Post #115: Resolution?

Blue-JasmineBlue Jasmine, Woody Allen’s new film, is one of the darkest and more compelling films  I can remember seeing. Though he’s primarily known as a comedian, Woody does dark exceptionally well. And more often than you might expect. If you’ve never seen Crimes and Misdemeanors, or its more recent alter-ego Match Point, you are missing out on the haunted, and often violent, places Woody likes to tread as he mines his short list of themes, compiling the broadest and most prolific filmography in American history.

Spoiler Alert! Plot details and revelations about Blue Jasmine follow. You’ve been warned.

Cate Blanchett’s powerhouse performance as Jasmine has been getting all the attention, and is surely the reason Blue Jasmine has been at our local theater in downtown Burlington for well over a month now. And make no mistake, she is Oscar caliber awesome. Almost overwhelming. But after taking in the movie last night, I was and remain most struck not by its many quality performances and beautiful cinematography, but by its dramatically unresolved ending. If you know his work, you know Woody Allen is a sucker for endings. Usually, regardless of theme or tone, Allen’s films find their way to a stopping point, which finds the characters not necessarily always redeemed or forgiven or changed, but at least settled in some form. He’s dabbled in unresolvedness before (I’m thinking here of Celebrity and Deconstructing Harry), but I’m not sure he’s ever left a character, or his audience, hanging quite like he leaves Jasmine on a park bench.

Jasmine is down and out. Her life as a Park Avenue wife goes tits up when her financier husband (played by Alec Baldwin) proves to be not only cheating on her, but cheating on his clients. He’s arrested, humiliated, and eventually commits suicide in prison. Jasmine loses all her money, and then begins to lose her mind. We meet Jasmine when she arrives in San Francisco to shack up with her sister, Ginger, a grocery store clerk who Jasmine has ignored for years. As Jasmine tries to get her life back together in Frisco, we gradually learn the full story of her New York demise through a series of flashbacks. It feels like a set-up for a redemption story.

We keep waiting to find out what will happen to Jasmine. How will she change? What will finally make her learn her lesson? Even as she guzzles vodka and pops anti-depressents, her self-muttering growing worse and worse, we still wait to see what’s going to trigger a change in her. She meets a new man, a wealthy guy who hopes for a future in politics, but after Jasmine is caught in a series of lies about her past, he drops her and plunges her back into her alcoholic misery. And still we wait for the resolution. As audience members, we’re conditioned to find out what happens, so much so that it comes to seem like an unspoken agreement between creator and audience. Take us anywhere you want, we think, do whatever suits you to these characters, just tell us how it all turns out. When this doesn’t happen, it’s unsettling and a breach of the unspoken pact. And that’s what Allen does here.

It’s hard to tell if Allen just ran out of ideas or if the lack of resolution is a broader commentary on a species (the rich and selfish) for whom he has trouble finding redemption. The third act for Jasmine never arrives. Her life is ruined, she tries to put it back together, and then…what? Then nothing. The film ends with Jasmine muttering to herself on a bench with little indication of where she’s headed.

Of course, it’s not completely unresolved. Even the lack of resolution is its own form of resolution. In truth, all the evidence points to Jasmine’s continued demise, either suicide, homelessness, or just soul losing insanity. What else are we to think? She continues to be horrible and judgmental of her kind hearted sister even up to the film’s final scenes. She continues to abuse her body with alcohol and Prozac. She slips further away from any corners she can turn. She never learns. She never grows. She becomes more embittered. Less wise. Less sane. And that’s where Woody leaves her, dangling in our imaginations, left to direct her third act on our own. He points us, then back away and lets it play out in our minds.

I still feel a bit haunted. I think you will too.

Post #114: On the Brain

Screen-shot-2013-09-11-at-8.41.48-AMAs you well know, I’ve had J.D. Salinger on the brain lately, as has the publishing world, what with the release of Shale Salerno and David Sheild’s biography, Salinger, soon to accompanied by a documentary film of the same name. Both, I should add, have absolutely gotten their asses kicked in the media, showered with bad reviews, skepticism, and mucho doubt. Metacritic shows an average score of 40 (out of 100) for the film and among 40 plus reviews on Amazon, the book is averaging three stars (out of five). Okay, maybe not a total ass kicking, but a good tongue lashing anyway. I’m nearly done with the book, by the way, and will chime in on my perception of its merits shortly. After that, I promise to let go of this subject matter for at least a few posts.

