Recently, I got my proof copy for my story that’s coming out in the Spring issue of Santa Monica review. The printing is forthcoming. I’m supposed to turn in a mailing list probably some time this week, so if you’d like to be on it, send me your address (barringon99 at gmail dot com).
If you aren’t familiar with literary journals, but you like reading, they are fun — a curated collection of stories, essays and poems, occasionally a there’ll be a picture or a comic as well. You used to be able to find them in bookstores on the magazine racks, not so much anymore.
Lit journals sometime pay their authors in money, but often not. They usually send you a couple of contributor’s copies, but not always. Santa Monica Review doesn’t pay money, but they do offer unlimited contributors copies, and also offer to mail to anyone, near or far. I’m fairly certain the postage will exceed the amount I usually get paid, but they seem happy to do it — I think they like the journal to get exposure in places it wouldn’t normally travel. So take advantage if it’s of interest.
From my #300daysofcontent experiment, here’s a glimpse of my editing process for the story:
One day in late December, I woke up and the thought popped into my head: I‘m going to make a little video every day for a year… starting TODAY. I think in the back of my mind, I’d been ruminating on doing something like this, but the immediacy of the TODAY was sudden and new.
In the next five seconds, I thought Well, if I’m going to do a year, shouldn’t I wait until January 1st? But even as I thought that, I knew if I waited, at all, I would start planning it out, realize the whole thing was dumb and not do it. Better to not make it a whole year of content. What would be a better number? 300 popped into my head.
I told Paul, who was waking up next to me, my plan, along with its on-the-fly, less-than-creative name, 300 Days of Content. After grumbling that my plan was going to impact his plan to start running again (he had apparently been struck at the same moment by the impetus to start a project) he deemed it a good idea. He generally believes I could benefit from being less premeditated and precious in my creative life, and also knows I’ve been paying for an Adobe Premiere subscription for going on three years, and barely using it.
Thus 300 Days of Content project was born.
Which is ironic, because, for years, I’ve been resisting content — at least the term as we use it today.
The first time I remember clocking the word content used in the “new” way was probably about 2006. I was in Florida, immersed in my Creative Writing MFA program. Someone on my new Facebook account was talking about generating content. I felt irritated by the way she was talking, making it sound like if someone wrote a Facebook post, it was content and if someone wrote the new War and Peace, it was also be content. Here I was, investing my sweat, tears, time and money into becoming an artist, and now this yokel was reducing all my work — all of everyone’s work — down to one thing? Didn’t she know she was mis-using the word?
But it turned out that I was in the wrong. Yes, once upon a time, before the early 2000s, the word content used to refer to what a work of art or literature contained. The content of a story was the plot and the characters etc.
But with the advent of the internet, content became “any form of digital media that is created and distributed online.” In the beginning, this was mostly text-based, because that’s what online technology allowed, but as the technology evolved, so did the definition, which now include images, audio, video etc.
Nearing two decades later, we call television shows and films content. Reality shows are content. Enormous essays in magazines are long form content. Podcasts are audio content. TikTok videos are content. This blog is content. The contents of the content—its goodness, badness, worthy-of-existence-ness — is a secondary consideration to be discussed in think pieces that are also content.
2006-Barrington would have railed against this with energy and conviction.
But 2023-Barrington is tired and no longer knows anything.
Maybe insisting on evaluating and categorizing the contents of the content is old-fashioned and elitist. Maybe I’m just yucking on everybody’s yum. Though not really “everybody,” because who’s listening to me anyway? So then I’m just yukking on my own yum.
All because I don’t like a word.
The truth is, I’ve always loved making stuff. Drawing, tie-dying T-shirts, making up skits, improvising dances, writing this blog — all compulsive acts of creation, resulting in stuff. Stuff can be dumb and it doesn’t matter (at least at first). It doesn’t have to be subject to self-assigned stakes or agendas.
And isn’t content just another word for stuff?
So I’m making some stuff, and calling it 300 Days of Content.
(It’s a learning expedition, and I think I’ll eventually explore housing all 300 videos on a YouTube channel or on this website, but the fastest and easiest tool to get started was TikTok, (which then shares to Instagram) so for the moment that’s where my stuff is.)
I recently got some good news: My short story “Girl, Wolf, Woodsman” was accepted by Santa Monica Review and will be published this coming spring!
