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.

A Few Items for Sunday and the Start of 2016

It’s Sunday, and there’s nothing terribly urgent to say, but this weekend won’t let me leave it without writing something. Three weeks into the new year. Good excuse as any to process some stuff.

Does it feel longer than three weeks to anyone else? I don’t say that with negative connotations; maybe it just feels long because a lot has happened. Actually, not even that much has happened. But I think I sensed a shift between 2015 and 2016, more than I usually would as the years change. 2015 wasn’t a dud by any means, but nothing really new happened. And I get it. Years will go by in life where nothing really new happens. It’s not bad. But I sense 2016 holds some action. Who really knows what yet.

As the year starts to reveal what it will be, I’ve noticed one priority emerge: Keeping better track of everything. Not just physical items, though it would be great if I stopped losing my MetroCards…but ideas, articles, photos, songs – anything that, when I read/hear/see/listen/otherwise consume, immediately catches my eye. If I don’t save it in the moment, I’ll forget to save it at all (or worse, remember it but without the spark of the original inspiration).

So far, this is happening in a semi-makeshift way; I’m mostly saving items to a Gmail folder and working to keep better track of them with tags and titles. Not pretty, necessarily, but always with me, easily navigable, and free. I also use Pinterest, tumblr, and the Notes app on my phone.

Ideally, I’ll look back on this folder at the end of the year and recall a clear picture of everything that inspired me. “Inspired” may be too strong a word, though I’d say even at this early point there are a few items that fit that bill. Anything that captures how I feel in a moment, enlightens me, makes me smarter, intrigues me, opens me to a new person or idea, provokes me to dance…I want to remember what it was and what it made me feel.

Here are some of the items I’ve documented so far:

Interviews with Elizabeth Banks and Sarah Silverman on Vanity Fair’s “Little Gold Men” podcast. This podcast debuted somewhat recently and I’ve found each episode I’ve listened to extremely insightful. It’s fun to listen to people who love movies and awards season as much as I do – but who actually know what they are talking about, and have informed reasons for thinking this woman will win Best Actress or why the Hollywood Foreign Press will probably give the Golden Globe to this person. Their recent interviews with Elizabeth Banks and Sarah Silverman were particularly notable. The Vanity Fair writers who host ask such precise, revealing questions. I loved Elizabeth Banks talking about two real-life women she has played lately – Melinda Ledbetter Wilson, wife of Brian; and Laura Bush – explaining how she tried to connect to a real-life part of each woman, while understanding she could never 100% “be” them. And the Sarah Silverman conversation; I can’t point to as many specifics, but I found her to be so self-deprecating and smart and loved hearing a first-person account of some of her experiences as an actress.

New York Times Bowie obituary. David Bowie was never part of my music education, to be honest. Of course I knew who he was, but my parents didn’t listen to him and I never picked up an appreciation in any other part of my life. But we’d been talking at work about wanting to go see Lazarus, the Bowie musical that had been off-Broadway. And then on a Monday morning a few days later, news broke that he died. I couldn’t take part with any truly personal tribute, but I enjoyed following the remembrances. His obit in the Times contained an electric line, and in my mind, I can’t think of any other way someone could want to be described: “infinitely changeable, fiercely forward-looking.”

Emma Thompson on Alan Rickman. This one really upset me. It might sound silly, but in my deepest dreams of someday writing a movie and seeing it made…Alan Rickman could have been in the movie. I would have written for him. I loved watching him. And now he is gone. My mourning will not be complete until I hold a special viewing of Sense and Sensibility. In the wake of his death, my favorite tribute came from Emma Thompson, his friend and frequent co-star (who also wrote for him). Read the entire statement, but this line seemed to reveal the purity and knowingness of their friendship: “…the clarity with which he saw most things, including me…”

Movies. I haven’t seen as many new films at this point as I would have liked to, but it’s too early to be discouraged. I’ve been underwhelmed with this year’s Oscar season choices (I like anything I saw this summer, from The End of the Tour to Love and Mercy and Trainwreck more than anything from the fall/winter, with the exception of Spotlight) but have at least found a lot to value in The Big Short and Carol. And I’m still excited for the Oscars ceremony. Movies aside, there will be glamour and gossip and people writing the first line of their obituaries.

I have recently enjoyed re-watching a couple films – first, Adaptation, which I watched a few years ago. Listening to Charlie Kaufman’s interview on WTF with Marc Maron made me want to revisit it (Kaufman to Maron, about finding the story: “What if I write about me being stuck?”), and I learned a lot viewing the film with that backstory in mind.

