For the last few years I’ve been a regularly contributor to a popular culture website.
I used to write a twice monthly column called ‘Letters to Hollywood: Cinematic Disappointments’. I did this for free, for over a year, but then I began to run out of time and to a certain extent, motivation.
You can only go so far with a certain subject before you realise you’re reaching for negative things to comment on to make your column fit the archetype of indie cinema good, Hollywood bad. Whereas all you’re really doing is adding to the growing pile of negative criticism on an already overly commented subject. I tried to make it grow, and bring freshness to it, but it became a burden and I felt it was suffering for it. Also – it was for free, and I can’t buy food with free.
I was going to leave, but was offered my own personal column, called ‘My Wish List’ in which I had more reign over what I could talk about. Still unpaid, but a personal column in which I could comment more freely on my monthly experiences with pop culture. I thought it would help me grow as a writer, or at least have a wider berth to cover.
I recently submitted an article in which I tied in the influence of pop culture into a huge (and persistent) passion of mine: running.
The piece, which you can see below, was rejected.
I felt a personal pop culture column represents the personal pieces of pop culture which have infiltrated my current life. Can the link be seen as tenuous? Maybe. But I feel it is more interesting to explore my current personal relationship to pop culture rather than simply writing a list of stuff I liked. Again.
The problem with the piece, I was told, was that it was not relevant enough as a commentary on pop culture. I was also told it was just a long advert for sponsoring me for a run I am doing. For charity.
Now while cancer is well-known for its money-grabbing tendencies, and using it to steal the food from babies mouths and doing despicable things to our mothers, this has led me to question the value (to myself) of spending time writing on a subject for free. Why should I bother, and why is tying a subject into your personal activities no longer a way to write a column?
I did this piece because it felt more natural and honest then a deconstruction of a film which a million people would have already seen, read, blogged about and picked apart much better than I ever could. It followed another recent column I put together where I wrote about the Alice Eve scene in the recent Star Trek movie. The column was put up two weeks after submission and some poe-face helpfully pointed out “this has already been commented on a lot”.
It didn’t make my feelings any less real or relevant, I was disgusted by the inclusion of the scene, but by the time my point my point was finally made, it had already been made a thousand times over.
Is this somehow still more worthwhile than sharing an interest, sharing a personal experience and the permeation of popular culture in my own life? It seems, perhaps, it is.
I enjoy the finite dissection of pop culture, of course, but sometimes it’s going through the motions, it’s routinely uninteresting, and it’s what is expected. Sometimes you enjoy or dislike films in an inexplicable way, rather than finding hyperbole and an angle in which to punish or praise it.
And sometimes it’s simply a case that you have done nothing but run, and work, and watch Hannibal. And everyone has already written about Hannibal.
Is the type of engagement I should be seeking really a “this has already been commented on a lot”. Or should I be striving for something more worthwhile, at least personally, when I’m writing a column that is my own. Maybe even a conversation of sorts, where others could contribute their own tales of pop culture permeation in their own daily activities, no matter how mundane.
I could have done a top five list of summer blockbusters starring The Rock, or Disney prequels I would love to see, or why Greta Gerwig needs to be at the helm of a Ridley Scott sci-fi epic. But when Buzzfeed has a team of staffers and Den of Geek religiously cover these types of lists why would I attempt to compete? Sometimes, with a personal column, you gotta get a little personal.
So I wrote a more personal column representative of my voice, rather than scrabbling in the dark for an angle to push in order to have an opinion which is worth reading due to a forced extremity. I like this column, I understand it takes a while to ‘get’ to the pop culture, but why is that a bad thing? Whatever happened to context, or a framing of a story? It’s ground work. This piece was a casual romp through my relationship with running, and every piece of media I mention is extremely important to me, and relevant to the point I’m making.
But the real point is, when you are asked to repeat the same mantra, it gets boring. Why would it be any less so for those reading it – particularly if they’ve read it a thousand times already?
In the end myself and the owner of the site disagreed on what constitutes a personal column, and whilst dictating what is and what is not appropriate enough for a site is entirely their prerogative, I have ultimately done my job for them pretty well for the last couple of years, am not their employee, and would perhaps appreciate the opportunity to explore ideas. There’s got to be a bit of give and take. If you want a workhorse, pay for a workhorse, if you want someone to give up their free time for nothing; be open to other people’s ideas of what’s interesting. If it doesn’t work, then let’s go from there.