The story is a twist on “Little Red Riding Hood.” I started it an embarrassing number of years ago and then apparently got either distracted or frustrated. During my “writing lull” earlier this year I ran across it, gave it an edit and finally sent it out.
I’m excited to have it in Santa Monica Review because it’s a respected national journal, but it’s also right down the road in Santa Monica. It would be really cool to read in person at the launch.
I’ll mention it again in three or four months when the issue comes out. It’s a print-only journal, but I get paid in “unlimited contributor’s copies,” so if it’s of interest, you can hit me up!
I spent a frightening portion of the last few weeks prepping an application for the Universal Writers Lab. For readers who aren’t aspiring screenwriters, a lab like this is essentially a miracle ticket — a salaried, year-long fellowship where the participant receives mentorship while developing work with producers, execs, and others, all combining to hopefully provide a springier spring-board into the industry than the participant has experienced thus far.
Applying to opportunities like these are moonshot endeavors, as usually only half-a-dozen are chosen from many applicants. To give you an idea of how many – a couple years ago I prepped an application for similar lab, but when the application portal opened, there were so many applicants it overwhelmed the submission portal. Ultimately the organizers capped the number of applications at 4000, leaving an uncounted number of people left over. Such is the glamorous life of an aspiring Hollywood writer!
I can tell that the organizers of the upcoming Universal lab really tried to cover all their bases, detailing what to name documents, what formats to use, word and page counts, font size, line spacing and even how to address the optional referral letters.
But it’s impossible to predict all the pain points. Because the third party submission portal had no way to save an in-process application, I lost my work three times. Coming to the end of the application the third time, I was getting excited about the nearness of the “submit” button, when I discovered the final “question” was actually a form that needed to be downloaded, hand-signed, scanned, uploaded AND sent to my agent for their hand-signed signature as well! A bummer of a surprise on get on a Saturday night, though it would have been more of a bummer to get it on the Monday evening it was due.
Such administrative oversights land harder in the context of the feelings raised by filling out applications in general. For me, the whole application process calls my life into question — when I’m asked for referral letters, I wonder why I haven’t cultivated have a larger network and more intimate relationships? When tackling the essay prompt, I question whether my life experiences or thoughts could possibly be “unique”! The 15-year limit on work history on the resume is a reminder that few see the life experience of older applicants as having value or relevance. Same for unpaid labor. Although the focus of the initiative is diversity and inclusion, my projects with diverse collaborators didn’t qualify for mention because they were the most difficult to find money for. Overall, the application process is a prolonged reminder of the chasm between where I am and where I want to be, which in turn causes me to self-interrogate — do I think that wanting something badly makes me worthy? Worthier that the 4000+ applicants with their own stories to tell?
At a certain point the overwhelm is too much, I have to give up on these questions. Work continues, even on wrong side of the chasm, and it has its own rewards: For me, the rewards of making through this application are that I finally created a complete project list with loglines that I’ve been needing for ages. I revised a treatment. I re-opened a feature script that broke my heart last year and realized my heart is mended and I have the distance to revisit it again. And I wrote a 750-word essay that would live a better life as a longer-winded and more introspective 1500 blog post — so ya’ll can look forward to that.
When it comes to habits, the key takeaway is this: dopamine is released not only when you experience pleasure, but also when you anticipate it. Gambling addicts have a dopamine spike right before they place a bet, not after they win. Cocaine addicts get a surge of dopamine when they see the powder, not after they take it. Whenever you predict that an opportunity will be rewarding, your levels of dopamine spike in anticipation. And whenever dopamine rises, so does your motivation to act.
It is the anticipation of a reward—not the fulfillment of it—that gets us to take action.
Atomic Habits, by James Clear, p 106
I’ve been thinking about anticipation in our society. About how dopamine keeps flowing for a person who believes a reward is coming—and how capitalism is great at instilling belief in rewards by showing us other people receiving rewards and selling the idea that with enough work, it will be our turn, or at least our children’s turn. And, if that seems too obviously unrealistic, Christianity offers the back-up belief that rewards will be offered in the life to come, if we are good.
For our economic system (or those who profit by it), it’s good for people to believe in capitalism, religion, or both because it keeps them anticipating a reward. If people stop anticipating— because they stop believing the reward will manifest, or in the value of the reward — their dopamine levels could drop to such an extent that (like the rats mentioned in my previous post) they stop working. Which would be bad, because everyone striving for their individual rewards within the system, is the system.
