I had an excellent time hanging out and helping out a bit with Stephanie Graham's So This One Guy... video story project. Now I know why her project looks so professional: she films at DePaul University's lot at Cinespace, which also houses Hollywood-level shows.
When I arrived in the studio space, they had just recorded a segment and were taking a break.
Then I had my first-ever experience of being a stand-in while they adjusted the lighting and camera. That's super-pro cinematographer Pete Biagi, who's worked on major films and commercials.
At one point, Stephanie and the crew checked the setup in the monitor.
sharing her story (I was the stand-in for that scene too).
I don't know why this area (pretty much North Lawndale
) is considered the West Side, because if you look at a map
, it seems south as well. Why isn't it called the Southwest Side, or at least Near Southwest Side? Well, from my perspective, it's west but also south, so I'm categorizing it accordingly, and saying, once again, that the South Side (and West Side) are under-appreciated. Just one of the many gems that people can discover if they choose to look beyond the grim headlines in those areas.Author : Margaret Larkin
A few years ago, I did a post about the Hierarchy of Personality
, which described the structure that I observed in radio (though people said it exists in other industries). Basically, the idea is that a select few are allowed to express their true personalities and act how they want because they are at the top, while the rest of the scullery staff have to acquiesce and be quiet, lest they get in trouble for daring to try to rise above their station.
Now I've found someone who's a winner in the hierarchy: Mindy Kaling, who has her own show and was previously a writer and actress on The Office
I decided to read her book Why Not Me?
because her first book, Is Everyone Hanging Out with Me?
, was self-deprecating and funny. The second book is basically about how great her life is, how successful she is, how much money she has, how she's reaped the rewards of her hard work big-time (and oh, by the way, her mother died [brief mention] and she wants to be married). It doesn't have the same tone as her first book; instead, she sounds like she's celebrating herself while offering insights about the entertainment business along the way. But both books are well-written, so I can see why they're best-sellers.
What sort of struck me in her first book when she got The Office
gig, and what really struck me here, was that she is at the top of the Hierarchy of Personality because she can express her intelligence, chattiness, and enthusiasm to people around her, in a variety of work and non-work contexts, and people like her
for it. Usually in the Hierarchy, people can't be like her, unless the environment has given them permission. And if someone assumes they can break the rules, then they will be yelled at harshly (with swear words thrown in), ignored, or gossiped about while plans are made to send the person packing.
Her luck started early in her amazing career: when she was in LA having a kind of interview (or exploratory meeting; I don't know technically what you'd call it), she was sitting in an office of a powerful TV guy (the son of an even more powerful TV executive), who was in charge of The Office
. He said, ?I gave her a lot of room to shine and open up.? So right away her high position was being established. And it continued, because she said that they often argued in the writers room, and the worst thing that happened was she that was told to leave. She wasn't fired, she wasn't belittled, and she wasn't criticized for her personality traits. She was able to return to the room and resume her work; no punishment beyond that.
She describes her attitude during those early Hollywood years, and she says "...if I had a writer on my staff now who behaved like I did, I would throw them out...Though I deserved it probably dozens of times, Paul [the showrunner] never actually fired me.? So once again, her position in the Hierarchy was safe because her behavior didn't get her in trouble, and her career continued to flourish (and her social life, since she often talks about her many friends who she gets to work with or rub shoulders with at industry events).
I have to wonder: how does she feel when her staff dare to show their exuberant personality, or express strong disagreement about her show? Does her staff feel like they're in the lower rungs of the Hierarchy, thus have to suppress who they are and want to be?
She describes herself as "very chatty" with "a very anxious, argumentative personality.? People who are lower on the Hierarchy probably would admit that to their confidantes, but wouldn't feel they could admit it in a public forum, or in an official blog (which is why we of the lower caste have secret ones). Plus, being argumentative is reserved for the privileged, because you'd be called a derogatory name if you dared to disagree, especially vociferously, if you were not one of the chosen.
