New Tricks Are Hard


As many of you who come here even occasionally know by now, part of what’s going on in my ongoing midlife crisis is that I’ve been trying to make some sort of transition career wise. Just to recap the long story for those of you who need it: went to grad school in film to become a writer/director, started doing sound to pay the bills, been doing it for going on 25 years now while continuing to try and write stuff and make films and…er, that’s it, not such a long story after all I guess. Since the actual filmmaking and writing isn’t paying my bills, I’ve been trying to figure out what else I can do other than sound to earn a living.

Now, before those of you with whom I work stop calling me, IT’S NOT HAPPENING YET, I AM NOT OUT OF THE BUSINESS. Because there’s this thing that happens in production when you even dip your toe into something other than your regular production day job. One person hears that you’re teaching a class, or that you’re making a documentary, and all of a sudden everybody’s saying, “I hear she’s out of the business.” It isn’t necessarily done out of malice, although there are always people who are super competitive and will take any available opportunity to find a way to knock you out of contention for whatever jobs they might also want, especially if you work in commercials like I do, which is a pretty small pool. That type of sniping happens a lot more among sound mixers, who spread rumors like a bunch of nearly-all-male fishwives when they think it’s to their advantage. I think the fast pace of rumor-spreading among people who work in production really has more to do with the fact that we have so much downtime on every job, and not always that much to talk about other than work, especially when you’re literally at work all the time and therefore have no outside life to speak of. You’ve gotta talk about something sometimes and the latest scuttlebutt that you’ve heard but not necessarily verified about your co-workers is going to be the best something to keep your colleagues interested — and everyone wants to feel interesting.

Now that I’ve gotten the “I’M NOT OUT OF THE BUSINESS” disclaimer out of the way, what I will say is that, in the past couple of weeks, I’ve had a couple of jobs as a video editor. They’re not my first, but I wasn’t really making an effort before to try that out as a possible new day job, for a few reasons which now seem to be diminishing in importance. One, I also like teaching, so I’ve been pursuing that. Getting a full-time faculty job, however, at a time when most colleges just want to chew up adjuncts and and spit them out with no health insurance is getting really frustrating (for public schools that are being starved by their states who are in turn being starved by the federal government, it’s economic necessity, but for many other universities it’s really not, it’s just greed, and part of the whole growing trend in this country toward two completely divided Americas, rich and poor…but whatevs). Two, I was worried for some time that the bulk of the editing work out there was reality TV, and you all know how I feel about that. It does seem now, though, that with so many entities getting some sort of presence on the web and wanting video for their sites, there’s a lot more content being created out there that doesn’t make me want to vomit, so hooray for that. Three, I’ve always had reservations about spending all my time alone in a little room with a computer. And yet I’m finding that that prospect has actually gotten more appealing to me as I’ve aged into introversion and discovered how pleasant the company of machines who don’t expect you to make conversation can be. Not to mention that I just can’t spend all day on my feet any more, holding a pole with a mic on it over my head for long periods of time or working knees/back to move heavy cases and plug and unplug cables the way I have to when I work on set. Every year, a new part of my body cries out in pain and says “Are we really still doing this?” Plus, for me, editing is more intellectually stimulating than location sound. I enjoy the problem-solving and trouble-shooting of location work, particularly when I can anticipate and shoot the problems before they really become trouble, which is generally how you have to do it in our department, and which naturally implies that the problems aren’t intractable, like certain DPs’ lighting, or the now-nearly-ubiquitous wide and tight framing when you have 2+ cameras. Problem-solving with a problem that can’t be solved is just probleming, which is basically gnashing your teeth and muttering to yourself that everyone on set can just go fuck themselves. You can’t possibly overestimate how much time as a location sound person is spent doing exactly that. I also still find it interesting to read the script pages when I arrive on set and picture how they’ll translate, as well as watching actors and directors work — and not just the good ones, because it’s always interesting to see someone make the wrong choice and consider what a better one might have been. I still do learn new things that way, but after so many years, there’s not that much I haven’t seen in terms of technique, and I’ve probably stored about as much as I can for future use considering that many of the futures in which I’d use such knowledge may well never happen.

The thing that’s tough about taking on editing as a new occupation, however, is that, while I’ve edited a number of projects, I certainly haven’t done it in the mass quantities in which I’ve done sound work. As an editor, there’s quite a bit I still haven’t seen — in terms of technique, individual work styles, and what directors want and expect. One way to learn that would be to apprentice in a lower-level position. Coming up in a two- or three-person sound department, I got to see a lot of other people mix and boom, which was incredibly helpful. I never would have started wearing gloves to get more reach and range if I hadn’t worked with a couple of boom ops who I watched do that and discussed with them why they did. I couldn’t have acquired the plethora of wiring techniques that I now know if I hadn’t been able to watch so many mixers try so many combinations of moleskin and snot tape and Topstick and Transpore and HushLavs and all of the other bizarre shit people have developed over the years to make lavs sound good on other people. In the same way, there are tips and tricks that experienced editors have that I’ve only heard about or caught glimpses of, or tried to understand in online tutorials, which may be the godsend of modern life, but can’t reveal everything. Working as an assistant editor used to be the traditional point of entry to the editing ladder, but now that digital editing makes it so easy and fast to organize a project (no more searching for teeny tiny bits of celluloid that fell under your Steenbeck), and editing programs are pretty cheap, most anyone can teach themselves to edit and jump right into being the sole editor on their first or second bupkis-paying project. The fleet of lowly assistant editors who work the overnight shift digitizing, importing, synching and conforming just to catch glimpses of the master in action now mainly survives in L.A., where the bulk of narrative studio work, including most TV and film editing, is done. And that’s a terrible job, even when you’re 25.

One key thing I realized immediately that I didn’t know how to do was judge how long an edit is going to take. Most of my cutting hasn’t been on a deadline, or it’s been on a deadline which was given to me and I simply had to make, so I never needed to answer the question, “How long do you think you’ll need to complete this?” As a result, when I was asked that on my first editing job of the past few weeks, then had to decide if I could do it in 2/3 that time since that was all they had budgeted for, I said, “Suurremmmaybe?” And when I realized that even my first estimate was optimistic, I had to suck it up and eat those extra days on the budget I’d agreed to — which was at a low rate in addition to having too few hours, because that’s what you have to do when you’re starting out. The last job I had to work for the hourly rate I ended up with was probably one of those independent films that male directors somehow got funded in the 90s to play out all of their fantasy sexual conquests (I’m looking at you, Eric Schaeffer, but not just you, unfortunately). Something I also didn’t really know how to do before? Edit while someone else is watching. Pretty much all of the editing work I’ve done has entailed having a discussion with the director/producer, then going home and creating cuts on my own, getting feedback on those cuts from the powers that be, and then going back and making changes based on that, also on my own. On my second editing job these past couple of weeks, I had to sit with the director and work together nearly every day, which meant she was kind of just watching the gears in my head turn — a process that nobody should have to witness, ever. And it was bad enough having to try and come up with clever ideas about how to move the story along or improve the flow while she waited, since there’s nothing that makes you feel more stupid than having to be smart under duress. It was also trying to remember “Oh fuck, now how do I do that again?” fairly often, because all the nitpicky mechanical shit of how to do things quickly in an editing program is not yet ingrained, along with the occasional, “Oh fuck, what did I do that caused that to happen?” that comes from hitting a button by mistake when I don’t know Premiere well enough (”Command-Z” is also in competition for the godsend of modern life). This situation of not knowing what I was doing all the time in front of someone else was made doubly hard by knowing I shouldn’t be making it totally obvious just how much I didn’t know. Everyone who’s had a job probably went through the process of working their way up by taking on new challenges — aka stuff they have to learn how to do as they go — and any employer who hires below the going rate should be aware that the person they’re hiring is probably doing that and that’s why they’re willing to work for less. Nevertheless, there’s always this charade where the employee pretends that they’re just giving the employer an awesome deal because they really like the project, and the employer pretends that the person they’ve hired is the super-experienced professional they couldn’t afford to hire who knows everything. And all of that stupid and pointless pretending? I’m not very good at that either – like most women, who tend to be more comfortable learning by asking questions about what we don’t know than faking our way through it, which sure seems more logical if you ask me, but whatevs. Anyway, thank goodness it didn’t really matter on this job, as the director I was working with was female, nice, and knows less about technology than I do, and so is just as big a fan of the “Should we Google how we do that?” technique as I am.

Basically, the hardest thing for me as an editor is that I’m kind of a newbie again, and that’s rough when you’re nearly 50 (okay I’m 48, but I have so many friends turning 49 or 50 this year that I figure I should just go ahead and try to get into the headspace now to try to diminish the trauma later on). Whereas I’m at the point with booming that I can often do it in my sleep — and sometimes I do — as an editor, I need to be not just awake but fully on. This is, like I said, partly why I wanted to switch careers: editing uses so much more of my brain, in addition to a whole lot less of my body. But these past couple of weeks have made me wonder once or twice, “Huh, do I really want to have a job that forces me to think that hard all day long?” I’ve tried to find some way that I can creatively employ myself in my downtime on set — like by tweeting, which I need to do more of and get better at (being pithy? Also hard), or other little tasks like creating new material for our bots — but it’s hard to focus in the short bursts of downtime that I tend to have on TV, and on commercials I have to work less but appear like I’m working more, to make sure people know I’m working, which is also work. Plus, I find that most of my potential for focused, productive thought is ruined by having to get up at five. But then again, if I can’t use my creative energy at my job, then I don’t use all of it up there either — and I think this has always been the conundrum. We want to be fulfilled by what we do for money, but if that side job becomes too engaging, will we lose our drive to do and be something more? And on the flip side, how do you hold on to that drive for 2.5 decades and still feel like the goal is worth it when your everyday is unsatisfying?

I know the particulars will get easier if editing becomes my full-time job. I just didn’t ever think I’d be starting again, even partly, at this age, and having to face these types of questions. That might be the biggest reason why I put off trying out editing as a job for so long, and of course now that I have waited this long, it’s harder. You know how science has shown how our brain activity wears in neural pathways that make habits normal and easy for us? These days, when I try to do something new, it’s like I can feel those pathways being scraped in with that tool my dental hygienist uses. And yet, smushing together those tiny pieces of what were once celluloid and are now zeros and ones that somehow appear as little purple rectangles to powerfully tell a story or convey a point is fulfilling for me in a way that hitting all my cues during a dialogue scene will never be. In one way they’re quite similar: a feat of strength and dexterity that only a handful of people will ever witness and probably never remember, because the point of doing sound right is that nobody notices, vs. making it possible for someone else to tell their story seamlessly in a style that will most likely only be attributed to them. They’re both ultimately just tiny names somewhere in the credits that you have to search for, and accepting that as my future might be the real growing up I have to do.

What We’re Talking About When We Talk About Bill O’Reilly

A while ago, I worked on promos at Fox News. This was back when we all knew Fox was awful, but didn’t yet know how awful it would become, as its power grew to effectively eat the presidency. Anyway, I remember filming Geraldo Rivera pretending to load fake aid supplies on to a truck as if it were in a war zone, doing it multiple times until we got the right take. I remember filming with a correspondent (whose name I don’t recall but who’s most certainly gone now since that was at least ten years ago and she was a woman) who had a flag with a picture of Lenin on it on her wall, but who kept calling him Marx — as in, “Do you think it would be bad to have Marx in the frame behind my head?” I remember filming with Sean Hannity and Alan Colmes, then of the show Hannity and Colmes, before Fox stopped pretending that they were being “fair and balanced” by putting up this messy, unattractive, poorly-spoken liberal opposite a slick conservative with all the answers, and just made it Hannity.

But what I remember most was filming with Bill O’Reilly. Along with his plug to camera at his desk, which was basically the same as everyone else’s, we filmed a scene of him with his “team,” discussing pitches of the stories they would do that night. He was ruthless, cutting those people off and knocking down all of their ideas when he deemed them not fit, but the most impressive thing was how they clearly all worshipped him because of it. He had a power over them, a combination of the fact that he was their boss, and a star, and tall (never underestimate the power of physical stature) and that he was confident, unyielding, and unflinching in what he thought and what he wanted. He knew how to dole out cutting remarks, praise and abuse in the right amounts to keep those below him hanging on his every word.

I’m remembering that experience now that he’s been fired from Fox News, not actually for sexually harassing multiple women but for losing advertisers after the extent of the harassment claims against him finally came to light. Money talks, and this time, I guess, it said the right thing. But what struck me when I read about the scandal and the stories of what he did to these women who came forward was the idea of how many more there probably were out there who didn’t speak up. This was a guy who knew how to use his power over people, and did it for sexual gain. These women we’ve all heard about said “no,” they all felt that they had the wherewithal to do so. But how many were there who didn’t? How many underlings were overawed by his strong personality? How many women didn’t know what would happen if they spurned their powerful boss, were afraid of getting fired, or not getting asked back, worrying that it might be the end of a promising career, or a serious setback? How many felt belittled enough by him — because that’s how he treated people — and low enough in value as a result that when he picked them to be the object of his sexual advances, they felt somehow chosen, and gave in?

