Wednesday, March 2, 2022

Slightly Popular

Somehow I've become a slightly popular movie podcast guest. The biggest shock was Dana Gould inviting me back a second time, and genuinely seeming to enjoy talking to me. We talked right up until we had to stop because he had another appointment. I will blame him forever for (indirectly) making me watch Carny, but I will also thank him forever for bumping up my Plan 9 sales significantly. 


Start around 1:23:00 if you want to hear only me. 

I was also on Monster Movie Happy Hour, which was loads of fun. We meant to talk for 45 minutes and instead talked for over an hour recorded and another hour after that unrecorded. Very occasionally I wish I had a place in the Midwest to live in during the three weeks a year the weather is nice, and folks like them are the reason why. 


If you missed it, I was also on Movies from Hell re: Death Bed and Ruby and on Castle of Horror re: Valley of the Dolls.

This week I'm recording twice more, for a local arts podcast in central Virginia (see below) and for Your Stupid Minds, which I just had to pitch, given that the name is a quote from Plan 9. We're discussing perhaps my favorite bad movie of all, so I'm looking forward to it. 

If you're reading this and you have a podcast you want me to be on, let me know! I have a fancy microphone, a good voice, and a reasonably quick wit. 

In March, I'm doing a miniature East Coast tour. On Sunday, March 20, I'll be in Richmond, Virginia, at Plan 9 Records. I'll be screening Plan 9 from Outer Space, selling the book, and talking with a local podcast host (see above). I'm not sure of the time for this event yet, but I'm hoping it'll be late afternoon, because who wants to go to a Sunday night anything? 


The following week I go to AWP in Philadelphia. I don't have any events planned, but I'll have copies of my books to sell - probably at the Barrelhouse table - and I'll be happy to step in and help in any situation where it's needed. I did this at the 2020 AWP, running an event and moderating a panel to replace absentees, and it was great. I've learned from prior AWPs that holding to a planned schedule gives me a rotten experience, while walking around with no particular plan makes me happy. I decided to go this year because I wanted to, after all, not because I needed to or had something specific to flog. 

After that I go on to New York City, where I'll be signing at Forbidden Planet on Sunday, March 27. That's in the late afternoon, and in the evening there's a TBD screening event hosted by a Forbidden Planet employee who loves Plan 9

And then that's it, I go home. I haven't been to New York in some years, which is funky because I have strong memories of it being easily accessible during my college years. In my freshman year I was involved with a guy at Columbia and drove there every other weekend. Now it feels as unreachable and cosmopolitan as it probably does for most citizens of this country. 

Anyway, none of this stuff is going to be livestreamed as far as I know. Sorry. I'm still trying to make plans to do a virtual watch-along of Plan 9, so we can all watch it together on our laptops. I haven't done this because the time hasn't seemed right, for various internal reasons that haven't borne the fruit I hoped they would. At this point I don't know what I'm waiting for. April, I think, is a good month to do it. 

In other news, I'm consulting on the launch of a new film quarterly run by an awesome, scrappy film community here in LA. There's a lot about that still up in the air, but I hope it will be as good as the work we're putting into it. Stay tuned - I'll be promoting it a lot if it works out as I hope. 

In other other news, I'm still trying very damn hard to sell three of my books, and/or get an agent to help me sell them, and to place finished essays about movies that I think are good. That isn't going very well, on the whole. It's a discouraging time for my submissions, even as the podcasting gains me some traction. Later in the year I'm gonna dive to writing depth, starting the next project, and I'm massively looking forward to doing that instead of promoting and pitching, which is several fathoms up, high visibility, lots of sun. Even if the current depth is less work, in an hours-per-day sense, it's not work I was cut out to do, so it wears me out pretty easily. 

--

Lately I've been wondering a little more about the future of this blog. I didn't think I'd ever be the type of person who watched her words in public, but I had no idea it would be so practically difficult to write about writing while telling the whole truth. Enemies who are friends with friends, people who don't know what they don't know, deeply unpopular opinions held for an unairable reason, etc. Also, blogging is firmly out of fashion at this point. (I'm a bit tickled that writing outflow keeps finding different places to go. It's currently in Substack-ish newsletters, which I believe is unsustainable.) 

