try if you like honest interviewing. Mr. Maron is like Terry Gross on Fresh Air except that he curses and he can get into topics that NPR would never allow.

I bring this up here on a post about ugliness because on the most recent show, there is an interview with a comedian who comes out of the closet. The coming-out is not the ugly part, mind you. What struck me about the conversation was that the comedian, Todd Glass, a middle-aged man, was so at pains to be honest about who he is.  No, that’s not even ugly. The really ugly part is the part that we all play in making people hide who they are–this guy is 47 and it took him til now to feel ok admitting publicly to this important part of his life.  Maybe this isn’t ugly. Maybe it’s sad. Maybe it’s both.

Now, my anti-preachy spidey-sense is tingling. Honestly, I kind of hate it when someone–usually a liberal like myself–goes off on people about their biases. It’s needlessly sanctimonious, and that doesn’t help anyone. We’re all in this stew of culture and sex and religion together, and though I get angry at the injustice of shaming people who want to love people of their same sex, it’s kind of a facile anger for me, I think. Biases/prejudices are crosses to bear, which I think is a truth that many on the religious right don’t seem to realize.  So let me rephrase. Let me put this in more personal and less political, less accusatory terms.

Listening to the podcast with Mr. Glass, I was both heartbroken and annoyed. Yes, I’ll admit I was annoyed because I couldn’t believe that this guy was having such a problem with the word, gay. I mean he came out and yet at the same time, he barely could use the word when describing himself. I could imagine there being members of the Gay community yelling at their radios, telling the guy to get over it, to be proud. Hell, I’m straight, and I was yelling. But then I had to check myself. I had to think about what it would be like to feel like you need to keep a huge part of yourself locked away.  Obviously there’s a reason this guy felt that way, and he is not the only one by a long-shot. And though there are a lot of brave men and women who still put themselves out there and risk rejection at very young ages, that doesn’t change the fact that someone like Todd Glass was brave when he was ready.

So maybe this isn’t a post about ugliness in the end. But I’ve already written it and its title, so let’s go with it. I mean even if the story ends well for Mr. Glass, there are so many people out there who can’t face their families and friends, who can’t be true to themselves. That’s sad, obviously. But now that I think about it, my first intuition was right, it’s an ugly truth that we all have to deal with that we push away people who are different from the so-called norm.

Now go listen to the interview and tell me what you think. As Marc Maron says, “DO IT.”

Some Thoughts About Shame the Movie and My Own…

In media, observations, Uncategorized on January 7, 2012 at 8:58 am

It’s probably because I’m married and my wife doesn’t have a lot of time to go to the movies or maybe it’s because I’m trying to spend more time telling my own stories and less time escaping from my projects by watching others’, but this year, I went to the movies a whole lot less than usual. Which means that like a lot of other people who love movies but don’t always make it to the theater, I spent the couple weeks of the holiday season catching up. It’s a good time. There’s a lot of holiday-kiddie crap (emphasis on crap not on kiddie, which can be great), but there’s also the dramas that the studios release for Oscar consideration. One of the films I saw that fit that category to a T though I don’t hear much about it is Steve McQueen’s Shame.  It’s not a feel-good movie. If you read my post on The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, then you know I’m ok with that. But whereas Girl was trying really hard to be “dark” and “edgy,” Shame is one of those movies that sits with you because its darkness is a little less cinematic and, though you may not think it at first, a little closer to our day-to-day experience of life.

Our connection to Shame might be surprising considering that the film is rated NC-17 and about a sex addict. But the title, I think, doesn’t only deal with the shame of Brandon (Michael Fassbender). It deals with our own shame, as well, and I think that’s why we’e not hearing more about this movie’s Oscar potential.

I’m not arguing that critics don’t love this movie and that it’s not doing great at the box office because we Americans are prude–at least that’s not the whole reason. There is a small part of me that wants to quip that Michael Fassbender’s not-so-small part is making many male critics uncomfortable, but that’s just me being clever. Truth is Shame isn’t really about sex or even about the addiction to it. Don’t get me wrong: sex is everywhere in this movie, and it can be graphic at times though it’s never gratuitous. Like porn, the movie’s portrayal of sex is cold and it’s not pretty, but that’s fitting considering that Brandon spends hours watching on-line sex. Moreover, though a lot’s been made of the movie’s brutal look at sex, the really brutal thing being shown–the reason for Brandon’s shame and for our own whether we admit to it or not, is Brandon’s loneliness.

I can say honestly that the scene that sticks with me most, that haunts me, has nothing to do with sex. It comes toward the end, after Brandon’s failed attempt at a normal relationship, after a night of one sexual experience after another, after something terrible happens to his sister.  It’s a cold morning–all shades of gray, and we sit with Brandon as he weeps. We sit and we watch this emotionally stunted man cry his eyeballs out. He probably has hit bottom, but the power of the scene is that we know this is not that kind of bottom we usually see in movies about addiction. There’s no guarantee that there will be uplift after this, that Brandon will change. This is a bottom, not THE bottom.

More to the point, we are seeing a lonely man suffering a loneliness of biblical proportions. Think spiritual desolation. Think Job. I know this might freak some out, but think Jesus on the cross asking God why he’s been forsaken and you’ll get the feeling. It’s uncomfortable to look at this type of emotion–it’s definitely unusual in a movie. Partly because I’ve felt it, because I think many of us, maybe all of us have, I believe that the shame that the title of this movie refers to is the shame of a character facing his loneliness, honestly and openly. And if this movie’s NC-17 rating is merited it has less to do with frontal nudity or our prudishness. It has to do with our own shame of feeling that same hunger for connection and not knowing how to sate it.

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