I get sexual harassment – I mean, I’m female. I’ve written before about how, like most women, I’ve experienced it many times but never reported it. It was simply easier not to, to avoid not getting rehired as a freelancer, or the discomfort that would be created in my work environment, which has always been majority male and used to be nearly all male except for me, or because I brushed it off as being nonthreatening, something I could handle. But it clicked for me this time in a new way, knowing that the perpetrator was someone who I’d seen exerting that kind of manipulative power over a room full of people. Just because nobody has come forward who actually was coerced into sex with him, or Roger Ailes, doesn’t mean that that didn’t happen. In fact, it most certainly did. We now know that he, and Ailes, did this again and again, with multiple women who reported it or sued Fox over it. People don’t repeat things that often when they fail, they repeat them because they work.

So let’s just remember that for every woman who has spoken up, there could easily be three who didn’t, and out of those three, or six or nine, there’s a good chance one felt like she had no choice but to acquiesce. She’s living with a memory much worse than being groped or verbally abused or flashed, or of even having to listen to him masturbate on the phone (although even hearing John Oliver try to describe what it might sound like is a pretty terrible experience). And how many of those cases must have happened, aside from the ones we’ve heard of (the most recent allegations reported in the press are from 2016), after O’Reilly’s serial harassment came to light with the first suit 2004, when Fox could and should have put a stop to it? And then think about all of the cases of sexual harassment with male bosses preying on women that you don’t hear about, and how often those guys — the non-famous ones who don’t make the news — have likely succeeded, and how they are probably continuing to succeed because, just like at Uber, someone calculated that those guys are worth more than the women they harm…until they aren’t.

That’s what we’re really talking about here, in terms of numbers, in terms of physical and mental and emotional pain suffered, in terms of the type of self-blame and self-disgust and self-hatred that inevitably result, in terms of slut-shaming and reputations created and destroyed, and how, overall, we are failing women in the workplace when we talk about Bill O’Reilly and sexual harassment.

I Want a New Drug, or, The Wrong Four Years To Stop Sniffing Glue

I’ve always had a pretty positive relationship with alcohol. I know this isn’t true of many people, especially women, but in my own life, I really can’t think of any negative experiences that befell me because I drank too much. I always knew that my parents drank but not to excess. They were the kind of people that had a coffee table that opened up into a bar because everyone did in the 70s, but pretty much the only time anyone went in there was to get rum for cooking, or to bring out weird bottles of stuff that nobody really wanted to try but my father had picked up somewhere out of curiosity (like Goldwasser, which exists because…alchemy?). The first time I remember having alcohol was trying egg nog at one of my parents’ New Year’s Eve parties, all of which I have fond memories of as being fine times when lots of adults came over and were more friendly to me than usual (and no, not in an icky way). I had my first buzz at maybe 15, off white sangria at a Spanish restaurant in Newark, also with my parents, and it was very pleasant. I started drinking with friends not that long after, thanks to a liquor store, also in Newark, that sold to minors with fake IDs that every teenager in the suburbs knew about. As is typical with privileged suburban kids taking advantage of urban blight, nothing bad ever happened to any of us, except maybe for the time the friend buying the alcohol for a party got arrested for having too much alcohol in a vehicle, which apparently is against the law in New Jersey, probably to prevent exactly what we were doing — but even that just turned into a good story. There was also the time I had a small party at my house while my parents were away, and some things got broken — a bean bag chair (someone rode it down the stairs), the screen door (probably by the same someone, though I don’t know how). My brother even told my parents about the party, but again, it just turned into a funny story for them to tell my relatives at Thanksgiving, because they knew I was a responsible kid. The first time I got drunk at college resulted in my first hangover, thanks to the Everclear-laced “jungle juice” served at the Theta Xi fraternity, but thereafter, I was careful about tasty punches, and didn’t have another hangover for three years (until the quarter I spent at Oxford my junior year, and that was because England + Stanford students = mixing Kahlua with, like, everything). My first time throwing up from drinking wasn’t until my 30s. It took me until then to realize that three martinis was too many, but again, I learned my lesson, and have only been sick from drinking one time since — so that’s twice ever.

Things changed a bit some time in my 30s, when I started to have stomach issues. I actually wrote something about this years ago when I felt like I was doing better. It does that, my stomach, goes through periods of being better and worse. I started taking probiotics and that seemed to make things better, and I confirmed that by going off them and discovering that that seemed to make things worse, so now I definitely take probiotics. I also realized, through more totally unscientific experimentation (otherwise known as “eating and drinking”) that acid reflux was a factor. This is why I don’t drink coffee any more, and try to avoid spicy food (which is tough when your favorite cuisines are Indian, Thai, Chinese, Tibetan, Malaysian, Mexican — yes, basically anything spicy), and too much juice, and tomato sauce, and a handful of other things. Oh, and alcohol. However, whereas coffee gives me literally immediate acid reflux which turns into a stomach ache within half an hour, with alcohol, if I’ve been good in other ways, I can usually get away with it here and there without suffering major consequences. It’s only on the third night or so of drinking a couple of glasses of wine that it becomes apparent that something is very very bad and I need to stop. How can I tell? Oh, something about the combination of a burning sensation in my throat, tightness in my chest, the taste of acid in my mouth in the morning, the need to clear my throat incessantly, and a somewhat diminished appetite from just feeling kind of gross — all of which one can easily ignore if you like drinking as much as I do.

Because here’s the thing: thanks to a combination of genetics, common sense, and control issues, a fairly small amount of alcohol has always really been enough to make me happy. Having a couple of drinks removes my inhibitions and anxiety just enough that I feel like a more outgoing, more carefree version of myself, who can dance. I’m really, at heart, an awkward, shy person, something of an introvert, which means I’m basically much more comfortable in all social situations after one to two drinks. I can’t be sure that I’m truly wittier and more fun at that point, but I certainly feel like I am, and that makes a huge difference in helping me get to being that person. Going beyond that, however, to where I’m aware of the fact that I’m not in control — slurring my speech, walking in a wavy line, saying embarrassing things — I do not like, at all. I find it hard to relate to people who get black-out drunk, or who make serious mistakes that they wouldn’t make when they were sober, because I’m too self-conscious to be unaware that I’m losing my grip en route to getting there. Even in cases where I had sex with people after drinking that I later regretted, I had already made the decision to have the sex before I started drinking; it was just part of the follow-through. Sadly, that’s how I roll. I think too much, and while drinking makes me think less, even well-lubricated I am still way too aware of how people are reacting to me, and that is a major buzz kill. So I’d just rather not get to the point where I’m doing stuff that makes me feel stupid — walking funny, slurring my speech, laughing too loud — and that’s pretty much what happens at drink #¾ in the course of one evening. Basically, something has to be really, really wrong for me to get to that place.

So of course, the only time in recent memory that I got that drunk was on election night. I had bourbon. I never drink bourbon. I had two — after a martini, and before a final glass of wine. That was over about five hours, mind you (although the bartender got more and more generous as he realized that we were all doomed), and still I stumbled home, already feeling ill, from the bar where I’d been watching the returns come in, got no sleep — that’s another thing that happens when I drink that I could easily ignore when I was younger: it really messes up my sleep — and had to go to work the next day at the unfairly early hour of 10 am. Luckily, the job was easy and my boss was sympathetic (we were all fucking freaking out if you recall), but that day and the several after that was reminder that I really, really, cannot do that any more.

But when the world is going to shit, it’s really, really hard to stop drinking. I get home from work after a long day, during which I do something which can be somewhat stressful for work and spend my downtime on set on Facebook or Twitter or reading the news, or talking to people about the news and Facebook and Twitter, and I want a drink. Just one glass of wine, that’s all. Nope, now, I can’t do that regularly, my stomach isn’t having it. If I’ve had a few glasses of wine over the weekend, there has to be a cooling down period of at least a few days, preferably longer, or else the irritation keeps building. As a result, I now have to prioritize my drinking. Like, when do I really need to have a drink and when do I not? “What’s that look like?” you may ask. Here’s the list I’ve come up with, in order of priority:

1) Networking events.

2) When I wake up in the middle of the night and can’t get back to sleep because I’m freaking out over the state of the world.

3) When it’s late and I can’t sleep because I’ve been spending too much time looking at Facebook/Twitter/NY Times app freaking out over the state of the world, and I have to get up the next day.

4) Family get-togethers.

5) Parties.

6) Tapas bars.

7) When it’s late and I’ve been spending too much time on Facebook/Twitter and I don’t have to get up the next day, but I’d still like to be functional in the morning.

8) Just for fun at a restaurant or bar.

Note that “Just for fun” has fallen to the bottom of the list. Now, you might ask, “Aren’t parties also ‘Just for fun,’?” and the answer would be “Yes, mostly,” but they rank higher on the scale of alcohol necessity because they generally involve socializing with larger groups of people, many of whom I may not have met before, barely know, and/or wouldn’t normally hang out with, so let’s just say that when it comes to parties, the amount of alcohol tends to be more directly proportional to the amount of fun had (introverts, back me up here, I know you know what I’m talking about). And tapas bars also rank above “Just for fun” even though, again, they are fun, because I went to Spain two years ago and seriously, what’s the point of a tapas bar without wine? Anyway, my point is: this list is sad. Living in NYC, nearly my entire social life in my 20s and 30s took place in bars, and now, my drinking priorities are first and foremost about not so much enjoying myself as about getting by.

I realized, given the current state of things — did I mention that I’m also on an email list called, “What The Fuck Just Happened Today”? — that I needed to find another way to take the edge off, and since I wasn’t actually going to start sniffing glue, I decided to give marijuana a try as a replacement. My experiences with pot have also been fairly positive, but not nearly as frequent. I’ve probably been stoned a grand total of less than 20 times in my entire life, and this despite the fact that my relationship to weed also began at a youthful age. My parents smoked pot, but that was more of a deterrent than anything else: nothing reduces the cool quotient of drugs as a teenager like having your parents do them. Nevertheless, it would have been kind of hard to avoid at my high school, which had a reputation for stoners, and lots of people in my peer group seemed to have ready access to it. I had to try weed several times before I actually got high, though, perhaps since I never smoked cigarettes, so the whole breathing smoke into your lungs thing was kind of alien to me. My friend’s (possibly underage and who eventually came out of the closet. Yep: suburbia) boyfriend at the time had to make it his mission to get me stoned one night, using a gravity bong — basically one half of an emptied liter bottle, with a bowl made out of the cap enhanced with aluminum foil, half submerged in a bucket of water. When you light the bowl at the top, you lift the bottle up in the water, and the suction draws the smoke out and fills the plastic half-liter with it. Then you take the cap off, put your mouth over the top of the bottle, and push down on it as you breathe in, which forces a lot of pot smoke into your lungs. Who says physics can’t be fun? So that worked, and all of my friends who were there that night enjoyed watching me be stoned, which still didn’t decrease the fun of it, because they were all stoned too. Ever since, I’ve generally had fun getting high, and in a variety of situations — hanging with friends, parties with new acquaintances, crew colleagues on shoots out of town. One of the nice things about having it be a more unusual occurrence than drinking for me is that the unique experiences are more distinct in my memory. The one time I remember having a bad time was when I took medical marijuana with an ex-boyfriend toward the end of our relationship. The two things I was sure of, even though I was high, were that 1) he wasn’t, and 2) our relationship was doomed — which it was, but that just wasn’t the evening I was looking for at the time.

So it was a complete surprise to me that when I decided to try marijuana again recently, I had what can only be described as a terrible trip. I used some medical marijuana chocolate in what I thought was the proper dosage of only a quarter of a square, though considering the way chocolate fragments unevenly, and that I ate all of the fragments, it was probably more. We were watching TV, so I didn’t notice it coming on until I got up to get a glass of water, and realized that time had stopped. I was fully prepared to go back to watching TV, but soon I discovered that that wasn’t working out at all. I couldn’t follow anything — even The Big Bang Theory was unfathomable — and on top of that, I kept worrying about the fact that I couldn’t follow The Big Bang Theory. Could Damon tell that I couldn’t keep up with the show? Was I suddenly stupid? Would I get to the end of the episode, not knowing what had happened…and then what? Damon wasn’t going to want to watch it again! Moreover, did this mean that I was now an idiot? Would I never be able to follow any TV show, ever? Eventually we gave up on that show and tried watching Clueless, thinking it would be easier to follow since I have probably seen it half a dozen times, but no. I still couldn’t follow the plot, which upset me because it was fucking Clueless, and yet despite that, I was inordinately caught up in it on an emotional level. People seemed to be so mean to each other, or poking fun at situations and people that were not funny. How could Cher and Dionne trick Mr. Hall and Ms. Geist for the sake of improving their grades, and then ruins things between Tai and Travis before they even get started?! This was clearly fucked up. What was wrong with me that I saw this was wrong but everyone else watching clearly thought it was funny? What was wrong with them? What the hell was wrong with the world?! And even while all of this was stressing me out, I couldn’t stop watching TV because I was afraid of what would happen if I got up. I was also afraid to drink wine and I was afraid to go to sleep, but eventually I did both of those things, one leading to the other I suppose. The worst part of all, though, was that I woke up the next day no longer stoned, and thinking it was all over — but it wasn’t. When I left the house and had to deal with the outside world, I was second-guessing myself on absolutely everything. Was I driving stupidly? Was I doing everything wrong at pilates, and was anyone watching? Was I making dumb shopping decisions at the Co-op? Was I now permanently going to be making dumb decisions, or just worry that I was all the time? Was my brain now broken? Didn’t you hear stories about that happening to people? — for probably another eight to ten hours. The only thing that somehow did not provoke my anxiety hangover was coming home and playing Plants vs. Zombies 2 over and over again, despite repeated losses accompanied by the message “THE ZOMBIES ATE YOUR BRAINS!” (Plants vs. Zombies 2, so utterly mindless yet completely absorbing, has actually helped me a lot since the election.) Finally, at a certain point, I felt like myself again, as well as a person who might someday be able to have contact with others.

