why I love writing

Posted on February 11, 2009


I am a firm believer that if the world looks boring, you are not looking carefully enough. Not to say that it doesn’t happen to me, because it does, often, and I suspect it always will. Still, I find the feelings of insignificance and dullness to be largely the result of my own lethargy, my own limited perspective. And this, this is conquerable, sort of.
I am also a person who is interested in almost everything. I’ve had many different dream careers and there are many times in a day I find something that is so unflinchingly fascinating that I make some sort of ridiculous resolution to master it that I will in no way follow. Like, read the entire works of Yukio Mishima, or watch every single 70s Blaxploitation film or start following the Red Sox again this year.
Writing is fantastic because it enables/forces (depending on the day) me to choose something and learn about it with a sense of purpose that keeps me free from, you know, the feeling you get after two hours reading the wikipedia article on interesting deaths (highly recommended, by the way), or some crazy guy’s 60 page pdf about how he’s broken the code of the Zodiac killer (also totally entertaining).

Today I wrote what amounted to a very, very short history of race-focused films in the US, and though I was initially bored and unwilling, within a few minutes I found out tons of fascinating tidbits about Bill ‘Bojangles’ Robinson’s tragic life, caught between racial worlds, and the making of Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song (Melvin Van Peebles had to jump off a bridge nine times in a row because they had no money for stuntmen; Earth, Wind & Fire were all broke and living in the same apartment when they were hired to play the music and they only got the break because one of them was dating MVP’s secretary; Many crewmembers had to carry guns because it was so dangerous making a non-union film, and some of the Hell’s Angels had to be threatened at gunpoint to make them finish their scenes).

There are stories everywhere and the failure to see them or care about them is a problem of perspective.  If we see the world from too far away, we see the shortness of our lives, the infinitesimal effect we little people could ever have on our one spinning globe out of infinite others.  If we see the world from close up, we see only ourselves.  We look at the couples hand in hand on the street and see the woman who doesn’t want us, or the make-believing kids in the park remind us of a time when blah blah nostalgia blah.  The trick, as it is in all things, is balance.  Our vision of the world, as limited human animals, is always going to be woefully incomplete, but that doesn’t make it meaningless, and it is rather self-indulgent to assume that we know how much we can accomplish.  To quote my friend shira, “it is impossible to know all that is possible.”

My favorite story from today is that during one of the sex scenes in Sweetback, which were absolutely real, Van Peebles caught gonorrhea from his co-star.  After the film, he applied to the directors guild and got workers compensation for it.  Think about that shit and tell me the world is boring.

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