Hangin’ Out, Thinking About Partiality

(As promised at the end of my last post.)

Much of the story we pitched for ADMISSIONS is built around three families — all New Yorkers, but with different backgrounds and socio-economic resources — vying to get their children into Ivy League colleges — and making some questionable moral and legal decisions in their pursuits. 

Last year, I wrote a pilot for an entirely different series — one with a sci-fi premise where a tech guru creates an Elysium-type alternate reality and the richest people in the United States pay to transport themselves and their families into this other reality.

What do this two projects– one grounded, and one sci-fi — have in common? They are both about families, and both about family members who exercise partiality. 

Partiality — if it’s not familiar to you, as it wasn’t to me — is basically, liking one thing, person or group more than another.  In philosophy, there’s a whole ongoing conversation regarding whether it can be right to act partially and privilege people who are closer in our affections over those who are more distant.

In both my sci-fi scenario and in the real world scandal, individuals act to procure opportunities for their children.  But in so doing they are are taking the opportunity away from other, random people.

Most of us exercise some form of partiality. We feed our own children and take care of our own families first. We help our friends more than strangers. Generally it’s regarded as honorable to help our families, friends, teams, companies. We talk about loyalty like it’s a good thing — something to aspire to.

But, is it also honorable to give a job to your nephew instead of reviewing applications from other hopefuls?  Is it okay to  vote to fund the parks near your neighborhood and not  neighborhoods where other people’s kids live?  What if everyone in your group made the same choices?

It seems like classism, racism, tribalism could all descended from this type of partiality when it’s not just exercised by individuals, but groups of people.

When I think about partiality, it’s difficult not to selfishly think about how partiality  affects me. I want to be a working TV writer. In order to do that, I need to be hired by a showrunner. It’s no secret that showrunners– not just as individuals, but as a class — are partial to people they know and trust, or to referrals by people they know and trust. Since I am not neither of those things, my chances of catching my dream are diminished.

On the flip side, I’ve been hired many times — to be on film crews, to teach, to work admin — because someone knew me.  In every case, I’m guessing Human Resources could have sent a hundred applicants as good or better than I was, who probably wanted the job more than I did.  Yes, I’m a hard worker, but that’s not what got me those jobs. I got those jobs because: partiality. The people with the power to hire already knew me.

The temptation is always there to help out a friend, to make your kid happy. When is that okay, and where’s the line? If you’re a bouncer at a club, is it okay to let your friends in for free? If you work middle-management at a company, is it okay to highly refer a friend for a job? And if you have a gazillion dollars, is it okay to buy your kid a spot at a prestigious college, or buy your family a new life in an alternate reality?

 

That Time I Optioned a Book – ADMISSIONS

Here’s a fun little Hollywood-type story. Back in August, I rented the rights to the novel, Admissions, from my friend Eric, in the hopes of getting someone interested in making a limited series, a la Big Little Lies. I was excited because I could see what the show could be, but because the book had a small publisher and little-to-know publicity, it hasn’t sold a ton of copies. And because I am unknown, my attachment wasn’t really a selling point, so I was having trouble gaining any traction. Somehow, though, I was lucky enough to gain the interest of a producing team, who talked it up at their meetings and sent out packets for a few months — but again, because I neither I nor the book or its author are famous, it was hard to gain traction. However, the book was at a couple places when the story broke, which suddenly made it more timely — and finally, we got an invitation to pitch!

Which was awesome.

And a little crazy:

I got the news that pitch meeting was five days away as I was driving to one of my non-writing gigs, telling myself that I hadn’t woken up that morning with a sore throat (I had). At that point I did not have a pitch, had not read the book since June, and needed to double-bag all the food in our house and move out because our building was being tented to fumigate for termites.  So that weekend was… remember when you spent a marathon weekend studying for a really important exam while coughing, blowing your nose and staying at a friend’s house because you and your boyfriend got in a fight?  It was kind of like that! But somehow — with the help of the producers, it came together and we had a pitch by Monday morning. So. Yay!

But all of that is basically a long intro to a topic that been on my mind on and off for the past year or more which is the concept of PARTIALITY.

However, since I’m trying to do this thing where I write posts that are less than 500 words instead 1000-1500, I’ll sign off here, and pick up the subject in another post, coming soon!

Capoeira Lessons

February 15, 2018

On Tuesday I had got up for an early meeting with lots of energy. The meeting –for a non-industry job — was really interesting, and set my mind to spinning –thinking of some interesting things I could write about…

But as the day wore on, my energy dwindled.

I began to feel daunted by everyday practicalities.

And then I got a letter saying that I would not be receiving a publication award I’d been on the shortlist for …

And my short film would not be screened at a festival…

And by evening I was feeling pretty depleted and defeated.

But Paul had just begun a month of Capoeira classes at a studio close to us, and was going to a class that night. On a whim, I said, “Should I go, too?” capoeira

And an hour later I was in a brightly lit studio with new people learning new movements to the rhythm of instruments with unfamiliar names.

And I felt energized and happier again.

When All That’s Left Is Love

February 10, 2019

A few days ago I went to a  memorial / celebration of life service for the husband of a friend who suffered an illness this year and died too soon. It was a beautiful service for a man who was a beautiful soul, and this is a poem that was read at his request.

I had  never heard it before and have been thinking about it, so I thought I’d share it here.

When All That’s Left Is Love

When I die
If you need to weep
Cry for someone
Walking the street beside you.
You can love me most by letting
Hands touch hands, and
Souls touch souls.
You can love me most by
Sharing your Simchas (goodness) and
Multiplying your Mitzvot (acts of kindness).
You can love me most by
Letting me live in your eyes
And not on your mind.
And when you say
Kaddish for me
Remember what our
Torah teaches,
Love doesn’t die
People do.
So when all that’s left of me is love
Give me away.

by Rabbi Allen S. Maller

I’m Shortlisted for a Chapbook Competition!

February 7, 2019

After a close-but-no-cigar a semi-finalist finish in the Black River Chapbook Competition last week (which was still lovely and encouraging). Today I received this letter from The Sonder Press.

Dear Barrington

Congratulations! Your chapbook, After The Storms: A Tryptych has been shortlisted for our 2018 competition. You will be notified by February 8th if your manuscript has won, and been selected for publication. Runners-up may also be selected for publication independent of the prize. We do ask that at this time, if your work is simultaneously submitted elsewhere, you withdraw it from any outstanding competitions/presses. Please let us know if you have any questions or concerns. We look forward to speaking again soon.

Fingers crossed for this! When I find out tomorrow I’ll update this post with the verdict!

In the meantime, you might want to check out Sonder Press / Review’s cool-looking website.

Update, February 9: They wrote to say they need a few more days to decide.

Update, February 15: I’ve waited a couple days to post so they could do their press release and site update — but here’s the verdict.

Dear Barrington Smith-Seetachitt,

After an extremely difficult deliberation, we regret to inform you that your chapbook After The Storms: A Triptych has not been selected for our 2018 prize. It has, however, been awarded an Honorable Mention as one of the top five manuscripts under consideration. Our official press release announcing the winner, runners-up, and honorable mentions will be released Thursday and our website will be updated accordingly. We were very impressed with your work and encourage you to submit again in the future, to both our press and review, we would love an opportunity to read your work again.

I’ll post a link to the winners when it goes up, with a congrats to them. I’m sure I’m in very good company!