Writing is hard

hardwritingThe truth of this title is self-evident to those for whom writing is an important part of life, whether as vocation or avocation. They know. Others might accuse me of hyperbole. Everyone gripes about how difficult their work is for them. How hard can it be to sit on your duff all day and string together a bunch of words that make sense?

Harder than you’d think.

Writing a quality book, play, screenplay, short story, poem, article, or other piece of literature is, as we say in Boston, wicked hahd. Legendary sports columnist Red Smith, when asked whether churning out a daily column was hard work, replied, “Why, no. You simply sit down at the typewriter, open your veins, and bleed.”

Garbage, on the other hand, spews forth with a lot less resistance and little or no shedding of the crimson.

Writing blog posts can be the easiest writing task or the hardest. It’s easy if all the writer is interested in is dumping random thoughts with no focus on accuracy or the quality of the prose. If you’ve read many blogs, you know exactly what I mean. No disrespect intended, but those are the literary equivalent of the old SNL Colon Blow cereal. As long as there’s mountains of output (words), that’s good enough.

The hard part is the unrelenting self-imposed “deadlines”. I’m committed to putting out a post every Tuesday for this blog and every Saturday for Limping in the Light.

In spite of those deadlines, I always want to put my most literate foot forward. (I think it’s the left.) One thoughtless typo and I look like a moron. Cranking these posts out twice a week, I don’t have a lot of time to obsess over editing. (I do have a life.) Anyway, self-editing is usually a futile effort. Because my schedule might warrant it on any particular week, I confess to have pushed out posts prematurely. As a result… mistakes were made.

These factors provoke all sorts of qualms at every stage of the post creation process. The blank screen, the self-doubt, the self-critique, the hesitance to expose my work (and by inference, myself) to the world all conspire to make the process more agonizing than it should be.

Hopefully readers will show some grace as they read these hastily scribbled sentiments, especially those readers who are interested in purchasing any of my writing. This shouldn’t be cause for concern. There are enough poorly written books and movies that it’s clear (1) there are a lot of poor writers out there, and (2) the vetting process is imperfect. I’d rather not rely on that state of affairs, but until I have nothing to do except write a couple of blogs – nice work if you can get it – I’ll simply slog along as well as possible given the circumstances. Posts might be short and they might be of varying quality.

Thank you for your understanding.


Hitchcock,_AlfredSir Alfred Hitchcock was credited with saying, “Drama is life with the dull bits cut out.”* Hard to argue with that, especially since its source is arguably the least boring filmmaker of them all. Still, I’ve always wondered what happened to those “dull bits.”

This week, I think I found out.

boyhoodThis post could get me into trouble, but I have to get this thought out of my neurons. The Academy Award nominated Best Picture, “Boyhood”, while a laudable piece of logistics, makes for agonizingly boring viewing. You’d think you could find 2¾ hours of material in a 12-year span of a kid’s life that would be gripping enough to keep my attention.

You’d be wrong. Thank goodness for the fast forward button.

There’s a certain hubris required to make a movie that’s almost three hours long. Some directors have (or had) it and pulled it off: Kubrick and Peter Jackson, to name a couple who succeeded. The former because of his genius, the latter because of his rich source material, courtesy of Tolkien who supplied the genius in that case.

Others are less successful. I’ve already noted Mr. Nolan in these virtual pages. I think I can now safely add Mr. Linklater. Both are obviously gifted filmmakers. They’ve proved as much in previous films.

I’m not suggesting that “Boyhood” is a bad film. Who the heck am I to make such a presumptuous claim? I’m just saying it’s dull as dirt. It makes me wonder, who was this movie made for, the creator or the viewer?

The concept is undoubtedly exceptional. Much of the obviously improvised dialog is engaging. But it’s the “dull bits” of life. There’s nothing really new being said. The film’s notoriety seems to be riding on a single gimmick, albeit a brilliant gimmick. If this film had been shot all at the same time with different actors playing the aging youthful roles (the only ones that show marked change), would it have received the acclaim it has? I’m guessing no. It would be just another tired coming-of-age story.

russianarkThere’s another, less well-known film that deserves similar praise for its use of an even more innovative device. “Russian Ark” is a 99-minute movie that was made in one continuous shot. That’s right, no “cut”, no edits, no stopping the camera at all. It’s ingenious, inventive, amazing. It’s also excruciatingly tedious to view. The Mona Lisa is fantastic, but I don’t want to stare at it for 99 minutes, never mind 165.

