Am I not smart anymore?

Here’s what I’m a little bummed about right now: I haven’t written what I consider a real blog post (primarily text, longer than a few lines, and not recycled) since “My month with Kenneth,” published on November 10.  When I think about writing an articulate, coherent post that has a meaningful message, I feel really tired.

For example, you need to have transitions in good writing.  Transitions are really hard to write!  (Maybe I need to lay off on my English 102 students.)  I don’t know how to transition into my next paragraph, so I’m just going to jump topics, if that’s okay with you.

There’s a difference between having ideas for writing and actually writing.  I experience the former all the time.  I have so many screenplay ideas in my head, I would probably have a good statistical probability of winning an Oscar if I actually wrote all of them and saw them made into movies.  Examples: Best Adapted Screenplay: Dickens’s A Tale of Two Cities, starring Tom Hiddleston and J. J. Feild (because the screenwriter gets to do the casting, obviously); Best Original Screenplay: Sam’s Home (there’s a pun in that title), a bittersweet comedy about a 30-ish guy with depression who’s had some setbacks and is now back living with his parents and working in the same Italian restaurant he worked at in high school (it sounds like it’s been done before, but I have fresh angles).

See, that paragraph was easy to write!  Because I didn’t have to put sentences together logically; I just used a lot of parentheses.

I used to be able to write really brilliant stuff.  The other day I was thinking about some of my best work: my master’s thesis about eating and bodies in George Eliot’s novels, the short story about Cain and Esau in a diner that I wrote in 2009, the paper I wrote on Moneyball and masculinity in a doctoral film class.  I’ve even written some blog posts that I’m pretty proud of.  (See my archives, at left.)  But now, this is the kind of writing I do every day: “Hey guys, we need to have a meeting about Topic X and Topic Y.  How does June 15 sound?”  After a day of writing that kind of stuff, I’m too mentally tired to write a blog post, or to actually start penning one of those screenplays (although I did read a couple of books on screenplay last summer), or (are you kidding me?) write something scholarly.

Does this mean that my creativity is sapped, that my argumentation skills have significantly waned, that my vocabulary has shrunk, or–as my title sadly suggests–that I’m just not smart anymore?

Or, is one of these three more optimistic things true (I know; “things” is a weak noun)?

  1. I just have to set aside time for writing, as Daniel Silvia has told me in How to Write a Lot.  Perhaps I was lucky in the past and was frequently struck with inspiration, but I shouldn’t expect that to be par for the course (ugh, cliche!).  Maybe if I actually sat down and said, “I’m going to write now,” I would come up with something brilliant.
  2. I can still write pretty decent prose–I mean, I’m writing this post!
  3. The “Hey guys” emails, the comments I write on my students’ papers, the Instagram photo captions–maybe those are actually just as brilliant as those old papers and stories I’m really proud of.  They’re just different kinds of brilliance for different contexts.  Maybe?

Working for an audience of one

This is part two in my series on examples of young professionals in recent movies.

2. Please your boss and ignore the naysayers.
If you’ve been following my blog recently, you know that this summer I wrote a paper about Moneyball. During the research process, which consisted mostly of watching the movie over and over, I found another inspiring young professional in Jonah Hill’s character Peter Brand, a mid-twenties economist whose unorthodox ideas and lack of sports experience make him unpopular with the establishment–i.e., the Oakland A’s scouts and coaches, who call him (disparagingly) “the kid” and (irrelevantly) “Google boy.” Peter makes the smart choice to ignore those people and concentrate on continuing to impress the person who’s actually his boss, Billy Beane. He does his job and lets Billy take care of the jerks. This story demonstrates that often all you need is one person to see that you’re doing good work and thus to champion your cause. It is helpful, though not absolutely necessary, if that person is your boss.

Next post: more Anna Kendrick, plus lessons in professionalism from a horror movie.

Haunted by dead European males

I’m working on my Moneyball paper, and I’m afraid I’m about to argue myself out of the point I’m trying to make.  I want to argue that Moneyball isn’t really about money; it’s about worth, something for which money is merely a symbol.  But the evil little Marxist inside my head keeps saying that everything is about money, and that by silencing the issue, the film is complicit in the economic disparity it initially gestures toward critiquing.  I think the evil little Marxist’s argument is reductive, but I don’t know how to refute it.  I just can’t buy that everything is about money.  Similarly, as intrigued as I am by Freud’s ideas, I just can’t buy that EVERYTHING is a phallic symbol.  Someone did a presentation on Star Wars yesterday in which it seemed that pretty much every scene was a castration, and I was really frustrated.  I think I just need to get OUT OF HERE and back to people who talk about normal stuff.

