Why I may not participate in another NaNoWriMo from now on.
For a variety of reasons -- bad timing, too much work, impending cross-country move, holiday crunch, already got other projects munching on my lobes -- I didn't participate in NaNoWriMo this year. No diss at all of you who did, though, and I know there's at least a couple of regular readers of this blahg who spent November bashing keys. Good going. Gold stars for the lot of ya.
Now here's a theory which may offend: I suspect I may have outgrown NaNo altogether.
Before you soak the torches in gasoline and ready the pitchforks, don't assume by this I mean that NaNo is a phase that writers should outgrow, or that everyone who does it is a bottom-runger. All I mean by this is, everything I once used NaNo for are now things I find I can do on my own without it.
How you know when you've "arrived" as a writer.
In a thread over at Hacker News, someone pointed out how the "simplification of any complex subject has limits". There's only so much you can boil a subject down before you start to do it injustice. The original discussion revolved around software tools, and how some kinds of programming can only be made so simple before they become constraints on further learning. At some point you gotta take the training wheels off.
The same thing happens with writing. There comes a point when all the books, all the advice of teachers or peers, all the things (ALL THE THINGS!!!) have to be shelved in favor of making an effort on one's own.
The way I once put this to someone else was, "I know when someone's arrived if they can write something where I don't agree with a single word, but I can still admire every impeccably-assembled syllable of it."
On culture being a tasteless affair (puns intended).
... the whole point of a market system is supposed to be that it serves consumers, providing us with what we want and thereby maximizing our collective welfare. But the history of English food suggests that even on so basic a matter as eating, a free-market economy can get trapped for an extended period in a bad equilibrium in which good things are not demanded because they have never been supplied, and are not supplied because not enough people demand them.
You could swap "movies" for "food" in this essay -- or books, or any other cultural product -- and the formula would still work.
The way my friend Steven Savage put this is also illuminating. Diversity has the same function in culture that it does in a biosphere: it encourages a healthy immune system. A monoculture has no such immunity, and will happily devour itself in an attempt to deliver maximum profit off minimum diversity (and total blandness).
This is why I get uneasy about making most every movie into some variation on The Avengers, as I put it before. It's not that I think that's a bad movie; it's because that's a bad model to follow unilaterally, because it crowds everything else out, and makes everything into the same generic overstuffed, overhyped puff pastry product.
On writing about a kind of man that no longer exists.
[Koestler's The Gladiators] is about Spartacus, the Thracian gladiator who raised a slaves’ rebellion in Italy round about 65 B.C., and any book on such a subject is handicapped by challenging comparison with [Flaubert's] Salammbô. In our own age it would not be possible to write a book like Salammbô, even if one had the talent. The great thing about Salammbô, even more important than its physical detail, is this utter mercilessness. Flaubert could think himself into the stony cruelty of antiquity, because in the mid-nineteenth century one still had peace of mind. One had time to travel in the past. Nowadays the present  and the future are too terrifying to be escaped from, and if one bothers with history it is in order to find modern meanings there. Koestler makes Spartacus into an allegorical figure, a primitive version of the proletarian dictator. Whereas Flaubert has been able, by a prolonged effort of the imagination, to make his mercenaries truly pre-Christian, Spartacus is a modern man dressed up.
Emphasis mine. Such thoughts weigh heavily on me when I look at the notes I've collected for a future book, one which involves a man (and a society) that are many lifetimes removed from our own.
The man of the past no longer exists, not even as memory, which is why it is so difficult to say anything coherent about him. Each time we look back, we do so through the lens of our moment in time. Hence the need to make Errol Flynn's Robin Hood a dispense of social justice a la a modern "freedom fighter" (or even a Capra-esque hero). A more historically honest Robin Hood story would probably play more like Heinrich von Kleist's Michael Kohlhaas, a story about justice at any cost written in a time when such a notion could still have a romantic veneer about it.
Why artists and thinkers shouldn't consider themselves mutually exclusive entities.
So what's the difference between a work being about something as a theme, and a work merely containing something as an ingredient? You've heard me bash on this a good deal, so I thought I'd unpack it a little further.
Most artists are not terribly original thinkers, or even terribly profound ones for that matter. It's not in their job description -- or, maybe better to say, they believe they do the job of thinker just fine enough to suit their purpose, which is to bring us something new and original and exciting. A new story, usually, but just as often something current wrapped in a familiar story (or is it the other way 'round?). The ideas themselves are just the green onion sprinkled on top of that particular ramen bowl. In other words, they take the ideas just seriously enough to merit inclusion in a work or to instigate the work, but they don't always make the work about the idea.
Perhaps what's not required is being a thinker --maybe that's a little top-heavy a word to use -- but simply being aware of the fact that ideas are present in one's work and that one has to do justice to their presence. That's something many artists do, but again, how they go about doing it and in what realm is what matters most.
Goodbye, About.com; hello, something new.
As of the end of October, I'm no longer the anime guide for About.com. I had a good run of it, but now it's time for something else.
And I do, in fact, have something else cooking up in that very vein -- something I think will be of great interest to everyone who likes to have their pop-culture discussions on the brainy side without also being pretentious.
Watch this space for more announcements later!
This page contains an archive of posts in the category Uncategorized / General for the month of November 2013.
New York City
Other Lives Of The Mind