Initially, I’d thought to go Thursday through Sunday, day by day, since a lot happened each day in my 4-day b-day blowout. Instead, moving topically through the terrain seems like a more cohesive method of conveyance.
All-Things Jonathan Franzen:
I’m about half way through re-reading his 3rd novel, 2001′s The Corrections, and what I’ve immediately noticed this time is the increased strength of his prose from the end of his 2nd novel to the beginning of this one. Don’t get me wrong, I love his first novel, The 27th City and most of Strong Motion, but he is on a whole new level here. All of this, of course, is in preparation for his new novel, Freedom, which my mother got me for my birthday and which has been earning him immense praise. TIME magazine had him on the cover as the new Great American Novelist, and he was just recently on “Fresh Air with Terry Gross” discussing the novel as well as his relationship to blog-favorite David Foster Wallace. They’re very different writers. VERY. I first read The Corrections the spring of my freshman year of college; and things have changed since I was 19. It’s still very high on my list of favorite novels, but I can safely say its #1 slot has been reconsidered. That doesn’t mean it isn’t brilliant. It is. The characters’ obsession with viewing their lives in terms of the corrections they’re making to either their parents or siblings or neighbors or society-at-large is so universal yet always incredibly specific within the story’s context. And the way Franzen allows the main character of each section to subtly influence the 3rd person omniscient narrator is one of my favorite aspects of the book. He gets inside so many disparate perspectives so completely that the reader identifies with each one. It also moves very nicely, setting up plot, providing character exposition, establishing themes, exploring ideas and relationships – he weaves these seamlessly into and out of each other so that the book never feels like it’s moving too slowly (his previous novel did unfortunately feel like bout 65% exposition), but also never ignores an important aspect. That is quite a balancing act.
The more I thought about it, the happier I got. As soon as I hit on the idea for my Birthday Party, I knew it was going to be interesting and fun. I haven’t had a “party” per se in a long time (I think since I was 21 – wow), but this year was a good twist on it. Instead of a regular party, we had a screening night. We got pizza, we drank some good beer (thanks to my friend Will, I was in full supply of Delirium Nocturnum all night), ate some lemon cake courtesy of a good cook I know, and watched seven short films made by or starring people in my circle of friends – all of which led up to the public unveiling of my new short film, “Reservations,” which many in attendance were also a part of.
I’ve watched it probably ten times in the last few weeks with various small groups of people (including my mother who miraculously liked it and didn’t chide me on the abundant use of the term “asshole”) – each time taking notes and making adjustments and re-watching to see how it all worked – and the incontrovertible result is a better film now than the one I had a month ago. It pays to listen to intelligent people. The night of the party was its biggest audience, maybe 15-20 people, and it proved to confirm that I had made the film I thought I was making and one that I am proud of. But the evening was better than just that. It was more about the immense talent pool within this group of people; people with unexpectedly greater reserves and abilities than their surfaces suggest (one girl said as much about my movie, too: “I don’t want you to take this the wrong way, but I liked your movie a lot more than I expected to.”). Fair enough.
(NOTE: I recorded the commentary track with Tyler Smith and David Bax of “Battleship Pretension,” and you can Buy the DVD through their site, in fact. Which you should. Now.)
Battleship Pretension Live:
Everyone loves a good show, and this one was great. The first two live events were both solid in their own right, but – and I hope I’m being impartial – this one felt very complete. It’s half comedy show, half panel discussion, which creates a very interesting (and compelling) flow to the evening. I was fortunate to be asked to provide the show’s introduction, and it was with great relish that I constructed an opening to both celebrate and mock both the occasion and hosts. The writing was a sortof throwback to the introductions to my own short-lived (though astutely completed) podcast, “Experts and Intermediates,” in which the goal was to created concentric linguistic circles around the topic and then end with a clever punch-line. Because words can be fun toys. Also great is our traditional migration to the Mexican restaurant down the street. A tall Long Island Iced Tea, decent chips & salsa, good food, crappy service – it’s the complete package.
The highlight of the evening (aside from their giving away a copy of “Reservations” as a prize and my giving each of the show’s four guests a copy as well) was hands-down the story told by character actor Stephen Tobolowsky. I’ve previously explained the brilliance of his own podcast, “The Tobolowsky Files,” and he brought that same dynamic in person: the specificity of just the right details, the perfect blend of comedy and heart, the way he constructs meaning from life experience. I expected him to read from a typed version of his story, but he didn’t need it. He electrified the entire place with a story about a “chain” of The American Opinion Bookstore, during his preparation for “Mississippi Burning,” playing the clan leader Clayton Townley. His story concerned his journey to research his character, and the books he brought in earned an outright gasp from everybody. So did the story’s climax. You’ll hear it when the show is posted, but it was a mesmerizing moment. The fact that I got to talk to him briefly afterwards about working with “Deadwood” creator David Milch – and the fact that he had even more stories to tell about him!!! – was an extra special birthday treat.
Someone asked me if this was a good birthday. I’m 27 now, an age I actually quite like (I’m not kidding, I like the number itself), and while I can’t say if this was “the best” birthday, because I didn’t have enough time to think about it on the spot, I do know it wasn’t the worst. It was better than just a day: it was a weekend spent with friends in celebration of another year alive, my first year in California, and the wonderful combination of friendship and artistry. So, yeah, maybe this was the best, because what could be better?