Penelope hasn’t died.

Weep not for me, my friends.  I’m still alive.  (Someone please tell Hermione Granger to stop using my name as a convenient alias.)  I’m just finishing up my PhD coursework.  (So, not quite alive, actually.)  I fully intend to make a big comeback in August with some really awesome posts, some of which will, I’m sure, draw on some of the themes I’ve been thinking and writing about this summer.  Think that sounds like a snooze?  Think again!!

Preview: I’m working on a paper right now about Moneyball, so get ready, Brad Pitt fans (also Jonah Hill fans).  I might even post a picture of your guy–accompanied, of course, by some amazing insights about the movie.

More thoughts for the Academy

I’m slowly working my way through the Oscar-nominated films that I actually want to see.  I watched Moneyball a couple of weeks ago and really enjoyed it, though I wouldn’t exactly say that my mind was blown.  I just saw The Help this afternoon and liked it in spite of trying hard not to.  I would still like to see The Descendants and Midnight in Paris; the rest of the nominees I could take or leave.

I was looking at the list of nominees the other day and thinking about how few of them I’ve actually seen–and not just in the Best Picture category, but all of them.  I thought, “Did I just not see very many movies this past year?”  That’s somewhat the case; my intense summer of PhD classes didn’t leave me much time for film-going (though I did make an exception mid-July; you get three guesses what the movie was).  But as I reached back into my memory, I recalled that I did see a fair amount of movies released in 2011, and for the most part, they were good movies.  Movies like Crazy Stupid Love, Take Shelter, 50/50, and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 (yes, I’m a bit biased on that last one, but I’m not the only one who thinks it got stiffed).  Even Winnie-the-Pooh: no, it isn’t a Best Picture, but surely it’s better than at least one of the Best Animated Feature Film nominees?  (I’m talking to you, Puss in Boots.)

What I’m saying is nothing new.  You’ve seen this rant plenty of times already if you’ve been paying attention to Oscar buzz at all.  But I’m going to steer my rant in a different direction.  My admonition to my fellow armchair film critics is this: We can’t influence the mercurial tastes of the Academy.  So let’s stop whining, and let’s stop feeling guilty if we don’t see all the films that get nominated.  As I hope my list has shown you (and this is indeed a partial list; I would love to see your additions), good movies come out every year that don’t get recognized.  We can still enjoy those movies, demonstrate our approval of them by paying to see them, and spread the word about them, as I’ve just done.  Seriously.  You should see those movies I mentioned.  I have good taste. 😉

Questions for Hollywoodland

Now that the Golden Globe nominations are out and award season approaches, I would like to throw a couple of rhetorical questions into the vast sea of opinion that will soon begin roiling.

1. We’re going to be seeing a lot of clips from Moneyball over the next few months.  I want to know what the new, trim Jonah Hill thinks when he sees the fat guy in those clips.  Does he hate that guy?  Does he feel sorry for him?  Does he say, “Cheer up, old boy; you’ll be well rid of all that soon enough.”  Or does he think, with a shiver, “There but for the grace of God go I . . . again”?

2. Why can’t the Academy (or the Hollywood Foreign Press, etc.) deign to give one acting nomination to someone from Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2?  I know it’s got a lot going against it: an ensemble cast, placement in a series involving multiple directors (instead of a neat, self-contained package like Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings), the fantasy genre, and the label “children’s movie,” which even the last few films haven’t been able to shake.  I also know that I’m just a silly fangirl, but I think even a more objective observer might be willing to admit that Ralph Fiennes deserves a Best Supporting Actor nod for his riveting portrayal of Voldemort, and that Alan Rickman also deserves one for his equ…ally (get it, superfans?) riveting performance as Severus Snape.  (You don’t have to be on screen for more than a few minutes to garner a Supporting Actor/ess nomination; cf. Viola Davis in Doubt.)  And let’s not forget Daniel Radcliffe.  He would have to be in the Best Actor category (duh), which is harder to break into, especially for a 22-year-old who’s been playing the same role for ten years.  But nobody can justly deny that Daniel Radcliffe has established himself as a serious contender in film.  He won’t get nominated for an acting award this year (unless it’s a Tony?), but we haven’t seen the last of him.