the diary thing 
THERE ARE BUDS ON THE TREES and K. thought it was time for some spring cleaning. I agreed, and we decided that Saturday would be devoted to the task. 

"Which room should we start in?" K. asked.

I pondered for a dramatic second and gave the answer I would have given anyway, without the dramatic pause: 

"The library."

And so we woke up on Saturday morning, drank our lattes, and got to work. "Why don't we start in opposite corners of the room and work around the room till we meet?" I said, and opted to start with the alcove where my desk sits. K. agreed, and started on the far end of the bookshelves by the kitchen.

Hours later, we stopped. The room was only half done, but we were exhausted. I had managed to fill a garbage bag with loose paper and other rubbish, and K. had methodically re-filed most of our books. A corner of the room that had been rendered useless with boxes still-unpacked since we'd moved in (but rendered invisible by being hidden behind the love seat) was clear, though deep impressions still remained in the carpet from the boxes that had sat there since last June. The room looked better, but it still wasn't finished, not by a long shot. Maybe next weekend, we said. 

Four rooms left to go. At this pace, we might be done by August.

I'VE BEEN NOTICING A HAPPY NEW PHENOMENON just lately, a generational shift that's made my life as a writer much more pleasant. More and more, I'm pitching stories and working with editors around my age. It doesn't seem like much -- at 35, it's hardly like I'm a fresh-faced new kid -- but it's made the freelance ritual -- contact, story pitch, call-back, explanatory sell of the pitch, adjustment of pitch to editorial prerogatives, first draft, re-draft, fact-check, final approval, publication, start all over again -- much more pleasant.

Okay, here are the facts. For the better part of my career as a writer (spanning a decade and a half), I've been working with editors who fit into the boomer demographic. They have had, on average, two to three decades of experience in the business, having fought their way to a desk position and financial security after their own time in the freelance wilderness. They might be anywhere from five to twenty-five years older than me, and their attitudes might range from patiently encouraging to unmistakably hostile. More often than not, they gave me the impression of dealing with writers grudgingly. The process of pitching stories to them was an uphill battle -- cultural references had to be explained, or translated into language they could understand; the assumption I had to start from was that I not only had to sell them on the relevance of the story, but that I had to justify the cultural preoccupations of someone my age. The question asked more often than not was: "But who's going to read it?"

Now, this is a fair question for any editor to ask a writer, but when I tried to answer it, I found that the editors were mostly judging a story's relevance by how often they'd read something like it before -- if it was something they'd just encountered, I might get to write the piece, if it was something they thought they'd read about a few times already, my pitch was dead in the water. In any case, the criterion for acceptance was based on the editor's familiarity with an idea based on their reading of other media. If they'd never heard of something before, most likely the pitch would be dismissed almost out of hand.

After awhile, you learned to make your pitches based on a careful reading of other magazines, and tried to get your pitches to an editor before another writer, reading the same magazines, had incorporated the same ideas into a similar pitch. In any case, you started hating yourself for regurgitating the same old crap, and started resenting your editors for having a world-view bounded, loosely, by New York, The Sunday New York Times, The New Yorker, Entertainment Weekly, Harper's, Time Out and whatever daily papers they took. You started mentally profiling the recipients of your pitches; stressed-out boomers with mortgages and families, their spouse often in the same business, snatching time from daycare, t.v., weekend barbeques, house-hunting and trips to the cottage to read online, in bed or on the couch while the kids tossed Duplo™ blocks across the room and they try to decide between the frozen lasagna or the frozen shepherd's pie. 

Every month or so they get a night off with friends, where they smoke a joint, get a little plastered on good wine, and try to talk about the things they used to talk about when they were "hip". Every year, they attend an awards ceremony where they celebrate stories only a few of them had any responsibility for, welcome new initiates to the club, and feel good about their sinecure in the industry. With such a cloistered little world, it's no wonder they didn't "get" your pitch about cyberporn, Hong Kong cinema or the burlesque revival.

Recently, thought, I found myself chatting amiably with several editors, both at the national daily and the venerable magazine the daily is folding into its weekend section. Tossing out my pitches, we end up talking about the magazine business from the same, warily ironic perspective, or reminiscing about Hüsker Dü and the heyday of indie rock. Now, I'm hardly living on the cutting edge of hip myself, but most of the joy in these encounters comes from realizing that I can be understood, that the same set of cultural signposts are legible to both sides of the table. 

Simply put, the boomers have graduated another step up the ladder, into positions of executive irrelevance, leaving vacant the mid-level editorial posts for people like me.

What this means, of course, is that I'm fast on my way to becoming one of those out-of-touch creatures of seniority and credential, occupying a position of negligible power in the company of others like me, forming a semi-permeable barrier at which younger writers will have to fling themselves, who will have every reason to shake their heads and rage at our arrogance and unhipness. In the meantime, I'm enjoying this brief season in the sun for all it's worth. It's about time.


