Sunday, October 22, 2006

Top of the Heap

Someone is sketching me right now, while I work. He’s either sketching me, or the band behind me. Normally, it would be wise to assume that he’s sketching the band; they are far more interesting. However, two or three times I looked up and he was staring at me, and each time, he flashed a devilish grin and quickly looked away.

And now that I can see a bit of his sketch pad, I can tell I’m right: he finished the top of my forehead and it has my characteristic scowl I get while working, a muscular twitch often confused with deep thinking. Many have called it “the dead stare.”

No creative person wants to be the subject; that means someone else has a broader perspective. That’s why I’m writing about him while he’s drawing me. (I’m hoping that one of the dozens of people around with laptops has not noticed this silly game and one-upped the both of us).

Newspapers are like this, too. When a publication effectively and convincingly writes about media, it somehow transcends the muddle in the middle, and comes off as a journal of great authority.

Joan Didion, in The White Album, writes about this perspective while visiting Nancy Reagan at the California Governor’s Mansion. Several television crews keeps rearranging the former First Lady, asking her to fake nipping a bud for a better shot. Didion considers taking one step back, and writing about the whole process, rather than just Nancy Reagan and her flower bed.

In 1999, Frank Rich wrote a long, lead story for The New York Times Magazine — American Pseudo — going behind-the-scenes of The Talented Mr. Ripley for an article about identity. A few years later, The New Yorker published a long piece on a Hollywood power agent, and casually mentioned how the Rich piece came to be, as well as the terms of the agreement.

(Woe that my books are all in boxes, or surely I would have included fascinating quotations from all these essays).

(While I tried to get these sentences readable, the guy stopped sketching and left).

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