But I digress. I’m actually here because Stephen Colbert (pictured above wearing Holden Caulfield hunting cap) recently dedicated his entire show to doing his second book club (the first was on Gatsby) on J.D. Salinger and The Catcher in the Rye. It’s hilarious. And insightful. You should watch it. The best part of it is when Colbert is interviewing Tobias Woolf about Catcher and they start disputing what’s better, the short stories or Catcher, and Colbert, defending the stories as Salinger’s best work and seemingly unable to help himself, starts quoting Buddy Glass from memory. It’s awesome. It can be watched here. You should do so.
Toodles.

Post #113: Carol Dweck, meet Tim Tebow

Tim-TebowI don’t follow football. Not really. But I am currently breathing and I do follow sports in general, so of course I heard the news when fledgling quarterback and football celebrity (soon to be outcast?) Tim Tebow was recently cut by the New England Patriots just prior to the start of the 2013-2014 season. Like it or not, pretty much anything Tebow does is national news.

If you recall, a couple years ago, Tebow (former Heisman trophy winner and widely considered one of the greatest, if not more memorable, college quarterbacks in history), become the Denver Broncos starter after their QB was injured and then, through either guile and budding talent and a fierce awareness of timing, or through fluke luck and serendipity and accidental greatness, won several games in a row, including a string of comebacks, and took the Broncos into the playoffs. Media frenzy ensued. Tebow, who was already on the cusp, became a star for all kinds of reasons, only some of them to do with how he played the game of football. Many of them were to do with his religious piety, his good looks.

In the off season though, Tebow was released. He spent the year with the Jets last year and saw minimal playing time and was subsequently released by the Jets, who opted not to re-sign him. They were not all that complimentary of his playing talent or future either. The dream of NFL QBdom seemed, perhaps, to have withered on the vine for a player whose media profile far outshone either his talent or his accomplishments on the field. Suddenly the fact that Tebow was not an NFL caliber QB seemed rather obvious.

Now, coming full circle, the Patriots recently surprised everyone and signed Tebow and brought him to training camp, only to release him, leaving him hapless, team-less, and it would seem, lost.

A couple days ago, it was revealed that Tebow had been getting offers, from the CFL, from the USA Rugby team, and even from another NFL team, though the latter involved a position change. People wanted Tebow after all, though they wanted him on their terms. Tebow has refused them all.  He has decided, at least for now, to hold tight to his dream of being an NFL quarterback and to move in dogged pursuit of it, regardless of obstacle or consequence.

Even if no one else believes Tebow can or will achieve his goal, Tebow himself seems to. And that’s commendable. Of course, if the window on those other opportunities closes at roughly the same rate that the one on his NFL dream and he manages to get himself through neither, everyone’s feelings may change on the matter. For now, though, it’s NFL or bust.

Carol Dweck is a Stanford professor of psychology whose similarities to Tebow probably end at two limbs and a beating heart. But whether he knows it or not, Tebow’s dedication to achieving his goal is a great examples of what Dweck would call a “Growth” Mindset. This as opposed to a “Fixed” Mindset.

In layman’s terms, those with a Fixed Mindset see ability, talent, and intelligence as “fixed,” unable to really be changed even in the face of effort or will. In this mindset, people are less willing to adapt, less open to feedback, and have a more difficult time responding to criticism and adversity.

Conversely, those with a Growth Mindset believe that effort, belief, and a willingness to take extra time and receive extra support as the means to gain what one wants trump any notions of existing ability, talent, or intelligence. Having a Growth Mindset doesn’t mean that you can defy the laws of physics or that anyone could be Michael Jordan. What it means, though, is that you’re far more focused on adaptation and support, believing that you can grow and improve no matter what the circumstances. Science supports the theory and the fact that one’s capabilities are not at the mercy of pre-existing conditions. They can be changed, not just physiologically, but chemically.

There’s a great TED talk on the two mindsets by Eduardo Briceno. It’s ten minutes and well worth your time. It might just change the way you think about yourself and the world.

