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A Search for the Real -- Teaching and Things

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Dear R___________,

I'm on a plane flying from New Orleans to Los Angeles, my weekly trip. I have to say I love this teaching thing. I guess I love the purity of the situation, the smaller, bite-sized egos instead of the huge gorilla egos of the professional world. Of course there are a few in every bunch who don't understand how hard it is to make it in the professional world, who think they're better than they are because they are still in the sheltered world of the university, untried in the realm of professional competition. I find more of the latter type among undergrads, but among this younger crowd I also find more students who are open to suggestions. But the flip side of this situation is when one finds a student who is truly talented, one who is doing incredible work at such a young age. I don't know if I have any of those among my current undergrads; maybe, they're pretty keen. I think there are some graduate students in the film programs that will go on to have careers (if they are in a MFA program they have already been vetted to an extent). So, in these cases, the super-talented weird ones, I suppose the key is knowing when and how to stand out of their way and how to guide material that has tons of potential but is slightly askew.

Anyway, I am teaching six classes in all different kinds of disciplines, on both coasts. And I have turned all of the classes -- whether they are performance classes, directing classes, art classes, or writing classes -- into production-oriented, class-wide collaborations. I love when they make stuff because I can frame each class in such a way that the work can go out into the world. The level of work doesn't matter because it is an honest portrait of the students. The honesty is primary; the portrait quality of the work makes it feel like a kid's drawing framed by an adult's concept. It's also nice to be able to control the material studied and how it's talked about. I had so many classes, especially creative ones, where I hated what we were doing or the kinds of material my peers were interested in. In my current position I can guide the subject matter, especially in the classes where I bring in the source material to be adapted.

***

The election stuff is pretty cool. It feels like we can all exhale for a minute. I know a few people who got raped, and they were waiting to find out if it was God's will or not. Good to know it wasn't.

***

I saw a few films. Turns out that Flight is an addiction film. I had no idea. The editing of the first half is thrilling. Most of the film is spent watching an alcoholic hit bottom. Denzel plays an emotionally destitute man to the hilt, a pilot who drinks and does coke before flying: a pretty risky role to play, putting his stardom on the line. He even shows himself out of shape with his shirt off. It's pretty cool, realistic; I like it. But he also gets to have two affairs with the most beautiful women possible: a sexy exotic stewardess and a recovering junkie who looks like she was shooting up whole milk instead of heroin, a redheaded girl-next-door type. Denzel's crumbling drinker also conveniently has an old farmhouse straight out of House and Garden that he can escape to. Oh yeah, and his alcoholism didn't lead to any problems on the plane; his drinking was incidental to any of the deaths -- you see, he is the greatest pilot who ever lived. That's all to say Denzel plays an alcoholic very well and gives a very vulnerable performance, but he still gets to be the coolest alcoholic hitting bottom who has ever been portrayed.

***

The Sessions is also not bad. Mesmerizing. How they make a story about a paralyzed man interesting for 90 minutes is praiseworthy. Much of it is due to John Hawkes's performance, and much is due to the subject matter: sex, baby. We love sex even if we say we don't. So it's nice to have a movie that embraces the essentials of the sex act. Helen Hunt can't call herself a prostitute, which is fine; maybe she isn't. But she is being paid for sex, and we love her for it. It's nice to acknowledge how important human interaction is. It takes a movie about a 40-year-old virgin who can't even masturbate to allow us to embrace sex as a storytelling device -- as opposed to gratuitous schlock -- but that's fine; I'm glad it is happening.

***

Hmmmm, what else? My first chapbook came out, Strongest of the Litter, but people seem to be more interested in who I'm dating than poetry. Oh yeah, I got nominated for a National Entertainment Journalism award for these HuffPost blogs, but no other outlet is going to run that story, right? Hahaha -- why would Gawker or the New York Post want to publicize that an actor/Yale doctoral candidate is nominated for an award for something that they are doing themselves? I'm pretty proud of it, but I can see why they must hate me.

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