Memoir piece 5

I remember being toured around Wesleyan by an extended family friend’s daughter: that school has a great film program and is the alma mater of Lin Manuel-Miranda. She wryly was like “I just don’t find it funny,” about improv comedy (in reference to the clubs there), and my roommate said the same thing two days ago, I think about basically all improv ever. I bring this up to recall the experience of taking some classes at Upright Citizen’s Brigade, where it seemed to me as though the teachers were instructed to laugh in this sort of encouraging way, you know, probably like “good job good job good job!” Ha ha ha ha ha. I found it deeply unsettling — just kidding that’s hyperbole but, it’s something I think of now and then, when I’m the only one laughing in a room at something. Doesn’t happen that much because I don’t laugh anymore, at, well, just about never at anything. I had a dream though that supermodel Cara Delevigne (who I’d probably been looking at pics of late at night, hence the dream) sort of did that to me: in the dream I was eating a bagel and did a funny dance for her and she was like ha ha ha, like being nice. My presumption if I read into it is that, she was being altruistic by even laughing. And that I was the low status individual.. another one of those dreams. That’s fine because Selena Gomez is the one I’m really after.

If I could be apprentice to anyone older it would be Lena Dunham and maybe that’s a dream because is an extremely famous name which never hurts, or maybe thinking it out like a thought experiment is helpful to help find words for the following: as I get gayer against my will and worst desires I find myself sort of swept downstream into some unseen swamp-like interstitial space like a valley after flooding, on one side of which is either gender [not what I am strictly], on one side of which is my old family’s support and on the other side distance from them because there was a lot about their influence which didn’t make me feel safer as just-me. Who knows if there is some version of just-me that is the best, ideal version. As me in my present condition I don’t feel unsafe but that’s because, I’m fine, I’m just okay. I could be worse off completely. I feel like Lena would get what I tried to just say — the trouble is I didn’t even like her that much at first because I wasn’t laughing at the show; my sister probably did more, and Alex Warrick and my mom both observed that Lena and her writing allies got it right: the characters on the show were attuned sometimes almost precisely to what was happening at the time in New York or Brooklyn or wherever, in Ohio, and of course it was groundbreaking for what it exposed about girls’ lives almost to the same extent Chantal Akerman’s work was (and hers was far less commercial; maybe more of a masterpiece in the eyes of critics like the ones I worked with at Lincoln Center). I’ll add though the world on Girls wasn’t my world; it was Alexis’s or Alex’s. I am using them as examples of how I’ve felt alienated probably as a queer person, not using them to make some easy argument in this paragraph. Remember when I said I didn’t want to work on films “just for me” or “for one friend.” Probably you don’t remember [lol] but, I said it earlier in this book. (I would not want to write a role specifically for someone, not even a muse to me or my BFF ever; I think that was a fantasy I had as a younger artist, to just do that when everyone was doing that, which might have worked then. Now-I’m-like they GET a role that is a good role for them, then cool.) Well that is or would be at least partly because (a) my writing is sacred to me and I’ll write the characters to be accurate to my real-life observations, not any professional actor’s life because then it would be too steeped in my imagination and I’ve learned that can cause ruptures [people get mad, including me if it were to happen to me], (b) I’d rather probably still make [my art which is separate from my other work and the other work might be how I pay the bills; I will have to worry about money as far as I can see ahead] little art approximately kind of still for women, not for me. See, I don’t know, we’ll have to see. My mom actually says that she thinks that is what I care about most say maybe over my other commitments; the way Sheryl Sandberg of Facebook (now Meta) might care for women when she says a cause for retiring recently as the company’s chief operating officer or COO was to do philanthropic work for women. It might sound a bit broad but there’s nothing like ’em.. right.. uh, that is a joke and it is not that funny: yeah, I don’t know. I’ll work on being a professional doctor and still a woman and then like-I-said we’ll see.

“I am not entirely sure what the future will bring — I have learned no one ever is,” Sheryl Sandberg wrote on her social media at the start of June in 2022. “But I know it will include focusing more on my foundation and philanthropic work, which is more important to me than ever given how critical this moment is for women.”

A moment ago she’d been in a dune with her eyes closed, tracing patterns in the sand, wishing it were the skin of a real guy near her age. She’d been aware that people were watching her and that she was alone, and basically topless in this bikini which didn’t fit right, but she didn’t give one if she was being watched all the time. Especially because she just assumed it wasn’t true, she didn’t have proof they were watching her, those dudes over there, they could be looking across the water not at her. The fleeting euphoria that heavy liquor gave her was enough to forget about the painful phase of post-drunkenness that left a girl feeling melancholic and self-disgusted.

