Creative Control

Miscellaneous Mental Musings of an Emerging Artist

And you may ask yourself.

A few weeks back, I went to a theatrical showing, at a University of Chicago movie theater, of the Jonathan-Demme-directed, Talking Heads concert film “Stop Making Sense.” At the end of it, I had several observations, but the ones at the top of my mind were these two, one macroscopic, one microscopic.

1) I wish I’d been old enough to see the Talking Heads in concert during the 1980s. Subnote: If I had been old enough, there would be no guarantee that I’d be hip enough to have liked the Talking Heads.
2) “Once in a Lifetime” is one of the few Talking Heads songs I generally avoid listening to the studio recording of, but performed live, and performed with the verve and energy that David Byrne brings to it in “Stop Making Sense,” is one of the most transcendent experiences I’ve had in a movie theater. [1]

Two days ago, one of my favorite online journals, “True Porn Clerk Stories,” wrapped up its run. The journal, kept and updated for about a year by one Ali Davis–a Chicagoan who performs with the ImprovOlympic [2] troupe Baby Wants Candy [3]–was a document of life as an employee at a video store with a substansial [4] adult film section in the lower level [5]. This journal was featured as part of an NPR spot that I did not hear, but was informed of by a friend, and despite her concerns, she was never fired over it, as she kept the name of the store and its clientele hidden behind non-mentions and funny code names, e.g., Mr. Cheekbones [6].

Davis recently quit this job, and ended her journal with another in a long string of brilliant essays on the socio-psychology of pornography in America. Somewhere after this essay, Davis mentioned that she had been offered a job with Chicago-based Jellyvision [7], the computer-software company responsible for the wildly entertaining “You Don’t Know Jack,” a job that she’d actually had a long time ago and was being offered again.

In the spirit of full disclosure, I admit that I was immediately seized and throttled by the infamous Green-Eyed Monster. I check Jellyvision’s web site once every few months just to see if they’re hiring. I applied for and was denied an interview by same during my first summer back in Chicago out of college. I would love to be working on the writing staff for Jellyvision, so the fact that Ms. Davis was immediately offered a job gave me conniptions.

But here’s the thing. At the end of the attack, I realized that I wasn’t jealous of Ms. Davis for her good fortune, but of her, empirically, as a Writer. Ali Davis is the sort of writer I wish I was. And that realization led me to ask, well then, what sort of writer are you now? [8]

The answer, after some moments contemplation, came back with plodding resignation. I did not start this way, and I did not intend this, but I have become a Talented Writer with No Discipline.

Before I continue that thought, I will enjoy a nice bit of kismet. The song that was just randomly selected from the 700-song MP3 list in my ears right now is “This Must Be The Place,” possibly my favorite Talking Heads song. Bliss.

To continue: I’ve finally accepted that I’m not by any means a hack writer, that I know I have the ability with words to be something along the lines of, or at least approaching, Good At This. However, my work ethic is a bad joke that keeps being repeated to an unresponsive audience. I distract myself. I avoid writing but call myself one who writes. And while I understand that being prolific is not a measure of talent, being dismissive and lazy is not a measure of artistry.

I will finish this journal entry, and then I will stop being afraid of blank Microsoft Word pages. I will step away from sections I am having trouble with, but only to regroup, not to retreat. I will Finish Things. Furthermore, starting next year, I need to learn more job skills besides proficiency with Word and a cursory knowledge of Quark and Photoshop. I have no job skills. I need to learn at least basic HTML, if for no other reason than I’m tired of not having the ability to use italics in these entries.

I don’t think I’m going to be getting a phone call from ABC, asking me to accept their generous Fellowship. And I’m all right with that for now, because I wouldn’t deserve it at this point. I will, however, apply for it next year as well. And I want to be worthy of it then. In the meantime, I’ve stopped limiting myself when I search for work. I’m young, I love Chicago, and the woman I want to spend the rest of my life with is here, but my destiny–for lack of a less pretentious word–might be somewhere else. And it’s not fair to myself or her to keep myself bound to one place, as a crutch/obstacle to the sort of person I wish to be. My girlfriend and I can survive time apart. And Chicago and I will meet again, should I leave. This I know.

