I really enjoy being an entertainment journalist. Not only does it have that diamond-rare ring to it in the way that astronaut or brain surgeon does, but it also connects me to a vast network of creativity. I’ve always found that when I’m surrounded by creativity, I become more creative. The last time I really experienced this phenomenon in any tangible way was when I was collecting debt for Sears back in 2000 (or around there). When you’re on the phones every minute of the workday, you try to keep your mind entertained by multitasking, like when you’re on long drives. You keep part of your consciousness focused on the road, but the rest of your mind floats around to other matters, like your to-do list, an argument you’ve recently had or, in my case, the next scene to your screenplay. At the Sears debt collection call center, I focused on my sketches while I listened to delinquent customers offer up ridiculous reasons as to why they couldn’t pay. Sometimes they would alter their voice to convince they were someone else – as if I knew what their original voice sounded like in the first place. Most of the time they just yelled at me. Anyway, I sketched. People started to notice and I was slowly absorbed into a circle of artists within the call center. We’d pass around a leather-bound sketch book and compile our art. The pieces I added weren’t groundbreaking or even that skillfully rendered, but what I learned was how to produce just to produce. I got into the habit of creating. When you want to get into a creative field, there’s no greater skill than to be habitually creative so that when Joe Producer asks you for an idea or Joan Editor asks you for a story pitch you’ll be able to cough up something decent. In short, now that I’m doing what I do – such as it is – I’m loving every moment.
I’m even enjoying the long drive in to Los Angeles. There’s something absurdly exciting about driving towards LA during rush hour and seeing the other side of the freeway crawling along. The feeling is kind of like that scene in Gattaca where two of the characters are trying to out-swim each other into the ocean and the narrator states, “…knowing each stroke forward meant another stroke back.” In my case, each minute towards LA meant another five minutes back. It’s also like that scene in Independence Day when the protagonists are in the only car headed toward the Capitol while the other side of the highway is at a standstill trying to get out. Now that I think about it, that last image isn’t very comforting. In any event, I’m getting to know Los Angeles a lot better. I’m approaching the point where I take detours on the fly when the freeway jams up and not get lost without a map.
Then there are the publicists and the other journos. I love talking to these people. You know how people in general like movies? So you can typically find someone to talk about movies with in a very broad, high level conversation. If you’re looking for more dispassionate and deeper discourse, however, entertainment journalists cannot be beat. I think that’s one of the reasons I love arriving early to junkets – sitting at the roundtable and dishing and bloviating about films and celebs. The other reason is the free food. More than for just the esoteric information that entertainment journos have, I enjoy conversation with these people because they’re very articulate and naturally amateur standup comedians in their own right. I think that last bit is from too many years of trying to cleverly phrase something in an article. Even better, it’s probably from too many years of having too many clever phrases that they won’t all fit into articles so these writers naturally work them into conversations just so their cleverness wasn’t wasted.
Lastly and probably most importantly, I simply enjoy writing. It’s the least frustrating way to express myself. I think that frustration is part and parcel to any creative person’s being, because it’s very rare that people are able to communicate exactly what they’re trying to express. I witness and experience communication breakdown on a daily basis, which is frustrating in and of itself. Now imagine how a singer feels when he or she can’t hit a particular note or how a dancer feels when he or she isn’t limber enough to pull off a move. It’s the same frustration except amplified tenfold because creativity is the mode of communication these people are passionate about. Such is the way with me. I can’t relate to you how many wasted nights I’ve spent hunched over pieces of paper with pencil in hand, waiting to draw. Then when inspiration finally comes I watch helplessly as my mind refuses to communicate with my fingers and I turn out a garbled mess. Sure, I’m occasionally able to turn out something that won’t make eyes bleed, but they’re rarely what I had intended to create. They’re just happy coincidences, but how can any artist really be happy with that outcome? So while I sometimes experience the creative frustration of not having the right word for something I’m trying to write, most of what I pen is exactly what I wanted to say – excluding the numerous typos and grammatical errors, natch.
In many ways, writing is very ritualistic for me. I typically don’t perform well during the day, which is why I’m continually impressed at my output at my day job where I’m sat underneath a loudspeaker that’s constantly used to page people. I’m also right next to the sales department and filtering out their sales calls is a daily battle. In any event, I think my best work comes at night or close to it. I function best with a caffeinated beverage and two cigarettes – or a cigarette and clove – make for great simple rewards after I finish a difficult passage or the entire piece. The other day I was smoking on my patio, watching the sun set and I remember thinking to myself that this was the life! I’m not looking for riches or fame, but I won’t reject them either. At the end of the day, I just want to live comfortably and do what I love.
Scratch that. I think maybe I am looking for fame. The other day I was writing a review of Barbra Streisand’s 2006 concert and I was working on some compliments about her performance and I was overwhelmed by this notion that all I do is write about other people’s lives. Sometimes I’m critical. Most of the time I celebrate the success of their projects. The entire time, however, I’m jealous. When will the day come that someone else is writing about me? I’m hopeful that that day isn’t too far off. In the meantime, I have to resign myself to keep plugging away and jumping on the opportunities that present themselves.
In 2005 I was talking with a fellow journo, Rick, from the Fresno Bee. We were at a press conference and we had some downtime while talent was being rotated out. I remember raising the point that perhaps our roles as journalists are ultimately meaningless, because all we do is follow the lives of other people. He retorted that while our subjects aren’t as important as, say, politics or human rights events, people still want to know about these particular people, so in that sense he feels like he provides an important public service. I try to remember that every time I write.