My personal life is pretty happy, and my successes and failures in my writing life are either boring and continual (rejections, rejections, rejections) or not suitable for the public (non-scandalous ill treatment by folks with whom I'd like to stay congenial). I don't want to make this a writing craft blog, because, in brief, I am weary of writing craft on the internet. So what do I write about here? Maybe I announce things, maybe I pursue ideas that don't fit anywhere else, maybe I keep up with my reading and viewing habits. Maybe I stop. 

I'm not fussed about this choice, because my investment in this space is low. I used to feel genuine pain over its low readership but have long since detached from that. I'm staying here on my terms, and my terms are not to worry too much about consistency or content here. Plenty of other spaces for me to worry about that. 

Saturday, February 19, 2022

This Spot in the Road

The book I've been working on for two years directly, and several more years indirectly, is a collection of straightforward critical essays about bad movies. Originally I planned to write about the following media: 

  • Plan 9 from Outer Space 
  • Cop Rock 
  • The Teen Agers films (1946-48) 
  • Attack of the 50 Ft. Woman (1958) 
  • Death Bed: The Bed that Eats 
  • Ruby 
  • Showgirls/Staying Alive 

By the middle of last year, I'd written half of these and published a few. I got stuck on the Showgirls/Staying Alive essay, about which I was quite intimidated (a lot of people have written about Showgirls), and then I lost half a year to circumstances out of my control, during which I barely wrote. I also had a mini-brainwave about how I'd chosen to approach this project: I'd written criticism about these films without writing much on how the audience receives them. With this in mind, I decided to write about two other films: 

  • Girl in Gold Boots
  • After Last Season

Between November and February, I wrote the remaining essays from the first list, including 4,300 words on Showgirls & Staying Alive. I also wrote a 7,700-word essay on Quentin Tarantino, which required a ton of research and which I still can't believe I turned in on time. Since January I've written 2,000 words to order on Switchblade Sisters (which might end up in this bad-movie book), and I thought intensely about what I wanted to say in the essay on Girl in Gold Boots

For two weeks I tried to write this essay, and kept failing. I got way into the weeds, trying to sort out what it means to like a film, the difference between pleasing graphic design and actual art, and how moral value attaches to aesthetic value. It was a mess. Ultimately I splurted out 1,500 words of deep confusion about what I was trying to do, which I think is itself something, but which might also be background for the real essay. If the real essay exists, it's either going to be so methodical it's practically philosophy, or it's going to be totally bizarre. 



I was saving Season for last, because I wasn't quite sure what would happen when I saw it again, when I tried to put ideas about it together in sentences. Yesterday I watched the film in the morning, sat down to write about it in the late afternoon, and finished 3,100 words about it around 11 PM. I read these words again this morning and it's a finished essay. I'm astonished, because I really thought this essay would be impossible - the film is impossible - but it was one of the easiest things I've written in the past year. 

That means, aside from the Gold Boots essay, the book is complete. 

Which might mean the book is, in fact, complete. It's possible the Gold Boots essay won't work out. I'll give it a couple of weeks and another strong try before I really give up, but it seems ever more likely that I'm not capable of saying what I'd like to about this goddamn stupid lovable movie. 

So, as I said on Twitter, I think I might have finished my latest book today. Yay for me, I think? I'll probably write some interstitials to sculpt it into a real book and Lord knows finding a publisher hasn't gone well so far, but reaching this spot in the road means I can begin to move on from this whole period of my writing life, creatively. Move on from film crit as the only thing I do and swerve back toward the other stuff I do. Up next is a novel, my first in more than five years, so I'm looking forward to that. 

There's a lot more news, but not sharing it here means I'll have to write another post soon. 

Thursday, November 18, 2021

Fixes

Here is a true story. 



