Wednesday, August 26, 2009

"Wrongful Dismissal"

I don’t know why this bothered me, but it did. I can feel the crankiness bubbling up just thinking about it. It’s not good to keep the crankiness inside, where “Mr. Silly Valve” lives, so I’m letting it out.

Venting for health.

Okay. Here we go.

Dr. M and I and another couple go to the movies together. We see Being John Malkovich, written by Charlie Kaufman. I feel the same way about all Charlie Kaufman movies. (Adaptation, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Synecdoche, New York) The first two thirds of the movie is amazing, and the third third is stupid. Either disappointing, or it doesn’t make sense. It’s as if Kaufman’s unwilling to surrender to traditional, story-resolving formulas, but what he’s chosen to replace them with is worse.

I’m all in favor of blazing new creative trails. But Kaufman’s new trails invariably lead to quicksand.

Okay, so after the movie, we go back to the other couple’s house for coffee, and we post mortem Being John Malkovich. Dr. M and I are in general agreement. (We usually are.) The film started great, but at a certain point, it went haywire.

The other couple disagrees. They found Malkovich excitingly imaginative, psychologically illuminating and enormous good fun. Not just the first two thirds of the movie, the whole thing.

So, fine. We have opposing opinions. So what? It’s not like there’s a “right answer.” It’s two different views.

The discussion has been lively and articulate. No agreement, but we’re having a good time.



As the discussion of the movie starts to wind down, the male member of the other couple proclaims this:

“Of course, Earl, I’m not a professional writer. You would certainly know better about these things that I would.”

I sit there in stunned silence. But in my head, there’s a very large explosion. (And a “flashback explosion” at this very moment. Which is not good, since I have a doctor’s appointment in twenty minutes.)

My mind tried to process what had just occurred. By bringing up that I was a professional writer, the guy was suggesting that I was an expert. That’s a compliment. And should be taken as one.

The reason it wasn’t taken as a compliment – by me – was because it didn’t feel like a compliment. It felt like a punch to the gut. Or suspiciously lower.

I’m not getting into the guy’s head. I won’t try to explain why he felt the need to “zing” me. I’ll stick to my own reaction. And my own reaction was this:


Do I know more about writing than that guy? Of course. I’ve been doing it for decades. (I’m doing it right now.) I know how to put stuff together, how to structure a story, how to build to a resolution. I don’t always succeed. Nobody does. But am I an expert in that department?

Yer darn tootin’!

But I also know that when you’re talking about your response to a movie, we’re all experts. My training as a writer, beyond the technical nuts and bolts, doesn’t lift me to some loftier plateau. When it comes to respond, everyone’s equal. You see what they see, and you feel what you feel.

Maybe this guy sensed an unspoken criticism from me, some unconscious message of “You don’t know what you’re talking about.” The guy heard me say, “It’s interesting how people can respond so differently to the same movie” (I actually said that), but he interpreted that as meaning, “You’re an idiot!” So he shot back, saying, in effect, that my opinion didn't count, because it was tainted with expertise.

I don't know, I guess I hurt the guy’s feelings.

But he duzzn’t has to call me “a professional writer.”

That’s really low.
Health Update: It turns out that instead of a heart valve replacement, I get to keep my own valve and just get it repaired. So no pig valve for me. Also, no urgency. That means I’ll be here at least for the next couple of weeks. Pass it on.


Anonymous said...

Good luck with your valve repair--my dad had the pig valve replacement, and it went very smoothly and really improved his health for the last twenty years of his life. It sounds like you're in good hands. And P.S. I totally agree about Charlie Kaufman hit the nail on the head.

Anonymous said...

You're right about Kaufman. And no disrespect to him, but I think he benefits from the 1000 channel universe syndrome, which is to a certain extent a blessing, b/c it lets creativity run a little more freely in regards to pure craftsmanship (we need both). And I get the misunderstanding but let me qualify it - as far as I can see, to paraphrase Mencken, it's more of a pure AngloSaxon thing. Today I had a nice twitter person block me b/c she related hitting on a married man unknowingly and I had the unfortunate idea of pitching my two cents and saying that adultery, however questionable, is still an option. Ouch. I was amazed at how brave she was by posting all this online and meant to celebrate it by being a little out there. But I guess it was not my party. Confirming that English has subtleties beyond the know of man, and that the internet is high school all over again.

Anonymous said...

