For any one truly good book I would risk being bored by ten more.
I have, as far as I can recall, only ever walked out of two movies that I paid to see in a theater. The first was Big Trouble — no, not the Tim Allen movie (which is actually decently funny), but the 1986 Peter Falk/Alan Arkin movie, now almost entirely forgotten, and blissfully so. I sat through 40 minutes of this thing, which felt like it had been pasted together entirely from rushed first takes of scenes, before deciding the walls in the theater bathroom looked more interesting. The other was Crash — no, not the David Cronenberg adaptation of J.G. Ballard's novel, but the 2004 Best Picture winner that for me was further evidence of how most Best Picture Oscars have shelf lives comparable to room-temperature milk. I didn't walk out of The English Patient, but only because I saw it at home — I sat through a little over an hour of that solemn twaddle parade before turning it off. And I ended up going back and rewatching what I didn't see of Crash when I came across it on TV one night, and it confirmed that I had indeed spared myself the cinematic equivalent of a case of food poisoning.
For the most part, though, I don't walk out of something I took the trouble to get out of the house to see. I'm picky enough about what I see in a theater to generally ensure I'm seeing something I'm at least curious enough about to finish. Very rarely do I bail from something I have already made an initial and sizable commitment to. I stay through mostly to be able to say my sense of the thing is valid.
But books are a different case, and I don't know if that's because of the form factor or because I've tried to read far more books in my time than I have tried to watch films. I bail on books more aggressively now than I used to, because I somehow feel far more acutely how even an only mediocre book (as opposed to a flat-out bad one) is not a worthy investment of my time. I feel more these days that given the choice between a middling or bad book, or no book at all, I'll take no book at all.
I need to write about how some movies or books have affected my life and my creativity, and not so much about trying to just "review" them.
I've mentioned before how one of the reasons I phased out my blogging about movies and such (and that includes Ganriki, my other big project about anime) was because I no longer felt I had anything constructive to say about the things I saw. "Constructive" also means "timely": within the first week of the release of a major project like Barbie or Oppenheimer (both of which, in a previous life, I would have written about extensively), there's such a panoply of genuinely interesting opinion that I feel like anything I'd add would just coattail onto existing viewpoints. It all felt terribly depersonalized — a term slightly to the left of what I mean, but still redolent enough of it to count. I didn't feel like I was doing any of this for my sake.
A side effect of that is a growing interest, generally, in older things that have "survived the filter", as they say. But even there I struggled to produce something that didn't feel redundant. A month or two ago I wrote a review of Kubrick's Paths Of Glory, in the wake of its 4K remaster/re-release, and I don't think there was a single insight in there that you couldn't find somewhere else. Not one truly personal opinion. I drawered it and went to bed. My time, I told myself, is better spent making original things, not talking about other peoples' things in ways that don't expand the conversation. Even my old saw about how I examined other peoples' things the better to understand my own creative work didn't hold up anymore.
How can we live as a species, knowing now the temptation to righteous power will always exist even in (and maybe especially in) the best of us? And how do we let all that not get in the way of us getting very real boots off our very real necks?
"We are as gods," Stewart Brand wrote in 1968 in the Whole Earth Catalog, "and we might as well get good at it." I encountered that quote a few years before I read The Rebel for the first time, when I was in my twenties (in the mid-Nineties or so). Camus's work felt like a book-length interrogation of the assumptions behind such a statement. If we are gods, how do we get good at it? And if we find in the process we are not, in fact, gods, what then? How can we live as a species, knowing now the temptation to righteous power will always exist even in (and maybe especially in) the best of us? And how do we let all that not get in the way of us getting very real boots off our very real necks? (No one has ever been saved by contented bystanders.)
On Chuck Wendig only wanting to write standalones from now on, a sentiment I agree with.
Chuck Wendig has a very good post on why he's electing from here on out to write only standalone works, not works in a series. He cites reasons that are a mix of personal/aesthetic, and economic/practical: paper prices are rising; subsequent installments in a series don't sell as well; and then this. It's two of his numbered reasons, and the summation of his reasons:
You can provide the conditions for their happiness, but you can't strong-arm happiness on people.
One of the tougher, less appetizing corollaries of "Everything you are looking for is within you" is "You can't make other people happy". Meaning whatever happiness other people have, it's going to be something they discover and nourish themselves. You can provide the conditions for their happiness, but you can't strong-arm happiness on people. Nor can you do that with wisdom, or grace, or a great many other things we would love to know could be bestowed on others the way we could slather icing on a cake.
I didn't study Zen to be more creative, but to have a more honest relationship with my creativity.
As best I can reckon, I have been studying Zen for nearly twenty years now. I started when my life was at one of its lowest points in memory, and I have continued my study of it through both good days and bad. One thing it has made clear to me is how everything I was looking for is right at hand — that it is not a matter of seeking for anything, but seeing what is present most completely. And boy, is that ever easy to misunderstand, especially when you're a creator.
How many stories do I have left? I don't know, and I want to keep the door open on that question as long as I possibly can.
You've probably seen this fun video where George R. R. Martin wonders how the heck Stephen King can write so much in so little time. I thought about that in the context of another conversation I had recently, about the idea that some people feel like they only have so many books or stories inside them, while others just seem like perpetual creativity machines. How much of that, I've wondered, is because some people have higher standards for themselves about what stories they do want to tell, in terms of how differentiable they are? Is it not because some people have "fewer stories", but because they have fewer stories that feel like they're individuated, and thus worth telling at all?
That one horrible week of mine in 2005, and what lay beyond.
I've been quite occupied the past couple of weeks, so sorry about the radio silence on this end. But I'm (sort of) back, and I've dredged up something from distant memory that only now makes sense to me.
There was a period of about a week in I think 2005 or 2006 when I experienced what I now realize was the deepest and most crushing depression I've ever felt, so much so that it literally paralyzed me.