Hummingbirds are fascinating to watch. Up close they're a lot more like big bugs than like birds; they're a bit louder than you expect and they hover unsettlingly, changing direction unpredictably. But through a window, there is nothing better to watch. They have weird tongues and their bodies change shape to a surprising degree when they're perching or flying and they're fast, fast, fast. 

Over the summer I started taking the trouble to hang a feeder outside my office, after years of not bothering (you end up needing to refill the feeders all the time and it can be messy and irritating to do so). In late summer, a goldfinch began visiting the hummingbird feeder, every day, mid-morning. Because hummingbirds are so tiny, it looked huge on the perching area, and I worried that it was scaring the little guys off. 

I went to the bird store and asked what I should do. The bird guy said he'd never heard of that, a goldfinch drinking sugar water. I shrugged and said well, it's happening. He sold me an inexpensive sock feeder full of nyjer (a tiny black seed), in the hope of moving the bird's interest to that instead. He asked me to follow up with him, because he was curious what would happen. 

The sock feeder didn't work, at first. I hung it outside my husband's office window, a ways down from the hummingbird feeder. Still that big ol' finch would visit to sip sugar water every day, setting the feeder swinging with its giant tail and bright yellow breast. So I went back to the bird store, where I talked to a different guy, and he, too, had never heard of a goldfinch drinking from a hummingbird feeder. I bought a much more serious feeder, a part-metal contraption with a yellow top and a huge cylinder to fill with nyjer. Which I did, fill it with nyjer. I hammered in a new nail to hang the sock feeder outside my window, two feet or so from the little red hummingbird feeder, and hung the serious feeder outside Matt's office. I hoped to graduate to only having the serious feeder, far enough away from the hummingbirds so as not to scare them off, and not to have to use the sock feeder (much messier and harder to fill) at all. 

A few weeks went by. Nothing happened at first, and then everything happened at once. Dozens of finches and other assorted little birds started visiting my patio, first in the morning and then all day long. Eight of them at a time would cling to the sock feeder, pecking out nyjer and chirping at each other. A pair of them sometimes sat on different sides of the feeder with their tails crossed companionably. They found the serious feeder, too. I bought bigger bags of nyjer and took video. 



Now, months in, my patio is stippled with poop and covered with expended nyjer seeds. Every time we go out there, a flurry of wings and panicked twittering greets us as we (accidentally) scare off the birds that sit and feast all day. Hummingbirds still hang around my patio, some, but the finches and sparrows are the stars of the show. 

I bought some little nests in the hope of slowing the damage they're doing to my flowering bushes via occupancy. I'm in the market for a large birdhouse for the same reason. And I bought a hook to hang the sock feeder over a planter so I don't have to sweep up so much. More stuff to try and coax the patio into looking how I want it to look, to keep it from being presided over by the damn birds. 

All this started with a single goldfinch who liked sugar water. In trying to solve that problem, I created a whole constellation of problems, and trying to solve those means repeatedly adding things to my life - buying solutions. 

Weeks ago I started believing this was a metaphor. 

I don't want to stop feeding the birds. That would be the simplest solution, to just stop, let the finches find another hookup for their nyjer, go back to having just the one hummingbird feeder. But I like them; they're distracting when I'm lonely and worried about my writing. Yet they trouble me: am I making them too fat? am I somehow attracting rats to the patio (I see them crawling along the wall in the evenings, and I found one dead, half-under our grill, earlier this week)? am I lowering the property value with a plethora of tiny poops? will my star jasmine ever recover? 

The Sopranos begins with Tony obsessed with the ducks in his pool. As a metaphor, it's neat; the ducks act independently of him, and he takes few actions to change his relationship with the ducks or the way he lives alongside them. No contradictory elements or uninterpretable events. I remember my husband telling me that his family would always scare off ducks that hung out in their pool, because they were messy, and there was a river literally on the other side of the house that was better for their needs. That's less a metaphor than it is a story about wildlife colliding with suburbia. Like seagulls that mistake empty parking lots for ocean: I used to see that as sad, paving paradise to put up etc., but now I think gulls just have bad eyesight and it doesn't mean much. 