The sad thing is that I think the bad trip was just me unfiltered and magnified. I have, of course, developed coping skills since adolescence – yes, aside from alcohol, and Prozac – to tamp all down the over-thinking, the self-consciousness, and the anxiety that goes with them to a manageable level on a daily basis. At the wise old age of 48, these are things that I know that I do and I am able to distract myself from them – Hey, look over there! It’s a kiddie ride! When I got stoned this time, I couldn’t look away, and I don’t know why. Yes, I think it’s fairly safe to say that I was more stoned than I’d ever been before, but I don’t know if I can blame the terrible nature of the experience on that. And even though my last medical marijuana episode wasn’t good, it wasn’t anything like this. Which takes me back to maybe my brain really is broken – not from smoking pot, but from not smoking it. The way that all of my experiences with drugs and my body – from alcohol to Pepto Bismol to Robitussen (which, no, I haven’t used recreationally) – have changed over time, it’s not hard for me to believe that in the…wow, eight years since I last got high, my brain chemistry has changed enough that this is how getting stoned is going to be from now on. Combine this with my inability to drink alcohol, eat spicy food, and play any sport with lateral movement (knees), and one could easily conclude that my body is now, saying to me, “You’re 48, you’ve officially had all of the fun you’re entitled to. NO MORE FUN FOR YOU!” Yes, my body has become the Soup Nazi.

All I can do is hope not, or at least hope this current situation doesn’t last. I mean, I know that the stomach situation probably will, and that the Trump situation probably will, but I think that my relationship to depressants will have to change. I will have to learn to just want them rather than need them. Exercise is already a crutch for me, and I don’t really have time to do more of that than I already do. I’ve used sleeping pills for periods of time and I don’t really want to go back there — for a shitty sleeper like me, it’s too easy to get hooked. I’ve tried meditation, and it hasn’t really worked, but I probably need to give it more of a chance. Because now I’ve got four years to get through, on top of the continuing mid-life bullshit, and what else is there?

Documentary Must Win


(Photo by Peggy Sutton)

Last semester was my fourth teaching Documentary Production at Brooklyn College. My students ended up creating a bunch of really cool films on an incredibly diverse range of topics that reflected who they are — everything from the two homegrown fashion designers from Bed-Stuy to the challenges facing a young immigrant from Myanmar (the filmmaker’s brother), to a profile of a trans guitarist that explores the intersection between queer identity and punk music.

One of the biggest challenges with teaching today’s crop of up-and-coming filmmakers, however, is driving home the huge difference between reality TV, promotional/branded content, and the wide variety of YouTube videos that more or less fit into one of those two categories on the one hand, and actual documentary films on the other. It’s partly about technique. I have to practically shout at them, “Jump cuts or dissolves between pieces of an interview are lame and lazy, this is what b-roll is for, people!” Other common 101-type lessons are, “If a story doesn’t need to include you, it probably shouldn’t,” “A cute blooper, or a person introducing themselves in a cute way, is not an original way to begin your doc,” “Using on-screen titles to explain stuff is not visual storytelling,” and, “If you’re selling what you’re showing, it’s not a documentary.” These bad habits are ones that they see out there in that world and just adopt, because they’ve so internalized them as the way things are done that they think they’re the way things should be done. I consider it one of my personal missions in life to teach them that those two things are not the same.

But the difference between “reality” videos and documentary is also about content, and that, I think, is the more significant problem. It’s the difference between learning how to craft a story of out fact that intends to tell the truth, and creating something that purports to be real but is mostly fabricated.

This can be a difficult distinction to comprehend, especially when you’re learning how our modern media sausage is made. One of the first things I was told in film school was, “Film is a lie.” What this means is that, because of editing, every film or video you ever see — everything but raw footage — is a construction. It’s a creative work that somebody put together to communicate something, and, with the exception of experimental video, video art, and sometimes music videos, that something is usually a story of some kind. As human beings, we’re suckers for stories. We generally expect the building blocks of drama — action, characters, obstacles, conflict — in order to be entertained, and we like a beginning, middle and end that includes a dramatic arc for the main character to be satisfied. That we expect all this is not necessarily a bad thing, and you have to at least know about it to be an effective storyteller. It does not mean, however, that that’s all a story can or should do. Sure, you could tell a version of the hero’s journey over and over again — I mean, that’s basically what Hollywood is in the business of doing, because it’s the easiest way to make money — but you can also tells stories that use these basic rules to take people somewhere they didn’t expect. You can have an anti-hero (gasp), or more than one main character. You can (really!) have an unhappy ending, or an open-ended one that provokes the audience, and makes them keep thinking rather than turn off their brains. Just because the easiest answer, the crowd-pleaser, the lowest common denominator, often works, doesn’t mean you have to take that road. In other words, all of these “lies” don’t lie equally, and to say that they do is false equivalency. Most pieces of media tell a story that somebody chose to tell, and therefore have a perspective or a bias, but trying to tell a truthful story matters.

I think that, in these disturbing times especially, this is important. The concepts of truth and reality are something about which the whole country, and possibly the world, is more and more confused these days. I didn’t consider it all that much in the months leading up to the election, or even immediately after it, not just because I was too busy drinking large quantities of alcohol and trying to pretend it didn’t happen, but because I’ve hardly seen anything of what’s on reality television or YouTube. I had never seen The Apprentice, which is part of what made Trump’s win so unfathomable, but I’m talking about something more than that. Yes, I occasionally see stuff that people post to YouTube thanks to my Facebook feed, or things my students have posted, or when I’m in the room when Damon is streaming people playing synthesizers (there are a lot more videos of that than you might think), and I know what YouTubers and Let’s Play videos are, but I don’t “watch” YouTube. I do watch Top Chef and Project Runway and some of their spin-offs (Masters, All-Stars, Junior, etc), but that’s pretty much it for reality TV. I’ll admit that, back when I had cable television, I would occasionally put on Bravo when there was nothing else, and so I would sometimes start watching The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills, or The Millionaire Matchmaker. They were horrible shows, and I knew it, but they really were like car crashes: cheap, messy, loud drama that’s hard to look away from. Now that my household is fully on-demand, I don’t see anything any more just because it’s on and I get sucked in. I have to consciously choose what I watch, and that has changed my habits a lot — and I’m not unhappy about it. It nice to not feel like you both have fewer brain cells and need a shower after putting down the remote. But this puts me way outside the mainstream of America. My friends and I talk about Stranger Things, Transparent and Orange Is The New Black (Project Runway will come up sometimes, but that’s an outlier). My work colleagues talk about Game of Thrones and Westworld (duh, they’re still mostly guys). When we visit my in-laws in Florida, though, the shows that come up in conversation are Dancing with the Stars and Shark Tank. The “characters” they want to talk about aren’t Arya Stark and Walter White, they’re Mark Cuban and that Indy Car driver who won DWTS and is back this season to defend his title.

The impact of this goes far beyond just dinner table conversation. When we were making Flat Daddy, we traveled around the country meeting and interviewing a ton of people, and it was surprising how many of them seemed like they should have their own show. This wasn’t just because they were attractive or funny or had moving things to say. Many of them seemed fully aware that their banter and trash-talk, and even some of their confessionals, were prime-time-/streaming-ready, because they learned how to talk about themselves, how to create drama, how to be “personalities,” from reality TV. With some people, it took a while to get past that, to get them to be their actual selves on camera — not just the version of themselves that they thought belonged on camera — and talk honestly about what they’d been through and what they thought and felt. We generally did manage it, through spending lots of time with them. But I think now, nearly ten years on, this way of being that has been engendered by reality TV and YouTube, where everyone can have an audience, has gotten much more ingrained in our national psyche. The young people my students feature in their films (often including themselves) are very savvy about not just how to act on camera, but about the stories that they need to construct about themselves to get views. They often already have thousands of Instagram followers and their own YouTube channels, and there is a clear belief, evidenced in their behavior, that if you talk enough about yourself and present yourself on social media as if you are a thing — a successful designer, singer, actor, model, dancer, or designer-singer-actor-model-dancer — it makes you that thing. In other words, if you can sell it, you can live it. And often, in today’s world, where everyone has a camera, where celebrity is so unattached to ability, and where the line between famous and not is so porous and breachable, they’re basically right. And when fame and image and the ability to sell a message makes you into some sort of “talent” rather than the other way around, that’s when our view of the world and what has value gets drastically skewed. Things that should be taken seriously — love, in The Bachelor, The Millionaire Matchmaker and their ilk; a successful career in The Apprentice or Shark Tank — become entertainment. Things that we used to do to make our lives worth living are now being acted out just to make them watchable.

Of course it’s not just reality TV that has blurred these lines, it’s also TV and internet news, thanks to its rapid degradation of the division between info and -tainment and -mercial. Again, I believe we need news stories that are compelling to watch. It’s okay to take what happens in the real world and give it a shape and meaning in order to engage people, because if you can’t interest your audience in what’s going on, you’re just creating a filmstrip, a compliance video, something that people have to watch because it’s good for them, and you’ve already lost the battle to raise their awareness. So given that, the question then becomes, how much can you do to make the real into a story without making it no longer real? And by extension, how far is it okay for the media to go to make a story that may not be newsworthy into a news story, just to attract eyeballs or ratings or ads?

My point is that the more interests that get involved in making media that are not about presenting what’s real or truthful in an engaging way, and that bury that goal beneath another — promoting a viewpoint or product or person, or just plain making money — that’s when we start to get into trouble. Add to that that a large portion of America now thinks of reality not as something you seek to discover and understand better but as something you make true by believing it, and it’s no wonder that we’re having more and more trouble separating reality video from reality, and news from propaganda and advertising. Some combination of not being able to tell the difference and not wanting to know is making people believe the version of reality that makes them happy, even if they have to be heavily in denial to do so. Could it be possible that the bachelor is really in love with the girl he’s only known for two months and spent zero time alone with without a camera? Do the Real Housewives, or any of these celebrities who are “rich, but still just like us,” really live fascinating, glamorous lives? Is it okay for Sean Spicer to lie in a press conference, or for Kelly Ann Conway to promote Ivanka Trump’s brand on a news program, when both of these people are supposed to be speaking for the President of the United States? Any person who really considers these questions for two seconds would have to answer “no,” but people prefer to just accept the fantasy rather than look beneath it. Then they never have to comprehend the world’s complexity, because this version has been written out for them in really simple terms — good, bad, love, hate, win, lose, us, them, everything black and white. It’s easier to accept the answer that is just handed to us and reinforces everything we already want to believe than to actually try and understand and fix what’s wrong. And when we adjust our expectations to that, when we start expecting things to always turn out the way that’s most obvious, almost as if it’s been constructed to please us (because it has), it’s no wonder that we have the president we do.

There is a different way to tell stories from this. It’s the way that shapes reality without breaking it down. Good fiction does this when writers draw from life to create characters and situations that feel valid. But documentary, at its best, is the essence of telling a true and truthful story. It seeks to show the world the way it is, and in doing so, to edify and enlighten and provoke. Real reality is surprising. It’s often inconvenient or uncomfortable, and it doesn’t sound like a slogan. It just doesn’t.

It used to feel like these two versions of things, reality and “reality,” could co-exist, because it was just about television. But in 2017, we know better. Especially with public funding for the arts and sciences under siege — and hey, let’s just go ahead and say art and science in general given everything that’s being done to the NEA, NEH, CPB, IMLS, Department of Education, Department of Energy, EPA, NIH, CDC, NPS, etc etc etc etc etc etc — this is a war, and it’s one that documentary has to win. The question is, do we want to live in a reality video future, where media dumbs us down and scares us so that we can be spoon fed comforting “branded content” and “alternative facts” like baby food, and not care about anyone other than people exactly like us? Or do we we want to live in one where media shows us a wider world, makes us think critically and care about it, and question why it is the way it is and if we can make it better?

Stop Treating Me Like I’m Stupid

I’m a pretty good soldier. I always vote, and I always vote Democratic. With my positions on literally everything, before Trump, before the Tea Party, even before both Bushes, I could really never vote Republican, and I care too much to not vote at all, or log a third-party vote that’s purely a protest. So I’ll vote on the Working Families Party line because we have fusion voting here in New York State, and I may vote for someone like Bernie Sanders, who isn’t the establishment candidate, in the primary, but I’m never going to do anything that’s going to hurt the Democratic candidate’s chances in the long run, or the party, unless and until there’s a viable alternative, because 2016 Election. For the record, I saw that coming a mile away. I called out Bernie people on the stupid things that they were doing and saying, warning them not to make Hillary unelectable. I didn’t love her and everything she stood for by any means, but she had to win, and for those of you who didn’t get why before, I hope now you do. Welcome to the shit show that is at least the next 2-4 years.

