Something Good #65: Durant's Meatballs
Lately I’ve been interested in things that are incomplete, unfinished, abandoned. There are many works of art we know only in fragments. It is almost unbelievable that every one of Kafka’s novels remained unfinished. (My favourite read on this comes from Borges, who insisted that these stories of eternal unfulfillment, of never reaching the authority at the heart of the castle, or never knowing the crime of which one is accused, must remain unfinished, that their incompleteness is on some level, essential.1)
Kafka was not alone. F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Last Tycoon was famously unfinished when the author died; that didn’t stop it from being adapted for the screen multiple times. We hope that George R.R. Martin will see out his Song of Ice and Fire book series; Robert Jordan, writer of the Wheel of Time series, wasn’t that lucky. Octavia Butler never finished The Parable of the Trickster. Mary Wollstonecraft died of childbirth-related causes before finishing her proto-feminist novel Maria: or, The Wrongs of Women; Mary, the daughter she would never meet, would of course write the magnificent Frankenstein; or the Modern Prometheus.
Construction began on Gaudí’s Sagrada Familia basilica in 1882; the hope is that it will be finished by 2026. The “Hotel of Doom” in Pyongyang will almost certainly never get there. Schubert didn’t finish his Symphony No. 8 (one theory is that he just forgot about it); nor Mozart his Requiem. In 1273, Thomas Aquinas had a mystical while writing the Summa Theologica, a book intended to be a comprehensive overview of the teachings of the Catholic Church. He never revealed what he saw in his vision, but told his assistant, “I can do no more; such things have been revealed to me that all that I have written seems to me as so much straw.”
There are many unfinished paintings. Elizabeth Shoumatoff sat down to paint Franklin Delano Roosevelt one day in April, 1945; the president said he had a headache and promptly died of a stroke. Unfinished theorems: in 1637, Pierre de Fermat scribbled “It is impossible for a cube to be a sum of two cubes, a fourth power to be a sum of two fourth powers, or in general for any number that is a power greater than the second to be the sum of two like powers. I have discovered a truly remarkable proof of this, but this margin is too small to contain it,” in the margins of an ancient math text. It took 379 years before this theorem, which I do not understand at all, to be proven by mathematician Andrew Wiles.
I think this subject is a habitual obsession of screenwriters. The problem with writing movies is that screenplays are unfinished by definition. You write descriptions of action, dialogue, in the hope of providing a scaffolding for a movie, itself a completely separate thing. Screenplays are anxious, vague objects, and I’ve never enjoyed reading them. They’re closer to technical documents than literature.
Unless you are remarkably successful or working for a television show that is already on the air, you don’t even have any idea if this miraculous transformation into something actually real will ever even happen. If by tremendous good luck it actually does, the finished work will be vastly different than you imagined it, even if you are the director, thanks to the contributions of craftspeople, performers, composers, editors. (Luckily, at least in my experience, they usually make it better.)
I’m not saying that writing novels is in any way easier or even less agonizing, but at least when you finish a manuscript, you can be reasonably certain that you hold in your hands or on your hard drive the finished object as it was meant to be experienced, whether you ever get it published or not. To write movies is to live in a perpetual state of incompleteness.
An unfinished conversation:
I was in an overheated white van, on the road to take some pictures of the Hoover Dam, when the text came in from an unknown number.
I knew immediately what this was: an approach by an anonymous scammer, somewhere, a fake “wrong number” that he or she would leverage into a conversation that would lead inevitably to a romance or crypto scam. I should ignore these, but I can’t help interacting with them, seeing just how deep their constructed identities and backstories go.
I don’t know why I directed “Durant”’s “friend” to a meatball recipe I don’t even particularly like, but it was the first thing that came to mind.
I’ve always been fascinated by the literary approach this subset of scammers tends to employ, and I texted my friend Max Read about it. Max took the idea and ran with it for his excellent newsletter Read Max, and the result is a wonderful piece of thoughtful internet journalism slash literary criticism that analyzes the scammers’ prose and follows them to abandoned office developments in Cambodia and northern Myanmar, where the story, maybe not surprisingly, takes some very dark turns.
Back in this part of the world, though, the meatball-loving acquaintance eventually caught on.
Will you permit me a moment to talk about You Can Live Forever? We’ll be playing at Outfest in Los Angeles on July 23 at the DGA Theater; you can buy tickets here.
The press have said some very nice things about our movie. David Ehrlich of IndieWire writes:
Anchored by raw performances, a sensitive attention to the interplay between nature and nurture, and a micro-budget approach that grounds even the film’s most familiar moments in a place of truth — a truth, if not the Truth — “You Can Live Forever” is a sweetly moving story about two people weighing the promise of eternal life against a potential slice of heaven right here on Earth.
Fran Hoepfner of The Wrap says,
“You Can Live Forever” is a sweet debut and a welcome addition to the lesbian canon, neither fetishizing nor lamenting the romance between Jamie and Marike, but rather indulging them in their exploration and study of both each other and their relationship to those around them. It’s a promising feature with an original focus, handled with romantic dexterity and thoughtful wisdom.
Come see it if you’re in the L.A. area, and if you do, please say hi!
Bonus track: The YouTube algorithm is responsible for all sorts of horrors, but it did surface this lovely album by Osaki Seiichi for me:
The title, the description, and the music could not help remind me of Piranesi.
There is an ancient story surrounding this part of the island. The tale goes something like this. Once upon a time, in the middle of a burning sunny day, a boy wandered into the sea, not knowing what lies ahead. He was stumbling and couldn’t walk straight, but somehow he knew where to continue. As the sunlight hit his eye, out of nowhere, a city appeared. He felt confused but wanted to explore this mysterious city. The ancient, sunlit alleyways made him dizzy and tired…
(I’ll let you discover the rest.)
Durant thank. Every so often I’ll send you Something Good. My offer from last week (donate to an abortion rights fund, send me the receipt, ask me to do something for you) remains open. If you enjoy what you find here, please tell a friend or subscribe below.
I tried very hard, and failed, to find the source of this quote, which I could not locate save for a paraphrase on this page. (It wasn’t the first time I’d fruitlessly chased some half-remembered snippet.) I even cracked open my dusty old copy of Conversations With Jorge Luis Borges, a book of interviews conducted by Richard Burgin. Curious about Burgin, I learned that he was in his early 20s when the book was published, and might still be around today and willing to be interviewed himself. Sadly, I learned that he passed away in 2020. I also learned that he had produced several works in collaboration with, of all people, famed socialite Gloria Vanderbilt (1924-2019), including an musical soundtrack CD to… a doll she designed? Called Doll of Dreams? The world is full of strange things.