Archive for January, 2012

Other People’s Genius: Rad Resources on Screenwriting, Storytelling, and Some Beautiful Tales to Inspire

+ I know my friend James from film school; he’s a lovely human and a great writer, and one of the most truly creative, original people I know! If you’re at all interested in storytelling, making films or just the creative process in general, you really NEED to check out their site on microbudget filmmaking. Sure, it will teach you to make a film for very little money, but it is so much deeper than that. Most film sites go on and on and on about cameras, lenses, etc. in such a bollocks-y way; James and Todd (also a very cool, creative dude!) engage much more deeply in the creative process, and if you’re at all interested in craft, stories and narrative as well as new forms of filmmaking, there is some deep, beautiful stuff for you to learn from. This is a great lesson on the “mirror moment” — sort of the fulcrum of a story where a character reaches a certain awareness and then chooses to act on it, and how it can shape the rest of your narrative. It is an excellent lesson, and super-applicable to stories beyond film.

Be sure to check out their whole website for more, and subscribe to get the rest of their lessons!

+ Francesca Lia Block! She wrote a story for Wildfox Couture, it is here and it is beautiful!

+ I have always loved, loved, loved Terry Gilliam’s films — Brazil, 12 Monkeys, Time Bandits, they’re all so imaginative and audacious in how far they go to detail their peculiar, even baroque vision. This is a great interview with the filmmaker on his process, his beliefs, his reflections on film and the vocation of the artist, and being in it for the long haul.

+ Keeping on the filmmaker tip, here is another interview at The 99 Percent by the Dardenne brothers, Belgian filmmakers known for their observant, nonsentimental naturalistic filmmaking. If you’ve ever see L’Enfant, you know how amazingly moving and devastating their films can be, and they’ve carved out a rich place for themselves in world filmmaking. I have been more and more interested in artists and how they cultivate tenacity, patience and the ability to do their work for work’s sake, for learning, for growth, outside of acclaim, achievement, honors, fame. They have earned some of the highest respect and integrity in the field, not just for their films but how they work, so I’m truly interested in what they have to say.

+ I have been reading more poems lately. Poetry and I go way back: my first creative writing forays were in poetry, starting from high school onward, and in college I even won some fancy awards for my poems. I love the compression and intuition that writing and reading poems demands, and the sheer pleasure of images, movement, and words you can indulge in. I like reading poems off the Poetry Foundation’s iPhone app: I love how you just “spin” it and lo and behold, poem! The app is free, and is a true literary pleasure.

+ Ok, this isn’t genius but I still like my “best of 2011″ mix on 8tracks.com! It has: Zoo Kid/King Krule, Azealia Banks, TV on the Radio, Class Actress, Lykke Li, PJ Harvey, Crystal Stilts, Iceage, Fever Ray, Charlotte Gainsbourg, The Konki Duet, and Nicki Minaj.

On enough

I have been thinking about what is “enough” lately. There are so many opportunities to think about “enough”! Big or small, mundane or profound, the chance to reflect is always there: Am I getting enough sleep? Did I eat enough? Do I have enough money to live? Have I worked on this novel enough? Is there enough giving and receiving of affection in this relationship? Do I have enough scarves in my wardrobe, or do I really need another one, though it is cute and striped? If you really take a chance to look at it, “enough” is a concept to always grapple with.

Give it a go: observe how often the question of “enough” comes up in daily life. You’d be surprised.

enough, adj.: occurring in such quantity, quality, or scope as to fully meet demands, needs, or expectations

Enough is rather a strange concept, especially in a world where there are such extremes of lack and excess, on all levels from personal to geopolitical. It seems abstract, until you’re forced to make it concrete — and then you realize how very difficult it is to know what is enough.

Like in negotiating contracts, something I did a lot as when I did web design: what is the right amount where I feel properly compensated for the work I’m doing, and the client feels as if they are getting value? It is a balancing act, a very tricky one, involving figuring out your worth (generally very difficult for women to do, I must add), figuring out what is enough to satisfy two possibly opposing positions, putting a specific dollar amount on it.

The stakes are clear and concrete: if it is not enough, you’ll likely suffer for it on a very material, very real way. If it is too much, you may lose the contract, the gig, the job, or the client will secretly hate you and make your life miserable by squeezing all he or she can out of you.