So this is meant with if not with all love and affection then with a devotion born out of basically no other option, when I say, Democratic Party, please, stop treating me like I’m an idiot. What I’m referring to, mainly, are your emails, Kirsten Gillibrand, the Democratic National Committee, the Democratic Governor’s Association, and yes, even you a bit, MoveOn. You see it seems like, since the election, rather than analyzing what went wrong and telling me what you were going to do to fix the situation, what your next positive action was going to be (MoveOn, the exception, did do some of those things), you just started immediately and constantly asking me for money. Now, I get a lot of email from a lot of different political groups. The ACLU? True, they do some of the same kind of stuff. They did ask me to “renew my membership” when it had been less than a year since I donated (the whole membership thing, where they send you a card and stuff, is kind of just another bullshit way of getting you to donate), but since I did that, they’ve basically just been emailing to keep me updated on what they are actually doing. The International Rescue Committee? Yes, they too keep asking me for money since I donated, but they do also write sometimes just to thank me, or to tell me where my money is going. Aavaaz, another advocacy group, asks me to sign petitions on particular issues way more often than I care to, and then they ask me to share to social media. But none of these groups write every day like you do MoveOn, KG and DNC, and most of all, their petitions and polls aren’t thinly-veiled excuses to ask for money.

Don’t know what I’m talking about? Let me show you.

Here’s a MoveOn email, asking for money four times in a row. Guess what, MoveOn? Got it after the first time.

But at least when MoveOn sends me an email asking me to hear my thoughts, it takes me to a web page where they can actually hear my thoughts  — like, through a series of questions to which they genuinely seem to want answers. Questions like, “What actions are you personally most interested in taking?” and “What resources could MoveOn provide to help facilitate your organizing?” This email from Kirsten Gillibrand about Trump’s cabinet nominees starts kind of the same way, saying, “I need to hear your priorities. What’s most important to you as the Senate considers these nominations?”

But then the first “question” is “Do you think it’s important to protect our students?” Really, “Kirsten”? — which is how you show up in my inbox, just your first name in the “from” line, like we’re pals, or as “KG,” like you want that to become your sorority nickname. Are you seriously asking me that, KG? 

I mean, who is really going to pick “No, I’m not worried about protecting students,” or, “No, it’s fine if people with preexisting conditions are discriminated against”? Every question is designed to milk my fear, guilt, and panic in order to have me scrambling for my credit card by page six (the one that says “Will you donate $5 today to help me keep standing up to President Trump and the GOP?”). And yet, I have to waste a whole bunch of my valuable time so you can go through this ruse of pretending to care about what I think in order to get me to the real point.

But then, if possible, this one is even worse. I mean, it starts with this email asking me if I voted for Trump.

Do you think I’d be on your email list, Democratic Governor’s Association, if I had voted for Trump? But then it manages to get increasingly cynical, with one disingenuous “question” after another. 

I mean, in response to the question, “Are you worried Republicans in Congress will pass Trump’s racist, misogynistic agenda into law?” what kind of monster is going to pick, “No, I’m not worried about Trump’s hateful agenda”? Or are you seriously going to show you’re an idiot by saying, “No, I didn’t realize we need to win governors’ seats”? Then they ask me twice about my level of concern (pretending that they are separate questions, when really they are the same), and they start the bidding at the magic page six at $100. Was that since I marked that I was “Extremely Concerned” about the election results? Someone determined that $100 was the “Extremely Concerned” amount? Then they drop it down to $5 – because they know I’ll say to myself, “Well, $5 isn’t very much compared to $100.” Nice touch using the White House rose garden as a backdrop for all of this, by the way, as a way to visually underscore how truly screwed we are because of who is now in that White House. But in case that was too subtle, they end with this:

For any non-moron, the salient take-away from all this has to be that you really don’t care at all about me, your donor and constituent, beyond the “donor” part. Sure, I get that these are probably tried and true fundraising techniques that everyone uses because somebody has figured out that they work. But in case you haven’t noticed, political fundraising hacks, all bets are now off. It’s pretty disgusting to see the Democratic establishment resorting to “business as usual,” as in, “We will just go on raising money because that’s what we do,” while at the same time cynically acknowledging that the situation is anything but business as usual, because so many of us are justifiably freaking out over the actions of this new administration, which are putting us and the people we know and the values that we care about in jeopardy. I mean, I seriously want to know who said, “People are panicking! Let’s go capitalize on that!”

I gave to the Democratic Governor’s Association during the election because I think it’s important that we have more Democrats and Progressives elected at the state level, no question. I think Republican statehouses across the country, thanks largely to gerrymandering, are doing horrible, horrible things, and they need to be stopped. I also genuinely like my Senator, Kirsten Gillibrand. She used to be a moderate, but she’s listened to her constituents and moved steadily to the left, and is taking a really strong line against this administration. She’s the only Democrat on the committees reviewing Trump’s nominees who has voted against nearly every one. And I do think MoveOn has been an important voice for advocacy ever since they tried to get everyone to “move on” from the impeachment of Bill Clinton, even if they are becoming more and more part of the party establishment all the time. But I did not sign up to have my time wasted by any of your extremely obvious attempts at manipulation and exploitation in a time of crisis.

Because, oh yeah, I’m not fucking stupid. We’ve all heard at this point about the data supporting the fact that Trump voters are not college educated. We’ve also seen a fair amount of real-time evidence that they will believe pretty much anything if it fits in with their world view. But I am not that. That’s why I’m a supporter of yours, you idiots. Plus, in case you haven’t noticed, all of us Progressives are in the process of getting a lot more active and a lot more savvy about the media, the internet, “fake news,” social media, and messaging in general. Because the election proved that a lot of people in the population cannot detect bias or manipulation in what they read, a lot of us are starting to pay much better attention to that sort of thing — especially Democrats, aka the people to whom you are sending this stuff. We are also learning a lot about the political process and mobilizing behind new organizations that are promising to create change. We are looking to build a new, grassroots movement, like a Progressive Tea Party, that can succeed in the ways that you and people/groups like you have been failing. That means that we are looking to replace candidates and organizations who are too concerned with protecting their own positions and special interest dollars to listen to their constituents and fight for what we want. Hmm, does that sound like you? Then wake the fuck up.

Look, we are all in crisis/battle mode right now, and it’s absolutely not the time for political infighting. We all have to work together, and I could see why the Democratic Party thinks that maybe that gives them a free pass. Well, I’m here to say that it does not. It’s true, if we were having a general election right now, I wouldn’t be voting against you, and that may still hold true for a while. But I and a lot of others like me firmly believe that you are at least partly responsible for getting us to the hellscape in which we now find ourselves, and that, ergo, we are done with your business as usual. So I’m not going to fight you, but I am utterly prepared to go around, over and right past you if you continue to prove yourselves to be unworthy and irrelevant with crap like this. I have not even begun to give the money and time that I have to spend to fight what the Trump Administration is doing to ruin this country, but with so much of what I believe in under siege — human rights, civil rights, women’s rights, LGBTQ rights, equal protection under the law for those folks and people of color, immigrants and religious minorities, organized labor, public education, public support for the arts, I mean, at this point we are just basically talking about life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness for anyone who isn’t a white male investment banker or oil company executive — why would I give any of what I have to the patronizing, manipulating, capitalizing-on-our-pain establishment that is you people?

How To Join the Resistance


My birthday is on inauguration day. This has been, as you might imagine, both a blessing and a curse. In terms of pure numbers over my lifetime — which began on the day that Richard Nixon was inaugurated to his first term — more of the latter. Now, I can’t say that this is the main reason that I’ve taken a serious interest in politics since I became an adult. Both my parents were very politically active in fighting for civil rights and civil liberties throughout my childhood (it was, in fact, my dad’s job at the time), and this apple could never have fallen far from that tree. But it’s a factor in why, every four years at least, my birthday can’t just be about me.

Eight years ago, that worked out pretty well. I was turning 40. Like most people, I really wasn’t psyched about turning 40. But we were also getting our first Black president, someone who I’d voted for and about whom I was really excited. It was a great moment in history that was inevitably going to be about much more than me getting old…and that’s how I survived turning 40. Thanks Obama!

This year, it was kind of the opposite. I was turning 48, but as if hitting my late forties didn’t suck quite enough, there was something else going on that sucked much, much more. Sure, it took the focus off my ever-more-wrinkly-and-saggy-existence, but it also kind of contributed to making me feel even more wrinkly and saggy. So what to do?

One thing I decided was to have a birthday celebration not on 1/20 but on 1/21, and I invited a bunch of my friends and anyone they wanted to bring to join me in marching in the Women’s March on NYC and to go out afterwards. The march on Saturday was peaceful, fun, and empowering as hell, I got to hang out with some good friends I see a lot and some I don’t get to see nearly often enough, and I’m so glad I didn’t go for my other option, which was just to curl up into a ball and cry/sulk/wallow in Facebook. And that’s how I survived turning 48, in spite of the Cheetoh. 

But…now what? The march is over, it’s January 23rd, and we’ve got this fucking guy for the next four years — and this Congress for at least the next two. I mean, I know I’m going to take more civic action. I’ve already started writing letters, and there’s going to be a lot more of that. There’s this group and this campaign that builds on the march, and we all know organizations like MoveOn and the Sierra Club and the WFP and so on are planning stuff (although right now they just seem to be asking me for money every single day, which is really, really annoying, but more on that later). So there will be things to do.

I’ve been thinking a lot since the election, however, about how I can contribute not just as a number at a march or on a petition or on the clipboard of that poor Senator’s aide’s who has to take my calls, but as an artist. Right after that shitty day, November 8th, I told my students in Documentary Production at Brooklyn College – a lot of whom were upset because the majority are either LGBTQ, women, people of color, immigrants, or some combination thereof – that this is why we’re filmmakers, to tell stories about all this, about what’s going on now, in our unique voices. I’ve had to write some artist statements lately too and I’ve talked about how making art that raises awareness and makes people think is more important than ever. But of course making a film takes time. I’ve had a new film project in “development” for the past three years. Games, apps, novels, these also take time. I’ve got so many things “in progress” right now that it’s making me question the meaning of the word “progress” – and maybe also of the word “in.”

So, what do you do when you want to make something, and make something now? You make a bot. Last year, Damon and I got frustrated with how long it was taking to finish the projects we were working on together, so we started coming up with little art project Twitter bots, things that we could get done and out there in a few days, and that we could expand and improve upon over time. The first one we made was Jerry Botheimer (@jerrybotheimer), who generates blockbuster movie pitches by plugging the names of random actors, genres, adjectives, pets, etc into forumulae that reflect the formulaic nature of Hollywood filmmaking. It was a fun way to creatively experiment with bot-making and tweak the entertainment industry at the same time. Then we wanted to do something visual, to play around with the #kiddieridesofbrooklyn pictures I’d been posting on Instagram – photographs of those strange and occasionally creepy-looking 50-cent rides you find outside of laundromats and bodegas around the borough – so we came up with Kiddie Rides Bklyn (@kiddieridesbk), which takes those figures and randomly places them into historical photos in the public domain. Over time we’ve added to both of the corpora that each of these bots draws from, adding more formulae, actor names, photos of kiddie rides, and background photos (we started in black and white, then moved on to color), so that the two bots don’t get stale, and can continue to evolve a little bit.

On 1/20, we decided it was time to take a turn for the political. We added a bunch of special pitches to Jerry’s list, some new movie ideas that reflect our current reality and its potential dramatic denouement. They’re meant to be both darkly comic and thought-provoking, but on which side the majority fall will probably depend on how prophetic they turn out to be. We also added a bunch of new background photos to the kiddie rides canon from Obama’s first 100 days, as both a tribute to our 44th president and to provide a contrast with the first 100 days of #45. Both bots will exclusively tweet this new content for the rest of January, and then it’ll be added into their regular streams from here on out. But that still didn’t feel like enough, so after a little back-and-forth about how frustrated and pissed off we were feeling on inauguration day, we created About a Bully (@insultingdonald), a bot that tweets all of Trump’s Twitter insults, but about him. (Yes, this is the great thing about the internet: somebody is always keeping track of that shit, and you can find it). It’s a cathartic stream of ugliness to watch him unload on himself, and also revealing. If you ever needed proof that the mean things we say to other people are often just things that we are insecure about ourselves, it’s all here in About a Bully’s Twitter feed.

These bots aren’t complicated and they aren’t making huge statements, and that’s kind of the point. We want them to provide you with a chuckle and maybe a little bit of a think that won’t take too much of your time, in the same way that they didn’t take too much of ours. And just maybe they’ll also inspire you to take the next step to think, How can I resist, and do it intelligently, uniquely, creatively? What special talents do I have to offer this moment, this movement, and how can I use them, starting now?

1/21 was just day one.



I had this interesting experience recently when it came to a certain fruit. In the past year or two, I started to see a lot of people saying they didn’t like honeydew. It started with hearing people say, jokingly, “Does anyone really like honeydew?” or “Why is there always honeydew? Nobody likes it, nobody eats it,”

Truth was, I’d never really had strong feelings on the subject. When I’d first discovered honeydew, I certainly was fond of it. While this opinion is now unpopular, so much so that it still gives me pause to come out and say it…I may have even preferred it to cantaloupe. It was new to me, and sweeter, often softer, not as complex maybe, but also not as potentially funky — you often do end up with funky cantaloupe that seems just this side of rotten, I think, but honeydew is never like that. Sometimes I’d buy honeydew at the store, but it was often more expensive, or I couldn’t tell if it was ripe, so then I’d still go for cantaloupe, but that didn’t diminish how much I genuinely liked it. When I’d encounter it on a fruit platter, I was more likely to choose it than almost anything else, except strawberries (because, you know, strawberries!). In other words, I knew honeydew had its flaws, but I still genuinely felt good about it.

