On Being a “Writer” (part 5: Brevity is Bravery)

I left last post signing off with “say what you mean and mean what you say,” and I wanted to give that some space.

You know that high-school senior superlative, “Talks the most, says the least?” I’d honestly almost rather be called anything else. I don’t have my own yearbook picture handy, but I wasn’t cool. I wasn’t even close to cool. Since I went to the high-school equivalent of band camp, I don’t even think we did those. I wouldn’t have gotten anything (and if I did, it might not have been nice).

Anyhow, I believe strongly that brevity is bravery. It is letting your words stand tall and making each element count, white space included. So often I find that smart, articulate people hide excellent ideas behind a veil of verbose.

I have a recommendation: sack up. Well, that and fine-tune your lexicon. It’s not that we left school that we have to stop learning. There are beautiful words out there. Find them, master how to use them.

What is it that you really mean to say? Gun to your head, GO.

by E. B. White and William, Jr. Strunk, illustrated by Mria Kllman.

by E. B. White and William, Jr. Strunk, illustrated by Maira Kalman.


On Being a “Writer” (part 4: Working With Emotion)

Today I am angry. It’s one of those bitter angers that clouds the judgement and can color words with sensationalism and strife. I thought to myself, “it’s probably not a good idea to write anything down today.” But that’s an excuse. Actually, it’s a great day to write (every day is a great day to write).

The key to this is writing with emotion instead of writing out of emotion. Accept and surrender to your feelings. These are true and there is a purity to it. Don’t be afraid of yourself. The most terrifying part of it all is when you don’t look deeper to understand, thereby letting it wash out of your control.

My philosophy on this is my rule of the “crude ball of clay.” The secret is this: you can choose how you want to feel about something, anything. The raw emotion and instinct, this is your crude ball of clay. You can choose to fire it, right then and there; or, you can decide to mold it. You can do this over and over.

But beware. There is a devil in this duality. You have to find those strokes, those stylistic elements that are distinctly your own. Try, fail, remold. You will find your molding mental-muscle-memory.

It’s not an easy battle to be won, but it is one of the most rewarding lessons I’ve learned in my life. Learn to trust yourself. That’s not to say that you will always have the right answers, or even any. In the event that you come up empty, find those you can trust around you. I’ve got a righteous trust team, and I am not too proud to ask for advice.

Beyond that, remember to say what you mean and mean what you say.


Cover art credit: Jelizaveta | deviantart


On Being a “Writer” (part 3: When You’re Not Writing)

I am a writer.

Even when I’m out to dinner, or at the gym, or anywhere, I am a writer. Therefore, that is always tinting the lens through which I perceive the world. However, I cannot expect of myself to always be in the act of writing. I have collected a few tips on how to nurture and maximize your creative and entrepreneurial self that will help when you actually do sit down to work.

1. Feed the body, feed the brain. Stop to eat, and make it separate. Throughout my time, especially in New York City, I have either neglected to eat or just worked on through my meal. These are both bad ideas. Working through your lunch, for instance, besides sullying your keyboard or screen, clouds your mind. I am great at multitasking; that doesn’t mean I have to do it. Nor should you. Forgetting to eat is even worse. You are not doing yourself any favors by fasting. In order to think clearer, communicate better, and control your mood (amongst other things), you need food and water.

2. Sleep, and sleep better. You’ve read like, a million Business Insider posts on this (or maybe that’s just my feed). When I was in driving school (as an 18 year old, because my parents are over-protective) we learned that sleep deprivation basically renders you at the same level of function as being drunk. Do you go to work drunk? I certainly hope not. Also, the quality of sleep matters. Most people say that looking at the bright light of your computer/phone/tv/tablet screen is sincerely screwing up your circadian rhythm. I think about it this way: when I go to Times Square at night, I am instantly stimulated. The lights and the action trick you into thinking it’s daytime.

