Monday, August 29, 2005

Do Writer's Dream of Electric Sheep?

Current mood: anxious

So I read in Entertainment Weekly a few years back that something like 89% of Americans want to write a novel.


Well, I guess you can think about this in one of three ways.

The Positive Way: 89% of Americans long to leave behind a permanent record of their lives or their imaginations or their whatever – call it the desire to let people know you were here.

The Negative Way: 89% of Americans think they have a novel in ‘em, although less than 3% of Americans make a living on writing alone, and probably only about 1% of those folks could be called across-the-board talented. And this is just further evidence of that insane sense of entitlement that most Americans have: You know that it’s every individuals right to have money, happiness and lots and lots of attention – even if you don’t deserve it.

And the Ernessa Way: 89% of Americans really don’t understand what it is to be a writer. And the 10% of Americans who said no to this question do.

Recently I wrote a bio for the press release for my play, Grown-Ups on the Playground (yes, I’m going to find a way to name-drop this production in every post until the dang thing opens). It went like this:

Ernessa T. Carter was born to Betty and Ernest Carter of St. Louis, Missouri. And she began writing soon after.

That’s the sunny version. The darker edit that wouldn’t have made it past the publicity crew would've gone like this:

Ernessa T. Carter was born to Betty and Ernest Carter of St. Louis, Missouri. Though she seemed healthy at first, it turned out she was cursed the terrible affliction of being a writer.

Because as much as I love being a writer, I hate it. I mean really, really hate it.

First of all, it’s boring. Most writers don’t get it write (ha, ha, I’m making a bad pun) on his or her first draft. That means you’re stuck with the same story, writing and rewriting and rewriting it some more.

This is sort of like sitting in a room by yourself and working on a really long, really complicated proof. Not only does it take forever to calculate, but also the chances are like one and a kajillion that you’ll solve it the first time. Then the chances are like one in a billion that you’ll solve it the second time through. Then the chances are like one in a million that you’ll solve it the third time through. Then the chances are like one in a hundred thousand – Okay, who am I kidding? Most writers will never completely solve their works to their satisfaction – unless they’re bad – and don’t know that they’re bad.

I’m really jealous of those kinds of writers. I often wish I was a bad writer who didn’t know she was bad, and sometimes I can spend a good half-hour staring into space wondering what such a life would be like. Oh, what bliss…

But that brings me to my second point:

Being a writer is a complete self-esteem fuck. I love generalizations, so I’ll just go’on ahead and say that there are only three type of writers in this world:

1. The complete neurotic
2. The complete narcissistic.
3. The completely neurotic narcissist.

I’d say most writers fall into the third category. And that’s what makes us kind of fun and terrible to date/know/be around/be. Half the time I’m really happy being me. There’s nobody else I’d rather be. In fact, I may be the second coming – or at the very least a genius for my age. The other half the time I worry that I’m not making the write (ha, ha, it never gets old . . . for me) decisions, that I’m a terrible writer, and that the life path I’ve chosen is at best misguided, and at worst, a complete waste of all the potential I was mistakenly labeled with as a kid. I’m like a new school manic depressive – except from what I can tell writers have always been like this, so it’s not exactly new, in fact it might be more appropriate to call me an continuously-unacknowledged-school manic depressive . . . anyway:

If you ever meet a writer who falls into category one or two, run. Run fast. Especially if you’re an artist, because for whatever reason these particularly beastly kinds of writers seem to have a superpower-level magnetic pull on other artists: See Woody Allen, Jack Kerouac, Sylvia Plath, and Lorraine Hansberry.

Third of all – and you’ve probably guessed this by now – writing is really stressful. Story isn’t the lovely friend it’s painted to be in certain books and movies. It’s a terrible stalker that never leaves you alone. When I go to sleep, I’m thinking story, when I wake up, I’m thinking story. When I’m eating, I’m thinking story, when I’m on the toilet…. And that’s just when I’m writing into nothing.

I don’t even want to talk about what happens when I’m actually writing something that is guaranteed to be seen by someone other than myself and whoever inherits my computer when I die. That’s when the nightmares start.

