Two questions I never know how to answer:
1. Where are you from?
2. Why are you sad?
The answers are maybe always related, for me, and maybe for anyone who is from somewhere and is also sometimes sad.
In a few days, this old house will be torn down and burned.
Received an Instagram message today from @jcapocrucet of this photo, part of her syllabus. Stuff like this always thrills me a little, even if I get self-conscious about being sandwiched between two amazing writers like ZZ Packer and Yiyun Li.
A Few Quick Impressions on Boyhood & Writing
I finally got to see Richard Linklater’s Boyhood today. I don’t know a lot about film, but I am in the middle of working on two book-length projects—the collaborative novel I’m writing with Jane, and a memoir—and watching Boyhood triggered a few thoughts about what it means to try to make art. I suppose you could say it inspired me—or reminded me of a thing or two I’m always carrying around in some part of my brain but then forget are there.
1) You have to commit. Whether you’re writing a flash fiction or a novel, whether you’re building a ship inside a glass bottle, or stretching a shimmering orange curtain across a valley in the Rocky Mountains, there are decisions you have to make, step by step, moment by moment, that you have to commit to.
About thirty minutes into Boyhood, I was thinking about the way the film was shot. I was thinking about the storyline that had been set in place. The only thing I knew about Boyhood going in was that it was shot over the course of twelve years. I learned later, when Jane was looking up some stuff on her phone while we were driving, that Linklater spent only 45 days shooting the film over those twelve years.
So, I was thinking about the impossibility of revision. And about having the confidence to begin something that you know is going to take twelve years to complete—while also knowing that there are certain decisions that can’t be undone.
This seems anathema to writing, in a way. But I also think it’s worth bearing in mind, for anyone who tackles creating anything. The idea not just of committing but of trusting your gut, having confidence in each little decision you make along the way.
2) Limitations can be a very good thing. When I used to think of limitations as they pertain to art, I would think mostly of visual artists. Painters, especially. The palettes they were working with. The size of the canvas. Later, when I started writing flash fictions and short shorts, I thought a lot about how I was working with certain limitations within them—not just by way of their word count but also by attempting to tell a story in 500 words that spans five years. Or by attempting to write a story that contains no scene. That kind of thing.
While Linklater took twelve years to shoot this film, he was also working with a number of limitations. The number of actors, for instance. How much time he could devote to the narrative from each year of the boy’s/family’s life. He’d also, it seems, made a number of other decisions—such as having no flashbacks, and creating a very long and slow-moving narrative arc—that served as something like limitations.
When you set limitations, you force yourself to find ways of making the most out of what you have to work with, again and again. And Linklater definitely did just this. At one point, I found myself weeping as the camera zoomed in on a table bearing sliced vegetables and deviled eggs.
To quote another filmmaker, Orson Welles: “The absence of limitations is the enemy of art.”
3) You can’t teach vision.
I’m pretty sure no one has ever attempted to make a film quite like Boyhood. Linklater’s vision alone, brilliant execution aside, is worthy of praise, admiration.
One of the things I appreciated, though, about Boyhood, was how I could see pieces of Linklater’s previous works throughout it. I saw bits of Slacker, and Dazed and Confused, and Before Sunrise. And more. In Boyhood, though, I saw that vision brought to a kind of completion. Or, I saw it elevated to the form of a masterpiece.
Which had me thinking: While you can’t teach vision, you can, as an artist, cultivate your vision. Day by day. Writing session by writing session. Sculpting session by sculpting session. You can begin to understand how you see the world, how you think it should be portrayed. You can take the time to pay attention. To try. And fail. And succeed a little. And then go right back to failing.
And someday, who knows, maybe you’ll find some story or poem or art installation in which that vision of yours finally finds its shape. Its form. Its expression that is all you.
This made me think of @emmabold’s rejection series. Someone thinks you’re good and all, lint brush, but just not quite right for them. Try again sometime, if you’re up for it.