What piece of advice for aspiring writers would you think most crucial? In my opinion, all advice to writers tends to be reductionist in nature, attempts to decomplexify a complex and mysterious combination of factors that bear on the process, and I try to avoid giving it. Instead I usually invoke quotes from artists that represent a spectral range of fundamental truths. One huge concept is coming into acceptance that we’re not always going to be happy with what we produce; as Hemingway was reputed to have said, “I write one page of masterpiece to ninety-one pages of shit.” On a more positive note, though, there’s really only one set of immutable principles: “Find a subject you care about and which you in your heart feel others should care about” (Kurt Vonnegut); “write the book you want to read” (Austin Kleon); but, mainly, just write (Nike).
Revising/editing: labor of love or torture tour? That really depends on whether one enjoys the process of writing on any level; these are inseparable concepts. Hemingway, again, is said to have rewritten the last page of A Farewell to Arms thirty-nine times. I rewrote this response numerous times. And I don’t know about you, but I’m having a blast.
Criticism: major motivator or background noise? This is tougher to answer. In an age of star-chamber social (and anti-social) media, it’s hard to remain impervious to the churning of the criticism mill. Even if you have a stout ego. So I might opt for a third-rail response here: neither motivator nor irritant, but very possibly murderous. I think we all have to do a serious check-in with our capacity for criticism, and deal with it as necessary. Leaving Facebook alone for a week or so may be a good start.
Art for art’s sake, or show me the money? When you can tell me what exactly ‘art’ is, I’ll be able to respond more fully. For now, I’ve yet to see how one can sustain a creative life without some compensation. So it’s really a trick question.
We’re putting together your theme music. What do we play when you enter the room? Some mashup of Bowie, Sinatra, and U2 dancing a Tango. Can we do that?
What are six things you could never do without? My son, Daniel; Bugs Bunny cartoons; pencils; coffee; friends; Sudafed.
What are you most likely to be found doing at a party? This depends on whether and to what extent I’m drinking. If you’d asked me 30 years ago I might have said ‘flirting.’ Come to think of it . . .
How will you remember 2011? When?
The most embarrassing thing that happened to you at school? Easy. High school in Lakewood, New Jersey, a small community not far from where Snooki resides. One day we were all treated to a special assembly in the gym, where a hypnotist entertained us with what, in retrospect, now seems to be a questionable act for a school-wide assembly. As a thespian of some repute (ok, I was the lead in the school production of Bells are Ringing), I felt obliged to volunteer to be ‘put under.’ It turns out I am a very good subject for hypnotism. In addition to believing that I was I a terrified passenger on a plane hurtling to the ground, I also was absolutely certain that everyone in the bleachers was in their skivvies. I still remember being asked to describe the assistant principal, a portly religious man with an uncorroborated reputation for ‘disappearing’ badly behaved boys. I was aware of what I was doing on some level, yet unable to stop myself from twisting, contorting, and reddening as I attempted to describe a scary fat guy I believed was standing there in his underwear. Excruciating, still.
Wine or beer? Definitely wine. Red. On the dry side. I believe I acquired a strong unconscious aversion to beer when I was 12 and had to pretend at parties that I was drinking it quickly. I can now reveal that my lips were tightly closed as I tilted the can or bottle up.
A great hero or a great villain? I think I’m more attracted to those iffy, could-go-either-way characters. Ahab vs. Moby Dick? Dracula? Even The Joker has some heroic quality deeply submerged in his damaged psyche. But please keep him locked up.
Three filmmakers you admire? This is kind of like narrowing down water molecules. I’ll go with historical figures, that way I’m less likely to offend living legends: Eisenstein, Chaplin, Griffith, Hitchcock, Kubrick, Kramer. (Note to living legends: Scorsese, Herzog, Lucas, Spielberg, Kasdan, Errol Morris, Godard, Woody, Clint, Resnais, Levinson, and others – don’t worry, you’re on the list.)
If you could only have one book, what would it be? Again, I’ll have to violate the numerical limitation: The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius; Essays on the Gita; Thomas Paine’s The American Crisis; Anything by Shel Silverstein or Dr. Seuss; a T.S. Eliot collection; Joseph Campbell’s The Power of Myth; and possibly Ulysses, because it would take a lifetime just to figure it out.
One unfulfilled dream? I want to be Brad Pitt. But I’d be quite happy as Tom Cruise.