It’s interesting to me that there’s a fine line between an epiphany and common sense. I have a feeling that I’m currently straddling the border. There is water at the bottom of the ocean, indeed.

[1] One of the other such experiences, which took place in a movie theater operated by Harvard University, was the first time I saw the Baz Luhrmann film “Strictly Ballroom.” To date–and keep in mind, I have never been to the Cannes or Sundance Film Festivals, where I am assured by “Premiere” magazine that this sort of thing happens all the time–the viewing of “Strictly Ballroom” was the only time that I have ever witnessed a film showing that literally made people stand up and cheer.

[2] I should more accurately refer to this institution, the second-most prestigious home of improv in Chicago after Second City, as “I.O.” There was apparently some flap involving the committee for the actual Olympic Games, and as far as I know, eventually the change will be made formal to avoid litigation. Then again, it took the WWF forever, so who knows?

[3] A fantastic group whose particular shtick is that they improvise a half-hour, one-act musical based on a suggestion from the audience [9]. Highly recommended.

[4] The word “substansial,” for reasons unbeknownst to me, always looks misspelled no matter how I write it.

[5] I’m using waaaay too many footnotes in this sentence alone, and I can only blame the continued influence of D.F. Wallace, whose essay on cruise ships, “A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again,” has been occupying my reading time.

[6] Despite this obfuscation and subterfuge, I am fairly certain that the minute details Ms. Davis did drop in her journal were enough to allow me to deduce which video store she did, in fact, work for. I will not mention the overlong and fairly boring story of my brief foray into detective work, but I will make a point of mentioning that my attempts at this discovery were out of nothing more than curiosity, and that I have not nor do I intend to start frequenting Ms. Davis’ former place of employment or the adult film section within said store.

[7] Speaking of jelly, I just received two jars of homemade jam from an online friend of mine, and after having tasted the cranberry, remain delightfully unpoisoned. My father’s worst trait is his temper, but his second worst is his belief that nobody in the world is worth trusting. While I understand and appreciate my father’s point of view, and do not, indeed, make a point of blindly trusting anybody, I feel that the world would be far too lonely a place to live in if you couldn’t place at least a little trust in select persons. [10]

[8] This self-interrogation reminds me of my favorite “Peanuts” cartoon. It’s one of the strips in which Charlie Brown lies in bed, wide awake, thinking the sorts of large and horrible thoughts that lead to one being wide awake in bed. “Sometimes I lie awake at night,” espouses Brown (paraphrased), “and ask ‘Why am I here?’ And a voice answers ‘Why? Is there someplace else you’d rather be?”

[9] Donna’s brother Carter is in town this week from Los Angeles, and he related to us one of the real problems with Los Angeles improv is that so many basic rules are simply ignored, up to and including the easiest one of all–you TAKE THE AUDIENCE’S SUGGESTION. He told us of a group he saw, playing a game called “Crisis Hotline,” in which one of the performers was to behave as if addicted to…audience?…time travel. This is a juicy suggestion, and much better than one you could reasonably expect from a drinking comedy audience, which would normally delight in making the ample-bosomed improvisers pretend to jump rope, or simply yell out “PROCTOLOGIST!” even if asked for a geographic location. As Carter told us, the first thing our Angeleno improviser did was say “Hi there! I’m not actually addicted to time travel, I’m addicted to [something else].” Bad form. We were also told that the troupe had a real ensemble dynamics issue, which is to say that they had none. All people on stage spent most of the evening upstaging or interrupting each other. I theorized that this has to do with the environment itself, that the reason everybody was trying to play first fiddle was because the possibility of talent scouts and casting agents in the audience turned the show from a performance into a probable audition. This is sad, but what can you do? It’s Los Angeles.

[10] For the record, I am keeping the name and address of the person who sent me the jam. If it turns out that I am poisoned, please tell the New York police to find the person whose name appears on the cardboard Staples box in my bedroom.

Current music: MP3 list, Sinead O’Connor, “No Man’s Woman”

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This entry was posted on November 29, 2002 by in Movies, Music, Work, Writing.
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