Interacting with her is probably pleasant, because she says that she's "a pretty fun person to talk to. I find almost everyone fascinating and I love to ask questions.? But only her employees know the truth, and I doubt they'd speak about the true experience beyond their closest confidantes. I wonder what they think when she talks about what she wants (one perk of being in her position), because she says "The single best thing about working in a writers? room is that you can disrupt the entire process to discuss and investigate your latest crush.?
Author : Margaret Larkin
What if The Help
were to disrupt a work session to talk about their latest crush? What if a loved one was dying, and they wanted to break out of their role to talk about more personal matters? I've seen that opportunity being enjoyed by the free, but the more tied-down have had to either keep it out of the workplace that has a hierarchical structure or only talk to those they trust (some places generate lots of allies, but the more toxic ones barely have a couple).
In case I ever cross paths with the blessed Hollywood powerhouse, I want to honestly say that I have nothing against Mindy Kaling; I'm just describing a situation that has confirmed what I theorized when I was working more in the radio biz. Some people have abused their position and have been heavy-handed in their domination, and I doubt she's one of those types of people. What she's achieved, beyond her amazing career, seems to be a rare accomplishment: the ability to be who she is and actually prosper and thrive with it. The unlucky ones are shut down and shut out, or are hindered in their attempt to progress towards their dream.
I was chatting with a British-born American (i.e., he came to the US for school, got married, and decided to stay), and he said he was running in the upcoming Chicago Marathon. Then he said "Crumbs." I had never heard that expression before, and I thought it might have been a typo until I looked it up. It's a legitimate British expression that, according to the Cambridge English dictionary
(which is a prestigious source since it's the epitome of British education), means "an expression of surprise or worry."
According to The Express
, which seems to be on a different trajectory than Cambridge (I've formed that conclusion based on the Wikipedia description
), "[Crumbs] is one of many [expressions] which originates from using the first few letters of a swear word and substituting a more socially acceptable ending. So Christ becomes crumbs or Christopher Columbus."
I reiterate: I've never heard this expression before, even though I've watched lots of British shows on PBS, and certainly have never heard an American say it. Maybe I should start using it. But then again, people will think I'm spotting some bread or cake crumbs on the floor :pAuthor : Margaret LarkinDave Berner
(I should actually say "David W. Berner") has written several books, is a professor
at Columbia College, a news anchor
on WBBM Newsradio, and is currently the Writer in Residence
at the Ernest Hemingway Foundation.
I met him at my good writing gig
(he gets off the air when I arrive to work, but I?ve written intros to his recorded news stories during my shift) and read his book Night Radio
because I like radio and wanted to see what kind of fiction writer he is. In spite of me telling him my honest opinion about the book, which wasn?t totally effusive (though Part 2 makes it especially worthwhile), he still agreed to be interviewed (I'm joking; he had no problem being interviewed, whether I was crazy about the book or not). He seems to be a very friendly guy, and I feel like I should really get my act together now that I?ve found out more about his productive, creative life.How long did it take you to write Night Radio?
From concept to publication? Probably eight years. I wasn't sure about the idea or the approach, so I batted around a number of forms and narrative structures, writing then stopping, then starting again. But once I was sold on a rough story arc, I started writing with the full manuscript in mind. From that point on, it took about a year. I'm a regular writer, meaning I try to write everyday. So, the first draft was done in about 8 months. Then more edits and changes and fixes. How do you establish a story arc, and what is considered an effective arc?
Frankly, I don't think about this too hard. Not in the traditional sense, at least. But what I do pay attention to in either nonfiction or fiction is to be sure something is happening to those in the story. Focus on what is motivating the characters, and if it is memoir or creative nonfiction, that "character" is me or the narrator. It can be subtle, and many times that is best. Or it can be dramatic. Still, there must be some sort of action?physical, emotional, and/or spiritual?some movement in the story. What makes a good story?
What touches us. I'm not of the belief that there must be conflict or action or a crossroads. I think these are good in a story and many times they are essential, but to me it's about the heart. What moves us. For this book, what was your method? Did you have an outline?