As you probably know, I’m a high school teacher and I’m starting off the new school year with a unit on brain science, learning, and Mindset. There’s some very cool new revelations regarding what we know about the brain and its capacity to grow, change, and improve. All the time, I bump into students with a Fixed Mindset about school. They believe they are a certain kind of student. They believe that it’s all too hard. Or all too easy. Or that no one likes them. Or that everyone likes them. Or that math is just something they’ll never get. Or that a teacher’s feedback on their writing is worthless because they’re just not a good writer. What I’m learning is that these mindsets play a huge role in how we see ourselves and how we interact with the world. Worrying less about what we can do well naturally, worrying less about talent and natural ability, and worrying more about growth and adaptation, can put someone in a far better position to improve, and not just in the short term.

What’s interesting about Mindset is that it’s not just formed by us. In fact, a lot of our own mindset about ourselves comes from the outside. Parents, friends, coaches, teachers–they tell us things about ourselves, things that might be mirrored in our day to day experience, and before too long, that becomes our narrative of ourselves.

What’s fascinating about Tebow is how much the external narrative around him has changed. A few years ago, this guy was winning the Heisman trophy and was the best player in college football. An unstoppable force on the field. A king. Today he’s a joke. The narrative has flipped on him. Oddly enough, the one thing that seems not to have changed in the story all that much is Tebow. His Mindset on becoming an NFL quarterback is focused and driven, seemingly undeterred by the changing story around him, which now says that he can’t do it, that he’s not talented enough, that it won’t happen. Tebow isn’t listening. Or he’s doing an amazing job or pretending he’s not. The guy simply believes that his desire to be an NFL quarterback and his ability to grow towards that goal is more powerful than whatever natural ability landed him in this position in the first place. If he can just put in enough time and effort, he can will himself past some limitations he’s now experiencing in natural ability. In spite of the odds, he’s chosen to focus on that.

Maybe he’s deluding himself. Maybe he’s exercising a genius of will that’s unfamiliar.

He’ll probably never know, but he’s putting Dweck’s theory to a very high profile test. Who knows what will happen. Maybe he’ll make it, maybe he won’t. Maybe in a few years he’ll be on Hollywood Squares. I honestly don’t really care whether Tim Tebow makes it as an NFL quarterback. But his belief in himself made me sit up and take notice.

I wish him luck.

 

Post #112: If You’re Listening to This

I’m delighted–hell, I’m downright plucky–to have a story in the September issue of Fogged Clarity. If you’re playing along at home, you’ll remember that earlier in the summer the fine folks at FC published my short story “Who Has Time for Stars?” and I’m pleased to say they recently accepted my story “If You’re Listening to This,” which is now up at FC as we speak. So hop on over there and read it. I’ll make it easy on you. Click here.

It’s an honor to be included in what looks like to be another dynamite issue and I’m grateful to their executive editor Benjamin Evans for including me.

Post #111: J to the D

JD Salinger Portrait SessionPardon me while I majorly geek out for a second.

But, holy crap, am I excited.

It seemed like a foregone conclusion that eventually we’d get word of what the hell J.D. Salinger had been writing and putting in a safe all those years. I mean, of course there were going to be posthumous books. That’s books, plural, friends. We all knew it. It was just a matter of when. Numerous sources, including Salinger himself, attested to the fact that he’d been writing on a daily basis since the 60’s but had just lost interest in publishing and was now writing only for himself. Kind of a reverse Emily Dickinson. And since he seemed not to have been using his writing as kindling, the fair conclusion is that he wanted his writing not only found, but published, as he must have known it would be. But since Salinger died in January, 2010, it’s been awfully quiet about the matter and I was starting to get a little worried.

Until now.

Word is that several new Salinger books could be coming, starting in 2015

91NYZ4jdiFL._SL1500_David Shields and Shane Salerno, authors of the forthcoming Salinger biography called, creatively, Salinger, make the claim. They say that one of the books could feature Holden Caulfield and another further stories about the Glass family, which Salinger often wrote about. Another could probe deeper into Salinger’s experiences in World War II, also a common topic in his published writing.