At Jillian’s when I wasn’t at the country club bar — and I wish I could say I was more drawn to the aesthetic more than the actual liquor: the aesthetic of being drunk, young and not ugly at that age, half-naked on a beach chair in Texas with a golf course in the backdrop (sounds very American, it ended up a scene in my novel [above]) — I was listening not-actually-short-of religiously to jazz music from the sixties or seventies, in addition to Amy Winehouse. I was still grandiose enough to be conceiving of a great jazz film. This was just before La La Land would be released; by grandiose I mean, I actually probably was, realizing now in retrospect that I wasn’t situated to sell a big film script or shoot a real-budget short but was vaguely in touch still with guys from my old internship on level two of the same Lincoln Center building where ballerinas sometimes took the elevator to rehearsal. My stop was the film floor. Jillian’s family the Carrolls at the time lived near Rice University all around which there was a few-mile running path; one time I was doing the rounds listening to Amy Jade when I was lapped by Jillian’s sister Jessica doing circuits — jog, then sprint — on her phone. She stopped to say hi.

Jessica was **FIneesiceh

I am not sure what I hope to achieve in writing this book: maybe I am earning my chops as they say, before I get my hands bloody and start dealing with patients and, if I can do this, I would like to develop a finer voice. That wasn’t the best combination of images. In the time since I began it I’ve worked out more, figured out a hairdo that I can live with that’s kind of like a lesbian intellectual look (from back when lesbian Jewish intellectuals were still real pre and post-WWII) [so I would not dress as an actual adult man: which might have been my look for a few months, I tried it] — but since I said that and I think it would bother people who are more-that than I am, I can point out something I’ve noticed about our times versus way back, before WWIII came to feel like an encroaching possibility: hopefully a mere head fake.

What I’ve noticed is a trend I see in big artists where they talk about being artists as though they’re imitating “rockstars” “actual movie stars” “folk stars” “normal real humans.” Factually they are stars: I’ve been using the word factually in place of literally. Factually they might even fall, believably or somewhat so, into the category of posthumans. I have dreams about celebrities sometimes; I am not at liberty to say who they are unless I consider them minor celebrities. So I’ll say — and this person might not be surprised, if she’s glimpsed the extent to which I’ve stalked her online — Caroline Calloway is one of them, a woman I’ve never met who in real life caused a scandal once because she ignorantly made a post that was deemed anti-semitic, because it was, but which struck me as something I’d have done if I were famous or sort of famous and posting a bit manically or just not thinking. Of course Hannah Arendt said “There are no dangerous thoughtsthinking itself is dangerous,” as well as “Evil comes from a failure to think.” Those are two separates quotes but they might suggest that people are scared to think too deeply: because it’s dangerous. You need tools to make it less dangerous. Maybe if you’re mentally ill you need therapy. In the dreams Caroline, a Cambridge University alum with a low undergrad GPA, who barely graduated due to financial obstacles presented after her father’s suicide but who was known in her time there as the Cambridge Gatsby, comes across to me as a woman of remarkable class and composure — maybe it’s a deep-down thing — excuse me, also… dear *suddenly speaking, in British*, if I got the biographical details a bit wrong; there’s a lot of conflicting data on the internet. (Some of the more forgiving articles, of her sins, are in The Atlantic.) All that information I threw down might not quite add up with the impulsive-seeming person I’ve witnessed behaving boundarilessly online, but it also might. However only because I do kind of trust my dreams in a certain way, not as though consulting a history book or a textbook as tested by time as Grey’s Anatomy [I’ve had mental health doctors who I trust more than my dreams, dreams about killers being sent for me, assure me that the important thing is not to interpret signs in them as though they are magic (they’re not) but to question “what they might mean”], one or two dreams — minus (not sarcasm) the one in which she described me as sort of maybe “Woody Allen-like” except, probably like dumber; a nightmare truly, I woke up wondering if she would kill herself — have allowed me to get behind Caroline as someone I want to see succeed as a writer, as a writer and maybe not everything-else to ever succeed at. I don’t think being just a writer sounds like the worst thing; especially since I’ve seen how all-consuming it is to do school on the side and even try to still be a writer. I am not in school to be a writer. I think there was a time when it was clear the difference between “a writer” and all the other art forms “and writer.” If that’s right about the old landscape, the new landscape is unwelcoming to a lot of writers who could have done fine. While I’ve made a lot of changes to this book and tried to give it an air of effortlessness — like, “Morgan definitely could have cut a few lines in that [or ~this literal~] paragraph” — I opted at some point to include Caroline Calloway as someone I am willing to mention beyond the reach of one chapter. Obviously I’ve researched her a little, and I did all that research on her in late 2021 when I would spend probably an hour a day if not more, rewriting a post about her on Goodreads: it’s a website I used to use for hours for guilty pleasure evil fun. If I did that to other writers — if I wrote posts — then I decided they are people I should pretend I didn’t stalk, because as Alex once said, and excuse me Alex if you don’t like me sharing this and I’m definitely paraphrasing, “if those [referring approximately to the Dimes Square crowd] people assume you did that only for them, you don’t owe them your compliance (?) to their narcissism about it.” (See this is why it helps to record someone talking, so you get the word-choice just right. She wouldn’t use those words.) I wouldn’t put it past my own self to be a bit manipulative in how much of a Stalker, of Obsessor over someone, I’ve ever played… A creep? Only like in the Radiohead song “Creep,” and I like the band Radiohead for how they sometimes write songs by putting a bunch of slips of paper in a hat and picking out the lyrics they end up using; at least they did this on their best album Kid A, considered by many, many people a masterpiece. Just shows that something considered genius can be so random.

