Spring Things

I haven’t posted anything here in awhile, and quite honestly, I’m not posting this because I’m brimming with inspiration, but I had a good conversation with a friend last night about having to do creative-ish things – or at least indulge your creative habits – even when you don’t feel like it.

There’s not a whole lot of creativity going on here, either. Just a few podcasts and documentaries and articles that have made me think lately. It’s for the exercise.

Sleepless in Seattle is on TV right now, and it has me thinking about the Nora Ephron documentary, Everything is Copy, which premiered on HBO in March. I’ve watched it once in full, and probably 3/4 of the way through it again, and I know it’s going to be one of those works I keep coming back to. Not even because it is so brilliant (though it was extremely well-done) but because it tells me truths I know I’ll need to remind myself of down the road.

I didn’t really know who Nora Ephron was when I first watched When Harry Met Sally my freshman year of college, but as soon as Sally said, “The story of my life? The story of my life won’t even get me out of Chicago. I mean, nothing’s happened to me yet. That’s why I’m going to New York,” I knew Nora Ephron was for me. The person who made characters who said things like that must get me. That deep connection to those words, though, did not turn me into an expert on the entire Ephron catalogue. I have seen all her Meg Ryan movies, plus Julie and Julia; I’ve read I Feel Bad About My Neck and saw Lucky Guy on Broadway; I know I’ve read assorted other works by her and about her (actually, earlier this year, apropos of nothing, the New Yorker posted this Ephron essay from 2010 to their Facebook page; I’d never heard of it but it was a delight to read).

It was not until Everything is Copy that I felt I had a complete sense of her. The documentary reminded me of her sensibility, and how badly I want to be her. She was a writer, she was funny, she chased adventure, she had an interesting life, she herself was interesting, she was an adult in New York.

I never realized until the documentary how much the subject matter of films like When Harry Met Sally and You’ve Got Mail was a departure from her journalism of the 1970s. I loved hearing David Remnick explain how Nora and the “wised-up, New York comic seriousness” of her Esquire pieces taught him, as a teenager in New Jersey, about feminism. I loved watching Meg Ryan remember her fondly. And even though their marriage didn’t end well, I loved learning about how she met and fell in love with Carl Bernstein.

There are lines I want to remember, yes, in the context of Nora Ephron, but also just as generally great writing advice, or as ideals I want to aspire to as a writer and a New Yorker:

Nora saying, “writers are cannibals,” always stealing from their friends’ and families’ lives and experiences.

Mike Nichols on Nora writing Heartburn following her divorce from Bernstein: “She wrote it funny, and in writing it funny, she won.”

And this is not so much advice but rather a line a want to steal: Nora calling Julie Nixon “a chocolate-covered spider.”

Other items on my mind:

Marc Maron celebrated 700 episodes of his tremendous WTF podcast last month with what he deemed a two-part episode, but was really two full-length WTF interviews, one with Julia Louis-Dreyfus, and the other with Louis C.K. I picked more specific takeaways out of the JLD episode, but listening to Maron and Louis C.K. talk about comedy and life is a treat, too. Both episodes were masterclasses about how TV and the entertainment industry operate.

What I loved about the Julia Louis-Dreyfus episode was not just her own stories, though they were great (I never noticed that was her in Hannah and Her Sisters!); what I really loved about it was its function as a testament to Maron’s skill as an interviewer. At one point, she told a story about something she did with her teeth as a kid, when she would be out in public, because she thought it made her seem older and more adult to others around her. It was something of an afterthought, but she explained the full story. At the end, she said a little wistfully, “I’ve never told anyone that story before.” I think that’s a testament to Maron’s power. The conversation and the atmosphere naturally guided her to something of a revelation.

