Burn and rave at close of day
The man who told us to “not go gentle into that good night” died before he turned forty.
What did Thomas know about “the dying of the light”?
Perhaps poets live with a darkness the rest of us can’t imagine.
In the latest episode of “Children of Tendu”, a conversation between screenwriters and friends Javier Grillo-Marxuach and Jose Molina, Javi talks about being benched.
He wrote an awful script for one series he was working on. It got passed around and no-one could make it better. It was so bad it couldn’t be saved. It was so bad that they didn’t give him any other scripts to write.
He was a writer on a television series who wouldn’t be allowed to write episodes.
He was benched. He could see the dying of the light on his time on this show.
As a younger man, Javi may have been filled with “f’ you” to those who had benched him, but he was in the second half of what, at this point, is a thirty year career and so he tried something different.
He decided to do as much as he was allowed to do. He figured out a way to view the show so that episodes could more successfully be plotted and outlined (breaking a show) and that was the method that got adopted in the writers room. He pitchen ten stories and three of them got made into episodes. He helped in the writers room suggesting ideas for other people’s scripts.
His advice was “do everything.”
This particular episode was on Javi’s career so he talked at the end about a show he was brought on to “fix”.
His goal was to honor the original writers and to keep as many of their ideas as he could. He was the mechanic called in to tune up an engine. His job wasn’t to throw it out and build another one.
I’ve listened to Jose and Javi for years as so many of their stories about the writers room generalize to any work environment. In my own field I think about people brought in to make code better who decide to throw it out and create their own - something with their name on it.
The writers talk about the different personalities in the room and talk about the writer who is “Dr. No.”
Any idea that someone else pitches is no good for this reason or that reason.
They say, this isn’t helpful. What’s helpful is to have a pitch on either a better idea or how to make the original idea better.
It’s funny - we hear these same pieces of advice in vastly different contexts.
President Obama recently did a linked in interview to promote his new series on working. Towards the end of the interview he said the key to building a career is “learn how to get stuff done.”
He then talks about the Dr. Nos he’s encountered when he says that at every level he’s seen “people who are very good at describing problems […], why something went wrong or why something can’t get fixed.”
He’s not looking for that. He’s looking for the person who can take care of the problem. If you are that person, Obama says, you’ll get noticed.
His advice for young people is a call back to Javi. He says, don’t wait for the plumb assignment. Whatever is assigned to you, just nail it.
Javi didn’t nail it when he had a chance at his script and he didn’t sit around waiting or whining about the next script - he looked at the jobs he was still being trusted with and just nailed them.
Anticipating the dying of the light
I just finished a mystery by Andrea Camilleri called Riccardino.
I’m about to spoil aspects of it.
It is the epitome of not going gently into the good night.
This isn’t the good night at the end of a job or a career - it’s the big one at the end.
When Camilleri turned eighty he decided how he wanted to end the Montalbano series and he wrote it while he still could rather than “crying how bright their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay.”
He wrote it to be published after his death.
In it, Montalbano is aware that his stories have been turned into a television series and he is being compared with the fictional version of himself.
The Author is a character in the book and Montalbano worries that the Author is refusing to accept the solution of the mystery as it is because it won’t play well in the television adaptation of the book.
The Author even rejects Montalbano’s solution and contacts his boss and the boss prefers the fictional (within a fiction) solution to the actual (within that same fiction) resolution.
Montalbano refuses to go gently into the good night and the book ends with Montalbano explaining that he is leaving. “Of my own spontaneous free will. I will not give you the satisfaction of getting rid of me in one way or another. I will disappear on my own.”
And then the main character literally erases himself.
Ten years later, Camilleri writes, “after turning ninety-one and feeling surprised at still being alive and still wanting to keep writing,” he thought he would make another pass at the book to see what needed adjusting. He did a light polish to update it a bit but kept everything else the same.
Mostly, he decided he liked the plot and the ending where his character knew “dark is right, [and] Because their words had forked no lightning they do not go gentle into that good night.”
Essay from Dim Sum Thinking Newsletter 170. Read the rest of the Newsletter or subscribe