But then I started to see that a lot of people I know or whose opinions I respect don’t like honeydew. In the mainstream press, I noticed that The New York Times was saying, flat out, as if it were fact, that “Americans don’t like to eat it.” While the article evenhandedly pointed out that when honeydew is ripe it is quite good, it then went on to use this as a basis for arguing that it would actually be good for honeydew if people stopped serving it, because “A reduction in melon quantity may mean an improvement in melon quality.” At first that statement shocked me a little in its direct advocation of honeydew restriction, but since this was The New York Times, I started to consider that maybe this and other articles had some good points, which I hadn’t taken fully enough into account. It was often harder to find a really good piece of honeydew than cantaloupe. There was also a lot of underripe and overripe honeydew out there, for sure, and while the same could be said of cantaloupe, overripe honeydew definitely broke down faster, because it was so soft and sweet already. Maybe it really was being used on the average fruit platter as filler, or for color, not taste, as so many claimed. A large number of people did seem to leave it on the plate, implying that many, perhaps most, seemed to think they’d rather not have fruit at all than have honeydew. Then I noticed in the media that some people were saying even more surprising, less veiled, negative things, like “’I despise it,’" and “’don’t let it get near me,’” or that a “friend” of the author would “pick out any pieces of fruit that have even touched honeydew in a fruit salad because the taste ‘lingers on the other fruit, and I just can’t handle that.’” The more I read these opinions, though, the more they started to sound normal and acceptable to me. This became even more true when I started to see that, among a small subset of very intelligent and witty voices in the popular culture, some that I really admired, this dislike of honeydew had become such a given that the fruit was becoming the target of jokes. Bojack Horseman has a running joke about it being “garbage fruit,” and eviscerated it (literally) on its Instagram feed. As if to prove that millennials and people generally up with the trends recognize the inferiority, even hateability, of honeydew, Buzzfeed has had a few pieces on the subject, also joking about it being “garbage,” and even going so far as to make an entire video about the shared experience of hating it, with a theme song whose refrain is “Fuck honeydew, there’s nothing good about it,” and where, as a final punchline joke, a guy gets thrown out of a restaurant for saying he likes it.     

As all of these ideas seeped into me, consciously or unconsciously, I found myself no longer wanting to eat honeydew. I even started to feel like there was something shameful in liking it. I mean, I did genuinely also like cantaloupe, I told myself. Maybe I really did like cantaloupe better. At its best, in a perfect world, did a good piece of cantaloupe beat a good piece of honeydew? I started to feel like maybe it did. After all, if so many people – tastemakers, even – made that assumption, acted as if it was obvious, why shouldn’t I just give in and agree? The day arrived when I was looking at a breakfast buffet one morning at catering, when there was only honeydew left, no cantaloupe, and I found myself thinking, “Maybe I just won’t have any fruit at all.” I knew everyone around me was thinking the same thing, because there was the honeydew, glaring at us all from the platter, sickly green. Nobody wanted it.

Then I took a moment, stepped back and realized what I was doing: caving in to something with which I didn’t actually agree, just because of what I saw around me as the general consensus. I was actually not listening to my own tastebuds because of things that people were saying. And I said, You know what? Fuck that. Honeydew’s not perfect, far from it, but there’s nothing wrong with it either. It may not be good all the time, no, but it can be damn good. Moreover, if that’s the choice, if that’s what we have at the buffet, am I actually going to not have fruit at all? I sure as hell am not. Because you know where that leads? Scurvy. And trust me, you do not want to get scurvy. I’ve looked it up and it’s nasty, and that is not a matter of opinion, it’s a well-sourced fact. You start to feel weak, then your gums bleed, and your skin, and eventually it can lead to personality changes and even death from infection. Nope, there was no way that I was going to let myself get scurvy – especially because a lot of what people were saying about honeydew was biased opinion, or even just plain lies and misinformation. Honeydew does not cause cancer, in fact, it’s recommended for fighting cancer, but while there are articles about the wondrous, anti-cancer qualities of cantaloupe, as well as using it for gout prevention, acne relief, and weight loss, they only occasionally mention honeydew, which also, as a melon, has all the same properties. All of the cases I could find of salmonella outbreaks? Cantaloupe, not honeydew. And while it’s true that honeydew is not good for your kidneys because it’s high in potassium, so you should avoid it if you have kidney disease, that’s only true to the same extent that you should avoid cantaloupe — so why doesn’t anyone talk about that?! I realized — and it was just amazing to me — how people were overlooking the truth, or the details, in favor of their personal biases and emotions, how easily those emotions were whipped up into a populist frenzy, and how quickly that frenzy had coalesced into a powerful force that drowned out dissenting voices. It seemed like the thing about honeydew was that people just didn’t like it, because that was how everything out there was telling them to feel.

So I went back to eating honeydew, and I owned it. If anyone sees me eating it, or asks, or sometimes even if they don’t ask, even if it sometimes does get me odd looks, I tell them that I like honeydew, plain and simple. Because the truth is that I do, and I always have. 

Here’s the key thing: it didn’t take very long, or very much persuasion at all, for me to start thinking that I didn’t; to accept honeydew hatred as, first, just an idea, then a funny joke, and then, way too quickly, the norm. And I’m a smart person. I research, I listen, I think. So why had I doubted my own thinking, my own taste? Why did I so easily let people convince me that my experience was invalid? Why was it so easy to let myself be convinced by the general opinion, or a popular one, or the one that was the loudest and strongest? Checking yourself is good, thinking and even rethinking can be good, but going along with the masses who hate something just because it’s easy, because it seems like the thing to do, is a big, scary mistake.

And that is something that’s going to be very important for us to remember and recognize in the next four years, because, as a country, we are going to be challenged a lot on what we believe. Things are likely to get turned upside-down, or at least start looking that way, and the people trying to make them that way are going to have their own “news” and “facts” to back them up. You know this is true because it’s already happening, and judging by everything we’ve seen so far, that’s nothing to the way we’ll feel once this new government gets to work in 2017. Having the courage to think for ourselves under great pressure is going to matter, a lot. There’s so much misinformation out there that it’s easy to hear and jump on and pass on to your friends — you know you’ve given in to the impulse to post first and fact-check later, like we all have, “because a lot of people were saying it and it just made so much sense" — and must, instead, invest the time to check the source, figure out where the evidence lies, and think. The opinion that is knee-jerk, popular, sounds simplest or cleverest, or is just plain loud enough to drown out everyone else is often the easiest one to believe. Resist. Check yourself. Do the research. Listen to the experience of others, and especially look for that of the minority, the one you might not be hearing because it’s not so easy to find. Form your own opinions carefully, with facts and reason to back them up. Don’t let people bully you into believing you don’t like something you actually do, or that you believe something that you don’t. Or worse, that you just don’t care, or that it doesn’t really matter.

Because that, my friends, is how we all get scurvy.

The Danger of the Simple Narrative


I used to work on a lot of Verizon commercials. Like most of my jobs, it was just the luck of the draw. One person I worked for fairly often worked for a production company fairly often that got the Verizon commercials fairly often, which tells you something about the tenuousness of our livelihoods as freelancers working in production. I should say some of the Verizon commercials, because there were a lot. Once upon a time, Verizon spent a lot of money on TV ads, enough that they had different lines of commercials the way companies have different lines of products — the James Earl Jones ones, the Test Man ones, the ones with The Network. There really was something for everyone, including me, for whom that thing was $$$$. Unfortunately, that’s not the case any more. Today, with many people cutting the cable company cord and no longer watching TV the traditional way (including us), corporations are having to look for new ways to advertise other than the traditional TV commercials that I used to work on. They’re spending less on those and more on whatever else they can think of, which includes Internet/social media ads that nobody clicks on except by mistake; “branded content,” which is basically just cheaper and sometimes longer ad-type things that they make for the web, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and elsewhere, which they generally shoot for a lower budget with a smaller, non-union crew; social media campaigns where they hire some underpaid millennial drones to operate the Verizon Facebook page, @verizon Twitter account, and @verizon Instagram account in the hope of drawing clicks and eyeballs there; and basically whatever else they think might stick. Which tells you even more about the tenuousness of all of our livelihoods, since I and many of my colleagues used to work on commercials almost exclusively, jobs that paid better, had shorter days and way better craft service than television shows, which is now what we’re stuck doing nearly all the time. It’s crazy how fast your lifestyle can change when you go from ten-hour-or-less fairly stress-free days, in which you have downtime to spend socializing or reading because you only aim to shoot maybe 30 seconds of airable footage, to 14-hour-plus ones in which you’re trying to capture five to ten minutes, and so you hardly stop moving for an entire day by whose end your fondest wish is just to sit down.

Anyway, I used to work for Verizon a lot, and so I worked with the Test Man a fair amount. That’s the guy who used to wear a Verizon jacket and walked around saying, “Can you hear me now?…Good!” He was, IRL, an actor named Paul Marcarelli. Paul was a nice and easy-to-work-with guy under a fairly draconian contract that nevertheless paid him a shit ton of money, apparently. He was required to do a certain number of commercials and live events per year, and he couldn’t take any other acting jobs that might besmirch the image of Test Man, despite the fact that Test Man didn’t really have any image or character to speak of. It was a pretty limited part, which got even more limited as time went on. Eventually, he stopped saying “Can you hear me now?” and he just said “Good!”, and then eventually, they even got rid of that so he was just nodding and smiling, and then they eventually got rid of him. He played Test Man for about ten years, though, and the commercials led to a certain amount of fame for Paul, who was always recognized on the street, and forced to listen to other people say his one famous line to him, as if that would ever be something he would want. People also apparently asked him about their bills, tried to pick him up, and hug him, and other random things that you do to people that you feel you know because you’ve seen them so often on TV (remember, a LOT of commercials). And it’s different, I think, with a big celebrity, because they are a name quantity, someone of whom you are generally at least somewhat in awe — even for me sometimes, and I work with them — for some iconic work they were in when you were 15 (like Michael J. Fox or James Spader, both of whom I’ve worked with a few times but would be hard-pressed to act normal around because they loomed so large in my adolescence). With a commercial actor who plays someone who just works for the company, it seems people don’t feel intimidated, they want to hang. But anyway, Verizon stopped doing his spots, and he disappeared from everyday viewing for a long time.

Given the way fame works in our culture, however, he recently reappeared, this time in ads for Sprint. In case you’ve been living in another country or under a rock, the American cell phone service carriers have been locked in a battle for domination ever since, well, cell phones, and even before, when they were conventional phone service carriers fighting over that (remember those days, when you paid for a phone that wasn’t your cell phone, and had to figure out who charged least for long-distance calls to the state in which your parents lived?). Verizon and AT&T have been on the top forever, with other carriers like Sprint and T-Mobile trying to chip away at that any way they can. So Sprint decided to hire Paul, five years later, to say he’d switched to Sprint because the networks are now close enough in quality that there’s no reason to pay as much more as Verizon customers do. That’s their narrative: that Paul was playing Test Man for Verizon but he’s being himself for Sprint: a real person who switched of his own accord and then decided to do ads for them. And you see that depicted across the brand, from the ads themselves (warning: YouTube has gotten to the point where you have to watch an ad in order to watch an ad??), to articles about Paul and the campaign, to nearly all of their Twitter accounts – because yes, there are several. Now that social media is a huge part of advertising and marketing in a way it wasn’t five to ten years ago, Sprint has @sprint (advertising), and @sprintcare (customer service), and @sprintbusiness (”business resource”), and @SprintSMB (small business), and @sprintnews (corporate “news”), and @SprintLatino (”Nuestra meta es proporcionar experiencias increíbles”), and @sprintforward (”here to unleash the power of mobile technology”), and then all the regional/local ones (@Sprint4NYC, @Sprint4Chi, @Sprint4SoCal – are you getting yet what a rabbit hole @sprint is????). 

Anyway, when I saw these ads, my first thought was sort of sad disappointment. Because I had a narrative in my head that said, This guy hasn’t done any recognizable acting gig since Test Man, and now he can get hired only to bash his old company? I thought it was especially sad when I saw the @thatwirelessguy Twitter account. That account has Paul’s face on it and tweets and retweets about Sprint wireless service and things related to Sprint wireless service — Sprint commercials, people in Sprint commercials, hashtags like #LoveWorkingWithSprint, #TheSwitchIsReal, #UpgradeSeason, #LiveUnlimited, and mobile phones, mobile apps, and…jogging with glasses, and pugs. In fact, its first tweet was, “My dog just slurped directly from my cereal bowl and I’m okay with it. #Puppylove,” which just doesn’t in any way seem like an advertisement for cell phone service. But it is: it’s an advertisement designed to look like a person. It was designed to look like Paul, who as we know, wears glasses, and also, apparently, has two rescue pugs of whom he is quite fond. I know this because he has his own Twitter account, which is not @thatwirelessguy, with a picture of him that looks like it’s from the red carpet at a film festival, with a more fashion-forward haircut and glasses than Test Man. He does occasionally retweet something about Sprint (that might be in his new contract), and he does use the glasses geek emoticon that That Wireless Guy does, and tweet about dogs, just to make it all more confusing — no doubt at least somewhat on purpose, because for That Wireless Guy to fulfill its function, it has to appear to not be just an account created by one of those underpaid Sprint social media drones to tweet and retweet things that might make you want to switch to Sprint. 