What's going on with me and these finches is something else altogether, something to do with cascades or fractals or sheer stubbornness. Unintended consequences. Soured generosity. Capitalism and the nesting instinct. 

Coincidentally or not, at present a mental health crisis is slowly unfolding inside my head, doubling in size with every unfurled edge. With that lens I see this whole situation as a seminar in failure. At each stage, I guessed about what would help, or fix, and implemented those ideas. In helping or fixing one aspect, I opened the door to other challenges, none of which is more or less tolerable than the initial one but which require new and different fixes. Each new round, through my current lens, contains failure, and failure, and more failure. 

Maybe what I've done is cause dependency in wild animals, which is always a mistake. Maybe I've made my patio a haven for exactly the wrong kinds of animals (today rats, tomorrow coyotes?!) Maybe, in not just giving up and leaving the feeders empty, in continually trying to "solve" this, I've given myself a distraction, both when I sit in my office and when I make a shopping list for the home & garden section at Lowe's, from what I really need to be doing, which is producing new work. It's what I've needed to be doing for five months. Instead, I'm mucking around with finches and pruning my bushes until they start to die. 

That might be too harsh an analysis of what's happening here. In nimbler hands, this story would be a minor plot line in a comedy, like Bridget Jones's disastrously remodeled apartment (in the books) or the adventures of Maris Crane. Everything looks like Stalag 17 to me right now, not like The Apartment. But this metaphor, if it is one, doesn't feel tidy enough to be comic. It's sloppy and strange, as wild animal encounters so often are (or should be), and I don't know what to learn from it. 

Maybe nothing. Maybe we learn less often from true stories. 

Wednesday, November 3, 2021

Anthropomorphosis

today's mood


Today I sent six queries for Plan 9 publicity and a few followups to agents as well. I've done as little of this work as I possibly can over the past year, but today, suddenly, I had the energy to do it. I also slept well two nights in a row after not sleeping well for several weeks on end. 

I'm not going to say that all of this was because I spent time with horses on three of the last five days, but that certainly made a difference. 

It's very strange to learn something fundamental about yourself well into adulthood. In my case, it's that I like animals. I didn't spend any time with animals when I was young (other than small pets like hamsters - I do not like rodents, I've learned), and only in the last few years have I discovered how much I love being with horses and dogs and, when I have access to immediate hand-washing and laundry, cats too. Time with animals has the capacity to turn my mental health around, which is a genuine surprise. 

The time with horses was spent at a ranch about an hour north of me. I'm going to try to go there once a week until I can't anymore. The difference in horsemanship between this (western/endurance riding, starting wild horses under saddle) and the stable I worked at for 18 months (dressage) is so profound that the only similarity is the existence of horses. The disparity, the feeling of starting over, led me into a bunch of panicky questions about what I'm even doing with myself and my time, what the years past 40 are going to look like for me, what this is all for. How do I do this? How do I continue it? 

My brother-in-law is a highly strategic person (on the outside - what do I know about his insides?). He planned his life really well, from college on, and now he's living it. That sounds satisfying, and yet seems impossible for me to do. I admire it but am perplexed by it. What if life changes in a way not accounted for by his plan? What if he discovers he badly wants something unstrategic? 

--

Today, my second book finally appeared on Amazon, even though it's not yet available to order on Amazon. Baby steps. 

--

Making plans for a three-city visit back east in March: central Virginia, Philadelphia, NYC. Hope I'll see you there. More details as I know them. 

-- 

EDIT TO SECTION BELOW: holy crap, I already blogged about this, five years ago. I said some of the same things then that I said below, but I was not as nice about it then. Shame on me for not looking more carefully at my own past words. 

-

Recently I had cause to remember and link to this essay. In reading it again, I found that I wasn't just remembering it for the reason I linked to it, which is this passage: "And I will say, too, that he was a man obsessed. While the rest of us were screwing around with our crushes and debating whether or not to use our middle initial when published, he was writing. I mean really writing, all the time, sometimes a rumored fourteen hours a day." 