3. Stop thinking about it. When I’m wholly engrossed in a project (aka all the time), I want to throw myself into it, full force. I think about it while I’m brushing my teeth, when I’m in the shower, when I’m taking a run. I’m not trying to say that you should curtail your thoughts when they come. However, one of the most important practices I’ve learned is mindfulness. Learning to control my mind and commit to intention has been one of the most powerful tools for everything in my life. To start, take one of those activities, even brushing your teeth, and instead of letting your mind wander, focus on your action. Objectively notice and describe. If you do this every day, I guarantee that you will be stronger of mind.

4. Disconnect. There are so many reasons why I love my iPhone. I’m the kind of person who can be known to pick up the phone in the shower. However, there are also so many reasons why my iPhone probably killing me. Disconnect, intentionally, once a day. I actually try to practice making a full night without my phone. Obviously, stay safe. But it’s a beautiful thing to let it go. You allow yourself to look and commit yourself to the moment. The things you notice, the people you meet, and the interactions you have will be different. I’m not casting a judgement, either way. But try to do something different now and again; especially if that something seems a bit unnatural or even scary.

5. Exercise. I am not the greatest at this one. I’ve gone through my phases of running 50 miles per month. My recent exercise addiction is Physique 57. Whatever it is, find your exercise ecstasy. If you’re unreliable in this department, like I am, find a buddy to keep you accountable. And again, keep this fun. Your brain won’t like it if you’re constantly pushing though unnecessary physical or emotional pain. Exercise is awesome because it likely incorporates a bunch of the points above.

The thing to keep in mind, through all of this, is balance. Challenge yourself and be kind to yourself. Set goals and try new things. If it doesn’t work out as planned, don’t beat yourself up over not getting it right. Find what might have “gone wrong” and go from there. Focus on not what you couldn’t get to, but what you could, and how you did it. One of the strongest people I know told me this once: the secret to success is self control. There is so much of the day that is unpredictable. There is so much about life that you cannot control. The one realm where you can and should have full reign is yourself. I’m not saying to live a crazy, regimented life along someone else’s standards; go figure yourself out, and figure out how to change what you don’t like. Nobody else can do that for you.

Control, Oliver Emberton

On Being a “Writer” (part 2: Revision)

I’ve come to realize that my writing process is heavily linked to the way that I live my life. I live in this strange dichotomy between confidence and self-consciousness. This is how I write. I boldly throw down some words, knowing very well what I mean to say, but then agonize over it.

Agonize doesn’t actually mean revise. I used to hate the process of revision. Revision played a huge part of my Creative Writing program at Interlochen, as it does in most writing programs, workshops, and lives, anywhere. I had a special disdain for it. It wounds my ego. I know what I’m saying and how I meant to say it; and isn’t there some beautiful perfection seared into that? I had this intimate and inflated understanding of my Truth, combined with a certain lack of finesse in my delivery, that did not always win me good grades or good graces. Nobody likes a know-it-all.

Back then, I often found my muse. I didn’t even know that it was a gift. Later in life, struggling studying poetry in college, my favorite writing professor, Olga Broumas, used to call this, arriving “under a passing angel.” We discussed the muse and the process of finding it, often. It is a preoccupation of creatives, and a dangerous one.

I constantly wrestle with my angels. My intention is not to make this about the muse (I will certainly hack this idea to death in a later post), but what I mean to discuss is Revision. Nothing is ever done. This is also a dangerous preoccupation of creatives, but paired with the ability to wrangle your muse, my best advice is this: find that balance.

Also, along with finding that nothing is ever done, I also found that everything has been done before. It’s a daunting realization and frankly it sometimes makes me want to put down the pen. It’s like realizing your candle is burning at both ends. But I don’t stop. I found that this is probably one of the most exciting part of Modernization. The ability to choose. Lifetimes lengthened. The nature of time changed due to the decreasing amount of time we had to spend simply surviving.

I believe that Modernization is like the adolescence of human-kind. The realization that there are different ways to do similar things and to get to similar places; that there is something to be learned from not only those who tried before you, but the you who tried before you. Ah, revision.

