In a way, 2021 felt like a very “back to school” year for me. I took a ton of classes (probably one of the reasons I didn’t publish as much as I did in 2020). Here is the recap of the year.
I only published two new essays, both of them more of the personal sort than dry/academic sort I wrote in years past.
The hero with 8 billion faces. For years, I had a little doc sitting around with thoughts on The Carrier Bag Theory of Fiction, Maintenance Art Manifesto, and Jeanne Dielman. These are very thematically related and important works in my personal reference canon, but I couldn’t figure out how to package up my thoughts on them into a tight essay. I lacked a thesis of my own, I guess. Then one day this year, I was thinking about this story my dad used to tell me, and then I turned to thinking about my mom, and then all of a sudden it all came together. The real pleasure of writing this essay was that as I was stripping transitions and context and everything meta – trying out a montage sort of composition by juxtaposition style – I got to thinking about Borges, and then this idea about alchemy popped into my brain – I guess it was a neuron associated to the Borges neurons – and this alchemy metaphor is one I now realize I’ve been grasping for for years. I originally wrote this essay to be delivered as a speech, and while I like the way it reads on the page, I kind of want to record an audio version of it.
Old Castle, by the river, in the middle of a forest. I wrote this when Chick Corea died about my love for music. I later realized it’s basically a riff on this idea from Amadeus:
OLD SALIERI All I ever wanted was to sing to Him. That's His doing, isn't it? He gave me that longing - then made me mute. Why? Tell me that. If He didn't want me to serve Him with music, why implant the desire, like a lust in my body, then deny me the talent? Go on, tell me! Speak for Him!
I didn’t publish any A/V material this year, but I did shoot some stuff.
Mattresses Stories. A man runs into a wall of absurd corporate bureaucracy when he attempts to shop ethically for a new mattress. Rob and I went down to Philly in the fall and shot interviews for a doc we are working on. I’m pretty excited to edit this (particularly because Rob has some great ideas for mixing in archival footage in the style of Civilization Noir. Planning to publish this in 2022.
Barracuda Bucket. Rob, Jenny, and I shot an episode of this idea we had for a web series in the summer. Think of a Reno 911 style show about some washed up entrepreneurs trying to dig themselves out of bankruptcy with a D-class, straight-to-youtube knock-off of Shark Tank. Unlike some of the other web series stuff we have shot with scripts, we did this much more improv style, and it was kind of amazing to see how much it tightened up in the editing room. It was really, really fun shooting this, and I’d love to make a few more of these over the next year, even if we never publish them.
Feature Screenplay. I began sketching out an idea for a feature early this year, and have written 3 revisions since. I’m well into the 4th revision, getting closer to having a story I feel good about.
Short Screenplay. I wrote a short for one of my screenwriting classes set in the same universe as the feature I’m working on. I plan to shoot the short in spring of 2022.
Back to School
I discovered the Brooklyn Institute for Social Research, an awesome organization where “70% of all tuition fees go to supporting BISR faculty in their teaching and research endeavors.” Through BISR, I took a class on Hannah Arendt and the Human Condition, one on MMT, and one on Surrealism. All of these were quite good, but the Arendt class was my favorite.
Writing / Film Classes
I took a ton of writing and film related courses, mostly (10 of them!) through the Sundance Institute’s amazing Collab program.
See the key learnings here: Sundance Collab and Other 2021 Film Studies.
One of the things that was great about immersing myself in this was the feeling of being a total beginner in a domain. I think sometimes it can be daunting to leave a domain of expertise and be a novice again, but this was a great reminder that it is totally worth it. The learning curve is amazing.
Per one of my instructors, Harri:
you will crash and burn, because this is unavoidable if you are being creative. Know this and just keep pushing forward.
I learned a ton, am close to finishing a 4th revision of a feature screenplay, and I can tell each rewrite is improving.
I built a few things AFK this year. The biggest was a dining table I built with Rob, Jenny, and Jason from some old oak planks. See the full project details here.
fountain-differ. I wanted a way to share a diff of two revisions of a script written in fountain with another reader, so I built a little tool for rendering the diff between 2 fountain files.
simple-slider. Great (and powerful) tools for creating slideshows from markdown exist: gnab/remark, reveal.js. But the markdown still feels a little heavy sometimes. Using
--- for slide breaks is particularly annoying. This is a very simple slider that makes stupid assumptions about (1) what elements will render on a new slide and (2) what constitutes speaker notes.
gitwatch-notebook.sh. I have been using my VS Code Markdown Notes extension and plaintext/markdown files for all of my writing for awhile. This works great, but I wanted better history of my writing, so I moved all of my notes from Google Drive into a folder that I commit to a GitHub repository with this script every 5 minutes. (It’s based on a project called gitwatch, but I switched from that library to my own version that is (1) simpler and (2) does a few extra things, like extracting read-only
.fountain files from
.highland files so they are searchable as plaintext and have a revision history).