The "he" is Joshua Ferris, who hit a grand slam with his debut novel, Then We Came to the End. He was lucky, but here is proof that he also worked extraordinarily hard. There is no one way to be a successful writer, especially because "success" bears such a range of meanings. But most assuredly, you are more likely to find whatever kind of success you want if you put your head down and write than if you engage with Writer Drama (which is...significant). 

The passage didn't teach me this lesson, but it did crystallize it: you can talk about writing, you can have sex about writing, you can dramaturge about writing, but the only way you will publish is by actually, literally, provably writing. 

But again, upon reread, this article opened up a bunch more avenues for me to think about. 

  • On the way things get magnified in a small, absurd environment like an MFA program: "It would be years before I realized that almost none of it, at least what had happened in workshop, mattered at all." 

  • On room at the table: "We are entirely different writers and, as such, weren’t competing at all. I would tell myself that his success had no bearing on whether or not I would have any, and dwelling on it only amounted to a shitload of wasted time." 

  • On hard truths: "I’ve been forced to come to grips with what all writers must face at some point: No one — and I mean no one — except for you, and maybe your mother, cares if you write." 

  • On what's required of a male writer vs. what's required of a female writer post-MFA: "A few years later his novel came out [...] and he was lauded as the Second Coming of Franzen. What was I doing during this time? [...] Taking care of my sister during her bout with cancer." 

  • On the toxicity of the standard MFA workshop: "It was so terrible, Geoffrey so unnecessarily unkind, that if it had happened to me, I would have been in the fetal position in the corner of the room after the first fifteen minutes." 

  • On why MFAs are a terrible idea for people who haven't developed enough integrity of self to compartmentalize work and relationships, as they're too young, with too little life experience: "...but then you hang out, you drink, you make out, you realize you are competing with one another for the prize of attention and praise and connections and publication, you have inappropriate crushes on people who are not available but act like they are, and yes, hello, all of that taints your views of other people’s work." 

I don't agree with everything Mims says in this piece. But it's an extraordinarily useful essay to dissect and consider, whether you think MFAs are good or bad, whether you think spite is a useful driver of hard work or not, whether you think it's fine to mix sex with writing workshop or not. I think this essay should be required reading for anyone applying to an MFA program. 

--

I'm working my way through BoJack Horseman (which is extraordinary). I do not think it's related that I've found a new horse place to spend time, but it sure is fun that they're happening together. 

Saturday, October 2, 2021

Like the Bad Thing

I'm in a bad mood today. It might be the weather (windy, hot, dry), or it might be a feeling that everything I've done recently has only been half-done (yard work, friendship, whatnot). But the last time I felt this way, it was because I hadn't written anything in a while, and once I wrote I felt better. (Like constipation.) Blogging isn't really what my muse has in mind, but it'll have to do; all the other projects on my plate require too much research. Those projects include a long essay on Tarantino, a long essay on two dance films, and two other film essays that haven't shaped up yet. 

The Tarantino essay was something I accepted as a lark but it's taking on much bigger proportions. I half-joked to Matt that I felt sure no one else in the world would ever again ask me to go on at length about Tarantino, and I definitely could have written the thing without research or refresher-watches, just bullshitting for several thousand words. Alas, my tactics have changed. I've borrowed or bought a lot of books about him and am reading them, slowly. My target is Kill Bill, and I had a very safe, simple thesis about it before I started reading. Now I think there'll be a few prongs. 

what you get when you ask me to write about something

The main one is that Kill Bill is a hinge, an artistic midpoint, and the films themselves express Tarantino's waning interest in mixtapes and growing interest in the static Western. That's pretty easy to prove. He kinda laid it out for us. The tougher sell is writing about rape-revenge films and other exploitation genres that Kill Bill draws from, and critics have mostly ignored that angle. (Just incidentally, every single writer-at-length on Tarantino is male.) Obviously, his films are such rich texts that no one book or essay will explore all possible angles for his work, but I'm amazed at how many writers seem to have missed one crucial influence or another. They don't seem to be reading each other. One guy's writing about samurai films, the other's writing about Westerns, but they're not writing about how those two genres both go into the T-blender (and how they echo each other outside the T-blender anyway). Not all of us can have brains as encyclopedic as Tarantino's, but I expect people with PhDs to do better than this. All I've got is a library card and I plan to do better. 

