Let's Pause for a Moment of Clarity (the good, the bad, and the BS a la "Entourage")


"Entourage" is (in a bright and hilarious nutshell) all the reasons I don't aspire to live in LA, but last night's ep featuring screenwriter Aaron Sorkin (as himself) and that guy who shall forever be the Nihilist from The Big Lebowski (as an overzealous security guard) inspired a moment of clarity about the under-appreciated benevolent side of BS and the over-arcing truth that keeps creative industry alive on both coasts.

[###SPOILER ALERT###]
Hardcore "Entourage" fans, please be advised I'm going to mention something that happens late in the script of Season 6, Ep 8 "The Sorkin Notes." You've been warned. No whining. (Also note that the video clip below is not work safe.)

The Sorkin storyline revolves around an uber-important meeting for which Andrew (played ridiculously well by Gary Cole) must retrieve crucial notes from the angry grasp of his estranged wife. As his personal life and career simultaneously circle the drain, Andrew takes extreme measures...

So Andrew ends up in jail, and the meeting takes place through the safety glass at county lockup. At first, he attempts a tepid pitch, suggesting Sorkin should get into directing.

"I don't want to direct," Sorkin says. "I'm a writer. I like writing."

Andrew struggles for a moment, then says, "Act as if you have faith, and faith shall be given to you."

Sounds like Tao, but Sorkin quickly pegs it as a line from "The West Wing." The assassination episode. Had it been tossed out in the pristine conference room, it would have been a lame suck-up thing to say, but in this setting, the line visibly means something to Andrew. He experiences a moment of clarity, and despairing, lays himself bare.

"I drove into my own house for you, Aaron," he says. "My own under-insured, over-priced Beverly Hills mother-fucking home. I took my car, and I put it in gear, and I drove right into my own goddamn living room. For you. Now who else would do that?"

He breaks down weeping. Sorkin raps a knuckle on the glass and says with understated but genuine compassion, "I had a rough divorce, too. I get it. We'll give it a shot."

Of course, they quickly recover with a parting shot that restores the sharp wit and lets you know you're watching HBO, not Hallmark, but the ep ends doing what this show does so well: laughing at the biz it's in and reminding us that creative industries are populated with creative people who are (as almost all people are) essentially good.

For a while, hard-edged snark was the new black in both Hollywood and New York, but it's definitely fading. In tough times, kindness and candor are as refreshing -- and as necessary -- as oxygen and cold water. BS becomes less useful as a grappling hook and more beneficial as a greeting card. People in Hollywood seem to have a much better grasp on this concept than New York publishing folk, and we need to take a lesson from that. People in Hollywood, however, could learn something from the old-school publishing tradition of telling it like it is. (Notice I said "old-school"; blogging and twittering is loaded -- and uploaded -- with cocktail party crap.)

When someone in Hollywood says they love my books, think I'm genius, want to option blah blah blah -- I've learned to take this with a sizable grain (read "truckload") of salt. Coming from the publishing world where agents are wisely loathe to offer any ray of sunlight that can't be backed up with a dotted line, I was baffled at first as to why someone would toy with a writer's desperate hopes like that. I came to understand that flattery is a rain dance everyone does in that culture. It's a way to open the door for networking or to bring a newcomer to the conversation up to speed without emphasizing the horrifying reality that most of those at the table never heard of you.

Hollywood is hard, and everyone there knows it. The last thing anyone needs is another smackdown. What does it really hurt to say something nice?

On the flip side, there's the benefit of being the bullshitter: "Act as if you have faith, and faith shall be given to you." Apply that dynamic to caring about what someone else is saying. Finding something about their work to appreciate. Seeing hope in a scenario that feels bleak at first glance. That's right, darlings, I'm saying "Fake it till you make it." Slam a sunny look on your face and forge ahead. Groaning and bitching about how tough the book industry is right now is not helpful.

All that said, there's also an immediate need for candor with others and honesty with ourselves. There are times when protocol fails and a moment of clarity is called for. That takes guts, because we're not on a sitcom where problems get unraveled in a 2 1/2 minute Come to Jesus scene. Publishing is so much about relationship building, one overly blunt phone call or late night email rant can do a lot of damage, but so can equivocating or mealy-mouthing about what's going on, what you need, or what you're willing to put up with.

It's insanely tough out there for writers right now; the ground is shifting daily beneath our feet. It's imperative that we be true to ourselves as artists and solidly grown up as professionals. There's always a gracious way to say what needs to be said, and the longer you stew in your juices -- ruminating, obsessing, trying to read between the lines -- the harder it is to find the right words. (Helpful Hint: Candor always goes down better on the phone or in person, but back it up with a well-crafted, unemotional, respectful email to clarify your meaning and leave an unmistakable paper trail.)

The primary evil of BS is that if the hearer buys into it, s/he can no longer tell the difference between genuine interest and empty flattery. But if you know who you are ("I'm a writer. I like writing.") and you understand that "money talks and BS walks," everything clearly weighs in for what it's worth. And a kind word is worth something, even if it's not offered with a contract. Give it a shot.

Comments

marjorie said…
for reasons i don't care to go into, this post really hit home for me today. i simply gotta learn to smile more, personalize less.

and in the spirit of clarity: i want to say thank you, joni, for how lovely and generous you have been with advice about ghosting/cowriting. my book with crystal renn comes out sept 8, and i SO appreciate the guidance you've offered about this whole nutty business.

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