This was my first book of fiction. I wasn't sure at first how to approach it. Generally I do not work with an outline, at least not a formal one. I might have notes and bullet points about major turns or drama in a story, but I tend to just write and see where the story leads me. Joan Didion said that she writes to find out what she's thinking. I like that. Plus, I really believe the story is already there inside me somewhere?I just have to write to get it out. Is there anything that's based on your real-life radio experience?
It is impossible to write any fiction without parts of your life seeping in. People who are fiction writers who tell you otherwise are fibbing. But let me make this clear: Night Radio is fiction. It is not a memoir. It is not a nonfiction narrative of life in radio. Still, there are characters, scenes, and narrative turns that definitely are linked to real events. Are they word for word, piece by piece? No. But there are elements of things that did occur. I'll let the reader figure out what they think is based on some truth. What do you want people to gain from reading Night Radio?
I have found that nearly everything I write has the theme of redemption intertwined in it. Someone has to come to grips with something or find peace. Maybe not discover some ultimate "answer," but some level of acceptance. I think I want that from Night Radio's readers, too?to see that all of us are flawed. But it's how we develop after those discoveries. I think the protagonist in Night Radio is not very likeable at first, but then begins a journey that changes him forever. That can happen for all of us. How has the response been so far?
I've been fortunate to have had good reviews both from readers and critics. It's, to some extent, an unconventional story narrative. But as one critic said, "it works." I hope so. I'll permit the reader to decide. It may be MY story when I'm writing it, but it is THEIR story when they are reading it.WRITING METHOD
When do you write every day? What's your favorite time and place?
I'm a coffee shop writer. I don't like total silence or what I call the tree house approach, to hide away somewhere. I like energy and people and the clinking of coffee cups and even the whir of an espresso machine. Most of all I like conversation around me. Don't get me wrong, I don't want to be writing in the middle of chaos, but I do want life around me. Time for writing? Anytime. But I do like mornings, when I have that opportunity. But I have written at every hour. If I had to pick a time I do not do well writing, or don't like, it would be after dinner. I prefer mornings? even early, early mornings, just as the sun is rising?or afternoons. Two to three hours. Rarely more. Take a break, come back to it, but never 4 to 5 hours straight. And always quit for the day knowing where you are going with the story. That way you?ll come back with a place to start. How are you able to write books in addition to teaching at Columbia and doing radio news?
I really do think it has something to do with my broadcast background. We write fast in radio; we write on very hard deadlines. Plus, as I mentioned before, I work hard at trying to make writing a priority. I think of it as working out?got to go to the gym and get the work done. I carve out time here and there?an hour here, two there, fifteen minutes on a train. Writing for me is at the top of my list of things to do; I always make time. What's the difference between writing fiction and nonfiction?
I had a friend in a writing workshop one time ask me what I wrote. At the time it was all creative nonfiction, memoir. "Creative nonfiction," I said. "Oh," he said, "you write the hard stuff." He was a fiction writer. He truly believed writing what was real was tougher than making it up. For me, that seemed ridiculous. I come from a journalist background, and to make it up seemed very odd. But now that I have written fiction, along with memoir, I see what he meant. All my fiction has come from someplace real, but I can change and tweak the story to fit a narrative. Creative nonfiction or memoir is real, or at least the essence of truth, and that sometimes can be raw. I really like the raw stuff, the good and real emotions below the surface, but I have to say, I also like "making it up" more than I thought I initially would. The difference is permitting yourself to be free of restraints. You can be utterly free in fiction and only marginally free in memoir. Do you write by hand?
Laptop. But I do take notes in a journal that I refer to sometimes. It's a Moleskine. Why do you like writing so much?
I have always been a creator. Wrote songs, some bad poetry, but when I started writing more regularly, it became my go-to outlet. It's life-affirming. It gives me peace and energy at the same time. I am compelled to do it. What other books have you written?