The second recent re-watch, which I enjoyed just last night with my roommate when we decided we were not going out in any more of this blizzard madness: Guys and Dolls. I watched this movie tons as a kid (I think my mom first showed it to me because my dance class performed to “Bushel and a Peck,” a song from the stage musical which actually isn’t in the film) but hadn’t seen the whole thing in ages. It’s so witty and brilliant, and I never picked up on any of that as a kid. One-liners galore. And I can finally say I understand that the crap game is not literally floating.

And with that, there are just a few minutes to Monday, so these Sunday thoughts aren’t worth a lot anymore. But there they are. More to come in 2016.


“He’s Doing a Public Service by Blasting This Song.”

One of my regular forms of morning commute entertainment is the podcast of Tony Kornheiser’s morning radio show on the ESPN affiliate in Washington, D.C.

The show leads in to each segment with a bit of music; usually an older song, and often one that carries some significance on that day (last week, to honor the anniversary of Let It Be‘s release, they led every segment with a song from the album). Since the podcast is on a delay and usually comes two days after the show aired live, the show I listened to this morning (Wednesday) honored the release of Marvin Gaye’s brilliant What’s Going On, whose 41st anniversary was Monday. 

I love when the show plays songs I enjoy and/or am familiar with – Let It Be, for example – but this morning, I was treated to more than just a favorite tune. The song came with some accompanying commentary from Mr. Tony, which not only referenced Marvin Gaye’s excellence and included some typical “get off my lawn” snark from Kornheiser, but mentioned Tina Fey as well! The trifecta of my obsessions. It doesn’t take much to make my commute more exciting.

I’ve already ruined this by writing too much about it, but whatever. Here’s what made my day this morning. (For full effect, I recommend listening to What’s Going On while reading the quote.)

“Forty-one years ago today, the Marvin Gaye album, What’s Going On, was released, and before we get into the sports aspect of the show, I want to tell you this. I was driving here this morning. I’m driving here and I’m going north on Rockville Pike. And I’m stopped at a light by that, um, Metro Station, is it Marinelli Road, where the driving range used to be?…And there’s a guy in a Toyota with 300,000 miles on it next to me. I mean, it’s like from the mid-90s. Toyota Camry. And he is playing this song, through closed windows, so loud that you can hear it on the moon. So loud. I’m trying to listen to the reading of Bossypants by Tina Fey in my car! I’m drowned out in my own car. So I just turn it off. I turn off mine.

And that’s what I want to say. This is like, this guy is so lucky. ‘Cause I really like this song. He’s doing a public service by blasting this song. But he could have blasted something truly terrible, and there should be…people like that, people who blast their music, honestly, they should be ticketed….You know. Close the windows and keep the music to yourself.”

Not sure what I love more: That he’s calling the act of blasting Marvin Gaye songs in a car “a public service,” or that he was irritated about the music because it drowned out his Bossypants audiobook.

To hear the rant in its full glory, the TK Show podcast is here (May 20, 2013; Hour 1.)

*I think he’s on to something with the ticketing for loud music, though. The NYC subway system could become a much more pleasant place. Do people even know what headphones are for?

ESPN.com’s Ivan Maisel: social networking has changed dynasties and recruiting in college football

Ivan Maisel, a senior writer at ESPN.com and host of the ESPNU College Football Podcast, wrote a very intriguing piece about how college football “dynasties” have more or less met their match over the past several years.

He cites changes in freshman eligibility, an increased emphasis on the passing game and the growing desire among college players to get to NFL as soon as they can. But he makes one other interesting point: that the rise of social media, like Facebook, Twitter and even online sports news sites, have also contributed to the downfall of a dynasty.

Through social media, recruits can see everything that’s happening with every team around the country. Just because they live in Texas doesn’t mean they can’t play in Oregon (I’m looking at you, LaMichael James).

It’s an interesting read, especially if you root for a team that’s getting a chance now that some of the dynasties of the past ten or twenty years are falling:

Amplify’d from sports.espn.go.com
• The media, the Internet and social networking. College football is covered more than it’s ever been. Ask the fans in the SEC for their opinions about Boise State. They’ve got them. Last weekend, for the first time in the history of the game, every FBS team had its game televised. Recruits are more aware of teams outside their regions than they’ve ever been. The ability to follow a team on the Internet has flung open the doors of every program to more people than ever. That means there are more opportunities for players. Coaches are more willing to recruit a broader territory than they once did. Unfortunately for coaches, the Internet is a two-way system. Communication goes out. It comes in, too.
No matter how big a control freak the coach is, he can’t control Facebook and Twitter. They move too fast. The world is spinning faster than ever. The days of dominating week after week, season after season are disappearing. A dynasty is not what is used to be. 

Read more at sports.espn.go.com