But I also see the debate of what is enough play out in other, less expected ways. Like the scarf example above, or my penchant for plaid button-down shirts. Right now, I have four plaid shirts. I had two just two weeks ago, two which I loved and wore all the time. I was satisfied with two, but a little restless — you know that way you get with clothing sometimes, especially if you love it.

I was happy with two; maybe another, and another, would make me happier? But now I’m looking at the fourth one, wondering if four is a bit excessive. Maybe I should return it. Maybe three is enough? The irony is, now that I have more, I don’t wear them as much.

If you have too little of something, you could ache with longing. But sometimes, when you have too much of something, it loses its magic and power of enchantment. You take it for granted, grow bored with it, or are maybe paralyzed by too much of a good thing.

(Reading Barry Schwartz enlightened me to the idea that having too many choices saps the satisfaction gained from whatever you are deciding upon. I think of Barry whenever I walk into a Sephora and just stick with Nars lipsticks.)

“Enough” doesn’t really have a lot of glamour, and most people connote it with “average or sufficient.” Yuck, who wants that? That is so boring! So dull, so grey.

But now, when I think of “enough,” I think of equilibrium, a kind of harmony, neither lacking or overwhelmed by too much. One of my favorite ideas I picked up in my excursions into Spiritually Scandinavian was the concept of “lagom.” It is a word that is like “enough,” but is fairly untranslatable and has more cultural significance. My Swedish friend says it means more “just right,” or “optimal,” or “balanced.” Like Goldilocks wants, just right.

What is just right for you in life, in terms of love, work, friendship, activity, socializing, writing, buying, seeing, making? A question to always consider, an answer likely always evolving.

How to plan a year

I used to be one for really complex and ambitious New Year’s resolutions and intentions, complete with color-coded spreadsheets mapping out my year month-by-month. (Yes, it is as insane as it sounds, but it was actually really pretty to look at! My sweetheart suggested I actually should have framed it and passed it off as abstract art. I’m sure someone already has, I said.) That worked, for a year, and then it worked less and less after that, because my life got complicated with variables out of my control and it got kind of boring to fill out. I’m fairly type A and do love a good, specific plan with solid To-Do items, a timetable, a map of execution; it’s my Virgo rising sign, I suppose. And I’ve read too much on creativity and productivity to be able to completely eschew what I learned.

But, I temper it now. And I try different things, because what are New Year’s resolutions if not a beautiful life experiment?

There are tons of great tools available to help chart out a year: Chris Guillebeau does a good review and plan for analytical types. I’ve never done it, but the people I know who have are all hella successful, so there you go! For those who adore soulful questions with bright, joyous colors and drawings, Leonie Allen’s Goddess Guidebook is a pleasure to fill out and mull over. I got one as a gift in 2010 and it was a real treat and fun to do, even if I was a few months late! I read Tara Mohr’s suggestions on New Year’s resolutions (or, not having them, actually) with great interest. Her questions about what you want in a year are really lovely and reverie-provoking.

But this year, I did something different. Oh, of course, I have list of things I want to accomplish (more books, Paris, horses, a lovely new home, more prosperity), but I didn’t want so much to contemplate and think a plan, especially after the big Reverb thing. I mean, I’m good at plans, and To-Do lists, and that kind of thing. It’s like second nature; if I need to call on those superpowers, I can and will. Those muscles are sort of overdeveloped in my life. Instead, I sort of wanted to feel my way to my intentions for my year, to have a little fun and just make a mess. So I cut up all the magazines I accumulated over the year and did a few big massive collages.

I didn’t have a big plan for them, I only wanted images that resonated me. I pulled and pulled images from all these magazines until paper fluttered all over my floor like snow. And then I sorted them out, making groupings. Some images clearly were things, feelings, experiences I wanted; others were related to style; others were related to an emotional state I liked, others were just fancies that appealed to me in an unexplained yet deeply compelling way. I arranged them all on a few pieces of posterboard and put them together. And then I stepped back and, wow: if I could have the year I just laid out for myself, what a beautiful year it would be.

And then I realized: Voila! My dream/mood boards for 2012! (There are bits and pieces of them above — the whole big mess is a bit personal — this is the Internets, after all!) Like a real-life Pinterest!

