Monday, November 28, 2011

Before anyone has hurt your feelings

I almost skipped right over the Fresh Air interview with legendary filmmaker Francis Ford Coppola when it came up on my podcast list. Filmmaking isn’t a major interest of mine, and I knew there were other podcasts in my iPod queue that would be of more immediate interest to me: a conversation about Thanksgiving cooking with New York Times food writer Mark Bittman; a discussion on the shortage of drugs to counter ADHD; a review of Tom Perrotta’s newest novel.

But the Francis Ford Coppola interview was what came up when my run began, and sometimes it just seems like too much of a hassle to take my iPod out of its armband case and start fiddling with the controls to get to the next podcast once my run is under way. Besides, I reminded myself, even if I wasn’t particularly curious about the topic of filmmaking, I’d almost certainly learn something about it. And even when I don’t leave a Fresh Air podcast retaining any information about the subject, I always learn something new about the art of interviewing.

What I didn’t expect was to find it laugh-out-loud funny, but laugh out loud I did when Coppola was discussing the importance for filmmakers and other artists of practicing their writing with great frequency, and gave this specific instruction about daily writing: “The important thing is: choose the time that's good for you. For me, it's early morning because I wake up, and I'm fresh, and I sit in my place. I look out the window, and I have coffee, and no one's gotten up yet or called me or hurt my feelings.”

What made me laugh was the ingenuity of Coppola saying he needs to write before anyone has hurt his feelings. I too write first thing in the morning every day, as soon as I get out of bed, and I never thought about it that way, but he’s right: at that hour, no one has yet hurt my feelings (though sometimes I’ve already been mocked a little, given my tendency to talk in my sleep and my spouse’s propensity for teasing me about it in the wee hours). First thing in the morning, my emotions are still as untainted as they are likely to be all day, and I suppose in some ways that’s the best time to write.

Of course, it also tends to be the most innocuous time to write. Sometimes, as I sit in the comfortable arm chair in the corner of our bedroom at 5:30 a.m. with the house dark and silent around me, I find myself at a loss for what to say in my journal: nothing’s happened yet, and the events of the previous day have faded into uniform banality.

But most of the time, this isn’t a problem. Most of the time, the events and emotions of the previous day are still present in my mind enough to record, even if my brain may feel a little fuzzy at that hour.

Still, no one has yet hurt my feelings at 5:30 a.m., and Coppola is right: that counts for a lot. I am indeed best off writing in the grayish drowsy haze of early morning, when no one voice takes precedence in my writing only because it is the voice of the last person to have spoken to me.

In an ideal day, of course, no one hurts my feelings at all, and I don’t say things I regret, and I don’t make bad decisions, and I don’t take out my iPhone while running and accidentally drop it on the pavement and crack the screen (not to dwell too heavily on my weekend).

But these things happen, sometimes, in the course of a day. And it was somehow reassuring to hear from someone as highly accomplished and highly regarded as Francis Ford Coppola that there’s nothing wrong with wanting to do your daily writing when your thoughts and emotions still seem to be your own, in your voice, freshly hatched, before you’ve been distracted by people hurting your feelings.

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