I once read in a dream book that humans have fewer and fewer nightmares the older you get. That’s been mostly true for me, too – unless I have a play going up.

Last Wednesday I had a nightmare that Los Angeles was under attack from unknown enemies. The Los Angeles Theatre Center (the place where Grown-Ups will be staged) and a bunch of other downtown business buildings were on fire, and me and Steve Connell, one of the Grown-Ups producers were trying to find his fiancĂ©e and another Grown-Ups producer, Kalimba Bennett. We found her, and as it turns out she was pregnant, but alas, the world was destroyed. There wasn’t even any paper left. So I found a pen, and began writing a story on a Steve’s and Kalimba’s bedroom sheets.

I woke up at 3am, sobbing, and I couldn’t get back to sleep. And the sad thing is this is one of the better writing-anxiety-induced disaster dreams I’ve had. There was the even scarier “Aliens take over the world through a big flood” dream of ’02 before my final reading of the year. And the still somewhat traumatizing “American Race War” series of ’03 – my busiest year in grad school.

That’s the kind of stuff 89% of Americans don’t think about when they’re having their romantic visions of writing.

Being a writer is a lonely, miserable business that no one of true talent would engage in unless s/he was “afflicted” with the absolute need to do so.

Poor Ernessa. Poor writers in general.

On the other hand, “having written” is the bomb, and somehow seems to make all the stuff mentioned above worth it. It also, has the balming/drugging effect of somehow making you think things will be different when you embark on the next project.

And perhaps more importantly, I just saved a ton of money on my car insurance with GEICO. Dudes, I’m totally serious. I got my second year renewal package in the mail, and I was soooo pleasantly surprised about my year two payment reduction.

Today I don’t really feel like a movie. The Go-Gos “Vacation” is on serious repeat in my head. Partly because of Bush, partly because of the three-day weekend coming up. So I guess I can say, I feel like a song.

Maybe I’ll move to the Cayman Islands. They have boring Accounts Payable day jobs there, too, right?

Currently reading:
Freakonomics : A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything
By Steven D. Levitt
Release date: By 12 April, 2005

Monday, August 22, 2005

Is there a 12-Step Program for Cable?

Current mood: relieved

So, the worst thing about house-sitting is the cable -- because although I have tried to market myself as a fun, interesting person who doesn't need a television to stay hip and relevant, I'm afraid that not having a television has indeed turned me into a true TV-addict.

Let me explain. When I had a television with cable and a DVR. I could turn it off. Sometimes I'd lose an hour or two, but I could turn it off if I needed to get something done.

Not so much anymore. Everytime I get a house-sitting gig, I find that I don't just loose hours anymore. I lose days. Like now I'm back in my TVless studio apartment, wondering where my weekend went. The last thing I remember is arriving at the house and turning on the television. And I never turned it off. You think I mean that I watched TV all day and didn't turn it off until I went to bed, but what I actually mean is that I never turned it off.

The people I'm house-sitting shouldn't have bothered putting new sheets on the guest bed for me, because around 11pm on Friday night, I dragged out a blanket and got comfortable on the couch. I fed the dog, made my own dinner, and checked my email in the office, all with the television on. Then I set the channel to VH1's Soul channel and I went to sleep.

When I left the house on Saturday for brunch with my friend Anika and a production meeting for my play, the goddamned thing was still on. I told myself that I was leaving in on, so that the dog would have some company. But in the back of my mind, I think I knew the truth. I'm an addict, a dirty addict who will fall off the wagon if she gets even a sniff of MTV. When I finally left that hell-hole of tempatation, I had discovered several things:

