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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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:

MLK Jr. On Getting ‘Woke’ in 1965

On June 14, 1965, Martin Luther King Jr gave the commencement address at Oberlin College. It had been two years after his iconic 1963 “I Have a Dream” speech at the March on Washington, and this oratory was meant to keep young Americans engaged and encouraged in a civil rights battle that was beginning to drag.

Entitled “Remaining Awake Through a Great Revolution,” King’s speech lays out the three rules for winning the civil rights movement.  He says, in short, 1) the globalized world has become a neighborhood; we must make it a brotherhood; 2) we must eradicate racial discrimination, a note to which I added economic, gendered and sexual, all three of which I am sure King would support; and, 3), we must approach rivals with non-violence. Dr. King of course was far more elegant, eloquent and masterful, so, without further ado, a truncated text version of MLK Jr.’s speech that day, as well as audio from a 1968 delivery in DC.

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Kylie Jenner and The Cult of Self-Made

The internet had a collective meltdown after Forbes described Kylie Jenner as “self-made” last summer. Many critics railed against Jenner’s privileged upbringing; others pointed out socioeconomic systems are inherently unequal; and the rest mostly noted there’s no such thing as self-made — no person’s an island, no lipstick developed alone, and all that.

One’s opinion of Jenner’s self-made status aside, the “self-made mogul” kerfuffle presented a terrific opportunity to explore the origins of “self-made” in America, its centrality in our national myth, and the dangerous expectations it creates.

I didn’t have a chance to write about this very pressing matter when the story first broke, but now, as 2018 comes to a close, here are a few words on Kylie Jenner and the timeless cult of “self-made.”

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ICYI 2018 Year in Review

Whoa. Where did 2018 go? I guess it doesn’t matter. It’s nearly done now. To celebrate, here are ten of my favorite stories from ICYI over the past twelve months, in no particular order.

Brett Kavanaugh’s Drinking Problem

Join, or Die, America’ First Meme

All the LGBT Books Around My House

Was Pocahontas Her Real Name?

Lyndon Johnson Hated The Graduate

“Daybreak,” Over and Over.

16 Posters By Graphic Great Lester Beall

The Incredible Arthur Ellerman

Found in the LOC: A Cat’s Autobiography

Paul Revere: Art Thief