How Writing is Like Acting

Writers and actors are a lot alike. Sure, the professions play different roles in the American imagination: actors are cast as sun-kissed faces of California dreams, and writers are portrayed as solitary, often curmudgeonly creatures; actors conjure ideas of red carpet wishes and designer-clad dreams, writers a wooly cardigan and a cozy cabin, or some similarly hermetic locale. But though actors peddle in scenes and writers work in syllables, the mechanics and business of these professions are very much the same.

And while the most obvious parallel is that actors and writers are both entertainers, which explains there are so many actors who are also writers — Tina Fey, Steve Martin, Tom Hanks, and Jamie Lee Curtis, to name a few, there are more nuanced similarities, as well.

Preamble accomplished, here are 15.5 ways writers are like actors.

[Note, this is not an exhaustive list. If you have a suggestion, let me know in the comments.]

1. Proceed with Caution — There’s an old joke that every LA waiter has a headshot at the ready. The same could be said about New York baristas and novels. Yes, the waiter could have a novel and the barista a headshot, but you get the gist: Just as there are scads of young, bright-eyed ingenues vying for acting gigs, there are just as many young, bright-eyed literary types trying to get published – all absolutely sure they have “it.”

In other words, writing and acting are both crowded, competitive, and all together quixotic career paths. Success is rare, and so is financial payoff. Nantucket? More like a cramped apartment. Designer dreams? Try a thrift store knock-off.

Considering the odds of success or monetary security, it’s therefore best that aspiring writers, like their theatrical counterparts, find a plan B. Unless, of course, you want a lifetime of debt, deadlines, nary a retirement plan and, most terrifying of all, writer’s block!

2. Mission: Audition — The process is different, but actors and writers both audition for their roles/bylines, and I dare say writers’ pitches are more difficult. While actors must undergo the nerve-wracking experience of auditioning for a room full of strangers, they at least have outlets like Backstage or agents who can tell them more about the part, i.e. “Sally, a twenty-something waitress waiting for her big break after fleeing her alcoholic mother.”

Writers don’t have such luxuries. We do have Submittable, where editors post editorial asks, or maybe an outlet will announce a specific theme, but for the most part writers stumble around in the rhetorical dark, sending cold emails to editors and hoping against hope we get a reply — which is essentially an audition without the script, name recognition, or the benefit of a face-to-face meeting.

Even when you do have name recognition or a previous relationship with an editor, that’s no guarantee of publication — I was just rejected by two editors with whom I’ve worked for years.

On that note…

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Found in the LOC: Vintage Posters Celebrating Books

 

Tuesday is traditionally the day book publishers release their latest titles. No one knows why they do this on Tuesdays. Literally no one.  Some say believe it’s about optimizing best-seller results; some say that it’s to make life easy for distributors. But whatever the reason, I’m celebrating this week’s new book day with FIVE sets of vintage posters celebrating the written word, all sourced from the Library of Congress.

The first gallery is perhaps the most relevant to today: created between 1935 and 1942 by the government-backed Works Progress Administration, they urge patriotic Americans to embrace books as democratic tools. “To speak up for democracy, read up on democracy,” reads one, while another insists “Books are Weapons.”

In an era defined by a famously anti-intellectual president’s existential threat to our nation’s most storied institutions and norms, these are important reminders.

The second set of posters, born from a World War I collaboration between the Society of Illustrators and the Committee on Public Information, implores Americans to send books “over there” for our troops.

Third up: A circa 1936-1940 series of really fun WPA PSAs from the “Be Kind to Books Club.” One piece of advice: don’t gum it up!

Similarly, the fourth gallery celebrates Book Weeks from between 1949 and 1964. It’s fascinating to see the aesthetic shift over the years – and keep your eyes peeled for a piece by Maurice Sendak.

Meanwhile, the fifth and final collection, created by the National Association of Booksellers way back in the 1920s, suggests you buy books as gifts – advice I endorse any day of the week!

Read up on Democracy:

See the rest AFTER THE JUMP!

