March 19th, 2009

Birthday Twitter:
Cut the Idle Shit

Posted in Death, Reading, Writing by ed


IT OCCURS to me to mark if not celebrate my birthday with Twittering reports from the frontlines of life across this March 19.

Also: to add a sub-category — Writing — to the Conversation database under Arts & Private Life.

Why didn’t I think of that before?

Because I never write about writing here, it would seem.

Right, then. Well, at the moment:

Going thru paper markup. Best readings are on paper, not screen — as this afternoon, sitting in the 58 degree sunshine on the Brooklyn Heights Promenade, overlooking the tail end of the East River and the harbor, Statue of Liberty, Brooklyn Bridge, Wall Street melting, melting …

What can ever be more stately and admirable to me than mast-hemmed Manhattan, river and sunset and scallop-edged waves …?

The current screenplay, set in Brooklyn, stars Walt Whitman: The heroine, a fifty-year old black woman, shares his surname, his spirit, and perhaps his blood. 

This darn script is dear to my heart, being about facing death, which a number of close people have done in recent years. No one ever wins. The story is about not losing.

“Great, great … Sounds like an art film. Black and white? Great, great …”



I’ve never worked on a script longer than four months before.  But this one, the seventh, since … August 2006. Many drafts, each greater spiritually, and now materially, by the latter which I mean the deadly page count, now less than 130, which puts it in the realm of things sendable to strangers in the movie biz.

All the other scripts: Political stories.  Character-driven low-key thrillers, one might say.  Graham Greene stuff, one might dare.

Was told re these stories in 2003 — when my fine Old School agent, so proudly acquired with much time and labor, threw up his hands and retired to Paris in response to the invasion of Iraq …

I was then told to stop writing novels, and write screenplays again instead, the novel being dead.

Now it seems they all say nobody anywhere reads an unsolicited screenplay — so write it as a (crummy) book first.

To their credit, they don’t say “novel.” As if to acknowledge in tacit passing, hey, it’s not like we sell novels. We sell books. To movie producers.

When asked in the 80s to name America’s important writers, Gore Vidal replied that it was no longer possible for a writer to be important.

This may have something to do with why I rarely read American novelists my age or younger.  Rarely can I bear to.  (I do mean the real novelists, not the schlock-meisters.)  No, I find even our writers of their generation pretty intolerable and at best tolerably interesting.

Television’s to blame, of course, not only for writers’ lack of facility and style and gravitas, but also for a kind of sophisticated naivete that has made high-brow literature, once again, an art of Consent. 

I was born roughly on the cusp, in 1958.  TV was thin in the 60s, esp early on. And almost all of it was made for adults. 

Today the Tube baby talks. And teaches infants and children how to be people. Shallow Consenting chatterboxes. Who go on to produce the crudest blockbusters. The Alienist. The Lovely Bones.

When Klatuu came to visit, he didn’t sit with a great novelist to talk turkey about the fate of mankind. He sat with a technologist. Perhaps we shouldn’t be too hard on our writers. That they’re no longer competent intellectuals. No longer interesting. No longer capable of speaking with Klatuu. Nobody is. And so he talks with the generals.

But all that aside, I think I don’t read neighboring novelists because novels are about worlds.  This is why they’re so important and thrilling when one is young. They introduce us to the worlds. 

But by 50 one has met the world one shares with neighboring writers.  Knows its irritating little habits. Very hard at that point for a neighbor to interest one in his bemused account of growing up in an artistic family on the Upper West Side.

So one flees to the foreign writers, whose worlds are still largely unknown, even if one has been travelling and reading there for decades. 

And one flees to the past.  The wealth of novels in English from prior centuries is …

Yes.  My greatest treasure.




Before this past Thanksgiving the Brooklyn script was 160 pages. A sperm whale beached. Didn’t matter, however, since the sworn intent was to produce it myself.  Late 2006. Before Wall Street, where I tend to make my living, blew itself to bits.

So now the page count does matter. Cutting back to the 120s, oi … Wasn’t easy.

One would think it’d be easy to simply sit at computer and type one’s own pen-to-paper comments into Movie Magic Screenwriter.  But no …

This wine actually helps — by dulling sensibilities that otherwise would revolt and insist on thinking better about this next comment upon a sentence that has already been retouched a hundred times …

Amid the thickly marked pages, in the third of the heroine’s four scenes with her Death & Dying shrink, a particularly tricky comment repeats four times. And thrice with a Bang:

“Cut the Idle Shit!”

A familiar sort of comment. Not easy to deal with.  Would prefer something specific and editorial per se.

And what’s with the caps? Who is this ass?




I don’t know who painted this last. Let’s say the Midtown Master.

The first, of course, is by Paul Klee: The Twittering Machine.

Then Death and Fire. Also by Klee.

Then a painting by David Dalla Venezia, whom I met at one of his exhibits years ago, somewhere in Italy.

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  1. Drew says:

    Thankfully, I was born into households (parents and grandparents) filled with books and, while I watched a fair share of television, it was more than balanced by the voracious reading of books. History books, in particular, shaped my approach to reality.

    I was born in 1966. As a teen in the 80s, many households did not yet have cable. A VCR did not appear in my home until I was 19.

    For all the TV watching that we did, us kids growing up in the 70s and 80s still had room for copious book consumption. But video games and the Internet — the whole computer-driven distraction — has perhaps closed that gap.

    I did not get cable TV until my mid-twenties, only to give up that — and all television — several years later.

    It cannot be said enough, that the televisation of reality has caused mass atrophying of the human mind, of the human spirit.

    March 22nd, 2009 at 4:26 pm

  2. ed says:

    Indeed, it cannot.

    But it’s been said so much that people think it’s no longer relevant. Last season’s show …

    September 29th, 2009 at 11:21 pm

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