Monday, March 19, 2007


Had an acting class tonight. First class. I didn't perform, just watched other students doing their pieces. A mixed bag, including some obviously talented people, but there was one girl there who just utterly pwned the entire room.

She was very smart, I think, but it wasn't anything to do with her intelligence. She was sexy, but that wasn't it either. She was just working her ass off from the moment she started to the moment she ended. Or more accurately, from moments before she started until moments after she ended -- and when she was done, and the teacher gave his critique, she was working her ass off through every second of that as well. Instead of bowing to the teacher's authority or striving to be independent, or just sitting it out and not even listening, all of which are tempting responses to a teacher's critique, she was working intensely to get every last ounce of useful information out of every single word. There was no high school power dynamic running through her head; it was all about working.

If there's one thing programming and acting have in common, it's that talent isn't what makes success. Talent is a necessary prerequisite for success, but hard work is what actually makes it happen. In schools, when I was a kid, they got everything backwards. Good grades meant you were smart, bad grades meant you were stupid, and the consolation prize was a star for effort. Research has shown, however, that praising kids' intelligence is actively counterproductive, while praising their work ethic encourages them to develop it. The prize you get for effort shouldn't be the consolation prize. It should be the only prize.

Because that's pretty much how it is in real life.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Wrote A Screenplay

I finally finished a screenplay. I started it in January or possibly December. Unless you count previous attempts at writing the same screenplay. I've written it several times. This is really the first good version. I know that one of the main scenes, I was working on it in 1999 or 1998, because I remember a conversation about it with my roommate and my girlfriend at the time. So I've been working on it off and on for at least 8 years. Possibly more.

It's weird. There's a sense of triumph to this, on that level it's very satisfying, but there's also a sense like you get when school's out for the summer, and you've gotten used to the freedom, but you've gotten bored of going to the movies with your friends or getting stoned, and you're wondering what to do with all the time on your hands.

I suppose I can get back to learning Cantonese. Or obtain a social life. I had one of those, once. It was nice.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Drinking Yeats

My family's Irish on my mother's side, and not Irish as in Chicago Irish, or Irish as in Boston Irish -- Irish as in born and raised in County Waterford in Ireland.

This is being Irish. My great-aunt Greta read tarot cards for people in her village. One time my mother and my aunt, young girls at the time, watched her read the cards for someone, and asked her afterwards why she had read them incorrectly. Greta replied that such terrible things were going to happen that she could not bring herself to say them. Soon they all happened. Another time a woman from the village came by to get holy water which Greta had promised her, claiming it would cure her warts. Greta had forgotten all about it, so she ran upstairs, emptied a bottle of aspirin, filled it with tap water, and said it was the holy water she had promised to provide. A week and a half later, the woman's warts were gone.

St. Patrick's Day is a very nice thing, but there's a lot more to being Irish than alcoholism and red hair. I really don't drink at all, and my hair is brown, but when I'm telling a great story and I fill it with lies because I know they'll make the story better, I'm being Irish. When I'll fight someone to the death over something that doesn't even matter, I'm being Irish. Irishness is a passionate and moody thing.


by: W.B. Yeats

All the heavy days are over;
Leave the body's coloured pride
Underneath the grass and clover,
With the feet laid side by side.

One with her are mirth and duty;
Bear the gold-embroidered dress,
For she needs not her sad beauty,
To the scented oaken press.

Hers the kiss of Mother Mary,
The long hair is on her face;
Still she goes with footsteps wary
Full of earth's old timid grace.

With white feet of angels seven
Her white feet go glimmering;
And above the deep of heaven,
Flame on flame, and wing on wing.

It's true that the Irish drink, and it's true that we'll take any excuse to party, but that means something so different in America. So different as to be virtually meaningless. To drink like an Irishman is not to be able to hold your liquor; it's to go where Yeats goes. Yeats can get there with words, while the average Irishman has to travel by lager, but it's the same destination. It's a painful place and a beautiful place. When I hear Americans say they can drink like Irishmen, I honestly don't know whether to envy their ignorance or pity it.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Why Stealing Is Absolutely OK

I just saw Lost In Translation the other day, and immediately watched it again last night. I'll probably watch it a third time this weekend. I went and downloaded Roxy Music "More Than This" after I saw the movie, but the irony is, I can't really listen to the song all the way through, because it totally brings back the emotions of the movie, and that movie was very powerful.

So anyway. I always liked that song, the Roxy Music song -- "More Than This" -- before I saw this movie, but I never really respected it. I always thought the melody on the verse stole really blatantly from the Moody Blues song "Your Wildest Dreams." But after seeing Lost In Translation, my attitude is totally altered, because where "Your Wildest Dreams" wraps its romanticism in an escapist wistfulness that makes it safe and harmless, "More Than This" gives you the same romanticism without any shelter from its consequences. There is no escapist wistfulness to it; there is simply love, or, alternatively, death. This ties in with the movie, of course, but that's the point. Roxy Music totally stole from the Moody Blues, in terms of the melody, but the relationship between "More Than This" and Lost In Translation is what makes it impossible for me to listen to the song without a strong emotional reaction. The emotional reaction is a reaction to the song, but it's really an emotional reaction to the movie. Or is it? I'm not sure. Maybe it's really an emotional reaction to the movie; maybe it's that the movie made me realize what the song was about in the first place. I'd never actually listened to the lyrics before; Bryan Ferry's voice was never really clear enough that I could tell what the words were. Was it simply the transference of the emotions from the movie, or simply taking it seriously enough to listen to the words for the first time? Either way, I have a new appreciation for it.

This is why stealing, in anything creative, is totally OK. Talent borrows; genius steals. If Lost In Translation made "More Than This" into its song, "More Than This" is a richer work for having been stolen.

I guess this is obvious, but if you're ever doing any kind of creative work, and holding back on an idea you have because it's a variation on something that originally came from somebody else, screw that. Go ahead and do it anyway. That's the meaning of "talent borrows, genius steals." If Lost In Translation had been less of a movie, it would have borrowed the distant echoes of Roxy Music's thunder, instead of stealing its lightning.