I have four books and a fifth coming out in 2017. Accidental Lessons
was my first, a story of my time teaching in a public school system at a very tumultuous time in my personal life. Any Road Will Take You There
is also a memoir, probably my most intimate book. It was named the 2012 Book of the Year by the Chicago Writers Association for non-traditional nonfiction. I was quite humbled. And There's a Hamster in the Dashboard
, which is a collection of essays about living with pets. I was pleased to have the Chicago Book Review name it one of the Best Books of 2015. Night Radio
is my first novel. And October Song
, due out in April of 2017, is about holding on to dreams when we age, a road trip story about music and the passage of time. Do you wish you could go back and rewrite any of them?
I'm laughing thinking about your question regarding rewriting a book. Here's all I have to say about that: I believe it was Leonardo da Vinci who said or wrote, "Art is never finish, only abandoned."What have you learned over the years in writing your books?
If you are writing memoir, don't hold back. Be willing to open your heart and be brutally honest because the reader will sense, will know, when you are not giving it all up. And in fiction, never answer the question fully when you are asked, "Did any of this really happen?" But above all, I've learned, at least for me, don't write to a genre or a particular market; write what matters to you. Please yourself first. Your readers will come. Writing is zen-like, spiritual, personal. When you turn art into a business or exclusively into an act of commerce, it loses something very special. AND FINALLY...
What authors do you like?
Oh, there are a lot. Creative nonfiction writers?Joan Didion, Philip Lopate, Dinty W. Moore, Abigail Thomas, Annie Dillard. Fiction?Jack Kerouac, Hemingway, Tobias Wolff, Dave Eggers, Michael Chabon. I'm missing a ton. Poets, although I don't claim to know poetry, but I know what I like?Billy Collins, Dylan Thomas, Yeats, Whitman.
In 2014 you were Writer-in-Residence at The Kerouac House in Orlando, and now you are Writer in Residence at the Hemingway Birthplace home through next summer. How did you get those?
In both cases, I had to apply for the positions. They are vetted through writing samples and history of publication, and your vision of what you want to do with your time there.Author : Margaret Larkin
Continuing my "series" about the positive aspects of the South Side
...is Bridgeport, an established neighborhood that's becoming an extension of Chinatown and possibly a future hub of hipster activity. There are traces of it so far on 31st street, where there's a popular bar called Maria's (that I was told Northsiders flock to)...
...and the more ubiquitous Bridgeport Coffee House, which feels like how coffee places used to be, and is the source of local coffee that's distributed throughout the city.
What I love about living in the city are the details, and this coffee shop is not short on aesthetics; it has one of those old ceilings that is a work of art in itself, and is filled with light fixtures and other decor that express its uniqueness.
The sign blends with a carved exterior from a long-gone architectural past....
...that also appears next door.
And as is typical around the city, elaborate stonework pops up in different parts of Bridgeport, including Holden Elementary School.
In other words, Bridgeport is worth the trip!Author : Margaret Larkin
I've been teaching on the South Side (more specifically, southwest side) of Chicago for almost a decade, and I have met great people down there. Before that, my interaction with wonderful South Side people was in the southwest suburb of Burr Ridge
, where I worked at an excellent company (and made the huge mistake of leaving, which I regretted for years [that's worth a separate post]).
What bothers me is the bad reputation the South Side gets because of the shootings and other dysfunction that's reported in the local media, national media, and probably international media as well. The South Side is not all bad--it's a huge place with beautiful areas, friendly, straightforward people, and the best Mexican food in the city. I was going to start a separate blog about the Good of the South Side, but decided against it because I don't want my hobby blogging to feel like a job (I do blog for work sometimes); I love blogging and want to keep the feeling of fun alive.
I was at the good writing gig
and was talking to coworker Dan Frank
, who's yet another super-friendly Southsider, about the positive aspects of the South Side that do not get reported or really noticed, unless you work or live down there. He took a picture of this nice, large house on Longwood Drive, south of 103rd Street. This is the South Side that you don't see on the news.
It's in a stable neighborhood with more birds and trees than the concrete and guns you often hear about.
There will be more positive news coming from the South Side...stay tuned.Author : Margaret Larkin