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The Relentless Grind of Making Art

When you’re flipping channels and you come across a “Seinfeld” rerun, do you flip right past it or do you linger? 

Right past it. I think there’s a level of focus you need to get something to a certain point creatively, and you pay a price for that, which is you can’t ever look at it again.”

– Dan Amira interviewing Jerry Seinfeld for the New York Times

Hiatus

Deep into editing the second draft of my first novel.

The good news? I like it. A lot.

The bad news? Not much bandwidth for anything else.

Gotta prioritize.

Unintended Consequences

“But the bulk of Facebook and Twitter users are more centrist. They aren’t particularly interested in the latest partisan wrangle. For these users, “posting online about politics simply carries more risk than it’s worth,” Bail argues. By absenting themselves from online political discussions, moderates allow the extremists to dominate, and this, Bail says, promotes a “profound form of distortion.” Extrapolating from the arguments they encounter, social-media users on either side conclude that those on the other are more extreme than they actually are. This phenomenon has become known as false polarization. “Social media has sent false polarization into hyperdrive,” Bail observes.”

– From the December 27, 2021 New York Times article “POLES APART: Can American politics survive an era of hyperpartisanship?” By Elizabeth Kolbert 

A Black Hole of Need

Sometimes, this is how the ER feels

There is simply more need than I can fill

Everywhere I turn, faces calling out

Nurse! Nurse! Nurse!

I’m just one person trying desperately to serve the needs of so many

Until eventually my reservoir runs dry

Hopefully not until the end of my shift

When I can go home and recharge

So I can come back and do it all over again

Perfect Films (Part 1): Let the Right One In

This 2008 masterpiece by Swedish filmmaker Tomas Alfredson is one of those movies that transcends genre. Although marketed as a horror film, it’s really a love story, but trust me — it’s not like any love story you’ve ever seen.

Films like this are a mystery — it doesn’t seem possible to plan this kind of magic out. No, there is some kind of alchemy going on here, it’s as if the movie gods smiled down on the production, giving it their full blessing. It shouldn’t work, and yet it’s undeniable.

Impossible road block number one? The leads are two twelve-year-olds. Yeah — the film lives or dies by the performances of two children. What the fuck?! How is it possible to get performances like this out of kids, much less capture it on film?

No spoiler alert needed since the film is marketed as a vampire movie, which it kind of is, but not really. What we have here is an impossibly charismatic, lonely, androgenous pre-pubescent boy who is constantly bullied meet and fall in love with a 12-year-old vampire of unknown gender who has lived centuries.

The actors are mesmerizing — the boy’s longing is painfully heartbreaking. It’s impossible not to be moved by the innocence and purity of his love.

The girl is other-worldly; her performance must be seen to be believed. Together they each provide precisely what the other one needs.

The Swedish location only heightens the sense of loneliness — always snowing and cold, the sun never seems to shine, and there is no warmth anywhere.

Just an endless night of existential loneliness, assuaged by the love of a creature doomed to live forever.

First Place Fiction Prizewinner – Oh Boy!

We never go to bed thinking; Tomorrow will be the day I die, do we? And yet, this is how life works. Here one minute, gone the next.

This is a story about the consequences of missed opportunities and the burden of dealing with death on a daily basis.

It’s a story about life.

Enjoy!

Remember This

“Submitting your work fifty times or revising it as many times as you have to may be what separates the sung from the unsung.”

– Betsy Lerner

Thanksgiving (Part 3)

Looking back in my blog, apparently there was no Thanksgiving in 2020.

No surprise there.

Let’s pick things up again in 2021, shall we? So what am I thankful for? Quite a lot, actually…

  1. I’m not dead yet.
  2. My beautiful wife of 35 glorious years.
  3. All things considered, I’m reasonably healthy.
  4. My brain still seems to be firing on all cylinders.
  5. I have a job with health insurance.
  6. There are people I love who seem to love me back.
  7. My little girl pup that everyone thinks is a boy.
  8. Being able to write.
  9. The editors who have seen fit to publish my work.
  10. See number one.

Plot (Part 1)

There is no plot in real life.

I remember hearing Ethan Hawke discuss this idea in an interview, and it really stuck with me. He postulated that people aren’t interested in plots — they’re interested in other people. Therefore, as an actor, his mission was to create a character who was complicated and messy. You know, the way people behave in real life.

It’s only in retrospect that we can make any sense out of what happens to us — only in hindsight do the events we experience lead to what might resemble a coherent story. In real-time, it’s all a jumbled, confusing mess.

So why plot a novel? Or a short story, for that matter? Why not just let the story unfold in real-time, then look back and find the plot afterward?

Maybe the characters trump plot — and if they’re real enough, maybe they’ll tell you what’s going to happen.

Food for thought.

Hanging on by a Thread

“Health-care workers aren’t quitting because they can’t handle their jobs. They’re quitting because they can’t handle being unable to do their jobs.”

– Ed Yong, “Why Health-Care Workers are Quitting in Droves,” The Atlantic Magazine

The Last Day

Time is promise,
But uninvited circumstance
And wounded souls
Eventually barter it away.
The owner of my borrowed time
Will arrive at random to insist
All what remains of me vanish . . . .
A shadow of a shadow
Passing into mist.

So, I and my last day
Will take a journey together
When we both are spent,
That leaves the familiar
Once infused in all the days,
To stand at the edge of night,
And wonder in the dying light
Exactly where we went.

– Jim Gallagher

Transitioning (Part 2)

Transition: A change from one state or condition to another.

The current cultural zeitgeist suggests the word relates to issues of gender, but the truth is we are all in a constant state of flux, moving from one state to another.

Sometimes we’re aware of it; sometimes we’re not. Sometimes it’s a choice, and sometimes life thrusts us from one state to another whether we want to or not.

Note: I am transitioning from who I was to who I will be. I have some agency in the matter, or at least I think I do.

But perhaps not.

“I’m Sorry, I did the Best I Could”

Barbara Lock is an emergency physician and writer I’ve been fortunate enough to work with for eleven years. Today her essay on COVID, “Insect Music,” is published in The Forge Literary Magazine.

This is an important piece of non-fiction that beautifully gives voice to something that is almost impossible to put into words.

Do yourself a favor and take a few minutes to read about what it felt like to be a vulnerable human working in a NYC ER during the first wave.

It’s unforgettable.

Smaller Outside, Bigger Inside

As I turn my back on the chaotic hatred of the world that America has become, my inner world has become richer and more alive.

It’s not good.

I feel like I should be more engaged with all this hostility — like somehow I should be part of the solution, whatever that is.

But then I think, Maybe my part in this mess is just to create more art, followed quickly by, Really? That seems kind of silly and self-indulgent, doesn’t it?

Well, here’s the thing: I’m afraid that’s the best I can do.

It may not be much, but it’s something.