Thursday, March 22, 2012

Chapter 74: In Which I Discuss Agents and Borrowers

First off, big congrats to my friends Madeleine Barnes and Michelle Geck! They both got full scholarships to the Skidmore workshop this summer and I could not be happier for them. As far as writing workshops go, it's the top of top-tier.

Speaking of workshops, I applied to this year's Clarion. Should hear back from them soon as to whether I got in. Until then, I will continue to be that guy who hangs around extremely talented writers.

Recently pitched my work to an agent. Mills has an annual "meet with agents" conference called Pitchfest that I was encouraged to attend. So I put on a suit, went down, hung out for an hour eating cookies and then met with an agent. I'm sure it went awesome for some people, but I was not necessarily in a shilling mood. What was there to pitch? I brought the first few pages of Motley & Plume Players, a manuscript that is not finished, and stumbled and mumbled my way through my fifteen-minute meeting. Had no idea how to talk up the book, or even discuss it coherently. The agent was nice and told me to send the manuscript to her when it is finished and edited. Which will be around two years from now. I told her I would.

So anyway, eh. I talked to some friends who felt really optimistic about their meetings, so that's something. Looking for agents will eventually be paramount, as I'm sure major firms don't accept unsolicited manuscripts. I'll worry about that once I have a novel to publish.

Mills recently hit me with a thousand dollar bill out of nowhere. This is highly frustrating, since I took out the exact amount of loans needed to cover the costs. Or at least I thought I did. Mills never bothered to tell me because they don't stress about small amounts of money, until such point when the student is about to graduate and they want it now. I don't know why the fuss. If I don't pay I don't get a degree, so they hold all the cards. I refuse to take out anymore loans and will just have to conjure the money somehow. One more thing to deal with. It's amazing how the most pressing matters almost ALWAYS come out of left field. 

People ask me if grad school was worth it and nowadays I answer honestly: I don't know. Everything about Mills is colored by an exorbitant tuition coupled with the lack of aid to pay for it. No class, no matter how well-taught, will at the moment feel like it justifies 70 grand. Right now I'm looking at moving from the Bay again, because trying to last on my savings in such a terrible job market will not work. So I tell people that I absolutely need a year or two of hindsight in order to assess what I got from Mills, other than the degree.

I'm sure I come across as cynical sometimes, and there's a lot to be cynical about. Overall, I think grad school has put me in a positive place. It's the only time I've been able to put writing as the center of my life. At every other point, the art has been something I've had to prioritize alongside things like work or social justice or general studies. The last two years in general have revolved around brainstorming, working on pieces, researching for them, scheduling readings, participating in workshops, and working to meet deadlines. I specifically took the time to focus on creative writing and that's what I've been doing. Like all things Edenic, it won't last. In fact, it will be over in two months. But it's been a good time.

The Secret World of Arrietty
I saw The Secret World of Arrietty recently. If you don't know, that's the new Studio Ghibli film, an adaptation of The Borrowers. People keep adapting that book. Perhaps I should read it.

Beautiful movie. Absolutely stunning, especially the way they blend image and music. It's about Arrietty, a 14-year-old girl who's only a few inches tall. She lives in the basement of a house and is a Borrower, a race of tiny people who "borrow" everything they need from humans (or "Beans" as she calls them). The movie deals with her burgeoning friendship with Sean, a human boy who is very ill, and her family's sudden need to move because humans have discovered them.

Movies like this are why animation exists. It's a quiet, patient movie, and is all about images and atmosphere. Just what would it be like to be so small? I loved the way they use sound to create a feeling of Arrietty's world, where a ticking clock or rainfall is magnified huge in her ears. The whoosh of Sean's hand as it descends to pick up Arrietty. I love the way they use scale to make a scavenger crow seem like the most giant, menacing creature in the world. I love the design of her house where everything is made from discarded human things like coins and stamps and nails. Just such wonderful worldbuilding. The part where Arrietty accompanies her dad on her first borrowing is worth the price of admission. And on that note, the soundtrack is full of lovely songs that I just had to youtube after I got out the theatre. It provides a perfect compliment to the visuals.

And there's a sadness to the film. Arrietty's family suspects they are the last Borrowers left. Others of their kind have fallen victim to humans. Their existence is a lonely one. They are vulnerable and scared and very distrustful of humans, and they have reason to be. Unlike other fairy folk who have that connection to nature, they are just as distrustful of animals. They know a rat or crow would like to gnaw on them. The plot reminded me of The Secret of Nimh, with the family moving to new place. It's within this desperate situation that Arrietty meets her first friend.

I've always adored the way Ghibli handles love. Except for Howl's Moving Castle, Miyazaki himself never dealt with romantic love between two adults. But his studio understands the feelings that young people have for each other can be just as intense as when they get older. Sean and Arrietty have these feelings, but she's moving, and she's distrustful, and he has a bad hard, and their different species, and their friendship is just so fleeting. Even as they get closer, they're really moving farther apart. That doesn't make their team-up any less beautiful.

It's rare for me to see such a well-done, character-based cartoon. This is not Hayao Miyazaki, but directed by a young Ghibli ingenue, and was apparently very popular in Japan. To think that a secondary Ghibli production has this level of love behind it is mind-boggling. It's just inspiring.

Which brings me to...the trailers.

I'm not the type of otaku to poop on all American film, but...goddamn. Arrietty proves that you don't need constant action and dumb jokes to make a captivating children's film. They did it with compelling characters and artistry. And what do they put before it? The new Madagascar movie, Mirror Mirror Chimpanzee, and DreamWorks' bastardization of Dr. Seuss' The Lorax.

I felt like I was sitting through that shit for an hour.

There were also trailers for Pirates: Band of Misfits and Brave. Neither preview set my world on fire, but Aardman and Pixar will always get benefit of the doubt from me. Their the modern dreammakers and I trust them.

But the rest of that crap? To their credit, they finally cobbled together a Lorax preview that mentioned deforestation among the cutesy short jokes. The Julia Roberts movie looked like an old Cannon Movie Tale. Madagascar? Sometimes I wonder if these people actually like being filmmakers. Like, do they genuinely enjoy making test market-ready nonsense?

You can be commercial and still make art. Pixar's done it for twenty years. Their standard of quality is so high that even a cash grab like Cars 2 has something worth watching. Which is why the previews pissed me off. They looked awful and pandering. And there's no excuse.

It's like when Jim Cornette trashes hardcore wrestling. Would you rather be doing beautiful displays of athleticism in front of 30000 people, or would you rather be maiming yourself for the pleasure of 30 drunk troglodytes? It's the same thing. Would you rather be Madagascar or Arrietty? Would you rather make something that will stand the test of time or something disposed of when these kids reach puberty? Art is a gift. Don't waste it.

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