A man and woman, mid-60s, get out of the elevator.
Woman: "Are you sure your wife isn't home?"
Man: "She better not be."
A man and woman, mid-60s, get out of the elevator.
Woman: "Are you sure your wife isn't home?"
Man: "She better not be."
I think The Mentalist is my favorite show on TV, and I don't think it's even close. Thing is, I don't watch crime procedurals. I've seen half an episode of CSI, I can't get through a Law and Order-- this stuff doesn't do it for me. Except that The Mentalist is utterly gripping. And it's all because of the lead character-- I'd follow the character anywhere. They do such a great job of giving him fun things to do-- of peppering the episode with moments you're just not going to find on Law and Order, and that take perfect advantage of this character they've created. And Simon Baker sells it so well.
The Mentalist, How I Met Your Mother, Top Chef, and Friday Night Lights-- those four-- all very different-- but if I could watch nothing else on TV, I think I'd be pretty satisfied.
The new fall stuff I've sampled so far? Cougar Town, Accidentally on Purpose, Modern Family, Community, Glee, and The Good Wife. I'm giving at least a few of them another episode, but I'm not sure any of them have won me over. Feel free to try and convince me in the comments though.
My question -- unrelated -- if you're a lawyer (practicing or not, I don't care -- law students too), and you read books, and you'd be up for helping me brainstorm about something -- shoot me an e-mail? Subject line: Lawyer / Books. Thanks.
(Ben Mezrich's new book about Mark Zuckerberg and the founding of Facebook-- link in the Things I'm Reading sidebar)
Ben Mezrich makes it look easy. Establish Mark Zuckerberg, computer genius, social outcast. Jealous of the popular kids. Steals an idea for a social networking website. He builds it, people come. And he finally gets a girl.
Whatever, take this out of the library, you can read it in a couple of hours. For a 252-page book there just isn't much here. You want to know anything about why Facebook has become such a success? Not in the book. You want to know about the decisions made, the choices that ultimately propelled Facebook beyond Friendster, beyond MySpace? Not gonna find it here. You want to know anything about the business of Facebook, about Facebook the company, about the future of Facebook, about social networking and its place in society, about Mark Zuckerberg himself, about what it takes to start a billion-dollar software company when you're 20 years old? Nope, this isn't what you're looking for.
You want a quick read about a kid who's obsessed with being part of the in crowd, who rents a house in LA and practically destroys it, who screwed his best friend out of a share of the company, who may or may not be an intellectual property thief? Then read the book.
Mezrich does a lot of things really well here. He's a compelling writer, he tells a good story.
But it's not really about Facebook, at least not in any informative way. And it's not really about Zuckerberg, because he didn't have access to him. And it's not really about the life of a Harvard student, and it's not really about the founding of a technology company... he wrote the movie version of the story of Facebook.
Aaron Sorkin is actually writing the script for the movie based on this book. And I read the script. And liked the script a lot. It'll be a great movie. But you expect more from a book. More facts, I guess. More details. More knowledge. And it's not here. I learned nothing from the book that wasn't in the script. Which is fine, for the movie. But it's unrewarding for a book.
Two more specific things bugged me.
One-- and this is stupid, but it bothers me-- the book is riddled with typos. He mentions Aaron Greenspan, a Harvard student who created a Facebook-like site before Zuckerberg. In the next paragraph, "Greenspan" has become "Grossman"-- eh, one Jewish name is the same as any other. He writes about someone posting a "wanted add" in the newspaper. Uh, you mean a "want ad"? It's very clear they ran this book through spellcheck, and didn't actually copyedit the result. It's embarrassing. I noticed at least a dozen mistakes like that. I wasn't looking for them, but they're obvious and careless and I don't understand how a publisher can spend over a million dollars on a book advance and not bother to have a copyeditor read the manuscript.
Two-- it's pretty clear the guy Mezrich had the most access to was Eduardo Saverin, Zuckerberg's friend and original partner, who he tried to cut out of a share of the business. The book reads from Saverin's perspective and spends a good amount of time talking about Saverin. Saverin comes off as a good guy-- but while reading I felt like this could just as easily have been any of six other books, depending on who Mezrich had gotten access to. Could have been from Zuckerberg's point of view, could have been from the point of view of the Winklevoss twins (another pair of students who accused Zuckerberg of stealing their idea), from Greenspan's point of view, from Sean Parker's point of view... it's Saverin as the lead simply because Mezrich had access, not because it's necessarily the best way to tell the story, or the most accurate.