This is the part where I start foaming at the mouth and screaming “YES!” loud enough to scare the neighbors.

Sure, in an ideal world, it would be awfully cool to see some work that ventured into new terrain or introduced different characters.  Find out what Salinger thought of the world as it changed around him. But we’ve been waiting a long ass time for this moment, and I, for one, will take whatever I can get.

Post #110: The Beginning of the End (I hope)

Dear Charles,

Today, I begin what I hope will be the final stage in the editing and re-writing of my novel in progress Returning. That is, until I decide I need to, or am asked to, re-write it again.

The summer has seen far more massive structural and character changes to the book than I would have anticipated. I’m about to re-read the whole thing to see how those changes hold up. I’m predicting that, for the most part, they will. The last time I wrote you, I was editing God and atheism out of the novel and from Chick Myers’s character arc. Turns out I found an ever so small way to include them after all. After I re-wrote the third set, I re-wrote the fourth, and yes, the fifth. The novel begins and ends in the same place and mostly the same way as it has all along, but the roads travelled have been re-directed and filled in with fresh blacktop, and shiny new places to eat.

If you count research and prep time, I’ve been laboring on Returning for over three years and in all that time and all the many hundreds of thousands of words I’ve written and deleted, nobody’s seen a word of it but me. This is a thrilling and scary proposition. When you write a book, you build a protective bubble around yourself and the book so you can keep it, and you, sane and safe during the writing; however, you build this bubble knowing that in the end, you’ll have to pop it and let in all the air that’s been amassing outside.

That moment is coming for me, and for Returning. Soon I’ll begin digging through my desk drawer, looking for my sharpest pin.

As ever, I’m grateful for your friendship and support and will keep you posted.

Best to Martha and the girls,

Benjamin

 

Post #109: Being There

I ventured up to Montreal last week to catch the third round of the Roger’s Cup tennis tournament. The Roger’s Cup is part of the Emirates Airlines U.S. Open Series and an ATP Masters 1000 tournament, which basically is a fancy way of saying that it’s a big time event at which players stand to earn serious prize money and ranking points and therefore attracts the best players in the world. It’s also only two hours from my house, which makes me having never gone seem really stupid. Montreal and Toronto both host Roger’s Cup tournaments simultaneously and the genders alternate every year. This year the men were in Montreal.

When I was a kid living in Indianapolis, there was a big tennis tournament downtown called the RCA Hardcourts that attracted marquee talent and I saw Courier, Martin, and Sampras back in the day, but not only has it been many many years since I’ve seen pro tennis in the flesh, I am a far bigger and more astute fan of the game now. I’m also writing a novel that’s largely about tennis, so there was a minor research component to the trip.

I bought tickets for both the day and night sessions and all told I saw nearly six full matches and watched close to ten consecutive hours of tennis. And in one day I saw Rafael Nadal, Jerzy Janowicz, Andy Murray, Juan Martin Del Potro, Milos Raonic, Laender Paes, and Novak Djokovic. Damn.

Here, in no particular order, are some observations on the day.

1. Even from a couple hundred feet away, you can see the intensity burning off of Nadal like steam off blacktop after summer rain.

2. Murray, great a player as he is, just ain’t that handsome. Trust me, I saw him play doubles from twenty feet away.

3. Tennis, though international, is seriously white. I saw players from all over the world, but India’s Leander Paes was the only player I saw the whole day with skin darker than a vanilla latte.

4. Beware the wrist watch tan! Never saw it coming.

5. I was foolish to think I’d be the only one there with a Roger Federer hat. They were as common as Yankees caps in the Bronx.

6. Quebecians seem not to get that more urinals would lead to shorter bathroom lines. They also seem not to get that walking faster will get you there quicker.

7. You have never seen anybody hit something as hard as Janowicz and Raonic hit their first serves. It looks fast on television, I know, though that idea of speed you get from TV does sparse justice to the cannons that these guys actually fire.

8. #7 makes you, then, fully appreciate how superhuman a top player’s reflexes and reaction time really are. Before watching for the day, I’d thought that the raw power, and seeing said power in the flesh, would be the most impressive physical thing on display. Wrong. The reflexes and timing are insane and absolutely shocked me.

