Missing the point

It's no wonder I can't make it to things I say I'm going to attend. My brain is a sieve. The whole point of that last entry was supposed to be about how I really, really was going to attend the event on my calendar on Thursday night. But I didn't quite get there. I mean, I didn't quite get there in the blog entry. I did get there in a person. As part of my screenwriting class, we got to attend a fascinating lecture and Q&A with Josh Olson, the dude who wrote A History of Violence. (He received nominations from the Academy Awards, the Writer's Guild of America and others for his work.) My problem going into it all was the fact that I didn't actually enjoy the movie very much. However, when I ran into our teacher Jim Burnstein and John Olson on the way to the lecture, I shook his paw and the following words came out of my mouth: "I loved your film."

I'm that much of a celebrity whore.

Actually, I think that with this second-semester experience, I just have an overwhelming sense of admiration for anyone who does this crazy form of writing for a living. And also, I'm a celebrity whore. Josh Olson is a giant guy, by the way, big and ambling and friendly and it's not hard to believe that he's a fan of comic books and fantasy. He was dressed appropriately for the closed event, which was attended by maybe fifty or sixty students within the Screen Arts & Culture department, in what I think of as the Hollywood screenwriter's uniform -- black t-shirt, black jacket and jeans.

He was very generous with us as he shared his journey to screenwriting fame, crediting a lot of waiting and diligence and a lot of hard work. It wasn't a short or easy road that led him to writing A History of Violence, which was based on a comic novel. (That might help explain why I didn't enjoy it that much -- I'm not much of a fan of the comic novel and once I knew the film's origins, I realized it really somehow retains that "feel." Also, I watched it on a plane to Amsterdam during some turbulence and that doesn't help anything...)

But the coolest thing was that, despite our obviously different interests, I could really relate to him as a writer. I was thrilled to discover that we both have the same approach to writer's block. "Write badly," Olson urged us, and that's exactly what I do when I can't get an article finished. I write the most pedantic, awful version of it, just to get the words on the page, some sense of structure and then I go back and I rewrite it, pretending I'm editing the work of some addled sixth-grader.

I've had some difficulty reading screenplays -- they're just not easy on the eyes, sometimes tough to follow and get into. Olson noted, quite wisely, that it's because screenplays are what he called an "interim form" of writing. They're not meant to be read. A ha! It's not just me.

And he urged us to do something really important, something that I think applies to anyone who writes, whether you're a journalist or a novelist or an essayist or a screenwriter. He said that, in the midst of all the craziness, you have to "hold onto the thing that makes you want to write."

To be honest, I've never quite figured out what that thing is for me. Maybe it's to be heard or to be taken seriously. I'm not sure. But whatever it is, I get that I need to hold onto it, because I've lost sight of it in the past and I've let myself move far away from writing and I've never found happiness doing anything else.