Saturday, March 15, 2008

No Country For Old Farts

The other day I was having lunch with a friend who mentioned that she had finally gotten around to reading one of my recent blogs. I hate that word, by the way: "blog." T.S. Eliot once said that the ugliest word in the English language was "television." I would like to nominate "blog" as runner-up. Anyway, my friend said she didn't actually finish the blog, because she got frustrated that it took me so long to "get to the point."

I don't get a lot of feedback on my writing. Every once in a while I do get a note from someone saying they liked one of my 'blogs', which is nice. As a screenwriter I depend on feedback, but it is not that easy to come by. A few weeks ago I got some amazing feedback on a script I wrote from a professional script analyst. It was specific and clear and extremely helpful. And it cost a hundred bucks. But it was well worth it, because without feedback I'm just a guy sitting in a room talking to himself.

So my friend's comment made me think a lot about why I write these 'blogs' and wonder exactly what the "point" is.

Perhaps coincidentally, over the past few months I've been reading some other blogs. At first I was just curious -- I read one blog about dating in L.A. and offered some wry comments. Then I read some of the other comments and thought a couple of them were funny and insightful. This led me to read the blogs written by the commenters, and then the comments on their blogs and so on and so forth. Soon I found myself caught up in an online "community" of bloggers -- reading their latest blogs, leaving my comments, following up on other reader's comments, etc. It was fun. I felt like a part of something exciting. People who wanted to share ideas. Fellow writers.

The initial excitement only lasted a couple of weeks until I began to notice a pattern. Most of the blogs I read seemed to be about blogging and many of the comments were from people either promoting their own blogs or sniping other bloggers. This interesting little world began to feel less and less like an open forum to exchange ideas and opinions and more and more like junior high school. The point of it all seemed to be popularity and cliquishness rather than expression and understanding.

Plus the writing didn't really hold up. Too many of the bloggers felt that simply venting their spleens was somehow naturally of interest to others. It can be, of course, when the venter actually has something worth saying. But most of the time the blogger is just whining about some ridiculous personal injustice or irritating inevitability with no attempt at originality or insight. Like, "I hate politicians because they are full of shit." Or, "My job sucks because my boss is a jerk."

And to make matters worse, these banalities are encouraged by a dimwittedly devoted posse who celebrate their mediocrity with such accolades as "u r awesome" and "I <3 you". It took me days to figure out that "<3" is supposed to be a heart, as in "I heart you."

Another common misconception among the bloggers has to do with attempted humor. Almost all of the bloggers that I've read belong to the misguided school of comedy that believes anything inappropriate or obnoxious is by definition hilariously funny. I'm not saying that being inappropriate or obnoxious can't be funny. But it usually isn't.

Eventually I became disinterested with the bloggers. There's only so much bad writing I can handle. Just because someone has an opinion and knows how to type doesn't make them a writer. Writing is a craft, not a hobby.

But bad writing is inescapable. Turn on the TV and you will be bombarded by it. Browse a magazine, if you dare, and you will surely step in it. Even books are not immune. I just got finished reading a novel that may get turned into a movie one day. It was an interesting story poorly written. But what really got me were the mistakes -- bad grammar, improper usage, incorrect spelling! I thought books were supposed to have editors. But either the editors didn't notice the mistakes or they didn't care. Or maybe they didn't even know the difference.

Fortunately, there is also some very good writing out there. I have a few favorite TV shows that I think are quite well done. There are certain authors I admire and will read anything and everything they've written. I've seen some decent journalism among the pages of a few magazines here and there. And then there's the movies.

This year, of the five movies nominated for Best Picture, three were based on works of literature and two were original screenplays. No Country for Old Men won Best Picture as well as Best Adapted Screenplay. The book was written by Cormac McCarthy who is one of those writers I truly admire. And the script by the Coen brothers was brilliant. I will see any movie by the Coen brothers.

There Will Be Blood was adapted by P.T. Anderson from a novel called Oil! by Upton Sinclair. For the first twenty minutes or so of the movie there is not a word of dialogue -- and yet you learn everything you need to know about the main character. That is great screenwriting.

Atonement was based on a book by Ian McEwan which employs a self-referential style of writing called metafiction to present its theme. After what felt like a slow start, I was utterly drawn into the world of the movie. By the end I was both emotionally moved and intellectually stimulated by the masterful use of both literary and cinematic technique.

The script that won the Oscar for best original screenplay was Juno by Diablo Cody. Many of you may have heard that Diablo Cody used to be a stripper, but you may not know that she first got noticed by Hollywood because she was also a blogger. She is one of the rare few who can be inappropriate yet funny. And by the way, God bless her for writing a movie in which a sensitive, pale, shy, skinny, guitar-playing cross-country runner ends up being the cool, sexy hero who gets the girl at the end. If only life were really like that then I would have a girlfriend like Diablo Cody.


I originally began writing this 'blog' as a newsletter to keep in touch with friends and family I left behind when I moved to Hollywood sometime in the last century. I hoped it might serve as a kind of living memoir of my path from obscurity to glory. Instead it is merely a meandering chronicle of my decaying orbit around the fringes of oblivion. A cautionary tale, if you will.

So what, then, exactly is the point? It's a good question.

Is getting noticed the point? Is it all just a big popularity contest like junior high school? If a writer taps on his keyboard and there's no one around to hear him, does he make a sound?

I think maybe the point is craft. I am exercising my craft. I just want to keep trying to get better at what I do. And the only way to do that is to keep practicing.

Or maybe I should become a stripper. After all, I already have my stage name.