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Toni Frissell Broke The Fashion Mold: Gallery

Toni Frissell at one of her favorite places, a ski slope.

Happy New York Fashion Week to clothes horses everywhere! In honor of the sartorial splendor currently unfurling across the Big Apple, here’s a collection of images by Toni Frissell.

A groundbreaking photographer whose privileged upbringing garnered her access to the most famous faces and places, it was Frissell’s innate talent and innovative styling that made her a household name. Rather than taking typical fashion shots of static mannequin-esque models, Frissell brought her models into the world, showing that women were active participants in life, not mere observers. This approach earned her coveted features in Vogue, Harper’s, and Sports Illustrated, the latter of which also satisfied Frissell’s love of athletic endeavors.

Frissell also turned her lens beyond fashion: she worked for the American Red Cross and military during World War II to get front-line shots, as well as behind-the-scenes images, such as those glorious shots of Tuskegee Airmen preparing to defend democracy.

Described by Life magazine in 1966 as “The Patrician photographer of a vanishing age,” Frissell’s images are timeless.

Here, to get you in the NYFW mood, are 12 exceptional Frissell shots, all found at the Library of Congress.

See ’em all, AFTER THE JUMP!

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Joe Magarac Is Every Immigrant

 

Meet Joe Magarac. He’s basically the Paul Bunyan of steel. He’s 7 feet tall, like Paul; he’s a workhorse, like Paul; and, like Paul, he’s superhuman: lumberjack Bunyan’s ax-swing could clear an entire forest, while Magarac’s made of 100% steel, like Colossus from the X-Men. And both men represent their respective industries’ crucial roles in America’s development. But Bunyan’s symbolic reach is bound to the Northwoods forests from which he hails; immigrant Magarac, on the other hand, illustrates a broader American experience, and a more timeless one, too.

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Meet Me at FAROUT

I’m happy to announce that I’ll be editing and contributing to a new website, FAROUT.

Produced by Spring Design Partners, FAROUT explores the intersection of innovation and sustainability, illustrating how today’s unconventional becomes tomorrow’s norm.

Our first piece is on how the raised fist went from fringe symbol to cultural phenomenon.

New pieces will be published every Tuesday and Thursday. I do hope you’ll read it on the reg.

Found in the LOC: 7 Augustus Washington Daguerreotypes

It’s unclear what ambitions Augustus Washington had growing up in Trenton, NJ, circa the 1820s and 1830s. It definitely wasn’t daguerreotypist. But a daguerreotypist he became – in 1843, to pay for his tuition at Dartmouth.

While growing student debt forced him from school one year later, daguerreotypes stuck, and became Washington’s bread and butter: He opened his own studio in Hartford, CT, in 1846, where he spent the next handful of years taking pictures of locals looking to experience his new-fangled technology.  Below you see an ad for said studio, with the caption, “Washington is at home, and daily executing beautiful and correct Miniatures, equal to any in this country, at his uncommonly cheap prices.”

But Washington was more than a talented artist. He was an activist. The son of a former slave father and an Asian mother, Washington fought racial injustice his whole life. But “that curious institution” of slavery was still extremely entrenched in the 1840s and 1850s; Washington was well aware he and his allies faced an uphill battle, and at times he felt hopeless, an emotion evident in this 1851 quote Washington gave the New York Tribune:

“Strange as it may appear, whatever may be a colored man’s natural capacity and literary attainments, I believe that, as soon as he leaves the academic halls to mingle in the only society he can find in the United States, unless he be a minister or lecturer, he must and will retrograde.”

Washington grew so frustrated with America’s intractable discrimination that in 1853 he moved his family – a wife and two children – to Liberia, where many like-minded black Americans were establishing their own nation.

Once there, Washington took his place behind the camera again, this time turning his lens to burgeoning Liberia’s political, military, and social elite. Below are a few of those images. In each and every one we see self-assuredness, independence and pride, all evidence of the subjects’ and Liberia’s determination to create something beautiful, a new world, from something grotesque, old hate.