9. Even watching a top player practicing is thrilling. I stood and watched Almagro for a while. (photo below) You’re ten feet away and they just pound the ball like a crazed metronome. Almagro is intense by nature, it seems, but was particularly angry seeming while I and others watched him practice. Nothing even in the vicinity of a grin out of this guy.

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10. Canadians are very cool for letting you bring your own food and drink into the stadium. A little old French Canadian couple in front of me during the day session had a whole picnic lunch they slowly devoured during the Nadal/Janowicz match.

11. American tennis is officially dead. By the third round, there was not a single American left in the tournament. Nor is there currently an American in the world’s top twenty. This is bad.

12. As cool as watching the marquee matches on center court is, it’s all about the outer courts. You’re basically court side and can even better appreciate the pace of the game and the athleticism of its practitioners. When I say you’re court side I’m not kidding. Here’s the coin toss moment before the Andy Murray/Colin Fleming VS. Leander Paes/Stepanek match. I took it from my seat with only a slight zoom.

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13. In doubles, rather than play a win-by-two style Deuce, in the event of Deuce, they play a single point to decide the game in which the receiving team gets to decide who receives. This speeds up play.

14. The players carry around their own towels. On TV, it just looks like the ball kids are feeding the players towels from a massive house stash, but actually the players use the same two towels throughout the match and carry them back to their chairs during breaks, and then to the opposite end during changeovers.

15. Many players change their shirts during matches, though doubles great Daniel Nestor was the only one I saw who changed into a different shirt.

16. If you tilt the camera right, you can actually put yourself in the same frame as Nadal doing his post match interview with Pam Shriver. I’m the Mount Rushmore like face on the left; Nadal is the tiny, navy blue clad fellow on the court to the bottom right.

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17. Those oversized autograph balls are way overpriced.

18. The gift shop swag is pretty crappy, and there’s basically nothing for kids.

19. There’s a lot of in and out during matches on the spectators parts. More, it seemed to me, than at other kinds of sporting events. I attribute this to the fact that there’s many matches happening simultaneously, and you can go see whatever you want at any time.

20. Because of #19, it can feel like you’re always missing something and wishing you could be two places at once. You often hear distant applause and wonder what you’re missing.

21. No line at the Canadian/US Border either coming or going = priceless.

22. I think next time I’ll still catch two consecutive sessions, though watch an evening session, stay overnight, and then the next day’s afternoon session.

23. It cost me around $200 to watch ten hours of elite level sport. If you consider that it would take four basket ball games to equal that quantity, the price seems pretty fair.

24. Though I was thrilled to see so many top players in person, Nadal, I have to say, inspired the day’s biggest man crush. Wow. I took a photo of him shirtless after the match for my wife. But I kind of wanted it too.

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25. I can’t wait until my kids are old enough to bring along.

 

Post #108: Good Medicine From the News Feed

fb_icon_325x325My relationship to Facebook is that of a guy who got convinced to go to a party he’s now having trouble fitting in at, but one he’s still pretty glad he came to anyway . I’m not a constant status updater or gobbler of my friends’ every whim and posting, but I’m not a stranger either. Nor am I too cool for Facebook school. I check the news feed every day or two, post something at least once a week. Quite often, I’m left chuckling, shaking my head, or feeling very little at all; however, there are moments, such as recently, when my friend and fellow Bread Loaf alum Courtney Maum (pictured below) posted what felt like very good medicine to me, when Facebook seems pretty damn necessary.

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She wrote:

“Ten years ago, when I was still living in Paris, I wrote a novel called “The Blue Bear.” I was uncommonly lucky and got an agent for it and an interested editor at Doubleday right away. I worked on revisions for said editor all summer, talking with her on the phone, assured that when I returned to the states in September, we would sign a book deal. Revisions accomplished, I returned to Connecticut and the meeting was set. One week before this meeting, not only did the editor change her mind, but she also quit her job, leaving me “orphaned,” the offer gone and a dream dissolved.

I was totally thrown off-track by this turn of events. My writing became awful—I quickly set about writing something more “commercial” which was what the other editors who read the manuscript said they wanted. I became sad. I eventually became sadder. I left New York because I felt jealous and competitive and envious of anyone who was having success and it made my writing—and the process of writing—worse.

