Of all the things that I have written that are archived online, there’s one that people love the most. I’ve gotten emails from all over the world about it. Not many emails to be sure, but I just got one again last night which reminded me of this piece’s strange and enduring appeal to people from Australia to South America.
It’s been so long since I wrote it that I can read it with a cold eye, as if it was someone else’s work. And it always pleases me to do so. I was young, I was untrained, and I had far to go with my work. But there is a writer in there, yes there is. A good one.
Here is my 2002 ArtSavant review of Y Tu Mama Tambien, the first good thing I ever wrote.
My writing for the online entertainment publication ArtSavant, including that piece, was my first writing work. It wasn’t even paying work — I did it all for free. I was unemployed and I loved to write, and was in fact was at the time seminotorious for sending out long emails about movies. I’d written a long email to friends criticizing the first Harry Potter movie, and when somebody said that I should write for the new arts website in town I actually sent in my Harry Potter email, asking the editor if she wanted anything like that. I didn’t think she’d want that rant particularly, but I sent it as an example of what I could do. She published it, my first submission.
I’d struggled with writing for years, somehow drawn to it, yet never able to write creatively. When I lifted my gaze from my PC screen after writing my first naive piece of amateur film criticism and found that three hours had passed by like nothing, I knew I had found flow. I had discovered that you didn’t have to make things up to be a writer. And everything started making sense at last. I never did get another day job after that.
For awhile there I wanted to be a professional movie critic. David Lynch’s Mulholland Dr. blew my mind so hard that all I thought I could ever want from life was to watch amazing movies like that, and write about them, and think about them. That love affair ended, but I remain fascinated with movie writing. It’s a Faustian bargain to read a movie review — sure, you get some knowledge about whether or not the movie might be worth your while, but not without sacrificing your precious ignorance about the plot. Me, I have my favorite critics that I turn to to help me figure out if I will like a movie (I like A. O. Scott of the NYT). And yes, I am a big fan of Roger Ebert, whose bloated and snide TV presence seems to have nothing to do with the sensitive and sophisticated writings produced by the person of the same name.
It really makes a writer’s day — or anyone’s day, I’m sure — to have a total stranger be so moved by your work they send you an email out of the blue. Y Tu Mama was a hell of a movie, wasn’t it?
I’d like to send out a special thanks to Sean, who totally wrote that amazing last line — and who helped shape me into the writer I am now. You know, I realize I have forgotten part of the story of my own life — John Scalzi really never was a mentor for me, just a semi-stranger who answered my emails in a prompt and helpful way. My first mentor was my old friend Sean — whom I went to kindergarten with!
Thanks, Sean — and congrats again on your M.F.A.!