The pandemic has shown, in a small way, how when people can’t / won’t service the system, it becomes inconvenient for the people who need a new bathroom vanities, cling peaches or car parts, and it also becomes threatening to the people who normally profit from all these transactions. I’m far from the first to theorize that in order to keep things running, the system might ultimately have to provide rewards of actual value — like workplace safety, higher wages and maybe some other things, like respect and appreciation for one’s contributions and skills…etc.
Oops — I think most of that was a tangent. The real topic of this post (of course) is me.
Who am I? I’m a subset of people: i.e. a writer, existing in a subsector of the capitalist system: i.e. the entertainment industry. The rewards I want are the same boring things most people in my industry who aren’t sociopaths want: creative opportunities, a living wage, functional work relationships, etc. For a fair while, I’ve sustained myself with the anticipation of obtaining these, because I had some belief that it was possible. Like its parent system, Hollywood is great at saying “look at all these other people getting treats—if they can do it, you can too!”— and also selling the idea that if you are just good enough, God (or someone) will pick you and lift you up to heaven (or at least higher up the food chain). You can anticipate this happening at any moment…Dopamine!
The thing is, one starts to lose one’s ability to anticipate a bright future if this keeps happening:
Please know, that, within my field, I am in no way unique and this football-yanking happens to lots and lots of people, all the time. So this is not a plea for sympathy, inasmuch as a preamble for some self interrogation, wherein I ask:
Who’s at fault in the situation pictured above?
Is it Lucy, for being a jerk? For sure. But. Is it also Charlie Brown? Why does CB repeatedly come back to Lucy and her ball? Doesn’t he have any other friends who treat him better? Is Lucy so much more glamorous and interesting than those friends? Or, is Lucy his only acquaintance with a football, and a football is the only kind of ball he wants to kick?
What’s with Charlie Brown’s obsession with that dumb football anyway? That question is facetious — I know the answer. He feels like he’s meant to kick that football. If he could just have that one chance, where the ball didn’t get pulled away, and his foot could connect — he can feel in his bones how that football would go flying! (And once that ball was in the air, the world would know, and soon he’d have his face on a cereal box or at least be kicking footballs everyday for money. It’s just one kick between him and living the dream!)
But who are we kidding? It’s in Lucy’s nature to pull the ball away. Like the proverbial scorpion who has to sting, or like Jessica Rabbit, who’s just drawn that way, Lucy is literally incapable of not fucking with the ball.
So the question becomes, what should Charlie Brown do now? I mean, shouldn’t he try playing some other game that doesn’t include Lucy? Like baseball or soccer, or Yahtzee? Or maybe he could start mowing lawns, and just buy his own football?
Hell, he could start a lawn-mowing franchise and eventually buy a whole football team. By then he’d be past the prime for football-kicking himself, but he’d likely have friends who are more loyal than Lucy, clients who truly appreciate (and pay for) their evenly-cut lawns, and co-workers who invite him to BBQs and their kids’ birthday parties where they share inside jokes and compare lawn mowers.
Possibly, he could have a happy life with plenty of anticipation and dopamine despite never kicking a football!
Ugh, I just passed 1000 words! I didn’t want to do that. How can I wrap this up? Okay, here:
Capitalism is deeply flawed but seems poised to persist.
Given the fact that I’m not Neo, and can’t unplug from the Matrix, I need to live in it. (Matrix=capitalist system. I didn’t set up that metaphor in this mini-essay, but it’s so commonly used I don’t need to, right?)
Within the capitalist system, my stubborn commitment to football kicking (i.e. screenwriting) seems increasingly likely to end with me living underneath an overpass (at least between police sweeps), while Lucy / Hollywood forgets I ever existed and doesn’t feel the least bit guilty.
However, Hollywood is just one subsector of the big capitalist machine, and if I can quit sulking about the not-getting-to-kick-the-football thing, I could look for a different sector that doesn’t lead to the whole overpass scenario.
And in the process, I could even look for a sector with work-life balance, respect for my skills, and getting compensated happily and fairly instead of grudgingly and as little as possible. (I don’t know if this place actually exists, but what is life without a search for mythical lands?)
All of which would help renew my faith in humanity and the capitalist whole reward system, which would reset my ability anticipate good things, triggering the release of dopamine…