April 18, 2006

Gazing at my own navel-gazing

On the eve of leaving North Carolina, I wrote a very long, very unfocused treatise on my southern-fried home state. I didn''t post it to this site, because... it was very long and very unfocused. Not that excessive length or a lack of focus has ever prevented me from posting an entry before. But instead of re-writing the piece entirely and leaving most of it on the cutting-room floor, I chose to break it up into smaller chunks'my thinking was, if someone's going to read a post of mine and think, "'that was a waste of my time," then I'd prefer to have them think that in response to a 300-word post, rather than one approaching 3,000.

So much for that. After I cut two chunks out of the longer Carolina piece and posted them individually (as Things to Do in Durham When You're Dead and Pushing the Limit), I was left with a bunch of orphaned paragraphs that didn't really fit together, but weren't really posts in and of themselves, either. I will now dump these leftovers here. You're psyched for this, I can tell.

After re-reading what I originally wrote, I decided to insert intermediary post titles to cover up just how meandering and unfocused the narrative was, and added little self-criticisms in italics. This extra layer of self-absorbed-reflection-upon-self-reflection is the reason behind the "gazing at my own navel-gazing" post title.

You think you're clever, don't you. Well, no one cares.


Since I initially wrote about my home town of Durham a couple weeks ago, the city has jumped into the nationwide media spotlight, thanks to Duke's (white) lacrosse team allegedly raping a (black) stripper from nearby NCCU. Having spent time on both campuses myself, I'm not incredibly surprised that an incident of this magnitude occurred, because the racial segregation in the town is frankly severe. Anyone who believes otherwise hasn't really been to downtown Durham. What did surprise me about the incident is that the stereotypical racial roles were reversed in this case--rather than a lower-income black male being the accused aggressor and an upper-class white female being the accusing victim, this case calls to light an opposite situation. Given the income divide in the city and the general proximity of Duke's student housing to Durham's housing projects, if I had to pick the most likely nationwide scandal involving rape and multiple Duke student-athletes, I wouldn't have picked this one.

That's because you're a racist.

Whatever the case, vast inequity is at the heart of both crimes; rather than an opportunity-less southern minority lashing out at an upper-crust hapless victim, you have a bunch of privileged white northern lacrosse players who feel entitled to everything in life, spending time in a boring southern town and taking their pent-up aggressions out on someone they feel they should have domain over.

As I write this, the case is all over the national news; indictments were just handed down for the arrest of two of the Duke lacrosse players, with a third apparently on the way. The case is going to go to trial, and like a racially-reversed Kobe Bryant rape case, the truth about what really happened will never be clear. Ultimately I'm glad that this incident, if nothing else, has cast a light on the racial and economic tensions present in my home town--Duke enjoys a lofty reputation that it doesn't deserve (and I'm not just saying that as a rabid UNC fan).

In part, you probably are. And that's sad, that a sports allegiance would affect your judgement so much, you irrational jingoist.


IMDb notes that the film whose title I modified for my own uses a few weeks ago, Things to do in Denver When You're Dead, in turn takes its title from a Warren Zevon song of the same name. Zevon ("Werewolves of London") himself was inspired by Jack Kerouac's On the Road--one of the many books on my "to read" list that I still haven't gotten to, despite being on the road myself quite a bit in recent times. In his book, Keruoac writes, "Down in Denver, Down in Denver / All I did was die."

For me to say the same thing about Durham would be overly harsh, so I'll amend his sentiment to "Down in Durham, Down in Durham / All I did was waste my time."

You've always blown at poetry.

On one hand, I really do feel that way. On the other, it'd be wrong to say that I didn't accomplish anything since I left my job as a video producer in Durham last year. I started this site (which has arguably been one of the best decisions of my life), I applied for and won a filmmaking grant, I put together a proposal for an as-yet unannounced project that's not at all film-related (but which has an inordinate amount of potential), and I've managed to land a job in NYC (more on that at the end of this). But people tend to judge your life by your career and your career only--"what do you do?" is the first question everyone asks you--and by that measuring stick, I haven't accomplished much with my time off.

But that's bullshit. All of my friends say I'm lucky to have known for years what I want to do in life, but the truth of the matter is, film is only one of my many interests. When recent final-fourer Glen "Big Baby" Davis was asked at his high school All-American basketball game what he liked to eat, his response was: "everything." That's a pretty good answer, for someone who likes food. And it's the same response I'd give to the ubiquitous "what do you want to do in life?" question.

Really? Even theoretical calculus?


Indeed, many people who think they know what they want to do early in life--and who jumpstart their careers accordingly--end up being wrong. Figuring out what you love, and finding a way to do it for a living--which is not the same thing as merely doing what you're good at for a living--is a feat that only a small percentage of the workforce ever accomplishes. Paul Graham makes this point much better than I in his extremely-relevant-to-twentysomethings essay, How to Do What You Love.