The other thing I did in terms of New Year’s resolutions-type stuff is: I chose a word for the year, a theme. At least, I think it is the word for the year; I will give it some time to breathe a bit. Doing the whole Reverb challenge made me realize that what fascinates me as I pass through the years is how they begin to braid and lead into one another, how strands of one year persist into the next, and how you pick up new thoughts, ideas, experiences and weave them into larger experience of life as well. I like a sense of time passing to have cohesion, to feel like there’s a deeper story at work. I like pieces of the puzzle to fit. I do like the idea of a simple, clarifying compass. In the midst of all these goals, intentions, resolutions, it is nice to be able to look at something, ask yourself if it aligns with your compass, and then if it does, use it to head towards true north. True north, that’s where I’d like to be headed.


I’m going to keep track of more prosaic things here in the small ending space, I decided. Finished re-reading A Visit to the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan; loved it as much as the first time. I took time to really appreciate the interlocking structure, and found the helplessness of humanity in the face of the inexorability of time to be deeply true. Took my niece and nephews to see the Alvin and the Chipmunks movie (don’t judge; kids seem to love it!) and also watched Downton Abbey. I see why people are into that show! I loved all those Edwardian dresses. Right now I picked up the Ashley Judd memoir from the library; I’m not sure why, I don’t have any strong feelings for or against her, but I opened her book up and read a page and was intrigued. I’ll let you know how it goes; so far it is intelligent, deeply earnest and unexpectedly moving, and I actually texted a friend who suffered from serious emotional neglect as a child to read it.

On true gifts

I have a habit of re-reading books again and again, something I’ve been thinking about lately, because I think deep down writers want to write books that people re-read over and over — as if they were wise friends, comforting voices, or just a riotous good time that just has to be visited again. (I go to a Six Flags rollercoaster park every summer; I know it’s possible.)

I spent December re-reading all my favorite books, some of them for likely the twentieth-plus time in my life. (That would be Little Women.) Of course the first time I just love the story, or the characters, or the voice, and I want to know what happens and why. But the second, third, fourth or even twentieth time? What does one possibly extract from a book that many times?

There are, of course, many levels to read a book: for pleasure, analysis, cultural import, emotional attachment, wisdom, duty, research, moral instruction, creative inspiration, just to name a few. But as I closed the cover of Little Women after finishing it in December, I knew there was more to it, more to the reason why I pick up some stories again and again.


At the same time, I was also thinking about gifts. Not just presents and who would get them, but things that people, objects, experiences bring into the world that help shape it and make it a more beautiful, fuller, more interesting place.

An infectious humor. Incisive yet kind discernment. The ability to make life lovely to others, no matter what the circumstances. A true grace. Wild, poetic imagination. A power to look into dark places and not be afraid. You see it as the throughlines in bodies of work, or the feelings great leaders or cultural figures inspire, but it’s also present in everyday people: how my best friend’s beautiful tenor makes everyone stop and smile, because he takes such joy in singing. No matter what route they choose — relationships, words, images, voice, food, songs, clothing — something of their gift comes through.

And then the different strands of thinking converged: I love to re-read stories not just for stories, characters, rich language, gorgeous imagery. I love to revisit them because something about that book’s true gift resonates deep in me, in those corners of life we call spirit and soul. A book offers not just a story, characters, plot points, language: it offers a point of view, an emotion, a spirit or a set of possibilities, a world to step into. Great books, you can argue, offer something much larger than themselves, which is why stories can transcend their execution and resonate across cultures and centuries. But even “lesser” works have a gift. Everyone has a gift. You can argue that life is for developing your gifts and sharing them with the world.


I’ve been re-thinking books lately through this lens, and it’s clarified why some books are so beloved for me, as well as helped me appreciate books that aren’t so personally resonant. The true gift of Little Women for me is of its innocence, its presentation of the richness of women’s lives in all its possibilities: that fulfillment can come in ways one leasts expects. And while I’ll never love reading On the Road, I can see how people connected to its sense of liberation and freedom and free-wheeling energy.


Interestingly enough, I’ve been in the middle of another revision to my novel, and now I find myself looking at my beat-up, been-through-hell-and-high-water story through this unfamiliar light: what are my story’s true gifts, its fuller offering to the world? And what can I do as the writer to serve that? Now that I’ve lived with it for almost two years, I hope I know it enough to hear the deeper layers it wants to reach. Submerged usually in questions of craft, publication, and the annoying nitty-gritty that comes up in rewriting, the question of a story’s true gift is a new, unfamiliar question to guide editing. I wonder how it will bear fruit.