I have a similar thing in a band. I don't know if you are this way, but I totally welcome "discussion", and making points, trying to come to the best way to play a song, etc. But another's like at the same time as he doesn't really often "get" what a song is about, how it works "mechanically" the sense of nuance, any discussion tends to just get that "you think you know it all, don't you?" attitude, which is not the point. Like you say, there is not right or wrong, but if I think a part in a song is too "busy", I can back up maybe with "because the focus here, the movement is happening just with simple guitar, and later just even the guitar has to settle down to shift the focus" and can state why it works that way...the response "I just think it sounds too...quiet".

Which MIGHT be valid, but you'd have to go deeper..and add "because the singers voice isn't holding the focus" or "because the guitar isn't doing interesting enough things there", but it is a person that doesn't know how to argue and won't enter into the discussion in the right spirit.

Diann said...

I don't know much about heart valves, but it seems like a good thing to be able to keep your own. I hope the surgery goes well.

It's amazing how quickly a conversation can go from open and interesting to ugly and possibly friendship altering, isn't it? I've thought about this a lot recently because I recently had my opinion summarily dismissed by someone who I considered a good friend. Actually, it was 3 weeks ago and so infuriating that I was still ranting about it to myself this morning.

Seriously - if I were to say "she didn't listen to my idea", it sounds childish and immature, but behind it is the feeling that my worldview, my life experiences and my intelligence had been judged and found unworthy of consideration. Is this how you reacted? Or have I just completely gone over the deep end? Actually, don't answer that second one - I don't take criticism well. :)

But what really bothers me is that I didn't say anything in response. I let the subject drop and just stayed mad in my head. I wonder if it is a coincidence that "mad" is used to mean both angry and crazy?

Was your night out recent or actually 10 years ago when the movie was first released? Because I was hoping that I would be able to move past it in a couple of months -although I can imagine still being able to feel the rawness of the insult in years to come (if my memories of adolescence are anything to judge by).

Okay, sorry to rant about myself on your blog - let me know if you figure out how to get over it (unless it involves having a mature discussion about feelings with the offender, 'cause I don't want to go there) and good luck with your surgery.

Noel Larson said...

Earl - First off; great news re: your health! You are a favorite read, and writer of mine and the world would be a less funny place without you!

Re;Kaufman - I wish i could write that well...but there is always something for me personally that takes it from permanent rotation in the DVD player...and it hit me with your post...the endings do all lay flat.

It's interseting that some writers are really great 1st, 2nd or 3rd act folk. Rare is the writer who pops all three consistantly. (If I get a title right I am happy)

This is why having a partner can be great...especially one that tells you A,C and D suck, but B and F have real promise!

Think Lennon/McCartney - we know now that the contributions (especially later) to each others material was very light. But even a slight twist can make a huge difference. Think "Getting Better." John's single contribution was the line "It couldn't get much worse." But the Cherry often makes the Sundae.

For me Charlie is the opposite of Quentin. I love, and will get mocked for I am sure, they way he ties up a story. Sometimes its well over the top, but it is always interesting.

Back to my desk/hole...Grats on the good news!

Brian Scully said...

That's great news, Earl... especially for the pig who gets to keep his healthy valve for himself. However, I may be ordering sausage tomorrow morning, so that pig shouldn't get TOO comfortable. Very happy for you.

A. Buck Short said...

Don't take this the wrong way Earl, but "fascinating." Actually I'd compare it to the faux-honorific you get when a store clerk makes a point of calling you "Sir," as a means of distancing and diminishing you rather than expressing what passes for respect. (It's especially dismissive if you happen to be a woman.) And yet also an effective preemptive.

But this can work both ways of course. I'm convinced half of the guys in the world who are funny sought early in life to develop that reputation, so when they'd unsuccessfully proposition a girl, she'd just assume you were kidding, rather than taking offense.

And in conclusion: Here's a facsimile of what I just fed Ken Levine's blog, because why waste special material on only one usage -- who am I, Bruce Vilanch?

RE: Earl Pomerantz

OMG, I feel so dirty….and culpable! Last Sunday when Earl posted his heart valve scare I was distraught, and prayed, “Please God, if you’ve got to take a Canadian, go with that douchebag reality show killer Ryan Jenkins instead.

Next thing you know, they find Jenkins hanging ala Caradine from a Vancouver motel room coat rack – and now it’s yet another year Earl doesn’t even make the Emmys’ In Memoriam Section.

Anonymous said...

I knew I had found true love when Alan confessed that he also hated "Man of La Mancha" .....over the years, we have added to the list...."Les Mis" "Phantom" and "Cats" to name a few, but I guess "Cats" isn't really fair because everyone hates that....or should.
I also find Kaufman unsatisfactory, eventually.