So, eh, it's not a bad book, it was just disappointing and I wanted a lot more packed into the 252 pages than there was. I'll probably see the movie though.
My wife and I saw the documentary No Impact Man, about a guy who decided to spend a year giving up everything in his life that had a negative environmental impact-- no trains/planes/buses/cars, no food that wasn't grown locally, no electricity, no TV, no toilet paper....
Apparently he got a ton of press back in 2007 when he was doing this-- NY Times article, morning shows, Colbert-- but I really hadn't heard about it at all until I watched the trailer for the documentary on the apple.com trailers site last week (I love the apple.com trailers site).
And somewhere along the line I seem to have become a sucker for documentaries. More and more, I'll find myself reading about a documentary that I really have no reason to be interested in, no reason to want to see-- and I'll become convinced I have to see it. Team Qatar, for example, about a debate team in a Qatar high school. I bought tickets to see it in the Tribeca film festival, had to sell the tickets when it turned out I couldn't go, tracked it down online.... Or Jimmy Carter: Man of Plains, which I almost saw last year at a free writer's guild screening, was bummed I couldn't go, and then, again, tracked it down online... and watched 14 minutes before deciding that I really wasn't that interested in a really long Jimmy Carter interview. Or a documentary about Hunter Thompson that I paid money to see-- excited to see, even though I have never read a word of his writing-- and didn't really enjoy the film. I can go on. It's insane. I don't know what happens when I watch a trailer for a documentary. It's as if the part of my brain that is relentlessly negative and picky about everything else-- certainly scripted movies-- turns off.
In any case, turns out the compelling piece of No Impact Man isn't so much the environmental stuff but it's the guy's relationship with his wife, a writer for BusinessWeek who went into the project on the other end of the spectrum from her husband, drinking loads of coffee every day, buying designer clothes, spending a thousand dollars on a new pair of boots....
Basically, the movie is the story of the guy imposing the Year of No Impact on his fairly reluctant wife. Ostensibly the "lesson" of the movie is that over the course of the year she realizes that this is actually not so terrible, and even if, yeah, it's nice to have toilet paper and a refrigerator instead of using a ceramic pot filled with sand to store your milk and wiping with reusable cloths, the benefit of not having a TV and not having air conditioning and not using artificial light is that you end up going outside a lot more, spending quality time together, and enjoying life.
And I got that lesson from it, I guess, but what bothered me about the movie was that I found the whole thing a little too disingenuous. He acknowledges that it's a gimmick, that it's being done for the purpose of writing a book and making a movie-- but I'm not sure he ever really owns that piece of it. What the movie ignores is that to do all of this-- to shut off your electricity, to hand-wash your toilet paper, to shop at the farmers market for all of your food-- you have to be living in a pretty privileged position. If he didn't have the luxury of being home all day to cook, of being home all day to build his fake refrigerator, of being home all day to tend to the compost container and wash the clothes and walk up and down the 9 flights of stairs instead of taking the elevator, he couldn't have done this. They live in a Manhattan apartment, his wife can afford $1000 boots and Starbucks and take-out every night... I don't know... it's hard to feel the lesson really take hold when as soon as the year is up they flip the lights back on and plug in their refrigerator again.
I guess I also felt like the environmental angle took a backseat to what would make for the best story, for the best press, for the most publicity. They don't talk about whether this stuff really did help the environment-- is it better to waste all that water washing your rags by hand in the tub than to use paper towel and toilet paper? I assume it is, but they didn't tell me. Is it all that great to buy your vegetables from the farmer's market even though the farmers truck their food down 200 miles from upstate New York four times a week, in a motorized vehicle? Is it really worthwhile to unplug your refrigerator even though you're going to end up with lots of spoiled food and create waste?
And the question the movie asks but doesn't answer-- his wife works for BusinessWeek. Aren't the companies they write favorably about doing more damage to the environment than the elevator in his building?