Because the real Paul is much more often tweeting about his own writing and producing projects, because, as it turns out, Paul does commercial acting as his day job to pay for his creative endeavors, like this documentary and this feature, kind of like, oh, me and almost everybody I know in the film business – a much more complicated but real story about who he is. Overall, being Test Man or That Wireless Guy was/is just one part of his life as a real human being, as you can also see from the way he responds to tweets calling him a “fake friend sellout” and “hoe” and other ridiculousness. And when I realized that, I realized that the “sad” narrative that I defaulted to in my head for Paul was actually one that I’d gone to not because it said something true about him, but because it was comfortable for me. It made me feel better about my life and the fact that I’ve been struggling away at this film thing for so many years with not as much as I’d like to show for it. Thinking Paul was just an actor stuck in his own rut made me feel a tiny bit less bad about my own.

Mind you, I’m not the only one who does this: substitutes a narrative that suits my needs for reality. If you look at Paul’s Twitter feed and the feed of That Wireless Guy, you’ll see that many people have their own narratives about who Paul is, and reactions like mine, only worse. There are dozens @replies calling him a rat, a bitch, a douchebag, a turncoat, a traitor, a fraud, etc, or tweeting things about his husband, or wishing well and ill on his real and unreal pets. Because his face is also on the Sprint Care account, you even get random tweet threads like this, which mix people’s strangely strong reactions to Paul’s defection with robotic customer service. Now, I recognize that partly, this is just Twitter and what Twitter does. It goes back to what I was saying about how, in the past couple of decades, we’ve built this crazy situation where we think we actually know these people who have appeared on our idiot box, some of them because they can act or sing or whatever, but others who have ended up there and thereby become celebrities for not necessarily any good reason other than that they know how to attract attention, often with bad behavior. Twitter gives us the opportunity to reach out to those people, and do it right now, thanks to the instantaneous nature of electronic messaging — which you would think at this point we would know better than to use without extreme caution, because who hasn’t at this point drunk-texted, or angrily and mistakenly replied-to-all, or sent late-night lust-engorged Ambien online dating site messages, or the like? (Not that I would know anything about any of those situations myself). And yet, so many of us tweet our worst impulses with abandon and foolishness and familiarity, and sometimes substance-influenced or temporary or not-so-temporary insanity or just plain stupidity, to strangers, who we somehow think we know or understand or have some claim to judge – not considering the fact that we may not actually be reaching them at all, but a social media team that tweets from their Twitter account pretending to be them.

But I I think it’s much bigger than Twitter. I think that, confronted with the many levels of bullshit that is modern media, where social media and corporate messaging and advertising and big media (all of which is now pretty much all corporate-owned or subsidized) have completely blurred the lines of interest and content between news and entertainment and promotion and self-promotion, more and more of us are all too often choosing the simple narrative: the one that we want to believe, the one that reinforces the view of ourselves that makes us feel the most okay. Add on to that the complexity of the modern world at large that this media insanity now brings into our living rooms and bedrooms and kitchens and offices. Is it any wonder that what I now see on Facebook (which is where I, like many of us, find a lot of my “information”), in the stream of lefty political posts that now dominate my feed, or the right-wing ones that I now have to seek out because I’ve unfollowed my few conservative connections because I find their posts so disturbing, and in the occasional arguments with some on both sides (I know), that more and more people seem to have stopped believing that any independent truth outside of their own world view matters, or perhaps even exists, and are just putting their efforts into supporting and defending their own simple narratives? That in the face of so much confusing information and “information”— and by that I mean advertising, opinion, bad science, rumor, all repeated and reinforced from the echo chamber of whatever community, virtual or IRL, in which we find ourselves — so many of us seem to be throwing up our virtual hands and saying, “Well, I can’t tell what’s real, so I’m going to just decide what is and make it so”? 

Not surprising, no, but that doesn’t make it any less scary. I mean, I did learn growing up about Kant’s “Truth” with a big “T” and “truth” with a little “t”; I was taught that shades of grey exist in everything, and that everyone has a point of view that affects how they see the truth. But that made me question more, not less, and certainly not stop questioning altogether if something I heard sounded good to me. If anything, I feel like it’s the things that sound good that you have to question the most, because somebody is making them too easy for you to believe, and the truth is not easy – because the world is not easy and never has been, despite what those of us over 40, who remember something pre-cell phone, pre-Internet, pre-9-11, might sometimes like to think. Have we ever had a war that was unequivocally “just”? Or had a president who wasn’t flawed, and who didn’t both cheat on his wife and/or sign into law some fucked up shit? Or lived in a country that didn’t make decisions, time and again, that made it difficult to see it as a very good country, let alone a great one? Of course not. It’s just more obvious how difficult and complicated the world is now, because we have access to so much more of it. That access can be a fantastic thing, but it requires more of us too: more reading and educating ourselves from more sources, more interaction and discussion, and most of all, more questioning. And that’s hard and often unsatisfying work, because our place in that complex world? Who the fuck knows? That’s why simple narratives that make easy sense are always going to be feel better. They comfort us by confirming everything we think we know already. That’s why they work, and the fact that they work is why we keep dishing them out. And I do mean “we.” I’ve spent all my years working in media learning how to create simple narratives, because that’s how Hollywood and the mainstream media teach us to tell stories: with the good guy and the bad guy and three acts and the dramatic arc and the happy ending. But in this era, when connecting and informing and entertaining and selling have become inextricably muddled into this syrupy-sweet cocktail of Give the Public What They Want, those of us who manufacture these narratives have to doing more too. We need to stop making the Kool Aid so smooth and easy to swallow – and then drinking it down ourselves, because we do, in spite of knowing what went into it, because it makes us feel good too – before we all lose the ability to handle anything else.

We may already be there. I feel like we have a candidate in this election who is truly willing to say anything because he knows a large constituency of people will believe him no matter what, with the implication being that if enough people believe something, that makes it true. The truth is starting to feel like a popularity contest, a crowd-source campaign, where if you can get enough of your friends to sign on and tweet and Facebook something, your “facts” win. If we don’t start thinking more critically on the one hand, and writing and producing and creating stuff that rewards people for thinking more rather than less on the other, we’ll become a culture of sponges who can only absorb the simple narrative, accepting and acting on the words of any orange demagogue who comes along and tells us what we want to hear. And we’ll all pay the price for that.

When Your Face Is a Different Face


I’ve had a pair of distance glasses since freshman year of college, when I noticed that I was having serious trouble seeing what the professor was doing, or his/her facial expressions. It’s hard to say if that was when I genuinely started to need them, or if I was just taking big, freshman year seminars in university-size halls — much larger than my high school classrooms — and I actually had to start paying attention in class again post-senior year of high school, so reading whatever was on the board or on slides (this was pre PowerPoint. That’s how old you are when you are BA 1990) mattered.

I also got the glasses, however, because I wanted to try on a new look. College was in a new place, with new people, and since I’d already been the same me for 17.5 years, it seemed like time to do something different there too. Plus, since I only had to wear my glasses for class and for movies, it was sort of the best of both worlds. I could put them on when I needed them, and people would notice and say, “You wear glasses?” and have to look at me again — because we know that for women, a change in appearance isn’t just about how we look, it’s about who we are. Mind you, we, women, aren’t the ones who came up with that, that’s just how the world is. This is what every red carpet and every job interview is about, as well as every scene in a movie where the girl takes down her hair and takes off her glasses and is suddenly a bombshell, as if she weren’t before, and why men feel compelled to constantly make that the topic of conversation when it really isn’t. Some like to say it’s because “men are visually driven,” but I think that’s just a nice way of saying that they’re either evil, or dumb. I don’t think either of those things, but I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gone to a wrap party and had none of the guys I just worked with for two months recognize me because I was no longer wearing ripped jeans and a dirty t-shirt. But, as I’ve talked about before, the fact that how I look matters way more than it should is just one of those realities I’ve finally accepted as an adult, so I try to work with it because what else can you do?

Part of what made me okay with trying glasses at college was that it was the first time that I was actually okay with looking “brainy.” First of all, growing up in the American suburbs, or at least in my suburbs in South Orange, New Jersey, being called anything with “brain” in it was an insult you wanted to avoid. At my grade school in particular, that meant getting put in the same category as Daniel Martins, who even I found annoying because he always had to boysplain (we didn’t know what that was back then, but he was doing it) everything to everyone with the most complicated combination of vocabulary imaginable. While I, too, had always received encouragement from my parents and teachers for being creative and clever, I was basically shy, and by sixth grade, there were other factors at play as well. I was a year younger than everyone else, and I’d already had trouble keeping up with how the rules for what we were supposed to do as girls seemed to keep changing every year — how clothes and hair, which I’d always ignored, suddenly mattered more than anything else; how you were supposed to not like boys, and then suddenly you were supposed to like them again. Now, it seemed that you could get away with being smart if you were a boy, particularly if you played soccer, but if you were a girl, it was not an option. You just didn’t see images of girls or women being smart in movies and TV shows of the 70s and 80s, let alone positive images. Velma from Scooby Doo was one of the few smart chicks, and who wanted to be fat, glasses-wearing Velma? And remember this awesome ad that summed up the conundrum? Amazing how it acknowledges that women don’t get glasses because they don’t want to look bad (thanks to, again, television) and makes them look incredibly stupid for feeling that way, until the man saves the day by making Alice get glasses and telling her she looks great — and then the ad ends on his face. Yeah, no wonder that when disposable, soft contact lenses became widely available in the 1980s, pretty much all of my glasses-wearing friends got them (and so did my dad, who, remember, grew up in this era –> 


) so that their faces would no longer be branded with these marks of their unattractive intelligence. But in the environment of Stanford, people didn’t hide that they were smart. It wasn’t exactly that you were super proud of it (although some people, not realizing that this wasn’t their high school and that the playing field had way changed, foolishly tried that). It was, at least for me, that now it was a non-issue, because it was a given that we all had a base level of brainpower. That was a big part of why I was finally able to be myself at college in a way that I’d never been before — and why I was okay with getting glasses.

I got my first pair of “fashionable” glasses after I moved to New York for grad school. My old pair had been plain, black, roundish, and serviceable. My new pair I bought at a place on East 9th Street called Myoptics, back when the East Village was still hip and dirty and had more junkies than strollers. They (the glasses, not the strollers) were big and round and tortoise-shell, sort of Sally Jesse without the red, and I chose them for the reasons your average 24-year-old makes a decision about what to wear on their face: because the style was in fashion, because they were one of the two cheapest pairs there, and because the guy selling them told me I looked good in them. Parts two and three in that equation no doubt worked together: the store clerk realized that these were the only glasses I was likely to buy, so of course he told me I looked good in them, and his was the only opinion available in the moment since it was 1992 or so and pre-smartphone/pre-social media/pre-being able to solicit the feedback of all of your friends in three taps. But whatever drove the choice involved, I did believe the glasses looked good on me, and probably wore them a little more often because of that, but still seldom. My prescription hadn’t changed enough for me to need them, and again, it was the element of dress-up that I liked: being able to put on a new identity sometimes, but also take it off.

I didn’t buy another pair of glasses for over 20 years. The motivation was part Groupon, since Damon and I got one for eye exams and frames at a local Brooklyn eyeglass place. Also, my eyes did seem more blurry in the mornings especially, and it suddenly occurred to me that not being able to recognize people from far away was perhaps a liability considering I needed to identify them in order to work with them, especially in situations where I wasn’t seeing the same people every day, which is basically every day I go to work.

But there was another reason too. I had started to notice that a lot of women my age and upwards were looking better to me with glasses, and I realized that it was because glasses helped obscure what was going on around their eyes: bags and wrinkles. The bags under my eyes, in particular, had recently become the most disliked feature of my own face. In my bored perusal of celebrity magazines from the client tables on commercial jobs, I’d seen the interviews with “aging” actresses (so, like, 35) who talked about how they felt like the main difference with looking good as they got older was that on the days when they got enough sleep and took care of themselves, they looked great, but those other days? Those were the problem. Working in production, those “other days” were, again, pretty much my every day. Having to get up at 4, 5, or 6 am is always cruel if sadly not unusual, and add to that the inconsistency of having your wake-up times always shifting, from job to job, week to week, or even weekday to weekday as we move from Monday to Fraturday. Some people can adjust to that, but I am a lifelong bad sleeper. As a kid I had trouble falling asleep, or getting back to sleep if I woke up in the middle of the night, thanks to worries about nuclear war and sudden attacks of stomach flu (I’d only had it once, but I was a hypochondriac and that was at the top of my Most Dreaded Illnesses list since I hated throwing up. Well, along with elephantiasis, but I didn’t know anyone personally who’d had it, so I only spent maybe one out of every 15-20 nights lying awake worrying about that). I mostly outgrew those fears — and, you know, Gorbachev happened — but I developed new ones, or just things that I would obsess over at all hours because I couldn’t turn off my head. And when you chronically don’t sleep well, having to get up early becomes a source of stress, because between turning over and over your missed man opportunities and the terrible things that asshole said about your script that you can’t admit might be right, you lay awake and tell yourself not to look at the clock, and try to pretend it’s not as late as you think it is, and that you don’t have to get up and be a functional human being in just a few, short, diminishing-by-the-minute hours. Therapy, meditation, vodka, Ambien, Restoril, Benadryl — yes, I have tried them all, with varying degrees of success and addiction. Knowing, at this point, that I can get through a 12-hour day at work on four hours of sleep definitely helps, as does accepting the fact that this is me and I just suck at this sleeping thing. But none of it helps my face.

