I Haven’t Forgotten About This Blog

As the title of this post indicates, I haven’t forgotten about this blog. I’ve been focusing my energies on another (secret) writing-based web project for the past month or so and have not had time to write here. I’m pretty excited about this new venture; I think it has the potential to turn into something very neat. But I can’t share it with you yet. Having just launched on April 1, my co-author and I would like the site to get its sea legs before we present it to the masses to read and destroy.

I’m still figuring out the difference between this blog and that project. They are rather similar, so I need to decide what content is appropriate for which site. I will probably be writing more on the other site for now, simply because (a) my co-author is expecting me to and (b) the nature of that project demands regular attention. That being said, I haven’t given up on this blog yet. I just need to let the other project grow a little bit before I can determine what I want to write about on this here blog.

In the meantime, keep an eye out on this blog and/or my portfolio for an announcement about the secret project sometime later this spring.

P.S.- Want to know what else I’ve been up to recently? I just added a new project to my portfolio: a reel of my favorite clips from my trip to Africa. Check it out.

The Impostor

I have a love/hate relationship with Netflix. Most of the time, I hate it. Half of its recommendations for me are are things completely unrelated to my interests and the other half are programs I have already watched. Whenever I am looking for a specific movie, Netflix inevitably does not have it available to stream online. But sometimes, sometimes Netflix pulls through for me. In those rare moments when it succeeds, I forget all the hate, the pain, the frustration, the monthly question of ‘why do I give my hard earned money to this stupid service,’ and I realize that Netflix can be a beautiful thing. In those rare moments, I love Netflix.

About a year ago, I read an article about a film called The Impostor, a documentary about a twenty-something Frenchman who duped a Texas family into believing he was their long-lost son, Nicolas, who had vanished without a trace when he was thirteen. The film was a smash at Sundance, not only for the fascinating true story it told but also for its beautifully photographed reenactments and masterfully woven narrative that reads more like a film noir than a documentary. I looked around for the film on Netflix and other places around the Internet but couldn’t find it. It was a small independent release, so my hopes of finding it in an Omaha theater or video store were slim. I wrote it down on my ever-expanding list of films to watch and resigned myself to the fact that I’d probably never find it.

Then, yesterday, I stumbled across this article on Flipboard and saw that The Impostor was available to stream on Netflix. So I watched it. And even though I already knew the story, watching it unfold was something else. There is something eerily magnetic about the interviews with Frédéric Bourdin, the impostor, who is at times incredulous that his act succeeded so well for so long and at times almost gleeful at the memory of it. It is fascinating to hear the thought process behind his longest and most successful con. However, the man is a serial impostor and a compulsive liar, so you can’t help but wonder if he is telling the truth or if the whole documentary is another one of his cons. Did he really get swept up by a series of small lies that snowballed into something larger than himself? Was it really all just a whim that got out of control? Or was it an elaborate plan?

The more I think about it, the more amazed I am at the questions raised by the film about the nature of truth and reality. How could a family misidentify their own son? How many of our actions are justified by our desire to see what we want to see? Do we shape our reality to fit our own ideas of the truth? Can we trust our own beliefs about reality? What is real? What is the truth? Can you trust a liar to tell the truth? Can you trust a liar to lie? Can you trust a liar?

Life truly is stranger than fiction.

(Netflix, I take back all the bad things I said about you. We can be friends again. But if you screw up one more time, I swear, I will think very hard about cancelling my subscription. I will. I will think about it. Very hard.)

What Isn’t There

You may have noticed that this blog does not feature many of the trappings of modern blog design. There’s no sidebar, no archive lists, no comments, no share buttons, no tags, no ads. The post design is uncluttered, featuring simply a title, a date, and the body of the post. Color is used sparingly. Categories do exist, but they are tucked away on individual post pages. Why, you ask? Why ignore so many of the traditional elements of blog design? Well, I didn’t ignore them. I deliberately chose not to include them. Everything about this blog – the things that are there and the things that are not – was a deliberate choice.

Over the past year, I’ve become increasingly frustrated by clutter in every aspect of my life. I was frustrated by the clutter in my closet, so I inventoried it, cleaned it out, and gave a bunch of clothes away. I was frustrated by the clutter on my bookshelf, so I assessed my collection and got rid of two shelves worth of books and notebooks. I cleaned out my desk and my bulletin board and my other bookshelf. I labeled and organized and inventoried my inbox. I had some posters and photographs on my wall that I had taped up, not because I particularly liked them, but simply because I had them and putting up posters on blank walls is a thing people do. I took them down. I’ve always been a meticulously organized person, so to an outside eye, my room probably doesn’t look much different. But to me, it feels much lighter. And I don’t miss anything I gave or threw away.

The problem with clutter is that it is a burden. Clutter represents failure. It signifies everything you have not done. “I’ll read that book someday.” “I’ll make that recipe someday.” “That dress still fits; I’ll wear it again someday.” Someday, someday, someday. Even if you don’t actively think about clutter, it’s there in the back of your closet, the drawers of your desk, the bottom of your bag – little reminders of your failure to read more, cook more, be more fashionable, more intelligent, more connected and well-rounded and healthy and educated, etc. etc. etc.