[I understand that Tarantino has, at best, a questionable personality. He's fallen in and out of favor with the public so often that I'm sick of worrying about it and am just gonna write about his films.]

I might have mentioned here that the last essay in the bad film book, the one I haven't written yet and should have written three months ago, is a dual piece about Showgirls and Staying Alive. Staying Alive is easy, few people have bothered with it, but a surprising number of people have written about Showgirls, and that has made me intimidated to start. It's a movie in which I have limited interest. I guess the kinder way to say that would be focused interest, but I said what I said; I don't enjoy watching it as much as I do the other movies I've written about in this book. So there's that too, that in studying it I have to watch it and think about it a bunch. I shouldn't have saved this essay for last, I should have saved an easy one for last, but I love the grotesque and delicious Staying Alive so I thought that enthusiasm would carry me through. 

I'm kind of glad I didn't write the essay over the summer, though, because the other day I had an idea for how to rejigger the entire book that I think will make it better and more saleable. I was telling Marissa about how Showgirls has been "reclaimed" by writers who argue that it's a good movie, not a bad one, and how silly I think that is. (She agreed.) The same thing has happened to famed bomb Ishtar, which, look, I know Elaine May deserves a good reputation, but Ishtar is terrible. It's terrible! Don't redeem it, don't reclaim it. It's bad. That's it. 

I started thinking about about why people bother to "reclaim" movies at all, why they try to prove they are good rather than just letting them be bad. Multiple reasons for this pattern exist, but the main thing I'm sure of is the cognitive dissonance. The critic knows she has good taste and yet she likes this movie that is objectively bad, so she has to turn it around and make it good to make this preference make sense, and she uses all the power of rhetoric she can summon to do so. 

There is just no need for this. It's possible to like something bad without redeeming its reputation. Just go on and like the bad thing. They won't take your membership card away. 

The best example for this in my own life is Girl in Gold Boots, an MST3K classic that is truly a shitty little movie. It's skeezy and cheap and badly made (by one of the schlockmasters of the 60s, Ted V. Mikels), about criminals, go-go dancers, and generally people with bad lives and no taste. I genuinely love this movie. Not just the MST of this movie; I love the movie, and I really, really don't know why. There's nothing in it that's good, nothing I can argue for as having objective quality. But I have such affection for it. I watch it when I'm sad. 

I got to thinking I could write about the mystery of loving this movie, could try and dismantle the - to quote myself, in the Plan 9 book - mechanism in me that loves bad movies. I don't know if I'll ever understand what makes that mechanism run, but I can try, and in the trying I might uncover some cool stuff. 

Then I started thinking about where this essay would fit in with the others. So far I've written a book that intends to explore the ways that bad movies are bad: how they go wrong. If I add this essay, along with another, I might be writing about something else altogether: how we as audience approach bad movies. 

The other one I'm thinking about is on After Last Season, which is truly the most baffling piece of cinema I've ever come across. It's the only movie I've ever seen that has completely resisted my attempts to analyze it. Even in the most opaque art films I can determine influences and the filmmaker's general concerns, and sometimes intentions, but this one...it's a piece of outsider art from a person who doesn't seem to have any creative urgency at all. And look, it's terrible, too, don't get me wrong, it's incompetent in every particular. But more interestingly, it fails to cohere around any significant ideas or intentions, creating something that's almost abstract, coupled with mundane failures of filmmaking. 



How do we approach a film so poorly made that it offers us no entry points? With Neil Breen, we can figure out what the films are saying about the man who created them, but After Last Season doesn't speak the way Breen's films do. It's anonymously bad, but outrageously so. What do we do with it? 