I’ve seen longer and slower movies that didn’t bore me. The aforementioned Mr. Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey” is the classic example. (That’s why a clever Mad magazine spoof of it was called “201 Minutes of Space Idiocy”.) It’s long and it’s slow, yet I’m entranced by its entirety.

straightstoryI adore movies that take time to tell their stories. If that story is compelling, if the characters are engaging, they can take all the time they want.

  • The Straight Story
  • The Trip to Bountiful
  • The Conversation
  • The Elephant Man
  • Koyaanisqatsi

These are all among my favorite films. They all unfold at a leisurely – some might say plodding – pace but never bore me for a second. Why? Maybe it’s just me.

“Boyhood” feels a lot like life – an admirable accomplishment – but hardly groundbreaking. Every good movie should feel like life in some way or another. The problem is, if I want to view life as it presents itself, I don’t have to go to the theater or watch TV.

It’s happening all around me, with far more interesting people than populate “Boyhood”.

*The great auteur also made the observation that, “The length of a film should be directly related to the endurance of the human bladder.” A lot depends on the bladder of the viewer. In my case, “Boyhood” failed that test as well.

Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Barbara


Santa Barbara Point from Shoreline Park

Here I sit in LAX waiting for my red-eye back to Boston. After nearly three weeks in Santa Barbara, CA, I’m hesitant to get on that aircraft. Back home, I’ve missed about seven feet of snow (actually, “I wouldn’t say I’ve been missing it, Bob.“) while relaxing in wall-to-wall days of 70’s and sunshine. They don’t call it the American Riviera for nothing. I’m trading in endless bike paths, ocean surf, and outdoor living for snowbanks, icicles, and a couple more months of cabin fever.

DSCN6184While in SB, I had the opportunity to get a taste of the SB International Film Festival. Film fests are a great experience. I’ve only been to four settings: SB, Austin, Martha’s Vineyard, and Boston. (No Toronto or Sundance yet. Those are the Big Ones. Cannes and Venice are above my pay grade.) The first two are legitimate festivals. Austin is the “writer’s festival” and thus holds a special place in my heart. By comparison, the other two are low key. I can understand MV hosting a smaller event. It tends to serve the local community rather than drawing large crowds from distant locations. You’d think, however, that a world-class city like Boston could pull off something more impressive. You’d be wrong.

Fortunately, Austin and SB make up for it. The two cities have a lot in common besides hosting credible film festivals. They’re both funky, artsy, and warm – things I appreciate in a city. All Austin needs is an ocean built next to it and real estate values increased about 1000% and they’d be identical.

Santa Barbara is the perfect setting for a film festival. First of all, it was Hollywood before Hollywood was Hollywood. Second, it’s home (or home-away-from-home) to many film notables, e.g. Oprah, Jeff Bridges, Kevin Costner, Jennifer Aniston, and a People-magazine-load of others.

luckypennyIn fact, I was having lunch at Lucky Penny last week, when who should sit down at the next table but Christopher Lloyd! I looked at him. He looked at me. Then he says, “Hey, aren’t you the guy who writes that ‘Scribbling in the Sand’ blog?” Wait. That was a dream. (Although someone I know really did see Mr. Lloyd at Lucky Penny. He obviously has great taste in pizza.)

The truth is I’ve never seen a single celeb here, but that’s just fine with me. And even more fine with them, I assume. What I did see are movies, some never before shown in America. Given my lack of time, transportation, and funds, I limited myself to only four of the dozens that filled the 12 day schedule: two Italian films and two Scandinavian. Interesting combination since those two ethnicities make up a significant percentage of my family’s background.

A great thing about film festivals is that you can see movies that might never be seen elsewhere. Many films are showcased at festivals to find distribution. Many – even some good ones – never see the light of day… or DVD or streaming. It was a privilege to see them. Even the duds.

Here’s a brief recap of the movies I saw:

Banana (Italy) was a comic but bittersweet story of a young Italian boy who obsesses about being a great Brazilian (?) soccer star, while wooing the older girl of his dreams. While trying to change his own life, the boy has a positive impact on those around him who have given up hope. I rated it a 3 out of a possible 5 on the film fest scale. It was worth seeing just for a couple of very funny gags.

Mafia and Red Tomatoes (La Nostra Terra, Italy) recounted the true story of an unlikely motley group of volunteers trying to start a farming cooperative on land seized from the Mafia. They face opposition from within and without. With equal parts social commentary, drama, comedy, and romance, the film was a delight. 4 out of 5.