This is true for physical clutter as well as digital and design clutter. Had I included comments on this blog, they would have been un- or underused, serving only as a reminder of my lack of audience. The same goes for share buttons, which likely would have lain unclicked. A monthly archive would have been a symbol of my failure to write regularly, a category archive a sign of my failure to write widely. Why subject myself to such burdens? Was the weight of these features/failures a necessary evil in my quest to create a successful blog?

To answer these questions, I first had to define ‘successful blog.’ What is success? Is a certain number of posts per week? Is it a large consistent readership? Is it a certain average number of likes, favorites, and shares? Is it a thoughtful, engaged comment section? Is it a certain amount of money earned from ad deals and sponsorships? Is it writing a post that goes viral? Is it fame? I think a successful blog could have many of these things or none of them. Perhaps the more pertinent question that I needed to ask myself was this: what do I want to accomplish with my blog?

In thinking about this question, I decided that my primary goal for this blog is to get myself to write. Just write. About anything. With thoughtfulness, care, and some regularity. I have always enjoyed writing because, for me, I do my best thinking when I am writing. Since graduating from college a little over a year ago, I have written less – and thus, thought less – than ever before. I miss writing essays. I miss critical thinking. I miss reading (by which I mean ‘reading’ as defined by an English major, more to do with thinking than consuming). Internet culture is obsessed with consumption. Content creation is king. Virality is the measure of success. But I’m not interested in creating content to be consumed. I’m not interested in getting a bunch of likes or going viral. I’m not interested in audience. I’m interested in writing and thinking about the things that interest me. Sure, at some point, I’d love to have an engaged audience – who wouldn’t? – but right now my primary goal is simply to write.

So yes. I do not have a sidebar or a comments section or archives or share buttons. I deliberately stripped them away to allow myself (and my nonexistent readership) to focus on the most important aspect of this blog: the writing and the thinking behind it. Design is about choices. It’s about deliberateness. It’s about defining what is important, figuring out how to make it work more efficiently, and eliminating the rest. The same goes for other art forms as well. Writing, music, film, painting, and photography are as much about editing as they are about creating. Art is as much about what you choose not to include as it is about what you do include. Knowing what and when to cut is the most difficult part of any art creation, but it is also the most rewarding because it forces you to dig to the heart of things and recognize what is most important. And for me, right now, here on this blog, that is quite simply, to write.

On Acting

Of all the films nominated for Oscars last night, I saw only three: The Master, Beasts of the Southern Wild, and Silver Linings Playbook. (I intended to see more, as I always do, but didn’t, as usual. Lincoln, Argo, Amour, and Zero Dark Thirty are still on my ever-expanding to-watch list.) As the awards season progressed and the hype surrounding Silver Linings Playbook and Jennifer Lawrence’s performance grew from a whisper to a storm, I found myself growing confused. Silver Linings Playbook was decent enough, I thought, but not amazing. All of the principal actors did fine work bringing their characters to life, I thought, but none of the performances were particularly remarkable or memorable. And yet, all four actors were nominated for Oscars. Was I missing something? What did the Academy (and apparently, the rest of America) see in this film that I did not? Were the performances of Lawrence, Bradley Cooper, Robert de Niro, and Jacki Weaver really so extraordinary as to be considered some of the best of the year? If so, what made them different?

The whole thing got me thinking. What do I know about acting? I’ve never acted in anything (aside from a production of A Christmas Carol in fourth grade wherein I was forced to portray the demanding role of Angel #2 despite a crippling case of stage fright). I don’t know any actors. I’ve never really given any thought to the craft of acting. I don’t even really know what actors do aside from memorizing lines and reciting them onstage or in front of a camera. What do I know about acting? Nothing really. So what qualifies me to criticize actors’ performances? Nothing really. Maybe Lawrence really did give the best performance of the year (though one could argue that when it comes to any form of art, handing out awards for the ‘best’ is an exercise in futility – a popularity contest masquerading as an honest assessment of artistic worth, but that’s a discussion for another day). Maybe Bradley Cooper really was revelatory. Maybe de Niro and Weaver really were extraordinary. What do I know?

As I was wondering about all of this, I happened to watch the latest episode of Girls, which lead me to read Todd VanDerWerff’s latest critical essay about the latest episode of Girls, which pointed me to an essay by Film Crit Hulk about why Girls is remarkable, which introduced me to the fantastic writing of aforementioned Film Crit Hulk, which led me to this introductory essay about the art of acting. It’s long, but well worth a read. (You’ll get used to the all-caps thing. Just keep reading. Trust me. Hulk write good.) Along with some basic summaries of popular acting methods and schools of thought, it provides insight for non-actors into the world of acting and the immense amount of work it takes to make a character believable onscreen.

If you’re interested in serious film criticism or if you would just like to better understand how actors work, I seriously recommend checking out the Hulk’s article. And while you’re at it, read some of his other writing. Maybe it’s because I am a bit of a semiotics nerd, but I find his articles to be some of the most insightful, intelligent writing on the Internet.

I still have no idea whether or not the performances in Silver Linings Playbook were deserving of the accolades they received, but I can say that I have a lot more respect for the work the actors did to produce those characters.