"Like the seniors, the boomers break down into separate sub-groups. The front-end boomer, in his early 50s, with a bulging waistline and equally bulging RRSP, doesn't share much in the way of cultural attitudes or life experience with the Generation X-er, in his mid-30s, whose career hasn't yet got off the ground and who has trouble scraping up rent money every month."
- David K. Foot 
Boom Bust & Echo 2000

I read this passage with sickening recognition. This book -- a best-seller up here in Canada -- analyzes business and social trends in terms of strict demographics. It's always a grim moment when you realize that your whole life can be encapsulated in a bar graph and a paragraph of analysis. I can't remember a time when I wasn't struggling to meet rent -- this month included.

Some house-cleaning -- odds and ends, a bit of navel-gazing, some shameless celebrity awking.
Roncesvalles and High Park Blvd. - 1914
Roncesvalles and High Park Blvd. -- approx. 1914
The Old Paper Show and Sale was this weekend, and I picked up a few more views of our neighbourhood. This intersection is still recognizable today -- the big building on the right was a TB sanitorium. A few years ago, my friend Alia had an apartment there. The trees are bigger now, of course, and there are two low-rise apartment buildings, built in the twenties, at either corner on the left side of the street. 

WE WATCHED THE OSCARS. Of course we watched the damn Oscars -- as media trainwrecks go, there's no show better for cringeworthy spectacle, even without the dance numbers. K. is a bit more into it than I am -- she watched the Joan and Melissa Rivers celebrity harassment tournament while I made pad thai (from scratch -- not frozen) upstairs. She did call me down to see Matt and Trey from "South Park" show up in drag, which was, I have to say, pretty cool.

I haven't seem most of the films up this year, which didn't prevent me from having strong opinions about the winners. I like Mike Leigh, even though I've been foiled at every attempt to see Topsy Turvy, so I was happy to see his film get some production Oscars. There's something about American Beauty that bothers me -- thought I haven't seen it, natch -- so the sweep at the end was a sour climax to the show. I am constantly amazed at how much more succinct, how much less overwhelmed, English winners are; their acceptance speeches are always a model of dignity and reserve. 

No Canadians won, but the "Blame Canada" production number had every thing it should have had, including Rockette Mounties. I still wish Anne Murray or Celine had sung it, though. Oh well.

I've always regarded Warren Beatty as the great Hollywood narcissist, and his Thalberg speech did nothing to dispel my opinion. We got pretty sick of all the jokes and tributes to Annette Benning's fecundity. I wish they'd sat the spastic subject of the best documentary short next to the Warren and Annette -- his convulsions when the film won would have been a nice contrast next to Benning's smug, beaming queen bee.

Most disturbing image of the night: Fiona Apple clinging to boyfriend Paul Thomas Anderson after he lost for best direction. While Anderson stared straight at the stage, looking more hurt than any 28-year old should be after being nominated, Apple burrowed into his arm like a succubus; with her huge, sunken, kohl-rimmed eyes and mortuary pallor, she resembles more than anything the wilting ghost of a TB victim. 

Speaking of mortuary pallor, the big look of the evening was Morticia Addams -- Cameron Diaz, Cate Blanchett, Angelina Jolie and Cher all wore variations on the look, though to be fair, Cher has wearing it on and off for years.

Tom Green is dating Drew Barrymore. Proof that celebrity is like class -- it's hard to form any meaningful bond, physical or otherwise, across its borders. Two years ago, he was a virtual circus geek with a public access cable show. 

I wonder if Hilary Swank's marriage will last another year. I wonder if my portraits of her are worth anything more today.

Every time a black person was onstage, the camera cut to the black faces in the audience -- all five or six of them, including the guy that found the stolen Oscars. When Penelope Cruz and Antonio Banderas announced that Pedro Almodovar had won for best foreign film, they cut to Gloria Estefan. Almodovar is Spanish; Estefan is Cuban-American. Stop me before I start crying.

"I see white people." No fucking kidding.

It's hard to imagine anyone I know accepting an Oscar, sitting in our living room heckling the screen, but I have to remember that someone I know was nominated, twice. It's not so inconceivable that, one day, Paul might be up there, accepting an award. I would, one day, like to attend the Oscars, just to see how much it resembles something as fake and tawdry as an opening night, or as banal as a magazine awards dinner. 

I TYPED MY NAME INTO GOOGLE the other day and got about fifty returns, none of which were this diary. Most interesting of all was this piece, written two years ago, just before I met K. I suppose this is the risk you run when you commit your personal feelings to print -- while I wouldn't call it cringeworthy, it was definitely a painful read in spots, especially when I was privileged to remember the frenzy of self-doubt and loathing that I used to entertain myself with, day after day. While I wouldn't change a word of it now (except the typos) I can only say that I'm gladder than glad that the simmering, giddy panic and pageant of despair that defined that period of my life seems to have dissipated.

writing ©2000
Rick McGinnis
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