These are some of Washington’s last professional images. He transitioned from daguerreotypes to the more lucrative sugar cane business in the late 1850s, and then to politics: He was both a congressman and senator in the 1860s, including a stint as speaker of Liberia’s House of Representatives, from 1865-1869. Washington died in 1875, having never again setting foot inside the States.

Here, in case you’re interested – and you should be – are lucky number 7 of Washington’s daguerreotypes, all taken during his early years in the then-new nation of Liberia, and all Found in the LOC.

  1. Unidentified man, half-length portrait, three-quarters to the left:

 

2. Stephen Allen Benson, head-and-shoulders portrait, three-quarters to the left:

 

3. Urias A. McGill, half-length portrait, facing front:

 

4. Unidentified man with beard, half-length portrait, full face:

 

5. Unidentified woman, probably a member of the Urias McGill family, three-quarter length portrait, facing front, holding daguerreotype case:

 

6. Jane Roberts, three-quarter length portrait of a woman, full face:

 

7. Joseph Jenkins Roberts, half-length portrait, full face:

Walking Paris in ‘What’s Left of the Night’

I’ve been slacking around these parts lately on account of a new job, but I aim to get back up to full speed ASAP. As I do, please ruminate on this stirring excerpt from What’s Left of the Night, Ersi Sotiropoulos’ soulful  and erotic account of C.P. Cavafy’s 1897 visit to Paris, when the Egyptiot Greek poet was 34,  still unknown, and finding his creative voice.

Exquisitely translated by Karen Emmerich, What’s Left of the Night delves into more than Cavafy’s personal experiences as a man struggling with his same-sex desires in restrictive era. It shines a light on far more universal debates about the nature of art in an ever-changing world. Does art bring people together or form a barrier? How is artistic success defined? And when does artistic desire become obsession?

These enthralling topics aside, I’d like to call out Sotiropoulos’ masterful description, and Emmerich’s resonant translation, of walking through the city.

As someone who spent 12 years in New York, where walking is a way of life, before moving three years ago to Atlanta, where the car is king, this passage sparked pangs of nostalgia for the biped life.

Here, for your enjoyment, is that excerpt. It takes place just as night falls across Paris and a young  Constantine Peter Cavafy takes a solo stroll. While the backdrop’s the City of Lights specifically, the vibe translates to any bustling urban environ:

“He soon began to feel better. The current of the crowd flowed in the direction of the grand boulevards, over wide sidewalks dotted with cafes, beneath awnings and into arcades where strangers’ silhouettes fleetingly took shape, then vanished again.

A blind river pulled him into its current. He inhaled deeply and followed that vibrant ripple in the hum and dust. Crowds overflowed the intersections, lingered at shop windows before indolently setting off again beside stylish coaches and one-horse buggies that clattered away into the lilac night. Newspaper boys on street corners bellowed out the latest news. Where the road met Rue des Pyramides he stopped and stood as if hypnotized. Faces rushed toward him, shattering as they passed. The traffic began an utter crush at Rue di Rivoli, where the arches of the Lourvre loomed like a domed seawall. Groups of friends disappeared down side streets. Their stroll would no doubt take them, later on, to more remote districts, off the beaten path. Secret, ill-famed neighborhoods. Shadowy doorways and basement rooms, he though, feeling a flutter within.

A mob of musicians was just ahead of him, lurching this way and that, laughing and shouting drunkenly. One of them was dragging a monkey by the hand, dressed like a soldier with a little cap. He increased his speed so as to overtake them. Light flooded the paving stones, spread over the facades of the buildings, trailed over the silvery roofs — a fluid, shadowless light. As he walked, the lines of a poem he was writing came to mind. Every so often he would pick it up, poke and prod, then let it be. He had looked back at it recently and had been satisfied. Very satisfied. It didn’t happen often. The musicality was flawless, the rhyme effective:

The city will follow you. The roads you wander will be

The same. And in the same quarters you’ll grow old, and see.”

What’s Left of the Night is out now from New Vessel Press, an independent publishing house devoted to translated literature and narrative nonfiction, and I’m happy to add it to All the LGBT Books Around My House.