Getting Reacquainted

Here’s a quick one… I’m finally sitting down with the book after a month or more away. I’m done with chapter 9 apparently. I had forgotten that! Sad, right? Now I need to move forward and crank out the final eight chapters or so. I’m right at the unofficial half-way point so it was a good place to stop, but now as I sit here, I feel like I’m starting from scratch. It’s like I’m in the midst of a long-distance relationship and my partner is back in town for a weekend visit. We have to get to know each other again. The question is, how do you have small talk with a book?

A friend of mine – writer, animator, artist, director, renaissance man Mike Wellins – once told me the best thing to do when getting back to an idea is read through everything you have and change one thing. Force yourself to change something. Anything! Guess what? It works. I’ve used this tactic before on screenplays and even altering a line of dialog that I previously loved really helps re-connect me to the material. When I come back to a writing or editing project after a few weeks away, it’s like somebody else’s project. And that’s true… the person who last worked on this was the me from a month ago. Sometimes I think, “That guy from five weeks ago was a genius!” And other times it’s like, “What the hell was he thinking?!” Either way, making changes here and there reestablishes the immersion into the material that I really need to start thinking in the world of that story. The present-day me owns it now.

So here I am, past the 20,000 word mark and moving forward. Cheers to the me from a couple months back who did all this work. But he’s gone now. I’ll take it from here.

Prone to Teach

In reading through my previous posts, I came to the conclusion that even though my intention with this blog was to chronicle my effort to write my first novel, the reality is that I’ve pretty much just turned into a motivational speaker. I think one problem is that I haven’t made much progress on the book in the past month or so because of the shooting of Robot Sentry and things picking up at the job so I don’t have much to report about that. Excuses, excuses right? Maybe I should read my own thing about finding time to write at work.

On the other hand, it may be my destiny. Here’s a story for you… I still do some sound editing on occasion. My only client is an advertising producer in Chicago named Mitch who I’ve known for twenty years. A while back – mid-90’s – we were trying to get some independent funding for a feature film. He actually got a meeting with the 45th richest man in America. As fate would have it, a few weeks after the meeting the guy got fined a million dollars for dumping toxic waste at his own house. On top of that, snowmobile racing season was starting and he was sponsoring a team so he lost interest in the movie business. Even though this guy was worth hundreds of millions, he didn’t give us any money. I often wonder where I’d be if it had started snowing a week later that season. A year later, Mitch and I had a falling out over professional direction. He wanted to make money (weird, right?), and I was a mid-20’s dumbass. We reunited in 2000 and I started doing sound and music editing on small commercial jobs for him. He IM’d me and said he wanted to give me work, but that I had to accept certain truths. Then he made a list of things about my personality that made it hard to work with me. They were all true, incidentally. One word he used was “didactic.” I had to look it up, to be honest, and it means “prone to teach or lecture.”

Didactic was there among words like arrogant, opinionated, selfish, impatient, sarcastic, dismissive, and unfocused. I had grown up quite a bit by the time I got the list so instead of being offended, I agreed with him. But didactic? I thought correcting people was a good thing! Fast forward another ten years and guess what? I’m a teacher. More than that, I’m a department head. Not only do I lecture students, but I lecture other teachers.

The end result is that even though I’ve shed most of the attitude problems common to the young American male (primarily because I’m no longer young), I’m unable to relay information of any kind without making it sound like a lesson. I could be simply telling you about movie times tonight and it would go like this, “Hey, Michael Clayton is playing at the Laurelhurst at 7 if you want to go. It’d be good for you to get out and see a quality modern noir. It’s pretty much just like Red Harvest/Yojimbo/Brick/Miller’s Crossing, but you haven’t seen Michael Clayton.” Why can’t I just invite someone to a movie? I don’t know.

I feel like I have a lot of knowledge about a lot of stuff. And I like to talk. Maybe those two things make me want to talk about my knowledge. And I like to be right. Which means if I give you advice, and you take it, and it works out, I derive satisfaction from not only helping you, but also from being right about the situation. To bring it back around to my writing (what this blog is supposed to be about), a big part of this book project was to get away from all that preaching and focus on one thing. I wanted to find peace with my own work instead of always correcting or advising others. That’s what the movie FORGE was about. To move inward rather than outward. To simplify.

Today is Mitch’s birthday. Kind of a random coincidence that he shows up in this post. I think a part of my becoming a college instructor was a karmic retribution for all those years Mitch put up with me. I now deal with men in their twenties by the dozens every day. I see my younger self in every single one of them. All the misplaced confidence, know-it-all swagger, impatience, unfocused over-exuberance, frustration, laziness, self-consciousness, flashes of brilliance accompanied by complete ignorance of potential… it’s all there. If I didn’t have Mitch back then, I wouldn’t have amounted to a damn thing. He put a lot of time and energy into a young me who wouldn’t appreciate his efforts for another five years. Now, I’m the Mitch to all these younger guys. I’m mad at all of them for being oblivious because I was oblivious and I wasted a lot of time in the process. So I hound them in hopes they’ll figure it out faster than I did. I wonder if Mitch was oblivious in his 20’s. And who hounded him?

Ironically, this post is about how I tend to lecture people, but it has no moral to the story. Maybe it’s a turning point where I get back to reporting on my progress on the book and turn back inward instead of trying to motivate all of you from where I unproductively sit.

Check back often to find out!