|If this is the first time you've heard of Cop Rock, it is (rather amazingly) just what it says on the tin: a police drama with many musical numbers per episode. I didn't believe the person who first told me this, but I promise it's true. This is my favorite number.|
You might already know about me that I am an outright connoisseur of bad film. I love it. I love what it reveals about good film. Plus, occasionally I come upon films that are basically outsider art, delightful in their lack of adherence to conventional cinema--even if the results are (for most people) unwatchable. Bad writing is a slightly different situation. The reason I was reading Sean Penn's book at all is related to some very bad turn-of-the-century writing I'm familiar with, and a feature I'm writing about that similarity. (Stay tuned.) But I learned from my flirtation with that writer of old that bad writing is, for whatever reason, not as easy in the intake process as bad film is.
A lot of people who make bad art are either inexperienced or deluded. A filmmaker like James Nguyen (deluded) sincerely believes he's making good films, because, for whatever reason, he can't see the divide between his camerawork and Hitchcock's. He can't hear that his bad, echoey, overclocked sound is different than the crisp sound of the average dialogue scene in a commercial motion picture. Students I've met who write badly (inexperienced) have not read or written enough to encounter and understand some of the pitfalls of bad prose. They think that certain kinds of metatextual writing are fun and new (when in fact they are neither) because they don't understand what makes that particular metatext cringey and gimmicky instead of profound.
But I can offer no quarter to the makers of Cop Rock. They were highly experienced crafters of television. They had seen and made enough TV to be neither inexperienced nor deluded. And yet, what they made was so bad, a spectacular collision of dumb ideas. That was the root of the stunned sensation I felt during the first episode: I cannot explain this away with my usual analyses of bad art. They went into this with their eyes open and the product is still terrible.
That's close to how I feel about Sean Penn's book. I know that this person has read a lot of books and has done a lot of thinking. And this book is garbage. It's got as many bad ideas as Cop Rock but it adds "lazy" to the pile, which I find unforgivable in a writer. And I don't know how it happened this way. I'm no longer surprised that bad books get published with big money, because I have come to understand how that happens, even for people who have not a sliver of the name recognition Penn has. But I simply can't fathom that this lies behind a man who, for his many faults, never comes across as underprepared or undereducated when I see him at work.
(To be clear, I think Penn should've been cleared off the table decades ago when he was violent toward reporters and allegedly violent toward Madonna; I think he is hilariously pretentious; I don't think his choice of roles is especially interesting across time, except as demonstrations of Hi, Mom, I'm Acting; but I respect that he's particularly good at his job in a crowded field of middle-aged white male actors.)
The above may have been nothing but outtakes from the essay I'm going to write about this awful book. Or early exercises for a novella-length essay I want to write about bad movies. But I am unhorsed about the unfathomable badness of Bob Honey and had to let it out somewhere. Toward the end, I had to sit in the room where Matt was gaming to read it, because I didn't want to read it alone.
Out in the world:
Something hysterical (hysteria in this sense being composed of equal parts fun + anxiety) on Medium. It's no fun to have your favorite stress purchase be suddenly a source of stress.
A tiny memoir piece I wrote appears in issue 5 of Beacon Quarterly, a Portland-based, design-focused (?) magazine. I'm not sure I understand the magazine really at all, but I'm pleased that my words are in it. I saw a PDF, and they treated me well. What I wrote, "Five Stories, Collated," was designated as poetry, which isn't quite right but it's fine if they/you want to read it that way. In a few months, the issue will be free to view digitally, and I'll link to it again then.
My work appears in Tiferet's current issue (spring/summer 2018). It's a "tif," a short piece on the theme of transformation, and I feel it's not of the same weight and caliber as the full-length contributions in this really fine magazine. But I loved writing it - it's an idea I'd wanted to put out in the world for a long time - and I'm proud it's in print. Here's a link to buy a digital copy of the issue, should you desire to.
I reviewed a remarkable book, The Underneath, by Melanie Finn, for sinkhole. I liked working with them a lot - they turned down something weird of mine but assigned me this book instead, and all went well - and I'm already reading a second book for review for them. This book, though. It gave me the opportunity to dig deep about my opinions of New England and its darker side, and I'm grateful.
And I reviewed a writing reference anthology, Credo, for Craft Literary. I did my best to give it a mixed but not unkind review. The book means well, but it's got filler.
I've filed multiple other reviews and a couple of interviews, all soon to come. May ain't over yet.