But what bothered me beyond all of this-- he and his wife started out on such different pages, and the whole first half of the movie was about him imposing his will and this project on his wife no matter what she thought and no matter what she wanted. He was a bully. And I say that-- and I say it confidently-- because what he did was what I kept worrying I was at risk of doing throughout my wedding planning. Taking my point of view, taking my opinion, and elevating it to some higher plane, so that you're "bad" if you think any other way than how I think. That it's not just I want this and you want that, but it's that I'm right-- morally right-- and you're wrong and therefore we have to do it my way or else I'm going to make you feel bad and sulk and pout. He was mean.
And at the same time, I'm tempted to say he was right because she was ridiculous. She didn't know how to use their oven or roast a vegetable. She was drinking quad-espressos all day. She was buying thousand-dollar boots. She was everything stupid about our modern consumer culture.
So mostly I just didn't understand why they were married to each other and how either one could stand the other. They had completely different values going into this. They didn't seem to like each other for very much of the movie. And her magic turnaround, when suddenly she decided the project was fun and good and she should play along-- it felt contrived, it felt phony, it felt like one day she decided she was coming across poorly on camera and should change her attitude so she wouldn't ruin the movie.
Hey, but the good news is-- (1) clearly the movie made me think, (2) the movie's actually pretty interesting to watch, even if I suspect I found it interesting for all the wrong reasons, and (3) at its core, I think the lesson is a fine one-- we all do tons of stuff that's bad for the environment and probably isn't any good for our lives anyway, and if we thought about the little things we could do to help the environment and improve our day-to-day satisfaction at the same time, we'd be better off. I love the farmers market. I don't like buying things. Granted, neither of these are environment-driven for me, but, hey, if it helps, what's the difference where my motives are?
So, after all that, I recommend the movie. And am really curious to hear what other people think after seeing it.
There's a piece in the Village Voice by screenwriter Josh Olson (The History of Violence, which I haven't seen, so I'm opinion-less about it) called "I Will Not Read Your Fucking Script" where he rants about friends who ask him to read stuff.
Maybe he's an awesome guy in real life, but, um, doesn't come across in this angry, mean, sad piece.
If no one ever read his stuff, he wouldn't have a career.
I mean, I'm sure tons of people-- friends and strangers-- ask him to read things, and if he agreed to read them all he wouldn't have time to do anything else. But it takes as long to say no as it does to read half a page, and as he says in the piece, you know after half a page.
And that's the thing-- you know after half a page. I'll read anything. I don't mean to open myself up as a volunteer reader or anything, but I've had blog readers-- strangers-- ask me to read things and something has to be pretty outrageous about the request for me to say no. I'm flattered someone wants my feedback, I read quickly enough that it's usually no big deal, and-- here's the thing-- the idea of being the guy who discovers a great writer, who's able to help in some small way validate what someone has put his soul into and has been trying and trying and trying to get in the right person's hands-- that's a tremendous feeling, and I'll gladly read the first page of 50 pieces of crap to find a gem that I can't put down.
Heck, more than once, on some random writer message boards I read, I've answered someone's post looking for readers-- usually based on some spark in the request itself that made me interested-- and read and offered feedback. It's not so much that I feel like it's a duty-- although to some degree maybe it should be-- and it's not so much that I'm trying to be nice-- although good karma never hurts-- but I'm genuinely interested to find good writing.
And you would think most writers would be.
So, yeah, of course it's rude to push, or to make people feel obligated to read something-- and it's certainly rude to expect more than what's offered-- I can't slog through someone's terrible screenplay and give them comments-- if I stop reading because I don't like something, I'm done, I'll tell someone what I thought of what I read, but I can't easily force myself to keep reading something I hate-- but I don't think it's all that unreasonable to be polite, and be willing to take a look if you're able.
And it's really disappointing that most of the feedback to that piece seems to be positive feedback. Really disappointing. People should be nicer.
That's all. Rant over.
Ben Casnocha has a really neat post on his blog, the transcript of an Instant Message conversation between him and Penelope Trunk, who writes a career blog that I've seen a few times but don't read regularly (and who it seems people have an extremely wide range of opinions about...). Regardless, I thought the post was a neat way to get into the heads of two interesting people and was the kind of thing that highlights (for me) why all this electronic communication -- e-mails, blogs, etc -- is cool.