1. Chris Tucker appearance in "Shake it Off" is due to the fact that he happened to be passing by the day she was filming the porsche scene, and decided to jump in the car with her. (BET Access Granted)
2. Ciara and Little Bow Wow are an item. (MTV TRL)
3. You can't take human medicine on an international flight without a whole lot of impossible paperwork. But if you tell the customs people it's for an animal -- no problem. (HBO, Terminal)
4. It is possible to spend $180,000 on a sweet sixteen party. (MTV My Super Sweet Sixteen) "Dude, that's enough to pay off both our student loans," I said to my sister on the phone. -- no I couldn't turn off the TV, even when she called me.
5. Dave Navarro really loves his wife. And he truly realized this after hearing an INXS lead singer wannabe sing Peter Frampton's "Baby, I Love Your Way," while accompanying himself on piano -- A Rock Star first. (VH1, Rock Star)
6. Jose Canseco has a twin brother. (VH1, Surreal Life)
7. There was actually an episode of Entourage set at the San Diego Comicon. And apparently a bad review from a really powerful blogger can ruin a movie. Also, Mandy Moore is really unstable. (HBO, Entourage)

I could go on, but let's just say I didn't get much done this weekend, and in fact, had to call in sick in order to catch up on all the writing I was absolutely supposed to get done on Saturday and Sunday.

It's so sad. Today I feel like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz. Back from a magical, enchanted place that was fun, but obviously not where I belong -- especially if I ever want to get anything done.

Maybe I'll move to Antarctica. I don't think they get cable out there.

Currently listening:
I'm Wide Awake, It's Morning
By Bright Eyes
Release date: By 25 January, 2005

Sunday, August 21, 2005

The Meaning of Life

Current mood: optimistic

So right now I'm house sitting and reading The Meaning of Life, this coffee table book of the collected "What I've Learned" columns, which appear every month in Esquire, (what I figure to be) the best men's magazine on earth. And it occurs to me that I've been getting a lot of good advice lately.

Today, my friend Anika and I were walking to the candy store, and she said to me, "Your life's going to be exactly what you decide it will be." And it wasn't a sunny prediction. It was a dire warning.

I must admit my mind was blown. Exactly what I decide it will be? I've always kind of thought of myself as a non-decision maker. I like being the person that kind of goes along with the flow. And I tend to think of my life as something that's kind of happening to me.

People often inform me in awed tones that I am extremely brave for having travelled to China and Japan and struck out to L.A. on my own. But I don't really think so, b/c when I'm writing my personal memoirs in my head while cleaning my toilet, my mind's pages are full of prose like

"So I was terrible at Spanish. I've never had a facility for languages and I think Spanish was too close to English to bother learning well enough to speak. By my sophomore year, I knew I'd never be good enough to get into one of the competitive junior year abroad programs to a Spanish-speaking country. I mean most of my classmates were having conversations, and I could barely string a sentence together. At that time, your financial aid didn't transfer if you went to an English-speaking country, so trying for the Oxford program was out. And most other programs required that you take at least two years of a foreign language before going abroad. So I figured, I wouldn't be going anywhere but a nicer dorm room my junior year. But then Anika was like, 'Hey, why don't you take Chinese like me?You only need one year of Chinese to go abroad..." And I thought to myself: Yeah, Chinese is so hard, no one could possibly learn it well in a year. My competition would be minimum. I took it and I was right . So I ended up doing my junior year abroad in China..."


"...So I thought I would eventually become a lawyer, and I applied to all sorts of paralegal jobs at prestigious law firms in New York City my senior year of college. None of them panned out. In fact the only thing that panned out was this interview that I went on as a whim -- a teaching position at Nova, a huge ESL franchise in Japan. So three days after graduation I was living in New Jersey with my best friend, Monique and her fiancee', Brian when the last paralegal job turned me down. There I was with no New York prospects and an acceptance letter from Nova. So I went to Japan..."


"At my interview to get into Carnegie Mellon, Milan Stitt, the head of Dramatic Writing program said, 'Well, you would be coming in as the screenwriter, which means you'll have to move to L.A. after graduation. I had kind of had my heart set on New York -- in fact, I had never had even a smidgen of desire to live in L.A. But everything that happened to me over the next two years pointed me in the direction of L.A. So I went to L.A..."

See? No bravery. No real decisions made. And I have a ton of stories like this -- I've yet to feel like I've actively pursued or even chosen any job I've ever held.