I was just about to type, “that’s it,” but I thought of one more recent, fantastic Maron interview. Rob Reiner did WTF just a couple weeks ago and the conversation is exactly what any fan of movies, comedy and showbiz wants it to be. He talks about his dad’s friendship with Mel Brooks, his own friendship with Albert Brooks (“Three generations of Reiners and Brookses, and all of the Reiners were Reiners but none of the Brookses were Brookses”), growing up in Hollywood, making movies, and more. It’s a warm and funny 90 minutes.

Ok. That’s really it. I think there’s some inspiration cooking now. Thanks for reading.

Hey, Beantown

This past weekend, I finally made it up to Boston to visit one of my good friends from the UO, Kate, and her husband, TJ. Kate and TJ moved to Boston not long after they were married last March and I had yet to visit and see their place. Semi-spontaneously, I left after work on Friday, and we spent the weekend exploring New England, walking all over Boston, shopping at outlet malls, eating cupcakes and watching Arrested Development.

rockport massTheir apartment is in Everett, a northern suburb of Boston. They live five minutes from a station on the Orange line of the T, but also have their car, which we took advantage of on Saturday. We wound our way up the Massachusetts coast (stopping in Cape Ann, Rockport, Newburyport, and a couple other beaches whose names I don’t remember) to New Hampshire and Maine.

Setting foot in all 50 states has been a longtime goal of mine, so I loved getting to check two more off the list, especially two that seemed unattainable while living in Oregon.

New state, New Hampshire

New state, New Hampshire

We didn’t go too far into Maine, only stopping at an outlet mall in Kittery, but we made it! Driving back directly from Kittery to Everett only took about an hour.

On Sunday, after spending the morning in our pajamas and spending some quality time with the Bluth family, Kate and I went into downtown Boston and visited the Harvard campus (including the Harvard Coop bookstore, my new favorite place in the world), the Beacon Hill neighborhood, the Boston Public Garden and shops on Newbury Street.

It was a treat to have my friend as my tour guide, and her ability to show me around a city she’d known for less than a year was a testament to how much she’d embraced the change of pace from Eugene and Portland. In the past year, Kate and I have both moved our lives completely across the country, and I cannot describe how much I valued the chance to talk about that transition with someone who not only moved from the West Coast to the East Coast (I’ve met plenty of people who’ve done that), but who understood the nuances of that transition. We were roommates my freshman year of college and lived in the same co-op house for another two years after that. Kate knew exactly what I left to move to New York, exactly what people I missed and exactly how those people and places shaped my view of New York City, my career and my future. To hear her perspective on her move and process of establishing her life in Boston was encouraging.

I returned feeling grateful for the time spent with my friends. Just a couple days away from my normal pace of life gave a chance to look at that life with a fresh perspective.

Two more assorted items I wanted to write about:

1) I came to appreciate Roger Ebert’s gift for writing, analysis and criticism in the past year, so here’s my small tribute: He wrote one of the most beautiful, striking piece I’ve read in my life: A blog post reflecting on 20 years of marriage to his wife, Chaz. Other recommended reading: His review of the Beatles’ A Hard Day’s NightDavid Carr of the New York Times on Ebert as a digital innovator and pioneer of personal branding; Ebert interviewing Paul McCartney in 1984 (they were both born on June 18, 1942); Chris Jones’ tremendous Esquire profile of Ebert from 2010. 

2) Speaking of Ebert, one of my New Year’s Resolutions was to expand my cinematic horizons and make a dent in watching the films on his “Great Movies” list. With that goal in mind, and coming off an obsession with Netflix’s House of Cards series and its star, Kevin Spacey, I rented and watched L.A. Confidential on the bus ride back to NYC. Wow. I want to watch it again, because I feel there were bits and pieces of plot that I missed, but it was terrific. Part of it was the 1950s setting, drenched in jazz standards, showcasing the glitz and the gossip of a waning Golden Age. Part of it was the slick dialogue and delivery. A lot of it was the look on Kevin Spacey’s face when he tells Guy Pearce’s character, “That is Lana Turner.” A great movie indeed.

*Editor’s Note: Post title stolen from a made-up song featured in a 2009 episode of “30 Rock.”