WHY “MORE HAS TO HAPPEN”

You could just call this Charlie Bowe’s blog, since I write most of it, but its title has kept on suiting it as it’s grown from a commentary about screenwriting and story-telling to posts about art and poetry, and the cultural atmosphere in general, with one eye, at all times, on history.

If that sounds too broad, too damn much, well, sometimes it will be. If you just want to wonk out with a screenwriter or a poet and talk particulars, I can go there sometimes, but there are blogs a-plenty about cinema or TV or poetry or any specific topic, but few that account for history while keeping their spontaneity and personality.

“More Has To Happen” is the name I chose years ago since that was the advice I dispensed most often when reading other screenwriters’ stories: more setbacks; a deeper journey; more pleasure; more time to think that maybe things are going to be okay after all; more making things worse in the attempt to make them better.

After a few years I could see I was sometimes writing in circles, and that “more has to happen” wasn’t the be-all of effective writing. Sometimes less should be happening. Less Fanny and Alexander, more Virgin Spring. Less Traffic, more Sex, Lies, and Videotape. Less “Stuck Inside of Mobile,” more “Simple Twist of Fate.” A good story-teller knows what not to say.

By this time, though, the name was a double entendre. Cinema itself was morphing from a popular art form to a specialty more like theater or modern dance. When a young auteur has “made it,” he or she will typically move on to TV. Cinema attendees are something like the people who vote in American primary elections. We like thinking we have an out-sized effect on the landscape around us, but we’re also constantly being sized up as gullible suckers by cynical marketers and straight-up bullshit peddlers.

If the context of all cinema nowadays is survival in the face of oblivion, I wasn’t ready for it to end, and still ain’t.

The poetry landscape is considerably different, because poets’ expectations are so low. Imagine a summit of the elite poets – the party after one of their funerals, say! I’m sure there are clashes of egos in the room, but few of them imagine that anyone outside the room cares all that much. Poets are happy when anyone gets them, and the bullshit peddlers waiting in the wings are more benign, so poetry is more genuine, more “about the poems.”

“More Has To Happen” has taken on new urgency now that my beloved United States has entered a period of proto-fascism. Trumpism has many meanings, among them a hostility to ideas and an insistence that the market is more important than art and reflection. This presents a new quandary to writers: Must everything we write be relevant to The Situation?

My personal views on Trump and how to resist him are more complicated than a call-to-arms. Trumpism thrives on us talking about nothing but Trump. Above all, writers have to keep on writing. Resisting Trump is a good idea. Changing the topic is a very good idea. Lighting the way to that deeper part of the American heart that’s better than all this should be our calling.

American writers are members of a tribe that’s fixated on the idea of its own exceptionalism (and is known to penalize or even ostracize those who question it), and prone to millenarian thinking. One false move, we think, and everything we cherish will fall apart. For such a famously optimistic people, our sense of the present – and I don’t just mean the political present – is almost always teetering on the brink: The end of the republic. The end of “the American dream.” The end of literature. The end of cinema! See! I’m a member too.

To lead our people beyond Trumpism, paradoxically, we have to imagine what we all will talk about when we all stop talking about him.

And yet, global warming presents too dire an issue for us to pursue our craft in a monastic fashion. If we were living in a border state between the slave-owning South and an increasingly Abolitionist North in the 1850s, and we had some thoughts on the subject of slavery, then it would be awfully good of us to share them. Global warming calls for that level of moral and existential commitment. More has to happen, for sure, and story-tellers, screenwriters, and poets, are going to lead the way.

In a more personal sense, “More Has To Happen” refers to the trials of a creative life. Many writers I know quit writing sometime between their hundredth rejection email and their second child, between their last published work and their first mortgage payments. I rarely challenge the logic of that decision to anyone’s face, since there are a hundred solid reasons to walk away. Typically I just wish them a fulfilling engagement with their creative spirits. For many people that means keeping at it: Doing what it takes to keep getting work finished and “out there.” For others it means walking through the looking glass of maturity and finding new kinds of material to do.

drive in

So, for everyone who gets up in the morning and stares at the blank page, but especially the poets and screenwriters, this blog’s for you. More has to happen.

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