Jeremy's Weblog

I recently graduated from Harvard Law School. This is my weblog. It tries to be funny. E-mail me if you like it. For an index of what's lurking in the archives, sorted by category, click here.

Thursday, March 17, 2005

On Reading and Writing, Sort Of

Okay, I have a post that's been circling in my head for a little while. I think I bored my grandma on the phone a few days ago with a little monologue on the subject, and I've been waiting to feel compelled to ramble about it on here. This is long and kind of scattered. I'm sorry. I should edit myself.

I wrote a few weeks ago after seeing the Hasty Pudding show at Harvard that what disappointed me was the lack of a point of view, the lack of something interesting the show had to say. It wasn't unentertaining, it was just sort of irrelevant. And I've started to realize that there's a common thread in what books I enjoy, what movies and TV I like to watch, what kinds of music I listen to, and, to some degree, who I enjoy being around in real life. In my post from a couple of days ago about the lack of a creative community here, I mentioned that the creative writing workshop I was part of last semester was a little bit frustrating because of the push toward stories driven by action and plot. Action and plot are good things. Even if I didn't believe that was true, thousands of years of creation would be against me on that point. Action and plot are good things.

But I don't find myself reading stuff because of the plot. I don't find myself compelled to go see movies because of the plot. I'm compelled by the point of view, by the voice, by the thought that the person who wrote this has something to say. That he or she is someone whose head I want to get into. I've been reading more fiction recently than I used to, but the fiction I'm drawn to is almost exclusively first-person narrator, not third person. It's stuff where I'm able to get inside the head of a character who's smart and thoughtful and interesting -- to a good extent, where I feel like the narrator is getting me into the author's head more than anything else.

And when I find something -- in any medium -- that I like, I feel like the direction I look to go in is not necessarily to find other things like what I liked, but to find whatever else the writer has created, because it's the writer's voice that's usually what's compelling me more than anything else, and I want to know more of it.

"The West Wing" was great when Aaron Sorkin was writing it. It's just less compelling now. The surface reason, I feel like, is that the writing "isn't as good," but I feel like, on a slightly deeper level, it's because I felt like Aaron Sorkin was a smart, interesting guy, and I was interested in what he had to say. And what he had to say came through in the episodes. So it's more than just "good writing" I was looking for; it's his writing.

I like "Everwood" on the WB, even though it's borderline soap-opera. I just feel like there's some spark there that transcends the characters and the plot, that there's something deeper and interesting going on in the writing. So when I read that Greg Berlanti, who created "Everwood," had created "Jack and Bobby," I started watching that too, and it's similarly good.

And conversely, if I don't care how a writer's mind works, if I don't find myself compelled and interested in the voice, then I'm not really interested in anything they're creating, even if the story is great, even if the characters are great -- if I don't trust the writer, if the writer isn't someone whose thoughts I'm interested in, then it feels irrelevant and like it doesn't much matter.

Maybe everyone feels this way and it's so obvious as to not be worth articulation. But I feel like this is sort of the point of creation. That you need to have interesting things to say, or why are you bothering to create, and that there needs to be some sort of emotional truth behind them, some sense of the author, some feeling that the audience can make a connection -- or it's not worth it. Stand-up comedy frustrates me in this respect. I feel like a lot of it is so interchangeable -- jokes that anyone can deliver, that have no emotional truth relevant to the person delivering them, that don't give you any insight or connection into the comedian. And so it's a waste. Why bother? There's no reason to care. But the stuff, for me, that works, is the stuff where you do get a sense of the person, where you can see how their mind is working, where you can gain a little bit of insight into their personality and character, and see a little bit of that connection.

And, for me, I feel like it's why I'm motivated to write. I want to feel connected to other people, I want my writing to reflect what's going on in my head, I want to have an actual point of view, a voice, and something original to say, that reflects what goes on in my head, and that it's not just wordplay or interchangeable content that anyone could be writing.

I was talking to some friends for a second about a book and I said it wasn't interesting to me mostly because I just didn't care what the author had to say. That it could have been about anything, but I'm not curious about what goes on in the author's head, I'm not really compelled to know how she thinks, or what she's thinking about, or what her interior monologue is like. So I don't care. But that a story I read, that a mutual friend of ours had written, that was interesting -- not because of what the story was about, but because I feel like he's an interesting, compelling person, and the writing let me get into his head, and that was cool. I want to know how he thinks. So no matter what it's about, I'm interested.

And I feel like this translates into real life too. And, again, maybe this is true for everyone and obvious and I'm just rambling needlessly. But the people I know who I really think of as friends and really like spending time around are people who I feel like think interesting things. Whose interior monologues are interesting and compelling and worth getting a glimpse of. Who I want to find a connection with, and who I think there is a connection with. I don't know if any of this makes sense or I'm just writing gobbledygook to spit it out and say I wrote something, but whatever, there it is....