(Wow. That title sounds pornographic. Forgive me. That’s not where this post is heading. I promise. But I can’t change the title. I just can’t.)
I went to the movies yesterday to see Inside Llewyn Davis, and the scene when Davis is performing for a music producer in Chicago really stuck with me. The chords are soulful and gritty; his voice is raw and full of emotion. He ends his song acapella, and as soon as he’s finished, you see the emotion leave his eyes. Sadly, however, it never enters the music producer’s calculated stare. “I’m afraid there’s no money in that,” he says.
No money in that.
The movie is a great ode to the artistic struggle, the contradictions and desire to make it, or remain an allusive but brilliant, non-sell-out — aka a true artist (ha). Although most reviews have been good, it’s been called a slog of a movie. But isn’t that the point? Chasing a dream is a slog.
My mother leans over to me in the theater and whispers, “This is depressing.”
“That’s the point,” I say, spilling popcorn down my shirt, that will later free itself when I hit the bathroom (which after all these years, still surprises me when it falls — weird).
“He’s screwed up,” she hisses.
“Yeah, but I get him.”
Actually I like him…a lot. I like his grittiness, and the depth of his sunken Sicilian-looking eyes. And I especially like when he’s a jackass to his dinner hosts after they ask him to play a song, and he says something along the lines of, I’m not a monkey, performing for your little dinner parties! This is my job! I, myself, have been asked to write too many jingles. Something along the lines of : “You’re pretty good at writing. Write something that rhythms for your Aunt’s 70th birthday.” Me: “Jesus Christ! I’m not Doctor Seuss or Hallmark! How about this: ‘Getting old really sucks. You’re turning 70. That’s totally effed up.’”
Sure, there’s a little bit of hope at the end of the movie in the form of Bob Dylan singing Farewell, showing us that music can be more artistic than the industry is willing to bet on. But it was the slogging part I loved. Torture and art go well together. They need each other; otherwise you’re a pop-star singing about clubs, sex and dancing. Wheeeee! So edgy! (I don’t really need examples here, do I? It would bore me.)
So after that movie, I needed a shot of whiskey. But having a family, one cannot indulge in woeful, self-absorbedness. That would inspire my kids to write a dysfunctional memoir in which I don’t come out looking so hot. And right now, we’re talking about my book, dammit. Besides, I have too much grit and practicality in me. So I did the next best thing, which upon writing this sounds extremely lame…. But I reread Annie Dillard’s The Writing Life last night – a must read for writers, or in my case, a reread from over 15 years ago.
I could have saved myself a lot of trouble if I had reread it after finishing my first draft two years ago. Then I would have understood one must have the courage to “demolish the work and start over.” It would have saved me the dumbass move of submitting it. Or get another professional set of eyes on it, because:
“Several delusions weaken the writer’s resolve to throw away work. If he has read his pages too often, those pages will have a necessary quality, the ring of the inevitable, like poetry known by heart; they will perfectly answer their own familiar rhythms.”
I wasted a year moping and fist shaking before I got my act together. (Or what I call, method acting for my YA novel.) But I was the stubborn photographer Dillard talks about, submitting the same dull landscape photo that kept landing into the bad pile, “Because I had to climb a mountain to get it.” Damn that mountain! Damn that slog!
I especially think many seasoned writers need to reread Dillard, specifically the part in which she explains courage and editing. Specifically she asks: “How many books do we read from which the writer lacked courage to tie off the umbilical cord?”
Ummm, a lot. I just read a couple. I should have read the customer’s reviews first though, which said: Where the hell is the editor?! Did they get too big to be edited? It’s a slog of a book. You can fool some people sometimes, but you can’t fool all the people all of the time. Slogging is only good when it’s intentional. The slog is the grit that gives the art soul. I don’t get to write self-indulgent prose — why should they?
I’m not sure I have a good conclusion here. This whole post might be slogging… In any case, it felt good. So thank you for allowing me to slog. I will now remove that word from my vocabulary.*
*Please don’t hold me to that.
Note: It occurs to me, I really should have changed the title of this post… I’m a bit of a slow learner.