I feel the reasons for my playing the worshipper of some chosen people are mostly irrelevant because I was younger, it wasn’t planned, it was just a role I fell into, and it might be probably inconceivable to people who haven’t familiarized themselves out-of-necessity-for-survival where hierarchies exist with something called patronage [in my defense I think I was actually dumb, but did let people string me along until I became discerning who I gave my poor girl patronage to]; but since class is becoming a theme in this book, a book in which luck of the draw determines what stays and what gets cut out, totally luck, I’ll mention that I only learned after experiencing it a few times where my name Morgan Wilcock was dashed out in the ledger lines of even some small record of real history, that I only put my foot down when I feel someone values their own Selfhood over mine to the extent that they consider all tiny minutia related to their Selfhood and freedom to express it more-important than another person’s ability to even exist still. Dasher outers: very tacky thing to do, I really don’t like you and I doubt that will change, ever, in this life. Get it through your thick skull(s). Don’t kill me just because I don’t like you, either. Fuckin’ guillotine shit.

To make that less about me a victim, I think in the same way there’s a fine line between mental illness related to toxic levels of grandiosity [where your own Self you perceive is greater than what the facts show] and mental illness related to years of abjection [where you act as a mere stepping stone for someone else to advance their own career, either that or you don’t exist] (pick your poison, I pick the fat pills, not a moment “too soon”]: there is a fine line between treasuring your own story and bleeding out some bad fumes into an environment in America where literally some people’s lives, millions and millions of them, don’t matter.

When I talk about narrative and how much I think about doing some overhaul on my approach to it, I remember reading stories in The Times Magazine about a man who almost killed his best friend because he became so convinced that the man had cheated with his wife when it was his mental illness completely. **WHAT article though*** In other words: if in the old days the sort of narrative timeline of a writer’s life was easier to trace, like in 1200s Italy when the exile of Dante Alighieri meant his actually being exiled, I think a lot of what ruins people now is merely what they perceive is happening to them — when let’s try to not-forget all the people who are in actual prison, whose stories are never valued remotely. Their lives might have been valued at a price in dollars, not any bit of the narratives that brought them to disappear!

It is creepy stuff, here. That other story [about a guy who did something to pay for his family just to find himself in prison and erased from history] just wouldn’t rake in the bucks the same as another documentary or biopic about a megastar like Jay-Z who didn’t meet that fate, good because I listen to him, or Diana or Elvis, or Taylor Swift (who would probably get defensive about me namedropping.. I am not that worried: if I were famous honestly I might be worried because she’s well-connected and well-worshipped), or about Justin Bieber, pick your poison; but what is or who’s a real storyteller. What is the American dream, write it John Steinbeck, or I could say since Taylor likes this writer and alludes to his work, write it F. Scott! I do not mean to suggest those real star-helmed films about ambitious dreamers who sacrificed a lot from a young age, are always so bad. The synapses I am still connecting from scratch are nascent just as far as what needs to happen to help people stay sane, instead of contributing to a sort of inescapable sentiment among many Americans of having been wronged which isn’t false-quite — a lot of poor folk or people sick in the head, are being ripped off constantly or abused and made dumber, numb-er and phatter by people who will never care, at all, who define success only by their statistics: more is more to them — but it can result in violence directed arbitrarily at someone who aggravates someone’s mental or physical ailments and I think a lot can happen in one’s mind; so ultimately it doesn’t help to sort of limit the array of narratives to look up to, as the ones that can only [without some mental pyrotechnics to escape this position] be envied by people like me Morgan.