So Anika's words kind of chilled my heart. Dude, that's a lot of responsibility for a floater.

But then I kind of realized I haven't been floating nearly as much as I used to. In the last year alone, I've made the decision to buy a car, live alone, and co-produce Grown-Ups on the Playground, a collection of one-acts written by me that will premiere at the L.A. Edgefest in October. I can't say I'm always happy about these decisions. Money's usually incredibly tight and sometimes non-existent around the first of the month when my rent and car payment come due -- I make more money than I ever have, but I've never felt like more of a starving artist. And I can't remember the last time my stress levels were this high -- I actually broke out in hives during the auditioning process.

But hey, they were my decisions and I can't say I regret any of them. I don't have to worry about my car breaking down on the side of the road anymore, and I can walk around my messy apartment naked. And even hives can't dampen the sense of investment I have in my own work and worth now that I'm co-producing Grown-Ups.

And lately, whenever I start to get jealous, or upset, or just crazy about something the words of my roller derby coach, Blade ring in my ears: "Skate your own game." And then, I instantly become calm.

Skate your own game.

Hey, Anika, I just decided. That's going to be the first thing I'll say when I do my "What I've Learned" column.

Awesome. I feel like one of those movies where the sad sack heroine finally becomes spunky and starts really figuring out how to go about her life.

Maybe I'll move to New York and throw my hat up in the air.

Strangely enough, the best piece of advice so far has come from Peter Boyle, the character actor who used to play Ray Romano's dad on Everybody Loves Raymond.

"Whatever we lose, we'll get back."

Preach it, darlin.

Currently reading:
What You Owe Me
By Bebe Moore Campbell
Release date: By 03 September, 2002

Sunday, August 14, 2005

Owen Wilson

Current mood: pithy

Went to see Wedding Crashers the other day, and it occured to me that Owen Wilson is the "actor" equivalent to Sandra Bullock being an "actress." I'm just saying that these are strange titles given that both thespians have made careers out of playing the same characters -- themselves--in every movie*.

Once my sister and I went to a dinner show in Thailand. Before the musical play began, the hostess and one dancer explained the "emotions" in a Thai dance performance.

Hostess: This is happy.
Dancer turns her straight, painted face to the side and points her hands up.

Hostess: This is sad.
Dancer turn her straight, painted face to the side and points hands down.

There were a number of other emotions, completely dependent on hand gestures, but you get the gist, plus as an English major I'm starting to feel icky in a Catholic guilt sort of way for ending not one, but two sentences with a preposition -- and then using a run-on sentence to explain why I was stopping my examples.

Anyway, watching Owen Wilson last night, that hostess's voice came back to me.

Hostess: This is Owen Wilson happy.
Owen Wilson crinkles his eyes and smirks.

Hostess: This is Owen Wilson in love:
Owen Wilson crinkles his eyes and lets his smirking mouth fall open.

Hostess: This is Owen Wilson angry:
Owen Wilson crinkles his eyes, goes very still and smirks.

Hostess: This is Owen Wilson bemused:
Owen Wilson crinkles his eyes and looks around the room with a smirk.

Hostess: This is Owen Wilson surprised:
Owen Wilson uncrinkles his eyes and doesn't smirk.

I then imagined Owen Wilson dead in his coffin, eyes crinkled and mouth fixed into a permanent smirk, because he managed to make millions of dollars with a limited set of facial expressions, the same head-thrust-forward delivery of every line, and a broken nose, because all of this combined somehow translated limited acting ability into charming joi d'vre.

But hey, that doesn't mean you shouldn't see it. Vince Vaughn is great in this. Also, it was fun watching Christopher Walken look slightly to the side in most scenes, while he pulled his lines off of cue cards. Good times.

Today, I feel like one of those English movies, chock full of clever people with pithy observations to make.

Maybe I should move to London. I hear it's nice there this time of the year.

Currently reading:
Colors Insulting to Nature : A Novel
By Cintra Wilson
Release date: By 10 August, 2004