I sent Ben an e-mail after reading the post (we've corresponded a bunch of times and had coffee last year when he was in LA) with a couple of thoughts, and found myself prefacing one thought with, "I feel like if I was still motivated to write blog posts about things, I'd--"
Which got me to pause for a moment and ask myself why. Why was this so natural and so easy for a fairly long period of time, and now it's really not. There are posts I wrote in law school about nothing, about something, about all kinds of things. Somehow it felt important, it felt relevant, it felt like an outlet in a way it doesn't anymore. I felt like the blog was my way of sorting through a lot of the things in my head, a way to force myself to generate material and to figure out how to write for an audience, and I felt a real connection with the people reading. I made a real number of friends, online and offline, through my blog, and had a lot of genuine and rewarding e-mail back-and-forths.
I miss a lot of things about that, which feels silly to say, because it's only through my own lack of regular posting that any of that has changed-- and it's not like it's an irreparable change anyway. The Internet, if nothing else, is a meritocracy. If I write things worth reading, people will find them and read them and link to them. If I don't, they won't. I've seen very little evidence to convince me I'm wrong about that.
So why does it feel different now than it did?
I don't necessarily think it has to do with something about blogging itself, 2002 vs. 2009-- but maybe it does. I mean, there was absolutely something neat about blogging-- and blogging to a decent-sized audience-- when the blog world was pretty small, and you were discovering the medium at the same time as a lot of other people were, it all felt new, and being a decently-known blogger was a smaller feat than it would be today. I think it's absolutely harder now for someone to get attention-- there is just so much more content out there than there was five years ago, so many more blogs, so many more corporate blogs, so much more you can read, about any topic at all. And-- and I know I've written about this before (and in fact I have-- in this post, called The Shortification of Content, that I happen to think is a great post and on re-reading it I realize that I'm probably just going to end up rewriting that post in different words in this post, but I'll try to cover some new ground.) -- but there's so much information and quasi-news you can read that it's really hard to find anything but that-- I'd love to read honest blogs about what's going on in people's heads-- that's what made the blogosphere interesting to begin with-- and for the most part I'm reading articles about baseball and the media and TV and law firm gossip that's all totally fine, but there's no personal connection there.
That's what Ben and Penelope's back-and-forth made me miss and made me remember about why this was rewarding to do. My Shortification of Content post that I just linked to talks about long back-and-forth e-mail conversations with people, and how I worry that Twitter and Facebook have killed that-- with the competing theory that it's really more about getting older, and 23-year-olds have the time and inclination to write about what's in their heads in a way that 30-year-olds don't.
But that's not a rule. Even if it's a pattern, it's not a rule.
I have five (six?) alternative theories about why blogging feels different now. Stick with me, we're getting to some new ground I hope.
1. I have less to say. Can argue that very convincingly and can almost make myself believe it, but it's probably not true. I often didn't have a lot to say in law school and I still blogged about it. I have opinions about things, I read things, I watch things, I do things. I don't have less to say, I'm just less motivated to blog it.
2. At some point, the stakes of blogging felt higher. Absolutely true. It's one thing to write about e-mails the Career Services office sends you, it's another to write about talking to folks at NBC about an Anonymous Lawyer sitcom. I never felt like I crossed the line in law school, as far as blogging about professors or anything like that in a way that I felt could get me in trouble-- but to even touch on any of the stuff with the TV project or meetings I was having felt so dangerous. Mostly because so little of it was within my control. I had-- and still have-- no idea what the decisions hinge on, or what kinds of conversations were going on without me, or how little it could theoretically take to kill something. I wasn't going to give anyone any reason to think there was even a risk I would be writing about something I shouldn't be.
2A. And, hey, my lesson from two years in LA was that the bizarre success of Anonymous Lawyer: The Blog was not as easily replicable as it first seemed like it might be, and that there are an awful lot of writers and producers and projects and false hopes and things completely out of anyone's control-- and on the one hand I felt really conscious of how lucky I was to have the opportunities I lucked into with Anonymous Lawyer, and of not wanting to seem at all frustrated with what was essentially a big pile of good fortune-- but at the same time there were a lot of really frustrating things going on. And since I wasn't comfortable blogging about being frustrated about this stuff, then I was really limiting myself, and blogging naturally became less and less of a reflex. In law school, whatever I was thinking about, I felt like I could basically blog about it. Once I stopped feeling that freedom, then, sure, I had a lot less to say, and it was a lot less interesting.