These angles, to Season and Boots, alter the angle of the book. They make the book more thoughtful, and more about the audience than about the movies themselves. I think they make the book more useful as criticism and hopefully more interesting as essay; I have to admit to being stumped by Season and to loving Boots, and I have to work out what these reactions mean in a wider context of studying bad film. 

Writing the Plan 9 monograph was a breeze. These are much bigger challenges. But now that I've thought of these ideas, this more significant arc for the book, I'm having a hard time giving them up. 

And would you look at that. The hour I spent working on this post has cleared my bad mood right up. Gotta love that Senokot. 

Wednesday, July 7, 2021

Water and Waiting

Of late I've been trying to get rid of clutter. I am bad at this. Usually I feel the need to purchase more things in order to get rid of the things I already have: I want containers to organize stuff that should just get thrown out, for instance. In this case I bought a fancy scanner so I could scan in all my old files, stretching back before college, and I took up a lot of space in the living room setting up the scanner along with a shredder to dispose of what gets scanned. It's worked, though; I've gotten rid of a lot of paper, and in its place have a half-dozen bags of shredded stories, poems, notes, and articles. 

For whatever reason, I didn't like the idea of tossing these shreds in the recycling bin and having the city haul them away. I wanted to personally transmute them into something new. So, naturally, I bought more stuff: the equipment needed to make handmade paper. 

I took to this practice immediately. It uses the hands and the eyes and water and waiting. I have enough shredded paper to make hundreds of pages of handmade paper, and I may yet use it all; I had hoped to use this paper to create hand-bound chapbooks of my own work which I could sell or give away (literal transmutation of old creative work into new creative work), but I'm not sure that will happen. The handmade paper has a lot of alphabetic fragments on it which might make new work printed on it hard to decipher. 



The process of going through all my old documents has been freighted with emotion. My college papers show me that I write almost exactly the same way about film now as I did in 2002, and that I cannot write a decent paper about anything else. My old stories and novellas are terrible, far worse than I remembered, with fun [ed.: not fun] surprises I'd forgotten about altogether. I'm embarrassed for these stories, and for me, because I sent them out to magazines in all seriousness. Horrifying. 

I only vaguely recognize the person I was in college. She wrote comments in the margins of her course readers that were sometimes insightful and sometimes painfully dim. She had relationships with people of whom I do not remember one eyelash. Her opinions were strong, but pretty poorly informed. I can see the writer in her straining to surface. 


In other news. 

This weekend I begin teaching an online course about overcoming perfectionism. I've been flogging it everywhere possible, in as many social media groups as I can. I can't wait for it, in truth; writing and assembling the materials got me excited about sharing anti-perfectionism strategies. (If you somehow missed all my shouting about the course and are interested, you can sign up here, until Friday or Saturday I think.) 


I got to talk to a major inspiration of mine on the phone and I was a big pile of scribbled anxiety in the shape of a person, but I don't think he noticed. 

The Plan 9 book is chugging along toward publication. Still no news on a release date, but you'll hear about it, o readers of blog. The cover is great and I can't wait to share that with you, too. 

My therapist recommended that I put together an actual schedule for my days, now that outside work doesn't shape them. I did: read in the morning, lunch + break for something on TV, write in the afternoon. It's amazing. I'm finally coming back to reading after a series of halting breaks, and my project is to empty out the shelves of unread books I might have mentioned. So far I'm doing a good job. It's all a part of cleaning and culling, trying to have less clutter in my life. Or at least temporary empty space, before I buy more clutter to take the place of the old. 

Wednesday, May 26, 2021

Two Bookshelves

I'm not quite on schedule on the bad film book, because May has been a Break. I've tried to rest and sleep aggressively to get my body back to normal after stopping horse work at the end of April. Of course that means I have insomnia and weight gain, and I've almost completely lost my concentration. I'll get back on track in June, I hope, with the book and my body. I'm trying to finish a cross-stitch project that turned out to be a hell of a lot more work than I thought, and when that is done, a small daily residue of despair, of not-finishing, will evaporate. It should be done in the next few days. 


