Friday, April 16, 2010

On Allen Iverson, Packer Fans, and the Creative Process

This is some sort of rambling experiment. If you're more interested in sports than in abstract and potentially nonensical discussions of art and creativity, feel free to skip it.

1. So I'm watching Steve James' 30 For 30 documentary about Allen Iverson (which is excellent, maybe the best of the entire series so far), and there's this moment where he sits down with a local activist, an African-American woman who--understandably, I suppose, given the racial tensions that Iverson's name still evokes in his hometown--expresses the reasons for her reluctance to speak. She isn't sure she trusts James to tell the story properly, in part because he is white. In a way, I get this, but I also found myself thinking, This is the guy who did Hoop Dreams, which is one of the greatest documentaries ever made, and which is certainly one of the best portrayals of the inner-city black American experience in the modern age. Yet even this doesn't earn him any leeway?

I suppose that's proof of James' thesis, which is that the brawl that landed Iverson in legal trouble was the most racially divisive event in his Virginia hometown since the civil rights movement. But James' documentary--which is purposely filtered through his own perspective as a former basketball player whose mother is a prominent resident of the town--also reminded me that creative perception is always, on some level, entirely subjective.

2. I haven't read David Shields' Reality Hunger yet, though I want to. The book is comprised entirely of passages that Shields lifted from other texts and from himself, and one of major points of it (I think) is that we spend far too much time attempting to draw a firm line between fiction and nonfiction, when in fact, there is no real line. Every piece of writing, every documentary, every feature film, is, at some level, filtered through the subjective lens of the author. Maybe we don't want to believe this, but it's true.

3. My third book comes out in four months. This makes me very nervous. I'm nervous for the obvious reasons--I'd like it to sell, so I am able to write more books and pay my electric bill, and I'd lke it to be well-received, to validate my own perceptions--but I'm also nervous because it still seems incredibly strange to spend two years entirely immersed in a project and then one day just spill it out into the world. When you spend that much time doing anything, you have a tremendous train of thoughts about what the themes of your project might be, about what the controversies might be, about what certain people will like and dislike. You need to have these ideas in order to guide whatever thesis you might be going after, but at some level, you know that whatever you think will be seen as wrong. Other people will view your book in completely different ways than you do. They will perceive certain subtextual elements that you never could have imagined.

With this book, I imagine there will be people of my generation who will have seen the '80's in completely different ways than I did. They may have grown up in Green Bay, hating Jim McMahon. They may have been raised in Tuscaloosa and found Bo Jackson an arrogant prick. They have their own biases, their own memories, their own points of view, and when their memories meld with my own, they may equate to something I never could have imagined. They will write reviews on Amazon, and on Goodreads, and they might raise points that are far more complex than mine, or they might just firebomb my entire thesis.

4. This is the first sort-of media mention of my new book. It was in Library Journal, and it's just a one-sentence description, and the most exciting thing about it was that I found myself listed directly below a two-time Pulitzer Prize winner. I didn't mind their blurb at all; I thought it was accurate. Still, just seeing an outside party describe my book at all felt like being detached from my own body; how do they know what I'm writing about? How can they encapsulate two years of work in a single sentence?

For such a long time, this book was mine. It existed only in my own head, and it was colored only by my own thoughts. I suppose the beauty of working in a creative medium is that we get to foist our perceptions on the world in an attempt to somehow contribute to society, but this is also an unceasingly strange way to live, because people will never quite perceive our perceptions the way we perceive them.* It doesn't matter what you do. It doesn't matter if you're Steve James. When you choose to create something, and then allow it into the world, you're always on your own.



WCS said...

This is one of my favorite posts of yours since I started reading the blog 6 or so months ago.

I wonder if/maybe am hypothesizing that the existence of the Internet makes the manuscript to published product leap significantly more nerve-racking. I dunno, I'm not an author. But I would imagine the web--and it's abundance of snark, couch-experts, etc.--makes a writer much more aware of the tendency of others to passionately disagree with (or, more befitting of most Internet discourse, aggressively belittle) one's own perception.

In fact, maybe the web not only vividly exposes this feeling of separateness, but has modestly increased it in the past 15 years. Maybe the Internet has allowed some readers, who a generation ago might have deferred to a more experienced/expert opinion, to believe that their take, their instant opinion, is just as valuable/insightful because there is a comments section that they can post to (hey, look! I'm now an author!). I guess that's why, if I post a comment, which I do only rarely, I always introduce my ideas somewhat tentatively; I'm terrified of becoming one of those people who believe that my opinion is inarguably correct, and say so with gratuitous force. (I'm borrowing in part from what Klosterman said in Dinosaur about how new media inflates how important one believes their own idea are; also, the ideas discussed in You Are Not a Gadget).

I'm not saying a "non-professional" doesn't have anything to contribute, but I'm much more wary of a commenter/reviewer's sage input after dipping their feet in a topic, than the opinion of someone who has immersed themselves in a particular field.

Anyways, what I mostly wanted to say--after indulging myself for a bit--is that I'm looking forward to reading your new book.

Michael Weinreb said...


First, thanks. As I've said previously, I really have no idea where this blog might meander from one day to the next, so I appreciate you and those other very smart readers who are willing to check in on me on a regular basis and make sure I have not completely lost my mind.

Second, I completely agree with nearly all of your points. There is certainly an existential dread in knowing that someone, somewhere, is going to find fault with pretty much anything you do. That "chorus" is increasingly becoming something you have to consciously block out when you're actually writing.

That said, I think intelligent discourse is a pretty cool thing, where it can be found. Maybe there will even be more of it here, though I also plan to rage nonsensically on occasion.