So, glasses. Why not, if my eyes needed them more too? Only it turned out that they didn’t. My distance prescription hadn’t actually changed. In fact, the optometrist said, my eyes were slightly better than my prescription.

“Yeah, I guess either your eyes have gotten better or whoever gave you these gave you slightly more than you needed,” he said, referring to my 1990s Fashion Glasses. “But you do now have a slight need for near vision.”

In other words, reading glasses. This was not completely unexpected. I’d worked with enough people five to ten years older than me to know that somewhere during the 40s, I was going to have trouble reading the scene numbers on the miniature version of the call sheet that was the front page of my sides, or the teeny-tiny numbers on that stupid dial used to change frequencies on the older generation of Lectrosonics wireless mics, and then it would go downhill from there. Indeed, the need for reading glasses comes on fast, and hits you right in the midlife crisis. Not long ago, I went out to dinner with friends around my age and we all talked about how we were having trouble reading the menu without holding it far away, and how having longer arms suddenly became an advantage in the fight against admitting that you were getting old (which of course meant that men had it over us, as per everything). I had noticed all of this to a limited degree, mainly when I was trying to read while wearing my distance glasses, so I thought it might be time.

Nevertheless, my optometrist said, “I’m going to give you the near vision prescription, but you don’t have to fill it, since it’s pretty slight.” I felt good about that. “Progressives are expensive, and your eyes are likely to get much worse in the next few years, so you might want to wait until you really need them.” Yeah, not so good about that, but luckily my cheap bastard side had fastened on the “You don’t have to spend $300 right now” part, softening the blow (it’s always a surprising bonus when the Cheap Bastard brings something positive to the situation. It’s like she’s showing up to the party with a bottle of $5 wine that turns out to be really good: who knew she could pull that off?).

The upshot of all of this was that I didn’t really need new glasses at all — but at this point, I’d decided that I wanted them. I had not only begun to convince myself that I would look better with glasses, but I had already started to picture myself as Someone Who Wore Glasses. Plus, you know, I had a Groupon. So I got a new pair that was black and rectangularish and narrow. Damon called them my Sexy Librarian Glasses. They were so different from my 90s Fashion Glasses that you’d wonder how both could look good on the same person. And yet, I did choose both, because, once again, the Sexy Librarians were in fashion, they were one of the cheapest pairs there, and someone (this time my spouse) told me they looked good on me.

Now, I had to get used to my face with glasses being my normal face, and that is weird. It’s not that I’ve been looking at the same face for 47 years, because I obviously have not.


Still, it’s been pretty similar for about 25 years, and most of the changes have happened gradually. I’ve had moles removed, and carcinomas (the type of skin cancer that doesn’t kill you but is your skin’s way of saying, “I told you you were going to get old and regret this sun-worshipping bullshit some day”), added scars for those along with the bags and wrinkles, and changed the arrangement of hair around it all, but there’s really nothing else like this suddenly adding a permanent fixture to your face that wasn’t there before, unless you get a new nose. I had to get used to being the sexy librarian, even though I did not, in fact, feel any more sexy, or more like a librarian, and truly, I don’t think I looked much more like one either. But I looked different.

The world in general did not react. A couple of my friends may have complimented me, but nobody at work said anything — although many of my workmates did, again, stop recognizing me at first glance. Case in point: after I’d been wearing the Sexy Librarian Glasses for maybe six to eight months, I went to the annual holiday Hat Party, an event thrown by some of my freelance colleagues where I literally knew almost everybody there and had for at least ten years, and I had to introduce myself to half them or wait for them to do a double-take. To be fair, the fact that I was unintentionally incognito was probably also due to the fact that I was wearing nice clothes, and a hat, and this was somewhat confirmed when someone who had at first not recognized me said, in an appreciative tone, “Wow, you’ve really taken it up a notch!” Clearly, my work friends will never see me as someone who wears girl outfits.

But there was a real existential crisis waiting to happen, and it happened, when I lost those glasses. The preamble/preface/forward/table of contents to the crisis was that I literally had no idea how I lost them, one day they were just gone. I’m pretty sure the last time I saw them I was in the car, but beyond that, what happened is a complete mystery. Absent-mindedness like this is happening to me more often, and mostly I’ve chalked it up to having too much going on, but there’s this creeping suspicion I have, based, like most of what I know about aging, on things my friends tell me and that I find in internet searches like this, that it also has to do with declining estrogen, which means approaching menopause to those of you not in the know (did you know there was a website called ? Aren’t you glad you know it now? I especially love this image and very technical infographic 


with the “Age” arrow pointing into oblivion). So losing my glasses sucked as a just really obvious instance of potential that. But what affected me more than that (because I’m 47, and have been through fertility treatment, and so the ability of my hormones to turn batshit was not unknown to me) was that I started wearing the 90s Fashion Glasses to work — I’d kept them around as my back-up pair — and that was when I started getting compliments. I heard, “Glasses suit you,” and “I really like your glasses,” both from people who had definitely seen me several times in the Sexy Librarian Glasses and never said anything. Could this just be because round glasses were back in style, or was it really that the round glasses were more me? And then what did this say about the fact that my husband had a distinct preference for the Sexy Librarians? Because, when it came to ordering new glasses, Damon was typically circumspect about his opinion.

“Anything but the round ones,” he said, ruling out not only the 90s Fashion Glasses, but 80% of what Warby Parker has. “I just think you look better in the ones you lost. Plus, I’m the one who has to look at you all the time.”

This is a good point. There’s nobody who looks at my face as often as he does, even I don’t, and I do want to be attractive to my mate. But I am an adult, a woman, and a feminist, so I was determined to pick the glasses I liked best on my face goddammit.

It wasn’t until I went to the Warby Parker Soho store and was confronted with two store-length walls of glasses, however, that I realized I didn’t really know what exactly that meant. After trying on oh, 20 pairs, I was ready to admit that I knew basically nothing about how I wanted to look. You’d think you could go with your gut on this. You’d think that you’d put something on your face and it would be like “This is it, this is me,” like falling in love, or finding the perfect apartment. But then, when you realize you’re talking about adding a permanent new fixture to your face that can make you look so different that people can actually stop recognizing you, you start to think about the power of potential. So, while it starts out with, “Is this me?”, it quickly devolves into, “But do I want to look like ‘me’ any more? Who is this ‘me’ anyway? Should I be going with the glasses that make me comfortable, or with the ones that make me uncomfortable, because if I really change how I look, to the point where people are really looking at me differently, maybe I can change who I am?” And since I know I’m not going to get that new nose, or have any anti-aging work done to my face because fuck that, or dye my hair (I don’t want to dye out the grey because again, fuck that, and while dying it a totally different color is another, potential-identity-changing alteration a woman can make, I can’t afford to do it right and maintain it. Plus, I actually like my hair color, it’s doing a good job of hiding the grey, and if I dye it, who knows what will grow back in its place?), this is sort of my only option.

In the end, I picked a pair that I thought looked…nice. They were not big, round and guileless like the 90s Fashion Glasses, or as severe/intellectual as the Sexy Librarians. Maybe some day I’ll be ready to get all Iris Apfel on my glasses and make a truly personality-defining statement with them, but for now, wearing glasses most of the time is enough of a change. I don’t feel that good about the fact that I’m partly wearing them to hide behind, but aging is hard. I don’t want to be vulnerable to what the world thinks, but this occasionally-stupid planet is where I live, and while my view of myself is ultimately up to me, I’m never going to be able to totally exclude the views of my mate, my parents, my friends, my colleagues, that dude at the store, and, to some degree that I wish I could prevent but I can’t, our culture. So for now, I’ll choose look a little different than before but not too much, and maybe a little less obviously tired all the time, and that will have to do.

Things I Get In the Mail, or Welcome to America


Like most people, or at least those over the age of 30, I’ve been getting mail for almost my entire life. For most of that time, it was something I looked forward to. How could I not? As a kid, it was mostly birthday cards with checks from relatives and letters from pen pals — kids from school who I didn’t see much during the summer, friends I met during our summer vacation at Indian Lake and kept in touch with, or friends who moved away. Or the J. Crew catalog, for which I lived, and the packages that ensued. It wasn’t much different in college. I’d order clothes and correspond with my friends from home during the school year, with my friends from college during the summers, and with everyone when I traveled abroad. Postcards from far away places were the most fun to send and receive, so I’d always make the effort to send those to family and friends, even though buying stamps could be a challenge in a European country where you didn’t speak the language and they sold them in odd places (incredibly, in this era of smoking being banned everywhere, tabacs are still a thing), and that you basically had to buy and write the cards the day you arrived to ensure they’d get home before you did. I also used to really enjoy picking out birthday cards for my friends that I thought suited them, and I continued to send those, with a long catch-up note, probably through my 20s.

Once I became a real adult, mail became a lot less lighthearted — probably around the time I started getting bills that way. When I got a bunch of nasty letters from collection agencies regarding my student loans, that just solidified how un-fun mail could be. Around that same time, though, I also started receiving paychecks via mail, so I guess the two things kind of balanced each other out. But in both ways, figuring out that mail wasn’t just about getting fun stuff was my gateway into responsible adulthood.

Now, nearly all of my correspondence takes place over email and on Facebook, with a smattering of Twitter. Getting the almost immediate gratification of connecting with someone far away (or not) in a matter of hours, minutes, or sometimes seconds is pretty phenomenal, even though I’m so used to it at this point that not hearing back from someone I email within a day has me convinced they don’t like me any more (unless they’re someone who I know doesn’t check email every six seconds like I do. Those luddites — you know who you are — get a pass). I was actually introduced to Facebook by friends I met traveling in Guatemala and Argentina in 2006/2007, people who I’d most likely have lost touch with if it didn’t exist. While there are days when I truly wish it didn’t (probably every day since the 2016 presidential campaign started in, oh, 2014), Facebook and Instagram have ended up being a great way of finding out what’s going on with those and many other folks, such as friends from other eras of my life who now live far away, and their parents; subjects from my documentaries, some of whom were barely more than toddlers when I first met them and are now actually old enough to use social media without violating their guidelines (talk about things that make you feel old); and people from work who I may only see once a year if that, but who always like my photos (you also probably know who you are, and thank you).

But as a result, I have completely stopped writing letters, and, for the most part, getting them. For a while I still sent postcards and birthday cards and holiday cards, but eventually I just felt like they were time-consuming and unnecessary in the age of the Internet. I replaced the birthday cards with e-cards, and then, when people told me they found the e-cards annoying (again, you know who you are), I just went with Facebook posts and maybe texts or e-cards for people who didn’t have Facebook, taking the attitude that if they didn’t like the e-cards they should just have joined Facebook, even though I kind of knew that people who didn’t want to join Facebook were exactly the type of people who would hate e-cards. But it’s the 21st century, this is how we do, or I do, because I never have enough time for anything (remember, I generally have 2-3 jobs I’m getting paid for and 2-4 that I don’t. Plus the time I spent on cards I can now spend on Facebook, and I do). The holiday cards were kind of the hardest to give up (see below), but also the cards whose discarding made the most sense. In addition to my time always being at a premium yadda yadda, I don’t really celebrate Christmas or Chanukah, and I don’t have kids – and we all know that sending pictures of kids is the reason for 99.9% of all holiday cards. I do have one good friend from college who still writes long, real letters when she travels, or when it’s my birthday or some other occasion. Whenever she does, I write her back a long email, and hope she’ll make allowances for the fact that she has more patience than I do, and better handwriting. I also started making all of my bills and credit card/bank statements electronic where possible, in order to save paper and end the overall negativity attached to receiving mail that I could see was going to come with the end of letter-writing.

In spite of the fact that I no longer get letters or bills, however, we still get mail, and I’m always the one who has to check it. Damon has a key to our mailbox, but it’s not even on his keychain. I asked him why and he said that, since he gets paid mostly by direct deposit and pays his bills online, he doesn’t get anything in the mail except junk. So I started paying attention to what we actually do get, and realized that there remains an odd subset of stuff that comes to us via our struggling U.S. Postal Service. What is it? I’m glad you asked.

1) Birthday and holiday cards


A lot of people still do send me holiday cards, while others stopped sending me cards when I stopped sending mine, and because I simultaneously am insecure and have a healthy level of Jewish guilt, I manage to juggle feeling bad about both situations. And I also still get birthday cards, which is really nice, although, again, I really don’t deserve it because I don’t send cards to anyone else, see above for attached feelings (see, I even speak in email these days). I have a feeling that soon, it’ll be down to just my parents and in-laws who send them, and hopefully by the time that happens, I’ll be okay with it. This birthday card has actually been on my bulletin board forever, it was not recently sent to me. I used to save all of my cards and letters in old overnight or bowling bags from thrift stores, but I finally realized that I couldn’t continue the practice and live in New York City and not have the apartment of a hoarder.