Beatles (Finland), a movie based on a popular novel of the same name, was an engaging coming-of-age story about four Norwegian boys in the 1960’s whose dream is to be like their heroes, the Fab Four. As you might expect, the music was terrific – some straight Beatles songs and some quality covers. It nailed that era and its attitudes with such laser-like accuracy, I had flashbacks. The most astounding aspect to this film was that the four kids who played the leads and were absolutely great, had never acted before. Rated 4. (Note that, for obscure legal reasons, if this ever shows on American screens, it will be called “Yesterday”.)

Eila, Rampe and Baby Girl (Eila, Rampe Ja Likka, Finland) was, I suppose, the Scandinavian idea of a screwball comedy. Unfortunately, it played more like an extended sitcom. There were a few laughs but those were far outnumbered by the many embarrassing moments that had me squirming in my seat. It might have helped to be Finnish, I suppose. Rated 2.

My flight is getting ready to load, so I have to sign off and resign myself to an icy, snowy future, warmed only by memories of Santa Barbara. Oh, yeah, and the love of friends and family who await me. It ain’t all bad.


Religious arguments

argueWe are an argumentative people. That’s “we” as in my family, Americans, humans. It’s a congenital trait, I’m afraid. Conflict is built into us. It’s not called the human “race” for nothing. We all feel the need to top the other guy, just as the Patriots topped the Seahawks in the Super Bowl this past weekend. But that wasn’t enough. The arguments continue: Are the Patriots only capable of winning because they’re cheaters? (For the record: No.) Are Brady/Belichick the best ever? (Yes.) Is Gronk superhuman? (It sometimes appears to be so.)

The fighting, it seems never ends, even when the fighting ends.

Although David Gates has a good point when he sings, “…an argument can be outta sight, when you love to argue and you know how to fight”, I’m afraid we don’t know how to argue or fight well these days. What start out as discussions invariably degenerate into name-calling spite-fests. That’s a whole ‘nother area of discussion (and perhaps an argument) that I described in some detail in this post from a few years ago.

Even those who would consider themselves above the fray, cultured literati who read, write, and talk about same, have their endless and futile religious arguments. Here are a couple you might overhear in a local coffee shop:

ebooksGood old-fashioned paper books are better than e-books. Now there’s a religious argument if ever there was one. It’s about as pointless as Archie and Meathead’s argument about the order of putting on shoes and socks. There is no right and wrong here. It’s pure opinion. My own personal preference depends on the context. If I’m traveling, I can load more books on my Kindle than I could fit in my luggage. Additionally, most traditional books are impossible to read while both hands are otherwise occupied.

Conversely, some books feel as if they were meant to be held in the hands. My copy of “A Soldier of the Great War” has a heft to it that matches the epic scale of the wonderful novel. It’s also signed. Try that with an e-book.

Finally, there’s something aesthetically pleasing about a shelf or entire wall of books. Scanning the binders can be a joy unmatched by twiddling through the menus of a Nook or Kindle.

Mona&DavidBooks are always better than the movies made from them. Hopefully no one has such a sweeping opinion. Anyway, it’s a specious argument for the most part. We’re talking about two different mediums: a mental one and a visual one. Your opinion may well depend on the way you process information. You might as well ask which is better, da Vinci’s Mona Lisa or Michelangelo’s David?

Were the “Lord of the Rings” books better than the movies? It’s a moot point. The films were the vision of a small group of artists, Peter Jackson and friends. Who am I to say their vision is wrong or right? I love both creations for what they are. Note: “The Hobbit” films are a different story for reasons I expounded on here.

Some books are rightfully considered unfilmable. Any attempt to do so generally leads to disaster. Cases in point from the not-too-distant past: “Winter’s Tale” and “Cloud Atlas”. Both were monumental critical and box-office failures made from monumentally fine books.

There are a few movies I believe improved on their literary source material. One prime example is “About a Boy”. A good book, a better film, the final third of the story having been changed radically for the better in my estimation. Thus we’re talking about two different stories. Which is better? Again, personal preference. In this case, my preference is the movie’s story. You may disagree.


These two arguments are carried on all over. They can actually be fun to argue about, if it’s done right. When it’s done wrong, we’re missing the point entirely. Needing to be right can kill relationships.

It’s 11:00. Do you know where your priorities are?*

(*Does anyone remember this reference?)