While we're on the topic of relevant essays by established industry players, Mark Cuban recently wrote a post titled Getting Paid to Learn, which, for the purposes of this site, might as well be titled "Don't go to Film School". Cuban's not saying that formal education is a bad idea, and despite the title of my site, neither am I; but we're both in agreement that paying for specialized education is often unjustified in many fields. To me, business and film are two primary examples of areas that you're already equipped to start working in once you've got your B.A. in hand (and often before that); in the long run, your graduate education in film or business won't make a whole lot of difference, because underneath it all, you either have it or you don't. In the short term, removing the constraints of school and pursuing your own interests will allow you to develop faster than if you'd chosen a specialized field of study and stuck with it for three to six years, regardless of any doubts in your mind about your decision. That said, every area of expertise is different with regards to higher education, and certain degrees--e.g, law or medical--you pretty much have to get.

You either have it or you don't? And I suppose you're saying you have it?

A friend's father was quoted as saying, "work is so bad, they pay you to do it." On one hand, it's a back-to-basics truism; on the other hand, people let this mentality eventually drag their standards down to the point where they find themselves saying they "like" their job, even though it's the same job that they never saw themselves doing for more than a couple of years--ten years ago. Rather than truly liking their job, they've merely convinced themselves that it's a decent occupation because it sucks less than some of their other options, like being a fishmonger, or being poor.

Ultimately, I'm not sure that I'd be as secure in my own aspirations if I hadn't had the time and space down in Durham to really figure things out--and I have the solid support structure of my family to thank for my ability to do that. I was able to quit my corporate video job and move back in with my parents, which allowed me to stretch out the chunk of change I'd saved from my previous gig. Nevertheless, being stuck in a one-horse town with a dead-end job can more than counterbalance any support structure you have, or any potential you exhibit.

Why'd you cut out the paragraph where you told your family you loved them for their support?

Because no one reads this site (I could probably put a period here) for that kind of stuff, and I can tell them in person that I love them, which means a bit more.

Aha! A third-level of navel-gazing emerges--a responding-to-the-self-questioning-voice, voice--as demonstrated by the bolded AND italicized font.

Despite the lack of options in Durham, I tried to pull off a couple of promising projects with some friends, and those attempts came crashing down--along with a friendship, in one case. But lack of career options and weak partnerships are external factors; as Hollywood mogul Barry Diller recently stated, "talent outs," which is to say, you'll ultimately overcome the external obstacles if you're internally gifted.


Nice. By doing that, you just pitied yourself anyway, in a pomo/meta/other-bullshit-term, self-conscious way.

Yeah, but if you were a "real" artist, this is the point at which you'd devolve the entire post into a navel-gazing, inner civil war of sorts, in order to make a timely point about the metaverse created by the post-millenial rise of blogging, social network profile-writing, and other forms of... navel-gazing.

True. But you're not a "real" artist. Yet.


There was something about the prevailing attitude around Durham that I just couldn't identify with. Something that I wanted to run from as fast as I possibly could. Out and about, something in the air just screamed, "defeated."

A small part of me worried that the longer I was down there, the sooner I'd end up giving up too. Indeed, many of the most alternative people I knew growing up--most of whom I didn't get along with particularly well, because I wasn't ROCK! enough (and because you just correctly used "whom" in a sentence)--ended up on standard, boring career paths, and they seemed to be happy about it. Their unexpected act of conformity made me realize that I'd much rather be dealing with someone who doesn't buy into anything than someone who's been assimilated by the system. Suffice it to say that I liked my classmates more when they were wearing studded collars and torn t-shirts to school, than I did once they started wearing ties and slacks to work.

Maybe it's because it's what I know (and the grass is always greener on the other side), but something about the suburban lifestyle just doesn't appeal to me. A McMansion with a trimmed lawn and a 4-car garage seems like a nightmare, rather than the fully realized American Dream. Thus, in seeking out the pulse of ambition in the big city, I suppose I'm demonstrating that I'd rather be surrounded by hustlers than complacency. That's fine; down in the suburban south, if you were trying to accomplish something, many people got a look of distrust in their eyes, because they couldn't easily pigeonhole you (especially when you're of mixed race and have no discernable southern accent). They'd rather have you give up and buy into the system, so everyone can be comfortable together, in their conformity and defeatedness. Fuck that.

Defeatedness isn't a word.

Shut up.

Tommorrow is my first day at MTV (the story of which I'll share later). I'll be working at 1515 Broadway in Times Square, in the heart of the most famous city in the world, at the center of the (pop-) cultural universe. You can't get much more "city" than this. I wrote about my intentions of getting out of Durham and moving to the big apple back in June of 2005, so the idea's been gestating for a full 9 months. Now that I've left the womb of home, it's time for me to pop my head out into the world. We'll see if I get slapped.

Your Comment


I read your site. Shit, you'd think that after 15 years of friendship (granted, I haven't seen you in three years) that I'd at least read about what's going on in your life, and you know what? Even when you're on MTV hosting ATL or URL or JRLUQ or whatever the hell that show's called, I'll still read your site.... even though you would have moved on and forgotten all about us CFS folks (even the ones that did manage to escape the Triangle!).

April 19, 2006 at 6:11AM, Edited September 4, 7:14AM


Well, here's another reason to be glad you're out of Raleigh-Durham...


Guess it's safe to say we won't be going there any more. But it does probably help my street cred to say I used to go there on a weekly basis...

"You're sweet, but I'm a lesbian ... " is not worth getting shot over.

April 24, 2006 at 12:19PM, Edited September 4, 7:14AM

House of Payne