I am trying not from literal island prison like many a legendary writer but as someone in-recovery to make sense of it all. That is who I am compared to a celebrity, and that is a sort of grandiose thing to do: it is a waste of time potentially, and the one thing I have going for me is that I’ve learned a lot by reading up on them or for-that-matter watching biopics about the risks taken by successful people who are just humans too.

I am not doing that bad; I have been in very bad places. I am not sure yet what a better narrative, to look up to, would be for myself specifically. Would it be the one where the star says “oh but you have all these things I want.” You can write it but maybe you shouldn’t be a screenwriter if you’re fucking not a screenwriter. I would not write that script because I just wouldn’t want to feel ripped off by a story that isn’t truthful; and, I wouldn’t be able to write it because I wouldn’t know what to say. If I could though say I’d say, “leave her alone” and have that be the whole scene and I wouldn’t even give the speaker a name. I also wouldn’t say that, “you have all these things I want!” to someone like the guy delivering my Amazon package, staring out at his cart of items wrapped up like a gift from Santa who I no longer believe in. That would be nuts. I’ve probably decided only because I do think the work ends up better if you limit your scope somewhat, that I am primarily (a) a doctor who took a while to get above B’s in my undergrad classes then (b) an aspiring feminist filmmaker as opposed to who-knows in the arts. I don’t consider it bullying to say that celebrities like the ones who I am fascinated to see in my dreams, to the extent that I’d want to hang out with them because they seem like fun and good people, will be, just fine; I should focus on me and I should focus on the real humans within my scope. Never on them again.

Never, again. I should focus on doing what I can, to make things not-worse, essentially before I die because you never do know when.

My claim to fame for a moment in undergrad studying film at Columbia was that I managed to get an email response from Woody Allen. I was having a psychotic break — actually my first glimpse of clinical psychosis; it can be both horrifying and transcendent to go through (kind of both at once, which reminds me actually of an F. Scott Fitzgerald quote: “The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function”) — under serious stress during my first finals week. I wrote a one-page letter which I promptly sent to a professor who knew him. She forwarded the email and, to everyone’s surprise, he literally responded to me and CC’ed the professor, a well-known Holocaust film historian. It all happened in about 24 hours. I am not sure I’m glad it happened, looking back.

If it hadn’t happened I wouldn’t have changed my name, pursued comedy briefly, become close and lost touch with Kaitlin Phillips — who is the reason I got an internship at Film Comment; Kaitlin told me to apply and her friend who worked there got me in, which is all very generous because she’s the reason for a lot of woe too, but whose best quote from an article about Lena Dunham’s first big book deal is “[Dunham] has the right to be deterministic now (if that weren’t already the gift of her privilege); most successful people are.” Pretty extraordinary to claim that some people have a right, to be deterministic: what would it look like to be denied that right. Maybe denying it would help open doors to acknowledging the role of sheer luck, and also privilege.

I think Lena Dunham is one of the few people who’s openly spoken about how she used to not understand the extent of her privilege; but I also think Lena gets scapegoated and I actually would be hesitant to walk up to her and claim that I’m envious: in theory she does have literally, exactly everything I ever wanted including a husband and a legacy that isn’t better-off forgotten. It is a good legacy, I would say the same about someone famous blonde and hot who I like even if she were to trigger my worst side. She’s just done too much good, for women.

About all that, for now or for good I’ll move on. To those fans or probably-confused former fans like me, who know of Woody Allen’s complete works (actually I don’t, but I’ve watched the better films over and over — Manhattan included, Annie Hall the most), it’s no secret that he and his mother had a tumultuous mother-son relationship: there are just a lot of jokes about it. I’d say the same of my relationship with my mom Rose Ellen — it has seen tumult; however unlike Woody, and unlike Ernest Hemingway who famously and openly hated his mother (and whose mother dressed him like a young girl, growing up), I feel like I’ve come around for my mom, despite wondering how I ended up such a gendersexually misguided suicidal fucking pariah mess. At least I don’t have a drinking problem.