March is Women’s History Month!

I wanted to jot down a few words for the women. The 2015 theme for Women’s History Month is, “weaving the stories of women’s lives.” Far from being a feminist, I still believe that women should be appreciated every damn day. We weave the loom of life and these stories are simple: it’s in everything.

I don’t mean to devalue you, fellas. I love you and I don’t deny that we need you, too. I am not a “girl’s girl” (frankly, I have no idea what #7 even means). I grew up with two brothers, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. I am who I am and love who I am in a vast part because of you; thank you. I’m inordinately good at, and genuinely interested in, video games, sports, shooting, etc. Actually, a girl gave me the love for shooting, but the impetus was to blow off some steam after a big breakup, so I attribute that also, in some way, to a guy’s role in my life.

It is bittersweet that we still have to make a point of valuing women. If there wasn’t a problem, it wouldn’t have to be fixed. I grew up at Yale University, and one of my favorite public art pieces is ‘The Women’s Table’ by Maya Lin (pictured below). I used to climb on the marble as a kid, running my hands over the engraved numbers that spiral out from the fountainhead. So, this story beings with a long string of zeros. Founded in 1704, Yale only began to officially allow women to attend since 1873. Well, in 2005 I proudly added another number to the Table (and then promptly picked up and brought my womanhood elsewhere, but that’s a different story for a different day).

Women's Table by Maya Lin at Yale University

‘The Women’s Table’ by Maya Lin at Yale University

I love being a woman, and I hope that most of you ladies out there feel that way. This, I think, is a great indicator that things are looking up for us. I am not afraid of anything. I have just as much opportunity and earning potential as the men around me, if not more. Of course, this is certainly not the norm, and it is one of my life commitments to continue to fight for the women in the world who cannot confidently say the same.

Recently, I had the honor to meet the newly appointed Editor-in-Chief of The EconomistZanny Minton Beddoes. I am not the type of person who is easily starstruck. I’ve partied with Chris Brown (no, he didn’t hit me) and brushed shoulders with Steven Spielberg without batting an eyelash. But I’ve gotta say, Ms. Minton Beddoes is an inspiration. Not only do I love being a woman, I am proud to be one. Still, I find it concerning that a woman in a leadership position is shocking headline news.

My story as a woman: I will leave a legacy for women NOT to want to be equal, but to be proud of who and what they are, without having to live up to any standard. Equality is still a standard set by someone else. Let’s liberate ourselves from that man-made measure.

Birdman Review: The Best Film I’ve Seen in the last Decade

Everyone flipped over Boyhood. I mean, I watched it. I found it poignant, and applaud it for what it stands for as a work in its vision, ingenuity, and the commitment it must have taken through the 12-year process. However, and this may be because I’m not a boy, and this also may be because I don’t have children of my own yet, but it didn’t resonate with me.

But now to Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance). For one, I’m a huge Raymond Carver fan and a student of his work. The adapted short story as the play-within-the-film, “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love,” is a powerful choice and stands as a fascinating foundation. I’d even say that some of Carver himself runs through the veins of Birdman, in that the concept of love in its many forms is a central theme; but I would strongly disagree with Jonathan Leaf (for Forbes) who writes that “Birdman betrays Raymond Carver.” Not that I believe anyone staunchly adhered to the original short, but it’s actually moot in my point of view, as the film was not intended to be an adaptation of Carver’s work. It was the backbone, but not the heart of it.

The reason why I love Birdman is in its entirety, as a work. The acting was magnificent. Michael Keaton delivered a gorgeous performance imbued with…well, truth. Some say this is, in part, from his experience portraying Batman. I don’t even care. That helps, sure. Everyone works out of experience. You can’t escape experience; but I believe Riggan wrestles with something we all, as creators and humans, face, namely: vulnerability, the desire to be validated by others, and downright loved. (As an anecdote, Keaton will always be Dogberry to me from Kenneth Branagh’s film adaptation of Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing; I couldn’t care less about his role as Batman).

