Do You Think This Blog Should Be A Book?

Monday, April 18, 2011

People often tell me that I should collect some of my best blog posts and publish them in book form. Sometimes I get this advice from friends; sometimes I get it in comments. In the last month there have been three people I respect who have strongly urged me to do it. A friend of mine who teaches a class at NYU even said that if my book existed he’d assign it to his class.

The fact is, I have one of the least-read blogs from as long as the record-keeping of bloggery as been chronicled. PhDers have noted that it is less read than cave paintings and Sumerian cuneiforms were at the time of their publication. I am not a modest man, but I am a realist and I must accept that this is not the kind of raw material that is displayed at Starbucks, praised by Oprah, lands on the NY Times best-seller list, is downloaded on iTunes, narrated by Robert Evans on an audiobook, or download on torrent sites.

Still, I’m frequently told that there are not many things written about the film industry that are exactly like this blog. If that is true, perhaps it is because people who are currently in the middle of working in the industry, as I am, don’t think they should write about it. They think it would be career suicide. Some people go from a career in the industry to because hard-nosed journalists, as Anne Thompson has done. As a former publicist, she has special insight and knows better than most journalists how to suss out the bullshit publicists try to feed her. But that doesn’t mean that she’s telling tales from her past, as these former colleagues are now sources.

I have lost some friendships with because of this blog. They thought it was a kind of betrayal. How dare I write about things that were supposed to be private? I was on the payroll and keeping my mouth shut was something, while never overtly stated, was tacitly understood. That’s how they could feel comfortable to be their unguarded selves in my company. My question is: if there is an earthquake and it happens that a well-known actor is standing next to me at that moment, do I cede the experience to the actor? Does that moment no longer belong to me? Should I go through my life with a memory pen and scratch out all the interesting bits where a celebrity was in the vicinity? This is not a hypothetical question, as I have been instructed to use such a pen, and I have complied. And sometimes I choose to use an eraser on my own. There are people I wouldn’t even think of writing about. If I am worried, I sometimes ask people for permission. But it would be impossible to do that all the time; this blog might be unwritable.

On the other hand, it is understood that celebrities can write about their careers without getting release forms from everyone they collaborated with. Well-known writers can do the same. Nora Ephron famously said, “everything is material.” I cling to the naïve belief that the worth and justification for my writing will stand for itself. If I write well enough, if my opinions are well considered, then the enterprise of “My Life as a Blog” is legitimate.

The truth is that sometimes I write something that strikes a chord with people and sometimes I write something that falls flat. Sometimes the personal stories I tell display the wisdom of my actions; sometimes they prove that I am an idiot. But that is an excellent description of me: a smart guy who often is an ignoramus. To be clear, I’m not saying I have acted like a jackass; I’m saying I am often am a certifiable jackass. And those moments are my favorites. For example, my instructing Jim Jarmusch that he should leave an excellent short film he made as a short—in other words, that he should not make Stranger Than Paradise. I absolutely love that story and have dined out on it for decades.

I remember I was working on a project with Lily Tomlin and I was saying something and she looked at me quizzically—and she’s a super nice person and liked me--but she said, “Isn’t that… stupid?” She had no intention of being insulting, she was just confused, as I normally had the ability to forge intelligible thought. And she was right on the money about that moment—dumb as a plank I was.

Every Sunday night when I have to push the “enter” button and put my latest post up on my site I tense up and wonder: Will this be a Lily Tomlin week? Or will it mean something to people? Even if it’s a few people.

One of my favorite books is “Joe Gould’s Secret,” written by the great Joseph Mitchell (and made into a movie by Stanley Tucci.) For a New Yorker story, Mitchell writes a portrait of a guy who tells everybody in his circle that he’s writing the Great American Novel. SPOILER ALERT! Gould’s secret is he isn’t writing anything at all, just intriguing scraps that fool people into thinking he is up to something that will send the literary world in to a new orbit. When Mitchell finds out, he is of course dismayed that his article seems to be in disarray, but after some reflection, he gets a vision of the mind-numbing amounts of books: bookstores, libraries, archives, remainder bins, etc.---rivers, oceans, galaxies of books, books, and more books. Thank heavens, he thought, that there is one less book littering the world’s mental landscape.

Jean-Luc Godard said that a story should have a beginning, a middle and an end--just not in that order—and without me consciously being aware of it, both a narrative and themes have been emerging in this blog. Some of these stories have been written already; some have yet to be written, but I know they are coming. It’s the story of a Midwestern kid who given an extremely stern moral education by his Rabbi when he was growing up. And also in culture—he memorized all of Bob Dylan’s songs, and they were Biblically judgmental of hypocrisy and other moral foul play. He loved movies, so he set out for Manhattan, or as it is also known, Sodom. His moral background proved a grievous disadvantage as he tried to fit into the film industry. It confused people who lacked these deficiencies. They correctly understood that the purpose of life was to screw over as many people as possible in as gratuitously nasty a way as they possibly could. I remember having a conversation with an independent film producer (I think it was Ted Hope) and we both agreed that the people in the specialty film world were much meaner than those in the Hollywood world. (My guess is that it is like an academic environment—when there are less riches to be had, people rabidly chew each other like the dogs at Michael Vicks’ house.)

But he discovered that there was a miracle in the midst of all this. Some of the people he encountered were so spellbindingly talented and beautiful and kind and funny that his eyes misted over every time they entered the room. In fact, as I write this description of my story I am literally weeping thinking about some of these people. I’m getting pictures in my head and they are vivid.

Did these folks make up for everything else? There are those who have their lives elevated by religion or politics or art. For me it is those human beings; they were and continue to be my salvation. And for some reason I feel the need to spread the gospel. But this involves talking about all the bad stuff, as they only exist within that larger context.

And the question is: what is constructive information and what is merely gossip? Most blogs are filled with gossip. I love reading gossip; I just don’t want to write it myself, and will be very disappointed with myself if I do. If what I write is taken out of the electronic sphere, printed and bound, will they be cleansed somehow? As a publicist I know that context is all.

I have made this promise to myself that I will write an essay every week. I know that under the deadline I will make mistakes and there will be very bad ones that I will regret. Moreover they will make some people angry and may lose me work. And I need work to survive. On the other hand, many great opportunities have come out of it, like this past weekend when I was put up at a ritzy resort in Sarasota for a festival panel on the blacklist.

Do these stories have value or would it be better to toss them into the dustbin of film history? There are those who have told me I’m courageous for writing this blog the way I do, but as Lily Tomlin noted, maybe I’m just stupid.

So tell me, my tonstant weaders, all the vast dozens of you… assuming I could get it published, do you think I should I write a book?