In the way of details about our personalities that separate me from Woody Allen, besides my non-success by my age, I am not scared of death [another recurring joke for him]: if anything I sort of can’t wait for it, which I think is a problem. I also don’t like little girls. I am not here to make this about that, though, just because I don’t know Woody Allen: if you must know I shook his hand once at The Carlyle after handing him a note which he responded to, and I think he knew “who I was” for a little bit in 2013, sometime before his worst, worst scandals had a second coming, because we did email almost like pen pals for a very short time. Later I learned he had a pattern of this with younger women: I wouldn’t have been his first pen pal ever. I think if I hadn’t received an email and had the true story, of how that all went down, a fluke because my professor who forwarded the note thought I was a boy [based on my name on the class roster, not on how I looked at age 19] (I might respect her more not less for these details: she clearly didn’t know who I was and quickly sent along the email), I’d have been less likely to be hired by Film Comment and correspond in a more-personal as opposed to secretarial way with men in the industry. I’d talk to people, tell them that, and they’d listen or talk and we wouldn’t have sex or be flirting even. In case I need to throw in some defense of myself, for what I used to write about my week with Woody [none of that writing has been published but I’d submit it places], I think I was really young: not even just as a human but as a younger writer. My dad though said “he did a nice thing for you,” including to proffer the advice in an email to write for the stage. What I’d say: it was a short-lived flash in the pan of what it might feel like to be taken seriously in film.

I did not take Woody’s advice to write for the stage because I thought it was dated — his reason was that otherwise you won’t have control of your work, in the hands of someone else. I was like “isn’t that why people do film now, as opposed to writing for the stage: they can direct their own work.” Honestly the correspondences weren’t that personal but they were life-changing for me, and I can see why stars become careful about their power because each time they press “send” they have the potential to cause someone to spin off the rails. It was good to learn that the hard way: and to learn that power is real. I probably won’t pick up from where I’m at now at age 28 and write for the stage, because that feels like encroaching on territory that’s never been mine, but I can be a writer still if not a playwright, and a real one. That probably means allowing myself to be competitive with people who are actually good, and therefore literally eliminating the good competition — like by cancelling them; I might as well say “by poisoning them” — would be unwise for my own odds of maybe barely making history as opposed to being remember for five or fifteen minutes by someone who already has: say because they got a literal endorsement from a reigning star [by literal endorsement I mean financial benefaction], as opposed to from the people. Or from some people, who really do like you and aren’t just kissing ass.

I’ve read James Baldwin say the following about power in his Letter from a Region of my Mind: “power is real, and many things, including, very often, love, cannot be achieved without it.” To quote that out of context would be doing the truth about how true power and true love stories function unitedly in history, a disservice.

I am quoting it out of context, but I’ll do my best to describe how I read it. Baldwin only says it to clarify how people he loved who he trusted with his life sometimes, or often, failed in their project of changing the world for the better: “For it would seem that a certain category of exceptions [referring to people who did manage to change the world] never failed to make the world worse — that category, precisely, for whom power is more real than love.” A part I took away, years later actually, is that power yes, is definitely real: and that whether gay or straight I probably shouldn’t compete in courtship where more-powerful people are also trying to court someone. To avoid those dangerous situations, the types I used to be drawn to as someone with a suicidal ideation problem that’s gone on for years, I have to be self-aware of when I’m legit not as powerful as someone else; I’d also be wise to not pity myself about that, and in order to temper all the inevitable tears which will be had I can read up on privilege, because I haven’t in every case had as much as someone else who kicked me down a few rungs, who “won.” Won what? If I were to compete [with that shit] it would be [agreeing to be] grandiose, and I would be more likely to lose my mind and that’s my big obstacle I’ve identified in life. (Not losing it.) I’ve lost my looks, I don’t really have much: but I got back to my mind at least like Odysseus on a beach and I just am saying that as an allusion not so you picture me with a man’s body on a beach. Love not just power is definitely real, can work wonders and is also dangerous — James Baldwin’s novels would reflect this much, in which real love sometimes manifests as severely abusive relationships, sometimes interracial ones too; usually the abuse is due to powerlessness, their lives being shit — and in my real life not a book I don’t want to end up poisoned, cancelled, gaslighted and insane. All the awful rest. I almost wrote a screenplay scene the other day in which one character probably someone weirdish but sympathetic like me says to another, clearly more-powerful and prettier one, “it’s so I don’t go mad,” in response to the question “why would I ever not be [friends] with you.” I honestly don’t want to be because I am too weak, you have a lot going for you and I want to see you do and be well. Still for me keeping up for the next x years until you drop me just isn’t worth the stress.

Ch. 4: She didn’t assume

Me, insane though

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