It took me a very long time to get rid of the disappointment and bitterness. YEARS. And then I got the joy back. I started writing for me again, not for some faceless audience and editor that I didn’t have. I stopped asking myself whether or not I was going to be liked or be successful, or quite simply, be published, and just started writing. And so it is, a full TEN YEARS after the crash of this first novel that a serendipitous alignment with the incomparable literary agent Rebecca Danielle Gradinger gave me the encouragement and motivation and courage to pick this decade-old project up again. And it is with some serious joy and emotion that I’m happy to tell you that the entirely new version I’ve quietly been working on has just been purchased by Sally Kim at Simon and Schuster for publication (if all goes well) next summer.

My friends: keep working. Keeping working hard for YOU. This journey taught me a very difficult but important lesson about patience, and generosity, and getting over oneself and getting the work done.”

I’m excited for Courtney. A little jealous, yeah. But I like to think it’s the good kind of jealousy. 

I spend a lot of my time alone in front of a computer typing words onto a screen that add up to stories. I do this for a variety of reasons. Obsession. Joy. Love. Ego. Desire. Avoidance. The reasons one creates are not readily understood or explained. But the sustaining force that propels me up to my attic writing room at the end of a long ass day when I just want to watch Jersey Shore is the sort of quiet passion that, I think, Courtney re-discovered. That unmistakable feeling of (wait for it, now don’t gag) personal accomplishment. Of a job well done. Call it whatever you want. Whatever it is, though, it has to be your own.

I’m working on a long novel right now and hope to begin formally submitting it to agents in the fall. That process, one that’s indescribably daunting and scary, is also one that’s very different from the protracted creative dream that brought the novel to life. As I’ve gotten closer and closer to the finish line, the two worlds, the business and the creative, have been moving closer together in my periphery, reaching out to touch so they make out like horny teenagers and make a mess of things. Courtney’s words have helped me find some courage to keep them (or at least try to) separate for now. To write the book that I need and feel compelled to write without the crushing burden of expectation. All that is out there, waiting patiently.  

By the way, if her news isn’t convincing enough, take my word for it that Courtney is a fantastic writer, and much of her writing is very humorous and will brighten your day. Check out an installment in her series “John Mayer’s Guide to Foraging” here. You can also follow Courtney on Tumblr and I recommend you do so. http://courtneymaum.tumblr.com 

Post #107: Saying Goodbye to God

Clouds-in-the-sky-and-god-rays-wallpaper_4428Dear Charles,

Sorry I haven’t been in touch in quite some time, but it was great to hear from you recently. Funny you should ask about Returning, my novel in progress, because after a very busy teaching year this past year, during which my brain was simply stretched in too many directions to focus properly on the novel, I’m buckled down (locked in? plug cliche in here) and revising, editing, and re-writing the novel at a furious rate. Well, work on a novel is rarely fast moving, let alone furious, even when it is graced with occasional wind sprints, but I’m fully immersed in the book at this point. That’s plenty.

Two days ago, I was, once again, at loggerheads with the themes of God and Atheism in the book. As you know, one of the main characters, aging tennis icon Chick Myers, is an atheist, and the extended section in which we spend a lot of time with his character for the first time, centers around this fact, via a “Rally to Save Chick” that a religious organization has sponsored for him, even in spite of his atheist standing. The rally was a buffet of cultural dissection.

For two years, I’ve loved and been attached to many parts of this section, the third “Set” in the five set novel. But in re-reading it a few days ago, in preparation for what I assumed was some minor tweaking, the God stuff just wasn’t feeling right. It was reading well. Reading great, in fact. Energetic writing and some nice scenes and dialogue, but I couldn’t escape  a nagging feeling that I’ve had in the back of my mind for quite some time, which is that the presence of God, atheism, and a debate about these topics, just wasn’t earning its keep in the novel as a whole.

I originally was inspired to make atheism and God an aspect of Chick’s character by the the life of the late Christopher Hitchens, who famously debated about God even while dying of cancer. Hitchens was a highly spirited atheist. Many people wondered whether an avowed atheist would have second thoughts about God while dying, whether he would change his song and slowly acquiesce to piety. Hitchens, famously, did not. I found this very interesting indeed, and used it in part as a way to help understand the character of Chick Myers. The theme came early in the drafting and has been there all along, for some two years now.

