Taking a break

Blogging has become quite tedious for me right now. This post is something I am typing out to effectively give myself permission to take a (hopefully brief) hiatus. The issue is that I don’t have much that I really want to say on this blog right now, and I would rather invest my creative energy in something constructive as opposed to fretting about my lack of recent blog posts.

I have no intention of deleting this blog, however. Links to my writing will continue to live here and original posts will (eventually) resume.

Bukowski on Mickey Mouse

Charles Bukowski hated Mickey Mouse. No. Seriously. 

With that in mind I found this 1963 Chicago Literary Times interview somewhat amusing.

Arnold Kaye: To get down to more serious matters, what influence do you feel Mickey Mouse has had on the American imagination?

Bukowski: Tough. Tough, indeed. I would say that Mickey Mouse had a greater influence on the American public than Shakespeare, Milton, Dante, Rabelais, Shostakovich, Lenin, and/or Van Gogh. Which says “What?” about the American public. Disneyland remains the central attraction of Southern California, but the graveyard remains our reality.

Adaptation is scary. Even when it’s fictional.

I’ve watched or listened to work I’ve written be performed exactly four times now. The pieces consisted of two one-act plays (one staged in two different productions) and, more recently, my flash piece “Frankenstein’s Monster” narrated in podcast form. I consider myself fortunate in that I’ve never been totally disgusted with any of the final products. In fact, on the balance I think they’ve turned out quite well (which isn’t to say I’ve always agreed with every choice made in the production process).

Nothing is quite so exciting (or terrifying) as handing over your work with the knowledge that someone else intends to bring it to life. I say this after two one act plays and a podcast. I can only imagine what it’s like for authors who have their work turned into feature films.

I suspect many people find the process frightening because it necessarily requires you to give up creative control. It takes many people to bring even a short fiction piece to life, and like it or not you are trusting them not to deliver any cataclysmic fuck-ups.

Personally I am not overly concerned with control. What gives me anxiety is that a team of actors and others will breathe life into my work only to demonstrate that… well… the work itself is stupid.

There is a certain cognitive bias called the Dunning-Kruger effect

wherein unskilled individuals suffer from illusory superiority, mistakenly assessing their ability to be much higher than is accurate. This bias is attributed to a metacognitive inability of the unskilled to recognize their ineptitude. Conversely, highly skilled individuals tend to underestimate their relative competence, erroneously assuming that tasks that are easy for them are also easy for others.

So the really horrible thing about being a no-talent hack is that you are much less likely to realize you’re a no-talent hack. And if there are enough deluded, no-talent hacks out there some of them may decide that your crappy story would make a great (by great what they really mean is crappy) podcast/play/film/television series.

Of course this fear is completely irrational. You’ll probably never know if you’re actually any good, or if the work based on your work is any good. Which is why the only  measuring stick I hold to any performance based on my work is whether I enjoy it.

By that standard I guess I’m pretty happy with how things have turned out.

Writing is more athletic than artistic

The more I write the more I realize writing is less like some hippy-dippy journey of self-discovery and more like training for a marathon. Maybe a decathlon. There is nothing dreamy or romantic about coming home from a ten-hour workday to sit down in front of a laptop and hammer out that night’s thousand words.

Writing is a caffeine-fueled endurance test. It requires a tremendous commitment of mental and physical energy. It requires discipline and perseverance.  I would venture to guess that even the loopiest, spaciest artiste possesses these qualities in spades. Otherwise he’d never get anything done.

“Keep the mundane world out”

As I sit down to write today I am thinking of a passage from Stephen King’s wonderful book, On Writing (probably because I totally wasted an evening I had blocked out for writing the other day and am feeling guilty about it):

If possible there should be no telephone in your writing room, certainly no TV or videogames for you to fool around with. If there’s a window, draw the curtains or pull down the shades unless it looks out at a blank wall. For any writer, but for the beginning writer in particular, it’s wise to eliminate every possible distraction. If you continue to write, you will begin to filter out these distractions naturally, but at the start it’s best to try and take care of them before you write. I work to loud music — hard rock stuff like AC/DC, Guns ‘n Roses, and Metallica have always been particular favorites — but for me the music is just another way of shutting the door. It surrounds me, keeps the mundane world out. When you write, you want to get rid of the world, do you not? Of course you do.When you’re writing, you’re creating your own worlds.

I’m at the point in my writing career where I don’t need to isolate myself completely to be productive. I do, however, need to create the same “bubble” around myself that King describes in his book. Just something I think is worth thinking about.

Finance is just telling stories with numbers

I recently spoke with one of the founding principals at the financial firm where I work.

“What did you major in?” he asked.

“English,” I replied.

“That’s fantastic,” he said. “That’s a great major.”

I couldn’t help but laugh. His comment was so fundamentally at odds with everything I’ve heard over the last three years as I worked to build up my credibility within the industry. So I asked him why he felt that way — because pretty much everyone else I have ever spoken to about my professional goals has warned me my educational background will always be a huge liability.

He explained that English majors can think critically, put ideas together in a logical way, and most importantly, communicate that information clearly to people who need it. Everything else in finance can be taught on the job, he said.

His comments got me thinking more about my writing, and the path that led me from a writing career to one in finance. And I’ve realized that what I do isn’t so different from writing after all. Finance is all about telling a story (hopefully not fictional — though the way some research is written you would never know it). It’s just that financial stories are written in an entirely different language.

A valuation model, for example, is nothing more than a formal mathematical structure for a particular story, the way one narrative structure may work better for a certain fictional story than another. At the end of the day a valuation model tells the story of a company, or another asset, and why it might be worth X as opposed to say, Y. The characters may be cash flows and discount rates as opposed to adventurers and monsters. Sure, a discounted cash flow valuation of Unilever may not read like Lord of the Rings, but both the valuation and the novel are telling stories, and both should flow logically from beginning to end. I happen to find valuation every bit as compelling as swords and sorcery (a kind of mental illness, if you ask my girlfriend). A decent salary doesn’t hurt, either.

The moral of the story, as far as I’m concerned, is that we need to disabuse ourselves of the notion that there are “math people” and “writing people,” or “creative people” and “business people,” and that these labels are somehow mutually exclusive. It simply isn’t true.

Writing in process

My writing schedule suffered some major disruption recently as a result of my job search (which ended quite well, incidentally). With that professional goal accomplished, I should be able to ease back into my regular writing routine.

I’ve got three projects in process right now:

  • My novella, The Bazaar, continues inching toward the end of its serial run, week-by-week. I will be self-publishing this once all the installments have been posted to the blog.
  • My short story, “Tail Risk,” is with a beta reader (aka my girlfriend – she reads a lot and ran her college newspaper though, so she’s pretty legit). I am also shopping for cover art. This story, too, will join “Vampire Brides from Planet Hell” on Amazon when finished.
  • My latest flash fiction piece, “Frankenstien’s Monster,” is submitted and in process over at Every Day Fiction.

Updates to follow!