.fountain text from
Writing Search. Along the lines of making everything I have written easily searchable, I moved my entire jekyll site for kortina.nyc into a submodule in my private
~/_notebook repo where I have all my other writing, so now if I promote something from a personal note to a published post, it’s all easily searchable from my main notebook workspace in VS Code.
stats_for_screenplay.py. WIP, prints a little report I find useful to review each week to track progress on writing:
stats_for_repo.py. WIP, prints a little report I plan to use to review all of my writing output:
Health / Fitness
In Strava this year, I logged 224 runs for 1,110mi total. My goal was to run 1,000mi, which I hit in Nov, and then I took a few weeks off to try to rest a hamstring injury which has been plaguing me all year.
I logged 74 bike rides for 903mi total, mostly on Peloton – I’m horrible about turning on Strava when I ride my bike outdoors. My guess is I actually biked 2x this if you count all my commuting bike rides.
With terse comments on some of my favorites…
Becker // The Denial of Death. I tend to be skeptical of “theories of everything,” but if you are going to try to explain human behavior, this one rings really true to me. The burden of consciousness, specifically our knowledge of our own death. In Becker’s words, which I adore: “It is appalling, the burden that man bears, the experiential burden.”
Eghbal // Working in Public: The Making and Maintenance of Open Source Software. One of my favorite books of the year, I loved this book because it’s an in depth analysis of an economy for producing and maintaining public goods that is an ALTERNATIVE to CORPORATE / CONSUMER CAPITALISM. Highly Rx-ed.
Saunders // A Swim in a Pond in the Rain: In Which Four Russians Give a Master Class on Writing, Reading, and Life. Prolly my favorite book I read in 2021, one of the best books on writing I have ever read. LOVE this book and plan to re-read next year.
Oakland Film Club
Not so many essays this year, but this was a really nice regular virtual hang to keep going through the pandemic lockdown.
My favorite films of the year were:
Field Trip. A Sundance short, my fav film from Sundance.
Toni Erdmann. Rx-ed by one of my screenwriting teachers (Deborah). I LOVED the sensibility of this movie. I re-watched last night, and I think it’s in my top 5 favorite films.
Shaolin Soccer. Rx-ed by Rob, totally amazing and fun.
All of the film clubs:
#097 // The Umbrellas of Cherbourg // 2021-12-28
#096 // Singin’ in the Rain // 2021-12-21
#095 // The Last Picture Show // 2021-12-14
#094 // Les Diaboliques // 2021-12-07
#093 // First Reformed // 2021-11-30
#092 // Shaolin Soccer // 2021-11-23
#091 // The Grifters // 2021-11-16
#090 // Millennium Actress // 2021-11-10
#089 // Requiem for a Dream // 2021-10-26
#088 // Death Rides a Horse // 2021-10-20
#087// Le Cercle Rouge // 2021-10-12
#085 // The Player // 2021-09-21
#084 // Princess Mononoke // 2021-09-14
#083 // Back to the Future // 2021-08-31
#082 // The Piano // 2021-08-24
#081 // Thelma and Louise // 2021-08-18
#079 // The Parallax View // 2021-07-07
#078 // Ready or Not // 2021-06-16
#077 // Toni Erdmann // 2021-05-31
#076 // A Very Curious Girl // 2021-05-25
#075 // The Fifth Element // 2021-05-18
#074 // A Night at the Opera // 2021-05-04
#072 // Ice Station Zebra // 2021-04-27
#071 // My Blue Heaven // 2021-04-20
#070 // Some Kind of Heaven // 2021-04-13
#069 // Dead Pigs // 2021-03-30
#068 // Cineme Paradiso // 2021-03-23
#067 // The Last Days of Disco // 2021-03-16
#066 // Marley // 2021-03-02
#065 // Wings of Desire // 2021-02-23
#064 // Bottle Rocket // 2021-02-16
#063 // Pain; Gap Toothed Women; Sworn to the Drum // 2021-02-09
#062 // Sundance 2021 Shorts // 2021-01-30
#061 // Where is My Friend’s House? // 2021-01-26
#060 // Night on Earth // 2021-01-19
#059 // Pixote // 2021-01-12
#058 // Nebraska // 2021-01-05
Sylleptic. For a long, long time I have thought there needs to be an label for the special case when a statement is both literally and figuratively true.
Cui bono? I have always loved the line from The Wire “Follow the money” – it comes to mind whenever I’m thinking about “media literacy” as probably one of the most important considerations when evaluating how much you can trust what someone is saying, but I have always reframed it as, “who’s making money if I believe this.” Watching First Reformed, I came across the Latin version of this (Cicero quoting Lucius Cassius), which translates pretty much to my reframing: “Who profits?”
OK, I am sure I will look back at this document at the end of 2022 when I do my next retro, and I know I expressed gratitude for a lot of things throughout, but I wanted to bump this up to a full heading / section as a reminder to always do this.
I feel really fortunate to have had the time to learn so much, and (as I framed in the last session of one of my classes), I feel like I have once again won the lottery, because some of the teachers I met this year were amazingly equipped to help push me to grow in exactly the ways I most needed to as a writer.
I’m also grateful to all my writing peers I got to workshop with, my friends / family who I spent lots of time with, and all of the people who made inspiring works that helped me learn new things.
I feel this is one of those years where I received far more than I gave, racking up karma debt I will need to pay forward.
Looking back, this was a relatively low output year for me compared to some others, but it was really fun to feel like a beginner at a new domain learning a ton.
In 2022, however, I will make some things and get them out the door!