But, like I said, the other day, some quietly lingering doubts came roaring up from the surface and started screaming at me, urging me to re-consider. Asking me: is God and atheism earning its keep? Meaning, are the themes, heavy ones not to be deployed casually, explored with enough care and thought to justify their presence? Though it was painful, I had to say no. So, for them to earn their keep, so to speak, it would entail deepening their place in the book and in the characters’ lives.

This decision had major implications. If I opted to keep the section as is, and to keep atheism and God as major themes in the novel, then the novel had to shift its weight further in that direction. If I abandoned the themes and re-cast Chick’s character minus these big themes, well, then I’d have a shit ton of re-writing to do. Essentially, I’d have to scrap the entire 100 page Third Set and pretty much start that section over. What to do?

So, to clear my head, I took a walk. Walks are great. They have a clarifying, reductive power that’s marvelous. I walked for almost an hour, and about half way through the walk it hit me. God had to go.

It wasn’t that I wasn’t finding the theme, and its effect on the characters, worth pursuing further. It was the realization that deepening that conversation would push the book into terrain where I simply didn’t want it to spend quite as much of its time. The book is primarily about tennis, reality TV, and the trappings of fame. God and atheism had always felt like a natural fit, but I had to admit that I didn’t feel committed to it. Not only that, I wasn’t sure it’s what I wanted my book to be about. I was justifying because I didn’t want to scrap what I’d written. I liked it, even if it wasn’t serving the whole novel well.

But sometimes you have to kill your darlings, right?

So I did. I started over.

Of course, now that I’m halfway through re-writing the Third Set, which I think will still fill out at about 100 pages, there’s always the risk that I’ll screw it up and have to re-write it again someday after a similarly hard won realization.

But, like you’re always saying, Charles, one thing at a time.

So, that’s the update for now. I’ll keep you posted.

Thanks for being such a good friend. I’ll try to be in better touch.

Love to Martha and the girls,

Benjamin

 

Post #106: Obama and Trayvon

I doubt I’m alone in wishing that Barack Obama would be more vocal about a lot of things. Environmental activism, for one. But an issue that Obama is uniquely suited to address, as our first African-American president, is that of race in this country. Not only race and racism broadly, but also its relationship to both the justice system and gun control. As both a black man and a political insider, he must surely have valuable perspectives on these issues. Surely, at least, they must infuriate him! And, though he’s a politician and it’s clearly not popular to talk about these things, even given all that, I’ve still been astounded at how infrequently Obama addresses the subject. It’s too bad that it takes an issue as dramatic and polarizing as the George Zimmerman trial/verdict for his murder of Trayvon Martin in Florida last year to get Barry to open up, but I was glad to see that he addressed the press the other day and offered about fifteen minutes of commentary on race, racial profiling, guns, and racial discrimination in the justice system. He also spoke about how we move on from such trauma.

You know, it’s a shame that there’s not more reasonable debate and discussion on these important issues. The other night I caught a few minutes of a debate about the verdict on Piers Morgan between a black minister and one of the Central Park Five and the conversation was so spiteful and void of any reason, let alone actual listening, that I couldn’t even watch or think so I ended up watching sports. I know that Obama’s views on these subjects are just one man’s, and that if you’re right leaning or call yourself a conservative, you probably don’t want to hear what he has to say. If these were Mitt Romney’s comments on the verdict, I’m not sure I’d want to listen either.

But.

I would postulate that even if you think Zimmerman was properly acquitted and you want to wrap him up in a big bear hug and give him back his six shooter and put him right back on neighborhood watch, even then you would still get something out of Obama’s remarks (viewable via the link below), which are so thought provoking and insightful. If nothing else, appreciate a leader who can expound and reason and assert on this level. He needs to do this a lot more often. We have a lot to learn.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MHBdZWbncXI

By the way, it might interest you to know that as of this writing, the above video has been watched a half million times, which isn’t bad, though it’s still a hundred and three million fewer times than the video for Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines” has been watched. Just saying.