It's a very fun piece, but larger than expected (I even misjudged how much Aida I'd need, which is why the upper and lower borders are tiny), and the purple is just...so much. I'm going to end up using two full skeins of embroidery thread on it, which I believe I've never done on a non-kit project. My larger projects have tended to represent a show I was binging while I stitched, and this one is Bob's Burgers. Just started season nine. 

I'm reading Zelda Fitzgerald's Save Me the Waltz, and it's...interesting. I don't know if I'd call it a good book, but it's absolutely worth reading: dense with beauty and steeped in a rare way of seeing the world, breathless with love, seductively artless. Few books have the persistent, seemingly haphazard, lapping movement it has. I half-wish I'd read it while I was a Fitz fangirl in my early teens, or at least known then that Zelda was a writer too. I find it interesting that my education on Fitz didn't include that information. 

I'm also audiobooking The Secret History. Outlook hazy so far. And I'm reading shorter books at as fast a clip as I can manage while still working on Lisa. This month I reorganized my bookshelves, you see, and discovered that I have two entire bookshelves full of books I haven't read. Like, not two shelves, but two bookshelves, two shoulder-high pieces of furniture fully loaded with books not yet read. So I'm trying to move through them. 

My bookshelves have been messily stacked instead of organized for over a year. It used to be my favorite thing to do when we moved, but the last two times, I organized them just a few months before we were asked to pack them up and move again. So this time I waited ages before organizing them again. As many books as I have now, it's tedious instead of fun to keep doing it (and I really didn't want to jinx us into moving again). But I finally got to the point where it was more annoying not to find the book I wanted than to spend a week stacking them on the living room rug and reassembling them on my shelves. 

In forward-facing writing news, a bunch of stuff has appeared or been published lately. This essay about the Teen Agers, which surprised me by doing pretty well, and this essay about Cop Rock, which surprised me by sinking like a stone. This interview with Kate Durbin was a small part of a large raft of publicity for her new book, but it meant a lot to me. This podcast featured me, about as enthusiastic and opinionated as I ever get. This issue of a fascinating literary project featured a bunch of my horse cross-stitches (keep clicking on the spinning object at the bottom). And this very nice review of Ceremonials appeared. 

In inward-facing writing news, I started a new blog for the book project I might be doing after I finish the bad film book. That project is a catalogue of the films of 1977, and I'm not sure of the final form it will take - a general discussion of trends and significance that mentions many films, or an encyclopedic listing of the films and how they cohere to trends and significance. In any event, I'm watching as many films from that year as I can, and offering up my notes on them here. It's less a blog like this one than it is an online notebook to help me track my progress. 

One thing I'm less learning than I am seeing in action is how much old years are like new years. Most of what I'm watching is mediocre, or genuine dreck. While I still think 1977 is meaningful in cinema history, I also think I've likely seen most of the gems already, because they have lasted and been talked about. There's a lot of cinematic dreck in a given year and we live through it in real time, but the stuff that's worth watching later usually sits in the thresher, glittering, while the chaff blows off and away. Watching more of the films from a given year demonstrates that films aren't getting worse; we just don't usually watch the bad ones four decades later. 

What's ahead of me is a lot of hard work, no matter how you slice it. After I finish the bad film book, I've either got the 1977 book or the Casablanca book ahead, and I have three finished or near-finished books I'd like to get published, all of which have very different audiences. I should probably find an agent if I can, although I'm frustrated and doubtful about that, and it's too long to get into why. I'm contemplating plunging into an extremely difficult long-term project (not writing, but literary) and am genuinely scared of the work it will take to do it. 

I'm feeling discouraged, is the point. Lots of things are clicking, and I'm certainly counting my blessings. But although there are five shelves of books I've read, my eye keeps jumping back to those two I haven't. 

There's one other thing on my mind, to do with talent and effort. I tried writing it here but it ended up long enough to be its own post so I will post it another time. Stay tuned.