I am a writer but I am not under a contract. If something I spent a couple of hours on, for free, which I enjoyed writing more than a list of pop culture (which to me seems lazier) has been deemed not relevant enough, then, well, I guess I just don’t fit anymore.
Read on, and make your own mind up…
What I talk about when I talk about jogging
I run between three and five times a week and whilst I think that qualifies me as a ‘runner,’ I find the process of running extremely difficult. It is a continuous challenge to step out the door and force one leg after the other at moderate speed, to make myself sweat and occasionally drool around the pavements and harbour where I live. I have run for about six years, done a couple of 10k’s and a half marathon and despite all this I still only enjoy about 1/10th of my runs. Whilst I relish the afterglow of serotonin and smugness, I find the actual process rather tricky. I am not one of those runners who can switch off, drift to another plane and forget they are running. I am always aware. And I always, always want to stop.
But it does keep me sane, dusts the cobwebs away from my brain and it makes me feel worthy….Of what I don’t know.
I believe that to run you need self-belief, or at least a healthy dose of masochism, and I believe as a former fat kid with no real interest in sports I lack self-belief. And have plenty of masochistic tendencies. Six years ago I couldn’t have run a kilometre, let alone a half marathon, but somehow I managed it. The only way to do that was to push myself, challenge my sinews, and to tell myself very loudly “you can do this.” Not out loud. In my head. There were people around.
Now I am entering a marathon.
Yes, in a ridiculous attempt to conquer all my issues at once I have signed up for the Brighton marathon in April.
My friend and running cohort Alix suggested it when we were in the pub halfway to tipsyville (Note: See if this is actual place,) and I can’t turn down a challenge, especially when I’m drunk and it seems so abstract and far away.
Instant gratification is my middle name (no, it’s not – it’s Clare,) and I often force myself into a run with the promise of a delicious ending. Like a coffee, ice cream or inspirational women’s magazine. I sprint into brand coffee houses, panting and sweaty before strolling home with a cup of glucose liquid that undoes all my good work. I may look ridiculous, but I feel like Robin Wright Penn in House of Cards. It is totally something her character would do before kicking a puppy into a ditch for being slow.
Now I have to find long term gratification and continual motivation.
I give you my running wish list – anything and everything that has forced me in the past few months to do up my laces and try not to think about ‘just not running right?’
Books: Alix’s inspiration for signing up for the ‘thon was “Running like a Girl,” by Alexandra Hemingsly, who went from walker to marathon runner in ten months.
She lent it to me, and I am not ashamed ( a little bit ashamed) to say I had a little cry when it came to her completing her first London Marathon. A well written book can be a powerful ally in this inexplicable urge to challenge your body, full of words of wisdom which power your belly and your soul when it comes to the urge to sprint down the street. My own sports related book epiphany was from Haruki Murakami’s “What I Talk about when I talk about running,” who discusses his daily jogging habits and it’s ‘but of course’ link to being a writer.
Murakami is a powerful Japanese writer, famed for his abnormally surreal realism, and has competed in ultra marathons. They are about three times as long as marathons, so what the hell am I fussing about.
This Radiolab episode “In The Running” is about Diane Van Deren, a long distance runner who temporarily evades epileptic fits when she bounds out the door with her trainers on. She literally outruns her brain.
‘Call to be’ by Dana Buoy is a perfect slice of electro summer pop with a good running tempo and a excellent video with one of the best ‘jogging’ plot lines I’ve ever seen.
Dana finds himself intrigued by the bottom of a mystery lady jogger who runs the same route as him. He follows her through deserts, hipster back alleys and surban cul de sac’s. But it’s not stalking. It’s coincidental lust. I listen to it when I am running and imagine a man behind me, kind of following me, kind of wondering if my face matches my saggy butt.
(Disclaimer don’t listen to any of my advice: Despite my many years of jogging through various locations, I have yet to fit into the crime drama archetype and discover a dead body or get murdered, or drink a vat of protein whilst adjusting a sweat band or even buy one of those round water carriers. I am therefore an unprepared bad runner. I have however cried whilst running, fallen off a treadmill and vomited due to exertion. I also like to pretend I am Robert Patrick in Terminator – my hands are blades and I am chasing after a car containing John Connor. I have yet to meet a runner who doesn’t)