The supporting cast, too, was awesome. But the filming of the movie reached divinity. Blocking, timing: these are all things that are paramount in stage work, but that don’t always have dire consequences in film production. However, the long takes that contribute to the seamless, seemingly-single-shot scene left little to improvisation, and were drenched in intention (in the best way possible).

I haven’t even gotten to Alejandro González Iñárritu. He brought such a genius and dynamism to this film. One of the most important parts, for me, was the quality of magical realism he gave Riggan and this imagined world. Oh, sure, he’s moving things around with his mind. There is a great Latin American heritage that deals with magical realism. I spent a semester studying this, and Iñárritu joins the ranks of BorgesGarcía Márquez, Allende, Esquivel, and others in doing so in a way where we all suspend our belief and board that bridge between magical and ordinary, without question.

“Surrealism comes from the reality of Latin America.” -García Márquez.

I just, I can’t even try to be cool about it anymore. I loved Birdman. I can’t think of a film I’ve seen in the last decade that fulfilled me this entirely. Was that an oversell?

I can’t believe I’m reviewing Fifty Shades of Grey before Birdman

Fifty Shades of Grey was more than entertaining for me. I found it excellent as a “success on its own terms,” (Robbie Collins for The Telegraph). It is the best possible outcome for an adaptation (my writer side refused to get it up for the novel). I believe the book already “destigmatizes kink,” (A.O. Scott for The New York Times, whom I largely disagree with). The sociology major in me is delighted by this collective challenge of the norm. However, this was not primarily what I believe the movie was meant to do or be.

The movie is propelled by the production (clearly not the plot or even the acting). One of the more impressive aspects of the movie was that it was so sensual (and I’m not talking about the room or those scenes). In other words, what makes this movie great is how it seduced multiple senses, especially because it went beyond the expected. Almost all of the artistic/aesthetic choices had intention.

My favorite aspect of the movie was probably something that went unnoticed: Christian’s deliberate choices in wine. This is one of the more sophisticated character development devices across movies of this caliber (I still love you, Twilight. #teamedward). I took it as his emotional “tell.” It is clear that he does not condone aimless consumption of alcohol. Therefore, it is important to note when he does indulge: (1) when he has her over to present the contract, he chooses a light, white wine. I imagine it with a bit of an acid/mineral profile to cut the tension (like a chardonnay you might chose to pair with a raclette); (2) Champagne was obvious for her graduation, but (3) the viognier, I imagine, that they had over the contract review scene was fuller bodied and sweet, almost chewy, in his attempts to psychologically soften her stance.

Other high points included:

– When Anastasia enters the car on her way to the helicopter. I could practically smell the leather.

– That bathtub, nuff said. (As an anecdote, the best movie bathtub is still Driss’ in Intouchables). 

– The card stock of the contract = textural ecstasy, for me.

What I think is the most important lesson to be learned from 50 Shades, as a body of work, is about the dialectical nature of boundaries. Or, in other words, the liberation one can achieve on a personal and cooperative level by clearly delineating limits and expectations. I see the vehicle of this as honesty. If more people were honest (with themselves first and then with others) about who they were and what they wanted (not just in the bedroom) we would all probably like ourselves better and have more rewarding encounters.

I have always been scared of boundaries. Hell, I lived a pretty boundless life for a while. And you know what? I was miserable. I strayed farther from myself than I ever had because I lacked honesty and structure.

Christian is the dominant and Anastasia is the submissive. I find it fascinating to watch both characters struggle to fit into what that actually means. Is it not the truth that in situations involving more than just one human being, that there usually emerges a dominant and a submissive? We have somehow culturally imposed a very large river, if you will, between these titles, forcing this pair to polarity. However, what if we accept that maybe the proportional degrees of difference in these roles may not be so extreme? As well, what if we accept a certain level of agency that both roles have unto themselves and vis-à-vis others? Would it be so scary, then?