2) Checks and W-2s for my freelance work

This is the main reason I check mail. My payments from Brooklyn College are now direct deposit, and my TV work would be too if I worked on one show all of the time, so the fact that I still wait for paper checks to come by mail is really another symptom of the scattered way I’ve chosen (for now) to live my life. At tax time, because I work for probably 30 different payroll companies a year, and they are the ones who are my official employers, I have to go through my pay stubs and make sure that nobody is missing (some production payroll companies divide themselves up into 10 different companies with slightly different nonsensical names like EEES LP and NTVUBTL for some tax- or liability-related reason that I’m sure is not related to making my life difficult, but that’s kind of how it feels). A couple of payroll companies do now put this stuff online, which is good on the one hand, because I don’t have to comb through my mail for it, but bad because now I have to use my own paper and ink to print them out and mail them to my accountant. I mean, I might as well be carving my tax info into stone tablets.

3) Correspondence from my union or my union health insurance

My union and the MPIPHP (that’s Motion Picture Industry Pension and Health Plans, duh!) still correspond with me via snail mail. Biannually, I’ll get something from my health insurance telling me that I’ve qualified for health insurance (yay!), but that I need to send money or Damon will lose his (yikes!). I also have to send in my union dues over snail mail, and in return, they send me a receipt and my new union card — which nobody has ever checked, but again, being in good standing with the union means we don’t have to worry about some day losing our home to pay for medical treatment (ain’t our health system grand?). The other things I get from the union are these one or two page updates on what’s news for them that month, like when the next general meeting that I won’t attend will be, what seminars on how to operate a scissor lift or something else I don’t need to know and therefore also won’t attend will be happening, and warnings about things people are doing that are illegal according to union rules which I am supposed to report but prefer not to notice because who wants to get their colleagues in trouble?

4) Political candidate mail


We get this from our state senate, state assembly, congressional district and city council candidates. This is probably the first one I’ve read, which should tell you how well these mailings work. Because of where I live in Brooklyn, I pretty much know the winner is always going to be a liberal Democrat, so these go right in the recycling. I’m sure some people do take the time to read them, and I know not everyone has a computer so they can look up who their representatives/candidates are and where they stand on the issues, but how many people both have the time to read them and don’t have a computer to do their own research? Probably more than I realize, living as I do in my semi-gentrified democratic bubble, but still, do they reach enough people who both care and would vote for this guy to be worthwhile? Case in point, I’ve looked him up and he is not actually my city council member, he’s from one of the districts next to mine — and I found this out just by Googling and then plugging my address into the NYC City Council website. Could David Greenfield’s intern not have done the same and saved his office some time, money, and paper products by not sending this to me and everyone else in my building?

5) Theater ticket deals and other solicitations from arts organizations


I love the arts. Being able to go see plays and performances of various sorts and visit a cornucopia of museums is one of the main reasons I live here. I do like being notified about cheap ticket deals for opening plays, and when the MOMA, of which I am a member, sends me info about their latest exhibitions. But the thing is, I already get all of this stuff via email. Do you people in snail mail and the people in email marketing not talk to each other? Why not? Couldn’t you even perhaps be the same people? No, of course not, silly question.

6) Just plain advertising


Now we consume most of our advertising online — and the fact that advertisers still haven’t figure out the best way to do that should be evident to everyone who has to look at those horrible click-bait ads in the app that always involve some skin disease or someone really overweight or how much you are losing in mortgage interest. But have you ever looked at the ads for the companies that still solicit you by mail? They’re clearly companies that know their customer base doesn’t spend time online, or ones who think that a colorful piece of card stock with a 10% off coupon is going to convince them to run out and shop. That means it’s either discount stores, like BJ’s and Discount Shoe Warehouse, or businesses that we’ve already patronized who think they will get us to come back with some special deal, like Staples and the Brooklyn Cyclones minor league baseball team, or local stuff, like our friendly neighborhood dentist. I don’t mind the ads for cheap stuff or coupons since I am, as you know, a cheap bastard. I also enjoy reading about all of the Cyclones’ special promotions, like a Roger McDowell bobblehead, which sounds hilarious even if I don’t know who Roger McDowell is and don’t really want to know why he’s called “Second Spitter.” However, I don’t know about you, but I’m not going to choose a dentist on the basis of a flyer that combines poor font choices and stock photos with a tag line promising “Healthy Teeth and Gums for Life,” – not to mention that it’s welcoming me to a neighborhood I’ve already been living in for almost seven years. I know that all advertising is really about fear and sex on some level, but it feels to me like the ads I get in the mail are aimed at people who are easy prey, probably because they’re in poor financial straits or otherwise easily sucked in by taglines like, “Reminder: don’t miss out!” I find it sad to think that such ads might actually work on my neighbors, and then I wonder if the ones who they work on are the same people I saw on that map the New York Times put together, of How Every New York City Neighborhood Voted in the Republican Primary, who voted for Donald Trump. And then I’m both depressed and annoyed.

7) Credit card offers


If you don’t think the credit card industry is taking advantage of people, look no further than your mailbox. I already have too many credit cards and don’t need to get these every week, along with balance transfer “checks” begging me to move my debt to their card.*

*for an exorbitant fee asterisked at the bottom in teeny tiny print. Who doesn’t know at this point that that 0% APR is going to jump to 20% right when you’ve forgotten about it? Again, for easy prey, so again, annoyed and depressed. 

8) Mailings from our local licensed real estate salespeople


This is another kind of advertising that is ubiquitous in any gentrifying area in Brooklyn. Ryan Roberts, wants me (or not me, since this was actually sent to someone who hasn’t lived at our address for at least 12 years, which is a whole other issue I have with the mail) to know how much apartments like mine are selling for, in case I want to call him to sell or buy. Does he think a mailing like this will convince me to do one of those things, or that I’m more likely to hire him because I’ve seen his professionally-styled-and-lit headshot? The whole thing about putting your picture on your ads I just don’t get. And while it is somewhat helpful to know what a one-bedroom like ours is going for, because some day we probably will sell, I could also walk by one of the zillion real estate brokers’ offices that have taken over a ridiculous percentage the commercial real estate in Brooklyn (how many are there in Park Slope now? Like, 50? I’m not exaggerating). So, again, an unnecessary waste of card stock, and also an unhappy reminder of the fact that soon, nobody not in the 1% will be able to afford to live within the five boroughs.

9) Statements from Apple Bank

We’ve officially stopped getting all of our bills via snail mail because we signed up for paperless notifications, and the same is true of all of my bank statements except one: Apple Bank. This is because Apple Bank exists in another era, I think most likely the 80s, as evidenced by this picture Damon took of the machine on which we validated our bank cards and pin codes. 


As I’ve mentioned before, it’s a fascinating place visit. Our banker is a nice Russian lady who always wears something low-cut and leopard print, and who puts on her makeup with many large trowels — eyeliner that swooshes out to her profile, shadow in multiple colors, the eyebrows completely removed and drawn back on in attention-getting black even though her hair is dyed a bright red. Any visit, like our most recent one, includes a conversation shouted back and forth across the office:



“Guess who opened account for them at Court Street branch!”


“Carol! Who used to work here!”


“Yeah, remember how she moved to Court Street? Small world!”

“How about that!”

So yeah, no surprise that they don’t do electronic statements. I recently signed up for online banking and it turns out you can only look at your account, you can’t actually do anything with it. I guess we can’t complain though, since we had to open a business account for our Rustle Works LLC, and picked a tiny bank because they had no fees to match the no money that we have in it.

10) Magazines I read


This is just one magazine, actually, The New Yorker. See this pile? See that it’s not only in the basket but underneath the basket? Remember what I said about not wanting to live like a hoarder? Well, this is the one area in which I’ve given up. I can’t keep up with the one weekly magazine that I really want to read and am afraid to throw away for fear of missing something good. Maybe I could keep up if I spent less time on my phone during my train time and downtime at work — keeping up with email and Facebook, but also playing Carcassonne and now Pokemon Go (I try to justify it by saying that we design games, even though we most likely will never design anything like Pokemon Go. Really, I’m just a 47-year-old who misses collecting stuffed animals) — and if I also read it before going to bed instead of the five pages of whatever book I’m currently reading on my Kindle. But then I’d have to avoid the articles that are upsetting enough to keep me awake, and it still probably wouldn’t be enough.

11) Magazines I don’t read


Because I’m a member of the Independent Feature Project or IFP, I get Filmmaker Magazine, and because I’m a Stanford alumna, I get Stanford Magazine. I don’t have time to read either one, which really means I don’t make time to read them, because I don’t want to. I love my alma mater, and I stay a member of IFP so that I can go to their events (even though I never do) and free Spirit Awards screenings (although I hardly ever do), but I really wish they didn’t send me magazines unsolicited that I have to feel, yes, guilty about not reading. They generally sit on the mail pile until it gets too big, and then end up in the recycling.

12) Solicitations from charities


Damon and I give a fair amount to charity, but the frustrating thing is that, the more you give, the more mail (and email) you get asking you to give. There are so many worthy causes, not least of all, probably, Disabled American Veterans, who I know nothing about, they just happened to be in the pile when I decided to write this. But I really dislike when charities give you free stuff, like mailing labels or cards, expecting you to then feel obligated to make a contribution. Again, as a cheap bastard I love free stuff, but not when it has strings attached. I mean, shouldn’t I give to your cause because I believe in it and know that my money is going to go to people in need rather than to making mailing labels with someone’s name on them that will just make them feel bad when they throw them away? And you already know how I feel about the manipulative, grab-you-by-the-emotions tagline – complete with the annoying asterisk they borrowed from the credit card industry: 


On a certain level, I suppose a piece of mail like this should be celebrated, because eliciting the response, “Oh fuck you ‘Women for Women’” from a feminist who really wants to support causes that support women is an impressive achievement. Needless to say, it went right in the recycling, unopened.

13) Catalogs


Here’s another thing that it’s hard for me to believe in the internet age: that people still need paper catalogs. I haven’t bought anything at Crate & Barrel in probably 20 years. I kind of thought that they, like Conrans, no longer existed, and I am certainly not about to run out and buy a marble disk topped by a glass pyramid with a nipple on top to display my cheese. But this catalog, again, wasn’t addressed to me, it’s legacy mail addressed to “So-and-So or current resident,” which means it, like the Terminator, is just going to keep coming until the end of time (or until I blow up Crate & Barrel and then crush what’s left in a giant hydraulic press). We also get catalogs for B&H, which I know I am sort of responsible for, having bought stuff there online at some point in the past five years — although now that I know how they treat their employees I plan to go elsewhere (even though Amazon, my next choice, also treats their employees like shit, but at least they distribute the abuse in an equitable manner). Even so, why would I need a gigantic catalog when I’ve been making my purchases from there online? Yeah, see how it makes no sense?


I recently got this catalog for the first time. It is the single most depressing thing in this pile of mail. Why? Because it’s a catalog for a union that represents people “who work in, or are retired from, New York’s schools, colleges, and healthcare facilities,” where everything can be paid for on the installment plan. What could be a sadder indictment of America than that? And for details of just how sad, just turn to page 31, where they’re selling a Princess Diamond Bridal Set for 26 payments of $38.46.


14) Ads for radio stations


I put this in a separate category from the other advertising because this might actually be the saddest indictment of America in my pile of mail. Not only has Z100 become a terrible pop station owned by Clear Channel, a behemoth bully of a conglomerate which now dominates the airwaves thanks to the deregulation of the industry in the 90s, guaranteeing that the ten or 20 songs on its playlists – which are really just basically five songs considering how many of them sound the same – will probably be the only music you’ll ever hear on the radio. On top of that, their big giveaway in this ad is not tickets to a concert, or a meeting with your favorite pop star, no, they’re offering to pay your bills. Thusly, this ad displays a combination of how untrammeled business interests are killing our society, the dominance of sameness and celebrity in pop culture, and the fact that our economy has all but crushed the middle class in a hydraulic press – all in one, neat, graphic design horror of a package.

It’s interesting that I started this wondering what my mail said about me and ended up thinking about what it says about us…right around the time I had a job inside NYC’s central post office. 


Sure, it looks fantastic from the outside, but inside is a warren of abandoned, decaying offices, like the one pictured at the top of this post, and interminable hallways straight out of a Coen Brothers film, if there had ever been a Coen Brothers film about wandering around for fifteen minutes trying to find a bathroom. And while you wander the halls, you listen to the cries of seagulls who for some reason circle the skies over head (control-click on that and open it in a new tab to listen while you look at the pictures, that way you’ll be the full effect), adding to the eerie and surreal nature of the place that makes it perfect for filming dream sequences (which is what we were doing there), and you come upon crazy shit, like a pedestal for a missing sculpture, or a yellowing flier for a lost balloon, or a strange collage on a bulletin board that was once for mail handlers that looks like it was put together by someone who the postal system has driven off the deep end – all of which also seems like it just has to be the product of an inventive mind with a penchant for the bizarre.


And so I leave you with this decaying edifice housing a dying institution in dire financial straits as a metaphor for where we’re at right now. We are a nation of people with too many messages and too little free time because we work too much and make too little. We’re struggling to keep up with how the world is changing and our place in it while being suckered into thinking we want things that we don’t need, and that the only way to get them is to do exactly what we’re told by predatory entities who have no qualms about using our deepest fears and longings to get us to give them what little most of us have left. It’s not surprising that Donald Trump appeals to a large swath of America right now, and even if/when he loses, the problems that brought us his candidacy won’t have gone away. We’ll still have a lot of thinking to do about how we ended up in this crazy place, and how the hell we can get out.