3. I fell in love and got married. And now the kinds of things I blogged about in law school are the things I tell my wife, and what do I need the blog for? Maybe. I like being married, absolutely, and love my wife. She's also a medical resident who works a lot and is probably not that interested in me spending 2000 words criticizing the premiere of a TV show she was really only watching for my sake. I wasn't really blogging about my personal life in law school. I can make this reason sound relevant, but I don't think it is-- I don't think a wife and a blog play quite the same role. :) Besides, I had friends before, I have friends now, I talked to people then, I talk to people now.
4. The feedback and connection become a little bit like a drug in terms of tolerance levels-- it takes more and more to get as excited, and eventually the kinds of things that motivated posts at first-- the potential to get a new reader, the possibility of getting linked by someone, getting a couple cool e-mails or comments-- become routine. If you graph the number of times someone checks the counter on a new blog, it goes down to zero eventually. The corollary to this-- at some point, I think I got tired of putting myself out there as much and opening myself up to potential criticism. Even though I feel extremely fortunate that Anonymous Lawyer got largely positive reviews and very little that I blogged about got me negative reactions, I think I learned over time I can't avoid reading everything and caring about it and letting it affect me-- negative feedback sucks. Constantly worrying about negative feedback sucks almost as much. Still, I blogged really consistently for a really long time, so is this really why the urge went away? I don't think I'm convinced of it.
5. I became either happy or unhappy, and thus didn't want or need to blog as much. But I can make the argument either way. I was a little down and a little lonely, blogging filled that void, provided connection and a little purpose-- once those feelings were no longer as profound, the blogging was less necessary. Or, I became a little down and a little lonely, and when you're feeling down it's harder to motivate yourself to blog, it's harder to think you have things worth saying, the energy isn't there. If I can argue both sides, is there really a point here?
Where is all this coming from?
Reading Ben's post, I realized how much I missed that kind of active engagement with smart people that I feel like I don't get as much lately. Partly because people don't write long e-mails anymore (see, The Shortification of Content post), partly because people with jobs are busier than students and thus don't have time to engage, partly because as we get older I think most of our lives end up shrinking a little bit (and justifiably so -- and I wouldn't argue I'm an exception), more focused on building a family and an adult life. At most points over the past decade, I've had a bunch of people I'm actively engaged with over e-mail or in person, talking about things. Less of that is happening for me right now. I miss it. Whether it's blog-related or not, I miss it.
Hence, this post.
Not sure if it was the quick administration of the clot-busting medication, but my mom's deficits seem to have resolved, and she's home from the hospital -- more doctors appointments to come, the doctors aren't quite sure what caused the stroke, so she'll wear a heart monitor for the next month to see if anything abnormal is going on-- but for now she's really, really lucky. Thanks for the e-mails/comments...
I wrote an Anonymous Lawyer post this morning, reacting to a letter to the editor in yesterday's NY Times about how it's a good thing for graduates of elite law schools that now they're forced to find opportunities besides law firms. I'm obviously not someone who's going to argue that law firms are the right place for everyone, but, gosh, I don't see how it's a good thing for those jobs not to be there for the people who want them, especially with the amount of law school debt most people have, and especially since it's not as if it seems like there's a lack of lawyers willing to fill legal jobs outside the law firm world. It's one thing if you could make the case that law firms are siphoning off people who we desperately need to be doing other things with their law degree-- but even when law firm hiring seemed unlimited, there was a huge amount of competition for public interest jobs and clerkships. And it seems like throwing all the people who would otherwise be happy to go to a law firm into the pool with everyone else will just make it that much harder for people with a real passion for something other than law firm work to get those jobs. Look, good thing for some people, who really will end up happier now that they're forced to do something else besides go to a law firm? Sure, absolutely. But for everyone? I don't think so. And for the world as a whole? I don't know-- I think if you end up at a law firm just because you're lured by the money and don't want to have to look for something you'd rather be doing, you kind of deserve your fate.
I've just spoiled the Anon Lawyer post, but it's not like that really matters.
Perhaps interestingly enough, deciding this is my take on the NY Times letter means I have to totally rethink a piece I was starting to play around with for the Wall Street Journal Law Blog, offering advice to incoming law students. The angle I sort of wanted to take was that now that there aren't any law firm jobs out there anyway, law school can stop being about resumes and law review and good grades and can actually be fun. Like business school. But now I sort of feel like that angle opens me up to exactly the same kind of reaction I have about the NY Times letter-- so I'll think on that for a little longer and see where it gets me.